Chapter 2: Of Healers
A strategy was devised by the elves who loved Estel. The twins would take the manling on a tour of the entire household. Their excuse would be his need to learn more about his home and the elves in it. The household would likely believe the tour had something to do with what happened after the dwarves arrived.
They did. As they conversed about it most of the servants concluded their Lord was reaffirming in the child’s mind where he should and should not go and do or should not do. The servants learned nothing about the search for Estel’s future nurse.
The elves in on the plot would observe every servant Estel interacted with. They would note even the slightest glimmer of affection any of the elves showed toward the child. Most of the servants gave Estel respect for the sake of their lord and the boy’s ancestors, but a youth could not be raised on cordial respect alone, especially second-hand respect.
Legolas joined the tour. He considered finding the right caregiver for Estel his concern as well. The elf was also curious about the search process itself. He found the sneakiness of it amusing. The need for careful observation was also a tempting challenge. Perhaps, his suggestion being rejected had also helped peak the Thranduilion’s interest.
The tour started in the healing ward. There were no patients in it that day. The healers were busy mixing, measuring, and sealing bottles of medicines as well as cleaning their tools and the ward itself.
Elladan stepped through the doorway with Estel sitting upon his shoulders. The boy’s head jerked about as his eyes locked upon first one object of interest and then another. Elrohir and Legolas stepped up to flank the eldest and youngest Elrondions. Elrohir gestured around the room.
“This is the Healing Ward, honored guests. Here, Lord Elrond and other great elven healers save those struck with every ailment known in Arda.”
Estel giggled. He already knew almost everything his brother was telling him, but he was playing the part of an important human visitor. Elrohir was speaking to him as such. Legolas was also playing the part of a diplomat from Mirkwood, one who had never visited the Hidden Valley before that is.
The twins took Estel closer to each working elf. The boy strained his neck to gaze at everything. Elrond smiled at his youngest son’s interest in the healing arts.
His colleagues did not. Atop Elladan’s shoulders, most things Estel spied were out of his reach. Even if they were not, his brothers and Legolas were ready to grip the manling’s hand before he could touch something he should not.
Still, the healers and their assistants glanced from the child to the sharp instruments they were cleaning, the liquids they were boiling, and the surfaces they were trying to sanitize. They all knew too well that humans carried diseases within themselves weeks before showing signs of the sickness. The Second Born, therefore, could infect their surroundings while seeming well themselves. The healers decided they may as well start their sanitizing work over again as soon as the manling left. Estel’s tour guide pretended not to know their thoughts or notice their attitudes.
“This is healer Agargol’s assistant, Cuilbron. He’s sterilizing the bottles healing tonics will be poured into.”
The healer looked up and met the manling's gaze. “Ster-i-liz-ing means purifying something so nothing remains that might hurt a patient.”
“You should stay away from anyone while they are sterilizing things with boiling water. Boiling water hurts.”
Elladan took Estel away from the boiling water and carried him toward a healer crushing leaves in a wooden dish. Elrohir gestured to her with a smile. “This is our Lord Elrond’s apprentice Caffim. What herb are you crushing Caffim?”
The elleth started and looked up at Elladan. She thought the smell coming from the pulp answered for her. “I’m crushing mint leaves.”
Estel leaned forward. His grin was wider than his eyes. He had been given permission to ask questions and intended to take full advantage of it. “Why?”
The elleth’s eyes darted about, noting her lord, her lord’s sons, and the son of Mirkwood’s king were all staring at her. She took a calming breath, looked back to her task, and continued to crush the leaves. “The leaves contain oil that is useful in treating some ills.”
The elleth continued and forced herself to not glance at any of the elves staring at her. “Mostly calming those who are nervous.”
Elladan carried Estel towards healer Agargol. The elf was standing in front of rows of bottles and writing something on a scroll. He glanced up at the assembly approaching him and spoke before the question was asked. “I am counting the bottles of medicine.”
“To see what we have enough of and what we need.”
“So we have what we need.”
“Because our patients might need it.”
“Because people get hurt.”
“W . . .”
Elrohir turned away and interrupted. “Let us go see what healer Golweniar is doing over there.”
As Elladan took his little brother over to another corner of the healing ward, Agargol approached Lord Elrond.
“My lord, do you really think it wise to have the manling here? I know you wish him to learn of us, but he is rather young. Perhaps waiting a few more years to so educate him would be wise.”
Elrond sighed. He had hoped the Healer’s Compassion might coax at least one of his colleagues to show some warmth towards his youngest son. Instead, they all seemed to have clenched jaws and tight lips. He nodded. “Elladan! Elrohir!” The twins and those they were “guiding” turned toward the elven lord. “Why don’t you take our guests to the washing rooms?” All three elves and the manling made faces, but they did as lord Elrond had “suggested.”
Mellolaes had served in and around the palace all her life. She was a healer. So why did she feel out of place in the Palace Healing Ward?
As she passed a fellow healer, Mellolaes gave the other elleth a strained grin. Her colleague's face glowed with the light of those born in Melian’s realm as she returned the gesture. Then she had passed by.
Mellolaes turned sideways as two healers passed by her on both sides. One gave her an apologetic smile. The other continued to frown in thought without meeting her gaze. Neither spoke. Mellolaes walked on.
This room had once been empty more days than not. Occasionally, a pallet was occupied by an elf or elleth hurt in an accident or by a spider, warg, or pack of orcs stupid and bold enough to enter Greenwood the Great. Now, half their forest was the territory of such creatures, and nearly every cot was occupied at all times. Thranduil had ordered an expansion to the healing ward when the shadow had first begun to stretch over his kingdom. Workers had dug into the earthen wall until the room was seven times as long as it had been before. There was talk of expanding it again.
Some of the patients there were simply fading after the loss of their home or a loved one. Healers, relatives, and friends stayed nearby singing softly, speaking words of encouragement, coaxing them to stay in Arda. Bowls of hot water and fresh Athelas leaves were kept steaming bedside these patients at all times.
Most of the patients in the Healing Ward, though, had physical wounds. Eight had been struck by orc arrows. Five had been cut by an orc blade. Still others had an orc or warg bite. Two suffered from warg-claw-scratch. Thirteen had been stung by the giant spiders. One was simply the victim of a training accident. With so many patients you would have thought the healing staff would be stretched. An assistant had to step behind a full fledged healer to let Mellolaes pass them both. She sighed.
I am as needed here as another blade of grass is needed in a green lawn.
The palace healing staff had quadrupled. Every healer of Greenwood the Great who was not also a warrior now practiced there. The healers would have been tripping over each other if they were not elves.
Even healers who had lived and practiced in areas still considered “safe,” for now, were called by the king to give their places to warrior-healers, usually those who had been pushed from their homes. Some had given away their places more willingly than others. Many thought it an honor to serve in the palace. Several preferred watching over patients on the mend to patching them up and sending them back into battle or on to the palace healing ward. A few had come there muttering about the king having the audacity to command them to report to the palace and turn their places over to another. Most felt compassion for the healer who had taken their place knowing they had had still more taken from them.
Mellolaes was surrounded by healers with more power and experience, many from Doriath, a few with Noldor blood, and most with more experience in treating battle wounds than she. Some had even traveled with King Oropher to the battle of The Ring.
She felt like a sapling among ancient trees here. Along with all this, even though she could treat wounds, push back the darkness infecting their warriors, and encourage the fading, none of these things were Mellolaes' greatest “gift.” None of these things were her expertise.
She arrived at the cot she had been called to. The healer who had requested her aid turned to her. This healer was also pure Silvan. However, he had been treating injuries on the field of battle before the ring was cut from Sauron’s hand. Due to his experience, he had been given authority to take charge of patients cut by blades and struck by arrows, poisoned or not. Mellolaes better understood why he had chosen to summon her, rather than someone else, when she saw who else was assisting him.
A tall and slim elleth with hair as black as ink and warm, brown eyes stood near the patient’s head. She was stroking the warrior’s hair out of his face. She paused to smile at Mellolaes.
Mellolaes smiled back at Nithrestil before looking to their patient. He was breathing deeply and had not responded in any way to Mellolaes’ approach or Nithrestil’s touch. He had been dosed into a deep sleep, which meant one thing, surgery. Mellolaes turned her attention to the head healer. “I am here to serve.”
He nodded. “This patient had a poisoned arrow strike him in the side. The arrow was removed days ago, but the poison has continued to trouble him. We tried simply drawing the poison and cleansing the wound. Now I will make an incision to clean it out entirely and stop this infection for certain.”
“What must I do to aid you in this?”
“Cleanse the exposed area as the poison leaves it.”
Mellolaes blinked. She glanced at Nithrestil. Her friend flashed an apologetic smile.
Mellolaes looked back to where the other elleth's hands brushed back the patient's hair. Of course Nithrestil had been chosen to sing and stroke away the patient’s pain, whatever pain he felt so deeply drugged. She had Doriath blood. Mellolaes herself always admitted she was not famous for her surgical skills, but this? Any apprentice could be charged with this task.
Mellolaes swallowed and tried to dampen the burning inside through force of will. Then she picked up the bowl and a cloth from the nearby table. The surgeon’s own assistant stood by, obviously to hand her bowls of clean water and clean clothes as she had need. Mellolaes acknowledged him with a glance and turned back to the surgeon. “I am ready.”
Mellolaes dragged the metal covering aside. Then she tossed the black and red soaked cloths into the unlit fire-pit. Silvans barely used fire for warmth or cooking. In fact they had tried to convince their Sindar and Noldor kin doing so was unnecessary. However, none of them had argued against fire being the best way to be rid of the enemy’s filth after they witnessed corpses reeking of evil turned to harmless ash. Merely bloodied bandages and cloths could be cleaned, but those soiled by the black filth that spread from a wound infected by the enemy’s poisons . . . Mellolaes slammed the metal lid back over the pit and sat on it.
The warmth left over from the last fire should not have comforted her. She was Silvan. She should not need the warmth of fire.
Mellolaes shivered at the memory of the chill of the dead elf’s skin and his friend’s tears. No wound, no wound at all, the patient had simply followed his son into the Halls of Waiting. She had been the third healer to check his vitals.
The King had decreed three healers had to check the body of a faded patient, to make absolutely certain no life remained in them. She had. She was sure. How she wished otherwise.
She rose and stomped on the fire pit’s cover. A satisfying, metallic ring rent the air, but it wasn’t satisfying enough. She opened her mouth and screamed. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” Curse spiders that stung, and wargs that bit and scratched, and goblin archers, and orcs spears, and poison! Curse it all!
She turned. Nithrestil was gazing at her with wide eyes. Mellolaes wiped a hot tear off her cheek. Then she took a deep breath. “I am sorry, mellon nin. Am I needed?”
Nithrestil did not reply. Instead, she crossed the room, wrapped her arms around her friend, and let the Silvan elleth sob into her shoulder.
“There are more than enough healers there already, my husband. Asking a Silvan to face the toils of the Healing Ward now without being able to go outside to strengthen their souls is cruelty.”
Mirkwood’s King looked away from his wife’s gaze and nodded. “I should have realized that myself. Give Mellolaes Merilvidhian my apologies, and tell her she is given leave from her duties there both during and for a month or so after her punishment.”
Lathwinn’s brown eyes softened. “I will.” She reached up and laid a hand on his cheek. Thranduil turned to meet her gaze again. The elleth’s words sounded like warm honey to him. “You are doing well, my love. If you should have remembered, I doubly should have thought to remind you. That is why we are here for each other, especially in days like these.”
King and queen embraced each other, drawing strength from one another to face the many crises still before them.