ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 8
The Houses Of Healing
"But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgul. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died."The chapter opens through Merry's perspective. The battle is over with the lower parts of the City still "wrapped in a smoldering reek". The wounded were being tended to. Merry, his right arm cold and lifeless, walked behind a procession bearing Theoden and Eowyn in a daze. The ascent up towards the top levels of the City seemed to take forever and at times he thought perhaps he was in a dream. He almost felt as if he were journeying to a tomb, where he they would lay him to rest. His dream-like state was then broken by a voice.
In the original draft it is Gandalf who finds him, saying "Well, Meriadoc, where are you going?" Later, Tolkien change this scene to have Pippin find his lost friend. Merry asks where Theoden and Eowyn were taken. He had fallen behind and the wizard sent Pippin out to look for him. Stricken by the "Black Shadow" from stabbing the Witch-King, Merry is delirious and feels all going dark.
"'Lean on me, Merry lad!' said Pippin. 'Come now! Foot by foot. It's not far.'When they arrive, Gandalf was pleased to see them. He says how lucky for all of them that Elrond agreed to his request that both of the young hobbits accompany the Fellowship, otherwise "far more grievous would the evils of this day have been". So Faramir, Eowyn and Merry were all laid in beds and tended to. But their sicknesses required healing that were beyond their skills. Faramir was fighting a poison in his system delivered by an enemy arrow and both Eowyn and Merry were suffering from a malady brought on by their encounter with the Nazgul.
'Are you going to bury me?' said Merry.
'No, indeed!' said Pippin, trying to sound cheerful, though his heart was wrung with fear and pity. 'No, we are going to the Houses of Healing.'"
The eldest of the women who served in the house, Ioreth, lamented that what they needed were the skills of the Kings of old. "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known" she said, repeating a bit of old lore. Gandalf tells her that there is hope for indeed a King had returned to Gondor. At that moment, Aragorn was meeting with Eomer and Imrahil near the Gates of the City. He is reluctant to enter as one who is to claim the throne, for Minas Tirith had so long been in charge of the Stewards that he feared that doubt and debate would distract them while Mordor was still a looming threat. He asks Imrahil to bring him to Denethor as merely a "captain of the Rangers", for he did not yet know that the Steward was dead. He also orders the standard to be rolled up and gives all tokens of the North-kingdom to the sons of Elrond for safe keeping.
When they approach the guards, Aragorn learns of Denethor's fate and that Faramir is gravely ill, lying in the Houses of Healing. Both he and Eomer are also relieved to find out that Eowyn is not dead, as they had feared. Aragorn asks to be taken to them and he tells Prince Imrahil to serve as ruler of the City until Faramir awakens.
He first went to Faramir. Knowing he would need whatever power and skill he could muster for the task before him, he wishes Elrond were there "for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power". It's interesting that Tolkien has Aragorn use the words "our race". Most readers forget that Aragorn's blood line traces ultimately back to Elrond's brother, Elros. Each of them were half-elven and were given the choice of which race, Men or Elves, that they wished to be. Elros chose to be mortal and from him the race of Numenoreans was descended. So the powers of healing that Elrond has are within Aragorn as well. In his ancestry, the races of Men and Elves are tied together.
Aragorn asks Ioreth for an herb called athelas. However, she doesn't recognize it until he uses the common name for it: kingsfoil. She wasn't aware that this plant had healing properties but sets out to find the herb-master of the Houses of Healing to ask him. When she returns with him, he tells Aragorn that they have none on hand but that they will search for it. Aragorn then went to Faramir.
"And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost."At last, Bergil came in with some kingsfoil, though it has been cut for two weeks and wasn't fresh. Aragorn assured him that it would do. Crushing the plant and mixing it in hot water, Aragorn released its sweet fragrance and it filled the room. After a short time, Faramir stirred. When he opened his eyes to see Aragorn, he seemed to know who his healer was though he had never met him before. "My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?", he said. Aragorn tells him to rest and gain back his strength. He bid him farewell for now, however, for there were others who needed him.
As soon as Aragorn left, Ioreth exclaimed that Faramir had called him King. And he had the hands of a healer! Soon, word began to spread throughout the City that a King had returned to Gondor!
Next, he went to Eowyn. In her case, much depended on Eowyn herself. Aragorn could heal her body but if she awoke to despair then she would not survive. As Aragorn began to heal her, she began to breathe deeply and steadily.Repeating his use of the athelas, he applied the steaming water to her cold right arm. In speaking earlier to Eomer, Aragorn said:
"Few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man's heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned. Sorrow and pity have followed me ever since I left her desperate in Dunharrow and rode to the Paths of the Dead; and no fear upon that way was so present as the fear for what might befall her. And yet, Eomer, I say to you that she loves you more truly than me; for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far from the fields of Rohan."For this reason, as the life began to return to Eowyn, Aragorn put her hand in Eomer's and stepped away. Eomer called to her and Eowyn opened her eyes.
Tolkien's first outline had Eowyn die on the Pelennor Fields. From his notes summarizing the events of March 15th: "Theoden falls from horse sorely wounded; he is saved by Merry and Eowyn, but sortie from Gate does not reach them in time, before Eowyn is slain." Indeed in at least three other early outlines, Eowyn and Theoden are both set to die on the battlefield. Why Tolkien ultimately changed this is not made clear, but it probably has to do with this chapter in which Aragorn heals Eowyn, thereby giving more evidence of his claim to the throne of Gondor as the returning King. My other theory is that having Eowyn fall in love with Aragorn made his relationship to Arwen more complicated so having Eowyn die took care of that. Ultimately, he was able to come up with a way to have her live and still find happiness. In any event, I'm sure I'm not alone in my gratitude to the professor for not killing her off.
Then Aragorn moved on to Merry. It wasn't long before the hobbit was revived and asking for something to eat. At first he says he will never smoke again now that Theoden has died. Since he never had a chance to talk of herb-lore to the King as they had planned, he feared that he wouldn't be able to smoke again without feeling the sadness of his loss. But Aragorn tells Merry to dwell on the memory of his service to Theoden and that those memories should be glad and honorable to the end of his days.
By this time Aragorn is tired but since word had spread of his healing activities, many came to him asking for his aid with the other wounded. He had not slept or eaten since taking the Paths of the Dead but he nonetheless labored well into the night. When his work was done, he returned to the tent he had set up before the Gate of the City and slept. By now all of the people of Minas Tirith had heard of the return of the King. And because of the green stone that he wore, they named him Elfstone.
"And so the name which it was foretold at his birth that he should bear was chosen for him by his own people."------
[Chronology: March 15th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Last Debate