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Here's another collaborative effort between [livejournal.com profile] surgicalsteel and myself. This follows Birdsong below and ties into the most recent events concerning Serindë, Halbarad and friends and family on [livejournal.com profile] surgsteelfic where this fic is cross-posted. A few folks who stumble across this little backwater of mine have already read this, but I figured I'd tack it on here, too, for posterity.

Thanks a million for sharing the sandbox, Steel!



Mélamírë bent over to pick up the pile of cloth, which no longer shifted with the shades of oak, deer and hazelnut but now was a simple brown. The scents of pine and masculine musk still clung to the fabric. She shivered at that. He had been a man just before the sun rose, so recently that the robes were still warm with his body heat. Now he was a bird winging his way to the south.

As soon as she found herself envying him, the muscles of her chest and shoulders clenched, poised with the memory of slicing through high cool air with a dun landscape flowing swiftly below her. But along with that marvelous remembrance of flight came that of horrific pain. Changing had nearly killed her, and even in its most minor forms, it was always painful. Nonetheless, the memory of agony did not still her longing to soar through the sky after the wizard.

“I am a Child of Ilúvatar. I am a woman,” she whispered to herself, driving the longing for flight away. The child in her belly fluttered. “I am a mother.” She smiled, now more grounded. The child again tapped delicately at her interior. Then her stomach growled noisily. She chuckled and patted her belly. “Are you the reason I am so hungry these days?”

She draped Aiwendil’s discarded garment over her arm, walking slowly so she could think in solitude before she entered the kitchen, which would be bustling by now.

Just before she let sleep take her last night, she had tried to touch Serindë. Once again, she had been thwarted. The grey veil that obscured her friend could not be parted. Now, she thought of trying again, but this time allowing her thoughts to converge on Serindë more forcefully. In a fit of impatience and even a little anger, she wanted to make Serindë pay attention to her. Mélamírë shook off that desire. No, that would not do. She had no wish to frighten her friend. Even if it frustrated her to be unable to find Serindë’s presence, and even if it hurt her feelings that Serindë excluded her, such force would do far more harm than good. Better to let Aiwendil handle this. Better to let Serindë reach out to her when she was ready to do so.

When she entered the kitchen of Elrond’s House, breakfast preparations were in full swing. Haldanar stood the great cast iron stove -- “the Dragon” it was called, the same name given to the cantankerous stove of her childhood home. The stove that her father constructed clearly made an impression on Thornangor who had replicated it here although with significant improvements. It certainly did not smoke as much as the original. It still retained the whimsical but unsettling semblance of a dragon with a gaping mouth around the ovens, scales along its sides and a tail that became the chimney. Fortunately, this latter day version did not have the disconcerting hint of sentience that the original had.

I don't think that even Father's Dragon could intimidate Haldanar, thought Mélamírë. The House of Elrond's Master of the Kitchen barked orders to his three assistant cooks and the servants hustling to and fro, carrying trays to the dining hall where many took their breakfast. Others went off to the rooms where others preferred to dine privately, but Mélamírë sat down at her favorite spot at one of the long tables off to the side of the kitchen. She piled the robes beside her on the bench.

Haldanar saw her, gave her a curt nod, and then snapped at a servant to “Fetch the Istyanis her tea!” Mélamírë suppressed a laugh. Haldanar tried so hard playing the role of tyrant in his kitchen, but after innumerable years of working together, his staff knew him all too well: beneath the many hardened layers of that gruff carapace was a surprisingly sentimental heart.

Ivrineth entered the kitchen, bright-eyed, her dark hair neatly braided, and wearing her customary skirt and blouse, prepared for a day in the herb workshop. Haldanar shot a jaundiced glance her way but returned his attention to his tasks. No sooner had Ivrineth sat across the table from Mélamírë than one of the kitchen maids set before her a pot of rosehips tea and a plate of a few apple slices with a small cube of hard cheese. Ivrineth scrutinized the fruit and cheese and then raked her eyes over Mélamírë whose stomach growled so loudly that Ivrineth heard it.

“That won’t do at all, Istyanis. You need a proper breakfast.”

“This is meager, isn’t it? My appetite has been much better now that the queasiness has passed. I suppose I ought to tell that to Haldanar.”

Ivrineth tsk’ed. “You have that wolfish look around your face, too. I am going to make bas-gwannen for you.”

Mélamírë knew better than to protest her midwife’s intent, and for that matter, she did not wish to do so. Bas-gwannen was a comforting food and one of her favorites; she could use that now, what with her worries over Serindë. She knew Ivrineth was worried, too. In spite of her bustling about the kitchen to gather loaves of yesterday’s bread, a pitcher of milk, eggs and cinnamon, Ivrineth had that telltale pinched look around her eyes that signaled something was amiss.

Ivrineth earned a stinging word from Haldanar when they bumped elbows, which then launched the two of them into a volley of barbs lobbed back and forth between them. Mélamírë listened with amusement at insults in Quenya, Sindarin and the Common Tongue, each tinged with Ivrineth's Dol Amroth drawl and Haldanar's coastal burr acquired from his many long-years in Lindon.

In spite of his grumbling, Haldanar stepped aside to let Ivrineth grill the slices of soaked bread. By now, Mélamírë’s stomach sounded like an angry dragon, not at all sated by the small piece of cheese and the apple. Shortly, a stack of bas-gwannen slathered with butter and birch syrup was set in front of her. She tucked into her breakfast with vigor, but forced herself to slow down when she realized she was not savoring her food. Nonetheless, Ivrineth looked on with approval.

“So you like it, do you?”

“You know I do.” Mélamírë took another bite, this time focusing on the feel of the warm eggy bread with the notes of cinnamon, the rich butter and the sweet birch syrup. She finished the remainder of her breakfast with the same deliberation and poured more tea for herself and Ivrineth. After a servant had cleared their plates, Ivrineth eyed the pile of cloth at Mélamírë’s side.

“Are you going to tell me why Master Radagast’s robes are sitting beside you and he is not?”

“Ah. He departed this morning and left these behind.”

Ivrineth’s brows rose. “Left them behind?”

“The Istyar is a master of shapes. Let’s just say he is not traveling to Minas Tirith in his accustomed form.”

“Oh.” Ivrineth casually took another sip of tea, but her shudder was visible to Mélamírë. “You say he is traveling to Minas Tirith? Is this because of our mutual friend?”

“It is. I tried to reach her again last night, Ivrineth, but she has drawn a veil around herself. Frankly, I’m worried. All women despair after such a loss, but you know as well as I do -- better really -- that some women fall into a black pit from which they never emerge.”

“That is why I am worried, too. Then there’s Galdor’s talk of the Hallows.”

“Yes! That concerns me, too." Mélamírë replied, thinking back to her time in Minas Tirith after the War of the Ring. "Once, when Serindë and I walked together near the Hallows, she made an odd gesture with her hand, something I had not seen before. When I asked her why she did this, she answered with a question -- a dark and disturbing one. She asked me, 'Do you think your spirit could rest quietly if you'd burned yourself to death?'" Ivrineth's eyes widened, and Mélamírë continued. "I'm afraid I dismissed her question as superstitious nonsense. I was harsher than I should have been, but I did not wish to delve deeper into the possibilities of what she might be experiencing. Serindë already bore so many worries at that time; I did not want to add to them. But I doubt myself now. I should have been more forthright. I should have done something. But maybe Radagast can reach her.”

“Do you think it would have been wise to have approached the Hallows with your arts, all things considered?”

“Probably not.” Mélamírë smiled at Ivrineth. The midwife knew her as well as any: this woman who had listened to all her fears while she was carrying Fëaril and Culunáro, who knew the most intimate parts of her body as well or better than her husband, who had held her when she wept from the miscarriage, and who was the only mortal other than King Elessar who knew the truth of who Mélamírë was and still loved her and accepted her. Yes, she could speak openly with Ivrineth.

~*~


Ivrineth saw that look on Mélamírë’s face – the one that hinted her elvish friend was sifting through her thoughts and deciding how to word something.

“Serindë is remarkably perceptive about such things,” Mélamírë said. “From what I have seen, she senses what is not easily observed by most mortals although I do not think she likes to admit it. You said something to me once about traditions among certain women of Dol Amroth -- women from your old neighborhood -- the Old Port. Serindë mentioned that her grandmother followed these old traditions and that she had some sort of shop.”

“Serindë’s grandmama?” Ivrineth knew her eyebrows lifted. “She must’ve been talking about Saereth.” She shivered for a moment. “I remember Saereth. She was a damn scary woman – and I’m not talking scary like Serindë scares the apprentices. She… I had a cousin who tried to break into her shop once on a dare, stupid sort of thing boys do, you know? Other boys who were watching said she came out of her shop, said he should tell my grandmama that she should know better than to try’n steal secrets, said she’d set someone to watch him so he wouldn’t ever break into her shop again.” Despite the warmth of the kitchen, Ivrineth shivered again.

“What happened to him?” Mélamírë asked, setting her cup down.

“Kept looking around like someone was following him. When he thought no one was listening, he’d talk to someone no one could see, ask them to stop followin’ him, stop whisperin’ at him. Few months later? He threw himself off the bluff. When Saereth ill-wished someone, it damn well stuck. Scariest conjure-woman in Dol Amroth in a generation,” Ivrineth said.

“Yes, that was the term Serindë used: conjure-woman!” Mélamírë said. “Although she wouldn’t explain it.”

“Well, they have to do with spirits and such,” Ivrineth said. “The Old Port – it’s old, you know? Been there since before there was a ‘Dol Amroth,’ since before there was a Minas Tirith – as long as Umbar, some say.”

“Yes, the port has been there since the first half of the Second Age - around the time of Tar-Ancalimë if I recall my Númenórean history lessons correctly. It is said there was an even more ancient settlement there before that.”

“I ‘spose you would remember. Sometimes I forget about your folk’s long memories. These conjure-women… well, a city that old, you know, there’re spirits about. People who died with unfinished business, some of them – Serindë’s family had one of the more famous ghosts in Dol Amroth for the longest time, they called her the Grey Lady. She haunted the children’s bedrooms in the family home, ‘til someone figured out she’d been murdered shortly after givin’ birth, found her bones in a well, buried them properly.” She paused for a moment and took a sip of her tea. “Y’know, that happened before I was born, but I think it was Serindë’s daddy who actually found the remains. I might not be rememberin’ that right, though.”

Mélamírë’s left brow arched. “You don’t suppose Serindë communes with these spirits?”

Ivrineth shook her head, saying, “She never talked to me about it – I heard the story from Galdor. Anyway, most of the conjure-women won’t volunteer to talk about the spirits – sort of thing Saereth did, that had Prince Adrahil trying to make their shops illegal. Strange enough, it was the late Steward talked him out of it – said all he’d do was drive them underground, make it harder to figure out if they were involved in something. So they banned the ill-wishes, anyway.” She took another sip of her tea before continuing. “Handed down a whole mess of laws making it illegal to ill-wish others, to compel a spirit to do anything – which was all just plain silly, because really, how would you prove your case? Can’t, unless you can get another conjure-woman to testify, and they won’t. Some of them – most of them, really, they’re good people, stick to good-luck charms and love charms and telling fortunes. My grandmama, she’d talk to spirits if you asked her, or she’d try.” She shook her head again. “She wouldn’t send them after a person though, and she wouldn’t call them up unwilling.”

Ivrineth stopped at the look of appalled horror on Mélamírë’s face, and then said, “It’s not superstition.”

“I know,” Mélamírë said in a flat, bleak-sounding voice.

“I’m sorry, Istyanis. If you’d rather not talk about…”

“No, go on, Ivrineth. I want to hear this.”

“Saereth – they said she used to call them up unwilling,” Ivrineth said. “And whether true or not, I don’t know, but they said she could force one into the body of someone freshly dead. She died rather sudden – talk was that she’d finally called up the wrong spirit and it drove her soul clean out of her body. And they say she walks the harbor at the dark of the moon – not a sailor in Dol Amroth goes down there without a gris-gris in his pocket so Saereth won’t steal his body.”

Gris-gris That sounds like another one of those words from Far Harad.”

"Well, I don't know about where the word came from," Ivrineth said. "Serindë'd be the one to talk about where words come from. She picks up languages like whores pick up social diseases. But a gris-gris? It's a... a sort of a luck charm. The ones my grandmother made - they were usually small bags with stones or feathers or herbs or other things like that in them. I don't remember all the things she'd use or why - there were reasons behind them, though." She paused, intending to take another sip of her tea, and set the cup down, realizing it was empty. "Certainly plenty of folk from Far Harad around the Old Port, though. Most of their conjure-women, they're scary like Saereth was scary. My grandmama - she talked about the spirits more like it was just respectin' those who'd gone before, gettin' their help were they willin'. The folks from Far Harad... y'know, the sailors pray that the Lady of Mercy will restrain Lord Ossë's wrath, they'll toss offerings over the side of their ships hopin' to placate Lord Ossë. The folks from Far Harad - they're like that with the spirits of the dead."

Mélamírë lowered her voice, so much so that Ivrineth heard her less with her ears than in her thoughts. “Yes, there were – probably still are – death cults in those far lands, but that summoning of the unwilling? What Saereth practiced was necromancy, Ivrineth, perhaps the worst of the dark arts. Certainly the most dangerous. The Witch King of Angmar was skilled in this, and I needn’t say more as to who taught him how to achieve this abomination, do I?”

Ivrineth shivered again. "No. No, you don't."

Mélamírë shook her head. “It’s no wonder Serindë is so frightened if she believes a spirit haunts her. I am not altogether understanding of the nature of mortal spirits who linger within the Circles of the World, but I can tell you that some of the elvish wights are extremely dangerous. I know that all too well. It may be one of those who killed Saereth.”

Ivrineth nodded at that. "They always did say not to visit the graves in Edhellond after dark," she said. "But y'know? Graveyard dust, some of the women said that's supposed to be a powerful charm. Wonder if she'd've thought dust from an elvish grave would be more powerful still? I wouldn't've put it past that woman to go lookin' for somethin' to make her ill-wishes stronger, tangle with the wrong wight, and end up cursed to death herself. Sort of serve her right, I s'pose."

Mélamírë gave her a look that could cut steel. "I would not wish that on anyone!" Then the elf-woman softened the fire that had flared up in those intense eyes of hers. " The King told me what happened in the Hallows, that Denethor burned to death with the palantir in his hands. The seeing stones work in strange ways so it may be that Denethor's spirit is somehow fixed there. I know that Serindë ran afoul of Denethor when he was alive, is that not so?"

Ivrineth laughed. "Oh, gracious, yes, they hated one another dearly. I never heard the whole story, but they were always quarelling - she was arguing that he needed to give her better supplies, he'd tell her to be more grateful for the supplies she had - he'd argue that she didn't respect him, she'd say he hadn't earned her respect, and she respected the title, but not the person holding it. He had her thrown out of Minas Tirith, you know, charged with graverobbing..." she paused at Mélamírë's nod. "No, they had no use for one another. Quarrelled for as long as I've known Serindë. S'pose it makes sense that if he hung about, he'd continue that quarrel."

"I suppose we can take some comfort in assuming what troubles Serindë is likely mortal in origin and not elvish. I hope Radagast can help with this matter or at least guide those who can. But that's just one of my worries about her. Although I cannot speak to her from such a distance, I can -- how should I put this? I can reach out and touch her like this," Mélamírë stroked Ivrineth's hand gently with her long fingers, "so even we do not speak, we have an awareness of one another. It's reassuring to both of us. But now she has closed herself off to me. I could force myself upon her, but that would do more hard than good. You've known her for a longer time that I have. Has she done this before? Withdrawn so much from others?

"Not that I recall," Ivrineth said. "Well, not quite this much, anyway. I wasn't even an apprentice yet when her daddy died, so I don't know how she reacted to that. She was Chief Surgeon when I started my apprenticeship. Always tougher on us when she'd get back from visiting her mama and stepfather, I s'pose. You know? I don't think I saw what happened with her after the worst losses - her daddy or the other baby. Sardos, her brother, the King - they'd be the ones who've known her the best and longest. Oh, and Talagan, of course. So I don't really know for sure, but I don't think so."

"She came here after the other baby," Haldanar called from his place by the stove. "Not that Master Elrond told anyone the details - just that she was ill. Word got out, though - Tarië used to be a regular little chatterbox, and she let it slip. When Serindë wasn't invading my kitchen and deliberately insulting me, she was hiding in the library. She kept to herself, didn't really talk with anyone much, aside from her family."

~*~


"How did he hear us?" hissed the midwife.

Before Mélamírë could answer, Haldanar harumphed while he rattled a copper skillet on the stovetop. "Keen ears of the elves, don't you know?"

"If you're going to listen in, you might as well join us. That is, if you will take a moment," Mélamírë said, assuring that the inflection in her voice made it clear that he would be wise to listen to her. With nary a grumble, he handed over the skillet to an assistant and came to the table where he sat next to Ivrineth.

"You say that Serindë kept to herself for the most part?"

"Yes," replied Haldanar. "As I said, I recall seeing her alone in the library often enough. She took long walks, too. She seemed to crave solitude, and one can find that here should it be desired. Lady Arwen spent a fair amount of time with her although my impression was that Serindë did not always want her company."

"Ah. Yes, the Queen has a predilection for hovering at times when it is not always welcome." Mélamírë recalled the well-intentioned Queen visiting her so frequently after the birth of her two sons that she felt smothered until Laurefin at last had the good sense to intervene. "Do you think she recovered well here?"

"From what I could tell, yes. She gradually came out of her shell. Her children helped as did her husband. I'd like to think I did my part by arguing with her. She enjoys a good fight as much as any Noldo!" he chuckled, but then his expression took a thoughtful inward turn. "But the valley offers peace however one wishes it: in the company of others or in solitude. Mistress Serindë was given a choice here. Perhaps this is not so in that crowded city of Men?"

"Perhaps not. Almost certainly not, not with her duties," agreed Ivrineth. "Istyanis, what did you ask the wizard to do?"

"Only to help her. He'll find a way, and I am certain that at least some of it will play into his own purposes. That is how wizards are."

"Do you think that he might bring her here?"

"It would be a long journey, but I hope he does."

"Ai!" Haldanar threw up his hands. "May the Valar protect me from that woman!" He then turned toward the door from where the thunder of footsteps and childish voices could be heard, followed by the muted foot fall of an adult with a long stride. "So. Here comes the ravening horde. I'd best set the pot on for kaffea." He rose as Fëaril, Culunáro, and Rowan bounded into the kitchen, followed by Laurefin.

"What is this?" called Mélamírë. "You are as loud as gaja-ayuta."

The boys thumped their feet deliberately as they swarmed around the table. "We are a herd of oliphaunts!"

Rowan pulled himself up on the bench beside Ivrineth and stood upon it. The tiny hobbit-boy raised his arm in front of his face like a trunk. "I am the gaja-patim!"
And he roared.

"Gaja-patim! Gaja-patim!" cried the other boys, also waving their arms in front of their faces. Laurefin pushed aside Radagast's robes and sat beside her, kissing her cheek.

"Settle down, you wild oliphaunts," Mélamírë admonished. Feeling sheepish, she looked at Ivrineth. "We have been reading The Thousand Tales of Bharat in the evenings."

Ivrineth ruffled Culunáro's red hair. "Would you oliphaunts like some bas-gwannen for breakfast? My lord?"

"Yes! Yes!" answered the boys while her husband murmured drowsily, "Yes, please." Mélamírë turned her satisfied smile inward. Last night's neck rub had transformed into something more vigorous and pleasantly so; she took a little pride in her ability to tire him.

Ivrineth had almost risen from the bench but stopped midway when Haldanar called out from the stove again. "I am already preparing the bas-gwannen. Sit back down. Here!" He handed a pot to a kitchen maid. "See that Lord Glorfindel gets his kaffea. He looks to be in need of it."

Laurefin sipped the steaming black kaffea, sighing with pleasure. He then poked at Radagast's robes. "Our guest has taken flight?"

"That he has," replied Mélamírë. "He left just as the sun was rising."

"Good," said Laurefin. "I hope that he can help Serindë. Perhaps he might even bring her here." Laurefin glanced at Haldanar who nodded firmly and turned his attention back to his cooking.

"Mistress Therindë? Is Mistress Therindë coming to visit us?" Fëaril said with excitement while squirming next to Rowan.

"Therindë? Someone would be proud if he could hear that," muttered Laurefin.

Mélamírë ignored her husband's barb. "I don't know, my little gaja. Maybe she will."

Once more, while thinking how pleasant it would be to have Serindë here in the warm kitchen, insulting Haldanar and calling her boys by those absurd nicknames, Mélamírë cast her thought to her friend. A shroud remained wrapped around her, impenetrable and silent as dense fog. Mélamírë did not press, as much as she might have wanted to, but withdrew, trusting that Serindë would open herself to the reassuring touch of their friendship when she was ready.

~~~~~


AUTHOR’S NOTES:

From me:
bas-gwannen: Steel's Sindarin translation of "pain perdu" or French toast.
Bharat - the mythic equivalent of India in Middle-earth of the Pandë!verse.
gaja-ayuta - Sanskrit: ten thousand elephants
gaja-patim - Sanskrit: king of elephants

From Steel:
I stuck with gris-gris because attempts to 'elvish-ize' the term resulted in something that just plain looked silly on the page. ;)
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