The Hands of a Healer
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written for pleasure not profit.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella
Warning - This chapter contains violence and injuries.
It had always irked me that my father had given Thorongil leave to use the Steward's private gardens, but now when I strolled across the lawns with my lady on my arm, her impending motherhood clearly visible, I almost felt sorry for the fellow. He had prospect of neither wife nor child. Most likely his unknown lady from the North had long since given him up as lost and wed another!
When our babe was born, my joy knew no bounds. Boromir was the fairest son that any man could wish for. He was a strong and sturdy babe with a lusty cry and bold spirit. My heart swelled with pride whenever I beheld him. I saw the envy in Thorongil's eyes as I played with my son in the gardens and I pitied him.
When Boromir was but a year old, a messenger brought grave tidings. The Haradrim had trespassed over our borders and laid waste to several villages. Worse still, they had set up camp and were venturing ever deeper into our lands.
My father spent half a day in council with Thorongil and then belatedly summoned me. Thorongil was at his side as he made his wishes plain. Every available Captain was to lead his men to the borders where we would fight the invaders until they either returned to their own soil or were buried deep in ours. It was a sound enough plan, but I was irked I had not been summoned earlier.
"I sought to grant you a little more time with your lady and child as you need to leave at first light tomorrow," my father replied mildly. "Would that you did not have to leave them, but I can make no exceptions."
"I know my duty, sire, and will fulfil it to my utmost," I replied.
"Good boy, May the Valar see you safely home!" he replied, patting me like one of his favourite hounds! He then turned to Thorongil, "Keep yourself safe, lad, and bring my boy home to me," he said, as if I were a babe to be entrusted to a nursemaid.
"You have my oath, my lord," said Thorongil solemnly.
My father then embraced Thorongil as if he were a kinsman rather than a northern nobody.
We encountered the Haradrim three days after our departure. The first skirmishes went smoothly enough, green young recruits considered expendable by their captains, despatched as easily as sheep to the slaughter. When we neared the border, though, the fighting grew fiercer when we encountered seasoned warriors. I led my men into the thick of battle; vaguely aware that Thorongil's company was fighting alongside us. Speed was the essence, so we wore only leather rather than steel for protection.
A grizzled warrior lunged at me with his scimitar cutting through my leather armour and slicing me from shoulder to hip. Pain coursed through my body. I felt the warm blood trickling against my skin. "Stand firm!" I cried to the men. I tried to continue the fight, but my legs buckled beneath me and I swooned.
When I came to my senses, I was in our camp and Thorongil was bending over me. "The battle?" I asked.
"Lord Húrin will lead our men to victory," said Thorongil. He took up his dagger and started to cut away my clothing.
"What are you doing? Cease at once!" I demanded.
"Your wound needs tending," he said with infuriating calm.
"Let me alone and fetch the healer!"
"He was slain in the battle, I fear. Be easy in your mind, I am learned in the healing arts."
"Fetch one of the men – not you!" The pain grew worse and I struggled to speak.
"Drink this, it will ease you," said Thorongil, holding a cup to my lips. "Would you have me false to my oath that I would bring you home safely?"
I tried to summon up a sharp retort but swooned again.
It was dark and all was quiet when I became aware again. The firelight hurt my eyes and I closed them again. I was naked beneath the blankets that shrouded me. My wound throbbed painfully and I burned with fever. I could smell something, which I struggled to place, as it was vaguely familiar. Then I remembered that my old nurse, who had been my mother's before, would steep the leaves of the athelas plant if my mother had a headache. It was an old wives' remedy that the healers held little store by. Some healer Thorongil was if he were treating me with such a useless herb!
He approached me, followed by one of the young lieutenants who was clutching a bowl. I closed my eyes again when he came near. I felt him pulling aside the blankets and bathing my wound. The humiliation of it all! The mixture smarted painfully and I opened my eyes to see what he was doing.
I saw that he was crumbling the athelas leaves into the water. He was muttering something under his breath as he did so. When he saw I was awake his eyes met mine.
"Be easy, my lord," he said with his usual arrogance. "I promised your father and your lady that I would restore you to them and I am a man of my word."
"What is that?" I asked. It was a struggle to get the words out.
"Healing herbs to ease your fever," Thorongil replied.
I was about to ask him what kind of herbs, but weakness overcame me.
When I regained my senses the fever had broken, but the wound had left me weakened and I was forced to remain resting in our camp and endure Thorongil's ministrations whenever he was not fighting the Haradrim.
He insisted that I be carried home on a litter once I was strong enough to travel, but I refused to be carried into Minas Tirith like some helpless infant and insisted on riding. Thorongil was equally insistent that he ride beside me lest I stumble.
The people gathered in the street to watch the soldiers return. A cry went up throughout the City "The twin eagles have returned! Long live Captain Thorongil! Long live Lord Denethor!"
I listened dismayed. The people were regarding this Northern mercenary as my equal? Or did they believe that my father, who had loved my mother dearly, had played her false and sired a bastard? My anger, though, helped give me the strength to stay upright on the horse. As no mounts were allowed in the Citadel I was forced to suffer the indignity of being borne in a litter the final stage of my homecoming. My father and Finduilas both came to meet me, their faces anxious.
"My son!" cried Ecthelion. "Praise the Valar that Thorongil was able to save your life!"
"We received a message four days ago that you had been wounded," said Finduilas. "How do you fare, my husband?"
"The better for seeing you again, my lady," I replied. "Is Boromir well?"
"He is full of energy and has grown, I swear, since you departed!" Finduilas replied.
"I would see my personal healer, then please bring my son to me."
Despite my protestations to the contrary Thorongil insisted on helping me to my room before departing to tell my father in detail about the success of the mission.
"It is a miracle that you survived such a wound!" the healer exclaimed when he examined me. "I thought all the healers of sufficient skill to treat so grave a hurt were here at the houses. The stitches are obviously the work of an expert; they have been left in slightly too long, no doubt so that you could travel, I will remove them now. You will need to rest for a while, my lord and give yourself time to heal."
His chatter irritated me and yet it was intriguing. How could a man have learned advanced healing skills in some northern wasteland? He certainly had not acquired them at Thengel's court as the Rohirrim's court healers were trained here in Minas Tirith. And what had I read long ago about the athelas plant?
I asked for my books of lore to be brought to my room and there I read and remembered the ancient rhyme that my mother's old nurse used to mumble to herself.
"Come athelas! Life to the dying; in the King's hand lying."
It all made sense now, why Thorongil had the look of one of old Númenor. Elrond Half-elven had long held a hidden valley in the North; a sanctuary where our longfathers' lore was cherished. So had the old scrolls said, and more, of the close ties between these Elves and the lost Kings of Arnor. Elrond was known to be a lore master and healer of great wisdom.
The answer that I had sought, the riddle of the Eagle of the Star, burst in my brain like a thunderclap: Thorongil was neither Ecthelion's bastard, as some whispered, or any half-blood outcast of our kingdom; he carried the line of Númenor in full measure from the scattered remnants of our Northern kin. And more, and this nearly undid me...I realized that Thorongil could well carry the blood of Isildur himself!
If Thorongil were of Isildur's line, he might well have innate healing powers and be schooled in Elvish arts too. That would explain his uncanny healing abilities. The cheek of the man to ingratiate himself with my father thus when all the time he was plotting to usurp the throne!
I hurried to my father and told him what I had learned.
"Would it be so bad a thing if Thorongil was proved to be the Heir of Elendil and claimed the throne?" my father said mildly. He is a good man and a wise one. The people love him as much as I do. To such a one I would gladly surrender the White Rod. I am an old man; I would die content happy if the King returned."
"Has he bewitched you, father?" I cried. "The man comes from a ragged house bereft of all grace and honour! Never would I bow the knee to him neither would my men and many are loyal to me."
"You forget yourself, my son, " Ecthelion said coldly. "Go now. Thorongil has plans concerning the Corsairs he wishes to debate with me. Remember that I hold rod and rule here!"
"As will I one day! And I tell you, rather would I die than surrender the white rod to that usurper! Be warned, father, you nurture a viper at your bosom!"
I left the room and almost bumped into Thorongil himself arriving for his meeting with the Steward. His face was grave, but impassive, surely he could not have overhead the conversation? Or could he?
My father refused to discuss the subject of Thorongil's true identity further. They were preoccupied in planning an attack on the Corsairs of Umbar, a hare brained venture that Thorongil had been trying to persuade my father to allow him to undertake for years. My father had until now forbidden it, not wishing to commit men elsewhere while we were under threat from both Orcs and Southrons. After our recent victory, though, the Haradrim had retreated behind their own borders, allowing us to deploy some of our men elsewhere.
It seemed madness to attack the Corsairs, though. We would lose good men to no avail, as they were renowned for their fighting skills. We had little chance of success with few ships and little experience of fighting at sea.
My father still hesitated to give the order to attack and it was a full year before Thorongil was ready to set sail with his small fleet. I rode beside my father to see them off and his final words to Thorongil filled me with foreboding.
"Should you win the victory, my friend, you will be worthy of the highest honours that Gondor can bestow," he said, embracing the Northerner.
I glared at the Captain, making it quite clear that there was one honour I would never accept him taking.
"He is brilliant in the field, but I fear, alas, that Thorongil has over reached himself this time," my father sighed as we returned to the Citadel.
To Gondor's joy and amazement news reached Minas Tirith that Thorongil had defeated the Corsairs with very few losses amongst his men. My father immediately began to plan a celebration to welcome his favourite Captain home, but then he received a message in which Thorongil wrote "Other tasks now call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate." He had sent a private message to my father too, but never did I learn what it contained
My father turned pale at these tidings and remained within his chambers for the rest of the day.
"Good riddance!" I thought. I hoped that the upstart had slunk back whence he came and we would hear no more of him. I took over my father's planned celebration, supposedly to celebrate our victory, but in my heart I was rejoicing that the scoundrel had left. Not even at my wedding had I danced as joyfully. The people, though, shared my father's dismay. Thorongil had beguiled them, just as he had my poor father.
My father, though, began to age visibly from that day forward and my anger towards Thorongil increased each day that I saw my sire decline. How could he treat the old man so, to pretend that he loved him and then depart with barely a word?
A/n. Some of these events are recounted from Thorongil's viewpoint in "A Time to Reap" chapters 3 and 14. You can read about Denethor and Thorongil's first meeting in "Pride of Place".
Some lines are taken directly from Tolkien.