So at last Faramir and Éowyn and Meriadoc were laid in beds in the Houses of Healing; and there they were tended well. For though all lore was in these latter days fallen from its fullness of old, the leechcraft of Gondor was still wise, and skilled in the healing of wound and hurt, and all such sickness as east of the Sea mortal men were subject to. Save old age only. For that they had found no cure; and indeed the span of their lives had now waned to little more than that of other men, and those among them who passed the tale of five score years with vigour were grown few, save in some houses of purer blood. But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died. And it seemed to the tenders of the sick that on the Halfling and on the Lady of Rohan this malady lay heavily. Still at whiles as the morning wore away they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. But soon they began to fall down into the darkness, and as the sun turned west a grey shadow crept over their faces. But Faramir burned with a fever that would not abate.
Gandalf went from one to the other full of care, and he was told all that the watchers could hear. And so the day passed, while the great battle outside went on with shifting hopes and strange tidings; and still Gandalf waited and watched and did not go forth; till at last the red sunset filled all the sky, and the light through the windows fell on the grey faces of the sick. Then it seemed to those who stood by that in the glow the faces flushed softly as with health returning, but it was only a mockery of hope.
Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house, looking on the fair face of Faramir, wept, for all the people loved him. And she said: 'Alas! if he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: _The hands of the king are the hands of a healer_. And so the rightful king could ever be known.'
And Gandalf, who stood by, said: 'Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?'
'I have been too busy with this and that to heed all the crying and shouting,' she answered. 'All I hope is that those murdering devils do not come to this House and trouble the sick.'
Then Gandalf went out in haste, and already the fire in the sky was burning out, and the smouldering hills were fading, while ash-grey evening crept over the fields.
Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, Chapter 8: The Houses of Healing
Author's Notes: Some words in the story are taken directly from Tolkien. With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
Summary: A healer can only watch and wait as the Black Breath kills his patients.
Word Count: 1403
The familiar characters are the property of the Tolkien estate. This story is written for pleasure, not profit.
The day Tuor had earned the right to wear the healer's robes had been the proudest day of his young life. All the hours of study and hard work were worthwhile once he had the right to call himself a fully qualified healer.
He was not just any healer either, but one of the select few who worked at the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith, surely the finest healing houses in all of Middle-earth.
Tuor enjoyed working with his patients and curing them of all manner of infirmities. He basked in their gratitude and that of their families and smiled his thanks for all the countless small gifts bestowed upon him. Usually, they amounted to little more than a dozen eggs from a farmer, but once he had received a bottle of Dorwinion from a lord who was grateful to be cured of his gout.
Of course there were rare times when the best medicine proved futile and the patient died, but even then there was the satisfaction of having done all that he possibly could. He was often invited to funerals by relatives grateful at how he had made their loved ones comfortable during their final days on Arda.
Since war had come to Gondor, the healers' work had greatly increased as the many wounded were brought to the Houses of Healing. Tuor did not greatly enjoy having to amputate shattered limbs, but so doing saved the patient. It was all part of the healer's lot. Then there were the minor flesh wounds. The soldiers he treated were thankful to have survived to fight another day. Then sadly, there were the mortally wounded, but even those Tuor could help by easing their pain until their spirits moved beyond the circles of the world.
With the coming of the Black Breath, though, everything had changed. The healers could only look on helplessly as those afflicted fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died.
For those with the Black Breath they could do nothing, only watch and wait. They were now so many they had been forced to tell the folk in the City not to bring any one else suffering from the malady to the Houses until a cure was found.
The Warden averred that never before could he recall a malady that had proved beyond all the Arts and Knowledge of Gondor's healers.
Tuor found this waiting worse than any other, worse even than during the great battle. Then he and his fellows had known what to do, tend the wounded as they arrived in ever greater numbers. There had been no time for thought and reflection, or even for fear as to what would befall if the enemy had overrun the City. Tuor and his fellows had been instructed to offer the patients who were unable to be moved a merciful death, then flee through a warren of secret tunnels into the mountains. They had survived the battle; thanks to the timely arrival of the men of Rohan the City still stood. Gondor had survived to fight another day.
Those stricken with the Black Breath knew nothing of the great victory; as the sun turned west a grey shadow crept over their faces. Their Steward was amongst them and a fair maiden from Rohan who had been found on the battlefield dressed as a man. There was even one of the Perian. What had matters come to that even these small folk were fighting battles?
Old Ioreth, usually a sensible enough woman, had taken to constantly repeating an old rhyme,
“When the black breath blows
and death’s shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying!”
It was a sad day indeed for the Healers when they were driven to such foolishness. Athelas was a fairly useless herb. Old folk might use it to treat a mild headache or to freshen a room, but it had no place in the herbarium of the Houses of Healing. Even more foolish was the talk of kings. It was almost a thousand years since Gondor's throne had been occupied. Tuor thought it was foolish that Gondor still waited for a king who never appeared.
He sighed. It seemed there would not even be a Steward for much longer. He was sorely disappointed in Lord Denethor. He should have been leading the defences, not burning himself alive and trying to burn Lord Faramir too. He should have sent his son to the Houses for treatment. And whatever had he been thinking of, sending his only remaining heir out on such a dangerous mission. Now, Lord Faramir appeared to have developed the Black Breath and would surely draw his last breath sometime today. Then who was going to rule Gondor?
Tuor paced the rooms of the Houses of Healing once more, tending any wounded who were in pain and seeing if the Black Breath victims were still breathing. Two more had died and he gave instructions for their burial. Both were soldiers who did not have any kin in the City.
With a heavy heart, Tuor prepared to keep vigil for the night. Valar alone knew how many would still be alive by the morning.
Just then, he heard a commotion and went to investigate. The Wizard had arrived and with him was Prince Imrahil and two warriors. One was obviously a man of Rohan from his armour and colouring, the other had dark hair and grey eyes. On his breast, he wore an eagle shaped brooch set with a great green gem.
Tuor was annoyed to see them. Apart from Prince Imrahil, who doubtless wanted to bid farewell to his kinsman, what business did these folk have here disturbing his patients? The warriors looked in need of a good wash and could be carrying infection. As for the Wizard, Tuor thought that if he truly were magical, surely he could cure the Black Breath. The last time when Mithrandir had been at the Houses earlier that day, he had been listening to Dame Ioreth's foolish rhymes. Surely any self respecting wizard would use their powers to escape from Dame Ioreth's babbling!
He wanted to tell the strangers to go away and leave the dying in peace, then stopped himself. Maybe they too had kin here who had been wounded in battle? The Warden was with them, so Tuor swallowed his annoyance and went to tend a soldier with a broken leg who was groaning in pain.
Soon afterwards, Dame Ioreth bustled through the room, almost knocking into Tuor.
“Where are you going and in such a hurry?” he asked her.
“A Captain from the North wants athelas to treat Lord Faramir,” Ioreth replied. “The cheek of the man ordering me around! Who does he think he is. I shall have words with the Warden tomorrow, I shall. Fancy letting a scruffy soldier near Lord Faramir, laying his filthy hands on him!”
She hurried off, leaving Tuor shaking his head. If the Black Breath wasn't enough to deal with, it seemed that everyone was going mad! Or maybe Dame Ioreth was mistaken. He concentrated on tending his patient.
A little later, Tuor was writing his daily reports when Dame Ioreth came running. “ The King has come!” she cried. “Lord Faramir is awake! Come and see!”
Tuor looked at her in alarm. The poor woman had certainly lost her mind. He followed, intent on preventing Ioreth from upsetting the patients. Maybe Lord Faramir had died and that turned the old woman's wits. She always had had a soft spot for him. But why babble on about a King?
Tuor hastened after Ioreth to Lord Faramir's room. To his amazement the Steward was sitting up in bed and smiling.
This is truly a marvel, my lord,” said Tuor. “I am glad to see you recovered.”
“The long awaited King is come and he has healed me,” said Lord Faramir. “He has gone now to heal the others.”
Tuor could always feel the wave of excitement filling the Houses of Healing. Where before there had been despair, now there was hope. Voices cried out. “The King is come again indeed. He brings healing in his hands!”
Tuor was lost for words. It seemed that sometimes all did come to those who waited.