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The Healer and the Warrior

Chapter 1: The Healer and the Warrior

by Madeleine

This is the first of a series of stories about Éomer King of Rohan and his wife, Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. Originally it was written in my native language as a novel length tale. While translating it into English, I change the structure, so there are going to be about 10 to 12 stand-alone-stories from their first meeting over the arrangement of their marriage to their life as sovereign and consort in Rohan.

My models for Lothíriel are two great medieval women: Queen Leonora of Castile, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England, and the nun Hildegard of Bingen, a herbalist, composer and mystic and a Saint of the Catholic Church.

Éomer is based on an essay my sister wrote about 8 years ago for her English course at school, so there is very little of Peter Jackson's version to be found here, though I must admit quite a bit of Hugh Beringar crept into it (the one from the books, not the TV films)



The Healer and the Warrior

Night had fallen on Minas Tirith. In the wards of the Houses of Healing the wicks of the oil lamps had been turned down. Only a dim, yellow light lay over the beds of the sick and the wounded. Most of the healers had retired, trying to find some rest. Since the battle outside the gates of the White City they had cared for the wounded and the dying. And only yesterday, after the Lords of the West had returned from the last battle of the Black Gate, even more injured men had been taken to the Houses of Healing.

A young woman entered one of the sick halls and walked silently along the aisle between the beds. She wore the garb of the healers: a long-sleeved grey gown underneath a shapeless, dove blue tunic. The face was framed by a thin grey veil, covering hair, neck and shoulders, emphasizing large, slightly slanted eyes. She stayed next to one of the beds and bent over the wounded man on it. Even though the windows were wide open and a mild wind blew through the ward, the man’s face was covered in sweat and his features were pain-racked.

„Hleogar?“ the healer called softly.

The man turned his face towards her and opened his eyes. In the dim light of the oil lamps she could not tell the colour of the iris, but she knew it was of palest blue. And the hair, spread on the pillow matted with sweat, had the colour of flax. He was one of the Rohirrim, who had come to Gondor’s aid when it had seemed all hope was lost.

“I have brought something to take the pain and to give sleep.”

Gently she slipped her hand under the broken warrior’s head and helped him to lift it. She put a goblet to his lips. With reluctant sips he drank half of the milk-white liquid before he closed his eyes exhausted and let his head sink back onto the pillow. Some of the sleeping-potion, made from the seed of poppies, stuck to his beard. The healer put the goblet aside, took a cloth and dipped it into a bowl of water placed on the nightstand. Carefully she cleaned the beard and wiped the sweat from the wounded man’s face. Though her touch was gentle, his features became contorted in a mask of pain.

“Why do you not let me die?” he whispered with a hoarse and broken voice.

“Because I swore an oath to honour and to protect the most sacred man has been given: his life.”

“I do not have a life anymore.

“You will have your life back.” The healer put her hand on the man’s hair, caressing his forehead with her thumb.

“I do not presume to know the extent of your suffering. But I know that at the end of this trail through darkness there is light. And as long as darkness surrounds you, I will be at your side.”

The man opened his pale eyes once more to look at her. She could only hope that her words and her smile gave him some consolation. Again she took the goblet and helped him to drink the rest of the potion. Then she sat at his bedside until his flat, even breathing told her that he had found a nearly painless sleep. At least for a few hours.

She left the sick hall and went to the garden which surrounded the Houses of Healing. In Minas Tirith, a city where over the centuries men had covered every foot with stone, these gardens were a treasure, only shared by the Citadel. The healer paused underneath an arcade overgrown by wisteria. She put her head back and rolled her stiff shoulders. With closed eyes she took a deep breath of the sweet smell of the early spring blossoms and of the cool night air. The day had been long, as so many before, and she was tired beyond exhaustion. But not only was her body exhausted. After all these weeks of battle against death it was even more her mind which requested rest.

Her solitude was short. It was interrupted by voices. Two men came across the lawn from the direction of the gate. The healer recognized one of them as the gatekeeper of the Houses of Healing, old Arom. The other was a tall, broad-shouldered man clad in chain mail. He walked with a slight limp. Long, shaggy hair fell beneath his shoulders, and as he came closer, she noticed the by now familiar stench, a stench she would never get used to: the man smelled of sweat and blood, of dirt and horse.

The young woman left the shadows of the arcade, turning her steps towards the men. When Arom saw her, he stayed and bowed low.

“Mistress Healer, despite the late hour, this man came to ask for our assistance.”

“There is no late hour at this place,” she reminded the gatekeeper and turned towards their visitor.

“How can we help you, my Lord?”

The man came closer, and despite the darkness, despite the crust of dirt on his face and his obvious exhaustion, she could see that he was rather young.

“I would like to ask you for something to clean and dress a wound.”

His deep voice was hoarse, but by the guttural pronunciation of the Westron he was easily to be identified as a man of Rohan.

“Is it your wound, which needs to be treated?”

He gave a slight nod. “It is just a minor injury.”

What was it about the Rohirrim, that they called all but life-threatening wounds just minor?

The healer dismissed the gatekeeper.

“You may go, Arom. And you, Rider of Rohan, come with me.”

Hearing this crisp order, the man’s eyebrows shot upwards, but he didn’t object and did as he was told, when she turned and walked back towards the building. She led him to a spacious treatment chamber, brightly lit by oil-lamps. In the centre of the room was a high and wide bench, on it stacked an assortment of blankets and sheets. Along the walls shelves held baskets with dressing materials and boxes filled with tins, small bottles and phials. One corner housed a tiled stove, heating a large, integrated cauldron for hot water. A copper tub stood in front of it. Everything was well sorted and meticulous clean.

The Rohír had stayed at the threshold, hesitant as if knowing that in these surroundings he would look even more unkempt. The healer was now able to have a closer look at him. During the past weeks she had cared for many of his kinsmen. The Horselords of the north were a tall and strong breed and this one certainly did not belong to the frailer of his people. The light confirmed his youth. He was in his mid-twenties, perhaps a couple of years older. His face was dirtied by the dust of many days and the soot of open fires. Beneath this layer his skin showed a golden tan instead of the reddish tint of most of his fairskinned kinsmen.

He had a well-cut face: high cheekbones, a straight nose, a strong jaw line covered by a dark blond beard in need of a trimming, and a firm mouth. Large, dark eyes gave him something boyish, but their look was one of a man far beyond his age. The right of his straight eyebrows was parted by a thin scar. The fine white line of another one ran from his right temple to his hairline. Nevertheless, clean and kempt he would have to be called quite handsome.

The healer took this all in rather subconsciously, because for the moment his physical condition drew all her attention. Something was wrong with the way he was holding himself. Undoubtedly he was exhausted, but that alone did not explain why he avoided putting weight on his right leg or why he kept his upper body so stiffly.

“Please, come in, my Lord,” she invited the man, turning her back on him. She was busy finding tins with certain salves and some phials with lotions. Together with some gauzes and bandages she put everything on a tray and took it to the bench. The Rohír had come up and was standing directly in front of her. Now she could see that the chain mail under his right arm was damaged and covered with dried blood.

“Take a seat. I just get some clean water.”

“You do not have to treat me, Mistress Healer.” The rider’s expression settled into a frown. He was either not able or not trying to conceal the impatience in his voice. “I can do that myself. The injury is nothing. All I asked for is some clean dressing material.”

The healer had filled a large bowl with hot water from the cauldron and took it to the bench. She turned towards her reluctant patient. Although she was tall for a woman, she had to tip her head backwards to be able to look into his eyes. They had an unusual colour. Browns, golds and greens seemed to flow into each other. Their expression at the moment didn’t give rise to any doubt, that he was neither used to nor willed to let a woman tell him what to do.

The healer had met her share of difficult patients over the past weeks and her patience was wearing thin. Without a warning she slapped with the back of her hand on the man’s rip cage where the chain mail was damaged. She was granted success. Her victim gasped for breath and staggered backwards. No less surprised than angry, he glared at her.

“What was that for?”

“A minor wound would not hurt that much.”

“It hurts only, if you throw a punch on it,” the Rohír said sarcastically and moved his upper body cautiously.

“It hurts, because it is infected. When did you get injured?”

“During the battle on the Black Gate.”

“That was thirteen days ago. Has it been treated at all?”

“The bleeding stopped all by itself.”

“That means dirt and sweat are closed in. It has to be cleaned and treated properly as quickly as possible. You can count yourself fortunate that your blood has not been poisoned.”

“You do not die from a wound like this,” the rider insisted gruffly.

“Not long ago I saw a man, who had an iron splinter in the ball of his thump. He thought it was nothing and had not had it treated. His blood became poisoned and carried to his heart. He died a painful death. Take off your clothes!”

“What?”

The man stared at her as though she had grown a second head. The healer had to admit to herself that she should have phrased her request differently, perhaps a little bit less misleading. Over the past weeks she had had to deal with too many unconscious patients and simply forgot to care about her words. And she was really tired.

“I cannot look at your wound, as long as it is covered by chain mail,” she explained, forcing her voice to be calm.

“You do not have to look at my wound at all. I can treat myself,” the Rohír repeated through clenched teeth. It was obvious that he was struggling to keep his temper in check.

“At this point of our discussion we have been before,” the healer replied. Her voice came out more sharply than she intended, but her composure was starting to fail, too. “In the Houses of Healing we look after the sick and the wounded, and believe me, the last month bestowed more than enough upon us. Therefore I can assure you that I am quite capable to treat any kind of wound inflicted by any kind of weapon. - If that is what makes you so reluctant, my Lord.”

“There is one thing you are undoubtedly right about, Mistress. You have more than enough seriously wounded men here to look after. Therefore I may suggest that you give that task your undivided attention. Your competence, without a doubt, will be appreciated. Obviously you have no intent to provide what I came for, so I will take my leave and find it elsewhere.”

The healer was taken aback by his speech. This man was not only rude; he also knew how to express himself in the common tongue with much more eloquence than any of the other Rohirrim she encountered at the Houses of Healing. This was not some common rider. He wore an air of authority, and for a moment she was put off by it.

Getting no reply and probably expecting none, he stepped around the young woman, intending to leave, but the healer moved with him and blocked his way. It was hard to tell who was more surprised. The warrior from the North, who had encountered very few who dared to bar his way, and certainly not such a wraithlike creature, who he could have shoved aside with a sweep of his hand. Or the healer, who loathed any kind of physical conflict and who realized that despite his injury, she was facing more than six feet of concentrated power.

She raised both hands, palms turned towards him in a universal gesture of peace.

“My Lord, I beg you. Let me treat your wound. It hurts you, even if nobody slaps on it. It is infected and has to be cleaned properly.”

She was hit by a piercing gaze, which would have forced retreat from anybody with a less confident and calm personality. The young woman tried logic.

“You are wounded directly under your sword arm, and you must feel a restriction of mobility. Do you really want to risk weakening the arm which wields your sword?”

Still the Rohír showed no obvious reaction. Only his gazed moved up and down her body. Assessing? Appraising? His eyes returned to hers, unreadable. The healer began asking herself, why she insisted treating the wounds of this boorish lout. It would be better to just give him what he asked for and let him go.

“Why are you so insistent about tending to me?” he asked eventually, his intense gaze unsettling.

“I just want to make sure that this injury will not have unpleasant consequences. Do you not think that already too many of your kinsmen have been permanently disabled in battle?”

Again his stare was unreadable. His next words gave her a shock.

“Too many of my kinsmen have permanently died in battle,” he said in a hard, measured tone.

What kind of statement was that? Before she had the chance to react somehow, he started unbuckling his sword belt and turned his back towards her.

“You will have to assist me with the mail. It is buckled at the back, and as you did not fail to notice, the mobility of my sword arm has suffered lately.”

This man was unbelievable! It had been a long time since the healer felt the notion to bodily harm somebody. The opportunity to have the Rohír turning his back on her and a hard earthen bowl within reach was very tempting. But it was not her nature. She just took a deep calming breath, reached up and began unbuckling the worn coat of mail. Once again the stench of the man assaulted her. She couldn’t resist the question.

“How long have you been in these clothes?”

“Nearly a month.” He gave her a mocking look over his shoulder. “We were traveling light, when we left Dunharrow. No extra weight for a change of fancy clothing permitted.”

“A month?” Having finished her task she stepped back. “May I suggest a bath?”

She was not given the honour of a reply.

The warrior shrugged the mail from his shoulders and let it fall down to his feet by its own weight. Underneath it he wore a stained tunic of obscure colour, made of thin suede. He unlaced the front and pulled it over the head. The trained eye of the healer could see that this movement gave him some pain, but also that he had learnt to ignore it.

He dropped the tunic carelessly on the floor and began unlacing the dark green linen shirt. He would have pulled it off as he had done with the tunic, but the healer stopped him.

“Wait! Do not pull it off.”

The rider stopped in the middle of his movement, his arms raised, fingers curled into the collar of the shirt.

“I thought you cannot treat the wound as long as it is covered?”

“The fabric of your shirt has got stuck to the slough.” She stepped closer and gently touched the area around the wound, examining it. The linen was slit and an area larger than her hand was crusted with dried blood and pus.

“Had you pulled off the shirt, you would have ripped off the slough. That does not only hurt rather badly, it also does damage to the edge of the wound. Probably it would start bleeding again excessively”

The Rohír lowered his left arm and kept the right behind his neck, so that he was able to look at his injury himself.

“And what do you suggest we do about it?” he asked with mocking interest.

She looked up and found herself nose to nose with this unsettling man. Her gaze locked on those dark eyes just a hands width from her own, and her stomach flipped. She stepped back quickly to distance herself from him. What was the matter with her? She was not herself. She needed sleep! She needed food! She needed to treat this Rohír and send him on his way!

Regaining her composure with some difficulty and ignoring the discomfort she felt under his penetrating gaze, she forced herself to fall back on her professionalism.

“What we can do is, either I soak the area around your wound until the fabric gets detached from the slough, or,” she paused, before she finished, “we kill two birds with one stone.”

“And how do you suppose we do that?”

The frown had faded and for the first time she heard a hint of humour in his voice, replacing the irritability.

“We soak you completely.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You take a bath!”

“A bath?”

“You have been in a bath before, have you not? Big tub, hot water?”

As soon as she said these words, she regretted them. Something about this man got the worse out of her. Or rather something she hadn’t known even existed. She had been brought up to control her emotion and show the world a calm and polite facade. And her training as a healer had her let become mature beyond her age. Childish gibes were not like her.

The Rider’s eyes became cold, as he gazed at her.

“Yes, we do bathe in Rohan,” he said slowly. “Occasionally even in tubs filled with hot water.”

She winched as his tone, congratulating herself. She just managed to offend a man, who, considering his bearing was very likely Rohan nobility. She sounded just as bad as so many of her fellow countrymen, who, even after being saved by the Rohirrim, took great pleasure in sneering at the Horselords and their culture. Though something about this tall warrior irritated her inexplicably, being offensive was not the way she was brought up. Her father would have been disappointed.

She tried to find the right words, but none would come. How does one apologize for an insult just implied?

“My Lord . . . ,” she began timidly only to be interrupted by a loud and lengthy rumble. Startled she looked at the man’s mid section.

“My Lord,” she repeated slowly. “It will seem your stomach needs to be taken care of as well.”

She looked up and there was a gleam in his eyes she did not quite expect. Could it indeed be mischief? With the tension between them suddenly easing, she regained her usual composure.

“While you take a bath,” she pointed at the copper tub in one corner of the chamber, “I will get you a hot meal and try to find a clean shirt. I am afraid we have nothing else to replace the clothes you are wearing.”

“I did not come for a change of clothing.” His tone had softened, but his multicoloured eyes still surveyed her closely. “And I did not expect to be fed.”

“Food is part of the treatment. We do not want our patients expiring of malnutrition.”

She carried several sheets over to the stove in the corner. With one of them she lined the tub and then opened the tap of the cauldron to run a bath of steaming hot water.

The Rohír hadn’t moved, was still standing next to his crumbled coat of mail. He watched the preparation of the bath with considerable doubt in his gaze. He ran his hand trough his dirt-matted hair and eventually resigned to his fate with a tired shrug of his broad shoulders.

“I suppose I have to take a bath rather sooner than later, so why not here, where it is pushed on me, instead of running around looking for one.”

He tugged at his shirt

“Do you want me to soak with it on?”

The healer walked back to him, inspecting the dirt and sweat stained garment.

“It is ruin anyway,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I could cut out the fabric just around the wound. Then you can take it off.”

Without waiting for a reply she got a razor-sharp knife from a chest of surgical instruments. When she lifted it up to his chest he pulled back with the instinctive movement of a warrior.

“Am I supposed to trust you with a deadly weapon?” he asked with mocking apprehension.

“I do not inflict wounds, my Lord,” she answered seriously. “I heal them.”

The hand with the knife raised, she waited for his consent. He moved closer, towering over her. Fighting not to be overwhelmed by the sheer physical power he radiated, she doubted that she had the slightest chance in using the knife to inflict any harm on him.
Gently removing the shirt from his rip cage she put the knife to the fabric and carefully cut out a large, roughly oval section sticking to the wound.

“That is taken care of.”

She stepped back and looked up, something she shouldn’t have done. She caught his eyes again wandering up and down her body and this time there was no doubt. She was given the most thorough masculine assessment she had ever received. And she had the oddest feeling that she was somehow classified and filed. She found herself wondering which category of the female species she had just been assigned to.

Appalled at how her thoughts drifted uncontrolled into unfamiliar territory, she just hoped that her expression wouldn’t give her away. That her schooled mask of calmness and order was in place. To her satisfaction her voice sounded serene as it was supposed to.

“I will leave you to your bath now. Please take your time.”

The tub was nearly full to the edge and she hurried to turn off the tab.

“Let the fabric come off by itself. Do not rip it off,” she stressed, now falling easily back into her professional mode.

“You find everything you may need next to the tub, but do not use any of the bathing oils. Clean water and a simple soap must be enough. I don’t want any substance interfering with the treatment later.”

“Do not worry. I am not into scents and oils,” the Rohír scoffed, his voice muffled as he pulled the shirt over his head, leaving the healer with the unexpected view of a bare male chest; broad, sculpted, scarred and with a light sprinkling of fair hair.

Once more losing her thread, she blinked twice and saw him arch a single eyebrow. He had done it on purpose! It was really time to go and get him some food. Then treat his wound. Then have him on his way.

Just when she was about to turn and leave, her eye fell on his long, tangled hair. She wasn’t able to restrain her natural pragmatism.

“You should comb your hair before you wash it, or it will be so matted you have to shave it off. Do you have a comb?”

“A comb?” he repeated and when she opened her mouth, he hastened to continue with a new hint of irritation in his voice: “I do know what a comb is, but do I look as if I carried one?”

He spread his arms, muscles rippling, the remains of the shirt dangling from one hand.

“Certainly not,” came the measured answer.

The healer reach for the purse she carried at a belt under her loose tunic. After groping around a bit she pulled out a comb and held it out to the rider. He hesitated to accept it. When he finally took it and observed it with obvious curiosity, she understood. It was a present from one of her brothers, one of those lavish things they sometimes bestowed upon her, knowing she was unlikely to purchase anything like it herself. The comb was an artful ivory carving with filigree silver inlays. Its price would probably buy a peasant’s family food for several months.

Again the warrior’s unsettling gaze landed on her, but she had no intention of responding to the open inquisitiveness. She decided on a temporary retreat and left the chamber with a silent nod.

The healer had chosen the door to the garden, where she was able to blend into the shadows after a few steps. She needed a moment to collect herself. She returned to the Wisteria arcade and leant against the wrought-iron structure.

She was nearly 20 years of age. Of the past seven years she had spent most of the time at the Houses of Healing. First she had accompanied her mother, who had hoped to find relief from her illness. Watching the healers every day, the young girl had become drawn to their art. She had offered her help, first on simple tasks, and when the healers recognized her gift, they had begun teaching her. It came so intuitive. Not only taking in the required knowledge. Something inside her connected naturally to people sick and suffering.

Four years ago her mother had died a cruel death, and though this lovely woman had been sickly for as long as her daughter could remember, the final loss had threatened to rip her apart. She had not been able to stay at her home on the coast of Belfalas, having in addition to her own grief to watch that of her family’s. She pleaded with her father to let her return to the Houses of Healing, where she wished to begin studying the art of healing in earnest. For a short moment stretched too far by the situation, her father had agreed. And later he had convinced himself, that during these years of military unrest the mighty city of Minas Tirith would be the safest place for his daughter.

It hadn’t been even a real separation from her family. Hardly a month went by without her father or one of her three elder brothers being on business in the White City. Their visits had always been welcome, keeping her in touch with her descent. But the past four years also had been a time of isolation. Usually a young female of her age and breeding would have had been prepared to be a wife, the only acceptable role for a woman of her ancestry. She had definitely missed out on that. Having three brothers and other male relatives, she was used to the company of the opposite gender. But she had never actually been in close society with a man, who could have been considered a suitor. Men were either family or patient. It almost seemed ludicrous, but as the only female in a family of men, she had no actual experience with men. She had never felt she wanted to experience a man.

Suddenly, this warrior appeared literally out of the dark, affecting her in a way she did not understand. All she knew was that she wasn’t her usual self. Normally she was not curt. She was not awkward. The bare chest of a man was just a body part to be treated. And that was the way she had to deal with it. Inside that treatment chamber there was only an injured body to be tended to.

Determined to put these mystifying and unwelcome emotions out of her mind, she finally made her way to the storage chambers at the opposite end of the Houses of Healing. Because of the late hour the lighting had been dimmed and it took her a while to find the closet where spare garments were kept. She had to shake out several shirts and fold them again, until she found one in an appropriate size.

In the kitchen she found all staff had gone and the fires had died down. She wouldn’t be able to keep her promise of a hot meal. So she prepared a tray with cold meat and chicken, cheese, bread, some apples and a jug of light wine.

Carrying her heavy load back to the treatment chamber, she realized that she had been gone much longer than she’d intended to. She hoped the Rohír hadn’t had lost his patience. But perhaps it would be good for the state her mind, if he had just left.

She chided herself being unprofessional. The man was wounded and needed treatment. And she was a healer.

This time she entered the chamber from inside the building. She looked over to the bath tub, paused and stared. Her patient was still there. He was still in the tub and he was asleep. And he had been supposed to use the sheet, she had lined the tub with, for modesty. But instead of covering him, the ends were hanging dripping wet over the edges, his arms lying along the top. He had rolled up a second sheet and propped it behind his neck as a cushion.

She put the tray down on the bench. Stepping closer to the tub, she forgot her resolve to see in him only a man, whose injuries had to be taken care of. She had the unexpected opportunity to study him while he slept. And he was sleeping soundly, his breathing deep and even. His features were relaxed, and without the constant frown and the piercing gaze he looked quite young, the few lines around his eyes engraved by wind and sun, not by age.

Visually he was the most striking man she had ever seen. Even more so than her ridiculously attractive brothers. Perhaps it was the difference that appealed to her. She was used to the dark haired, clean shaven men of Gondor. His thick, long hair, now freshly combed and washed, had a golden sheen, even when wet. Most women would envy him for such a lovely colour.

His face was much darker tanned than the rest of his body, common in men who spend their life outdoors all year around. He was born with long limbs and the life as a rider on the plains of the North had provided him with heavy muscles and an impressive collection of scars. He was a powerful man. However, it was not just a physical, but a rare, personal strength, radiating from him even in sleep.

Watching the sleeping man, the healer felt once more this funny little flip in her stomach. She had seen her share of naked bodies. Of unconscious, wounded, suffering men. Never before had she been tempted to look at them other than with the eyes of the healer. And now she found herself quite enjoying the view of a beautiful, male body.

A sudden thought let her smile ruefully. She would give her father a fit if he knew her alone in a treatment chamber in the middle of the night with a naked stranger, whom she was staring at. Her career as a healer would be over, and she would be shipped back to her family’s home. Though the chance of her father ever learning about this episode was rather small, the thought brought her back to the task on hand.

The healer looked at the warrior’s rib cage. The water had not only detached the piece of fabric from the wound, the lengthy soak had also dissolved the crust of dried blood and pus and the wound seemed now quite clean. Time to get the man out of his cooling bath.

“My Lord,” she called in a low voice.

The deep breathing didn’t change. She tried again, louder.

“My Lord!”

No reaction. The man appeared to be a sound sleeper. Exhaustion had taken over, and the healer regretted having to disturb him. But she could hardly leave him there. After a third unsuccessful attempt to wake him verbally, she sighed and stepped closer to the tub. It seemed she had to give him a little shake to wake him up.

Next everything happened with lightening speed. When she put her hand to his shoulder, the body under her touch virtually exploded. Suddenly she was on her knees, an arm like a steel band coiled around her throat. A large hand forcing her chin side- and upwards, bringing an unbearable strain on her neck. A knee, pushed against her spine just beneath her shoulder blades, increased the pressure. Breathing was impossible and her neck threatened to snap. But before real panic could arise, she was set free so abruptly that she fell forward, just able to support herself on her hands. Over the strangled coughing from her abused throat, she could hear swearing in an unfamiliar language.

There were some movements behind her, a rustle of linen. Then the Rohír was kneeling next to her, dripping wet and wrapped in a sheet. He grabbed her upper arms and yanked her up to her knees.

“What on Earth did you think you were doing?” he demanded through gritted teeth, his voice furious, the eyes dark and gleaming. “I could have killed you.”

Taken aback by the tone and the unjust accusation, the healer blinked a couple of times, taking a deep breath, fighting to maintain some semblance of dignity. She wasn’t quite sure her voice would work.

Again the warrior spat out a word in his native language and got up, dragging her with him, back to her feet.

“Say something, woman!” His grip moved to her shoulders, seemingly ready to shake her, his eyes searching her face. The fury slowly disappeared from his eyes, being replaced by concern. “Are you well?”

What a question! She had just been jumped at by a mountain of dripping wet, naked man. She tried to find the right words, but being in a state of utter confusion, none of any intelligence would come.

“I am fine . . . I think,” she finally manage to say, the words triggering another cough. She shook off his bruising hands and stepped back, bringing a safe distant between herself and her attacker. “I am as well as one can be expected after being nearly strangled.”

“Why did you grab me?”

This was unbelievable! What a nerve! He had attacked her and was accusing her of being at fault?

“Grab you?” Indignation dripped from her voice. “I did not grab you! I hardly touched you. I was trying to wake you.”

“There are other ways to wake a sleeping man,” he insisted.

“Throwing something at him from a safe distance?” she shot back irritably.

“You should have called, simply called. To my experience, you have a quite capable tongue.”

“I did call you! Three times, but you were . . . out cold!”

They were eyeing each other accusingly, wearily. To the healer’s surprise, it was the warrior who gave in. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. He took a slow, deep breath.

“For a moment I thought, I had killed you.”

He glanced up at her, and she could see self-loathing in those dark eyes, and the flame of her anger died down.

“I had you in a grip . . . Had you tensed, your neck very likely would have snapped.”

“I had no time to tense up. You let me go as quickly as you grabbed me.” Her usual calm returned, surrounding her like a well worn cloak. “I had no time to feel anything. Not even fear, just anger afterwards, when you accused me being at fault.”

One corner of his mouth twitched, as if tempted into a smile, but his gaze stayed somber.

“I regret. Deeply regret. All I can say is that it was a reflex, something I cannot control. After so many years of constant vigilance these kind of reflexes become a warrior’s second nature. Self-preservation, I suppose.” He paused before he finished, still the self-loathing in his voice. “This is not an apology. That I cannot offer. Just an explanation.”

A warrior, who felt he had to justify his skills? The abilities, which guaranteed his survival? The very abilities, which brought him to her with barely more than a scratch after two brutal battles? As a daughter and sister of warriors, she felt this was not right.

“My Lord, an apology is neither necessary nor expected. It was a misunderstanding. Your explanation is understood.”

“You do not fear me now?”

“No, My Lord. I just learnt that I do not have to fear you, when you are either asleep or awake. One has to be alert to the short moment in between.”

For the first time a genuine smile appeared on the Rohír’s features. It was unexpected and had a considerable appeal.

“Gondor breeds unusual women.”

“I will pass on this praise to Gondor,” she replied graciously, and added on second thoughts: “As long as it was meant to be praise.”

“It certainly was. – You are wet.”

The abruptness of this last remark surprised her, but he was right. Both the tunic and her gown were soaked from having been pressed against his wet front and from the water he splashed over her when he shot out of the tub. The same went for her veil, which had become undone and threatened to slip. She tried to adjust it, but it came off, revealing tightly braided, midnight dark hair.

Seeing her throat, the Rohír raised his hand to her face, but stopped short from actually touching her.

“I bruised you.”

The healer let her fingers glide over her throat and chin. She didn’t have to see the abused area to know that by tomorrow it would be sporting the entire scale of blue and purple.

“I can take care of this later. The bruises will not be visible under the veil.”

“I see them. And you will have another one on your back, where I put my knee.”

By the pulsing pain of her spine he was right. She was going to have a rather large black-and-blue-mark between her shoulder-blades. She probably would have to spend a couple of nights on her stomach.

“Mistress!” The hand came closer. It was a strong, rough hand with long, callous fingers. It lingered just a breath from her jawline, but again he ceased from touching her. There was disgust in his voice, aimed against himself, when he continued: “Never in my life have I hurt a woman.”

That she believed. Her brothers would fight a man without mercy, if they had to. A woman probably could strike them down without meeting any resistance.

“My Lord, I thought we had established that this was an error of judgment on both sides. And I am not a woman, I am a healer.”

For a moment he said nothing, just looked at her. Then a gleam of humour crept into his eyes and one corner of his mouth twitched.

“You could have fooled me,” he murmured.

The healer left it at that and turned her back on him.

“I see if there is a fresh tunic for me to wear. Why do not dry yourself off and take a seat, so I can treat your wound?”

“Something you are quite insistent upon.” The hint of humour in his voice was back.

The young woman opened a chest where garments were kept to replace those soiled during treatment. She took out a clean tunic and then unlaced the side fastenings of hers and pulled it over her head. Quickly she replaced it by the dry one and donned a new veil, making sure it covered the bruises. Turning back to her patient, she saw that the Rohír hadn’t moved but watched her. He took in her garb.

“Indeed, the healer,” he chaffed.

“Indeed! And the healer would like to treat you, if you would be so kind to make yourself ready, my Lord.”

With that she turned her back on him once again and cleared away the food tray. He would eat after she had tended to him. Preparing gauzes and bandages, opening tins and phials, she listened to the noise behind her. It stopped after a short while.

“Where do you want me?”

For the peace of her own mind, she just accepted it as carelessness in the choice of words and not as some double entendre. She turned around to look at him, her expression guarded. He had wrapped the sheet around his waist from where it fell down to his feet. The upper body was left bare for the treatment. Refusing her vexing response to him to resurface once more, she motioned for him to sit down. He settled on the bench.

“I just have to wash my hands. Then we can begin.”

While she soaped her hands under the running tap of the cauldron, she felt his eyes on her back, heard him shift around and then the distinctive crunch of somebody biting into an apple. Having her hands dried with a clean cloth, she walked back to the bench and pushed the small stand, she had place to food tray on, closer to her patient’s left side.

“I do not mind you eating while I tend to you. I am sorry I could not provide at least a hot stew. The kitchen fires had been put out already.”

“I am much obliged for what I have. I must admit, I am famished, and I had no idea where to get something to eat at this late hour.”

For somebody who claimed to be ravenous, he ate with remarkable restrain. He picked bit-sized pieces of bread and chicken and chewed thoroughly. In the healers experience most seriously hungry men didn’t care about table manners. Even her youngest brother, who had been taught strict etiquette, could be a pig when it came to filling an empty stomach. She had her suspicion; the Rohír’s exercise of restrain had to do with her presence. The conclusion of the thorough assessment, she had received earlier, had put her obviously into the category “Lady”.

She hid a smile and felt her uneasiness in the warrior’s company ease further.

She took a small oil lamp from one of the shelves, lit it and placed it on the bench, so that she would have an even brighter light on the wound. Without having been asked for the Rohír put his right arm behind his head, so the healer could inspect his injury. She bent down to have a close look, feeling his scrutiny. The wound was rare but now clean and hardly leaking any secretion. He wouldn’t need stitches. The area surrounding it showed already fading bruises. The young woman put some gentle pressure on the rips. The warrior didn’t even flinch. There was obviously no damage to the bones.

“You were very fortunate indeed, my Lord. Except for a light infection this wound bears no danger. I had had to treat many injuries, basically the same as this, where the bones were smashed. The blow you received must have been cushioned somehow.”

The man swallowed whatever was in his mouth, before he replied. So much for the myth of the badly mannered roughs from the North, who did not know how to behave in polite society.

“I wear heavy amour over the mail. The blade cut only superficially between cuirass and backplate.”

“That is why . . . “She stopped herself from fully formulating the thought she just had.

“That is why . . .what?” the Rohír probed, pouring some of the wine into an earthen mug.

The healer would have preferred to leave the question unanswered, but viewing it objectively, there was no reason to. Except, of course, her unfortunate response to the man, which she had decided not to have anymore. Therefore logic required an honest answer.

“That is why your back is so heavily muscled.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see him turning his head slowly towards her. She refused to look directly at him. She didn’t want to see his expression, but could feel his gaze. “It is, of course, necessary to support the weight of the armour. Most of your kinsmen only wear mail, which provides less protection. We had many smashed bones and split joins.”

She took some gauze and soaked it with a clear spirit. Just before she dabbed it onto the wound, she warned in a neutral tone: “This may sting a bit.”

As she had expected, he nearly jumped off the bench, an effusion of Rohírric words coming out of his mouth. He had dropped the mug, flooding the tray with the wine and soaking what was left of the bread.

“I am sorry,” she offered.

“Are you?” He glared at her, wiping his left hand at his linen wrap. “What in Bema’s name was that?”

“It is a spirit distilled from fermented grain.”

“Some kind of brandy?”

“I would not recommend drinking it, except you care to seriously weaken your eyesight. This is much stronger than the kind distilled for consumption. It is for disinfection, and I have not finished with your wound yet.”

She poured more of the liquid onto the gauze, and even though the Rohír eyed her wearily, he didn’t pull back when she pressed the gauze once more to the wound. He just held his breath for a moment and then exhaled open mouthed.

“This hurts like a branding iron,” he complained through gritted teeth.

“And you have some personal experience with being marked with a branding iron?” the healer inquired politely.

There was a pause. The warrior seemed to consider, if he should and how he would reply. Finally he said in a deliberate voice: “I made a speculative comparison. Had I been marked by a hot iron, you surely would have noticed while visually examining me.”

“Not if you were sitting on the mark.”

From all possible retorts this was the most unfortunate. He had baited her and she had fallen for the bait. For the first time in ages the healer blushed, and she was sure he noticed.

“You are very different from any other healer I have ever met, Mistress.” There was a suppressed laugh in his voice. “Are you sure, you are genuine?”

“Of course, I am genuine. The Warden would have my head, if I treated you on my own without being fully competent.” She knew quite well that that was not what he had meant.

She pulled the gauze from the wound which was now bright red, a good sign that it was thoroughly disinfected. With a small silver spatula she began dabbing salve on the raw area. Concentrating on her art helped her to maintain what was left of her composure.

“You are very young for a healer.” The warrior seemed to have every intention of sticking to the subject. “All the others that have treated me were rather seasoned.”

“I am afraid that I was the only healer who had not already retired when you arrived, my Lord.”

Having finished her task she put the salve and spatula aside and looked up. His hair had begun to dry and the golden waves framing his face were softening his features, as did the absence of the earlier frown. In the bright, slightly yellow light of the oil lamps, his eyes gleamed like dark amber. He was indeed a beautiful man. But in her position she was not supposed to notice.

“Had you wished to be treated by a more mature healer, you should have said so. I could have had somebody else called.”

“I would not have wished to be tended to by any other, Mistress. You have definitely cheered me up.”

His teasing tone had a rather opposite effect on her. She went back to her task, selecting a clean patch of gauze, pressing it to the wound to stick it to the salve. Choosing the longest of the bandages she placed one end over the gauze.

“Would you be so kind to put your finger on this?”

Whilst the warrior fixed one end of the bandage the healer wrapped it around his chest and shoulder with swift, practised movements. That brought her in much too close proximity to him. When he spoke his mouth was next to her ear. She could feel the warmth of his breath even through her veil.

“So, tell me! Why has the youngest of the healers not retired at such a late hour to seek her well deserved rest?”

She folded the end of the bandage into a neat triangle and secured it with a tiny silver clamp.

“Who says, I am the youngest here?” she stalled.

“There cannot be any other healer even younger than you are. You can have barely reached your third decade.”

The young woman let that go and decided to answer his initial question.

“I was looking after one of my patients, who has been in great pain ever since he was taken from the Fields of Pelennor to the Houses of Healing. He is one of the Rohírrim.”

His expression sobered at once and the dark frown was back in place. This sudden change of mood was something she was easily able to comprehend. She had her own experience with the fact that a single thought of the brutal suffering this conflict had caused could wash despair over you without any forewarning. Now she wished she had not tried to avoid his teasing, had not tried to distract from her awkwardness by changing the subject so abruptly.

“Do you have his name, where he is from?” the Rohír asked, all lightness gone from his voice.

“His name his Hleogar, and he is from a place he calls East-Emnet.”

“So he is not one of the regular riders,” he stated.

“I understand that he is a herdsman, one who followed the call of his king.”

“To fulfil his oath to Lord and Land,” the warrior muttered, more to himself. His gaze returned to the healer, once again it was inscrutable. “Is he badly injured?”

“Very badly, my Lord,” she had to admit. “He barely survived, as so many of your people. And many more have died on us. It was not the will of the Valar to bestow the power upon us to save them all.”

“Have you been aided by any of my kinsmen in your efforts?”

“Oh yes. Whoever Lord Elfhelm could spare from patrolling Anórien and securing the White City was send to assist with our task. None of your kinsman who lost his life, went to his grave without being named.” The healer arranged and rearranged the tins and phials on her treatment tray. “They may not return home, but at least the bereaved families will not be left to wonder what happened to their loved ones. They will know that they rest in peace on the Pelennor Fields. Though they are buried in foreign soil, their last resting places will be treasured.”

Unexpectedly the horrors of the last weeks, the horrors that she had bottled up so closely, surfaced, and in a defensive gesture she wrapped her arms around herself.

“I only hope these families will never have to learn how cruelly battered, how mutilated, were the bodies of their kin when taken to their graves.”

It started with the tiniest shake of her head, and then she simply couldn’t stop moving it from one side to the other, as if this gesture of denial could undo the images of her memory.

“Never had I seen injuries like these before. Never ever in my darkest nightmares had I imagined that men could live inside bodies so torn, ripped, shattered! Never had I thought that I would wish a man to die, so his suffering would cease! Never . . . ”

She had no idea how long she would have gone on if the Rohír hadn’t silenced her. He had watched her with his intense eyes. Suddenly he brought up his hands and this time he didn’t stop himself. He cupped her face to still her frantic shaking, caught her gaze and for a long moment he held it, neither one speaking. Each seeing mirrored in the eyes of the other; their memories of horrors: the horrors of the battlefield and of the aftermath. Seeing the mutual grief for every single life lost.

“You hurt for them . . . with them,” the warrior whispered, compassion in his voice.

“How could I not? They were given into my care and all I could do was watch. Watch how the last glimmer of hope in their eyes died. Watch how the flame of the will to live died. They died, and there was nothing I was able to do. Half of the wounded left to my care died and I could do nothing.”

Her voice held the tears: the tears that she would not allow to fall from her eyes, just as she had not allowed them to surface for weeks. Her eyelids had stopped blinking, the pupils unnaturally dilated. From one moment to the other her features showed all the exhaustion that she had felt for many days, grey shadows drawing over her face.

She saw a tiny, dual reflection of herself in the Rohír’s eyes, saw concern. And then he pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her, just holding her.

“Shhh!” he soothed.

Finding herself suddenly pressed against a bare hard chest, her face buried in the crook of his neck, she stiffened. As it had been inappropriate for him to touch her face, this tight embrace was highly disreputable. She probably should have jumped and shrieked. But she was so tired, and he was warm and offered comfort. How long had it been since somebody had hugged her? Since after her mother’s death when there had been brief embraces of consolation from her father and brothers. But physical contact between grown siblings of different gender was not regarded proper behaviour. And though her family was loving and supporting, she had nearly forgotten how solacing the simple warmth of another human’s body could feel.

Whilst her body relaxed against his, her mind yelled at her that this was madness. That she must have lost her senses. What had happened? One moment she was bantering with this man, the next a bottomless sorrow swept over her and now she was lying in his arms. Did she just break down? She had never broken down! Giving into despair was not an option! Her mind demanded to let reason prevail, but her body just wanted to stay. If the warrior had done anything but hold her, she would have probably jumped. But he held himself motionless, demanding nothing. Offering her only the comfort of the closeness of another human being.

Her face lay against his neck. She could feel his steady hard pulse against her temple. Under her lips she felt the lump of one of his scars. He smelt of the spirit with which she had disinfected his wound and of the salve with which she had soothed it. His hair smelled of soap, and then there was his very own individual smell.

She tried not to think, just feel, but as to be expected it was only a matter of time until her mind won the internal debate. This was all wrong. Quite wrong. Her muscles stiffened and she pulled back. The Rohír let her go. When she looked up, her expression guarded, she thought she saw in his eyes the same unease that she herself felt about this encounter. They regarded each other silently for a moment. Then his lips curved with the barest hint of a smile. But there was no happiness in it. It was sombre and heavy-hearted.

“Mistress, I am absolutely sure you did your best. You would not know how to do differently.” Absent-mindedly he took one of her hands, examining it thoroughly, massaging her fingers with his. “I know how it is to feel inadequate, to feel as if you are failing, to feel you are a prisoner of circumstances. In the end we just have to give our best; wherever we have been placed in this game we call life. Sometimes it is enough, sometimes it is not. We just keep on fighting until we cannot fight anymore.”

“I do not fight.” That came out with great force, every word stressed. He looked a bit surprised, but contradicted with the same conviction

“Oh yes, you do. You are a fighter. You fought me all the time. Your weapons are just different. As you said earlier: you do not inflict wounds, you heal them. Yours is the final fight, the fight against death.”

“That kind of fight is a passive one. You have to watch and wait until the battle is over. Then you go and pick up the pieces, try to put together what has been ripped apart. That is and ever has been the fate of women in a world of fighting men. Watch! Wait!”

“Do you wish to change your fate, to have a less passive part?” Asking this, he looked rather sceptical. Knowing her physical appearance, she couldn’t blame him.

“You mean to take up weapons and go into battle myself?” She shook her head. “No, my Lord! That is not my way, not my nature. And what would it change, women going into battle? In addition to the grief for husbands and sons, for fathers and brothers, one would grieve for sisters and daughters too.”

“Then what do you wish for?”

“That this battle fought, was the last.”

“I do not think this wish will be granted.”

“Neither do I. Nevertheless, I pray that this was the last battle that I had to witness. If I have learnt one thing, then next to a battle lost the saddest thing is a battle won.”

“You are much too young to be so wise.”

She wished he would stop referring to her youth. It made her feel somehow lacking true experience. She withdrew her hand which he still had clasped between his two.

“It is not as if you were ancient,” she declared with a defensive note in her voice.

“I do not think there is anybody who has not aged in soul and heart over the past months . . . years.”

She couldn’t help it, but all of a sudden her youngest brother came to her mind, the one whose primary purpose in life, after chasing women of course, was to enjoy himself and to torment his siblings. Nothing and nobody would ever change him. Perhaps it was good, that at least this one thing was constant. Her lips curled into the tiniest of smiles.

“Well, there is one of my brothers. He ceased maturing when he was about twelve years old.”

“You have brothers?”

She confirmed that with a single nod and then asked: “Do you have any siblings?”

“I have one sister.”

The healer had never seen a smile so loving and crestfallen at the same time. But the love was clearly there.

“She is blessed indeed!”

Something in her voice had him look at her suspiciously. “Why do I have a feeling that this is not to be praise?”

“She has just one brother. I have three!”

It looked as if he had to fight back a grin, but then his gaze sombered once more.

“They lived through the battles unharmed?”

“Yes, they were fortunate. They fought and they survived. The Valar granted our family mercy. But a cousin died and an uncle also.”

“I lost a cousin and an uncle, too.”

And how great this loss was for him was clearly written in his dark eyes. She could not think of any appropriate words or gestures of consolation.

“It will take long before the wounds of Middle-earth are going to be healed. And deep scars will remain,” she finally said quietly.

“A scar is a good reminder to be more cautious in the future.” He put his hand over the rough scar on his shoulder, where only moments ago her lips had touched him.

“If that were true, my Lord, you would have less.”

He rubbed the scar and shrugged his shoulders dismissively. “This kind is of no consequences.”

“Except they become infected and get no proper treatment.”

“Ah!” One of the straight eyebrows arched. “So we are back at the beginning.”

It seemed they both wanted to get back to the beginning, to their earlier battle of wits: to disregard the dark clouds of their desolation.

“Indeed! And that reminds me of your leg.”

“What about my leg?” His gaze dropped to his thighs which were covered under his make-do wrap. He looked slightly confused, obviously not quite sure to what she was referring.

“You tell me. You are limping.”

“I am not limping!” he insisted in a disgusted tone, as if she had just accused him of being infested with scabies.

“My Lord, I watched you walk across the lawn. You do limp!”

“It is nothing.”

“Where did I hear that before?”

“Mistress, you are tired! You need to rest. Forget about my leg.”

He moved to hop off the bench, but the healer was standing directly in front of him, refusing to give way. He would have had to step on her feet. The Rohír sighed.

“Look, it is not a gash or anything dramatic. I must have sprained or twisted something.”

“Did you hurt a muscle or a tendon?” Finally the healer was back on her field of expertise, where she felt comfortable, unlike the warrior, who obviously would have preferred to ignore just another physical plight.

“How am I supposed to know? I am not the healer.”

“That is something we may agree upon. How did it happen?”

He stared at her for a long moment, but finally surrendered.

“I suppose that I am not getting out of here, before you are satisfied.”

He watched her shaking her head, smiling sweetly. He let out another sigh, this one louder than the last.

“Well,” he began and then stopped to recollect the incident. “We were fighting at the Black Gate on foot. That is something I am not used to. My boots are riding boots, not made for extensive exercise other than on horseback. I must have twisted my ankle.”

“So it is your ankle that hurts and makes you limp?”

That earned her a look harbouring between frustration and amusement, but he began rotating his right foot in an effort to find the actual source of the pain.

“No, it is not the ankle. It is around the knee, . . . below the knee.”

“What happened, when you were injured?”

“I do not recall.” If his tone of voice was an indicator, then he was losing his patience. “I was rather occupied at that moment fighting a few thousand Orcs.”

“All of them at once?” What was it about this man that tempted her tongue to work quicker than her brain?

The Rohír shot her a look which had to be regarded as highly dangerous. Strangely enough she remained unbothered.

“Have you ever been in danger of being throttled?” he asked, grinding his teeth together.

“Oh yes,” she said slowly, “just earlier tonight.”

She almost regretted her words: because now he looked truly taken aback.

“You know how to hit low!” he growled.

“Three brothers provide a quite marvellous education.”

“That you survived shows that you are not as frail as you look.”

“I am not frail.” She clamped her mouth into a firm line.

“That is a matter of opinion.” He was turning the tables, and he knew it.

“That is a matter of comparison.” She gestured with both hands. Even when sitting on the bench his eyelevel was above hers. “Compared to you, I may look small.”

“I wasn’t comparing you to me,” he said in a low tone, never once taking his eyes off hers, “but to other women.”

She took a step back and blinked, twice. He had tilted his head very slightly to the side, and there was that assessing gaze again. Here she was out of her league, and she knew it. And worse, this man knew it, too. He arched a single eyebrow and then let it slowly be joined by the other. There was a mocking challenge in his eyes. Her lips parted, but she had nothing to say, not a single word would come. There was nothing but air, and even that seemed in short supply.

And then all of the sudden his expression softened, and a rueful and apologetic smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. His voice had lost it’s teasing tone and now showed genuine kindness.

“Why do you not do whatever you feel you have to do to my leg, so we can get this over with and you can retire. I really do not want to keep you up any longer.”

He let her off the hook!

Grateful, she took a deep, calming breath and just dropped down on one knee before him to examine his lower leg. Firmly she took his right foot and set it on her thigh. She heard a strangled cough from the Rohír, but didn’t pay any attention. His feet were as well formed as his hands, but covered with calluses and patches of horn skin, indicating that most of the time they were imprisoned in his boots.

“You should walk barefoot from time to time. It would be very beneficial for your feet.”

“Really?” His voice sounded somehow strained.

Still not wanting to look at him she pushed the linen sheet from his right leg and began to palpate his tendons. Slowly she let her fingers glide from the calcaneus to the hollow of the knee, putting gentle pressure from both sides against the tendons.

“Tell me, if you feel a slicing pain.”

“I will.”

Something was wrong with his voice, but by now she was fully concentrated on the examination. She changed the position of her hand, putting one just above the knee cap and fisted the other into the hollow of the knee, rolling it against the tendons.

“Anything?”

“Nothing . . .almost. . . at least no pain.”

“Fine. Then the tendons do not seem to be damaged.”

“That is good!”

“Indeed! They take quite some time to heal.”

She circled his knee cap with thumb and index finger and twisted it slightly. He didn’t flinch.

“Nothing wrong here,” she declared, a concentrated frown on her forehead.

She heard him mutter a few words in his native tongue. Something was wrong! She looked up cautiously and saw his eyes shining with suppressed amusement. What had she done now?

“My Lord?” she asked suspiciously.

“Mistress, are you certain, that nobody else around here might be awake and could come to this chamber?”

“I do not think so. Why do you ask?”

“Never mind.” He waved it aside and the healer could have sworn she heard a slight groan. “It is of no importance.”

She couldn’t shake the feeling that he found something highly amusing, but she had no idea what it was all about.

“So, when the tendons are not damaged, everything is just well?” Somehow he didn’t appear really interested.

“Not at all. A muscle must be affected. You stated earlier that the source of the pain is just below the knee. Below the cap or below the hollow?”

“Below the back of the knee.”

She contemplated this information, then pressed his foot with one hand down on her thigh, the other she wrapped, fingers wide spread, around his upper calf, sliding slowly down, putting pressure on her finger tips. Suddenly, in a reflex of pain, his leg straightened, pushing against her rips and sending her backwards onto her bottom.

“Muscle rupture,” she diagnosed with some satisfaction, supporting her upper body on her elbows.

The Rohír had jumped off the bench and bent down to slide his hands under her armpits. Without any obvious effort he pulled her back onto her feet.

“Are you well?” he asked, his voice a mixture of concern and amusement. “You should have warned me.”

“I did not expect your reflexes to be that strong. How careless of me.” She took in his raised eyebrows, his hands planted on his hips. Although in doubt that there was another of his kind, she made a silent vow, should one come along she would send him off to another healer.

“I understand a ruptured muscle is not as bad as a torn tendon?” There was some hope in his voice that he would be able to avoid further treatment.

“That is so. A damaged tendon needs longer to heal, but nevertheless, a muscle rupture needs tending, too. I will bandage it.”

“Oh no! You will do no such thing,” the warrior protested firmly. “I am not running around with a bandaged leg.”

“You should not run around at all. You should rest your leg, or it will take much longer to heal.”

“How much longer?”

“Had you bandaged t