I found myself in a large camp outside the walls of Minas Tirith. It was vast, with hundreds of white tents set up with physicians scurrying all over the place. As I sat in my small tent, I listened to the voices of pain from nearby. It made my heart sink knowing that majority of the people in this camp was fated to die here.
"My lady," a physician said, walking into the tent.
To my surprise, it was Cílhel, the curious healer from Osgiliath. "Cílhel!" I said, standing up.
Cílhel bowed her head. "I have come with grave news. Your handmaiden, Máleth, has died."
I clenched my stomach, feeling as if a large object had hit me. I sat back down on the small cot, burrowing my face into my hands. "Lady Finduilas," Cílhel said, walking over to my side. "There will be a time to mourn for her, but for now, I must ask that you rest."
I looked at her. "She was such a good woman."
Cílhel nodded. "I can imagine she was. But, my lady, you have to be aware of my concern." Cílhel paused. "Mistress Máleth died of the sweats and as you were in physical contact with Máleth during her illness, there is a strong chance you have contracted the sweats also."
I felt a few tears fall down my face. "Have you informed my husband of this possibility?"
Cílhel nodded. "I have. Lord Denethor is most concerned for your health. But I am afraid I cannot allow anyone to see you." Cílhel stood up, gave me a curtsy, and left the tent.
I lay down on my cot and pulled a blanket over me. I was crying heavily into the pillow as I hugged myself. I did not know why I was crying. Perhaps it was fear of my own life, or the fact that I had lost a dear friend. I clutched my stomach, feeling a piercing pain shooting through my body. I let out a cry of pain and an elderly physician hurried into my tent.
"Is everything all right, my lady?" he asked.
"I-I believe so," I stuttered, still clutching my stomach. "I am in a bit of pain."
"Where?" he asked, kneeling at my side.
"Here," I said, placing my hand over my lower abdomen.
The physician hummed and grumbled as he observed me and poked around my stomach. "Usually the pains of sweats occur higher up, and also in your head. It is very unusual for you to be experiencing pain so low."
"Perhaps it is not the sweats," I said, rubbing where it hurt.
The elderly man frowned, looking at my hand. "My lady, the pain could be caused from early stages of pregnancy."
My eyes widened. "P-pregnancy?"
"Yes, Lady Finduilas," he replied. "For a child to grow within you, the womb must first grow. And it is common for women to experience pain as the womb expands."
"But... but." I was lost for words. I had not thought about being with-child for many, many days. "Are you certain?"
"When was the last time you bled?" he asked.
"My course is due around this week," I replied.
"Then all we can do is wait and see if you cease to bleed this month." The physician stood up and bowed. "Forgive me, but I must tend to other patients."
I nodded. "Of course. You are dismissed."
When I was alone once more, I sat up and placed my hand back over my lower abdomen. I smiled faintly, hoping that I was with-child. For after the public argument I just had with Denethor, I had secretly vowed to not lay with him until I forgave him.
I managed to get some sleep, but I woke sometime late that night, dripping with sweat. I felt lightheaded, and at first, I did not know where I was. "Hello?" I called out, trying to adjust my sight in the dark. "Is anyone there?" I did not feel very well, and I knew from the amount of sweat I had all over me that I had indeed caught the plague. While I was wiping the sweat off my face with the blanket, I saw something move into the tent through the corner of my eye. I turned my head and saw a tall black figure emerging through the tent flaps.
"Who are you?" I asked, frightened. I could not see his or her face. But the glint of a sword at its waist was enough to make me retreat to the corner of the tent. "Go away!" I shouted. My cries made no difference, its pace quickened towards me. I did not know what to do. I had nowhere to run – it was cornering me. Finally, I screamed.
I opened my eyes, trying to see who was calling my name. "I am here," I managed to say. I saw that candles lighted my tent, and that Cílhel was kneeling over me as I sat in the corner.
"Lady Finduilas," Cílhel said nervously. "Please, come and lay down."
"Where is it?" I asked. "The black figure."
Cílhel shook her head. "It was nothing more than part of your imagination. My lady, you had just experienced a hallucination."
"I am seeing things?" I asked.
Cílhel nodded, handed me a mug of wine. "It is a common symptom of the sweat. All the healers in this camp are kept on their toes trying to keep all the patients sane."
"Am I going to die?" I asked, feeling tears swelling in my eyes.
Cílhel looked at me sadly. "For now, I do not know. It is too early to tell." She moved over to the small table. "I have prepared a remedy for you. It is not known to cure victims of the sweat, but it does seem to have a positive result on some victims."
I accepted the small glass she handed me. "Is there anything else I can take?"
Cílhel sighed, rummaging through her bag. "I have other methods that could cure the sweat, but since resources for these remedies are rare, I dare not tell anyone of them." She sighed again. "It is a shame the sweat is such a mysterious illness. Nobody knows where it comes from – that is why it is so hard to find a cure."
I drank the remedy – it tasted awful. "One of the healers told me earlier that I could be with-child."
Cílhel stared at me for several moments. "If that is the case, then your life is far more important than everyone thinks." She pointed towards my stomach. "If you are indeed carrying the child of Lord Denethor, then we must save your life."
"But what can I do?" I asked. "I am as much a victim as everyone else here."
Cílhel pulled a plant out of her bag. "Eat this."
I took the plant, observing it. "What is it?"
"A plant from the forest of Mirkwood. Since Mirkwood is a dangerous land to venture too, the Elves have a hard time finding this plant, which is why it is so expensive to purchase. I managed to buy a few when I was staying in Mirkwood many, many years ago. The elf who sold them to me said that they were known to heal the sweating illness that spread though the lands in the Second Age."
Cautiously, I started to eat the plant. It had a vile taste. "Has this been washed?"
Cílhel laughed. "My lady, I take great care in my herbs and other products. You can trust me."
I reluctantly put it all in my mouth, finding it very hard to swallow. "I hope it works."
"So do I," she replied. "But come, let me observe you."
"Is that a wise thing to do?" I asked. "I have the sweat!"
Cílhel shook her head. "My main duty in this life is to treat the unwell. Yes, Gondor has lost at least a dozen healers so far, but I have caught the sweat once before and have lived to tell the tale. I have confidence that the Valar are protecting me."
"What if you are not so fortunate as last time?" I asked.
"Then it simply means that my time in this world has come to an end," Cílhel replied, wiping my brow. "Your fever is not as bad as it could be. I have seen far worse temperatures."
"I will take that as a good sign," I replied. "Has my husband caught the sweat?"
Cílhel shook her head. "Nay, he is well. In fact, he has been summoned to the Citadel."
"What?" I asked, stunned. "He did not think to send a messenger to inform me of his departure?"
Cílhel hesitated. "My lady, half the court of Gondor has been allowed admittance into the city. They are the ones who have not caught the sweat. Some of the remaining are suspected to have caught it, though only a few have so far. However, the Lord Thorongil remains here."
"Who is he?" I asked curiously.
"I am not certain," Cílhel replied. "Though, I have met him before up north near Imladris. At the time I suspected him to be a ranger of the Dunedain, but surely Lord Ecthelion would not allow such a man into his service."
I shrugged. "Stranger things have happened. "But I get the impression that Lord Thorongil has been a visitor to Gondor before."
"It would not surprise me," she replied. "The men who are under his command seem to be very comfortable in his presence."
"Is he not afraid of catching the sweat?"
"Not at all," Cílhel said. "In fact, he is helping the unwell. He seems to have a wonderful grasp concerning healing. He has been a wonderful assistant."
"Perhaps he could treat me as well?" I suggested.
Cílhel stood up, nodding. "I will go and find him now."
I paced my tent, waiting for Cílhel to return with Lord Thorongil. I did not know why, but I felt anxious about being in his presence. When he finally entered my tent with Cílhel closely behind him, I dropped into a deep curtsy.
"Please, it is I who should be bowing," Thorongil said, bowing before me. "For I am nothing more than a captain."
I smiled nervously. "Forgive me, I am not feeling myself."
Thorongil nodded. "It is unfortunate that you have caught the sweat. Lord Denethor is most worried for you."
I folded my arms. "If he is so worried, he would not have left the camp."
Thorongil gestured for me to sit on my cot. "Your husband is bound to a duty in this realm. Sadly, his duty has called him away from your side. He loves you."
"You saw him yesterday," I said. "You saw the way he treated me. He does not love me!"
Thorongil sighed. "I am sorry. It is my fault. Your husband does not see me fit to be in service to the Steward. Word of my appearance in Minas Tirith reached Linhir, and your husband was most upset."
"But if Lord Ecthelion chose you to serve as his captain, surely Denethor understands his decision. What reason does my husband have to despise you?"
Thorongil sighed. "It is a heavy burden I carry. A burden that I cannot discuss with you. Please, you need to rest. I can sense that you are in distress about your husband, but I assure you, everything will be all right."
I slowly nodded. "I believe you, Captain Thorongil." I continued to gaze at this mysterious man. There was something about him, something lordly, as if he was a descendant of Numenor. "Captain," I said. "You remind me of someone."
"Who?" he asked, smiling.
"My brother, Imrahil," I replied. "You both share the same proud stance and Lordly appearance."
Thorongil grinned. "I am honoured that you find me similar to the Prince of Dol Amroth. Your brother is a brave man."
"You know him?" I asked.
"I have met your family once before," Thorongil replied. "It was many years ago. But my main duty in Gondor has been in Minas Tirith."
"I am sure the enemy stands no chance against our defences now that you are captain."
Thorongil chuckled. "My lady, you have not seen me in the battlefield. How can you judge me so?"
I smiled. "I can just tell. There is something about you, Captain Thorongil. I just cannot name it yet."
Thorongil bowed his head. "You shall know in good time. But please, rest. All this talking will drain your energy. Mistress Cílhel will stay with you for the remainder of the night. She is a wonderful healer. She will take good care of you."
"Thank you," I replied. "Thank you... both of you."
Cílhel smiled warmly. "I would hate to see your fever become too serious. You are a wonderful woman Finduilas and you shall make a splendid mother."
Thorongil gazed at me. "Is the Princess with-child?"
"Nothing is certain yet," I replied. "But I do hope I am. I have gone far too long without producing a child. Who knows, perhaps this could be my only chance."
Thorongil kissed my brow. "Have high spirits, my lady. I have faith in you."