I had much to ponder as Master Redglass wheeled Rimbor up through the Circles, and was grateful for something else to think about besides my own situation. Would Lord Faramir greet the new King? His support, and that of Prince Imrahil, would be crucial, but he was fortunate in already being so lauded by other Kindreds and people of power such as Elrond, from what I had read. I wondered what it would be like, to know such legends as Elrond and the Lady Galadriel, a Pûkel-man, or one of the Ents. Imagine growing up, living, in an Elvish home! All that he had been able to learn! And traveling as he must, all those many years….It might be hard and lonely, but think of all he had seen and experienced! And to meet one of the Eagles! What an honor that would be! My mother had been very learned about the feathered folk, as learned as my father had been about plants, and our family had long venerated the Eagles as almost holy. When I had longed for my parents after their deaths, I had dreamed that they had flown on the backs of Eagles to Valinor, to stay happily with our ancestors in the Halls of Nandos.
The Dwarf and I did not talk on the way. I longed to, but could not think of anything clever enough to say beyond reiterating my thanks. How weary he must be of pushing the barrow upwards! And how kind he had been, he and Master Gimli. I knew that my brother would disapprove of my behavior, and would scold me for possibly entangling myself with a Dwarf, shifty and grasping as they were said to be, and the possible risk of disgracing him yet again, yet I had not sought Master Redglass out, and how could I refuse his aid when I had needed it so sorely for those I loved? If he charged me a price, whatever it was, I resolved to pay it uncomplainingly. I owed a debt.
I pushed the barrow, almost grateful for her slow pace. Having seen the other Women at the Fallen Dragon, I was more conscious of how much she must have suffered, to be so thin and pale compared to them, and longed for her to be somewhere that she would be well and safe. If only I could take her deep within the Lonely Mountain!
I almost stopped short, stunned by the thought—and the feeling of rightness that attended it. She was a Woman of the Dúnedain, not a Dwarf! These idiotic Men did not prize their women as we did, having so many more of them, but I damned them all for fools not to see how rare and fine she was.
That this Aragorn would not proclaim himself as yet also caused sobering reflections.
“Until the war is decided…” Aye, indeed. Even the Lonely Mountain might not be as safe as I would like to believe it, if the Enemy triumphed. Little did I know that the next day, my greatfather would be dead, and King Bard of Laketown as well, and that my sire would become Thorin Stonebow, after a great siege and battle at the very gates of our home!
My lady walked slowly, one hand gently on Rimbor’s head (o fortunate dog!), her face and manner remote. Was she weary of my company? For the first time in my life, I wished I had the grace and ease of an Elf.
All too soon, we arrived at the guesthouse; I knocked, explained to the maidservant who answered that Lord Mithrandir wished the dog to stay in the kitchen for some days until his mistress could come for him. She nodded, adding that she would be sure that he was taken outside in a corner of the small garden to relieve himself, and that food would be brought down for him from the Citadel kitchens with the meals for the guests housed there. I wheeled Rimbor inside and along a short hallway. The maid helped us arrange a bed in a corner, put down dishes of food and water, and the good beast nuzzled my hand. I patted him awkwardly; Dwarves take care of mules or ponies on our journeys, when we don’t walk, but I knew little of other beasts except for the hunting and fishing I had done when supplies were low. Compared to a Man or Elf, I was the veriest tyro with canines!
All too soon we were outside at the entrance. She held out her hand to me. “My thanks, Master Redglass. You have lightened these sad memories for me with your kindness. I will long remember meeting you, Master Gimli and Lord Legolas.”
“Can I not escort you to the Houses?” I asked.
“Nay, I have imposed on your time long enough. I will take the barrow back, and then go.”
“Then at least allow me to return it, since it is on my way.”
I took her hand carefully and bowed, but could find no words that would be proper. Why did I feel so—desolate—to be saying goodbye to a Woman of the Dúnedain?
She withdrew her hand from mine, and curtseyed.
I turned and took the barrow down to the shop, partly cheered by the thought that I could probably find out through Gimli or the maid when she reclaimed Rimbor, and where she took him.
It was not far to the Houses, yet somehow it seemed a weary distance…but I had rested so little, it was no wonder. I promised myself that I would find somewhere else for Rimbor soon, and also find some way to repay the Dweorg for their kindnesses. I deliberately did not think about what Lord Mithrandir had said, for such foreseeing on my behalf made me uneasy. I have had them myself (although my brother has not, to his annoyance, and I have pretended that I outgrew them, lest he force me to try to see something he can turn to his own advantage against someone else).
At the Houses, Ioreth quickly set me to sorting supplies; the word had come from the Citadel, from the commanders—Lord Imrahel, Lord Mithrandir and(so he temporarily styled himself) Captain Aragorn: the Host of the West, including the Rohirrim, would march the next day to the gates of Mordor itself.
I stared at the good woman, appalled. Several of the other women began to cry and lament. “We will all die!” one sobbed hysterically. “The Enemy will overrun them and then us! We’ll all be eaten and ravished and die!”
“In that order?” I asked dryly, and before she caught herself, Mirieth snorted a laugh, then looked affronted.
Ioreth too laughed. “Silma is right! The Valar would not give us our King returned, our King who is a Healer as well as a warrior, and then let our enemies triumph! Pray, and while you do that, busy your hands and minds on what they will need, and those injured who are in our charge. ‘Tis not over yet!”
Briskly she set us to necessary tasks, and we scattered to do them, until we were sent to eat and then to rest for a few hours. I was so weary I could not sleep, a state I had experienced before, so I sat up winding bandages in a corner, not to disturb anyone else. Near dawn, I realized that Mirieth was awake and watching me—and that was when I realized that tears had been slipping silently down my face. I wiped them away, willing myself to calmness, and looked at her challengingly.
After a few seconds’ hesitation, she got up and came to sit down next to me; I handed her some of the cloth strips. She whispered, “How can you—“
“Someone will need these,” I murmured back.
“You—you are grieving.”
“Do you think it is only the highest born who love, and grieve for a loss?” Her surprise angered me.
“But he was baseborn, misshapen—“
I leaned close to her. “And my highborn lord was as twisted as—as a corkscrew in his soul, while Jehan was a great and good man. Does only the exterior matter? Does only an accident of birth give value to a life? You are ignorant, Mirieth.”
“I am one of the most accomplished ladies of the court!”
“Ah, how could I forget how vital it is to dress in the latest fashions, know the language of flowers and fans, the latest scandals and gossip, the endless dance of seeking power and prestige!” I agreed sarcastically.
“Just because you are a failure—“
“Is it a failure to be loved by a good man?” I asked her. She stared at me as if I was speaking Khandish, and perhaps to her I was.
We were interrupted by a tap at the door and Ioreth sweeping in to rouse us all to morning food and tasks, and the news that the Host of the West would be marching forth the next day.
Gimli was waiting for me at the shop where I returned the barrow, and suggested I come with him to the Citadel to meet Thorkûn and Aragorn. Having nothing else to do, I agreed. The throneroom was stark in its white and black, with the tall statues of former Stewards, some indifferently sculpted. A table filled with maps and other papers had been set in front of the Steward’s chair at the foot of the high dais, and there sat the commanders. I guessed that the handsome Dúnedain with the faintly silvered hair and the swan insignia on his blue surcoat must be Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, and so the tall man in worn leathers and the silver star brooch on his cloak (for the hall was chill), must be this as yet unproclaimed King. Of the others, I particularly noticed a tall Man with one arm, a sword at his side and an emblem of crossed keys on his surcoat. Little did I know then that Lord Húrin would become a valued friend.
“Ah, Gimli, there you are,” said Gandalf.
“Yes, and my kinsman Dalfinor Redglass with me,” he answered. “Dalf, this is Strider, also known as Aragorn son of Arathorn, of the Rangers of the North.”
I bowed. “At your service and your family’s,” I said.
He left his chair to bow to me and then take my forearm in a warrior’s clasp. “I am honored. Gimli has told me of your many talents. I did not know that one of his kin was here.”
“Lord Denethor commandeered my wagons and ponies, as well as my wares, and then would not see me,” I said shortly.
A tall Man—were all Men so tall in this place?--, only with long blond hair and beard, in green with a white horsehead on his surcoat, snorted as he walked closer, a tankard in one hand. “From what I have heard, you will not see them again, Master Dwarf.”
I set my hands on my axebelt and looked up at him. “And I tell you, sir, that I will have fair recompense if I do not.”
“And so you shall,” said Aragorn. “Ėomer King of Rohan, may I present Dalfinor Redglass, a kinsman of Gimli’s?”
The Rohirric king inclined his head to me. “Well-met, Dalfinor Redglass. There is some fair ale in a keg over there, if you thirst.”
Gimli came over carrying two tankards and handed me one of them. “I have told Ėomer that we brew finer ale under the Lonely Mountain than he has ever tasted.”
“We have good ale in Rohan, Gimli,” the young King said mildly.
“It wasn’t bad, what I tasted in Edoras,” he agreed judiciously. “Dalf, here, is one of the best brewers we have.”
I stared at him in surprise. “I wouldn’t say that,” I objected.
Gimli grinned. “You are too modest, Cousin.”
“We will have to compare some different brews,” Ėomer said cheerfully.
A feeling of foreboding swept over me, seeing Gimli’s evil grin, and I heard Legolas sigh. Pesky tiptoeing Elves, creeping up like that! He exchanged a glance with Aragorn, who had a tiny smile at the corners of his mouth. “Mayhap later,” he said. “Now, gentlemen, if we could discuss the disposition of our march—“
Gandalf detached himself from the conversation and came over to me. “Is the dog at the guesthouse?”
“In the midst of the end of the world, Gandalf, why are you so concerned about the fate of one dog?” I asked curiously.
The Wizard cocked an eyebrow at me. “It is not the end of the world yet.”
“But why?” I persisted.
“Why have you troubled yourself with his owner?” he asked in his turn.
“I don’t know,” I growled. “And once again, you aren’t answering my question!”
“Because it’s important,” he replied.
“Two Hobbits, and several possible futures.”
I glared at him, and he smiled faintly, laying one long hand on my shoulder. “Drink your ale, Dalfinor, and trust.”
Aragorn came to us, and Gandalf bowed to him and walked away to speak to Legolas and Prince Imrahil.”Dalfinor, may I ask if you are coming with us?”
“To the Gates of Mordor?”
I regarded him thoughtfully. “Do you wish it?”
“No, I do not.”
“If it is because Gimli thinks I am too young—“ I began hotly, but he shook his head.
“Nay, it is because of what he has told me of your skills. We go on what may be a hopeless journey. But if we fall, who then shall oppose the Enemy and his forces, in this city that almost fell to him already? I would feel better to know that someone who understood fortifications remained here, to help defend them.”
“And if you fall, my lord, what will prevent him from annihilating all of us?” I asked.
“I cannot say. Perhaps nothing. It may be that the end of the world as we know it will have come, and all yet living shall end as tormented slaves of the Enemy. But it may not be so, and provision must be taken in case we stand and the Enemy falls. Lord Faramir is Steward in his father’s place, and Lord Húrin of the Keys will help him—“
“I thought that Lord Faramir lay fevered and close to death, like the Lady Ėowyn and the Hobbit,” I interrupted.
“Merry and the Lady are much recovered, and I was just able to call Faramir back. All three will need more time to recover, but Lord Faramir is in command. He is new come to this position, one he ever thought would be his brother Boromir’s, although I know he will discharge it well and with all honor. But he will need help. Will you give it to him?”
The face of the lady Silma rose in my mind. She would be here in the city, vulnerable as all its folk would be.
“You are a healer?” I asked.
He looked startled. “I was trained as one, as well as in woodscraft and fighting, aye.”
“Then I will stay, for a price.”
“And what is that price?”
“That you will come with me and use your skills as a healer.”
“I would do that anyway.”
“Still, it is the price I require,” I said.
He rubbed a hand over his face and nodded. “If you wish it.”
“Excellent!” said Gimli.
“Do you know this patient I shall have?” Aragorn asked him.
Gimli nodded. “Rimbor is loyal and brave. Isn’t he, Legolas?”
“So I have heard,” agreed the Elf.
“He is,” seconded Gandalf. “This is a good use of your time, my friend. He is staying at the guesthouse where Merry and I are, on Istil Street.”