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A Light in Midwinter  by Mirkwoodmaiden

Chapter 6 - Herbs, Hops and a New Life

Aragorn entered the birthing room his heart heavy with Faramir’s sorrows.  The birthing room was a hallowed enclave for women during the birthing, nevertheless when Léofwyn saw the King enter she immediately dropped a low bow for his renown as a healer was second to none within the restored kingdoms. Aragorn immediately raised her from her knee, “We do not stand on ceremony in this room, I consider all who have dedicated their lives to healing and life worthy of my respect and my equal in their dedication.”  Léofwyn blushed to her blond roots, unaccustomed as she was to be considered the King's equal, but she rallied quickly, “Yes, my lord,” bobbing a small reflexive curtsy, “the Lady has been given a tea for strength and endurance and been settled in her bed in a clean shift and linens. A Lanolin sheet has been placed under the fresh linen and she is awaiting her next contraction which should be coming soon.”  Aragorn looked around the room.  It was well lit and the air fresh.  It smelled of health and pungent herbs used in the birthing process.  He nodded his approval to Léofwyn, “Well done, all seems to be in good order Mistress Léofwyn, I commend your organization.”

Again Léofwyn blushed to her roots and then added, “Thank you my lord, it is my solemn duty to perform this service for Princess Éowyn.” A slight emphasis on "my solemn duty" placed an implicit question that she could not put into so many words.  Aragorn smiled at the midwife’s tact. 

“Good Mistress Léofwyn, my presence here is in no way meant as a slight to you,” he looked around approvingly a second time, “and your very much apparent knowledge and abilities, but rather to ease the mind of the Lord Steward.”

“Aragorn!” came a voice beyond a billowy white sheet that had been hung as a partition. He answered Éowyn’s voice with all innocence.

“Yes, my lady?”

“Come here at once!” came the command.  Labor knew no hierarchy other than its own.  Aragorn bent to the midwife and went through the partition.  He saw Éowyn sitting in her bed, her reddish blond hair in a loose plait and escaped tendrils sweaty with her exertions; a look of concern on her face.  “Why are you not out there with Faramir.  He needs your strength, more than I need your knowledge!” 

“He asked that I look in,” Aragorn again stated in all innocence.

Éowyn saw right through the pretense of casual observation giving Aragorn a sharp look, “That man!  I will be fine.  I wanted to you out there salve his worry!”

“I think that is perhaps what I am doing by attending here…” Aragorn suggested.

Éowyn pondered his words “Very well.  You can stay.  Is he—” that sentence was cut off by the expected contraction.

Léofwyn ran past the partition and took Éowyn’s wrist in her hand.  “That’s it, m’lady.  Short sharp breaths.”  Aragorn went to the other side of the bed to observe and listen.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Meanwhile back in Faramir’s study.

Faramir looked up, reacting to a sound unheard by the others.  His face was sheet white.  Eirik, his squire jumped up to tend his lord but he was stayed by the hand of Éomer, “Easy Lad, I shall attend him.”

Faramir looked at Éomer, “Something’s happening!”

Éomer sighed a compassionate sigh, “That’s right.  And that something is going to continue to happen until it stops happening and we hear something.  You are going to have to relax.”  Faramir shot him a look, Éomer continued, “At least somewhat….this is going to take some time.”

Faramir shot him an aggrieved look and then took a deep breath. “All right,” He said somewhat doubtfully, “What do you suggest?”

Pippin piped up, “Hops in a Barrel!”

Faramir laughed, leave it to a hobbit, especially one that raised sitting in a pub to an art form, to suggest more drinking and in the form of a game. “No.”

Pippin looked momentarily chastened.  Beregond, who had joined the group after his duties as Captain of the White Guard had allowed, started laughing, “Oh but my lord, you have to admit that was quite the night!”

Faramir admitted nodding, “Yes it was. What I remember of it.” He chuckled.

Éomer started laughing, “What is this?  What happened.” He stole a look at Faramir.  He saw that his color had returned and he was smiling. Éomer inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.  His  efforts at distraction were beginning to bear fruit.  It was most likely going to be a long night and he needed to get Faramir through it in one piece. He looked at Beregond, “Do tell. When was this night and what is ‘Hops in a Barrel?”

Beregond accepted a goblet of wine handed to him by Eirik, and swallowed some of the contents.  “The King and Queen had travelled to the Shire for Samwise Gamgee’s daughter’s birthday and well we all found ourselves in a pub.”

Pippin broke in, “The Green Dragon.  It is a quality establishment.”

“Master Pippin speaks true,” Beregond agreed, looking at the irrepressible Took, “we were refugees escaping the lash of Field commander Rosie.”

“We got out from underfoot before you,  I know what Rosie is like when she is in full organizational mode,” supplied Pippin as he went over the pitcher of ale Faramir’s staff had thoughtfully supplied and pour himself a pint, “We were of no use to her,” he replied matter-of-factly as he walked back to his armchair and took out his pipe.

Merry added, “It might have had something to do with that plate of mushroom tartlets that went missing.  That was when Pippin’s backside met with the business end of Rosie’s mixing spoon!”

“We definitely needed to make ourselves scarce after that!”

Faramir laughed, “I knew it! We were setting up tables on the Party Field and we found you already in the Green Dragon when we finished!”

“Relaxing is key to after a hard day’s work!” Pippin stated knowledgeably.

“How would you know? You’ve never done a hard day’s work!”  Merry chimed in.

Pippin nodded, “True, True," then laughed.

Éomer prompted “So what is this ‘Hops in a Barrel’ you ended up playing.” He wanted to keep the conversation light and flowing to keep Faramir distracted so he would not have time to be nervous.

Pippin warmed to the subject. “Well you see.  You need a bucket and some ale.”  He started looking around for something suitable. 

Éomer caught Beregond's eye and motioned him for to go and get what Pippin was looking for pointing at Faramir indicating he wanted to keep him distracted while they wait.  He wasn't sure that Beregond caught every nuance of what he was signaling but he left just the same.  Next he caught Legolas' eye to continue the conversation as Pippin was casting about for said materials.

Legolas started laughing, "I remember!  As I recall the Elves in the party were quite good at it. Until a certain dwarf started cheating that is." He smiled wickedly at Gimli.

"Cheating!" chortled the dwarf, feigning indignation, "I recall nothing of the sort! I can't help it a few little sneezes might have thrown off the vaunted Elven concentration!" Gimli laughed, "I do recall as I won the game!"

"That's funny because I seem to recall it was one of us Elves.  We after all hold our drink exceptionally well," Legolas continued to spin the yarn just to see Gimli sputter in more indignation.

Beregond re-entered the room with a bucket and Eirik trailing with a cask of ale. 

Pippin's eyes just lit up with excitement. "Right!  Put the bucket on the table here!" he said pointing to the middle of the table.  Merry quickly cleared the table of papers and what-not to make room.

Faramir just laughed to see the level of Pippin's excitement. He still did not think this was the best idea because of his vivid memories of the last time this game was played, but he did not have the heart to squelch the dear hobbit's excitement.  He looked at Éomer, who seemed fascinated by what Pippin was constructing.  He knew that Éomer was instigating this whole thing to keep him distracted so he would not worry overly much about Éowyn and the babe and he loved him all the more for it...but he did not want contemplate the possible hangovers that could result from this night.

“Right!” Pippin said, “For those of you who were not there the last time we played this game here are the rules!”

As Pippin was retrieving a wooden mug Eirik appeared at Faramir’s side, “May I, my lord?” Faramir saw that his squire, who had now seen eighteen winters, half of them in his lord’s service, was looking at the bucket being filled with ale. Faramir chuckled lightly and shook his head then sighed, the boy was his responsibility.  He did not think that Eirik’s mother would be terribly pleased to know that he was learning drinking games at Faramir’s knee.  But something that Éomer had said stuck in his mind. “These are not normal times!” were the words of wisdom he imparted in a pub his first night here in Ithilien.  They certainly were not.  He knew it was not proper to allow his squire to join in but again he did not have the heart to say no. “Go on.  But don’t let your mother know!  She’ll not thank me!”

“Yes, m’lord.  I mean no, my lord!  Thank you m’lord!”  Eirik babbled, delighted to be allowed to take part.

“Oh get on with you!  Over to the table!”  Faramir laughed at the boy’s excitement.  “Children!"  He said with amused agitation remarking to Éomer as they walked to the table for Pippin’s sage instructions.

“As I was saying,”  Pippin continued excitedly, “For those of you not present at the Green Dragon the object is to fill the barrel,”  he waggled the wooden mug and placed it in the bucket, filling it a little so that it would stay upright, “but if you sink the mug then you have to retrieve from the bucket and chug the contents! If not then the next one has a go.  Simple, really!”

Eirik said, “Well, that doesn’t sound too hard!”

Beregond looked at Faramir upon hearing that and said with a smirk, “Ah the arrogance of youth!”

Faramir laughed and ruffled Eirik’s dark hair, “We shall see, lad, we shall see!”

The game commenced amid much good-natured jockeying of both the verbal and elbow-jostling kind.

There was tentative pouring to begin with and a couple of full rounds were completed before Gimli took matters in his own and let out a huge sneeze that vaguely resembled a foghorn having words with a moose just at the point where Legolas was carefully approaching the rim of the mug on his turn. Explosion and the mug capsized and sunk. 

"Tough luck, laddie!  Well get on with your chugging!"

Legolas dipped his hand in to retrieve the submerged mug amid raucous laughter. “Treacherous Dwarf,” Legolas claimed, good naturedly.

“Someone had to chug and you were faffing about!” Gimli stated emphatically. 

Faramir laughed, “Peace, peace!  As lord of this manor I claim right of judgment!  Legolas, you did sink the hop barrel, so yes it is yours to chug.”

Gimli was heard to say, “Quite right, quite right!”

Then Faramir turned to Gimli, “but in all fairness, Master Dwarf! That sneeze loosen shingles on the roof, so loud was it.  I think the timing of said sneeze was also a tad suspicious.  Therefore as judge and jury I say the forfeit is…” Faramir paused for effect, “that you both have to chug!”

This judgement received round acclamation from all, even the Elf and Dwarf.  The chugging, filling and tipping continue on and Éomer looked at Faramir smiling and laughing and he felt relief.  Faramir caught his eye and mouthed a very sober “thank you” and he had a knowing look in his eye.  Éomer nodded and raised his own mug to his friend and brother, smiled and took a drink from his own mug.              

Later in the night all were still waiting.  Although this waiting had taken on different forms.  The two hobbits were dozing peaceably together on the sofa in the corner.  The detritus of waiting and merrymaking was scattered throughout the room.  A tapped cask was in the corner; empty, tipped over mugs were everywhere.  There was spilt ale on table and floor.  Eirik was in an armchair snoring lightly.  Gimli was in another armchair snoring somewhat more volubly. 

Faramir stared at him, his head resting on his crossed hands flat on the table, “One would not think such a noise could come out of a so short a body.” 

Sitting across the table head leaning on one arm, Legolas looked at Gimli with old and wise blue eyes, “You would not think so but you would be wrong!  I have endured his snoring for years.”  The Elf ended not without affection.

Éomer, sitting astride a chair, arms resting on the back, tossed back the last of his ale from his mug and said, “At least in Master Gimli here it might be expected. But I will tell you a secret,” he lowered his voice, so no one else could hear, and continued conspiratorially  “Lothiriel snores.” Faramir sat up and Legolas tilted his head. The two looked incredulous. “I am not kidding, out of that tiny beautiful little nose comes some truly horrific sounds, like a mountain moose in heat.”

“If I were you, I would never tell her in quite that way.”

Two men and an Elf immediately stood up to see Arwen, looking very tired but otherwise happy. Éomer looked alarmed and completely contrite, “Please my lady, can you never tell her I just said that.”

Arwen giggled a little, it had been a long night, “Éomer, you may be assured that those words will never pass these lips, but more to the point,” She walked to Faramir, “You, my dear man, have a healthy baby son and Éowyn is fine.  She came through it like the warrior she is.” Arwen revealed with tears of joy in her eyes.

Faramir, at first, stood there in shock, unable to believe his ears.  He looked into Arwen's star-filled eyes, “Truly…” a happiness began deep in his heart, filling his soul.

Arwen said, bubbling with happiness for the kind and good man, “Aye, you can go see her right now---”

Faramir took off at a dead run to their bedchamber.  The sight he beheld there never left him all the long days of his life.  Éowyn sat in their bed, sweaty and clearly exhausted, but she had a radiant smile on her face.  She had never looked more beautiful to him.  He paused at the doorway to take in the sight.  Aragorn walked up drying his hands, "Come in and meet your son."  

Faramir spared a stunned look for his friend and then walked to his wife and baby, locking eyes with Éowyn's smiling light blue ones.  There were no words for the happiness inside his heart.  Having reached the bedside he heard Éowyn say, "Meet your son..."  Faramir looked down and innocent blue eyes so reminiscent of his beloved brother met his in an instant bonding of souls.  

Tears fell from his eyes as Faramir sobbed "He is beautiful!" 

Léofwyn appeared at his side and Éowyn was handing the babe up for Faramir to hold. He vaguely heard the midwife saying, "support the child's head.  There you are m'lord.  You are a natural."  

Faramir looked at the babe in his arms, healthy and blowing a spit bubble.  He laughed and then grew serious, "I will ALWAYS love you.  You will never be in any doubt of that.  My son."  Only Éowyn heard the fervently whispered words and her heart broke at the avowal father was making to son.  So much it said about the father he had and the father he never had.  Tears fell from her eyes.  Faramir chose that moment to look at her.  He leaned down and whispered words into her ear that brought more tears.  "Thank you.  For my life." And he kissed her forehead and stood looking at everyone in the room, which now bore all those who had kept watch with him overnight. Faramir beamed with pride. "My son, everyone. We have a son."  Dawn broke at that moment; the day of the solstice had begun with the light of a new life just beginning.


~*~*~*~*~*~

A/N:  That first drinking game of "Hops in a Barrel" that they talking about is referring to my story "Changes and Acceptances. Chapter 4: The Green Dragons Awaits."

 





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