Disclaimer: See preceding chapters.

Another long wait – I do apologize. I have cut and deleted so many bits and pieces of this chapter multiple times before deciding it was best just the way it was (and is again), even if it has gotten a bit long. I shall mess no longer, and am posting as is. I've proofed, but am short on sleep – so please point out any striking grammar errors.

Thanks so much to those who continue to follow my slow progress!

Responses to reviews follow the chapter.


Chapter 6

It had been a full week – a long week, a difficult week. A week of fighting the protests of a frightened elfling in order to comb hair and change bandages, a week of slowly and steadily coaxing the child to eat, a week – essentially – of watching the little one get both better and worse at the same time.

The swelling had gone down, and the bruises had begun to fade, but the elfling had gone pale and dullish at the same time. He'd figured out how to better ignore the dizziness, but had less desire to move. It was difficult to balance the child's physical needs with those other less tangible ones, and the effects of that difficulty had begun to make themselves apparent.

"Hello, elfling," Mardil strode into the child's room, finding the elfling playing idly with his fingers. At the sight of him, the little one stopped what he was doing to cover his ears, shrinking back a bit. The healer had expected a shriek or a torrent of tears, but reminded himself that this was not an irrational toddler, but a child probably old enough to begin attending training and lessons, had things been different.

"He is looking better, Aron," Mardil commented, turning to where Nimaron was watering a few plants at the windows. He took out his light, admiring the ingenious creation of the Galadhrim for a moment before glancing back to the elfling, who had decided to remove his hands from his ears in order to knot them in his blanket. "He is still a bit green though."

"Again?" Nimaron put down the glass he was using to water the plants, prepared to dart for a basin, "He has not been sick since the day before yesterday."

Mardil laughed to himself, twirling the light between his fingers a bit, "No, I meant the bruises are still a bit green, though they have faded for the most part."

"Oh," Nimaron nodded, relieved, "They are healing nicely, actually. Did you come to check his ears?"

"I would not be here otherwise," Mardil said almost under his breath, exhaling sharply. The child was somewhat more cooperative this time, Nimaron only sitting beside him and gently holding his head in place. Once or twice the elfling squeaked, reaching up with a small hand to push at Mardil's fingers.

"The left one looks as though it will heal well – it will not be perfect, but I do not think it will cause any problems," Mardil finally put the light away, patting the child's knee, "All done, elfling. The right one will take longer, but should be about the same in the end."

"So you think he will be able to hear again, once the eardrums have healed over?" Nimaron waited for an answer, any shred of hope quickly flitting away when Mardil met the question with a look of surprise.

"No," the other healer finally said, shaking his head slightly, "I doubt he will ever hear anything with either ear again. The break on the right went right through the canal, and the one on the left is sure to have disturbed everything inside." Mardil rose from his place, drawing in a deep breath before heading for the door, "I am sorry, but I told you."

After the third or fourth time, he had figured out that the big elves were not going to do anything bad when they held his head still. They poked and pressed at his ears a little, sometimes cleaning the outsides with a damp cloth or changing the bandage on his head, which they had eventually left off altogether. He was not entirely sure why they looked at his ears so often – perhaps they were trying to fix them – but whatever it was, they did not mean to hurt him, so he stopped struggling. That had been a smart thing to do. They had stopped keeping his fingers all wrapped up, and he was able to tap their hands whenever they were doing something that did happen to hurt, which usually made them stop – and as long as he could make them stop, it did not seem so scary.

When the elf in the grey tunic came in though, he had been more than a little frightened, because he was the elf who had washed his ears before. Then the lemony elf had come to sit next to him, which obviously meant that they were going to do something to his ears. The elf had only poked and played with his strange little light though, which was oddly and pleasantly warm. Then he had left, and the lemony elf had picked him up, and then…

And then – where were they going? The child glanced about as much as he could without moving his head overmuch, realizing that they were not making for the rocking chair, as they usually did, but for the doorway.

They were going outside!

Nimaron stared after Mardil for a moment, then turned to look at the elfling again. Every odd hope or gain seemed to be coupled with some new worry or, more often, the validation of an old one. It seemed impossible to gather up all the concerns over the child at once, propelling all forward together.

It was possible, however, to gather the elfling up, to carefully lift the warm little tangle of limbs into one's arms without making the child panicky or sick. This Nimaron did, no longer surprised at the way the little one struggled against another wave of dizziness before shifting into the most comfortable position, hands and face snuggled into his blanket. The healer was not quite accustomed to carrying a small child about, but it was not overly difficult. Nimaron paused to wrap an extra blanket around the elfling, then let himself outside.

He had not taken the little one outside his room before, but there seemed to be no harm in taking him for a walk through the gardens. The early afternoon air was sufficiently warm but refreshing, and the late summer flowers provided hints of color amid the vibrant greens of the lawn and leaves.

Ah, but it was good to get out of that infirmary.

Mmm – it was so nice to be outside! He had seen the trees and flowers from the window, but it was a hundred times better to be able to reach out and finger the soft bits of green leaves and velvety petals, to follow a bright butterfly with his eyes, to see beyond the first few trees to the gardens beyond, the wood studded hill where a great house sat, blurs of people walking and rooftops in the spaces between thick branches. It dawned on him that this was no little village in the woods, but a large city instead. He had heard about cities, about bakeries and dairies and blacksmiths, and market stands and paved squares with fountains and pools. Did this place have all of that? He glanced about, but realized he could not see much beyond the leafy trees and the flowery bushes that formed a fence around the gardens where he was.

It had one thing for certain, he realized, seeing a small blond head bobbing on the other side of the bushes. Other children.

Silima dragged behind her mother, contemplating the little brown sandals on her feet. The sandals were getting too small, but Nana had said that she had to wait until next summer to get new ones, even though Nessime and Ireth had the prettiest kind made of white leather with flowers stamped on them. If she had white sandals with flowers, she would wear them with her purple Lady Arwen dress. Lady Arwen's purple dress was much longer, too long for Silima to see her feet, but she must have been wearing white sandals with flowers underneath.

"Hurry, Silmë," Eithel glanced over her shoulder, watching as her daughter ground her foot into the one battered sandal, "I need to stop at the infirmary before visiting Nessime's nana."

Silima thumped along the path, twisting the skipping rope she had brought with her around her hands, "Why couldn't Ada stay home with me?"

Eithel stopped, prodding her daughter along and taking the rope for a moment in order to coil it so that Silmë wouldn't drag it behind her, "Ada is making circlets for some people, and needed to visit Tinceredir's forge in order to start them, so you have to come with me."

Silima followed along behind her mother, wondering just how long the visit to the infirmary was going to take. Visiting people's houses was usually fun, since Nana most often visited ladies who were going to have new babies in their families soon, or people with very little babies already. Feeling the babies kicking and turning inside their mothers was a treat, and sometimes she was allowed to look through baskets of tiny clothes and blankets and booties, all little enough to dress her favorite doll. The best part was the bitty baby elflings though – tiny little things wrapped in soft blankets. When Nana visited, the mothers or fathers would unwrap the babies, and Silima and her mother would count all of the little fingers and toes, pat the silky hair, and grin as the babies wiggled and kicked. Yes, visiting was usually a treat.

The infirmary, however, had to be the most boring place in the entire world. Besides the bad chair in the corner, anyway. Sure enough, if Nimaron was at his desk he usually let her take a piece of candy from the orange and yellow dish there, but lately he had not been at his desk at all. Aglariel had a collection of pretty blown glass animals on her desk, but she was not usually allowed to touch them. And Mardil had the most fascinating lights and tools and everything, but most times she did not even get a chance to look at those, since he kept most of them wrapped up. Most times she had to sit in a chair in the hallway, which was nearly as awful as sitting in the bad corner chair at home.

"Oh, look," Eithel smiled at her daughter, "Nimaron and Little One are out in the garden today. If you aren't a bother, you can stay outside and skip until I am finished inside."

Nimaron absently turned the pages in the book he had carried with him while enjoying the late summer weather. The air had taken on only the slightest chill, and bright flowers still filled the gardens. The bench under the silver pear tree had been positioned to offer a pleasant view of the small pond, trees, flowers, the birdbath moved near the window, and, further away, the infirmary's large herb garden.

The little one, it seemed, enjoyed being outside as well. He had calmed, to a certain extent, content to curl up on the bench with his blanket.

"Aron?" Eithel walked over, Silima's small hand in her own, "I have to go inside for a few minutes to check on someone. Would you mind if Silmë waited for me out here?"

"That would be fine," Nimaron nodded, then glanced over to Silima, who was looking with barely disguised interest at the child sitting next to him on the bench. The little one stared straight back at her.

"One and two, red and blue, I want sandals that are new," Silima skipped through the garden, proud of her rhyme and her ability not to get tangled up in the rope. She took a second to peer over her shoulder at the other elfling, then whipped her skipping rope over her head again, "White, white, white, nice and bright, with flowers…flowers…and they will be white."

Silima plunked herself down in the grass, far away enough to look at the elfling without getting in trouble for staring. Right after her nana had left she had said hello, but he had not even waved to her. Then she had asked if he wanted to play with her, but Nimaron had told her that he could not hear her, and that he was not feeling especially well, and then he had suggested that she skip around the garden a little.

The littler elfling reminded her very much of a baby – the way he sat all snuggled in his blanket, letting Nimaron turn the pages of the book they were looking at instead of doing it himself. She rolled over in the grass, then crawled over to sit on the ground near the bench.

"Would you like to hear the story, Silmë?" Nimaron offered, looking down at her, "We can start over."

"No," Silima shook her head, twining her skipping rope around her feet. She looked over at the other elfling, staring for a moment at the pale green stockings on his feet, "Why isn't he wearing shoes?" There had been a lot of times when she had wanted to go outside barefoot, but her mother usually said no. If she had pretty white sandals though, she would wear them everywhere. Maybe even to bed.

"We just came outside to sit," Nimaron responded, turning another page in the book.

"Is that why he's wearing his nightclothes too?" Silima asked, getting up and pushing herself onto the empty part of the bench.

"Yes," Nimaron nodded, noting that the little one had leaned forward slightly to see past him to Silima, though it was hard to tell if he was interested in the other elfling's presence or simply annoyed. He pointed at a few birds in the book's illustration, "He'll probably take a nap when we go back inside."

"I don't take naps anymore," Silima proclaimed, swinging her feet. She caught the other elfling looking at her, and addressed him, "My nana says when you're better we can play. Do you like coloring? I have lots of colors."

The elfling stopped looking at her, but Nimaron smiled, "I think that is a nice idea, Silmë." He waved to her mother as Eithel hurried out of the infirmary, then turned back to the little girl, "Next time you should bring them with you."

He had been rather surprised when the little girl had come into the garden, jumping around with her rope and playing in the grass. He would have liked very much to play in the grass too, but he was feeling rather sleepy now, and wasn't quite sure he could manage to slip off the bench and onto the ground without going dizzy and falling, and, anyway, the little girl had already skipped away again.

If he had been able to do absolutely anything he wanted, he would have snuggled into the green grass on the ground, tangled up in the star blanket to stare up at the sky. It would have been nice even to just rub his toes in the wondrously alive carpet, or to dabble them in the pond that appeared when the lemony elf settled him onto a bench.

The bench was not so awfully bad in comparison though. He shifted, dragging his blanket over his shoulder and across his face, digging his toes into the cool corner of the bench where the back and arm met the seat. From here he could see two ducks paddling on the surface of the pond, a few fat and fuzzy bumblebees grazing the bright petals of the flowers at the edge of the water. Ada had told him once that it was a surprise that bumblebees could fly with such tumbly bodies. What did bumblebees eat that made them so tumbly? Did they eat honey like honeybees? The elfling focused on one particular bee, suddenly feeling very alone. He wanted to ask the questions, and all sorts of questions about cities, this city, and where he was - but Ada was not here to answer them. And he couldn't ask them anyway.

Nimaron had relaxed once Silm's chatter ended, lazily watching two apprentices taking cuttings in the herb gardens. One of them had happened across a clump of dandelion puffs and was blowing the wind-ready seeds into the face of the other. The healer found himself laughing quietly in spite of himself, and shook his head slightly.

He glanced down at the elfling, watching the child follow a fat bumblebee as it wove its way among the heavy pink heads of a rose bush with his eyes. Abruptly the little one curled, letting out a wobbly sob.

"What is this all of a sudden?" Nimaron shifted the child onto his lap, startled when the crying only intensified. He gently checked to be sure that nothing had upset the elfling's head or ears, then rose to his feet, carrying the little one back indoors. Perhaps the trip into the gardens had been quite long enough.

"Ah, it would seem that your charge is awake, Nimaron."

Nimaron stopped on his walk back to the elfling's room, formally nodding his head, "Lord Elrond."

The master of Rivendell strode over, pausing to place a few thick packets of papers onto the vacant desk of one of the healers, "I have not been able to see you for a while. I trust everything is going well?"

"As well as it might," Nimaron responded, glad that the child had quieted down during the walk back to the infirmary. For some reason, it did not seem in the best of interests to present a sobbing elfling to the Lord of Imladris.

"Well, let's have a quick look then," Elrond gave the little one a gentle smile before probing the healing bones and searching through the strands of dark hair to check the still pink scar on the child's head. "Everything would appear to be progressing well as far as wounds go," Elrond picked up his papers again, beginning to walk down the hall at an easy pace. He glanced over his shoulder to see Nimaron carrying the elfling, noting that the stocking on the child's left foot was dangling on his toes. His own children had had a terrible habit of running out to greet him while still in their stocking feet when they were still but elflings – especially Arwen, who had never developed the urge to go stomping about in boots the way the boys had. He smiled faintly to himself, enjoying the happy memories, then looked over his shoulder again, "Eithel tells me you are looking to speak with Sarn and Beinell."

"This evening," Nimaron nodded, hoping that Lord Elrond would not press the matter.

Elrond paused at the doorway of each occupied room, sometimes only peering in, other times giving a brief greeting or answering a question. He turned, this time meeting Nimaron's stride, "He needs to be eating and sleeping regularly before he leaves. And," here he took a long glance at the elfling, "And I believe he ought to be on his feet again."

Nimaron nodded again, reaching the door to the child's room. The little one seemed to relax even further at the sight of the familiar bed and chairs, and Nimaron guessed he might even fall asleep before his head hit the pillow.

"And Nimaron," Elrond continued down the hall, headed for the exit, "He is losing a sock."

Nimaron toyed with his fork slightly, making it flick back and forth between his fingers. He remembered this fork quite well – Sarn and Beinell had never exchanged their set of dull, heavy flatware for one of the more delicate silverware sets favored by most people. The healer could recall still being fairly small, trying to finish a bowl of thick soup with a spoon that hardly fit into his mouth.

"Look, venison stew with barley – mmm," Sarn took the steaming dish from his wife, setting it down on the table. He stirred it with the ladle, lifting a bit and pouring it back into the pot, "Your favorite, Aron."

"It looks delicious," Nimaron smiled a bit uneasily, laying down his fork on the tan colored napkin next to his plate. The rich stew had ceased being his favorite meal years and years ago, but it had never seemed to occur to his foster parents that he might have lost his taste for it. Still, it was nice of them to serve something they were quite sure he would enjoy.

"I put carrots in, special for you," Beinell seated herself at the table, unfolding her napkin and laying it over her knees. Of all the children she and her husband had helped to raise, she felt least connected to Nimaron. It had been rather a surprise when he had dropped by, asking if he might arrange a meeting with them. The lady unwrapped a towel from around a still warm loaf of bread, watching as the younger elf accepted a bowl of stew from Sarn, "So, Nimaron, what have you been doing lately?"

"He has been tending to that little lost elfling," Sarn answered for him, smiling proudly before turning to the healer, "Have you heard anything of his parents?"

"No," Nimaron answered shortly, pausing to skim his spoon through the meat and vegetables in his bowl. He reminded himself again that Sarn and Beinell were good people, patient people, people who had raised several children, then addressed them, "That was what I hoped to speak with you about, actually."

The was a brief gap of silence as Sarn and Beinell glanced at each other, the lady quietly taking a brown and yellow bowl from her husband. Sarn finally responded, carefully, "You mean to ask us if we would keep the child, in the case that his parents are not found."

"If you would consider it," Nimaron slid his knife into the butter dish, ignoring the protesting thoughts in his head, then reached for the slice of bread on the side of his plate, "It will be at least another week before he can leave the infirmary, at the very least I imagine."

"How is the elfling, Nimaron?" Beinell steered the conversation in a slightly different direction, "We hear things, of course, but it is difficult to know what is really true."

Nimaron swallowed a bite of bread, deciding that it would not hurt to add some jam to his slice, "Well, what have you heard?"

Another look was exchanged between the couple at the table, and Beinell dabbed her fingertips on the edge of her napkin, "We have been told that he cannot speak or hear, that he needs assistance in most of his daily tasks. That is a lot to ask, Aron."

"He has been quite unwell," Nimaron offered as a way of explanation, remembering to scrape the excess jam on his knife back into the small, sticky jar, "I would not expect you to take him in until he is doing better, and even then I will have to work with him quite often, until we arrange some sort of routine…and basis of communication…I am sure there is…something." He felt himself trail off as he realized that settling the child was going to be a very long process. "He really will need a good place to stay."

Sarn stirred his spoon around in his stew, drawing in a deep breath, "We will discuss it, and then we will let you know."

Author's Notes

Pessimist Mardil speaks true – such breaks do not offer much hope for hearing later on. A break through the ear canal will most definitely destroy the inner ear, and one nearby would most likely disrupt the small bones in the ear that carry vibrations necessary for hearing. Currently, doctors and surgeons can completely replace those bones, but I highly doubt elves in the Third Age would have those capabilities.

Responses to Reviews

farflung: g Don't worry! I do plan to finish all of my stories someday, though it is taking a verrry long time. Hopefully with summer break I'll speed up a bit.

Wiping off Eithel's kiss was a definite Little One action – that elfling is quite the bad-tempered little muse sometimes!

I've spent time with two deaf/HOH children, and learning to communicate is more difficult than some people imagine – esp. when neither person knows much sign/ASL.

And I just loved shadow theater when I was small! There was one man on Sesame Street who could do an elephant – I still remember just being awed!

Dragon-of-the-North: It's been so long that I cannot remember what I commented on before…I'll have to start updating faster!

Mardil, Mardil – he really is sort of stuck in this situation, and is not especially happy with it. Though he feels sorry for the poor little elfling, and will provide the necessary care, he still has his own beliefs about what should have been done. As to his later thoughts…we will see.

No, I suppose Nimaron was not an overly happy child – though I think Sarn and Beinell genuinely tried. I don't think Nimaron was the sort of child to be reassured and settled in with trips swimming and sledding or new skates or even snuggles – even he can be difficult.

Tell dear Alagant I was sorry to make him sniffle – I will attempt to be nicer in the future!

Dragon Confused: When I first heard of the vinegar rinse I sort of shuddered, but I suppose it's practical (Little One, having now adjusted to it, just says it stinks – literally).

Little One is very good at being grumpy…and bad-tempered in general. It makes him an especially difficult muse sometimes. And the "drop-the-mood-to-cling" response is not uncommon – he is the sort you have to pry off finger by tiny curled finger.

And I'm glad you think you may like Aglariel – she does have good ideas, but I think she's afraid of using them sometimes.

daw the minstrel: Luckily, I think the rinse bit was the most frightening thing I'm going to have to write for this story – I don't like to put my characters through much more than what's necessary to story lines.

The elfling muse, of course, glared at me for a good while, and rubbed each sympathetic review in my face. g

Lutris: I'll try to add a little more about Nim's past every here and there – compared to many OCs it was fairly uneventful. If I don't add much and you're still curious, let me know – I've got a working summary!

sqrt(-1): I'm glad you found the story too – and hope you were able to find my (late) update! I will admit to being verrry slow.

I've meddled with canon characters and find that I enjoy working with OCs even better, since I don't have to worry about restoring them to canon form eventually. And Elrond has returned – like any good, but extremely busy, ruler/loremaster/head healer he'll be popping in every now and again.

AntigoneQ: Glad to hear you've enjoyed the story so far – I've finally "continued". It takes awhile for me. g