Elanor woke soon after she had fallen asleep, the cool gray light of dawn not yet reaching the battling clouds over the city. Nothing had truly awoken her, but she was as alert as if someone had screamed. Faramir, she thought, I must go to Faramir. Smoothing her clothes, wrinkled by sleep, she hurried into the main room, and then into Faramir’s bed chamber.
Sitting straight up in his bed, Faramir was coughing violently into a cloth, each spasm rocking the bed like a gale. Rushing to his side, Elanor saw that on the shredded kerchief was blood, black in the dim light of a single guttering candle left burning on the desk. Faramir was gasping for breath, those that came coming in quick rasps. His eyes were wide with panic, and Elanor knew that if she didn’t do something soon… The candle went out.
Running to the heavy door of the main room, any weakness forgotten now, Elanor heaved it open and nearly ran into the waist of a sleepy-eyed servant.
“Quickly,” Elanor said urgently, “Get the master healer, er, Lady Isa Red-Dragon. My companion is very sick, he needs help. I think he’s dying!” Her voice caught in her throat.
“Yes, Mistress,” said the now fully awake man. “Right away.”
As he ran off, Elanor returned to Faramir’s chamber, lighting lanterns and giving him more cloths. When she had finished, she sat by his side, grasped his hand, and tried to calm him. He squeezed her hand tightly as he coughed, and Elanor’s heart pounded with fear for her friend, her love. When the healer finally rushed into the room, she was close to tears.
“Help me prop him up,” Isa ordered roughly. “He’s the one the apprentice wanted me to look over?” Elanor nodded mutely as she piled pillows behind Faramir’s heaving shoulders. “Good thing too. I don’t think we’re too late. Now, give me one of those cloths he’s been using.” The toughened woman examined the one Elanor brought her closely in the light of one of the lamps. “Mm. It’s the Orchids’ Sickness. Been plaguing the city nigh on three moons now. See that interesting shade his face is turning? That’s where the name comes from. It’s because he’s not breathing well enough.”
Isa pressed a flask into Faramir’s hand while Elanor wiped his sweat-soaked brow. “Drink, lad. Every drop. And you, be a good lass, put some water on to boil. Biggest kettle you have, straight in the hearth, hurry now.” Elanor dashed off to obey as Faramir swallowed his coughs for a moment and put the flask to his mouth, Isa touching his face and neck. The second the mixture touched his tongue, he spit it back into the bottle and shook his head wildly, his cough returning.
Shaking her head slightly, Isa looked down at him with a touch of pity in her cold grey eyes. “Hate to do this to you, lad, but I don’t think you know what’s best. Your fever’s too high. Try not to fight me.” Sighing, she took the flask in one hand and pinched Faramir’s nose with the other. Tipping the flask, she poured its contents into his mouth and clamped her hand over it before he could spit the potion out again. For half a moment, nothing happened. Then, in the space of a single second, Faramir choked, swallowed, and fainted dead away from lack of air, perhaps aided by the effects of the powerful potion. Nodding triumphantly, the Red-Dragon recapped her flask and put it into her belt purse.
Elanor returned a few minutes later, bearing the enormous steaming kettle. “Thank the gods, you’ve stopped it. Is he going to be all right?” She placed the water on the folded cloth she’d brought and set it on the desk.
“I think so,” replied the aged woman. “Leave that water in this room, the steam will make the air easier for him to breathe. Try to change it every so often, once it cools. But there’s something else. Nothing horrible, dear, that fever shan’t kill him, I think. It’s just that I b’lieve it’s best if I quarantine you two. I’ll have your meals sent here, to be left outside your door. You are only to open this door at nine hours of the morning, mid day, and six hours of the evening, to retrieve your food.”
“Both of us?” Elanor asked. “But only Faramir’s sick.”
“Aye, for now. Remember, I’d say it took him about a week to get this bad off. I know you’ve got the disease inside you now, what with the way he’s been coughing everywhere, and the close contact you’ve had with him. It will be a strange tiding indeed if by the time he’s well, you’re not sick. The worst part of the Orchids’ Sickness is that it’s highly communicable; that means it spreads very easily. Symptoms could stay hidden for up to a month. By the time you know you’re ill, you’ve most likely spread it to the entire village or town. I’ll leave a fair bit of this potion, enough to get you both well. Now, this is very important, you’ve got to get him to take it, or he’ll get worse. Personally, I think it’s all right to use whatever measures necessary, so long as it doesn’t kill ‘im. Make sure both of you eat and sleep well, and wash these cloths daily. He’ll sleep for a day or so before he comes to. It might, well, it probably will get worse before it gets better. Perhaps some delirium, and the cough might come back. If you must send any messages, wrap them in a clean cloth and send them out with your dishes. Now, good health, and good luck.”
Before Elanor could voice a single concern or question, Isa was gone, the door bolted behind her. Sighing, she took the huge kettle and used a small amount of it’s water to make some tea before she went back to sleep, this time more or less in peace.
* * *
When Elanor arose the next morning, the elderly, well-made clock from Dale on the wall read five minutes to nine. Wasting time, she went to check on Faramir.
He was staring at the ceiling when she entered, gazing listlessly towards the smooth stone above him. Without moving, he croaked, “I think you might have been right about me being sick.”
“How do you feel?” Elanor asked, feeling sorry for her friend.
“Like that healer tried to beat me to death with a cat.”
“Well, that’s much better than last night,” she jested feebly.
Going to his side, Elanor listened to Faramir’s breathing and felt his face for the fever. His breathing was clear, though his fever still raged, and felt almost hotter than before. When she said as much, he scoffed.
“Oh, get off. You sound like my mother.” Smiling, she kissed him lightly and went to get the food.
I wonder, she thought idly as she picked up the moldy-looking green stew. Would I make a good mother? I have raised all my siblings. Always something to think about.
* * *
The first day was passed in relative comfort, but it was the last. The next morning Faramir’s fever enclosed him in delirium. Elanor spent days with less than an hour of fitful sleep, smoothing his brow and running her fingers through his damp curls. He murmured through the hours, of his childhood and even of her. Her heart nearly broke with love and worry when he whispered, “Beautiful as a rose and delicate as an orchid. My Elanor.” For brief moments, he would resurface into consciousness, and would clutch at her, calling her name, and only when she had shown him that she still stayed with him would he return to his unnatural sleep.
There were other times that were much worse than Faramir’s bouts of wakefulness. He would toss and writhe, clawing at his throat or chest until they bled. Through all this Elanor remained steady, weeping only in her heart. When weariness finally overtook her, she would either sleep in a chair by the wall or in the bed by his side. That way, when he did wake, he would find her and be at peace. Often, to end it all, the wretched cough would return and she would have to force the vile potion down Faramir’s throat, sometimes having to sit on him if he fought her through his darkness.
Finally, an eternity later, Elanor woke to find Faramir up and awake. His fever gone, his cough vanished, it seemed a miracle. Both of them rejoiced together, their trials over for a time. It was that day that Elanor began to cough.
* * *
She was cold, so cold, she had to be under a pile of snow, nothing else was this freezing. Then, boiling, so hot, baking in the August sun. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, was it night or day? Time might have passed, it might not have, it didn’t matter. Then came the memories. She was tiny yet, sitting on her father’s lap, looking at the big red book with no pictures. She was holding the newborn baby Marigold, then Daisy, Tolman, all of them in no order at all. She played with her siblings in the spring sunshine of the Shire. She stood by her mother’s bedside as her life slipped away, and watched as a white ship drifted away from the Havens and its sails were suddenly caught by the morning breeze, even as her vision was blurred by tears. Then she met Faramir, and Gwynna, and the memories were clearer and more frequent. A boat, the sea, then a kiss, an island, a tunnel, guards, and a woman, beautiful in her radiance, clothed in the light of a thousand suns, everything was blurred together.
The darkness drew back a moment. Faramir! Then she began coughing, a terrible, hacking spasm that racked her whole body. Her throat and chest hurt so much, she couldn’t breathe, could barely think, something was at her lips, and a vile taste, like curdled milk and death. She sputtered and closed her mouth tightly. Why was Faramir doing this to her? When he managed to pry her mouth open, she spit the potion right in his face. Ha, showed him. She heard him sigh and her nose was closed off. Then the taste again, and before she could spit it out again, his hand was over her mouth, and the only way to rid herself of the wretched thing was to swallow it, though she was sure she would be ill if she did. The darkness came back, and she was cold again.
* * *
She opened her sore eyes and saw Faramir weeping, weariness in every part of his body. His shoulders sagged, his back was bent, and the crescents under his eyes were dark and gray. His face was ashen and pale, his once pure eyes stormy and gray as slate. Elanor’s thoughts turned to herself for a moment and she ran through a mental inventory.
All right, I hurt all over, but besides that. Arms, hands, fingers, they work… Legs, numb but tolerable. My eyes hurt… wonder why… As she thought this, she blinked a few times, trying to clear the shadowy haze clouding her sight. At even this slight movement, the every-watchful Faramir stirred and looked mournfully down at Elanor. Smiling weakly, he spoke softly. “You’re awake, then?”
“Of course,” she replied hoarsely. “How long have I been sick?”
Faramir paused for a moment and a slight glaze came into his eyes. “I suppose, eight days.”
Elanor gasped. “Eight days! You were only sick for five! Oh, Faramir, I’m so sorry!” With that, Faramir truly smiled and gathered her up in his arms. Sighing contentedly, she moved closer and rested her head against his breast. After a few moments she yawned and closed her eyes tightly against a dull pain resonating slowly about her skull.
“Rest, love. You need sleep before you can call yourself well.” He lowered Elanor gently into the bed and rose to leave.
“Faramir?” Elanor said sleepily. He paused. Her head ached fiercely, and she suddenly heard a voice inside her skull;
I only beg of thy mind for a moment this time, little one. It won’t hurt so much as before. Thou must know this: Even the smallest person may change the course of time. The voice grew more distant. Thou must fight or our cause shall fail…
When Elanor opened her eyes, Faramir was gone and she could only vaguely remember a soothing voice, and a fierce protectiveness to defend the land and person she loved.