1. The Sky Wept Diamonds
They say my Lord killed two horses under him in his haste to get home for the birth of his first son; used them up, simply ran them into the ground. A hard man Lord Denethor, all agree on that; yet the few who have observed his tenderness with his lady wife know different.
My Lady wants shells and sand to make a shoreline for the pool in her private gardens? – She shall have it. My Lady wants oysters? – He sent his swiftest ships with barrels and ice to keep them sweet till they be brought to her.
And what did she do? Smelt them! Not one did she eat; just had them opened that she might inhale the scent of the ocean, she said. The first were sea-like enough, those at the bottom of the barrel became corrupted. She bade us save the shells and throw the guts away. In one we found a pearl, a little misshapen, but a good size. We might have presented her with her weight in mithril she was so delighted. She had it pierced and wore it at her throat. Often she'd drift in thought as she fingered that ball of oyster spit, for that's all it is when all's said and done.
Pearls are for tears I told her, but she'd none of it. I say it was the oysters that were to blame. Her time came early, only a week or two, but enough that we were unprepared and her husband away over night. She'd been putting the oyster shells in a pattern for the mason to mortar into the wall by the fountain. All that hot afternoon she'd stooped and stretched. I did tell her to rest, that it was too warm for her to be out, but no, she would finish her garden.
In the evening she fretted with back-ache and had cushions taken outside to the wooden bench, saying she wanted air. It was late as she sat watching the stars. Of a sudden, a falling star streaked the night, then another and another. My lady was delighted she called for a blanket to warm her and refused to come inside. The Birth-woman wasn't happy. She picked yarrow and threw the stones, muttering to herself. She was another indulgence from Lord Denethor; my Lady wanted a woman from the coast to attend her along with those from the Houses of Healing... said it was a custom she felt happier with – and of course, he agreed.
Lady Finduilas felt the first pains come about midnight. We wanted to hurry her to bed, but she wouldn't have it; said she couldn't leave while the sky was crying diamonds – such a strange thing to say. Her pains started to come, wave after wave. We called for the Birth-woman, who brought her herbs and brazier with her. We undid every knot we could find to ease the birth. I sent them to prepare the room, strew the herbs, and take everything away edged with braid and knots, there and in the corridor. Even the guard - we told him loosen the ties to his breeks or go. Grumbling, he kept his dignity and retired to the outer corridor. It may be a woman's thing, but all know, nothing must be tied lest the spirit senses it and tries to fold itself around a knot. By then her pains were grievous and we carried her indoors.
Lord Denethor was sent for, though my lady forbade the couriers to report any danger to her or the unborn child. They did of course, and two horses died to bring him home. Merthwen, the Birth-woman, hinted the first problem, the baby was not placed right. She massaged warm oil on my Lady's belly and felt the feet in the wrong position.
"You must hold him fast," she told her, "The babe must turn itself."
That did make her blanch; no woman will prolong birth pains willingly. Women who attend a noble birth are skilled in herb-lore. A tincture they mixed and insisted she lay quiet and still. The night was hot and heavy indoors, if she must be still, she wanted to be in her garden she said.
So they took one of the beds apart and made it up for her outside. After the sleepy carpenters were shooed away her women brought her to it.
The sky still blossomed and the sight bought a smile to her lips, a brief respite from pain. Merthwen stroked her back to soothe her.
"He'll be a bright light for the world, m'lady," she said. "A warrior to bellow like thunder, and sweep his enemies before him like a gale out of the snow."
My lady raised dreaming eyes to the night, "He'll fly like the falcon and strike fell like lightening - but I'll not see it."
But her tears ran as the vision came on her, "I can see him on his own, in a place of fallen stones."
Then we took fright, one of the maids cried aloud so that I sent her packing. It's rumoured my lady's family have the blood of the fey; indeed that's partly why she insisted on having the Birth-woman there - they tell the child's birthing, for good or ill. It's not a custom in Gondor, but my lord would gainsay his wife nothing during that first pregnancy. She cried out again, black-winged birds were attacking her child. Merthwen forced poppy-juice on her and she quieted.
The babe struggled during the dark as the sky's arrows flew above his head. The sun mounted the sky from his red house in the east as she finally entered labour proper. He'd still not turned in her belly to fight his way into the world. By then Lady Finduilas was tired. Merthwen did all she knew, made the birth–chants for release and encouraged her to breathe the patterns, but her voice rattled like dry leaves,
"…when I go," she whispered, "…when I go."
"No!" commanded Merthwen, "There will be no lay of long defeat here! You will stay for him!"
The sun slowly climbed to kiss the sky. At noon my lord arrived, hot, dusty, filled with anger, but helpless to ease her suffering. He lingered at her bedside, shocked at the sweat and pain it takes to make a man. He held her hand, or rather she clutched at his, squeezing till her knuckles whitened, holding back her screams till she could bear it no longer. Then he did go pale; we knew what was best and dared to harry him from the room.
Lord Denethor, white as linen, allowed himself to be sent away. All that long afternoon she cried and whimpered. Merthwen did her best, she chanted, she rubbed oil on her belly, she did everything she knew to help the birth, all to no avail. My Lady was near desperate with the pain, but getting ever weaker; many don't survive the trial of birth, especially a first one as hard as this.
There are herbs - it was really too late for them, but... I had to do something for her. I fetched the makings and excusing myself from her side, went to brew the tisane. On my return I persuaded her to send her other ladies away. There's those that think being at a noble birth makes them party to it in honour! Mean-mouthed women who didn't give a fig other than for status; my Lady knew it as well as I, but it had been politic for her to let them stay, but no longer. This had got beyond a mere spectator sport for those who only sort to raise their standing.
Merthwen may have guessed what I was about, but she'd more sense than to gainsay me in this, this last desperate measure. After I managed to get my Lady to swallow it down, between us, Merthwen and I got her up and walked her, nay -carried her is more like. She could scarce put two steps together without staggering.
Afternoon drifted to evening. The pains eased for her, but her weakness worried me all the more, would she have the strength to expel the babe when they came anew? My Lord Denethor must have been reported to by one of those exiled 'ladies'. Later he came himself to the chamber for news. His wife slept feverishly, exhausted by her labours. We'd lit the lamps, but kept them low, her face in the shadows had more hollows than there should be in a woman of her years.
I hated to admit even to myself what might eventually follow. He knew. He stood over her, a man who would be Steward, who would rule a country and make decisions affecting multitudes, but he didn't have an inkling as to what to do next. Not that many men have when it comes to these matters. He was helpless and I could see his anger rising because he was powerless to act.
I touched his sleeve. "My Lord, " I began, "your lady may benefit from bathing in warm water."
"What!" he made an effort to focus on what I said.
"The muscles must relax to let the baby drop, and that must come soon..."
How do you tell a man he's about to lose his wife and his firstborn child? Quickly, that's how. "We've helped the babe turn in the womb... he must come within the next few hours or..."
I had to let the words hang there between us. He sighed. Then, "What of the babe? Will it survive?"
"Mayhap, my Lord, it's difficult to know. There is a decision to be made - your Lady is very weak. Her strength may fail."
"In the end... we may be able to save the babe by cutting him free."
I nodded once. He knew. He'd fought, he'd seen men lose blood from a belly wound. His voice was a whisper when he spoke. "...and there is no other way?"
I shook my head. This was not a time for cowardice, I knew what I would have to do, even if I never forgave myself afterwards.
The silence stretched between us. Merthwen watched us, glancing one to the other, afraid to move a muscle. It was my Lady's groan that splintered his thoughts. He drew one long breath, before he looked me squarely in the eye and said softly so only I could hear.
"If you must do it... do it. But do it clean, and be swift - or I will personally disembowel you with a rusty spoon!"
And I did not doubt - he would have.
Then he was striding away, calling for the guards to summon attendants to rouse the kitchen, to bring buckets, boil water. My Lady needed to bathe, and she would do it - now!
They hurried and scurried, and my Lord vented his wrath by knocking a few tardy heads together when the sleepy scullery lads didn't move fast enough for his liking. We readied my Lady, and got her to her bath in front of the fire.
She sent Merthwen to fetch something inconsequential, then she took my hand, gripping it fiercely. "I heard you..."
I looked away.
"Nay... you know, as do I. I make my choice, and I forgive you," she whispered. "Cut hard, cut deep - and don't wait too long. I want him to live"
"My Lady, don't..." I began, but she'd none of it.
The birth pangs started soon after and we helped her from the water. It was well after midnight; over a full day she'd had her travail, but this time, this time he was truly moving within her.
"Open the curtains I'd see the night," she told me.
Outside, the skies were streaked with lights. Star-candles burning on there way to Arda.
She smiled briefly. "Even they're crying for me,"
And my tears joined them. Shortly after, the babe's head emerged, covered in the caul as if in mail. Swiftly, he slipt free, helped by Merthwen's skilled hands. He did indeed bellow like thunder when the cold hit him. Merthwen wiped away the blood that clotted on his chest in virulent rubies.
"Blood he came from, blood he'll go to," the woman intoned softly.
"What?" cried my lady.
"Merthwen – you saw him?"
"You saw my son – as I did."
"Hush my lady, don't take notice of a poor old woman."
If truth be told - we all three shared the same thoughts. Methwen tried to distract her by placing her son in her arms, now wrapped tightly in clean linen, though he struggled fitfully against the bindings.
"He's strong," she observed.
"We know he'll need to be," said my lady and looked her straight in the eye. "Tell me what the stones say."
Merthwen tried to back away.
"Tell me!" Lady Finduilas demanded, "I know you read them."
Merthwen looked at me. I shrugged. She touched Lady Finduilas' arm, and then tenderly stroked the baby's head before answering. My lady was exhausted; she sank back into the pillows. "Tell me," she whispered.
"The stones would not speak to me, but the stars spoke of reverence and glory."
"And?" she pleaded.
"Will he live long? Be happy?"
"The stars were bright and swift – but they fell," was all that Merthwen would say.
My lady nodded. I think she knew that already.
"The sky lit candles for his birth," Merthwen said, "only the great receive such honour."
My lady sighed, "Bright and brief those star-candles. My jewel," she kissed the babe's head, "my lovely jewel."
And she began to croon a melancholy song of parting.
We glanced at each other then; often a mother's sorrow comes on after birthing, but seldom so quickly. Poppy-juice Merthwen called for, sleep is what she needed now. The wet-nurse eased the babe from her sleeping arms and took him for his father's blessing.
Lady Finduilas cried out in her drugged sleep, of black feathers falling from a stormy sky; "black lightening", she cried, before she fell to murmuring as Merthwen tried to soothe her.
"…When I go," my lady mumbled, barely audible, "…when I go."
She poured her spirit into making that babe, mayhap she's kept little enough for herself.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.