Harsh Lesson, A: 1. Chapter One

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1. Chapter One

Thanks to Arbelethiel and Mysterious Jedi for beta reading.

Elrond carefully folded his arms on the desk in front of him to avoid to the various potions that were strewn across it and rested his head on his arms. He closed his eyes, took deep breaths and resisted the urge to throw something. Every time they found an antidote to yet another orc poison, the orcs merely found a new poison. There were only a finite number they could possibly manufacture but that number was more than the Healers could try in one night and the orcs knew it too, which was why they continually poisoned their arrows.

It was bad enough that the orcs would inflict life-threatening wounds to those who fought them but then those who were not so badly injured would also die. Most of the Men who had been brought in the previous night had been lucky. All except one, that was. He was deathly ill and would likely die that morning unless a solution could be found. They had tried many things but nothing had worked. Now they were running out of time.

Arwen called him, interrupting his train of thought, and he lifted his head and met her with a smile that was genuine, even through his tiredness and frustration.

"Nana says you have to come for breakfast."

"I am sorry, Arwen, you will have to go to breakfast without me. A man is very ill and we must find a way to make him better before I can eat." Celebrían would understand - it would not be the first time he had done such a thing.

"Can I help?"

Elrond gave her suggestion some thought. Arwen often assisted him in healing the injured Men, Elves and other races that passed through Imladris. He was proud that she was already learning how to treat some common wounds and he enjoyed the time he got to spend with her, even though he could never concentrate fully on her at those times. It was likely, though, that Berandir would die, and he did not want her to see that.

She did seem to have a calming presence, both on himself and the ill that lay in the infirmary, and he would be glad of that this morning. One day she would learn what death was but Elrond had hoped it would be far in the future. Although she was growing up fast she was still an innocent girl, at least in his eyes, and he wanted her to stay like that for as long as possible. He looked down at the eager expression as she waited for him to answer and he could not deny her. He told himself there was still hope that the Man would yet live but in reality it was his usual inability to say no to his only daughter.

"I would be glad of your help. Why don't I introduce you to Berandir?"

Arwen smiled and took his hand as he led them to the room Berandir had to himself not far away. As they entered, Elrond nodded to the other Man, Maethor, noticing how tired he looked. He had obviously not slept much this night either.

Maethor looked at him, hoping he brought good tidings. "Have you found an antidote?" he asked.

"I am sorry, Maethor. We will continue to search."

"I fear it no longer matters. His condition is much worse this morning."

Elrond released Arwen's hand so he could move closer to the bed and examine Berandir. As he did so he heard Arwen and Maethor introduce themselves to each other. As he leaned over, Berandir opened his eyes. Elrond could see the pain in them and he feared for the worst.

"How do you feel?" he asked, being careful not to show his worry.

"Not well. I am cold and the hurt is more than last night."

Elrond placed his hand on Berandir's forehead. It was as he feared - the Man had a fever. He lifted the covers to examine his wounds and he could see they had not healed. He did not expect much improvement over one night but there should be more than there was. Berandir had been hit by many arrows, although none of them had pierced any vital organs. It was a wonder Berandir had lived as long as he did. Elrond closed his eyes and kept his face to the ground to avoid the others seeing his disappointment until he got his expression under control.

He looked up to find Arwen was no longer in the room. He was thinking that perhaps that was for the best, when she returned carrying bandages, which she held out to him.

"Thank you, Arwen." He took a short time to marvel at his wonderful daughter before he took the bandages from her and started the process of changing the old ones. It would probably not help very much but at least it would all look much better. As he did so, Arwen stayed by his side and he knew she must have seen Berandir's wounds from where she stood. She had previously seen plenty of blood and never once had nightmares after, so Elrond did not worry too much. He had more important things to think about at the moment. Berandir, though, had closed his eyes and his breathing had become more laboured. Elrond could tell he was unable to rest enough to sleep.

"He is very ill, isn't he?" Arwen asked, perceptive as always. Although for once Elrond wished she were not.

"Yes, he is," he replied.

"Will you make him better, ada?"

"I cannot."

Arwen frowned at this statement. In her limited experience every patient Elrond treated recovered. She could not understand why any of them would not.

"He does not deserve death," Maethor observed.

"There are many that do not deserve death."

Maethor nodded at this statement but said no more, for Elrond spoke the truth.

Arwen observed the whole exchange with big eyes. Elrond picked her up and placed her on the bed. "I want you to sit here and hold on to Berandir's hand. Can you do that for me?"

Arwen nodded obediently. "I will kiss it better," she said and bent down to kiss Berandir's hand. Both Elrond and Maethor smiled indulgently. If only it were that simple. He wished he could do more for the Man but they had given him as much for the pain as they dared.

"I have a daughter about her age," Maethor said, "and she is the sweetest little thing you ever saw. Every time I go home I wonder how I can leave her again."

Elrond smiled and nodded. He could not bear to be parted from Arwen for such long periods of time, at least not yet.

"You..." Berandir managed to say and then there was a long pause while he gathered himself. They all waited patiently to hear what he wanted to say. "You are a pretty girl. What is your name?"

"Arwen. And I will look after you."

"Then I feel better already." Berandir managed a small smile for her benefit and she leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, being careful to avoid touching any of his wounds.

The short conversation had exhausted Berandir and he again closed his eyes. Arwen looked up at Elrond, worried, but before she could ask him anything else he did not wish to answer, there came a knock at the door. Elrond had almost never been so pleased to see his wife before, not least because she had the remains of breakfast with her.

"I thought you might be hungry," Celebrían said with a smile.

Elrond went over to the doorway to collect the food and a kiss. "You thought right. Whatever would I do without you?"

"Starve probably." Celebrían's smile soon turned to worry, however. "Will you be home tonight?" she asked quietly.

"I will make sure of it."

Celebrían spared a smile for Arwen and then left, with a meaningful expression directed at Elrond.

Elrond handed a roll to Maethor, who accepted it gratefully, but only picked at it. To Arwen he gave some fruit, along with instructions not to spill any of it on the bed. Elrond found he was hungry despite his worry. The Men had been brought in shortly before dinner the previous night, so he had not eaten for some time. Before he could eat though, he gave some of the water to Berandir, with the help of Maethor, since Berandir was too weak to hold himself up enough to drink.

Elrond made sure to keep watch on Berandir even after they had eaten. Although he hoped the Man would live, there was a part of him that wished his pain could soon be over. The wait was long for Berandir and short for the rest of them but Elrond was reluctant to leave Maethor alone again. There were other Healers working on an antidote and he was confident in their abilities, whether they found a solution in time or not. Having been told to stay where she was, Arwen did not let go of Berandir's hand and Elrond was certainly not going to leave her in a room with a dying Man without himself being present.

"Can you tell me what happened, Maethor?" Elrond broke the silence.

Maethor looked at Berandir and Arwen before he spoke. "We were ambushed," he said. "Luckily there were not many of them but it was Berandir who was in front. He was hit first and after that he tried to ensure none of the rest of us were. At the time I was only glad we were so close to Rivendell."

Elrond, however, was not so glad. Orcs anywhere were bad news but especially so when they were near Imladris. Many had hoped that the war had seen the last of them but the events at Gladden Fields had shown them all to be always on their guard. They might be living in a time of peace but evil had not gone away.

"Then he is a hero," he said.

"I would rather he was a father," Maethor replied.

Berandir had probably never seen orcs before that day, since he was yet young. At least no children would be left without a father but there would still be people who would lose someone they loved today. It was not a cheerful thought.

At length Elrond saw Berandir squeeze Arwen's hand. She smiled down at him with an expression uncannily like the one he had seen often on Celebrían's face when she was looking at their children. Elrond thought that perhaps one day she would make a good mother, although he hoped it was not too soon. He looked forward to having grandchildren but was not ready to give Arwen up in the near future.

Berandir turned to Maethor. "My sister..." he whispered.

"No, Berandir..." Maethor clutched at Berandir's hand with both of his, perhaps trying to keep him alive by the strength of his own will.

"Tell her..."

Maethor nodded reluctantly at the other's unspoken request and Elrond could see the moisture in his eyes.

Having said everything he wanted to say, Berandir closed his eyes and took a deep breath out.

Arwen had been looking closely at Berandir and it was she who first noticed. "He's not breathing, ada!" She looked up at him, scared, but her face showed the expectation that Elrond would be able to do something.

"That is because he is dead, Undómiel."

Maethor bowed his head. Elrond silently asked for forgiveness for voicing the statement and making it all the more real for Maethor. He picked Arwen up and took her out of the room so as not to disturb its inhabitants any more than they already had.

"Make him better, ada," she pleaded, tears now running down her face.

"I cannot. He was too ill and it was not within my power." Elrond hugged her tightly to him but she did not want comfort, she wanted understanding.

"Why?"

"He had been poisoned. The only way to make him better was to make a new medicine but I did not know what to make."

"It's not fair."

"Death is rarely fair. The good people die and the bad people live. That is the way of the world and there is nothing anyone can do about it."

"I don't understand why."

"Neither do I; neither do any of us. I wish it were not this way. I wish you could live without ever having to see death but I know that cannot happen."

Arwen nodded and wiped her hands across her eyes. Elrond pulled out his handkerchief and gave it to her, which she dutifully used and handed back to him. Elrond made a mental note to get himself a clean one when he had the opportunity.

"Maethor is sad now," Arwen continued.

"Yes. He misses his friend and wants him back."

Arwen looked thoughtful for a moment and begged to be put down. Elrond was only too happy to oblige since she had got heavy. The moment her feet touched the ground she turned and went back into the room they had just left. Elrond followed and, as he stood in the doorway, he saw Arwen go over to Maethor, put her arms around him and lay her head in his lap.

Maethor was stunned for a moment but soon hugged her back. Elrond smiled. He suspected Arwen still did not really understand what had happened but he did not expect her to. He had seen more death than she and he was still not sure he really understood it himself. But just as Arwen had learnt today that her father was not infallible, he had discovered how grown up his daughter was.

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.

Story Information

Author: paranoidangel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Kings

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/18/04

Original Post: 12/30/03

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