He knows what is happening as soon as he wakes, shivering, his head aching and his body wracked with chills.
The caves that make up Nom’s kingdom are cool and dark, soothing, in the scorching heat of summer, but in the depths of winter? Oh, then they become ice-traps, retaining every breath of frigid air and somehow chilling it even further, so that even the weather-immune Eldar begin to shoe their feet and wear slightly heavier robes.
For Bëor, a mere Man, so far from his people and their preventative remedies?
Of course he would catch a cold.
~ ~ ~
Nom does not seem to know how he should react to this new development.
“Your nose is liquefying,” he reports, his voice caught between a palpable fascination at the vagaries of Men’s bodies and an obvious concern for Bëor’s very life. “I have never seen anything like it. Bëor, what is causing this? What should I do?”
Well, for one thing, he could leave Bëor alone to die in peace. Only, it is a mistake to say this, for Nom still has not quite internalized the fact that such statements can be made in jest during moments of annoyance.
“Oh, no. No, no, no.” Nom’s face has blanched in horror and panic, and he stands in an absolute flurry of movement. “Calwen promised me that you had at least three more tens of years –“ Bëor will worry about this later, the fact that Nom has apparently remained in contact with the old lore-woman of his former House, and to gossip about Bëor of all things – “please, love, hold on, we will find a way, there has to be a way, Elbereth have mercy-“
Nothing that Bëor can say or do will appease him, and when he falls into a fit of coughing Nom actually shouts for his guards, making demands so rapid-fire in his own tongue that Bëor, his head already aching, cannot follow the words. But the noise makes the pounding behind his eyes even worse, and he must groan, for Nom then yells at the guards for being too loud and demands in a solicitous whisper what is wrong now.
“The very drums of Morgoth are pounding in my head,” Bëor grumbles. “And you are just making them worse.”
Another mistake, he realizes, as Nom’s face blanches even further, and the shouting breaks out anew. Why these ethereal creatures have so much difficulty understanding even the simplest – if also crude – figures of speech, Bëor will never know, but it is just too much to deal with right now.
Internally bemoaning his own foolish tongue, Bëor decides that perhaps now would be a good time to close his eyes. Maybe he will feel better, or this will have all gone away, if he can just rest, even for a moment. . .
Nom is babbling right by his ear again, and might even be shaking his shoulder this time, but gods, Bëor is sick, he shouldn’t have to be dealing with this, Nom can shove off for just a moment and let Bëor just rest in peace . . .
~ ~ ~
He regains consciousness only to realize that Nom apparently has not stopped talking in all the time that he was gone.
“-dissolving, and then it was as if he was expelling his soul from his body, like so-“ Nom mimics his coughing, badly “- and then he could not remain awake, and he told me that he could hear the Moringotto’s drums, and-“
“If that is so, then he must be turned out,” interrupts a second voice. Nom’s chief guardsman, Bëor thinks – Edrahil. “He is a danger to the kingdom, and we must be rid of him.”
“He might be right,” says another. Gods, how many of his own folk has Nom brought to their rooms to witness Bëor’s misery? He thinks this one is the crown prince, Artaresto. “Brother, we know that you are fond of him, but he cannot be so entertaining to you that you would risk our discovery by some unknown treachery!”
“He is no traitor, and I will not turn him out!” Nom cries, agitated, and Bëor’s head pounds as though the skull will split along its seams with all of this noise.
But then there is a cool hand at his forehead, and gentle fingers probe softly at his temples. He could almost moan for the unexpected relief.
“Obviously this case is beyond my usual experience,” comes yet another voice, and this one, female, Bëor does not know at all: “but if I can extrapolate at all from my work with the hounds, then I think he is merely ill. A fever, of some sort, coupled with – ai, I hardly know how to explain the rest of what you describe, Highness, and I do not know the malady, and I could not tell you its source or its cure. But I will stake it that he speaks from his pain, not from any true association with the Moringotto.”
“Thank you, Nyárë,” Nom breathes.
Of course. Because the Eldar do not sicken, save by poison or the blade or ills of the heart (and that is not something that Bëor wants to think about, not now), Nargothrond does not even have a healer, as such. And so Nom has gathered together all whose expertise he imagines might be of aid in these dire circumstances, a number that seems to include his chief guardsman, his brother the historian, and a kennels-master.
Bëor would laugh at the incongruity of it all, but oh gods his head hurts and he can feel the pain crawling up his throat now too.
Just a moment more. . .
~ ~ ~
When he awakes again it is just in time to see the entrance of the old lore-woman of his former House, Calwen. Gods – in his desperation Nom must have sent his fastest riders out to Bëor’s former House, looking for her to come and explain Bëor’s state.
His greatest former rival, when she arrives, looks older and more withered than Bëor can ever remember seeing her (and why shouldn’t she, she must be nearing the end of her life now – gods), but she hobbles right up to his bedside and pokes at his shoulder with her walking stick.
“A cold,” the old lore-woman says flatly, utterly unimpressed. It is obvious that she thinks Bëor has gone soft, living in the lands of the Fey King, if he cannot even deal with a common winter illness. “I am too old for your shit, Balan. Tell your master that I want one of these lovely soft beds for the night and then his mad young rider can take me home.”
“It is good to see you too, Calwen.” Or at least, this is what Bëor would tell her, if only the soreness of his throat were not preventing the words from forming in any intelligible sense.
Calwen rolls her eyes. “Nod if your master can speak our tongue.”
“Good. Now, you.” Oh – so Nom is still here, somewhere, hovering – Bëor feels a pang of fondness for the ageless king, thrown into disarray by such a little thing as a little cold.
“You will need a hot meat stock – fowl is best, if you have it –, a little salt, and some root vegetables,” Calwen begins lecturing the king of Nargothrond as Bëor nods off again.
~ ~ ~
It cannot be quite the soup that his own mother would make, or that he could wheedle from one of the other women of his House when his own children fell ill in the winter, but what little scent Bëor’s abused nose can catch from rising from the bowl in Nom’s hands is divine.
And Nom balances it so gracefully, too, as he comes to take a seat at the side of the bed, tucking one leg beneath him so that he is facing Bëor. “Hello, love. No, shhhh, do not speak, Calwen told me all about the molds that grow in your throat – goodness, just when I think there can’t be anything more fascinating about you – anyway, I just wanted to come and see if you were awake so I could feed you this? Apparently it is the very best thing to drive away the molds and stop the, erm, dissolving? Just nod if you want to try some, yes? All right. And Calwen said that as your lover – actually, I think the word she used was ‘master,’ you’ll have to tell me about that sometime when you’ve recovered – I had to have a hand in its making myself, or else it wouldn’t be strong enough, so it might be different, I had no frame of reference, so you’ll also have to tell me if it’s right or not-“
Now that Nom is murmuring, rather than panicking or shouting, his rambling words become relaxing, and the broth that he spoons carefully to Bëor’s lips is warm and soothing down his throat. And Bëor has never held much stock in the idea that a broth made by a loved one has more efficacy – in their life over the Mountains, illness was illness, and had to be combatted without the luxury of time – but knowing that this was made, or at least its preparation stringently supervised and worried over by Nom, does make it better, somehow.
And when the bowl is empty, and Bëor’s eyes are losing the battle to stay open once more, Nom sets it aside and comes to join him beneath the coverlet again, taking Bëor in his arms and cradling him gently against Nom’s chest.
“What are – what are you doing?” he manages to rasp.
“Shhhh,” Nom soothes. “Oh dear – can you not see me? I’m coming to lie down next to you. Calwen said that my nearness would help your recovery, too. And besides, I can’t fall ill. You will be better, as soon as we can manage!”
Well, no, that’s not quite how this works, and surely Nom is needed elsewhere for the actual business of actually ruling, but his arms are warm and Bëor has not the heart to dissuade him, so. . . He sleeps again.
~ ~ ~
His eyes fly open at the sound of another sneeze, and not one that originated with him.
Oh no. Nom.
“Oh,” Nom still beside him says, slowly but with growing delight. “Bëor. Bëor. I think I’m sick! This is exciting, I didn’t know that was even possible, I – oh, ouch. I feel terrible!”
Bëor leverages himself up on one elbow to set the back of his hand to Nom’s forehead, checking for fever, but it’s no use – they’ve been under the coverlet all night, and Nom runs so hot already, that Bëor can’t tell how severe it is.
“And ai, my throat hurts,” Nom says, continuing to take stock of his own body. “It’s almost like I’ve had you down it all night, but also worse, sort of – scratchy? And I can’t breathe through my nose –this is wonderful! I need my notebook, please, I want to jot down some notes, establish a baseline-“
His excitement is interrupted by another sneeze, an absurd sound coming from such an elegant creature. It hurts Bëor’s heart to hear it – this is not something that should have touched Nom.
“I am so sorry,” he whispers. “Gods, Nom. You should have stayed away.”
“Never,” Nom says, far too cheerful about the prospect of having maybe caught a winter cold. “This will be exciting! And now you know I will not leave you.”
That is –that is not precisely Bëor’s worry, but that is also a conversation for another day.
Shaking his head, Bëor stumbles out of bed to see who is guarding their door this morning, and who he can send to check and see if Calwen can be bribed to stay and make them both another pot of soup.