Aragorn had come to join them for dinner, and together he and Sam had worked in the kitchen, the Hobbit watching the largely silent Man with growing concern as he observed the careful attention given to slicing vegetables and preparing a salad. As he came out to bring a stack of plates for Frodo to place around the table he murmured, “He’s only here, I think, ’cause he can’t bear bein’ on his own this evenin’. He’s tryin’ to distract hisself, he is.”
Aragorn was dressed today in a dull grey, which appeared to reflect his mood. Gandalf came in from the vegetable market in the Fifth Circle where he’d gone to bring back some early melons and the first of the strawberry harvest, and on entering the kitchen he’d sighed. He set down his acquisitions and came out again, shaking his head. Legolas looked at the Wizard with a raised brow, and Gandalf had shrugged in reply. “It takes time to make such a journey,” Gandalf said, “which he knows well enough.”
Legolas glanced briefly at the kitchen door. “Perhaps his mood would be lightened if he simply had a hint that the journey is happening,” he suggested.
“Has he tried using the Orthanc or Anor stone?” the Wizard asked.
“If he did, do you think Lord or Lady would allow a glimpse of it?”
“No, I doubt it.” The Wizard gave a wry smile. “No, we must look closer to hand for something to fully reassure him, I think.” Suddenly he went still as if he were listening to something. Frodo paused in his passing out of the plates to watch the Istari’s face, then shared a glance of question with Sam. Sam looked again briefly at Gandalf’s withdrawn look of attention, then looked back at his master and shrugged. Apparently, however, some idea had come to Gandalf of a means to possibly ease the anxiety of the King.
Aragorn’s mood began to ease a bit as they sat and talked over the meal, and when they got to the strawberries Pippin looked up in sheer pleasure. “Now,” he commented, “that was something like! They are so wonderful!”
Then Aragorn had stopped, his expression distracted. “Something’s wrong nearby,” he murmured, and turned his head as if trying to figure out what had caught his attention.
Then they heard cries of grief from next door, and the King was rising, all else forgotten, hurrying to the door, catching up his healer’s kit from where it hung on the hall tree, and Frodo followed after him automatically. Aragorn led the way to the door to the house in which healer Eldamir lived with his family, and he opened it, not bothering to knock.
Mistress Linduriel’s father sat in the day room on a couch, holding young Tergil and his small sister to him, his eyes wide with anxiety as he looked upwards. He turned to those who so precipitously had entered his home. “My Lord Elessar?” he asked, shocked, trying to rise to give proper reverence.
“Don’t bother rising,” the King directed. “The lady’s time came upon her?”
The elderly Man nodded his head. “The birth pangs began last night. But the child was twisted in the womb, and it’s been difficult. Three times Eldamir has tried to twist it in the canal, but it keeps sliding back to its former position. He’s near exhaustion, my Lord.”
“He ought to have sent for me,” the King said. “Which room upstairs?”
“Second toward the front of the house at the top of the stairs.”
Aragorn turned to Frodo. “Make certain there is water boiling, and have a basin of it brought up to me.” So saying, he hurried for the stairs, taking them three at a time.
A white-faced woman was in the kitchen, just having stoked the fire in an already warm room. A large pot stood over it, and steam could be seen rising from it. She turned to look at the one who’d entered, seemed startled and confused as she recognized the King’s Friend. “My lord?” she asked.
“The King has come and has gone up to the birth room,” Frodo explained. “He asks a basin of boiling water be taken to him.”
“It’s too late--I fear they’ve lost the both of them, mother and child,” the woman said blankly.
“If anyone can aid, Aragorn can. Is the water boiling?”
“Yes, it’s just come to the boil.”
“Then let us pour some into a basin and I will carry it upstairs to them.”
The woman found a large metal pan and poured some of the water into it, wrapped the handles with cloths, then handed it to Frodo, who, holding it carefully, headed for the stairs. His arms were aching before he was halfway up, but he forced himself to go on. He heard the murmuring from a room toward the front of the house and entered there.
The first thing he noticed was the odor. He’d attended the birth of a pony once in the stables at the Hall, and had seen kittens born a few times over the years; the room smelled much as the stable had or the small rooms where the kittens had been born. He could see Aragorn leaning over a bed where a still form lay, his expression distant, could hear him calling “Linduriel” as if he were searching quite far away.
Eldamir stood nearby, his face grey with fatigue and grief. He looked up as Frodo entered, recognized what he carried, and came forward to help him set it on a table. “We need more clean cloths,” he said, and Frodo nodded, turning and heading down through the house again to the kitchens where the woman had put even more fresh water in the pan and set it to boil. She listened to Frodo’s request and took a stack of such cloths from the table and gave them into Frodo’s hands, and once more he climbed the stairs.
Things were different when he returned to the room--no longer did attitudes and postures speak of defeat and loss. Hope had entered that room anew, he recognized. The King was holding an impossibly small thing in his left hand, turned to take one of the cloths as Frodo came even with him and dipped it one-handed into the basin from which the odor of a spring rain over a stone street just washed clean emerged; he gently wiped at the small thing in his other hand, then set it down on a towel that lay on the bed, knelt and pressed his mouth over it, gave small puffing breaths--and suddenly Frodo saw it move under the apparent kiss the King administered.
Aragorn straightened and looked down, a gentle smile on his face. He took another of the cloths Frodo held and forced the tiny mouth open, wiped at the inside of it, lifted the form by the fragile ankles and wiped again, and there was a thin wail as more of the birth fluid was gently cleansed away.
A woman was leaning over the still figure on the bed now gently cleansing the privates of the mother. Aragorn reached across to gently lay the tiny babe in Eldamir’s hands, Eldamir reaching for it eagerly, and then the King was leaning again over the face of the still woman. Again he called her name. “Linduriel, awaken. Your babe breathes now, and needs his mother. Awaken and come back to us. Rest you shall have, but not the long rest before your time.” Again he took one of the cloths Frodo held out to him, dipped it into the basin and wrung it gently, carefully wiped the woman’s face. One more time he called, this time with a voice full of gladness, and there was finally a stirring, and the woman’s eyes opened, looked up into his.
“It is another son?” she asked in a barely discernible whisper.
“Indeed. Tergil has finally the brother he’s demanded.”
Eldamir held the babe down where she could see it, and she could see that it indeed breathed and moved. Her face shone with gladness. Aragorn rose and stepped back. He looked at Eldamir and smiled. “We will go downstairs and reassure your wife’s father,” he said. He took the remainder of the cloths from Frodo and set them beside the basin on the table and placed his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, and together the two of them went down to the day room.
The Man held Tergil and his small sister close to him, looked at the King with a face pale with long waiting, waiting without speaking a word. Aragorn smiled at the two of them. “Mother and son do well,” he answered the unspoken question.
Tergil gave a whoop of delight while the elder Man’s head fell back a bit in relief, his eyes closing as he breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. The girl looked from her brother to her grandfather, and deciding the news was good smiled broadly.
From upstairs could be heard purposeful movement and the notable tread of feet as Men and women moved back and forth, and at last there were steps on the stair.
Eldamir’s face was pale with fatigue, but no longer with impossible loss. He carried a blanketed form and brought it to show his wife’s father and his children. “Another son,” he said proudly as he opened the blanket to show them.
Frodo took a proper look as well. It was decidedly larger than a Hobbit bairn would be, but still remarkably tiny, its thin face moving left and right as if searching. The child’s grandfather gently caressed its cheek with one finger, and Tergil looked down with delight while his sister looked on with surprise. “Brother?” she asked her father.
“Yes, my darling child, you have another brother.” Eldamir smiled up at the King. “Our Lord Elessar came and hope returned,” he said as if that explained everything.
“All is well here,” the King said gently, smiling down at the tiny, twitching form in the blankets.
Frodo broke away and went back into the kitchens, looked at where the pale woman sat on a chair at the table. “A son has been born,” he told her gently. “The bairn and his mother do well now, and Eldamir has brought the babe down to show to his grandfa and his sister and brother. Go out and see.”
She looked at him disbelieving, and with a sigh he came to her, reached up to take her hand, drew her to her feet and after him to the door to the day room, then he moved to Aragorn’s side and the two of them left the house to the joy of a child born and its mother safe.
As they moved back to the other house Frodo asked, “You had to call the both of them back?”
Aragorn nodded. “It wasn’t very difficult--they’d not strayed far as yet. Unlike you or Faramir or Pippin or Éowyn. Merry wasn’t too far away; Pippin was quite lost at the time and couldn’t quite believe he could be called back. Éowyn wasn’t certain she wished to come back. Faramir, you, and Sam were all right at the gates. Faramir turned gladly, as did Sam. Only you, stubborn Baggins as you were, felt you had to argue about it, though.”
Frodo found himself laughing at the image, and he saw his friend also smiling broadly as they reentered the guest house.