I must say that the idea of bringing Thiri to Minas Tirith was shamelessly borrowed from Evendim (Snowdrops and Bluebells), though I view her slightly differently. Nevertheless, thanks, Evendim!
"You will take care of yourself, will you not, Thíri?"
My father's voice was full of concern, and it made me regret my foolishness for a thousandth time. But – what was the use of regrets now?
I sighed as I remembered our argument back in Dol Amroth.
"I will not stay here alone!"
"Thíri, be reasonable. I cannot take you to the very heart of the war! This is no pleasure-ride, girl!"
"I do not see it as a pleasure-ride! And will you stop thinking I am a child!"
"Will you stop behaving like one!"
We stared at each other, fuming with rage. At a distance, I caught sight of Elphir, frowning at me disapprovingly.
With a sigh, our father forced himself into a degree of calmness and tried to reason with me again.
"Lothíriel, it is dangerous. The trip itself is not as easy as you would think, and in the City, we will most probably be away all the time, possibly fighting, and this is something you have never seen… and may you live so until the end of your days, child! I will not have any time to look after you there."
I was aflame in seconds. "I was not bloody aware I required looking after! When you are here you hardly notice me!"
"Will you watch your mouth, young lady!"
"I will not! I will go to Minas Tirith, alone if I have to!"
"Better take her with us, Father," it was Elphir's voice. "But, Thíri, you will have to stay with Uncle Denethor for most of the time. And there will likely be no one to escort you home if you get… bored."
There they were again, playing their proven game of 'bad Father' and 'good big brother'. It had worked before, I must say. But I was too far gone this time.
"I do not mind Uncle, I can handle him if I need to. And I assure you I will not whine and beg anyone to take me home."
"Fine, you wanted it," there was slight menace in Father's tone. "I am taking you with me, but there will be certain conditions, and I mean it, Lothíriel."
"Fine," I said defiantly. "What conditions?" (I omitted a couple of quite unladylike epithets borrowed from my brother Erchirion, who was a sailor.)
Father eyed me with a very calm expression.
"You are aware of a war going on by now. I cannot allow my daughter to be idle when under protection of her Lord and Uncle. I will ask the Steward to appoint some duties to you, so that you are not bored with in the course of your stay. And," his eyes narrowed, and I could see he was truly angry, "you will do whatever is demanded from you!"
I was sure Father also wanted to add a couple of very hearty expressions. By the look on his face, I could already hear him asking Uncle to appoint me to the cleaning of latrines.
I had barely seen my Uncle when we arrived, apart from him welcoming us to his City. He looked awful, so aged and weary, all his words coming as if from a far place where he had retreated after Boromir's death. From somewhere deep he still recovered a weak smile for me when he said, "I am glad to see at least one person with whom I do not have to talk about the War. And a pretty young lady, too." But we never talked. He seemed to be reluctant to go into private conversation. I wondered if he feared me expressing my condolences. Well, he needn't have, for I had always felt remarkably foolish when faced with the task and tried to avoid it as best I could. As did I try to avoid grieving people. What could I say to them except those stale words you were supposed to mouth? Elphir once said I had spent too much time with a pack of brothers to learn proper civil language.
As to my duties, it was not latrine-cleaning, after all. It was decided that the most ladylike job in the City was to help the healers, so there I finally landed, among strange-smelling herbs and sticky liquids, among tired lean men with downcast eyes and formidable matrons who, I was sure, were kept specifically to intimidate the poor bedridden soldiers so that they would not dare get wounded again in the future.
I knew little of the affairs of state. There were councils…endless councils, and whispers of the Steward's strange conduct, and, finally, Elphir came to see me to the Houses of Healing, white with helpless rage.
"Do you know what that damn old fool has done?" he hissed.
"By this, I deem you mean Uncle," I sighed.
"Uncle indeed! I am happy he is no blood relation of mine, Thíri. Our grandparents must have been mad or temporarily blinded when they consented to his marriage to Aunt."
"Please sit down and tell me what happened," I dragged him to a small couch, for his agitated pacing irritated me.
Hardly had I made him sit, he sprang to his feet and spat, "He sent Faramir back to Osgiliath!"
I blinked at him several times, not quite understanding what was going on. "So…Faramir was here? What a pity I could not see him! It is strange he would not come and visit me, he has always been a dear. But then, it is war, so I should not take offence."
Elphir shook his head in exasperation. "Sometimes I forget that you are not quite aware of our situation, Thíri."
That angered me again. "Will you then tell me about it, to make me aware!"
He sighed, then sat down again and took both my hands in his. "Sending anyone there equals to giving him a death sentence, sister. There have been dispatches… Well, it is a long story, but believe me, he is in grave danger."
I took my hands away, surprised a bit at the gesture. I was more accustomed to being punched or slapped on the shoulder rather than kissed and babied, at least at the conscious age.
"And no one protested? Surely there were people in the council who understood…"
"Ha!" he snorted. "If only you have seen him! The man is mad, no doubt."
"Then all the more someone should have intervened!"
Elphir took a deep breath. "Yes, I think you are right, but if Faramir himself did not oppose the Steward's will, then who would? There is something strange going on here, Thíri. I was so eager to talk to Faramir… and he behaved as if he was avoiding me! And he and Denethor… I know theirs is not the easiest relationship, but earlier they at least tried to mend something, and now they seem miles apart. Faramir seems not to care a whit about what is going to happen to him. This is so wrong, Thíri!"
We sat in silence until one of the healers came for me and scolded me badly for having left the brew I was supposed to watch unattended. I lowered my eyes and tried to look sheepish. By the grin on Elphir's face, I could say that he at least was not fooled.
"Well, little Princess, serves you right," he laughed, kissing me goodbye. "I hate to say it, but we told you…"
He ducked away from my none too gentle hand and left, still laughing.
The battle was still going on. I had spent all the day on the walls, ignoring the Warden's strictest orders to stay inside and give a hand with the wounded. Not that I loathed to attend to them, but, once I peered over and saw the armies below, I simply could not leave. Later, I was thankful it was far and dark enough to make it impossible for me to discern individual soldiers. From up there, it looked like a messy storm over the sea, and that was familiar. I saw the bright ranks of the Rohirrim wash over the black mass of the Orc armada… and I was astonished at my own emotions. They seemed to have brought a powerful ray of light with them; they were riding towards us, and the only obstacle was the army of the Black Land, so it had to be destroyed. My heart flared up with grim delight; I was truly happy to imagine the black bodies being trampled down into the very earth they had been sent to conquer. In a childish gesture, I leaned over the wall and shouted a curse, and then spat in their direction.
The Warden caught me in the act.
"Lothíriel!" he thundered. I jumped at the sound.
"I think I pointed out that I wanted every spare hand in the Houses! Can you imagine how many people need help right now? Or do you enjoy watching only heroic deeds, not their aftermath?"
"But sir…" I felt ashamed and angered at the same time.
He grabbed my arm with his strong long fingers, his eyes flashing with anger. "Had it been for me to choose, I would have never consented to allowing any noble's daughter to work in this place. I have no need for a spoiled, squeamish, 'refined' slip of a girl whose cares dwell among fine robes only! But once you are here, and I promised your father, whom I hold in high respect, to keep an eye on you, you will do what your duty as a nurse requires!"
I stood gaping like a fish out of water. The storm of emotions rendered me speechless for a while. How could he say things like that? Did he not know who my father was, and what he would do if he heard anyone speaking thus of his only daughter? And… 'a spoiled, squeamish, 'refined' slip of a girl'!
For a moment, I thought I might strike him; then I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me short by turning me round and shoving me in front of him towards the Houses. "My lady," his voice held only mockery, "you will have time to honour me with a piece of my mind when this all ends. Meanwhile, direct all your wrathful energy at doing something useful. Looking after your cousin, for example."
I turned abruptly. "My…my cousin?" I gasped.
His eyes suddenly filled with sadness and compassion. "You do not know yet… I hate to bring you this news, child. Your cousin, Lord Faramir, has taken an arrow wound and now lies in our care. His condition is…very grave. I thought that the presence of a relation might do him good."
"And…his father? Where is he?" I asked, then cringed at the look of sorrow in his eyes. I would have preferred anything to it, even the deep disapproval and contempt of just minutes before.
"How?" I mouthed, unsure I produced any sound at all.
There was hesitation written on his face, and finally he said, "They say he took his own life. But you must understand, lady, that I am telling you this only because you are family. I trust you will not spread further what can prove only a rumour."
"I will not," I whispered, swallowing hard. "Take me to Faramir, please."
He was lying absolutely still, and his face was flushed. I rushed to his side and found that his breathing was very shallow and uneven, coming in short gasps from parched lips. I had never seen anyone gravely ill in my whole life, my family being a picture of health and lucky enough not to be injured in battle or accident. Here in the Houses so far I had not been asked to attend to the wounded, my help was mostly wanted at the kitchens or with making some brews. This was, in fact, my first encounter with the war.
"You said he had an arrow wound," I looked at the Warden questioningly.
"So he does," he said. "But it is not the chief concern here. It is Black Breath, I fear."
I sat on the bedside, clapping my hand to my mouth. That malady I had heard of.
"You mean… he will die?" I finally managed.
"Unless some miracle happens to come to our aid. There are more people slowly fading from it."
"How many?" I was surprised to feel any interest to someone other than my cousin; or was it some mad desire to keep talking, or to keep my mind occupied?
"Many more than I would like," he jested grimly. "Now, stay here with him and, should anything change, for better or for worse, call for me."
"Will he awake?" I asked, taking his hot hand into mine.
The Warden shook his head. "I do not think so. But you can try talking to him. He might hear your voice wherever he is now. You cannot bring him back, but you can try and make the way easier for him."
"The way? What are you saying?"
"The way to the afterworld…if such exists."
When he was gone, I stared numbly at the closed door, his words coming to me as if through a thick cloth, slowly making their way to my head… I then turned to Faramir and reached to stroke his face, then took my hand away with a jerk, then stood up and walked a couple of hesitant paces.
I should have stayed at home. I should not be here, my mind screamed. This is not true, all of it, this is not me, and the man in bed cannot be Faramir, and there is no war… Oh, please, I want home. I do not want him to die, and I do not want to be here should he awake, to tell him that his father is dead. My father, and my brothers… why do they all have to be away… why do I have to shake all over thinking about their fate, imagining them carried on biers…
I tried to banish the horrible picture of my mind, tried to replace it with the one of the glorious ride of the Rohirrim, but it would return, and I would see every line on my father's face, I would imagine their bodies, mutilated and pitiful… I felt my stomach rising to my throat and wanted to throw up, but I was denied even that relief.
I rushed to the window and opened it. How I longed for a gust of wind to cool my face, but it never came. Instead, there was the ever-present swirl of darkness looming over the eastern sky. I had never truly understood the people's fear of it. As a child, I had never feared darkness, would easily sleep alone in my chamber when I was barely four, but today I suddenly realised the difference. There, at home, darkness was a friend. It would help my tired eyes to shut when my mouth would stubbornly say I was not sleepy; it would conceal me allowing later to jump at one of my brothers and frighten them; it would give such a warm shroud to me and a young page who gave me my first kiss… It had always been a trusted ally at home; here, it meant something evil and stifling, it tasted of rottenness, and it made me shiver with a helpless and desperate fear I for once could not master.
I returned to Faramir, snatched his hand and lowered myself onto the bed beside him.
"Please awake, Faramir," I whined, hating myself for doing so; I would die from shame if he really awoke. "I am so afraid…"
But he was silent, and I squeezed my eyes shut and silently promised to be the most exemplary of all the ladies of Gondor, if only my family return to me. I will attend to the wounded, and scrub floors, and I will never ever argue with Father, and no one will have a reason to call me 'a spoiled, squeamish, 'refined' slip of a girl', but I do not want this deadly cloud to take us all. Please, I… I will die if that be needed.
There you are, I am keeping my promises. Will you keep yours and review this one as well?