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3
Birthing

Birthing

She woke in the night, suddenly felt confused as to where she was. She looked about the room--no longer the chambers she’d known in Imladris. She dwelt now again in the Angle, not far from the fortress where she’d lived during the years of her marriage to Arathorn. Halbaleg had seen a small house built for her near a stream and backed by a small wood of beech trees. Here she dwelt now, now that her son was returned to their people, now that he was no longer Estel but Aragorn once again.

The promise he’d shown as a warrior was certainly fulfilled, and after six months of riding as a recruit he’d been granted his first command. Many of those assigned to his newly formed troop had looked on him with suspicion. Yes, they’d heard from their sons and younger brothers who’d ridden with him under Berenion’s teaching that this was one who was full worthy; but he was still so young--barely twenty-one years of age and with still no sign of a beard to grow on his face. Yet his grey eyes were keen enough, his mouth indicating he was not one to seek to cross, or to question too deeply.

Those in his first command were, for the most part, older, more experienced Men. They had looked on his apparent youth and decided they had much to teach this youngling--and were amazed as they found themselves learning from him instead. Yes, he knew warfare, knew it full well. Never had they seen such skill among Men with sword and knife. He could wield a spear and bow also, but with somewhat less skill than his sword. But none could best him with sword, they realized.

Nor was his ability to lead questioned long. He had an instinctive understanding of tactics, and quickly acquainted himself with the strengths and weaknesses of his Men. Nor did he shirk when facing the hard decisions, when he must tell one he might not go forth now although he was dying to avenge himself upon the enemy while he would send forth another in his place.

The troop lost only two in the first two tours of duty it took--the other troops had averaged five losses per campaign. Aragorn son of Arathorn was coming to be seen as a good commander to serve under.

There was no question now, the night Gilraen woke in her small house, that Aragorn was the rightful leader of the Dúnedain. He’d been long recognized as Chieftain, and had even begun to leave Eriador at times, alone or with Gandalf and occasionally his Elven brothers, to see the other parts of Arnor, to learn more of them. He’d gone East of the Misty Mountains to meet the Beornings, the Men of Dale, the Men of Laketown, the Elves of Mirkwood, the Elves of Lorien, the Dwarves of Erebor. He’d been to the Dwarf caverns of the northern Misty Mountains and the Iron Hills. He’d traveled to Mithlond to the Havens and had spoken with Círdan. He’d traveled in disguise North into what had been Angmar, and what would be so once again, she knew. Now he prepared to take leave of his people, to go south to Rohan and Gondor accompanied by his cousin Hardorn, to learn of those who would be his people and his allies there.

Halbaleg with the help of Halbarad and Halladan, Galdor and Berenion would see to the needs of the North Kingdom, as had been done when Aragorn was but a boy growing up in hiding in Rivendell; but they knew they could communicate with him, that he did not relinquish his claims, his rights, or his responsibilities.

He would be here soon, she knew, to take his leave of her. And what would he find? A mother worn beyond her years for one of the almost unmingled blood of the Northern Dúnedain, one who’d awakened in the night, disturbed by a dream which was not the least frightening.

She could not sleep again, and finally arose as the Sun began to lift herself above the Misty Mountains, set herself to getting her fire lit, hanging over it the kettle for tea such as her son preferred. He’d brought her gifts from his travels to brighten her abode--eating ware from Erebor wrought of silver; dishes from the Breelands of fine pottery, gaily painted; a fine porcelain teapot and mugs from the Shire; fragile yet beautiful glassware from the Iron Hills; fine carvings of wood from Beorn’s people; a beaded curtain from Dale; the kettle from the northern Dwarves.... Yet still her longing for what might have been did not diminish.

He did not acknowledge as yet that she was fading, slowly fading. She would remain yet a time, though. But she no longer found joy, even in the smile Aragorn could give her. He alone of her bright hopes was left to her, and only for him, for a time, would she linger.

Then she heard it, the voice raised in an elaborate counting song, a song which his father had always sung as he rode back home to her. Halbaleg had taught it to him, she suspected. Her heart suddenly lifted as she went to the door to welcome her son back to her small house.

He saw her at the door, saw the Light of her Being briefly flare in response to the song he sang. He knew that this was one his father had sung, was between them the signal that their enforced parting was over for a time, and he’d begun to sing it, hoping it would hearten her, help her to hold on so that she would in time see the joy to come as the prophecies were fulfilled. After all, Aragorn had full intention of bringing those prophecies to fruition.

“Nana,” he said as he slipped off Noroloth and hurried forward to embrace her, the great grey following behind him.

“Welcome, Estel,” she said. “The water has just begun to boil.”

He laughed. “You always seem to know.” He turned to remove saddle and bridle from Noroloth, turned him loose to graze as he pleased, knowing the stallion would come at his whistle. He’d not ridden far, after all. Shaking his head, Noroloth turned to check out the offerings there in the small meadow on the west side of the cottage, set himself to graze his way down to the stream. Aragorn watched after, then settled his gear over the rail on the porch designed for such things and followed her inside.

He was as elegant, she thought, in his worn green leathers as he’d ever been in the fine robes and tunics he’d worn in Rivendell; and even with his short beard he yet had the Elven Light in his grey eyes.

“You look tired, Naneth,” he said quietly. “Was your sleep disturbed?”

She shrugged. “It was but a dream.”

“Was it one I could ease, Mother?”

“Oh, it was not a frightening one, beloved, and would have disturbed no one but me.”

“Tell me of it.”

She shrugged again and busied herself pouring out the tea, setting out the honey pot for him to use, slicing bread. But he did not take his eyes from her, would not allow her to not answer.

Finally she turned and faced him, set down bread and knife. “I dreamt of a wedding.”

“Mine?”

“No, although I have dreamt that indeed you and Arwen might wed. But if that is to come to be, it will not be for many years yet, not until and unless the shadows of Mordor are completely dispelled.”

He sighed, but nodded. “So it must be, I suppose. But, if this was not my wedding, whose was it to disturb you so?”

“It ought not to have disturbed even me.”

“Tell me of it.”

She looked down. “It was a bright day, in the beauty of a garden of flowers. I saw the bride wreathed with flowers, her eyes as bright blue as summer skies, smiling with sheer joy. Who she is I do not know, but I know her bridal wreath was heavy with primulas. Her bridegroom was scarcely taller than she, his hair dark, but beaming like the sun with joy and pleasure. And among the company was your childhood friend, the Perian Bilbo Baggins.”

“What? Has Master Bilbo married at last?”

“Oh, no, for he was not the bridegroom, but a guest, and a happy one at that.”

“You dreamt of a wedding in the Shire?”

“Yes.”

“Have you dreamt of such before?”

Again she shrugged. “Yes, a year past. And Master Bilbo was a wedding guest then, too. But this was the richer wedding.”

“Why should such a dream disturb you?”

“I do not know, Estel.”

“Perhaps these are to be important to me someday, Nana.”

“Perhaps, my love.” But she did not say that the last time she’d dreamt of eyes of such blue, they’d been those of the son she’d lost a few months before Aragorn had himself been born, the twin brother he’d not known.

“And Master Baggins was present at both weddings?”

“Yes, he was.”

“An odd detail.”

“Yes.” She took one of the slices of bread and put it on a toasting fork and held it over the kitchen fire. “Would you wish one or two slices of toast, beloved?”

As they ate together, he looked out the open door at the richness of the surrounding countryside. “Hardorn will be coming soon, and then we will set out.” He sighed. “It is not so very different than I’d imagined when I was a child, you know, although it is with my cousin and not the brother I always had hoped for that I go.” He laughed. “I remember asking you once if you could manage a brother for me. I was such an innocent at the time.”

“Well, before your father died we did try.”

He reached out and caressed her cheek. “How much he loved you, Nana.”

“And I him, for all my youth.”

“Elsewhere women marry when still little more than girls. I still do not fully understand why we of the Dúnedain feel we must wait so much longer. There is no question you were a woman grown when the two of you married.”

“True.” Then, after a few moments she asked, “Your imaginary brothers you had when a child--how did you come to imagine them?”

He sat looking out at the growing morning as he sipped thoughtfully at his mug of tea. Finally he said, “I think it was in a dream at first. I was quite small, perhaps three or four years old, I think. I was standing outside what I now know was one of the fortresses of our people, and one I knew to be my brother stood beside me. Then you came out carrying a babe, and I knew he was our little brother.”

“What did they look like?”

“My twin was much of a height with me, but his hair had true curls to it, and his eyes were a startling blue with dark lashes, and his face was naturally paler than mine. The babe’s eyes were like mine but perhaps with a touch more hazel, but his hair was somewhat lighter, as if the sun was shining on clear waters over brown pebbles.”

“One was your twin?” She seemed startled, he thought.

“I think I hated to be the one singleton in the family, Nana. My twin brother would understand me like no one else, you know, for all he was quite different from me in many ways. I’d be the warrior, and he’d be the musician and poet.”

“You do bear quite a gift for singing, you know; and your poetry, when you deign to write it, is very beautiful and moving.”

He turned to her earnestly. “But I have to think about it, Nana, while Gil-galadrion would just breath it out naturally. But although he would learn to wield weapons out of necessity, he would never be fully comfortable with them, and would not kill unless there was nothing else he could do. We would--we would complement one another so--or so I always imagined it. But I never, never dreamt of him with a beard. He’d always be more Elvish in that way also.” He suddenly examined her more closely. “What is it, Naneth?”

She was shivering, and shrugged. “I seem to become chill so easily any more, my son.”

He found the shawl sent her by Anbeth, wife to her brother Halbaleg, and wrapped it about her shoulders. “My mother, I so wish you to see the prophecies for our future come to be; but it cannot be if you allow yourself to fade now.”

“Nothing is certain, Aragorn. You are the hope for the Dúnedain indeed, but there are so many other conditions that must be right if we are to indeed see the ending of Sauron. And so much of my own hope have I had to give over.”

“I am still here for you, Naneth.”

She gently caressed his temple, looking up into his eyes. “My son, you I have had to give over to our people--if we are to survive, you must be theirs first. And I do not regret that giving--not at all. But--you are not the only one who wished to see you have brothers, beloved.”

Outside, Noroloth raised his head as if listening intently, his nostrils dilating. Aragorn also looked to the track, his hand going naturally to the sword he carried. Then it dropped as he straightened. “Hardorn is come with the pack horse,” he said with regret. He looked back to her. “I sorrow you did not have more children on whom to lavish your love and caring, Naneth. But now I must go. Remember, Nana, I will never give over loving you.” He leaned forward and kissed her, and she hugged him close, then shooed him out of the cottage where he picked up his tack and gave his whistle. By the time Hardorn approached the dooryard, Aragorn was already astride. A last salute he gave her, and with his cousin he turned South and West toward the Greenway.

As she watched her living son ride away with her brother’s youngest child, she shivered again. He had described the sons she, too, had dreamt of--the proper ages, the proper coloring. Most of the pure Dúnedain had the coloring Aragorn himself had--skin of medium hue, the slightly wavy hair dark brown to black, the grey eyes; but some had the bluer eyes of their Elven ancestry, usually with paler skin and little if any beard, and some with a slightly more golden hue to skin and hair and eyes such as her cousin Rahael had sported. And he’d seen a twin brother to himself as the most Elvish of the three, and had named him also in honor of starlight.

*******

“How is she?” Distracted, Doncella Sandybanks looked into Bilbo’s face as he reached out to detain her on one of her frequent trips back to the kitchen of Number 5.

“She’s doing well enough, I suppose; but whether or not the bairn will survive----” She shrugged helplessly. “It’s a month early, after all.”

Bilbo looked toward the other room where his cousin Drogo sat beside their mutual cousin Ponto Baggins, shaken and frightened. “It will tear him apart of he loses both wife and child. And to carry the babe so long only to lose it now--Primula would be totally devastated. She’s already lost two!”

“I know, Mr. Bilbo--I know full well. Please pardon me--need more water.”

“I’m sorry,” he said as he let her go. He could hear from the bedroom the voices of Bell Gamgee and Ponto’s wife Iris, seeking to soothe Primula, seeking to offer her what little support they could now.

There was a knock on the door, and he went to answer it. Dora was there, her face almost as pale as that of her brother’s wife. “How is she?” she was demanding as he let her in.

Bilbo nodded back to the bedrooms. “The babe’s coming now, no matter when it’s due,” he sighed. “Doncella says Primula herself is doing all right; but whether or not the bairn will survive is anyone’s guess.”

Dora nodded, shed her cloak and bonnet into his arms and hurried down the passage back to the bedroom, looked in. Bell Gamgee came out to make room for Mistress Primula’s sister-in-law, and hurried off to the kitchen. As Doncella came out of it with a basin of steaming water, she was saying over her shoulder, “Just keep the clean water coming, Bell.” In seconds she had disappeared back to the bedroom herself.

Bilbo sighed as he hung up Dora’s things on the pegs by the door, then found himself making silent prayers to the Creator and the Valar to aid Primula in this. At this point he was afraid to pray for the child--just as long as Drogo didn’t lose his wife at the same time! He had sent word to Dudo and Camellia, but whether they’d make it in time was about even odds at the moment. There’d been no way to alert Primula’s parents and brothers and sisters in Buckland, though, and Menegilda would be furious not to have been there. Too bad, really, for she was herself a markedly skilled healer and midwife, and might have stopped the early labor had she been able to get there in time. Now, however, things were too far advanced--they had no choice but to brazen it out.

He went back to the room where Drogo sat, until Drogo couldn’t bear it any longer and went down the hall to the bedroom, went barging into it in defiance of custom, stood by the bed and took his wife’s hands. She hung on his gratefully, then gave another cry, and then--then, suddenly, it was over and the babe was there, was already born.

There was no whimper or cry. Doncella swiftly tied off and severed the cord, then held the tiny bairn in her arms, her face very pale. She draped it face down over her arm, struck it as gently as she could on the back with the heel of her hand to expel what fluid might be in the lungs, to try to get the tiny lungs moving. She lifted it up by the fragile ankles, and finally the fluid drained out; then lay it with its head in her cupped hands, its body lying on her forearms, gently swung it up and down several times.

She’d all but given up on it, had stopped to look again at the faintly blueish cast of its skin, when she felt a movement in it. “It’s alive,” she breathed, then repeated the swinging several more times. When she stopped again, the movement was more definite. It moved its arms, gave a faint, mewling cough, and she again changed its position to lie over her arm. A second tiny cough, and the entire form quivered. She turned it over and looked down into its face with relief. The eyes were definitely opening to look up into hers, the mouth opening to take in a so-needed breath. The tiny lungs rose and fell, the arms reached out from its body. There was the tiny mewling sound again, almost like that of a newborn kitten, and she gave a sob of relief.

“You gave us a fright, you did, little one,” she said gently. Once she knew it was breathing properly, she laid it in its mother’s arms. “Your son,” she said softly, looking as reassuringly as she could into Primula’s eyes. “He’ll apparently stay with us for a time yet.”

Shocked and amazed, Primula and Drogo Baggins looked first questioningly at her, then back at the tiny creature held by its mother. “He’s so small!” Primula whispered.

“He’s a month early, after all,” Doncella said. “He’ll need to be by your body most of the time for at least the next month, will need to listen to your own heartbeat and breathing to remind his what to do and to reassure him. He ought to still be in there, after all.”

The infant’s parents nodded.

Bell came with the next basin of water, and after giving it some thought, Doncella chose a leaf from her store of healing leaves and slipped it into the basin after bruising it to release its oils. She then took one of the readied cloths to wash the babe’s body, finally managed to diaper it, although it took some doing to get the diaper folded small enough to fit the tiny thing. Then she wrapped it in a blanket and handed it to Drogo while she checked on the condition of the mother. “Take him on there,” she said to him. “Let us get Mistress Primula cleaned up now and the bedding changed and all.”

“What herb did you use?” Drogo asked before he left the room.

“Kingsfoil. It helps ease the heart and clear the air, I’ve found, and is far gentler than many of the other herbs I might have used,” she told him.

“Odd scent to it,” he commented as he turned out of the room to show the gathered menfolk in the study.

None of those who’d been in the room recognized the odor, for not one of them had been near the sea.

Bilbo looked up as Drogo entered the room with the tiny bundle, stood as Drogo came first to him. “It’s alive?” he breathed.

Drogo’s expression said it all. “Yes, alive. Our son! He’s survived--so far, at least.” He opened the blanket so Bilbo could see more clearly.

Bilbo looked down on the tiny male child lying in his cousin’s arms, and felt his heart give a disinct lurch. It moved purposely within the blankets, opened its blue eyes to look up into Bilbo’s own, and those eyes were more distinctly blue than were the eyes of most bairns. But more surprising was that as he looked down at the small mite he could see clearly a distinct light about it, like the light of stars. Only once before had he ever seen such a light about an individual, years ago in Rivendell, when he looked at the boy who was growing up there, the hidden heir to the descendants of Elendil and Isildur.

Without conscious thought Bilbo reached down and lifted the bairn tenderly in his hands. “So, you are the one for whom we’ve been waiting all this time?” he whispered. “It’s been quite a while we’ve waited for you, and then you decide to make things interesting by entering the world before you’re quite ready for it. And do you know, you managed to come on my birthday? Does this make you my birthday present?” Carefully he held the bairn to his cheek, felt the warmth and smoothness of it. “You dearling,” he whispered, then slid it reluctantly back into its blankets.

*******

It was in the fall of Aragorn’s thirty-seventh year that she dreamt the birth of Gilorhael, the concern, the realization this one was coming too soon and was almost lost again, the work of the midwife to get the babe to breathe, the uncertain beat of the heart at the first. She awoke assured the babe was alive, and with the view of the Perian Bilbo Baggins there, holding the tiny thing in his hands, the immediate love he felt for the infant. Then she saw Master Baggins in a lane, speaking with the others whose wedding she’d seen, those who were to be, apparently, the parents of Anorhael.

Was it so, then--that her lost sons would indeed be born among the Periannath? Certainly none were likely to look for them there--neither friend nor foe. The only one of note who cared for the Periannath was the Wizard Gandalf--and, to a far lesser extent, the Lord Elrond himself. Neither of those was likely to betray the two were they to find them among the Hobbits.

She realized at last--the very absurdity that these two, on whom two thirds of the hope of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth lay, would be found at the last amongst the Periannath would serve to save them, and better than if they’d been born to her or amongst any other people. She found herself humbled, amused, and appalled all at the same time.

And she realized also why it was the Creator had set apart Bilbo Baggins, why Gandalf had been moved to choose him, of all creatures, to serve as burglar and fourteenth member of the group headed for the Lonely Mountain--he, apparently, was to be the teacher for these two. Did he know? Did he realize that these two were the lost sons he’d discussed with her? Certainly during the last ten years she and Estel had spent in Imladris Elrond had sent a great number of books to the Shire to the use of Bilbo Baggins.

She sighed as she sat, her shawl about her, in the rocking chair Aragorn had brought to her and set by her fireplace. Then she felt more than heard the hoofbeats of an approaching horse, heard the elaborate counting song, realized that he was coming to her. He had been granted leave by Lord Ecthelion, who had no idea where the Captain Thorongil went or why as he saw to the needs of his own people; and he intended, apparently, to spend a few days at least, with her. She did not rise from her chair.

She did not want to remain in Middle Earth to witness the last battle with the Enemy. But, at least she now knew that the hope was there, that Gilorhael had survived his birth, that Anorhael would come in his time and would be there to the support of both who’d been meant to know him as brother.

She looked up into the clear grey eyes of her own living son as he entered the house and came to embrace her with concern, and smiled. Her remaining hope she’d given to the Dúnedain, and the rest of her hope had been given to all the Free Peoples by way of the Shire. What irony!

She found she looked forward to entering the Presence and facing the Creator who had shown such a strange sense of humor.

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