Now Lost, Lost to Those From the East, Is Valimar!
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 13, Part 223
A Visit to the House of Healing
August 6, 1452
Coming out of the alley and meeting him headed the same way on the street, Harding took one look at the pasty-faced hobbit with the shadowed eyes and said, “Ya shouldn’t oughter be up and around.”
Frodo swerved on his crutches in a little three-legged dance, smiling wearily. “I’m staying off my foot, just like the leeches told me to.” The sun actually felt good to him, as it came out from behind a cloud, after the darkness of the night.
“That’s not all they meant, and ya know it well. All that stompin’ yesterday pumped th’poison all through yer body. The sight o’ ye nearly frighted me as much as Lanethil did, by the end o’ things–I thought ye’d died on the spot, I did.” His rough voice gentled the best it could. “Ya need t’lie flat fer awhile, laddie.”
Frodo did his best to press one hand to his breast without falling off the crutches. “I promise that I shall return home and lie down again, as soon as I visit Lanethil.” He did not want to add that Sauron had gotten worse and stronger than ever, and lying abed only left Frodo with nothing to distract him.
“Well, y’best not let that Lady Eowyn catch sight o’ ye, lessen ye want wrastled down inter bed and hogtied inter place. The Shieldmaiden o’ Pelennor Ruddy Field don’t take kindly t’patients as don’t stay put where she says they’s s’posed to be.” But he fell in beside the hobbit on the way to the House of Healing nonetheless.
Frodo looked straight ahead as he said, “I do not wish to sleep anymore for awhile. I dreamed of Gollum. I dreamed of being Gollum. Such dreams do not make bedrest pleasant.”
“I heard o’ him. Sumpin’ to do with destroyin’ the Ring. Yet warn’t he also a friend o’ Shelob’s? I always wondered what side he wound up on. Ya prob’ly know more about it than I ever will.”
Frodo fell silent for a moment, remembering one strange night when his father reminisced on something startingly different from what he had written down in the Red Book. “You know, Frodo-Lad,” Papa had said, “sometimes, years later, when I go over it all again in my mind, I’m not so sure that Gollum slipped and fell, after all. Sometimes I could almost swear he jumped–for hisself, for Frodo B., for all of us. I can’t be sure, really. Maybe Gollum slipped because Smeagol jumped.”
To Harding, Frodo murmured, “I doubt that Gollum knew, himself. All I can say is that I am glad I am not Mandos, to have to sort it all out.”
“I see...Mandos–now, he’s Death, ain’t he?”
“Judgment, more than anything, though yes, he deals with all of the dead in that capacity.” Frodo suppressed a shudder. “In a manner of speaking, that is. He is the Vala of Judgment, I should say, the one in charge of that sort of thing, though even he does not have final authority. I suppose that in some ways he is more of a sherrif, you might say–someone like yourself, only on the grand scale.” Frodo maneuvered his crutches carefully around the puddles in the street, which reflected a blue sky swirled with clouds. “It all gets rather complicated.”
Harding stared at him for a moment, as though trying to read something in his face. “Well, I mean t’learn what I can about such things. A man’s got to look beyond his own sweat and toil now’n then, or it all means nothin’.”
Frodo looked at him. “You Nurnings continue to surprise me with your scope.”
Harding scowled and made a dismissive gesture. “Folks leap to concloosions about us, safe in their happy lands. But just because a bloke’s lived bent over in a mine don’t mean he can’t stand tall if given harf a chance.”
Frodo hesitated, then said, as lightly as he could manage, ‘Perhaps you and Aloe can drop by for tea some time, and we can talk the afternoon away about Mandos and Yavanna and all the other Valar, and I will share as much as I know–and Bergil can probably share more. Gwaithendil would know the most of all, I think, for the short time left that we have him.”
Harding’s brow furrowed. “Tell me sumpin’ true, hobbit, if I ask ye a straight question.”
“And what might that be?”
Harding stopped and gave the hobbit a hard look. “Gwaithendil ain’t his real name, is it?”
Carefully Frodo answered, “People do crave their privacy, sometimes, for many a good reason.”
“And sometimes for reasons not so good.”
“Do you sense anything amiss about Gwaithendil?”
“No, but I might have missed sumpin’.”
“Then trust me. I know who he is, and why he chose the name he did, and I can tell you that we have nothing to fear from him–if we mean well, ourselves.”
“Aha! The lad has some authority, then, p’raps more than he likes, don’t he? Maybe even more, if the truth be told, than a ‘sherrif’, as ye put it, like meself?”
Frodo squirmed at the guess. “You might say that.”
“I thought he looked a mite delicate fer these parts. I’ll just bet he’s the son o’ some lord or sumpin’, takin’ a break from all them stuffy, courtly ways.” Harding laughed, roughly yet not unkindly. “Well, if it’s an edgycation that he wants, he come to the right place.” Harding grinned and nodded. “I kinda like the idea of a young feller out to see how the other harf lives.” He raised a brow at Frodo. “From yer face, it looks like I’ve hit close to the mark, or on it. Have I?”
“More than close enough.”
Harding thumped him on the back, almost knocking Frodo off his crutches. “Doncha worry, laddie. I’ll keep his secrets. Most folk don’t guess as much as ol’ Harding does.”
Just when Frodo begin to think that he might, after all, prefer a bit of shade, they entered the shadowy comfort of the House of Healing, the air pungent with the harsh yet effective antiseptic of Mordor. Yet when they inquired about Lanethil, an apprentice (much to Frodo’s surprise) led them right out again, by the back door.
There Frodo and Harding found a makeshift courtyard just behind the building. Even as they arrived Fishenchips hauled more rocks and rubble to finish off the walls that protected the patient from roving beasts, affixing broken glass and pottery to the top-edge before the heat grew too hard for such labor. Four young trees in pots held up an awning over the bed, with curtains on each side, dancing in the wind; whenever the veils parted they could glimpse a bed with a patient lying on it, and a plump woman sitting on a camp stool to one side. The stubs of torches showed that protectors had patrolled the space the whole night long before the wall went up.
When Harding saw Frodo’s eyes go to the torches, he said, “I did a turn last night, meself, watchin’ over me brother smith. He’s earned it, y’know, with all the good work he’s done fer us.” Harding scratched his chin. “I don’t rightly unnerstand it, but the leeches say he’ll heal all the faster outdoors, fer some special need o’ his, not like other folk. Though I will admit, ‘tis right pleasant out here.”
“Yes. Isn’t it.” The morning sun had not yet grown so oppressive that the birds would fall into a stunned silence, as they would before the noon. A restful breeze wafted over the wall and shivered through the leaves, snapping the awning a little and playing with the veils. The entire land seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
Harding looked at Lanethil’s arrangement. “The leeches say we needs must untie the awning in the evenin’, if the rain don’t fall, so’s he can see the stars.” He turned to Frodo. “Didja know that he sleeps with his eyes open?”
“And blends his dreaming with the living night. Yes, I knew.”
Pearl turned and smiled at them wearily when they stepped inside the curtains. She looked like she had waited there all night, herself, puffy-eyed and disheveled. Then she gazed back in tenderness on her love as she fanned insects away from him. “Good friends–welcome,” she murmured to them. “Ain’t he the sweetest thing, now, all asleep like that?”
Lanethil’s slow-blinking eyes, beneath his bandaged brow, stared up at the silhouettes of leaves and twigs waving on the other side of the fabric overhead. He looked strange with his head shaved, but Frodo supposed that the healers had to do that to properly dress the wound that circumscribed his skull. The hobbit had simply never pictured a bald elf before. He winced to observe that the crown had cut off the points of Lanethil’s ears, yet maybe that was for the best.
Suddenly Pearl’s lip quivered, and she turned swimming eyes towards the hobbit. “Thankee for what ya did, Frodo–and at such a cost, too!” She glanced down at his foot. “I swear I’ll never ferget, not as long as I live."
“Lanethil would have done the same for me,” Frodo answered softly.
At the sound of his name, Lanethil clenched his eyes firmly shut, then opened them again, staring awake at Frodo, a ghost of a smile on his lips. He whispered to the hobbit, “You saved my life.”
“A lot of people saved your life. You owe the most thanks to Pearl, here, who drew us all together for you.”
“That’s right!” Harding said, crossing his arms. “So when ya gonna marry her?”
The elf’s sleepy face grew puzzled, as he reached for Pearl’s hand. “But we have already wed.”
Frodo shook his head. “A woman needs more than a private pledge in the dark, when she can have it. These are not Sauron’s days, when a couple had to keep all such pacts a secret. Give her the honor that she deserves, Lanethil.”
“Aye,” Harding agreed. “She bakes all them cakes fer other people’s weddin’s–ya think she don’t want one fer herself?”
Lanethil turned his head on its pillow towards Pearl. “Is that what you desire?”
Pearl cast down her eyes. “I takes what I can get.”
Frodo stepped forward. “Translation: She wants it very badly indeed, but fears you won’t, and so she doesn’t dare to ask. I’ve learned a thing or two about speaking femalese since I married, myself. You’d have learned the same things if your past, late wives had had the freedom to wish for anything at all.”
With wide eyes Lanethel reached up a weak hand and stroked Pearl’s cheek. “Of course I want whatever will make you happy, beloved! You have made my life meaningful again.”
Softly she spoke, still not looking up. “I know what ye are, now. I reckon I ain’t good enough fer yer kind’s marryin’.”
Lanethil sat up and took her shoulders in his hands. “No, Pearl! You know my kind, you say, but do you know my story? Yes, I am an elf,” (and here Harding started) “yet I have ever married mortal-kind–ever have I preferred the brave-hearted women of the human race, made wiser, in their own ways, by mortality. Do you know where all of my marriages have taken place? In prisons and in slave-camps. I never even learned my own people’s customs for such things. I know marriage well, my love, but nothing about weddings. So we shall do whatever might delight you.”
While Harding stared at Lanethil, Pearl blushed, smiling, and her crooked teeth somehow made her smile still more dear. “First ye needs t’pick a Best Man–someone t’stand by ye and make sure ye make it to the wedding all in one piece..”
“Frodo Gardner,” Lanethil said without hesitation.
“Uh...thank you,” Frodo said. “Now we had better leave you two together. I suspect that you have much to discuss between you.” And he turned back to the hospital door.
But no sooner had he made it inside, when a running patient knocked him off his crutches. From the floor where he sprawled, Frodo watched Eowyn leap after and pin the escapee to the wall. Frodo recognized the man who had tried to assault him at the Blue Dragon.
“There, there, Toilhard, “ Eowyn soothed, “we have nearly healed you.” She twisted his arms behind his back to where she could bind them. “Why should you leave before we can make you whole again?”
“Got work to do,” he muttered, leaning against her as if he spent his entire stamina on that one burst for freedom.
“Your first duty is to regain your health. After that you may return to those labors for which you enjoy such an admirable reputation.”
“No! No! Ya don’t understand!” Toilhard fought in her grip again, but she held him strongly. “I can’t get well without m’workin’ dust! I need t’find Lebadoc and get more workin’ dust!”
Eowyn’s face changed as, very quietly (while forcing the patient to walk ahead of her) she asked, “What mean you by this? What is working dust?”
His face took on a fevered glow, grinning fiercely as he twisted around to face her, eyes a-blaze. “O, ‘tis a wonder, ma’am–a sniff or two, an’ a man needs no sleep, nor food, nor annerthing! Nothin’ stands betwixt him and th’things he wants t’get done. An’ he feels so strong, so, so mighty that he knows he can ‘complish things a giant can’t imagine!” Suddenly he struggled again, tearfully, so that Eowyn nearly lost her hold, but she caught him back in time and steered him forcefully into his room again.
Harding gave Frodo a hand up and helped him get back onto his crutches again. “Ye’re one lucky hobbit that Milady had too much on her hands to see ye hobblin’ around out o’ bed, yerself–ya seen what she does to those as don’t like her remedies.”
“Never mind that,” Frodo said, staring at the door. “Did you hear what Toilhard said? It’s Lebadoc who brought this curse on Mordor–Lebadoc is poisoning people in a whole new way!” He shot Harding a desperate look. “What are we going to do about him? What can we say when people ask to be poisoned? And what if he just keeps on coming up with more and stranger poisons all the time? Where will he stop, Harding?”
“I can’t say,” Harding muttered, shaking his head. Then he glanced back towards the door they had entered. “D’ye really believe that? That Lanethil’s an elf?”
“I know it,” Frodo said, still gazing on Toilhard’s room. “My family has had dealings with the elves.”
Frodo had never before heard cuss-words uttered in such a reverent tone, as he did that day. “No joshin’,” Harding finally whispered. “Well, now–If I could live cheek by jowl with a wonderment like that, and not even know it, I s’pose any kind o’ good can happen.” He gave Frodo a friendly punch in the arm, then caught the hobbit before he could tumble off the crutches. “So cheer up, mate–whatever yer Lebadoc is up to, we’ll find a way to deal with it, in this amazin’, amazin’ world.”
Eowyn came out again, locking the door behind her. She turned, saw Frodo, and put her hands on her hips, glaring at him.
“Uh oh,” said Harding, and backed away from Frodo.
“Frodo?” she asked in a deceptively sweet voice, “Must I lock you up, too?”
Frodo tried to smile. “Crutches–see? I am off my foot, just as you recommended.”
“Feet. I distinctly recall using the plural. You do not need to excite your heart more than you already have, with exercise or adventure, either one.” She opened up another room. “Now, you have gotten about quite enough for one day already. You may lie down here until I can send for your donkey-cart to take you home in a horizontal position, preferably close to nightfall, that I may watch over you until then.” All too pleasantly she asked, “Do I make myself clear, Frodo?”
“Are you going to lock the door on me?”
“Not if you give me no reason.”
Frodo threw himself down on the offered bed with a huff, letting his crutches clatter to the floor. “I am the only person I know who has taken any bedrest at all for my sting. I doubt that even a child would endure so much coddling.”
“Frodo, the venom acts on the nerves, and sometimes you have seizures.” She brought over a basin of water and a cloth. “Too much of that can do you damage, sir.”
Frodo pulled off his belt and dropped it on the crutches. “Only when Sauron feels up to throwing one my way. He hasn’t, lately.”
She sat down on the bed’s edge and studied his foot critically, while sponging it and the other one clean. “Yet you suffered one yesterday, there on the glassworks floor.”
“Of course you would not remember. Frodo, our nerves may bear scars like any other part of the body. We must take special precautions with you.”
Frodo sighed, and in a last-ditch effort said, “The ship’s coming in today–what of that?”
“I can have your packages sent to your home without your help.”
Frodo sat up. “I’m expecting a letter from my father; I would rather not have to wait to read it.”
“I can bring it here for you, if you will just stay put. Now please lie back down. Any more arguing, and I shall have to help you lie down. I do not think you would enjoy that.”
Frodo sighed, “No ma’am,” and sank against the cushions as she pulled the curtains to dim the light. He did not mention how his foot had begun to throb and throb...