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Love's Labours
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A Necessary Duty

Well, hardly have we met and already I am prattling like a dotard. And have I not always been one to shake my head at such foolishness as this? But now it seems only the natural thing to do. And is it not best that I should start as I mean to go on with nothing but straightforward talk between the two of us? For I would not hide from you, heir to everything I am, the less than palatable truth that a father can harbour selfish and ignoble thoughts toward his child. You see, in all my desperate ride for home, my fear was not for you, your birth so eagerly awaited by so many, but only for my wife, as the possibility I could lose her forever was too terrible to be imagined. And I confess that was not the first time I have been guilty of such unnaturalness. Sometimes in the night, when duty condemned me to loneliness in the wild, I have been plagued with jealousy that you will usurp me in my lover's embrace and be cherished at the breast that once brought comfort only to me.

But, here I am, face to face with you at last. And now I am most heartily ashamed that I could ever have been so ungenerous and cruel. Look at you - so small, barely the length of my forearm, so utterly helpless, so very tiny to carry the burden of such a wearisome destiny as we Heirs of Isildur must endure. How could I have begrudged you a single jot of love or comfort that happened in your way? Please forgive me, my son, for now I understand and indeed would shield you forever from the future, if it only lay within my power. For it is no choice of yours to be held in my arms, and solemnly named before all, the son of Arathorn. And that itself is a strange thing to do, is it not, when in all the most important things, you will always be rather the son of Gilraen? And therein lies your hope, I think, for your mother truly is the most remarkable of women, though she may yet seem to some nought but a slip of a girl.

Ah, I do so fervently hope you will escape the blight that poisoned my life for so long. Do you think I look a little stern and grim? Well I used to look a good deal worse. Worn down as I already was by the ceaseless war against the shadows, it was such a heavy thing to know, that I must take a wife, father a child, and not only a child, a son, an Heir to the Heir to Isildur's Heir, as I was then. To know that I could offer nothing to any woman who bound herself to me other than a share in my yoke. And let me tell you too, my son, there is nothing like the weight of having to perform for grinding away all ability to do so.

But then I met your mother. And the millstone was mercifully absent from my neck, for was it not well known to all that Gilraen was far too young to wed? So, all with never a thought for anything over than companionship, I walked with her and talked and relished the sharpness of her wit and was reminded there could be such a thing as mirth. And shall I tell you what were the most companionable times of all? When she would smile at my fears and laugh, "My lord, surely your Necessary Duty need not be so very onerous to you? Indeed, I can imagine there are some who might even consider it a pleasure to perform." Until, finally, it dawned on me at last, that wisdom has nought whatsoever to do with age. For the truth of what they say, that love lurks where there is laughter, had stealthily worked its way into my heart. Your mother, of course, had known for a while, we were clearly meant to be man and wife. And though others may sometimes look at us a little askance, I have never regretted it for a moment and, much to my undying wonder, neither has she.

And here you are at last, the outcome of all that dutiful labour. I fear that Morwen was a little disapproving that I picked you up so readily when you fussed. I imagine she holds that it is never too soon for a babe to learn its place, and that your place is in that cradle, set by the fire, a little distant from where your mother lies peacefully asleep. And, in truth, it is indeed your place to lie in that bed, as I did before you and generations of my forebears before that. But let me assure you now, my son, that though at first it may seem cold and unwelcoming, you will become accustomed to it in time. For your mother will be there to help you. She will wrap you safely in your blanket and rock the cradle gently if all seems strangely still and if, in the night, the silence grows too great she will sing to you softly to lull you back to sleep. And if, after that, the loneliness is still too much to bear, she will not leave you to struggle on alone but will pick you up and hold you and comfort you, should all the world stand between.

It won't be too long now, I expect, till my Gilraen wakens from sleep. How will it be, do you think, when her eyes open and our glances meet at last? I think neither of us will feel the need to speak of labour or pain or loneliness, but rather I shall compliment her on a Duty adequately fulfilled but I shall not fail to speak of further Duties yet to be performed. For though now, at last, I have my Heir, these are troubled times indeed and it is only prudent to produce a Spare. And then there are always daughters to be considered too. And I will watch and wait, and enjoy that familiar glint of mischief in her eye, as she hones the retort that will have me laughing away my fears. And then, if she desires it, I will hold her closely in my arms, tenderly so as not to cause her any further pain, and lose myself in her embrace for just a little while.

Morwen looked in again a moment ago. She needs to reassure herself, I think, you are in safe hands. And, somewhat to my surprise, she seemed satisfied with what she saw. And, I too, would very much like to think you are in safe hands, though they are rough and calloused and nothing like your mother's. At least they are now clean and not grimy and stained black with the blood of orcs and other foul things I should not mention to one so very young as you. Indeed, now I am cradling you so closely, I suspect that you may be the one in need of a bit of cleansing.

So perhaps it is the time to hand you back to the midwife. For did not my father ever try to teach me, that to know how to delegate is the first skill a captain should acquire? Besides, I would not presume to trespass on Morwen's territory when it comes to matters of cleanliness. I will use the time to sit by your mother and watch the dying of the day. I had not really noticed before that the weather for your birthday has been so flawlessly fine. Look, little one, your first sunset and is it not a glorious one to behold? And look, up there, because the air is so very still and clear, we can already see the gleaming of some stars.

So I'll bid you farewell, but only for a while. For you will feel much better to be washed and comfortable when you are brought to us again. And when, at last, you get to sate the hunger that will no longer be denied, then, I fancy all three of us will taste a little more of what it means to be happy. Which is all to the good. For I would have you know right from your birth, what it has taken me far too many darkened years to learn, that not only in laughter can you find love, but as long as there is joy there is still hope.


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