It was later that afternoon that I heard a knock at the back door. Opening it, I beheld an elderly couple, neatly dressed, both carrying baskets with bundles at their feet; just out of my sight, I could hear chickens clucking. Both, obviously husband and wife, were rosy and round, and I couldn’t help but return their smiles. “May I help you?” I asked.
The woman curtseyed as her spouse bowed and answered, “The day’s greetin’. Would you be Lady Silma?”
“I am Mistress Silma Clerk,” I replied cautiously.
“This is m’ wife Vanessë—you c’n see she’s been aptly named, beauty that she is—” his wife poked his arm amiably, “—and I’m Feren Samno, at your service.” Another bow and curtsey. “We’re Tamperion’s grandparents.”
“I see a resemblance,” I said truthfully, for their grandson had Samno’s forehead and eyes, and the same nose and chin as his granny. Both looked very pleased by my comment.
“He spoke t’ us afore he had to leave on his messagin’, an’ suggested we come speak with you.”
“Will you come within?” I invited. “Please follow me.”
I led them to the library, since we had not as yet had a chance to set the small anteroom to rights. Mistress Samno’s eyes widened at the shelves of books, and she and her husband perched on the very edges of the chairs I indicated as I seated myself on another. “Your grandson has been very kind. Mistress Samno, your butter and cheese are excellent.”
She looked down modestly, while Master Samno beamed. “You won’t find finer in the city!” he said proudly.
“Feren!” she protested.
“’Tis truth, not braggin’, Vanessë. She said so herself. Anyways, my lady, not t’ take up your time, we decided t’ come see you for several reasons. The first is, we have family what’s lost their homes, so they’re a-stayin’ with us. That’s all right, they’ll need time to get on their feet, an’ kin-blood’s closer’n watered ale, ‘s the sayin’ goes. Trouble is, they’re so many of ‘em, and they’re noisy an’ their ways ain’t all the same’s ourn, if you understand me.”
“Losin’ o’ their home has shook ‘em bad,” he continued. “Lost their shop too, y’see, an’ while they can do their work ‘most anywheres, there ain’t no place t’do it right yet, what with all the wreckage layin’ about still. So I said as how they c’ld use our yard.”
“That is very generous of you,” I said, since he paused for a response.
He waved that away. “Naught but what he’d do for me, if ‘twas turn about. Howsometheever, now his brother, who ain’t just our mug of ale, an’ his family, come along—I hadn’t knowed they was in partnership afore he come an’ asked for shelter an’ space. So ‘stead o’ fittin’ in four more folks, we got twelve, an’ the house is fair burstin’ at the seams!”
“I can imagine,” I said as he paused again.
“So I got me an idea after I come ‘long the lane an’ took a look at this place. The boy told us ‘bout Rhylla and Rill, an’ we was sorry to hear it. I’ve knowed their da all our lives.—“
“That lass was never give a real chance!” Mistress Samno said with sudden fierceness, and then blushed at her temerity.
“So we’re obliged to you for givin’ her one, an’ her brother. An’ we want t’ help.”
“How?” I inquired.
“Big place like this, stands to reason you need some servants,” he said frankly. “My Vanessë’s a good cook an’ baker—she’s part o' the Cooks an’ Bakers Fellowship—an’ I’m the same’s my name, a carpenter. I can turn m’ hand t’ most ‘at needs doin’, I c’n help with liftin’ the laddie, an’ all’s we ask is space and fair wage.”
“One room t’ stay in o’ nights, an’ space out t’ back for our cow an’ chickens, an’ you get half the milk and eggs.”
“That’s a good offer,” I replied. “But you should know that this is not my house. I have written to Lady Silwen Ornamir to let her know that I am using it, but I don’t know how long she will permit that, or even when I will get a response back from her. I cannot go back to my own home; like your kinfolk’s, it was destroyed. Now that I am no longer at the Houses of Healing, and my husband is dead—“ I only hesitated a second before saying that, and went on steadily, “—I have no livelihood, and no knowing when I will gain one. The plain truth is, Master and Mistress Samno, I cannot afford to pay you wages. Indeed, I have no idea where I will find the money to buy food for the three of us here now.”
They exchanged a look and nods. “You’ll see us right, my lady,” Feren Samno said, and spit into his hand, holding it out to me.
“Rhylla’s mam we thought‘d wed our youngest son,” Mistress Samno said. “She might be livin’ yet,‘f we ha' urged him t’ make it up with her. You’ll see us right, my lady. What’s wrong with you, Feren, expectin’ the lady to clap hands wi’ your spit all wet on it?”
His face reddened and he ducked his head as he hurriedly wiped his hand on his tunic. “Pardon, m’lady. You c'n be tellin’ us how to go on. I’ll just add a few nails t’ the chickens’ coop out yonder, an’ lead in the cow.” And he was on his feet and marching out of the room, his wife taking his bundle and basket along with her own.
I hastened to take them. “Let me help. I suppose you can have the cook’s chamber—it’s at the top of the back stairs. I’m afraid I have no idea what state the linens are in, or the tick either.”
“Never you mind, m’lady. You just point me in the direction o’ where we’ll be, an’ I’ll have it t’ rights in no time. Why don’t you go tell Rhylla we’re here?”
And somehow I found myself going up the front stairs, to let her know that our small household had two new members—plus a cow and several chickens!
Rhylla was delighted by the additions to our household, and came downstairs with me. She hugged Mistress Samno, was promptly kissed, and we sat down to have some of the hot tea Mistress Samno poured from a stone jug in her basket.
In a short time, I went upstairs to better evaluate Rill’s overall condition, while Mistress Samno and Rhylla unpacked and swept out the cook’s room. I set Master Samno, whom I was pleased to see did not blench at all upon seeing Rill’s injuries, to first helping me clean and scrub the sitting-room next to the bed-chamber Rill was using, and then to help me move him to it, to a cot he had found in a storeroom. “We need to thoroughly clean this one before he can be moved back,” I explained.
“I’ll go fetch some more scrubbin’-soap,” he said.
He was longer returning that I had expected—by now it was well after the noon morsel—and when he did, it was protesting volubly, “—But I tell ‘ee she’s busy!”
“And so am I!” snapped a familiar voice. “Where is she?”
My heart sank as I rose to my feet from the other side of the stripped bedstead, where I had been kneeling to scrub the floor where Rill, in a fit of temper, had thrown his tray. I knew that my hair was straggling, my apron was splashed and suds decorated my forearms and hands.
My former mother-in-love, Lady Silwen Ornamir, stood in the doorway, immaculately gowned, coiffed and mantled, remote, beautiful, and terrifying. “Ah. There you are, Lindisilma. This…minion of yours was reluctant to permit me to see you.”
I told my knees to stop shaking, dried the suds from my hands and arms on my apron, took it off, folded it, and laid it neatly on the edge of the dismantled bedstead. Then I curtseyed. “Lady Ornamir.”
“Shall we move to the next chamber to converse?” she asked. As always, I could not decipher her expressionless face or eyes to gain an idea of her thoughts.
“Rill’s asleep ‘ere, last I seen,” Master Samno volunteered helpfully.
“Thank you,” I said to him. And to her, “I think we would be better in the library. If you will come?”
She followed me downstairs, no doubt taking in every awkward movement, every detail of my dishevelment and worn clothing. We were silent until after I ushered her into the library, and I silently blessed whoever had removed the last of the dustsheets, swept and dusted the room.
Lady Silwen arranged her skirts with easy grace on the sofa—I wondered why she had not taken the stronger position of the desk-chair—and I sat on a nearby side-chair. We regarded each other warily. Both of us began to speak simultaneously, and both of us indicated the other should take precedence. As the elder and owner of the house, I deferred to her.
“I had thought to see your spouse,” she said.
I swallowed. “He died during the bombardment,” I said slowly. “As I wrote in my letter—“
“I received no letters. I have been…out of touch for some time. In fact, I am here to throw myself on your mercy and beg houseroom for a time. My estate is destroyed and most of my servants are dead.”
“I am very sorry to hear that! They had been with you for a very long time,” I replied.
“All of my married life, most of them,” she said.
Then the rest of what she had said registered. I blinked. “Pardon me, but did you say you would have to—“ I dared not say beg to such a dignified and proud personage –“ask for houseroom from me? Why?”
“If you will have it, because I have nowhere else to go,” she answered evenly.
“But—forgive me, I do not understand—it is for me to do that of you.”
“Is this some kind of obscure jest?” Her tone was icy.
I could see that her famous temper was rising—the adage, Fiery hair, fiery temper , probably originated with her in mind—and I hastened to answer. “Lady Silwen, I know that I have taken a great liberty by coming here, but I had little recourse at the time. The building where my spouse and I had rooms in the Second Circle was destroyed by the siege. I was able to stay at the Houses of Healing for a space while I worked there, but when the Master-Healer’s deputy ordered one of the injured soldiers to be thrown out, to live or die shelterless, I brought him and his sister here temporarily only two days ago. I sent you a letter yesterday, requesting shelter here until I can make other arrangements. Master Samno and his wife arrived this morning, two of those in need of another place to bide, and we need their assistance—and the milk from their cow and eggs from their chickens to help sustain us—for I have very little money.”
“When did you come to this house?” she asked.
“As I told you, just two days ago.”
“Not after you left my son?”
“You might remember that I ran away.”
“Not after his death?”
“Certainly not. This is your house, not mine.”
“Let us be clear. Other than during your marriage to my son, you have never occupied this house?” she pressed.
“Except for the past two days, no, I have not. Why would I? I had no fond memories of living here, it does not belong to me, and neither my husband Jehan nor I would be welcome here. Had I had other recourse, my lady, I would not have darkened these doors even now! I can see why you would want to see the back of me as soon as possible, but I beg you to have some pity on these others. They do not deserve your anger. I would be obliged if you would allow me a space of time in which to find shelter for us; then we will leave.”
For the first time in many years, I beheld a real expression on her face—and it was simple astonishment, followed by so many others so rapidly that I was left uncertain. At last she covered her face with her hands and rocked to and fro for a moment before holding them out to me. “I see now that you do not, either. Oh, my dear girl, I am so glad!” She drew a long breath and sat back—honestly sat back, instead of the graceful and requisite six inches of space left between any chair-back and one’s back that formal deportment demanded. One would only sit back in the company of equals or when dealing with subordinates, and her tone was far from haughty.
“I don’t understand,” I ventured.
“Nor do I, completely, although I begin to think I might. I was told by my son that this house was part of the settlement he gave you when you left him, in recompense for not publicly airing certain matters concerning his behavior.”
“That was not true! I took only what was my own, from before our marriage, whatever would fit into a trunk and a bag, what I wore, and what few things of value I could sell, and not all of that! I am no thief!” I said hotly. “My brother told me that your son refused to give me any settlement, that I was lucky not to be forced to pay him recompense, or to be imprisoned! In fact, I was a long time repaying my brother for the fees he had had to pay on my behalf.”
“By our laws, if a marriage is dissolved by one party who has been unfairly treated by the other, the unfair spouse receives no fees, but rather pays them.”
“What?” I gasped.
She nodded. “This I did not know until after my spouse died, or I would have divorced him. I have long thought you very brave to have done it. I am heartily sorry that my son caused you further deprivation.”
We looked at each other. At length I remarked, “I think, my lady, that he and my brother were quite a pair.”
“We will have to see what the Steward will allow in straightening this out.”
“Lord Denethor and Captain Boromir are dead, my lady. Lord Faramir is now Steward, and is uncertain whether the King Returned will keep him in that position.”
“If he has a grain of sense, he will. Boromir was never suited to the White Rod. I wonder what this so-called King is like, and if his claim is genuine.”
“I believe it is. He has the hands of a healer, and I have heard that he is a doughty warrior.”
“Very convenient, to claim healing,” she noted skeptically.
“He Healed me, my lady, using the Elvish techniques, and my dog Rimbor too.”
“Not too proud to Heal a dog?” At my nod she looked thoughtful. “Interesting. I lost my little Fluff.”
“I am very sorry to hear that, my lady. He was a good dog.”
“That he was, and a great comfort. He gave his life trying to defend me and mine. Somehow I never thought of you as keeping a sleeve dog.”
I laughed outright. “It would take a giant’s sleeve to hold him! Nay, Rimbor is a large dog, and was first my husband Jehan’s, to pull his cart.”
There was a gentle tap on the door, and when we both called out, “Enter!”, it was cracked enough for Samno to put in his head.
“Vanessë fixed you a bit o’ tea, my lady, seein’ as how you barely touched anythin’ at noon,” he said, coming in with a large tray. Following, Rhylla hastened to bring a folding table, spread a cloth, and helped him transfer several of the best porcelain dishes, a teapot, etc., to the table, and after he bowed and she curtseyed, I delayed them to say, “Rhylla, this is Lady Silwen Ornanmir. Do you think that you and Mistress Samno could open up the—will the Blue Suite suit you?—for her?”
“We thought to put you in that one, my lady, and give her the Green,” Samno said. “You can’t keep a-sleepin’ on a pallet in Rill’s room; ‘tain’t fittin’.”
“I don’t think that he should be left alone all night just yet,” I objected.
Lady Silwen smiled. “Your retainer has a point, however. Master Samno, could you not move the small sofa from the sitting-room, and make that up into a bed for whomever watches the young man? And might it not be better to take turns doing that, so no one becomes too exhausted to stay awake and aid him?”
“I’ll see to it, my lady,” said Samno with a bow.
“I would indeed prefer the Blue Suite,” she added. “I left a bag at the stable next to the First Gate, if someone could fetch it at some point. There is no hurry; I can doubtless use some of the items I left here a few years ago in the meantime.”
Samno closed the door behind them, after a pointed stare from the plate of pastries to me. I nibbled on a small iced cake. It was delicious, and the gooseberry tea was perfectly infused.
“You have a gem of a cook, I see,” she said.
“Mistress Samno is a member of the Cooks and Bakers Fellowship,” I told her.
“Then it would be foolish to lose their services. As for money, I will see my man of business tomorrow. I doubt I have the wealth I had before, but I am not penniless, and it is only reasonable for me to pay you—what is the term?—a fair rent. Have another cake. These are excellent. You are too thin, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
I set down my cup and stared at her. “You’re serious!”
“But—but I am the one who disgraced your House! I insulted your son! I caused a scandal!” I gasped.
“The only thing in which you disappointed me, besides our lack of friendship, was in not giving me a grandchild. House Ornamir was fairly rotten for at least the past three generations, if not longer, although they were adept at hiding that—as you and I both found to our cost.”
“I have long thought that if I had had a living child, your son would never have let me go—and one of us would have died. I had resolved to defend myself.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you phrase it that way—‘a living child’?”
“Because I lost three before their births,” I reminded her.
“Three?” she repeated.
“I have always believed ‘twas two boys and one girl,” I said. “But you knew this—he said he had informed you—“
Our gazes locked. I was surprised to see that her eyes were bright with tears as she shook her head. “Nay. He told me you refused to do your duty as his wife.”
I laughed shortly. “Refused? He refused to do his as a husband most of the time! I suppose, given what killed him in the end, I was fortunate that he did, although it did not seem like a blessing at the time. I desperately wanted a child, but it was not to be.”
“Yet you seem serene about it now,” she noted.
“Not really, my lady,” I said candidly. “For a very long time, even the sight of a babe, or a woman breeding, caused me distress—even when I was poorest. But time softens most griefs, and I have learned to resign myself to what cannot be changed. Sometimes I long for a babe of my own, but most of the time I do my best to rejoice in what blessings I do have. And I have had many, with my Jehan.”
“I regret that I never met him. Yet you and he had no children?”
“He was ever a tender and gentle lover when his health and pain allowed,” I said. (Was I really being THIS frank with her? But she had asked; let her hear the answer. I was done with social falsehoods.) “But we were not granted children of our own, and had not the opportunity to adopt. There will be many orphans now who will need families, I don’t doubt.”
“Lindisilma, do you think that we may begin again, as friends?” she asked, almost timidly after a short silence. “I let too many things keep me from being a real mother-in-love to you, all those years ago. I know that we cannot go back, but I am sorry for it.”
“I would welcome it, Bein-Naneth ,” and we shared a tremulous smile. “I am sorry too; I should have not depended on what he said, but spoken or written to you directly.”
“Let us never allow Men to interfere with our friendship again!” she said, and I assented gladly—if a bit skeptically in my own mind. Still, we could see….
She asked me to tell her about the siege, which I did, and in return she told me a bit about the terrible days of strife around her country home, when they were attacked by pirates and brigands, and her harrowing trip back to Minas Anor. At last, I picked up the tray and we went to the kitchen. Mistress Samno, seated at the table paring potatoes, rose to her feet and bobbed a curtsey as I introduced them to one another.
Lady Silwen said, “I am delighted to meet you, mistress! You make an excellent tea!”
“Not what I’d do with more time an’ provender, my lady,” she said, obviously flustered by my mother-in-love’s elegance.
“I can hardly believe that. Do you think you could find a maid or two, to assist you and Rhylla?”
“I might do, my lady,” she said slowly.
“Thank you. My daughter-in-love will have many other calls on her time than housework, and I know that you will find appropriate help for us.”
“We’ll have a look ‘round, m’ man an’ me,” she said.
“Good. I will go fetch my bag—“
“I already sent a lad for it, my lady,” Master Samno said, coming in the back door. “Should be here in a trice.”
“Splendid. I shall go upstairs for a while, then, and be in my chamber.”
She swept out, pulling me in her wake, although I went to Rill’s room to free Rhylla for a space, sending her outside for a short walk.
Lady Silwen did send for her attorney the next day, and interviewed him in the parlor before presenting me with a fat purse and telling me that we should reopen accounts at several shops; I relayed this to Master Samno and his wife, and spent most of the day with Rhylla and Rill. Rhylla had taken quickly to plain knitting—doubtless her earlier training from Tanperion’s aunt was still in her memory, once I showed her how to cast on and purl—and was doing well on a pair of bed-socks for her brother, using the needles and some blue yarn left behind by another of the maids.
I also began showing her how to write her name, giving her a slate and slate-pencil from the library, as well as sewing together a little booklet of folded, cut parchment for her finished work.
It was later in the afternoon when Lady Silwen, who had gone out to see if any of her former cronies were back in the city, sent for me on her return. She looked very agitated when I appeared in the parlor, actually wringing her hands. “Little One, I hope you aren’t angry with me,” she said.
“Why would I be angry?” I asked, surprised.
“In all my years in this city, I have never seen such a thing! It should not be permitted!”
“Beggars! Beggars in the squares of this level! Oh, I’ve seen them in other places, and in the byways of Wooden-town, but they were never allowed in the city itself! And for them to be not only some of our folk, but also some of the Horse-folk, after you tell me they saved the city, is beyond tolerance!”
“The Rohirrim? Begging?” I asked.
She nodded. “Well, not exactly. They are sitting in clumps, or lying on the pavement.”
“Master Cold-Heart Healer, no doubt,” I said acidly. “Probably they could go no further, if he dismissed them from the Houses. I wonder he dared, with Lady Ếowyn under that roof!—But why would I be angry with you?”
“Because, after what you told me about their succoring us, I was so incensed that I told them to come here. They have nowhere else to go, and we must do something to help them! I gave them all the money I had with me, and sent a boy to hire romensiri for the worst hurt to ride in. They should be here soon. I hope you don’t mind.”
I blinked at her, but nodded, just as someone banged on the outer door. We hurried into the hall, just in time to hear Master Samno saying obstinately, “So you say, but m’lady ain’t been out o’ doors these three days past!”
“’Twas I who invited them,” said my mother-in-love, and surely my nickname for her was well-merited, for her beauty truly showed in her compassion.
“Open the door and let them in,” I added, and curtseyed as the first of them entered, led by a warrior with a dirty bandage around his blond head, craggy face watchful after he helped three of them out of the palanquins. “Be welcome here, in the name of the Valar,” I said in careful Rohirric. Switching back to Westron, I told Master Samno, “Open the the parlor doors, please,” and followed Silwen out the door to help.
By the time all were within, Master Samno had tipped the chair-men and the door closed, we entered the parlor to find it filled with burly warriors, all of them sitting on the floor. Lady Silwen swallowed, her thought of Have I truly invited barbarians to be houseguests? What have I done? all too clear to me. A fast count of blond, brown and grey heads told me the crowd only consisted of eight males, ranging in age from a mere boy to an oldster.
"Why are they sitting on the floor?” she asked half under her breath. “Don’t they have chairs in Rohan?”
Their leader answered in only slightly accented Westron, “We do, lady, but fear to damage your fine furniture. We have been lying and sitting on the ground for a long time in the same unlaundered garb in which we traveled here and fought, and it rained last night.”
“Your comfort is the most important thing!” she snapped. “Please, seat yourselves. Samno, fetch more chairs.”
“The floor’d be best for young Wilmet,” said their leader. “His back is wounded.”
“Then he should be on the sofa,” she said, but I spoke up quickly, as I knelt beside him and took his clenched hand.
“You are Wilmet? I am Silma, and this is Lady Silwen. When you were at the Houses, was it more comfortable to lie on a soft bed, or on a harder surface?—Forgive me, but I doubt my Rohirric is up to asking in your own language.” I could see him straining to understand.
“He has little Westron,” said the leader, and translated. “He says lying on the bed, although it was soft, was more wearying than lying on the pavement last night, except for the cold and damp.”
I nodded. “There are some kinds of back injuries where a firm surface, with only a little padding, is better, to support the back. Master Samno—“
“I’ll fetch a pallet,” he said over his shoulder as he hurried out.
Rhylla came in, with a tray of cups. “Mistress Samno sends some ale, an’ is a-fixin’ some porridge, in case they didn’t break their fasts this mornin’,” she reported.
“Not this morning nor last night,” said the leader.
I pulled out my little pair of wax tablets and their stylus. “Could you tell me, please, each man’s name and injuries?” I asked.
“Beginning with yourself,” said Silwen firmly.
“I am Erragol son of Ernal, and I and my men are all members of the Third Ếored. My injuries are slight.”
“But as painful as ours,” said a grizzled veteran. “He would not be separated from us, even though when that Healer found out that he is related to Ếomer King, he could have stayed.”
“Be still, Ull!”
“I’m Ull son of Ulrik, and I have a shoulder wound, as he does,” said the older man cheerfully.
At the end of a half-mark, I had them all listed and sorted out. Most were in their twenties or thirties, except for Ull and Erragol, and Wilmet was the youngest at only fourteen. Most had injuries to chest, side, arm, head or leg; several had more than one. Primary injuries? Ull had lost one thumb, and Elof, an eye; Roden had lost a foot, and Osric an arm to the elbow; Rafi had a long gash over his eyes, and Egil had lost an ear. As they rested and ate and drank the hasty meal Mistress Samno had prepared, Silwen helped me as I investigated and changed dressings. Excusing oueselves, we went into the hallway to confer with the others.
“Where’re we a-goin’ t’ put ‘em?” Samno asked bluntly.
“For now, let them stay in the parlor,” I said. “They will want to stay together, at least until they feel easier with us. We are going to need some help.”
“Foodstuffs, too,” said Mistress Samno, who had come up out of the kitchen. “I used up most o’ what we had, just on this meal. They’re so brawny, no doubt ‘twas just a snack to ‘em, an’ won’t they need t’ keep up their strength?”
“They will indeed,” I agreed. “Well, Lady Silwen said to open those accounts, Mistress Samno, so why don’t you go marketing? We will also need more linens, and nightshirts for them. My former spouse was tall, but not as wide in the shoulder as any of them except perhaps Wilmet, and he would swim in those old ones!”
“I’ll get extra blankets, too,” she said.
“Thank you! I know this is unexpected, and a good deal more work for you—“
“After what they done for us, how can we turn ‘em away?” she asked, and Rhylla nodded.
Erragol, who had come out behind us, bowed. “On behalf of my men, I thank you, ladies, master.”
“We owe you thanks, Warrior,” she said, and we curtseyed low to him. He bowed, and let me shoo him back into the parlor.
By late afternoon the chamber resembled a barracks more than a parlor, with their arms and armor neatly stacked in one corner, pallets laid out, and a few padded chairs. We had found exactly the right amount of padding that eased Wilmet most, and Ull sat beside him telling him a tale, while the others rested or talked quietly together. Lady Silwen had vanished, I supposed to her own room, but she came into the parlor wearing her cloak. “Erragol, Riders, I wanted to let you know that I have just been down to the stables in the First Level, and all your mounts are in good fettle. Those that were harmed are mending, and all are well-fed, watered, groomed, and have had some exercise—so far as I could manage with a lunge-line beyond the Outer Gates; it is long since I have ridden, and I never rode a warhorse, only palfreys.”
Erragol rose to his feet and in three strides was in front of her, taking her hand to his lips. “Oh, our most grateful thanks! We all worried about them, but I had to see to my men first.”
I suppressed a smile; she was blushing! “Well, of course you did,” she said. “‘See to the fish in your nets, not in the sea’.” This old adage seemed to fluster her more, and she murmured something, gently disengaged her hand, and whisked out of the room. The others wore wide grins, and I felt an easing in each of them.
Erragol gazed after her, muttering something I did not quite catch in Rohirric. Ull said something in an undertone, and was cuffed lightly for it. I pretended not to have noticed.
Just before the day-meal at sunset, Master Samno introduced me to three new helpers: his nieces Rose and Lily, two smiling women who would be spending most of their time in the kitchen or cleaning, and a nephew, a gangling man named Nahemion to help with the garden and heavy work. He and Master Samno had wrestled a large tub into a storeroom off the kitchen to be used as a temporary bathing-room; we had all been relieved to find that our guests were fastidious. Only a few were able to bathe, with care not to get their dressings wet, but they clearly were envied by those who could not—except for Wilmet, who was beginning to show signs of a fever, and had difficulty breathing. He complained—when asked—of feeling pain in the right side of his chest.
I had dreaded this, and conferred with Erragol about moving him. “Do you think it is catching, Lady Silma?”
“I think not, or at least one of the others would have it also,” I replied. “I very much fear it is lung-fever, from his being wet and chilled in his weakened condition. When he fell, was he on his back, do you know?”
“I seem to remember Ull turning him over, and saying later that he was lying on the edge of a puddle.”
The Rohimmim grimaced. “You don’t want to know of what, my lady.”
“But I do! If it was effluvium that got breathed into his lungs, it could be causing both the lung-fever and something even more serious,” I told him.
“What can be done?”
I was silent for a few moments. “There are herbs that we can use, and I have already set Mistress Samno to making a poultice, in addition to something else I wish to try, but I need to think about it. I feel I should apologize to you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I challenged one of the most senior Healers, I cannot ask them for help now, and I am not a fully trained Healer myself. All I know I learned from my grandmother and a Healer named Helda, reading medical tomes, and my own experience. Do you wish to go and seek their help? Perhaps if I leave here, one will consent to come.”
“They thrust us out, or at least that one did and no one else prevented him. No! We will not seek aid from them.”
“Are you certain? It might make a difference.”
“We will ask him, and Ull.”
Ull crouched by his grandson, gently sponging his face and chest. The boy’s overbright green eyes looked up at us as we leaned over him. I took his hand in mine. “You are very ill, Wilmet,” I said quietly. “Do you feel any pain?”
“Just in my chest,” Ull translated for him, although it was evident from the blueness around his mouth, and labored breathing.
I got out the wooden tube from my kit and leaned over to listen; over the right side of his chest, down low, I could hear a distinctive crackling sound. I extended my hands and senses, and finally sat back. “Fluid in the lower lung; you can see that the chest cavity is somewhat distended. There may also be an abscess.”
“What is the treatment?” asked Ull steadily.
“There is an experimental technique,” I said reluctantly, “in which an incision is made in the chest wall, to the lung, and a tube inserted to suck out the liquid. If there is an abscess, it needs to be excised, or it could rupture.”
“Where do you get this tube?”
“That is part of the problem, where to get a substance that would be clean enough and whole enough, to do this,” I told him, “and to manage the suction steadily enough, without spilling any of this obviously infected material on his insides, and to get it all out.”
“And if it is not done?” Erragol asked.
“Then he will drown in it, unable to breathe, or his heart will give out from laboring so hard trying to make his lungs work, or the abscess will rupture.”
Ull touched the boy’s hair gently. “Then do this technique. Please.”
“It’s experimental,” I repeated. “I have only seen it done once, and the patient died. I have never done it.”
“Lady, please….He is so young!”
“I need to think it through,” I said.
“When does it need to be done?” Erragol inquired.
“Healer Helda thought the sooner the better in such cases, but it needs to be done as well as we can.”
“How can we help?"
“Pray to Estë and whomever of the Valar your people favor. I don’t know yet what else to say.” I smiled down at the boy, who opened his heavy eyes to blink up at me. “But the first thing we are going to do, my lad, is try to make you a bit more comfortable. Master Samno!”
“Can you rig up some kind of back rest for him, and a means of gently supporting his upper body, so that he can be somewhat raised? It may help, rather than lying prone. And whatever you use for it must be scrupulously clean.”
“At once, m’lady!”
Half an hour later, the boy was reclining against a back rest crafted ingeniously from a chair, turned on its side and thickly padded. I had laved his face and chest with water in which we had steeped some of the athelas from the garden, coaxed to open in a sheltered spot, and I set more of the leaves in a basin of warm water near him, after breathing on them as I prayed, for so I had seen Lord Aragorn do, and even though I had not the hands of the King, still even with my poor efforts, the air seemed lighter and sweeter. I noticed that all those within the room seemed to straighten and be somewhat eased. He drank the willow-bark tea, heavily honeyed, that I pressed on him, and I set Ull to coaxing him to drink as much water as he would take.