Seed of Hope
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Deandra and Raksha
Gilraen shifted restlessly, trying vainly to find a comfortable position against the pillows. The babe within her kicked vigorously. Gilraen patted her swollen belly. Her child seemed as uneasy as she was tonight. If only she could rest, but so many anxious thoughts were whirling around her mind that sleep seemed impossible despite her weariness.
Always she fretted when Arathorn was out on patrol. He had not wanted to leave her so near her time, but she had reassured him that she would fare well enough. It were not as if she were alone. She had her mother visiting who would take care of her. He had his duty to his people. That was the lot of the womenfolk, to smile as they waved their men goodbye and hide the dread within their hearts that each farewell would be a final one.
Then, as the time for the baby to be born drew near, Gilraen became increasingly apprehensive. Would the baby be healthy? Would it be the son that her husband and their people so longed for? Much as she desired this child, she feared for herself. Childbirth was a perilous thing for a woman. Would she survive the birth to care for her little one?
Gilraen winced as the baby gave her a sharp jab in the ribs.
"Would you like some raspberry leaf tea, my love?"
Gilraen started as her mother who was lying beside her, yawned and sat up.
"I am sorry, mother. I did not mean to wake you."
"I am here to look after you, Gilraen. You should have woken me before as you are feeling so anxious."
"How did you know that I am worried?"
Ivorwen laughed as she lit a candle. "I am your mother, my love, and mothers know these things. You will sense if anything troubles your child too for its life long. Now, do you want some tea? It will do you good. You know what the midwife told you."
"Very well. I do not like you to get up in the cold, though."
Ivorwen picked up her shawl and wrapped it around her. She took a log from the basket on the hearth and threw it on to the fire. It flared up, filling the room with a comforting red glow. "Do not fret about me, child. I will be back in a moment with the tea," she said.
Gilraen sat up and settled herself against the pillows. She stared into the fire trying to see pictures there, something she had not done since she was a little girl.
It was not long before Ivorwen returned, clutching two steaming mugs. "I made some peppermint tea for myself," she said, placing the mugs on the bedside table. "It is warming."
Gilraen reached out to take her drink and grimaced as the baby kicked her in the ribs again.
"I know it is uncomfortable, my love, but the child is getting into the right position to be born," Ivorwen said sympathetically.
Gilraen took a sip of her tea and smiled. Her mother had added honey.
"Do you remember me sweetening the medicines the healer gave you for those winter coughs you had as a child?" Ivorwen asked.
"It only seems like yesterday and now you'll soon be a mother yourself! And you are scared, child; that is why you cannot sleep. No need to look at me like that. It does not take farsight to remember how anxious I felt when I was expecting my first child. You start to question why the Creator made it all so easy for men. They just sow their seed and wait for the babe to be handed to them, but they also miss the joy of bringing new life into the world, something only a mother can ever know."
"You sense my thoughts, mother. Yes, I am afraid."
"Farsight does tell me, my love, that all will be well. I shall be beside you and new hope will come to revive our people with the spring, just as the White Tree put forth a green shoot which healed Isildur in the springtime."
"I love that story, tell it to me, mother!"
"You must have heard it a hundred times!" Ivorwen chuckled.
"I would hear it again, please, the story of our ancestor."
Ivorwen climbed back into bed and Gilraen nestled her head against her mother's shoulder just as she used to do when, as a little girl, her mother would tell her a bedtime story, after tucking her in for the night.
"Long ago, the proud and foolish Ar-Pharazôn ruled over the fair isle that the Valar had gifted to our forefathers. The Dark Lord had permitted the tyrant to capture him that he might better corrupt him, and with him, he hoped, all of our people. Our forefather, Amandil, his son Elendil, and his people remained true to the old ways, revering the Valar and holding the Elves as their friends. They became known as the "Faithful". The Dark Lord sowed the seeds of great evil in the King's heart. Human sacrifices were offered to Melkor while all those who remained faithful to the old and true ways went in fear of their lives. If we think that times are dark now, child, remember how our kin suffered in the last days of Númenor."
"Yet we survived," said Gilraen.
"One day, Amandil heard tidings, which even in such a time of dark deeds, shocked him to the core. The Dark Lord had advised Ar- Ar-Pharazôn to chop down Nimloth and use the wood for fuel to burn the sacrifices to the Evil One! Amandil spoke long into the night with his son and grandsons, reminding them of the lineage of Nimloth. The White Tree was much revered by the Faithful of Númenor as a symbol of everything they believed in. Nimloth was a seedling of Celeborn, which was a seedling of Galathilion, which was created by Lady Yavanna in the very image of Telperion, one of the Two Trees of Valinor. Its blossoms appeared each evening as the sun set, and their scent filled the night air."
Gilraen closed her eyes. "I can almost smell the perfume!" she said.
"Elendil knew that there was nothing he could do to save the tree, but his eldest son, Isildur, had an idea. It was autumn and Nimloth was heavy with fruit. If he could but pluck one fruit and preserve it, maybe the White Tree would one day bloom again."
"Every farmer knows that is how to ensure another year's harvest," Gilraen remarked.
"Maybe mighty warriors know less of the ways of nature," said Ivorwen. "More likely, though, others who wanted to save Nimloth were too fearful to do as Isildur did. To be caught would bring certain death, as the tree grew in the palace courtyard and was heavily guarded both night and day."
"But he did indeed pluck the precious fruit," said Gilraen.
Ivorwen took another sip of tea and then placed the almost empty cup on the bedside table. "He did indeed. You know this story as well as I do, child." Her tone was half chiding, half amused.
"I still love to hear you tell the tale, mother."
Ivorwen chuckled indulgently before continuing the tale. "Isildur put on a disguise and crept into the palace courtyard under the cover of darkness. Unobserved, he managed to pluck a fruit from the tree and slip it into a pouch he wore concealed beneath his clothing. As he tried to slip away, though, the guards caught sight of him. He drew his sword and fought them, for he was a mighty warrior."
"Just like my Arathorn," Gilraen said, her tone full of pride.
"Isildur managed to prevail and make good his escape," Ivorwen continued, "but he was sore wounded. Somehow, he managed to make his way to his horse and the sturdy beast bore him home to Rómenna. He was not pursued, for no man saw through his disguise. When he arrived within his gates, his strength failed him, even as he gave the precious fruit to his grandsire. Amandil blessed the fruit and planted it. Isildur, though, lay close to death throughout the long dark winter. The seed of Nimloth sprouted when the days grew longer. In spring, it put forth its first leaf and Isildur rose from his sickbed, his wounds healed."
"I love that part of the story," said Gilraen.
"Time passed and the days grew ever darker. Nimloth was destroyed soon after Isildur took the fruit and her wood used to fuel the sacrifices to the Evil One."
Gilraen shuddered. "Hearing of such evil deeds makes my blood run cold," she said.
"Then I shall not linger on it," said Ivorwen. "Unknown to Ar-Pharazôn and the Dark Lord, the sapling of Nimloth flourished in secret. When Isildur came to Middle-earth, he brought it with him in his ship and planted it in the courtyard of his house in Minas Ithil. Later it was brought to Minas Arnor where it flourished for many generations of men."
"Alas, that it is no more!" said Gilraen.
A sudden light of farsight came into Ivorwen's eyes. "The tree will bloom again in the Court of the Fountain!" she said.
The child within Gilraen's womb kicked vigorously. Gilraen flinched, and then she smiled and guided her mother's hand so she could feel the pressure of the tiny foot. "The babe likes your words," she said.
"Your child carries more of the blood of Isildur than any child for many a generation," Ivorwen said thoughtfully. "You too spring from that line, as well as Arathorn. Guard the child well, my daughter. He is the future of our people!"
Gilraen stared at her mother. For a moment, gone was the familiar comforting mother she knew, and in her place was a queen of old, the light of prophecy in her eyes. Then Ivorwen laughed and was again the mother she had always known and loved.
"You should try to sleep, now, child and so should I," said Ivorwen, kissing her daughter lightly on the brow. "But remember well my words."
"I will," Gilraen promised, returning the kiss. "I will guard my child with my life."
"The horses can go no further!" cried Elladan, striving to make himself heard over the thunder of hoof beats.
"We must press on and get the child to safety," replied Elrohir.
"How can we do that if the horses collapse and he and his mother fall from the saddle?" his brother replied.
"Very well. We will rest for a short time," Elrohir conceded. "When I think of what they did to Arathorn my heart fears for his son. The Orcs singled him out, I am certain of it." He reined in his horse and called out. "We will rest here a little, my lady."
Gilraen stumbled from the saddle, accepting Elladan's supporting arm as her numbed limbs regained their feeling.
The sons of Elrond then stood aside to allow the young widow some privacy as she stretched her legs. They offered to take the child from her arms, but she declined and hugged him fiercely to her.
Gilraen paced the clearing while the horses drank from a nearby stream. She wanted to weep and rage, but did not. What purpose would it serve? It would not bring Arathorn back to her, nor would tears make it safe to stay amongst her family and friends.
Aragorn stirred in his sleep. Gilraen studied his innocent features, her heart brimming with love and grief. What future awaited her precious son, fatherless and torn from his home? He was only two years old and forced into exile.
A sudden memory came back to her of the night her mother had told her the story of Isildur and the White Tree. Was she not like her forefather now, carrying the seed of her people's hopes to safety? Isildur had been sore wounded in body, while she was sore wounded in spirit. But Isildur had prevailed and preserved the precious seed and so would she.
Filled with a new strength and resolve that Aragorn should flourish just like the seedling of Nimloth, Gilraen walked back to where the sons of Elrond were waiting to take her and her son to a new life.
A/n. This story was written for the Teitho "Seeds" challenge where it was placed first.