My walk back to the House of the Hammer & Axe was slowed by people who wished to tell me how happy they were that my rank and lands had been restored to me. I tried to answer courteously but briefly, and finally arrived.
Silwen, the maids, and Gilannis were all clustered in my room, which was festooned with clothing, blankets, panniers, and packs in various stages of being filled, all of them arguing at the tops of their lungs. Scarcely had I entered, when I was elbowed aside by Mistress Samno, bearing a large wicker hamper with bundles bursting out the top. I deftly caught three stoneware bottles as they slipped out from under her arm before they could hit the floor.
“Thank you—oh, you’re back!” she said into a lull.
Before they could all burst into speech again, I asked, “How long have you been working? How nice of you to try to help me!”
“How are you feeling, dearling?” asked Silwen before anyone else could begin chattering.
“A bit dazed, with this news,” I said truthfully. “Is anyone helping Mistress Samno with preparing meals today?”
Rose and Lily looked guiltily at each other. Wordlessly, I pointed at the door, and they scurried out.
“And has anyone seen to Wilmet and Rill?” I inquired.
“Yes, my lady,” chorused Gilannis and Rhylla, both looking so consciously virtuous that I had to conceal a smile.
“Well, would one of you please check on him now?” I requested, and Gilannis reluctantly took herself off.
“We don’t seem to have made much progress,” Silwen noted, looking at the mess.
I did a fast count but asked anyway. “How many packs are there?”
“Uh—seventeen, Lady Silma. No, eighteen, countin’ mine,” Rhylla replied.
I looked at her. “I don’t think—“
“But I’m your maid! Who’s a-goin’ t’ look after you ‘f I don’t come?” she demanded.
“Rhylla, it’s an expedition! You’ve never been out of the city, and you don’t know how to ride,” I protested. “Who will look after your brother?”
“Lady Gil’ll help him with his exercises, and Ull’ll help him with bathing and what’s not proper for her to do. It’s all arranged! Rill understands; he’s fine with it! I got t’ go!”
“She really does, Silma,” Silwen agreed. “No, listen to me, Little One! The King has restored you to your rank and lands, and made you an advisor on this expedition, but you must be absolutely correct in how you go about it, particularly as the only woman on the journey. It would not be proper for you to go unattended. If you seem too eccentric, you will not be taken seriously, and that could hamper the doing of the tasks the King wishes you to do.”
I sighed, seeing the accuracy of her stance, and nodded. Rhylla beamed.
“But,” I said emphatically, “we are taking one pack each, and no more! I don’t need gowns, and neither do you—well, maybe one, in a fabric that will not be a mass of wrinkles, and in a darker color that will not show up a great deal of dust or dirt. Four shifts, two bodices, two skirts, three pairs of hose, an extra pair of shoes, pattens, a good warm hooded cloak, gloves or mittens if you have them (and you should—I taught you to knit them last month!), a shawl, an apron, a small sewing-kit, your slate, your notebook, inkhorn, sand, three quills, and your current book. The same for me, and my medical kit. Don’t forget comb and brush, a small amount of hand-soap and—“
“You’ll be gone more than three days just getting there,” objected Silwen.
“That’s why we also need some laundry soap,” I told her. “About ten ells of rope. A sharpening-stone for our knives. Oil,” I added as I saw Orcsbane leaning against the bed. “Ask Samno about getting a small quantity of oats and grain, currycombs, brushes, and a hoof-pick for the horses. Oh, and some oiled canvas and some blankets; we are going to make up blanket rolls. A small folding lantern with candles. Your firestarter kit. Some journey-bread; I will show Mistress Samno the receipt. A waterskin.”
“All of that in one pack each?” Rhylla gasped.
I smiled at her. “No. There will likely be at least one supply wagon accompanying us, or pack-ponies, and they can take most of it. But accidents and mishaps happen, and I am not having them say that we were hinderances, so we are going to be prepared. We shall have our cloaks and bedrolls (with a change of clothing rolled inside), a waterskin and some food and other things in saddlebags, including things for the horses. I am also going to take two maps to the bookstore and ask them to make three copies each. One set for you, one for me, and one for the leader. One map will be of the area, so if you get separated, you won’t be lost, and one of the area around Cormallen, so you will know what to expect. Also, this afternoon, you are taking a note from me to Lady Ėowyn, to ask her to take you down to the First Circle stables and show you how to mount and dismount, how to ride a little, and how to groom your horse. It may not be necessary, with all those soldiers along, since the horses will be theirs, but if we do end up on our own for some reason, I want you to know what to do. Always take care of your mount before yourself.”
“Same’s you do for Rimbor,” she said with a nod.
“Exactly. And please ask her for the pattern about which she and I spoke at the House of the Swan.”
“What pattern is that?” asked Silwen with interest.
“For a divided skirt,” I replied.
“Divided?” she and Rhylla repeated in chorus.
“Well, we haven’t time to make riding habits, I doubt we’ll be wearing breeches, and you don’t want your skirts up around your knees, do you?”
“Valar, no!” she exclaimed, turning a rosy red.
Silwen said, “Go right now, Rhylla, and come back with the pattern so we can all help you sew.”
Just then the door from the hall opened, and Lothlíriel came in with Ėowyn, their arms filled with bundles. “The day’s greeting, ladies,” the White Lady said brightly. “So, Silma, you take to the road before we do! I was going to invite you to come with me, but instead you must advise Faramir about our home, and write me all about it! Well, it looks as if you are very busy!”
“Lady Silma insists we can take only one pack each, and a pair of saddlebags,” Rhylla told her.
Ėowyn nodded. “After all, I came with only one pair of saddlebags and my blanket roll—and a Hobbit under my cloak,” she laughed. “And most of my saddlebags were filled with food. What are you taking?”
Rhylla recited the list I had reeled off, Lothlíriel shook her head, but Ėowyn nodded as the maid added my reasoning. “Quite right!”
“And to aid in that endeavor, we bring gifts,” the Princess of Dol Amroth said. In a short time, we had cleared away all the items I refused to take, and spread out on the bed for each of us:
3 divided skirts of sturdy wool twill
1 sturdy belt with a belt-pouch and sheathed knife
2 matching, reversible bodices
1 pair of riding gloves
1 folding lantern
1 Elvish set of cunningly fitted lightweight metal pans, a tiny pot with lid, a cup, spoon and fork
1 3-legged tripod that folded almost flat
1 small brush and comb inside a metal case polished mirror-bright inside
1 small writing set
1 small compartmented pouch for herbs and spices
“I was going to give you this as a birthing-day gift next week, Rhylla,” I said, “but you may as well have it now,” and handed her a small sewing-kit the twin of the one I placed on the bed, smaller than my hand.
She exclaimed in delight over the tiny scissors, the first she had ever owned, and hugged me, whispering into my ear, “I never had a birthin’-day gift afore! Thank you, m’lady!”
I hugged her back. “Then it is overdue!”
“The dishes are Elven-made,” Ėowyn told us, “from that special metal they have from the Dweorg, galnin. Durable but lightweight, and they don’t rust or tarnish. Lord Samwise had a set of pots from Master Bilbo Baggins; he still mourns having to leave them behind in Mordor.”
“Is it mithril?” Rhylla asked in a hushed voice.
“No, something else entirely. Mithril is far too precious to be made into dishes in a pack and of course so is silver,” Silwen told her. “You know, Silma, this galnin might be a good metal to ask Lord Gimli and Dalfinor about; it might make good crutches and braces, easier for our frailer men to wield.”
Simultaneously, Silwen, Rhylla and I all reached for our tablets (for I had given her a set some time ago) and made a note. “I’ll tell Gilannis too,” she said.
“Lady Gilannis,” Silwen gently admonished.
“Yes, my lady, Lady Gilannis,” Rhylla said.
Lothlíriel handed me a small package. “Uncle asked me to give you this, Silma.”
I opened it: my own copy of the Xenic book he had so often quoted to me. Inside he had written in Haradan:
To my Teacher and Pupil, Lady Silma:
May you walk in peace, nurturing all Aspects of Being, of which the Warrior Within is only a Part.
It was small enough to fit into my pouch.
Later that afternoon, a youth appeared from the guesthouse with a note and small package:
You never know when a good length of rope can come in handy.It’s Elven-wrought, and may come when you call it after being tied.
Please don’t open the other pouch until you reach your home.
Mr. Frodo says as I should apologize to you for speaking so plain, but I think you and me understands each other. If I did offend you, that wasn’t the intent of
I hurriedly wrote a reply, assuring him that I had not been offended but was grateful, for the conversation and the rope, a light, silvery substance that hardly looked strong, as Silwen dubiously observed.
“Still,” I pointed out, “embroidery floss can be very strong, stronger than some regular thread! Jehan used to talk about the tensile strength of a hair with some of his craftsmen friends.”
“Oh, I almost forgot; Master Kinfinning asked me to bring you this,” Ėowyn added, and handed me a rather large paper-wrapped bag that had been overlooked.
It contained a new red Healer’s satchel, complete with a broad adjustable strap. I unbuckled it, opened the flap, and gazed at the neat compartments, some padded, filled with herbs, vials of remedies, rolls of bandages, a tiny Compendium of Ailments, Cures & Antidotes, and shining instruments.
At the bottom was a note:
Dear My Lady Silma,
Lady Gilannis and Lord Húrin requested me to prepare this for you in thanks for your help to them—but you should know that Dame Ioreth made the bag, with help from Lady Gilannis and her great-aunt, and others at the Houses of Healing insisted upon contributing to it as well.
A list of them is inside the Compendium, commissioned for you by Lord Faramir and Lady Ėowyn, who stipulated that space be left for your adding a chapter on the Elvish techniques. I am having an office/classroom prepared for you when you return, and provided the blank book for your own Case Notes. King Elessar provided the crystal to be your focus, and Ėomer King and Lord Erragol added the instruments,(all Dwarf-made) on behalf of the Rohirrim you tended so devotedly.
Go well and safely, returning soon to the colleagues and students awaiting you here, headed by one eager to become your student,
My eyes filled with tears. “How kind people are!” I exclaimed, brushing them away.
“They are just reflecting your own kindness to them or those they love,” Lothlíriel said softly.
“Well, before we all turn into mush,” said Ėowyn briskly, “why don’t you and Rhylla put on one set of your new clothes, and let’s go down and give you a lesson in riding? And if you look in the satchel, you’ll find a good-sized jar of liniment for the aches you will have until you are used to being in the saddle, compliments of Ull and Wilmet, along with the receipt for making more.”
“Is anything missing, I wonder?” I laughed.
“We couldn’t find a mortar and pestle small enough to be useful,” she said ruefully.
“Not to worry for now,” I replied cheerfully. “We can always use a couple of clean stones to grind things. I’ve done it before.”
“Really?” asked Lothlíriel. “I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to cope in the wild. We don’t go trekking into the hills in Dol Amroth.”
“But you know all about boats and sailing,” Ėowyn reminded her. “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the lines and rigging your brothers were talking about with your father the other night on that new boat Elphir wants to build.”
“Ship,” she said automatically. “After all, they were talking about a new Nimglír.”
Ėowyn shrugged. “All I understood about that is that it is white and fast!”
We all laughed. Lothlíriel added, “I think it would be fun to go down to the stables; it’s been a few days since I rode too, but I want to see how Silma puts together a blanket-roll first. My maid wasn’t very good at it, and the one place where we had to use one, I kept waking up because the blankets had wandered off to one side, and I was all wet and cold. I don’t know how the Fellowship or the Rangers managed in bad weather!”
“It’s all in how you put it together,” I told her. “First you lay out a big piece of oiled canvas as a groundcloth—help me spread it out, please, Rhylla.”
“Then you put one blanket this way, and lap over the other blanket,” said Ėowyn helpfully.
“Now fold the outside edges inward, adding a few handfuls of tinder in a waterproof sack at the bottom,” I said. “My father also taught me to keep a small handful in my beltpouch.”
“Why?” asked Rhylla.
“If you wake up to a rainy or snowy morning, how else will you find anything dry enough to kindle a fire?” I asked. “Cold is an enemy, Rhylla. People have become seriously ill and died from being cold, and you feel the cold more if you are wet. Even a hot drink may help, but it won’t get hot if you can’t light a fire.”
Ėowyn was nodding. “That is one of the reasons why we only follow the herds in the warmer months; snow can drift high on the plains of my country. All our children are taught how to survive in the snow, even those who live in Edoras. Now fold everything on the sides towards the center, and begin rolling it up from the bottom. You can use a piece of rope to tie the ends—so—and when we get your horse saddled, you can tie it on the back with your rolled cloak on a warm day, after you fasten on the saddlebags.”
“Except for the rolling up and the tinder, almost exactly like swaddling a baby,” said Silwen, and we all laughed.
Walking down to the First Circle with the others, I was again greeted by several people who wished to congratulate me, and I was glad that I would be away for a time. Perhaps when we returned, they would have other things to think and talk about!
One of the Rohirrim, on the lookout for us, led out two horses already saddled, a pretty little bay mare for Rhylla, and a handsome sorrel gelding for me. Realizing that this was Ėowyn’s brother, I swept him a deep curtsey.
“Ėomer King,” I murmured.
“Ladies,” he nodded. “Lady Silma, it is my honor to present to you, on behalf of my Riders, these two mounts for you and your maid, with their tack and some provender for them, as slight tokens of our gratitude for your kindness to them. This mare is Swallow, and this fellow is Apple, because he is so greedy for them!”
Rhylla was almost speechless, and squeaked when he gave her a leg up into the saddle. I mounted by myself, grateful for that jar of liniment I knew we’d both need. It had been long indeed since I had used those muscles!
But I was gratified to learn that I had not completely forgotten how. Apple had a soft mouth and smooth gaits, and Rhylla was bravely following our lead, although we did not go faster than a trot, nor for very far. She struggled with the movement until Ėowyn told her it was like a particular dance she had taught her, and as soon as that comparison was made, she adapted well.
Back at the stable, we were about to give her a lesson in removing Swallow’s tack when Nahemion ran in, gasping.
“What is it?” I demanded.
“Wilmet an’—Rill—disappeared—can’t find neither—all out lookin’ this past hour,” he panted disjointedly.
I found myself tossed back up onto Apple’s back, Rhylla clinging behind me, with Ėomer’s shout in my ear, “Ride!” Apple shot out of the stable and I directed him upwards, even while I winced inwardly; by longstanding edict, no one but mounted Guardsmen rode in the upper Circles. One reason, I reflected, directing my horse into the first Inner Gate’s ramp, that so many of the citizens were healthy had to be due the exercise of walking any part of the five miles from the Great Gates to the Citadel almost every day. Hmm, a topic for discussion at the Houses….Setting that aside, I shouted over my shoulder, “All right, Rhylla?”
I felt her head, tucked against my shoulder, nod. She stuck like a burr. Alerted by the clatter of his hooves, folk scattered from our path.
Arriving at the House, I swung Rhylla down and dismounted, thrusting the reins at Samno, who said briskly, “I’ll walk him back down, m’lady. Take a deep breath, lass,” to Rhylla. “They just came back.”
We ran inside, and there they were in the parlor, surrounded by everyone else except for the Dwarves. Wilmet looked apprehensive, but Rill wore a familiar stubborn, closed expression, sitting in his chair with his arms folded.
“Are you all right?” his sister demanded.
He nodded, and reached out to catch the hand she swung at him. “I understand you was worried for me, but don’t slap me again! An’ don’t be mad at Wilmet; he was bein’ a friend an’ helpin’ me.”
“’Elpin’ you do what? Where’d you go?” she demanded.
“We went home.”
“Home. You know, that place where we used to live above the shop.”
“It was destroyed in the siege! How could you?”
“Wilmet helped me hitch up Rimbor to the cart, and I towed ‘is chair. The place can be repaired, Rhylla. Did you know that Da’s been in an’ out of trouble since he was released last week?”
“I put that old sot out of my mind an’ heart weeks ago,” she said angrily.
“I don’t believe you—but whether you have or not, I asked a friend to keep track of ‘im for me. Forewarned makes for a better defense ‘f ‘tis needed. This morning the friend sent me a message that Da’s been a-scavengin’ ‘round the edges of the place. He’s been sellin’ whatever he could find for the price of a pint.”
She crossed her arms. “So?”
“So, I been a-waitin’ for him to find an’ sell a couple of things in particular, an’ he finally did. It just took us longer to find the fellows he sold ‘em to, to go buy ‘em back.”
“I hope 'twas worth it!” she said bitterly.
He smiled—one of the few real smiles I had ever seen from him, and I remembered being told that other boys would follow him; I could see his charm.”I hope you’ll think so too, sister.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me? I could’ve gone!”
“’Cos I had to do it m’self, as a s’prise.”
“Can you tell us about it now, Rill?” I cut into their wrangling.
“Aye, m’lady, I can. I knowed ‘bout your satchel; Lord Erragol told us when we broke our fast this mornin’, when he stopped in t’ see us. An’ this is for it, from me an’ Rhylla, as our part o’ thankin’ you for all you done for us. Years ago, Da wanted to use it for his glazes, but Grandda said no, an’ give it to our mother, an’ I reckon ‘twas his da that made it. She made Da promise not to use it. ‘Twas the only promise he ever kept.” He held out a small package clumsily wrapped in a piece of cloth, tied with a string.
Inside was a beautiful small mortar and pestle set, made of polished green stone with darker green swirls. Incised just below the lip of the mortar was an angular design I suddenly realized were runes, and I read the inscription aloud:
Use us both to render fine
Essence of good Herbs & more
To cook Love’s meals & to Heal hurts’ ills
Aided by Care & wisest Lore.
My eyes misted as I looked from it to him. “Oh, Rill, it is beautiful! But surely it should be yours or your sister’s?”
“M’lady, I know as I’ve been a right pest to have ‘round ever since we met. You been that kind to Rhylla an’ me, an’ I reckon if we’d been just about anywheres else, I’d likely be dead an’ she’d be hatin’ me by now. I ain’t sayin’ as I’ve been a good brother to her, ‘though I hopes t’ change that. I owe more’n I c'n ever pay t’ all the folks here. Wilmet says you can’t choose your family, only your friends. Him an' me’s sworn brothers in blood, an’ I reckon you an’ Lady Silwen’re making a special kind o’ kinship family here. He says as you don’t keep count of debt atween kin, but I c’n tell you, I aim t’ do whatever I can t’ help your work in that special House as the King give you. Least I c’n do is talk t’ the stubborn ones as think they can’t live ‘thout legs or arms or eyes. I’ll be a-doin’ them exercises all my days, right where they can see me a-doin’ o' ‘em, an’ I’ll be tellin’ ‘em how far I come from the first day you brung us here. Rhylla’s always been smarter’n me, an’ she chose you as her lady first, but I choose you t’ be mine too. I knows as you won’t scorn me for settin’ in this chair since you set me here—“ everyone laughed “—an’ I vow I’m your man’s as much’s I am the King’s, I swear by the Valar.”
I had to swallow hard; Rhylla swatted him lightly on the arm, and said, “That don’t count as a slap, brother. This time, you fin’ly got it right!”
“Aye!” said Samno.
I took the youth’s hand and shook it. “Rill, I accept, and thank you! You aren’t a patient, but one of the staff—although you still have to do those exercises!”
We all laughed and applauded, as he nodded.
“This will be a very good thing,” Lady Silwen said. “You will be uniquely placed, as someone who has been a patient, to act between us and the patients, especially those who have similar problems to yours. Mayhap in time we’ll have similar staff liaisons for each major type of injury.”
Silmultaneously, she, Rhylla and I reached for our tablets. Rill said, “Will I need a set of ‘em too?”
“Yes, and you can go get them yourself; we will have to discuss what your salary will be,” said Lady Silwen.
“’f Master Samno or Nahemion’ll wheel me, I could mayhap do that tomorrow,” Rill said. “I do got one request, m’lady: can you maybe find some'un as has dogs llike t’ Rimbor, so’s I c'n have m’ own? I still got some money from m’ Guards’ pay. ’Twould be easier to get ‘round the city’n by chair.”
I looked down at my Browntail, opened and closed my mouth and opened it again, but he forestalled me. “An’ no, Lady Silma, I don’t want him, not permanent!”
“You don’t?” I couldn’t help my relief from showing in my voice.
“Nay! He was Master Jehan’s dog, an’ he’s yourn, ‘Twouldn’t be right. ‘Sides, I want a dog as I train m’ own self. He’d ought t’ go with you tomorrow—and I think if you don’t take him, he’ll run after you! Right, Rimbor?”
He barked happily, nudging my hand. I patted his head.
“’Sides, if he’s with you, we won’t worry none ‘bout you gettin’ in no trouble.”
Rhylla bristled. “I’m a-goin’ t’ take care of her, Rill!”
“I meant both of you.”
Lady Silwen smiled at their banter and asked, “Samno, would the day-meal be ready soon? I think our travelers ought to go to bed early, since they must be down at the stables before dawn.”
“I’ll go see, my lady,” he said hastily.
Mistress Samno outdid herself—the Dwarves were at the Citadel—and afterwards I met with Silwen to discuss what Rill could do and other matters. As I bade her good night, she gave me a hug. “Go safely, Little One, and come back soon. I’ll oversee matters until your return, and then we must discuss the future in greater detail.”
I almost asked her if Erragol had spoken, but deemed it wiser to hold my tongue—and curiosity!—a while. “Will you be seeing us off?” I asked.
She smiled. “Nay, I will be overseeing Rill and Wilmet at their exercises!”
“I think that the Guards are taking some pigeons with us, or a messenger,” I told her. “If you are in need of me, send.”
“Try not to worry about us. This will be a good opportunity for you to enjoy yourself, and think about your own future in the greater scheme of things. Sleep well, dearling.”
“Sleep well, Bein-Nana,” I said.