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20
The Witnessing of a Sacred Oath

We reached Eilenach at dusk; Rihan waved from beside the gate-arch as we rode in, just as it began to drizzle. Dismounting, we led the horses into the stable, which was in far better shape than it had been! I was pleased to see that all the stalls were clean, and that our horses were housed; the mules were in another outbuilding, Rihan told me as we tended our mounts. All three of us ascended the stair together, emerging into a much cleaner, pleasanter space. One area had been partitioned off by a wooden screen for Mistress Alta’s privacy, and I rejoiced to see the rest of our party, including Halvador, seated near the fire or nearby. Stew bubbled over the fire, stirred by Dir, as Mistress Alta set bread to rise for the morrow. Tambaro came down from the beacon, having ensured that it was properly covered to withstand an oncoming storm, and the brazier banked.

Rihan, Cardin, and I piled the supplies we had fetched, and we sat down to eat, Halvador joining us. “Sit there, Tiroman,” I said, gesturing to the only chair.

“That hardly seems right, my lord,” he objected. “You are the highest rank.”

“But you are the ranking Tiroman here,” I pointed out. “Dirúvel, am I not right that a backed chair would be better for him than a stool?”

“Assuredly,” he agreed.

“There, you see! Please do not protest against both of them, or the food will get cold,” said Mistress Alta. “Besides, the sooner we eat, the sooner we can see what they have brought! I am very curious!”

After the Standing Silence, we enjoyed the stew and dumplings, and comfits I had brought, while I told them of our trip. Of the Diamond Butterfly’s plight, I said nothing, for it was surely more personal to her.

Rihan said, “That reminds me! Here are message-tubes from two birds sent by Faldi for you,” and handed them to me.

I unfastened them and unrolled the thin paper strips within, flattening them on the table as Mistress Alta and Dir cleared the board and Cardin brought a lamp closer. As usual, Vorondor had headed each with a sign as to which came first. Deciphered, they read:

1. Both rec’d. Took to E, F, H & R [which I knew referred to Éomer]. E—tell G they’ll meet soon.
2. E sending msg to ADA [Lord Daerloth, which told me that wherever in Anórien he was, it involved the King’s business]. He will join them, along with TAD [Tirandor of Amon Dîn]. Please remain until they do.

“Bad news, my lord?” Cardin asked cautiously after my second reading. I had sighed.

“Not really, but we are staying put for a while, little as I wish to,” I said. “I mean no offense, Halvador; it is only that with such a large task before us, I feel pressed by time and am impatient to begin.”

He grinned. “Oh, I understand, my lord! I was eager to come here.”

“And how do you feel now?” Cardin asked.

“Grateful to be alive, and soon able to serve again,” he replied. “My lord, you should know that your folk have done so much while you were gone! That stable alone should become a byword in disgusting!”

“At least your horse was not in it long enough to develop any lasting harm to his hooves,” Tambaro said; I had known he would examine him carefully.

“That is a great relief to me, Captain. He was a gift from my family, before I came away.”

“But what did you bring?” Dir asked.

“For Tambaro, the leather and some bright-work polish he wanted for harness-repairs,” I said, as Cardin handed him that parcel. “For Rihan, some of the herbs he likes for bird-remedies, and for Cardin, this small kit of drawing and mapping tools. I’d like you to learn to make accurate maps. I’ve included Sapparion’s Treatise on Mapmaking & Mathematics.”

“Thank you, my lord!”

“Rihan, hand this to Mistress Alta, if you would,” I directed.

He rose to take the largest bundle from me, and set it before her. Carefully, she untied the string and folded back the paper and muslin, exposing the silk, which seemed to gather every gleam of light and shimmered softly.

“Is that silk?” Tambaro asked.

“Khandian silk,” she said, touching it gently.

“Lord Halladan told me that all the Rangers of the North equip themselves with undershirts of it when they can. There seems to be some quality of the cloth or the weave, I know not which, which he says can somewhat blunt the piercing force of blades or arrow-points,” I explained. “Mistress, can you make us shirts of this material? If you fold it back until you reach the center, you will find a few things to help you do so.”

Obediently, she unfolded the silk until she found the thread, needles and scissors and examined them. “The sempstress who sold them me said that they were Dwarf-made,” I added, uneasy at her continuing silence.

Lifting her bent head, she showed me a face grown rosy with delight. “My lord, it will be a pleasure to work with these! My thanks!”

“Can it really do so?” Tambaro asked skeptically.

“Fetch an arrow, and we can try, attempt or essay,” suggested Rihan, half-drawing his belt-knife.

Mistress Alta clutched the cloth to her chest, glaring. “Don’t you dare put that dirty knife to this cloth!”

“Dirty? Soiled? Unclean? I’d never sheath such in my scabbard—I’d have to take it apart to scrub it out!”

“Your pardon, but don’t go spoiling it!, This is such expensive material, ‘tis not to be played with! Lord Marpol must have spent a fortune on it, and you’d tear it up for no good reason? I think not!”

“To see whether it truly works like armor is not playing, toying, or trifling!” he said angrily.

“How much was it, if I may ask, my lord?” she inquired.

“Sixty golds,” I replied, and Tambaro whistled.

“Worth every tin if it gives us an edge when we must fight!” I said firmly.

Rihan looked at it. “Mistress, please accept my apology! I was short-sighted.”

“Once I’ve cut out a shirt, you may try it against a scrap,” she said graciously. “That’s an excellent price, my lord, considering how far it must have come!”

“Lady Aldúnieth graciously assisted me in the bargaining,” I said, and with some alarm, felt a change in atmosphere, I could not say why. To cover my unease, I added, “And this is for you, Dir,” handing him a slightly bulkier package.

He had been looking at Cardin’s unfolded kit with interest, and looked startled. “For me, my lord?”

“Aye.”

Cardin poked him with an elbow. “Well, open it!”

“Oh, right.” He fumbled with the string, raising his forearm to prevent Cardin’s helping, then gazed speechlessly at a large, worn red satchel, a folded piece of green cloth, a book, and a set of tablets.

“I saw it at a market stall, and the woman told me her grandsire had died last winter, after stocking it with new herbs and remedies last autumn,” I said to the top of his head. “You wanted some kind of sash, and I think that might be long enough. The book was his, so it has herbal recipes and a section on plants as well as some case notes, with empty pages for your additions. You’ll definitely need the tablets for your own notes.”

A tear dropped onto the cover of the tablets. “Th-thank you,” he whispered.

“You are most welcome,” I replied.

“Did you get nothing for yourself?” Tambaro asked, to change the subject.

I grinned. “Aye, I did; I found three books I’ll enjoy, as well as a Westron-Rohirric-Dunael grammar and dictionary.”

The two Captains groaned theatrically. “Now he’ll talk of nothing else,” Tambaro grumbled.

“You said the same thing about the Haradaic one I bought in Pelargir,” I pointed out, “and if not for that, we would have lost that skirmish below Cair Andros in ’93. Tiroman, I brought you this,” and handed Halvador a small firestarter, for which he thanked me before Dir tore himself away from his satchel and helped him to bed.

With amicable conversation, we chatted a bit longer, until Rihan went upstairs to check the beacon, Tam went down to check on our captive before going on guard now that the storm had ended, Mistress Alta retreated to her improvised chamber, and Cardin sought his bedroll. Tambaro went to bed as well, but I remained at the table writing in my journal.

Dir had as well, carefully looking at each compartment of herbs and tools, and browsing in his book. After perhaps a candle-mark without any speech, he rose and stood hesitating until I looked up at him.

“May I speak with you, my lord?” he asked formally.

I gestured at the stool next to me where Tam had sat. “Speak softly, so we don’t awaken our friends. What is it?”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why am I here?”

“Lord Húrin has known your father all their lives,” I replied slowly. “His fall grieves him deeply.”

“Did my father ask him to help me?”

“I do not know,” was my honest response.

“Probably not,” he sighed.

“He may have. My father would not have, but Hirluin the Fair was not a good Man.”

“I doubt many would use that word to describe mine,” he said dryly.

“Did he not do much good for his patients once?” I asked. “Could it not be that his own pride and ignorance helped lead to his downfall? Few beings are entirely evil, Dir, and the King did not judge him as such, but as one who might in time achieve redemption, or he would have been executed immediately. I have lived long enough to learn that many factors govern one’s decisions and actions, and I try not to be overly swift to judge. It’s why our system of law is as painstaking as it is, to carefully inquire into and seek out evidence as fairly as may be, before judgements are made. Even then, appeals may be made.”

He hunched his shoulders. “Was it fair for my family to lose our home?”

“Was it fair for those who had sold services and goods to your father not to receive the agreed-upon fees they needed for their families to live upon?” I asked. “We are all connected, Dir. We all serve, in some capacity. Oh, I know, you’ve been brought up with the idea of noble blood as most important, but which is in fact more noble: one with such inborn rank, who defrauds those he deems lesser and gives nothing, or someone who may be of inferior birth who labours to care for his family and gives honest service to others? Our King believes in the latter, and frankly, so do I.”

“Why did you take me?”

“I’m a frugal Man,” I told him. “I hate waste, and Lord Húrin convinced me that for you to languish longer in gaol, and in your former state, was a waste. Neither he nor I have any idea of what your talents are, and I suspect you do not either. My understanding is that your course of study was dictated by your father and tradition, as it is for many. For others, it is a matter of finding what their talents and aptitudes are and developing them. Despite the joking from my captains, Dir, the various courses of study I have devised for myself have mostly proven of use, if only to sharpen my mind and widen my thoughts. In many cases, they have benefited me in other ways in my work. Certainly, my interests have caused me to make many fascinating friends! Don’t let them fool you: Captains Maldréd and Rihan have many skills, and are as devoted as I am to improving and adding to them, if not by means of the same methods of study that I often use.”

“But why these things?” he asked.

I said frankly, “I confess, I had not thought of you as a Healer on this journey. But we do need one, and your behaviour the other night, and even more with Halvador, taught me that you know more and have more ability and knowledge than you thought. So, if you don’t object, you now have some tools with which to work as needed.”

He touched the leather flap of the satchel. “I never thought of it as more than drudgery,” he said almost inaudibly. “I was so tired of Father’s eternal talk of living up to our forefathers, when he clearly believed I never would! Besides, I had a feeling from things I overheard that just perhaps he hadn’t himself. And I hated the sounds and smells and…some of the tasks associated with it, and spending so much time indoors over books and lectures and examinations. The other Healers were toadies, or enemies of Father’s who either sneered at and enjoyed humiliating me, or wished to have naught to do with me, or both. I begged Father to allow me to pursue something else, anything, but he refused to even listen, so I refused to do more than go through the motions. I was a fool!” His other clenched fist beat on his knee, his words almost stifled by intense emotion.

“Oh?”

“I’ve been thinking, the last few days, that if only I’d paid more attention—if only I’d been better—I might have a chance now to be confirmed as a Healer. Now I am forever barred from the Houses of Healing! What a fool I was!”

“That may be the beginning of your true education,” I said quietly. “Listen to me, Dirúvel! Your family name is besmirched by your father’s actions, to the extent that it is not safe to use it. That is why you now have another name, to make or mar as you will. You are young, healthy, and strong. You have a good mind, and the knowledge you were given, even if you paid little attention at the time, may have sunk in deeper than you think. I agreed to take you with the notion that it might be possible to help you become a bearable being, less selfish and arrogant, more thoughtful and wishing to be useful, and to help you find out what your talents are. Now you are at the beginning. Make of what opportunities you find what you will, and do not despair if you reach some detours and blind alleys. You will always encounter obstacles.

“I know you have been taught that Minas Tirith is the centre of the world, when it is only the centre of Gondor—“

That startled him into looking at me directly. “But—”

“There are other great cities, in other lands. I agree with you that Minas Tirith is one of the greatest, but once Minas Ithil was the soul of the realm, and Osgilliath was mighty, and so was—and will be once again—Annúminas in the North. Those are only Mannish cities; I did not even mention such places as the great Elvish realms, or the Dwarven strongholds, or Dol Amroth and places even further South. We shall never see the Lost Isle, but a few records yet exist, with pictures of some of its structures.

“The point I wish to make, however, is that the Houses you know are not the only ones in Middle-Earth. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the King is Healer as well as warrior, although he never studied in Minas Tirith, and he is accounted great; he called Prince Faramir back from death, and others as well.”

Wonder filled his eyes. “I heard something of this, and discounted it,” he admitted, adding shamefacedly, “I was fuddled most of that time.” When I made no comment, he asked eagerly, “How did he learn to do this?”

“I understand that his teacher was his foster-father, Elrond. You know that we each have both hröa and is the body,” I said, somewhat surprised that he did not know this, “and fëa is the spirit. I suspect from what I’ve read that most Mannish Healers, or at least those of Gondor, have concentrated most on curing the body, whereas the Elves treat both, especially the fëa.”

“That makes sense,” he said slowly. “After all, we have the House for those who have illnesses of the mind, but surely they are not all, or only, crazed by physical means. Is Master Elrond the only one who teaches this?”

“I don’t think so, but from what Lady Cormallen told me, Lord Elrond is considered the best now living. She too knows them, from her grandmother.”

“Then Men can learn them?”

“The King is a Man,” I reminded him.

“But if Lord Elrond taught a Mannish woman—“

“Lady Cormallen’s grandmother was a Peredhel, as he and his sons are,” I told him.

“Oh.”

“But Lady Cormallen also knows them, and until recently, she did not publicly own to her Elvish heritage. It is quite possible that there may be some Elvish blood in your family, from before the Deluge, and I know that there are some Mannish Healers who are hoping she will teach them when she returns from Ithilien.”

Dir was uninterested in Ithilien, although I knew that Cardin would have been peppering me with questions at the mere mention of the name. Instead, he said thoughtfully, “Might there be other Elves, or mayhap some Healers in Rohan who know them?”

“As to that, I cannot tell you.”

For a moment, as he gazed pensively at the satchel, we were silent. Then he lifted his head and rose, only to kneel. “My lord, you compelled my oath the first time we met.”

“I did,” I admitted neutrally.

Back straight, head up, eyes looking up into mine, he asked formally, “May I give an oath now, and will you witness it?”

“I will.”

Reaching into the satchel, he took out a tiny mortar and pestle, pads of cloth, a small knife, and a packet from which he took the leaf of an herb, as well as a small flask and a vial, which he uncorked, carefully arranging each item on the folded green cloth.

“This is the oldest version; my father taught it to me when I was smaller than my youngest sister. I can’t really do that, but I want to do a—a variation on it. Do you think the Valar will mind?”

“Any particular Vala?” I asked, filled with a sense of portent such that I’ve had few times in my life.

“Estë. I think the Gentle One might allow this.”

“Then speak.”

“Estë, Gentle Healer of all Healers, by your skill and Cup, I entreat you to grant the fulfillment of my oath given to you this night. I do swear that I shall use the time and gifts granted to me to seek knowledge of healing and easing of pain for all Kindreds and beasts; that I shall shed no blood wantonly in that calling; shall administer no remedy that does not seek to mend; willfully of intent harm no patient; betraying none of their secrets that should not be matter for common gossip; and faithfully see each as a fellow creature in need, worthy of my best efforts whether he be of lofty or low station, for all creatures bleed and feel distress. I shall seek to aid their whole beings, hröa and fëa, I shall give no harmful drug to another, nor further ill designs, though it be asked of me. I shall enter no house where I seek to act as less than I should. I shall advise on healthful ways, and seek to be an exemplar in them. I shall labour with all my heart and honour, faithfully discharging this oath while I live. So say I, Dirúvel son of Sirion son of Erdil. In token of this oath, I do the following.” Ceremoniously, he wiped his right palm and the knife with pads moistened by liquid from the small vial, crumpled the herb between his fingers into the mortar—I smelled grass, heath and a tang of salt—after breathing upon the sprig, cut his palm with the knife, holding it so that a few drops of blood fell into the mortar, and emptied the flask into it, stirring it with the pestle. Holding the pestle with the tips of his fingers, he touched some of the mixture to each palm and then drank the rest.

I said, “I, Marpol Thorenhen Tintehlë, witness this oath, and pray Estë, all the Valar and Maiar and Eru Himself grant it and aid him in fulfilling it.”

Faintly, from where he lay, Halvador said, “As do I, Halvador son of Haladen, whose life he held in his hands and gave back to me. May he find glory and long life in Your service!”

“So may it be,” whispered others, but when I looked, all our companions seemed to lie with their eyes closed in sleep…and it may have been a trick of the flickering lamplight that made Alta’s screen seem to move slightly.

“I ask for no glory; I will not fall into my father’s errors,” Dir said fiercely.

“Hush! Just take it slowly, son,” I said.

“He should be sleeping!”

As he spoke, he was deftly cleaning and packing up the things he had used.

I smiled at him. “And so should you, for if you overdo, will you not be a poor model for the rest of us in caring for our bodies?”

“That is true, my lord. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, and went to my own bedroll after he had sought his. Removing pants and boots, I lay down after blowing out the lamp, and lay with my hands behind my head. Time would tell whether he kept to his resolve, yet I was surprised by how happy I felt.

Beside me, Tam turned over to face me. I could just discern his hand as he signed, Well done.

My last thought before I slept was that I had never called anyone “son,” before, and to wish Ladramenhirion had been less of a fool with and to his.

~~~

Estë, the Gentle One, was the Vala who was the Healer and renewer, wife of Irmo.
This oath is a blending of various oaths taken by healers in our world (Hippocrates' is the most well-known, but not the only one, and in more than one version.) I think it likely that most Healers in Middle-earth would have sworn such an oath, although it may not have been taken as seriously by most Gondorian ones in Minas Tirith.


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