ost_in_edhil: (MEFA09 Second Place: Races: Cross-cultur)
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For Surgical Steel's birthday. Two women -- a mortal and an elf -- meet for the first time when the elven-smith sustains an injury which the mortal surgeon then treats. In spite of differences between their peoples, the two women gain an appreciation for one another.

Warning for a couple of salty expletives from the elven-smith and for a medical examination (nothing graphic).

MEFA09 2nd CC



This story -- a blend of the Pandë!verse and Steel!verse -- started out from Mélamírë's point of view (Mélamírë appears in Risk Assessment, The Jinn, and retrospectively on occasion in The Elendilmir), but somehow switched to Serindë's. That's a lot of chutzpah on my part, "writing" another's OFC, but somehow, the surgeon grabbed me. This speaks to the strength of this well-crafted OFC. Hopefully, I have done her justice. And as always, this serves as an exercise for me to think about Mélamírë's character for the nascent novel. Plus, in spite of their differences, these two women are birds of a feather.

Here's the excerpt from The King's Surgeon 'verse that inspired the following short story.

Someone has made off with about half my needles, she thought. I’ll have to find someone who has half a clue to make more curved ones for me.

~ Serindë, Royal Wedding.






~~~~~~~~



Wood and metal snapped with a sharp retort when the trebuchet’s beam shattered. Metal and splinters of wood flew through the air. Those around it ducked, but the one closest to the machine could not avoid one missile.

“Morgoth’s balls!”

She clasped her hand over her inner forearm moments after the chunk of metal struck her skin. She was not certain which language she had used to blurt out that curse. No matter. It was just a scrape. She flexed the fingers of her left hand. Yes, they still worked so the nerves and tendons must be intact. There was no reason that she could not continue to work. Then hot fluid oozed between her fingers. She lifted her hand. A deep laceration gaped open. This was no trivial wound.

“My lady...”

She turned swiftly to meet the eyes of Haldorn, the chief engineer.

“It is nothing. Are any others injured?”

“No, just you, Saeldes.” Haldorn glanced down at the blood -- her blood -- that now stained the stone of the wall-walk. “I know your kind is stronger than mine, but that is a serious wound. Please. Go get it treated at the Houses of Healing. You can come back that much sooner. Ask for Sardos. He will know what to do.”

She opened her mouth for an acidic response to this mortal's assessment of her constitution but stopped herself, realizing it would not only be boorish but also empty. She was injured -- a new hurt added to the recently healed wound that she had suffered a few weeks ago, thanks to a poorly chosen route.

She turned and gazed out over the plain toward the ruined city on the river. She saw what was even now being built at an amazing pace: great siege engines, small from this distance, but visible to her sharp eyes. She calculated heights, lengths of levers and the size of counterweights. The things were massive. They would be able to strike from well beyond the range of Minas Tirith’s engines. She wondered about other materials, knowing what he would surely use, and silently cursing the fact that she had found nothing with which to formulate explosives in this city that had sat passively for so long on Mordor’s threshold.

Many people of this city complacently assumed their defense lay in the marvelous stonework of their walls, and indeed the craft of Númenor was apparent in them: high and thick, the outer face of the walls hard, dark and smooth. Steel and fire could not break them. Only a cataclysm of the very earth beneath their foundations might bring them down.

The walls of Minas Tirith cannot be breached, the Men of Minas Tirith said. She shook her head. Her people had thought the same in Ost-in-Edhil, and their machines had been in far better repair and could hurl missiles with greater force and trajectory than those of Minas Tirith. That hadn’t stopped him. And if he was determined to break the defense of the Tower of the Guard, these ill-maintained trebuchets would not suffice. Besides, he had other weapons at his disposal, more powerful and effective than any engine of war: hunger and fear.

How had she ended up here in a city of Men that would soon be under siege? She knew the answer to that: impulse and reckless self-confidence. The wisdom of the Eldar, she had heard Men say in reverence of her folk again and again. Didn’t they know their lore well enough to realize how rash her people could be, that they were just as prone to anger, pride and deceit as Men? Her own judgment was not so sound, she admitted as much.

Indeed beyond all reason, she had been unable to ignore the indefinable voice that had rousted her from her comfortable hiding place of so many years. Nor could she ignore the tidings brought to Bharat by the two messengers -- Morinehtar and Romestamo -- whom Lord Rama immediately admitted past the guarded borders of Bharat and had welcomed as his allies and brethren. These two Fays in Men’s form had told her that the One Ring had resurfaced and that her unique knowledge of its maker was desperately needed in the northwest of the world.

She had been inclined to turn away from them. There was nothing she could offer against Sauron's drive for domination of the West other than hollow counsel. She doubted herself profoundly, the buried memories of horrific betrayal threatening to resurface and tear at her again. She was certain the Wise of the West already had access to more measured advice. She would make no difference at all. She had lived a good life here under Lord Rama's protection. Why should she leave it?

It was then that the voice of the dying man spread from her dreams and into her conscious thought. Release me, he pleaded. Release me and give me peace.

So she had taken heed of Morinehtar and Romestamo’s message but had said nothing of the dying man’s voice. She left her comfortable life in Bharat, its demon guardians allowing her passage through the perilous mists that shrouded its borders. She had also left Lakshman and an untouched crimson wedding sari – his last gift to her -- discarded in her chambers.

She had made her way back to what she knew and for what she had yearned for over thirty yéni: her destroyed homeland – now empty of any folk, mortal or Firstborn -- and then on to the vale that lay north of it. Rumors had spoken of Imladris and those who dwelt there, among them one whom she loved and had never forgotten. He had walked in her dreams all those years, even when she had lain in the arms of another, but what if he, who could have any man or woman at his beck and call, had set her memory aside?

It was on the high moors that her lover, the one she had been torn from all those years ago, had found her searching for the valley. He had been riding forth on an errand when they had sensed one another in the black night, pulled together like two stars in orbit. He had waited for her beyond all reckoning.

They had discarded the delicacies of ritual that required others' witness, but instead spoke the ancient vows under the cold stars and then collapsed onto the bracken in fierce union, desperate for one another after years of separation, long even for their kind. Now husband and wife, they parted again: he rode away to his task while she made her way to the vale, drawn by the power of Vilya, which now covered the valley with the most subtle of shifting glamours. Elrond welcomed her beyond all expectation and hope. She had fallen into his kind embrace and wept like a child.

She should have settled into the marvelous forge that Sámaril, Thornangor and the others had constructed from Tyelperinquar’s plans. She should have continued to work with Thorno – as affable and brilliant a student as he had ever been -- to forge the hauberks and helmets for the small force of Dúnedain and the Eldar who prepared for this war. She should have been content in her new husband’s arms when she was not working.

But she was not content: the voice of the dying man haunted her. The presence of the Ring made the voice worse, and the aura of the Ring itself was pure torture. After the Fellowship left the valley, the perian bearing the awful temptation away, she had heaved a mental and physical sigh of relief, but the dying man’s voice became even more urgent and heartrending. She had no idea who he was, but somehow, she knew she had to find her way to the Tower of the Guard. So she followed impulse, leaving both the forge and her marriage bed, writing a note of love and promise to return. How angry her husband must be with her, well, she could not begin to guess.

“Saeldes, you must seek help! Here, Bellion! Take her to the Houses of Healing.” The urgency in Haldorn’s voice brought her back to the present.

She glared at the chief engineer. “I have no need of an escort.”

“But you will have one nonetheless.”

Bellion, a young journeyman-smith, stood by while she tore off the edge of her already ragged tunic and bound the wound. They set off, walking up the street toward the sixth circle of the city.

In a response as natural as her own breath, she adapted to those around her so that she would not stand out. Likely an exercise in futility, she thought, as others saw a tall young man holding the arm of a woman, clad in men’s clothing, who was not much less than him in height. That alone garnered some looks. Very few women, children and the aged remained in the city, almost all having been evacuated. She examined her makeshift bandage. It was soaked with blood and dripping again.

Spots swam before her eyes. She put more pressure on the wound.

“It is not much farther, Saeldes,” assured Bellion.

She considered using her deepest arts to anneal tissues and clamp blood vessels, but that would deplete her reserves further and put her at risk. Yet she felt so weak. The voice whispered, Be strong. Do not leave me. She felt a little better then. Whoever he was, he needed her. Perhaps the dying man was in the Houses of Healing?

Through a fog she saw the great doors and heard a commotion. Bellion sat her down on a bench. She leaned back against a hard stone wall. Mists clouded her eyes so she shut them against the confusion. Sounds became muffled and distant. She heard people talking. Bellion’s anxious voice calling for assistance. Then a male voice and a woman’s. Funny names: Fish and Needles exchanged in a brisk but familiar manner. She had lost more blood than she thought. She retreated further into her mind, slowing her heartbeat and conserving her strength. Then she felt a hand lift her arm, and an authoritative voice spoke to her.

Ammë?” she said, her mind enmeshed in a hazy dream of her childhood.

“No, I am not your mother,” the no-nonsense voice replied out of the haze. “I am your surgeon.”

The wolfishly thin woman with the scarf bound tightly over her head pushed back strands of dark hair from her patient’s forehead. She swept her shrewd eyes over her charge, quickly taking inventory of what she saw: fine-boned, long-fingered hands battered by work; a ring on each forefinger, gold on the right, silver -- no, mithril -- on the left; a man’s tunic over trousers; long legs ending in heavy work boots. The thick plait of almost black hair together with a diamond stud in the side of her nose and gold hoops piercing her ears made the surgeon wonder if this woman was an Easterling. But the pale smooth skin beneath smears of grease spoke of northern peoples. Too pale, the surgeon thought. She has lost a lot of blood.

Then her patient opened her eyes. The surgeon sucked in her breath when she saw the silvery-grey irises, ringed with sooty borders, that somehow captured light, making her patient’s eyes look as if stars had fallen into them, a disconcerting effect in an otherwise very human face.

“You are Firstborn.”

“Yes. I bleed red, too.”

The surgeon snorted, but was relieved to hear the sarcasm in the elf-woman’s voice. A good sign.

“I know that. Come then. Let’s stitch you up.”

She put her hand under her patient’s arm and helped her to her feet. In spite of the blood loss, the elf-woman still had some strength. Another good sign. It would make her job that much easier.

“I would ask why the hell any woman remains in the city, but what on Eru’s green earth is an elven-woman doing here?”

“The same thing you are. Helping as needs must.”

“Whatever you say, whoever you are.”

“Náryen. Istyanis Náryen. And you. Who are you?”

“Serindë.”

Serindë? You don’t say!” The elven-woman laughed, a melodious sound that made others turn their heads to stare at the unlikely pair who made their way to a well-lit corner of the triage room which now was quiet, waiting for the storm that would inevitably crash down upon it with screams and gore.

“In fact I do say. That is my name. You find it so amusing?”

“No, it’s a fine name. It’s just that...well, how shall I put this? It’s a family name. All too fitting, I suppose, that a Serindë should stitch my wound.”

Without being asked, Náryen unfastened her filthy tunic and pulled it off. Against her skin she wore a chemise of gossamer-fine fabric that left little to the imagination of what it covered, but the elven-woman was unconcerned. Serindë noted the muscles that rippled in the elf’s wiry arms. This woman was accustomed to hard work.

“You will wish to examine me,” Náryen stated nonchalantly.

“That I will. It’s nice to have a cooperative patient.”

“My mother was a healer. I know the drill.”

Serindë could not help but smile. The few elves she had encountered had been remote beings, detached from mortals: human but Other. Ethereal but creepy, too. This woman, though, other than those damned strange eyes, she was more down to earth somehow.

Serindë bound the tourniquet above the wound before she unwound the blood-soaked cloth. The bleeding had slowed.

“You’re lucky,” said the surgeon. “A little farther in and your ulnar nerve and artery would have been severed. How are you feeling?”

“Simply wonderful.”

Serindë’s mouth cocked into a wry smile. “Your humor’s still intact. Now let’s put the rest of you back together.”

“Have at it...Needles.”

Serindë arched a brow at that. Through her pain, the elf’s eyes danced with a mischievous glint.

“Who told you my nickname?”

“I overheard you and the Warden – that fellow you called ‘Fish'.”

“Ah yes, the keen eyes and ears of the elves. This will sting a little.” Serindë dabbed the wound and the surrounding skin with cloth soaked in a solution of iodine and alcohol. Náryen burst out.

“Námo’s cold cock, but that hurts!”

“Haven’t heard that one in a while. Sounds so elegant in your tongue.”

Náryen snorted, partway between a laugh and a gasp of pain.

“Bronwen,” Serindë called to her nurse. “I am ready for the coca-leaf infusion. And the tincture of poppy, too.”

“Yes’m.” The girl stepped forward, her eyes wide as saucers as she looked at the elven-smith.

“You may wash the wound with the coca, but I do not need the fumella,” said Náryen.

“It will help ease the pain. I must stitch deep, Istyanis. I know your folk are strong but you are not made of stone.”

“I have no need.”

“Whatever you say.”

Serindë dabbed the wound with the coca-leaf infusion.

“Are you ready?”

“I am ready.”

Serindë pierced tough integument with the thin curved needle. Náryen breathed deeply, in and out, and remained calm and quiet while she stitched the tissues. Again, Serindë appreciated her patient’s cooperation, but reminded herself that not all had the vaunted discipline of the Firstborn.

“So I have to ask again, what in the hell are you doing here?” Serindë pulled another suture through tough fascia.

“I am a smith, an engineer as some of your folk might call me. I’m here manning the war-engines – repairing them, hopefully improving them a little. Your city’s trebuchets are sadly lacking.”

My city’s?” Serindë frowned, the injustice of her expulsion from this city thanks to Denethor's machinations still stinging, but she remained fixed on her work. “I can tell you who let the city defenses deteriorate.”

“I know. But even so, their condition is deplorable. They could be so much better. Their design is inferior so the trajectories are poor.”

“We mere mortals do not have your gifts.” Damned arrogant Elves. So superior even when they are not trying. The elven-smith did not take offense, but countered:

“Ah, but you do. We are not so different, you and I.”

Serindë continued to stitch together the edges of the outer dermis. Her patient flinched a few times. Ha! So she is not invulnerable!

Serindë cleaned the wound again and taking the clean white bandages and batting from Bronwen, she wrapped Náryen’s forearm.

“Now let’s take a look at the rest of you for good measure,” said the surgeon. Immediately, her eyes fell on the angry red scar near the elven-woman’s shoulder just below the clavicle. “This little wound on your arm isn’t the first injury you’ve received of late.” Náryen hissed when Serindë probed the area around the scar.

“An orc-spear. It’s a long story.”

Under her expert fingers, Serindë felt the subtle signs of knitting bone.

“That spear broke your collarbone. Who repaired this?”

“A healer in Lothlórien.”

“He or she did a fine job.”

“He. A master healer. A surgeon like you.” Náryen gasped a little when Serindë kneaded the scar tissue, finding no signs of keloid formation. “Trained by my mother in Beleriand. He followed her to Eregion.”

Eregion?”

“Yes. A very long time ago.”

“Something of an understatement,” quipped Serindë. She continued her examination, listening Náryen’s breathing and the thud of her steady heartbeat, a heart that had beat many thousand times more than her own. Serindë shivered a little at the thought. When she nudged the fabric of Náryen’s chemise aside, she glanced at the elf-woman’s breasts. Now she knew why the elven-smith had refused the poppy.

“All’s in order,” she said. “And I suppose you know that you are pregnant.”

“I know, but my husband does not as yet. I will assume your confidence as my healer.”

“Of course you have that. Goes without saying. It’s hardly an issue given that I don’t know your husband. But I will say you are a cipher, too.” Serindë ticked off a list on her fingers: “A woman elven-smith who is manning the war engines of Minas Tirith, was wounded by an orc-spear, who is about three months pregnant, was harbored in Lothlórien, hails from lost Eregion, and has a diamond stud in her nose and pierced ears like women of the East. I would say that you must have one hell of a story, Istyanis Náryen.”

The elven-woman chuckled while she pulled on her tunic and belted it. Her movements were careful, but the color had already returned to her face.

“Indeed I do. If we get through this mess, I will tell it to you.”

“I would gladly listen to your story, Istyanis...if we get through this mess.”

“Please call me Mélamírë.” Náryen fastened the top hook of her tunic. “That is what my mother named me. You made me remember her today, and I appreciate that.”

Well, now wasn’t that something? She had given her mother-name -- the amilessë -- to Serindë. That was an uncommon gift, if Serindë remembered her lore.

“I thank you, Mistress Serindë, for your skill...” The smith took three steps before Serindë grabbed her good arm, staying her.

“Oh, no you don’t! You must rest before you return to those machines.”

“No, I am fine. I will take my leave now.”

“You apparently did not hear me right the first time with that keen elvish hearing of yours. You must rest.”

For a moment, those eyes became even more disturbing when something flared within the elf-woman. But Serindë did not flinch.

“Damnitall! I said, you must rest. I will not have my patients who should otherwise recover dropping over in a heap. Bronwen will get you some juice and a sweet.”

“Very well. I suppose I ought to listen to my healer’s wisdom.”

“You damn well ought to. Come, I’ll show you to the garden. I think you will like it there.”

With Bronwen in tow, carrying a glass of orange juice and a pastry, Serindë guided her patient to the garden of the Houses of Healing with its beds of medicinal herbs and flowers and its soothing sounds of water that flowed from a fountain into a wide marble basin. Mélamírë drank the juice and munched on the pastry but refused to sit down on one of the stone benches. She wandered along the beds, admiring the variety of plants, naming each one precisely and peppering Serindë with questions regarding their formulations. Yes, this is the daughter of a skilled healer, no doubt about that, thought the surgeon. She wondered where the smith picked up her aptitude for engineering and other like craft. Her father perhaps?

When chastised again that she should rest, Mélamírë obliged only by leaning against the wall on the eastward face of the garden. Even if she would not sit down, Serindë felt assured that her patient would not faint, judging by the color that had returned so rapidly to the elven-woman’s face, and the increased vigor of her demeanor. Mélamírë was likely humoring her by remaining in the garden, but that didn’t matter. Better safe than sorry.

The elven-smith gazed out over the plain, out to Osgiliath and beyond. She began to chant verses in sing-song Quenya, the old language of lore, which flowed from her tongue as easily as the patois of Dol Amroth’s did from Serindë. But the master healer knew exactly what she said.

Elessar? You know Aragorn?”

“And you know my mother tongue.” The smith smiled. “I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, you are Dúnadaneth...Númenórean.”

“You see that in me. Not all do.”

“I once knew many of your people. In fact, I was in love with one. He died at sea. Otherwise, I might have had a mortal husband.”

This woman really must have a story to tell! Serindë stared at the smith.

“Now about your tale...well, no, that will have to wait,” the surgeon said. “But I must ask, if you do not mind, how do you know Thorongil? We are close. He’s like a brother to me, and my husband is his kinsman. Named my son after him.”

“Ah! Then you know him better than I. Certainly longer. We met when he was in Imladris with the others, the ones Elrond named to..." Mélamírë hesitated, "...to a group of companions. If he comes to the city’s aid, you will see his new blade. I forged that for him.”

“The Blade that was Broken?”

“You know of it?"

"Yes, I know the legend of Narsil."

"The blade has been made whole again by my hands.”

The veil of the mundane dropped away from the elven-smith then, and Serindë, whose Númenórean blood still carried the faint notes of the Firstborn and the Fays, saw a vision of fire, molten metals, and a shining sword with runes tracking across its surface. Something else stirred within the elf-woman, something strange, even frightening: Serindë perceived the heat of an elemental spirit of fire as capable of destruction as it was of creation. Sensing the surgeon's rising fear, Mélamírë cloaked what lay within her and became an ordinary woman again.

“Let us hope he comes soon,” said the smith. Mélamírë then turned away from the terrace, stretching her good arm but keeping the bandaged one by her side. “You have my gratitude, Mistress Serindë. If we get through this, I’d like to speak to you more. I think you also have, as you say, a hell of a story to tell.”

“I might at that,” said Serindë. “Come back tomorrow to have Bronwen change the dressings. She can remove the stitches, too, when you are healed.”

“I will do that.”

The elven-smith left, but a week hence, just before the Host of the West departed Minas Tirith to march to the desolate plain of the Morannon, Serindë found a packet of muslin lying on her desk. A small folded piece of parchment lay by it. She picked up the note. In flowing Tengwar script, the note read:

For my good broideress,

I humbly offer you these tools of the trade. I believe your skill is worthy of these.

Signed, your grateful patient,

Mélamírë


Serindë smirked. There was nothing humble about the Istyanis.

She opened up the muslin envelope to find six curved needles in descending sizes. She extracted one, turning it over in the light. A small mark within the head of the needle caught her eye, a subtle mark, removed where it would not irritate skin, but visible to identify its maker. It was a tiny eight-pointed star in the form of a compass rose. A thrill shot down Serindë’s spine when she recalled the elven-smith’s reaction to her name, and a connection was made.

"Oh, sweet sanity...” she whispered, inspecting the other needles, all bearing the mark of the Fëanorian star. Oh, yes, if they got through this mess, she would hear this smith’s tale.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




I'm making an assumption that Serindë, by virtue of her marriage to Halbarad and friendship with Aragorn, is aware of the name Elessar and of Narsil.

I am of the non-pointy school of elvish ears. ;^)

Saeldes: the Sindarin equivalent of Istyanis which, in turn, is Quenya for "learned woman" a.k.a. "professor."

fumella (also humella) (Q.) opium poppy

I love mixing mythologies, so heads up for a reference to the Ramayana, the great epic of India. "Bharat" (also called Sakal an-Khâr) in my 'verse is Middle-earth's equivalent of India. See The Jinn for a bit more background in my 'verse.

Morinehtar and Romestamo are the Blue Wizards who went to the East. See HoMe, Peoples of Middle-earth. JRRT's later writings on these guys appeal to me.
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