Good Number, A
1. A Good Number
Éowyn had birthed four children before we had been married five years, which had been a surprise to nearly everyone in our circle of friends and acquaintances in Gondor. Large families were not terribly unusual, but normally the births were separated by a few years at the least. For three successive springs our house had been blessed. Elboron had been first, and then twin lads, Meriadoc and Peregrin, and finally a daughter, Théodwyn. The house in Emyn Arnen had been a place of joy and laughter and music, for our children were indeed a blessing to that land.
I had a beautiful wife whom I adored, three strong boys, and a daughter whose gentle spirit reminded me of my mother, even though she was almost the mirror of Éowyn. I was the Steward of Gondor, helping the King Elessar to restore the kingdom to its former glory as my little ones grew. At whiles we would have visits from our former brothers-in-arms: the Elf Legolas would teach Théodwyn to sing and play the harp, Gimli showed my sons the methods of dwarvish fighting, and our hobbit friends would do their best to corrupt their namesakes. Our stables were filled with gifts from my Rohirric brother-in-law, and our King saw to it that we were well-protected and well-supplied. At last I had the life of peace for which I had always longed.
And so my surprise when Éowyn announced the coming of a fifth child was considerable.
With the previous pregnancies I had noted the signs with amusement and joy before she had come to me with the news. But the news of the fifth child came when Théodwyn was eight years of age, when I had thought the last of our children had been born. The voices in our house were a perfect harmony at that time, so what would this newest child bring?
My children and I watched through the next several months as Éowyn’s abdomen swelled with this unexpected child. The others had been born in springtime; this one would be born in the dead of winter. We always removed to the city before the first snowfall, so the child would be born in the House of the Steward instead of our home in Emyn Arnen. Éowyn did not seem to mind, and even spoke of being glad to be in a different room for this birth.
The King and Queen were frequent guests, along with their children. It was during that winter, when Éowyn’s condition did not permit us to be often at court, that the real depth of the friendship between our two families was known. I had been used to seeing Aragorn’s son, Eldarion, and Elboron playing chess every afternoon, Théodwyn and the two eldest of the King’s daughters sitting with the Queen, with needlework and harps, and my impetuous twins teasing and tormenting the younger Princesses. It was strange indeed when such activities transpired in the House of the Steward instead of the King’s home, and stranger still when Elboron came to me, begging for a chess partner.
Yet we were happy that winter, and grateful for the mildness of the weather that year. Éowyn seemed to feel this joy the most, and late one night she confided to me that she had missed having a babe to hold, and had longed to have the cradle in our chamber again. When I reminded her of the less pleasant aspects of that cradle in our room—the midnight feedings, the hours standing awake and singing to a particularly uneasy child—she merely laughed and kissed my brow. For she remembered quite well that with each of our children, I had always been the one to arise and see to the child, unless Éowyn was absolutely needed.
I freely and readily admit that I was more concerned about Éowyn’s health during this pregnancy than I had been since Elboron. The space of eight and a half years between this pregnancy and the one immediately preceding it was enough to make any father nervous. And the women of Rohan were accustomed to birthing their children before reaching five or six and twenty years, and Éowyn was then ten years past that age. The White Lady of Rohan was resilient, however: nothing seemed to become her more than an impending birth. She fairly glowed with a light all her own, and even Aragorn admitted that she could rival any Elf in beauty then.
The months passed in peace, and the children became more and more curious about their mother’s condition. I was in some ways curious as well, for I had never been in the room during the deliveries. Both Rohirric and Gondorian custom placed the expectant father out of the room, and so I was resigned to sitting in the corridor with my children as ladies ducked in and out of the birthing room as Éowyn gave birth.
With the others, labor pangs had hit in the morning; my older children had each been born before the sunset. Yet with this last child, Éowyn had been swept away by midwives and maids at dusk, and I and my four children sat on the floor in the corridor well into the night. The twins and Théodwyn frequently drifted into light sleep and awoke later, but Elboron stayed awake the whole night, and the quiet boy asked me questions as we waited.
I was accustomed to telling him stories, whether of my life as a Ranger, the War of the Ring, or the ancient lore of our people, but I was taken aback when he asked: “Father, what is Mother enduring now?”
By then Théodwyn had fallen asleep at my side, and I laid my arm around her, toying with the ends of her loosened hair. “Were you not there when Meredir foaled last spring, my son?” I asked.
“Aye, Father, but is it not somewhat different for people?”
I smiled at the graveness in my firstborn’s expression, feeling not for the first time as though I looked upon a young version of myself. He had the thirst for learning which Mithrandir had so loved in me, and now I saw a genuine curiosity to know how it was that he and his siblings had come into the world.
“Yes, Elboron, it is rather different for people,” said I. “Your mother has told me little of the process, except that it is very painful. She told me after each one of you that I was never to come near her again.” I nodded to the drowsy twins. “After those two especially.”
“Then what did you do?” he asked, smiling. “Sit out here and wait?”
I leaned my head back against the wall. “Nay, I paced with each one of you in our house in Ithilien,” I replied. “Pacing does not seem so dignified here in the House of the Steward, even for an expectant father.”
He laughed a little, as did I. “With you I paced the most. I knew what would happen to Éowyn, in the sense that I know what happened to Númenor, or what happened to the Ringbearer at the mountain of fire,” I continued. “But your mother had been ill through much of the pregnancy, and you gave her many troubles as she gave birth.”
A thoughtful look fell upon the boy’s face, and he said: “I shall have to make it up to her as best I can.”
At that I smiled. “My dear son, do you think you have not done so already?”
“What mean you, Father?”
“You brought us great joy,” said I, “and hope for a future brighter than our pasts. And you brought such joy and hope to our people as well, for you were the firstborn of the ancient houses after our victory over Sauron. The King once told me that he was in awe of how much attention you garnered—why, it was almost as much as the attention Prince Eldarion’s birth received.”
The boy raised a brow. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Believe it, my boy,” I replied. “And then the following year, not six months after the Queen bore Eldarion, your mother was the center of attention again, when your brothers were born. Twins are rather rare here, after all.”
Both of us looked over at Meriadoc and Peregrin, who had fallen asleep on top of each other. “And with their fair hair,” said my son, “they looked more novel?”
“Aye, they were a novelty. Twin lads who looked more like sons of my brother-in-law than sons of mine.” I smiled and reached over to Meriadoc to fold his errant collar down. “We had hopes for a daughter when these two arrived.”
“Were they a disappointment then, Father?” Elboron asked.
“Never!” I cried. “For we none of us expected twins, though Éowyn grew larger with them than she had with you.” I smiled at the memory. “I did not have a chance to pace so much with them, for in the manner of their namesakes, they were born in time for luncheon. I heard Meriadoc cry when he was born, and I wondered why they did not let me into the room. I began to worry that something had gone wrong, and then I heard your mother cry out again, and Peregrin joined us, complaining very loudly about the cold and the light.”
Elboron grinned then, and so did I. It had been clear that the first of the twins had been ready to come for some time and that the second had held him back, anxious to remain in the comfortable warmth of his mother’s womb. This explanation was proferred by the midwife, and Éowyn and I looked at each other and laughed. The elder was named for Merry, often told not to be hasty, and the younger was named for Pippin, often wishing for comfort.
“And what of Théodwyn?” my eldest asked.
I laughed softly at the memory and looked down at my daughter for a moment. “Would you believe that hers was the hardest of all?”
Elboron looked up at me in amazement. “Nay, Father! For she is too gentle and patient for that to be believed!”
“Indeed, her rather stormy entrance into the world did not herald her sweet nature,” I replied. “For she was not turned properly before your mother entered into labor, and many hours were spent coaxing her around.”
I smiled. For all of his intelligence and maturity, Elboron was still young and was ignorant of a great many things. “Yes, turned,” said I. “Before the birth, the baby is supposed to turn his head downward, but Théodwyn was early and had not done so before Éowyn started into labor. So the midwives had to turn her.”
Elboron suddenly frowned. “I hope it is not thus with Mother this time.”
“By now your mother’s maid would have brought us news,” I replied. “She is all right.”
“That is good to hear.”
My tired mind for a moment imagined that Elboron’s voice had suddenly changed, without any of the embarrassment which Boromir and I had endured ere we were men. Yet the boy’s face turned away from me, and I followed his gaze to see the Lord Aragorn standing in the shadowy doorway.
“My lord,” said I, starting to carefully tip Théodwyn away from me.
“No, Faramir,” said the King. I looked up to see him step over the sleeping twins and sit on the floor beside Elboron, and Théodwyn rested her golden head on my lap, still asleep. “It is early for you to be up, Elboron,” said he, smiling. “Or is it late?”
“Late, my lord,” Elboron replied. “Mother went in before dinner, and we have been here since.”
“You show great endurance, then, for we are but half an hour from the dawn,” said Aragorn, patting the boy’s shoulder affectionately. Elboron fairly glowed under the King’s praise.
I showed more curiosity than my son. “My lord, why came you hither?”
“That, my friend, is rather amusing.” He pulled out his pipe and settled it between his lips, though he did not light it. “I had a matter to discuss with my Steward early this morning, and so I sent word of it here. Some time later, I received not my Steward, but his manservant, who informed me that with the White Lady giving birth, I was unlikely to be successful in procuring the Steward’s counsel for a few hours at the least. And so I came here instead.”
“I shall speak with Erogan, my lord, for he did not convey your request to me at all.”
Aragorn laughed. “No, friend, for he did what he ought to have done. I would not have sent for you had I known that Lady Éowyn was in labor.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but the door behind me suddenly opened. “Lord Faramir— Oh! Your Highness,” came Mithlomi’s voice, and I looked up.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, for I had not yet heard the cries of my new child.
“Oh, no, milord,” said the maid. “But my lady asks for you to join her.”
As I gently lifted my daughter from my lap, I threw a curious look at Aragorn, whose face displayed a rare moment of bemusement. “Excuse me, liege-lord,” said I, and pushed myself to my feet and fairly ran into the room.
It was warmly lit, and a small army of maids and midwives scurried about, their skirts swishing around as if they were in a complicated dance. Upon my entrance some of the younger ones gasped, but I paid them little mind. Up on the bed, Éowyn was as pale as the sheets and pillows and her brow was beaded with sweat. She shifted in discomfort, yet she smiled as I approached. “Éowyn, should I be worried?”
She laughed softly, and the eldest of the midwives, the one who had been with Éowyn for each birth, chuckled and said: “Only if she chooses to break your fingers when the pain becomes too much.”
I raised a brow, and Éowyn offered a small smile. “It has happened before.”
She nodded and started to speak, but her words were choked out by a cry. “Éowyn?”
“Quick, milord, take her hand!” cried the midwife. I did as I was told, and Éowyn’s steel grip was soon crushing my fingers as she held her breath. “Breathe, child!”
Éowyn tried to do as she was told, but in the end her face was only contorted with pain. I put my arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. The midwife prevented me from speaking. “Child, it is time. The babe is near to crowning.”
She did not need to say it twice nor elaborate, for Éowyn knew what to do. She shut her eyes tightly and squeezed my hand again, her breath escaping her in short pulses through her nose. After a while, I turned my attention to where the midwife stood at the foot of the bed. Other ladies moved about with basins and towels, yet none of that activity held any interest for me. Instead I watched the endless moments go by, until at last the babe’s head emerged, and Éowyn let out a primal groan of relief.
“There now, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?” crooned the midwife, and I shot her a look of irritation. Éowyn released my hand, breathing heavily, and I lifted the hem of my outer tunic to wipe her brow.
“Are you all right, love?” I whispered.
She nodded with more vigor than I anticipated. “Only a little more left.”
The midwife commanded again and Éowyn pushed; this time there was no groan when she stopped. Instead she sagged into the pillows and smiled, and I realized that I heard my child’s voice above all the commotion in the room. I looked down at Éowyn, who touched my hand gently. “I told you last time,” said she, “and the time before that, and the time before that, not to come near my bed again.”
I laughed and kissed her brow, and she grasped my collar to pull me down lower. Our lips met in a swift kiss, and I smiled. “See to the babe,” said she.
After another kiss I left her side, only to be repelled by one of the midwives. “There are ten fingers and ten toes, milord, and you can hold the babe in a moment.”
With somewhat uncharacteristic impatience I waited until the eldest lady turned with the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. “Here, milord,” said she. “Your daughter.”
Without thought I took the child laid in my arms and carried her to her mother, whose face was shining with joy. She took the child from me for a little while before handing her back, knowing I was anxious to cradle the girl in my own arms. After a while she said: “Thank you for coming.”
“I would not think to refuse,” said I. “But why did you send for me?”
She smiled wearily. “This is likely to be our last child, my lord,” said she. “I wanted you to be with me, to experience this as much as you could, at least once.”
It was the greatest gift she could have given me then, even greater than bringing our little girl safely into the world. And then I realized how truly absurd that custom of ours was, for this birth seemed to mean as much to me as it had to Éowyn. “Thank you,” I murmured, tracing a finger along the child’s perfect features and smoothing back her dark hair. She was no longer crying, but I knew that her voice would blend in with the other voices in our house, not destroying the harmony we already shared, but enriching it. The girl looked up at me with dark, sleepy eyes, and I smiled. In that moment I would have done anything for her, and I knew that she would have this power over me for the rest of my life.
“Mithlomi tells me the King is here,” said Éowyn, breaking my thoughts. “Will you not take our daughter out to see him and her siblings?”
I nodded, and one of the maids opened the door for me as I approached. The King was standing, as were the rest of my children, miraculously awake. I smiled as I looked upon the group. “Children,” said I, “meet your sister.”
My little ones flocked around me, anxious to see the child, but the King stood back. When I met his eyes, he was smiling kindly, as if lost in memory. I had witnessed something so pure and wondrous that he most likely had not. He seemed to read my thoughts, for he smiled and nodded. “A great gift Éowyn has given you,” said he, and I knew he did not speak of my daughter alone.
At last Théodwyn asked, “Father, what is our sister’s name?”
I thought back to the night in which Éowyn and I had lain awake, this child having just moved within her womb for the first time. We had decided upon names then, both a boy’s name and a girl’s. The name we had settled upon for a daughter had been Éowyn’s idea, and while I had agreed with her then, I had had little idea how much this child would mean to me, nor how badly I would want to give her that name.
“We will name her for my mother,” I replied. “Her name is Finduilas.”
And with that statement, it occurred to me that while four children was a good number, perhaps five was a better one.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.