1. The Trespasser by Linda Hoyland
2. The Rescuer by Linda Hoyland
3. The Kindler by Linda Hoyland
With grateful thanks to Raksha for plot assistance and editing and Deandra for editing.
These characters belong to Tolkien and this story was written purely to entertain.
A herb mistress has a fateful encounter with a stranger.
“He was mortified I tell you, utterly mortified! Herb master here in the Houses for more than forty years and when the King returns he doesn't have the kingsfoil that Lord Elfstone needed! It was that what brought on his seizure, I tell you. I don't care what the healers say. It was a wonder he didn't die of the shame on the spot there and then!”
Morwen nodded vaguely. She believed that the mild seizure which had led to her predecessor's retirement had been caused by his somewhat excessive enjoyment of fine food and wine; but it was better not to argue with Dame Ioreth. Morwen was sorry for the old herb master's illness. His retirement, though had led to her fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming herb mistress in the best healing Houses in Gondor . She only half listened to Ioreth's ramblings, understanding the old woman meant well in telling her all that had happened while she was away in Lossarnach these past two years. Morwen had been evacuated with the other women during the siege and stayed afterwards to look after her sick grandmother. She had only returned after receiving a letter from the ailing herb master whose apprentice she had been. He had urged her to hasten back to the City now her grandmother was much recovered.
Much had changed in her absence. Rebuilding work was going on in the lower levels and foreigners were everywhere. She heard that former enemies had now established embassies in the City and merchants from many lands hawked their wares in more busy markets. Morwen had availed herself of their services by buying herbs and spices which had been scarce in the past. She now had, amongst many other things, adequate supplies of poppy for pain relief and turmeric and ginger for digestive disorders.
The very rule of Gondor had changed too; a King rather than a Steward ruled in the Citadel. Morwen was not greatly interested in who held the reins of governance. As long as it wasn't the Dark Lord, one ruler was as good or as bad as another. All she cared about was that the Houses of Healing continued as they always had.
Ioreth finally paused for breath. Morwen hoped she had smiled and nodded in the appropriate places during the old woman's seemingly endless speculations about the lack of kingsfoil leading to the herb master's retirement.
“Well, I shall keep the herbarium well stocked, I assure you, Dame Ioreth. Even with kingsfoil, even though it is only used to freshen a room, or maybe ease a slight headache.”
“Didn't you hear a word I was saying, Mistress Morwen? In the hands of the King, kingsfoil can work miracles! He's been away on campaign, but now he's returned, he'll be back at the Houses with us to lay his healing hands on the sick, you mark my words!”
Morwen bit back a sharp retort that the King was hardly likely to keep coming to the Houses whenever a miracle was needed. She'd heard the tale of how he supposedly healed Lord Faramir until she could repeat it in her sleep, but she remained unconvinced. Lord Faramir must have just happened to wake up when this Elessar steeped some kingsfoil and the would- be king had encouraged them to believe that he was the rightful heir to the throne due to some fabled mastery over the herb. Kings were men like any other; and had no special powers over maladies and hurts. Better to depend on the knowledge and skills of healers, and the strength of the herbs she used, then to trust old legends and wives’ tales, however charming such stories might be.
“Well, I can't waste all day here talking,” said Ioreth, pulling off her bloodied apron and throwing it into the laundry basket. “I must return to my patient.”
Morwen regarded the bloodied garment with well concealed distaste. She had always been interested in healing, but had never wanted to be a healer like Ioreth, as she had little love for the sight of gore. As an herbalist, she could help to heal people without constantly having to clean up blood and guts, and repair torn flesh and broken bones. Ioreth pulled on a clean apron and paused, as if expecting Morwen to say something.
“Have you been assisting with an operation, Dame Ioreth?” she enquired, hoping she would be spared a detailed description of something like amputating a limb.
“Gracious, no, I've just delivered twins to Mistress Indis, the wife of one of the Citadel Guards. They were in breech position and the poor lady had been in labour for hours, so she needed to give birth here at the Houses. Poor lamb, it was a hard birth. I've left her with her mother and my assistant. I just slipped out to change my apron and fetch a fresh supply of raspberry tea. It helps the womb return to normal, you know, dear. I don't want the new mother to suffer a prolapse, the poor lamb I -”
“I will gather some more raspberry leaves, fresh ones will be especially beneficial.” Morwen hurried away before Ioreth could enlighten her any further concerning the condition of Mistress Indis' womb.
Morwen heaved a sigh of relief when she reached the sanctuary of the herb garden. She was fond of Dame Ioreth, but sometimes the old lady tried her patience to the limit. The breeze and sunshine felt pleasant on her face and the herbs smelled sweet and refreshing after the overwhelming smell of soap that pervaded the houses. Morwen smiled contentedly. Surely she had the most rewarding job in Middle-earth, working here amongst the herbs that had fascinated her since childhood. Ever since she could remember she had wanted to know what each herb was called and what it was used for. Once she had learned the name and uses of a plant, she never forgot.
She made her way over to the raspberry canes and started to gather the leaves that she needed. She had half filled her basket before she became aware that she was not alone. A man was busy gathering dandelion leaves at the far side of the garden.
Morwen felt annoyed at having her solitude interrupted. This was a private garden that only the healers were permitted to use. The man was a stranger, dressed in a scruffy old cloak. He had no right to be here. He was gathering dandelion leaves, no doubt to be used in a salad for his evening meal.
Leaving the raspberry canes, she marched up to him and said sternly. “This is the private herb garden for the Houses of Healing. You should not be here.”
“Is that so?” the man said mildly. He plucked another dandelion leaf and tasted it. “Perfect,” he said.
“The patients need those leaves as a treatment for dropsy,” Morwen said crossly. “I have no choice but to report you to the Warden.”
“There is no need to trouble yourself, mistress, he minds not that I gather herbs here.” The man stood up, revealing his true height, which was considerable. He was rather a good-looking fellow in a roguish, wild way, with shaggy grey-streaked hair, keen eyes and big, long-fingered hands.
Morwen glared and returned to plucking raspberry leaves, trying to ignore the strange man's presence. She supposed the Houses could spare a few dandelion leaves for a poor man's supper, but whatever was the Warden thinking of letting such riff-raff wander amongst her herbs?
A few moments later, she glanced towards the man again. He had moved away from the dandelions to the part of the garden where the most potent herbs were growing. To her horror, he started plucking foxglove leaves. Horrified, she hurried over to him., exclaiming, “Don't touch those leaves, they contain a deadly poison!”
“I know,” said the man calmly.
“What sort of fool are you to gather foxglove leaves?” Morwen demanded. “Are you trying to kill yourself or murder someone? I don't believe that the Warden gave you permission to come here. Leave my herb garden at once and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before you eat anything!”
Before the man could reply, the Warden hurried into the garden. Not seeming to notice Morwen, he addressed the man. “My Lord King, Praise the Valar I caught you here! I have a young soldier in my care stricken with fever who is not responding to our treatments. I wondered if you would be so good as to try to help him?” Only then did he appear to notice Morwen and nodded in her direction. “Good day, Mistress Morwen.” The two men strode off into the Houses.
Morwen stood staring after them as if rooted to the spot. That rascally- looking fellow was the King? What had she just said to him? She had called him a fool and a liar as well as suggesting he might be trying to murder someone! Bile rose in her throat. She had no idea what the penalty for insulting a king was, but was certain it would be something unpleasant. She would most likely be thrown in the dungeons to await trial and at the very least she would be dismissed from the Houses of Healing.
She trudged back inside the Houses, fearing any moment to be arrested. She expected to find guards outside the room used by the women who worked at the Houses of Healing to change their clothes. Only Dame Ioreth was there, though, waiting for the raspberry leaves.
“Did you see Lord Elfstone?” the old woman demanded.
“He's here this afternoon, amazing isn’t it that a king should take time to visit the Houses and tend the patients? I did say he would, though. He has a wonderful healing gift, unlike anything I've ever seen. Folk say he was taught healing by a great Elf lord in the North. It's like magic it is. He has a heart of gold, has Lord Elfstone, though his tongue is rather sharp, but you'll get used to his ways, my dear.”
Morwen very much doubted it. She mutely handed the leaves to Dame Ioreth then retreated to the shelter of her herbarium. She spent the rest of the day carefully tidying and arranging the herbs so that her successor would replace her with as little disruption to the patients as possible. She immersed herself in her work, trying not to think of the fate that awaited her for presuming to chastise the King.
She abandoned her task only when forced to as it became too dark to see properly. She was loth to call for extra lamps in case anyone questioned her about why she was working so late.
Morwen reluctantly left the her herbarium and made her way to the comfortable rooms within the Houses she shared with her cat. As the hours passed, the likelihood of her being arrested diminished, but Morwen was certain she would lose her position at the Houses, and with it her comfortable home. Her work here was all that she had ever hoped and dreamed of. Where could she go? What else could she do? This position was unique and she had worked towards it since she was a girl. Where else could she devote her life so completely and usefully to the study of herb lore?
Granted, every village had a wise woman and she was more than adequately trained for the task, but village herbalists were also healers, a calling which Morwen had never felt drawn to with her dislike for blood and guts. As a village healer, she would spend her days in gory and thankless tasks, just like the healer in the village where she was born. Morwen had great respect for Mistress Tasariel, a kinswoman of Dame Ioreth's. It was Tasariel's influence that had helped her become what she was today. Morwen had no wish to be like Tasariel, though, spending her days stitching up gaping wounds inflicted by farming tools and delivering babies. Tasariel had to rely on the most common herbs unlike Morwen who had well over a hundred in her well stocked herbarium While Morwen had been staying with her grandmother Mistress Tasariel had attended the King's coronation with Dame Ioreth and left Morwen in charge of her patients She had been mightily relieved that a child with a fever was the only case she had to treat. What else could she put her hand to, though. other than cleaning or sewing; tasks which were even less appealing than a village healer's lot.
Why ever had this new King taken it into his head to skulk anonymously through her precious herb garden, dressed like some ne’er-do-well? If she had but known he was the King, she would have treated him with all due respect and courtesy. It was too late! Just a few careless words had ruined Morwen’s life. She buried her face in her cat's soft fur and wept.
Morwen tossed and turned all night, hardly sleeping at all. She rose early and dressed. She tried to eat breakfast, but the food tasted like ashes in her mouth. After forcing down a cup of herbal tea, she made her way to the herbarium.
She expected to soon be summoned to the Warden's office to be dismissed, but it was too early for him to be working yet. While she waited, she dealt with requests from the healers for treatments for their patients. Foxglove for an old woman with heart failure and dropsy, willow bark tea for the fever patients, comfrey salve for an old man with rheumatism; familiar comforting tasks that she performed every day and feared now she would never perform again.
Dame Ioreth entered the herbarium later that morning just as Morwen was preparing fresh supplies of comfrey salve. She startled as the old woman entered the room.
“Gracious, my dear, you are jumpy today and you look as if you've not slept a wink! Are you sickening with something? There's a lot of fever around at present. Folk shed their warm clothes too quickly when the fine weather comes, I always say.”
“I just didn't sleep very well.”
Ignoring Morten’s protests, Ioreth insisted on examining her for signs of fever, but found none. “You young folks will stay up too late,” she said.”I remember when I was a lass, I never wanted to go to bed at a decent hour.”
“Have you seen the Warden this morning?” Morwen asked once she could get a word in.
“He is with the King,” said Ioreth.
Morwen’s heart missed a beat. They were no doubt discussing her future this very moment.
“Are you sure you are well, dear? You look quite pale.”
“I am just tired.” Morwen repressed the urge to confide her troubles to Dame Ioreth. She worried that the fearless old woman might unleash the full sharpness of her tongue on either the Warden or the King. Ioreth loved to relate a tale about how she had once rebuked Denethor who had threatened her with dismissal for her pains. There was no point in them both losing their positions. She changed the subject. “How are Mistress Indis and her twins today?”
“They are doing well, but Mistress Indis is sore and weary after the birth. That's why I'm here. I need lavender, arnica, chickweed and calendula for her bath and for salves. I also need an infusion of nettle and raspberry.”
“I will get them for you at once, Dame Ioreth.”
“Why don't you bring them to Mistress Indis' room when they are ready. We don't often have twins born here, you should meet them. Such beautiful babies and big too for twins. I remember the first set of twins I delivered, so tiny they were that no one thought they would live and I rubbed them with olive oil and wrapped them in cotton wool and -”
Morwen nodded mutely as Ioreth rambled on. Maybe meeting the twins might be a welcome distraction. That is, if the Warden had not sent for her to pronounce her doom before she could gather the herbs together that Mistress Indis required.
A short while later, Morwen, together with Ioreth, entered Mistress Indis' room with the herbs. The pale new mother was dressed in a robe and sitting on a comfortable chair holding one baby while the other slept in a cradle at her feet.
Morwen offered her congratulations. Babies tended to look much alike to her, but these were certainly fine ones, a boy and a girl each with a shock of dark hair.
Mistress Indis smilingly accepted Morten’s good wishes. Her eyes were sparkling as she then said, “Would you believe it, but the King has asked to meet my babies! I'm all a flutter!”
“You don't have to see him if you don't wish to, my dear,” said Ioreth. “He made it very clear that it was a request, not an order, did Lord Elfstone. He 's here to see a patient he's treating, but he likes to give new babies his blessing when he can and folk say there are twins in his family, so I expect he is especially interested.”
“Oh, but I want to meet him,” said Mistress Indis. “It would be a great honour.”
“I must return to my duties,” said Morwen. “It was a pleasure to meet you and your beautiful babies, Mistress Indis.” She turned to leave the room as swiftly as possible, but before she could leave there was a knock at the door. Ioreth called permission to the newcomer to enter. Much to her dismay, Morwen almost collided with the King.
Today, he was still dressed simply, but in quality garments that made him look more kingly. On his breast he wore an eagle-shaped brooch set with a striking green gem.
Mistress Indis made as if to rise, but the King gestured her to remain seated.
Ioreth gave a cursory bow and introduced Mistress Indis then gestured towards Morwen. “And this, my lord, is Mistress Morwen, our herb mistress.”
“Mistress Morwen and I have met,” said the King.
Morwen tried to edge towards the doorway.
“Wait, Mistress,” he said. “I wish to speak to you.”
With a sinking heart, Morwen could only watch as the King took each baby in his arms and blessed it. “What are their names?” he asked the young mother.
“I have not yet been able to decide, my lord. My husband and I never expected to need to think of two names.”
“How about Beren and Lúthien?” the King suggested.
Indis beamed. “I like those names well, my lord.”
“And how do you fare, mistress?”
“Well enough, my lord, but I am sore weary.”
“Permit me to aid you.”
Morwen’s eyebrows lifted as the King took Mistress Indis' hand and held the other a few inches above her still distended belly. It seemed to her that Indis' skin took on a healthier colour while for a few moments the King looked pale and weary. She blinked, thinking she must be imagining things after her sleepless night.
The King said a few more words then took his leave of Mistress Indis. He made as to leave the room, beckoning Morwen to follow him.
“There's no need to be scared, dear, just speak your mind freely,” said Ioreth in an encouraging tone.
“I believe Mistress Morwen always speaks her mind,” the King said drily.
Without another word, the King led Morwen to the Warden's office, though there was no sign of its usual occupant.
Morwen fell to her knees. “I am so very sorry, my lord King. I did not mean to insult you.”
“Please rise,” The King extended a hand. “You have a sharp tongue, mistress, I admit, but the fault was mine. I should have introduced myself. It was natural that you should take me for a trespasser. Sometimes, I forget I no longer have a need for anonymity. It is indeed needful to exercise caution concerning who is allowed near such potent herbs. It was not about yesterday that I wished to speak to you about.”
“My lord?” Morwen’s voice was little more than a croak. Could it be that the King of Gondor took no offence at her rudeness, as if she were some great lady rather than a simple herb mistress?
“I should like to grow more elven herbs here at the Houses, but would not plant them here without your permission, Mistress. I believe we could have many new treatments to benefit the patients.”
“Gladly, my lord. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to learn about new herbs.”
The King smiled. His whole face lit up like the sun breaking suddenly free of a cloud. “Then I believe you and I will work well together, Mistress Morwen.”
Morwen smiled back. “I believe we shall, my lord.” And she breathed again, as if for the very first time.
A/n Written for the the Teitho “Anonymity” challenge where it was placed 3rd. Wishing all my readers a happy and
Morwen was donning her apron prior to beginning her day's work, when Dame Ioreth approached her holding out a letter.
"The carrier just came from Lossarnach with a letter from my kinswoman and she has also sent you a message."
Morwen held out her hand for the missive, but Ioreth had more to say, "I hope Tasariel isn't doing too much, she works so hard what with that husband of hers and tending the fields. I really don't know how she manages it all. I would-"
"Thank you, Dame Ioreth. I'll read my letter before I begin work for the day." Morwen reached out for the letter with a smile then retreated to a quiet corner. She was eager to see what her old mentor had to say.
The letter began with greetings and enquiries concerning Morwen's well-being. Tasariel then continued "I have been very busy as usual, my dear. I delivered two infants last week, a boy and a girl. The boy was a breech and it was a difficult birth- some lads are a handful from the moment of birth! I have the mother on raspberry tea and drinking plenty of beef broth to restore her strength. Then I had a nasty accident to attend to. One of my husband's workers almost cut his foot off with a sickle.
My Pelendur is getting married soon. Emerwen's a fine lass, but I always hoped that you might have caught his eye. I would have gladly embraced you as a daughter."
Morwen sighed. Pelendur was a decent enough fellow, but marrying him would have meant a lifetime in the village stitching up farm workers. She shuddered at the thought. She was far better suited to her work here as herb mistress.
"I need some blessed thistle tincture for a nursing mother," called Ivorwen, another of the healers.
Morwen stuffed the letter inside the chest where she kept her possessions and hurried off to the herbarium. The jar of blessed thistle tincture was almost empty, though there was plenty of tea left. She measured out the correct dosage for the patient.
"Here you are, Dame Ivorwen," she said. "Your patient is fortunate as this was almost the last in the jar. I'll go and gather some more."
"There have been so many coughs, colds and stomach upsets of late, as well as nursing mothers," said Ivorwen. "Small wonder your stocks are low."
"There is still some Blessed Thistle tea left and several jars of salve," said Morwen.
"Lord Elfstone is visiting the Houses today," said Ioreth. "Whatever will he say if he needs a herb and we don't have it. I recall it as if it were yesterday how mortified the Herb master was when we didn't have athelas. I'm certain that-"
"I will gather some now," said Morwen hastily. She took up a basket and went outside.
Morwen took a deep breath once she had closed the door. It was a fine spring morning and she welcomed the chance to be outside. As it was still early in the year, the Blessed Thistle was being grown in the glasshouse rather than the herb garden, which necessitated a walk through the rose garden to get there.
She passed a gardener who was hard at work pruning roses and bade him good morning. She didn't know his name, but always exchanged a word and a smile with him, for he seemed a pleasant young fellow.
Once within the glasshouse, Morwen quickly found the Blessed Thistle and began harvesting the leaves. She hummed quietly to herself as she worked becoming utterly engrossed in her task.
Suddenly, she was startled by a loud cry followed by a shout for help. Leaving her basket behind, Morwen ran outside to investigate. The cries were coming from the rose garden. She followed the sounds until she came across the gardener sprawled on the ground. Blood was pumping from his wrist.
For a moment, Morwen froze, then she remembered her healer's training and snatched off her apron and folded it into a pad of cloth, which she pressed against the gardener's wound.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Tripped and fell on my pruning knife," said the gardener. "So stupid."
"Accidents happen," said Morwen trying to sound brisk and efficient. "Keep still or you will make the bleeding worse."
"I know I'm going to die," said the gardener. "Lost my friend a few years back when he fell on a blade."
"Nonsense!" said Morwen with more conviction than she felt. Already the blood was seeping through her makeshift pad and she lacked the strength to apply more pressure. She had slightly twisted her hand wresting with a stubborn herb jar a few days ago and it had not yet recovered properly.
"Tell my wife I love her and my boy. He's not yet three years old."
Morwen tried again to press harder to staunch the blood flow. Her head was starting to swim and she felt increasingly queasy. Why did a herb mistress and not a healer find the poor man? Why had no one else come?
"You will tell them yourself," she said in a slightly shaky voice. "I will call for more help." She closed her eyes for a moment as not to look at all the blood, took a deep breath and cried out at the top of her voice.
No one answered her call. She focussed her attention on the gardener's face. He was pale and sweating, his breath coming in ragged gasps. She kept on pressing, but her strength was not sufficient and the rising nausea in her throat was growing worse.
Just then, a man came running through the garden. It was the King. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was kneeling beside her and gardener and pulling off his fine velvet tunic, which he folded into a pad.
"I'll take him now, mistress," Aragorn said calmly.
Morwen thankfully lifted her throbbing hands away from the wound. Unable to contain her rising nausea a moment longer, she darted into the bushes and retched violently. Once she felt a little better she forced herself to return to the injured man. Out of all the people who could have answered her cries for help, why did it have to be the King? During the few weeks she had known him, she had come to respect his herb lore and quite like him, but surely one of her colleagues could handle this situation better? And how could the King ever respect her in future now he knew how squeamish she was?
The King was pressing his folded tunic against the injured gardener's wound firmly when she returned. He turned to the gardener. "What is your name?"
"Be easy then, Beleg, all will be well. Close your eyes." The King lifted one hand away from the wound and placed it on the gardener's brow. He then ran a finger over his eyelids. Beleg went limp.
"Is he dead?" asked Morwen.
Aragorn shook his head. "No," he said. "I have sent him to sleep to slow his heart and the loss of blood. I need to stitch the injured blood vessel closed. Could you fetch someone to carry him into the Houses, mistress?"
"I will, sire."
"Thank you. There is no need for you to return here. I suggest you bathe and change your clothes. You look almost as pale as our injured friend here."
Morwen hurried off to do as she was bidden. She went straight to the Warden's office and he immediately despatched two assistant healers to the rose gardens with a stretcher.
"Whatever has happened to you, lass?" asked Ioreth when Morwen re-entered the sanctuary of the room used by the women who served at the Houses.
Morwen looked down at her blood- and vomit-stained gown. "There was an accident," she began, then to her shame burst into tears as she struggled to relate the morning's events.
Ioreth got to her feet and patted Morwen's shoulder kindly. "There, there, dear," she said. "I'll run you a bath and make you a nice cup of Blessed Thistle tea to settle your stomach," she said.
"The poor man will most likely die and it will be my fault!" sniffed Morwen. She found she was shaking.
"Nonsense!" said Ioreth. "You did your best and you are the herb mistress, not a healer. It's all been a nasty shock for you. The gardener could not be in better hands, for if anyone can save him, the Lord Elfstone can. Now come and have a hot bath and get out of those clothes."
Morwen let herself be led to the women's bathing room. Usually, she hated Dame Ioreth's fussing, but today it was oddly comforting. It was a rule that all the women who worked in the Houses kept a complete change of clothing in the women's room. Ioreth brought Morwen her clean garments and took the bloodied ones away then fetched a cup of Blessed Thistle tea, which tasted revolting, but did settle her stomach.
"You should go home and cuddle that cat of yours now, dearie," said Dame Ioreth when Morwen had finished her tea.
"I have work to do," protested Morwen. "The basket of Blessed Thistle is still in the glasshouse for a start."
"A servant can fetch it, and your work can wait until the morrow," said Ioreth. "I'll walk with you to your rooms. Then you must rest, lass and wrap up warm. There's a right chill in the air today. Folk are always too keen to shed their warm garments in spring and little good does it do them. I remember once when –"
For once, Morwen did not mind Ioreth's chatter. She wondered if it served to distract the patients from their ills as it was distracting her today.
When she reached her rooms within the Houses, she went straight to bed and fell asleep with her cat purring at her side.
Morwen awoke the next morning feeling much more like her usual self. She went early to her herbarium. She found the basket of Blessed Thistle leaves waiting for her and set to work preparing a tincture of the herb. She hummed quietly to herself, glad to be at work amidst the familiar fresh scents.
A knock at the door made her start. "Come in!" she called, expecting it to be one of the healers requiring herbs for a patient. To her dismay, the King entered the room.
"Good Morrow, Mistress Morwen," he said with a smile. "I thought you would like to know that Beleg should make a full recovery. I will see that his wife and child are cared for until he can work again. You saved his life, mistress."
"I, sire? I think rather it was you who saved him."
"He would have bled to death before I reached him. You did well to staunch the flow and prevent him losing a dangerous amount of blood as the sight of blood obviously troubles you."
Morwen flushed and shuffled her feet uneasily. "I am sorry I was so foolish and cowardly yesterday. I can deal with a little blood such as a cut finger, but so much!"
The King regarded her with his keen grey eyes. "You might be surprised, Mistress Morwen, how many soldiers I have known who turn sick and faint at the sight of blood. It is a brave man who does his duty when his stomach is lurching, and a brave woman too. And you were dealing with an injured hand, were you not?"
"How did you know that?"
"You were holding your right hand awkwardly. As a healer, I notice these things."
Morwen shrugged. "It is but a minor hurt. I twisted it the other day trying to open a jar I had sealed too tightly."
"May I see?"
Morwen reluctantly held out her hand. The injury was indeed slight, but it left a dull ache in her fingers. The King folded both his hands around hers. They were very warm and, much to her surprise, she felt the warmth seeping through her injury, melting the pain in its wake. It was a curious sensation. She had never felt anything quite like it before. She looked up and saw the kindness and compassion in the grey eyes and realised that he was more than just a King who was a master of herblore. He was a great healer and a great man too.
A/n. Written for the LOTRGFIC "Spring Fever" Challenge. With thanks to Med Cat.
B2MeM Prompt and Path: “The gods were gathered on guarded heights, of doom and death deep they pondered. Sun they rekindled, and silver Moon they set to sail on seas of stars.” JRR Tolkien, Völsungakvida en Nÿja. Purple Path.
Format: Short Story
Genre: Angst, h/c
Characters: Aragorn, Ioreth, OCs
Creator’s Notes (optional): A sequel to “The Trespasser” and “The Rescuer.” Morwen is herb mistress at the Houses of Healing.
Summary: Morwen feels unappreciated.
Morwen tapped on the door of the warden’s room early one spring morning.
“Come in!” called Tarostar. “Oh, it’s you, Mistress Morwen. I hoped it was one of the healers telling me they could work today. This fever epidemic has sadly depleted their numbers so I have sent messages asking for extra help from those off duty and retired .”
“Healers need herbs to treat the patients,” Morwen replied somewhat sharply. “I came to tell you we need to buy more ginger root and turmeric.”
Tarostar waved his hand vaguely. “Send word to the merchants who supply whatever is needed. I have no time at present for such trivial matters.”
Morwen left the room struggling to control her irritation. She might not be a healer, but what would the healers do without the potions and remedies she mixed to treat the ills they diagnosed?
She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she almost bumped into Dame Iorwen.
“Oh there you are!” said the healer, who came bustling along the corridor from the opposite direction. “I was looking for you to mix me some raspberry tea, but as I couldn’t find you, I mixed it myself. Poor Mistress Andreth can’t wait all day!”
“She needs her ginger tea too to settle her stomach,” said Morwen.
“I know that, dear, I am her healer,” said Ivorwen. “You can bring some in an hour.”
Feeling thoroughly out of sorts, Morwen made her way to the herbarium and started work preparing elderberry tinctures to treat the fever patients with. She had not been working long when Barahir, one of the youngest healers came in. “I need some comfrey tea for an elderly patient’s arthritis,” he said.
“I would suggest a poultice instead,” said Morwen. “The tea can damage the liver.”
“Are you the healer or am I?” snapped Barahir. “I want what is best for my patients.”
“So do I,” said Morwen. “I do not make comfrey tea. It is too dangerous. Either take a poultice or a salve for your patient.”
Barahir almost snatched the jar from her hand and stormed out of the herbarium.
Morwen sank down on her chair. She knew she was ill-suited to be a healer, despite having training, but had always believed that she made a valuable contribution with her knowledge of herb lore. It seemed, though, that the healers thought otherwise. Morwen shivered and threw more wood on her stove.
The day wore on. Morwen could not get warm. She chided herself for being fooled by the spring sunshine and not donning an extra petticoat. Her throat started to hurt. Maybe she was getting a cold. She knew she should take some of the elderberry tincture, but she felt rather queasy and disliked the taste of the mixture at the best of times.
Her head started to ache as she methodically chopped herbs. She felt very tired but there was so much work to be done.
A few hours later, Dame Ioreth put her head around the door.
“Can I help you, mistress?” Morwen’s voice sounded strange and it was an effort to get the words out.
“I came to see why you had not come for your midday meal.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You don’t sound yourself at all, dear.” Dame Ioreth advanced into the room. “You must eat or you’ll make yourself ill like my sister who almost wasted away. Why you look quite pale. I think I should examine you.”
Morwen tried to get to her feet to tell her to go away and promptly swooned.
Time had no meaning in this bleak cold place; Morwen might have been there for hours, days, months, or even years. She was in a tower looking out towards the utmost West. Somewhat to her surprise, she could see the Valar far away in Valinor. At least, she assumed the beings were the Valar. She had little interest in Celestial Beings. It was nothing like what the tales she’d heard depicted, though. It was a cold, barren wasteland and the Valar were grim and stern as they debated her doom.
“She must die,” said Manwë.”
“All the Secondborn must receive the Gift of Ilúvatar,” said Varda.
“There is no light left for the children,” said Yavanna. “First we must kindle the sun and set the moon to sail on silver seas.”
Much to Morwen’s amazement, the King appeared clutching a golden disk and a flint. With the flint he set the disk alight and cast it into the sky. She was surrounded by warmth and light. A familiar voice called her name.
Morwen opened her eyes to meet the warm grey eyes of the King. Beside him, stood Ioreth, smiling at her, her eyes filled with relief.
To her dismay, Morwen realised was lying in bed wearing only a nightgown. Why was she never at her best when the King appeared? She recognised the room as one in the Houses. Another worry gnawed at her mind. “My cat?” she asked.
“Don’t you worry, dearie, I’ve been feeding him. I brought him a nice bit of fish this morning fresh from the market. He ate every bit and tomorrow I'll see what the butcher has. His steak is very tasty or I might buy a bit of mince.”
“What happened?” Morwen’s mouth was so dry she could hardly speak. The King filled a glass of water from a pitcher by her bed and held it so she could drink.
“You gave me a right fright, dearie, collapsing like that, “ said Ioreth. “You’ve had the fever that’s been going around. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I did not realise I had the fever. I thought I merely had a cold and was tired.”
“We tried all the remedies on you, but nothing would work, so I sent for Lord Elfstone here, and now you’ll be right as rain after some rest and in no time you’ll be back home with your cat. We’ll be right glad to have you back at work too. It’s too much for my old hands chopping herbs for hours on end and that Barahir nearly poisoned a patient and Ivorwen keeps dishing out tea instead of tincture as she isn’t confident with mixing them and no one knows where anything is!”
Aragorn turned to the old woman. “Will you fetch Mistress Morwen some elderberry tincture, please and maybe ask the cook to make some broth for later?”
Ioreth looked at her and then at the King rather doubtfully.
“I don't need a chaperone, Dame Ioreth,” said Morwen. “I know and trust the King.”
“I won’t be long then, dearie,” said Ioreth before hurrying away.
“Does aught trouble you beside your illness, mistress?” Aragorn asked after she had gone. “I believe something had distressed you and your body was not fighting the fever as it should.”
“It is nothing.” Morwen sighed then realised the King would expect more of an explanation. It seemed as if he has somehow been inside her mind. The thought troubled her less than she expected it to. “I was foolish to be upset, but three people made me feel very lowly compared to the healers just before I became ill. I was feeling I am of little use.”
“You know how to act as a healer if you are needed to,” said Aragorn. “I am certain that what good Dame Ioreth said just now should convince you just how much you are needed here. In fact, the Warden would like you to take on an apprentice of your choice, as the Houses have suffered so in your absence. You could then devote more time to herb lore and the finer arts of mixing remedies and less to chopping and bottling. I have some books on Elven herb lore I think you would enjoy.”
Morwen smiled. “I should like that.”
“You should rest now, Mistress Morwen.” Aragorn rose from his chair to leave. “You should be back in your herbarium in a few days.”
“Thank you, sire. Thank you for rekindling the sun.”
“Rekindling the sun?”
“Yes, in my fever dreams it had gone, but you set it alight and cast it into the sky.”
Aragorn threw back his head and laughed. “I have done many things, but never did I think to make the sun rise! That is well beyond any power of mine.”
Morwen laughed too. “Be glad you do not have to make it rise on the morrow and every morrow after that!” Then she closed her eyes and fell into a refreshing sleep.
A/n. “The Fever” is influenza. Elderberry is a traditional remedy for colds and flu.
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