This is the first of a series of stories about Éomer King of Rohan and his wife, Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. Originally, it was written in my native language as a novel length tale. While translating it into English, I changed the structure, so there are going to be several stand-alone-stories from their first meeting over the arrangement of their marriage to their life as sovereign and consort in Rohan.
My models for Lothíriel are two great medieval women: Queen Leonora of Castile, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England, and the abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a herbalist, composer and mystic and a Saint of the Catholic Church.
Éomer is based on an essay my sister wrote about 8 years ago for her English course at school, so there is very little of Peter Jackson's rather grumpy version to be found here, though I must admit quite a bit of Hugh Beringar crept into it (the one from the books, not the TV films)
The Healer and the Warrior
Night had fallen on Minas Tirith. In the wards of the Houses of Healing the wicks of the oil lamps had been turned down. Only a dim, yellow light lay over the beds of the sick and the wounded. Most of the healers had retired, trying to find some rest. Since the battle outside the gates of the White City, they had cared for the wounded and the dying. And only yesterday, after the Lords of the West had returned from the last battle of the Black Gate, even more injured men had been taken to the Houses of Healing.
A young woman entered one of the sick halls and walked silently along the aisle between the beds. She wore the garb of the healers: a long-sleeved grey gown under a shapeless dove blue tunic. The face was framed by a thin grey veil, covering hair, neck and shoulders, emphasizing large, slightly slanted eyes. She stayed next to one of the beds and bent over the wounded man on it. Even though the windows were wide open and a mild wind blew through the ward, the man's face was covered in sweat and his features were pain-racked.
"Hleogar?" the healer called softly.
The man turned his face towards her and opened his eyes. In the dim light of the oil lamps she could not tell the colour of the iris, but she knew it was of palest blue. And the hair, spread on the pillow matted with sweat, had the colour of flax. He was one of the Rohirrim, who had come to Gondor's aid when it had seemed all hope was lost.
"I have brought something to take the pain and to give sleep."
Gently she slipped her hand under the broken warrior's head and helped him to lift it. She put a goblet to his lips. With reluctant sips he drank half of the milk-white liquid before he closed his eyes exhausted and let his head sink back onto the pillow. Some of the sleeping-potion, made from the seed of poppies, stuck to his beard. The healer put the goblet aside, took a cloth and dipped it into a bowl of water placed on the nightstand. Carefully she cleaned the beard and wiped the sweat from the wounded man's face. Though her touch was gentle, his features became contorted in a mask of pain.
"Why do you not let me die?" he whispered with a hoarse and broken voice.
"Because I swore an oath to honour and to protect the most sacred thing man has been given: his life."
"I do not have a life any more."
"You will have your life back." The healer put her hand on the man's hair, caressing his forehead with her thumb. "I do not presume to know the extent of your suffering. But I know that at the end of this trail through darkness there is light. And as long as darkness surrounds you, I will be at your side."
The man opened his pale eyes once more to look at her. She could only hope that her words and her smile gave him some consolation. Again she took the goblet and helped him to drink the rest of the potion. Then she sat at his bedside until his flat, even breathing told her that he had found a nearly painless sleep. At least for a few hours.
She left the sick hall and went to the garden that surrounded the Houses of Healing. In Minas Tirith, a city where, over the centuries, men had covered every foot with stone, these gardens were a treasure, only shared with the Citadel. The healer paused underneath an arcade overgrown by wisteria. She put her head back and rolled her stiff shoulders. With closed eyes she took a deep breath of the sweet smell of the early spring blossoms and of the cool night air. The day had been long, as so many before, and she was tired beyond exhaustion. But not only was her body exhausted. After all these weeks of battle against death, it was even more her mind that requested rest.
Her solitude was short. It was interrupted by voices. Two men came across the lawn from the direction of the gate. The healer recognized one of them as the gatekeeper of the Houses of Healing, old Arom. The other was a tall, broad-shouldered man clad in chain mail. He walked with a slight limp. Long, shaggy hair fell beneath his shoulders, and as he came closer, she noticed the by now familiar stench, a stench she would never get used to: the man smelled of sweat and blood, of dirt and horse.
The young woman left the shadows of the arcade, turning her steps towards the men. When Arom saw her, he stayed and bowed low.
"Mistress Healer, despite the late hour, this man came to ask for our assistance."
"There is no late hour at this place," she reminded the gatekeeper and turned towards their visitor. "How can we help you, my Lord?"
The man came closer, and despite the darkness, despite the crust of dirt on his face and his obvious exhaustion, she could see that he was rather young.
"I would like to ask you for something to clean and dress a wound."
His deep voice was hoarse, but by the guttural pronunciation of the Westron he was
easily to be identified as a man of Rohan.
"Is it your wound, which needs to be treated?"
He gave a slight nod. "It is just a minor injury."
What was it about the Rohirrim, that they called all but life-threatening wounds just minor? The healer dismissed the gatekeeper.
"You may go, Arom. And you, Rider of Rohan, come with me."
Hearing this crisp order, the man's eyebrows shot upwards, but he didn't object and did as he was told, when she turned and walked back towards the building. She led him to a spacious treatment chamber, brightly lit by oil-lamps. In the centre of the room was a high and wide bench, on it stacked an assortment of blankets and sheets. Along the walls shelves held baskets with dressing materials and boxes filled with tins, small bottles and phials. One corner housed a tiled stove, heating a large, integrated cauldron for hot water. A copper tub stood in front of it. Everything was well sorted and meticulously clean.
The Rohír had stayed at the threshold, hesitant, as if knowing that in these surroundings he would look even more unkempt. The healer was now able to have a closer look at him. During the past weeks she had cared for many of his kinsmen. The Horselords of the North were a tall and strong breed and this one certainly did not belong to the frailer of his people. The light confirmed his youth. He was in his mid-twenties, perhaps a couple of years older. His face was dirtied by the dust of many days and the soot of open fires. Beneath this layer, his skin showed a golden tan instead of the reddish tint of most of his fairskinned kinsmen.
He had a well-cut face: high cheekbones, a straight nose, a strong jaw line covered by a dark blond beard in need of a trimming, and a firm mouth. Large, dark eyes gave him something boyish, but their look was one of a man far beyond his age. The right of his straight eyebrows was parted by a thin scar. The fine white line of another one ran from his from his right temple to his hairline. Nevertheless, clean and kempt he would have to be called quite handsome.
The healer took this all in rather subconsciously, because for the moment his physical condition drew all her attention. Something was wrong with the way he was holding himself. Undoubtedly he was exhausted, but that alone did not explain why he avoided putting weight on his right leg or why he kept his upper body so stiff.
"Please, come in, my Lord," she invited the man, turning her back on him. She was busy finding tins with certain salves and some phials with lotions. Together with some gauzes and bandages she put everything on a tray and took it to the bench. The Rohír had come up and was standing directly in front of her. Now she could see that the chain mail under his right arm was damaged and covered with dried blood.
"Take a seat. I will just get some clean water."
"You do not have to treat me, Mistress Healer." The rider's expression settled into a frown. He was either not able or not trying to conceal the impatience in his voice. "I can do that myself. The injury is nothing. All I asked for is some clean dressing material."
The healer had filled a large bowl with hot water from the cauldron and took it to the bench. She turned towards her reluctant patient. Although she was tall for a woman, she had to tip her head backwards to be able to look into his eyes. They had an unusual colour. Browns, golds and greens seemed to flow into each other. Their expression at the moment didn't give rise to any doubt that he was neither used to nor willing to let a woman tell him what to do.
The healer had met her share of difficult patients over the past weeks and her patience was wearing thin. Without a warning she slapped with the back of her hand on the man's ribcage where the chain mail was damaged. She was granted success. Her victim gasped for breath and staggered backwards. No less surprised than angry, he glared at her.
"What was that for?"
"A minor wound would not hurt that much."
"It hurts only if you throw a punch at it," the Rohír said sarcastically and moved his upper body cautiously.
"It hurts, because it is infected. When did you get injured?"
"During the battle on the Black Gate."
"That was thirteen days ago. Has it been treated at all?"
"The bleeding stopped all by itself."
"That means dirt and sweat are closed in. It has to be cleaned and treated properly as quickly as possible. You can count yourself fortunate that your blood has not been poisoned."
"You do not die from a wound like this," the rider insisted gruffly.
"Not long ago I saw a man who had an iron splinter in the ball of his thumb. He thought it was nothing and had not had it treated. His blood became poisoned and carried to his heart. He died a painful death. Take off your clothes!"
The man stared at her as though she had grown a second head. The healer had to admit to herself that she should have phrased her request differently, perhaps, to be a little bit less misleading. Over the past weeks she had had to deal with too many unconscious patients and simply forgot to care about her words. And she was really tired.
"I cannot look at your wound as long as it is covered by chain mail," she explained, forcing her voice to be calm.
"You do not have to look at my wound at all. I can treat myself," the Rohír repeated through clenched teeth. It was obvious that he was struggling to keep his temper in check.
"We have been at this point of our discussion before," the healer replied. Her voice came out more sharply than she intended, but her composure was starting to fail, too. "In the Houses of Healing we look after the sick and the wounded, and, believe me, the last month bestowed more than enough upon us. Therefore I can assure you that I am quite capable of treating any kind of wound inflicted by any kind of weapon. - If that is what makes you so reluctant, my Lord."
"There is one thing you are undoubtedly right about, Mistress. You have more than enough seriously wounded men here to look after. Therefore I may suggest that you give that task your undivided attention. Your competence, without a doubt, will be appreciated. Obviously you have no intention of providing what I came for, so I will take my leave and find it elsewhere."
The healer was taken aback by his speech. This man was not only rude; he also knew how to express himself in the common tongue with much more eloquence than any of the other Rohirrim she had encountered at the Houses of Healing. This was not some common rider. He wore an air of authority, and for a moment she was put off by it.
Getting no reply and probably expecting none, he stepped around the young woman, intending to leave, but the healer moved with him and blocked his way. It was hard to tell who was more surprised. The warrior from the North, who had encountered very few who dared to bar his way, and certainly not such a wraithlike creature, whom he could have shoved aside with a sweep of his hand. Or the healer, who loathed any kind of physical conflict and who realized that, despite his injury, she was facing more than six feet of concentrated power.
She raised both hands, palms turned towards him in a universal gesture of peace.
"My Lord, I beg you. Let me treat your wound. It hurts you, even if nobody slaps on it. It is infected and has to be cleaned properly."
She was hit by a piercing gaze, which would have forced retreat from anybody with a less confident and calm personality. The young woman tried logic.
"You are wounded directly under your sword arm, and you must feel a restriction of mobility. Do you really want to risk weakening the arm which wields your sword?"
Still the Rohír showed no obvious reaction. Only his gazed moved up and down her body. Assessing? Appraising? His eyes returned to hers, unreadable. The healer began asking herself why she insisted treating the wounds of this boorish lout. It would be better to just give him what he asked for and let him go.
"Why are you so insistent about tending to me?" he asked eventually, his intense gaze unsettling.
"I just want to make sure that this injury will not have unpleasant consequences. Do you not think that already too many of your kinsmen have been permanently disabled in battle?"
Again his stare was unreadable. His next words gave her a shock.
"Too many of my kinsmen have permanently died in battle," he said in a hard, measured tone.
What kind of statement was that? Before she had the chance to react somehow, he started unbuckling his sword belt and turned his back towards her.
"You will have to assist me with the mail. It is buckled at the back, and as you did not fail to notice, the mobility of my sword arm has suffered lately."
This man was unbelievable! It had been a long time since the healer felt the inclination to harm somebody bodily. The opportunity of having the Rohír turning his back on her and a hard earthen bowl within reach was very tempting. But it was not her nature. She just took a deep calming breath, reached up and began unbuckling the worn coat of mail. Once again the stench of the man assaulted her. She couldn't resist the question.
"How long have you been in these clothes?"
"Nearly a month." He gave her a mocking look over his shoulder. "We were travelling light, when we left Dunharrow. No extra weight for a change of fancy clothing permitted."
"A month?" Having finished her task she stepped back. "May I suggest a bath?"
She was not given the honour of a reply.
The warrior shrugged the mail from his shoulders and let it fall down to his feet by its own weight. Underneath it he wore a stained tunic of obscure colour, made of thin suede. He unlaced the front and pulled it over the head. The trained eye of the healer could see that this movement gave him some pain, but also that he had learnt to ignore it.
He dropped the tunic carelessly on the floor and began unlacing the dark green linen shirt. He would have pulled it off as he had done with the tunic, but the healer stopped him.
"Wait! Do not pull it off."
The rider stopped in the middle of his movement, his arms raised, fingers curled into the collar of the shirt. "I thought you cannot treat the wound as long as it is covered?"
"The fabric of your shirt has got stuck to the scab." She stepped closer and gently touched the area around the wound, examining it. The linen was slit and an area larger than her hand was crusted with dried blood and pus. "Had you pulled off the shirt, you would have ripped off the scab. That not only hurts rather badly, it also does damage to the edge of the wound. Probably it would start bleeding again excessively."
The Rohír lowered his left arm and kept the right behind his neck, so that he was able to look at his injury himself.
"And what do you suggest we do about it?" he asked with mocking interest.
She looked up and found herself nose to nose with this unsettling man. Her gaze locked on those dark eyes just a hands width from her own, and her stomach flipped. She stepped back quickly to distance herself from him. What was the matter with her? She was not herself. She needed sleep! She needed food! She needed to treat this Rohír and send him on his way!
Regaining her composure with some difficulty and ignoring the discomfort she felt under his penetrating gaze, she forced herself to fall back on her professionalism.
"What we can do is, either I soak the area around your wound until the fabric gets detached from the scab, or," she paused, before she finished, "we kill two birds with one stone."
"And how do you suppose we do that?"
The frown had faded and for the first time she heard a hint of humour in his voice, replacing the irritability.
"We soak you completely."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You take a bath!"
"You have been in a bath before, have you not? Big tub, hot water?"
As soon as she said these words, she regretted them. Something about this man brought out the worst in her. Or rather something she hadn't known even existed. She had been brought up to control her emotion and show the world a calm and polite facade. And her training as a healer had her let become mature beyond her age. Childish gibes were not like her.
The Rider's eyes became cold, as he gazed at her.
"Yes, we do bathe in Rohan," he said slowly. "Occasionally even in tubs filled with hot water."
She winced as his tone, congratulating herself. She had just managed to offend a man, who, considering his bearing, was very likely Rohan nobility. She sounded just as bad as so many of her fellow countrymen, who, even after being saved by the Rohirrim, took great pleasure in sneering at the Horselords and their culture. Though something about this tall warrior irritated her inexplicably, being offensive was not the way she was brought up. Her father would have been disappointed.
She tried to find the right words, but none would come. How does one apologize for an insult just implied?
"My Lord . . . ," she began timidly only to be interrupted by a loud and lengthy rumble. Startled she looked at the man's mid-section. "My Lord," she repeated slowly. "It would seem your stomach needs to be taken care of as well."
She looked up and there was a gleam in his eyes she did not quite expect. Could it indeed be mischief? With the tension between them suddenly easing, she regained her usual composure.
"While you take a bath," she pointed at the copper tub in one corner of the chamber, "I will get you a hot meal and try to find a clean shirt. I am afraid we have nothing else to replace the clothes you are wearing."
"I did not come for a change of clothing." His tone had softened, but his multicoloured eyes still surveyed her closely. "And I did not expect to be fed."
"Food is part of the treatment. We do not want our patients expiring of malnutrition."
She carried several sheets over to the stove in the corner. With one of them she lined the tub and then opened the tap of the cauldron to run a bath of steaming hot water.
The Rohír hadn't moved, was still standing next to his crumpled coat of mail. He watched the preparation of the bath with considerable doubt in his gaze. He ran his hand trough his dirt-matted hair and eventually resigned himself to his fate with a tired shrug of his broad shoulders.
"I suppose I have to take a bath rather sooner than later, so why not here, where it is pushed on me, instead of running around looking for one." He tugged at his shirt. "Do you want me to soak with it on?"
The healer walked back to him, inspecting the dirt and sweat stained garment. "It is ruined anyway," she stated matter-of-factly. "I could cut out the fabric just around the wound. Then you can take it off."
Without waiting for a reply she got a razor-sharp knife from a chest of surgical instruments. When she lifted it up to his chest he pulled back with the instinctive movement of a warrior.
"Am I supposed to trust you with a deadly weapon?" he asked with mocking apprehension.
"I do not inflict wounds, my Lord," she answered seriously. "I heal them."
The hand with the knife raised, she waited for his consent. He moved closer, towering over her. Fighting not to be overwhelmed by the sheer physical power he radiated, she doubted that she had the slightest chance in using the knife to inflict any harm on him.
Gently removing the shirt from his ribcage she put the knife to the fabric and carefully cut out a large, roughly oval section sticking to the wound.
"That is taken care of."
She stepped back and looked up, something she shouldn't have done. She caught his eyes again wandering up and down her body and this time there was no doubt. She was given the most thorough masculine assessment she had ever received. And she had the oddest feeling that she was somehow classified and filed. She found herself wondering which category of the female species she had just been assigned to.
Appalled at how her thoughts drifted uncontrolled into unfamiliar territory, she just hoped that her expression wouldn't give her away. That her schooled mask of calmness and order was in place. To her satisfaction her voice sounded serene as it was supposed to.
"I will leave you to your bath now. Please take your time." The tub was nearly full to the edge and she hurried to turn off the tab. "Let the fabric come off by itself. Do not rip it off," she stressed, now falling easily back into her professional mode. "You find everything you may need next to the tub, but do not use any of the bathing oils. Clean water and a simple soap must be enough. I don't want any substance interfering with the treatment later."
"Do not worry. I am not into scents and oils," the Rohír scoffed, his voice muffled as he pulled the shirt over his head, leaving the healer with the unexpected view of a bare male chest; broad, sculpted, scarred and with a light sprinkling of fair hair.
Once more losing her thread, she blinked twice and saw him arch a single eyebrow. He had done it on purpose! It was really time to go and get him some food. Then treat his wound. Then have him on his way.
Just when she was about to turn and leave, her eye fell on his long, tangled hair. She wasn't able to restrain her natural pragmatism.
"You should comb your hair before you wash it, or it will be so matted you have to shave it off. Do you have a comb?"
"A comb?" he repeated and when she opened her mouth, he hastened to continue with a new hint of irritation in his voice: "I do know what a comb is, but do I look as if I carried one?" He spread his arms, muscles rippling, the remains of the shirt dangling from one hand.
"Certainly not," came the measured answer.
The healer reach for the purse she carried at a belt under her loose tunic. After groping around a bit she pulled out a comb and held it out to the rider. He hesitated to accept it. When he finally took it and observed it with obvious curiosity, she understood. It was a present from one of her brothers, one of those lavish things they sometimes bestowed upon her, knowing she was unlikely to purchase anything like it herself. The comb was an artful ivory carving with filigree silver inlays. Its price would probably buy a peasant's family food for several months.
Again the warrior's unsettling gaze landed on her, but she had no intention of responding to the open inquisitiveness. She decided on a temporary retreat and left the chamber with a silent nod.TBC