When Alathiel woke she found to her dismay that she had gone to her bed without removing her clothes. The elven cloak still enfolded her, soft and warm against her face. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in its pine-scented folds and let sleep consume her, but there was much to be done. Many men had fallen in battle and those who had nursed them through the night surely were weary and needed their rest.
She washed hurriedly in the basin and dressed in a sturdy linen gown. Before she left her chamber, she covered her hair modestly with a clean scarf. She dashed down the great curved staircase of the Steward's residence, hurrying towards the Houses of Healing, and nearly collided with the Prince of Dol Amroth, on his way up. "Good morning, Prince Imrahil," she greeted him with a respectful nod of her head, impatient to continue on her way.
"Ah, Lady Alathiel, just the lady I seek. May I escort you to your destination? I have a matter of some importance to discuss with you." He offered his arm with the stiff formality required of a vassal attending his liege lady. She took it, appreciative of his kind gesture, for with her husband dead she could no longer claim the title Lady of Gondor. More kindly still, he slowed his long strides to match her shorter steps.
"'Tis the counsel of the wisest that the army of Gondor ride forth to meet the enemy in the field. You know more of the state of our provisions than I, my lady. Can all be made ready for the army to march in two days time?" His gray eyes, very nearly the color of her own, searched her face for reassurance.
"I will see it done, Prince Imrahil," she replied calmly, though her thoughts were in an uproar. Minas Tirith cannot survive another battle! her mind shrieked. Wounded and dying men lined the corridors and courtyards of the Houses of Healing and the dead were being burned upon the fields of the Pellenor because there was no room within the city to bury them all.
Yet Boromir would have expected her to have courage. Ruthlessly, she pushed back the suffocating fear and straightened her back. "You may leave the matter in my hands."
"It was in my mind that I could rely on you in this matter, my lady," the prince replied, smiling warmly. Then he broke with protocol and patted her hand where it lay in the crook of his arm. "Do not be frightened, Alathiel. The White City will never fall."
Once she had spoken to the cook and stewards about provisioning the army, she turned to the near-impossible task of tending the wounded. The Lord Faramir, the Lady …owyn, and the little Hobbit, Merry, were recovering thanks to the healing skills of Aragorn. The other Hobbit, Pippin, had been told by Mithrandir to see to their needs and so Alathiel was relieved of their care.
This was a blessing and a curse, both, because there were so many that needed her care she could not treat them all. She was grateful that, when the choice had come upon her, she had not given up working in the Houses of Healing, for now a real need pressed.
"I'd thought to find you stitching on your wedding gown, 'Thiel, rather than a festering wound." Boromir lounged in the doorframe of the Houses of Healing, watching Alathiel work over a patient. "I came to take you for a walk on the walls, but I see you are occupied."
"I was just finishing here, my lord. But I should not stray far. One of the carter's wives is about to birth her babe." Wiping her hands on her apron and tidying her unruly curls, she followed him out into the sunlight.
"'Tis kind of you to care so well for my people--our people--Alathiel, but soon you will have babes of your own to tend to." He favored her with the slow smile that seemed always to send a rush of color to her face.
"Think you that men will stop being wounded because I have a few babes?" she asked, and her voice was sharp. "Especially in these times?"
"Why no, lass. I only meant that others can take up this work after we are wed," he replied, wondering at this sudden fire from his gentle betrothed.
"And what will I do then? Knit by the fire while you are away fighting for our city?" she laughed, but it sounded forced. As they walked on, not entirely in accord with one another, Boromir noticed that his lady had kind words for each person that they passed. His people, too, welcomed her with true warmth and pleasure.
"Tolmir...how is your little boy? I hope he is sleeping nights now that his cough is cured."
The guardsman swept off his helm and bowed gratefully. "He is well, my lady, thanks to the decoction you gave him. We all sleep better of a night, now."
"Melisant...what are you doing out of doors in this chill? Your joints will bind up for sure."
The old crone gave Alathiel a toothless smile. "Well I know it, my lady, but there's chores as need doing, what with my son away t' the wars and all."
"Go inside and warm yourself. I will send a boy around presently to help you."
Boromir drew Alathiel off the path into a niche in the ramparts. There he held her gently in his arms. "I think I begin to see your point, love. It would be a grave disservice to my people if I kept you away from your work. Indeed I think they would get up a revolution against me if I tried it."
She gave him a smile so radiant that he could not help but answer it with a tender kiss on her lips. She flung her arms around his neck and pulled him closer still, until the full length of his body pressed against hers. He was mightily pleased by her shy yet exuberant response to him, and kissed her even more thoroughly until finally he had to break away, laughing and breathless. "Though I think, lass, that if the people have to wait for their nurse until I let her out of my bed, they may have a long wait indeed."
Legolas sat alongside Merry's bed, pretending to listen to the young hobbit's fourth retelling of his meeting with Fangorn the Ent. But in truth, he was observing the Lady Alathiel on her rounds of the injured and the dying.
She was forthright and capable in her nursing, yet gentle as well. Unlike the other nurse, Ioreth, she was quiet, speaking only to offer soft words of comfort and to issue brisk orders. Her small hands were agile, both at stitching the most horrible of wounds and cooling the most fevered brow. She listened attentively to soldiers telling her of their wives and sweethearts, and not once did she make reference to her own sorrow.
Even as he admired her courage, he was unsurprised when he came upon her near sunset, weeping in the garden. He did not stop to think that customs might be different in Gondor. Among his people, sorrow was shared as freely as joy, and the grieving were healed no less than the sick. Indeed, if that had not been their way, many of his people would have perished of grief long since.
He sat beside her and took her in his arms, murmuring to her in his language. "Avo nallo...avo nallo, brennilen." So strongly did he feel her grief that tears fell from his own eyes onto her shining hair. "Avo nallo, tithen cua." He thought that she knew not who held her, but once her sobs had quieted a little she called him by name.
"Legolas...why? Why must all these men suffer and die? Their wives will be left to mourn them, and they will never understand why their beloveds have left them." And he knew that she spoke not of the men in the Houses of Healing.
She clung to him with surprising strength as she wept bitterly. The power of her emotions astonished him. His people wept and sorrowed and mourned, but never with the fierce energy of the woman in his arms. He held her more tightly and tried his best to give her comfort.
"I am a poor one to answer that question, brennilen. You should seek the counsel of those wiser than I. But I will say this: your beloved and all these men had a part to play, for good or ill, in the fate of all of Middle-Earth, not just Gondor. Perhaps by their passing we are all saved."
"Or perhaps not."
"I don't know, tithen cua." Gently, he cradled her face in his palms and brushed the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. "I don't know."
avo nallo = don't cry
brennilen = my lady
tithen cua = you'll find out... :-)