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Keeper of the Jewels  by Cuthalion

Chapter 1
Mishap in the garden

“What the h… ouch!!”

There. One moment of carelessness with those enormous clippers – though the warden of the palace gardens had assured him that these were indeed the smallest ones he had been able to find – and he had managed to hurt himself. He didn’t even want to think about what the Gaffer would have to say about this. You have hooves where others have hands, Samwise Gamgee. Something of that kind, and no mistake.

He gazed down at his right hand. The second and third finger showed ugly, deep cuts, and the dull pain of the first moment was slowly turning into a fierce, sharp burning. He sighed, fumbled in his pocket for a clean handkerchief and wrapped it around the wounds. The effect was disappointing; the white cloth colored to a wet, crimson red and now the blood started to trickle down over his wrist.

There was no use in playing the hero… he would have to get some help. He stood in the palace garden, right beside the rose bush he had intended to prune with those oversized shears, desperately trying to remember where the Houses of Healing were located. At least I’ve already been there, he thought with a lopsided grin, it would be terribly easy to get lost in this noble, white mountain of stones. Not the right place for hobbits, not at all.

He would try to find that friendly, elderly lady he had met in the Houses when Mr. Merry had brought him there a week ago to show him the place where the King had called his spirit back from wherever it had been after the battle on the Pelennor fields. Iorwen? No… Ioreth. She would certainly be able to stop the bleeding and to bandage the fingers before Str… before Aragorn heard about this stupid mishap. Not to speak of Mr. Merry. Or Mr. Pippin.

He opened the ornate garden gate between the high marble pillars and walked down the straight, paved road that led down from the palace to the sixth circle. The throbbing in his injured hand grew stronger while he made his way between neatly clipped hedges, and when he turned around he discovered a long trail of red spots on the white stones. He managed to shake off the silly, childish panic at the sight of his own blood, but he greeted the sight of the gate to the herb gardens of the Houses with a sigh of honest relief. The scent of sun-warmed rosemary, sage and lavender welcomed him and a moment later he reached the huge, heavy door to the entrance hall. He had to use both hands to push it open and was rewarded with a penetrating pain in the wounded fingers that made him gasp.

He still stood in the dim hall, blinking and trying to orient himself, when a door at the far end opened and a tall man stepped in, clad in the gray robes of the healers. His earnest, lined face relaxed to a smile and he bowed.

“What can I do to be of service, Master Per – oh, I see.”

There was not much to explain, indeed. The cloth was white no longer, saturated, and blood dripped onto the clean granite tiles, forming a small puddle.

“I’m terribly sorry,” Sam murmured. “I didn’t want to make such a mess, I really didn’t.”

“Don’t let it bother you, Master… Gamgee?” With a few fast steps the man was by his side, sliding one big hand around the hobbit’s shoulders and under his arm, keeping him upright. Sam felt a vague mixture of surprise and dismay when he understood that he actually was in dire need of a strong, supporting hand. His head started to spin, and suddenly he felt rather dizzy. “We will take care of that,” the man continued in a reassuring tone. “But first we will take care of you. May I introduce myself? I am Oroher, warden of the Houses of Healing. This way, please.”

*****

Half an hour later Sam sat on a low stool in one of the sunlit rooms on the western side. The wounds on both fingers had been sewed with a dozen tiny stitches, and he held a mug with mulled wine in his good hand, thankfully sipping the warm, spicy liquid. Oroher knelt beside him, securing the white bandage with a small knot, when suddenly voices rose outside; steps were approaching. Oroher shot a glance at the door, rose quickly and bowed.

“Oh dear…” Sam murmured, his pale face flushing with helpless embarrassment. “Oh dear.”

The very next moment the King of Gondor burst into the room, his brow furrowed with concern, his lips a tight line. He caught sight of the small figure with the bandaged hand, came to abrupt halt and let out his breath; his broad shoulders relaxed while he peered down at the hobbit on the stool.

“Now, don’t you tell me that you knew it before,” Sam said quickly before Aragorn could even open his mouth. “T’was nothing but a silly accident. Those clippers are clearly not made for hobbit fingers.”

“Oh, indeed?” The warm, deep steel-and-velvet-voice held more than a hint of irony. “My dear Sam… remind me not to fear next time I walk into the gardens of my palace to invite a friend to lunch, only to discover a pair of abandoned, bloody hedge clippers and a dramatic trail of blood leading me all the way down to the sixth circle and to a puddle of blood in the Houses of Healing.” He shook his head. “At least you have found the right place to get the help you needed.” He took Sam’s hand in his, examined the bandage and gave a smile. “Thank you, Oroher.”

“Your Majesty.” The warden bowed again and turned to Sam.

“You should be careful during the next days, Master Gamgee,” he said, “Please keep the bandage as dry as possible, and I would like to see you the day after tomorrow to be sure that there is no inflammation. Master Baggins might perhaps accompany you;; then I’ll be able to check both of your hands.”

“I will be here, too.” the King said quietly.

“Of course, your Majesty. It will be an honor for me to assist you.”

Sam sighed. Out of the pan and into the fire, he thought. This will cause even more pampering than those nasty bruises on the soles of my feet that are finally healed. Well… there’s nothing I can do to keep them from fussing, I suppose. At least it will be me for a change. I guess Mr. Frodo will be pleased to hear that.

He groaned and emptied the mug with a single, long gulp.

*****

Lunchtime had passed and the sun was slowly wandering down to the west. The hobbits’ house looked eastward, over the wide expanse of the still marred Pelennor fields, the river and the blurring chain of mountains that separated Gondor from the Dark Lands. On the left side the grounds were bounded by a high white wall that set it off from the town house of the royal seneschal, his garden at this time of the year a purposefully tamed riot of rare flowers and abundant lilac bushes. On the right side the wall was lower, overgrown with roses and ivy, and interrupted by a finely crafted gate made of black wrought iron, decorated with the heraldic sign of the House of Lebennin – a proud eagle, holding a chain of gems in his claws. The house behind the wall had been the residence of the Keeper of the Jewels for more than fifteen generations, and when the last Keeper, Ardhenon, retired after the terrible passing of the last Steward, his daughter Artanis had inherited his noble duty. She lived alone in the house, her only servants the equerry, a stable boy, two scullery maids and her old nurse Eilinel who just brought her Lady a piece of cake and a glass of chilled white wine with water.

“… and they are friendly folk, friendly folk indeed!” she said, placing the tray in front of the young noblewoman who sat in the sunny alcove of the small breakfast room. “Always laughing and very polite. Mind you, the gardener – the one who walked with the Ringbearer to Mordor, Samwise Gamgee is his name – even asked for the recipe of my strawberry cake. He told me that they have lots of strawberries in the land where the periannath live…and you should’ve seen his face when he said that. I bet he is very homesick. Perhaps there is a lassie waiting for him. And you should eat your strawberry cake, my lamb… your father will have a word or two with me if I let you grow too thin.”

Artanis took a small sip from the chilled wine. “Are their friends presently in the house, too? The Prince of Greenwood and the dwarf? And where is the White Wizard? Did you see him?”

The nurse smiled down at her, highly pleased that Artanis for once showed an interest in something besides her pearls and gems.

“No, they are not.” she replied, eager to give her Lady all the information she sought. “Mithrandir has gone off to Minas Morgul and further on to Cirith Ungol to see whether there are any evil spells left he might have the power to remove.” She shuddered. “He has taken a troop of three hundred men with him, and Prince Legolas and Gimli the Dwarf have insisted to be in his company – to guard his steps, I guess, as does Master Gamgee who told me about it. And wizard or not, I guess it must feel good to be guarded that way.” Now she blushed; she’d had the chance to catch a glimpse of the elven prince a few days ago, and his strangely youthful, bright beauty and grace had left an ineffaceable impression.

“So they will be gone for at least two weeks, won’t they?” the Lady asked with a smile, “They will be missed by their friends, I suppose.”

“You know, as long as the hobbits are together, they feel fine. They are of the same kin – except the gardener, of course - and it’s so nice to see how much they care for each other! One of has served in Lord Denethor’s guard, and the other one came with the Horse Riders, as you well know; they call him Merry, and I’ve never seen a name that fits better!”

“And the Ringbearer?”

The nurse sighed. “Such a gentle soul… always so tired, and so quiet. But I would probably be quiet, too, after all that happened in that cursed land, with losing his poor finger and all. The right hand is not healed yet, and very second day the King himself changes the bandages in the Palace. That one is a prince among the halflings, he truly is – but when I pass him by on the street, he bows and greets me as any good neighbor should do, and he doesn’t care a bit that I am only a servant. --- Oh, but you must eat something, lamb!”

“An emissary from Harad has arrived with emeralds from the mines in the far south,” the Lady remarked absently, „and I am expected to appraise their value. I will return to the palace within the next hour, and I will lie down to get a little bit of rest first. Last night I had to wait very long for the pearl-merchant of Dol Amroth.”

The nurse removed the untouched plate and the empty glass with a resentful gaze and vanished downstairs into the kitchen; Artanis got up from the table and walked to her rooms.

Both bedroom and parlor were of an unusual simplicity, concerning the noblewoman that resided there most of the year. The family manor in Lebennin was much more luxurious, but Artanis had always found her father’s taste and unchecked rage of collecting things more than a little stifling. The walls in her personal realm were of a soft white; the high windows had been renewed a few years ago and the biggest one of them had been created after the Lady’s own design. A fine mosaic of rainbow-colored glass-flowers bloomed all over the windowpane and turned the rays of the sun into gems, shimmering on the cool, marble floor. Two deep, comfortable chairs stood on each side of the big, empty fireplace, and a high shelf was filled with books, bound in leather and thick parchment. An old oak chest, hidden in a niche behind the bed, was waiting to hide the seventy-five gray pearls Artanis had already gathered for the precious string the King was waiting for, and an old, beautifully carved bench was strewn with cushions in warm, deep colors… ruby red, sapphire blue and a rich, glorious emerald green. Artanis sat down there and leaned back against the wall. Her gaze fell on the gilded lamp on her desk; the intricate lampshade was made of gossamer-thin agate. Artanis took the tinderbox from the mantelpiece and kindled a small flame; warm brightness filled the dim corner of the room.

Tell me a story, Maedhron. About Mardil, the Good Steward. And keep the agate-lamp burning. I’m afraid in the dark.

There’s no need to be afraid, little one. One day you will be the Keeper of the Jewels, and countless treasures will pass through your hands. You will be a famous, wealthy lady among noble men, my sweet pearl.

No, you will be the Keeper. Father is so proud of you… and I am, too.

But Maedhron had been right, as always. When the darkness of war had fallen over Minas Tirith, he refused to follow the order of their father and left for the battle on the Pelennor fields. And there he died, her brother, golden and bright like amber and fiery topaz, and she had been left behind to be a poor substitute for his warmth and glory.

Show your value, daughter, at least once. There is no one else left I could rely on.

Her father’s voice, bitter and dry, the words spoken barely three days ago. And she would try not to disappoint him.

*****

Half an hour later a pigeon rose from the stables of the Keeper’s house, circling over the white roof and turning west to where the sun went down behind Mt. Mindolluin. The small message tube tied to her foot contained a short note:

The Ringbearer has a bedroom of his own. He rests early. And his right hand is bandaged.

TBC





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