That evening, able to leave the Houses for a while, I hastened to the guesthouse. The maid admitted me, and I went straight back to the kitchen, where Rimbor wagged his tail as I came in and knelt beside him, setting down the basket of supplies I had brought with me. Once again, I closed my eyes and held my hand above his back….His short bark made me turn and look up.
Dalfinor Redglass entered the room with Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and a tall Man carrying the red satchel of a Healer. The Man looked around.”Where is this Rimbor you spoke of?” he asked in a pleasant if weary voice.
“Right over here,” said Gimli. “Good evening, lady.”
I rose to my feet. “Good evening, Gimli son of Glóin, Lord Legolas, Maser Redglass, Lord Gandalf. And you are, sir--?”
“This is Aragorn son of Arathorn,” Master Redglass said. “This is my lady Silma, and Rimbor.”
The King’s eyebrows rose. “A dog ? You wish me to tend a dog?”
“My Browntail is a very good dog!” I said, forgetting to curtsey in my annoyance.
“Forgive me, mistress, I am sure he is, but I was given to understand that my patient was human—no, come to think of it, that was never stated, was it?” His grey eyes began to twinkle.
“You said you would honor the price,” said Master Redglass stiffly.
The King laughed. “And so I will,” he said, and bowed to me. “Please forgive my discourtesy, my lady. I am somewhat fatigued, and it dulls my perceptions.”
I found myself curtseying to him, a full Court curtsey. “You will be a great king, and your son will be a great king, and there will be greater peace in the world due to your perceptions and rule,” I heard myself say.
The Foreseeing left me, and I almost staggered. Master Redglass started toward me, but Legolas set one hand under my elbow, and the King took my other hand. “Shall we tend Rimbor, Lady Silma?” he asked.
Together we extended our senses, and Aragorn augmented my seeking out the damaged places. When we withdrew, the wounds were almost gone, and we were able to use much smaller dressings.
“A pity we cannot replace blood and strength,” Aragorn commented as he helped me to my feet and guided me to a chair at the table. “Dalfinor, could you fetch me some hot water, please? Now let us look at this,” and before I could protest, he was untying the bandage around my injured hand.
I was aware that Gandalf was very pleased as Aragorn and my lady tended the dog. The Wizard, Legolas and Gimli went into the parlor, but I stayed. When they had finished, as I had hoped, Aragorn insisted upon examining her hand. I shuddered as he took off the bandage, having to soak off the last few blood-encrusted layers. For a very long time, he held her arm and fingers, palm uppermost, concentrating. I saw the jagged wound change from an angry red to a paler shade, drawing together, and some of the strain leave her face.
He bathed it, spread on an ointment, and bound it up. For a moment they looked into each other’s eyes, and he bowed his head in respect before gently laying her hand in her lap. “I know someone who will rejoice to know you, one day,” he said with a smile.
She lowered her eyes, faintly blushing again. “Thank you.”
“Nay, I thank you. I had not expected to meet one with Elvish blood tonight; it lifts my heart.”
She looked up at him, startled. “Elvish blood? I?”
“You did not know? But you know the Elvish way of healing. Who trained you?”
“My grandmother, my mother’s mother. But I never thought we had Elvish blood, although I have some Foresight. We do have some Númenórean blood,I've been told, back a few generations, although few believe it. Certainly I don’t look like it myself, although my brother has dark hair. But we never thought about Elvish ancestry.”
“It was clear to me—although I have heard that sometimes the look of a Peredhil can be changed to reflect that of the human side, particularly if the Elvish parent has chosen Iluvatar’s Gift at a young age. You have many gifts, and a brave heart. Would you tell me your brother’s name, and where he is?”
“He is Jerenemir son of Charl of the House of Issekolinda; many call him Jerenemir Makarmalta, the Goldtrader. I believe he is at the Refuges.” Her tone was neutral, but I began to wonder about a male who would leave the city when his sister and her crippled husband would be in danger, and I could see that Aragorn felt the same.
“I look forward to meeting him.”
“But you won’t—“ she blurted. “I mean, you are the King, and he’s a—a tradesman, a moneychanger, even though he holds a minor office.”
“But if we win, and the war ends, then Ithilien will be repopulated. I would encourage all those formerly from it to resettle. Would he be interested, do you think?”
“I think he would sell the lands if he could keep the title, for he would be reluctant to hire a steward to administer property so far away, yet he would not enjoy living in the country, especially if it meant…hardship.” She was coloring again, but there was a stubborn set to her jaw, and a wistfulness to her tone.
“Still, all lords must swear allegiance to me.”
She inclined her head.
I began to wonder even more about this brother of hers. It sounded as if he had the Dragon sickness.
Aragorn changed the subject. “And how did you come to remain here, Lady?”
“I do not have that title, my lord. That was given up when I married my second husband. Jehan Clerk was crippled from a childhood illness, although he managed to use a cane or crutches for most of his working life as a clerk, first in one of the Steward’s offices, and then for the Glassblower’s Guild as a master lensmaker. His condition was gradually worsening, and for the past three years, he mostly stayed in our home in a building on the Second Circle.”
“Which was destroyed by the bombardment,” I put in. “She is homeless!”
To be tended by a Healer of such gifts and training as the King was an amazing experience, and I wished with all my heart that he had been able to treat Jehan. I also wondered if it was possible to learn even a tenth of his skills to augment my own small abilities. I had been tended only once by a Healer, and that had caused me great pain. But this time, although there was a sensation of great cold, and then heat gradually lessening to warmth, and a tickling feeling, it was almost pleasant. He had a light touch with the ointment, and I knew less weariness when he finished tying the bandage. I would still have some pain, but the wound was much advanced in its healing. I could not imagine whom he meant would enjoy meeting me some day, but I did not ask, so surprised was I when he said, “I had not expected to meet one with Elvish blood tonight; it lifts my heart,” and asked me who had trained me in the Elvish way of healing.
“My grandmother, my mother’s mother,” I replied, for a moment recalling her dear face and gentle expression. I had never thought of it as Elvish, but as a folk tradition. Certainly most of the Healers I had encountered at the Houses of Healing had not used such methods, and had derided me when I had ventured to ask. However, knowing that he had been working at the Houses, and they were sheltering me, I could not criticize. I added, “But I never thought we had Elvish blood, although I have some Foresight. We do have some Númenórean blood, so I was told, back a few generations, although few believe it. Certainly I don’t look like it myself, although my brother has dark hair. But we never thought about Elvish ancestry.”
Aragorn said, “It was clear to me—although I have heard that sometimes the look of a Peredhil can be changed to reflect that of the human side, particularly if the Elvish parent has chosen Iluvatar’s Gift. You have many gifts, and a brave heart. Would you tell me your brother’s name, and where he is?”
“He is Jerenemir son of Charl of the House of Issekolinda; many call him Jerenemir Makarmalta, the Goldtrader. I believe he is at the Refuges.” I tried to keep my tone civil when speaking of him, but I noticed that both Master Redglass and the King frowned slightly, although he politely said that he looked forward to meeting him.
It must have been my fatigue, for I blurted that he wouldn’t, that Jeren was a tradesman as well as holding a minor office (and he would be angry that I said it was minor, if he knew)—wonderful, Silma, sound like a snob, why don’t you, scorning his work as a moneychanger. Many do, although with many currencies coming into the city from many lands, someone has to, and people often do need loans…that I disliked his methods was no one else’s affair. But once again, I had embarrassed myself. Why could I never learn to hold my tongue?
The King was gracious enough to ignore my gaucherie. “But if we win, and the war ends, then Ithilien will be repopulated. I would encourage all those formerly from it to resettle. Would he be interested, do you think?”
“I think he would sell the lands if he could keep the title, for he would be reluctant to hire a steward to administer property so far away, yet he would not enjoy living in the country, especially if it meant…hardship.” Was this some Elvish spell, that so quickly after my resolution not to speak too frankly, I gave my true opinion? Although I did manage not to say the word miser. I vividly remembered how he had hated the camping trips in Ithilien with our father all those years ago, and the white softness of his hands that had never had a callus, unlike Jehan’s gnarled hands roughened by his cane, crutches and tools.
“Still, all lords must personally swear their allegiance to me,” he said.
Interesting. Not to the city, or to Gondor, but to him, personally. A very subtle and political necessity, and necessary it would be for him, coming from outside. Still, were I a Man, or even a recognized Lady, I would so swear to him.
Then he asked me how it was that I was there, leaving unsaid the criticism of why Jeren had not taken me with him…because he was too selfish, I would have wanted to say (and for propriety’s sake, hopefully would have refrained). And once again he called me Lady. I made haste to explain briefly his error.
“There was no room in the wagons for Jehan, and had there been, no one to help me lift him in—even if he would have consented to be parted from me. If he could not go, I could not, for who would have cared for him? And I knew, with my small nursing skills, that I could be of use in the Houses, which had asked for volunteers.”
Master Redglass laid one of his hands over mine; I had not noticed that I was twisting them together in my lap. “Why would not the driver help you?” he demanded, frowning.
“One did offer, but he meant to throw Jehan over his shoulder like a sack of meal, or pick him up under his arms, and that would have hurt and possibly injured him. He was so fragile, you see; if he fell even from standing to the floor, he would be apt to break a bone. He’d had at least four broken legs over the years, and they each took almost a year to knit. He had been a completely normal, active, mischievous little boy, his mother told me, until he became ill as a child. From that day on his joints greatly pained him, he didn’t grow as tall as others in his family, and his arms stopped growing completely. His fingertips were level with his waist.”
She told us how he was not given a place in the wagons taking most of the City’s citizens to the refuges in the mountains, and the one he might have had could not be used because no one understood (or cared, not that she said so directly) how to get him into it without possibly harming him, and she would not leave him behind any more than he had been willing to go without her.
“I did not realize his arms were stunted,” I said. “One could easily see from his eyes that life was strong in him, that a bright spirit dwelt within.”
She gave me a tremulous smile. “Thank you for that; so many would not look beyond his exterior, and acted as if he had no mind at all. He was as intelligent as he was brave—although he wasn’t always willing to suffer fools! Still, he dealt with his condition with far more grace than I would have in his place. He was a good Man.”
“He sounds it,” said Aragorn, “and I regret that I will never know him. But refusing to make provision for him and you was wrong, and I will have it investigated.”
“It’s too late for that,” she said, not bitterly but stating a fact. “Better someone gives me justice for what happened to his body, and makes some provision for those commoners who have lost their homes in the bombardment. And what will happen to the permanently maimed, my lord, those who sacrificed their limbs or their sight or in some cases, their sense of peace and self? Or shall they, once the external wounds are bound up or turned to scars, be left to become beggars and reviled by those who remain whole?” Her hands were fists, now, and she was standing, her unwavering gaze intent on his face.
What a brave, bright spirit dwelt in her as well!
Aragorn nodded slowly. “Those who have suffered in the defense of the city may give Lord Faramir the particulars of what they have lost, and once that has been verified, they will have assistance. As to the maimed—“
“That isn’t enough soon enough, my lord,” she said bluntly. “When folk return to see what they have lost, where will they stay? How will they feed their children, having lost all? What about their workplaces and shops as well as their houses? Getting anything resolved in this city takes many weeks, and often it is a case of whom you know who has some power to hasten a resolution—and most of those who used to live just outside the gates, and those in the First and Second Circles, are not acquainted with the mighty. It is Súlimë now, and there will be cold weather, and mayhap even snow betwixt now and Midsummer Day, and the longer they are homeless and hopeless, the more crime and illness and death there will be, from oldsters down to babes.”
I was greatly moved by Master Redglass’s recognition of the fine spirit that had resided within Jehan when he said, “I did not realize his arms were stunted. One could easily see from his eyes that life was strong in him, that a bright spirit dwelt within.”
The King added, “I regret that I will never know him. But refusing to make provision for him and you was wrong, and I will have it investigated.”
I saw immediately the pitfall that yawned behind that statement, for if he did cause such an investigation to be made, and it injured my brother, I would suffer for it; and if he did not, that would lessen my growing regard for him as a person as well as a king—and a leader’s character is intertwined with his decisions and actions, as all are, but to greater effect. So I said as offhandedly as I could that it was too late for that. Suddenly I realized that I had an opportunity that might never present itself again and I had better use it while I could. “Better someone gives me justice for what happened to his body, and makes some provision for those commoners who have lost their homes in the bombardment. And what will happen to the permanently maimed, my lord, those who sacrificed their limbs or their sight or in some cases, their sense of peace and self? Or shall they, once the external wounds are bound up or turned to scars, be left to become beggars and reviled by those who remain whole?”
He answered in the usual bureaucratic jargon of referring complaints about losses and petitions for aid to the Steward to be verified before aid was given, and I was so disappointed that my temper flared.
“That isn’t enough soon enough, my lord. When folk return to see what they have lost, where will they stay? How will they feed their children, having lost all? What about their workplaces and shops as well as their houses? Getting anything resolved in this city takes many weeks, and often it is a case of whom you know who has some power to hasten a resolution—and most of those who used to live just outside the gates, and those in the First and Second Circles, are not acquainted with the mighty. It is Súlimë now, and there will be cold weather, and mayhap even snow betwixt now and Midsummer Day, and the longer they are homeless and hopeless, the more crime and illness and death there will be, from oldsters down to babes.” I found myself standing, fists clenched. Inwardly, I was appalled by my boldness and rash tongue. Would I end up in prison for such temerity? But this was so vitally important!
“Please sit down, lady,” he said, and as I opened my mouth, added, “For so I rightly call you. You were born to that rank, and you act most correctly in reminding me of the needs of our people. I admit that I have been focused on the military aspect of matters.”
“Well for us that you have!” I interpolated.
“Thank you. But you are right in reminding me of more domestic and long-term affairs. We will endeavor to suspend some of the more redundant Court customs and traditions. I intend for my folk to be well-treated, and while I am one of the commanders of the Host of the West and we must leave tomorrow for Mordor—“
“Mordor?” I gasped, even as I thought, I must stop interrupting him! “You are going to the Black Land itself?” Ioreth had said so, but I had not truly believed it.
“Aye, we leave tomorrow.”
“Who—?” my voice failed. Affairs were indeed desperate if they were actually going to the Enemy’s stronghold! Terror seemed to crest over me like a wave.
“The army of Gondor,“ --what was left of it-- "the Knights of Dol Amroth, the Rohirrim, the Rangers of the North,” he said. I looked at them aghast; surely that was marching to destruction! A seething cauldron of emotions roared in my ears, so that I did not clearly hear his next few words nor a comment from Master Redglass, for a moment.
The King resumed, “However, Lord Faramir and Lord Húrin will be in charge of the city. And in future days, may I rely on you to assist in such matters as we have discussed?”
“If I am not needed at the Houses,” I said inanely. Why not? We would all be dead, or wishing we were…
“My thanks. But it grows late, and I must return to the Citadel.” We all rose and he bowed to me, and took my hand. “I am most happy to have met you, Lady Silma. May the Valar bless you.”
I curtseyed. “And you as well, my lord King. May the stars shine upon you.”
“Good night, Dalfinor,” he said, and departed.
I rejoiced in her spirited demand for help for the citizens of Minas Anor, and was pleased by his responses that Aragorn too had taken her measure. When he mentioned that the Host was departing to Mordor the next day, I thought for a terrible instant that she might swoon, she turned so pale, but he reassured her, and I added, “And one Elf and one Dwarf, and Tharkûn. I mean, Mithrandir.” And if it came out a bit gruffly, well, I still was not too pleased about staying behind.
Aragorn asked if she would be willing to assist with these matters while he was gone, and I had a sudden vision of her on the ramparts, in too-large chainmail, a oversized helm slipping down over her eyes, trying to wield a sword too big for her—and an orc looming over her from a scaling ladder. I growled deep in my throat as they said their farewells and the King left.
“I must leave as well,” she said abruptly. “I had not intended to stay so long. Ah, Rimbor, you are a lucky dog, to be healed by the King himself! And so was I.”
“I will escort you to the Houses,” I said.
Master Redglass offered to escort me to the Houses—a bit peremptorily, but no doubt he had much on his mind, with the Host marching the next day. My thoughts were so chaotic I could barely think at all past my fear and grief. There were so few of them against what we knew was the vast size of the Enemy’s forces, for all that I had heard told me that the Evil One had sent only a small portion of them against the City—and that portion had filled the vast plains before it! We had barely survived that battle; how could we defend ourselves without the defenders? Surely they would all be slain, and then what would restrain our foes from again marching on Minas Anor, and this time overwhelming us? I thought of my new acquaintances (inwardly, I substituted the word friends) lying bloodsoaked and dying, especially him, if not being devoured, and was glad of the dim light concealing my face as I struggled to repress my emotions. He had been so kind to me, yet I knew that if I attempted to express my gratitude, I might lose my composure completely, and how could I endure his scorn for my human weakness? I could not!
So when we came to the entrance of the Houses, I said breathlessly, “I am late—thank you so much for all you have done—“ and began to slip inside without looking at him.
“Wait.” That single word rooted my feet to the paving-stones. “Never mind that! You will stay within the Houses for the next few days.”
“If I can,” I said. “I may have to leave it—“
“Aye, I can see why you might.” He sounded angry; what had I done to annoy him?
It was another silent walk, and I almost wished the guest house to be on the lowest Circle, that it had been longer. I could see that she was abstracted and weary, not to mention her continuing grief. No matter how I tried to put aside that horrible picture of her that had intruded on my mind, I could not, and was cudgeling my brain to devise some plan to keep her safe.
All too soon, we arrived, and she murmured some well-bred formal words about gratitude. I rudely brushed them aside, saying instead, “Never mind that! You will stay within the Houses for the next few days.” Then I winced; what right had I to command her?
Lady that she was, she answered, “If I can. I might have to leave—“
Of course; if the Host fell, and failed to keep the Enemy’s army from breaching our defenses, she might need to flee…although I could all too easily envision her standing her ground at the Houses and trying to defend a patient.
“Do you have a knife?” I demanded.
Her hand went reflexively to her belt and the small scabbard I could see was empty. “Oh—I must have lost my belt-knife.”
“Here.” Brusquely I handed her a knife of my own, perhaps two hands longer than her own, slipping its sheath from my own belt. “Keep it with you. Do you promise?”
“But will you not need it?”
“I have others. Keep it with you at all times. Promise me!”
Our hands touched on its handle. Her fingers were cold. “Promise me!” I insisted.
“I promise,” she whispered. Did I imagine her other hand touching my head as I bowed? “Valar guide and bless you—I must go!”