19. A question of postponement
The heavy door swung open to reveal a crowded hall and I realised it must be nearly time for the evening meal. A whole group of Eomer’s Riders were gathered around a large table, some enthusiastically pushing the plates and dishes around on the wooden board. Lots of hand gesticulating made me wonder what they were doing for a moment. But, with some amusement, I decided that that those who had been on the hunt were explaining battle strategies to those that hadn’t. A few wives stood with folded arms, in all likelihood waiting to put the crockery back to rights. Those who caught sight of me acknowledged my presence with a slight bow and a smile. I thought they had probably not seen their queen looking quite so dishevelled before, and certainly, I did not usually appear with a near soaking dress. But apart from the odd stare, no-one commented. After replying briefly to a few questions about Eomer’s health, I headed towards the far corner where the healing position had been set up. The cold hand of dread clutched at my heart as I saw that the screen that had shielded Swidhelm, now rested against the wall. His poor wife! But not only that, I knew how much Éomer would hurt if the scout had lost his fight for life.
One man sat with a bandage around his head and his arm in a sling, drinking a mug of ale. But there was no sign of any other of the injured, just Elfgyuu and a few girls clearing up. The housekeeper had her back to me and jumped when I called her, turning around quickly. She stared at me for a moment before her eyes dropped down to my hip level.
“Is every thing alright, my lady?”
I followed her gaze. No wonder she sounded surprised, the dagger in my hand must have looked a bit odd. “Éomer King wanted to stick it in his infected wound. I thought it prudent to fetch a healer, Elfgyuu.”
Her lips twitched and her voice held the barest hint of amusement, “Very wise, my lady. And I see he has had his bath.”
Heat flushed my cheeks. Did I imagine that twinkle in her eyes? I knew I had not when the corners of her mouth lifted in response to my embarrassment, but I managed to keep my voice level, “Yes, Elfgyuu, he is ready to have his wound dressed, but first, tell me…” my gaze swivelled to where the screen had been moved to the wall, “…Swidhelm, Éomer King asked me to…”
She must have read my look because she interrupted swiftly, “It’s alright, my lady. He has been moved to one of the empty chambers. We did not think you would mind as it will be quieter. There are three young children at home and not much room. He has lost a lot of blood but Sidgweard is hopeful.”
“Oh,” I breathed out a sigh of relief, I am glad. And of course I don’t mind.” I looked around but could see no one. “Is there a healer free to see to Éomer King?”
“Sidgweard will be back in a moment, my lady. He has just gone to instruct the novice who will sit with Swidhelm tonight… ah, here he is.”
The tall thin man entered from the south-eastern tower, his progress across the hall became sporadic as various Riders waylaid him to ask about their comrade. But then the healer saw me waiting and determinedly made his way toward me.
“My Lady Queen, have you persuaded the King to let me tend to him? He was most dismissive of his injury but I could see the pain on his face.”
“Yes, Master Sidgweard he is in a lot of pain. I am sure there is an abscess deep in the wound. You probably have an instrument more suitable than this.” I held up the soiled dagger for inspection.
He shook his head in resignation, “They are all the same, my lady. If they paid as much attention to themselves as to their horses….still,” he shrugged his shoulders, “I am gradually educating them. Since I went to Gondor …”
“The King is waiting, Sidgweard.” Elfgyuu interrupted rather rudely, cutting short his discourse.
“What? Oh yes, of course.” A slight glare for Elfgyuu and a smile for me, “I will be right there, my lady. I will just put together a few things I need.” Huffing a bit, he went over to where some instruments lay soaking in a bowl.
“He’d talk all night if you let him, my lady, but he’s a good healer.”
“I’ll remember that, Elfgyuu,” I said, hiding a grin. She was never fussy whom she offended. “I will get back to the King. Perhaps you could arrange to send in some supper after Sidgweard has finished. We will not eat in the hall tonight.” Éomer had looked tired enough to drop when he had first got back and I didn’t want him to have to face any questions from Cereth or anyone else. Well, if I was honest I wanted some time alone with him.
“I will send Hroddwyn later, supper is a bit delayed anyway.” I turned to go but the housekeeper called me back, “You may need this, my lady.” Elfgyuu passed me an earthenware bowl of very mouldy bread. “We use it for packing wounds. It seems to have wondrous powers.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It is used in Gondor, also. Thank you, I will take it with me.”
Delayed by a conversation with the wife of one of the men left in The Hornburg, Sidgweard caught up with me as I entered the Royal Chambers. Éomer started and stood up quickly as I opened the door; I guessed he had been dozing. The sudden movement must have hurt him because he clutched the back of the chair for support. Hasopad, curled up by the boiler, raised his head to check out the intruders and, satisfied, closed his eyes again.
Sidgweard launched right in, hardly bothering to bow, his mind already on the job in hand. “Ah, my lord, the Queen says you have an abscess.” He fixed his eyes on Eomer’s leg, “It does not look too good. If you would sit back down and put your leg up on that stool I can disinfect the wound and examine it probably.” Already he turned to lay out his instruments on the washstand.
Éomer waved his hand dismissively, “Never mind me, Sidgweard, how is Swidhelm?”
“Eh! Oh well, my lord. It is a very nasty wound and he has lost a lot of blood. But he is strong and no vital organ has been touched. We will know by morning, I imagine.” He picked up a wad of cloth and a stone bottle. “Now just sit down, my lord and I can make sure all the skin around the wound is clean…”
Instead of sitting down Éomer reached a long arm over to where a slender, lethal looking knife made from one complete piece of metal, had been laid on a piece of clean linen. “That looks like it will do, Sidgweard. Just stick that in it.”
“No, my lord!” The healer nearly knocked Eomer’s hand away. “You must not touch it. When I went to Gondor with Théoden King, I learnt a lot. Men survived the battles that I thought would be lost to us. One of the most important things is to guard against infection. And, besides that, I am certainly not just going to ‘stick it in’, my lord. It has to be done carefully. I need to open the wound enough to let all the infected matter escape, but if I probe too deeply and my knife cuts sound flesh beneath the abscess, the pus may escape inward and poison your blood.”
My husband looked as he was just about to protest so I thought it best to intervene and put my hand on his arm soothingly, “Just let Master Sidgweard do what he needs to do, Éomer, it will only hurt for a moment. Once the pressure is released you will feel a lot better.”
“Lothíriel!” His eyes blazed for a moment, “I am not afraid of it hurting. I merely don’t see the need for all this fuss.” He looked and sounded extremely affronted but sat down on the chair and rested his leg on the stool, still glaring at me.
I said nothing and watched his face gradually relax into a sheepish grin as he realised how neatly I had got him to sit down. Smiling in response, I moved to stand behind him, resting my hands on his shoulder. One of his reached up to grasp mine and he leant his head back against my chest. This encouraged my free hand to play with his newly washed hair.
Sidgweard looked up from cleansing Eomer’s leg and I jumped guiltily but he seemed to approve, “That’s right, my lady, hold his hand. It always helps when things might be a bit painful.”
Stifling a giggle, I waited with bated breath for Éomer to react angrily, imagining that comment would normally be the sort of thing the healer might say to a mother and child, but instead my quick-tempered husband burst out laughing.
“Just get on with it, Sidgweard. I am getting hungry,” he said when his laughter subsided.
Not quite realising what was so funny the poor man looked a bit bemused, but Éomer signalled for him to proceed.
I had to admit he was very thorough, and, far from blindly sticking the knife in the wound, he took a long time probing to find the exact site of the abscess. Éomer said nothing, but I could tell that the slightest touch caused considerable pain. In fact the swelling looked even larger than when I had first removed the dressing.
“The wound is half closed, my lord, and the abscess deep in your flesh. I am going to have to cut a bit, I am afraid. I will give you something for the pain.”
“I don’t want anything, the pain won’t last long. And I don’t want to be here all night.”
Sighing, the healer bent to his task, but just before he used the knife he seemed to remember something and reached to pull the empty bucket nearer, “If I hit the right spot the pus could spurt out a long way. Hopefully this may catch it.”
Catch it? A bucket? Suddenly I hoped I would not do anything stupid like passing out, my experience with wounds being very limited. Once he had started though, I found I could not draw my eyes away.
I could feel the tension in Éomer as first the knife sliced through recently healed flesh to open the wound, but nothing other than a hiss from tight lips betrayed the pain he must be feeling. Blood gushed out, quickly mopped up by Sidgweard and then he held the skin apart with a pair of forceps. “Ah, there it is. The worst is nearly over, my lord.”
The knife dug into the wound. Éomer drew in breath, let go my hand and grasped the side of the chair so hard his knuckles went white. I think my hands squeezed into his shoulders with nearly as much force. Hasopad raised his head to see what was happening and a slight splutter preceded a jet of greeny-yellow fluid that followed a perfect arc to land right in the centre of the strategically placed container. Sidgweard had done this before.
“I think I got it,” the healer said, examining the mess in the bucket with interest.
Éomer had sagged slightly, not surprisingly – the pressure in his leg must have been enormous, but he took a deep breath and said. “Right, now just get it stitched up, will you.”
“Oh, no, my lord.” Sidgweard looked horrified. “I have to put a wick into the wound. It must not be allowed to close over until all the poisonous matter has leached out. The cavity will need repacking and bathing twice every day for about a week if you do not want any complications.”
“I will take care of that if you show me what to do, Master Sidgweard. I am sure if you show me how, I can manage.” No one would be able to say I was not prepared to look after my husband.
Packed with a wick made from boiled linen, a dressing of mouldy bread and a handful of herbs, the wound disappeared from sight under a clean bandage. As soon as Sidgweard had finished, Éomer stood up, wincing as he experimented to see if he could take his weight on the injured leg.
“You must rest, my lord. It will take time to heal.”
“I will make sure he does, Master Sidgweard ….” At that moment I heard a noise from the direction of the solar. I pushed open the door and the appetising smell of a something savoury teased our nostrils. “Is that you, Hroddwyn?” I called.
“Yes, my lady. We thought you must be about ready to eat now.” A clatter of plates told me she had put our supper down on the table.
“We are, Master Sidgweard has just finished.”
Éomer went straight for the wine, I could hardly blame him. I felt the need of a sustaining draught myself. “Where’s Aerin?” he asked, as Hroddwyn left the room, closely followed by Hasopad. The dog knew where to go for his own meal.
He raised his eyebrows when I told him of Aerin’s misadventure, but he didn’t say much, concentrating on making inroads into a very tasty rabbit pie. My appetite seemed to have deserted me, so, between sparse mouthfuls; I gave him an account of the happenings in Meduseld during his absence.
He nodded agreement at my decisions on Grievance Day, shook his head in disbelief when I recounted the basis of Cereth’s initial distrust of me and then looked troubled when I described the pressure I had been put under to send word for him to come back.
“Aelfric was right; we used to be away for weeks without sending tidings. I should have done so, Lothíriel, I am sorry.”
“Two sennights cannot be counted as overly long, Éomer and I did not worry until they started putting doubts in my mind.”
Éomer put down his fork and picked up a napkin, wiping his mouth with the linen cloth.
He looked tired, even more so now than when he had first arrived back, understandable with all the pain, but he smiled and picked up my hand, rubbing his fingers gently across my knuckles. “There are always going to be times when I have to leave you, Lothíriel, I hope they will be few, but your father was right: you will always cope admirably.”
“That is what persuaded you to offer for me, was it? My father convinced you I could rule in your absence?” I stopped, surprised at my own words. Why did I want to know this now? I had managed the previous weeks without questioning him, but suddenly it took on new importance. I needed to understand his reasons and accept them. Perhaps because I had fallen in love with him. If I had not, then maybe it would not matter. We could have carried on in our marriage of state, circling around each other, not saying anything of importance. For me, at least, it had gone far beyond that.
He didn’t answer for a moment more but then his lips quirked in that familiar way that I cherished, “Lothíriel, I distinctly remember telling you the day before our wedding that nobody persuades me to do anything. I make up my own mind.”
“But my father and King Elessar helped you make up your mind,” I persisted.
He chuckled, and sat back in his chair, goblet in hand, observing me intently. “Lothíriel, it wasn’t like that. I sort of suggested it. Oh, I admit they nearly shook my hand off, but I mentioned it first.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked, rather abruptly.
“Why shouldn’t I? Men do normally ask a woman to be their wife.”
“You didn’t ask me though, you asked my father. And why should you ask me anyway, we had only spoken a few words to each other.”
He sighed, and I am sure he looked slightly embarrassed. “Lothíriel, do we have to talk about this now? I am very tired, let’s leave it until tomorrow.”
I didn’t want to leave it and I am sure he could see that I did not, but at that moment Hroddwyn returned as she had promised to clear up the clutter left from the bath. “I’ve put Hasopad in the King’s study,” she called through the door. “And your bedchamber is all prepared, my lady. Will you want me to help you undress?”
“No, I will manage, thank you, Hroddwyn. If you just see to the wash room.”
We sat silently looking at each other while she busied herself with the bathwater. The interrupted conversation hung between us, but Hroddwyn’s presence the other side of a partly open door made it impossible to say anything. However, after she called goodnight and left, Éomer grinned and whispered, “At least let’s talk about it in bed.”
Not proof against that smile or those eyes, I nodded, “Go on then, I will need to spend a few minutes cleaning myself up.”
He stood up, dropping a kiss on my head, “I’ll just go and see if Hasopad is alright and then go straight to our bedchamber.”
Watching him limp away, I realised how tired he must be. Unfair of me to demand explanations tonight, I supposed, but he could surely manage a few words.
It took me a while to undress and wash and Éomer was already in bed when I entered our chamber. He must have been exhausted because none of the candles or lamps had been doused and the fire needed another log. I picked up the snuffer and quietly circled the chamber before seeing to the fire. Stirring the embers inevitably started a blaze and the hump in the bed moved slightly. An arm appeared; pulling the covers higher but nothing else disturbed the peace. With just my nightlight left burning, I hung up my robe and stood by the side of the bed looking down at my husband. The repose of sleep made him look younger, easing out the lines of duty, but then he moved and his face contorted with pain. A wave of love and concern shot through me. Trying not to jar the mattress, I slipped under the covers, meaning to keep well to my side of the bed but he muttered something inaudible and reached out, snaking a proprietary arm around my waist. Being pulled roughly against a hard chest and having to remove soft strands of hair from my mouth, a small price to pay for the warmth and the prospect of a night without bad dreams. I carefully wriggled to get comfortable without disturbing him but need not have worried because the deep steady breathing told me Éomer already slept. He deserved his peace tonight but tomorrow I would be unmerciful.
To be continued
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.