1. An Apple a Day
She looked at Eldarion and sighed. He squirmed with frenetic agitation in his chair. With his cheeks so round and rosy—like the apples ripe and glowing on the table—it was difficult to see the man he would be. With his lips so red and his bright grey eyes outlined with their heavy black lashes, it was even impossible to tell if he looked more like her brothers or his father, who all shared those features.
“Only two more days until I am six, Nana!” he crowed. She smiled with effort. Surely her attempt at brightness must seem false even to such a wee lad.
They would almost certainly have to cancel the festival. They had to decide later that day. In fact, the concept of even a private celebration of her son’s birthday seemed tasteless and possibly dangerous for any guests. The influenza had reaped its tearful harvest of the high born and the low, from the uppermost levels of the city lined with the nearly palatial townhouses of the wealthy to the crowded apartments above store fronts and craftsmen's workshops on the first level.
“Where is Atto?” asked Eldarion, irritable. What child could stay cheerful confined as he had been for weeks? They should have finished their consultation already Arwen thought, more than a little impatient herself. The delay probably meant that the healers needed more resources again and they were arguing whence to reallocate funds. She already knew that Faramir was frantic with worry over covering the costs expended and laborers required for the daily burials on the Pelennor. He had explained to her in detail the unprecedented increase, unequaled since the period immediately after the siege, in public contributions to the daily needs of families in the lower city and how he feared it was still not sufficient.
“Your Atar is talking to a delegation from the Houses of Healing and his wisest counselors.”
“Bo-ring!” Eldarion chanted, beating a tattoo with his boots against his chair. She wondered if she was raising a spoiled brat instead the compassionate man she had seen walking in her dreams, a just and handsome king worthy of his father.
“Nana! Do we have to wait for him again? Or may I have an apple?” The apples on the table held the only sunshine in the gloomy city that day. A heavy cloud cover made the sky look like a winter afternoon instead of a late summer morning. At least it was not raining, although there was a hint of mugginess in the air, making it feel warmer than it was.
“Take one,” she snapped, pushing the heavy bowl toward him. He looked up at her wide-eyed, lower lip trembling.
He pushed back his chair and ran to her, throwing his arms around her neck. “Nana! I’m scared. I know people are sick. Bainor’s uncle and his baby sister died. I heard Lord Faramir talking with Atto, how they might have to stop the festival and my birthday too. Then I will never turn six.”
“You will still turn six. We just might not be able to have a fest. Where do you hear these stories?”
“Everyone stops talking when I come into the kitchen, but still I hear a lot. I walk quieter now. Like a mouse in little soft bedroom slippers.”
Tears welled-up through her smile. “I am so sorry, sweetheart. Maybe your Atar and Faramir can fix everything before the day for your party.” Highly unlikely. Next to impossible, she thought. “It will be just fine either way. You will still have a birthday and perhaps the tiniest of tiny parties. You, me, and your Atar with a beautiful cake. Would you like a sponge cake with custard filling and white sugar frosting, served with berries on the top?”
“Yes!” He clapped his hands. “May I have an apple now?”
“You still don’t have your apple? Oh, poor boy. Shall I peel one for you?”
“Don’t have to peel it. I like the skin.”
“Then chew it and swallow it. Do not spit it on your plate this time.”
She heard the rumble of deep male voices, and one imposing female one, along with Faramir’s much cherished laugh. In they trooped: Estel, Faramir, and Lady Haleth, the newly appointed Master of the Houses of Healing.
Aragorn looked at her and grinned. “Good news. At last.”
Arwen knocked over the bowlful of applies, sending them rolling all over the long dining table and unto the floor.
“She always reacts strongly when I bring anyone into breakfast without advance notice. She’s not a morning person. You know the old stories. Elves. Starlight.”
“Don’t be silly, Estel. Please sit down, everyone. You are most welcome here. Among my favorite people and first among those who have worked so hard these past days.” She righted the bowl for the apples. “We have tea and kafe from far Harad. Have you tried that, Lady Haleth? It’s marvelous. We’ve become quite addicted to it here.”
The company scrambled for apples, each taking turns in depositing their share in the fruit bowl, as they took their seats.
“Thank you, your highness. I’ve heard a lot about kafe recently. I’d love to try some. They say it is a stronger stimulate than tea. Even black tea.”
Faramir said, “I’d recommend milk and lots of sugar the first time. Taking it black is an acquired taste.”
“Ah, there you are, Pilinor,” Arwen said to the serving man. “Kafe for everyone and then please tell cook we have two guests for breakfast.”
“So, the news,” she said, after Estel leaned in to kiss her. “What is this good news?”
“No new cases reported for two days. No deaths yesterday. A dozen people scheduled to be released from the Houses of Healing later today. We’ve apparently turned the corner.”
Eldarion tugged on his father’s sleeve. “Can I sit on your lap?” It was never allowed in the dining room. But the boy could always instinctively tell when an exception would be made.
“Of course.” He lifted Eldarion onto his lap, holding him against his chest, tighter than could possibly be comfortable. “Are you crying, my boy? Don’t be sad.”
“Not sad. Just happy. Everything is going to be all right now!” Eldarion said.
“Oh, he was upset about his birthday party earlier,” Arwen said.
“Nana! How can you say that?” he cried, horrified and offended, jutting his little chin out. “I don’t care about the party anymore. Everything is going to be all right now.”
He looked around the table for reassurance. “Maybe we can still have the holiday cake though?”
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.