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Life Lessons
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O Yavanna, sustainer of all the earth,
Forget not we your handmaidens who tarry in these Western lands.
Give us this day our sustaining bread,
To better bind soul and body,
And keep bright a lamp for our home-coming.

A song Sung by the Yavannildi


Gilbereth, princess of Gondor and most spoiled daughter of Aragorn and Arwen, toddled across the lawn of Emyn Arnen after a butterfly fluttering just out of her reach. Her foot landed on the edge of a root and she fell backward. Arwen, from her seat on the bench, saw her lower lip quiver, and she started to stand. Before she had even taken a step toward the child, though, the elusive butterfly landed on Gilbereth's nose and she squealed, clapping her hands excitedly.

The child's nursemaid kneeled beside her, and Arwen took her seat again beside Éowyn. She chuckled softly to herself, and Éowyn looked over at her. "Did I miss the joke?" she asked.

Arwen shook her head. "Not a joke, perhaps, but it amuses me. I wait the better part of an earth-age for a child to care for, and the babe's father provides an army of handmaids so I never have to handle my daughter."

Éowyn bit her lower lip, a habit Arwen had observed on those few occasions when Éowyn struggled to make sense of something. "Do you not have servants in... what did you call your home in the north, Imlathris?"

"Imladris," Arwen corrected gently. "And of course there are elves who roast the meat and stoke the fires and that sort of thing, though I would not have named them servants. They did their part to keep our home running smoothly, just as my family did ours." She looked down the lawn at where the nursemaid knelt before Gilbereth, now kissing the heel of her hand. "But it was my mother who bounced me on her knee and sang over my cradle, unless pressing business kept her elsewhere. I always expected to do the same."

"'Tis the way of men," Éowyn said simply, resting her hand on her stomach. "We take pride in how little we have to do for ourselves, as foolish as that may sound. Did you know, at the height of Gríma's machinations, my uncle the king did not so much as tie his boot-laces?" Her expression grew somber for a moment, Arwen guessed at the thought of that fell counselor, but then Éowyn blinked and smiled brightly at Arwen. "You are a great help to Aragorn, and you give Gondor hope for an heir. Let others serve you awhile, and take your rest."

"I do not miss waking at midnight to feed her!" Arwen laughed. "When Grandmother heard that I had quickened with my first child she came to Gondor for a season, and taught me many things. She seemed to take great delight in scaring me with tales of soiled diapers and no sleep and something she called colic... It seemed strange to me, for she had only ever taught me about the waybread before."

Éowyn quirked her eyebrow. "Surely you were never expected to do something so simple as bake bread? Even if Elves do not rely on servants as men do, you must have had a baker."

Arwen realized that, for the first time in decades, she had said too much. She had almost given away that most sacred of secrets, entrusted by Yavanna to her loyal followers and passed down from daughter to mother among the Elves of the West: the secrets of making lembas. Should it be kept a secret for the Elves alone?

Arwen had baked the waybread herself often enough, and not just before she became Gondor's queen. When Aragorn had prepared to journey north to the wars in Rhûn she had ordered the kitchens clear of all servants and prepared the lembas for him and his household. Wouldn't Faramir have benefited as well?

Yet Arwen was still unsure, and so she decided to play for time. "Yes, I learned to bake bread at my mother's elbow, though I do not doubt your household did their best to keep you out of the kitchens." She winked at Éowyn. "I have heard tale of the stew you attempted on the road to Helm's Deep...."

Éowyn blushed a deep scarlet, and Arwen placed her hand on Éowyn's. "We all have different talents, and not one of the chefs in the Citadels can prepare a poultice the way I hear—" Arwen felt a flutter where her lower fingers rested flat against Éowyn's belly, and she looked up at Éowyn. The Rohir looked away, her face still flushed, but Arwen thought she saw her lips trembling. Was Éowyn trying to hide a smile? Arwen glanced down at the gown again; it was looser than Éowyn was accustomed to wearing, but still hung a little tightly around her stomach.

Arwen leaned forward and caught Éowyn's eye. "Are you...?"

Éowyn nodded eagerly, and her eyes gleamed. "I first felt the babe move not a week ago." With that Arwen leaned over and pulled her friend into a fierce embrace.

In that moment, Arwen made up her mind. Éowyn, who had been raised among men and most likely did not know half of what the next months would bring, needed Galadriel's guidance and knowledge as much as she had. And that included the lembas, for a babe needed a father, and if the wisdom of the elves could knit his spirit to his bones more strongly, it was a secret worth sharing.

Arwen turned to face Éowyn and held her friend's hands in her own. "Oh, I have so much to tell you!"


Note: This fic is written as a gift for Aervir, on behalf of Annmarwalk, who asked for Eowyn and Arwen exchanging lessons they learned at their grandmothers' knees. I'm afraid I only managed one direction of this exchange, but I hope this suits nonetheless.

This story is for the most part bookverse, though there is a reference to one event in movieverse. I couldn't resist.

My comments on lembas are based on Tolkien's essay "On Lembas" in HoMe XII. Some pertinent passages:

"'This food the Eldar alone knew how to make. It was made for the comfort of those who had need to go upon a long journey in the wild, or of the hurt whose life was in peril. Only these were permitted to use it. The Eldar did not give it to Men, save only to a few whom they loved, if they were in great need."

"Since it came from Yavanna, the queen, or the highest among the elven-women of any people, great or small, had the keeping and gift of the lembas, for which reason she was called massanie or besain: the Lady, or breadgiver."

"From the ear to the wafer none were permitted to handle this grain, save those elven-women who were called Yavannildi (or by the Sindar the Ivonwin), the maidens of Yavanna; and the art of the making of the lembas, which they learned of the Valar, was a secret among them, and so ever has remained.'"

I realize that Arwen was never properly an elf (she and her brothers are really half-elven), but after Celebrian's departure she was arguably the "highest among the elven-women" of Rivendell. (I read this phrase as meaning the one held highest by a group that is predominantly elves, whether the massanie is elven or not.) If that bothers you, imagine that Galadriel teaches Arwen with the expectation that she will choose to become an elf.

The "song" at the beginning of this story is my own invention, and borrows phrases from both on the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 (KJV) and from "A Elbereth Gilthoniel."


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