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Love's Labours
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Cradling

When my son made his eagerly-awaited entrance into this life, much to my surprise he greeted it without a single cry; and when straight away he was placed to rest in my arms, still messy and bloody from his journey, he lay there silently with what, I thought, was just the slightest hint of wry satisfaction. And after all why not? His headstrong determination to thrust himself wilfully into the world a full two weeks before the date foretold had just shattered all the careful preparations for his arrival and thrown my usually well-ordered household into complete disarray. Indeed the birth had been so frighteningly swift it was as if my own mind had dissolved into a kind of chaos as my body took control with an animal's instinct. I now wonder if I might have lost myself entirely but for the solid presence of my old wet nurse Morwen. In the end, despite all her gloomy, and not to say alarming, warnings concerning the width of hips and the dangers of bearing children while yet too young, she had proved herself to be the most comforting of midwives. Still, prompted no doubt by an overwhelming relief, I was amused to find that I too enjoyed a certain smugness that her fears had proved to be unfounded.

When, after a little while, Morwen took the baby from me, declaring briskly that it was 'time for him to be dealt with', the languid feeling of ease I felt, as the other women helped me bathe and dress and brush my hair was abruptly broken by my son discovering a new use for his lungs. I had watched with an odd sense of detachment, as his face grimaced in fury and he bawled his outraged protest against the indignity of the midwife's attentions. He had, however, calmed slightly by the time all was ready for the usual brief ceremony.

In all the while that I had spent weaving a blanket for him, as has always been the custom of our people, I had not imagined how right it would feel to see it wrapped around his body as Morwen, in the absence of my mother, spoke the formal words of welcome. The wool had been spun, dyed and woven by my hand alone. Into that yarn I had tried to infuse all the shades and hues of these northern lands; the mountains and the clouds, the rivers and the forests, the stones and the earth and into the warp and the weft I had breathed the love that I hold for all that still remains fresh and clean and free from the shadow of our Enemy. As I listened to the women of the household join in their song of greeting to a new life, I was overcome with a feeling of gladness that I had felt the need to pour my spirit into the making of that cloth.

At last, much to the relief of my son, everything was finished; and we were left to rest together quietly, in a peaceful stillness. He greedily and readily mastered the art of suckling and I began, with a little more hesitation, to unravel the mystery that was my newborn child. The blanket had fallen open and he lay then with his naked skin pressed close against mine. The messiness from his delivery had all been washed away and I wondered a little to see he had a full crest of soft raven hair that crowned his head, in strong contrast to skin that was unusually pale and unblemished for a newborn. As I watched he paused in his sucking and stared up at me with one slightly unfocused, but oddly familiar, grey eye - and it was then that I felt a sudden sharp, bodily pain of yearning for the presence of my husband.

Sunk into the soft mattress of our bed, I looked across to where Arathorn was accustomed to lie and felt for him a terrible regret that, for all our foresight, he had not been at home for the birth of our child, as he had so much wanted to be. I thought then of my husband; of the feel of questing, stroking hands on my skin and the urgent brush of lips and breath upon my face and breasts and hair. I recalled, with an upsurge of joy, the laughter and inventiveness of his last visit as we found ways to overcome the barrier of my impressively rounded belly. In that moment, for the first time, I vividly felt the truth behind the grateful words he had always spoken to me, that the mere memory of our life together could indeed be enough to relieve, for a while at least, soreness and stiffness and weariness of the body and the mind. I hoped then, with all my heart, for his sake even more than for my own, that this time, he would grant himself grace enough to remain with me a little while longer than usual; before honour bade him return to share the dangers and hardships of his men.

A messenger had been dispatched as soon as my labour began, but I knew it would be some hours yet before the quiet of the morning was broken by the sounds of anxious men and hard-ridden horses. Arathorn was expected to arrive from the east and I had asked for the window looking that way to be left open so I could also taste the cold, clear bite of a dawn in early spring. As I watched the first amber streaks of light touch the glittering peaks of the far distant mountains, all was peaceful and completely still.

My gaze wandered back inside to the other end of the chamber where, near to the hearth, the cradle stood ready, crisp sheet and coverlet of snowy white turned down expectantly. It was beautiful, an ancient heirloom of my husband's house, the black of ebony and silver of inlaid stars and trees worn to a lustrous sheen by generations of patiently rocking hands. Then I looked once more upon my son who had finished with his suckling and was asleep, his little body pressed down as close to my skin as it was possible to be, one tiny hand grasping instinctively, possessively at my newly engorged nipple. His hair no longer stood upright but was flattened to his head by a faint sheen of perspiration. He lay with his nose still pressed to my breast and his face turned a little to one side with an expression of utter satiated contentment, the last drop of milk dribbling unheeded from his half open lips. With a sudden onrush of sadness, I remembered that, all too soon, he would have to learn that there are times when we must rein in our desires and wait a while to taste the good things in life, should that even be our fate. Still, at that moment it was as if the two of us were suspended, floating in a warm expanse of gently surging water. Smiling, I reached out and drew the bedcover closer around our bodies and murmured softly into the sweat-moist head that already smelt to me as familiar as my own flesh, "But not quite yet - not quite yet".



* * * * * *

A/N Written in August 2002, this was my very first attempt at writing. Out of a sentimental attachment to my firstborn I have decided against revising it.



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