For Raksha and Radbooks on her birthday. With great thanks to RiverOtter for the beta.
The Keys of the Realm
"The Hands of the King are those of a Healer"
"He's awakened, Lord Húrin," reported the Guardsman to the Keeper of the Keys.
Húrin looked up and recognized the one he'd set to watch over Faramir within the Houses of Healing after the young Man had been saved from his father's madness within the Hallows. "His mind--does it appear to be clear?"
"Yes, my lord," replied the Guardsman.
"Who attends on my cousin?"
"Prince Imrahil has ordered Guardsman Beregond and the Pherian to stand guard over him, I believe on the suggestion of Lord Mithrandir."
"How did he come to awaken?"
"Among those who came to the battle within the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar there was apparently one from the north trained in healing by the Elves. Mithrandir came with this one in tow, and he spent some time with our Lord Faramir, using some obscure herbs upon him. At one point those with him within the room appeared excited and called out, and I thought at first he'd perhaps died; but it proved he indeed had awakened. Then the northern healer was taken to the chamber given to the woman who it is said rode here with the Rohirrim--the one who is supposed to have struck down the lord of the Nazgûl."
Húrin nodded automatically as he considered this information. "And what of the tokens of Elendil displayed upon the greatest of the Corsair's ships?" he asked.
The Guardsman was shaking his head. "None has spoken of them to me, my lord."
"This healer--how does he appear?"
"A tall Man, dark haired, travel-worn. He appears to be full Dúnedain in blood, with his grey eyes and angular face. A wary one, but filled with compassion."
"I see. Have any others from the battle entered the city?"
"Lord Éomer of Rohan has--I saw him enter the Houses and attend on the woman of his people. It is said she is his sister. He is attended by some of the King's House there, and more have joined the watch about King Théoden's bier in the Hall of Kings." He was obviously thinking, then added, "And there is another Pherian, my lord--Mithrandir himself carried his body into the Houses, followed by the Pherian Guardsman Peregrin. He was not conscious--they say that the Black Breath lay upon him, as it is said lay also upon the lady."
"I will go to see," Lord Húrin decided. "You have done well. Go and tell your captain that I have said you may be off duty until the morrow. And send in Leonid to attend on me as you go out."
"Yes, my Lord." With a profound bow the Guardsman withdrew from the chamber. The Keeper of the Keys to City and Citadel could hear his low voice speaking with the one outside his office, then the sharp report of boot heels retreating into the distance down the hallway.
Húrin rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he thought on the doings of the day. He'd not been one of those who'd been in the forefront of the defenders of the City--since the loss of his left arm many years ago in a skirmish with the Enemy's orcs within Ithilien he'd been of little enough use with a bow, although this day he'd ridden out briefly with Lord Imrahil's knights, sword in hand and a light buckler fastened to his off side by straps, his aide guarding his left side, to assist as he could to help break the circle of those who'd endangered the Rohirrim and to aid in the rescue and defense of the wounded. Ah--forty-some years he'd served now as the Keeper of the Keys, once he'd recovered from his wounds. He then rubbed absently at the scar where the amputation had been done. It was, he knew, not as awful as was true with many in similar straits--he'd been attended by the Lord Captain Thorongil himself, there in the field hospital set up in the garrison camp in Osgiliath, and none questioned that Lord Thorongil had been a more than adequate healer and surgeon as well as one of the most canny of military commanders in the history of Gondor. He'd not been as discomforted as many when he'd awakened to find his arm was gone. He wished with all his heart, as he'd done over the years since, that the famous Captain had returned to Gondor's service once the assault on Umbar was completed. Faramir would have done very well under Thorongil's tutelage, he thought--a far more forgiving and caring soul Captain Thorongil had ever been than had proved Denethor, particularly in the past few years as the worries over Mordor's intentions had worn away at Denethor's endurance and will.
But today--he'd heard those who stood at the wall and watched the battle unfold almost weeping with frustration when the black ships had appeared in the distance just as it appeared the battle was nearly won, then seeing that banner unfurled. He'd heard them call down to the horsemen preparing the charge below the tale of it. It was black, and they'd expected it to show forth the broken bone and scimitar that marked the Corsairs or even the great Eye denoting Sauron; but to see instead Tree and Crown and Stars--and Sceptre!--how could anyone have expected to see that? And then to have seen Men of Anfalas and Belfalas, Pelargir and Lossarnach, Lamedon and even Langstrand pour out of the ships, led by the small mounted troupe of horsemen before which the banner of Elendil had been carried--
All, those within the city and those fighting before it, had seen the standard go down once, although immediately another had swooped upon it and lifted it up again. Had it been merely the standard bearer who'd been hewn down, or the captain of those Men himself? And was he indeed the Heir to Elendil and his elder son Isildur, or merely a pretender, one of the many Lost who'd ever crept south from the ruins of the North Kingdom to serve for a time amongst the armies of Gondor, only to leave once the time of service for mercenaries had come to an end?
There was a knock at the door, although it opened immediately to admit Leonid. Leonid himself was said by some to have come from amongst the Lost. A young Man he'd been when he suddenly appeared from the direction of Rauros Falls and attached himself to the Rangers of Ithilien. Captain Thorongil had assigned him as aide to Lord Húrin shortly after he'd become Keeper of the Keys, and he'd stayed in that capacity ever since, although at the disappearance of Thorongil Húrin had more than half expected him to disappear once more northward himself.
"My lord? You asked I attend on you?"
"Yes--word has come that my young cousin Faramir has awakened and is clear of head, and I would go to see with my own eyes that this is true. If you will fetch a lantern..."
"Yes, my lord--I will gladly light the way."
Soon the two Men were moving quietly down the ramp and south to the entrance to the Houses of Healing, where they were met by the Warden. "How might I serve you, Lord Húrin?" he asked.
"I am told that Faramir has awakened," the lord began.
"Ah, yes, so it has proved," agreed the Warden, much of the care in his expression relieved at being allowed to report this news. "He is awake and very much aware indeed, or at least he was a short time ago. However, when last I looked into the room he was sleeping. One of the healers' aides remains with him for now, and Guardsmen Beregond and Peregrin guard his door and his rest for the nonce. It was the northern healer's directive he be allowed a proper night's sleep for now, and that it not be told to him how it was his father died or he himself almost followed him until he has regained much of his proper strength and has duties to distract him and tie him again to life."
"A wise precaution. If I might at least look upon him and reassure myself all is well with him--I would not disturb his rest." He turned back to his aide. "If you will seek out Prince Imrahil and find out what intelligence he has to report? Wait for me within my chambers."
Somewhat reluctantly Leonid withdrew, heading with his lantern again for the ramp to the level of the Citadel.
The Warden led him to the door of one of the rooms regularly given to the use of the Steward's household, one in which Húrin himself had lain for a time as he'd recovered from the loss of his arm. There stood two in the garb of the Guard of the Citadel--one appropriately tall and slender, and the other small and sturdy, both examining him somewhat warily. At the Warden's quiet command the Man opened the door and Húrin stepped just inside the room.
Faramir lay, plainly properly asleep, his breathing normal, a slight smile on his face. He lay partly on his right side, and the bandage over the wound on his left shoulder had obviously been recently changed. Húrin watched his younger cousin sleep with thanksgiving in his heart, grateful the younger Man's color, though still pale, was yet more normal than the grey he remembered from his last sight of him. He took a deep breath, and felt his heart lift; the room smelled fresh and clean, reminding him of the freshness of Ithilien near the Anduin. Something here reminded him of...what? Something--something a long time ago, he thought, but he could not think what. Whatever it was, his heart lifted the more, for there was a feeling of such rightness to it.
The woman sitting by Faramir's bed had a shirt in one hand and needle and thread in the other. She smiled up at him, then turned her attention back to her mending, her eyes sparkling with heart's ease--such a difference since his last glimpse of her a few days' previous when it had seemed all faces within the Houses were filled with anxiety. He returned the smile and backed out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. "He's much better," he assured the two Guardsmen.
"Strider was able to call him back," the Pherian replied. "He'll be up and around in no time."
"Strider? Called him back?"
At that moment the Warden returned to him from a quiet consultation with one of the senior healers. "At least fifteen Men we'd thought to lose look to survive, Lord Húrin. The northern healer has greater skill than we'd ever looked to see. And there are two Elves as well who work now amongst the wounded--the hands of all three are blest with healing."
"Elves?" Húrin was shocked. "What do Elves do within Gondor?"
"They came in the train of the northern captain," said the Warden.
"I'm not certain when the Rangers joined him--they were just there when the ships got here," the Pherian commented. "They must have arrived in Rohan after Gandalf and I came away. But the sons of Elrond--we met them in Rivendell. I'm glad they came to be with Strider--he seems to trust them a good deal."
"Rangers?" Húrin looked more closely at the Pherian, who flushed somewhat.
"Well, yes. I mean, I've seen them before, riding across the Brandywine Bridge. Anyone who's spent time in Buckland or along the Road in the Shire's seen them, I think."
"And you call them Rangers?"
"Yes--it's what we've always called the ones with the stars on their cloaks. They've always ridden the King's Road through the Shire."
"The King's Road?"
The Pherian stood straighter. "Well, that's what it is--and when the King gave the land of the Shire to us Hobbits that was part of the bargain--that we keep the King's Road and the King's Bridge of the Stonebow over the Brandywine in repair, and that we assist his folk through the Shire on the King's Road. I've read part of the copy of the Charter we have, although it's not always clear. I don't know what happened to the original Charter, but it was given us over fourteen hundred years ago, you know."
"And there's still a King in the North?"
The Pherian Guardsman paused, obviously weighing his words. At last he said, "The last King in the North was Arvedui Last-king, but he died a thousand years ago, I believe. It was Argeleb who gave us the Shire for our own, a land just for us Hobbits. Our ancestor Bucca of the Marish went out with about forty others at the call of the Last-king to fight against the Enemy from the north, and only he came back again of them all. He was the first Thain, and my da's the current one.
"We helped them escape the Enemy--the King's folks, that is. Merry's family--they have the Sword--the Sword given to Bucca by the King's son, the one who wouldn't take the King's title, for too many had died. He went north and we never saw him again--not us Hobbits. And Bucca was our first Thain and saw to our needs in the King's name. But we've never thought the King would ever come again."
"But you know Rangers?"
"Yes, we know Rangers. We've always known the Rangers, and have had them ride the Road through the Shire for as long as we can remember."
This idea that in the North also remained those who called themselves Rangers caused a thrill to run through Lord Húrin. Who else but the descendants of Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion would have called their mobile troupes Rangers? And here--here were Northern Rangers who'd come south to the needs of Gondor! He could not suppress a shiver. He turned back to the Warden. "Where is this healer from the North?"
He was no longer in the Houses. One of the two Elves remained there in the Houses of Healing, and when Húrin made to approach him the being merely turned to examine him through eyes as grey as those of any Dúnadan, his ageless face stiff with annoyance at having been interrupted in his work. "You wish to see the northern healer?" he repeated. "I am one of the northern healers, as are my brothers, both of whom have gone forth from here, down into the city to fight the last influence of the Enemy among those who are housed elsewhere, these houses being filled past capacity at the moment."
"But I was told there were but two Elves..."
He could almost feel the disdain as the Elf answered, "Must all be one or the other to consider themselves brothers, my lord? If you will forgive me, I will return to those who need me here." So saying, he turned away, back to the wounded Man to whom he'd been ministering when Húrin had been brought to his presence.
The words the Pherian had spoken rang in the Man's heart--"The sons of Elrond--we met them in Rivendell...in Rivendell..." Elrond--Elrond Peredhel--the Half-Elven--the brother--the brother--of Elros Tar-Minyatur. Elrond had been the Herald of Gil-galad in the assault on Mordor in the Last Alliance. It was said that Isildur had gone north to treat with the Elven lords and his father's people in drawing together the Last Alliance to march in shared purpose on Mordor and the forces of the Nameless One, and that the youngest son of Isildur had remained for safekeeping with his mother in Elrond's home. Imladris...it was called Imladris--the name in the dream of prophecy that came first to Faramir, and to me--that called Boromir away--away northward!
It was through their Elven ancestry that the Dúnedain had inherited the common traits of greater height than lesser Men, the grey eyes, the pale skin, the dark hair, the slender, muscular build. Now he'd seen first-hand one of those from whom those traits had sprung. He'd seen-- He took a great breath and held it, pausing with his hand on the wall to steady himself--he'd seen the nephew of Elros Tar-Minyatur himself! And his brothers, one of them apparently a Man? had gone down into the lower city to succor those who'd been brought there from the battle, those who'd been injured but who could not fit within the Houses here!
Or was one of these a Man? Yet none had spoken of a third Elf!
He went out and followed the spoor as well as he could, and before the night was over he was once again wishing, as he'd wished fervently for decades, that he had his mentor of old here within the City to track the quarry down. The great Lord Captain Thorongil would not have been daunted in the chase, he knew. And as he visited household after household he felt a growing excitement.
"The hands of the King!" he heard again and again. "The rumors are that the King has come again, and his hands are those of the healer, and so we have known the rumors true."
"I was told that the captain of those who had come, the Northern captain who came off the black ships--that he had called our Lord Faramir back from the Gates themselves. My son--they brought him up from the great Gate of the City after the Black Captain turned away when the horns sounded--he had fallen under the Black Breath. They found no hurt on him, you see, so they would not take him to the Houses, thinking there was nothing to be done. He has been sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness all this day. The Captain--he called him back! He called him back with his will and the touch of his hand and the vapors of Kingsfoil. I never understood why my wife grew it in the garden, but he saw it and gave thanks for it, took some leaves and healed my son!"
"And this one is a Man?" Húrin could not help but press the still stunned father for the truth of this one.
"A Man? Well, he certainly is no orc!"
"I mean, he is no Elf?"
The father shook his head in disgust at the question. "I had not thought any Elves yet remained in the world until I saw the one who walked by the King--now, that is an Elf, with beardless visage, unnatural beauty, ageless eyes. But the King--he's definitely a Man--and a Dúnadan!"
The excitement he felt was growing almost too large to hold in his heart as Húrin turned to continue the search.
Near dawn he found the party at last, in the Second Circle in the common room to the Inn of the King's Head, where many of those who'd been injured had been brought who were too weak to be taken up to the Houses, not that there was room for any of these there. He saw the Elf first, kneeling over a pallet on which a Man had been laid, his form fair shining with a discernible Light. But not that far away knelt a second form that also seemed to glow, although the Light surrounding this one was different in quality, for it was not steady but pulsed as does the light of stars as opposed to the light of the wandering planets. Over still more of the wounded knelt others, some in the garb of Healers and some in the livery of the apothecaries and herbalists, and many of them those who'd only come to assist as they could. Water and broth were being administered; and here, too, he could smell an odor of cleanliness and renewal, familiar and yet peculiar to this place. He approached the one with the pulsing Light surrounding him...
The one on the pallet was whispering, "I could not find my way..."
"Shh, my friend--you have now been found and are back with us. Rest now and find your healing. These others will minister to you as they can."
"Thank you," the injured Man said, reaching out to grasp the wrist of the one who knelt over him, momentarily keeping him from rising. "Thank you for lighting the way back!"
The healer smiled down at him, although it could be seen he was exhausted. "Rest now, child of Eru. Rest and grow strong." So saying he slipped his wrist free of the other and rose and turned.
Húrin saw first the depths of the exhaustion felt and the pain that this one kept suppressed. Not pain of body, he realized; no, this one had been scoured by grief, and was now tired enough to fall into his bed and perhaps sleep the following day and night.
The Elf was approaching the Man, his own fair face concerned. "Estel, you must now go and rest."
"These need me, Elrohir."
"Nonsense, muindor nín. Not even you can take personal responsibility for all. I am fresher than you and can take over with those who remain here. Go--go out to your tent and rest. Halladan has seen to its raising."
"I am still needed."
"I tell you, younger brother, that you will be more sorely needed in a few hours' time, and you will need to have your body rested and your mind clear." The Elf turned to one of the Men who'd only just risen from giving a drink to one of the injured. "Hardorn--take this stubborn kinsman of yours out to the tents and see to it he gets at least four hours' sleep--and be certain you do likewise." The Elf reached out to take the water bottle from the one he'd addressed as Hardorn.
"With pleasure, Lord Elrohir. Aragorn?" That was less a question, Húrin thought, than a command. Nevertheless, the Gondorian lord stepped forward, and the Man Hardorn interposed himself between him and the one who--might be--King. "If you have an injured kinsman you wish seen to, speak with Lord Elrohir here rather than to my cousin--he has labored mightily for days to see that in the end this City might be defended, and we are all grieving for our own losses as well as those known here in Gondor." Here, too, was indeed grief that was at the moment being channeled into protection for this one. And as he looked into the Man's face Húrin felt the stirrings of recognition.
But the other put his hand on Hardorn's shoulder--Hardorn--but he knew that name--from long ago! And the face seemed familiar! "Peace, Hardorn." And that, too, was familiar.
Húrin searched the Man's eyes--and suddenly the scales fell away. A shock went through him--a shock of recognition as well as mingled dismay and yet gladness beyond what he'd ever expected to feel.
"Thorongil!" he breathed, finding he had not the wind to shout as he'd intended.
And he understood! The King? Ah, but he'd wondered that so long ago, when this one had last been in Gondor!