Transplants

Jun. 3rd, 2009 10:04 pm
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Follows right on the heels of [livejournal.com profile] surgicalsteel's Gumbo which resides on [livejournal.com profile] surgsteelfic. Many thanks to Steel for finding niggles, a biographical sketch of Ivrineth, and all round mutually enthusiastic yammering. :^)

Ivrineth, the midwife recommended by Serindë, and Mélamírë get to know one another a bit better.



Ivrineth watched Serindë walk away with the apprentice, both on their way to the Houses of Healing. She turned back toward the door but before entering the house, her eye caught the scrawny flowers planted in the window box. Serindë was right. The daffodils needed transplanting. She lifted a struggling bud with her finger, chuckling at the irony: for all the new life she ushered into this world, she managed to persistently kill flowers. She returned to the kitchen to find Mélamírë ladling another helping of gumbo into her bowl.

“You must like it,” the midwife said.

“To say I merely like it would be an understatement.” Mélamírë, still standing, spooned rice and gumbo into her mouth and closed her eyes while she chewed the food. The elf-woman opened her eyes again, those strange silver specks in them glinting, but her satisfied smile was nothing other than human. “This is absolutely wonderful. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your kindness and Mistress Serindë’s.”

“Serindë did the work here so you can thank her later. I’m just trying to get some meat on your bones. You must gain some weight for those babies you’re carrying.”

“I have always been thin, but you are right. I am leaner than I ought to be. If all you do is feed me bas-gwannen, gumbo and jambalaya, then you shall be successful. This ettouffee – what is that? It sounds like another word from Umbar, but mixed with Sindarin.”

“It means ‘smothered.’ It’s a spicy sauce with a smooth texture, seasoned much like gumbo with celery, onions, and sweet peppers and red, black and white pepper for spice. Goes over kind of meat or fowl, but shrimp is the best in my opinion. Serindë would argue that crawfish are best, but that's a source of disagreement between us.”

“If it’s anything like the jambalaya or gumbo, then add it to your means of fattening me up. I have so missed well-spiced fare!”

“Serindë said that you had spent some time in the East. Was that where you acquired your taste for spices?”

“Yes. I lived in a southern kingdom of Bharat – the land you call Sakal-an-Khar – for thirty-three long-years. The people there love seasoned food. Some of it is quite hot.”

Long-years. Ivrineth performed the calculation for the elvish reckoning of time in her head, and shuddered mentally when she realized that Mélamírë had just told her she had lived in that eastern land for over four thousand years. It was all she could do to keep herself from shaking physically at the offhanded remark from her patient who – like any woman who appreciated good food – was happily spooning more rice and gumbo into her mouth.

“That – that is a long time. What brought you back to the West?”

The elf-woman pointed at her mouth, chewing and then swallowed.

“Mother always told me not to speak with food in my mouth. I sometimes forgot that when I was very young.” Mélamírë grinned. “What brought me back to the West, you ask? A simple question but the answer is complicated. Perhaps the most expedient way to put it was that I was summoned. But that is not all of it. No matter how long I lived in Bharat, my heart has remained here in the West. I was born and raised here, or rather in a land to the North.”

“Where was that, Istyanis?”

“’Mélamírë’, please. Considering how well-acquainted you are with my body, you might as well me that.” She took a sip of tea. “I was born in the land that Men call Hollin. My people named it Eregion.”

Eregion?"

Mélamírë nodded. “Yes, Eregion. More precisely, I lived in Ost-in-Edhil.”

“Ost-in-Edhil…City of the Elves,” repeated Ivrineth in the Common Tongue. A memory of an old family tale nagged at Ivrineth. “What was that like?”

“In some ways like Minas Tirith – a walled city of stone with many buildings and towers. Some buildings housed the guilds and shops; others were residences. I lived in a row house with my parents.” The elf-woman paused to take another spoonful of gumbo and rice. “We had a garden in the front and a terrace in the back that looked to the West – a beautiful view.”

“What did your parents do there, if I may ask?”

“My mother was a healer like you and Mistress Serindë. She was the guild master of the House of the Heart, the guild of healers, like Master Sardos. She spent much of her time guiding the activities of the healers, midwives and surgeons, but she also studied the substances of life, seeking deeper knowledge of the diseases of Men and the components of medicine. She sometimes attended complicated labor and deliveries, too. There were many children born in Ost-in-Edhil in those happier times.”

“And your father?”

“My father was a smith.” That was all she offered so Ivrineth did not press her.

“You say ‘was.’ Your parents are no longer with you?”

“My mother died in the fall of Ost-in-Edhil. My father…” Mélamírë paused as if considering her words. “My father perished.”

“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to dredge up sad memories.”

“Please, there is no harm done in asking.”

“I – I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to show you something: a memento that has been handed down in my family for who knows how many years.”

“Of course, I don’t mind,” said Mélamírë, scooting back from the table when Ivrineth motioned for her to follow.

The midwife led her guest to her small bedroom where she opened a small rosewood chest on top of a bureau. She pulled out a gold coin, handing it to Mélamírë who turned it over between her thumb and forefinger.

“Where did you get this?” the smith asked with no little surprise in her voice.

“A small family heirloom. My great-grandfather gave it to me. The tradition in my family tells that one of my forebears was a soldier sent to Middle-earth on a ship, one of Tar-Minaster’s fleet, to do battle with the Dark Lord. He and a friend aided an elven family fleeing from Eregion to Lindon. The elves gave him this coin.”

Mélamírë’s eyes widened. “This is a coin of Ost-in-Edhil. My husband has some that he saved from the fall of the city. I gave one to the Ringbearer – Frodo Baggins – for good fortune.”

“You did? So you know the Ringbearer?”

“Not well. I had arrived in Rivendell only two weeks before he was brought to Elrond for healing. I didn’t see him often, but I did get to know two of the other Periannath a bit better: Masters Took and Brandybuck. I sharpened their long knives – well, swords in their small hands – and shared an apple pie with them. That guaranteed that they came to the forge on several more occasions to share luncheon with me.”

Ivrineth chuckled. “From what I hear, the halflings do like to eat. I did not speak with them much either, but from what I gather, they are a remarkable people.”

“That they are,” said Mélamírë. “We were completely unaware of them back in…well, back when I lived in Eregion. Just as well.”

“Why do you say that?”

“If Annatar -- Sauron -- had any inkling of the Halflings and their nature – their strength -- he would have put forth all his might to enslave them or worse.” Mélamírë grimaced a little then and flicked her left hand as if shaking off an annoying insect.

“Then they were lucky to be so obscure. Perhaps Frodo Baggins derived luck from that token you gave to him.”

“Maybe,” said the smith. “I think he had others with far more power than my token of goodwill watching over him. Has the coin brought you good fortune?”

“I’m not sure yet. I survived the siege. I make a good living. I suppose it has.”

Mélamírë sat down on Ivrineth's bed, running her hand over the quilt covering it. A wave of self-consciousness washed over the midwife. The elves were known for their exquisite craftsmanship, but her quilt was so homely: pieces of blue, grey and cream fabric stitched together in repeating patterns of sea motifs – shells, boats, and fish. It was a childish pattern, really, but beloved because her grandmother had made it for her. The smith appeared to be admiring it.

“You have a charming home,” said the elf-woman, looking around the bedroom. “Sparse but cozy.”

“Thank you. I’m not here often enough to fill it with trinkets and gewgaws, but I’m satisfied with it.”

“You’re lucky to have a home,” Mélamírë said, the wistfulness in her voice more than noticeable.

“I am, but don’t you call Rivendell home?”

“I suppose it’s the closest approximation to a home that I have, but I lived there only three months. I...” then the wistfulness trembled at the verge of tears. The elf-woman, who had been so composed, looked up at Ivrineth, and there they were: tears welling up in those strange eyes, their star-sparks now diminished. “I am so adrift, Mistress Ivrineth.”

Ivrineth sat down beside Mélamírë and put her arm around her. Pregnant women often were prone to heightened emotion. It seemed no different for the Firstborn.

Mélamírë sucked in her breath, stifling a sob. “So much has changed. So much. The languages. The peoples who live in these lands. Even the landscape. So few of my people remain on these shores. I wonder what’s left for me here?”

“You can always seek the Straight Road to Faerie, can you not? That’s what our tales say of your folk.”

“It’s not so simple,” she replied, composed once more. “I do not know if the Powers will allow me into their realm. My husband assures me that they will, but I am not so certain. Besides…” she touched her belly. “I have reason to stay for some time.”

“Forgive me if I am prying, but have you told your husband about your pregnancy yet?”

Sheepishly, Mélamírë shook her head. “He knows that I am safe and well here, but I have not told him that I am with child.”

“Why ever not? Surely he’d be happy to know.”

“I wish to tell him in person. You must understand, Mistress Ivrineth, this is most unusual. We did not plan this begetting.”

“That happens to mortals all the time, and we deal with it.”

“I know, but it’s unusual for my people. Neither of us had begun the…” Mélamírë again searched for a word. “…the meditations for begetting. This just happened!”

“Meditations for begetting?” Ivrineth was genuinely curious about elven physiology, and now she had an opportunity to ask details of an elf who was more forthcoming than those she had met previously. “What do you mean?”

“My people must link fëa with hröa to prepare our bodies to conceive. Both man and woman must perform these meditations to trigger the processes in their bodies that will allow begetting. It is not easy, and not every couple can achieve the connections successfully. But some can -- like my great-grandparents for example. They had seven children!”

“Seven children is a large family by any account, let alone among your folk,” Ivrineth said, smiling until stories from an old book of tales came to her mind.. “You say your great-grandparents had seven children. Are you…” Then she swallowed hard, staring at the woman whom she had invited into her home, whose belly she had palpitated and whose breasts she had examined. “Are you a descendant of Fëanor?”

“Yes. He is my great-grandfather.”

Ivrineth blurted out a curse that she had picked up from Serindë.

Mélamírë snorted. “You know, there are some in the East who actually do that to water fowl. A repulsive thing to contemplate, I’d say.”

“Sorry. It’s just that here I am hosting the great-granddaughter of a myth in my humble house, a woman who is over four thousand years old…” Ivrineth’s head spun; she grasped the quilt with both hands to steady herself.

“Please, Ivrineth, don’t think about that. Here…” she took the midwife’s hand and placed it over her heart. “Do you feel my heart beating?” asked Mélamírë. Ivrineth nodded. “It beats like yours. My blood is red, like yours. I like good food, like you do. The chasm of time may separate us but we are kin in other ways.”

“Perhaps.” Ivrineth’s heart still raced, her head still spun. “It’s just that…” But Mélamírë interrupted her.

“If you’re worried about the Oath hanging over my head, I think I am of little account to the Doomsman who uttered the Prophecy of the North. It is all so much superstitious nonsense anyway.” Ivrineth raised her brows at that. “My great-grandfather and his sons brought the world down upon their heads and upon those in their wake by their choices and their actions, not because Iluvatar ever held them to an oath. In any case, I do not believe it is Iluvatar who is so vengeful. I also do not believe that Eru willingly destroyed your people’s homeland, killing innocents along with the guilty. That is not the Iluvatar I believe in…” She cut her sentence short. “Never mind what I think." Mélamírë rose from the bed and walked towards the door. “I’m sure you will need to be on your way. I should leave.”

“Well, no one has summoned me for a birth today, and none of my patients are due just yet. You’re welcome to stay if you want.”

“I do not wish to be a bother,” said Mélamírë.

“You’re not. I do not mind the company. I usually don’t socialize with my patients, but you are a stranger here in the city, and are in need of friends. And how often do I have the opportunity to see that a descendant of Fëanor is fed gumbo?”

Mélamírë laughed while they walked back to the kitchen. “Not often, I expect. He’s just as much of a myth to me as he is to you. I never knew any of my kin other than my mother and Celebrimbor. My mother held him up as an example constantly though. ‘This is what Fëanáro said, this is what Fëanáro did…’ ‘Your great-grandfather did not believe that…’ and on and on and on. The irony is that she never met him either! These were all tales she heard from her parents and my great-uncles.”

“The burdens of family,” Ivrineth said.

“Oh, yes, the burdens of family. Don’t I know about that!” Mélamírë picked up the teapot, refilling her cup and Ivrineth's. To Ivrineth's surprise, the tea was still steaming hot. Both women sat down again at the table.

"What of your family, Mistress Ivrineth? You say you are from Dol Amroth like Mistress Serindë. I'd love to hear more about your home there. I only saw it in passing when I returned to the West."

“Well, where to start?” Ivrineth swirled the tea around in the cup. “I’m the eldest daughter of six children. I have two brothers, both at sea, two sisters living in Dol Amroth and one that died in the same storm that affected Serindë. Mama still runs a seamstress’ shop in the Old Port. We lived above that shop. Papa was a sailor in Prince Imrahil’s fleet, but he passed away.”

“I’m sorry for your losses,” said Mélamírë. “Did your father die in the War?”

“No. Before that. The Corsairs attacked the city two years before. He was killed then. They said he died like a hero, boarding the other ship and all. He was given honors for his bravery. Doesn’t bring him back though.”

“You must have loved him very much,” the elf-woman said, her voice full of sympathy, which encouraged Ivrineth to continue.

“I did. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up, but Mama told me that it wasn’t right for a girl to become a sailor. She tried to get me to settle into her trade of sewing and tailoring or at the very least how to run a home so she could marry me off to a tradesman or a soldier. It didn’t take.”

Mélamírë smiled at that. “Evidently not. How did you end up here in the Houses of Healing?”

“It was Mistress Indil – Serindë’s mother – who set me on this path. She was one of Mama’s customers. My mother went to their home to fit Mistress Indil’s dresses. Mama complained to Mistress Indil that she would never be able to marry me off because I had no patience for domestic arts, as she called them, or the running of a household. Mama did allow as how well I had cared for her when she was ill and also for my younger siblings. Mistress Indil then told my mother that if I could not be properly feminine then I might as well join her 'hoyden of a daughter.'"

"That's quite the recommendation," observed Mélamírë dryly.

"Isn't it though?" Ivrineth laughed. "Serindë brought me here when I turned twenty. It didn’t take much persuasion for me to follow her.”

“How did you come to be a midwife?” Mélamírë placed her empty cup back on its saucer, leaned on the table with her elbows and folded her hands, looking at Ivrineth like she was about to tell most interesting story in the world.

“I didn’t start out to become one. I trained to be a nurse, and that’s what I was for some years. I became Serindë’s scrub nurse – her right-hand man so to speak – and assisted her in the operative theatre. But when Serindë was exiled, things did not go well for me. Anyone who had been associated with Serindë was suspect; Lord Denethor had his informants keep us under his vigilance. Now I know why – it was because of King Elessar. Lord Denethor questioned his right to the crown. Master Talagan – he was the Warden of the Houses of Healing before Sardos – protected me

“During that time when Serindë lived in the north, I made the decision to become a healer -- a midwife specifically. There are midwives and there are midwives. Some are ignorant women who do more harm to a mother and babe than good. There was one woman in the Old Port who was notorious for the damage she did, but the poor had no choice but to call on her. Serindë has horror stories of the midwife in Bree. Here in the Houses of Healing, Master Talagan strived to make midwifery as legitimate in the healing arts as herbalism and surgery.”

Mélamírë raised an eyebrow. “That is hardly a new concept. The House of the Heart regarded midwifery as no less than the other healing arts. Labor and birth among the Firstborn are not without hazard. My mother often went to the settlements of Men in neighboring lands to aid their healers and train their midwives in the importance of scrupulous cleanliness which was all too often woefully lacking.”

“Then I applaud your mother. Mortals have not always been so fortunate to have the Firstborn instruct them so.” Ivrineth left unsaid that elves rarely mingled with mortals these days, and that Men had been told time and time again that it was perilous to seek the Elder Folk out.

Mélamírë flinched, causing Ivrineth to wonder if her thoughts on the standoffishness of the elves had surfaced in her tone. “I’m sorry, Mistress Ivrineth. I didn’t mean to belittle the skills of mortal midwives. On the contrary, I am grateful you are so well-trained and that Mistress Serindë recommended you. Your knowledge is a source of comfort to me. I must tell you that…” The elf-woman paused, staring at her cup of tea, and then raised her face to look at Ivrineth. “…I must tell you that I am deeply worried about my pregnancy.”

Ivrineth reached across the table and took Mélamírë’s hand, looking the elf-woman straight in the eye. “You should not be worried. You must not be worried! You are in enviably good health, as I would expect for one of your kind. The babes are growing well. They move frequently, do they not?”

“Yes, quite often, but...”

“But what?”

“I cannot feel them. That is to say, my perception of their fëar is weak. I am afraid that something is wrong with them. And with my husband not here to lend his strength to them.”

Ivrineth gathered herself, considering how she should respond. How often had she faced a frightened mother who feared her child might be born deformed? Thankfully, it was rare, but she had seen monsters birthed, pitiful little things that were whisked away, leaving devastated parents. She understood this deep-seated fear. As far as she knew, the Elves never gave birth to deformed children so anything that seemed amiss must be profoundly unsettling for Mélamírë.

“Let me assure you in the strongest possible way that your pregnancy is proceeding just as it should. Just like I would expect for a woman bearing twins. Just as I have seen in other women who have given birth to a healthy twosome." Ivrineth added the thought: In mortal women. But she forged ahead. Mélamírë needed to hear reassurance and confidence, not questioning. "I understand that you must miss your husband terribly, but truly, things are going well. Haven’t other elven couples been separated during these times?”

“Yes, but it is not good for either the babe or the mother to be separated from the father.”

Ivrineth sighed. “I don’t know what else to say that will convince you that you have no need to worry.” Ivrineth sensed that Mélamírë was deeply in need of her spouse’s comfort, regardless of her condition. “When will you reunite with your husband? Before the babes are born, I hope?”

“Yes. He will travel with Master Elrond and the others when they come to Minas Tirith. They are likely already on the road and will be here by Midsummer’s Day.”

“Then you only have little more than a month to wait for him. He will be here with you for the latter half of your pregnancy. Surely that will help.”

“Yes. A little more than a month. That is no time at all, is it?”

“Not even for a mortal!” Ivrineth laughed. “In the meantime, I will take care of you and your babes.”

Mélamírë squeezed Ivrineth’s hand and then released it. “Thank you. You do reassure me.” She pushed back from the table and put her teacup in the basin. “I really ought to return to the Citadel.”

“Very well,” said Ivrineth. “But you are welcome to come here at any time, especially if you are lonely or just in need of someone to talk to.”

“I may just take you up on that. In fact, I likely will! I’d also like to make curry for you and Mistress Serinde, if I can manage to find the ingredients.”

“I would welcome that, but the curry can wait. You’re remarkably strong, but nonetheless I want you to get off your feet more often during the day. Lie down at least for a couple of hours. You must understand that you will be on complete bed rest for you during the last part of your pregnancy.”

“Yes, I know that. A midwife of my people would do the same in your position.”

“If you wish, you can even come here to rest.”

Ivrineth walked Mélamírë to the door, but before the elf-woman took a step to return to the Citadel, she scrutinized the daffodils.

“These are in need of transplanting.” Mélamírë said, lifting a bedraggled bud with her forefinger, her gold wedding band shining in the sunlight.

“So says Serinde”

“You have a compost heap, correct? And perhaps an empty pot?"
“Yes to both.”

“Then let me do something for you. It will not take much effort on my part.”

Ivrineth led Mélamírë to the herb garden in the rear of her house where they found an empty earthenware pot and filled two buckets with rich dark compost. Ivrineth filled the pot after she placed it beneath the window box while Mélamírë applied a trowel to gently remove a few of the crowded daffodils.

“Won’t the plants wither if transplanted now?” asked Ivrineth while Mélamírë set them in the pot.

Mélamírë just smiled while she patted the soil around the daffodils in the pot and in the window box, now replenished with compost. Then she squatted down on her heels, dug her fingers into the soil of the pot, closed her eyes and began a singsong chant.

Ivrineth had never heard such a language. It did not sound like any Elvish tongue that she had ever heard. She wondered if it was a language from the far East. The glittering strings of syllables rolled from Mélamírë’s tongue, entwining like roots digging deep into the earth, like rain soaking into thirsty soil. Ivrineth had a brief vision of a green meadow filled with the waving bells of yellow and cream-colored daffodils. Mélamírë rose to her feet and repeated the ritual for the daffodils in the window box. The last of her strange words drifted away on the breeze. Then she turned to Ivrineth.

“Now water them.”

Ivrineth tilted the copper watering can’s spout over the pot on the ground, letting a gentle rain fall around the limp daffodils so newly transplanted. To her astonishment, the leaves stood up straight, and the buds blossomed into bright yellow bells before her eyes.

Mélamírë nodded toward the daffodils in the window box. “They are thirsty, too.”

As the water sprinkled over them, those flowers lifted and bloomed just as those in the earthenware pot had.

“What...what did you do?” Ivrineth gasped, marveling at the bright flowers that almost trumpeted cheer.

“Just a little magic as you might call it although I name it something else,” said Mélamírë. Ivrineth raised her brows at Mélamírë’s enigmatic remark, feeling like she had seen past a veil just for a moment and had witnessed something truly strange that the elf-woman held close.

But Mélamírë smiled warmly, dispelling the sense of otherness. “These transplants were in need of care. Just as I am.” She leaned forward and kissed Ivrineth’s cheek. “Thank you, Ivrineth. Thank you for taking care of this transplant.”
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