1. Pen Nîn Tithen
He looks so pale, cheeks normally a healthy rose now drained of colour, grey eyes rolling behind eyelids too heavy to open. A strangled cough escapes his lips, causing his entire form to tremble.
I feel the sting of tears in my eyes as I pull my son closer, wrapping the thick, woollen coverlet over us both. "Hush, Eldarion," I whisper soothingly in his ear while one hand smoothes his dark hair over his brow, slicked with fevered sweat. His skin burns to the touch, and he burrows even deeper into my arms, clinging to me fiercely as if my very presence will drive the illness from his body.
"My head hurts," he whines hoarsely. "Naneth, make it stop hurting. Please…" Eldarion's pleas tear my heart asunder. A tiny hand, trembling and clammy, entwines itself in my hair. He pulls the dark locks to his face, trying, desperately trying to inhale the rose scent so as to disguise the lingering stench of the sickroom. Everything, even the thick curtains, reek of illness. But perhaps I only feel as such because of my Elven senses, which, I have discovered on numerous occasions, are not always an advantage.
"I wish I could, pen-nin tithen," I reply with a soft sigh, pressing my lips to his forehead. "My little one."
The fire crackles in the corner, its shadows dancing across his innocent face as my thumb traces each curve of wan, sickly, feverish skin. My poor babe. He has never been ill before - not like this. When last night he crawled into my bed, eyes laden with tears, complaining of a biting pain in his skull, I had hoped it was little more than his yearly cold.
Yet, I could not deny that I was glad of his intrusion. Estel had been gone now for four days, and was currently in conference with Prince Imrahil. Our bed now seemed so cold, devoid of the comfort of his arms, so I threw back the covers and allowed Eldarion to crawl in beside me.
Perhaps then, I should have known that something was wrong. Whilst he is always very affectionate to me, especially in his father's absences; every afternoon, without fail, he plucks flowers from the gardens and presents them to me. Yet, young as he may be, Eldarion balks when either Estel or I offer him the comfort of our bed after a nightmare. Yet, last night, he joined me without protest, enfolding his little arms around my neck, resting his head easily on my shoulder.
A shudder reverberating through my body awoke me. Blinking in the darkness, it took me a moment to discern that the tremor racing through my form, the rough chokes in the dark, were the gasping coughs of my only child.
And now, in this gloomy sickroom in the Houses of Healing, still violent coughs ravage his innocent body.
He has not eaten anything today, not even his favourite foods, which I had the kitchen staff prepare especially for him. They are all so fond of him, their young prince and future king; and Eldarion is never far from the kitchens, playing with the cook's three sons and all the young pages. Many royal parents would be appalled to see their child developing a friendship with the children of a servant, but Estel and I encourage him. What right do we have to declare ourselves above anyone else?
"I want my Ada," Eldarion's rough voice draws me from my thoughts. "I want my Ada to come back."
My fingers press against his lips. "Hush, Eldarion. He will be back soon."
I have already sent word to Dol Amroth, and I know that Estel's return will be delayed by not a moment. Not even the might of Iluvatar could restrain him if he thought that ill tidings plagued either myself or our son.
What agony ravages Eldarion's tiny form? Does his body feel aflame with the very fires of Mordor itself? Does each tender muscle scream in anguish as though a thousand daggers pierce his flesh? What gnawing teeth cause his head to ache so much that tears well in his sea-grey eyes?
Why did this illness have to strike my child now? Estel, not I, is the healer. True, as Elrond's daughter, I know much about the healing arts, but Ada taught me naught of illness. Elves never succumb to illness, not winter sniffles nor the deadly Haradrim fever. My lessons were centred around poisons and wounds, not mortal ailments and afflictions. How I wish my Ada were here… He could handle this situation far better than I. Or even my Naneth…
They never strayed from my side the first night I lay tearfully in my chamber, wrist heavily bound and resting upon my chest, the badge of the twin's respect. They had urged me to climb the rowan tree overlooking Ada's herb garden. The boys had never included me in any of their games before, so with the eagerness of a seven-year-old desperate for her brothers' approval, I clambered unsteadily up the bough and amongst the branches. Exhilarating seconds passed as I drank in the feeling of my success, before…
Coherent thought fled my mind as my body slammed against the turf. The sickening crack as my bone snapped echoed in the still forest, soon drowned out by tearful wails of pain.
Ada did all he could for my arm, giving me various tonics to soothe the lingering ache. But, looking back with the wisdom of my years, I realise that perhaps my body suffered the lesser hurt.
That night holds vivid memories of Ada sitting in a chair by my bedside whilst Naneth lay under the bedcovers, holding me close. Even in my state of dullness, I saw the anguish in her eyes - but 'twas not until now, when I embrace my own child as she did hers, that I understand the true depth of her heartache.
Yet there is one assurance, one comforting phrase that I cannot offer my son. Naneth promised me that the pain would lessen soon, describing her memories of the days when she had injured herself. Such words I cannot whisper in Eldarion's ear, for I have never known sickness.
Oftentimes, I curse the lot of the Edain, tormented from birth with maladies ranging from merely annoying sniffles in winter, to more terrifying, life-snatching illnesses. My people are proud of our ability to endure harsher climates and fiercer torture than our mortal brothers. But there are few elves who could truly suffer the helplessness of being ill, and for that, I will never have enough praise for the Edain.
Eldarion moans in disturbed slumber, slumping heavily in my arms. I cannot even begin to comprehend my son's agony, but his strength fills me with such intense pride that I cannot help but smile with maternal pride. This child is no ordinary boy. He is the son of my beloved Estel, a man whose bravery will live in stories even when he has faded from Arda. My child, so naive and untouched by the cold, harsh world outside his parent's love, is heir to the mightiest kingdoms of Arda, Gondor and Arnor.
But I do not see a future king lying in my arms, brow dripping with sweat and lips trembling. I see only my son; my poor, innocent, sick son, little more than a babe.
My thoughts drift from my son to my own mother, long since departed over the Sea. Sometimes, I selfishly wish that she had not left for Valinor. Her departure broke Ada's heart, and, although I hid it better, it broke mine too. But even I see the malice in those thoughts: in Arda, she would only suffer needlessly, but in Valinor, the healing hands of Ëste would soothe her wounds until the scars of her torment have faded.
What would she think of Eldarion, her first grandchild? Deep in the night, when no-one is awake to see my silent tears, I think of my Naneth. Pain churns like a poison in my gut when I realise that I will never see her again; and she will never meet my beloved Estel. She was not by my side when I bore my son, unable to squeeze my hand and assuring me that everything would be all right.
Our last meeting is one of my bitterest memories. Her skin's luminescence had diminished, leaving behind only a wan complexion that bespoke the sickness of her heart. Clouds enshrouded the starlight in her eyes, her very essence fading, wilting like a delicate flower in the harsh winter. How would our family survive without her?
"Oh, my precious Undomiel, weep not," she whispered to me, her voice trembling with barely restrained sorrow. I enfolded my arms around her, my heart crying out in prayer to Varda. But the Lady Starkindler's favour did not shine upon me that eve.
"We will meet again, Arwen," she promised as she leaned closer to kiss away the tear that meandered down my cheek, tasting the salt of my sadness. "One day, when the time comes for our people to return to the care of the Valar, I will be on the shore, waiting for your ship."
So many words rose to my lips; words of pain, words of bitterness, words of acceptance. "Vanya sulie, Naneth. Cormamin niuve tenna' ta elea lle au'." I replied solemnly, composing myself. I had to be strong, for Ada and the twins - no matter how deep the dagger of separation pierced my heart. "Fair winds, Mother. My heart shall weep until it sees thee again."
"As will mine, Undomiel." Naneth placed a thin, quivering hand over my heart. "As will mine. Namarie. Farewell."
As her ship disappeared into the night, my tears broke loose, pouring from my eyes like the hissing Bruinen Falls streaming over the rocks. Lifting my hand to my lips, I pressed a kiss to my thumb before raising it to the sky. "Tenna' ento lye omenta, Naneth," I whispered. "Until we meet again."
Little did I know that I would choose a path that would sunder us forever…
Once again, my thoughts drift back to my son. His skin burns my palm as I press a cool hand to his brow. My poor babe… Childhood injuries I can handle, but sickness? All too often for my liking, Eldarion has thrown himself tearfully into my arms, bearing some painful hallmark of a boyhood adventure.
But, looking back to my own days of innocence, I realise that my son is not unlike myself - or his father, for that matter, if only half of what the twins told me is true.
"Naneth…" His voice drifts sleepily up to me, "I love you, Naneth."
I cannot prevent the smile that crosses my lips. "I love you too, Eldarion," I whisper softly in his ear, pulling him closer. His head lies upon my breast as I allow the steady beating of my heart to lull him to sleep.
Does sleep ease your woes, pen-nin tithen? Or does this illness that ravages your body haunt your dreams? How can you suffer such agony with so little complaints, my brave little boy? If only you knew how much I wish this torment were mine, not yours. To spare my child this affliction, this sickness, I would gladly suffer without complaint.
How do other mothers cope? Do they feel this same anguish in their hearts, tearing their very souls asunder, when they witness their child in such a state of helplessness?
Naneth sat by my side the night after I sprained my ankle, despite my protests that I was too old to be treated like a child.
"Arwen," she said, trying to disguise the hurt in her voice, which made me feel infinitely guilty, "I only wish to remain with you tonight. My mother refused to leave my side when I was injured, and I was much older than you are now." A gentle hand reached out to brush a stray lock of hair from my face. "Your Ada was unhappy that I chose to stay with you, but nin iell, I would not sleep tonight, knowing that you were hurt.
Naneth's words were like a wizard's spell: she could probably charm the blooms of elanor to flower in the depths of winter, or so I had thought as a child. Her voice was like a balm, washing over me like crystal water on heated flesh. Not even one with a heart of stone could deny Naneth her wishes, and I was unprepared to try.
"Now hush, Undomiel," she whispered, laying her hand on my cheek, "You must take some rest." Like the sound of a lark, her voice rose in song, a gentle melody to lull my to sleep. And this time, I did not accuse her of treating me like a babe; I merely allowed each calm word to coax my thoughts to sleep.
It is not until I taste the salt of tears upon my lips that I realise I am crying. And when I gaze at Eldarion, eyes clouded with sorrow, I feel guilty. Cormamin niuve tenna' ta elea lle au'… Then our hearts will forever weep.
"Naneth?" Eldarion looks up at me with bleary eyes, but within those silver depths, I understand that he too has seen my tears. "What is wrong?" He asks, concerned, though I sense that each word he speaks strains his throat, tighting the already aching muscles.
"I was thinking about my Naneth," I reply with an inadvertent sigh.
"I want to meet her," he murmurs, twirling my hair around his fingers. "Can I meet her?"
This moment I have dreaded since before my child's birth. How does one explain to a child about the Gift of Men, the call of the sea which still echoes in my heart, and the choice of the Half-Elven? Yet still, even through his pain, Eldarion watches me expectantly. Perhaps he needs something to distract his attention from the illness. But what do I say? If only Estel were here - he would know…
But my husband is not here, so I alone must undertake this difficult task.
"I do not know, Eldarion. She lives far, far away, and she is too sick to travel." My breath catches in my throat as I wait for his response…
"Oh. Well, I can go visit her when I'm a warrior?"
"No. She lives so very far away."
"What about your Ada?"
Thoughts of my father cause the tears in my eyes to burst forth like the raging torrent of a river. When I think of him, all I can ever see is the pained look in his eyes at our last meeting, the bitter knowledge that I had chosen mortality, the his inward cursing of my husband for claiming my heart.
"Don't cry, Naneth," Eldarion whispers, and I see tears welling in his own eyes as he wriggles out of my embrace to place a kiss to my cheek. A single tear drips onto my cheek as trembling lips press against my skin. "I love you."
"As I love you, pen-nin tithen," I whisper, holding him closer.
"Sing to me," he asks. "Sing that song that you sing to Ada."
Nodding, I brush away both our tears, before my voice rises in familiar song. "The leaves were long, the grass was green; The hemlock-umbels tall and fair…"
Soon, my son is lured back to the throes of slumber. The firelight dances across his face as I run my fingers through his dark hair. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that I had made the right choice, it was quelled the moment I held this babe in my arms. I close my eyes, allowing myself to join my son in dreams…
The sound of heavy boots slamming against the stone floor rouses me. Careful not to awaken my son, I manoeuvre myself to a seated position. If whoever is causing that pandemonium at this forsaken hour awakens my child, then…
The heavy door is thrown open, slamming against the wall, and Estel dashes across the room to the bed. He gasps for breath, his dark hair tousled from the ride, beads of sweat adorning his brow. Our eyes meet, and unspoken words pass between us. I can see the panic, the worry for our son's well being in his sea-grey eyes; but upon beholding Eldarion, safe in my arms, his expression softens.
One arm still wrapped around Eldarion, I reach up to unpin his cloak. The fabric glides to the ground, but we pay it no heed. All of our thoughts are concentrated upon our child.
Eldarion stirs in my arms, groaning before his eyes open. "Ada?"
Estel smiles wryly. "I'm here, Eldarion."
"Naneth took care of me, Ada," he whispers, trying to pull himself to a seated position.
Estel merely ruffles our son's hair. "Go back to sleep, Eldarion. You need your rest, my son." Without protest, his eyelids slip closed; within moments, he is once again enveloped by slumber. Estel then turns to me, a calloused hand cupping my cheek. "How do you fare, beloved?"
"As good as can be expected, given the circumstances," I reply as he sits upon the bed beside me. My husband leans forward and presses his lips to mine in a gentle kiss that soothes the worries of my heart.
"We have missed you," I say quietly. "I am glad that you have returned."
"My councillors were extremely unhappy," he replies, squeezing my hand tenderly. "They thought that I should stay in Dol Amroth until the council was complete." His eyes flicker. "But there was no force in Middle Earth that could keep me from Gondor when I learned that our son was sick."
My lips melt into a smile. "I know, Estel."
"But you have obviously taken excellent care of Eldarion," he continues, stroking our son's dark hair. "I knew that you would be wonderful mother, Evenstar." My husband's lips brush against my brow, his touch sweeping a wave of calm over me.
"I wish I could be as good as my Naneth," I murmur, leaning against Estel as his arms wrap around not only me, but also our only child. "I wish she could see Eldarion."
The room falls silent, save for my son's heavy breathing and sporadic whimpers. The firelight begins to wane, but neither Estel or I bother greatly - it is almost dawn. Outside, I can hear the breeze whistling through the bare trees.
"Arwen, I'm sorry," his trembling voice shatters the stillness. "I have deprived so many of so much."
"What do you mean?" I ask, turning my quizzical upon him.
"You have lost so much for me." His voice is barely more than a whisper. "You and your family will never be together again; you will never answer the Call of the Sea; the Eldar have lost their fairest daughter. All because of me."
"Estel, I have lost nothing!" I declare, twisting my neck to kiss him soothingly. "Because of you, I have been given the most precious gift I could ever want: our son."
His arms tighten around us both like a cushion of love, and together, we hold our son as he sleeps through this fever, safe in the knowledge that nothing will tear our family apart.
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.