I am very grateful that Azalais is loaning me Parmandil! Please note that I have updated the chapter on Tunnels and Caves, changing Merdil to Parmandil.
I was very tired, and Healer Dolgorian gave me a draught after his examination and bandaging the cut in my hand. Master Redglass came in, spoke briefly with Lady Ėowyn and sat with me as I slid into sleep. When I awakened, about a candle-mark later, Lord Faramir and the White Lady had gone back to the Houses with the Healer, and Lord Hứin had gone elsewhere. Master Redglass insisted that I drink another draught and eat something, then picked me up. I closed my eyes, dizzy again, as he carried me out.
We were partway across the Court of the White Tree when we both felt a change. Immediately, he went to the wall giving a view of the mountains between us and Mordor. I opened my eyes, and gasped.
The roiling black and red-shot clouds that had been visible for so long were dispersing, giving way to sunlight and blue sky! A wind blew, and I smelled a scent so clean and pure that I felt better at once. I peered into the brightness. “Eagles!” I breathed. “Eagles are there!”
How long we gazed I do not know, nor when I slid back into slumber, but I shall never forget it.
I slept, and woke, and slept again. When next I woke, I found myself abed in a pleasant room, a large, heavy body near my feet. Rimbor lifted his head, then began licking my hands and face as I hugged him, his tail wagging so hard he shook the bed.
“Oh, my good boy! How did you get here? Where is here?” I got unsteadily out of bed, put a lovely pale blue robe that lay over a chair over the white bed-gown I was wearing, and went to the door. It opened before I got there, and a maidservant entered with a large tray.
“Ah, you’re awake! How do you feel, my lady?”
“Brenna? Am I at the Fallen Dragon?”
“Aye, Master Redglass brought you the day before yesterday. I put you to bed, and you have slept very soundly, even when we were waking you every little while at first. How do you feel?”
“A bit stiff,” I said cautiously. “Master Redglass brought me here?”
“You should sit down. Are you hungry?”
“A bit.” I sat down in a cushioned chair near the small fire, and she began brushing my hair—what was left of it, now barely to the middle of my back. Well, it would grow!
“You must be so sore,” she said sympathetically. “I saw all those awful bruises. He told me that you killed three orcs!”
“No, only one,” I said.
She began braiding. “’Only‘ one? I would faint if I saw any close by! Thank the Valar those days are over! There, that’s better.”
“You’re welcome.” She patted my shoulder and went out; a moment later, after a gentle knock, Master Redglass came in, smiling at me, with a sheathed sword under one arm.
“The day’s greeting, Lady Silma! How are you today?”
“Much rested. How are you, Master Redglass?” I responded.
He sat down in another cushioned chair, setting the sword down in its scabbard. “Well, I thank you, now that I know you are mending. Forgive me for asking, but am I right that you said your sword glowed blue?”
“It seemed to. A queer fancy of mine.”
“It was no fancy, but fact. I spent a bit of time while you were sleeping, examining it in more detail. Lord Faramir was kind enough to translate the words on the blade for me, with the help of Master Parmandil. This blade was made long ago by a swordsmith in Arnor, and buried in one of the barrows on the Tyrn Gorthad. Someone must have stolen it at some point.”
My eyes widened. “At great peril! I have heard that those barrows are haunted. They are the most sacred tombs of the Cardolani, but evil wights invaded them long since. Hír Pelandur’s lands are almost uninhabitable, which is why his House is so poor.”
“Umph. Well, somehow it ended up in the armory of the Citdel.”
“Did you say there are runes on the blade?” I asked politely. Males seem to be interested in such things, or so I understand.
“Aye. The script reads:
Lorekeeper fashioned me to ward and guard
My lady from the yrch’s harm.
If blue I glow, then near they go
Brighter, closer, paler, far.
Heed my glint’s alarm!
My lady ever I will ward and guard.
Ser Calembral could not have chosen better for you if he had tried.”
“But he brought two swords; you chose that one,” I reminded him.
He looked absurdly pleased. Since he seemed to regard this so seriously, I asked, “Why?”
“Because this sword, whether forged for a woman of the Cardolani—they are a Mannish people, yes?”
“Yes, but if it was in the barrows, then it was forged for one of the Royal line of Arnor,” I replied.
“Very well. Whether it was forged for a lady of that line, or merely in defense of one, when you used it, it aroused the old spells imbued in it, and so it glittered blue when the yrch came. It will always do so. Master Merry told me that he and the other Hobbits have swords from a barrow on those barrow-downs, and theirs glow too. We will have to experiment, but I think it’s adjusted itself to your use. Lady Ėowyn wishes to give you instruction.”
I blinked at him, filled with a sense of complete unreality. “Is this an example of Dwarvish humor?” I asked cautiously.
“Nay, why would it be?”
“Master Redglass, I’m just a—a plain working woman of the city, not a warrior! What need have I of a sword, much less one of such lineage?” I wasn’t even certain if I was using the correct terms.
“Lady Silma, you are many things, but plain is not one of them! You really must stop deprecating yourself. Orcsbane is your sword now, so while I pray you will not have need of it, you should learn to wield it properly.”
He could not possibly mean….I tried desperately not to blush, but could feel the heat in my face. It seemed better to focus on the rest of what he was saying. “But I’m not a warrior! And I cannot afford to have a sword! I have no place in my life for such a thing!”
Rimbor, picking up on my unease, whined and looked from me to him and back.
Master Redglass looked puzzled, before his brow cleared. “You will come to it.”
“I will not come to it!” I snapped, suddenly angry at the whole notion. “This is ridiculous!”
He smiled at me. “You are cross!” he said, pleased. “Good! It is a sign that you are recovering.”
I glared at him. “I am not cross!”
I heard sounds suspiciously like a chuckle and a giggle from the doorway, and glanced in that direction to see Lord Faramir and Lady Ėowyn. “No,” I said deliberately. “I’m angry!”
To wait for a night and a day and another night while she slept was difficult, although I was assured that she needed the rest. Besides sitting beside her, I spent some time examining the blade she had borne, and conferring with Lords Faramir and Húrin concerning the problem of the tunnels. Since only one of the other parties had found any orcs whatsoever, we concluded cautiously that it had just been those few in those two, but Lord Faramir kept all of them under guard until they could be better investigated. It fascinated me to realize that the length and weight of the sword had changed slightly since I had last handled it, and Lord Faramir had assisted me in reading the script on the blade.
The day before she awakened, I was repairing her daggar--a simple matter--when a tap on the door heralded Master Parmandil, blinking away from his caverns. "I hope I do not interrupt?" he asked nervously.
"Nay, she must have her sleep out, I'm told," I replied with a bow. "She will be sorry she missed your visit; Lord Faramir told me you rarely leave your charges."
"I would go farther yet for her," he said softly. "Ser Calembrel bid me bring these," gingerly handing me Orcsbane's scabbard and belt. I hastened to reunite them, and he continued, "What strange twists her life has taken! I am beginning to think I should add her tale to the chronicles."
"Then you are more than the Lore-Keeper?" I asked. "You are the Chronicler as well?"
The color rose in his thin face. "I have written a few lines here and there, as matters have come to my attention," he said modestly. "Lord Echthelion, Steward Deenethor's father, appointed me, and his son never rescinded the appointment, although it was a near thing now and again."
"How so?" I asked. "In my land, such an appointment is so great an honour, it is never rescinded."
"I had a...difference of opinion concerning Captain Thorongil's importance in our history, to what Lord Denethor would have had it," he said slowly. His jaw hardened, and his quiet voice held sudden fire. "This is why the Steward does not write the history himself; he may be too close to an event to judge it or those participating in it clearly. Like a man or not, find him mysterious or not, the fact remains of his deeds!"
I bowed respectfully to him. "So you suffered for the truth. You are a Man of conviction, Master Parmandil."
"I did not say I suffered, Master Redglass," he demurred.
"When I see a Man rub his arm as you do--and I can recognize an old scar when I see one, coming from under the edge of your tunic over the back of your right hand to between the fingers and thumb--that scar was made by a blade of some kind. Did he dare to take a sword to you?"
"The little blade I use for trimming quills," he said in a low tone. "I felt quite foolish that he was able to snatch it up so easily. I have always been grateful that Faramir never noticed my changing from writing with my right hand to my left. He is--was--a dutiful and loving son, a good boy and a gifted scholar. Such a pity that he had to spend so much time with a sword! Do you know, that incident gave me quite a new understanding of Lord Boromir? He helped me write out what his father wanted. I'll never forget what he said. 'Put what he wants in the chronicles, Parmandil, and let him think you have obeyed. But keep a copy of what you wanted to wrte, for I promise you, when I become Steward, you shall put it where it belongs. As my old nurse used to say, what the eye don't see, the heart won't grieve for, and that's the case here.' And he winked at me. He would have let his brother learn the lore as he longed to. But Faramir will be--is--a better Steward than either of them!"
I smiled at him. "You should drop a word to that effect into the ear of Captain Aragorn."
"The one they call Strider, Mithrandir's friend?" Parmandil surprised me by asking. He chuckled, pale eyes twinkling. "Already done! I met him when Prince Imrahil, Mithrandir, and some others sent for maps while they were taking counsel before they left. I laid both versions before him, after I drew him aside, and I told him the tale. He'd be a fool to cast our lad aside, so he would--and he doesn't strike me as a fool."
Clearly the old man had seen something in Strider to know who he really was; I wondered how, and who this Thorongil was that Denethor so evidently disliked. Probably someone I would like, for I had heard little to respect about Faramir's father. Any person in a responsible position who would try to force a lorekeeper to lie, who would injure him so cruelly, was despicable!
Parmandil spent some more time with me, agreed with Faramir's interpretation of the runes, and told me a few anecdotes of famed swords and swordsmiths of Cardolan which confirmed my estimates of this blade. At last, he excused himself and departed, and I resumed my vigil.
When at last my lady awakened, and Brenna told me I could go in, I was delighted to see that she looked less drawn, although she was still pale and unsteady. To my surprise, she did not greet my news about the sword with any enthusiasm; in fact, she denied any need for it. Could she not see that the sword had bound itself to her? When I told her that she must learn to wield it, her color deepened with anger—and she denied any irritability!
Lord Faramir said, “You did not hear us knock, and the door was ajar.”
I wondered how long they had listened, and the same idea had no doubt crossed her mind, because she glared at them and folded her arms.
Lady Ėowyn asked, “May we visit with you for a time?”
“Don’t get up,” added Faramir hastily, and she sank back in her chair. “Why are you angry, my lady?”
“It is a sign of her recovery,” I said.
“It is a sign of your talking foolishness!”
“What foolishness is that?” asked Faramir, sitting down.
“Master Redglass seems to think that carrying the sword you lent me makes me a warrior or some such! Is it not absurd?”
“Erm, no, it isn’t,” said the Steward. “And it is your sword now.”
“But what would I do with a sword?” she demanded. “I don’t want it!”
“’Tis a very fine sword—“ I began.
She leaned forward, biting off each word for emphasis. “I. Am. Not. A. Warrior. I’m an ordinary, everyday, average, normal, plain woman of the City, and we do not carry swords! I mean no disrespect, Lady Ėowyn, but we do not have shieldmaids as Rohan does. No. Thank you, I’m sure you mean well, but no. I don’t want it.”
“But—“ I began.
“Let me, Master Redglass,” said the White Lady. “If you gentlemen would excuse us?”
Lord Faramir took my arm. “Come, Master Dwarf, You can discuss this with her at another time.”
Lady Ėowyn set her chin on her hand and regarded me thoughtfully after Lord Faramir escorted Master Redglass from the room. In the silence, I heard the conversation over in my mind, and felt acutely uncomfortable. I had, to say the least, been rude. Extremely rude. He had never been other than courteous and kind, and I had almost screamed—well, truth to say, there was no “almost” about it—I had screamed at him like a Belfalas fishwife! I swallowed against a lump in my throat, and asked huskily, “Do you think he will accept an apology? Will you, my lady?”
“And why would you apologize to me?” she asked.
“Because I was so rude. Some might say I was insulting.”
“Faramir and I have pledged our troth to each other,” she said.
“How wonderful!” I exclaimed.
“Do you think so?”
“Of course! It is clear that you are a good match one for the other, and any dolt can see how you love each other!”
She smiled radiantly at me. “We do. It is a great wonder to me; I had not looked for such a love. And to think I will live here in this stony place!”
“It is not all stony,” I hastened to reassure her. “We have hidden gardens which can be quite beautiful. Will you announce the betrothal soon?”
“First we must speak with my brother.” The radiance dimmed slightly.
“Surely he will approve?”
“I hope so, but with Rohan having suffered so much in the war, and his never expecting to be king, I think he has been depending on me to help him. I cannot wed for at least a year, does he approve.”
“But that will give him an opportunity to learn to know Lord Faramir,” I said. “And surely they have much in common.”
“They do? I need all the help possible! He is very protective of his little sister, and has been since our parents died when we were children. First I have to brave his wrath that I disobeyed our uncle and came.”
“Yet what would have befallen had you not? Was there not some prophecy that the Lord of the Ringwaiths could not be slain by a Man?” I asked. “I would say, my lady, that beside yourself—surely they wish your happiness—why, they have both been warriors in this war, and are newly come to responsibilities neither ever expected to shoulder.”
“I had not thought of that! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, my lady.”
“Oh, I wish you would stop being so formal, at least when we are not in public!” she exclaimed. “I am in great need of friends here, so far from my home! Will you not be one of them?”
I stared at her and she added after a moment, “I’m sorry, I should not have presumed you would want to—“
She was shy! I said, “’Tis not that, my lady, I was just amazed that you would want to befriend me.”
“Why not? Even if you are not a warrior.” Her blue eyes danced before she sobered. “I had not always planned to be a shieldmaiden; that was necessity from the evil surrounding us. I was ever interested in the outdoors, so it came more easily, and there is that tradition in our country’s past, but I enjoy gentler pursuits as well. Having been in battle, I have now decided to learn about the healing arts. Lothíriel and Dame Ioreth have told me of your expertise; we could learn from each other.”
“I am not formally trained as a healer, but I would be happy to help you in any way I can,” I said. “But, Lady Ėowen, when you marry Lord Faramir, you will be at Court. It would not aid you to be known as my friend.”
“You are friends with Lothíriel,” she pointed out.
“Princess Lothíriel is of such high rank in this realm that few would dare give her trouble, and she may be going soon back to Dol Amroth,” I replied. “Forgive me if I am overstepping—Lord Faramir told me that he is only the Acting Steward; I think he believes that the King will relieve him of that office. If he does, your rank will be lower than the Princess', and being a foreigner, you may be prey to much gossip and subtle nastiness from the ladies at Court. Many of them hoped to wed his late brother; they will not look kindly upon you for wedding Faramir.”
“Aragorn is not such a fool as to throw away a good man and experienced commander,” she replied. “As for the rest, you only confirm my thoughts. I need someone to steer me through this maze. We in Rohan are blunter.”
“My knowledge of current intrigues is sadly outdated, however. As I said, I am not in a position to help you. Indeed, my reputation is such that you should keep me as the merest acquaintance,” I warned her.
“Lothíriel and Faramir both told me of your background,” she said. “I am very sorry for all that you have suffered in the past, Lady Silma, and I hope that we can still be friends. I know that I have much to learn in my new life here, and I must make many changes, but how I choose my friends is not going to be one of them. Would it assuage your qualms if I tell you that Faramir heartily agrees with my estimate of you? We both hope that you will befriend me as you did him.”
“That gladdens my heart,” I said frankly. “Shall we say that if you reconsider our friendship in the future, I will hold no ill-will?”
She spoke her mind, as I had already guessed she would. “I doubt I will, but it grieves me that your life has been such that you expect me to do so. Very well, for now, we are friends.”
“For now,” I agreed, smiling. “In fact, my lady—“
“Are friends so formal here, all the time?” she asked. “My name is Ėowyn.”
“In fact, Ėowyn, you might do me a favor, if you will,” I said, and continued at her gesture, “Truly, I am ill at ease with this gift of the sword. I have nowhere to keep it, and I can hardly wear it girt around me all the time! If one of Lothíriel’s servants were to pack it up by mistake when she returns home, it would create an awkwardness for her, and I dislike taking it to the Houses.”
“They were not overglad to have mine about, but they expect almost anything from the barbarian shieldmaid!” she said wryly. “So you would like me to keep yours with mine?”
“If that isn’t too much trouble?"
“None at all, especially since I have been dying to examine it! From what Master Redglass says, it is quite a blade!”
“I know nothing about it,” I confessed. “In fact, I’m not even sure where it is.”
“Um, it is leaning against the arm of your chair,” she said delicately.
I looked down at it in surprise. “I was certain that Master Redglass had it last, by the chair where you’re sitting.”
“He said it has bound itself to you. It will not be far from you most of the time unless you tell it to be—and then it might not obey. It would more likely obey if you give it to another female.”
“Surely that is just the stuff of tales!” I exclaimed.
She shook her head. “Oh, no. Did no one mention to you that Lord Aragorn bears Anduril, the Flame of the West? It was remade by Lord Elrond from the shards of Narsil.”
My jaw dropped. “But—but Narsil is the blade that slew the physical body of Sauron!” I gasped.
She nodded. “Like being inside a tale, isn’t it, or a history? I felt as if I had been hit over the head by a fence rail myself when I first heard that. Lord Elrond came to the mustering of Rohan to give it to him—it had been kept safely in Rivendell all this time, you see—and I noticed when Aragorn came from my uncle’s tent that he wore a different sword. Uncle told me of it, after Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli left.” Unaccountably, she had flushed as she uttered the last sentence.
“But if they were in Rohan, how is it that they came in the Corsair ships from Pelargir?” I asked.
“They took the Paths of the Dead.” She shuddered.
“I think I heard them mentioned by Lord Gimli,” I said.
“Then we shall ask them for the full tale one day. A pity that we shall have to wait for so long!”
“Ah, I forgot you missed some of the excitement! A pigeon came in to the Citadel dovecote from the Morannan early this morning with a message from the Commanders of the Host of the West, and it’s been cried through the city as well as posted at each Circle’s gates.” Briefly she told me of how they called to Sauron himself to come out of the great gates, and how his Mouth had come instead, showing tokens that seemed to indicate that the Ringbearers had failed. (That last had not been cried, but kept privy to the Commanders, although Faramir had told her and Master Redglass, granting permission that I be told also.)
My eyes filled with tears as I murmured, “What grief to their friends!—But what about the Eagles?”
“The Eagles?” she repeated.
“Please go on. I’ll tell you later.”
“Very well. Aragorn gave a stirring speech to the troops as Sauron’s armies began to come forth, with Rock-trolls and orcs and Southrons, and who knows what else, in huge numbers. (That wasn’t in the message, but it didn’t need to be; all good commanders rally their troops before battle. My uncle did, and I shall never forget it.) From all accounts, our forces fought like men possessed, even when they were completely surrounded. Then suddenly, the skies began to clear, the earth began to collapse under the gates of Mordor and their armies, and they began to flee. There was such a lightening of the air, of spirits, that all knew Sauron’s power had somehow been broken, and he is gone from Ennor! The Enemy is gone! We won!”
“Thanks and praise to Eru Iluvatar and the Valar!” I said fervently.
She nodded. “Amen! But what did you mean about eagles?”
“Master Redglass was carrying me across the Court of the White Tree when we felt the change. As you said, the clouds over Mordor were clearing, with sunlight coming through, and I thought I saw the Eagles.”
“Is this important?” She looked puzzled. “You saw hawks or eagles between here and the Ephel Dúath?”
“No, Ėowen, I saw the Great Eagles, flying north and west over Mordor itself.”
“Are you as far-sighted as an Elf?”
“I have some Foresight,” I admitted. “’Tis not really trained, but sometimes I See things.”
“Another wonder! I must tell Faramir. What do you think it means?”
“I know so little, but I think ‘tis important and good news.” Because I wasn’t certain that I had seen someone with a long white beard on the back of one (who would dare ride an Eagle?) and each of the other two grasping something in their talons, I did not mention that to her. It seemed too fantastic.
She rose to her feet. “Well, of course Great Eagles are ever good tidings. I shall go and tell him now. This makes it even harder to wait for more! All that we know, besides what I told you, is that they are going to rest in places called Cormalden and Pellan—Pallden—“
“The Field of Cormallen and and the Fields of Pelennor?” I suggested, and she nodded. I smiled. “That is good. Cormallon is in northern Ithilien, named for a vast circle of cumumalda trees, and very beautiful. My family’s lands were near there; I remember my father speaking of a smaller circle of them nearby. It was one of the things he missed the most when they lost those lands. It makes sense too that the Host will go from there to the Pelennor. It is only about four leagues from the city, and is enclosed by the Rammas Echor atop the Noeg Echor. Some of the most valuable farmland in Gondor is encompassed there, or was, before the war.”
“A rolling land, with orchards and farmsteads?” she asked. “Aye, I remember we crossed it. It must be over sixteen leagues across! A fair place, I imagine, in peacetime. And now there will be peace! So they will rest and heal in those fair places for a time, before they return here. I am anxious to hear how my brother and the éoreds are. And you look tired. Master Redglass will have my ears if I cause you to relapse.” She picked up the sword and turned to the door after clasping my hand. “Rest, Silma! I shall come see you again tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of Orcsbane until you are well enough to begin using her.”
“’Her’?” I echoed.
“Most swords are masculine, I suppose because males make them.” She hefted it in her hand, then after asking my permission, drew it and swung it experimentally. “A sweet blade—and I would say, with a distinctly feminine feel to it. Interesting.” Holding it across her palms, she bowed to me, and I had the sense of a formal rite. “I shall care for your blade in your absence, lady, and return her when you require her of me.”
I found myself bowing in return.
After she strode out, I sat back a bit weakly in my seat. What a remarkable morning! And what a remarkable young woman she was! I found myself smiling; Faramir would be livened up by her, for certain! It would do him good to not have the weight of the realm on his shoulders all the time.
That led me into reflections on what would happen now that the Enemy was at last vanquished and the King returned. It was a strange and exciting thought! I had liked what I had seen of Lord Aragorn, and it seemed to me that Lady Ėowen had the right of it; he surely would not waste such a man as Faramir. Yet I found myself hoping earnestly that they could find happiness together in the city, without too difficult a transition for her. It needed no Foresight to see that there would be many changes!
Brenna convinced me to lie on the bed for a nap, and later, after a noontide morsel, I rose and sought out my own clothing in the chest. It had been put in there, no doubt brought from the Citadel, my borrowed breeches and shirt vanished, and I hastened to dress myself, even though I had to sit down once or twice to wait out a wave of giddiness. Wrapped in my cloak, I ventured out of the room, Rimbor at my side.
In the passage, I met the landlord, a bluff man in an apron who smiled at me. “’Tis good to see you, Mistress Silma,” he greeted me. “Are you well enough to be up?”
“The walls close in on me, Master Beneldir,” I confessed.
“There are seats in the courtyard outside, if you wish to sit there,” he said. “Nothing like fresh air to perk a body up!”
I thanked him and made my way to a seat near the low wall separating the yard from the street. At my urging, Rimbor trotted off to do his business, returning soon to my side. By then Wil, one of the pot-boys, had brought a bowl of water and another of meat scraps for him, and a glass of light wine for me with a small pitcher of it and a plate of dainties.
“Master says you’re to eat and drink all, my lady,” said the boy with a grin.
“Please, give him my thanks.”
“I’m to see if the wine’s to your liking.”
I took a sip and repeated, “Please thank him,” reaching into my pouch.
“Oh, nay, Brenna’d have my ears if I took even a tin-piece from you! ‘Tis all paid for already,” he assured me before he went back indoors.
I gazed at the glass in dismay. For one thing, it was glass, real glass, not a leather, wooden, tin, or pottery mug. For another, the wine was as far from common as the vessel that contained it. I could not afford such a vintage! Another sip confirmed this; it had a slight fragrance and effervescence that bespoke of wine imported from Dorwinion. I drank it in slow sips, nibbling on the pastries—surely made by a Beijabar, one of the Northman Bear-Folk. I remembered old Beorwalda from a manor nearby showing my mother and grandmother some of her recipes and teaching me some Atliduk and some of the nature hand-speech used by them and the Naihaidrim, the Wood-men of Mirkwood. I wondered if Legolas knew any of them.
So deep in thought had I been, I had paid little attention to the street until I overheard a voice nearby saying bitterly, “Better he’d been killed outright, than the life he’ll lead from now on!”
A woman’s voice, rough from long weeping, replied, “’Tis not his fault, Father.”
“Nay, but we’ll all be blighted by it!” snarled the man.
“Father, can’t we go home, if you don’t want to go visit him?” she faltered. “You haven’t been t’ see him once since the first time.”
“I’ll be forced t’ see him every day soon ‘nuff, an’ so’ll you! I’d hoped t’ retire in a few years, travel a bit, enjoy m’self after all these years of work, but no, not now! Now I shall have to work ‘til I die, t’ keep m'self an’ you an’ him! No one’ll want to wed you, with such a burden, or him, an’ what can he do now? All he’ll do is sit an’ take up space! Both of you’re fair useless! An’ what home is there, ‘sides a pile of rubble no one’ll repay us for?”
“Shouldn’t we go?” she repeated.
“No, I’m a-going’ t have a bottle of ale or two, p’raps three! You c’n just sit an’ wait for me, over there, where no one’ll ogle you—not that anyone will!” I could hear retreating footsteps and then the slam of the inn door.
Lighter footsteps came towards me, and I looked up into the stricken face of a woman barefly past her first youth, but by no means ill-favored if she had taken some trouble with choosing her clothing and arranging her hair. With her brown hair and eyes and olive skin, the dull gray and brown she wore were unflattering. She halted when she saw me and reddened as she realized I had overheard. “P-pardon, lady—“
I held out my hand to her. “The day’s greeting. Will you not join me? I think I have seen you before, at the Houses of Healing. My name is Silma.”
“Oh, I ‘member you! The older woman who talks so much told me ‘bout you, an’ your dog. My brother loves dogs—“ Tears filled her eyes again as she patted Rimbor, who had come to lie at my feet.
“Sit down and tell me his name; which of my patients is he?”
“I don’t think he was one o’ yours. He’s Rill o’ the Third Company, an’ I’m Rhylla. Our father’s Romfirion, a member of the Tilers’ Fellowship. He ain’t always like that, but ever since the battle, an’ findin’ out the shop an’ house was damaged an’ his only son was hurt, he’s been so angry an’—an’—“
“Unlike the self you know?” I added gently, and she nodded wretchedly.
“What happened to your brother?” I asked. “Nay, he was not one of those I treated.”
“He was one of ‘em defendin’ the main gates—an’ he was so proud t' be give that duty, right in the forefront of the defense! He’s so young, you see, younger’n me by several years. Of all th’ ‘leven children our mother had, all died young save the two of us, an’ Mother died when Rill was born. He’s only nineteen!” She swabbed at her swollen eyes and continued after a few sips from the mug Wil had silently brought, “’Nen we barely escaped when our home an’ Father’s shop was destroyed, an’ heard that Rill’d been hurt. He was struck by a spear that hurt his spine; he feels nothin’ from the waist downwards, an’ his face was burned. It’s healin’, but the scars’ll be horrible! Worse, he don’t want t’ live, not ‘thout hope o’ a real life! He hoped t’ begin courtin’ next year, an’ I’d hoped m’self that someday…but I’ll have t’ take care o’ him an’ Da for the rest o’ our lives. I know I’m bein’ selfish, but everything’ seems t’ stretch out ahead o’ us so endless an’ so bleak! I hoped t’ learn t’ read, an’ t’ do somethin’ else ‘sides the same round o’ chores. I don’t know how t’ take care o’ Rill! I just know I’ll make him worse! The Healers said they’d release him t’night, but I don’t even know how we’ll get him or where t’ take him once we do! ”
“Where have you been staying?” I inquired.
“In diff’rent taprooms while Da drinks an’ complains,” she said grimly. “But most of those ha’ told us not t’ come back ‘cos we’re runnin’ out o’ money and Da’s so quarrelsome.”
“Isn’t your father a member of his guild?” I asked.
“Aye, but he’s quarreled with ‘em an’ our neighbors.”
“Then you should still apply to the guild—it is one of the benefits of belonging, for times like this, and ask if they will put the three of you up temporarily, and if they will not or cannot, then talk to someone in your brother’s company.”
“Da says as he won’t take charity.”
“And would you need it if he had not been drowning his sorrows?” I retorted.
I had vaguely been aware of increasing noise from inside, and now the door flew open and the brawny tapster, with the innkeeper, Master Beneldir, propelled Master Romfilion out and let him go with a shove. He staggered several steps and just managed to right himself without falling flat.
“Rimbor, stay!” I commanded quickly. Growling, hackles raised, he reluctantly complied, standing on guard in front of me.
“—And stay out!” snapped Master Beneldir. “I’ll not have you breaking up my place the way you did the others’, nor piling up debts you won’t pay. Sober up, man, and stop guzzling and grousing!”
“But I’m hard-done by! Lost m’ shop, lost m’ house, lost m’ son’s wage, saddled with two useless brats! I’m a hero’s da, see, even though he’s nobbut a cripple and she’s so ugly! I’m due somethin’!”
“We’re most of us fathers of heroes,” the innkeeper said wearily. “At least you still have your boy; mine died at Osgiliath. This lady’s lost all too, but you don’t see her caterwauling to the skies about it! Sober up!”
Romfilion made the mistake of swinging at him with a pithy (and inaccurate) comment about me, and in a trice, was bent over down on his knees, arms twisted expertly up behind his back by the tapster. “Lemme go! Lemme go, you orc-kissing filth!” he howled. “You’re breakin’ m’ arms!”
“That’s it! To the guard-post with him!” said Master Beneldir. “Mayhap if you cool your heels for a bit, it’ll help cool your head!”
“Oh, please, sir—“ gasped Rhylla, rushing over. She was rewarded by a vicious kick by her father, who’d just been hoisted to his feet by the tapster. I caught her and pulled her back as he was hauled, cursing, away.
“He’s not worth it, lass!” Master Beneldir said. “Sorry I am to say it, for he was respected once, but he’s been goin’ downhill almost the last twenty years, and draggin’ you with him, ever since your mother died. He’s been warned before, and I know six tavernkeepers and innkeepers besides myself have long tabs he’ll never pay, and damages we’ll never collect for smashed furniture and lost custom. I’m sorry you had to see and hear that, my lady,” he added to me.
I gestured it away, putting my arm around poor Rhylla and leading her back to the bench. “Master Beneldir, may I have a cool wet cloth for her?”
“Surely, but I won’t have her stopping here.” He bowed to me and went indoors.
She shivered, her bowed head bending lower. I patted her back consolingly, urged her to wipe her face when the cloth was presented, and waited for her spate of sobbing to end. It was more exhaustion than grief that caused that, I was certain.
Rimbor licked her hands.
“See, you are not entirely without friends.” I spoke gently but firmly, in hopes of calming her further.
“What’ll I do with Rill?” she groaned.
“Well, first we will go up to the Houses and see if he is well enough to be dismissed,” I said. Why was I committing myself to this? I had no more than she—but how could I turn from her, distraught and alone as she was? At least my father had never ceased to be well thought of by those around him, even if I had fallen from my rank and class.
“Oh, will you go with me, my lady?” she asked.
“Aye, we will go together,” I said.