In the King's Hands Lying

by Sevilodorf


He raced through the dark streets unchallenged. His feet following the routes he knew without guidance, for the only thought he could hold in his mind was “...go and find some old man, of less lore and more wisdom....”

Now having reached his destination, he knew not what to do. For there was no help to be found here. Without thinking he reached out to touch a blackened timber, snatching his hand back from heat that lingered within its core.

“Here, what are you doing, boy? This is no place for you.”

Rubbing a sooty arm across his begrimed face, the man coughed to clear the remnants of oily smoke from his lungs. His clothes bore evidence of his labors to quench the fires, and the stench of more than burned wood clung to them.

Breathing as shallowly as possible, to save himself from retching, the boy turned with a face filled with despair.

“Oh, sir, is it all gone?”

“Can you not see that it is? Reduced to ashes by the hordes of Mordor.” His voice gentling as he saw the effect of his words, the stout man settled a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “What are you doing here, lad?”

“I am seeking Master Curuloth. I was sent ...” the boy’s voice broke and a single sob escaped.

All about were the smoky ruins of what had once been a market section of the first circle. Men moved to and fro in the flickering lights of torches, striving to clear away the jetsam of battle.

Then his young face hardened, and dashing away the tears that had welled up he said determinedly, “I must find Master Curuloth or one of his staff.”

Wearily the man passed his hand over his eyes. The lad must be running errands for the healers as those were the only youngsters who remained within the city. But he could offer no help to the boy, and started to say as much when the boy implored, “Please, sir, can’t you tell me where Master Curuloth would be?”

“Curuloth?” A raspy voice repeated the name from the shadows.

Settling the buckets of water he bore from a yoke about his neck onto the ground, a gray bearded stick of a man dipped up a ladle of water and held it out to the stout man. Then offered another to the boy and said again, “Curuloth? You’re seeking Curuloth?”

“Can you help me, sir? It’s a matter of great urgency.”

The graybeard nodded, “He’s up on the fourth circle. Moved up there before the fires started. Three streets left of the gate. The fourth house.”

Returning the ladle to the bucket with a splash and shouting his thanks, the boy raced away into the darkness.

*****

Panting heavily, his legs trembling from his rapid climb, the boy pounded on the sturdy oak door. Wearily he leaned on the smooth stone wall and fought back the fear that what he sought could not be found; or worse, that he would find it and return to the Halls of Healing too late.

He pounded again and a faint voice could be heard within. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

The door opened a scant few inches and a blue veined hand held aloft a small lamp. Though the hand and body were ancient, the grey eyes were sharp; and the voice filled with vigor. “What is it, lad?”

“Are you Master Curuloth?”

“Aye, I am. What do you need, son?”

“Athelas, sir. Or kingsfoil, the herb master said it is called. Or asëa aranion.” The boy’s tongue tangled the ancient name.

“Asëa aranion,” the old man corrected with a slight smile.

Nodding eagerly, the boy pleaded, “Please say you have some.”

The opening widened as Curuloth replied, “I do. Though ‘tis not fresh. Being culled nearly a fortnight ago. Come this way, lad.”

Following the ancient man who leaned heavily upon a silver handled cane, the boy was unable to hold back a gasp of amazement as he entered a room overflowing with bundles, barrels and baskets.

Grey eyes gleaming, Master Curuloth said, “We couldn’t save it all, but we did our best. You tell the herb master that.”

“I will, sir. But...”

“There I believe,” Curuloth pointed to a small bundle tucked into a niche between two large barrels, “is what you seek. Not much call for it nowadays. But it has a pleasing aroma.”

Snatching up the bundle of precious leaves and nodding to Curuloth's reminders to tell the herb master of the available supplies, the boy hurried toward the door.

“A moment, lad. What is your name?”

Calling over his shoulder, as he slipped out the door, “Bergil, son of Beregond.”

******

At last Bergil came running in, and he bore six leaves in a cloth.
- ROTK, the Houses of Healing