Two days later, I woke to find that I could hear voices shouting frantically outside. Concerned, I quickly dressed and made my way out to the main hall where I found Denethor, Lord Tarondor and most of the court of Minas Tirith.
"Finduilas," Denethor said, hurrying over to my side. "We are to leave for Minas Tirith at once."
"What!" I shouted. "No! We promised your sister, Tatiel –"
"Enough!" Denethor demanded. "We have just received word that the sweating plague has erupted along the coastline of Gondor. Majority of the cases are in Anfalas, but there are already victims in Dol Amroth and here."
"Then we continue towards Lamedon," I replied desperately. "Lamedon is north from here, away from the coastline."
Denethor shook his head. "Lamedon is far too close to Anfalas. Come, prepare to leave."
Devastated, I turned around and headed back to my chamber to gather my belongings. As I packed, I could not help but wonder how the sweating illness could have spread so rapidly. Yesterday, everything was fine and the people were merry. Now, Lord Tarondor was secluding his family, and I was forced to flee back to Minas Tirith. My mind kept swirling with thoughts and suspicions. Perhaps this was only a dream and I would soon wake up to discover that this illness was only a trick created by my mind. But alas! That was not the case. The sweating illness had indeed arrived. This was the first time it had appeared during the ruling of the Stewards.
"Are you almost packed, my lady?" Máleth asked, walking into the room.
"Nearly," I replied. "I cannot believe we are forced to turn back after all that we have been through!"
My handmaiden looked at me sympathetically. "It is very unfortunate, but it has to be this way. I am sure Lady Tatiel and her daughter, Voronda will be safe from the sweats in Lamedon."
"Valar! I hope so," I murmured. "My husband sent a physician ahead of our company. By now, he would have arrived in Lamedon. If worst comes to Lamedon, Voronda and her mother will be in good hands."
Máleth smiled. "That is very true, but come! Your husband awaits you."
Once again, I found myself sitting inside my carriage. Denethor was not with me. Instead, he was riding ahead of the company, but sadly, my brother was not among them. Imrahil had left for Dol Amroth the previous evening, and now I feared for his life. If the sweating illness was indeed spreading through Dol Amroth, then my entire family was at risk. I did not think that I could live if my family were no more.
The carriage sped quickly along the South Road. I was informed that the orders were to continue travelling until we reached Minas Tirith. I wanted to have the shutter open, but the guards kept telling me that it was better for my health to have it closed.
"You will be able to get some fresh air soon enough, my lady," the guard said. "For now, the shutter must remain shut – they are Lord Denethor's orders."
I gave the guard a stern look before slamming the shutter.
"My lady, whatever is the matter?" Máleth asked. "Surely you are concerned for your wellbeing?"
I shook my head. "I am more concerned for Voronda's health. She is such a precious little jewel. I would hate for anything to happen to her."
"She is in good hands," Máleth said reassuringly. "I am positive her mother and father will keep a close watch on her."
"I hope you are right," I replied. "I am also terrified for my family's health. What happens if my father and brother die of this sickness? Who will rule Dol Amroth? Ivriniel and I have no right to the High Seat in my father's palace."
"Perhaps that law will be overlooked if the unfortunate were to happen."
"No," I said quietly. "No, the laws of Gondor have always stated that a female cannot inherit power. Even if they are the last legitimate heir, it is not allowed."
Máleth sighed. "Then let us pray."
I nodded, clasping my hands together. "I pray to you almighty Ulmo, Lord, and Protector of the Sea. I beg you to show mercy on the citizens along the coastline of your domain. I pray that you cast your strength and sweep the sweating illness away." I hesitated, thinking of my family. "I also beg for you to watch upon my family, the rulers who keep our seas safe. Without my father and brother's guidance, turmoil will be ahead, with chaos breaking out among the people of Dol Amroth. As such, a beauty and sight the city is, it would be gravely unfortunate for civil war to destroy it. Please, please oh mighty Ulmo, save the children of Eru who call your sea their neighbour!"
"Let the guidance of wisdom show the true path," Máleth said, kissing her fingers and then placing them on her forehead. I did the same act before slouching back in my seat. "Your prayer was beautiful, my lady."
I faintly smiled. "Thank you, Máleth."
The carriage continued to move along, slowly rocking from side to side along the stony road. We were almost at Lossarnach. Sadly, my husband did not find it suitable to rest the night. So we continued. I had not slept in over two days, and I started to feel as if the carriage was my prison cell. Occasionally, I would watch Máleth, who kept shifting in her seat, fiddling with her hands. At first, I thought she was restless, but then she started to clutch her stomach.
"Is something the matter?" I asked.
"I-I cannot breathe," Máleth replied, trying to undo her coat.
I frowned. "Here." I tried to help her unbutton, but she pushed me back.
"Stay away!" she cried. "I-I."
"Máleth," I said slowly.
She shook her head. "Forgive me, my lady; I thought you were someone else."
I nodded. "Who did you think I was?"
Máleth lowered her eyes. "I-I thought you were a Corsair. One of those men who tried to kidnap you and the other ladies of the court."
"Whatever made you compare me to them?"
"I have no idea!" she replied. Tears were streaming down her face as she removed her coat. "I think I need to get some fresh air."
"You cannot leave the carriage," I protested, moving between her and the carriage door.
"My lady, with all respect I have for you, I need to get out of this carriage." Máleth was now breathing heavily. I saw sweat along her hairline.
"Máleth," I said, trying to keep calm. "I think you are unwell."
My handmaiden sat back down, exhausted. "I am so sorry."
"What for?" I asked, kneeling down in front of her. "You have done nothing wrong."
"What if I have caught the sweating illness?"
I shook my head. "Impossible. We left Linhir before anyone in Tarondor's household caught it."
"I don't... I need to –"
Máleth pushed past me and opened the carriage door. She fell to the ground instantly as I fell to the floor from the force of the carriage stopping suddenly.
"What is going on?" the guard asked, riding over to where I kneeled at the carriage door. "What has happened to your handmaiden?"
"She is unwell," I replied, stepping out of the carriage. "She claims she has caught the sweating illness, but surely she is mistaken."
The guard jolted meters away from us. His horse moved on the spot, but the guard dared not come closer. "Princess Finduilas, get inside the carriage."
"No," I replied firmly. "My handmaiden needs a healer."
"Lord Denethor!" the guard shouted. "I need your assistance."
"Assistance for what?" I asked. I knelt down next to Máleth to try to help her up, but I soon discovered that she was unconscious. "Máleth," I whispered. "Máleth, oh please... wake up."
"Finduilas," I heard Denethor say. I turned my head and saw my husband next to the guard. "Why are you doing this? Why are you risking your life? Did you not think about the future?"
"How can I think about the future when the present needs my help?" I replied, not leaving Máleth's side. "We are fleeing from an illness that will most likely come to Minas Tirith due to the trading routes. Did you honestly think we would be safe there?"
Denethor glared at me. "Finduilas, you are my wife. I am ordering you to get in the carriage."
"No!" I shouted. "I will not leave Máleth here. She has been my loyal servant and friend since I arrived in Minas Tirith. She has looked after me, and now I am going to look after her."
My words displeased Denethor even more. "How dare you lower yourself to a servant! You are the future Stewardess of Gondor. It is about time you started acting like one!"
Our argument had started to create a crowd, but I did not care. "You are treating me like a child, not like your wife! I am a grown woman; I can do as I please."
Denethor dismounted his horse and walked over to me. He grabbed my arm and yanked me from Máleth's side. His grip caused pain to my arm. "You're hurting me!" I cried, feeling tears swell in my eyes. "Let me go."
"My lord," the guard said. "I would advise you to let her go. That is no way to treat a lady."
"Don't you dare tell me how I can and cannot treat my wife!" Denethor shouted at him.
I managed to pull my arm from his grip. I had tears streaming down my face. "Who are you?" I whispered. Shaking my head, I turned back towards Máleth who was slowly regaining consciousness.
Kneeling down, I helped Máleth stand up. In could tell from her pale and wet face that she had indeed caught the sweat, but I did not care. If I were to be a true and fine Stewardess, I would help the misfortunate.
"My lords!" a voice cried from the distance. Everyone turned to see a group of soldiers riding towards us.
"Who calls?" Denethor asked, mounting his horse.
"I am Thorongil," the man replied. "The newly appointed Captain of Lord Ecthelion."
"What business brings you here?" Denethor asked curtly.
"Your father, Lord Ecthelion, has sent me here to make sure your company arrives safely."
Denethor shook his head. "We would have arrived safely if my wife did not cause such a commotion."
"I was trying to help my handmaiden!" I yelled at Denethor. "What has turned you into a cold-hearted, selfless man?"
Before entering the carriage with Máleth, I saw Thorongil give me a look of empathy. "If the sweating illness is among your company, all of you will have to undergo seclusion before entering Minas Tirith," Thorongil continued.
"Under what orders?" Denethor grumbled.
"Under your father's orders," Thorongil replied. "Lord Ecthelion has set up a camp outside the main entrance of the White City, to cater all travellers who may have caught the sweat."
That was the last of the conversation I heard. I did not want to hear anymore. I was livid with Denethor and concerned for Máleth at the same time. All I wanted to do now was get to this camp where a probable remedy would be awaiting for my handmaiden.