"It is as I feared," Doronrîn said grimly. "This child of Man is too large to be birthed by an Elf."
"What is to be done?" Éowyn asked, wiping at Arwen's hot face with a cool cloth. Doronrîn thought for a moment, her eyes flickering back to the pillow. Ioreth frowned.
"I know what you're thinking, Lady Doronrîn," she said sharply, "and I will not give in to that despair yet."
"Something must be done," Doronrîn countered. "Either the Queen must be larger, or the babe must be smaller. It is conceivable that we could break the child's shoulder, and thereby make it small enough to be born."
"I no longer have the strength in my hands for such a task," Ioreth said. Another contraction rippled through Arwen's body. Ioreth raised her eyebrows. "Perhaps my strength will not be needed. Perhaps the child's shoulder will break on its own from the pressure."
Doronrîn turned to Arwen and took the Queen's face between her hands. "Arwen Undómiel, listen to me," she said. "You and your babe are in grave danger. We will do all that we can to save you both, but you must hearken to my words now. I must ask a supreme effort of you. With the next contraction, you must cease your pushing."
Arwen stared at the midwife in shock. "Cease pushing? Will my child never be born at all?"
"I do not know," Doronrîn said. "We will make every effort, but the child is trapped and pushing now will not help you."
"Already my Lady has labored near the point of exhaustion in the mothers of Men," Ioreth added. "My Lady has a store of strength greater than I have ever seen, but even the strength of Elves must come to an end. I do not wish my Lady to spend all in laboring until death."
Arwen nodded, and when the next contraction came, she panted and blew, but fought her urge to push. Ioreth tried again to work the baby loose, hoping that the reduced pressure would ease its troublesome passage into the world.
Aragorn and Faramir sat silently now alone, having dismissed the guards some hours before. There was no longer anything to say. Stories and games held no interest for either man any more. They listened to the noises emanating from behind the door and waited. Faramir had no more advice or experience to offer.
"It has been going on far longer than either of Éowyn's," he said.
Aragorn sat back and closed his eyes, willing the tears not to leak out. He thought back to the day, many months before, when he had imagined he would lose Arwen to an unknown disease. Perhaps he had been right. Ioreth had said that there was no illness, only pregnancy. But it seemed now that that same pregnancy would claim Arwen's life in the end. "How will I live?" he asked softly. "All that I have done has been for her. If she succumbs to the Doom of Men, what will be left for me?"
"You are the King," Faramir said. "You will have your people and your duty."
"I will be a King, but I will be the poorest soul in all the world. I will not lack for gold and jewels, and for land, I will have the greatest kingdom of this Age as my own, but I will forever mourn the greatest treasure any man ever lost. And all my riches will be as dust to me."
"That may happen," Faramir said. "But it has not happened yet. Perhaps that doom may yet be avoided. She calls you Estel, does she not? Give her yourself."
Aragorn scrubbed his hands across his face and began to breathe slowly and deeply, willing all his hopes and love to pass beyond the oaken door and give Arwen new strength. It seemed to him then that he saw her suspended in a dark void, torn between two paths, unable to move. One path was bright with the smiles of dancing children; the other was gray and cold as the marble tomb of a fallen queen. Behind her stood Lúthien and Idril, watching impassively. Aragorn took in the forms of these ladies of ages past and drew courage from them. They had survived childbirth, and perhaps they had passed their strength down to their descendant who labored on the other side of the door.
Arwen was finding it difficult to fight the urge to push. She had long ago abandoned regal dignity, and she writhed in Éowyn's arms, crying for her mother, as Ioreth and Doronrîn tried all the tricks they knew to free the baby. Ioreth applied pressure to Arwen's lower abdomen, while Doronrîn used her long, slender fingers in an attempt to grasp the child from the inside.
"Hold still," Doronrîn commanded. "We cannot get a grasp on the child if you thrash around so."
"I want my nana!" Arwen wailed, oblivious to everything save the pain and pressure of the baby stuck between her legs. She clutched at Éowyn, who seemed to her the only sane person in the nightmare in which she found herself. Suddenly, Éowyn had an idea.
"Stop," she said. "Perhaps she needs to change position. Perhaps this is what all of the thrashing is about. Her body knows what to do."
The midwives looked at each other and nodded. They sat back on the bed, and Éowyn loosened Arwen's grip on her shoulders. With the next contraction, Arwen fell forward onto her hands and knees. Ioreth and Doronrîn scrambled to adjust to this new position. Ioreth resumed applying pressure, and Arwen pushed again.
"Ah!" she cried. "I feel it. Something has changed."
"The shoulder is free," Doronrîn said. "Push again. Push hard. We are nearly there!"
Arwen summoned the last of her strength and shouted aloud as she gave a monumental push. Ioreth pressed on her, and Doronrîn's sure hands guided the little body as, at long last, the baby slid free in a gush of fluid.
Arwen collapsed into Éowyn's arms, shaking uncontrollably. Doronrîn caught the baby and struggled to keep a grasp on her slippery body. She stared at the baby for a moment in panic. "Elbereth Gilthoniel!" Doronrîn gasped. "She is enormous! She is as large as any daughter of Men!" The baby stared back with a shocked expression on her little face. "Mistress Ioreth!" Doronrîn said. "She does not breathe!"
Ioreth scrambled over, snatched up the baby and blew a short, sharp puff of air in her face. Startled, the baby recoiled, then gave a cough and started to cry. Doronrîn sighed her relief as she wrapped the child in a blanket. Ioreth pressed hard on Arwen, and the birth was complete. At last, she withdrew the knife from underneath the pillow and cut the cord binding mother and child. Éowyn fluffed the pillows and laid Arwen against them. The Queen of Gondor lay still, her eyes shut, taking deep, shuddery breaths. When the baby cried, she opened her eyes.
"Is that --?" she asked.
"That is your daughter, my Lady," Ioreth said happily. "May I introduce the new Princess of Gondor." Arwen looked up and Doronrîn laid the baby in her arms. Immediately, Arwen's weary face lit up with the joyful smile of every new mother upon meeting her child for the first time.
"Hello, little one," she said. "I am your naneth, and I am very glad that you finally chose to be born."
"Well, I never," Ioreth said to Doronrîn. "Hours of hard labor that nearly killed her, and here my Lady is, cooing to that baby as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened."
"That is the strength of the Eldar within her," Doronrîn said. "Do I guess rightly that a mother of the Secondborn would not have survived this birth?"
"Very likely. Rarely have I seen a woman labor as long and as hard as did my Lady and yet emerge alive with a living child." Ioreth smiled and dabbed at her eyes.
"Will someone fetch the new father?" Arwen asked softly. "He will wish to see his daughter, too."
"Let us clean things here first," Doronrîn said. "I will bathe your daughter if the Lady Éowyn will strip this layer of sheets from the bed." Arwen reluctantly surrendered her baby to the Elvish midwife. Éowyn gently placed a pad of soft, folded rags between Arwen's legs and worked the top layer of bloody sheets off the bed from underneath her, trying to jar her as little as possible.
"I suppose," she said, "that Kings enjoy seeing their children, but not the blood and mess that comes with them."
"That is very true," Doronrîn said fervently. Ioreth remembered the other King that Doronrîn had served, and she bit her lip to suppress a laugh. After all, it was hardly proper to laugh about one of the Eldar race in the presence of the Queen. But the Queen, though too tired to laugh, managed a wan smile. Encouraged, Ioreth laughed, as did Éowyn. Doronrîn dried the baby, wrapped her in a fresh blanket, and returned her to Arwen.
"What strange people you mortals are," she said. "Ever you laugh when you are told the truth."
It was the silence which woke Aragorn from his dreams. He sat straight up on his bench and rubbed at the ache in his back. Faramir lay stretched out beside him, snoring softly. Something had changed. It took Aragorn a moment to identify the difference. The cries and moans that had come from behind the oak door all afternoon and evening had stopped. Aragorn waited for a few minutes, but nothing happened. He prodded Faramir's shoulder.
"What is it?" Faramir asked, cracking an eye open.
"It is quiet."
Faramir sat up, muzzily rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "It is over," he said at last. "Arwen's labor is over. We must wait a little longer, I think. They will come to us when they are ready."
They waited for a few minutes nervously. "Would that I knew whether the silence signified good or ill," Aragorn muttered.
"It is a strange thing to think about, is it not?" Faramir said. "On that side of the door, something definite has happened. Either Arwen and the child are both alive, or one or both are dead. On this side, all is still uncertain. Perhaps they are alive, and perhaps they are not. How strange that one slab of oak could make such a world of difference."
Aragorn gave a wry smile. "It is an interesting problem, but I fear that you will have to be the one to consider it. My mind cannot grasp the subtleties of your philosophy when my family is the subject of said philosophy."
Faramir was about to make a response when the door opened and Éowyn appeared. Both men were on their feet in an instant. Éowyn looked tired but triumphant. "My Lord Aragorn," she said. "At long last, your daughter has arrived. Will you enter in and meet her?"
Aragorn tingled all over as his despair melted away. He glanced at Faramir, who was grinning from ear to ear, and then at Éowyn, whose smile mirrored that of her husband. As if in a dream, he passed through the door. He took in the midwives clearing away their pots and herbs, stowing a basket of bloody laundry near the door and making a strange-smelling tea, but he had eyes only for the great bed in which Arwen rested, her face glowing as she cradled a small bundle.
"Hello, Ada," she said.
Gently, so as not to jar her, he sat down next to her. She held out the bundle, and Aragorn took it awkwardly in his arms. He peeled back the blankets and beheld for the first time the face of his child. She was purplish in color, her head was elongated, and her face was oddly flattened. She peered at him with vague baby eyes as he ran a finger over the tufts of soft hair on the tips of her ears.
"Ioreth says the hair on her ears will go away soon," Arwen said. "And she is still a little misshapen from having been born. It seems to have been as hard for her as it was for me."
"She is beautiful," Aragorn declared. "It would be a hard thing to choose the most beautiful lady in all Gondor now. The choice between mother and daughter is a hard one."
"Then do not choose. Sit with your wife and daughter for a while, and let us enjoy being three."
Aragorn laid the baby back in Arwen's arms and placed his own arms around her. The King and Queen of Gondor lay together for a while, enjoying the peace.
"You are a lady of great strength and fortitude," Aragorn said. "I feared you would not survive the birth, and I did not know if I could face mourning both you and the child."
"It was a near thing," Arwen agreed. "But I live, and our daughter lives as well. Let us put our tears in the past and rejoice in her birth."
"She is indeed beautiful," came Faramir's voice. Aragorn and Arwen looked up to see Faramir and Éowyn standing beside the bed, smiling at Arwen and the baby. Faramir bent down and stroked a finger down the baby's soft cheek. "Hello, little lady," he said. "I have heard that both you and your mother were very brave and strong today." He turned to Aragorn. "Does Gondor's Princess have a name?" he asked.
Aragorn looked at Arwen, at her weary but brilliant smile. The sight of her and his daughter warmed his heart like sunshine, but he could not forget the storm of tears and sorrow that had preceded this moment. "It is something beautiful," he said slowly, "for she is beautiful. It is a thing of wonder after a time of great woe, and it holds a promise for the future. She is Ninniach, the Rainbow that comes after the storm."
"That is a beautiful name," Arwen said. She tickled the baby. "Are you Ninniach, little one?" Ninniach gurgled. Arwen smiled. "Our little Rainbow is hungry," she said. Doronrîn stepped forward and helped position Ninniach for nursing.
"Feed her as I instructed you earlier. The Rainbow must eat, and then the Evenstar must rest," she said. "All other great Lords and Ladies of Men should also take their rest. We have been most fortunate, and both Arwen and Ninniach will still be here in the morning."
Faramir and Éowyn said their farewells and left. Ioreth finished packing her supplies into her satchel, and she and Doronrîn picked up the laundry basket. "Sleep well and long," Doronrîn advised. "I will be in my quarters should you have need of me." And then they were gone.
Arwen nursed Ninniach for the first time while Aragorn hunted in the cupboards for the bedding that Arwen had made of the last of Ghayur's cotton. He placed the soft pallet and blanket in the cradle, then arranged a pretty scarf over the cradle's bow. When Ninniach had nursed her fill, Arwen swaddled her, and Aragorn laid her down to rest. Arwen dropped off to sleep in his arms shortly afterward, but Aragorn remained awake for some time, his heart nearly bursting with joy as he listened to the night sounds of his wife and daughter.
In the morning, Aragorn sent messengers to all corners of Gondor, as well as to Rohan, Ithilien, Aglarond and parts further north. The messengers carried the joyful tidings of the birth of Ninniach, the Rainbow of Gondor. He announced Ninniach's birth personally to the citizens of Minas Tirith, holding her in his arms and standing on the same balcony from which he had announced Arwen's pregnancy. The people cheered the news, and the public scribes experienced yet another field day as the congratulatory messages began to pour in.
When Arwen was strong enough, she received a visit from Halandir. He had come to return to her the papers that she had been working on when her labor began, and which he had kept safely for her since then. He also brought a gift, a small book bound in dyed red leather which he had made himself in his free evenings. When Arwen opened it, she found that it was blank.
"Where is the story?" Arwen asked.
"It has not yet been written," Halandir said. "The story is the life of the little Princess, and it is for my Lady to write that."
Arwen's eyes glowed as she ran her hand over the smooth leather and the crisp, clean pages. "Thank you, Halandir," she said. "You spoil her as much as if you were her own grandfather."
"I do what I may to help." Halandir touched his forehead and returned to the Archives, whistling happily.
Legolas, Gimli and Éomer sent rich gifts by messenger along with promises that they would visit to meet Ninniach in person as soon as Arwen was able to receive such guests. And one morning, a page brought Aragorn a box that had been left at the gates of the Citadel anonymously. A note attached to the box indicated that it, too, contained a gift for Ninniach. Aragorn opened the box and pulled out a bracelet and a letter. The bracelet was of silver, large and thick, decorated with intricate raised beading and scrollwork, crowned with a centerpiece set with garnet and lapis lazuli. The letter was written in the Common Tongue, the characters carefully shaped, as if by one who did not write them well.
Peace be with thee, Aragorn Elessar, King of the northern lands, husband of the Jewel of the Evening and newly become father to the Rainbow! Be thou pleased to accept the most trifling gift which we send thee to be given to thy daughter when she is come to the age of womanhood. It is but a simple piece made by the wandering houses of the desert, and has lain these past one hundred years and fifty years in our jewel chambers, awaiting a maiden of high birth whose arm it may grace. Though there is little friendship between our lands, yet we beg of thee to accept our gift in earnest of the brotherhood that yet may be. We hope that the most high and noble Elf-stone will condescend to accept our humble gift and token. Peace be upon thee.
Ghayur, Lord of Harad
Aragorn stared at the letter and the bracelet, stunned. He knew full well that he had sent no messenger to Harad informing Ghayur of Ninniach's birth, much less her name or its meaning in the Common Tongue of Men. Ghayur's spies must already be in place in Minas Tirith, he realized, even as his own men had reported success in their early efforts to infiltrate Ghayur's court. The game had begun. If he played it well, he would forge an alliance never before seen among the nations of Men. Reading the letter through again, Aragorn smiled. He had a worthy adversary, and he would play the game well.
He tucked the letter safely in an inner pocket of his robe and went to find Arwen. He would deliver the bracelet to her for safekeeping and enjoy a visit with his daughter, the newest joy of his life. Aragorn did not often have flashes of foresight, but he saw before him a future in which Ninniach and the children who would follow after her would grow to adulthood without fear of their neighbor to the south. The House of Telcontar was well on its way to securing greater peace and stability than the world had known for an Age. It was, Aragorn decided, a legacy far greater than the defeat of Sauron alone, and one which he would be proud to leave.
Many thanks to all the readers of this story. It was truly a delight to read everyone's reactions and to see which parts of the story moved or amused people. My initial inspiration for this story came from my sister, who did her bachelor's thesis on midwifery and home birth. She shared much of her research with me (read: talked endlessly about her thesis), and I learned more about the politics of birth than I had ever thought existed.
Arwen's pregnancy was, by any definition, high-risk, and were she in the modern world, she would most likely not be attended by a midwife. Many women who are at risk of giving birth to oversized babies deliver by scheduled Caesarian sections in a hospital. However, in this history of birth this is a very recent development. The first recorded instance of both mother and child surviving a C-section is in the year 1500. Up until the advent of antiseptic surgery in the late 1800s, it was extremely rare for the mother to survive a C-section.
All of the midwifery techniques mentioned in the story, up to and including the possibility of breaking the baby's shoulder, are real, though they may not all be employed at the same birth. Shoulder dystocia, in which a baby's shoulders are trapped by the mother's pelvic bone, is a rare but potentially serious birth event. The baby is in danger of neurological damage, and the mother risks heavy blood loss from various tears and ruptures. Doctors and midwives are both trained to deal with dystocia, although their methods may differ. Interestingly enough, dystocia seems to be one of the few instances in which the midwifery community looks kindly on the lithotomy position for birth.
But enough about mechanics. I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction to Ghayur and his supporting role in this story. To tell the truth, he was intended to be a chapter-long diversion, but he quickly took on a life and a prominent place of his own. He is indeed, as one reviewer noted, a "smarmy so and so," and he turned out to be a lot of fun to write. I shall have to see what becomes of him in the future. I suspect it will be interesting. I was also intrigued that there were people who grew to like Doronrîn. I have to confess that, though I respect her, she is not someone I would enjoy being around. She is closely modeled on a gynecologist I once knew who had absolutely no bedside manner whatsoever.
Again, thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you again soon.