Big thanks to Erulisse (One L) for beta reading. *hugs*
The storm and the rain whipped the two figures bent over in their saddles. The strong wind kept throwing the rain in their faces, no matter how much they tried to protect them with their hoods. In the dark night, lighted only by occasional flashes of lightning, they could see absolutely nothing.
Aragorn and Faramir rode out from Faramir's home the previous day, after making plans for a three-day hunt in the forests of South Ithilien. All was well in the Kingdom, and it was one of the rare occasions when they could take a short break from their numerous duties. The first day of their trip had passed splendidly. Wandering through the woods reminded them of their ranger days; the weather was sunny and warm, and the spring night was mild and pleasant. However, today, the weather turned bad during the early afternoon, and soon a strong storm started. Wishing to find a shelter or lodging, the two men went in search of a path towards the nearest village, but the darkness foiled their intentions. They failed to find the road; actually, they were not certain if they had passed it more than once – without realizing it. Their search was made impossible by the darkness, puddles and mud. Here, only a few steps away from us, the entire tower of Barad-dur could emerge, Aragorn thought, and probably we would not notice it.
"Obviously, we will not find the village," Faramir said, raising his hood for a moment. "Yet we must find any other shelter." However, he knew this was a countryside made of mild hills and meadows, and it would not offer an abundance of caves or other natural shelters that could be found in the mountain range. It would not be easy for them to find a good, protected place.
"We are in the clearing now," Aragorn responded, yelling to override the whistling of the wind. "If we set our eyes on a notch or ..." He stopped mid-sentence, narrowing his eyes as if trying to focus his sight so as to cut through the darkness. "What is that...?" He thought he could see a faint light some sixty feet from them, but he could not be certain. The contours of a house? he wondered. Of course, I am probably only seeing what I want to see, because I am wishing for a fire and a warm corner for rest. Nonetheless, he directed his horse towards the silhouette, giving a sign to Faramir to follow him.
The lightning speared through the night, and in a flash of a second Aragorn realized with relief that he was not imagining anything. Indeed, a house stood before them, with a small cottage that was leaning against it. Probably a place for animals, he thought. They dismounted and went under the overhang. While the water poured down their cloaks, he knocked on the wooden door.
Aragorn had barely finished knocking when the door was opened. A boy, about twelve or thirteen years of age, stood in the doorway. The fire from the hearth illuminated the room behind him. The boy opened his mouth, but he closed it immediately, not saying anything. Of course. We must look like highwaymen this wet and disheveled.
"My friend and I have lost our way in the storm," he said in a mild tone and smiled, trying to look friendly. "We just wish for a dry place to spend the night, for us and our horses. Could we stay in your barn? Call for your parents, and we shall ask them."
However, the fear did not vanish from the boy's eyes. Then a girl, who he had not noticed before, leaped up next to him. She looked as if she was a year or two younger than her brother. "Are you a healer?" she asked in one breath. "Or you?" she added rapidly, switching her gaze to Faramir, at the same moment that the door to a room behind them opened. "What is...?" the voice belonged to an older man peeking behind the door – obviously the father of the two children. At that moment, from the other room moaning could be heard, followed by a painful cry. The man's face seemed weary and nervous, and Aragorn felt in him the same fear as with the children.
"I am a healer," he told the man immediately. "I just told your son that we were travelling; we lost our way in the storm and sought shelter for the night. You are asking for a healer? Do you need assistance?"
"Oh, thank the Valar," the man breathed. "Our healer died a few months ago, before he had a chance to train someone new. My wife is in labour, but something is amiss. It is lasting too long and the baby is not coming out. Everything is..." he stopped then, looking at his children. It seemed as if he did not wish to say anything else not to scare them more, but Aragorn could see the man was beside himself.
"At noon I rode out to the village to fetch the midwife," the boy spoke for the first time. "But her son told me she had been urgently called away to another village. He also said he would tell her to come here as soon as she returned, but she has not yet arrived. Then the storm got stronger and we could not look for anyone else because we would lose our way."
Just then a new cry sounded from the room and everybody flinched; the girl ran to her father in fright. He put his arm around her, giving Aragorn a pleading, yet uncertain look. Aragorn did not wait a moment longer and had already gone back to his horse to bring back the bag with healing herbs that he always carried with him when he went on a journey. He hurried back, taking his wet cloak off along with his coat and placing them by the door, while Faramir did the same. Then he turned towards the man.
"May I?" he asked pointing towards one of the towels near the hearth. Seeing an affirmative nod, he quickly wiped his wet face, hair and hands. "I will need more clean towels and hot water."
"I have that," the man nodded, "although I do not know what to do with it."
"Good. Please, put the water in the kettle for tea," he told the girl. "As soon as the water boils, call me." Then he turned to the boy. "I need you to settle our horses in the barn and take care of them." He wanted to keep the children busy because sitting and waiting, in fear and uncertainty, was the worst that could happen to them. While the brother and sister hurried to comply with his orders, Aragorn gave a sign and all three went into the other room. A woman was lying in the middle of the bed; she was pale, her hair was sticking to her head from sweat, and her eyes were closed. Her face was a mask of pain. The sheet on which she was lying was dotted with stains of blood.
"It started this morning," the man said quietly. "And when we heard that Haleth had to leave, we thought we could manage. That is our village mid-wife, I meant to say. The first two times everything went quickly and in good order. But now something is wrong. The baby is not coming out, and she is growing weaker." His voice started to tremble. "Will you be able to help her?" His dark eyes were desperate.
"I do not know until I examine her," Aragorn answered sincerely. "I do promise, however, that I will do my very best."
They approached the bed. The woman opened her eyes slowly, as if even that small movement took a great effort. Her husband stroked her forehead and her hair.
"We are in luck," he said, smiling encouragingly, or at least he was striving for that look. "A healer came. He will help you now."
She tried to say something, but the attempt was interrupted by a new contraction and a spasm of pain evident on her face. Aragorn signaled the man, and they approached the door. "My assistant," he stopped, pointing at Faramir, "he will stay beside me. It would be best if you left now," he said to the man. As expected, he saw uncertainty and mistrust in man's eyes, so he nodded soothingly. "I have lived in the North for a long time, in Arnor. I have learned the art of healing from the elves, and there are no better healers than they are."
"He saved my life during the War when no other healer in the Houses of Healing could help me," Faramir added.
"You..." His inner struggle was evident. "You live and work in Minas Tirith? In the Houses of Healing?" he asked doubtfully in the end.
"Yes," Aragorn nodded. His words were not the absolute truth, he knew. But ultimately, he did live and work in Minas Tirith... although his job description did not correspond to what the man imagined. Besides, during the War he had really been helping in the Houses of Healing, so he tried to convince himself he had not said a complete lie. He saw that the man was studying them and his gaze was fixed on the White Tree embroidered on the sleeve of Faramir's tunic as well as on his bag with healing herbs. Finally, he nodded.
"All right." He caught Aragorn by the arm, then. "Please, save her," he whispered, begging.
"I will do everything I can to help your wife. And you should be with your children. They are just as scared as you are. They need you."
The man nodded and left. Aragorn washed his hands carefully and dried them by the fire that was burning in the room. Then he approached the bed. The woman's face looked tortured, and her eyes looked sunk in. Her breathing was shallow. He smiled gently.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Bereth," she answered weakly.
"Bereth, I will examine you now to check what is happening with the baby, and then I will try to induce the labour. My assistant will be by the headboard." He gave a sign to Faramir, who brought the chair closer, and took her hand. "Feel free to grip my hand when you are in pain." She nodded and Aragorn started his examination, which was interrupted by frequent and painful contractions. She was a few centimeters dilated, and upon seeing the position of the baby's head, Aragorn immediately perceived what the problem was.
"Can you push when I give you the signal?" She only nodded in exhaustion; she could not say anything. However, when Aragorn nodded to her, the baby did not budge and the mother's stomach muscles did not compress at all.
It was just as he had feared.
There was a knock on the door. The girl brought two small pots filled with hot water and Aragorn thanked her. "I will need more," he told her. "After you boil the new pot, you will bring it to me, alright?" She nodded, quickly turning to hurry towards the hearth.
Aragorn closed the door and in no time he came back to the bed with a warm herbal tea for his patient. While Bereth was moaning in pain, Aragorn gave her one small pot.
"I wish for you to drink this. It does not taste well, but it will ease your pain," he told her.
She nodded weakly and Aragorn helped her to sit up a little in bed, but even those small movements caused her new and stronger bouts of pain. She could barely drink half a pot before another strong spasm shook her, and with a cry she fell back onto the bed, unconscious.
"I have to hurry," he told Faramir worriedly. "If the baby does not come out soon, they will both die."
"What is the problem? Why cannot she have a normal labour?" Faramir asked in a voice tainted with worry and fear.
"The baby's neck is slighty bent and its head is turned incorrectly, so it is coming face first. In that position, the baby needs more room to pass through the birth canal, or it cannot pass at all," Aragorn explained, simultaneously crumbling the leaves of athelas in a bowl. "I have never seen it, but Elrond spoke to me about it. Bereth has been in labour for hours now; she is just too weak and out of strength now, and she has lost a lot of blood. When I told her to push a little while ago, she had no strength for that."
"So what will you do?"
"Elrond showed once me a special metal device he had made. It looks like scissors, but its two points are in the shape of spoons, completely smooth and curved so as not to injure the mother or the baby. Using the device, the head can be turned and gently pulled in the correct position. The labour can go back on its normal track. However, I do not have it here, and she is already so weak..." He stopped, frowning worriedly. He had never witnessed such delivery, let alone corrected the position of the baby's neck by himself. His guts clenched in fear. Two lives were at stake here.
At that moment Bereth blinked and opened her eyes. The pain etched deep lines in her face. Aragorn bent over her. Seeing the terror and desperation in her eyes, where awareness and reason were vanishing before the agony, he suppressed his own fear. He had to help her. He had promised to do anything he could for her... and more, he added in his mind.
He brought athelas closer to her and it seemed to him that she was breathing a bit easier when the smell reached her, although, seeing how another contraction was straining her, he could not be sure. He caressed her forehead and bent over very close to her.
"Bereth, listen to me carefully," he told her quietly and gently. "Your baby is not positioned properly, but I will rectify that. It will hurt, but it needs to be done, otherwise I will not be able to save it." Otherwise I will not be able to save either of you. He suppressed a shudder. "When I tell you to push, do it with all your strength. Put every bit of strength you have into this one push. Do it for your baby. Do you understand me?" She blinked in allusion of a nod, and he smiled encouragingly at her. Once more he quickly washed his hands and then brought them very close to the fire to dry them. He nodded at Faramir, who caressed the woman's forehead and kept talking to her consolingly and encouragingly, always holding her hand.
Then Aragorn took a deep breath, giving a silent prayer to the Valar in his mind, and pushed one arm towards the baby's head. He did not know if he'd be able to align the baby with his hand, or how to do it properly; he only knew he had to do all in his power. His heart was beating rapidly. He was not even aware that he was not breathing. While Bereth screamed in pain, he gently enveloped the baby's head; then, not breathing, he aligned it very slowly and tenderly, and when he felt it had lain correctly in the birth canal, he gave a sign.
"Now, Bereth, now! For your baby! Push, for your baby!" he cheered, releasing the long contained breath. And while she screamed and pushed, finding inside herself the last of the strength she did not even know she possessed, Aragorn slowly and gently pulled the baby out by the shoulders. As soon as the head was out, the body slipped out more easily. And when the baby drew in its first breath and cried shrilly, both men jumped for joy, laughing. "You did it, Bereth, you did it!" Aragorn exclaimed, beaming. "The baby will be fine!"
She could barely hear him; the effort had exhausted her so much that she was again on the brink of losing consciousness. However, as her eyes were closing from fatigue, the corners of her mouth turned into a small smile. At the same time, the door opened and her husband, followed immediately by the children, invaded the room. Their faces were reflecting the hope mixed with fear that would still not vanish. Aragorn turned towards them with a smile, holding the baby in his arms.
"Everything will be alright," he said with a wide smile, coming closer to allow them to see the baby. "Here, this is your youngest son; and also your brother!"
The children started jumping and squeaking in joy, and then they snuggled next to their father who hugged them with both hands. Tears came down from his eyes, filled with relief and gratitude. "I will never be able to thank you enough," he said in a low voice, touched.
"Let me see him," Bereth's weak voice came from behind their backs. She opened her eyes and looked at them. Aragorn took a clean towel and wrapped the boy in it and put the bundle into her arms. The little one did not cry so loudly anymore, he was beginning to calm down. Bereth hugged him with her arm, placing a kiss on his forehead.
"Oh dear!" the man exclaimed, slapping his forehead. Aragorn and Faramir turned to him in surprise. "When you arrived, I was so beside myself from worry that I completely forgot the basic manners," he said, his cheeks blushing. "Not only did I not ask whether you needed anything, but I did not offer anything, and I did not even introduce myself. Please, do forgive me."
"Do not worry, it was completely understandable in the situation," Aragorn hurried to persuade him. "There was no time to talk, your wife needed urgent assistance."
"No, no, I must apologize. I am Hador, my wife is Bereth, and these are my children, Valandil and Laniel." Then he stopped to look Aragorn in the eyes, while his own filled with tears again. "Please, tell me your name. I would wish to name my youngest son after you."
"That is a great honour. I thank you," Aragorn replied, moved by the gesture. He turned to Bereth. "May I?" She nodded and he took the baby from her. The little head was covered with tufts of dark hair. The little boy blinked and through the eyelashes Aragorn saw two blue eyes, like his mother's. They were not grey... but that did not matter at all. He smiled, looking up at Hador.
For the medical details and complications during childbirth, I consulted a friend who was a student of medicine. She told me about the aforementioned problematic positioning of the baby's head and neck, as well as about the forceps – an instrument the doctor could use to align the head in case of complications. (The other possibility is a Caesearean section, but in Middle-earth it is not viable.) Considering that forceps had been used in our world since the 17th century, I believe it could be taken as a possibility that the elves, whose medicine is most advanced, could have acces to such a surgical instrument.