King's Commission, The
47. Witnessing the Birth
Witnessing the Birth
Ruvemir had attended births before--births of calves, pups, kittens, and once a fox's cubs, at least; and he'd watched with awe as chickens and ducks had pecked their way out of eggs. What would happen in the birth of a child, however, had been a question he'd not thought to know from personal experience.
He quickly learned that the witnessing of the birth of the Queen's child was indirect at best. Each of the witnesses was briefly led into the Queen's presence so that he or she could indeed say that they'd seen the Queen in labor, then into an adjoining room where, if they saw naught to the Queen's embarrassment, they yet heard probably more than they had wished to.
The birthing room was spare--a bed; a birthing stool; one table covered with bowls of water, one of them steaming in which athelas leaves gave off the scent of green leaves and sweet flowers whose odor he did not recognize; another table on which lay stacks of clean towels and cloths, and another of clean sheets, and then, waiting, small blankets readied to receive the coming babe; the empty cradle gifted by the people of Harad; an empty basket to receive the towels as each was used; a single clean knife and basin for use with cord and afterbirth, and stout thread to tie about the cord; stools on which sat the King and the three healers who actually attended on the Queen. The one healer he recognized easily from his own stay in the Houses of Healing, the young man he'd liked so. He didn't recognize a middle-aged woman at all; was she a midwife, he wondered? The third was the Lady Éowyn.
That a woman's labor could go on so long, when that of a cow or dog or cat would last a few hours at best, seemed unbelievable to Ruvemir. He remembered that the pangs had started the day preceding, and yet here they were, almost a full day later, and the actual birth was just beginning. Two women and a manservant seemed to be involved only in the bringing and removal of basins of water and towels and cloths. The King was frequently heard requesting clean cloths dampened in clean water, followed a few moments later by the drop of cloth into a basket, and immediately the removal and replacement of a basin of water and the used towels. Ruvemir remembered what Miriel had told him of the insistence that each time anyone touched the burned child they first wash hands in clean water and dry them with a clean towel, and realized that the King must have insisted on the same procedure here. Finally he heard, "It's time for the stool," followed by sounds of voices coaxing the Lady Arwen to rise from the bed, leading her to the birthing stool to ease the passage of the child.
"Damp cloth," said the King, and then there was an ominous silence. Finally he said, "This was not clean, Mistress Nirien." There was the slap of the cloth into the basket.
"I am sorry, my Lord, but...."
The King's voice was polite enough, but also filled with steel. "Mistress Nirien, you apparently tire. Change places with the Lady Éowyn, please." A brief pause. "Now."
The movement of bodies could be heard as the two women exchanged stools. Someone held out a basin, and water could be heard as the King once again cleansed his hands. Then there were soft admonitions to breathe so, in, out, in, out, in, out, bear down now.... Then, "Relax for a moment, Beloved. She comes, but not so swiftly as shortly past."
The Queen sighed. Then the King said softly, "Mistress Nirien, you know that I was raised in Imladris as if the Queen's father, the Lord Elrond, were my father, after the death of my real father?"
The woman's voice was soft, contrite. "Yes, my Lord King, I had so heard."
"And you have heard he was ever a great healer?"
"Yes, my Lord King."
"He began to work among healers after the victory against Morgoth, he who was the last great Enemy of Middle Earth. For almost six thousand years the Lord Elrond studied the craft of healing."
Then apparently the next pang hit the Queen, and again the words he uttered were to her, to bear down, bear down, bear down, breathe thus...then the sigh and the admonition to rest once again.
"How often have the women you have attended developed the womb fever, Mistress Nirien?"
"I'm not certain, my Lord. Perhaps one in forty to fifty births."
"There were two midwives among the Edain our Adar observed, Mistress. One saw the womb fever occur once in twenty births, the other perhaps once in a hundred. The Lord Elrond studied them, and found the one who attended the fewer births followed by the womb fever followed much the same procedures as I have instituted, although not so strict. The other reused cloths, did not clear away immediately, did not change the water frequently. She was seen as an unlucky midwife to have attend births. The Lord Elrond judged her instead to be careless."
"I see, my Lord."
"In all the eighty-five years I watched the Lord Elrond attend difficult births among the Dúnedain, at least two such birthings a year, I never, never saw the woman develop the womb fever. I saw only one case of womb fever, one that was attended by a midwife from Archet in the Breelands at the birth of the child. She was brought to Imladris afterwards, but it was too late. I saw her die in agony, and the child followed her far too readily.
"Do you see why I insist on strict cleanliness, particularly when the mother is my own wife?"
After a few moments of contemplation, "Yes, my Lord, I do."
Just then the pangs began again, and there could be heard, "Now, my lady wife--if you will bear down--aha, at last, she comes. Again! One more time!" and there could be heard the cry of a new baby. Laughter from husband and wife, soft words exchanged, words of satisfaction from the healer, pleasure in the voice of the midwife and relief from the wife of the Lord Prince Steward.
Aragorn came through the door, his face reflecting the hours of waiting as well as the exultation of having delivered the child safely. "My Lord Stewards, Elladan--" He looked about the room and noted two absences, raised his eyebrows in question.
Elphir of Dol Amroth explained. "Some business came up, my Lord King, which needed attention immediately. As the Stewards must be here to witness the birth, my father took it, alongside Lord Elrohir, and will set it in proper array for you to deal with once all is shown well here and you are free to take up your duties once more."
Aragorn straightened, then nodded. "So be it, then. This is, after all, why we have stewards and princes in the realm, is it not?" He sighed and looked to his foster brother. "I will tell you, Elladan, that at the moment I am feeling drained, although I am certain no more so than your sister. Will you do the honor of cutting the cord? I fear I am so tired I worry about my hand being steady holding the knife."
The Elf smiled. "It will be a great honor indeed. My Lords, shall we witness and do what needs witnessing and being done?"
Covered with a sheet on which some blood could be seen, Arwen remained on the birthing stool, holding in her arms a loosely blanketed form that moved gently. The two Stewards, Prince Elphir, Éomer of Rohan, an official from the Dunlendings, Ifram of Rhun and Rustovrid of Harad followed King and Elf back into the room and took places indicated along the wall. Elladan washed his hands and dried them on a clean towel, opened the bundle in his sister's arms to expose the child, still linked to her mother via the umbilical cord, took two lengths of the readied thread and tied them about the cord close to the infant's belly, then took up the waiting knife and cut between the two ties. Arwen straightened somewhat as the tension was released, then felt one of the last spasms of her muscles hit her. Her brother set the knife down hastily and brought the basin near, lifting the draping sheet to place it to catch the afterbirth, which was quickly expelled. The King had once again washed his own hands and was taking up clean bandage cloths and readying them for use to staunch any bleeding. The Lady Éowyn had washed her own hands once more, and now was dipping a cloth into the steaming athelas basin and then gently bathing away the birth blood from the mother while the midwife, having also cleansed her hands once more, gently lifted the child from its mother's arms to cleanse it similarly. The midwife and the healer checked over the health of the child as King and Steward's wife saw to the condition of the mother, and each group quickly declared itself fully satisfied things were well in hand.
Suddenly King and Stewards and the other male witnesses and participants were being swept from the room. "Now it is time for women's business," the midwife declared; and having seen for himself that all was well with his wife, Aragorn allowed himself to be herded into the outer room.
The healer looked at him and examined his face and eyes. "I order a bath for you, my Lord, and a glass of juice at the least--although perhaps a glass of spirits might be more in order." With the added authority of Elladan's agreement, the King sighed and went to the bathing room while the other witnesses were led to the nearby solar by Prince Faramir.
Aragorn was not long about his bath, and returned dressed in the robe he'd worn the night of the feast, his hair curling with the dampness still in it. He, the Lord Celeborn, and the Lord Glorfindel now sat side by side, while the others waited behind. Finally they heard the door open down the hallway, and carefully carrying the small bundle, Éowyn entered the room, readily relinquishing possession of the infant to its mother's brother, who smiled down into the blankets and carried it to the three seated figures. Surprising some, he carried it first not to Aragorn but to Celeborn.
"Grandfather," he said in soft Sindarin, "behold your great granddaughter, Melian." The Elven lord held out his hands to receive the child, and looked down into a wizened, mortal face. His eyes were saddened yet proud as he examined its features, listened to its life's song. He blessed the child, then handed it across Aragorn's figure to Glorfindel, who smiled with pleasure down into the eyes that opened to examine his in return, then he offered his own blessing, rose, and showed it to the two Princes of what had been Mirkwood. Only when the Elves and one Dwarf in the company had all seen the child did he relinquish it to her father, who stood in his turn and brought it to each of those Men in the room, one by one. Ruvemir looked down into eyes which were soft blue now but which showed promise of being a clear, piercing blue-grey in time, and saw the dark down on the child's head, the tiny fist it placed against its cheek. A thrill of pleasure passed through him, and he smiled deeply.
"Welcome, little princess," he whispered, "welcome to the world of Arda. We've been eagerly awaiting your coming forth."
He looked up and found the King was smiling down at him, obviously sharing the sentiments completely.
The rest of the day and next were given over to holiday making throughout the city and most of the rest of the realm as well. Ruvemir and his family explored the city together, and the evening of the birth and late afternoon the next day he found himself in the warehouse working on the figure of Lord Frodo while Dwarves sang and chanted and drank in the outer room, toasting the King's new daughter repeatedly. Dorlin appeared most happy about the birth, and at one point indicated that he felt since the King's daughter and his own son had been born so close to one another special fortune would touch both.
Celebgil came down to watch the second time Ruvemir worked on the stone, accompanied by Pando and Ririon. They watched with interest as he worked around and around the block, continuing to clear away the flawed surface material and worked to the shaping of the head.
He'd been working for about an hour when he looked up to find his father and Master Faragil coming around the screen, accompanied by Elise's mother, grandmother, and sister. He nodded to them, but continued on with his work, finally setting down his tools another hour later. Celebgil found the broom and pan and began to clear away the chips as Dorlin came round with a mug of ale for each of the three Men. Ruvemir thanked the Dwarf and took a grateful pull at his drink, then replaced his tools in their box.
Mistress Idril came forward to stroke the block gently. "So this will show the image of the King's Friend. I am glad to see it treated with respect."
Ruvemir smiled. "Both block and subject have proven to need careful handling, my lady. Today, however, the block has appeared to share the general feeling of joy."
Dorieth asked, "Were you really asked to witness the birth of the King's daughter?"
"Yes, I was--at the last. I was fully surprised."
"How did this happen, then?" asked Mistress Idril.
"The King simply sent word out to the work site he wished for me to attend the birth, and I doffed my smock and went. I felt out of place at first, then realized most of the Men represented there felt the same, and I was comforted."
She laughed. "Ah, yes, it would be an odd situation, I suppose."
Faragil again aided Ruvemir in draping the block, and after Mardil and Celebgil extinguished the lamps they respectfully took leave of the stone and warehouse, receiving the farewells of the still celebrating Dwarves.
Progress the next day went swiftly throughout the morning, although Ririon was not with them, for he had gone with Mardil to the Hall for the Guild of Carvers. Master Faragil, however, joined them at the site and began the rough cutting of the upper reaches of the third block, carefully removing the surface flaws on the stone intended for the Lord Samwise Gamgee while Ruvemir and Celebgil worked on Captain Pippin's figure and Pando worked on the lower margins of Sir Meriadoc's figure.
Not long before noon Ruvemir called a break. He was checking the progress Pando had made when the King joined them, dressed in his worn green leathers, his bow on his shoulder, his quiver full. Those in Ruvemir's party bowed low, Master Faragil's eyes showing a good deal of wonder.
"Yes, my Lord Strider, and how may we serve you this day?" asked Ruvemir.
"There will be an audience for our Easterling guests at the seventh hour, and you and Pando will need to attend--and Celebgil as well, to give his account of what he witnessed."
"Do you intend, then, for the game to go on after all, my Lord King?"
The King's face was again most grim. "They will need a translator at first while the stewards of the two realms question them. After Faramir and Halladan have had the chance to wrest what information they can and the Dunlendings have been excused, then the King will mount the throne. I suspect there will be a fair amount of consternation among them."
"They certainly caused a great deal of consternation among us, my Lord."
"So I understand. I have another request to make of you--when you go south, may I have another accompany you?"
"We are at your command, my Lord Aragorn. If the individual can accept the service in the inns along the way and will find no fault with our company, we are willing."
"I've not yet broached the subject with him, but I believe he will be amenable." The tall Man sighed. "This should be a time when I rejoice in my wife and my first-born child; and instead I must deal with spies, those engaged in intrigue, and would-be assassins, and prepare for a war not directly aimed at our own people. I regret sometimes I am not still a relatively obscure chieftain of the Northern Rangers, Ruvemir. Then I could simply arrange to meet Sam and his family at the Prancing Pony and we could happily see each other's children and wives."
"Their third child is due at any time, after all."
The King smiled. "A daughter was born to them at apparently almost the same time as Melian."
"How did you learn of this, my Lord?"
"Being the King of Gondor does offer some unique means of gathering information within the realm, Master Ruvemir." His smile became tinged with amusement. "It is too bad I can't see more outside our borders. But I was able to learn that the child was born yesterday morn. She is darker than Elanor, but still very lovely." He looked back at the Citadel, where Prince Faramir could be seen coming out the doors, followed by his personal guard. The Lord Steward looked about, saw the figures at the work site, and bowed in their direction.
The King sighed. "I must go and prepare to play my part. You will be summoned not long before the seventh hour." As they bowed, he returned the courtesy, turned and left.
Master Faragil looked after, much bemused. "You called him Lord Strider?" he asked.
"Yes, for so he introduced himself to me when he first approached me. They named him so in the land of Bree, just outside the Shire."
"Is that why he took the name Telcontar?"
Ruvemir nodded. "So he told Captain Pippin and Sir Merry. He apparently told them it would sound fair enough in the high tongue."
Ruvemir and Faragil together marked the next portion of Sam's stone to be rough cut while Ruvemir described the assassination attempt on the ambassador from Rhun, and then they ate their luncheon and considered what might happen in the audience to come. Orin came to find them sitting still at the table, watching the door to the Citadel with troubled eyes as they pondered what might happen.
"What is it, then?" the Dwarf asked.
"We are to be summoned to the Citadel shortly," Celebgil said. "They are going to question the Easterlings who tried to kill the ambassador from Rhun."
"I see," Orin said, sighing. "The King summons you?"
"So he has warned us," Ruvemir said.
A movement at the top of the ramp caught their attention, as Ifram of Rhun, his clerk, and three of their guard approached the work site. Ruvemir rose to greet them, as did Master Faragil.
"Welcome, my Lord Ifram," he said.
"I wanted again to thank your--lad for his aid the other day. We offer him this." He brought out a ceremonial dagger in a velvet sheath and presented it to Pando. "Such are given to our young Men when they are accepted as such, to mark the passage from youth to manhood," he explained.
Pando accepted the knife, his eyes wide, and murmured his own thanks.
"All is well with you?" asked Ruvemir.
Ifram nodded. His companion spoke. "I personally am glad this one's aim was true, for I'd have been loath to lose my brother. I am Shefti b'nto Agharan, son to our father's third wife. I serve as my brother's scribe and as second within the embassy."
"It is an honor, my Lord scribe. Ruvemir son of Mardil of Lebennin, Master Sculptor, at your service; my own former master Faragil of Lebennin, also a Master Sculptor, Master Orin of Erebor, Celebgil son of Hirdon Potter of the city, and Pando Boffin of the Shire in Eriador of Arnor."
The scribe, who was slighter than his brother and did not share the soldier's carriage, bowed gracefully. "I am the one honored. And I am gladdened that he was here when that one drew a knife on Ifram, and that such as you are faithful."
"You are summoned to the audience to come?"
"I go to bear witness to the punishment meted out this day. That apparently Men of our people would seek to assassinate Ifram as ambassador of our people is disturbing."
Ruvemir turned to Ifram. "Has the King warned you that the case will first be heard by the Stewards of the Realm?"
The young ambassador nodded. "I am not certain precisely why, but so he told me."
"You will see as the audience progresses. I saw a similar thing in Rohan. You will do well to remember that our King knows your language, and that he traveled among your people and the people of Harad long ago, in his youth as it is reckoned among the Dúnedain who are his own people. Also you should remember that before he came south to claim the throne and crown of Gondor, he was the chief of the Dúnedain Rangers of Arnor, and is accounted the greatest Ranger produced by either Arnor or Gondor. He was schooled in the use of bow, knife, and sword by the Elves of Imladris and Lothlorien, and I do not believe there are any within the bounds of Arda who are as skilled as they."
"The officer who escorted us from the borders to Osgilliath said the same," Shefti commented.
Another ambassadorial party was now approaching, as Rustovrid of Harad approached with two companions and again three bodyguards. The tall man with the dark skin and dark curly hair bowed to his peer from Rhun, then to those who worked on the memorial. After shared greetings and introductions, he turned to Ifram. "I am told an attack was launched upon you here on the day the King's daughter saw the light. I grieve such happened and give thanks you were spared."
"Thank you. They were men of my own people, apparently those who would not see Rhun allied with the folk of Gondor. The weapons they bore were not our own weapons, though, but were the weapons of Gondor. Apparently their thought was to make it look as if the people of Gondor had betrayed us, to break off the alliance. But they dressed as my own people so they could more easily approach me."
"Are you certain they are of your people?"
"One I recognized, and the others appear to have been of our people as well. I saw none who resemble either the Wainriders nor any of Gondor."
Rustovrid nodded. "Your own people are threatened?"
"Yes, by the Wainriders. Every few generations such come out of the east to assault us, apparently often driven by drought or crop failures in their own lands. Once they swept through our lands and attacked Gondor itself, but that was long and long ago. They were defeated and driven back, and our own folk were able to find some peace again, as well as we could under the domination of those of the Black Land."
Rustovrid sighed. "I will advise our own warlords to be aware of similar incursions from those beyond us. For the past six years we have had to send tribute to none, have had to send our armies against no one at the behest of the Black Tower, have had to recognize no one as overlord to our peoples. Most of those in Harad find themselves surprisingly pleased at such freedom. Our harvests have been more than plentiful, and we have been able to trade with those south and east of us and have known prosperity for the first time in countless generations. Many of those who are young join with our elders with desiring such will continue to be true of us, that we might continue to know plenty, that we might continue to know peace so that our people might grow. Only those who had become accustomed to enriching themselves through plunder are unhappy, and the Farozi keeps a strict eye upon them, making them attend more carefully to the cultivation of their own lands and the happiness of their own peoples."
Ifram seemed to consider this, then shared a look with his brother and his guards. "The one I recognized--he fought often with the hosts, and his troupes ever followed most closely after the lead of Mordor. Yes, he was one indeed accustomed to gathering wealth through plunder. Your Farozi is a wise Man to watch such among your own people. I will so advise our Shkatha."
The bells of the city marked the seventh hour since the dawn, and those at the work site rose and turned toward the Citadel. Ruvemir had already taken off his work smock and had secured it with his tools. One last survey to make certain all was closed and fastened, and they followed the two embassies in to attend the audience.
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.