Posted for Legendarium Ladies April 2016, for the April 23rd prompts: General Prompt: The Common People, and Picture Prompt: "Reflection" by Nádia Maria.
"And Gandalf, who stood by, said: 'Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them.'" (The Return of the King, "The Houses of Healing")
The soldier is young, his dark hair sticking to his forehead with sweat and his teeth tightly clenched so no sound of pain will escape him. "Do you remember," Ioreth says as her hands move gently and deftly to stitch his wound, "when we went to visit my cousins in Imloth Melui, and my cousin Idril's eldest boy—he's a grown man now with children of his own, can you believe it?—he climbed to the top of a tree to pick apples for some girl he had his eye on, and he fell out and broke his arm? And I had to set the bone right there in the orchard!"
"I remember," Dúlinn says, holding the young man's arm steady.
"We should go there again, once there's time," Ioreth says. "It's too early for the roses, but the violets will be up already, and those little yellow flowers that grow on all the bushes—what are they called? I can never remember. That's done now, where are the bandages?" Dúlinn hands Ioreth what she needs, almost before she finishes speaking. "Thank you, my dear. Don't you worry, lad, that arm will heal nicely if you rest it properly, and you'll be swinging a sword again as well as ever. Though why anyone would want to, I don't know." The strain in the young soldier's face has eased somewhat; Ioreth pats his good shoulder, and he almost smiles.
Dúlinn has heard the names the people of the City call Ioreth behind her back, usually with tolerant affection: a babbling brook, they say, or a twittering sparrow. But Ioreth's stream of chatter distracts the wounded men from their pain. It eases Dúlinn's heart as well. She is old now, and she has known war all her life, but not like this. Not at the very gates of the City. In Ioreth's words, Dúlinn hears as well what she does not say: that they will live through this, both of them, and they will walk in the quiet woods of Lossarnach again together. Her own hands are more used to a weaver's shuttle; the healer's craft is not hers. But she has learned bits and pieces from Ioreth during all the years they have lived together, and she knows enough to be of use. Enough that she need not be sent away to safety, where she would fret her heart out for her City and her love.
"I remember," she says, when Ioreth pauses for breath, and she knows Ioreth hears her unspoken words as well: I remember when I first saw you in Imloth Melui, your head crowned with roses for a feast-day, and you seemed to me as fair as any elven-maid from a tale. Ioreth's hair was raven-dark then, that now is grey, and her face has grown wrinkled, though no less dear. Dúlinn herself no longer has the slender figure or bright eyes of her youth, and neither of them dances with light foot as they did then. But they have chosen each other and grown old with each other, and neither of them would choose otherwise.
Dúlinn holds those memories close to her as Ioreth turns to the next wounded man, and the next, her stream of speech unabated. Dúlinn brings Ioreth clean water and cloths and bandages, takes away the bowls where the water has turned red. It is sobering, to see what damage can be done by sword and arrow and javelin. Dúlinn can tell, in the way Ioreth looks at her from time to time, that she is taking comfort in seeing Dúlinn here under her eye, in knowing she is whole and safe.
Ioreth would not know what to do with a sword, any more than she would, but as Dúlinn watches, she thinks there is much valor to be found in the Houses of Healing, not only on the battlefield. She sees the women move about their work with calm steadiness in the midst of the chaos and shouting, and she knows they would continue even if the enemy were clamoring at the very doors of the Houses of Healing with fire and sword.
When the stream of wounded men from the battlefield does not slow, when all the beds are full and they must lay them down in the hallways, when exhaustion presses in on them and it is hard to snatch a few moments to sit down and rest her feet or gulp a few swallows of water, Dúlinn steadies herself with the sound of Ioreth's voice. It gives her comfort to know that Ioreth is still the same, that her hands and heart and tongue will not falter.