Before the Last Battle by Certh

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Chapter 9

The next day dawned bright. The Houses of Healing were in a flurry of activity: orderlies and healers went to and fro, and soldiers declared fit made ready to depart with the companies marching to Mordor.

“The guesthouse on the fourth level is nearest,” said Idrin as she arranged small jars and pads of cloth on a tray. “It is close to the gate that leads to the fifth circle of the City.”

The golden-haired young man sitting on the bed behind her rose and reached for the pack and scabbard lying against a wall. He straightened and readjusted the linen sling his left arm was in, rubbing gingerly at his shoulder.

Fumbling with a leather pouch attached to her belt, the healer unfastened it and presented it to the Rider. “Do not worry your arm, and apply the salve twice a day.” The man took the small bag from her, and she went on: “I shall see you again in five days; the swelling will have gone down by then. In the meantime, if the pain becomes more than a twinge, or if the area grows hot, come to the Houses.”

The young man nodded. “Thank you, Mistress.” He bent to store the pouch in his pack, and Idrin picked up the tray and made for the door.

* * *

It was a couple of hours before noon when she entered Faramir's chamber.

Perched in the window-recess, the man looked up from the sheaf of papers he had been studying. “You came early, cousin,” he said.

“I had not much to do,” replied Idrin: “many have been released from my care, and those who still remain are in no need of special attention.”

Faramir left his seat and set the documents he had been holding on the bed. “Will you walk with me, then?”

“Yes.” Idrin nodded readily and followed him outside.

As they stepped into the garden, the young woman paused when her fingers tightened against a forgotten weight in her hand. “I have something for you,” she said, lifting her arm. “I thought it might help rest your mind when you take up your authority as Steward.”

Faramir took the leather-bound book from her and peered at the cover. The hint of a grin touched his features. “Thank you,” he returned, taking a moment to leaf through the first pages before clutching the tome to him.

They strolled along the hedge that ran about the domain of the healers in silence for some time. Then the Lord Denethor's secondborn sighed. “The fallen will have to be named and buried; we shall have to provide for those who will remain in the City. I will have to speak with the Lord Éomer about King Théoden's body – as it will be some time before he can be buried with proper honour, the services of the embalmers shall have to be enlisted.” He looked up at the smattering of white clouds dotting the sky. “And then, there's the matter of my father's remains,” he said. “Alas that the fire made it so that there shall be no tomb to hold an embalmed body. Yet, he once said he wished to be laid to rest beside my mother – perhaps when all is peaceful again we may journey to Dol Amroth and honour that.”

Beside him, the young woman hummed quietly. “Yes, when all is set in order.”

Faramir held her gaze for a brief instant and then turned to look towards the dark clouds beyond Ithilien. “Mother feared the darkness in the East,” he said. “It had been a whispering shadow and a threat in her mind, ever growing as the years passed. It was for love of my father and us that she endured living in Minas Tirith.”

Idrin remained silent. As a child she had heard tale of how Finduilas had slowly withered in the Guarded City, and more than once she had wondered why the Shadow had affected her so.

A Gondorian soldier approached them then and addressed Faramir: “The Lord Éomer wishes to see you, lord.”

Faramir bade him conduct the new king of Rohan to his chamber and, when the man bowed and departed, turned to Idrin. “Perhaps we can resume our walk later.”

“Arvinion and Damhir are returning from Forvarad this evening, and the townhouse is in need of tidying,” answered the young woman; “but I shall try to come if all is done before the sunset-bell.”

Faramir inclined his head and turned to follow the soldier who had disappeared in the distance.

When he left, Idrin stood for a while and then walked to the wall, climbing the steps to the top. She rested her hands lightly on the parapet and looked down. Flanking the broken Great Gate were the many tents of the Rohirrim and the Dúnedain, the sole source of colour upon the barren plains. In the west and south, near the root of Mindolluin, she could discern a press of men, busy as ants.  

The young woman watched as the wide tract of land they worked in was being meticulously cleared of debris. There would be mounds raised there soon, Idrin knew, housing the fallen defenders of Minas Tirith, after their bodies were washed of the grime of battle. She wondered how long it would take before the fields grew green again.

The sound of heavy footfalls punctured her solitude, and a tall figure came to stand beside her. Idrin turned to see Éothain gazing over the plains. Her eyes moved to the leg only gingerly touching the stones beneath it and then beyond to the steps leading up to the wall-walk. She let out a breath and averted her gaze.

“Is it the first time you look over the walls after the siege?” asked Éothain.

Near the root of the mountain, the site of the future mounds was slowly becoming smoother and less dark than the burnt earth surrounding it as the top layer of soil was removed and the earth turned.

“No, but it is the first time I look so long,” replied Idrin. “I have never seen such scorched land before. Set against this, the injuries of Men seem almost a trifling matter.”

Beyond the confines of the City and the newly erected tents nearby, in the desolate plains, were burnt homesteads and charred trees and blackened earth.

Éothain looked away and gave the young woman a fleeting glance. “It is a sad sight.” There was a pause, and then he spoke again in a quiet, slow voice: “Have you lost anyone in the battle?”

The healer turned to regard him. “No, I was fortunate,” she said. “My brothers fought and survived.”

“As was I,” returned Éothain. “Both my cousins are hale, though the arm of Éowyn is broken.¹ I should go and see how she fares.”

The young woman was peering at him in silence, her gaze steady, and when he shifted, she blinked.

“Come, let us go sit,” she said. “You should rest your leg.”

They came down from the wall and settled on a bench as the day before.

"Tell me of Rohan," Idrin requested.

Éothain's countenance grew lighter. "The Riddermark is a country ever swept by winds,” he began. “The summers are warm and the winters can be harsh; but in springtime there is much rain and the plains turn green. The Entwash divides the land into the Westemnet and the Eastemnet, and in times of peace there are large herds of horses roaming the open grasslands there, cared for by herdsmen who camp in tents year-round."²

There was a spark in the young woman's eyes as she listened. “I would like to visit it one day,” she said. “The farthest I have travelled to is Dol Amroth, by the sea, many years ago.”

“I would like to see more of this city,” returned Éothain. “Stone is not so much used in the Mark. Wood-workers and cob-builders are more common among us.” He glanced up at the sun high in the sky. “The wood-carvers would have much to do at this time of year,” he said, “fashioning snowdrops and daffodils and glory-of-the-snow from tree-bark to mark the end of winter.”³ And with that he began telling her about spring in the Riddermark.

* * *

The light had not yet failed when Idrin shut the door to the room behind her, leaving the man within basking in whatever warmth the descending sun had to offer. There was only one more soldier in need of her attention at present, and the healer made for his chamber.

Éothain was testing his injured leg as the young woman walked in, taking small steps without the support of crutches. He sat on the bed beside a weathered map laid flat upon it when he caught sight of the healer's raised eyebrow, and she went to the small cupboard near the bathtub without speaking.

The Rider was on his feet once more as soon as she had seen to his stitched wound. While she busied herself storing away the jar of ointment and roll of linen-cloth, Éothain was pacing back and forth across the room, making slight use of one crutch. He halted by the window and gazed outside at the gardens bathed in the golden light of late afternoon, one forefinger tapping briskly against his leg and a faint crease furrowing his brow. After a few moments he turned about, and his mouth was set in a firm line.

"Mistress, I wish to join the companies."

Idrin looked up and met the unyielding gaze. There was a spell of silence.

"Your leg is mending," she said at last. "Putting undue pressure on it now will not help matters."

Éothain stared at her, his jaw suddenly clenching and his body stiffening. “Undue pressure? Mistress, a soldier cannot fight sitting.”

The young woman shook her head slowly, and the Rider spoke again, his words measured: "We will not go to the Land of Shadow on foot, and it will take us six days at the least to get there. My leg will have time to heal.”

"You would risk further injury to follow your King,” said Idrin quietly. She let out a deep breath. “If the muscle does not knit properly, some permanent damage may remain; and if the wound opens again, it will not be as easy to close.”

Éothain peered at her. “I have dealt with such injuries before; I can look after myself. And should something happen, there will be healers among us."

The young woman huffed and looked at him steadily, concealing her imperceptibly twitching fingers in a fold of her chemise. He held her gaze, and after a while she averted her eyes. "Very well," she said and turned to the cupboard again, rummaging through it for a few minutes. Approaching Éothain, she offered him a sturdy pouch. "Dressing material and salve," she explained when he raised an eyebrow in enquiry; "there's enough for two weeks. I will have a remedy for the pain sent in the morning."

The Rider of Rohan took the brown pouch from her and glanced at the shallow jar and bandages inside. "Thank you." He tightened the strings. "I should find Húron; bid him farewell," he said, softly as if speaking to himself.

“I can show you to his room,” said Idrin.

Éothain adjusted his grip on the single crutch he held and followed her. They found Húron sitting on the bed, his attention bent on flexing and extending his fingers.

Idrin watched the man's movements, noting the improved mobility and reduced stiffness, before he became aware of them.

“I do feel better than I did this morning,” he said, glancing down at his hand. “Exercise helps indeed.” He looked at the healer.

“That is good news,” she replied. “If all is well, you may return home tomorrow.” There was a pause and then she spoke again: "I should leave you; there is much to be done at the townhouse before Arvinion and Damhir come.” She turned to the Rider of Rohan, meeting his gaze briefly. "Fare you well, Éothain."

He peered at her. "Farewell, Mistress."

She offered a faint upturn of lips and swept from the room.

"You go to Mordor."

Húron's words drew Éothain's attention, and the Rider saw the man was gazing at his bandaged leg. He nodded at the statement. Feeling the Gondorian raise his eyes and open his mouth after a ponderous moment, he checked him: "How did you come to be at the Houses of Healing? When last we met in the Mark, you were as hale as can be."

A mirthless grin touched Húron's features. "Age and sickness spare no man," he replied.

Chapter End Notes:

¹ JRR Tolkien gives us no details on Éothain's background. His and Éomer's being cousins is of my own invention, an extrapolation from the little we know about him. The first fact to draw from is his name itself: Éothain has the same element eoh (horse in Old English) as ÉomerÉowynÉomund. Names among close family members of the Rohirrim tend to have a similar sound (Théoden, Théodwyn, Théodred), so, deducing from that similarity, Éothain may very well be related to Éomund and his family.

The second fact to draw from is Éothain's brazenly voicing his thoughts to his Marshal when first coming across the Three Hunters: such bold speech may be indicative of the easy familiarity that exists among close family members.

² Rohan is a country that mainly boasts grasslands: 'The wind went like grey waves through the endless miles of grass . . . Often the grass was so high that it reached above the knees of the riders . . . The grass-lands rolled against the hills that clustered at [the feet of the White Mountains] . . . winding their way into the heart of the great mountains . . . [I]n the wet meads and along the grassy borders of the stream grew many willow-trees . . . [There were] willow-thickets where Snowbourn flowed into Entwash . . .' (The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter V & Chapter VI; The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter III).

These descriptions indicate regions of temperate grasslands, as this biome '[consists] of grasses and herbs that extend across vast plains with occasional low, rolling hills. Trees grow only beside rivers . . .' and '[i]n temperate regions there is a dry season that begins in the late summer, fall, or winter and continues until spring . . . Where rainfall is relatively high, the grasses are about five feet (1,5 m) tall . . .' (Michael Allaby, Grasslands).

³ This Rohirric tradition is my creation, inspired by the vernal equinox being considered the official first day of spring in many countries of the northern hemisphere.

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