Almere und Geol Almere had been collecting bark and moss in a shady grove all day. It was still winter, but there had been no snow these past few days, just a lot of rain. Her supplies were alarmingly low, so she had chosen to go out despite the weather. As she came round a bend, focused on the greenery around her, it took her a moment to realise what it was that she saw. There was a man lying unconscious on the ground, his blood pooling beneath him. She cried out in shock and ran to his side. She couldn’t help but look up. There was a path running along that edge, she knew. She had always hated how close it ran next to the ravine. Had he fallen down from up there? It was a wonder then he was still alive. As she examined him she realized that most of the wounds weren’t deep. He was scraped and scratched in many places, his clothing torn and shredded, but only two wounds were serious, one to the chest and one to his leg. He had been holding on to a leather bag still when she found him. It looked like he’d tried to hook it on to the rock as he fell and although it was now broken, it obviously had held long enough to slow him down a bit. Might have saved his life. Hadn’t saved the leg. She could see there was an older injury there that probably had never healed properly. Maybe the reason why he stumbled? She sighed. The bones by the knee were broken and poking through the flesh. It was an ugly sight. She choked, healer though she was. There was nothing she could do for him here. If she tried to bind up the wound here without any of the right materials she’d most surely do him more harm. No, she had to get him away from here. There was a little hut not far off that some hunter had build a long time ago. She had intended to spend the night there. Since his other leg seemed to be more or less fine she hoped he might make it there, hobbling. Well, he had to! In no way would she be able to lift him up and carry him, not a grown strong man like him… she took his hand and called out to him to wake up. She had to wait a while and repeatedly call him. Then, groaning, he opened his eyes and tried to focus them on the speaker. „Listen“, she said. „I know you are in pain. I will help you, but you cannot stay here. I need you to get up and then walk with me a few paces. It’s not far. Do you think you can manage?“ He closed his eyes again and shuddered. „A moment“, he croaked. „Can’t… can’t use my leg… can someone help me up?“ „It’s only me here“, she sighed. „I’ll try to support you, but… I’m sorry… you need to try and use the good leg.“ He nodded. „What’s your name?“ he asked. „Almere.“„You’re a brave lady, Almere“, he said and squeezed her hand. „Thank you. Shall we try now?“ Somehow, they managed. He balled his hands into fists and willed himself to keep standing. ‚Don’t you hurt the girl, Geol,‘ he thought. ‚Hobble. You can make it…‘ Drawing breath through clenched teeth he only hoped she hadn’t lied about the few paces… The little hut came into view as soon as they were round the bend. By now he was leaning heavily on her arm, surprised that she was stronger than she looked. The problem was, she had to let go of him to open the door. Carefully she helped him to lie down. He almost fainted again, there on the doorstep, and she wondered with fear if she’d ever get him inside. „I’ll go in and light a candle and get some blankets ready“, she told him. „You only need to get up once now and then you can rest.“ He mumbled something in reply that she didn’t understand. It didn’t sound like a language she knew. There was little room inside the hut, just enough for a pallet of straw with a few blankets and a stool. Fortunately, there was a barrel of water there also and it wasn’t frozen, like it would have been last week. This time, as she laid him down, he had cried out in anguish and thenfainted. Looking at that leg, she was glad he had done so. Luckily, she had some of her herbs with her and she always kept a supply of bandages in the hut, just in case. She shook her head. This was going to be some task… The effort had caused the wounds to bleed again… well, at least he’d been found by someone who knew what to do now. She cut open the leg of the trousers and saw to the knee first. Gritting her teeth she set the pieces back together. This wasn’t going to heal easily. She’d have to work on it again and again if he was to walk again… With her work finally done she sat wearily down on the stool and watched him. It occured to her she hadn’t thought of asking him his name, or where he came from. Well, that would have to wait. She’d been able to give him a draught that would, among other things, keep him sleeping some while longer. Those were precious hours she wasn’t going to waste. She stood up and took her coat off the hook. By early morning, she’d be back in the village. And with a little luck, she’d be back here with strong helping hands before the stranger awoke. She’d ask the smith, she’d decided, to take him to her house. He had a small cart that would make it most of the way here. ‚Next time you wake‘, she thought, ‚you’ll be lying in a real bed and I’ll have had the use of all my things to dress your wounds. You’ll make it, you’ll see.‘ Silently, although she knew he wouldn’t wake, she blew out the candle and left the room. Light fell into the room. The shutters of the window had been opened to let it in and it danced on the edges of the shelves and the bed. It lit up the corners and chased the night away, tickling the face of the man lying under the blanket. The first thing he noticed, as he woke up, was the smell. It smelled of home. He closed his eyes and savoured the mixed aromas of a multitude of dried herbs and fruit. And then he remembered he wasn’t home. Someone had dressed him in a simple, clean tunic. It and the sheets had a fresh, fragrant smell of lavender. His wounds had been taken care of and the pain in his leg was a dull thing that he could cope with. He took a deep breath and looked about him. Everywhere on the rafters hung bushels of dried herbs. There were bowls of fruit and books. A lot of books, everywhere, in shelves, on cupboards, even on his bedside table, where someone obviously had filled the time watching over him with an interesting account on how to grow turnips on different types of soil. Was that girl, Almere, a healer or had she taken him to one? Whatever the answer, he let out a great sigh of relief. Someone was taking good care of him. There was a chance he wouldn’t end up completely crippled. Almere came looking for her patient a little while later. Geol had gone back to sleep by then. She approached the bed silently and sighed as she remembered how difficult it had been for her neighbours to get him up here. He heard her sigh and rolled around to get a better look at whoever it was that had come for him. „Hello“, she said. „How are you today?“ He blinked, realizing she was the girl who’d found him. „Much better, thanks to you“, he replied. „You’ve worked wonders in whatever time has passed, and I guess not the least was getting me from there to here.“ She smiled. He’d opened his eyes a few times before, but hadn’t been responsive. „I’m glad you’re feeling better. Just a moment.“ She drew a chair to the bed and sat down beside him. He tried to prop himself up on an elbow, felt why that wasn’t a good idea and rolled onto his back again. „How bad is it, exactly?“ he asked. „Well, it… most of it will heal fine, “ she answered. „Your shoulder is just bruised badly, only a rib and the leg are broken. It will take some time till you can get up, though. Tell me, what is your name and where are you from? When your people start worrying someone should be able to tell them where you are.“He looked at her a moment before he answered. „My name is Geol Taernedden. I’m from Cliving. That is a city many leagues from here in the land of Rohan. There is an old uncle of mine living near Bree, and he’s all the family I have, but I don’t think… well, I just visited him once and… I don’t think he worries overmuch what became of me. As it is, I can see no way of how to get to uncle Gerald and he’d be in no shape to take care of me, even if he knew and if there was a way. Better not to trouble him at all. I’m sorry, my lady. I fear you’ll have to put up with me a while longer. Will that be a problem? Am I taking someone’s bed from him?“She heard his worries more in his voice than she saw them in his face. He clearly hated it to be dependent on someone. „No problem“, she reassured him. „You see, I sell herbs and it is my job to look after injured people. This room is for just such occasions. You can stay as long as you need to.“ He blinked, unbelieving. „I truly had rare luck here. I’ll make it up to you if ever I can. Was there a bag when you found me? – – Good“, he said, when she nodded. „Then at least I’ll be able to pay for my treatment.“She shook her head. „Don’t worry about that now. You must be quite hungry. Is there anything I can get you?“ He considered this. „Strangely not, no, but some tea, perhaps?“ „I’ll bring it to you in a moment“, she said. „You’re a dear“, he mumbled, rolling over to the side that didn’t hurt as much. „If you hadn’t found me…“ „Don’t think about that“, she advised. „It did not happen.“ He listened to her singing downstairs in the kitchen. A few days had passed and he knew by now she lived alone, in this old two storey house in the village of Archet, but had a sister who sometimes stopped by. And quite often someone would knock at the door and ask for this or that. Almere usually greeted them cheerily and gave them what they asked for. She was a puzzle to him. Man, he wasn’t easy to deal with, especially when he was bed-ridden and needed help for everything. And worse, if that help came in the form of one small woman. It had taken him quite some time to get to terms with the feeling of shame which was near as bad as the pain itself. He assumed, in fact he knew, his behaviour had been vexing at best. Yet he had never once heard her complain.Late one day, when he at least was able to sit up again, he dared ask her what troubled him most. „Almere? Do you think… well… you keep working on this darned knee of mine as if there was anything to save there… is there?“ She furrowed her brows. „What do you mean?“ He sighed. „Will it ever support me again? It was stiff before and hurt beastly, but I could walk… somehow. Now… everytime I watch you change the bandages I… I can’t help but think that it looks worse.“She laid her head to one side and pondered how to answer. „Well,“ she began, „it certainly looks bad… I did what I could and I was there fast, so… there wasn’t an inflammation and I think it heals well, under the circumstances. You say it supported you, but to be honest, just barely so, right? Geol, from what I’ve seen it was very severely hurt before and it healed very badly back then. There’s pieces in there that have been broken several times… I did my best, and now we have to wait.“ He lowered his head and swallowed hard. „So I’ll always have to use a crutch from now on, if I want to stand, yes?“ She shook her head. „That isn’t what I said. It’s just too early to say or promise anything. Might be it heals like before you fell. Might be it heals even better. Pieces had grown together that didn’t belong that way. I set them right, so maybe your knee won’t be stiff anymore. But it will never be like it once was. And in any case, it needs time. I cannot promise you anything, Geol.“ When Almere left the house to say ‚Hello‘ to a few friends and to look after another patient she was still thinking about Geol’s worries. No, she really couldn’t have told him any different. It depended on so many things, how such a wound healed. Some people walked like before after two months, some felt the wound a lifetime. She just hoped it wouldn’t be the latter. Jirina, the smith’s daughter, interrupted those thoughts by greeting her. „Almere, how nice to see you. Oh, isn’t it lovely how the snow just dusts everything? I was on my way to the baker’s. Will you walk with me a while?“ „Yes, sure. I need to get a loaf of bread myself,“ Almere answered. „But tell me, how’s your mother? Did the tea help?“ „Yes, she’s fine, thank you. – Say, Almere, what about that man Father helped to bring in from the woods? I haven’t seen you since then and it’s been days… Father says you learned that he’s from some strange land and hasn’t got any family.“ „He’s got an uncle near Bree, but he’s too ill to go there at the moment, Jirina. And you’d like the land he came from. It’s called Rohan, and it is full of horses. He told me about it. They’ve got wide plains on which the herds run free and they breed and tame very fine stock on which they are exceptionally proud. Every child in that country learns how to ride at an early age and…“ Jirina coughed. „I’m sure that’s all fine for them. But if it’s so fine, then why is he here?“ They stopped walking. „Truly, Almere, I’m amazed you take it so lightly. He’s a wild looking old fighter by Father’s account. We know next to nothing about him, whatever he says, because you can’t know if he tells truth. No one here knows him. And you just leave him behind in your house when you go out and you let him stay, the way I know you until he’s fully healed, probably, which may be weeks… Almere, aren’t you afraid he might be… dangerous?“„Dangerous?“ That thought had never occured to her. „No, he isn’t.“ She had never considered that possibility, but now that she did she was sure he’d never harm anyone here. Jirina searched her face quizzically. „Well, nice to hear you’re so sure. But please just keep it in mind, will you? He won’t always be too ill to move.“ Almere nodded and turned to call her whelp, so that Jirina wouldn’t see how angry her words had made her. She called him a trace sharper than intended. She couldn’t get Jirina’s words out of her head, even after she’d seen to her patient and said ‚hello‘ to the friends who’d sold her the whelp. „Oh, Farrah,“ she said to the big old dog that was her whelp’s mother. „Why do we have to distrust everyone we do not know? This world is full of perils and Jirina is right, of course. but… but I don’t like it and… I don’t want to think of bad things before they happened, you see? Why shouldn’t I trust him, he seems nice ?! And he’s got nowhere else to go. And your little one, he likes him, too. Nah,… Jirina isn’t right in this case.“ There had been a lot to do the next day. Jirina might like the frosty cold and the snow, but most people surely didn’t. Some had slipped on ice, some had caught a cold and old Mr. Pelligan had even fallen into the small brook that ran behind his house. She hadn’t known what to do first and next today and was only glad things had calmed down now. Finally, she could sit down and enjoy her first meal today and a few pages of reading before she went to bed. Settling down on a chair comfortably she blinked her eyes against the dimness of the room and adjusted her looking-glasses. They had been made by dwarves, once, and she’d been very glad when she had found them on a travelling merchant’s cart. Without them, she would probably not be able to read her beloved books anymore or operate a patient. Suddenly there was a loud noise above her. She sprang up. „What…? Is there…?“ It sure had come from where Geol was, so she ran up the stairs hurriedly, to see what had happened. He was lying beside the bed, coughing and groaning. „Oh no!“ she exclaimed as she knelt at his side. „How did that happen? Geol, you have to be more careful… those bones may still shift place if you fall on them… let me help you up…“ „No!“ His tone was such that she backed away a step. „No“, he said again, more softly this time. He lent his weight on his arms and brought the good leg in a better position to lift him. „Got to manage on my own. You’ve got enough on your hands already, you can’t always come running when I need something. And if I stop using this leg altogether it won’t get any better. Worse, more likely, when the muscles decline.“ With that he grabbed hold of the boards of the bed and pulled himself onto the covers where he lay panting from the effort. She looked at him and sighed. „It’s too early for that, Geol. At least without help it is. You really mustn’t risk falling on that knee now, or my work was in vain and we can start all over again. Have a little patience, try using the leg while sitting on the bedside and in a few more days we’ll try again to get you on your feet. Together, yes?“ He mumbled something in reply. It could have been: „Sorry to have added to your problems“, but she wasn’t sure. „It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot more on my hands, Geol“, she thought at him as she trudged through the snow towards Errold Turner’s house the following day. „What needs be done gets done, that’s about it.“ Errold was sitting in front of the house for better light and was carving something. „Ah, good morning, Almere. How can I help you?“ „I need you to make a crutch for me. Ehem… not for me that is… for my patient. He’s quite a tall man…“ She indicated his height. „Can you do that for me?“ „Sure“, he answered. „But it’ll take two or three days. My son can bring it over to your house when it’s ready. But say, Almere, does that stranger even pay you for it? Or does this get done on your expense?“ Well, she hadn’t asked Geol, but he would surely need the thing, so… „On his expense“, she assured Errold. He nodded. „Glad to hear it. You’re too friendly for your own good sometimes, girl. – Now, don’t look at me like that. It’s allright. I’ll send Darlan.“ The wind was tearing at the shutters and howling around the roof. The weather was exceptionally lousy these days. Almere had taken down from the rafters a lot of the herbs yesterday and he’d heard her being busy in the kitchen all day long, heating wax for salves, cooking special draughts for this and that or talking to the people who came to seek her help. Today she’d gone out despite the cold to look after an old man and two little children. Geol wasn’t sure she was back, but he was sure he was thirsty and he didn’t want to call her or wait till she came. Damn it, that wasn’t such a long way to the kitchen, he should be able to get there! Halfway up he waited for the pain to cease. He had found out to his great delight that he was able to bend the knee again and he’d practised that carefully. Yet it still screamed at him not to overdo it. ‚Gods and demons!‘, he thought. ‚How can such a simple thing be so hard?‘ He had to lean against the wooden panel to get his breath back. ‚You shouldn’t be doing this…“ he advised himself. ‚Go back to bed, Geol, it isn’t far.“ ‚But ‚back in bed‘ really wasn’t where he wanted to be. He’d had enough of that. So he gritted his teeth and made for the stairs. ‚You’re an idiot‘, he snarled, as white stars started to dart across his vision. ‚Now you’re feeling dizzy, also. She told you more than once how hard you hit your head and that there might be a concussion, but still you got to prove to yourself that you can do this without her.‘ – ‚It’s not about proving something‘, said the other voice inside of him. ‚I need to get out of here. I need to breathe! This room is choking me!‘ Slowly, carefully, he went downstairs step by step. Halfway down his knee deserted him. There was a stabbing pain and it simply wouldn’t support him anymore. He sagged against the wall. One move, he knew, and he’d fall. And most probably everything would be broken again. He cursed himself for not having listened to her advice. „Almere?!“ He called out to her desperately. If she wasn’t in… „Almere!“ She heard him. His heart had been racing in his chest and only when he saw her appear in the doorframe did it slow down to a normal rate. It took her a few seconds to realize what she saw. „Don’t you move!“ she called, as she ran to him. „You’re a fool, Geol Taernedden!“ „I know.“ He was so glad she’d come in time that he hugged her and held her close for a moment. She „harrumphed“. Blushing, he let go of her and shifted his weight. „Of… of course“, he stammered. „I’m sorry. I… Please, don’t make me go back up just now.“He looked at her so miserably that she led him carefully the remaining steps downstairs to a chair nearby. „Why, Geol?“ she wanted to know. „You fear nothing more than to lose the use of that leg, yet you risk it for nothing. „ He sighed. „The walls are closing in around me up there, I can’t help it. I needed to… to feel active… to feel like myself again.“ „I mean, you did it! You repaired it, that knee is functioning again ! .. I had never thought… but I fear patience doesn’t feature among my virtues very prominently, at least not in this case. I long to get my old self back so much….You were so nice to let me use your books, but I believe I read all of them twice now.“ Her eyes went round. „You did? Even I haven’t read them all…“ „I exaggerated“, he confessed. „I like reading, it’s just… I can hear you working all day, I can see there’s a lot that needs to be done round the house. A horde of customers is keeping you from doing it, and I … except for my leg I’ve almost recovered, yet all I can do is… wait! I feel so useless. Isn’t there anything I can do?“ „I think I understand now“, she replied. „Let me think about it.“ „We never talked about what you do for a living, Geol. What can you do?“„Everything and nothing. I used to lead men into battle to defend my home against our enemies. My injury put an end to that and I came here to start a new life. I was about to find out what else I could do, stiff leg and all, when we met. To be honest, I’m not sure what I will do for a living now. Now that you healed me, Almere. There’s so much more possibilities… but that is then. I learned my lesson, it will take some more time. Right now, while I’m waiting, I thought I might repair this or that if you got tools I could use. Or maybe help you cutting herbs, stirring salves, mixing teas, things like that. I know the plants, by form and feel and smell, only I don’t know your recipes.“This piece of information astonished her. „You are interested in herblore?“He gave her one of his rare smiles. „Yes. There was a wise woman in our town who taught me. When she became too old to go out to the places where the plants grow I used to get them for her. Had to learn where to look and the right time when to pick them.“„That’s great!“ She smiled, too, and her eyes lit up as she hit on an idea. „But maybe there’s plants that grow in your country, that don’t grow here… and maybe here are some you don’t know…. Oh, I know, we will make a list of those… I would so like to know the differences…. there’s really high mountains and great open plains where you live, yes? And I believe your soil and the seasons are different. That would have impact on how effective …. yes…. maybe….and you can tell me more about the climate and…“ He made a sound that was almost a laugh. She had never heard him laugh. „You’re getting all excited“, he said. „Allright, fetch some paper and ask away.“ Their talk went on deep into the night. Almere did not notice the time going by and so did Geol. But he hadn’t fully recovered yet. When he became too tired to keep his eyes open she helped him upstairs. He was fast asleep and probably didn’t hear the „Good night“ she wished him anymore. A moment longer she watched him drawing breath evenly, then she went to her room, contemplating a lot of things.