The news that the Captain had been wounded had Henneth-Annûn in an uproar by the time the patrols returned. The stretchers were carried down into the main chamber and there Mablung found that a table had been set up close to where torches were set into the wall, and that several filled oil lanterns stood ready upon another one.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to do this out here!” Faramir protested softly. Mablung indicated that his stretcher bearers should lift him onto the table, and his brother moved to his head and stroked his hair. Hethlin, who had let go his hand when they carried him down the stairs, pressed back against the wall nearby where she could watch but be out of the way.
“More light and more room for what needs to be done, sir,” Mablung said apologetically. He indicated three of the Rangers. “You and you and you, hold the lanterns up. You three,” and he gestured to three more, “hold lanterns over there for whoever is stitching the others. The rest of you go sit down and be quiet.” Murmuring amongst themselves, the Rangers did as they were bidden. Boromir’s escort came over to ascertain that he was in one piece, whereupon he chased them away as well.
With a bit of a clatter, a couple of Rangers sloshed their way cautiously down the stairs holding a largish, steaming cauldron on a pole.
“Teldric had some water on for bathing in the morning,” they said, “So when we got word, we brought it on. How’s the Captain?”
“I’m finding that out right now,” said Mablung, dipping out a smaller bowl of the hot water to wash his hands and arms with. When he had finished, he took another small bowl and a cloth, and moved to Faramir’s side.
“This is going to hurt,” he warned his commander, who closed his eyes and nodded.
“That’s the way,” Boromir murmured reassuringly. “Just don’t look at what he’s doing.” Moving around the corner of the table to the side opposite Mablung, he took his younger brother’s finer-boned hands in his own big ones and held them firmly. Mablung began to wash the wound, and Faramir jerked and bit back a cry. Thin-lipped, the lieutenant continued his cleansing and examination. The Captain quivered under his touch, but made not another sound, and forced himself to remain still. His brother held him tightly until Mablung finished, releasing his hands when he slumped in relief, and giving his pale, sweaty face a gentle pat. “Are you all right, Faramir?”
“I am well enough,” he whispered after a moment.
The lieutenant cocked an eyebrow at that patent untruth and looked down at Faramir.
“Feel free to faint at any time, Captain-it would make my work easier.”
“Would that I could!” Faramir replied shakily, with a feeble smile. “Unfortunately, I cannot command such things. How bad is it?”
“You’re not gut-pierced, or you wouldn’t have stayed on your feet as long as you did. But there’s a lot of muscle torn, and a lot of stitching to be done, and I’ve no poppy left-I used it all on poor Modrien last week. A young fellow who was gut-ripped,” Mablung added in explanation to the Captain-General. “Poor lad, he was strong, and it took quite a bit to ease his pain until he passed.” Boromir nodded, and he turned his attention back to his patient. “What I am about to do is going to hurt a lot more than what I just did, Captain. Can you bear it?”
“Have you any strong drink?” Boromir asked before Faramir could respond. “He hasn’t much tolerance for it. We could put him out easily enough that way.” The look his younger brother gave him then was indescribable-an odd mixture of pain, annoyance, amusement and resignation.
Mablung grumbled, “You’re the ones drank all the wine the other night. I’ve got some straight alcohol for cleansing wounds, but I’m going to need all of it for this.”
Faramir raised his voice then, and somehow managed to keep it from shaking. “Damrod! Over here!” The other lieutenant obeyed, and looked down at his commander with worry and curiosity commingled. “I know for a fact that you’ve some peach brandy you’ve been hoarding. Would you proffer it up in a good cause?”
Damrod wrinkled his nose. “Of course, sir. But you might not want to use it. It’s not like I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. More like I’ve been trying to get the nerve up to drink it. My cousin made it, and it’s awful stuff.”
“However bad it is, it is bound to be better than the alternative.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Damrod warned, but went to fetch it and a tankard. When he returned, he handed the bottle to Boromir, who promptly slopped a large quantity of the brandy into the tankard, then lifted his brother’s shoulders that he might drink, and held the tankard to his lips.
“Drink as much as you can as fast as you can,” he instructed Faramir, who looked as if he wanted to say something, but after a moment merely nodded, and began to drink. At the first sip, he got the most peculiar expression, as if his face were trying to curl in upon itself.
“Gah! That is absolutely vile!”
“Told you so,” said Damrod, not without sympathy. Boromir held the cup to his lips remorselessly.
“Drink all of it, brother. Now.” Faramir gagged a couple of times, and had to stop for breath several more but eventually complied. He sighed in relief, somewhat green-faced when he had done, but groaned in dismay when Boromir promptly refilled the cup.
“I can’t, Boromir. I’ll be sick.”
“No you won’t. I won’t let you. Drink it.”
Up went his eyebrow. “You won’t let me? How...do...you propose to do that?” Boromir did not deign to explain, but merely held the cup up to his lips once more. With a shudder, Faramir began to drink again, but stopped when he’d imbibed about two-thirds of the tankard. The green color in his face had increased, and he was beginning to look unfocused.
“...Truly...Boromir...can’t drink any more.” The Captain-General relented, and laid him back down upon the table again. Looking over to where Mablung was preparing his needles, thread and knives, Boromir took his brother’s hand and suggested, “Now would be a very good time for you to pass out.”
“Trying...lips are numb.”
“That’s a start. Perhaps it will spread.”
“Hope...so.” Faramir’s head lolled to one side, and his eyes rolled up. Mablung studied him for a few moments.
“How much has he got in him?” he asked Boromir.
“Half the bottle.”
“We’ll give it a little time to work. Hethlin, you still back there?” The girl stepped forward and touched his shoulder. “I know you’re tired, but I want you to get my poulticing herbs out of the back room, put some in one of the small bowls, and mix some of this hot water in it. Can you do that?” With a sober nod, Hethlin went into the alcove to do as she had been bidden. Boromir looked after her curiously.
“Did she really save your life as you said out there?” Mablung threaded yet another needle.
“Certainly did. Orc had opened a lead on us, then backtracked and went up a tree. Waited for us to come under so he could shoot us. And I did, and was very nearly hit. But Hethlin had stopped for a moment to catch her breath, and somehow she saw him. Shot him pretty as you please.”
“She did well enough with the sword too when she was fighting beside me. A peculiar young woman.”
“That she is,” Mablung agreed, then gently rolled Faramir’s eyelid open. “I think he’s pretty well under, sir, but you hold him in case he isn’t. I’m ready to start.”
Two hours later, Faramir, stitched, bandaged and poulticed, was settled in his bed in the back alcove under the watchful eyes of his older brother and second-in-command. Mablung felt his forehead, which was dewed with sweat, and frowned.
“He’s already heating up. I was afraid of this. Dirty orcs and their filthy weapons.” He went to the curtain and called out into the main chamber for someone to bring him some of the last of the boiled water, which had long since cooled, and a cloth. When he returned with the items, Boromir asked, “Should we try to get him to Minas Tirith?”
“No sir. The journey would harm more than help him, even with the folk at the Houses of Healing at the end of it.” The Captain-General sighed, then gave Mablung a very intent look.
“Lieutenant. Tell me truly. Is my brother going to be all right?” Out of the corner of his eye he spied the girl, who was crouched in the corner with her arms wrapped around her knees, her eyes heavy-lidded with weariness, but listening intently nonetheless.
Mablung sighed. “The spear did not touch anything vital, my lord, and though he was cut to the bone, he was not so sorely wounded that I could not stitch him up. But he lost more blood than is healthy, and you know that wound-fever often kills where the wound doesn’t. The Captain is strong though, and I believe he will be well in time. But he should be watched tonight.”
“Very well then. Since he is not so badly off now, I’ll watch first so that you can get some sleep. I’m better rested in any event.” Mablung nodded, and rolled his shoulders tiredly.
“I’ll not deny that some rest will be welcome, sir.”
“Where does the girl sleep?”
“In here. She has a bedroll, which she should be using. Now, Hethlin.” The girl looked up at Mablung and nodded, then rose slowly to get her blankets and spread them in the corner. Her every movement spoke of extreme weariness, and Boromir remembered that she had been deathly ill herself not so very long ago. After a moment’s hesitation, and a glance in Boromir’s direction, she took off her tunic and boots, and slid under the covers in her shirt and breeches. Almost as soon as her head sank onto her folded arms, she was asleep.
“Wake me when the watch changes, my lord,” Mablung requested quietly. “A good night to you.”
“And to you, lieutenant,” Boromir replied, dipping the cloth into the water and bathing his brother’s face gently. Mablung slipped out soundlessly, leaving the Captain-General to his thoughts.
Faramir’s fever rose to an impressive level and he remained unconscious all the next day. Nor did it show any signs of abating as the next night fell. Boromir, who had sent half of his men off to his command to inform them that he was staying at Henneth-Annûn for a few days more, watched Mablung grow quiet, and grew concerned himself.
“Should I send to my father?” he asked the lieutenant as they supped together in the small, stuffy alcove. Hethlin was gently bathing Faramir’s face and chest as they ate-they had all taken turns throughout the day.
“It might not be a bad idea,” Mablung admitted, “though I won’t truly start to worry unless the fever doesn’t break tonight. Would the Steward come here?” he asked curiously.
Boromir shrugged. “I don’t know. If he knew Faramir were dying, yes. If he just thinks he’s hurt, probably not. Father doesn’t go about much these days, though there’s nothing wrong with his health. Uncle, on the other hand, would be up here in a heartbeat, and he might actually be in town already for autumn Council. I’ll send word to them both.”
“Your uncle? That would be the Prince?”
“Yes. He’s very close to my brother.”
“I wondered. The Captain was muttering something about him this morning.”
“Yes, I heard some of that.” And the pleas to their father as well. One of the most distressing things about this to Boromir had been the way the fever had stripped Faramir of his usual reticence. He had not been loud, but Boromir knew that things had been said which Faramir would have preferred had been kept private. Though he did not think that any of the men outside had been privy to any of it, and looking upon the Ranger lieutenant’s concerned face, the Captain-General knew that any secret of Faramir’s would be safe enough with him. And the Valar knew the girl certainly wasn’t talking to anyone...
“Heth, leave off for a bit, and go get yourself some supper,” Mablung ordered her. “And when you’ve finished, get some sleep. I might need you later tonight.” She looked at him and Boromir gravely for a moment, then nodded and went out into the main cavern.
“Faramir wanted the girl to go to Dol Amroth with you when the opportunity presented itself,” Boromir told the lieutenant quietly when she had gone. “We were both working on the details, and had completely forgotten that Uncle was due in Minas Tirith. So the thing becomes much easier-we have only to get her to Minas Tirith, and the Prince will take things from there.” Mablung frowned.
“Are you sure that’s the best thing for her, sir?”
“Faramir thinks so. Uncle is a very kind man, Mablung, and if he knows that she is a ward of Faramir’s he will take very good care of her. And my cousin Lothiriel might take an interest as well-I think that she’s a little older than Hethlin, but they are close in age.”
“Don’t think Hethlin’d make much of a lady’s maid, sir, begging the Captain-General’s pardon. She was raised to the forest.” Boromir shrugged.
“Uncle will sort her out somehow. You must admit, it’s better than the alternatives.” There was little the Ranger could say in response to that. Having finished his meal (and he was now reduced to regular Ranger rations because of his extended stay), Boromir went out to deal with his dishes, then returned and ordered Mablung to get some sleep as well.
“Faramir will need you most in the small hours of the morning, lieutenant. We both know that. He’s quiet enough now, so I’ll deal with him for a while.” Mablung made no argument, but went to seek his rest. The girl returned to the alcove, and after giving Boromir another of her uneasy looks, starting laying her bedroll out once more. She had been given some time alone in the alcove that morning, that she might bathe and change clothes, and looked more presentable than when the Captain-General had first met her. He had been watching her off and on all day, rather touched by the way she had carefully returned the two books Faramir had lent her to his collection after the Rangers had brought her pack and Mablung’s back from where they’d been camping. And at one point, he’d caught himself assessing her, not as a woman, but as he might analyze one of his young recruits. Strong wrists. Good balance. Moves well. Light, but fast.
Smiling at that recollection, he looked over to where she had crawled under her blankets.
“Hethlin.” Her head snapped up, and she regarded him warily.
“I haven’t told you because we’ve been busy, but I thought you should know. You carried yourself very well last night. I’ve known stout lads who did far worse. I think your father would have been proud of you.”
Surprise washed over her countenance, followed by a deep blush. Then she ducked her head, and burrowed back under her covers, turning her back to him so that he could not see her face. Boromir grinned, picked up the cloth that floated in the bowl, and began to bathe his brother once more.
As matters turned out, neither he nor Mablung got any sleep that night, for shortly after dinner, Faramir’s fever began to rise once more and he became delirious again. The two of them spent hours bathing, restraining and soothing him. Mablung brewed up some very strong febrifuge and they tried to spoon that into him with limited success, even when it was sweetened with honey. He tossed and muttered and called out to his father, his uncle, Boromir and once, even his mother.
At one point he was, from the gist of his murmurings, caught in the wave-dream that had haunted him all of his life. Countless times from childhood on, Boromir had gone to his room and soothed him out of it, so he knew of the frequency with which it occurred, but he was nonetheless startled when Mablung, who after all had been with Faramir for over a decade, tssssked and said, “That again, huh?”
“You know about his dreams?” Boromir asked the lieutenant curiously. The Ranger shrugged.
“How could I not? He has them often enough, though I’ve never understood why he gets them.”
“It’s our Dol Amroth blood,” Boromir explained, restraining Faramir’s restlessly moving arm with one hand while he bathed him with the other. “The lords of Dol Amroth are dreamers. ‘Tis said it is because of the Elven blood they carry. Grandfather had them. So does Uncle.” And what a surprise that discovery had been for Boromir, when, on an overnight hunting trip with his uncle many years ago, he had wakened to Imrahil’s crying out in much the same way his brother did. The dreams had always seemed such a intrinsic part of Faramir’s grave, inward-turning nature that the realization that urbane, extroverted, cheerful Imrahil could suffer them too had struck him as decidedly odd.
“Do you get them, my lord? If you don’t mind my asking.” Boromir smiled.
“No, I’ve been lucky. The gift or curse, whatever you want to call it, passed me by.”
“The men talk all the time about whether it’s a gift or curse. The Captain said nothing’s ever really clear, though he saved some lives with it once.”
“Did he really? What happened?” Boromir asked, intrigued. They had stripped Faramir completely at this point, and Mablung was bathing his lower regions and legs in an attempt to get the fever down. Faramir did not appreciate their ministrations, and squirmed in a most unhelpful manner.
“He had a bad night, and tripled the strength of a patrol he was sending to the Crossroads the next morning. There was a lot of grumbling about it, for we’d seen no activity in the area, and it meant that some of the other lads had to pull double watches. Turned out there was a big band of orcs there. They’d have eaten the one patrol alive, but the large one was able to overcome them. The men kept quiet after that.” Boromir chuckled.
“Do you know, I think that may be the first time I’ve ever heard about it actually being useful, though Uncle Imrahil said something once about putting into port ahead of a really bad storm. I’m content not to have the dreams, and any of the good or bad that go with them.”
“Ah, but you’re a sensible man, my lord. Here, lift his head so I can get some more of this tea down him. It’s a wonder Hethlin can sleep through all this racket.”
Boromir, who had just happened to catch the girl watching them a short time ago, said nothing. She had rolled back over to face the wall immediately when she realized that he had spied her out, but not before he saw the look of sick worry on her face.
A couple of hours before dawn, Faramir settled from his delirious thrashing into a quieter form of unrest, his fever still burning hotly. Mablung stood and stretched.
“You should get some rest while you can, my lord.” Boromir stretched his legs out, but did not get up from the chair he had set at his brother’s bedside.
“The same could be said for you, lieutenant.” At that moment, there was a stirring in the corner and the girl untangled herself from her blankets. She came over, scrubbing her eyes on her sleeve and yawning. Blinking a couple of times, she pointed first at Mablung, than at the Captain-General, and folded her hands together alongside her head.
“Thank you, Heth, I think I will,” Mablung responded, and she smiled a little, then gave Boromir a questioning look.
“I’ll nap here, thank you, mistress,” he replied, and she nodded, taking Mablung’s abandoned chair on the other side of the bed. Looking down at Faramir, who wore nothing but a sheet draped lightly over him, her cheeks got a bit pink, but she picked up the cloth, wrung it out in the bowl, and began gently bathing his face.
“You may rest in confidence, my lord,” Mablung commented on the way out the door. “Heth has watched wounded before. She will rouse us if there is any need.”
Boromir did not share the lieutenant’s faith in his protege, and had fully intended to stay awake and watch, but the girl’s slow, gentle movements as she bathed his brother, and the dripping noise of the cloth being wrung out into the bowl had a lulling effect, and before he knew it, he had fallen asleep.
As if in mockery of his earlier statement, Boromir’s sleep was full of dreams; disjointed, unconnected images that made no sense to him. What he thought at first was the darkness of the wave dream turned out to be instead a darkness covering the sky. He could hear a voice speaking, but could not make the words out. He saw his brother, in battle, in full armor, which baffled him for since Faramir had taken command of Ithilien, he had not worn full harness. He saw the girl, her face a mess of blood and tears. He saw many other things; faces and places he’d never known.
He woke rather abruptly with a nagging sense of unease and the distinct feeling that he had missed understanding something important. Keeping his eyes closed, Boromir listened to the bustle outside of the curtain. From the chatter of voices and clatter of wooden dishes, it sounded as if breakfast were being served. A moment later, he realized that he was hearing something else, something that sounded very much like the voice in his dream, but this time, he could understand what was said. The voice was low and a bit husky, and spoke slowly as if unsure of the words.
“...For many years Umbar was...in…vested..., but could not be taken because of the sea-power of Gondor. Cir...yaher son of...Ciryandil...bided his time, and at last when he had gathered strength he came down from the north by sea and by land, and crossing the River...Harnen his armies...utterly...defeated the Men of the Harad, and their kings were... compelled...to...acknow...ledge the overlordship of Gondor. Ciryaher then took the name of Hyar...Hymar...Hymend...”
“Hyarmendacil. It means ‘South-victor’,” prompted a voice that made Boromir’s eyes snap open in a hurry, for weak and weary though it was, it belonged to Faramir.
He saw his brother, black hair tousled and damp with sweat, but with eyes that were open and free of delirium, looking at the girl, who had a book in her hand, and was managing to look surprised, pleased and a bit frightened all at once. Faramir smiled gently at her for a moment, then turned his head slowly to regard his brother.
“What is the time, Boromir?”
“Judging from the sound of things, it’s breakfast. You’ve been fevered for two days. Are you back with us now?” The Captain-General reached a hand to his brother’s brow and found it cool.
“Two days? Yes, I suppose I am back then, and not before time either, it would seem!” He attempted to push up on an elbow, and grimaced in pain. Boromir laid a hand upon his shoulder and pushed him back down.
“None of that, now! You’re going to have to take it easy for a while.” The girl got up at that point and soundlessly returned the book to Faramir’s bookcase, then poured him a cup of water and returned with it, offering it to Boromir. He took it, lifted his brother’s head, and helped him to drink, which Faramir did with a certain relish.
“Another one of those would not go amiss,” he suggested, so his brother refilled the cup and repeated the process. The girl slipped quietly out past the curtain, and Boromir watched her go, suddenly realizing something.
“She was reading to you!” Faramir smiled.
“Yes. When she was ill, I read to her. It seemed to help her sleep. She must have thought she should return the favor.”
“But she was talking!”
“No-one ever said that she couldn’t talk, brother, just that she wouldn’t. I think that we should not make a fuss about it-if she has more to say, she will do it in her own time.” At that moment, Mablung walked in, and stopped short, surprised and pleased in his turn.
“Captain! Sir! It’s good to see you back! Would you like some breakfast?”
Faramir considered this for a moment. “Hmmmmmm, I am hungry. How about some bacon and eggs?” His grin showed that he was well aware such fare was not possible in the fireless refuge. Mablung cocked an eyebrow.
“How about some nice, hot porridge instead? I’ll have someone cook some over the brazier.”
“That will serve.” Suddenly wearied by all the conversation, he closed his eyes. Boromir brushed his hair away from his brow, and he smiled at his brother’s touch.
“We’ll get you cleaned up in a bit,” Boromir told him, and he nodded.
“I would very much appreciate that.”
The girl came back in then, chewing something, went to the washstand and began washing her hands. Faramir opened his eyes.
“Good morning, Hethlin,” he said quietly. She turned about, towel in hand, and swallowed her food, then looked at him, his brother, Mablung, and back at him again. Her eyes grew vague, and she stared off into the distance for a moment, as if considering something profound. The three men watched her in anticipation. The silence stretched and stretched until it seemed almost interminable. Then she came back to herself, shuddered, and after a moment gave Faramir a tiny, shy smile.
“Good morning, Captain,” she replied.
Heth’s literary selection is from Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion, Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King.