Ioreth blew her nose and wiped her eyes on a handkerchief for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. There had been many battles, sicknesses and wounded men to care for in her 30 years of work in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith. But nothing came close to this: countless hundreds dead, and as many again hurt and needing care. Worst of all, the Lord Denethor himself was dead and now it looked as though Captain Faramir wouldn’t live through the night.
The tears welled up again as she thought of Faramir – his ability to relate to all the people in the city, whether high or low; his wisdom, his gentle nature and his fighting spirit. She prayed that it wouldn’t forsake him when he needed it most.
Mithrandir had gone again, and in a terrible hurry. She didn’t understand why – all she had done was wish out loud that there were a king in the city, as in the days of old, and he had grabbed her hands excitedly and rushed out of the room. It was no secret, after all: the lore books said that the rightful king of Minas Tirith and all Gondor always had the power to heal.
They certainly needed a healer now, she thought miserably. So many of the sick and hurt from the battle were struggling under a dreadful sickness. Those ghastly flying black things had caused it – Nazgul, someone said they were called – and those in the Houses of Healing were helpless against it.
Ioreth looked around at the soldiers in their beds – some of them moaning with pain or moving restlessly with strange dreams – and she sighed and went to the window. Night was falling and the fires the enemy had lit could be seen clearly burning around the perimeter of the Pelennor fields, and within it. Yet the battle was won. Their enemy was defeated. She should be rejoicing, but she was finding it hard.
The sound of several pairs of feet hurrying into the House caught her attention, and she turned. Mithrandir had returned, and with him he brought three men. She looked at the group with interest as they stopped and spoke to two of the guards – one of them a small perian, like the wounded one in the House. The Prince Imrahil she knew well, by sight at least; and she guessed that the tall blond man was some kin of the Lady Eowyn of Rohan for they looked alike. But the third man was new to her, and she strained her ears to try and get some clue as to who he might be.
He towered over the others, and that was nothing short of a miracle, for they were all tall men. He was also older than Imrahil and the man of Rohan, for his dark hair was sprinkled with grey. How odd that he should wear no device to mark him out as a captain, for clearly he was one. All he wore that was different to the others was a stone of clear green, pinned to his chest, and a woven grey cloak.
They were walking towards the room where Faramir was lying, and Ioreth bustled after them. This was her domain after all, and if they were planning to walk in on someone so sick she would have something to say about it. They stopped for a moment by his bedside, and before she could say anything the tall, dark man had put his hand on Faramir’s forehead. She was about to protest, but saw the effort on the man’s face and stopped. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be searching for something.
After a moment he opened them, frowned and took a deep breath. “Let us see Eowyn and Merry,” he said. They moved on, and Ioreth followed, puzzled. What was he doing? He repeated the process at each bedside, and took off his cloak. “It must start now,” he said.
“But Aragorn, surely you need to rest first?” said the man of Rohan. “Wait until you’ve eaten, at least.”
The man named Aragorn shook his head. “There’s no time to waste for these three, and most particularly for Faramir.” Ioreth started at that, but she had no need to ask any questions, for he looked directly at her and asked if they had any athelas in the House.
“I don’t know my lord, I’m sure,” she said, suddenly wishing she were more knowledgeable. “I’ll go and ask my husband – he’s the herb-master and knows all the names.”
“You might know it by the name of kingsfoil,” said Aragorn.
“Oh, that,” said Ioreth, dismissively. “We don’t keep any of that in the House. It’s just good to put in tea, and for headaches, you know. Not for the sort of things we do here – although I’ve always said it does smell nice on the bush.”
“It does indeed,” he replied. “But if you love the Lord Faramir, run as quick as your tongue and find me some, and quickly. I need it – even if there’s only one leaf left in the city.”
Ioreth was about to protest, but looked beyond Aragorn to the grey face of Faramir. If anything could save him… she turned, picked up her skirts, and ran.
Half an hour later she stood, speechless with shock, as Faramir awoke and smiled into the face of Aragorn, calling him a king. Aragorn had put two leaves of athelas in the water, called to Faramir and he had woken. Just like that – or so it seemed.
His colour normal and his face at peace, Faramir turned on his side to watch as Aragorn left the room, and suddenly it dawned on her. “What did I say?” she said, turning to her husband, who looked nearly as surprised as she. “The king has the hands of a healer, that’s what I said. And Captain Faramir called him a king. My, my!” she rushed off to tell someone – anyone – the news.
Aragorn had moved into Eowyn’s room. Eomer was sitting by her bedside, his hands clenched so hard that his knuckles were white.
“I thought she was dead,” he said softly, looking at her pale face. “When I saw her on the battlefield I thought…” he swallowed. “And she fought that thing. Now she lies here looking like death.” His voice shook and he looked at the ground.
“Eomer – I can call her back,” said Aragorn, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “But what her state of mind will be when she wakes, that I do not know. She has endured so much in recent years, watching the king’s bewitchment and yet helpless to do anything other than stay by his side.”
“We all had to bear that burden,” said Eomer.
“But you were able to leave Meduseld,” said Gandalf, who stood by the door. “You could ride out and clear your head, live in the saddle and fight, while she – with as much courage and battle ability as you – had to stay at home because she was a woman. I’ve seen her practice. I know how good she is. Can you imagine how bitter her days must have been?”
Eomer frowned at his words, but nodded slowly. “And then you rode into Edoras,” he said, looking at Aragorn. “The sudden change in her took me completely by surprise. But I know how it is with you. I know that you could not…” he faltered.
Aragorn sighed heavily. “Saying goodbye to Eowyn at Dunharrow was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” he said, sitting gently on her bed and taking one of her hands in his. “She is beautiful – a queen among women – and how I wished for her sake that I could give her the answers she wanted. I feared so much for her safety, and I still do.
“Yet the love she has for you, Eomer, is far stronger than anything she felt for me. You are reality, her flesh and blood. I was just a dream, a hope of a life away from the trouble and despair of her role by Theoden’s side.
“And that is why I fear for her now. She is strong, with bravery easily beyond most of the men who fought today. Who among us could have stood up to the Lord of the Nazgul as she did? I wonder.Yet his kind feeds on our weaknesses, creating new and greater levels of despair until we have no will left to fight. Eowyn had drunk deeply from that well before she faced him, so she may wake to despair. And if she does, she will die.”
Eomer nodded, his face strained. “Let us hope, then, that she wakes with hope in her heart,” he said. “Do what you must.”
Aragorn crushed two more leaves of athelas and threw them into a bowl of steaming water on the chest by Eowyn’s bed. A fresh, clean mountain breeze came into the room as he quickly smoothed some of the water on her sword arm and across her face. Then he stood, placed his hand on her forehead and sought for her in thought. He saw the deathly tower, heard her defiance of the will of Sauron and was glad. But there was no time to lose.
He called Eowyn by name, adding the name of her beloved father, and immediately felt her respond. Calling her again, Aragorn was confident she would return, and live – but his should not be the hand she held when she awoke. Turning to Eomer, he placed Eowyn’s hand in his. “Call her,” he said softly, and he and Gandalf left the room.
Amid his tears, Eomer called to his sister, and slowly she opened her eyes.
“Eomer?” she said uncertainly. “He said you were dead… but no, that was just the voice in my dream. How long have I been dreaming?”
“Not long, little sister,” said Eomer, gently stroking her fingers. “But I proved today that a king can cry on the battlefield and still have the victory. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life as when I thought I’d lost you.”
“My brother – a king,” said Eowyn with a weak smile. “It’s going to take some getting used to. But our uncle … where is he?
“He lies in state, in the throne room,” her brother replied. “I’m glad he didn’t know you were here. He died in peace on the field of battle, and I couldn’t wish for him to be treated with greater honour.”
“It’s certainly more than I could have hoped for,” she said. “I’d begun to think that the House of Eorl had nothing honourable left but its name.”
“I know,” said Eomer, squeezing her hand. “But you’ve won enough honour on your own account to raise our nation high for generations to come.” She made a small noise of disbelief. “It is true. You should hear what the marshals are saying. Elfhelm hasn’t stopped talking about it since he heard.” Eowyn smiled a little at that.
Eomer shook his head. “I … I still can’t believe you fought that thing,” he said. “And much as I value your swordsmanship, I can’t believe you beat him.”
“I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid,” she said thoughtfully. “I know I should have been. But I wasn’t alone. The hobbit, Merry, came into the battle with me. If it wasn’t for him I would not have survived. It was he who stabbed the Nazgul lord first. He’s a brave little thing, Eomer. I wouldn’t have expected it.” She rubbed her eyes with a weary hand. “I feel so – so dry,” she said suddenly. “Empty, like a husk. As though half my life had been sucked out of me.”
“You’re tired,” said Eomer, standing up quickly. “I shouldn’t be talking so much, I should let you rest. But…” he looked anxious. “How do you feel? You should try and be joyful – we’ve won the battle, there is great reason to have hope.”
“I’m sure I will return to health in time,” she responded. “But to hope… I’m not so sure.”
Eomer’s face fell, and with a twinge of guilt Eowyn realised the depth of his distress. “Don’t worry for me, brother,” she said, with some effort. “I am here. I will be whole again. Go and get your rest. You look exhausted.”
He smiled and, bending over, kissed her on the cheek. “You always did try and tell me what to do,” he said fondly, stroking her brow. “But I’ll take it from you today – as long as you promise to take your own advice.”
“I will,” she said and, giving her hand a final squeeze, Eomer left the room.
Alone with the quiet whisperings of the curtains as they shifted gently in the evening breeze, Eowyn stared up at the ceiling, feeling the movement of the sheet as she slowly breathed in and out. She had not expected to live past this day. She had no idea what tomorrow would bring. I’m not sure if I even care, she thought, and shrugged.
Her eyes felt suddenly heavy. Not your average day. Turning on one side, she fell almost immediately into a – thankfully – dreamless sleep.