Disclaimer: Any recognizable characters, places, events, or concepts belong to the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate.
This is a story based around original characters—though canon characters may be mentioned, they are not main characters. You may or may not recognize Nimaron.
You may thank Dragon-of-the-North for asking questions and prodding me into posting this; if she had not, it would probably never appear here. *g* She has written some intriguing stories, all of which will probably make you question your viewpoints (within Tolkien's world and without) at least once or twice. They are well worth the read.
Questions and comments are welcome. You shall all have to let me know if I am capable of writing angst or not.
The Elfling rushed into the little house, tugging at the small sleeved cloak that hung on a high peg near the door. He hurriedly shoved his arms into it, not bothering to pull the soft grey hood over his dark hair.
Outside his father caught him, tipping the laughing child upside-down and passing him to his bright-eyed mother. The small one quieted as she smoothed his hair behind tiny pointed ears, kissing the warm forehead as she bounced him slightly on her knees.
"What do they do there?" the little one asked, tracing a finger along the ridge of his mother's nose.
His mother pulled the little hood up, tucking more stray strands of dark hair inside it, "They sing, all day and deep into the night."
"Every night," his mother kissed him again, looking at the shining little face, the grey eyes sparkling at the thought, "A song is in your heart, my little one, and perhaps there you shall learn to sing it."
The skies over Imladris were pooled with brilliant yellows and pinks blending into a soft blue as the sun made her early morning journey. Already the stones of the main city's streets were growing warm, and the flowers in the public gardens turned sleepy heads towards this first welcome light, slowly opening their petals as a tired child might open his eyes.
Early risers had thrown open the shutters that protected most windows, raising panes of glass to allow the fresh air into bedrooms supplied with pitchers of warm wash water and dining rooms with freshly wrapped silverware. In a large bakery near the middle of the city fresh loaves of bread were being swiftly wrapped in white towels, their warmth preserved for breakfasts of toast and jam. Jars of fresh milk from the dairies, the cream settling on the surface in a thick layer, were deposited near doors and nestled into convenient window boxes, and the smell of freshly made applesauce and nearly burning sausages came from the kitchen doorway of a boarding house.
A young mother still in her nightclothes carried her infant outside, rocking the fussing baby in an arm as she sleepily pulled a clean diaper from the line that ran across a small yard before returning to the house. Not far away in the stables a few Elves were busily pouring feed into boxes and making sure the horses' water was fresh. Up and around the road the House of Elrond was quietly busy, servants arranging freshly cut flowers in vases and making sure that the house was in perfect order for their lord's return later that day.
It was picturesque, perfect this morning.
Save in the infirmary.
He did not like this. He had never in all his years as a healer liked this.
This was the gnawing anxiety that filled him as he ran from his own house to the infirmary nearby, intensifying with every step closer to the building. They did not tell him as an apprentice that the feeling would not change over time, that he would always be shot through with worry when someone rushed breathlessly into his home or the library or the dining hall, saying that he was needed.
What would he see? Why, exactly, did they need him? What actions would he take, would he need to take? And—worst and most fearful of all—would he be too late?
He pushed open a door to the infirmary, instinctively striding down the noisiest hall. In the corridor a tired-looking Elf maiden sat on a hastily drawn chair, a thick book on her lap, making notes while she spoke with two members of the Imladris Guard. One of these looked markedly dazed while the other repeatedly glanced over his shoulder to the door slightly behind him. It was this door that the rushing healer chose to enter.
"I came as soon as I heard," he offered, making note of the people in the room as they looked up, "Why exactly is Aglariel with…oh, Valar…what happened?!"
"We do not really know, Nimaron. The Guards brought him in only a few minutes ago," one of the healers already present in the room stepped aside as Nimaron strode to the table where their patient was laid out. She stared for a moment at the small body, then raised pained eyes to the dark-haired healer, "It cannot have been an accident…but who would do such a thing? And why? Why?"
"I…I've no idea, Eithel," Nimaron managed to choke out, numbly pulling over a high stool to sit on, "Where is…where is Lord Elrond?"
"He is not yet back from Lorien," Eithel responded, wetting a cloth in a bowl of water.
Of all times for the master healer and ruler of Imladris to be gone, it would be a time when something like this happened. Things like this were not supposed to happen, least of all to children.
Nimaron had known it would be a child. It was always a child when they called him in, for not everyone would remember the vital differences between a smaller body and that of an adult, of the odd peculiarities of a little person's hands or head or heart. Yes, it was always a child, or someone nearly a child, and this was no exception.
He had also gathered that the initial sight would not be a pleasant one, for the healing assistants or apprentices sent to find him always seemed distinctly unnerved when fingers had been nearly severed or a limb twisted in an unusual way. He had, however, not expected something like this.
Carefully he slid a hand under the small head, tilting it slowly from side to side. Purplish bruises were beginning to spread over the pale skin, visible under the unconscious child's dark hair and stretching to cover the sides of his face. The healer's gentle fingers hesitated in palpating for areas of unusual pressure, the signs of painful swelling already quite visible.
"There is a bleed," Nimaron managed, carefully pressing his fingers above the child's right ear. The healer closed his eyes, focusing on the condition of the child's head, "Yes, a steady bleed on the right side, above the ear…and the skull bones are broken on both sides, though it is hard to tell exactly where with all the swelling. Find a surgeon—quickly!"
Hathel of the Imladris Guard watched as one of Elrond's many healers, a drained-looking blonde lady, rushed out of the room behind his chair, his mind more on whatever was happening in there instead of the questions Aglariel was asking. Next to him Luinen gripped a mug of tea in trembling hands, obviously anxious to go home and down something that would calm his nerves a bit faster.
He knew that inside that room were several of Imladris' most qualified healers and one very small and injured Elfling. The soldier cared little for the healers at this moment, save for the work they were doing, and instead dwelled on the tiny person he had delivered into their care only ten or so minutes ago. It had been a panicked rush into the city, trying not to jar the unconscious form as he and the small group training with him skidded down the path, their daily sunrise run cut short. Hathel drew in a long breath, looking at the tired Elf maiden sitting across from him, "Is he going to be all right?"
"I…I cannot say," she responded, meeting Elf's concerned green eyes for a moment before returning to the paper before her. She pushed a wayward strand of brown hair behind an ear, running a finger under her notes, "This is important though, Hathel. You say you found him right on the path?"
"It is just as I said, Aglariel. We were running, as we do every morning, and two, two and a half leagues…" Hathel faltered as the blonde lady returned with a tall Elf that he recognized as one of Rivendell's surgeons, both of them talking hurriedly as they entered the treatment room. Something must be very wrong if they were bringing in a surgeon. The soldier felt one of Aglariel's thin hands on his arm, holding him in his place as he tried to rise from his chair, "…I'm sorry…two leagues out of city we found him. I could mark it on a map for you. Seregon and a few others stayed to search the area."
Aglariel nodded, marking up her paper with small notes. Hathel's concern for the injured child had not given way to rage at whoever had inflicted such harm yet, though she knew it would be coming soon. Very little of the information he was giving her made any sense, for why would someone attack a small child only to leave him where he would most certainly be found? She peered up at the soldier again, giving the silent Luinen a short moment of consideration before continuing, "What did he look like when you found him, Hathel?"
"Look like?" Hathel repeated the question, trying to remember, "We knew he was hurt…we actually thought he was…dead. His looked awful…" The images and sounds of the early morning were still fresh in his mind: the hesitant note in Luinen's alerting voice, the pale, dirtied green of the child's tunic, the first look at the bruised little face, the rusty color of blood from the tiny pointed ears. The little one had to have seen no more than ten or eleven summers. The soldier's thoughts drifted to his own small daughter at home, probably still lying tangled in the sheets of her tiny bed. Where were this child's parents? How would they feel, what would they do if they knew what had happened? Hathel gripped the arms of his chair, his eyes drifting again to the room behind him, "Do you think he will be all right?"
"As I said, I cannot say," Aglariel glanced to the door, "They are trying…"
"…not doing it!" The surgeon suddenly strode out of the door, one of his fellows following him quickly. The two traveled to the far end of the hall, their voices too low for Hathel to hear.
"It is only one hole, Mardil," Nimaron stared at the other healer.
"The hole that would save the child's Valar-forsaken life, Aron!" Mardil exclaimed, then sobered. He ran a hand over his tired face, glancing up with serious brown eyes at the other healer, "Much as I would wish it, he will not heal wholly and fine, Nimaron. Breaks like that…they can crush nerves, the ear canals. More likely than not he will not be able to hear or speak or even smile, Aron. Who can say if his brain has not been rocked back and forth in his skull—we have no knowledge of how many times the child was hit—he might not even know himself. It is not fair to make him endure all of that while he could pass peacefully into company with his family now."
"You do not know that though," Nimaron reasoned, glancing back towards the door, "His family might be alive. The breaks may have missed the nerves and ears."
"I am not doing it, Aron," Mardil repeated firmly, laying a hand on the other healer's arm for a moment before turning to go, "If it were me, I would not want you to save me, and I know many of like mind. Sometimes it is better to let them go; sometimes it is not fair to save them."
Nimaron stared after the departing surgeon for a moment, Mardil's words still sinking into his mind. He had never doubted that they would save the child's life; that was what healers did, it was what healers were for.
But if he saved this child's life, the odds favored the fact that he would be saving a child who would not hear, would not smile, would never see a member of his own family again. What sort of life did that leave him? The overwhelming reality was fast overtaking the thin sliver of hope that things would eventually turn out fine.
"Hurry, Aron! We have only got a moment or two before the pressure begins cause real damage. You are going to have to do it yourself," Eithel leaned out the doorway, hurrying over to the other healer and guiding him back into the treatment room.
If only Lord Elrond were present to make one of his wise choices. If only the child's parents were present to decide what to do! Nimaron resumed his place near the Elfling's head, allowing himself to look carefully at the small face as he checked the bleed again. The pressure had increased in the last few minutes, and within the hour it would take his life. The decision had to be made now, this moment. The healer closed his eyes, still struggling between his personal beliefs and what might truly be fair and right. Was there even a right choice in this situation, and if there was, how was he to know what it was? Who was he to decide a fate, to choose whether someone was allowed to live or to die? If only someone else were here to choose…if only the Valar would verify that they truly had allowed the child's fate to pass solely to the hands of Mandos or not…if they would only speak, give a sign…anything.
"Aron," the voice of another healer caught his attention, and he opened his eyes to see Eithel holding a clean pair of thin scissors, "Is that where you plan to drill?"
Nimaron glanced down, seeing that he had unconsciously measured out the spot above the child's ear with his fingers. It seemed the closest thing to a sign as the Valar might give. He probed carefully to be sure of the place, nodding numbly, "Yes; yes it is."
I am aware that the medical information in this first chapter may be a little hard to understand, since Nimaron and the other healers never explicitly say what has happened. When Nimaron says that the skull bones on both sides of the child's head are broken, he is talking about the temporal bones. If you place a hand over your own ear, the area it covers is roughly one of these bones. As Mardil points out later, a break in a temporal bone may cause deafness and facial paralysis on its side. These effects are usually permanent.
When Nimaron mentions that there is a "bleed", he means a bleed between the skull and the brain. This sort of bleeding is a possibility with skull fractures and concussions. In some cases a bleed will stop before it causes brain damage, in others it does not and has to be removed/drained.
When "drilling" is mentioned, it is exactly what you probably think it is—they are talking about drilling a hole into the child's head to relieve the bleeding. This procedure, which has been used for various reasons throughout history, is still occasionally used for such bleeds today (though the equipment used is different). It can be performed cleanly, minimally, and successfully.
Hathel mentions that the child looked about ten or eleven (in "Elf years")—this might be somewhere between four and five.
The Valar may be likened to "higher powers". Mandos is generally recognized as the Vala of the dead.
I know this first chapter might have been confusing—things do run more smoothly in the next, as the adrenaline rushes will have worn off by then.