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40

'A time may come soon,' said he, 'when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.'

ROTK: The Passing of the Grey Company


~~~

"Onya."

"Ammė, it is a bird."

My son winces and holds himself very still at the crackle of winter-dry bracken beneath his feet. The path to the Angle's square is empty of folk and we have barely begun our short journey. The sun of early spring would warm my face and hands were it not for the coldness of the breeze that comes down from the mountain. Chill it is with the snows that lie upon their heads and I despair of finding a cloak that shall keep me warm, swollen belly and all. We are alone in our short journey as are not often left to ourselves, for Halbarad goes to prepare his man's grave and the youth for which we were to wait was late in the coming.

"Onya!" I call after him, but I dare not follow for the weight about my middle makes me ungainly upon my feet and I cannot follow a slight boy of his years into the woods that line the path we must follow.

I would feel pride my son could come so close upon the wild thing should not the sun also rise so swiftly upon the day. Ah! We are late! For my son had misplaced his belt and though I had laid all out the night before, upon the morn I came upon his cloak lying beneath his muddy boots. Its good thick cloth was, to his surprise, thus soiled and damp. There was naught for it but to hang it before the fire while I sent my son in a search of the house for his belt and brush away the dirt once it had dried. It is a good, I think, Halbarad had left for the barrows upon the sun's rising, for my temper wore thin and more than once did my son catch the edge of my sharp tongue.

"Onya! Whatever it is, leave it be."

"I almost have it, Ammė."

Here he crouches and reaches cautious hands to the nest of leaves beneath the gorse bush, but a sudden rush of flapping sets my son back on his heels. The twittering flight of the panicked dove speeds through the dark and naked trees.

"Come now, onya! It shall be a great insult to the Elder's House should we be much later. I doubt not they are already gathered and soon shall take Ranger Gelir to the barrows."

At this, my son's face, once lit with pleasure at his skill, now falls somber and he turns away from the brush. Ducking and pushing at the thin whips of ash and elm, he makes his way back to the path where I await him.

With a sigh, I set down the basket I carry as he draws near.

"Ai! Onya!"

The boy's clothes are full of leaves and pulled into disarray by the thorns of the gorse bush. In his distraction, he has placed a dark smudge of dirt across his brow from I know not what.

He screws up his face when I wet my thumb and rub at his skin, taking up a corner of his cloak to finish the work, but he knows better than to resist.

"I can get them, Ammė," he says when I then set to batting away the leaves clinging to his tunic and tugging at its hem.

But too many hours have I spent in the making of his clothes, and so I say naught and shake at the folds of his cloak. His tunic matches the brilliant blue of his father's, as do the lines of stars I have set in thread to the collar and breast. His best clothes and we are not even a furlong distant from the house. How does the boy manage it?

"I thought its wing was broken," he says in what seems to be an attempt at soothing his mother's temper.

I let loose his cloak to find my son looking upon me anxiously. He has his father's coloring, with cheeks that turn pink upon the brush of early spring air.

"Aye, onya," I sigh. "No matter, pet, 'twas a good deed attempted, but I think it shall fare better taking care of itself on its own terms." By his uncertain look I am unsure as to whether or not he places any trust in my words, but I have not the time to explain myself. "Come, let us go. Remember what I told you?"

"Aye, Ammė," he says and submits to me taking his hand.

I take up the basket and we set down the path again. It would not do to be late, for this is the first burial he attends as his father's son and I would not make him uncertain as to his place among his people by insulting the very family to whom we wish to bring comfort.

Naught stirs upon the ploughed soil as we pass, no sight of our folk to be seen upon the fields. So light the rain of the night before it has sunk deep into ground and little sign of it remains but the darkened earth. Still, the scent of water hangs o'er the morning and the distant sound of men rings atimes o'er the meadow. For Master Herdir has set them to the sluice gates of the stream that meanders upon the edges of our fields. Where the water had trickled shallow and cold for the hunger of the river with no winter snow to feed it, it now runs swift with the rain. There they shall open the gates and flood the furrows for a brief time, each man taking his turn of what little water we may steal away from the river's thirst.

'Tis not the day of the market and for the chill weather, few of our folk are about. And yet, as we pass my lord's people pause in their work to look upon his son. Aye, I know that look and have oft seen it turned to my lord. He knows it not, but their eyes drink in the sight of him, my son with his feet swiftly striding beside me. And when they speak, he does as we have taught him and halts a brief moment to nod and accept their salute. At other times, this would set him to answering their questions as to his day with the assurance of the young that no detail was too small to be of interest to their elders. But, today, with our errand in mind, he returns their greetings with a sober look that can only remind me of his father.

It was with much relief that I find we are not late, for the mourners are many and Elder Maurus' hall small for all of them. They have spilled onto his toft and there sat the old man upon the bench against the wall where he was wont to warm himself in the sun. The skin of his face seems as weathered wood and the years lie deeply etched therein. Beside him is his daughter's eldest son, who has left the Angle's baking to other hands today. His round and jovial face is quiet as he sits there. But they are not alone, for there gathered about them are the young men of the Rangers, the few here for a short time upon the Angle. There they have taken up logs from his woodpile and settled in a circle about the kinsmen of their lost brother.

The men roar with laughter when my son and I approach, and the Elder's face shines with a gentle mirth. I know not if he, with his aged ears, heard the tale in full. Perhaps he need not, but looks to the men to warm his heart as the sun cannot, for they tell of the exploits of his daughter's son and their joy of him lights them from within. Gelir's eldest brother laughs as we come upon them, only to have his face twist at the pain. He looks quickly away, but with a touch, gentle upon the man's shoulder, the baker recalls himself and rubs at his eyes with rough hands, welcoming the Ranger who would share the bench beside him.

"What was it he spirited into the Chief's pipeweed pouch, do you know?"

"I know not, but it gave him a rash for somewhat of a month or more."

"A rash, who, our lord?"

"Nay, 'twas Gelir who suffered the rash. The scamp kept the leaves in his boot for a fortnight before he made the attempt."

"Aye, aye!" calls out a young man of dark skin and twinkling eyes. It is Mathil. "To give the leaf its proper sweetness, he said."

"Oh, aye! How could I have forgotten? Bootbottom leaf, he called it."

This last sent them to hooting and the baker laughs and wipes at his eyes. Elder Maurus smiles, though he speaks not.

"And did you see our lord's face when he went to fill his pipe?" Mathil asked, laughing. "None but Gelir could have caused that bewildered and vexed look."

"Ah, don't I know it well," says the baker and they smile upon the man, of the same kinship for this moment.

"I thought for sure Gelir had finally taken his sport too far."

"What response did our lord make?"

The men halt and, turning about in their seats, make quick to rise. For it is I who ask the question of them.

"My lady," I hear about the group and they touch their knuckles upon their brow.

I nod to Elder Maurus where he remains seated, forgiven of the exercise for the age of his joints and his status among us.

"My lady," croaks the old man.

"My greetings, Elder Maurus," I say, bowing my head as is proper. "I was grieved to hear of your loss," I go on, but the man has already turned his gaze again to the men about him.

But his daughter's son speaks for him. "Our thanks to you for your coming, my lady," he says and I nod.

"Master Edainion," says Mathil and the others echo him. They look warmly upon my son and smile with some fondness, I think, when he bows his head in return. The boy clings to my hand and looks solemnly upon his father's men, puzzling, I think, the meaning of their smiles and stories.

"I take it Halbarad did not hear of this tale?" I ask and they smile broadly with some knowing looks passed among them.

"Nay, my lady," Mathil says, "else Gelir would have spent the rest of his years atop Weathertop."

"What was it the lord Aragorn said?" asks a youth I know little. I think him newly come to the Angle from our folk settled about the Blue Mountains. Perhaps it was he was to come for us, my son and I, and I wonder what shall be Halbarad's thoughts on the matter should he learn the boy had neglected a singular duty.

"Eh? Oh!" Mathil pauses a moment to smile upon me before seating himself and answering the man. "He said any man who had the boldness and skill to play the Lord of the Dśnedain for a fool had the mark of a man who might perform deeds of great merit. And so he hoped Gelir might set his mind to duty more oft than he had in the past, but now he must set his mind to finding him somewhat decent to smoke or else he would be set to naught but watching the open wastes for the next year."

I smile, for I can just imagine it, and it warms my heart for the love I see for their lord, though far afield. It is not oft I hear tell of my lord from aught but my own memory.

But when it seemed they would temper their tongues should we stay, my son and I took our leave and left them there to their tales. The hall is crowded with folk and Elder Maurus' table laden with swiftly vanishing food. Elesinda sits upon a bench upon the far side of the hall, there with her head lying upon her mother's shoulder, her eyes red and face disfigured by tears that have been long in the shedding. Atimes, her mother reaches a gentle hand to pat and stroke the young woman's cheek. Later, aye, later when she need not cling so tightly to her mother's hand, shall I go to her and offer what comfort I can.

They have laid Gelir upon a bed of evergreen in the hall, there to rest upon the boughs on which they will bear him to the barrows. The sharp scent of its dark leaves hung about him. They have rubbed a bit of earth upon his brow. Dark it lay smeared against his pale skin. Such a strange thing, to see that broad face no longer pleasant with mischief and mirth. And so still.

My son breaks his stare to look upon me curiously when I bring my fingers to my brow, for I doubt he has seen me e'er pay my respects to one of our folk thusly before.

"And so should you," I say low to him. "For he has sacrificed much in your father's service."

At this, my son turns his grave look upon Gelir and raises his hand to his brow.

"Ammė?" he asks in whisper, turning upon me. "Can he hear us?" My son glances swiftly upon the closed and sunken eyes.

"No,onya, not anymore."

"He has got dirt on him."

I think my son wonders why it should be left upon the man's brow when I would not allow it up on his.

"Of Arda are we made and to it bound, onya. And so by its soil are we greeted when we are born and to it we go when we die."

Aye, no promised land of beauty and light across the Sea. No Straight Way to take us there should the earth fail. We are dependent upon these mortal lands, and yet such a short while does Arda's soil sustain us.

"Lothel!"

The voice comes hard upon a crash of crockery. The folk gathered in the small hall stop their quiet murmurs to turn to the sound.

"Och, girl! See what you have done!"

Ah, but a pitiful sight she makes, the young lass, for she hangs her head and bites at her lip. And it is the Mistress Pelara who stands over her, red-faced for the vexation. For they stand amidst the broken shards of the Mistress' bowls.

"Can you not look afore you set your feet to walking, eh? You knocked them clear off the table for your clumsiness."

At this, the poor lass truly begins to weep, and her father's mother sighs. Pelara would put a hand to her shoulder, but the girl has fled, brushing past the forest of breeches and skirts about her for the door. I have all but decided to go to the woman when a hand tugs upon my skirts.

"Ammė?"

My son's face is anxious and he gazes in somewhat of horror upon the Mistress. Her face hard, she is joined by Lothel's mother in gathering up the broken crockery.

"Why is she being so mean like that?" He whispers so I must lean to him to hear his words.

I think he could be no less shocked if the Mistress had torn away a veil to reveal herself no less than a troll hiding among our folk and, to their grief, had sprung forth upon them. He oft spends as many hours in the Elders house as he does his own and is there as loved.

"Ai, onya," I say. "There are many ways a heart may grieve and not all of them are with tears. Do you understand?"

He shakes his head, but, with the steadfastness of mind of the young, his thoughts are elsewhere, for his gaze goes now to the door.

"Aye, you may go. But only to find Lothel," I say. "And keep her away for a while, will you not?"

This, at least, my son comprehends. He nods and quickly follows the path of his friend's flight, leaving me the thornier problem of the girl's grandmother.

"Ammė!"

It seems Pelara's daughter has called her more than the once, for the Mistress grumbles aloud from where she kneels upon the floor at the cost of the dishes and what it shall take to replace them, and the woman need raise her voice to call her complaints to a halt.

"I shall get this," says her son's wife and the Mistress seems poised upon arguing the point but, when she catches sight of my skirts, looks up of a sudden.

"Ah! My lady, it is good of you to come!"

"Here, help me up, girl!" she says but I offer my hand and, though little help I am, Pelara grunts and pushes herself up from the floor. "Ah, these old bones of mine."

"Pelara, I was grieved to hear –"

"Will you look at that!" the Mistress exclaims and, pulling loose of my grip, goes the table. Tutting at the crumbs upon the linen, she brushes them into a pile with her hands. "I asked that daughter of mine to see to the table and now look at it. A mess, all but the last of the food gone, and I've not seen her for the past hour."

"Ammė," comes a weary voice from the floor. "Do you not remember? She went to the barrows to see to the laying the evergreens in the grave."

"Oh! Aye!" Pelara says. "I had forgotten." Now she has swept the crumbs in her hands, she searches about but has nowhere to take them.

I had thought my son shocked at her change and now find myself not much less so. Oh, ever had the woman's sparkled with the same intellect and good humor that she gifted to each of her sons and daughters. But now her gaze is dark and in her eyes I see the restlessness of a wounded creature. She sees all but settles on naught.

"Will you not sit down, Pelara? I can take that for you," say I, but she brushes past me as if I had not spoken. For eyes alight upon the basket I had brought with me, sitting there where I left it, beside the bier on which lies her son.

"Ah! Good!" she exclaims. "You brought them." Now forgotten, the crumbs fall from her hands, littering the floor and her skirts as she strides across the room. There she whisks the basket from the floor and checks beneath the cloth, paying her son no more heed than if he were another table set for her guests.

"Let me put these onto a tray," she says and then she is gone, striding through door to the family's rooms so swiftly it is as if we had come upon the sudden stillness after a storm.

I know not what to say, or do. Perhaps there is naught that can be said, and very little to do. I still my hands, for they have been wringing themselves upon the crest of my belly, and it is all I can do to not follow my son in fleeing from the hall. Oh, well, I may take the risk of ne'er being able to rise from the floor, but perhaps I can help a little in clearing away the broken crockery, for Lothel's mother reaches beneath the table to find the wayward pieces and they make a delicate chiming sound as she lays them one in the other. I clutch at the table and lean to the floor, holding a square-like shard out to the finely tapered hand that reaches for it.

"I can get these, my lady," she says softly when I hand the piece to her. By the weariness in those fair eyes I know her wishing a moments peace and somewhat quiet to occupy her.

"I shall get the broom for you, then."

She smiles faintly, for she knows I must follow Mistress Pelara into their private rooms if it is truly my aim to do as I say. Aye, well, in truth it is there I should go.

"My thanks to you, my lady," she says, and I think her truly grateful.

"Och! Had you no time to make the savory pies?" the Mistress asks when she sees who has followed her into the inner hall. Pots lie stacked by the hearth and cloths drape over the bench and damp and dirty linens litter the table. She has pulled aside the napkin from atop the basket and prods at its contents.

"Oh, well, I suppose you had not the sausage to fill it, things being the way they are," she goes on. "It matters little, the fools will fill their bellies with aught they can fit in their hand." She leaves the basket to twist about, her smallest fingers scratching at her brow, and searches about her. "A tray. Aye, a tray. That is what I need."

"Will not this bowl do?" I ask, lighting upon a shallow wooden thing near to hand. Indeed, it is the nearest thing to hand, for I find my own thoughts whirling about me in the wind of the Mistress' passage and I wish only to have her settle upon one thing and have done.

"That?" She looks upon me without comprehension.

"True it is a trifle damp, but will it not do? If you have but a bit of cloth for me to wipe it dry --"

"Very well," she says. With that, she takes up a cloth and scowls at its dampness. This she tosses back to the table and turns about to only to do the same to the next.

"Pelara," I say and with a hesitant touch reach for her shoulder. But she is gone, striding quickly to a chest and flinging open the lid so it bangs against the wall. My willful hands do clutch upon each other and they ache.

"Pelara, shall you not go to your father?" I ask, following her. But she seems not to hear me, for she slams the lid closed, dissatisfied with what she sees within.

"Ah!" she exclaims, returning to the table and rifling through the bowls, cups and linens there. "Is there not a single dry piece of cloth in this entire hall?" Angered now, she takes up the damp linens by their corners and yanks them from the table, piling them in her arm. "What use my daughters! My hall full of guests and not a single clean piece of linen to be found."

"Pelara!" No longer gentle, I come upon her and lay a hand on her arm. I would turn her about to face me but it is then she pulls away.

"Sweet Valar! I can find naught in all this mess!" she shouts and flings the towels she holds to the floor, putting her back to me. There she stands and I think she is as stunned by the quiet as am I.

"Oh, my lady," she says at length, her voice muffled and strained with weariness. "I had hoped you would bring the savory pies. He liked them so."

"Oh. Ai!" she says and with a great heaving breath lifts her face to the rafters. "He liked them so."

"Your eldest is there, with your father," I say, softening my voice. It is only now I dare come close upon her and even then I shall not touch her. "His friends tell tales of your son I think you would wish to hear."

"Oh, aye! Where are my daughters?" Her voice quickens and she turns about, her eyes bright and panicked. "Oh, forgive me, my lady, I should go to them. Aye, and little Lothel! Oh, she was his favorite!"

"Go, Pelara," I say, but am unsure she hears me, for she goes to the door and leaves me behind as if she has forgotten me already.

Ai! I lean my palms upon the table and, after a moment of resting there, a quick laugh surprises me. I had not thought I would feel mirth at such a time. Ah, what would my lord have done? I doubt not he could have gentled the Mistress to stillness as I had seen him take up a frightened dove. But he is not here, and it is but his lady who labors to make up the lack.

I pick up the mess of linen from the floor, groaning a little at the effort now I am alone. Truly they are damp and their scent sour. I drop them to the table and settle on the napkin I brought to wipe the wooden bowl clean. Aye, the hall could be set to rights and order brought to the food upon the table. Mayhap I have not the hands of the healer, but at least this I can do.

~oOo~

My son does not sleep, but lies still beneath his wool coverlet. This is most unlike him. As many children his age, he runs through the hours as if he feels he has but a few to spend and only rests upon the end of the day. Then, as soon as he lays upon the mattress, he falls into a deep slumber from which he will not stir until the morning, when he begin it all again.

The candle's light flickers from its sconce on the wall, throwing shadows across the closed room. Halbarad's voice sounds low in the hall below stairs, where he and the latest youth to join us secure the house and prepare their pallets. They shall leave upon the morrow, for now we have laid Gelir in his grave and said our farewells over him, Halbarad has called for a muster of our lord's men.

The solar is yet warm from the rising heat from the hearth. Soon, the chill of the night will creep in and we will be glad of the thick blankets that cover us. My son lies in the trundle bed while I quickly wipe away the day's dirt beneath my shift. The floor grows cold and I dry myself swiftly. A glance at the bed and it comes to me that I have heard little of the boy this day.

Upon our return to the house, he amused himself silently in the garden and in a corner of the solar when not at his lessons. He left little of the outdoors strewn behind him in the hall. His voice did not spill in through its high windows. Dirt did not sift from his garments and when he undressed for the night there were no wriggling bits of the forest or pasture to capture and set free.

I hang the cloth on the hook above the basin, take up my comb, and throw a wrap about my shoulders. Tonight, Edainion's look is troubled, his brows dark and drawn, and he does not sleep. I sit at the edge of the trundle bed, the boards biting into the flesh behind my knees. There, I smile at my son and untie the ribbon that binds my hair.

When he does not speak, I say, "Did you have a good visit with Lothel?"

He nods but says naught, watching as I pull my fingers through my braid, unwinding its heavy locks. There is little of the infant left to him, with his long limbs and somber eyes. Give him but another season and his father might not know him.

"What did you do?"

He shrugs and then says, "We played in the Elder's barn with Ruful."

"I see."

I shake out my hair at the roots and take up my comb. My son's eyes follow my hands, from crown to tip of my hair.

"Amminya? Why do you comb your hair when you just braid it again?"

I smile. "Because, onya, otherwise, it will become as matted as yours after you roll about in Master Baran's hayloft." I swipe at his hair with the comb and he gives me a weak smile in return. Aye, somewhat weighs heavily upon his mind. I no longer smile.

When I stop my combing and rub his leg, Edainion plucks at the pilled fibers upon his coverlet, his face again solemn. He will speak when he has a mind, and, like his father, no pressure will open his mouth before he is ready. When he does speak, what he has to say surprises me. I cannot think what could have started this round of thought in the boy.

"Lothel said that the House of the Dśnadan can see things afore they happen."

"Aye, 'tis true," I say. "Your father's mother and her parents before her were given foresight, though it came seldom. And your father, at times is so gifted as well."

"Did you ever know what will happen before?" he asks, glancing at me.

"No, it is not given to all."

"Shall I see it?"

"Perhaps. But not all things that are seen will come to be."

I now have his full attention. "How do you know?" he says, his eyes fixed upon me.

"You are the son of the Dśnadan, in whom the blood of the West runs true. If it were given to any, it will—"

"No, Mamil," says he, his voice becoming impatient. "How do you know what you see will come to be?"

His look is anxious and he searches my face. Ah, we have come to the heart of the matter at last.

"What is it that you have seen, hmm?" I fold the wool and smooth it into place against his breast.

His look is grave. "When they put Ranger Gelir in the barrow, he didn't move at all. He was cold. I touched him."

"Yes, I remember." And I do remember Gelir's face, as well as my own father's. Unmoving as stone, white against the dark earth below it. I have not forgotten.

"When atarinya dies, will he be like that when we bury him?" His voice is stiff and his eyes shimmer in the thin light.

"Ah, child!" I say and cluck my tongue. My hands have fallen still on him.

His breath hitches and he moves swiftly, his small hands clutching at my leg as he lays his head upon my lap and buries his face into my shift.

"I do not want Atto to die," comes the very small, muffled voice.

"Ai, onya!" I say and, sighing, draw my fingers over his curls and back.

My hands are slow but my mind moves quickly. What to say to the boy? I cannot give him false hope, for one day we may yet need do as he fears, place his father's body in the ground and say our last words over him. Or it may be we must say our farewells to the darkness that covers him we know not where. It is this that pricks my eyes with sudden tears. Ah, I would not have my lord suffer an end such as that, alone and unmourned in some dark corner of the Shadow. But this is not my child's fear and I must recall myself to it.

"Were you dreaming?" I ask as I caress my son and he nods his head against my lap. "Ah, then, it was but a simple dream. It need not come to be."

Soon, his face appears, abandoning my skirts to stare at the hair that falls onto the swell of my belly while he lies quiet under my hand. He looks to be considering my words with the weight only a child can muster.

"Onya," I say, "We fear most to lose those we love the greatest. Do you not love your father above all things?"

He looks up from where he has taken to twisting his fingers into the curtain of my hair and nods.

"It is no wonder, then, that your darkest dreams are of his passing. This dream you had, it means no more than you love him well."

He frowns up at me, his brow crinkling in skeptical thought. He looks as if to speak, but I shake my head at him.

"Thou must not lose sight of thy faith in thy father." I know my son, should I let him, this child will lead me down endless paths of argument. "We will wait and hope for his return, as we ever have. Come," say I, taking up my comb again. "It is past time for you to be asleep."

He removes his head from my lap, though reluctantly.

"Hold this so it does not become lost," I say, handing him the ribbon. He makes a game of rolling it about his fingers while quickly I twine my hair into a braid.

"I will do it," he says, holding the ribbon out of my reach when I attempt to take it from him.

His face scrunches in concentration, fingers tangling in the ribbon and pulling at my hair. But, when he is done and the braid seems secure enough for at least one night, if not many more to come with its endless, uneven knots, he climbs out from under the covers and into my crowded lap as he has not done for many months. There, he clings to my arm and presses his head to my shoulder. There, we rock for a little while, my arms about him and my cheek lying upon the crown of his head.

"Such a clever boy you are," say I and I feel his smile against my shoulder. "What say you, just tonight," I whisper into his hair, "lay in the big bed with me like you did when you were little? Would that help you sleep tonight?" He nods.

"Come then," I say, pushing him off my lap.

"Ammė, I want to say goodnight to my brother first," he says before he lets me rise.

"Very well."

He presses his face against my belly, his eyes wide and elbow digging into my thigh. But I would endure any pain just to see the look of wonder on my child's face as he listens for the sound of his brother moving about in their mother's womb. My son is convinced he is to have a playmate of his own, tiring as he is of the games of little girls.

"Good night, torinya," he says and presses a quick kiss to where he has just lifted his head.

With that he leaves my lap and clambers over the mattress to flop onto the bigger of the two beds.

"Did you hear aught?" I ask and push myself up from the bed.

"No," says he, pulling on the blankets. "I think he is already asleep."

"Perhaps he is," I admit wryly. For all that may be true now, the babe has a habit of waking whenever I am at rest and I have not yet laid myself down.

"May I sleep where atarinya sleeps?" Edainion asks while I pull the curtains about the bed closed, the better to shut out the cold night drafts.

Smiling, I say, "Yes, you may," and blow out the candle before sitting upon the mattress and drawing the last of the curtains.

The shutters are tightly shut and it is dark within the small house of the curtains. I must crawl over my child to reach my side of the bed, but we are soon settled, he with his head upon my shoulder and small body tucked into my side. Soon, his arm lies heavy upon me, but I do not mind. Here we shall be snug. Here I lie and listen to my son's breathing and feel the press of his ribs upon mine. My son's hair is heavy and fragrant beneath my lips when I press them there, and long I linger there to breathe in the scent that is his.

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