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A Maid Waiting
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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7
Apprenticeship in Caring

Apprenticeship in Caring


Canelmir was led away, back to his chambers, where he would be allowed to spend the night; the next day he would be sent with a detachment of Prince Imrahil’s men at arms to Dol Amroth. He would remain there in a caretaker’s house on the grounds of the Keep under house arrest, at the beck and call of the steward and seneschal, until Prince Imrahil returned and made permanent disposition of him.

Once the former lord of Bidwell was gone, the King turned once more to the son. “Until the decision is made as to who will serve as lord of your city, you will remain here within the Citadel in the rooms given to your use. That you have made the effort to be courteous to all and to display appreciation for the service offered you has been noted, and we are pleased to see that you do make shift to change from the type of person your father raised you to be. That you have a better example of what true lordship entails, it has been suggested to me by my Steward, who I find indeed does read the hearts of those who come before him, that you be required to follow me about my duties for the next few days. This may be awkward, and there will be times I will ask you to take a period of free time that I might have time to myself for rest and fellowship with my friends and companions.

“This period will start tomorrow. One will be sent in the morning to waken you, for I start the day usually early, in the Houses of Healing. Remember, sir, that I was trained as a healer as well as a warrior, and I find a renewal of sorts serving amongst those who benefit from my gifts and training. Until then, Ivormil of Lossarnach, you are dismissed.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Ivormil said respectfully, bowing deeply. He followed the herald at his side back through the Hall of Kings where a page awaited him. The page accompanied him back to his rooms, bowed, and withdrew. Ivormil closed the door after the youth, retreated to a chair by the table, and sat, his hands between his knees, feeling overwhelmed. Narthord and his father banished--the latter to Dol Amroth and the former to the wilds of the distant northern kingdom.... He shivered, realizing he had no idea how he would deal with a future in which he was no longer Canelmir’s pampered son, but one expected to prove himself day by day. The rooms were silent, and the rest of an empty day stretched ahead of him. Not certain what to do now, he folded his arms on the table and leaned forward, laying his head on his hands, trying to understand what was now expected of him. In the end the weariness left by a night of anxious thought on what his father’s selfishness and foolishness had wrought in the family’s fortunes took him, and he fell asleep.

*******


My lord? There was a soft tap at his shoulder. “My lord? Are you all right?”

Ivormil jerked awake, startled, as he sat up. “What?” he murmured as he looked about him. The maid Systerien was there, examining him with concern.

“Are you well, Lord Ivormil? You cannot be comfortable!”

He shook himself, trying to rid himself of the confusion he found he still knew. He looked about. It was growing dark outside the windows, and apparently Systerien had lit several stands worth of candles. “I’m all right,” he murmured. “Was just thinking....”

“Well, your thinking must have been deeper than you intended,” she answered, suddenly smiling at him. “I knocked at the door, but there was no answer, so I thought perhaps you had gone out into the gardens, or down to the practice grounds.”

“I wasn’t certain I was allowed to leave the Citadel,” Ivormil said. “I’ll admit I’m not accustomed to being in disgrace.”

“Prince Faramir asked me to bring you a tray, saying he was certain you would feel lonely and somewhat at odds.”

“A wise Man, our Prince Faramir,” he agreed as he examined the tray that sat now across the table from him. There wasn’t a great deal to it--some bread and cheese, a goblet of wine and a steaming cup of herbal drink. He accepted the latter from her, and drank it gratefully. “That is much better,” he said as he set the half-empty cup back on the table.

“I’m surprised your valet didn’t suggest you lay yourself down properly,” she said as she looked about the room with concern. “I’ll see to the lighting of the fire--this room is alarmingly chilly in spite of the season.”

“My valet? I fear he decided to leave me. He wasn’t here when I awoke this morning, and he appears to have taken some of my jewelry and what I had of coin with him. I had an arm bracelet that had been a gift from my mother some six years back, not long before she died.”

“Your mother is lost to you? Ah, how sad!”

“Yes, she loved me and worried for me, although at the time I did not appreciate just why. I fear my father and she were not close during much of the time they were married, although I do not believe he ever played her false.”

“Not enough imagination, perhaps?” she asked, then dimpled as he looked up at her in startlement.

“Not enough imagination? How odd--but--you know, I suspect you have it there--not enough imagination to understand her at all, at least; and too self-centered to desire to have to deal with anyone else.”

“What took her from you?”

“A sickness of her stomach that kept growing worse, I fear. But I sometimes felt it was that, having determined my father did not love or favor her, she dutifully set herself to removing her unwanted presence from the keep. I’ve found myself missing her these last few weeks.”

“Yes, I can imagine. Well, the evening meal will be served in the main dining hall in a mark’s time. I can send Nestrion to assist you to dress, if you’d like.”

He watched her as she set herself to lighting the fire. She was, he thought, very graceful as she knelt down to set a taper to the waiting tinder, and the grey garb of those who served within the Citadel became her. “Yes,” he answered her thoughtfully, “I’d appreciate his assistance.”

The fire caught, and after a moment to be certain it would continue to burn properly, she rose and faced him. “Then I will send him when it’s time. May you know peace, my lord.”

“I’m not certain I am yet a lord,” he reminded her. “Ah, my father! What he’s done to us all! Although I’m not certain why he wasn’t branded and sent into enforced servitude with Narthord.”

“Oh, that would never have been countenanced,” she answered, shaking her head. “It’s one thing to brand a clerk and to strip a lord of his holdings; but if the other lesser lords of Gondor got the idea one of their own could be branded like a common thief and banished completely they’d be afraid for their own offices and would begin to join against the new order for the realm.”

“Even when he has behaved as a common thief?” he asked darkly.

“Even so. It has allowed your father to save some face, and the other lesser lords can now pretend to themselves he was merely demoted, and that he was not sent into a form of enforced servitude as demeaning in its way as is your kinsman.” He nodded as she set the taper back on the mantel. “I will leave you now, then. I’m glad that you were not judged an accomplice of your father, Lord Ivormil.”

“Thank you, Mistress Systerien.”

She again smiled at him, and he found himself smiling back in spite of himself. With a curtsey she withdrew, closing the door with a quiet click after herself.

*******


Nestrion arrived in a half mark’s time to help him prepare for dinner, and soon Ivormil was presenting himself in the main dining room for the evening meal. He sat himself at one end of one of the tables in the room, and was not surprised that other guests of the realm sat themselves as distantly as they could. When someone did sit at his side, he looked up in startlement.

“Ivormil of Bidwell?” asked the young Man who sat by him.

“Yes. And you, sir? You are the King’s clerk, are you not?

“Trevion of the city. Yes, I’ve been his clerk now for the past three weeks. And I believe when Master Anorgil and the party he travels with returns from Anórien he will be chosen as our Lord King’s first secretary.”

“I’m surprised that you would sit by such a one as I.” He indicated the rest of the room. “No one else is willing to do so.”

“It was suggested by Master Frodo you might wish to have one sit by you this evening. I will tell you this--the King is well enough disposed toward you, and wishes only the best for you.”

“Master Frodo was concerned I might need one to sit by me?”

“Believe me, my Lord--if there is anyone who appreciates what it means to be exiled and alone, it is the Ringbearer.”

Ivormil looked away thoughtfully. “I must suppose so,” he sighed. “Although I had the distinct feeling that Master Frodo did not approve of me.”

“The reports he has heard of your change in attitude and behavior have led him also to have a better attitude toward you, or so it appears. Even Master Samwise appears favorably impressed with what he has seen of you during this visit; his tale before your return to the city of your last time here was not particularly flattering, however.”

“No--I must suppose not. I was an insufferable boor.”

Trevion laughed easily. “At least you can admit it. You did not see me when I joined the class for clerks offered by the Guild of Lawyers. Oh, I had far, far too high an opinion of myself, and Masters Anorgil and Alvric both felt it incumbent upon them to help bring me to a more realistic view of myself. I had the distinct impression after the first week that Master Alvric did not approve of me at all; and as he is one of the most genial and friendly of souls, to offend him took considerable effort on my part. Finally--somehow, the two of them were able break through my conceit and offer me a good deal of knowledge both of the type of person I’d become and the type of person I ought to be. If I’d not managed to take those lessons to heart I doubt that our Lord King would have accepted me.”

Ivormil nodded. “Yes, I can understand,” he said. “Will I be allowed, do you think, to bid my adar farewell?”

At that moment one of the northern Dúnedain entered and took a seat at the opposite side of the room where so far none had sat. “Our Lord King does not eat here tonight,” murmured Trevion in a low voice. “He and those from Rhovanion have gone to a banquet offered in the honor of our guests at the city house of Prince Imrahil in the Fifth Circle. He will most likely lead the Standing Silence, although from what I can tell this is a custom not as widely followed in the north as it is here in Gondor.”

Ivormil again indicated his understanding. He felt glad to know he need not sit alone this night, and was grateful for the company of the clerk. Once, he realized as he thought on it, he would have been offended by such a move on the part of one he did not know; but he had himself changed a good deal since the day he’d been led first to the presence of Master Samwise and then to that of Master Frodo.

“I understand that Nestrion was sent to assist you to dress this evening?”

“Yes.”

“What became of your valet? The report when you arrived was that your valet accompanied you.”

“He was gone when I arose this morning. I had to make shift to clothe myself. He appears to have decided that as my father and I and our kinsman are all disgraced in the eyes of the realm he’d do better to leave me.”

“Did he take aught of yours with him?”

Ivormil shrugged. “The arm bracelet my mother gave me, and what coin I had, and two rings. Little enough, I must suppose, compared to what he has perhaps suffered at my hands these past two years.”

“For him to wrong you, even if you indeed were less than courteous toward him, does not make things right,” Trevion insisted.

*******


Early the next morning, before he went to meet the King to accompany him to the Houses of Healing, Ivormil was admitted to his father’s rooms by the Guardsman at the door. His father, hollow-eyed and resentful, sat at the table with a meal before him. “And have you come to gloat as well?” Canelmir demanded of his son.

“Gloat, Adar? Anything but. I was granted permission to bid you farewell is all.”

“Yes, you bid me farewell and remain in our ancestral home----”

Ivormil felt the compulsion to laugh. “Our ancestral home? Ada--we have been the lords of Bidwell for but two generations. Your father was steward to Lord Harvold, and came from Langstrand. He was made lord of Bidwell on Harvold’s death only because he had married Harvold’s niece, and you know that is true. Had Lord Harvold’s own son not died in the assault on Umbar’s fleet you most likely would have served as his steward instead of as lord of Bidwell. And now the lordship passes to another, and I must serve where I might have followed you as master. Not, I suppose, that it matters that much. I doubt I would have been confirmed to follow you in any case, as much of a fool as I have shown myself before the King and his companions.”

“You are not being sent into exile.” Canelmir’s voice was cold as an iron banister on the coldest of days; as brittle as a thin pane of glass.

Ivormil examined his father’s eyes. “Would you rather need to follow Narthord into the northlands to serve in a stable, Adar? At least you will most likely spend most of your time serving in Prince Imrahil’s keep. And you remain in Gondor, and in one of its fairest provinces, or so we have been told.”

Canelmir turned away and appeared to shrink in on himself somehow. “So we have been told,” he agreed, distantly. He was silent for a time, and finally, without turning, he waved his hand at his son. “Well, you have seen me, and have bade me farewell. You may go now.”

Namarië, Adar,” Ivormil sighed. “When it is allowed, I will come to see you.” He turned and left the room. The Guardsman looked inside it at the rigid figure by the table with an expression the younger Man realized was pitying, then gave Ivormil a compassionate glance as he pulled the door shut. “Thank you,” Ivormil said. “I only hope he will learn a new way.”

“It is to be hoped, sir,” the Guardsman answered. “You’d best hurry--I believe the King awaits you.”

How had he almost forgotten he must attend the King this morning? “Thank you!” he said, rather breathlessly, turning up the hallway toward the more common one. He came out to see the tall figure of the King indeed waiting for him, but as he came close enough to see the Lord Elessar’s expression he saw not impatience but compassion equal to that seen on the face of the Guard.

“My Lord,” Ivormil said, bowing.

“He did not accept your coming? I am sorry, Ivormil,” the older Man said softly. “Come--oft such grief is best dealt with through turning to what can be done well.” He held out his hand, placing it on Ivormil’s shoulder, and somehow with that touch it was as if a far different strength than he was accustomed to filled him.

Lord Frodo sat on a bench outside the Houses of Healing, a grey-green cloak about his shoulders. His face was turned up toward the early morning sun, his eyes closed, a soft smile to be seen. The King paused at the sight of the Pherian, and there was a smile on his face to match that of the Halfling’s. “It is a good morning, small brother?”

Lord Frodo opened his eyes, smiling even more fully as he did so. “Ah--so you come at last, do you, tall brother? Yes, the morning is well enough--so far. And the sun feels good as it lies upon me.”

“You have felt cool this morning?”

The Hobbit shrugged. “Somewhat, I suppose--it is little enough, though. And you, Aragorn? And you have brought company?”

“It was suggested this one would do well for having a better example than he has known--although I must say he is already opening to the Light.” The King knelt before the Hobbit, carefully reaching to take his friend’s hands in his own, examining them palm and back swiftly and thoroughly before folding his over them. “Cool, but not cold,” he commented, “And the nails are good.” He located the pulse, and stood still a moment. “Very good,” he smiled at last. “As for me, I am well enough for being forced to remain here at a time I would gladly be wandering the forests about the borders of the Shire, watching the fox kits and the badgers and contemplating a breakfast of mushrooms and sliced bacon.”

Ivormil saw the answering smile of the Hobbit. “Ah, but I was just thinking the same thing. There is a place not too far from Haygate Farm where there is a dingle of violets in the early summer, and nearby a place where the mushrooms usually grow--rather simple button ones, but always tasty. After I gave up scrumping, I found the place, on no one family’s land. It was good to know there was one place where I could find them where it was all right to take them and no one begrudged it. And there’s one stand in the Binbole Woods--a place of sheer delight for Hobbits! As most of my folk won’t go there--not many Hobbits truly feel comfortable in deep woods--there would always be more than enough for me and whoever might have gone with me. The one time we talked Freddy Bolger into accompanying us, Merry, Pippin, and me, he thought he had found true bliss!”

The King laughed as he rose to his feet. “I can imagine. Bilbo found out the spots about the valley where they grew, of course, and secretly showed me a few of them. Although I suspect he never showed me all the places where the best mushrooms grow, being the practical soul he is.”

Frodo laughed as he rose also. “Yes, that’s Bilbo. He left me a secret map showing some of the best mushroom patches he was aware of when he left the Shire. I am not to show anyone, but to leave it to my heir on my death, or so directed the letter he left with it. Well, I suppose we have tarried long enough.”

One hand familiarly in the hand of the King, the Hobbit and Man turned toward the doors to the Houses and entered in.

They were met by the Warden, who made a quiet report, then led them to rooms where those who were most distressed waited. There both King and Hobbit would visit those who lay there, managing to bring smiles and easing wherever they went. That the King was indeed a healer was obvious, as he examined wounds and throats, speaking with the other healers in the language of their calling, calling for a poultice here or a draught there.

As they started into one room the Pherian pulled back, his face contorting as if the smell overwhelmed him. The King noted the Halfling’s distress and looked back. “Go then to Ionil, Frodo--he will be looking forward to your coming.”

“If you are certain....”

“I am--there will be cleansing of a serious nature here, I fear, and others need your presence.”

“If you are certain...” he repeated.

“Go, small brother.” A shared smile between the two of them, and the Hobbit turned and went down a certain hallway.

“This one was brought in this morning, just after dawn, from the forested area just south of Amon Dîn. A small group of orcs appears to have been hiding in the area. He’s not a soldier--but a youth sent out two days ago to seek a strayed milk cow. He did not return, and his parents and three soldiers from the barracks there went out to find him. He was found late yesterday afternoon, much as we see him now. He had managed to creep in between two rocks where the orcs could not get to him. They were in the act of dislodging one of the rocks when they were found. Five orcs were killed, and it appears they had already killed and eaten the cow. From what we can see, the wound was poisoned. One of the message riders from the post there was dispatched to carry him here once their healer’s assistant did a cleaning and binding of the wound.”

“They have no fully qualified healers there?”

“The one they had was killed in the assault on the post during the last push by Mordor over the river, my Lord.”

The King nodded. “I see. Well, gentlemen, mistress, let us see to the boy.”

The wound was terrible to see, and it stank. The King leaned over the youth and laid his hand over it, singing; and Ivormil thought he could detect a light gathered about the Man. When he straightened his face was grave. “Water and athelas,” he said, and a younger woman went hurrying out of the room. “He wanders, but not far,” he said to the Warden and the younger healer who had attended on Ivormil’s kinsman Narthord. “But the blades of the orcs were indeed smeared, as is all too common with them, with filth, and the wound, as you can see, festers. I will put him into a deep healing sleep, and then we will need to cut away much dead flesh, I fear. It has not yet sunk to the bone, so I do not believe we will need to remove the leg. But the muscle will by necessity be much weakened, I fear.”

He looked to the younger healer. “Eldamir, will you gather the bandaging we require and then irrigate the wound while we prepare for the cutting?” he asked.

“Gladly, my Lord.”

“And is one of your more qualified battle surgeons available?” he asked the Warden.

“Indeed--I will summon Arahil from Dol Amroth.”

“Good--I’ve seen him work, and he does not appear to question my judgment as does Nendorn.”

The Warden went out to speak to one of the pages, and returned as the woman returned with a tray that held a basin of steaming water, a pile of cloths, and a number of freshly cut leaves. “Master Samwise had just culled these, Lord Elessar, and brought them in.”

“Sam is working in the gardens again, is he? Bless the Hobbit. Send him my thanks when you have time. Now let us begin the cleansing.” So saying he took up one of the leaves, breathed upon it, rolled it briefly between his hands, and cast it into the basin, then breathed in the scent of it before lifting it to hold before the face of the youth.

Ivormil, who had been feeling nauseous from the stench of the wound, felt his stomach settle and his mood lift. There was a scent of the greenwoods and a running stream that filled the room, and all appeared to respond to it. Certainly the King was heartened as he saw more color in the youth’s face and saw him breathing more steadily. He set down the basin and took up a cloth, and set to cleaning the wound.

When the healer named Eldamir returned with a tray of instruments and more cloth, the King looked up to examine Ivormil’s face. “I do not believe you should remain for this,” he said quietly. “In a moment they will bring a higher table to settle the youth upon, and we will prepare to cut away the deadened flesh. It is not an event for those who are not hardened to it. No, I suggest that you go to Frodo’s side and offer him whatever aid he would ask of you. He has become fond of one of those who was badly burned when the enemy cast balls of naphtha over the walls to rain fire upon the lower circles of the city. See to it that both Frodo and Ionil are well served.”

“Yes, my Lord King,” Ivormil said, grateful he was spared watching what was to come.

The young woman went out of the room and called over a waiting page. “Darvon, please take the young master here to Ionil’s room, and help him cleanse and garb himself properly before entering. Then see to it that there is sufficient drink for both Ionil and Master Frodo.”

“Yes, Mistress Melnian,” the boy said. “It is this way, sir,” he explained as he began leading Ivormil down a hallway. “The King has had a section of the Houses specially prepared for those who suffer serious burns. Most of those struck by the balls of stuff during the siege either died or have since recovered. For Master Ionil, however--he was very badly burned, and although all is done to keep bad air or any dirt from him, he still knows recurring infections where the skin is not yet restored. All who enter his room must have their hands and faces carefully cleaned, a cap set over their hair, and a special white garb pulled on over their clothing. The King tells us that this has been found by Lord Elrond of Imladris to help reduce the number of infections for those who have been so badly burned.”

They turned to the right, and went into a shallow room set up as a lesser bathing room with basin, ewer, pump, drain, stone water jar, and small boiler as well as a carefully covered alcove. Here Ivormil was made to wash his hands thoroughly, after which a spigot in the jar was opened and his hands were rinsed with a water in which he judged healing herbs had been steeped. Then Darvon brought out from the alcove what appeared to be a white surcoat that he was made to don backwards; from a cupboard a loose cap was brought that was carefully set atop his head to hold all his hair, and at last strips of bandaging were wound about his mouth and nose. “For some reason, the breath of our mouths and nose appears able to increase the chance of infection, or so Lord Elrond has learned and has taught our Lord King. In this way you can breathe and speak, but not directly on the patient. Good--now come.”

He was led then to a room where the inner doorway was hung over with white gauze. The boy pulled aside the curtain, allowing Ivormil to enter and then letting the curtain again fall behind him.

A small figure with a similar loose cloth cap about his head sat by a bed on a high stool, leaning over the bed. “That was when I realized I was no longer alone,” he heard Lord Frodo say. “Farmer Maggot was standing over me, assuring me I’d been caught fair and square this time, that thieves deserve to be punished, and he was the Hobbit to do it. He gave me three strokes of his cane, and set his dogs to--to accompany me off Bamfurlong Farm.”

“Did they chase you?”

“Did they? Two of them turned back at the boundaries of the farm, but the third kept after me until I finally spotted a fallen byre and ran into it to hide. Even then he remained outside the slats to the stall where I hid for--well, I don’t know how long exactly. I appear to have managed finally to fall asleep; but even when I awoke the dog was still there, and when it heard me stir it scratched at the wood. Then finally someone came in and sent the dog home before he came to pull me out, make certain I was all right, and send me home as well. I know now that Farmer Maggot didn’t truly wish to harm me--only to impress upon me that I must not continue to steal his mushrooms and do foolish things with his herd bull....”

“What kind of foolish things?”

“Oh, I rode it a couple times. My uncle was most upset when he learned of it, of course, letting me know that if I’d been hurt he and Aunt Esme would have been most grieved, and that if I’d managed to have hurt the bull it could have impoverished the Hall, having to replace it. Oh, I was a most awful lad when I was young.”

As he spoke, the Pherian was picking up a cloth from a table by the bed, dipping it into a bowl, and running it over the face of the Man who lay in the bed, then dropping the used cloth into a nearby basket after a single wipe with it. The Man was laughing weakly. “I try to imagine you atop the back of a bull! You are fortunate that you were not gored or dashed to pieces when you fell!”

“Indeed. There--I appear to have gotten most of it. Would you like some juice?”

“Yes. Who is this who is behind you?”

Master Frodo looked over his shoulder, then turned back to the one on the bed. “Ionil, this is young Ivormil from Bidwell in Lossarnach. He is aiding the King today, and was apparently sent to see to it you and I are both doing well.” He looked back at Ivormil. “Could you help Ionil with his cup, sir?” he asked.

The Pherian sat back so that Ivormil could approach the bed. He looked down on the one lying upon it----

----And had to keep himself from pulling away in horror. The face was red and distorted, and there was a line of oozing fluid from a place where the skin had split. He was grateful for the cloth across his mouth and nose, hoping it served to mask the disgust he felt. He looked deliberately about, saw an invalid’s cup with a spout and that it contained juice, then at Lord Frodo’s encouraging nod lifted it to offer it to the Man, carefully holding the spout to his mouth. After Ionil had taken a drink and nodded, waving one heavily bandaged hand to indicate it was enough, Ivormil carefully set the cup back on the table by the bed and stepped back. The scars left the mouth rigid on one side, and he wasn’t certain that Ionil could properly close both eyes. “Thank you,” the burned Man said softly as he laid himself back against his pillows. “I fear I grow tired. Would you mind singing for me, Master Frodo?”

“Gladly,” the Hobbit answered, reaching out to a tumbler that sat nearby to take a drink himself, carefully moving the masking cloth out of the way briefly, then replacing it. Then he straightened and began singing a soft song of moonlight on the river, fields at rest, and children tucked in closely by loving parents. Before the song was done it was obvious that Ionil was asleep. Master Frodo continued on until the end, then sat patting the Man’s arm above the bandaged hand, one of only a few places where it appeared there was healthy flesh.

“Rest well, my friend,” Frodo at last said softly, and carefully lowered himself from his perch. He looked up at Ivormil. “We’d best let him sleep while he can,” he murmured. “Come.” So saying, he led the way from the room. Darvon stood nearby to help remove the bandaging, then caps and the odd surcoats. Frodo stepped upon a stool so he could wash his hands, then dried them on the length of towel provided by the page. “The infections keep recurring,” he sighed. “I don’t know how much longer he can be expected to keep rallying.”

“He knows, Master Frodo, how much he is beloved, and that itself is a great gift to him,” Darvon noted. “Shall I bring you some more wine or water?”

“Perhaps bring a goblet of water to me outside. I think I need to go out into the gardens.”

“Master Samwise was there at last report.”

“He is? Good--Sam always helps me restore my own hope, I find. Thank you, Darvon. And Master Ivormil--thank you again for aiding Ionil with the cup. It’s not an easy thing for him to remain ever separated from others by bandages and gauze curtains.”

*******


It was on the third day that Ivormil found himself with some free time and was able to go out into the gardens behind the Citadel once more, finding Systerien near the King’s herb garden. “Hello, Mistress Systerien,” he said with a warmth that surprised him.

She turned, surprised to hear herself addressed. “Lord Ivormil? And how do you?”

He shrugged. “My fellows there in Bidwell would never believe it if they were to see me following the King about. Visiting in the Houses of Healing, listening to petitions, reading reports, planning for the restoration of the city, discussing how to respond to embassies from Rhun and Harad.... I never dreamed there was so much for a king to know and do.”

“Did you never watch your father’s councils?”

“Adar? Allow me to attend one of his councils? Not likely! Nay, I was only his son and heir--why should I wish to know the business of the city?” he asked, feeling the bitterness fill him. “To think I must come to the King’s side to begin to appreciate how one in a position of responsibility ought to behave!” He shook himself. “Ah, but then, I must admit I never thought to ask why I was not included in the councils and meetings with merchants and tenants and those who ran the enterprises from which he profited. Had I ever looked into his tenant books, should I not have begun realizing that not all the lands he collected rents upon were even his? And I never thought to question his findings when he heard cases of justice brought before him.”

“But at last you know what one who rules the lives of others ought to be like.”

“True,” he sighed, then smiled. “The more I see of him, the more I honor our King.”

“That is good to hear, young Man,” said a voice, and they both turned to see that Mithrandir stood near them, his white robes shining about him. “A good many folk have worked to see to it that when the day came he was accepted as King Aragorn should make a proper one, and that includes his own folk, Elves, Wizards--as I must include Radagast with me, and at least a few Hobbits in that number, starting, of course, with Bilbo. He’s been trained to warfare and healing, discernment and diplomacy all his life; and unlike you, was expected to begin observing how his foster father handled matters of administration from his youngest days.”

“He must have been a serious child,” Systerien commented.

“Perhaps, although he had, I am told by those who watched him at his play, a most vivid imagination and played often at hunting boar and facing dragons and conducting hearings of justice. No children of Elves had been born in Imladris for several yeni, so he had little chance to play with others save for his mother and the sons of Elrond, who were devoted warriors centuries before he was born. Estel he was named, and Hope Embodied he has proved indeed.”

“He is most tender toward the Ringbearer,” Ivormil commented.

“Yes. But look at how much he owes Frodo Baggins--the lives and freedom of us all, crown, and the chance his own hope will soon be fulfilled. But, then, there has grown between them a deep friendship and mutual respect and affection. If there were any way in which Aragorn could hope to restore Frodo’s full health and strength and draw to him the love he knows the Hobbit has so desired all his life, he would do so.”

Ivormil nodded thoughtfully. “Yes--you can see it in his eyes as he watches Lord Frodo turn from him to return to his own place.”

Systerien sighed. “We all owe our hope for happiness to the Ringbearer. I wish we could show him how much we love him.”

Mithrandir smiled broadly. “He has told me how attentive you and young Mistress Airen are toward him, and how he has come to love those who serve him within the guest house as well. Oh, he knows and appreciates it. However, those who must deal with matters and questions of power, whether or not they embrace that power, are always set somewhat apart from all others by the mere fact they have had to wrestle with it. He now requires time and the chance to heal. His burden threatened his life, his health, his safety, his future, and his very soul.”

The maid nodded, her eyes filled with sorrow for the Pherian. “They all say, quietly, that the Ring robbed him of much of his happiness.”

Bronwë athan Harthad have I named him--and with full reason. But there is no easy cure for those who have endured so much.”

Without realizing it, the young Man and woman had drawn closer together, and his hand now held hers. Ivormil looked down at the joined hands with some confusion, then into his companion’s eyes. Systerien also appeared just to have noticed they held hands, and was examining his face in question. A glance back at Mithrandir showed he was smiling with a good deal of satisfaction. “Do not be surprised or distressed,” the White Wizard advised them. “Caring can and often should exceed bounds of social standing. Do you not both learn to serve others well and properly?” And with a slight gesture of his hand, he turned away, his white staff gently touching down before him as he moved off toward the doors to the Citadel.

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