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Hands of Healing  by Cuthalion

Hands of Healing
By Cúthalion

The stables have always been my asylum... against the staggering sight of my uncle’s misery, against the rage and disappointment caged within my heart and unspoken for so long that the words dammed up behind my gritted teeth like a bitter, unmeasured flood of rancid venom. Against Gríma’s eyes following my every footstep, the whispering of his heavy, embroidered cloak on the floor, the clandestine secrecy of his footfall behind my back.

Now my uncle sits under the golden roof of Meduseld with clear senses again, preparing for a battle no one of us has foreseen despite all the terror of Saruman’s forces against the villages of the Westfold. A fresh wind has blown away the fog of foul betrayal and evil sorcery, an icy squall, following on the heels of Gandalf the White and his strange companions.

I have seen the White Wizard standing before the throne, his staff held aloft like a flash of lightning in the darkness of the hall… and lucidity and reason, flooding back into Théoden’s eyes. I remember my perplexity and fear, and how my attempt to hurry at my uncle’s side was stopped by calloused hands, closing around my upper arms and holding me back like a foal about to bolt.

I found no sleep that night. Dreams whirled in my exhausted mind... of Théoden’s miraculously renewed strength, of the dwarf, a sturdy figure with dark eyes under heavy brows, of the elf, a mysterious, bright scheme in the background, slender as a spear... and of him. His touch has woken something in my heart, a feeling I have no name for, a flower, blooming with a color and fragrance I don’t recognize.

Finally morning came, cloudy and cold. I have stolen away to the stables, to seek peace and reassurance as I have so many times before. But the stables are in an uproar, the straw-covered corridor between the stalls a blur of whirling hooves, swearing men with ropes and the shrill, piercing screams of a horrified horse.

This is Brego, Théodred’s stallion... Théodred who lies buried under soft, grassy hills, strewn with simbelmynë. He will never ride it again, and I don’t know how much of the poor beast’s confusion and panic is rooted in pain. Théo was there when the chestnut-brown foal slid out into life, he wiped away blood and phlegm from the delicate nostrils and nursed it with his own hands when its mother caught a fever that decimated half of the stock in the royal stables that year. Théo was the first – and the last – rider Brego accepted on its back, and now it has lost its companion, its master and its hope.

I stroke Windfola’s nose, as she dances nervously under my hand, feeling Brego’s agony. And then he is there, his gaze fixed on the stallion, with that grey intensity that startled me the day before and made me grow silent and still in his grip, with nothing but a hint of steel in those eyes and a single word, spoken with a slightly hoarse, low voice.

"That horse is half mad, my Lord. There’s nothing you can do. Leave him!"

This is Frálaf, the stable master. There is more than a hint of sorrow in his gruff, sharp voice... for both, the master and the horse. He loved Théodred dearly, and he loves all the méaras under his care as much as he loves his own kin.

But he – Aragorn – doesn’t even seem to hear him. All his attention is on the stallion, and I hear him speak.... there is that tone again that I so intensely recall, low and soothing and full of unexpected warmth. And he speaks elvish... soft syllables, shining in the dim light of the stables like pearls on a chain, a singing murmur, a tender caress, made of words.

"His name is Brego." I hear myself say. "He was my cousin’s horse."

"Brego." His surprised gaze meets mine and I feel myself blush like a forward student under the patient eyes of a teacher. He turns back to the horse, stroking the noble head. "Your name is kingly," he whispers. Now there is a tone of reverence and respect in his voice and Brego responds to it like a frightened child, feeling the loving hand of a father. He calms down, thankfully leaning into the unfamiliar touch.

"I’ve heard of the magic of elves, but I didn’t look for it in a ranger from the north." Now I stand beside him; Brego’s warm breath ruffles my hair. "You speak as one if their own." His eyes are distant and for a moment he seems to look right through me; I curse my burning curiosity. What made me say something like that? I feel as if I had just accused a stable-lad of pretending to be King.

"I was raised in Rivendell... for a time."

Raised in Rivendell... I feel the breath catch in my throat and yet I’m not surprised. There is something in him, something great, something ancient and noble... the men felt it who willingly left Brego in his care, my uncle felt it when he lowered his sword and refrained from slaying Gríma on the steps of Meduseld, because this stranger held him back. I feel it and I’m drawn to it – and to him! - like a moth to a flame. It would be so easy... just a tiny movement and our fingers would meet over Brego’s nostrils. But I am frozen with shyness and indecision, and then the moment is over. He steps back. His face is strangely blank, but when he speaks I can see the bitter memory of a hundred battles in his eyes.

"Turn this fellow free. He has seen enough of war."

He takes the saddle he has laid aside and walks away quickly. Brego gives a soft, inquiring neigh and I close my trembling hand around the cool metal ring of his head-collar. I have to grit my teeth not to call him back and a wave of shame and confusion washes over me.

Has he noticed me at all? Has he seen me as I want to be seen – a daughter of kings, a valiant warrior, a shield maiden, worthy of trust?

I don’t think so.

But still that strange fire burns in my heart... the flame of a hope that was rekindled when this man and his companions appeared on the doorstep of the Golden Hall and my uncle awoke from his dark dreams. The hope that not only a frightened horse may be calmed by the sound of that steel and velvet voice and that not only Brego might be healed by the touch of those strong and gentle hands.


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