Several days after Dalfinor left the city, as I worked with Osric on regaining strength and flexibility in his hand, there was a sudden uproar in the hallway. Erragol and I both headed for it, and there was Samno holding someone against the wall next to the front door. He glanced over his shoulder at us. “Open the door so I can throw this scoundrel out,” he panted. “Stop kickin’, you!”
“You’ll pay for this, and for invading my property!” snarled an all-too-well known voice.
I sighed. “Master Samno, let him go and stand aside, please.”
“He barged in ‘thout a by-yer-leave, m’lady,” Samno grunted.
By then Ull, Nahamion, the maids, and Silwen were also there. “He’s vastly outnumbered,” I pointed out. “Let him go. I can’t see him past you.” That last was inaccurate, since, burly as Samno was, this unwelcome visitor was wider and a good deal fatter.
Muttering, he stood aside, still gripping one arm of the intruder.
The man who straightened his elaborate robes was exactly whom I had feared it was. “My lady,” I said unhappily, “may I present Jerenemir son of Charl of the House of Issekolinda—“
“Makarmalta,” said Samno like a curse.
“—and my brother.”
“I might have known you would have found ruffians and cutpurses to consort with, sister,” said Jeren huffily, “but why are you allowing them to trespass on my property?”
“I see only one person who is not respectable here, and he almost a stranger to me,” said Silwen with a sniff, looking down her nose. “I see that you are even fatter and greasier than you were at my son and Lindisilma’s wedding-feast years ago. And why do you call it your property, when you informed me through my man of business a few years ago that my son had settled it upon Lindisilma, which was why I had to vacate immediately? It seems she thought it was still mine.”
“It is for me to administer,” he said quickly.
She laughed. “Oh, come! My son was a lackwit in many ways, but he never gave you that power, not legally, and I doubt she did.”
“That I did not,” I agreed.
“You forget that you did,” he began, but it was my turn to laugh.
“Nay, I remember quite clearly your telling me that I had forfeited any property by running away, and that they could take away the few things of my own that I did have. Father would never have appointed you my guardian, Jeren, for many’s the time he cautioned me against your unscrupulous ways. He didn’t mind your using the house here nearby, since he had no use for it, but he made it plain to me while I was caring for him that it was mine. You may have fooled and intimidated me once, but I was a green girl then; I am far from that now.”
“It is your duty to come with me, now that you are a woman unprotected,” he said.
“And do what, all your housework for nothing but a crust grudged to me? Thank you for your condolences on my loss,” I added sarcastically. “Little aid you rendered me when Jehan was alive. In fact, had you bothered to get him safely to the refuges with you, he might be alive now. I am little disposed to obey you, Jeren.”
“The law is on my side! You will regret flaunting it!”
“The law and your wishes are not by any means the same thing,” said Silwen coolly. “We shall see what the law truly is, once the King has returned.”
“If you mean that upstart usurper, you’ll find no help there,” he sneered. “He will be dealt with soon, if he ever does show his face here! Faramir will not suffer some ranger from the North to take his place!”
“Ah, but he has already said before witnesses that he recognizes Aragorn as the King,” said a voice from behind me, and Ėowyn strode forward. “Your sister is not without friends, Goldtrader. Do you want him to leave, Lady Silwen? Lady Silma?”
We both nodded. She gestured. “Erragol, help Samno escort him out.”
“Gladly,” said Erragol with a wolfish grin.
Ėowyn held the door open, as Jeren pulled his arm free. “No need for force,” he said frostily. “I can see that I have little recourse—now. I will give you a few days to consider your duty, sister, and come to me. If not, well, there is more than one secret will not be improved by airing.”
“I am tired of being bullied, Jeren,” I told him. “Besides, I disagree with you: it is when things are kept secret that they tend to fester. Go right ahead: air what you please to whom you please. Better a beggar by the wayside than imprisoned by fear in a shiny cage.”
“You have not heard the last of me,” he promised, and stomped out. He turned to add, “You will not always be surrounded by foreigners!”
“Please close the door, Master Samno,” I requested. “There’s quite a draught.”
“Aye, m’lady,” he agreed, and proceeded to lock and bar it. “Pardon, my ladies, but I don’t think either of you should go out alone for a while,” he added.
“Do you really think that is necessary, Samno?” Silwen asked.
Nahemion surprised us both by nodding and saying, “Makarmalta’s cold’s a fish and cruel’s an orc.” That was the most I had ever heard him say at one time! He made a motion with his lips as if to spit, but managed to stop himself at Samno’s glare.
“Then I promise I will not stir out of here unescorted,” Silwen said.
All eyes turned to me, and I sighed. “All right, I also promise.”
“And you will not apologize to us for him,” she added.
“He chooses his own way, not I,” I said sadly, and went back to Osric’s exercises.
The good news was that Samno’s suggestion to put Rill in with the Rohirrim had been excellent advice. To our surprise, it was Wilmet who made the difference, befriending him while still so weak from the operation that his voice was just above a whisper.
At first Rill rebuffed him, by turns sullen and defensive. But seeing the men patiently enduring their recoveries—especially a boy younger than himself by several years—and still speaking hopefully of the future seemed to be helping him. Surrounded by fellow injured warriors who yet did all they could for themselves and each other, he began to think about them instead of himself.
“Any man would be sick of his own concerns with naught else to consider,” Erragol said one afternoon. It had become customary for Silwen, Erragol, Ull, and I to gather in the library for tea or ale and a conference (Ėowyn joining us frequently, and sometimes Master Kinfinning, fresh from his examinations of our patients). “Half that one’s problem is uncertainty, and the other half is boredom.”
“Still, what can he do, crippled as he is?” Silwen asked.
“He fletched six arrows today,” Ull said unexpectedly.
“He did?” Samno exclaimed. “Grand! Vanessë’ll be heartened t’ hear it!”
“Well-fletched, too,” Erragol added, “once we showed him how we do it. He already knew the basics.”
“He was assigned to the archers in Star an’ Sword,” Samno told us. “He’d hoped t’ be transferred in time t’ the horse erith .”
I nodded. “Aye, I remember Rhylla mentioning that.”
“What is this star-sword?” asked Erragol as Ull inquired, “What is erid?”
“Erith,” Samno corrected. “’Tis the word we use for a twenty-man line. Gondor’s protected by an army comprised o’ private levees raised by the nobles like the Swan Knights o’ Dol Amroth, ‘s well’s by local militias an’ by the four Companies o’ Minas Tirith. Star an’Sword’s the third Ohtirrim , specializin’ in medium cavalry an’ archers. He was already trainin’ t’ be an archer, but ‘e was horse-mad, longin’ t’ be cavalry.”
“If he came to that late, the loss would seem even harder,” Master Kinfinning said unexpectedly.
“I do not understand. Late?” asked Erragol.
“You have never asked me why I am here instead of in Rohan, my lord.” The Healer looked wry. “I was sent here as a boy to find a cure for an ailment unusual for our folk.”
“What was that?” Erragol inquired when he paused.
“If you would wish Silma and me to withdraw,” Silwen said delicately, beginning to rise.
He gestured her back. “Nay, it is embarrassing only to one of our folk. I cannot be around horses—or even one horse, or a mule, or a donkey—without my eyes swelling and my nose turning into a fountain, dripping almost faster than I can mop it up. There is no cure for this, although I can take a medicine for a few months before I must be around them that helps a little. At least it keeps me from wheezing. I discovered, staying with my mother’s kin here, that I had a gift for healing, and that this was the only place I could bide. Other than a very few courier horses and the mounts used by the Guard, kept on this Circle and up at the Citadel, and the stables down by the Great Gates, Minas Tirith has no horses—unlike most other places! I can avoid those, so I exist well enough.”
“You cannot be around horses?” Erragol gasped, and Ull wore an expression of mingled horror and grief.
“No. Do you scorn me? Do you wish me to find another Healer for you and your men?” The Healer’s hands twisted in his lap, and I realized that he was almost holding his breath for the answer. This was no idle question; it mattered a great deal to him.
“Who was your father?” Ull asked. Erragol turned his head to shake it at him and mutter something softly in Rohirric, but the older man looked steadily at Kinfinning, waiting for an answer.
“Kendion of the West March,” he replied. “My mother was a waiting-woman for a time for Lady Morwen of Lossarnach.”
“I remember your father,” Ull said. “A more stiff-necked, stubborn, prouder man I never met. He would have regarded your malady as an affront.”
Master Kinfinning nodded. “He thought if I slept in the stable, ‘twould cure me, It came near to killing me instead. But you have not answered my question, my lord.”
“As Ull said, it is a malady, and I have heard of such before. Who is to know the will of Oromë and the rest of the Valar? Perhaps it was their way of seeing that one of ours is here for our healing,” Erragol said. “You at least can speak our tongue fluently, which is helpful for those of us who cannot speak Westron.”
“Perhaps one use of Rill’s time might be to help them learn it,” suggested Silwen.
“But now that the war is over, your folk will be departing soon,” I pointed out. “What will become of him then? What will his future be?”
“And Rhylla’s too,” Samno said.
“She will help us as long as she wishes,” I said, as Silwen said, “They are part of our household.”
Erragol and Ull exchanged a glance and Erragol said slowly, “I will tell you that we are all surprised by one thing. Why has none of Rill’s brotherhood come to see him?”
“Brotherhood?” I repeated.
“Mayhap I use the wrong word?”
Master Kinfinning said, “Lord Erragol means a clan, or an informal brotherhood. The nearest equivalents in Minas Tirith are the guild fellowships. In Rill’s case, that would be his company of the Guard. I can tell you that almost all of his erith died at the Gates, but his Targon , Anarond Astirian, has been recovering at his home on the Fifth Circle. He may not be aware that Rill survived. He is not my patient, and I confess I know little of how the Guards deal with their veterans.”
“They and their widows receive a small stipend,” I said. “I overheard Faramir speak of it once.” They did not need to know that what I had heard was a spirited argument between Faramir and an official charged with dispersing said monies while I was scrubbing a floor in the Hall of Conclave; Faramir had been troubled by the smallness of that amount and some delay in its being given to those in need. “If you don’t think ‘tis enough, Captain,” the official had finally said, “then I suggest you either help your Rangers from your own coffers, or talk with your father. Lord Denethor is determined not to waste our resources, under threat as we are. ‘Tisn’t I can help you, and scolding me won’t expand what I have to give by a single tin-piece.”
Faramir had apologized at once, with his usual diffident charm, and they had parted, but I had also seen the official make a derisive gesture as the Ranger captain walked away.
On second thought, perhaps they did need to hear it—or at least, Silwen and Kinfinning, in case Rill had trouble receiving his stipend.
While I had been pondering this, the others had continued their discussion, and Erragol was saying, “If you will tell me where this Astirian is, I shall call upon him this afternoon.”
“If I may, I shall introduce you,” said Silwen, and he inclined his head. She rustled across the room to the desk, and sat down to write a note which Nahemion took at once. “I have told him that we will be calling on him in about an hour,” she said.
Erragol thanked her, and she went upstairs to change. He scratched his head as she left. “Is this man so formal?” he asked me. “I have no other uniform to wear.” Indeed, most of the time, he was wearing shirt and trews, only donning his tunic when he went out or for meals.
“If he is so particular, then he is not deserving of his rank,” I said tartly, and he grinned. “In truth, Erragol, your wounds proclaim your right to call upon him, not to mention what you and yours have done for us. And if he has forgotten that, I daresay Silwen will not scruple to remind him.”
“Then I suppose I should gird on my sword,” he said thoughtfully, and also departed.
They regaled us with an account of their visit that evening. Silwen was still angry, as I could see by the glitter in her eyes. “He’s approaching the end of his youth and should know better,” she seethed.
“Surely he is rising forty years of age,” Erragol said, and she nodded.
“As I say. He has two paths before him: to gain a post somewhere at a higher rank whereby he may be of further service to the government, or to leave the army and find a noble wife, settling somewhere not too far from the city. His father, Cathrom, is a Conclave Nominee (as I explained to Erragol, Ull, that means one of those who aid in governing the city, a most important post), and is also often absent at his lands in Anórien. Eventually, Anarond will inherit; he is the heir.”
“What is the house like?” Ull asked curiously.
“We’ve passed it more than once. ‘Tis that ornate tower near the rambaraid,” Erragol told him.”The interior is opulent by our standards, in a military way; they display trophies of past wars the way we display horse decorations. I was surprised that we were shown into a rather…fluffy parlor.”
Silwen and I smiled. “Ah,” I said. “They thought you had called on Lady Astirian, Bein-Nana ?”
“They did, and I disabused her of that immediately. She is a cousin of Ladramenhirion, and as snooty as the Elenas. You’d think their old bilges didn’t stink as much as anyone else’s! The Elenas, like the Ladramenhirion and Astirian houses, came from Númenór long before it fell, so they feel immeasurably superior to the rest of us mortals—and probably to the Elves as well! The only reason she saw me was the fact that I married into Ornamir, another so-called Exalted House, and probably because Cathrom told her to. He came in, and sent a servant to fetch Anarond.”
“While they gawked at the barbarian Rohir,” Erragol said with a curl of his lip. “Nay, I am being unjust. I felt that she was, but he was not; he was curious as to why we came, and I think he wondered if he could turn it to use.”
“You may be sure of that,” Silwen agreed. “He is a politician to his fingertips, and he is ever anxious to advance his House. All nobles are.”
“They were originally landowners in Arnor,” I said thoughtfully. “Some were in Lindon. He must be wondering how the King will react to those families who did not remain North after the Last King fell. Anarond is probably torn between being scornful of this Northern warrior and hopeful that his ancestry will help him to gain what he wishes.”
Erragol nodded after a moment. “So Lady Silwen has explained to me. I told them about Rill, and I almost lost my temper.”
“Why?” asked Ull.
“Lady Astirian asked where he’d been injured. I said his back, and you could see her withdraw. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘a coward was injured, and you think my son should do something for him?’”
“Rill is no coward!” Ull said flatly.
“I know that, Ull. I told her what Master Kinfinning had told us (not that you and I didn’t know anyway) that he was first wounded by an orc-arrow high in the shoulder that spun him around so that another orc had no problem striking his back. He still managed to take down a troll before he fell. For a young lad in his first battle, his training not completed, that merits promotion and honour, not accusations of cowardice. I’d be proud to have him in my éored , and if he could recover to fight again, and would consider coming to Rohan, I would invite him to join my troop.”
“Did you tell them that?” Samno asked.
“Did you tell Rill?” I asked.
Silwen and I looked at each other. Men! “Erragol, it may make a good deal of difference to Rill if someone he respects as a soldier told him that he did well in his only battle. It might give him some confidence,” I said patiently.
He nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, I will tell him. Targon Astirian will be coming here tomorrow to speak with him as well. He told me that he had been under the impression that all those men had died. But he told me something that might interest you, and will interest Lord Faramir. He was a legacy of Lord Boromir’s.”
“A what?” Silwen asked.
“When Lord Boromir left the city to go North to Rivendell, he had to wait at the stables for one of the men escorting him to get a girth fixed. It didn’t take long, only a few minutes, but while he waited, he noticed Rill coming in the Gates.”
“Spent the night in Wooden-town that’s been swep’ away by the war, I warrant!” said Samno.
Erragol nodded. “Was he a carouser?”
Samno shook his head. “Nay, not Rill, not for the sake o’ gettin’ drunk like his dad. As I recall, one o’ his friends was wed ‘bout then, young Aderil. ‘E’d jus’ finished his journeyman work at the House of Ringin’ Sounds, an’ wed his sweetheart. Y’see, Romfilion insisted on learnin’ Rill t’ be a tiler—only ‘e’s no ‘and at ‘splainin’ ‘ow t’ do a task. ‘E could do it hisself, an’ at one time, there wasn’t no better at ‘is craft ‘n ‘im, but ‘e couldn’t ‘splain it right.”
“He had no skill at teaching?” Silwen asked.
“None, an’ no patience when Rill didn’t understand, neither. “F the boy didn’t get it right off an’ made a mistake, why, Romfilion’d cuff ‘im one, an’ accuse ‘im o’ doin’ it wrong a-purpose just t’ thwart ‘im. Tam told me that Rill was real riled not t’ be getting’ good learnin’, ‘f ‘e ‘ad t’ be a tiler. ‘Is dad wouldn’t hear o’ payin’ apprentice fees t’ anyone else, but wouldn’t admit ‘e wasn’t the man ‘e’d been. I ‘member a time when ‘is yard hummed wi’ four ‘prentice lads an’ two, three journeymen, an’ Romfiliion’s old dad a-settin’ in a warm corner carvin’ molds, while ‘e lived. An’ Romfilion wasn’t minded t’ answer the lad’s questions ‘bout ‘ow an’ why you done things a certain way. But what’s this ‘bout Lord Boromir an’ our Rill?”
“That would be infuriating, to know you weren’t getting the knowledge you need to do well, and know that your friends were, even if you weren’t jealous of them,” Silwen said.
“An’ Rill was always the leader, y’see. They looked up t’ him.”
“So the lad might have had a few more drinks as part of the celebration than he usually did,” Erragol said.
“And stayed out later than usual. I’d be reluctant to go home to that,” Ull remarked.
Erragol nodded. “So, he was coming in, and apparently Lord Boromir saw and spoke with him.”
Silwen, Samno and I all smiled. Lord Boromir had been a jovial man, from what I had heard, when off-duty, and not one to stand on ceremony. I could easily imagine him hailing Rill with some jocular comment, and charming the lad.
“Astirian said that Rill had told him later that Lord Boromir remembered him,” Erragol continued. “Something about his making a record for getting around the Six Circles without setting foot to ground—is that possible?”
Samno laughed outright, slapping his knee. “Oh, that Rill! Aye, I’d forgotten! ‘Im an’ ‘is friends, they was all determined t’ see could they climb from one rambaraid t’ the other on all the levels, ‘cept the Citadel, o’ course, an’ Rill did. ‘Twas the talk o’ the city, the year afore last. ‘E was the fastest at doin’ it, an’ it was especial difficult, bein’ ‘s it had t’ be at night an’ not getting’ caught by the Guards an’ Porters.”
“Getting caught?” Ull repeated in a puzzled tone.
“Aye. Nobody’s ‘sposed t’ be able t’ do that, for the safety o’ the city. No climbin’ up the walls atween Circles—but ‘e wasn’t a-tryin’ any such thing. O’ course, everyone knowed ‘e’d done it, but they couldn’t prove it. Any other dad ‘ud be proud o’ his son, but not Romfilion. ‘E always loved t’ run an’ climb, did Rill. So Boromir spoke t’ ‘im?”
“And he gave him a token; apparently he kept a small supply of wood and leather tokens about him, and if he saw a likely candidate for the Guard, he’d give it out and suggest seeing one of the four Targons. In this case, it was Astirian.”
Samno nodded. “So the lad goes ‘ome, an’ Romfilion pitches into ‘im, and Rill’s so fed up ‘e sasses ‘im back, they fight, an’ off ‘e goes t’ the Lower Barracks an’ joins up. I ‘member ‘im stoppin’ at our place t’ show off ‘is uniform ‘bout then. I was glad the lad ‘ad some spirit, but m’ wife was vexed.”
“’Cos ‘twould mean Romfilion ‘ud want Rhylla t’ tend the kiln ‘s well’s everythin’ else. Vanessë talked ‘bout ‘ow selfish Rill was, not thinkin’ o’ ‘ow it’d affect ‘is sister. I says as ‘ow ‘e’d only be young oncet, but she almost ‘it me with ‘er spoon.”
Silwen and I could see why, of course, and equally of course, the men didn’t. I suddenly wondered if Dalf would have understood why it was so unfair to Rhylla. But you cannot put an old head on young shoulders, I reminded myself, and Rill was young.
Targon Astirian did come the next day, and while I was certain that his lady mother would have swooned at the mere idea of soldiers camping out, so to speak, in her parlor, he was very correct and polite. By then Samno had fitted up a padded chair with wheels from my description of the one Jehan had designed for himself, and Rill was able to sit and roll himself around a bit, or be pushed. He did seem a bit brighter after the visit. I was occupied upstairs, only coming down as the Targon was leaving, and overheard him saying to Rill, “When you’re better, I’ll send someone along to take you up to the Barracks for a visit, and I will see about your pension. You did well, Guardsman,” saluting him before he left.
Actually, apparently he had suggested Rill go the next day, and Rill had declined! But none of us minded when we realized it was because he didn’t want to be gadding about while Wilmet was being operated upon—for it was time to remove the tube.
Master Kinfinning came to do it, with Ėowyn, Silwen, Rhylla, and myself assisting. Faramir stood by, since he had some field experience in sewing up his wounded Rangers. With a sensitivity that did him credit, Rill asked to be down in the kitchen with the rest of our staff, leaving the Rohirrim in possession of the parlor.
Wilmet did well, and it went very quickly. We had rehearsed it beforehand, and Master Kinfinning had supervised the preparations. He pronounced himself satisfied, and Rhylla sped upstairs to let his grandfather and comrades know, taking with her a tray of the sparkling Dorwinion wine to celebrate. The rest of us gathered in the kitchen, after she and Ull went to sit beside our sleeping patient.
Master Kinfinning said to me, “I wish to tell you my fee for tonight: will you allow young Rill to examine one of Jehan’s notebooks for a few days?”
I looked at Rill in surprise. “Please, m’lady,” he almost whispered. “I’d be real careful with it.”
“I want t’ know.” He forced out the words, looking down at his hands knotted into fists on the table, inches away from the stack of notebooks, his voice filled with yearning. “I jus’—I jus’ need t’ see ‘em an’ know how ‘e thought. “
“Do you like to work with your hands, Rill?” I asked.
It scarcely needed much thought or hesitation on my part. “Master Kinfinning, would it be useful to you to have a copy of these?”
“Above all things!” he said.
“Well, Rill? Are you willing to make a copy of this notebook for him—and if you wish, one for yourself?” I asked.
“Aye,” he promised recklessly. “I will! Two fair copies!”
We clapped hands on the bargain. “I make no strictures on time,” I said, and drew the first notebook out of my pocket. “Here you are, Rill. I may need to borrow it sometimes; would that be all right?” Suddenly I was aware that these were almost all I had left of my dear Jehan—but I knew that he would have gladly offered them. It was fitting.
“O’ course, m’lady! An’ thank you! My thanks, Master Kinfinning!” he said hastily.
“I think you should go upstairs now,” the Healer said, and soon he was lying on his pallet. Master Kinfinning told the Rohir and Master Samno of our bargain, and added that he would fetch him writing materials the next day.
I had wondered if Rill would be impatient at the delay, but it seemed he preferred to wait until then, when Wil could be part of this project, if only by listening. We were pleased by this evidence of new maturity and kindness, and it was just as well, because he was exhausted to the point of shaking.
He had also apologized to Rhylla and to me for his past behavior.
The notebooks project was a turning point; he seemed to have taken my spouse as his model, and nothing pleased him as much as hearing whatever anyone could tell him about Jehan Clerk and his devices, or to sit reading the notebooks and pondering the designs and sketches. His own reading and writing improved—he took great pains at copying exactly—and all the Rohirrim’s Westron improved as they listened and discussed them. Wilmet was soon inseparable from him, also eventually sitting in another wheeled chair; Rill thought of a different kind of strapping to use to hold him up, and different cushioning to better support him. The chair’s back-rest was at a different angle, to put less pressure on his lower back.
Best of all, Rill was thinking about more than himself and his loss. Jehan had, I knew, put a good deal of his own distilled wisdom and self-knowledge into the pages of the books, writing about his own struggles to accept and improve his situation and that of others. “I wish,” my love had said to me wistfully one evening, “that I’d been able to give you a child. You know, sometimes I almost think that my son is out there, somewhere, the son of my heart who would be my apprentice, supposing I had something worth passing on.”
Supposing! His devices had already saved a life—two lives, if you counted Rill, as we did—and might have a large impact on others, if we could find some way of making and distributing them to others in need.