4. Chapter 4
(Touch-ups have been done to Chapters 2-5 and 7-9 of Alfirin, as well as to Chapters 1 and 2 of this fic, in order to better clarify the work regime in the Houses of Healing during/after the siege of Minas Tirith and the cleansing of the Pelennor after the battle, to address some issues/reactions that should have featured sooner, and to introduce other facets of characters' personalities.)
Midday sun glinted off burnished mail and naked spearheads. The cleared space in the field of Cormallen teemed with soldiers, both of Gondor and Rohan, some unscathed by battle and others bearing signs of mending injuries. The number of civilians present was small, mostly made up of cooks and domestics come to help with the preparations for the banquet, minstrels arrived to grace willing ears with sweet music, and a couple of travelling merchants deeming the occasion a good opportunity to sell their wares.
A low murmur of voices rippled through the assembled crowd while they waited. Then, as the white-robed wizard stepped into the clearing, the droning hum died away and the attention of all was turned to him and the two smaller figures trailing behind him. Amidst the drawing of many swords and the shaking of spears, the sounding of trumpets and the cries of praise that went up at that moment, Idrin caught her first glimpse of the Ring-bearers.
They were less in height than Merry and Pippin, the top of their curly, dark heads reaching a little above Mithrandir's elbow. Contrasting their worn clothes, tattered from many hardships, their eyes were bright and wide as they gazed upon the gathered host, and their faces were flushed red. For a brief instant their feet faltered and their limbs stiffened: it was evident they had not expected so loud a cheer or so genuine a welcome. Yet they moved forward and the crowd parted for them and gradually fell silent as they neared the three high-seats standing prominent amid the sea of people.
When the new King rose to greet them, Idrin could not help but compare him to the man she had seen in Faramir's sick-room in the Houses of Healing nearly a month before. The fatigue and worry had fallen from him, and he looked taller, younger and more ready to laugh. There was an undeniable air of nobility and kindness about him that filled the healer with wonder.
"He truly does have something of the Númenórean kings of old," Damhir said in a hushed tone from his place beside her, voicing her thoughts. On her right, Arvinion murmured his agreement. Gondor's new sovereign resembled the proud figures gracing old tapestries, the stately lords in tales and histories of Ages past. Gleaming in their bright mail, the brothers looked on as the Halflings were set upon the throne and the King Elessar turned to the host. As cheers went up once more, their voices were joined to that of the others, clear and joyous.
The flowing sounds of a Gondorian minstrel's lute soon rose into song, and the crowd was hushed.
Mi 'athrod vorn
Dorthant în ernediaid,
dolen o phain
nu ered chithui ...*
Thus the bard began, casting in verse the awakening of Isildur's Bane and exalting the deeds of the courageous Hobbits, in Elvish speech and Common Tongue, and the hour passed swiftly.
The Sun was on her westward journey by the time the singer drew the last note from his lute. Applause followed the performance and then the host began dispersing, heading to the feast-tents in small groups of four or five. Idrin was thankful for the shade within the pavilions: even though the day promised not to be overly warm, the heat of noon beating down upon her had proven to be more discomforting than she had anticipated. Not so much as to make her seek what cover she could find beneath the trees on the edge of the field, but she was glad to be in a cooler place all the same.
She pulled the sleeves of her dress down, smoothed back a few strands of hair that had escaped the knot she had tied it into and looked about her.
The inside of the great pavilion resembled a fancy mess hall, with coloured eaves and long, polished trestle tables and benches and lanterns ready to be lit at evenfall. Fresh air and sunlight streamed in through the open flaps, and serving-women weaved their way to and fro, bearing trays of dishes and cups. As expected given the heavy blow the War had dealt on land and crops and livestock, the belated midday meal was simple and without unnecessary lavishness. The King Elessar himself had deemed it foolish to indulge in extravagant fares – there was, after all, the future to think of and provide for, and the coming winter would be a challenge. Nevertheless, the variety of offered food was flavoursome. There were meat pies with dates and raisins; eels from the Anduin fried in garlic and lemongrass; salads of rocket, endive and garden beaked-parsley, sprinkled with pine nuts in dressings of oil, vinegar and salt; fresh bread buns; spiced wine and ale.
Not recognising any familiar faces in the throng of people, Idrin stayed close to her brothers and was thus introduced to a number of their various comrades-in-arms. They were courteous, enquiring after her well-being and her work and the restoration of Minas Tirith; they spoke of their families and the homes they had left behind. Pleasant as their company was, the healer found her attention wavering when the men's conversation began delving in earnest into the differences between Gondorian and Rohirric military structure and the finer points of the commanding captains. A glimpse of pearl-white and steel-blue near one wall of the pavilion caught her eye, and she realised the people there were not strangers to her. She excused herself and made her way to that far end of the feast-tent, cup of spiced wine in hand.
"It is good to see you all unhurt."
The group of healers turned at the sound of her voice and her grin was met with many of their own. Tirhael made room at the table for her and she took a seat next to Narwë. The female healer, named so for the dark copper of her hair, looked at her with shining eyes.
"You look different," she said lightly. "The colour becomes you."
Idrin's gaze unconsciously sought the saffron-hued fabric of her dress, and she let out a short breath of laughter, recalling Athenir's words that morning. Suddenly, she felt blameful for not socialising more with her fellows outside the Houses of Healing. That was something she would like to remedy, she acknowledged. When she looked down the table, the emotion of guilt fled, replaced with delight. A couple of seats across from her sat Pippin and Merry, and she was glad to observe the younger Hobbit looked as bright as she remembered.
"You look well, Master Peregrin."
The Halfling beamed at her. "I do feel well. I thought that Troll had done away with me." The last sentence brought a hint of shadow to his jovial face and a chill that went to everyone's bones, but the gloom was instantly chased away by his next words: "Luckily, Mistress Narwë saved my hide. And she was kind enough to scrounge me up some mushrooms." He flashed the young woman in question a smile, which she returned generously.
"Have you met with your kinsmen yet? I expect they will be elated to see you here." Idrin took a sip of wine.
"No, not yet," answered Merry. "We shall surprise them at the feast tonight – we are to be cup-bearers to the Kings." A smug expression came over the hobbit's features as he imagined the look of astonishment on Frodo and Sam's faces when they saw them.
It was only then that Idrin took note of the attire of the two Halflings: they were garbed in the livery of Rohan and of Gondor, respectively in green and white, and black and silver. Esquires indeed, having witnessed terrible things.
Narwë's voice made her turn, "How is the restoration of the City progressing? Have people begun returning?"
"The first wagons arrived the day we set out," Idrin began.
* * *
The evening feast was a grand affair, as befitted a celebration for the great victory over the Shadow: there was music and song; the tables appeared to never empty; drink seemed to be ever in supply; good cheer permeated the atmosphere. It had been a long while since anyone had enjoyed such a day, free of cares and the uncertainty of what the next morning would bring, Idrin thought as she stood outside the large banquet-tent, savouring the night breeze. And it had been longer still since she had allowed herself more than one cup of wine, she mused with an inward grin.
It was two hours before midnight, but there were few people about, the majority still feasting within the brightly lit pavilions. She had eaten and drunk and conversed with a great many people, but the long day had finally began taking its toll. Most likely the accumulated tiredness of the past weeks had yet to wear off sufficiently. Thus, she had taken her leave, purposing to return to the tent she shared with her brothers and rest. She hoped she could find her way in the black of night: from a distance, all pavilions looked the same in the absence of light, and she feared that might cause her sense of direction to waver.
"Tired of the babbling crowd?"
The deep voice beside her made the healer jump. A dark splotch soaked the ground where her feet had been as the wine in her half-full cup was disturbed, and a red trickle grazed her fingers. She shook the droplets from her hand and turned to face Éothain.
"Yes," came the truthful answer. "That and a bit more wine," she confessed.
One corner of the Rider's mouth quirked upwards. "I do not think there is anyone who has not taken advantage of the abundance of drink tonight," he commented. "Except perhaps the Halflings. They retired about an hour ago, no doubt weary of the noise in the King's pavilion and wanting to spend some quiet time together."
"They did well. I was to retire myself," Idrin admitted, "but now I see that the night is too beautiful to be spent inside." She had stayed in the feast-tent since the banquet begun a short time before sunset; the coolness and the quiet and the subtle fragrance of the falling evening outside had been a delight after the rather close atmosphere within.
"That it is," Éothain agreed. "It was for fresh air that I came out myself. Would you walk with me? I am sure my drinking companions will not miss me." He cast a quick glance at the King's pavilion from where he had emerged.
With warm fondness, the healer remembered the time they had spent together in the gardens of the Houses of Healing. "I would like that," she replied. She retreated to the feast-tent behind her to set her cup in a serving-girl's tray and joined him again.
Those enjoying a more private banquet under the open sky did not pay heed to them as they walked past. They went in silence at first, taking in the darkened surroundings and the faint scent from the trees lining the field, the weak breeze cooling their faces, before the Rohir spoke: "Your brothers said the Pelennor has been cleansed."
"It has," replied Idrin. "After the armies marched East, Lord Elfhelm sent whomever he could spare to help with that task. The remains of the burnt farmsteads were cleared and anything that could be salvaged was retrieved. Nearly all the slain and those we lost in the Houses were named, so their families will not be left to wonder about their fates. They were buried near the roots of Mindolluin, by the southern wall of the City. Foreign soil for your kinsmen, but they will not be forgotten." She drew a deep breath and fell silent. As if by unspoken agreement, there had been no talk of the War or its aftermath the evening before, and speaking of it now brought all the unpleasant feelings back.
This past war had been the first she had ever witnessed; she hoped it would also be the last. The night after the Great Gate of Minas Tirith had been shut was the first time she had truly felt just how real a threat the Enemy posed. Before that moment, all battles and skirmishes with the servants of the Dark Lord had seemed remote: she had entertained the thought that as long as the High City remained untouched, there would be safety. She had until then clung to hope, but when the siege began and all remaining within the City walls were hemmed in a roofless cage, the genuine proximity of danger slowly sank in. Admittedly, her work had kept the feeling of cold dread at bay, at times making her forget as more immediate thoughts occupied her mind. Upon reflection she realised she had never before felt such blind fear, and she was not too keen on revisiting the emotion. And yet, she lived while so much had been destroyed and so many had lost their lives.
"So many..." she whispered to herself, her eyes gazing unseeingly over the stream their slow feet had led them to, her arms wrapping around herself as if to ward off a chill. The golden-red trees nearby whispered as a fresh breath of wind blew through their leaves.
Éothain turned to look at her now still figure, the hands that unconsciously tightened their grip as her mood darkened. The expression on her face was the gloominess preceding unshed tears; sudden realisation struck him. "You lost someone close to your heart in the Ring War."
She knew he did not mean her father: her brothers had told him of his fate. The healer nodded, confirming his guess. "The man I was betrothed to was killed not long before the attack on Osgiliath last summer."
Having expected to hear about the loss of a dear relation or friend, the Rider was startled by the revelation: the healer's open manner and easy speech had led him to think her unattached. The absence of a ring upon her finger had consolidated the notion, but now it made him wonder, for he knew women who had lost their intended or husband clung to their rings in mourning. It was possible she was wont to remove her betrothal ring when working at the Houses of Healing for fear of marring its beauty, he thought; mayhap she had misplaced it before the journey to Ithilien and had yet to find it.
Unaware of Éothain's gaze on her, Idrin shook her head and resumed walking, following the stream northwards.
"My sympathies," the Rohir offered belatedly.
The healer inclined her head. "Thaldor was my dearest friend. Those who were with him said the arrow found his heart; he did not suffer a slow death. There is a small measure of comfort in that at least, I suppose." The young woman proceeded to take a seat by the cold fire-pit outside her brothers' tent and looked up at the dark sky.
Éothain slanted her an inspecting glance. He valued the composed manner and calmness in her voice, and yet the dispassionate demeanour made him curious. Were not women supposed to be more emotional when talking of their deceased husbands or, in this case, betrothed ones? He decided to keep his questions to himself, ascribing her comportment to the long months of reconciling herself with the sombre fact, and followed her gaze to the myriad of white pinpricks dotting the firmament. "In the Mark it is said that falling stars are the souls of those slain in battle, following the servants of Wælcyriga to his Halls of Waiting to find peace."1 That was, perhaps, not the most consoling thing to say, but the talk of fallen warriors and sight of stars had brought that old story to mind.
Idrin smiled wanly. "Finding peace in death is a solacing thought. I admit I have never before read in lore of falling stars being the souls of the slain: in Gondor the tales speak rather of the creation of stars."
The healer gazed at the heavens once more as the Rider came to sit by her, her eyes picking out constellations. She raised her hand and pointed at a bright, sprawling formation with a forefinger.
"The Elves call it the Valacirca, the sickle of the Valar, but in Gondor we call it Grewil, the Female Bear. Once, when the ancient west of Middle-earth was still above the waters of the Sea, she was a woman, the daughter of a mighty lord of Men. She was named Silvain, because of her great beauty, and her loveliness grew even as she did. It was her wont to walk in the green woods beside her father's house at dawn, and it was on one such day that she came upon one of the Firstborn. The man, Túron, became enchanted by her fairness and, in time, Silvain returned his love. They were happy together, but their bliss did not last long. The sorcerer Gorchir – the one named Sauron by the Elves – coveted Silvain's great loveliness, and it is said that it was the only time he ever had such emotions.
"One morning, when Túron was away, he approached the lady in secret as she sat beside the river and whispered an incantation to silence her voice and carried her off to his black fortress in the North. He crafted marvellous things of wondrous beauty to make her happy, and made his yearning known, but Silvain remained cheerless and unresponsive to his words. She bided her time and then one night, when the guards in the sorcerer's fortress chanced to be less careful, she managed to flee. Túron, in the meanwhile, had never stopped looking for her once news of her disappearance reached him, and it was in the dead of night after Silvain's escape that the two lovers met again in the wild.
"They fled to the outskirts of the enchanted forest protected by the immortal Queen Melian, and there they were veiled from Gorchir's evil gaze. Months passed and a child was born to them, a boy they named Faradon, and thinking the sorcerer to have abandoned his search for them, they ventured outside the forest. But Gorchir hadn't forsaken his search, and in his anger borne from Silvain's rejection of him, he cast a spell on her, turning her into a bear. If he could not have her, then no-one would. Fearing for her safety, Túron led the bear to a cave, hidden from hunters or warriors. Then, he took their son and built them a house in the forest, raising the boy by himself. He returned to the cave every day, to spend time with his love and watch over her.
"Faradon grew to become a skilled hunter, and one day while he was out seeking game, he came upon a great female bear. It was Silvain who, having retained her human understanding and thought, recognised her son and moved to approach him. Not yet having knowledge of his mother's fate, Faradon drew his bow, thinking the bear was about to attack him. At that very moment, Túron appeared and, realising what was happening, rushed forward. A white light blinded him, and when his sight was restored, a smaller bear stood where his son had been. Aran Einior, the High King of Arda, having witnessed the lives and fates of the strange family through the eyes of his Eagles, had decided to intervene and prevent the killing of mother by son: he gave the boy the likeness of a bear, so he could recognise Silvain. Wishing to keep them from any more harm, Aran Einior raised all three to the heavens and placed them in the stars. Silvain became Grewil, the Female Bear; Faradon is the Bear Cub, Meglion, beside her; and Túron is the Bear Guardian, Brogdir, watching over them."2
Idrin had once again raised her hand to point out the star-formations as she spoke, her eyes filled with their light. Only when she lowered her gaze did she realise that she and Éothain were engulfed in darkness: her immersion in the recounting of the tale had led her to forget they had not built the fire.
The Rider's eyes were intense as he watched her, his whole body having turned to face her while listening. A few seconds passed in silence. "That was quite beautiful. Different from the stories told in the Mark."
"It is one of my favourites," said Idrin fondly. "My mother used to tell it as a bedtime story." She held his gaze for a moment and then, as movement caught her peripheral vision, turned to see. Her brothers were coming towards them. "It's growing late." A trace of gloominess brushed her tone as she got to her feet, hands moving to smooth her dress, her previous fatigue seemingly forgotten.
"There is always tomorrow night for more tales." Éothain picked up on the reason for the change in her voice easily. He rose, a softer expression on his features as he went with her to the tent entrance.
"Yes, there is," replied the healer. "We do have a few more nights for the sharing of tales."
End of Part II
To come: Colours of Dawn Part III – The First Dance
* In a dark cave
It dwelt years unnumbered,
hidden from all
beneath misty mountains …
My first attempt at poetry in Sindarin.
1 The Rohirric belief of falling stars being the souls of slain warriors is of my own invention, drawing from the Teutonic myth of central Europe, in which it is said that the fall of a star from the sky presages the death of the person it represents.
Wælcyriga is an Old English word meaning chooser of the slain, used by Tolkien as a title for the Vala Mandos (The History of Middle-earth: The Shaping of Middle-earth, Chapter III: The Quenta, Appendix 1). The servants of Mandos guiding the slain warriors to the Halls of Waiting is not canon, but rather my taking creative licence, drawing from the Norse myth of Valhalla.
2 The tale of the constellation of Grewil is of my own invention, drawing from the Greek myth of Callisto. According to one version of it, Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, King of Arcadia, and was one of the nymphs who accompanied the goddess Artemis after vowing to remain celibate. Zeus, who coveted Callisto, came to her in the guise of a bear and from their union was born Arcas. Artemis, enraged by Callisto's breaking her vow of celibacy, transformed her into a bear. Afraid that his wife Hera might also seek revenge for being cheated on, Zeus hid the bear Callisto in a cave and had the mother of the god Hermes raise Arcas. Later on, during a hunting expedition, Arcas came face to face with his bear mother who tried to approach him. Short of shooting her, he was himself transformed into a bear by Zeus, who did that so Arcas could recognise Callisto. Still wary of Hera's anger, Zeus turned them both into constellations.
The Men of Beleriand calling Sauron Gorchir is my taking creative licence with canon – it seemed fitting that Men should have a name for him in their culture that is different from the names the Elves gave him.
Aran Einior is the Sindarin title for Manwë, meaning Elder King (The History of Middle-earth: The Peoples of Middle-earth, Chapter XI: The Shibboleth of Fëanor).
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.