8. Chapter 7
A cool wind blew from the west, sighing among the short plant-life scattered on the narrow shoulder of Mindolluin that joined to the City of the Kings. Idrin stood in the wide, vaulted chamber, the slender stem of a white daffodil in her hand. Before her were oblong tables, about two feet in height, with great slabs of white marble laid upon them. She placed the flower on the stone of the table beside her; the two in front of it each had the same pale bloom gracing the cold slabs. She gazed at them. Here was where her mother, aunt and maternal grandmother were buried, in this House in the Hallows which was the resting place of the closest kin of the Stewards.1 The quiet reigning there was all-engulfing, but she had no desire to break it.
Her mind was cast back to those she had lost. Her grandmother Almiel she had never met, but her mother had spoken of her lovingly. The young woman recalled fondly a memory of her early childhood when she had wondered if her grandmother was named so because she resembled her namesake, the youngest daughter of the Númenórean king Tar-Meneldur.
She was told that her mother had taken after her grandmother, in manners and in speech. How she wished she could remember her face! She could bring to mind the semblance of her voice, and her eyes and her dark hair, but all else had faded over the years. She could remember her youthfulness: time's slow decay had indeed touched the Lady Elthian less than others, for the children of the Steward Ecthelion were blessed with the high blood of both their father and mother.
It was said that Elthian resembled her brother Denethor greatly, for they were twins; she had been the elder by fifteen minutes. It saddened Idrin that she had no clear memory of her, but when she tried to recall a mother-figure, it was her aunt's face that came before her eyes. A guardian and a second mother Ivreth had been to her after Elthian passed, loving her as her own.
Her gaze focused on the white flowers her mother favoured, and the healer turned her back to the chamber and went outside. To her right, the House of the Stewards lay crumbled to the ground, the fire-blackened stones lustrous under the morning sun. There her uncle had drawn his last breath, ending his own life. She thought back to the time when she came to Minas Tirith to be fostered by her aunt.
It had been the second year after her mother's passing, and her father had begun to realise that a woman's presence in his young daughter's life was proving to be imperative. There were things he could not teach her, things for which the delicacy only a woman possessed was required. Idrin had no sisters that could take up that role, and he had no living female relatives. Thus he sent a letter to his late wife's older sister, requesting her help, and Ivreth assented gladly. Idrin did not object to her leaving her home, for the Guarded City had fascinated her when she had stayed there during Elthian's illness; and she also loved her aunt dearly. Her father could understand why the capital city of Gondor had made such an impression; he, too, remembered it fondly, for he had been born and lived within its walls for many years. Her brothers – twenty-two and sixteen years of age at the time – understood why their sister had to go, and bade her farewell with a solemn promise to visit frequently.
Ivreth met father and daughter in the Citadel. Clad in the dark garb of mourning she had refused to cast after the early loss of both husband and son in battle, she walked towards them with a kind smile. Idrin rushed into her arms and the woman sank down to envelop her in a warm embrace.
"Captain Arastor." Denethor had crossed the Court of the Fountain and was standing behind his sister. His crisp voice made the little girl look up from the security of her aunt's hold, and Ivreth rose to her feet.
"Lord Denethor." Arastor matched the formal tone and inclined his head to his brother-by-law. The Steward studied his niece with an intense look in his eyes.
"She does look more and more like her as she grows," he said, and his gaze yielded, the ghost of a smile softening the hard edges of his mouth. Idrin returned the grin meekly.
So it was that she had returned to the White City to stay.
She now passed between the domed mansions of the dead and left Rath Dínen behind her, ascending the winding road that led up to the door in the westward wall of the sixth circle. Beregond stood by the gate, locking it behind her.
"Thank you for your patience, Beregond. I have taken up much of your time." The man had unlocked the Closed Door for her and had waited her return without complaint. He shook his head.
"I am simply doing my duty, lady. This key was left in my care until the City is set in order, and as its keeper I am to also guard Fen Hollen for a while." His voice had acquired a sorrowful tone, and he returned the porter's key into a fold of his garments with a rueful look in his eyes. Idrin took her leave and made her way to the Houses of Healing.
She went first to Faramir, and saw the Steward's personal healer – a man about twenty years her senior and a long-time acquaintance – exit the chamber.
"Good day, Neston," she greeted him. "How is Faramir?"
"His strength is returning, but he is yet not fully healed. He shall have to rest for some days still," he replied.
When Idrin entered the room, she found her cousin sitting up in bed, propped against soft pillows. He smiled as she came to him, and thoughts of his father assailed her mind once more. But the time was not yet ripe to burden him with such ill news; and as Mithrandir the previous morning had not deemed it his place to tell her of Denethor's passing, so would she now keep her silence.
Sunlight streamed in from the open window, and the early day's chill was beginning to fade. A deep bowl was placed on the night-table, and from it the familiar sweet scent of the bruised leaves of athelas permeated the air, as though to drive away all lingering memories of the Black Breath.
"I am to stay in the Houses for many a day yet," Faramir spoke first; "and I fear that idleness will be my companion." Idrin knew the thought troubled him. "Would you bring me a book to pass the time?"
The healer nodded readily. "I will return in a few minutes." She turned and left the room, already contemplating several titles that should appeal to him. Her footsteps led her to the Citadel and the small library originally built for the Lady Almiel. Of course, the City Library in the fourth circle was many times larger and had an innumerable selection of reading material, but at present the walk there seemed too long. This small building was simpler: built in one level and vaulted by a high-ceilinged dome, the heavy bookcases arranged around an atrium, standing against and parallel to the walls.
It was primarily used by those who resided within the Citadel: the Stewards and their families; and due to its small size and clear cataloguing of texts, no librarian was appointed to it.
Idrin walked leisurely down the aisles, a finger trailing across the spines of the books in the cases beside her, her eyes scanning the titles. It was a good five minutes before one caught her attention. She drew the tome out and turned on her heel, retracing her steps to the Houses.
Faramir was standing at the window, looking at the blooming gardens that stretched to the wall. He spun round at the sound of her footfalls and reached for the glaucous-blue volume she proffered. "The Stars of Elbereth," he read out loud the title written in silvery letters on the cover, brushing a gentle hand on the surface. He leafed through it: the tome had accounts of each star and constellation known in Middle-earth, accompanied by the tale of their creation. He gave his cousin a quick upturn of his lips and put the book aside.
The two sat and talked together for some time, and Faramir was content to hear of her work and the doings in the City during the days that the grim sickness was upon him. When he grew tired, Idrin left him to rest and went to the sick halls.
There was a considerable hum in the air, for it was the morning after battle, but the Dark Lord still sat untouched in his fortress in Mordor and the men wondered what course of action would now be taken.
"Why do you fight to save me, Mistress Healer? I will never be able to ride a horse again." It was one of the Rohirrim who had spoken, a middle-aged man with a gaunt face. He had lost his leg and infection had set in, causing him much pain. Tending to a Gondorian soldier nearby, Idrin felt her heart tighten at the despair lacing his voice.
"You may not be able to ride into battle, but your experience will be valuable to others," the woman cleaning his wound replied calmly. "You will pass the knowledge you carry to the younger ones. As long as man draws breath, he is not useless." The Rider said nothing in answer.
Idrin finished tending her own patients and made for Éothain's room. He had risen and was clothed, and he was restless: he went to and fro in the chamber and his movements betrayed a certain briskness. He stopped as she entered; his eyes were lit up. "The women do not let me go outside. They say I should not be walking." Despite the terseness in his body and the discontent he voiced, there was little of his fervent gestures in his tone.
The healer raised an eyebrow at his words, one corner of her mouth quivering. The Rider seemed to have forgotten that she was one of those women to whom he referred. Or perhaps he thought he had found an ally in her person. She glanced at his leg and the crutches he leaned on before meeting his gaze. "They are right," she said. "It was no minor injury you received. Walking now will only put more strain on your leg."
Éothain stared at her. "It seemed to do no harm yesterday," he was quick to observe. Idrin regarded him seriously, but before she could argue, he cut her off. "Please. I shall go mad if I stay cooped in here for even one more hour."
She studied him for a long moment, her gaze assessing. A couple days of immobility would greatly benefit the healing process, but his plea was almost desperate and very much genuine. She could understand that being told to stay shut in and in bed in a city made of stone would feel quite suffocating to one who was used to living on the open plains. She huffed, her resolve to reason with him wavering.
"I suppose a short walk wouldn't hurt," she finally yielded, misliking the fact she had been persuaded so easily.
* * *
The sky was bright and clear as they stepped outside into the gardens, but the wind had died down. Éothain looked around him in wonder, surveying his surroundings carefully as if wanting to commit them to memory.
"We have no gardens of such splendour in the Mark," he commented, his eyes filled with the sights before him.
"It is the only place of its kind in the City, unfortunately," said Idrin with a sigh. "The gardens here are few, and the trees even fewer."
"It has ever been the one thing Minas Tirith lacks."
They had both turned at the sound of the voice, but it was Éothain who spoke. The old man met his expression of delighted surprise with a kind, slow smile that reached his eyes.
"How is your family, my lad?" he asked. Idrin felt a tiny frown of puzzlement settle above the bridge of her nose.
"They are well." Éothain seemed not in the least concerned that he was called lad. Smiling made him look younger, Idrin thought subconsciously through her perplexity. The Lord Húron nodded appreciatively at the Rider's answer, and then turned to her.
Seeing the unasked question in her eyes, he laughed, "I did a bit of travelling in my youth. Éothain's father and I are good friends." Then he had a good look at her. "I missed your company this morning, child." It was not a complaint but rather a statement hinting at enquiry.
"I went to my mother," Idrin replied softly. "The tomb was unharmed; only the House of the Stewards was destroyed by yesterday's fire."
"Ah. It was indeed a shame for the resting place of the Stewards to fall into ruin in such a fashion," the old Captain shook his head, and Idrin could not be certain that there was not some small accusation aimed at the late Lord Denethor hidden in his words. The tale of the Steward's madness had spread – though only as a vague account – since the previous morning, but none dared speak of it openly. "Mayhap the new King shall see the damage done to the Hallows repaired, if he be not a figment of the imagination conjured after our victory," he added sceptically, looking up at the White Tower and the banner of Dol Amroth flapping listlessly in the breathless breeze.
The healer could not conceal the small laugh that threatened to escape her. "He is not, I can assure you." Unbidden her mind went back to the first time Faramir had mentioned Isildur's heir to her. The name had struck her as strangely familiar then, though she could not recall why. Not until she heard Mithrandir name Aragorn again, and praise his skill as a healer. What she had been taught of the naming traditions of the Northern and South Kingdoms came back to mind and with them the realisation that his name bore the same element that the names of the Kings of Arthedain had borne: aran. And when she had seen with her own eyes that he was indeed a healer, as the kings of Númenor of old, her doubts had dispersed. Later, when she had worked out the meaning of his given name, remembering her lessons in Old Sindarin, she chuckled to herself, for it seemed fitting: revered king.2
"Never had I thought that I would live to see the King return," Húron said in a soft voice, as if talking to himself. He glanced up at the sun and then back to his younger companions. "It is time for me to retire," he said. "We shall see each other again, my lad," he turned to Éothain who had retreated a couple steps to sit on a stone bench under the shade of a tree. The Rohir gave a nod. "Until later," the old man looked at Idrin and took his leave.
The healer turned to her patient and saw the hint of a thoughtful grin tug at the corner of his mouth. He sensed her befuddlement, and answered the silent query, "I had not at first been trustful towards your new King."
Idrin raised an eyebrow. "How so?" She went and sat beside him, twisting her body to face him.
The Rider sighed. "Let us just say that during our first encounter in Rohan I was more brash and less courteous than I would have wished," he admitted with a note of self-reproach. As the healer made no reply, he posed an enquiry of his own, "How long has Gondor been without a King?"
"More than nine hundred years," Idrin replied promptly. "The last king, Eärnur, went to Mordor in the year 2050 in answer to the Dark Lord's challenge and came never back, and he had no heir." As silence followed her words, she saw that the Rohir was gazing at her with a look of bemused surprise.
"What then?" he shook himself out of his brief daze and urged her to continue, the interest evident in his voice.
"The rule of the Stewards began," the healer went on. "Had Pelendur not advised against accepting Arvedui's claim to the crown after Ondoher's fall –" She caught herself, realising that her words sounded like unconnected thoughts to the Rohir. She began explaining, "The Kings of Gondor came from the line of Anárion, Elendil's second son. King Ondoher was the last of that line: he and his sons were slain in battle. Arvedui, a direct descendant of Isildur who had wedded Ondoher's daughter, then made claim to the throne, but by the Steward Pelendur's advice was rejected..."³
Éothain listened attentively while Idrin talked of the Kings and history of Gondor, privately wondering how the healer came to be so well-read and have knowledge of so many details no doubt unknown to the wide populace. And thus their conversation carried on, until the noon bell called them to lunch.
1 I have always thought that both the Ruling Stewards of Gondor and the Kings before them would have wanted to be buried near their immediate family and vice versa. Thus, since the dead Kings and Stewards are entombed in their respective Houses in the Hallows of Minas Tirith, it felt fitting to also have Houses in the Hallows where their closest of kin would be laid to rest.
2 The clear etymology of Aragorn's name, although previously deduced to mean kingly valour by David Salo (among other interpretations), was revealed in 2007, after the publication of Tolkien's Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings, a late 1950s-early1960s manuscript which was featured in Parma Eldalamberon 17. The name is made of the Sindarin word aran=king and the Old Sindarin word gorna=revered.
³ 'On the death of Ondoher and his sons, Arvedui of the North-kingdom claimed the crown of Gondor, as the direct descendant of Isildur, and as the husband of Fíriel, only surviving child of Ondoher. The claim was rejected. In this Pelendur, the Steward of King Ondoher, played the chief part.' (The Return of the King, Appendix A, The Númenórean Kings, (iv) Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion)
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