Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of J. R. R. Tolkien, nor any of the various dramatic incarnations thereof. No profit is being made from this work.
Welcome to the story! Before I begin my introduction to this tale, I feel that I should share something about my writing in general. All of the serious works that I have written take place in the same conception of Middle Earth. They are all stand-alone pieces; as of this moment I have written no sequels to any of my stories. But if you see a name that you think you remember from an earlier story, you're right. It probably is either that same character returning or a direct reference to an earlier character.
On to this story in particular. J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of far-reaching imagination, and there are times when that imagination overran itself slightly, leaving intriguing holes to explore. One of these is his account of the marriages between Elves and Men and the shared ancestry of Aragorn and Arwen. Elves and Men seem to be similar but separate animals, and it is quite rare in nature that separate species will mate. Horses and donkeys have been crossbred by humans, and are similar enough genetically to produce offspring. In nearly all cases, these offspring are sterile; in all of history, only two molly mules have ever been known to have foals.
As far as we know, all male cross-species hybrids are sterile, as are the overwhelming majority of females. By this logic, neither Aragorn nor Arwen should exist at all, as they are both descendants of a long line of Elf-Man hybrids. But they do exist, and therefore it would seem that this particular law of biology has been set aside. It does not seem to have been set aside lightly, though; Tolkien records only a handful of marriages between Elves and Men, none of which produced exceptionally large families. I imagine that conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to such children was an extremely difficult and dangerous prospect. This story proposes, in a non-scientific way, to explore some of those dangers as well as some other obstacles specific to the characters.
The story is set about ten years after the War of the Ring. The PG-13 rating is meant seriously. There is no excessive violence or sex (other than that implied by the topic of the story), but it does feature adult characters in adult situations which may be somewhat intense at times. Enjoy it, and I will meet you at the end.
1. A Springtime Passion
The small crowd of nobles outside the Archives of the White Tower stirred with impatience. The King and Queen should have arrived half an hour ago for the grand opening. The ceremony had been planned for several weeks, and the Queen herself was to unlock the door and escort the Archivist into his renewed domain.
By order of the King, the Archives had been completely restored and remodeled. The past nine months had been a flurry of activity in this dusty, quiet corner of the Citadel. Ancient, crumbling manuscripts had been unearthed and brought into daylight for the first time in centuries. A contingent of Elves had arrived in a long caravan and had disappeared into the bowels of the Tower. It was said that they were restoring the manuscripts to usefulness, although some of the city's notables were less than pleased at the idea. They found the Elves uncanny and were not quite comfortable with revealing so much of their history and past doings to outsiders. The King had merely raised an eyebrow at this objection and had pointed out that not only did the Elves already know much of the history of Gondor, they were not especially interested in it. The nobles had been quiet on the subject since then, trying to decide if they should be insulted by this or not.
They had soon been distracted from the question by the gutting and reconstruction of the Archive suite itself. Teams of workmen tore out the rotting shelves and disintegrating baskets. They removed the furniture, repairing and polishing the usable pieces and burning the ones too dilapidated to repair. When the suite had been stripped as bare as the day it had been built, the workmen went through and scrubbed it thoroughly, washing away decades of dust and grime and not a few well-established spider colonies. Artisans skilled in the use of metal and glass arrived to construct new shelves. Joiners replaced the burned furniture with sturdy new desks and lecterns. The place had been in a constant hum of activity.
And now it was finished. Old Halandir the Archivist practically danced from foot to foot, desperately wanting to see what had been done to his realm. He was slightly embarrassed that he himself had not thought to restore the Archives at any point during his tenure. Change in the Citadel during the reign of the Stewards had come slowly and unwillingly, and much had fallen into disrepair. The ancient excuse had always been that change would happen by order of the King, if and when he returned. Over the decades, stagnation had become a habit, so ingrained that, when the King did in fact return and give orders for restoration, Halandir had been stunned into complete silence for a full half hour. In the intervening months, his shock had turned to acceptance, and from there to a burning curiosity.
Finally, just when it seemed that the assembled lords could wait no longer before they burst, a young page descended the steps. He straightened his livery and blew a short blast on his horn.
"My Lord, the King, Aragorn Elessar Telcontar!" he announced.
As one, the lords bowed deeply. When they rose, the King stood before them alone. He seemed somewhat preoccupied, but smiled warmly at them. "Gentlemen, my apologies for my tardiness," he said. "Regrettably, the Queen will be unable to attend the opening of the Archives. She is indisposed. I am afraid, Halandir, that instead of the lovely Queen Arwen Undómiel to escort you into your realm, you will have to make do with me."
"My Lord, the honor is as great," Halandir said quickly.
The King smiled and moved to stand before the new door of stout oak bound with bright strips of brass. He motioned the page to stand beside him and turned to the assembly.
"Lords of Gondor," he began. "We have embarked upon the Fourth Age of the World, an era of rebirth and renewal and freedom from the tyranny of the Dark Lord Sauron. Brave were the deeds that led to his overthrow, yet they did not spring whole from the air. Before there are deeds, there must be a decision, and before the decision must come study. The information that set the Ringbearer upon his path, the identification of a small gold ring as the Master Ring that was evil, came from this Archive, for it was here that Gandalf read Isildur's account of the Last Alliance and the claiming of the One Ring. This Archive has performed great service, and it is not fitting that such a treasure be left to rot while the deeds of Men are celebrated. Therefore, let the renewal launched in this Archive come to rest upon it, and may our history be reborn into our future!"
He extended his hand to the page, who produced a bright brass key from a pouch at his belt. The King took the key and slowly unlocked the door. At his touch, the door swung silently inward on its hinges. The King beckoned to the Archivist and stood at the doorway to usher him formally into his domain. Halandir stepped forward, across the threshold, and stopped dead in his tracks, gazing open-mouthed in delight.
"My word!" he exclaimed, looking all around him. Where once there had been sagging, half-rotten wooden shelves filled with moldering scrolls, books and errant sheets of parchment piled haphazardly on and around them, there were now smooth, strong steel shelves. The writings, lovingly restored to clarity and suppleness, were arranged neatly on the shelves and protected by cupboard doors of wood and glass. The naked, dripping candles had been replaced by oil lamps with protective glass globes, and the tables, chairs and lecterns gleamed softly in their light. Halandir looked up, and there was the crowning glory. A small window set close to the ceiling had been uncovered and re-glazed so that a beam of bright sunlight fell on the antique oak reading table in the center of the room.
Halandir was entranced as he walked through the bright, clean Archive. He barely noticed the rest of the nobility of Gondor filing in after him, murmuring in awe at the transformation. For many minutes they explored the suite, lifting the glass doors to touch the scrolls and books and marvel at their softness. Through all this, the King stood at the door, smiling the contented smile of one who has just given a wonderful toy to a small child. When Halandir could speak again, he made his way over to the King and knelt at his feet.
"My Lord," he said, "I have not words fitting enough to thank you for this gift that you have given to your land."
"Rise, Halandir," the King said. "Your thanks will be in the use of the Archive and the spreading of lore and knowledge around the Citadel."
"I will do so, my Lord," Halandir promised earnestly. "My Lord?"
"Forgive my boldness, but the Queen . . . you had said she is indisposed. Surely my Lady is not ill?"
The King raised an eyebrow at him. "She is."
"Oh, my Lord!" Halandir gasped. "How can that be? I have read of the Fair Folk that neither age nor illness can touch them."
"It is a mystery to me," the King admitted. "But she has indeed been ill these past four days."
"If it please my Lord," Halandir said, "I would ask to convey my wishes for a speedy recovery to my Lady. For all the beauty of these Archives will be dimmed until my Lady may grace them with her presence."
The King smiled at him. "Your speech is fair," he said. "I will be sure to convey your wishes to the Queen personally. Such devotion should not go unrewarded."
"Thank you, my Lord." Halandir bowed deeply and resumed his exploration of the Archives.
At the earliest possible moment, Aragorn made polite excuses and left the Archives. He strode purposefully through the winding corridors of the Citadel until he reached the closed door to the royal suite. The guard on duty gave a formal half-bow as Aragorn knocked discreetly on the door.
After a moment, a muffled voice called, "Who knocks?"
"It is I, your husband, my Lady."
Another pause. "Please come in."
Aragorn entered the suite as quietly as he could. Arwen was sitting up in the window seat, wrapped in quilts. She was much paler than usual and seemed exhausted. Aragorn crossed the room to kneel beside her. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"I am so very tired, Estel," Arwen said. "One of my ladies brought me some bread this morning, and I was quite sick then. Now I am hungry, but I dare not call for dinner lest I be sick again."
Aragorn frowned. He did not like the idea of Arwen being ill; such misfortune, he felt, should not happen to any of Elven kind, whether they had chosen mortality or no. He put an arm around her shoulders. "Can you walk?" he asked. "Only as far as the terrace. Perhaps the sunshine might do you good."
Arwen nodded, and Aragorn helped her to her feet. With an arm around her waist to support her, he led her out onto their private terrace overlooking a small flower garden. Pots of honeysuckle and roses sat in the corners of the terrace, perfuming the air by day and by night. Arwen breathed in the flowers' scent happily.
"It smells so sweet out here," she said. "Has someone added more flowerpots?"
"It is the same as it has ever been," Aragorn answered.
"Then perhaps one of the plants has died and is rotting," Arwen said. "The air is so very sweet . . . " and she suddenly went limp in his arms.
Terrified, Aragorn carried Arwen back inside and laid her on the great bed. He threw open the door with a bang, startling the guard. "Call a healer, now!" Aragorn ordered. "The Queen has fainted." The guard ran off without a word.
Aragorn charged back into the royal suite and threw every window wide open. He moistened a handkerchief from the pitcher on the washstand and dabbed at Arwen's temples and wrists. After a moment, her eyelids fluttered, and then she looked at him in confusion. Aragorn mustered a small, brave smile for his lady.
"Perhaps the exertion of walking was too much for you after all," he said. "There is no cause for alarm; you merely fainted, and I have summoned a healer to examine you fully."
Arwen looked worried. "Can it be that the Doom of Men is upon me so soon?" she asked.
"I should hope not," Aragorn answered. "More than likely, you will be restored to your usual grace within a week. Then you can go and visit the Archives. Halandir asked after you today and begged to be remembered to you."
"He is a kind man," Arwen said. "I will certainly pay him a visit when I am well again. Oh, Estel, do you think --"
Her question was cut off by the sound of the door opening. Old Ioreth, the venerable matriarch of the Houses of Healing, walked into the room. She dropped a short curtsey to the King and then shooed him away from the bed.
"Meaning no disrespect, my Lord must move aside," she said. "I must have some space to see to my Lady." Aragorn recognized the aura of command every bit as powerful as the Captain of the Guards and obediently retreated to the window seat. Ioreth looked into Arwen's eyes and throat, measured her pulse and felt the temperature of her cheeks. She asked Arwen several questions in a voice too low for Aragorn to hear, then turned to him.
"I must respectfully ask my Lord to leave this room," she said. "I must examine my Lady more closely, and I would have no man in the room." Aragorn nodded to her and walked out into the corridor, politely closing the door behind him.
The guard at the door came to stiff attention. Aragorn acknowledged him distractedly, at a loss for something to do. He was not accustomed to being left out of important councils, and with each passing moment, his imagination supplied ever more gruesome scenarios. Perhaps Arwen had succumbed to the lure of the sea and would slowly fade away, denied the sanctuary of the Undying Lands by her marriage to him. Perhaps she was dying quickly of a fever or slowly of a wasting disease. In his mind's eye, Aragorn could already see Arwen laid to rest, cold and still, the Evenstar forever darkened. He paced up and down the corridor, wishing that he had his pipe and a pouch of pipeweed with him. Smoke would calm his nerves, but his supplies were in his quarters.
Aragorn's gaze fell on a tapestry hanging on the wall. Of indeterminate age, it depicted a high-born lady and her handmaidens riding merrily through a field. He found himself studying the embroidery intensely, wondering what small, deft hand had wrought such fine stitches. Had someone waited for that lady as she lay ill in her bed? What had become of her? Aragorn shook his head to clear it of such gloomy thoughts. It would do no good to worry now; the news would come eventually, for good or ill, and there was nothing he could do to hurry it along.
Just as Aragorn was sure he was about to force his way into his suite and demand an answer, the door opened, and Ioreth, her eyes sparkling, beckoned him inside. Arwen was sitting up, still pale and wan, but smiling tentatively. Ioreth beamed broadly. Aragorn relaxed a little.
"I trust the Queen is not on death's doorstep after all, Mistress Ioreth?" he hazarded.
Ioreth snorted with laughter, then caught herself and curtseyed. "My Lord," she said. "Saving your reverence, but both my Lord and my Lady have worried much over a very little matter. Why, if my Lady had thought to call me at once when she first felt ill, I could have seen this much earlier, and so much of my Lady's worry might have been prevented. At death's door! Hardly! Why --"
Aragorn sighed pointedly. Upon first meeting her, he had thought that Ioreth must either be very stupid or very intelligent, as she could never keep her rambling conversation on track. The more he got to know her, the more he decided that she must be intelligent. This determination did not make listening to her any easier, however. "Mistress Ioreth," he said, in his most commanding tones. "For the love of your country, please tell me what ails the Queen, before your King shatters from not knowing."
"Oh, did I not mention it to my Lord?" Ioreth had the grace to look apologetic. "It is a cause for much joy. My Lady the Queen is to be a mother this winter."
Time stopped for Aragorn. He stood and stared foolishly at Arwen as his world reoriented itself. Arwen was not deathly ill; there would be no funeral. Instead there would be --
"A baby?" he asked.
"The expected result of pregnancy, my Lord," Ioreth assured him.
"When?" Aragorn asked.
Ioreth and Arwen traded a look. Ioreth glanced at the floor before answering. "I cannot say precisely, my Lord," she said. "Many a mother have I attended during confinement, but all were daughters of Men. Begging my Lord's pardon, my Lady is not of a kind that I know. I have little experience in the ways of Elves in matters of childbearing."
"That is easily remedied," Aragorn said. "Surely, there must be records on the subject in the Archives. Halandir would be glad to help you. And if there is nothing there, why, we have only to send word to Ithilien and summon an Elvish healer to attend the Queen."
"It is not so simple as that," Arwen said softly. "In my veins runs the blood of both Elves and Men, and I look to both kindreds in matters of the body."
"And my Lord is a son of Men," Ioreth added, "which is an added complication. So much of this match is strange to me. I dare not predict any more exactly than I have already done. The child will most likely come this winter. More I cannot say."
Aragorn smiled. "I suppose we will have some warning ere the event is at hand," he said. "In the meantime, I will assemble the criers and have them announce this most joyous news to the people of Gondor."
He was brought up short by the twin looks of horror directed at him by both Arwen and Ioreth. "What? Should the people not know of the impending arrival of an heir to the throne?"
"Please, say nothing yet!" Arwen begged.
"My Lord must understand," Ioreth explained, "it is an ill omen to trumpet such news until the mother has carried her child three months at the least. My Lady has only been with child two months. I respectfully urge my Lord to wait another month before spreading the news."
"I have never heard of such a custom," Aragorn said, baffled.
Ioreth curtseyed deeply. "My Lord has spent his life in the company of men," she said. "Perhaps the rites and rituals of women concerning the bearing of children are strange to my Lord. But I would ask that these rites be observed with the same respect given to the rituals of men before battle."
Aragorn nodded once. "Very well," he said. "I will honor this custom. One month from today, I will announce the child to the people of Minas Tirith."
"Thank you," Arwen said gratefully.
"It is well said, my Lord," Ioreth added. "Now, does my Lord or my Lady wish to ask any more questions at present?"
"None at the moment, Mistress Ioreth," Arwen said. "However, there is one request I would make."
"Make it, my Lady,"
"Mistress Ioreth, will you attend me through the months of my confinement? I will confess to a certain unease concerning the bearing of children, and I would wish for no better attendant by my side."
Ioreth smiled. "I would be honored to be your attendant and midwife, my Lady," she said with a curtsey. "Yet, if I may counter with a request of my own, I would request that a midwife of the Fair Folk, should one exist, be brought to Minas Tirith. If I am to attend my Lady in matters of childbirth, I would learn all that such a midwife could teach concerning birth among the Elves."
"It will be so," Aragorn agreed. "I shall send a message to Ithilien tomorrow. I trust this will not violate the custom of three months' secrecy?"
"In such an instance, a message is allowed," Arwen said, smiling.
"Then it is agreed," Aragorn replied. "A message tomorrow."
"If there is nothing else to discuss," Ioreth said, "I will return to the Houses of Healing, for there is much yet left undone."
"Go then," Aragorn said. "Your warm heart and gentle hands are much appreciated."
"Thank you, my Lord. My Lady." Ioreth dropped a final curtsey and left the royal suite.
Aragorn sat on the bed next to Arwen and took her in his arms. "A baby," he said softly. "An heir to the throne of Gondor. We begin to be a proper little family."
In his arms, Arwen smiled, but her eyes were troubled.