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3
Hard Labor in Close Quarters

Silma:

I folded Jehan’s hands at his waist before I went into the Houses after the Dwarf and his comrade hurried away. Somehow I cared not what the outcome of this siege might be, but I did hope, and prayed, that all the Valar and especially Aulë, would keep him safe, even as I prayed that my husband’s spirit go unerringly to the Halls of Nandos. I forced myself to leave the hut; others, living, needed me to do my duty—but it was hard!

Inside, I was met by, of all people I least wished to see, Mirieth. She stood in front of me, almost simpering in her satisfaction. “So, you’ve bothered to come back from your gadding! Healer Suliden is very unhappy with your desertion of your duty!”

My hand itched to slap that smug grin off her pasty face, to kick her as hard as I could for a very long time. Some of my rage must have shown, because she took a step back.

“You wouldn’t dare touch me!”

From a distant place inside me, I heard my voice ask, “Why would I dirty my hands with you?”

“Insolent wench!” Her slap rocked my head on my shoulders, and I dimly felt blood running down my face from one of her rings cutting my cheek.

“Hasn’t it dawned on you yet, Mirieth, that I don’t care what you think or say about me? It doesn’t matter. But if you ever say anything nasty about my husband in my hearing, or that gets back to me, you will wish that the Evil One has had you in his grip.”

“You’d threaten me?” she gasped.

I shook my head. “Nay. That is a simple promise. I have naught to lose now, so I have no fear of you or anyone else. I do not care.”

Vaguely I was aware of gasps and goggling eyes—and a few stifled snickers—from behind her…but when did she ever stir more than a few steps without her sycophants?

I noticed a page trying to edge past, and moved to intercept him. “Please fetch me a basin of water, soap, and some cloths. Bring them to the little hut in the front courtyard.”

Someone took my arm. “Ah, there you are, Mistress Silma! Come along! I need you to help me tend to Lady Iruhen; her babe is coming early and crosswise, and she has been asking for you.”

I looked up at Master Ladramenhirion, one of the most senior (and most imperious) Healers. “But Master, I must prepare my husband’s body—“ I faltered to a stop, unable to say the words for burial . And how was I to get Jehan all the way to the family plot out on the other side of the Rammas Echor, with a battle and armies in the way, if I could even find it?

“Nonsense, you are too skilled for such work! Come along! There’s no time to be lost! I will depute someone else to see to it, never fear. Come along!” and unheeding of my protests, he hustled me along the corridor and into one of the birthing-rooms.

I could easily imagine Jehan saying to me, Tend the living, my darling; I will wait.

Blinking back tears, sternly telling myself that I would weep later, I set my will to doing my best for the mother of a child who must have his chance to live…

Her labor took hours, the delivery difficult but finally over. I swaddled the cleansed babe and gave him to his mother to cuddle, wishing with a pang of sorrow to my soul that I had had one living child to care for of our own. Would I ever see my three lost babes in the Halls of Nandos? Would they greet my Jehan as the father he would have rejoiced to be, even if only by love instead of blood? Or had their spirits been reborn to some other woman, or women?

Ioreth materialized beside me. “Silma, come and help me tend to Lady Ėowyn and the Perian ,” she said.

I blinked at her. “Who?”

“The Lady Ėowyn of Rohan, and the Perian . the prince of the Halflings. Between them they slew the chief of the Nazgûl,” she told me.

“Prince of the Halflings, from the old tales?” I gaped at her, stupid with fatigue and grief.

She laughed. “In very truth! We shall have the King back next! From all I’ve heard, ‘twas a true marvel, for when they slew it, most of the yrch lost the will to fight, and our side triumphed! But both were injured, and I need you. Come!”

Somehow I ended up helping with them, and with the Lord Faramir who lay in a terrible fever, more than one would expect from the dart embedded in his shoulder, and the other two suffering from the Black Breath besides their other hurts.

It was many hours before I was able to leave that part of the Houses, and hasten to the hut.

Dalf:

With Gandalf’s ordering the Men to obey me, we soon had the gate firmly braced, but then it was running from one rampart to the next, close work with spears, swords, axes and knives against their weapons as they used ladders to scale the First Level walls once inside the sundered Great Gates. Part of me mourned their broken fineness, for the casted figures had been handsomely made. I shunted my desire to plan their repair aside as a dangerous distraction. For a long time it was all weaponwork, warcried, screams, trying not to stumble, refusing to the enemy allow the enemy past...

I will never forget the sudden cessation of noise, and the clear high crowing of some solitary cock, ere we heard the horns of the Rohirrim. Never will I forget the sight of them, sweeping across the plain of the Pelennor! My heart leaped up and I shouted my war-cry fiercely. I saw too the black ships come to the quays of Osgilliath, and the fell army led by three who disembarked from the foremost—and I saw that one of them was one of my Kindred, while the other two were a Man and…an Elf? Other ships discharged other Men, with banners I was told of liegemen who were on our side.

Gandalf grinned down at me. “Your cousin is here, now, my boy!”

“And he shall not be the only Dwarf on that plain!” I cried.

“Then come with me and let us help them!” The Wizard pulled me up before him on his great steed, and followed by the Swan Knights and others as intoxicated with battle-fever as we, galloped out onto the field, his Light so bright I had to lower my gaze to the side lest I be blinded by its radiance.

I did not meet Gimli Glóin’s son that day, for I had other business to do, as did he, but later I remember Rannich pulling me along with him to the entrance of an inn on the Second Circle called the Fallen Dragon, and after some ale and cheese and bread, we dropped to the floor and slept wrapped in our cloaks, as many did around us.

It was late afternoon of the next day when I awoke. I felt stiff and sore as I staggered outside to douse my head under the pump in the courtyard. I was wringing out my beard when a voice boomed behind me, “It’s too short to do that properly, lad!”

“Cousin, how do you?” I asked, turning to be enfolded in one of Gimli’s great hugs. We thumped each other’s backs, before standing back to grin at each other.

“The better for seeing you!” he said. “although what Greatfather would say about you being in a battle, I shudder to think!”

“He would probably be angry that he missed it,” I answered, and Gimli nodded. Neither of us knew then that our king would be dead the next day in the Battle of Dale, and my father the new King of the Lonely Mountain, as there would be a new Bardling king in Dale. “How went the quest he sent you on?” I asked, for I had still been at home when Uncle Glóin returned from the Council at Rivendell the year before, although I did not know the details.

“I cannot say yet,” he said evasively. “I have seen many strange things, and traveled with good companions; what else can be said for a successful journey?”

I tilted my head. “A fair profit?” I suggested.

He laughed and clapped me on the back again. “Ah, I have missed you, boy, even though I know that you are safe from the Dragon-sickness. Gandalf told me of your trials here on behalf of King Thorin.”

I sighed. “All this time, and I still have not been able to see Lord Denethor.”

“Nor will you, I fear. I have heard that he died by burning last night.”

I stopped short as we walked, staring at him. “By burning? But he was not in the lower levels of the City, at least not before I rode out with Gandalf.”

Gimli lowered his voice. “’Tis a fell tale, not for this place, but I will tell you later. And his heir, since Captain-General Boromir died on our quest, Captain Lord Faramir, lies gravely ill at the Houses of Healing. I was there ere I came seeking you, since my friends did not need me. Come with me, if you have no other tasks right now.”

Only to find the lady, I thought, but where better to inquire than at the Houses? So I went with him.

It was no great surprise to me to see her, not there, but in the Third Circle, drawing one of the biggest dogs I have ever seen from behind a stoop, trying to pick it up. Clearly, from the blood caking the thick brown fur on its back, it was injured.

Once again, I stood beside her, asking, “May I help you, lady?”

And once again, so intent was she upon her task, she did not realize I had spoken to her until I touched her arm. She was wearing the same torn, stained gown as she had before, but somewhere she had found a scarf to put over her hastily-braided hair, and her hand had at one point been bandaged—but still clumsily, so that I suspected that she had done it herself.

“Ser Dwarf,” she said. “I must get him home. I did not thank you—“

“It was nothing,” I said hastily. “But I am glad to see you. I had wanted to attend your husband’s burial.”

Her pale face whitened even more; her eyes were sunken with pain and grief. “There will not be one.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He was burned on a pyre this morning,” she said tonelessly, head drooping.

“A pyre?” I echoed, shocked.

“Not, I think, by your preference,” Gimli observed.

She shook her head.

“How did this happen?” I asked.

“I was pressed into helping with a difficult birth,” she said. “Master Healer Ladramenhirion insisted. He deputed someone to prepare Jehan’s body, but there was some mistake, and rather than let it wait, and the body begin to—to decay, they took it to the pyre on the battlefield this morning, along with the cart to help fuel it. I did not know; I wasn’t able to even straighten his hair or kiss him farewell, and they stripped him; I saw his nightshirt on someone else later. I know it was his, because I embroidered the collar, and the sleeves were too short for the soldier wearing it—“

“Are you certain it was a mistake?” I asked.

She flushed, then paled again miserably. “No,” she whispered. “Few valued him, but he didn’t deserve—he would have hated this! It wasn’t right!”

“Nay, it was not,” said Gimli gruffly. “And the dog is yours as well?”

“He was pulling the cart,” she said, and I nodded my understanding. “But then he was hurt, and there was so much falling out of the sky—I had to get Jehan to shelter at the Houses, and I could not draw Rimbor’s weight too. It hurt my heart to leave him, but I hoped no one would be interested in my Browntail. I came as soon as I could, to take him home.”

“You can't possibly carry him,” I said flatly.

Gimli had already disappeared into a shop near us, and presently emerged from a lane beside it with a barrow, padded with a blanket. Together we lifted the docile dog into it, and Gimli took the handles. His glance at me signaled plainly, Help her.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Down to the Second Circle,” she said.

“Then let us go, lady,” I said gently, drawing her uninjured arm into mine. Indeed, I was half-carrying her, she was so unsteady on her feet.

She directed us down and then to the left, but as soon as we saw the building she meant, we stopped in dismay.

“You cannot go inside!”

“No, indeed!”

“It’s my home,” she said.

“It is also too damaged to be safe; look at it!” I said urgently.

It had been one of the many-storied buildings, perhaps four stories plus a cellar, and it had been so damaged by the bombardment that it was mostly rubble, with the top part of it badly scorched. My heart went out to her, having lost so quickly both her husband and her home and belongings.

For a long moment she gazed at the wreckage. Gimli said quietly, “It will probably have to be torn down completely.”

I glared at him, but she accepted it with a sigh. Then my valiant lady straightened slightly, lifting her chin. “Then I must go elsewhere,” she said softly.

“Have you kin, or friends, to whom we can escort you?” I asked anxiously.

She shook her head. “No. My brother is at the Rufuges, and I misdoubt Jehan’s family survived; their farm was in the Pelannor—not that we were close these past years. Our friends….are gone, or in such case themselves I cannot impose.”

“Then where will you go?” I asked. “You cannot just—stay on the streets!”

“You are very kind,” she answered. “I will be all right.”

“I must know that before I leave you,” I said firmly, reckless of any comments by Gimli. To his credit, he did not even grin at me.

“Then I shall go back to the Houses,” she said. “I can stay in the room used by the other women for a few days, and keep poor Rimbor in the hut; I doubt anyone would mind. If you’ll let me have the barrow, sir, I’ll make sure to return it when I’m done.”

Instead of relinquishing the handles to her, Gimli set off along the street, saying over his shoulder, “I doubt they’d be in any hurry to tend him, but we can do better than that. Come along!”

“Come,” I said, and she perforce had to come with us. As I had guessed, Gimli’s destination was the Fallen Dragon, and in moments, we had engaged a room, and servants were bringing basins of hot water, what healing herbs they had, and clean cloths.

It did not take her long to cleanse and clip some of the thick blood-clotted fur. She held her hands slightly above his back, eyes closed, in what I am told is the Elven way of healing, before choosing which herbs to make into an ointment, and then bandaging him after sewing shut the wound and anointing other, smaller ones. The dog lay motionless, in complete trust, licking her fingers once. Gimli and I had transferred him to one of the cushioned couches before she began her ministrations.

“Now,” I said, once she had finished and was washing her hands, “we will wait for you in the private dining-room for a meal, and then discuss what you will do.” Before she could object, we bowed and retreated.

Silma:

I know now that the shock of all that was happening had numbed the welter of emotions I was feeling, once I realized what had happened to my poor Jehan. How dare they so dispose of his body! In the back of my mind, I knew that it was only rational to dispose of the slain as quickly as might be—certainly Jehan had no right to lie in the Silent Streets of the Hallows—but to so irrevocably destroy his outer shell, so swiftly—and in a society like that of the Dúnedain, who are so preoccupied with the disposition of the dead, this was the final insult.

I did not need Mirieth’s tiny smile to know that she was involved, but I turned from her in sickened silence. In an instant, I was running down through the City, down and out onto the Pelennor, uselessly, desperately.

To my dying day, I shall never be able to forget the smell of the burning bodies, not only that of our fallen soldiers, but also the reek of the yrrch. Even now, no grass will grow on the mound over them, while the ones raised in honor over our dead and the Rohirric mearas steed of their King, neatly fenced, grow green. Would Jehan have felt honored to lie there? I wish I could believe so, but I know that he would not. Unable to fight, he would have felt unworthy, and he had loved the place where his folk had been laid to rest for centuries, near the river, with a view of Ithilien and the mountains.

Weeping, I had returned to the city, wandering briefly before my chaotic thoughts had reminded me of Rimbor. Was he still where I had left him? Did he still live? Or in this cruel world, had someone casually slit his throat after I had abandoned him? If that were so, how could I bear it?

I went as fast as I could, and to my great relief, found him where I had left him. He managed to wag his tail and lick my hand as I bent over him. Poor dog, now masterless! If I could just get him home…

I was struggling to lift him out of the hiding-place, and to carry him, when a familiar voice said kindly in my ear, “Lady, let me help you.”

It was my Dwarf, with another of his kind standing nearby. “I must get him home,” I said.

In moments, they had procured a barrow and even a blanket to pad it, had lifted him in, and the other Dwarf was wheeling it away, my Dwarf helping me along as I directed them to our street down in the Second Circle.

The building was half-destroyed, and what wasn’t showed the marks of fire.

Both Dwarves united in telling me that it was too dangerous to go inside, that the entire building would probably have to be torn down. I stared at it. Jehan was gone; our home was gone. But then Rimbor nudged my hand with his cold wet nose, reminding me that I still had him. I could hear Father’s voice in my mind: So long as you breathe, there is hope. Breath is life. Life is hope. My darling love had proven that many times over; could I show less courage than he had, having suffered so much more than I? And what did possessions matter, when I yet had my faithful dog?

I must go elsewhere. Only when my Dwarf asked if they could escort me to kin or friends did I realize that I had spoken aloud. The notion of such support almost made me laugh without humor, but then I bethought me that they would not understand. “No. My brother is in the Refuges, and Jehan’s kin is likely flattened in the Pelennor. They were estranged long since. Such friends as we have are gone or in such case that I cannot impose.”

Where could I go? But there were still wounded being found on the field and brought in, and the war was not yet over, whether or not we survived the next battle. I would still be needed for a short time at least. I decided, “Then I will go back to the Houses. I can stay in the room used by the women for a few days, and keep poor Rimbor in the hut; I doubt anyone would mind. If you’ll let me have the barrow, sir, I’ll make sure to return it when I’m done.”

But they would not hear of it; the older one rapidly trundled the barrow along the street, with my Dwarf urging me along, right into the Fallen Dragon inn. By the time we caught up, he had bespoken a room, and Rimbor was lying on a couch, the inn-servants bringing what was needed to tend him.

I closed my eyes and held my hands above his body to find out the extent of his injuries, and was relieved to find no sign of internal harm, or torn ligaments, bones or muscles. Only the wound, a few cuts, and weakness from bloodloss and lack of sustenance ailed him. I managed to feed him some raw meat, finely minced, and a bowl of water after tending and bandaging him.

The other Dwarf said, "Brenna will help you,” and when I glanced up, they were gone.

The young maid, not much bigger than I, smiled at me. “If you will come with me, Mistress, there is a bath prepared for you, and I will help you change.”

“I have nothing to change into,” I said slowly, for weariness weighted me down like lead.

“You can borrow a gown from me, an you will,” she offered, and coaxed me into going with her to the bathing-room. I managed, with her help, to bathe and even to wash my hair and mostly dry it. The gown was blue, and almost fit, being just a bit big and a trifle too long, the hem hastily tacked up, and she even loaned me a pair of soft slippers. I would have to be careful not to walk out of them, but they felt wonderful on my aching feet. I braided my damp hair, and after making sure that there was extra water for Rimbor, allowed her to rebandage my hand as I directed. She drew in her breath when she saw it unbound.

“Should there not be stitches in that?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said indifferently. It was one slash, up along my wrist and hand, and I laid the lips of the wound together, smeared them with ointment, and held a pad over them while she wound a bandage and then tied it securely.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully. “I hope keeping you from your work brings you no trouble.”

“My master told me to do this,” she assured me. “I’m to wait here until you come back from your meal with the Dwarves in the green dining-room.”

I tapped almost hesitantly on the door of the dining-room once I found it. How long had it been since Jehan and I had gone out for a meal? We were more apt to eat at home, with my cooking or bringing in something from a vendor. In better times, before he became so frail, we had sometimes on special occasions gone to a common room, never a private room.

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