Andreth's lungs were burning by the time her guide slid to a stop at one of a long row of modest houses. He legs trembled beneath her, feeling as if they were as weak as straw. But she knew she could not afford to stop and rest. The young husband's words of- "There is something- something wrong-" echoed in her mind.
She could taste blood in the back of her throat as she staggered behind her guide through the doorway into the shadowed interior.
Through a doorway at the back of the main room, she could hear soft whimpering, and then a voice as they came through, strained, but filled with hope, "Athan, is that you?"
"I'm back, Laurina," he cried, gesturing Andreth behind him, into the back room. "I brought help for you!"
A young woman, her belly swollen with child, lay upon a wide bed, the sheets in tortured knots about her, her face, hair, and garments drenched with sweat.
"A midwife," she gasped, her voice filled with relief at the sight of Andreth.
Andreth's heart throbbed furiously within her. A midwife? She had never delivered a child before! She'd gone with Firiel to help with the births of their neighbors when she was a small child, but she had only brought the water and towels then, and such memories were broken, and fragmented with time. Elrond had not taught her of such things, keeping his instruction on the treating of wounds, and fevers. What then, was she doing here, alone? But for the girl's sake, she swallowed her doubts, steeled her heart, and smiled warmly.
"I am Andreth, a friend of Elrond," she murmured, keeping her voice soft as she moved to the girl, and took her shaking hand. Her mind flashed over all she remembered, which was very little. "How far apart are your pains?"
"I don't-," the girl began, but as if in answer to Andreth's question, her hand tightened fiercely upon the maiden's hand, and her eyes clenched shut as a harsh hiss of pain seethed between her crushed teeth.
Athan, her husband, shoved his hands into his hair. "What must I do?" he pleaded, pacing at the foot of his bed like a caged bear.
"Go fetch Elrond," Andreth ordered over her shoulder even as she flinched with pain at the young woman's grip. "Run with all speed. I will need his help!"
Without a word, the young husband sprinted from the room, and was gone, the front door banging wildly as he sped away.
"Here," Andreth ordered, flumbling in her pack with one hand, before she withdrew a small cloth packet of dried herbs. She studied it a moment, before thrusting it back, and searching again.
The clenching vice of Laurina eased at last, and the weary girl fell back against her crushed and sweat drenched pillows. "I am sorry," she gasped.
"Do not be," Andreth gasped, turning away to search her pack, though she massaged her crushed hand as she did, studying it. Aside from red marks where the girl's fingers had pressed, her hand seemed unhurt, and Andreth quickly withdrew the packet of herbs she sought.
"Chew on this," she ordered, placing a dried and folded leaf in the girl's mouth. "It will help with the pain, and will help your sinews and muscles relax."
Laurina chewed obediently, almost greedily, and the effects were almost immediate as her breathing slowed, and became more even.
Andreth smiled at the girl's face as she pondered what to do next. Something is wrong- her husband's words echoed in Andreth's mind.
Turning, she strode out of the room, finding, to her relief, a pot of water set upon the hearth stones near the fireplace where a low flame fluttered. She would not have to leave her charge to go fetch any. Lifting the pot, she heaved it to the table where she poured it into a wide bowl set in the center of the rough hewn table, then set the pot aside, and dipped her hands in the steaming water, scrubbing them fiercely despite the nearly intolerable heat as Elrond had taught her.
Drawing in a breath, she returned. The girl still lay quietly, her eyes open, and gazing at the ceiling.
Something is wrong-
Andreth swallowed, and pressed a hand to the girl's abdomen, palpating for the child. What she was looking for, she was uncertain. But then, as if she could suddenly see into the young woman's belly, she knew what was wrong.
"The child is not turned," she murmured to herself, pressing her hands more firmly against the swell of the girl's belly.
"Wha-" the girl's sleepy voice asked, before another pain seized her, and her belly grew taut beneath Andreth's hands.
How long had it been since her last pain?
Andreth moved to the girl's head, catching her hand, which squeezed, though not as fiercely now, and her face was not as agonized.
"I'm going to try to turn the child," she said, her mind swiftly trying to remember what Firiel would do, when threatened with breech births.
The girl met her eyes, and though her face was frightened, there was also trust in her eyes as she nodded.
Putting her hands again on the girl's belly, once the tension had eased again, she gently pressed against the feel of the baby. "Come, little one, do not be so stubborn," she murmured. "Do not turn your back on the world. We want to see your face. Do not be so unkind to your poor mother."
The faintest smile touched her lips as she felt and sensed the little bundle of life easing around beneath her hands, just as yet another contraction seized the little one's young, weary mother.
Elrond burst through the door on the heels of the distressed young mortal, his breath heaving, and his pride bruised that he could barely keep pace with a mortal, his legs weary, and feeling like straw beneath him.
"Andreth?" he called, as in the same moment, the young, frightened husband called, "Laurina!"
The order was spoken in Andreth's voice, and was fierce, and yet good humored at once as she appeared in the doorway to the bedroom, cradling a small, blanketed bundle.
"Your wife is resting," Andreth said. Her forehead gleamed with sweat, and her honey brown hair spilled loose about her shoulders, but her eyes shone. "She did well. Both she and your little daughter are healthy and safe."
"Daughter!" Athan choked in a voice quavering with joy, and strode forward, his arms open to accept the bundle in Andreth's arms.
Her face beaming, Andreth surrendered the little one into her father's arms, and he moved further into the room toward his weary wife.
Elrond could see the man's young wife laying against the pillows of their bed, her face weary, but beaming with joy before the wooden door swung shut behind them, leaving the new little family in privacy.
He met Andreth's eyes, and grinned. For the young mortal's face looked almost as drained yet elated as the new mother.
"It was almost a breech birth," she said, moving to the table where she crumpled into one of the chairs, her eyes still uplifted to Elrond.
"Breech?" Elrond's brow raised as he moved to the table, and fell into the chair beside her own.
"You were able to turn it?"
"With the labor as far along as it was?"
Andreth shrugged, and nodded.
Elrond released a deep breath. "You may have saved the baby's life."
Andreth smiled wearily at his praise. "Children are what make us immortal," she murmured softly, dropped her eyes to her hands upon the tabletop.
Elrond tipped his head.
She looked up, her eyes returning to his, seeming to sense his unasked question. "Ages from now, that little girl will be gone," Andreth sighed, "like me, like her parents, and all of the Second Born who now live. But her blood will live on in her descendants. Men and women who may know you, then."
Elrond nodded, wondering at the sadness now on her face.
"I will have no children, I fear," she said, dropping her eyes to her hands again.
Elrond swallowed, his heart twisting at the despondency in her tone. He winced at his next words, a part of him knowing he should not be speaking this way. "Hathel cares-"
"I will not marry Hathel," she returned, and though she spoke gently, Elrond could hear a faint edge of ice in her words. He fell silent, knowing her curtness was justified. He knew she did not love the young mortal. And it would be wrong to encourage a loveless marriage.
"I know," he sighed, humbled. "You do not love him."
Silence filled the air between and, in the other room, the soft laughter of the new mother filtered through the doorway.
"Rather, you love my brother."
"Do not worry, Elrond, I will not seek his love. Like my namesake, I will-"
"You already have it, Andreth," Elrond heard himself say.
She fell silent, and now Elrond found he could not meet her gaze, dropping his eyes to his hands. They were covered in dust, the tell tale signs of his work with stone, the city of Mithlond, that would last forever, but- but was only fashioned of cold stone. Andreth's hands were spotless, though, and his eyes went to the basin in the center of the table.
He stood, and dipped his hands in the water, still warm, washing the dust away as Andreth's silence continued to swell in the room.
"What did you say?"
Elrond sighed, and resumed his seat, studying his now wet hands. "The morning he left, Elros confided to me that he is in love with you," he returned, lifting his eyes now to meet Andreth's.
He blinked at her face. Her expression was a mingling of many emotions now, but at the forefront, he saw pain.
"Why have you told me this?" she whispered, her voice breaking as she spoke.
Elrond sat back. "I thought-"
"You know I cannot marry him, not ever! You said yourself what would happen, if I did!"
Raw agony now shone in her eyes. This was not what he had intended.
"Never tell him how I feel," she choked, and Elrond gulped at the tears now filling her eyes. "Never. There may yet be hope for him, if he does not know. He can love again, one day. An elf maiden, whom he will never have to lose."
Elrond fell back against his chair, deflated. Was there hope as she called it, for Elros? Elrond had seen his brother's eyes from where he sat atop Nórui's back the day he left with Círdan. Even if he never knew of her love for him, could Elros ever look upon another woman the way he did Andreth?
What did Elrond want? To keep his brother always, but forever filled with sorrow for a love that had never been fulfilled, or to lose his brother after only a few years that were filled with happiness? And with children? Elrond's own kin.
"My lady, my lord."
The door opened, and the beaming father strode out into the room, still cradling his little daughter in his arms.
His beaming eyes fixed upon Andreth, and the morose mood of the room lightened.
Andreth grinned, and hastily brushed her hands beneath her eyes, clambering to her feet.
"She is beautiful," she said, to which Athan nodded.
"And we agreed," Athan said, "that we should let you, Lady Andreth, choose her name."
"Oh," Andreth breathed, accepting the precious, blanketed bundle.
She looked at Elrond, beaming now, their recent conflict forgotten for the child's sake.
"Elrond, look at her," she urged, and Elrond, rallying, rose and moved near, gazing down upon the small plump face, the little girl's fists clutched close against her cheeks, her eyes closed.
"She is a beautiful child," he agreed reverently. He touched a finger to the infant's cheek. So soft. Like silk. "Goodly and noble."
"Arwen," Andreth purred, and looked up with beaming eyes into Elrond's face before she looked down again at the baby.
He took a step back, and studied the mortal maiden, her eyes alight as she gazed down upon the baby. Her golden hair fell about her shoulders, and she seemed almost to shine as she adored the baby. She could make a wonderful mother.
"What do you think, my lord, Elrond?" she asked. "Do you think the name Arwen is a good name?"
Elrond grinned now, a smile which Andreth returned. "I cannot think of a better," he said. "A beautiful name for a beautiful child."
Athan, the child's father nodded readily, and brushed the back of a hand against his eyes. "Arwen it is, then," he said.