Voice in the Night by Linda Hoyland
Summary - One night at an inn changes a young soldier's life forever.
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn? – William Shakespeare (1564–1616) - King Henry IV. Part I. Act iii. Sc. 3
"Drinks for all my men, please!" Captain Thorongil told the comely tavern wench at the "Seven Stars". She fluttered her eyelashes flirtatiously, but the Captain simply smiled and looked away. His expression was strained and he flushed.
"Three cheers for the Captain!" cried Ragnor, a young lieutenant.
The men cheered and raised their tankards.
"You all fought well," said Thorongil. "We routed the Southrons with few casualties on either side. Let that be a lesson to them not to breach Gondor's borders so lightly again!"
"Why do you care that the enemy has few casualties as well as us?" asked one man, emboldened by the ale.
"They are Men too, Turgon, albeit misguided ones," said Thorongil. He shifted restlessly in his chair.
Turgon frowned but said no more.
Ragnor thought his Captain looked weary and began singing a popular ballad about a soldier and his sweetheart to raise his spirits. The rest of Thorongil's company joined in as did the villagers who usually drank at "The Seven Stars".
Suddenly Thorongil gave a muffled cry and collapsed across the table. Ragnor, who was sitting beside him, leapt to his feet and called for help.
"Don't be making such a fuss, lad!" the innkeeper chided. "Your Captain has had a few too many drinks. He'll soon sober up."
"He's not even drunk one mug of ale!" Ragnor protested. He placed his hand on Thorongil's forehead. "He has a fever!" he exclaimed.
"He took a slight wound during the battle, "said Ulfast, one of the oldest of Thorongil's company. "He bound it and it did not seem to trouble him over-much, though. He seemed weary today, but so are we all. The campaign has been long and hard."
"Is there a healer in the village?" asked Ragnor.
"There's my grand sire, old Bor, who lives in the cottage by the smithy," said the serving girl. "He knows some herb lore, or there's Mistress Indris."
"She's the midwife," added one of the villagers. "She brought my five little ones into the world."
"I'll go and fetch Bor," said Ulfast. "I doubt a midwife would be of much use to the Captain."
"Go then," said Ragnor. "Innkeeper, do you have a room for our Captain?"
"Few people stay here," said the innkeeper, "But there is a room I keep for guests who can pay their way."
"This is Captain Thorongil," said Ragnor. "He will honour his debts."
The chattering in the room fell silent and the innkeeper's eyes widened. "Captain Thorongil you say? Now there's a fine man for you! You can have a room for him as long as you want. Do you need help getting him upstairs?"
"Someone needs to take care of him," said Turgon. "What about you, Ragnor? Your father is a healer is he not?"
"He tried to teach me his arts, but I had little aptitude for healing," said Ragnor doubtfully. "Nevertheless, I will do all I can to aid my Captain."
"As soon as Ulfast returns with Master Bor I will lead the men back to Minas Tirith and tell the Steward what has happened," said Turgon. Maybe he will send a healer from the City to help our Captain. You must remain here with him, Ragnor, until he is well enough to travel."
The men, so jolly a few moments before, were now subdued and expressed their concern for Thorongil.
Between them, Ragnor and the Innkeeper carried the unconscious Thorongil upstairs to a small guest chamber and laid him on the bed. His long legs dangled limply over the end.
"I will put him to bed," Ragnor told the innkeeper. "Will you send the healer up when he arrives, please?"
"I will do that," said the man. "I hope the Captain will be all right. I don't know what Gondor would do without him. Just let me know if you need anything."
As soon as the man had gone, Ragnor secured the latch on the door. Captain Thorongil was a reticent man and Ragnor felt as few as possible should witness any secrets he might uncover. At nights round the campfire, even when only with his closest comrades, Thorongil would reveal little of his origins. Ragnor had served with him for five years now, and while he and his comrades had freely shared stories about their homes and families, all Thorongil had ever told them was that his father had died in his infancy, he had come from the North to seek his fortune, had left a much missed mother there and was in love with a beautiful maiden.
Despite his reticence concerning his own affairs, Thorongil was interested in the lives of his men and often enquired about Ragnor's sisters, sweetheart, and the father he had disappointed by becoming a soldier rather than a healer. Ragnor had never known anyone quite like the Captain, so valiant in battle, yet also so wise and compassionate, a healer as well as a soldier who bound up his men's wounds and listened to their troubles. Despite his worries for Thorongil, Ragnor was glad that he was insensible as he undressed him; certain were that not so, he would have the mother of all battles on his hands.
Thorongil's cloak was stained with blood. Ragnor unfastened the star shaped brooch that secured it and put it carefully aside. The tunic beneath was torn and equally stained. He eased it over Thorongil's head and did likewise with the blood soaked shirt beneath. Ragnor was surprised to discover that beneath his clothing, Thorongil wore on a chain a heavy gold ring engraved with two entwined serpents, their eyes made of fine emeralds. It looked to be of great value. He lifted the chain over the Captain's head and placed it in his own tunic pocket for safety. It was easy now to see what ailed the Captain. Thorongil's shoulder was bandaged heavily. Ragnor undid the wrappings and revealed an ugly festering wound that looked angry and inflamed. It appeared that Thorongil had tried to tend it himself, but been unsuccessful.
Ragnor pulled the covers over the Captain and called to the serving maid to bring hot water. He was glad now that he had learned a few healing arts from his father before he decided a soldier's life held more appeal than spending his time mixing potions and treating festering wounds.
As soon as the girl brought the water, Ragnor cleaned the wound as best he could. It was bright red and the flesh was hot to his tentative probing; yet Thorongil was not sweating.
A few minutes later Master Bor arrived, a bent old man who could hardly get up the stairs and had to be assisted by the innkeeper and his granddaughter. His eyes were keen, though, and much to Ragnor's relief, he seemed to know what he was talking about.
"The wound needs draining first," said the old man as he examined his patient. "The poisons must be released if the captain is to recover. Let me think now- what will he be a- needing? Willow-bark tea might bring down the fever, that be if he wakes up to drink it. Maybe a poultice of ground cabbage leaves to draw the poisons out of him? Yes, we could try that. Try to be a - keeping him cool to break the fever, lad." He reached in his pockets and brought out a bag. "Here's some willow-bark for if he wakes. Maybe my granddaughter will be a- having some cabbage leaves? Will you help me down the stairs, lad, or must I be a -calling her?"
"What about lancing the wound, sir?" Ragnor asked. "Have you forgotten it?"
"There's nought wrong with my memory, lad, though it be the only part of me that works well nowadays. My hand be too shaky to be a- lancing wounds. You'll have to do that, my lad."
"Will he live, sir?"
"How should I be a-knowing that, lad? He be young and strong, though."
With that meagre comfort, Ragnor had to be contented. Bor shouted for his granddaughter and hobbled off down the stairs again, holding to her arm.
Ragnor sighed. It seemed he would have to put the arts his father had tried to teach him to use. The Captain's pack lay by the side of the bed. Ragnor rummaged through it until he found what he was looking for; the knives Thorongil kept there. The Captain was known for his healing as well as his military prowess and many of his men owed their lives to his skill at stitching wounds and extracting arrows.
Ragnor had often cherished fantasies of becoming a hero by saving the Captain's life, but by glorious feats of valour on the battlefield, not like this! Feeling slightly queasy, he chose the sharpest of the knives and placed it in the fire to heat. He then called for the maid to bring more boiling water and some ground cabbage leaves.
When the blade was ready, Ragnor wondered if he should ask the innkeeper to hold Thorongil down, but decided against it as he had hardly stirred since his collapse. He rummaged again in the Captain's pack and found a good supply of clean bandages. He could delay no longer.
Thorongil groaned when Ragnor probed the wound with the blade, but did not awaken. Neither did much of the infection drain from the wound. Ragnor made a poultice of the ground cabbage leaves and sat pressing it against the inflamed flesh for about half an hour. Then he bandaged Thorongil's shoulder and sat on a chair by the bedside to wait.
Despite his best intentions, Ragnor nodded off. They had had little sleep the night before and had marched many miles before reaching the inn. In a small stuffy room with only an unconscious man for company, weariness eventually overcame him. He was awakened by agitated cries from the man on the bed.
A loud groan was his only reply. Darkness had fallen. Ragnor fumbled to light a candle.
"Mother!" Thorongil exclaimed, tossing restlessly. "Help…hurts…"
"She is coming," Ragnor lied hastily.
"Mother…help…please!" Thorongil cried.
Thorongil's tone wrenched Ragnor's heart. Never had he expected to see his brave Captain's spirit reduced to that of a frightened child. Awkwardly, he reached for Thorongil's hand, knowing the Captain would do the same for him. The hand he grasped was hot and clammy. Thorongil seemed oblivious to his presence.
Ragnor decided that since the Captain was now conscious, he would give him some willow- bark tea. He placed a pan on the fire to warm some water. While he waited, he checked the bandages and was relieved that the wound was starting to ooze a little. He was just debating whether to apply another poultice when a knock came at the door. Without waiting for permission, the serving maid entered, carrying a laden tray.
"How is he?" she asked. She placed the tray on a table.
"Still very ill," Ragnor replied. "Your grand sire suggested poultices and willow-bark tea."
"Grandpa knows what is talking about," said the girl. "The innkeeper has sent you up a bite to sup and drink. I'll sit with him later if you need to stretch your legs."
"Thank you and the innkeeper kindly," said Ragnor. "I had better not leave him though."
"Suit yourself," said the girl a trifle huffily. "Chamber pot's under the bed when you need it. The Mistress said to bring his clothes to be washed. Are those they?"
Ragnor scooped up the blood stained garments he had earlier divested the Captain of and handed them to the girl. She grimaced as she tucked them under her arm.
Ragnor sighed when she closed the door behind her. It was obvious she had notions of mopping Thorongil's fevered brow, but he could not let some tavern wench hear the Captain crying for his mother. He contemplated the contents of the tray, roast mutton with potatoes, and what must be the rest of the cabbage, a large dish of stewed apples and a mug of ale. There was also a pitcher of fresh water. He was not very hungry, but the simple food was tasty and he ate, all too well aware that he must keep up his strength.
Thorongil's feverish tossing continued as Ragnor ate, and still he called out for his mother. As soon as the young man had finished his meal, he mixed the willow-bark tea and tried to tempt Thorongil to take some. The Captain coughed and spluttered at the bitter taste. Ragnor eventually got it down with alternate spoonfuls of stewed apple. He applied a fresh poultice of cabbage leaves and was relieved that Thorongil appeared to settle a little. He coaxed him to swallow some water.
"Mother! Sorry…Elrond…love her, had to…" The disjointed rambling went on, and though Ragnor understood little of it, still he tried to soothe Thorongil.
"I know," Ragnor responded, though he doubted Thorongil heeded his presence. "She will understand."
Thorongil muttered for a little longer then fell into an uneasy sleep. Ragnor decided he might as well try to rest too and settled himself in the chair as best he could. The candle had burned low when he awakened again. To his dismay, Thorongil had thrown off his covers. Ragnor hastily covered his Captain again and then felt his brow. He was sweating profusely.
A/n I've added a completely new chapter 2 to "The Healer's Journey.
This is a revised version of a story I wrote for the "Teitho" contest "One Voice."