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Here's another tennis ball lobbed back in reponse to Kindness Repaid on [livejournal.com profile] surgsteelfic Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] surgicalsteel for allowing me to borrow Serindë, for writing Serindë's fearful soliloquy, and all 'round instigation. :^)

Despite the frigid rain that spat from an iron sky, Mélamírë decided this was a gloriously beautiful day in this city of cold stone. She wrapped the woolen cloak tighter around her body when a gust of wind struck her. The walk from the Citadel to the Houses of Healing was short, but she relished every second of freedom from her quarters which had become confining of late. She breathed in the damp air, absorbing the moment of then and there.

She had awoken from her afternoon nap more refreshed than she had been in months, and certainly since her sons had been born almost two months ago. Today, the babies had slept just a bit longer, letting her rest immersed in a dream that had perturbed but also exhilarated her. Her excitement threatened to bubble over unless she could share it with the one whom she knew would most appreciate the idea.

Ivrineth, her midwife, had been on hand to help with the boys when they had awoken shortly after Mélamírë had. With gentle but firm orders, the midwife had directed the young nursemaids to change the babies' diapers and then helped Mélamírë settle the infants at her breasts.

"You're lucky," said Ivrineth had said, watching Mélamírë maneuver the babies. "Your boys have a good latch. It's a challenge for mothers to nurse twins, but you're mastering the art."

"Practice makes perfect," replied Mélamírë. "Sometimes it feels like nursing them is all I do these days."

"That will improve. I hear young Fëaril has been gracing his father with smiles. That must please your husband."

"It does, and Culunáro is not to be outdone by his brother." She lowered her eyes to look at the babies, both vigorously sucking. Ivrineth rose and poured water the empty glass sitting on the low table by the bed. Ivrineth's anticipation of her needs as a new mother -- even the smallest ones -- never failed to impress Mélamírë. The boys' nursing had slowed, and they had entwined their free hands. Once they released her, Mélamírë had asked the midwife, “Would you mind staying here for a little while with the babies while I go speak to Mistress Serindë at the Houses of Healing? I would like to see her sooner than later. It’s not that I don’t trust Férwen or Meril. They are so helpful but…”

“…they are so young and still learning.” The mortal woman finished her sentence, voicing Mélamírë’s concern about the two girls whom Mélamírë and her husband had employed recently as nursemaids. “Go on, my lady. I daresay Mistress Serindë will be glad to see you. You've not set foot outside of your quarters for weeks now so the outing would do you good, too.” Ivrineth lifted Culunáro, now sated but bright-eyed, from Mélamírë’s side. “The boys will be fine, and should you be needed, I can always send a messenger boy to the Houses.”

Grateful for the opportunity to have some of her own time, Mélamírë had thanked the midwife. She had wriggled into a chemise, pulled a wool shirt over her head, yanked on old trousers pock-marked with burns, thrust her stockinged feet into worn boots -- the cast-offs of a mortal smith -- and had been ready within minutes, kissing her babies before she left. It was not that she did not cherish her sons -- she loved them more than she could ever have imagined -- but she sometimes felt like motherhood had consumed every facet of her life. At times, she was unsure where the babies ended and she began.

The rain now stung with pellets of sleet that bounced off the stone street. Mélamírë picked up her pace, reaching the entryway of the Houses shortly. She shoved back her hood and asked a harried group of apprentices if the surgeon was in her office.

“Butcher, you mean, my lady?” the young man said. “Yes, she is in her office now, probably slicing and dicing our exams.” His companions snickered.

Mélamírë’s lifted brow silenced them. Apprentices! she thought. Are they all the same? She rebuked herself at the uncharitable thought while she made her way through the corridors. She had been an apprentice herself to two demanding masters, not just one, having to prove herself again and again not only to them, but also to her male peers, many of whom had whispered that she – a woman – had been apprenticed to the Otornassë Míretanoron only because of the connections of kin. Her own first apprentice had been a gawky boy of little means who had turned out to be wonderful student. She smiled when she thought of Thornangor. How glad she had been to find him living in Imladris, that he had survived the fall of Ost-in-Edhil and had not taken the Straight Road to Elvenhome. No longer an awkward youth, Thorno had grown into talented master smith and a strikingly handsome man, but still with the same humor and wide-eyed wonder that he had as a boy.

A few more turns in the halls brought her to the closed door with the sign on it:

Headquarters of the Butcher of North Ithilien
Trespassers Subject to a Death Worse Than Fate.

Mélamírë ran her fingers over the darkly humorous warning: a death worse than fate. She remembered the first time she had seen that and had laughed aloud. Serindë had been pleased that she had gotten the joke. Mélamírë had responded that with her family’s checkered history, she couldn’t help but appreciate the grim humor.

She knocked firmly. An irritable “Come in!” snapped from behind the door. The apprentices were right. She must be marking exams, thought Mélamírë. “This had better be important or…”

“My good broideress,” Mélamírë slipped into the surgeon’s office.

“Istyanis! I’m surprised your young taskmasters let you go,” said the surgeon, leaning back in her chair and smoothing her shirt over her belly, which week by week swelled with her unborn child.

“The boys were unusually cooperative. They slept longer this afternoon and were in a good mood when I left them with Ivrineth and the girls.”

“So Férwen and Meril are working out?”

“For the most part. I still feel more comfortable with Ivrineth.”

“They’ll learn from her. I think you can trust them. It was good of you to take them under your charge.”

“The least we could do, all things considered,” said Mélamírë, thinking of all the fathers, husbands, sons and brothers who had perished during the War of the Ring and left many women and children adrift. She rubbed the mithril ring on her left forefinger absently, a long-ingrained habit. “Look, Broideress, I’m running on borrowed time so I’ll get to the point. I’m here about your lights.”

All color in the surgeon’s face drained away in an instant. “You’re here about…my…my…Oh, sweet sanity!” Serindë stammered, flattening her hand against her upper chest as if trying to catch her breath.

“What in Udun’s blazes is wrong with you? You look like you’ve seen a wraith.”

“Sorry, I likely didn't eat enough earlier. Let me just find the tin with the ginger biscuits...” The healer made to stand but not before Mélamírë had waved her back to sit, the elf-smith striding over to the cabinet where the tin was kept, the sharp scent of ginger tickling her keen senses even through the sealed container.

“Here.” Mélamírë handed the tin to Serindë who popped open its lid, sending ginger fragrance throughout the office, causing Mélamírë’s mouth to water. She gratefully accepted the proffered tin from Serindë and helped herself to a couple of biscuits.

“So,” said Mélamírë between bites of the second biscuit, making note that she really must ask for the recipe of these delectable tidbits. “Have you recovered enough that I can tell you of my plans for your lights?”

Serindë mumbled a "yes," her mouth full, so Mélamírë proceeded.

“The curwë is based on that which the Noldor of Aman used for their famous blue lights, but a bit different. Like those, these lights do not use flame but a…” Mélamírë thought a moment of how to explain it. “They exploit a cold process, something that is desirable given your use of ether. You are, of course, familiar with fireflies and glow worms. Do you know of animalcules that give off light?”

Serindë nodded again, all color now back in her face. “Yes! We call these Uinen’s Stars. They bloom in the coves near Dol Amroth. If you wade or swim through the water at night, little motes of light sparkle all around you.”

Mélamírë smiled, again pleased by her friend’s sharp mind and quick uptake of concepts. “There you have it! The essences that produce those lights in fireflies and such animalcules can be captured and combined. One of my colleagues in Ost-in-Edhil did exactly this. With the assistance of his master, he knitted together the essence of fireflies with that of light-producing animalcules that grow in swamp lands and then embedded this mix in crystal. The crystals then emit light, but instead of blue like the older Noldorin lamps, the light is bright – more like sunlight – which would serve your needs better. I mean to replicate Sámaril’s methods to create lights for your operative theater.”

“Sounds like elf-magic!”

Mélamírë cocked her left brow, readying to explain that no, this was not magic, even though it might seem like that, until she saw the twinkle in the surgeon’s eyes and noted that Serindë had added a burr to her voice-- a burr like one of the Shirefolk -- when she had said that. Serindë was, as the Mannish vernacular said, pulling her leg.

“Yes, you might say that. But from a more practical standpoint, if you have a moment, I’d like to have a look at the operative theater. I have a good idea of its dimensions and existing lighting, but I’d like to confirm this.”

Mélamírë thought she saw the ghost of anxiety flit across Serindë’s face, but it disappeared after the surgeon picked up another biscuit and rose from her chair.

“No time like the present,” she said.

Mélamírë rose from her chair, but something on Serindë’s desk caught her eye. A book. She picked it up, looked at the cover, and opened it, leafing through its contents.

“Khandri verses! And rather choice ones at that.”

But instead of responding with an acidic quip as Mélamírë expected, her friend snatched the book from her and replaced it on the shelf. Serindë’s face was not as pale as it had been before, but still drawn.

She is pregnant after all, thought Mélamírë. I know I was often queasy and moody, too. She followed the surgeon out of the office and told Serindë of her plans while they walked along the corridors.

“Now I intend to ask the King to send a party to the Dead Marshes to collect the animalcules. Perhaps you could suggest a scholar interested in natural history who is also not a superstitious type to do this? Then…well, I have been informed that a cave in the White Mountains has deposits of clear quartz that will suit my purposes admirably. I’m thinking Gimli and his folk might assist there. Now for the cultures of the materials, I’ll require vats in one of the breweries for the broth in which to grow the animalcules and filters to separate them from the broth. Ah, yes! Broth! I’ll need yeast extract and beef broth.” Mélamírë interrupted her stream of words and chuckled. “I know you are quite familiar with the latter. At any rate, I’ll need quantities of those. I must collect some samples from a privy for the base animalcule in which the essences of firefly and the swamp animalcule will be placed or maybe I could obtain such from one of your patients? Fresh stool would be fine for that and...”

“Are you going to take a breath, Istyanis?” Serindë had stopped before a set of doors.

Mélamírë laughed. “I do get carried away, don’t I?”

Serindë’s mouth bowed with a wry smile. “I have been known to babble, too.”

“You’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t spoken to anyone about this since Sámaril told me about his work. How I miss him! He was more than a colleague -- my brother-of-the-heart, really.”

As soon as she said those words, the horrible memory of when she had last heard the same phrase threatened to engulf her: a nightmarish scene of the two men who had once been close friends, one bound and naked, and the other ready to set a hot iron rod on the exposed flesh of the man whom he had named his brother-of-the-heart. Mercifully, she had lost consciousness from what had felt like a blow to her head before she had seen more. She forcefully shoved the agonizing image into the vaults of deep memory.

She shook her head a little, returning to the present, looked around the operative theater and proceeded to pace its length and width, all the while nattering about the natural daylight in the theater from the north-facing windows, the placement of the new lights, and that they should be made for mobility on campaigns as well as for use in the theater.

She returned to Serindë who stood by the basin where trays of surgical instruments lay. All had been cleaned, but Mélamírë spotted the taint of rust. She picked up a scalpel, turning it over and scrutinizing it.

“Rust is an issue which could be eliminated by using different alloys,” she said offhandedly when she set the scalpel back on the tray.

Again, Serindë's face lost all color, alarming Mélamírë. Mere illness from pregnancy had not caused the surgeon’s discomfort. Mélamírë saw outright fear in the surgeon’s eyes, but also a look of puzzlement, too, as Serindë studied her face as if in search of an answer. The change in the surgeon’s expression – from fear to astonishment -- told Mélamírë that pieces just might be falling together. Mélamírë knew she must take control of the situation, cursing mentally that it had come to this. It was too soon in their friendship for the frank discussion that the truth would entail.

“I am not the first with whom you have discussed the need for lights, am I?”

Serindë swallowed hard. “Yes, I’ve heard what you’re suggesting before. Please don’t ask… They’ll hang me, you see. It’s been… You must have heard about the whole damned investigation, surely?” Mélamírë nodded. That had been a tumultuous time for Serindë. The surgeon continued. “My brother was cleared, thank the stars, but my aunt, my first cousin, they came this close to being convicted of treason – trading black powder to Umbar, for the love of sanity, and pipeweed and foodstuffs from the Shire down to Isengard…” she stopped, took a breath, and shook her head. “Helping open up trade routes that allowed Saruman’s people into Bree and the Shire, and one of my son’s childhood playmates killed because the bastards were looking for my daughter...No, they’d hang me. And it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried, either, you know. Denethor – he hated me, and I can’t say I felt kindly toward him, either, and he only left me alone for as long as he did because I was good at my work. But he hated me, and he knew I was popular with the troops – because I treated them well, you know, and he knew I was Aragorn’s friend, and he suspected Aragorn’s identity and I think he was afraid I’d throw my support to Aragorn if he claimed the throne and that some of the men would go with Aragorn because of me. He must have plotted for years… It was a charge that would stick, you know, graverobbing, because I was in charge of the dissection theater. Fuck, my own mother believed it. So I was given the choice of leaving or staying and facing trial and being hanged – and for myself I don’t think I’d care, but they’d start looking at Halbarad and Thorongil and Tarië and I’ve another child on the way. I can’t risk… I thought it was a dream at first, there was someone in my office looking through my books…” she stopped and shook her head. “No, I can’t...they’ll hang me.”

Mélamírë, astounded by the litany of fear that had streamed from Serindë, did the most natural thing she could think of: she embraced the surgeon, who, stiff at first, melted into a returned hug.

“Don’t worry, Broideress,” said Mélamírë, patting her friend’s back. “No one will hang you. They would have to get past me to do that!” She released the surgeon who had quickly regained composure and wiped her eyes. In the space of a few breaths, Serindë had delivered to Mélamírë a list of sound reasons for fear. From what Mélamírë had observed of the machinations that roiled beneath the surface of courtly behavior, the threat of hanging was a real one, whether Elessar sat on the throne or not. Mélamírë studied her mortal friend. She knew that Serindë had only skimmed the surface of the fears that must have dogged her steps for years. This woman did not need another reason for fear thrown into the mix. Mélamírë knew then how she must handle this.

“I believe I know who you think it was you saw in your dream, but be assured I will not tell anyone. It’s not in anyone’s interest to tell, neither mine nor yours. But let’s think about this logically. You say that...this unnamed person spoke to you in a dream. Earlier, you made that remark about Sauron and shaking his hand, and you had recently seen me. I understand that those of Númenórean blood sometimes have prescient dreams. It could be that you dreamed of our conversation today, but your dreaming mind set that other person in my place, a person whom your dream decided was Sauron himself.”

“Perhaps, but that doesn’t explain the book of Khandri verses. When I woke, it was exactly where…that person placed it.”

“Or you might have placed it there yourself the previous evening and being tired, forgot that you had. An exhausted mind can play tricks on memory.”

“I wasn’t that tired!” Serindë snapped. “I know that book had been on the shelves and...”

“Is that what you wish to believe?” Mélamírë's eyes bored into her friend’s. “Or is it better to be logical about this? Sauron was destroyed when the Ring was. He is no more. What you saw was the phantom of your own mind combined with your native prescience. Nothing more, Serindë. Nothing more.”

Serindë opened her mouth, ready for a response, but then snapped it shut and nodded. “Yes, nothing more. It’s better to be logical about this.”

“Indeed it is,” said Mélamírë. Then a tingling sensation tightened her breasts, now full of milk again, and dark splotches dampened her shirt. “Ai! If this doesn’t tell me I’d best return to my babes, I don’t know what would. I must take my leave, Broideress. I will begin plans for the lamps. Rest assured I will tell no one of your dream.”

The women walked together back to Serindë’s office. Mélamírë left her friend, making her way to the main gates of the Houses of Healing. She wrapped the cloak around her before she stepped out into the sleet and wind, but she did not hurry, instead taking a more circuitous route back to the Citadel. The boys could wait a few more minutes for her. She had a discussion that needed tending first. She pulled her hood further over her head to overshadow her face, but the street was empty of passersby, assuring her that no one would notice her apparently talking to herself. She then forcefully rubbed her thumb against the mithril ring and muttered “Wake up!” several times.

Yes? murmured the disembodied but familiar voice, remote at first but then more distinct, deep and silky. I am here.

“What in all of Eä were you thinking?" she whispered between gritted teeth. "You spoke to her before I had a chance to...by the Valar, can’t you not interfere?”

Well, she did say she would shake my hand if I could provide better lights for her. How could I resist such a challenge? As I told you before, I owe her forefather a great deal. In a way, I believe I owe her something, too. Besides, I think she rather enjoyed our conversation. I know I did.

“Do you have any idea how frightened she is now?”

She has no reason to be afraid, and you know it. I trust that you can take care of any difficulties this might present.

“How like you to use another to achieve your ends!” Mélamírë gasped with exasperation. “If I could fling you all the way to the Máhanaxar, I would.”

I wish you could. The voyage to Valinor on Olórin’s hand is going to be a very long one: that much closer to that awful pipe of his and who knows what else.

In spite of herself, she snorted. He still had his sardonic sense of humor. That had always been fundamental to his personality, even before ambition consumed him, but she knew that the playful bravado covered something else. In spite of his motivation to return to Valinor, repent and throw himself at the Valar’s mercy, he was deeply frightened of what awaited him in the Máhanaxar.

He should be frightened, she thought. Some of the Valar could be merciless. She knew the punishment of his dark master weighed heavily upon him: Morgoth had been shoved past the Gates of Night into the strange thing that lurked in the heart of the Sirë Elenion, the Mother of Ungweliantë, the Valar called it -- the monster that devoured all light. She found herself almost pitying the one trapped in her ring, a voluntary prison of his own devising. She mentally shook herself. He did not deserve pity, and she refused to give it to him.

The voice had been silent while she walked along the wet street. She thought he might have gone back to sleep, but then the voice spoke again:

Admit it, Náryen. You are looking forward to crafting these lamps. Motherhood becomes you, but you must apply your intellect to more than your sons, as worthy as they might be. Just think. These lamps will be counted among your great works: the Mirror of Galadriel, the forging of Andúril, and now this. The Lights of the Houses of Healing or probably a name more pretentious if the habits of the Gondorian loremasters hold true.

“More likely the Butcher’s Beacons or something even less flattering. Apprentices usually name these things.”

Usually, the disembodied voice chuckled. Nonetheless, you will help many others if you craft these. And remember there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s work.

“The lamps will be nothing more than replications of Sámaril’s and your methods.”

Oh, please. I know you. I fully expect that you will add your own touches, which will improve the lamps that much more.

“That’s entirely possible.” She walked through the tunnel that led to the Citadel, her footsteps echoing until she stopped before she walked out into the cold sleet again. She faced the white sapling, its pale form small and graceful in the mist of sleet and rain. She stared at it for a few moments, hoping this symbol of triumph over his dark designs might reach him, reminding him of what he had done and all those he had hurt. “I’m almost home. You must go back to sleep.”

Very well. I am at your mercy. The voiced paused. So when do you think we can start working on the lamps?

“Soon. Now please, go to sleep. And don’t trouble Serindë.”

She waited before she entered the Citadel. Her mithril ring warmed a little, like a fleeting kiss, and then was silent.

Yes, soon, she thought. And as much as she hated to admit it, she looked forward to working with him again.


curwë - technology

For those who are less familiar with The Silmarillion, the Máhanaxar is the Ring of Doom before the gates of Valmar in Aman.

Mélamírë's reaction to the phrase "brother-of-the-heart" is explained further in Broken Star in my (pandemonium's) little corner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild (see sidebar). She had the misfortune of witnessing part of that terrible event.
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