Whatever else I needed, I would need more of the athelas. Now where had I seen some?
I rose to my feet, excused myself, and went out. We had already culled all we could from the garden, without rendering it completely bereft, and I had examined all the stillroom and kitchen stores; Nahemion had fetched all that grew in the Samnos’ garden plot and that of their kin, but I still wanted more. Might there be some stored in the houses on lower Circles connected by the tunnels?
I went upstairs to my chamber to change into the garments I had borrowed (and forgotten to return) from the Citadel, fetched for me from the Fallen Dragon by Master Samno that morning; I reasoned that it would be easier to negiotiate the tunnels if I didn’t have to bother with skirts. Inside my door, I stopped short, staring: a sword was leaning against the chair near the bed. I picked it up; it was definitely Orcsbane. A shiver went down my spine. How had it come to be here from the Houses, where I had left it with Ėowyn, when I had not seen or sent to her in days? I really should let her know where I was, but I was so busy, I kept postponing it. However, if there were orcs still in the tunnels, the sword would be a good thing to have with me, for its blade turning blue would give me warning. I sighed and buckled it around my waist after I changed, then put several candle-stubs into my pouch.
I had gone to roam the tunnels yet once again, and came around a corner, only to see her, clad in breeches, a flower-embroidered cloth bag slung over one shoulder, walking some dozen yards in front of me, carrying a candle. For a moment I thought I must be dreaming, or imagining it. Closing my eyes and opening them again did not cause her to vanish—in fact, I heard her mutter, “Curse it!” as she stubbed her toe.
“Silma?” I called softly, not to frighten her.
She turned swiftly, and my heart almost burst with pride as I saw her chin come up and her hand clench on her sword, raising the candle higher with the other hand. Her face was pale and strained, there was a tiny frown between her brows, and she hadn’t been eating enough, as usual.
She looked beautiful beyond words.
I stopped where I was. “’Tis I, Lady.”
“Dalf!—I mean, Master Redglass!” she said, and in the light of her candle and my torch I thought she looked rosier for an instant. “Well-met! I need your help!”
“How?” I asked, trying not to grin like a fool. “Where have you been?”
“A girl appealed to me for help for her brother, who was being thrown out of the Houses before the family had shelter for him—“
“Aye, I know. But where did you go after that?”
“You do? Oh—I suppose it’s the gossip of the city,” she sighed.
“The White Lady told me.” I was grinning.
“I have been staying with my former mother-in-love, Lady Silwen Ornamir, on the Sixth Level, right above where we got into the tunnels when we went to the Book-Halls,” she told me, and almost dropped the sword. “Oh! I’m sorry! I completely forgot to let you know—and to thank you for your kindness in getting me that room—what must you think of me? I do apologize for being so rude! But first we were trying to make Rill comfortable, and then Silwen arrived unexpectedly, and then those Rohirrim turned up and I need to find more kingsfoil—“
I began to laugh. How like her! In a few strides I was beside her. I leaned my axe against the wall, put my arm around her shoulders and kissed her full on the lips.
They tasted of dust and sweat (the tunnels were not the best ventilated spaces in the city), and herself, and it was an eternity before I lifted my head.
My head was full of all I had to do, and how I would do it—and then I heard his voice behind me! For an instant I thought I was dreaming, but as he came closer, axe in one hand, torch held overhead in the other, I recognized that it was indeed he, and instantly I felt an invisible load lift from my shoulders.”Dalf!” I exclaimed gladly, and then blushed at my familiarity. “Master Redglass! Well met! I need your help!”
It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to say.
“How? Where have you been?” His eyes were twinkling.
“I have been staying with my former mother-in-love, Lady Silwen Ornamir, on the Sixth Level, right above where we got into the tunnels when we went to the Book-Halls,” I told him, and suddenly realized that I had left no word when I departed from the King’s Head; I moved to clap my hand over my mouth in consternation, forgetting that it clasped the sword, then almost dropped it as I babbled, “Oh! I’m sorry! I completely forgot to let you know—and to thank you for your kindness in getting me that room—what must you think of me? I do apologize for being so rude! But first we were trying to make Rill comfortable, and then Silwen arrived unexpectedly, and then those Rohirrim turned up and I need to find more kingsfoil—“
Far from being angry, he laughed! And then he was in front of me, one arm around my waist, and he kissed me!
He tasted of sweat and dust, ale and himself….and I dropped the candle, which went out. The torchlight was red against my closed eyelids.
All too soon, he lifted his head and moved slightly back from me.
“That’s for my worry,” he said calmly.
My heart was pounding wildly. Was this some Dwarven custom?
“Now,” he added, “tell me. What do you need?”
So I told him about poor Wilmet, and his face grew grave as I did so. “I have used almost all the kingsfoil we have,” I told him. “I think I know where I can get more, and some other items that will be needed.”
“I’ll come with you,” he said promptly.
“If I tell you where the kingsfoil is in each garden, because many do have it even though few have used it medicinally until Lord Aragorn did, then you could gather some and meet me after I go elsewhere,” I said brightly, as I fumbled another bag out of the one I carried.
“You forget, I do not know how to manipulate these grills,” he reminded me.
“Oh, I can tell you—it would save so much time—“
“Dweorg do not know one plant from another,” he pointed out. “And I doubt you would have put on breeches just to gather some.”
“I did not want to be impeded by skirts if I ran into another orc,” I said, very much aware of the large hand at the back of my waist. I could feel its warmth, even through my shift and bodice.
“Very sensible,” he said approvingly. “After all, you must keep in trim. It was very wise of you to bring Orcsbane, but you really should have donned the armor as well. There’s a reason why fighters wear it, after all.”
“I can’t fight; I was going to run or hide.”
“Your courage amazes me.”
He was making fun of me, and I let my annoyance show. “What courage? I’m no warrior!”
“That’s so; Lady Ếowyn hasn’t had a chance to begin teaching you yet. You really must make time for that. And I will make you proper armor.”
“I don’t need armor!” I protested.
“Yet you took up the sword again,” he pointed out.
“Just as a precaution! It would be stupid to leave it behind if it could warn me of their presence!”
“And you are far from stupid, which is why you are trying to divert me. Where are you going and what are you intending to do whilst I am gathering this kingsfoil plant?”
“You cannot stop me,” I said defiantly. Oh, good, Silma—be rude and childish, when you know that he is bigger and stronger and quite capable of dandling you with one hand. After all his kindness, too! Will you forfeit his friendship with your discourtesy?
“My lady, you are unstoppable when you set your mind to it. Just—please—let me help, rough though I be.”
“I don’t know why you say that, when you have ever been the epitome of courtesie ,” I said unsteadily, and to this day, I don’t know why my eyes filled with tears.
“You are still trying to divert me. What are you intending to do?”
“For the last few years, Jehan could not work,” I said. “Yet idleness did not sit well with him, and he was always thinking and tinkering with his hands. We set up a little workbench for him, long ago, and when he could not even sit comfortably at it, he would sketch things and get someone else to make them for him, to try them out.”
“What kinds of things? Like the quill copier?”
“Aye, and little catches and fasteners, and a tool he used when I wasn’t with him, in the days when he could go out with Rimbor in the cart, so that he could reach things from it like latches or a bell-handle, when he came to entrances where he needed help, and other things.”
“I wish I could have known him!”
“I wish that as well.” I turned and led the way farther down, unable for a moment to speak to him. I had felt a sharp stab of pain, thinking of Jehan, and shame and guilt as well. What kind of shameless, unloving wife was I, to have felt as I did when the Dwarf kissed me?
I followed her through the tunnels, my torchlight illumining our way. I had been sincere when I told her I wished that I could have known her husband, who sounded like a thoroughly admirable, likable person, and my insatiable curiosity had been aroused by her mentions of what he had designed. But I could see that invoking him had upset her, and respected her silence as we went. She had been through very difficult times, I reminded myself. I must be patient….and at last I admitted to myself that I had more than a friendly interest in Lady Silma. No Dweorg had ever married outside our clans, but I would bridge that crevasse when I came to it. Whether or not I could win her was something else. Whether or not I should try was a serious matter to be thought through carefully; how would her people react to such a union, did we decide to plight our troth?
Meanwhile, I reminded myself, I must keep alert just in case yet another orc lingered, and help her in whatever she planned.
Suddenly she stopped. I stepped forward, beside her, and we looked at a tunnel now choked with debris. “Where are we?” I asked uneasily.
“Just outside the basement of my building,” she answered, already turning. “That was where the tunnel ended.”
I followed her along another branch of it, going upward, until we came to a tunnel-mouth blocked by a large slab of wood. She knelt and pushed at it in vain. “I need to get past this.”
“It looks like part of a large piece of furniture,” I said.
“It was our table.”
I stared at her. “Your table?” I echoed stupidly.
“Yes. I recognize the place where he once spilled some glue and took off the varnish,” she said, feeling at a small section. “I was annoyed with him at the time, I remember. May I borrow your axe, Master Redglass?”
“You may not.”
I looked from our table-top up at Master Redglass, who was standing and glaring as he growled, “You may not.”
Had I offended him again?
Sighing, I got to my feet and drew the sword. “Stand back, then, please.”
“You cannot use that blade on a table!” He sounded scandalized.
“I have to, since you won’t loan me your axe,” I retorted. “Look you, on the other side of this table are the remains of our home. His workbench was only a few feet away, and that means that I may be able to get a few things, if I can just get in there.”
He stared at me for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was half-strangled. “That’s why you wore breeches! You planned this from the beginning!”
“Why are you so accusing? I’m not stealing anything from someone else.”
He shoved the torch into a crevice and pushed back his metal cap. “Do you have any idea how dangerous this is? The slightest brush against a support could cause the entire thing to move! You could be crushed!”
“But I might not be.”
“But you could be!”
“Please don’t shout at me, Dalf. Part of what Wilmet needs to live is on the other side of that table! Do you really expect me to turn around and go back up to the Sixth Circle and tell that boy he is going to die because I didn’t even try ? I can’t! I won’t! I won’t fail Jehan that way!” I was almost shrieking in his face, but I didn’t care.
“Wilmet, Silma. Wilmet, not Jehan.”
“You said you won’t fail Jehan. You didn’t, you know. It wasn’t your fault he died.”
“I took him outside,” I whispered. “If I hadn’t—“
“If you had not, you would both have been crushed when the house collapsed,” he said in my ear. Somehow his arms were around me, my face was pressed into his shoulder, and he was stroking my hair.
I sobbed three times, and lifted my head. For an instant, his hand cradled the back of my skull, and then he let me go, picked up his axe and turned away.
“All right,” he said gruffly over his shoulder. “Stand back. But remember, I won’t be swayed by tears next time.”
“I don’t know why I’m such a watering-pot.” I tried to blot the tears on my sleeve, and succeeded in smearing them into mud with all the dust. “I’m not really a cryer.”
“Good.” In a few expertly-gauged blows, he had cut a squarish hole in the wood, down near the floor while I relit my candle-stub and cautiously thrust it through.
In a moment, I had my head and shoulders through, then my hips, and legs, and was crouched in a small space. Master Redglass had lain down in the tunnel, and had just his head and one arm in, so he could examine the immediate vicinity, poking and prodding. “I dare not enlarge this, lest I weaken the wood,” he said. “For Eru’s sake, Silma, be quick and careful!”
“I will,” I promised, and began—well, a kind of dance, in a way, edging my way under and over obstacles of plaster, wood, and stone. Most of our lives lay there in ruins, shattered like our dishes, flattened like his favorite chair, cloth reduced to filthy rags.
I break out into a cold sweat whenever I think of that episode. It wasn’t long before I could only see the glow of her candle, and then not even that. I strained my ears to hear her, uneasily aware of the creaks and groans of the debris amid which she crawled. It only took the slightest miscalculation, even an errant breeze from outside, and she could die. I cursed and prayed. It seemed several of the Elves’ yéni before she returned. First I saw the glow, then I saw a large cloth bag being pushed through a gap, and I reached out to pull it toward me.
“Careful!” she whispered.
I took a deep breath, but managed not to make a withering remark. She almost got stuck before she realized that she could not go through the same way, and it took her a moment to work out another route.
I drew back to allow her to wiggle through the hole, pushing a small bag—and then she stopped as we both heard an ominous groan.
“Hurry!” I cried.
Somehow I hauled her through the hole, and with a tearing, rumbling sound and a cloud of dust, the wreckage settled lower as we tumbled into the tunnel.
She lay so still!
Coughing, I turned her on her back and bent over her—the cursed candle had gone out again, but the torch still flickered. To my infinite relief, she began to cough as well.
Presently, she was trying to sit up. I begged her to stay still, fearing serious injuries.
“I’m all right except for my foot,” she said.
Her shoe was gone, the stocking torn, and I felt sick as I saw the mangled flesh. She was examining it as well, feeling over and around it. “Thank you. A bad sprain and some abrasions, nothing more,” she pronounced calmly. “Next time I will have a water-bottle.”
“So will I. You’re certain you are otherwise unharmed?”
“Very. Where are the bags?”
“Here. Do you have another candle?”
We lit one, and with the larger bag slung on my back, the smaller one in her arms, I picked her up, blew out the torch, and carried her as soon as I put my axe away. To my disquiet, she did not object.
For the first time, once we emerged from the nearest Sixth Circle portal into the street, I bore her to the front entrance and kicked at the door.
A maid opened it and screamed., slamming it in our faces.
I found myself being profoundly grateful that the ruins of our home had not been touched by fire. Stirring up ashes would have caused me to cough uncontrollably, although the dustmotes disturbed by my passage made my eyes tear and parched my throat; I tried to suppress the tickle, wishing I had some water. A corner of the throw I’d made to go over Jehan’s legs caught on my sword and trailed after me until I knotted it into a rough bag, thrusting in whatever I thought might be of use as I fumbled my way through fallen rafters, shattered lath and plaster, broken roof-tiles and fractured furniture, sprinkled with shards of glass and china. Faint light from the crevices in the ruins, as well as my candle, gleamed—although the dust diffused it so much, I was identifying things almost as much by touch as by sight.
Several books went into the bags, and some cloth things rolled around more fragile belongings, miraculously intact, and some of the smaller prototypes Jehan had commissioned, his lookfar tube, the two shorter ones he’d fastened together, some models and tools, my favorite wooden spoons, a brooch I’d mislaid, a few other things—and yes! Jehan’s six distinctive tooled-leather notebooks, each one tied with a knotted cord to keep the bulging pages he’d added from falling out.
Then I began my trip back. Twice I realized I’d lost my way, and had to backtrack, and more and more I became aware of creaks and groans in the debris around me. Finally, I could see Dalf’s anxious face, and pushed the bigger, more important bag, through the gap in the table, carefully manipulating the contents inside it until he could drag it into the tunnel. As he did so, something shifted, and the beam two hands’ length in front of the table settled lower with a grinding noise.
So close! I had to get that bag out; it contained those spoons! My grandfather had carved them for my grandmother, and Rimbor as a puppy had chewed on the middle one of the three. I was not going to lose them, or the wedding-cord!
Strange, how the heart seizes on small things in such a case…
I found an alternate route, and was almost inside the tunnel, when something else shifted noisily and fell on my right ankle. Pain shot through my foot and leg as I tried to move it. “I’m caught!”
The Dweorg are strong! Master Redglass pulled me into the tunnel, freeing me by main force. The pain was so intense that I blacked out for a moment, and then I was conscious and in pain, coughing until I thought my lungs would burst. Examining my ankle, I saw that it was merely a bad sprain; the abrasions looking worse than they were.
Master Redglass carried me up and then out to the street, but when we knocked on the front door, Rose took one look, screamed and slammed the door in our faces.
“She’s new,” I told him, reaching out to use the knocker.
“So I see.”
Master Samno opened it cautiously, a poker in his hand, flanked by Erragol with his sword. Before they could speak, I said, “This is Master Dalfinor Redglass from the Lonely Mountain, who has been helping me.”
“What in Arda—” cried Lady Silwen, and swept us into the library in a scurry of orders. I found myself on the sofa, my foot in a basin of hot water and herbs, as Rhylla dabbed at my dirty face with a wet cloth. Nahemion was about to move my bag so that Lily could set down a tray; I said hastily, “Don’t touch that!”
His hand froze. Well, it had to—Master Redglass was holding it by the wrist. “At your service and your family’s,” he said mildly to no one in particular. Rose was sobbing. She looked at his axe and began to wail.
“Orcses! We’re a-goin’ t’ be et by orcses!”
“I AM NOT AN ORC! I AM A DWARF!” bellowed Master Redglass. He glared at her and at Ull, who had appeared in the door to the hall, and was chuckling.
Ull bowed. “I’ll sort her, Master Dwarf,” he said. “See, lass, orcs don’t have so much hair, especially on their faces, and they’re taller….” He whisked her out into the hall.
“I apologize, sir. She’s new,” said Lady Silwen. “Rhylla, would you draw Lady Silma a bath? As soon as she has eaten, she will need to retire.”
“I am not retiring,” I said firmly.
Erragol inquired, “May I ask, lady, how you came to be injured?” He was, I noticed, gently stroking the hilt of his sword as he gazed at Master Redglass, who stood with his arms folded, the larger bag at his feet.
“I was retrieving something from my home,” I said.
“But ‘tis ruint!” protested Master Samno.
“Exactly,” agreed Master Redglass. “And ‘tis more ruined now than it was.”
“What does that mean?” Lady Silwen asked.
“It means that she was creeping among the ruins of her former home, to get whatever’s in those bags,” he replied.
Lady Silwen was frowning. “You allowed her to do such a dangerous thing?”
“‘Allowed’? No. Went along to ensure that she got out again, aye.”
“If not for Master Redglass, I would still be in there,” I said, and spilled my wine as my hand began to tremble. I set it down.
Silwen looked at him more favorably and curtseyed. “Then I thank you, Master Redglass. Perhaps you would also like to bathe and change? Although I doubt we have much that would fit you.”
“I have a change of clothing at the Fallen Dragon.”
“Nahemion, would you be kind enough to go fetch it?”
He wrote a note to Brenna as Master Samno trundled in the castored chair we had used for Rill. It appeared to be my turn to use the lift up to the upper floor.
Some time later, feeling much refreshed by my bath and change, my ankle bound up, I returned to the library. Master Redglass, resplendent in a dark blue tunic embroidered in green, was eating heartily, waited upon by Rose, who squeaked whenever he moved. Erragol asked, “What was worth that risk, lady?”
I opened the larger bag, which I had improvised from what had been a knitted throw Jehan had used on cold days, sitting in his chair. I drew out the small thick notebooks. “These were Jehan’s, designs he created of things to build. This was my mother’s—every spring, Father and I would fill it with the first violets for her.” I took out a delicate, green blown glass pitcher missing its handle which I had padded in another throw. “This was my father’s—“ A stout leather wallet of papers, followed by a thick roll of cloth. “This is what I sought; it is one of the last things Jehan made,” I said as I began to unwrap the folds.
“What is it?” asked Erragol.
I regarded the long, limber tube with satisfaction. “This, plus the contents of that roll, are what may save Wilmet’s life.”
“A tube?” echoed Silwen.
“Aye.” I unwrapped the last item, a small wooden case now marred by a long scratch. “Oh, I forgot I don’t have the key!”
“Easy enough.” Master Redglass took a slender tool from his belt, and a moment later the lock snicked open. He had to exert some effort to open the lid, but did, revealing a complex mechanism inside.
“What is it?” Ull asked.
Master Redglass lifted it out of the box and set it down. After a few seconds, he opened a tiny flask from his belt and asked, “Might I have a quill, please?”
Lady Silwen brought him one from the desk. He broke off the nib, transferred a drop of the flask’s contents to the feather, and touched that to several places on the mechanism. “’Tis a kind of pump,” he said. “We use such, of a different design and larger, to empty water out of some of our deepest mines when they are flooded. This must be a prototype.”
“He often made small models of what he designed,” I contributed.
Master Redglass manipulated a tiny bellows, putting his hand in front of an aperture. “A remarkable amount of suction for its size,” he noted. “Could you hand me that tube?”
I passed it to him, and he fitted the end of it into another aperture. “This really should be taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled before extended use.” It was perfectly evident that he longed to be the person to do just that.
“Then you are ready to perform the procedure on Wilmet?” Ull asked eagerly.
“Nay, Ull, I am not,” I answered regretfully.
His face fell. “Why not, lady?”
“Because it needs a—a wider end opposite the one attached to the pump,” I said. “But mostly because I cannot stand up on this ankle long enough to do it. I am too unsteady; look at my hands!” I held them up so that they could see my trembling fingers. “And I lack the experience and expertise to do it. I could assist a Healer, but I cannot do it by myself. I’m sorry, Ull! Do you really want me to slaughter the boy?”
“You’re feared—afraid—to do it?” he asked.
“Yes, I am! I’d be a fool and worse to tell you that I could. I’m sorry, Ull, I wish with all my soul I believed I could!”
“So we got the things needful, but it can’t be done?” he asked bitterly.
“I could rig up the nozzle you want, I think,” Master Redglass offered.
“What good’s that, if we can’t do it?” groaned Wilmet’s grandfather.
Erragol gripped his shoulder consolingly. “I am sorry, my friend.”
“Now, wait,” protested Master Samno. “We got the patient, we got Master Clerk’s pump an’ the tube, an’ Lady Silma’s memory of how she seen it done. What we need’s ‘nother Healer.”
“I am not having Master Ladramenhirion in this house after the way he treated you!” said Lady Silwen heatedly.
“But do it got to be him?” asked Lily.
“No. Any good surgeon should be able to do it, if he was willing,” I said thoughtfully.
Master Redglass said, “I doubt very much that Lady Ėowyn has any idea of what happened to you and your men, Master Erragol. I’m certain that she would be happy to help us.”
Erragol laughed shortly. “She would no doubt take the roof off the Houses and bash that foul Healer with it! I should have thought of her before.”
“You’ve been much occupied,” said Silwen.
In a short time, we had a plan worked out. I made my way up to the Houses, asked for the White Lady, and gained admittance to the garden she preferred. Sitting with her on a bench, I explained. Her eyes darkened with anger. “I knew that some of our men were not here, but I thought that they had recovered enough to be released, or had been taken elsewhere to be tended. That—” She growled a string of Rohirric, probably curses by her tone and expression, then took a deep breath, and with an effort, switched back to Westron. “Bergil!” she called to a young boy in livery.
“My lady? Greetings, Master Redglass,” he added with a bow.
“Do you know where Lord Faramir is? I must see him urgently!”
“No, my lady. I think someone told me that he and Lord Húrin were riding up out to look at possible sites for the Host to camp when they come back to the city.”
“Then do you know where the Warden is?”
“With Lord Faramir—“
“Nay, I meant the Warden of these Houses, not the Warden of the Keys. Forgive me, but I have had some upsetting news.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. He’s not well, my lady. Master Suliden was saying just this morning that he will probably retire as soon as the King is crowned.”
She cursed in Rohirric again, but I asked him, “Bergil, whom would we see instead?”
“Master Ladramenhirion,” he said promptly. “He’s most likely to be the next Warden. He’s down in his room.”
Ėowyn’s smile was not pleasant. “I will see him, then, after I get my sword.”
I patted her arm gingerly. “Wait a moment, Lady. Tell us, how is he regarded? Is he a good Healer? Is he well-liked?”
“We-ell,” Bergil said judiciously, “he’s a dab hand at surgery, and his family’s been Healers in the city for over nine hundred years. He’s really a lord. All the noblest Dúnedain go to him.”
“What about the staff? Do you like him? I don’t want gossip, lad. This is important.”
“’Tis about the Rohirrim soldiers he sent away, isn’t it?” the boy asked. “All the staff’s been talking about it, even Dame Ioreth when she thinks we don’t hear. ‘Tis shameful! And poor Rill! He’s only a few years older’n me, and he couldn’t even stand up!”
“You knew? And you said nothing to me?” she asked reproachfully.
“Everybody knew, my lady! But we weren’t to talk about it in front of patients! And you are a patient!”
“I am also the sister’s-daughter of Théoden King of Rohan!” she shouted. “Wait here, Dalf, until I get my sword!”
There went the crucible into the fire!
She stormed off, and I looked at the boy’s anxious face. “Find Faramir!”
Bergil had not combe back by the time Ėowyn returned holding her naked sword, but at least she looked calmer and had not donned her armor. “Come along, Master Dwarf,” she said. “Let us go find and cure this particular canker in the heart of the Houses.” If I had been the Lord of the Nazgûl and had seen her in that mood, I would have headed for Mordor as fast as I could!
I followed her through a warren of halls and corridors until we came to a wider hall outside rooms set aside for Healers. Master Ladramenhirion was giving some instructions to a hapless scribe. “—and I shall complain to the Scribes’ guildmaster about the quality of your work! Copy that scroll again, and try not to make it completely unreadable!”
“Lord Healer Sirion Ladramenhirion,” called Ėowyn as we went towards him.
Behind us, we heard Faramir’s voice,” Ėowyn! Why do you have your sword?”
I breathed a silent sigh of relief that Bergil had found him. It had been a fairly safe wager that he would; we both knew that he usually came to see her at that time of day.
Balanced on the balls of her feet, she stalked down the hall like a deadly golden cat approaching its prey. “Because I am going to cut up this offal calling itself a Healer into very tiny pieces,” she said conversationally. “I think I’ll start with his fingers—and feed them to him, and then his—” a Rohirric term I guessed referred to a lower part of his anatomy –“and then his nose, and then—“
“Have you gone mad, woman, to act in this manner?” the Healer asked, looking down his nose at her.
She swung the blade—if I had blinked, I would not have seen it, she was so fast!
But Faramir had strode forward and caught it just above the blade in his hand. “Ėowyn! You don’t want to do this!”
“Of course I do,” she said in the same bright tone. “Let go, my lord. He deserves to die. Did you know that he threw out some of my men, some of our Riders not yet recovered, as well as some of your own? As if they were so much dirt, to be swept out of the way! He would have reduced them to beggars! Did you know this?”
The shock on his face was her answer. “There must be some mistake!”
“It is true, my lord,” I said. “I have seen and spoken with some of them. One may die as a result.”
Her eyes were filling with tears. “A young boy—already crippled—“
“She is hysterical,” said the Healer in a cool tone. “Bergil, go fetch some porters to take her back to her room. I must go home; we are giving a dinner-party tonight.”
“Do you deny these allegations?” Faramir asked.
Healer Ladramenhirion sighed, a Man sorely put upon by lesser beings. “We received word that wounded patients will be arriving tomorrow or the next day from Mordor. We needed to make room for them. It was necessary.”
“You arranged for care elsewhere?”
“Each one was either not that serious, or at a point where they could not be helped and were taking up space.”
“Each of the Rohirrim riders had at least two wounds,” I said. “That one guardsman, who fell defending the Gates, Rill son of Romfilion—“
“Romfilion the Tiler?” Faramir asked.
Master Kinfinning had joined us. “The same, my lord. The man he’s had a feud with for twenty years in the courts, that your father refused to hear. My patient, whom he intended to dump on the street in a nightshirt, with no medicine or dressings, knowing that his home was destroyed. Not that he cared!”
“His family would take care of him,” said Ladramenhirion.
“When you have driven his father into drunkenness? When they have nothing to do it with?” Kinfinning’s face was flushed. “It was a flagrant violation of your Oath!”
“I don’t expect a mongrel like you to understand his unimportance,” sneered the Healer. “Or the others! Now, really, I must be going or I’ll be late. Pray excuse me, my lord.”
“No, I don’t excuse you. In fact, you are not going to be late for your dinner, Sirion, because you are going to miss it entirely. May I borrow your sword for a moment, please, my love?” and with a deft movement, he hit Ladramenhirion with the pommel; he collapsed on the floor, out cold.
“If he could be tied up and put somewhere secure until I can have him put in the Lower Barracks’cells?” Faramir asked.
“I will gladly stand over him myself, my lord,” Kinfinning said with relish. “In fact, he might need to be subdued again before they get here.”
I espied a familiar red head lurking in the background, along with two black ones. “Severion! Caic! Marfel! Could you three please take care of that?” I called.
There was a ragged chorus of “Aye, my lord!”
“Let them do it, Kinfinning,” I said. “We have need of you!”
Dame Ioreth had materialized. “You’re going to inquire into this, Steward?” she asked.
We stared at her, startled by her brevity.
“Yes,” said Faramir. “I will begin looking into it right away.”
“I have a list and witnesses’ accounts,” she said, fishing a packet of papers out of her apron pocket. “All the folk he kicked out, Master Kinfinning and I was able to scoop up and send elsewhere, and they’ve been tended, all but those eight Riders and young Rill. I didn’t worry about him, knowing Lady Silma had him somewhere, although I don’t know where, but we was delayed tracking down the Riders, and I’ve been sore vexed trying to find ‘em.”
“Then they are all accounted for,” I said as he took the papers, “for Silma and Lady Ornamir have them at House Ornamir. Young Wilmet has a back injury, but even worse, he has fluid in his lung and Silma suspects an abscess. She risked her life to get a special tube and pump to suction it out, but sprained her ankle and says she could assist at an operation but not do it by herself. She wrote down what she’s done and what she believes is needed.”
Kinfinning took her report and scanned it quickly before looking up. “Lady Ėowyn, are you still intent on being a Healer?”
“Your blade is too long to serve as a scalpel. Go put it away, change into the gown Ioreth will send you, and meet us back here as soon as you can. Caic, I’ll need you to run some errands for Ioreth as she helps me pack up what we’ll take over there. Marfel and Severion, don’t manhandle Ladramenhirion, but don’t let him go, no matter what he might say to you.”
Once I had checked the boys’ knots, I took my leave of them temporarily and returned to help prepare.
Less than an hour later, Master Samno answered a knock on the front door, and escorted Lady Ėowyn and Master Kinfinning to a small reception-room where Lady Silwen, Erragol and I received him. Lady Ėowyn inclined her head. “It is very kind of you, Lady Silwen, to do all that you are doing,” she said earnestly.
“I am more than happy to do so, Lady Ėowyn, and most pleased to meet you. You know Erragol son of Ernal, of course? And Master Dalfinor Redglass?”
“I do indeed! Erragol, I didn’t know what that idiot had done!”
He nodded. “I understand that, Lady. And this gentleman is?”
“Master Kinfinning, one of the Healers. He is in charge of the pages, and he tells me that his mother was from Edoras.”
“At your service,” said Kinfinning with a bow. “Lady Ėowyn asked that I bring my satchel. I understand that someone is injured?”
Lady Silma came in, pushed on that chair by Nahemion. She was wearing a deep green gown, with a small emerald pendant set in silver, her hair fastened up with silver combs and clasp. “Good evening, Master Kinfinnning,” she said, inclining her head. “Please come with me.”
I knew that she was leading him and Lady Ėowyn into the parlor. The rest of us waited where we were.
Lady Silwen looked agitated. “I hope he doesn’t storm out of the house!”
“You have done nothing illegal by taking them in, my lady,” I said.
She rounded on me, her eyes shooting sparks. “A fine opinion you have of us, Ser Dwarf, if you think that that could possibly be illegal or that I am afraid of trouble from behaving properly and decently!” she snapped.
“You have aroused the lioness, Master Redglass,” smiled Erragol, reaching out to lay a hand on her knotted ones. “Will you sit, lady, so that we may? I confess the nick in my leg is aching a trifle.”
“Forgive me,” she murmured. “And please, forgive me my temper, Master Redglass. I am taking out my anxiety on you, and you do not deserve it.”
“As my mother would say, doubtless it makes up for a time when I did deserve it and no woman was nearby to take me to task,” I replied mildly as I took a seat across from the sofa where the two of them seated themselves.
Erragol laughed. “She sounds a redoubtable dame, like my mother.” He absently patted Lady Silwen’s hand as he turned his head toward the parlor.
“That is small excuse. Silma told me how helpful and kind you have been, Master Redglass. I have not yet thanked you for saving her life today—even if you could not prevent her from endangering it to begin with.” She too was looking more towards the parlor than at either of us.
“I have done very little, my lady.”
“I too owe you thanks,” the Rohirric warrior said. “She has made it clear that without your help, we would not have some of the necessary things for this procedure.”
“That is due to her own determination and acuity,” I replied. “Lady Silma is a remarkable person, and it is my privilege and honour to help her as I may.”
That earned me another piercing look from Lady Silwen. “Silma is my daughter-in-love, and dear to me,” she said emphatically.
Then why were she and her husband living in poor conditions in the lower part of the city? I wondered, but contented myself with a nod.
Lady Silma entered then with Lady Ėowyn pushing her. “Master Kinfinning is willing to try,” she said. “We are going to prepare and then move him.”
I explained at length the procedure; it helped that I had had time to write down what I remembered—and that Master Kinfinning recalled seeing it done once as well. I showed him the tube I had had Mistress Samno boil, handled only by tongs that themselves had been boiled and laid on a surface on which boiling water had been poured and allowed to dry in the air. He inspected it and our other preparations in the small storeroom that had been cleared for the purpose, examined Wilmet, talked briefly with Ull, and then nodded, pulling at his long nose. “Very well. We will attempt it. First we need to move the lad to the room.”
Master Redglass had somehow rigged up a tabletop on the castored chair, so Lady Ėowyn, Master Samno, and Master Kinfinning all transferred him to it and wheeled him into the storeroom, newly cleared and scrubbed. It had no windows, but we had set many candles on the shelves, with clear glasses filled with water set in front of them to intensify the light. How I wished for Jehan’s water globe!
I too changed to a plain white gown and bound up my hair under a white kerchief as they did; the less to get into the wound, the better. Just before I opened the storeroom door from the kitchen, Master Redglass came up to me. He was frowning. “Are you going to be standing on that ankle all during it?” he asked.
“No, I will be sitting and administering the means to keep him asleep,” I answered, “and monitoring his condition. Master Kinfinning will actually do it, with Lady Ėowyn assisting. Estë willing, he will live through it.”
“I wish I could do something useful.”
“You can; pray.”
He nodded once. “Aulë strengthen all of you,” he rumbled, as I went within.
We washed our hands and forearms thoroughly, laid out everything, went over all the steps to be taken, and I took a seat by Wilmet’s head. Ull, garbed as we were, smiled down at his grandson reassuringly, telling him in Rohirric that he would shortly go to sleep. I used a tiny brush to paint a solution of arhasu and Miretar’s crown on his skin, put some athelas to steep in a bowl, and then set a small, loosely-woven wicker basket with short legs so that it was positioned over, but not touching, his nose and mouth. He was already sleepy from the starsong tea I had given him some time before, so his eyes were already closed. I began slowly dripping bright-red juice through a cloth pad on the sieve. “Do you know what this is, Ull?” I asked in a low, calm voice.
“Nay. It looks like diluted blood.”
Oh, drat the man if he alarms the boy! I thought irritably but without changing my tone said, “Hardly! Have you ever seen a flower with bright red flowers called cloudy-eye? You might know it as dayherb.” Fortunately, Wilmet’s pulse under my other hand was steady; he was at the stage of complete lassitude, if not completely unconscious yet.
“Oh, aye! We call it daybright.”
“Well, this is similar in the color of the blossoms, only the leaves are trefoil-shaped. “Tis called arunya, and its virtue is to cause a deep, dreamless sleep. So imagine you are lying in a field of it, Wilmet, breathing in its scent, completely without pain, drifting into slumber….” After a moment, I glanced up at Master Kinfinning and nodded.
“We begin,” he said, and took on a lecturing tone that was part of the reason why he was so good with the pages and apprentices. “First, we repaint the area. Hand me that scalpel, please, and we make the incision here….Some of the Miretar’s crown, please.”
Ėowyn packed some of the white flowers around the wound, to take up the welling blood. Next to me, Ull made a gargling sound. Under his sunbrowned skin, he was suddenly white, his eyes beginning to roll up in his head.
“DALF!” I yelled.
I wanted to say something reassuring to Lady Silma before they began; I did not need Lady Silwen to tell me that it mattered very much to her daughter-in-love. Typically, she reassured me, and gave me something to do.
But I found it impossible to go back to the parlor (and so did all but the Rohirrim, who were together in that room); the rest of us gathered in the kitchen. I was busily petitioning Aulë when I heard her cry my name, and rushed in. Master Kinfinning’s hands were crimson; Lady Ėowyn was pulling handfuls of white flowers—flowers?—from a bowl, and Silma was dividing her attention between Ull, who was wavering on his feet, and a sort of basket obscuring the boy’s lower face, a small vial in one of her hands.
“Ull’s feeling faint; get him out, please,” she said briefly.
At any other time, it might have been humorous, my helping such a tall man, but I managed to steer him outside the door. A familiar voice said, “Let me help,” and I was unsurprised to see Faramir, who helped me move him to the settle by the fire.
“Put his head between his knees,” added the Steward.
Mistress Samno bustled forward, pulling out a small bottle. “He needs a whiff of suranië,” she said, waving it under his nose.
He jerked and sneezed. “Thanks,” he growled sheepishly. “I know not what came over me! I have been in many battles, but this—the little white blooms turning red—and I thought of the simbelmynë—“ he said disjointedly.
Master Samno put a tankard into his hand. “Try a sip o’ this,” he advised.
Faramir handed me one with a wink, so I was prepared for the apple brandywine, far more powerful than the ale Ull expected. He sputtered, but drank it down.
It seemed a long vigil.
At last Master Kinfinning was closing most of the incision, and Ėowyn was packing more of the Miretar’s crown around the small tube. He covered the end of it with a clean cloth pad, bound it in place, and at last we all could draw a deep breath and look at each other. Master Kinfinning bowed deeply to both of us. “Ladies, well done! Could not have been better unless you had been trained to my hand! Lady Ėowyn, you have the makings of a fine Healer! Lady Silma, you must teach me more of your husband’s work and the Elvish healing ways. A remarkable experience!”
In the kitchen he grinned at Ull, slumped on the settle. “When he wakens, tell him that it went well. I have left the tube in, lest we need to withdraw more of the fluid, although I do not think that will be necessary. When he is stronger, I will remove that. Meanwhile, he has the advantage of youth and a clean body to help him. We were just in time; there was an abscess, and it would have ruptured before morning. We drained—how much fluid, Ėowyn?”
“Almost a gill,” she said to their gasps.
“Now, we need someone to sit with him the remainder of the night—I will stay and inspect him every two hours—because these two ladies have done enough and need to rest. Lady Silma, sit you here on the bench, and let me take a look at that ankle. Is there any beer in the house?”
“Beer, wine, cordials, ale, milk, brandywine, teas—whatever you wish!” said Mistress Samno. Lady Silwen had vanished, no doubt to the parlor, from whence we shortly heard a muffled cheer.
I glanced at Mistress Samno. “We’ll need a good deal of hangover remedy,” I observed, and squeaked as Master Kinfinning’s fingers probed an especially tender spot on my foot.
“Hold still,” he commanded, deftly rubbing some ebur ointment on my foot and ankle. “You’ll be good as new in a week; I’ll leave you enough doses, if you can manage to keep off it for that long and rest. How did you manage to do this to it, anyway? Not only torn muscles and a bad sprain, but also all those contusions.”
“She was retrieving that tube for the procedure,” Master Redglass said. Somehow he had come to sit next to me, holding my hands; I was squeezing his tightly.
“And you got me out,” I said raggedly.
He smiled at me and I smiled back. I was very tired, but Wilmet was doing well so far!
“Where is the tube?” he inquired. “I would like to examine it, to see how it was made.”
Mistress Samno, Rhylla, Lily and Rose were handing around mugs; mine contained a hot chamomile tea flavored with lavender and mint honey, which I drank gratefully.
“The tube is still partly in Wilmet,” said Master Kinfinning cheerfully. Everyone gasped.
“Your pardon, master,” said Lady Silwen hesitantly, standing in the doorway with Erragol, “but does not an open wound, with a foreign object in it, gather infection?”
“Ordinarily, aye, but not this. Your Master Clerk was by way of being a very talented mage. I have a bit of mageblood myself, and I am confident that this time, with all due precautions, that is one problem young Wilmet won’t have. Besides, if we need to siphon out more fluid from his lungs, this will be less stress on his body. I will be able to remove it and sew him up completely in a week or a tenday. Now, at risk of being a discourteous guest, I was invited for the day meal, and while it is really too late for a formal meal, still something to stay my stomach would be most welcome!” This last was said so drolly that we all laughed.
“We shall feast when Wilmet can join us at table,” said Lady Silwen.
Ėowyn sat on one of the settles, Faramir’s arm around her shoulders, looking much more wide awake than I suddenly felt. “That was fascinating! I must learn more of this craft!”
Faramir bent his head. “You will have ample opportunities to practice, I fear.”
“It was good of you to come,” Silwen said.
He smiled. “What, miss my lady’s first operation, as long as I did not have to participate myself? The most of leechcraft I can manage is stitching up wounds if no Healer is available. I will escort her to the Houses when she is ready to go, unless you need her overnight, Healer?”
Master Kinfinning grinned over the roasted chicken-leg he had just bitten into, chewed, swallowed, and said, “No, although I’d welcome her helping with the dressings in the morning.”
After a light repast—I ate a disgraceful amount but felt as if I was starving, and so did Master Kinfinning and Ėowyn—Master Redglass carried me upstairs to my room, where Rhylla helped me undress and go to bed. I was asleep before she blew out the candle.