A/N: This one-shot was written with my friend and beta Cairistiona7 in mind while she was recovering from surgery (and if you haven't ever taken a look at her wonderful stories, I recommend them!). She also gave this the once-over before I posted it. Thanks, Cairi!

This takes place within a few weeks of my story Fierce and a Little Ragged, but you shouldn't have to read that one for this to make sense.

All recognizable elements belong to Professor Tolkien.

Weeding

It was barely dawn. In the east a dim rose-glow seeped between the scattered trees, and the smell of night rain on new grass was cold in her throat.

Ivorwen was tired.

Tired but jittery still, from the hard work and jubilation, even hours after making sure mother and babe were settled—nursing well, bleeding slowly. She walked home from the house of Feridir along the border wall so she did not disturb the village folk so early in the morning. Her satchel felt heavier somehow than it had the night before as she'd hurried through the dusk in the opposite direction, though then it had been bulging with fresh linen, and tinctures of cohosh and red raspberry leaf and invigorating thyme, and a bottle of evening primrose oil. All she had left behind for the new mother to use if she had need of them. And their son—a strapping boy who had slipped into the world serene and wide-eyed, and instead of wailing his first breath he had gulped it softly and murmured against his mother's breast and found his source of sustenance even before the life-cord had ceased its pulsing and been cut.

Already a contented babe. Content like Dírlach had been, plump and good-natured and happy to nurse himself to sleep and stay so for hours, his face nuzzled sweaty into her skin. Dírlach had been a good first child for a young mother, and Ivorwen had slept well and recovered swiftly. And a good thing, too, for scarcely sixteen months later came Gilraen—and Ivorwen chuckled at the memory. Another creature entirely, was Gilraen. She'd arrived itching for battle, furious and howling, and did not mellow until she was old enough to speak. Only then did her disposition brighten. Ivorwen remembered clearly, already a lesser man's lifespan ago, how Dírhael had lain belly-down on the floor, raptly listening to their daughter babble, and he had looked up grinning and said, "See, love? Just like her mother—all she needs to make her happy is something to prattle about."

Son and daughter had given her a grandson apiece, each as different as her own children had been. Halbarad, younger by seven years, fiery-tempered and brawny and passionate. The grandson she had snatched away from hot stoves and patched up after childish squabbles. Scraped knuckles and blackened eyes was Halbarad as a boy, and as a young man he had come to her more than once with a broken nose or a dueling wound, though usually grinning, because he'd usually won. Ranger and warrior, swift with the sword—and then, of all wonders, barely thirty years old, he had taken to wife the sharp-witted woodsman's daughter and began to populate their village with high-cheekboned little girls.

Ranger, husband, fiercely loving father—but still grandson. The grandson who had not returned with the Rangers three months before, and now Thaliel and four grey-eyed daughters looked ever eastward for his return. Ivorwen looked that way herself, into the red light. Be watched over, son of my son.

And the other grandson…

Why is he on the roof? she thought crossly as she rounded the old ramshackle mill and the Widow Bryn's cottage came into view. She felt her step quicken a little despite her weariness, and then she was beneath the eaves looking up.

"Get down," she commanded, planting her fists on both hips, and he had the grace to peer over the edge a little sheepishly.

"Good morning, Daernaneth," her Chieftain said, and she could still hear the rasp in the lower layers of that quiet voice. His thickly wrapped and splinted left ankle was propped on a bundle of new straw, and only his other heel braced against a bare rafter held him in place on the steeply pitched roof. He was tearing up the old grey thatch and launching it over the side of the cottage towards the manure pile. He had paused when Ivorwen approached and now his hand was rubbing down his right thigh absentmindedly, as if kneading away a cramp.

"Get down, I said," Ivorwen repeated, driving a rigid forefinger towards the dirt for emphasis.

Aragorn's forehead creased minutely.

"I… no."

She felt her eyes narrow.

"No?" The word was drawn out. Her tone, at one time, would have sent her own children scattering for cover. She was tired and testy from a long night sitting up and by all the blessed stars, if she had to re-set that blasted ankle when he slewed off the roof and broke it again, she'd…

"I... that is—I can't," he said, so soft she knew it pained him to admit. She heard his short laugh, the wryness of it, and the indignation fled her in a gust. "I managed to get myself up, and now I've no notion how I'll get myself down again, Daernaneth, perhaps if you…"

"I'll fetch Feridir," she said, starting back towards the house she had come from.

"No!" said Aragorn with a bit of sharpness, and she turned back to see his hand extended. "No, don't rouse him, they've had a long night and it's barely even light out. And the task isn't done yet—"

Ivorwen felt her patience fraying. The thatch shimmered with dew and even as she watched she saw his boot-sole skid a little on the beam before catching again and he may be sixty-four years old and a legend in the far countries but I have dealt with stubborn children for nearly twice that span of years and locking horns with one more is no skin off my nose…

Aloud she said, "Have it your way, then. Roost up there all day, if you like, and this evening when the whole blasted village gathers to see you lifted down, don't say I didn't offer to help you do it with dignity."

She saw his shoulders heave at that, and where Halbarad might have blustered or rumbled half-audible insolences or by-the-Lady tried to get down on his own, Aragorn merely tipped his head and murmured, "Thank you."

Feridir had the discretion to back the buckboard against the leeward side of the house, so passers-by would be less likely to see their Chieftain being lowered down by his armpits. Though Ivorwen had not missed overhearing the grinning young Ranger's offer to carry Aragorn down slung over his shoulder, nor the returning proposition of a tour of duty to Fornost until the new year.

She was standing holding his crutches when Aragorn lowered himself to sit on the buckboard's edge. She leaned the crutches against the wheel and crouched and took his foot between her hands and cupped his bare toes in her palm to check the warmth of them. The wrapping was wadded too low around his ankle, and the rainbow of bruising on his shin and calf swollen from the strain of his climbing.

"You've skewed your splints," she scolded. "Wiggle your toes."

And he did, assuring her that he had not misaligned the bones of his ankle again. She let his heel rest on her knees and glared up at him severely.

"What possessed you to clamber onto a slick roof with a broken leg before the sun has even risen?"

He offered her a fleeting smile. "Mistress Bryn's meat pies."

"If that old biddy asked you to climb up there in your state—"

"She did not ask," he said. "Her roof has been leaking for two weeks."

She eased his foot away and rose, her knees popping, and he darted out a quick hand and gave her silver braid the gentlest of tugs. "And you are the same age," he said. "If she is an old biddy, what would that make you?"

His smile stretched into a grin, and suddenly Gilraen hunting trouble was peering from her grandson's bright grey eyes. She shook her head to mask her startlement and dealt him a brisk little swat to the hip. "Miscreant," she said sternly. "Respect your elders."

"Yes, Daernaneth," he said, but if anything the grin only broadened.

"You're coming along so I can re-splint this."

"Of course, Daernaneth."

"And you should be resting. You've been coughing, I can hear it in your voice."

"Nothing like last week."

"It'll be as bad again if you keep waking so early to scramble around on rooftops in the rain."

"It wasn't actually…" he began, but trailed away with a laugh when she raised her swatting hand again. "I yield," he said, putting up his hands. "Now if you'll hand me my—"

"Feridir will circle around and drop you off," she said, scooping up his crutches herself so he could not recover them, and the younger Ranger leapt up to the driver's bench and clucked to the feather-footed plowhorse and the buckboard lurched away through the mud towards the east edge of the village.

Ivorwen swung the crutches up to carry across one shoulder like a woodsman's axe, and hefted her satchel over the other, and followed the deep wheel-tracks back to her husband's house.

-o0o-

It had been some time since Ivorwen had wakened to a cold bed—a thing once familiar, in the years when Dírhael had captained the Rangers and her children were too old to creep in to join her beneath the heavy blankets when their father was away on patrol. She did not miss sleeping alone, and found her rest was fitful without her husband's warm body weighting down the right side of the bed. For two weeks she had wakened with cold feet, her hips and back aching, and that spring morning as she rose and pulled on kirtle and stockings against the chill and crouched creakily to stoke the smoldering fire, she allowed herself to feel short-tempered.

There are younger men who could have reinforced them, she thought darkly, kneading her knuckles into the small of her back. But then she sighed, and let her face fall forward into her hands. Bright Lady, Starkindler, watch over my husband, and Halbarad wandering, and if the One wills it, see them home to me safely again…

She sighed again and shoved to her feet and the work of the day began. She rolled out the breakfast-bread and strained bones and chicken-feet from the stock that had simmered all night, and when the broth was clean of debris she added to it barley and diced parsnips, and a generous handful of dried alfalfa, and the hearts and livers and gizzards of the chickens she had butchered the day before. All good rich replenishing food for a new mother. She would take the soup to Fimriel in the afternoon when she went to look in on mother and day-old babe, and with it a flagon of cooled, sweetened tea. Red raspberry for bleeding, blessed thistle and fennel for plentiful milk, goatweed to ward away childbed sorrow…

But before that there was kindling to split, and the water barrels to fill from the well, and the chickens to scratch, and Mugwort to milk…

Ivorwen hummed to herself as she shrugged into Dírhael's old sheepskin coat and buttoned it up to her chin. It was a chill morning, more winter than spring to her old bones, and the coat smelled like lanolin and deep earth and the faint smoky goodness that was Dírhael's breath on the back of her neck as they lay hollowed together beneath the blankets and hides of the big low bed in the back room of the house.

Be safe. Be warm. Come home to me sound.

Her wooden clogs on the back step were laced with frost. She felt the cold of them even through her stockings and wished she had remembered to set them on the hearth the night before. She ducked back around the door for the mittens and scarf that hung behind it. The latter she wound around her neck and face as if venturing into a blizzard, until only her eyes peered out and her breath against the rough wool clogged and dampened it. Better than being cold. Blasted thrice-cursed rotting cold. Yesterday was fair as a midsummer bride, and then it freezes hard again just to torment me. What we need around here is a good summertime, glorious heat and haze…

The path to the shed was slippery, but she felt cheered a little to see the grass beginning to green up again between the grey stones. Her herbs were up as well—thyme and parsley and the hardy spearmint that thrived in the frost, though already she was tearing away the creeping pigweed that twined and encroached and choked out all the useful plants. If I could poison it, I would, nasty vine. Only good about it is the green, the first green of the year…

The crooked side door to Mugwort's shed was cracked open, and Ivorwen paused. She had double-checked the night before, she knew she had. If that old bossy got loose she would decimate the herb-beds, and likely hop the broken spot in the fence into Brenia's radish patch, and oh the horror. Ivorwen did not care to think about the fuss that would ensue. Perhaps the wind blew it open. She's content in her straw, old girl, probably waiting for her mash…

She continued on, thrusting her mittened hands beneath her arms for warmth, but a sound drew her up again. A cough, short and muffled, but followed soon by a second and third, and Ivorwen breathed a damp exasperated huff through her nose. It escaped the scarf in a puff of vapor and she thrust her hands down by her sides and marched the short remaining distance and yanked open the door.

Aragorn glanced at her mildly from his seat on the milking stool, the broken ankle stretched to one side, crutches leaning near the stanchion. Mugwort was cudding contentedly, steam rising off her back in shimmers, and the warmth hit Ivorwen's face and made her slip the rest of the way in and latch the door behind her. He was wearing his own coat, though she saw it was not his heavy winter down, but the light one of canvas and doeskin he wore in the summer. His pale shirt showed through a split in the shoulder-seam and he had no hood and no muffler and no gloves

She pawed the scarf down away from her mouth and said, "What precisely do you think you are doing?"

The ringing of milk against the inside of the bucket ceased. He started to answer but another cough erupted from his chest, and he turned his face to muffle it in the crook of his elbow. His shoulders shook, and Ivorwen felt a tremor of concern at the dry hacking sound and very nearly crossed to him to pound upon his back. But the spasm released him, and he pressed his forehead into the valley of Mugwort's speckled flank for brief moment while he caught his breath. Then he turned to her with a wry smile and said, "I am pulling my weight."

"Your weight should be sitting in front of the fire swathed in rugs," she said, tugging off her mitten, and then she took two steps to his side and clapped her palm against his forehead. He watched her, looking amused as she moved the backs of her fingers to his jaw.

"Am I riddled with fever?" he asked in a tone she could only define as cheeky, and she found herself for a brief disarming moment unsure whether to whack him or ruffle his hair.

"Your face is cold," she said instead. "And you've no hat or mittens and your coat has a hole and why are you skulking around in the shed when you should be home getting well…"

She was ranting and she knew it, but his face was grey enough to frighten her more than a little, and his hair beneath her hand was damp, of all things, and sweet Lady preserve us, he didn't even bother to cover his foot before venturing out in the cold…

She turned for his crutches and chivvied him standing and hooked the milking stool to the side with one clog. A shove and a tug and the stanchion fell open and Mugwort backed serenely out and wandered into the dark recesses of the shed where straw and grain awaited her. Ivorwen hefted the milkpail on the crook of her arm and turned and shooed her lanky grandson out the door in front of her.

He went meekly enough, hunched over his crutches, and she watched his sound, booted foot carefully, ready to steady him if he slipped. So intently minding his step that she forgot to mind her own and the clumsy wooden clog skidded on a flat frosted stone and as she fell the milk, blast it all, and I've no more for breakfast, and then a strong hand caught her high around the arm and righted her as easily as if she were a toddling youngster instead of a cranky old woman in an oversized coat. Not a drop of milk spilled.

He steadied her for a moment, leaning a little on the crutch he hadn't dropped. She could tell by his crinkled eyes that he was shoring back a laugh. She huffed through her nose and tossed the tail of her scarf over her shoulder and bent to retrieve the fallen crutch.

"Watch your step, Daernaneth," he said as he accepted it from her. "The stones are slippery."

Impertinent scoundrel, she thought, but then her own mouth was tugging and she was glad for the scarf wrapped all the way over her nose. If he saw, her severity was ruined, and curse it all when he grinned at her like that—Gilraen with her hand in the biscuit-jar—it was all she could do to keep from grinning back.

She made herself glare at him instead, hoping the thin band of uncovered face around her eyes was enough to level him with grandmotherly displeasure.

"House," she said, pointing, the word so stifled in the knitted wrap it sounded more like "Mmph," but he pressed his lips together and turned and swung the rest of the distance with surprising nimbleness, and was holding the door open for her when at last she caught up. She clogged into the kitchen and kicked her feet free and wound away the scarf.

"You are a pox on my nerves," she said when she was at last unmuffled, turning to where he stood just inside the door. "Unruly man, traipsing about on that ankle and coughing—if you weren't so blasted tall, why, I'd—"

He hoisted an eyebrow at this, looking mildly fascinated at how she intended to finish that particular statement, and she snorted and shimmied out of Dírhael's coat.

"Sit there," she said, driving a finger towards the chair nearest the fire, "and don't… don't do anything."

She collected the rattling kettle and poured tea steaming into two heavy mugs, and over one she sprinkled a generous pinch of white willowbark powder. After a moment's hesitation she pulled down the little flask of good Dwarvish brandy Dírhael kept for the coldest of mornings and the ache of old wounds. She splashed a measure on top of the willow and gave it a stir. When she turned, Aragorn was staring out the single window, his hand pushing absently down the length of his thigh as he sat with his splinted foot stretched towards the fire.

"Better or worse today?" she asked, pressing the mug with the brandy into his hand.

"Ankle or cough?" His fingers wrapped the warm mug as he held it up beneath his chin and allowed the steam to daub him.

"General infirmity," she said dryly. "Though the cough worries me most."

"Worse than yesterday, but better than the day before," he said, and took a long slow sip. "Though whatever Khudzulian firebrand you're dosing me with should drive it merrily back again." He blew out a breath, his face contorting. "What do you use that for, varnishing furniture?"

"Warding away lung-fever in pigheaded grandsons," she answered tartly. "Now give me your foot—I've no doubt the good one is as cold as the bad."

He began to protest but she crouched and seized his sound ankle and was tugging free his boot before he could pull away from her. She tossed it with a thud towards the door and then turned back and chafed his foot briskly through his stocking.

"Dry, at the very least," she said.

"You may not believe me, healer woman, but I do know how to keep my own feet dry."

She set aside the one she held and gentled the other into her lap. The sole-side of the wrap was dark with mud and damp, his bare, bruised toes sheened with condensation.

"Hmm," she said, and began to loosen the bandage.

"You just did that yesterday morning," he said, and sipped again.

"And you proceeded to drag it through every mere and hog wallow inside the village walls," she retorted, setting aside linen and splints. The bruising was ferocious, tapestry-bright and leaching nearly to his knee, but at last the swelling was receding. She looked carefully at the outside of his ankle where she had straightened the disfiguring bone two weeks before, and then she set his heel gently on the washstand stool and rose and went to her supply shelf that took up the entire west wall. From it she selected a squat wide-mouthed jar and broad roll of bandage, and returned to him, lifting his foot again and taking its place on the stool. She gouged out a dollop of white salve and began to work it into the worst of the bruising.

"I could do that myself, you know," he said after a moment.

"Yes, but you won't," she said, and again the silence stretched. Her grandson sipped and swallowed, and straightened a little when her fingers pressed beneath his anklebone, and she glanced up to see him smiling ruefully.

"Thank you," he said. "I've… I'm no good at being the convalescent."

"Healers make the worst patients," she said. "And you are hardly convalescent." She smoothed his heel with arnica. "Though you will not perish if you sit still for a day or two," she added with a bit of asperity.

"Easy to say, harder to do," he said. "I care little for wiling away while the others are out in the Wild. While Halbarad…"

He trailed off, and she was glad of it, for at his words she had felt her throat begin to close. She burnished intently the bridge of his foot.

"Halbarad can take care of himself," she said when at last she trusted herself to speak without tremor. She scored up more salve with her fingertips. "He will come home when he is able, just as you did." Here she paused long enough to scowl at him. "Though I hope for Thaliel's sake it does not take him thirty years."

He laughed softly. "And until he does, I will traipse about trying to feel useful, and you will fret and fuss over whoever else needs it until you can fret and fuss over him." She felt his hand light on her shoulder. "And I am sorry, Daernaneth," he went on in a voice more somber. "I would not have had Daeradar return to duty, undermanned or no. He has long ago earned his respite."

"He is a stubborn old man," said Ivorwen, and found to her dismay that her left eye had overflown. She dashed the back of her wrist across it. "I his wife nor you his Chieftain can change his mind once he has fastened it to something." She glared up through the mist and sniffled. "You come by it honestly, child."

He gave her shoulder a squeeze and she reached up and patted his hand. "We need you sound again," she said. "Sound enough to hound after your cousin as I know you're burning to. But you cannot yet. You must mend."

She set aside the arnica-pot and took up the roll of bandage and the splints. "A week, perhaps," she went on. "Allow it one more week, and if you have not broken your neck falling off of a roof or given yourself pleurisy from the cold, then you may bear a little weight upon it."

"Yes, Daernaneth," he said, amused but dutiful, and when she had finished re-binding his ankle she rose to make him a sachet of cough-soothing marshmallow and slippery elm to take back to his cottage.

-o0o-

Thrice-cursed pigweed, rot its roots, she thought blackly, though the roots were most certainly not rotten, but seated deeply enough that Ivorwen had to rise off her knees for leverage as she pulled. When at last they tore up out of the earth, she was tugging hard enough she lost her balance and sprawled onto her backside in the mud.

That will return to me threefold in the morning, she thought as she pushed to her feet and dusted the seat of her kirtle. Mud did not dust well, and she smeared more of it onto her hands than off of her skirt, and at last gave up and bent and snatched the long creeper of pigweed and flung it away behind her towards the compost heap.

"Oof," she heard, and whirled to see Aragorn behind her on the path, his crutch in one hand and the vine in the other. The mat of muddy roots had struck him in the chest and left a wet and crumbling smear in the center of his tunic. He tossed the pigweed along its way and brushed at the mud. "You've good aim for someone who's forever falling over," he said, the corner of his mouth tugging.

"Knave!" she said. "Sneaking up on an old woman!" She pawed her wayward grey hair away from her eyes. "Where is your other crutch?"

"On my kindling pile," he said. "It… cracked."

"Cracked," she repeated, narrowing her eyes, and he smiled and swung forward and drew alongside her.

"Your parsley is thriving," he observed, looking down.

"It won't thrive for long if I don't get rid of the pigweed." She kicked it where it snarled over the stone border.

Aragorn stood his crutch against the side of the house and lowered himself gingerly to kneel in the mud. He pushed his sleeves up his forearms and began to rummage one hand into the loose, black dirt, burrowing down to where green vine melded into fibrous white root.

"Don't," she began, "now, there's no need—you're all over mud, now, look at you, and your splint, blast it all, will you ever keep it clean?" She huffed a little and marched to his side and wrapped both hands high around his arm. "Up with you! You'll catch your death of cold, wallowing around in the damp and the dirt, and then where would we be…" She tugged. He did not budge.

"Tenacious things, aren't they," he murmured absently, delving deeper into the earth. "Roots like wire…" His other hand joined the battle and with a wrench and a snapping sound he extracted the vine and tossed it to the side. Near the lavender plants grew tufts of grass, and he went to work on those next, quarrying around the root-beds and prying them up in clumps. He beat each a few times against the stone edge to shake loose the dirt and then flung them away towards the compost pile.

"You…" Ivorwen began again, her hands still wrapping his arm, and then she sighed and folded to her knees beside him and began to weed around the parsley.

"You are as stubborn as a dwarf," she said darkly, pitching a dandelion behind her, and he chuckled through his nose and pressed earth more firmly around the dry stems of the sage.

"I visited the new parents," he said after a long silence broken only by the soft ripping sounds of roots breaking free of the dirt.

"I've not been since yesterday," she said. "They were well?"

"Fimriel is content as a cat. I would have guessed this her fifth instead of her first." He shook his head. "And Feridir looks as if he has ten thumbs. I feared he would drop the babe before he managed to hand him to me."

"Your grandfather was the same with our first," she said, and laughed a little. "Though Dírlach was near a month old before his father met him. And I was so sick with fatigue and loneliness I vowed he would be there to welcome the next if I had to trudge into the Wild to find him myself when my time drew near."

"And did you?"

"No. The next time he managed to arrange his furlough for the end of my term, and your mother was born into his hands…"

She trailed away, remembering. Remembering the wonder in Dírhael's face, the way he would hardly surrender their daughter back to her. Even now his eyes would soften when he spoke of her, and often he wished aloud that she would come home, back to her folk in the Angle. Dírhael did not understand why she chose to stay within the valley walls of Imladris, in that place where time seeped in strange currents and a year could slip away minnow-quick between one moonrise and the next. The only mortal woman among the great of the Firstborn, her son no longer there to mark the passage of time with his perpetual changing, babe to stripling boy to gallant warrior. Dírhael did not see. He would have gone himself to fetch her home if he thought she would be fetched.

But Ivorwen understood. If Gilraen returned to them, she would join the ranks of wives and mothers who watched furtively from the windows, trying to be discreet in their uneasiness. Once already, Gilraen's vigilance had been rewarded with a man returned to her sheeted tight for the tomb. Ivorwen glanced at the man who knelt alongside her, lean-faced and wide-shouldered, Arathorn's somber mouth and shaggy hair, Gilraen's determined chin, and in those rare moments, her eyes alight with mischief…

Easier to watch over this one from the distant vale he now so rarely returned to. Watch over him in wish and thought only, and not bear the ache of seeing him well and sound, only to send him again to his toil with naught to guard him but a mother's heart-bare supplication breathed towards the West...

Ivorwen understood. More so in the last days with the cold bed empty beside her, filled only by creeping uneasy dreams of great untrammeled spaces and black caverns in the earth. Loneliness was a pale, clammy bedmate with spidery fingers that clung in the dark, and Ivorwen understood and pried the fingers loose with bright candlelight and hot honeyed tea and with whispered entreaties to be well, and be watched over, wherever you are…

And with weeding, she thought wryly, shaking loose a clod of dirt. And Gilraen kept the loneliness at bay with the fair voices and forgetfulness that was the Last Homely House.

Someday, though, she may want to remember again.

"I think last week's was the final frost," said Aragorn, and Ivorwen glanced to see him sitting on his sound heel looking away towards the east. The crabapple tree that stooped over the border wall was darkening with buds. Soon it would blaze into blossom, and the fragrance would finger through Ivorwen's bedroom window in the final gloom of the early mornings and caress the skin of her cheek in the dark.

"Hmph," she said, and the final wiry tangle of pigweed grudgingly released its hold on her herb-bed with a pop. She might have sprawled backwards for the second time that morning had her grandson not put out that quick hand and steadied her.

"Thank you," she said, and he smiled and squeezed her shoulder and pulled up a final shoot of bright clover. The bed was black and damp, studded now only with herbs. Aragorn smoothed the churned-up earth with a sweep of his hand and then snapped off a sprig of spearmint.

"A week, you told me," he said, and stuck the mint between his teeth and began to chew it.

Ivorwen sighed. A week it had been, and his crutch was on the kindling pile, and the night before when she had brought him supper he had been sitting in front of the hearth patching a tear in his saddle skirts. She'd had to clear away sword and dagger and whetstone and awl and scraps of leather and fleece to make room for the soup-kettle on the tabletop. And he had said nothing, nothing but murmured thanks and niceties about the weather, but she had known by his repairs and restlessness that his furlough was drawing to a close.

"A week," she said aloud, and rose and offered him her hand to pull him standing, and he had taken it, though she saw now he had no need of her help. And he collected again his crutch, a token support, and followed her around the corner of the house to the door.

Not quite, she thought, pressing around the yellowing ankle. A little while longer yet before even he would risk it. Two more weeks, perhaps, and then he would rejoin the others in their watch of the North. And perhaps then Dírhael would return, and she would have new aches and new mulishness to fret over.

Be watched over, wherever you are, stubborn old man. And come home to me, the bed is too cold without you in it…

And to her Chieftain, the hope of her people, son of the daughter she had not seen in years, she said, "You must keep it tightly wrapped, but I suppose we can leave the splints off this time." And to beat back the loneliness, and keep him for a little while longer yet, she added, "But only if you stay and have a draught of furniture varnish with an old biddy healer-woman…"

End

Thank you so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed!