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Morwen was donning her apron prior to beginning her day's work, when Dame Ioreth approached her holding out a letter.
"The carrier just came from Lossarnach with a letter from my kinswoman and she has also sent you a message."
Morwen held out her hand for the missive, but Ioreth had more to say, "I hope Tasariel isn't doing too much, she works so hard what with that husband of hers and tending the fields. I really don't know how she manages it all. I would-"
"Thank you, Dame Ioreth. I'll read my letter before I begin work for the day." Morwen reached out for the letter with a smile then retreated to a quiet corner. She was eager to see what her old mentor had to say.
The letter began with greetings and enquiries concerning Morwen's well-being. Tasariel then continued "I have been very busy as usual, my dear. I delivered two infants last week, a boy and a girl. The boy was a breech and it was a difficult birth- some lads are a handful from the moment of birth! I have the mother on raspberry tea and drinking plenty of beef broth to restore her strength. Then I had a nasty accident to attend to. One of my husband's workers almost cut his foot off with a sickle.
My Pelendur is getting married soon. Emerwen's a fine lass, but I always hoped that you might have caught his eye. I would have gladly embraced you as a daughter."
Morwen sighed. Pelendur was a decent enough fellow, but marrying him would have meant a lifetime in the village stitching up farm workers. She shuddered at the thought. She was far better suited to her work here as herb mistress.
"I need some blessed thistle tincture for a nursing mother," called Ivorwen, another of the healers.
Morwen stuffed the letter inside the chest where she kept her possessions and hurried off to the herbarium. The jar of blessed thistle tincture was almost empty, though there was plenty of tea left. She measured out the correct dosage for the patient.
"Here you are, Dame Ivorwen," she said. "Your patient is fortunate as this was almost the last in the jar. I'll go and gather some more."
"There have been so many coughs, colds and stomach upsets of late, as well as nursing mothers," said Ivorwen. "Small wonder your stocks are low."
"There is still some Blessed Thistle tea left and several jars of salve," said Morwen.
"Lord Elfstone is visiting the Houses today," said Ioreth. "Whatever will he say if he needs a herb and we don't have it. I recall it as if it were yesterday how mortified the Herb master was when we didn't have athelas. I'm certain that-"
"I will gather some now," said Morwen hastily. She took up a basket and went outside.
Morwen took a deep breath once she had closed the door. It was a fine spring morning and she welcomed the chance to be outside. As it was still early in the year, the Blessed Thistle was being grown in the glasshouse rather than the herb garden, which necessitated a walk through the rose garden to get there.
She passed a gardener who was hard at work pruning roses and bade him good morning. She didn't know his name, but always exchanged a word and a smile with him, for he seemed a pleasant young fellow.
Once within the glasshouse, Morwen quickly found the Blessed Thistle and began harvesting the leaves. She hummed quietly to herself as she worked becoming utterly engrossed in her task.
Suddenly, she was startled by a loud cry followed by a shout for help. Leaving her basket behind, Morwen ran outside to investigate. The cries were coming from the rose garden. She followed the sounds until she came across the gardener sprawled on the ground. Blood was pumping from his wrist.
For a moment, Morwen froze, then she remembered her healer's training and snatched off her apron and folded it into a pad of cloth, which she pressed against the gardener's wound.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Tripped and fell on my pruning knife," said the gardener. "So stupid."
"Accidents happen," said Morwen trying to sound brisk and efficient. "Keep still or you will make the bleeding worse."
"I know I'm going to die," said the gardener. "Lost my friend a few years back when he fell on a blade."
"Nonsense!" said Morwen with more conviction than she felt. Already the blood was seeping through her makeshift pad and she lacked the strength to apply more pressure. She had slightly twisted her hand wresting with a stubborn herb jar a few days ago and it had not yet recovered properly.
"Tell my wife I love her and my boy. He's not yet three years old."
Morwen tried again to press harder to staunch the blood flow. Her head was starting to swim and she felt increasingly queasy. Why did a herb mistress and not a healer find the poor man? Why had no one else come?
"You will tell them yourself," she said in a slightly shaky voice. "I will call for more help." She closed her eyes for a moment as not to look at all the blood, took a deep breath and cried out at the top of her voice.
No one answered her call. She focussed her attention on the gardener's face. He was pale and sweating, his breath coming in ragged gasps. She kept on pressing, but her strength was not sufficient and the rising nausea in her throat was growing worse.
Just then, a man came running through the garden. It was the King. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, he was kneeling beside her and gardener and pulling off his fine velvet tunic, which he folded into a pad.
"I'll take him now, mistress," Aragorn said calmly.
Morwen thankfully lifted her throbbing hands away from the wound. Unable to contain her rising nausea a moment longer, she darted into the bushes and retched violently. Once she felt a little better she forced herself to return to the injured man. Out of all the people who could have answered her cries for help, why did it have to be the King? During the few weeks she had known him, she had come to respect his herb lore and quite like him, but surely one of her colleagues could handle this situation better? And how could the King ever respect her in future now he knew how squeamish she was?
The King was pressing his folded tunic against the injured gardener's wound firmly when she returned. He turned to the gardener. "What is your name?"
"Be easy then, Beleg, all will be well. Close your eyes." The King lifted one hand away from the wound and placed it on the gardener's brow. He then ran a finger over his eyelids. Beleg went limp.
"Is he dead?" asked Morwen.
Aragorn shook his head. "No," he said. "I have sent him to sleep to slow his heart and the loss of blood. I need to stitch the injured blood vessel closed. Could you fetch someone to carry him into the Houses, mistress?"
"I will, sire."
"Thank you. There is no need for you to return here. I suggest you bathe and change your clothes. You look almost as pale as our injured friend here."
Morwen hurried off to do as she was bidden. She went straight to the Warden's office and he immediately despatched two assistant healers to the rose gardens with a stretcher.
"Whatever has happened to you, lass?" asked Ioreth when Morwen re-entered the sanctuary of the room used by the women who served at the Houses.
Morwen looked down at her blood- and vomit-stained gown. "There was an accident," she began, then to her shame burst into tears as she struggled to relate the morning's events.
Ioreth got to her feet and patted Morwen's shoulder kindly. "There, there, dear," she said. "I'll run you a bath and make you a nice cup of Blessed Thistle tea to settle your stomach," she said.
"The poor man will most likely die and it will be my fault!" sniffed Morwen. She found she was shaking.
"Nonsense!" said Ioreth. "You did your best and you are the herb mistress, not a healer. It's all been a nasty shock for you. The gardener could not be in better hands, for if anyone can save him, the Lord Elfstone can. Now come and have a hot bath and get out of those clothes."
Morwen let herself be led to the women's bathing room. Usually, she hated Dame Ioreth's fussing, but today it was oddly comforting. It was a rule that all the women who worked in the Houses kept a complete change of clothing in the women's room. Ioreth brought Morwen her clean garments and took the bloodied ones away then fetched a cup of Blessed Thistle tea, which tasted revolting, but did settle her stomach.
"You should go home and cuddle that cat of yours now, dearie," said Dame Ioreth when Morwen had finished her tea.
"I have work to do," protested Morwen. "The basket of Blessed Thistle is still in the glasshouse for a start."
"A servant can fetch it, and your work can wait until the morrow," said Ioreth. "I'll walk with you to your rooms. Then you must rest, lass and wrap up warm. There's a right chill in the air today. Folk are always too keen to shed their warm garments in spring and little good does it do them. I remember once when –"
For once, Morwen did not mind Ioreth's chatter. She wondered if it served to distract the patients from their ills as it was distracting her today.
When she reached her rooms within the Houses, she went straight to bed and fell asleep with her cat purring at her side.
Morwen awoke the next morning feeling much more like her usual self. She went early to her herbarium. She found the basket of Blessed Thistle leaves waiting for her and set to work preparing a tincture of the herb. She hummed quietly to herself, glad to be at work amidst the familiar fresh scents.
A knock at the door made her start. "Come in!" she called, expecting it to be one of the healers requiring herbs for a patient. To her dismay, the King entered the room.
"Good Morrow, Mistress Morwen," he said with a smile. "I thought you would like to know that Beleg should make a full recovery. I will see that his wife and child are cared for until he can work again. You saved his life, mistress."
"I, sire? I think rather it was you who saved him."
"He would have bled to death before I reached him. You did well to staunch the flow and prevent him losing a dangerous amount of blood as the sight of blood obviously troubles you."
Morwen flushed and shuffled her feet uneasily. "I am sorry I was so foolish and cowardly yesterday. I can deal with a little blood such as a cut finger, but so much!"
The King regarded her with his keen grey eyes. "You might be surprised, Mistress Morwen, how many soldiers I have known who turn sick and faint at the sight of blood. It is a brave man who does his duty when his stomach is lurching, and a brave woman too. And you were dealing with an injured hand, were you not?"
"How did you know that?"
"You were holding your right hand awkwardly. As a healer, I notice these things."
Morwen shrugged. "It is but a minor hurt. I twisted it the other day trying to open a jar I had sealed too tightly."
"May I see?"
Morwen reluctantly held out her hand. The injury was indeed slight, but it left a dull ache in her fingers. The King folded both his hands around hers. They were very warm and, much to her surprise, she felt the warmth seeping through her injury, melting the pain in its wake. It was a curious sensation. She had never felt anything quite like it before. She looked up and saw the kindness and compassion in the grey eyes and realised that he was more than just a King who was a master of herblore. He was a great healer and a great man too.
A/n. Written for the LOTRGFIC "Spring Fever" Challenge. With thanks to Med Cat.
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