Ost_in_edhil (ost_in_edhil) wrote,

Athrabeth Serindë ah Mélamírë: The Gift by surgicalsteel and pandemonium_213

Here's what surgicalsteel and I hope will the first of a series of conversations between our OFCs -- the surgeon Serindë (see surgsteelfic and The Last Ship) and Mélamírë, my elven-smith. This derives from Steel's Happy!AU (in which Halbarad lives) and the unceasingly heretical Pandë!verse.

The different fates of Men and Elves were the focus of the discussion between Andreth and Finrod. By way of contrast, although Serindë and Mélamírë's "fates" diverge due to their nature, they also find they have much in common through their conversations that range from the light-hearted (and sometimes bawdy) to more grave matters.

Synopsis: In the spring of 3020 of the Third Age, Mélamírë and her family bring gifts to Serindë and Halbarad on the occasion of the birth of their third child, Lalaith. One of Mélamírë's gifts raises eyebrows "up to the hairline" as Serindë might say. Rated -- oh, I'd say PG-13 for adult themes/mild sexual references.

Athrabeth Serindë ah Mélamírë:  The Gift
Thanks to binkaslibrary for the nomination and to nelyo_russandol for the banner!

Note from pandemonium: I hope the reader can forgive my omission of Mélamírë's husband's name. My 'verse is still unfolding in my WIP -- The Elendilmir -- and there are clues there, but once revealed, it's likely I'll revise this to include his identity. The Elendilmir and the rest of my hackery may be found in this little corner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild.

"Sharif" is a character in The Jinn, a tale of Mélamírë's flight to the East of Middle-earth. Bharat is the Sanskrit name of India, used in the great epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in our primary world so I have used it here as the Middle-earth equivalent of the "mythic" sub-continent.


Was it this difficult for Sharif to organize the caravan?

Mélamírë thought of her old friend and protector who had managed to ensure that a tribe of nearly one hundred people and their camels, horses, and goats could be on the move at a moment’s notice. All she had to do today was gather herself, her husband, her baby sons, and their nursemaids together to visit another apartment within the Citadel yet it felt like a major expedition. She bent over to place four more clean diapers into the tapestry-cloth satchel. She ticked off the necessary items: rags for wiping tender bottoms, sweet almond oil for cleaning them, the oil-sack for soiled diapers, the teething rings…

“Are you ready yet?” Her husband called from the parlor of their apartment, a snap of impatience in his usually measured timbre. She heard Culunáro squeal, but thankfully his was a happy noise.

“Yes, I’ll be right there.”

She closed the flap of the satchel and walked into the parlor where her family and their servants awaited her. Her husband’s sea-grey eyes appraised her from head to toe.

“You clean up well,” he said.

“Thank you.” She smoothed the embroidered blouse that hung past her hips, its plum color the same as her woolen skirt. Eilinil's work pleased her -- well-crafted and comfortable although she could not resist tugging at the undergarment supporting her breasts. She raked her eyes over her husband, clad in a fitted slate-blue surcoat over an ivory shirt and charcoal trousers. Even in subdued colors, he was resplendent. Sometimes she felt like a drab peahen with a brilliant peacock for a mate, and she did now.

“You are lovely, my dear,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Don’t ever doubt that.”

She wondered how he always knew when she needed reassurance. Maybe it was a look that crossed her face or a thought that flickered across the surface of her mind, but whatever the reason, she appreciated it. She was still adrift. So much had happened to her in such a short time. The mithril ring on her left forefinger warmed, sending a diffuse soothing sensation throughout her hand and up into her arm. That, too, in its own disconcerting way, was reassuring.

Fëaril, held by Meril, whimpered and reached out to her. Mélamírë exchanged the satchel for her son, gathering him in her arms. He promptly put one of her dark plaits in his mouth and gummed it. Culunáro smiled at her from where his father held him against his hip. Four pearly teeth gleamed -- two each on the lower and upper gums. The worst had passed now that those teeth had emerged, but his fussy brother was still in the throes of active teething.

“Do you have the gifts?”

“In here,” her husband said, lifting his elbow. The covered basket’s handle was looped over his forearm.

“All of them?”

His arched brow caught the corner of his mouth in a wry half-smile. “Yes. All of them.”

She turned to the young nursemaids. “The blankets? The toys?” Meril and Férwen both nodded.

“Then we are ready.”

They filed through one corridor and another, then down a flight of stairs until they stood a dark wooden door. Her husband knocked firmly but not overly loud. Behind the doors, the muffled but familiar voice of a woman called and was answered by a man. Then steps approached the door which opened wide.

“Istyanis! My lords and ladies! Please come in.”

The man who opened the door never failed to remind Mélamírë of King Elessar: both men had dark hair flecked with strands of silver, strong masculine profiles and clear grey eyes, so much like those of her kin, although lacking the captured starlight that shone in the eyes of the Eldar. Lacking it like my sons. She shoved the unbidden thought away forcefully.

“Good morning, Halbarad!” she said. “My apologies for being a bit late. It takes me forever to pull everything together for an outing.”

Fëaril dropped her braid, soaked with drool, and smiled at Halbarad, reaching out with his little hand to grasp the man’s forefinger in greeting.

“Someone has a new tooth.” Halbarad took the baby from Mélamírë while they all filed into the apartment. He coaxed a chuckle from Fëaril by tickling his belly. “They’re in the sun room. Please come with me.”

Halbarad led Mélamírë and her entourage to a warm bright room where the morning sunlight streamed through the east-facing windows. Serindë sat in a cushioned chair, cradling her newborn daughter. The nursemaids spread out a blanket in the adjoining room. Fëaril and Culunáro were set upon it with Meril and Férwen sitting cross-legged by them. The nursemaids extracted toys from one of the bags. Fëaril immediately crammed a smooth block in his mouth and chewed on it. When she assured herself that her sons were settled, Mëlamírë joined the others in the sun room.

“Hello, Istyanis,” Serindë said, her voice soft.

“My good broideress.” Mélamírë smiled and bowed her head.

With a single glance from her to her baby, Serindë beckoned Mélamírë who immediately went to her side to admire the infant. A hand on her shoulder and the subtle warmth by her side told her that her husband had joined her. The baby girl flexed her perfect fingers and yawned.

“She’s beautiful, Serindë, Halbarad…” Mélamírë said.

“She is a beautiful child," her husband agreed. He leaned over to stroke the baby's cheek with his finger. "I hope you don’t mind that we delayed our visit by a few weeks, but word came to us that you were inundated with visitors rather soon after the little one’s birth. I’d like to think that Mélamírë and I are a little more sensitive to your needs than those without newborns in the household. Serindë, you are looking well by the way.” Her husband grinned. “Motherhood becomes you.”

"Halbarad says much the same thing, but I suspect that's because I only actually have breasts when I'm pregnant or nursing," Serinde said with a wicked grin at Halbarad's squawk of protest and the elf-man's raised brows. "And it wasn't so much that I minded the visitors, but honestly, how is it that supposedly bright people - some of whom have already raised four children of their own - don't recognize that you don't wake a sleeping infant? I never quite realized just how loud Imrahil can be..." she shook her head. "You'd think he'd have known better."

“Being bright doesn't preclude being oblivious," said Mélamírë. She leaned over slightly from where she knelt by Serindë. "Do you know, little Lalaith, that had you waited a while longer, which I highly doubt would have agreed with your mother, we would have shared a birthday? Well, begetting day for me.”

“When is your begetting day, Istyanis?”

“The day varies according to people's customs, but I know when it is, and I will always know. You call it the twenty-fifth of March. Or perhaps it is in your April if the King cannot resist fiddling about with the calendar.”

“The same day as...”

“Yes. When the Ring was destroyed.” The subject stirred up thoughts that Mélamírë did not care to contemplate. “But never mind that! We brought gifts for Lalaith and for you, too. Here, I’ll take her…come here, sweeting” Mélamírë lifted the sleepy baby from Serindë’s lap. Lalaith mewed briefly then settled in Mélamírë’s arms when she gently rocked the baby, crooning to her just like her mother had crooned to her. Her husband lifted a small polished wooden box, out of the basket and handed it to Serindë. She lifted the lid of the box and pulled out a silver rattle, turning it over and examining the stylized designs of birds, clouds and flowers engraved in the metal.

“Go ahead. Give it a shake,” said Mélamírë.

The sound of a babbling brook came from the rattle.

“Again.” Mélamírë encouraged her.

This time, birds warbled and chirped. Another shake and playful breezes sang.

“The rattle holds the sounds of laughter. For Lalaith. Oh, and it will not tarnish. I added a little bit of mithril to the alloy.”

"This is absolutely - this is beyond thoughful, and far more than I can possibly..." Serinde began.

"It's priceless, and beautiful, and there's no possible way that we can thank you adequately. Lalaith will love it," Halbarad said, interrupting Serinde before she could say that it was more than she could accept or deserved.

"Priceless? No, your little girl is priceless. 'Thank you' is enough." Mélamírë smiled at the baby who reached out to wrap her fingers around the handle of the rattle.

“Here is my gift for her,” said her husband, pulling a book from the basket. “A little less magical than Mélamírë's rattle, but I hope Lalaith will like it.”

He handed the book to Serindë. She opened the first page to see a drawing of a little girl snuggled into her bed with the moon shining through the window. She turned the pages to see detailed illustrations in pencil and others painted with subtle color. It was a simple story of a gentle bedtime ritual. After her parents had tucked her into her bed, the child bid goodnight to the familiar objects in her bed chamber – books, toys, a bowl, a spoon -- and last told the moon goodnight.

Serinde smiled at that. "It reminds me a little of a song I sing to her - sang to my other children, too.

Now young Mr. Moon flew away in the night
His best friend Magnus right by his side
They soared through the Milky Way counting the stars
Once around Venus, twice around Mars...

It's lovely, and she'll love it! Thank you so very much!"

“I’m glad you like it, and that it fits with your lullaby. I only recently began drawing and painting again, but it was a pleasure to do this. I updated it for these times, but I understand that Idril told a form of this story to Eärendil when he was a little boy.”

“And now the gift for Serindë?” Mélamírë rocked slowly from heel to toe, keeping the baby soothed and sleepy.

Her husband again reached into the basket. He handed a small chest lacquered with red, black and gold floral designs to Serindë. Mélamírë watched Serindë run her fingers over the smooth surface of the chest, pleased her friend's admiration of her craft.

"The chest alone is exquisite," Serinde said. "This looks like an eastern design, if I'm not mistaken - absolutely gorgeous work, I could use it to..." she opened the lid, intending to remark that she could perhaps use the chest to hold embroidery supplies, but stopped mid-sentence at the contents of the chest, feeling her eyebrows rise toward her hairline and her lips quirk upward. Inside the chest were three pairs of shining steel balls, each attached ball attached to its mate by a cord. The gleam off of them - she surely hadn't added mithril to these, had she? She must have added something to the steel, otherwise, given their intended use, they'd rust. She lifted one pair out of the chest, holding them aloft by their cord, and grinning, she said, "I believe I know what these are. You truly do understand a woman's needs, don't you?"

“I would like to think I do," Mélamírë said, her cheeks lifting with a knowing grin. "I remembered that you admired the set I was making for myself in the workshop a few months ago.”

Halbarad's eyebrows scrunched together, and he said, "I'm not quite certain why you're so happy to receive steel balls, Serinde. Are they part of some game, or..."

"You might say that," Serinde said, trying desperately to not laugh.

“They are coroni yéro,” Mélamírë replied evenly, still rocking Lalaith. Halbarad’s expression remained quizzical. “Pleasure balls. They help tighten up the huch after childbirth. Holding the balls in place strengthens the stretched muscles." Halbarad's stunned expression puzzled Mélamírë. He was a father, and his wife was a healer. He had even studied healing. Did he not understand what happened to a woman's body when she gave birth? She turned back to Serindë. "I made them with different weights, from light to a little heavier so your muscles will become stronger as you wear them.”

"Wears them? How exactly does one wear them?" Halbarad asked

“Halbarad, my friend, you still seem to have some questions. Is it Mélamírë's terms? She can be obscure on occasion,” said her husband, trying to be helpful to the flustered man. “Huch translates to...hmmmm…” He searched for the word. “Quim! That’s it. Or alternatively, cun...”

"I know what huch means," Halbarad spluttered, his face turning a bright red.

Turning the balls over in her hand, Serindë noticed the maker's mark on them - like on the needles she'd received last summer, there it was, the star of Fëanor.

"Never thought I'd be holding Fëanor's balls in my hand," Serindë said.

The elf-man lost all dignity he had hitherto maintained when he broke out in a raucous guffaw. He gasped as he recovered his breath:

“I cannot imagine what Fëanor must think that his mark is engraved on coroni yéro. He must be spinning in the Halls of Mandos!" The elf burst out laughing again to be joined by Serindë's distinctive cackle.

Mélamírë's left brow arched. She took pride in her craftsmanship and was not a little irked that her forefather was the source of such amusement. “There is a tradition held among the women of my family regarding coroni yéro."

Her husband shot her a pointed look that warned she was taking that tone. She wasn't sure if she cared that she sounded haughty.

“What tradition is that?” Serindë asked, not at all cowed by the elf-woman's stern expression.

“Well, as my mother told me and my grandmother told her before that, Fëanor made the very same devices for Nerdanel. It is said that he crafted them from the material that he eventually used for the palantíri and that he placed bells within them.”

Nerdanel used these?" Halbarad spluttered.

"And Fëanor made them from the same material as the palantíri?" Serindë added. Yes, there was a creeping moment of oh sweet sanity at the reminder of just how long the elves had lived - but yes, it made sense that Nerdanel would need them, and a crystalline material likely wouldn't be as chilly as metal and would avoid the problem of rust or tarnish.

“Of course,” Mélamírë said matter-of-factly, feeling more cheerful. “Giving birth to seven children would certainly make the coroni necessary. It is said that Nerdanel sometimes chimed when she walked so she must have used them frequently. What?” Mélamírë looked at Halbarad. “Surely you don’t think elven-women do not experience many of the same difficulties that mortal women do in bringing forth children.” Mélamírë lifted her blouse to expose part of her belly. “See? I have stretch marks. They’ll disappear in several months but nonetheless...”

"Whereas mine never will, alas," Serindë said with a grin at Halbarad's persistent discomfort and recurrent blush.

"Believe me, Halbarad,” said the elf-man. “You’ll both appreciate these devices. They exert their effects in fairly short order.”

Lalaith gave a little cry, disturbed by the noisy adults. She wiggled and rooted toward Mélamírë’s breast.

“Ah! Someone is hungry. Back to your mama, sweeting.” She handed the baby to Serindë and then settled herself in a cushioned chair. Although her sons had been distracted by their nursemaids, Fëaril’s whine was followed shortly by Culunáro’s outright cry. Mélamírë sighed. They had noticed Lalaith’s mid-morning breakfast.

“Would you...?” She looked up imploringly to her husband. He turned and went to the adjoining parlor, lifting Fëaril, and followed by Férwen carrying Culunáro. Mélamírë set each boy on either side of her, reached under her loose blouse to tug the band supporting her breasts down to her waist, and then leaning forward with a shift here and a wriggle there, had each boy tucked against her side with her blouse obscuring them as they nursed.

“Two at once?” Halbarad said.

“Yes, it entails some acrobatics, but I have learned to be creative,” said Mélamírë. “Making one wait while the other nurses just doesn’t work, at least for us." She looked down at her boys and then at Serindë and Lalaith, smiling. “I believe they were inspired by Lalaith.”

“Halbarad,” said her husband to the overwhelmed new father, “why don’t we step out for a moment? This room is awash with the feminine. Meril and Férwen will be on hand should our beloved wives need anything.”

"A pitcher of water and some sort of luncheon wouldn't go amiss," Serinde remarked as the two men left the room. Mélamírë watched them leave and then nodded to Meril and Férwen, who settled themselves in the other room, within distance of summoning but out of earshot. Mélamírë then turned to Serindë.

“I have been wanting to talk to you – privately -- for a while now."

"That difficult to find am I?" Serinde said, and then shook her head. "I suppose up until Aragorn confined me to the Citadel and its grounds, I was. Well, here we are, then."

"I know where to find 'a fate worse than death.'" Mélamírë's mouth quirked in a half-smile, recalling her own response to the infamous sign on the surgeon's door. "And when you moved in here, you're no more than a short walk away. I'll plead the excuse of being preoccupied with these two." She glanced down at her sons, who were now fiddling around with one another's free hands while they nursed. "And when I am not acting the milch cow, I have been working on the design of your new lights."

"I derive an unhealthy amount of amusement from explaining the joke to undereducated apprentices," Serinde said. "And the new lights - they may help prevent some of the accidents with ether. But I'm guessing you didn't want to talk to me about my twisted sense of humor or the lights."

“No, not at the moment. There’s something I must ask. I'm afraid my curiosity has taken over my judgment. My question is personal and concerns your family.”

Serindë shook her head for a moment. "My family's caused me so much damned trouble recently..." she began. "Never mind that. Whatever you're asking can't possibly be any worse than 'did you know your aunt was smuggling blasting powder to Umbar?' Go ahead, ask away."

“Perhaps not as sore a subject as that." The fact that there had been no blasting powder to be found in Minas Tirith during the siege of the city still rankled the elven-smith. She turned her thoughts back to her mortal friend whose face she studied intently before she posed her question, a question that violated her usual respect for others' privacy. "Do you know if you might have elvish ancestry? I mean, elvish ancestry more recent than the line of Elros? Many of those who came from Númenor have traces of his lineage. But you…I think you must be an elven-forebearer of more recent times.” Mélamírë shook her head a little at Serindë’s wide-eyed stare. “Never mind! It is not my affair. Please forgive me for prying.”

"It's funny you should ask - I think a lot of people up here in Minas Tirith like to ignore certain things about Edhellond and Dol Amroth," Serinde said. "Nobody gives a damn about it down in Dol Amroth, but you dare to suggest it up here in Minas Tirith and it's like you've committed some sort of hanging offense..." she stopped and shook her head again. "Lot of families down in Dol Amroth - you know, elves come down from Edhellond, some of them come to trade, some of them just looking for a bit of fun. But Grandmama Candeth - my Daddy's mama, one of the toughest ladies I ever knew, there were rumors about her daddy. He sort of vanished after my great-grandmama died, and I never met her - she died in childbirth long before Daddy was born. Grandmama, though - she said her daddy had the sweetest voice you ever heard, and she always talked about him like he was still alive. I always thought... I can't prove it, you know, I never met him. But from what Grandmama said - I always thought he might've been from Edhellond."

Mélamírë was taken aback by Serindë's off-handed remark about hanging offenses. In Bharat, intermingling of mortals and the Firstborn had been more common, but here she had sensed a strange mix of exaggerated reverence coupled with fear of her kind, particularly among the nobility. She wondered how the court would feel if she told them of the true -- but unwritten -- reason the Noldorin princes had granted the Edain separate enclaves in Beleriand Lost. Given what Serindë had said, the mortal woman would likely appreciate the scandalous knowledge. Mélamírë filed the thought away for another time.

"Ah, ha! An elvish great-grandfather from Edhellond. I knew it!"

"What made you suspect that?"

"Subtle things. The way you move for one. You have a certain grace. Oh, don't look at me like that!" Mélamírë cut off Serindë's protest. "I know you think you're clumsy, but that's from your injury. There are other ways in which you move. You likely are not conscious of these -- the wave of your hand, the tilt of your head. There's a note in your voice, too, especially when you hum and sing, that carries an obvious elvish lilt. Maybe not when you cackle." Mélamírë couldn't resist a smirk. "But most of all, I see it in your clever hands. I believe your name is more fitting than you might realize. But without the doleful history, of course."

"My mother would disagree on the grace," Serinde said wryly. "Although she'd agree on the clever hands. Always after me about the clever hands..."

"With all due respect, your mother is blind not to see your grace, but your clever hands? You have a gift, and it is not so different than what I know among my own people." Mélamírë paused, thinking of what she had in common with Serindë, and one of those commonalities was their propensity to question, not only from curiosity but from skepticism, too. Thus she felt safe in confiding her thoughts, considered heresy by some among her people, to Serindë.

“Sometimes I wonder if we – Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and even orcs – were once the same verse of the Great Song, but then we split into different chords. Perhaps now these chords are joining together again to become one. That you have an ancestor of the Firstborn speaks to that. Arwen and Aragorn’s little one, when he or she is born, will be part of this reuniting. I have to believe this must be why my husband and I have produced mortal children.” Mélamírë paused, looking down at her sons, still nursing but lazily. She raised her eyes to Serindë again. “You’re a surgeon…a woman of reason. You must think about others objectively -- as living organisms -- to do your work. Do you think of yourself in a similar manner? That is to say, how your body functions?

Serindë nodded. "I mainly try to ignore my own body's weaknesses - but the fact that it functions just like any other body always comes back to haunt me. I tried to wear regular shoes for a time in my youth and came perilously close to giving myself an equinovarus deformity with my midfoot stump, I puke up my toenails with regularity when I'm pregnant, lose what little reserve weight I have while nursing - and had to deal with my monthly cycles on the battlefield. I'm forced to conclude that I'm prone to all the same frailties as my patients, much to my dismay."

“Hmmmm, yes, well, puking up toenails and having one's courses at less than convenient times count among frailties. Likewise, I am as hungry as a wolf these days," mused Mélamírë. "But that's not what I meant. I am thinking about something deeper. Things along the line of why exactly blood turns bright red when exposed to air but is dark within tissues. Why a child with two brown-eyed parents has blue eyes. The mysterious things that make our bodies function as they do. I know the answers are there. Some I understand, but I just don't know how to reach them all.

"I ask because I am confounded – objectively that is – by the fact that I have given birth to mortal children. Make no mistake. I love them more than I can say and I know my husband does, too. But I wonder what is it within the hröa and fëa that distinguishes Man from Elf? It is not the fëa alone as some would have it. Something else. A life-essence, I think, that is passed down through the generations. Something that differs subtly between our kindred but results in such a profound divergence."

Serinde nodded her head slowly. "Yes - that makes sense to me. It's like - my chin. I joke that it goes back to before the fall of Númenor, but it just may - my brother and I both have it, my father had it, his sister has it, my paternal grandfather had it... and eye color, hair color. There are a few golden-haired Dúnedain, but when they marry a dark-haired person, most of their children will have the dark hair. Something passes down from parents to children, some traits more strongly than others, and sometimes the traits disappear for generations and reappear again - like Faramir and Boromir. You'd have sworn they weren't related at all - I'd have almost thought Boromir had almost no Númenórean blood, but you'd swear that Faramir's blood is just as purely Númenórean as Aragorn's..."

"Yes! Yes, that is it exactly! I studied the inheritance of peas when I lived in Ost-in-Edhil. Sometimes unusual sports like furled leaves and frilled blossoms would disappear only to re-emerge many generations later.” Mélamírë looked at her sleepy boys again. “I wonder if my husband might be such a sport? My mother called them 'mutants.'”

“I heard that.”

She whipped her head around to see her husband and Halbarad returning. Her husband carried a pitcher and glasses while Halbarad carried a platter of cheeses and fruits. Both Culunáro and Fëaril stirred at their father’s voice, each baby popping off a nipple, causing her to blurt “Ouch!” twice.

"Gracious, I hope for your sake that he's not too much like a pea vine," Serinde said with a grin. "That would be most unfortunate."

"Oh, he's perfectly adequate," responded Melamire, taking some amusement at her husband's embarrassment, especially after he had laughed too heartily at Fëanor's expense, but she added, "The emphasis on perfectly."

The elf-man blushed, clearing his throat. “Better to be compared to a pea vine than a fruit fly.” He set the pitcher down on a nearby table and poured water into two glasses, adding slices of lemon to them. He handed a glass to Serindë and one to Mélamírë who promptly gulped the cool water down. Still parched, she held out the empty glass to be refilled.

“A fruit fly?” Halbarad raised his brows.

Mélamírë laughed. “Yes. My mother studied inheritance, too, but she used fruit flies for the purpose. She had jars and jars of them in her workshop. She and Elrond, who also studied inheritance – roses and horses in his case -- corresponded about their theories. I just learned that Elrond saved many of the letters that he and my mother exchanged. I was not in Imladris long enough for Elrond to show them to me,” she said, sheepish because of her impulsive departure had caused others so much worry. “But when I return, I intend to read them.” She looked up at her husband. “To be fair, whatever has caused the boys’ mortal nature may lie within me.”

“Or both of us.” Her husband picked up Fëaril, now wide-awake. “Does it really matter? It will not be easy, watching their lives pass before our eyes,” he said, kissing his son. “But I intend to cherish every minute that they are with us.”

Emotion clotted in Mélamírë's throat. She pushed down her rising anguish, applying with thousands of years of practice the discipline she used to maintain the reserve expected of her people, resolving not to let tears form in her eyes. She stared out the windows at the sunny morning sky, trying not to think about the inevitable: that she would outlive her little sons and their children and their children's children. She had known loss -- the deaths of her mother and her friends, mortal and Firstborn both. But this was different. She met Serindë's keen grey eyes, now softened by sad empathy.

"I...I will lose them." Mélamírë's carefully crafted reserve crumbled, and her tears flowed freely. Her husband's hand on her shoulder offered some comfort, but her heart was rent further when Culunáro placed his little hand on her wet cheek. She hugged her baby, memorizing everything about him -- his soft skin, his scent, the downy red hair on his little head. But the tears did not stop.

"I know it's not precisely the same," Serinde began hesitantly, "But I - we," she corrected herself, waving at Halbarad, "Know what it is to have a child that you know you'll outlive."

Mélamírë, jolted out of her sorrow, felt ashamed. As much as she took pride in her understanding of Men, here she had fallen short, ignoring the fact that losing a child was a harsh -- and frequent -- reality among her mortal brethren. She wiped her eyes with the kerchief her husband handed to her.

"Tell me, Serindë," she said, composed once more.

"We had one other child between Tarie and Lalaith," Serinde said, and swallowed hard. "She - I woke one morning feeling well, and the next thing I knew..." she retreated to clinical terms to try and distance herself a bit from the awfulness. "I had placental abruption. She was born alive, three months early - too early to survive. She was born before noon and died before nightfall. She was buried in Bree..." she stopped, blinking to try and stop the sudden upwelling of tears and blew out a long breath. "She was absolutely beautiful. Halbarad or I held her for every moment she was alive..."

"I am sorry for your loss, Serindë, Halbarad...so sorry..." A maelstrom of emotion once again tore through the veil. She hated this vulnerability. Then she looked at her friends and saw that although the grief had never left them, love still endured. Something occurred to her -- the first clear memory of the beginning of her life.

"She knew you and Halbarad loved her, Serindë. From morning to sunset of that day, she knew this."

"I'd like to believe that. Neither of us - you know, Tarie's just as blunt as I am and she said it wasn't fair for her little sister to not even have a name. Neither of us," Serinde said, waving at Halbarad again, "could think of anything. Thorongil named her Niniel... I'd like to think that Niniel knew we loved her, although that may be a foolish conceit on my part."

"It is no conceit, Broideress. I believe Niniel knew that her family loved her. You see, I...I remember my birth. Or parts of it."

"Really? That's interesting - Thorongil doesn't, although Tarie - Tarie remembers her 'Uncle Strider' telling her not to be frightened when I labored with her. That's why she wanted to be a Ranger - she remembered that kindness. I'd like to believe..."

Mélamírë could not help but interject. "You have just told me that you suspect you have an elven great-grandfather." She then looked up at Halbarad. "And you. You not only carry the blood of the Houses of Finwë and Thingol but that of the Fays, too.

"With her inheritance, your precious Niniel, even born so soon, may very well had far more awareness that you might have thought. That Tarië remembers her birth and Elessar calling to her certainly suggests this. I do not think your belief is unfounded," Mélamírë continued. "Childbirth is not without its perils among the women of my people. There are fewer deaths of mother and child than among Men but they do happen. My mother, too, suffered placental abruption, but at term. She was bleeding to death, and I was dying.

"My mother had let go of my hand during our journey. I was lost, crying for her. I fell into a dark pool and a deep voice summoned me, telling me to let myself sink into the blackness and come to him. Then..." Mélamírë paused, gathering herself as conflicting emotions spun within her. "Then I saw a silver light shining in the dark and heard my father's voice calling to me. He told me to hold on just a little longer while he helped my mother and that he loved me. Even dying, I knew this. His silver light became brighter and mingled with the copper fire of my mother, giving her strength and giving me strength, too. I came into the world knowing I was loved. Your daughter did not live to tell you this, but she knew you loved her, too, even for that brief heartbeat of time."

Serinde bowed her head at that, and hesitated a moment before saying, "It's a comfort to know that. Miriel - Halbarad's mother - she said for ten years that we were wrong and selfish to still grieve for a child that lived less than a day - and mine... better to not even repeat what she said. But it doesn't matter, really. We loved Niniel no less than Thorongil or Tarie or Lalaith. Differently, perhaps, but you love each of your children differently, because they're different people. But no less. I dream about her sometimes, that she's playing underneath that tree in Bree, with Halbarad's father or mine watching over her. I think part of her will always be with us, just as part of our fathers still watch over us."

"That they do," Halbarad said with a faint smile.

Mélamírë considered her friends' words, letting them sink deep into her thought before she answered. "How could it be selfish to grieve for a child you lost -- any child? Niniel's death must be a painful memory for you, but I thank you for sharing your perspective. I'd like to think that after all the time I have lived among Men that I understand you, but sometimes, I need reinforcement -- a kick in the backside, I believe that is what you might say, Broideress?" Serindë's crooked smile and Halbarad's grin relieved her with her words' intended effect. "And yes, surely your fathers watch over Lalaith, just as they watch over you," she said, thinking them fortunate that they would even want their fathers watching over them. Again, her husband laid his hand on her shoulder, sensing her unease. She patted his hand and then leaned forward to take a piece of cheese from the platter on the nearby table.

"This cheese is delicious. It's made from goat's milk, isn't it?"

"That it is! Tarie found the farmer for us - a woman too young to be a widow named Aerin. Braver than many to come back and try and rebuild her farm with no husband to help her. Tarie helped her rebuild a section of fence after a pig got loose. Aerin provided Tarie with lunch, Tarie came back to the Citadel raving about the cheese, and the chef promptly went down to sample it. The chef swears it's some of the best goat cheese he's ever had, he thinks it's something about the fact that she keeps the female goats segregated from the males. Whether it's that or something else, I don't know - but it's damn good cheese and what's even better is that the Citadel purchasing it has helped Aerin get back on her feet."

Mélamírë wrinkled her nose, recalling Sharif's herd of goats. "Billy goats reek when they are in rut and are none too savory at other times so Mistress Aerin's strategy is a wise one. This cheese proves it!"

With that the conversation turned to lighter matters from Aerin's goats and their superior milk to Hador's proposal to Tarië and on to Thorongil's joy in his littlest sister as well as his recent bold -- and controversial -- use of tracheotomies to treat morbid sore throat. The two women compared the sleep patterns of their infants, noted the sometimes awkward timing of the let-down reflex that left their husbands damp with milk and then snickered at the male discomfort that part of the conversation caused, and opined on the quality of diapers woven from the cotton of Lebennin. Invariably, their conversation turned to matters of their respective craft with design for the new lights taking the forefront. Serindë and Mélamírë exchanged their ideas at a rapid fire pace, each finishing the other's sentences.

Babyish chortles followed by a wail interrupted their discussion on the hazards of ether and how the new lights might minimize the risk of explosions, summoning Mélamírë to the adjoining room.

"I am sorry, Istyanis," said Férwen, holding a crying Fëaril. "It happened so fast..."

"Fëaril poked his finger in Culunáro's mouth," added Meril, eying Férwen with accusation.

"Then why are you surprised that Fëaril was bitten?" Mélamírë said. "Perhaps if you two kept your focus on the boys rather than gossiping about that handsome new footman, this would not have happened." The girls quailed more than she would have expected under her gaze. She softened her tone. "Don't fret. They have slipped past me, too." She scooped up Culunáro. "You must not bite your brother!" she scolded, wondering if her son would understand the specifics of her admonishment, but clearly he realized that Mama was displeased. He whimpered and within moments both boys were crying. She called to her husband, "We ought to take our leave. These two are disintegrating."

Her husband rose and took Fëaril from Férwen. "Hush, child," he soothed. "You and your brother can be such little demons." He kissed the soft wisps of dark hair on his son's head.

Gathering up the babies and their accoutrements to depart took less time than the preparation to arrive. Shortly, Serindë and Halbarad, now cradling his daughter, saw them to the door.

"I must thank you again for the gifts - they truly are lovely. I'm certain Halbarad will come to appreciate the coroni yéro - or at least their effects! Should you decide to change focus in your craft, I know a few merchants in Dol Amroth who'd pay quite well for such superbly crafted items," Serinde said with a wicked grin.

Mélamírë arched her brow again, ready to take affront, but a bubble of laughter broke through her pride. "I will take that into consideration, Broideress. I will also say that from my sojourn in the East, I know of other devices of pleasure I might craft. Some are rather creative." Her husband gave her that look of exactly what do you know about such things?

"I have a feeling I know some of the items you might be talking about. If I had a copper for every item I've had to remove from Guardsmen and prostitutes..." Serinde dissolved into giggles at Halbarad's scandalized look. "Who did you think removed these things when they get stuck, darling man?"

"I'm not certain what you're talking about and I'm not certain that I want to know what you're talking about," Halbarad said in tones so pained that Serinde cackled.

"My poor, innocent husband," she said with a grin.

Mélamírë, recovering from laughter, admitted to herself how good it felt to let down her guard among those she could trust. She smiled with appreciation at Serindë and Halbarad. "It just occurred to me: have either of you read Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth?"

"I have," both said, and Serinde continued, "I think it's one of the few times I flung a book across the room. Finrod's attitudes struck me as condescending enough that I'm shocked Andreth was willing to continue the conversation."

"I agree. Although I didn't throw the book across the room, my contention that their discourse did little to further understanding between Men and Elves caused my teacher no small amount of consternation. But then, I often irritated Master Pengolodh when my interpretations countered his own. I have to confess that I took some pleasure in needling him." Mélamírë glanced at her husband, whose face tightened a little at her remarks. He took issue with her opinions regarding the famous conversation between Andreth and Finrod and held Pengolodh in high regard. "What made me think of Andreth and Finrod was our conversation this morning. Sometimes it seems that a chasm separates our kindred, but our conversation -- from pleasure balls to the loss of a child -- reminds me of what we have in common. I hope that we might continue our own athrabeth, Broideress.

"I'd like that very much!" Serinde said. "I'll quite definitely look forward to it!" Such a relief, such a joy to have found someone to whom she could speak her mind, with whom she thought she could argue anatomy or history or instrument design - someone who wouldn't react with 'this is what this means because this is what I was taught' or 'this is how things must be done, because we've always done them this way.' Someone who would think - who might not always agree, but would give a logical argument.

Yes, she definitely looked forward to more discussions with Mélamírë.


Serindë's song is Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants by Jimmy Buffett.

coroni yéro = derived from Quenya coroni (balls) and yérë sexual desire (yéro is the genitive).

huch is Noldorin (as Tolkien called this permuation of Elvish as it transitioned from Aman to Beleriand) for what you think it is. From Parma Eldalamberon 13.

Artaquetil Serindë ar Mélamírë might be the proper "all-Quenya" construct for the title, but Athrabeth is more familiar to most readers so the mix of Sindarin with Quenya names in the title stays in place. As an aside, in the Pandë!verse, many of the citizens of Ost-in Edhil where Mélamírë was born and raised -- and in particular the Gwaith-i-Mírdain -- spoke Quenya with a sense of nationalism and scholarly acumen. Although perhaps divergent from canon, it's not unreasonable.
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