The Healers of Gondor
Nadine Salim 9045 Wildwood Avenue, Sun Valley, CA 91352 USA
It is said that Estë, having perceived Melkor’s designs to do harm to the creatures of Ilúvatar, took counsel with Yavanna and caused plants to grow that could heal and strengthen the body. Many of these herbs cause sleep, for Estë’s gift to all is rest. Chief among these is asëa aranion, also called Athelas, whose leaves, if crushed, carry the fragrance of the Blessed Isles. Estë also taught the use of herbs to the Elves who, in turn, taught Men. She granted the Edain the power to heal the illnesses of their kind, but not to prolong their lives beyond the time allotted them, as this would be contrary to the designs of Ilúvatar.
Healers and Númenor
In Númenor, before the coming of Ar-Pharazôn, the wisdom of the healers grew great, and their knowledge of the maladies of Men has not been equaled. Sadly, as the life-spans of men began to wane and doubt of the Valar grew (thanks in part to the machinations of Sauron), the Númenóreans became ever more obsessed with prolonging the span of their lives, and bent their efforts towards that end.
Only those faithful to the teachings of Estë sought to prevent the erosion of knowledge of the healing arts. Of the few that escaped the Drowning of Númenor with Elendil and his sons, only three were healers. These brought with them a chest which contained seeds of the plants used in healing and the few books that could be saved. Planted far and wide, the seeds that had been saved flourished, but the land from which they had come was gone forever.
Elendil, perceiving the danger of having only a few with knowledge of healing, directed that his sons and captains should learn what they could. Isildur mastered the craft quickest of all, and was reputed to possess the power to cure the sick and wounded with his hands.
Connection to the King
“The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful King ever be known.” These words were spoken through the years by many in Gondor, but with little comprehension of their origin. Isildur’s heirs and those of purer Dúnadan descent inherited within themselves the power to heal the sick, and to recall the spirit of those injured with evil weaponry.
After Sauron’s defeat by Isildur, many of the injured also seemed to contract a dark malady that shadowed the heart and brought death more swiftly than seemed appropriate to their wounds. Swift use of asëa aranion could cure the afflicted, but only a few had the necessary skills to administer the remedy, and so less than half of the men taken ill by the “shadow sickness” (as it was called) were healed.
Foreseeing Gondor’s need, Isildur decreed that each city should support a house of healing, where all who were ill might go. Such houses became an arm of the royal bureaucracy and received the favor of the King. The first of these houses was established in Osgiliath, where the books of the first healers from Númenor were kept in a place of honor.
It is interesting to note that as Kings of Gondor are also traditionally healers, connection to the Houses of Healing became a source of political legitimacy. Thus, even in the time of Castamir the Usurper (who bore little love for the institution), the Houses received support from the King and his court. Until the waning of Gondor in the Third Age (and prior to its rebirth in the Fourth), Gondorians believed that no one could be King who did not have “healing hands.”
The Houses of Healing
Even though much of Gondor is governed by feudatories, the Houses of Healing in each city are agents of the King and governed only by his justice. Healers are also given the protection of the King’s Guard and are escorted by them when traveling through dangerous places.
Monetary backing for the healers in each city comes in part from the King, in part from the nobility, and in part from teaching and offering for sale the common remedies needed in every household. Most often it will be found that the building used by the healers has itself been donated by a noble family with ties to the King.
Each house is governed by a Warden. In cities having more than one house, there is a Chief Warden of all the houses. Nominally, the head of all the houses is the King. This is demonstrated in the salutation used in correspondence, “By the grace of the Valar and of the King.”
The healing vocation
Unlike many professions, people join the healers at different points in life. Some apprentice as children, but many seek to join when they are more advanced in years and have seen something of the world and practiced another trade. Often, soldiers who tire of killing and danger, or merely of the need to be forever watchful, renounce their swords and take the Healer’s Oath. In addition, people who have acquired knowledge of cures and remedies will travel to a house to share and enlarge their wisdom.
Those who use magic to heal must be wary — trust of such things sways with the times and the nature of the Court. Among the great families of Gondor, elementary healing is taught alongside elementary swordsmanship in memory of Elendil and the refugees of Númenor.
Upon entering one of the houses as apprentice or journeyman healer, each person must take a simple oath, given to the head of the house in the city: I swear by Estë and all the Valar that I will do all within my power to heal the sick and to preserve life. I swear that I will not raise my hand in violence, nor seek to cause another harm. I will serve my King by healing his people and preserving the knowledge I have been given. Upon taking the oath, the speaker puts on the white or pale blue robes that mark the healers in Gondor.
Occasionally, when other duties call, a person may be released from the oath and is allowed to return and take the oath again when his duties are finished. It is extremely rare for a healer to break the oath. It is also difficult for an inherently evil person to pretend to be a healer, as most healers cultivate goodness and are able to see its absence in the form of a shadow clinging to the body.
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