Many thanks to RiverOtter for the beta of Chapter 11 and this one too!
At the Houses, I found by asking Dame Ioreth that Master Ladramenhirion was insisting that any soldier who had reached a certain point should be dismissed, in order to make room for the many wounded we would be receiving from the Morannon. Many Healers had gone with the Host, and although the Commanders had decreed that the Host would stay at Cormallen for some time, still some were being conveyed by wagon to the city and the Houses. I was unsurprised; that Healer was ever interested in expediency unless the patient was of high rank or wealthy family. The problem of where to take Rill had to be faced.
To Rhylla’s despair and my fury, I saw that he had been moved into the passageway, lying on a cot, clad only in a nightshirt and bandages under a single blanket. I turned to Dame Ioreth. “Where are his personal effects and clothes?” I asked. “Not to mention some supplies and instructions. How are they to take care of his injuries?”
“He said it mattered not, since I’ll only die,” croaked the young man.
“Then he is mistaken on both counts!” I snapped.
“Oh, really?” drawled a voice behind me, and there stood Master Ladramenhirion himself, looking down his nose in his usual supercilious fashion. “And when did you qualify as a Healer, Mistress?”
His sycophants, and of course there was a crowd of them, as usual, snickered.
“It’s common sense and bare humanity,” I retorted, too angry to be intimidated. I knew in my heart that his attitude was part of the reason my Jehan had been treated as he had, and I was abruptly determined that that should not happen this time, to these young people. “I doubt Lord Aragorn, the King Returned, will approve of such treatment for folk either!”
“That is rank insubordination! You dare threaten me ?”
“No, I give my opinion, to which I am entitled. You are an excellent surgeon, Master, but as an administrator setting the tone for your subordinates--as a Man, you are a cold-hearted bully!”
He began to raise his hand, to strike me, but I did not flinch.
Bergil suddenly appeared from behind him. “Lady Silma!” he called. “Is it true you slew an orc all by yourself?”
“Actually, three,” I said., even while I thought, I shall be in trouble with Faramir and the Warden of the Keys for talking about this! Yet I hardly cared.
The Healer’s upraised hand moved to and tugged at his beard instead. “Nonsense!”
“But she did; my great-uncle, Lord Húrin, told me so,” said Gilannis. “Lady Ėowen showed me the sword that she did it with. It’s called Orcbanish.”
“No, it’s called Orcsbane,” I said. All those gasps and staring eyes were making me uncomfortable, and just lying there in the draught, also being stared at, couldn’t be good for Rill.
The Master also wished to terminate the conversation. “Hoydenish, unladylike acts are no excuse for your blatant disregard for decorum! And nothing changes the fact that we need his bed for someone braver, not struck in the back. Remove him immediately!”
“As soon as we have his clothing and personal effects, as well as instructions for his continued care,” I insisted. “There is also the question of how we can remove him, for we have no conveyance, and he is obviously not crawling out of the Houses! Nor can two women carry him!”
His icy glance picked out two from the crowd. “You, go find a cart or a barrow. You, get his things, not that he will need them. You, Master, write up a parchment of instructions, not that they will help. The rest of you, stop gawking and get back to work! Are these the Houses of Healing or a pleasure-fair?”
The crowd melted away in his wake, Dame Ioreth shooing the women.
I put out a hand to detain Gilannis. “I think I owe you thanks, my lady.”
“Fair’s fair,” she mumbled, hastening off at Ioreth’s beckoning.
I gazed after her; her hair was more plainly arranged, and her gown was more appropriate to the work, with a big apron over it such as most of them had scorned to wear before.
In short order, a junior healer, Irgin, handed me a parchment of written instructions, along with a bag of medicines and dressings, while Bergil came with another bundle of Rill’s clothing, sword, and other belongings, and a porter appeared with a small pony-cart half-full of hay. We helped Rill into it carefully, and he tried hard to restrain his groans.
“Where to, my lady?” asked the porter as we left the courtyard.
I led them to my first spouse's old mansion at the other end of the street, asked them to wait, and manipulated the hidden catch on the side gate, hurrying down the passageway to the back, where I carefully took down the hidden key in the ivy by a window, opened the back door, and went in. Moments later, I was opening the front door. The porter helped Rhylla and me lift and carry Rill within, and I gasped, “Left.”
In the parlor, we let him down onto a sofa, and I reached for my belt-pouch. The porter shook his head. “Nay, I take naught for giving a hand to one who helped save all of us,” he said, lightly touching Rill’s shoulder and nodding at Rhylla and me. “Be well, Guardsman, and accept my thanks for me and my family,” he said formally with a bow. “Lady, Mistress. I’ll go fetch in the bundles.”
“Our thanks,” said Rhylla shyly.
Rill sneezed twice as he slumped back, barely conscious. Ready to leave the Houses indeed!
I said, “I must apologize to both of you for the state of things here. My husband and I lived down in the Second Circle, and ours was one of the buildings destroyed. This house belonged to my first spouse, now dead, although I misdoubt his mother would mind loaning it to me for now. Rest here—may I call you Rill?—while your sister and I fix a better bed for you.”
Lighting a candle from my stub, I took up the stick and led her upstairs to the front bedroom where I set her to sweeping the floor while I opened the shutters and windows, stripped away dustsheets and fetched clean linens from the cedar chests, and she helped me make up the bed after we took down the bed-curtains and hastily dusted.
“Why are we doin' this, my lady? A-takin' of 'em down, I mean,” she asked between sneezes.
I wiped my streaming eyes on my sleeve. “Because they are so full of dust and we cannot risk harm to his lungs. Thank the Valar that the winds have finally blown away the clouds and that dreadful smell. Besides, every sneeze will jar him. Later we will wipe down the walls and bedstead and scrub the floor. These curtains should have been taken down when the house was closed up. Just bundle them up and toss them into the sitting-room next door, Rhylla; we’ll dispose of them later.”
“How'll we get him up these steps?” she asked.
I knew she meant the long front staircase, but I chose to act as if she had meant the three steps just outside the sitting-room door. Hurrying downstairs to the dining-chamber, I returned with a wide leaf for the table. Braced with a couple of heavy bookends, it made a long enough ramp, after we hastily shoved cushions in underneath on the steps.
Just as we went downstairs, someone knocked at the front door. I called, “Who’s there?”
“Tamperion the Porter, lady,” came a newly familiar voice, and I opened it, chastising myself for forgetting to lock it.
He bowed to us as well as he could, his hands full of a large basket; I saw that one hand was clubbed, so that he merely used it to steady the other gripping the handle. “You’ll want summat to eat, I reckon, so I stopped at the Herb Garden. Mind the jug at my feet! ‘f you need any oddments fetched, let me know when I pick up the dishes come morning.”
“Oh, how kind!” cried Rhylla. “Why, that’s all the way down to Fourth Level, and expensive besides!”
“Ah, ‘tis little enough,” he answered, and was gone.
Inside the parlor, she said to Rill, “Brother, we have a fine supper, an' a finer bedchamber for you upstairs!”
“An' how'll you get me there?” he asked without opening his eyes.
“Why, we’ll—we’ll—“ She looked at me anxiously.
“I’ve been thinking about that,” I said untruthfully. In fact, I was thinking it out as we spoke. “Rill, are you able to sit up for a bit?”
“I ‘spose.” He sounded completely disinterested.
“Good. Wait a moment.” I disappeared into the library and came back with a desk chair that my spouse’s grandfather, a phenomenally lazy man, had had mounted on casters. With an effort, we managed to transfer Rill to it, and I lit Rhylla as she pushed him through to the dining-room. “The kitchen is in the basement,” I explained, “and my spouse’s grandsire had a food-lift installed that goes from there to the next floor; he hated cold food and thought this would cause service to be quicker. I believe he adapted it from the lifts in the Lesser Gates between the Circles for hoisting heavy loads. I think the city builders adapted those from the Dwarves; they call the device an otran, I think. I will have to ask Master Redglass.”
“Who's that?” asked Rhylla.
“He is a Dweorg from the Lonely Mountain, and very kind,” I answered. “He helped me take my poor Jehan to the Houses, and helped me with Rimbor.”
“I thought Dwarves was fierce an' graspin',” she said.
“I don’t know about others, but he is not, nor was that the impression I got when I met his cousin Gimli Glóin’s son,” I answered as we bumped over the threshold.
In a moment we had managed to open the doors of the lift and were lifting out the shelves. Fortunately, Rill was of slight build, and we were able to wheel the chair, with him in it, inside. I piled his bundles around it to cushion it if he slipped off, and the two of us strained at the sluice mechanism, which was not working. Finally, I opened a concealed door to get at the ropes, and the two of us managed to pull it upward. Anchoring the rope, we closed the doors and ran upstairs.
Luckily, he was unharmed, and soon we had wheeled the chair into the front room and were transferring him to the bed. I checked his dressings, which were fortunately undamaged, and we drew the covers up.
Soon after, we had brought up the food in the dumbwaiter, and fed him about a half-cup of broth, which was all he wanted before drinking his doses and falling asleep. Then I coaxed Rhylla into sitting down and having some supper as well—broth, a stew of beans and beef, bread, and even a dessert of dried-apple tart, with a jug of sweet cider.
We set out pallets for ourselves by Rill’s bed, and Rhylla was asleep in moments, worn out. I washed up our used dishes, took the basket down to the front hallway, made sure the doors were locked, and then sought my own rest with Rimbor beside me.
I met Lord Húrin on my way back to the Fallen Dragon, and he and Lord Faramir asked me to go with them to a meeting with the Guards and local builders about the outer gates. By the time that ended, it was time to eat the noon morsel, and then I somehow got embroiled in another meeting about the tunnels. It was almost time for the evening daymeal when I hurried back down to the inn. To my dismay, I found the maid wringing her hands in the passage when I asked her if Lady Silma was in her room.
“I just knew you’d be here asking, Master,” she said unhappily. “Best you come speak with my master. She's not here.”
“Not here?” I echoed. “But where would she be?”
“I know not, but he saw her after I did, after that drunkard was thrown out.”
“Drunkard? Was some tosspot bothering her?” I demanded.
“If you’ll wait in the green dining-room, I’ll fetch him to you,” she said hastily.
It seemed like an age before Master Beneldir entered, bowing to me and looking apprehensive. “Master Redglass, you asked for me?"
“No, I asked for Lady Silma. What’s this about some drunkard bothering her? Is this the kind of place you run?” I asked rudely.
“Nay, nay, she was not discommoded at all!” he said. “She was taking her ease in the courtyard—“
“After being unwell, you let her sit out in the wind?” I roared.
“Master, please, calm yourself!”
The maid came in with a pitcher of ale in one hand and a filled tankard in the other, which she handed to me. I absently took a sip as he continued, “Please, let me explain! She was sitting in the most sheltered spot, with her dog at her feet. Wil had brought her some light refreshments, as you had ordered, when a man came with his daughter. He left her in the yard and came into the taproom. He’s a bad case, Romfirion, and worse than usual because he’s one of those who’s lost his home and business and his boy was one of the guards defending the main gate upalong. The lad was hurt, and they had just gotten word that the lad had to leave the Houses of Healing—even though he's hardly had time to mend. A terrible thing, that the Healers are so hard with him! Like to be a cripple always, however long he lives. A real sacrifice he’s made for all of us, and precious little thanks he’s getting.”
“Do you seek to divert me, Master Beneldir?” I asked with ominous softness.
He started. “Nay! But you will acknowledge it a shame, will you not, Master?”
“I do, but let us return to the subject of Lady Silma’s absence.”
“Well, there was Romfirion demanding a bottle in the common room, and lamenting his poor situation, how he was due recompense. He’s a mean drunk, if you follow me, master; he’s busted up several places that I know of, and hurt not only staff but other customers too, and he had not as much to upset him as today. Folk won’t patronize rowdy inns, and I have my reputation to think of. The King’s Head is known for its quiet, refined atmosphere and good accommodations—“
I glared, and he went on hurriedly, twisting his apron in his hands, “Well, I had Tarl help me throw him out, and told him he wasn’t welcome to return. He began to bluster and curse, and he kicked his daughter—poor lass was in tears, and no wonder, with him creating a disturbance that way—and that was the last straw. I sent Tarl with him to the guards, to cool his heels. Lady Silma was talking to her, trying to calm the poor girl, and I went within to make sure the rest of my customers were being waited on with Tarl absent. She was sitting there soothing the girl, last I saw.”
"Go on,” I said as he stopped.
“That’s the last anyone saw of them. She can’t be in too much trouble, Master; that big dog’s with her.”
“She hasn’t been back to her room? She left no word, no note?”
There was a tap at the door, which opened to show one of the lads on the staff, who bowed to me. “Good even, Master Redglass,” he said respectfully. “M’ name’s Wil, an’ I waited on Lady Silma in the courtyard. Brenna told me I should tell you that I seed the lady and the dog an’ that lass, going up towards the next Circle. I wager they was a-goin’ up to the Houses ‘bout Rill. He’s Rhylla’s brother what they was puttin’ out, and their home’s been destroyed by the fightin’.”
“Thank you, Master Wil. And thank you, Master Beneldir. This is very good ale.”
“Our best, Master Redglass. Is there any message for the lady if so be she comes back while you’re out?”
“Aye, to please leave me word of where she is.”
“You’d best hurry, Master, if you’re going up to the Houses; the Lesser Gates’ll be closing soon, it almost being past sunset.”
“So normal hours are back?”
“Aye; you may've heard that they’ve even resumed ringing the time-bells from the towers.”
I had not noticed, although I said something civil and hurried out.