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Aragorn could not hold back a long, pain-filled groan. He scrabbled and squirmed in the wet grass, gritting his teeth, until the pain in his wrist eased. He took a deep breath.
Valar, that always hurts.
He pushed he arm farther in, gently probing, running his fingers along the complicated shapes, seeing in his mind’s eye... sliding his hand carefully... yes, that was the nose, and there was the shoulder.... He pushed ever so gently and there! He felt the tiny leg under his hand. He hooked his finger around the fragile leg and eased it gently into the proper position. Chewing on his lip, he felt again and...
"Aahh!" he hissed, and his squirming commenced again. He was sure he made a ridiculous sight, but those contractions hurt...
"Aragorn, do you need–"
"No!" Aragorn snapped at Halbarad, who was kneeling beside the prostrate ewe, keeping her still with one knee braced on her side. Aragorn was stretched out behind her, nearly on his belly, hand and wrist in her birth canal, trying to sort out at least one lamb who had decided he wanted to come out head first and legs trailing behind. There could be another waiting behind this one–twins were commonplace, after all. But first, to get this one... "Come on, you daft little thing, help me out bit here," he muttered.
"Hey!" Halbarad exclaimed. "I may be daft but I am not little."
Aragorn laughed, but then screwed up his face in concentration as he tried to determine if it was just one lamb or two pushing impatiently toward the big wide world outside. "I am almost there–aah, blast you, stop that!" he yelled, all patience lost as again the ewe’s contractions made his arm feel like it was being ground to sausage filling.
The crushing pain finally eased, and he continued his work, hoping it would not be all for naught. He did not often help with lambing, but had done it enough that this would not be the first time he had endured such bruising only to deliver a dead lamb. But then he felt a flicker of movement against his palm and smiled as a little tongue gave his hand a lick. "There’s my brave little one," he said, and pulled the other leg forward into its proper position alongside the lamb’s head, and then suddenly things happened very quickly.
He pulled his arm out of the ewe and rolled away, and with the ewe’s quick, grunting heave, the lamb, a tiny thing considering the size of the ewe, popped out onto Aragorn’s chest. It blearily eyed Aragorn as he swabbed the mucus out of its nose and checked to see if it was breathing. It was, so as the ewe scrambled to her feet, Aragorn sat up and pushed the tiny black lamb close to her side. "There you go, my lady. Here’s your baby."
The ewe sniffed her little one all over, licking at the membrane coating it, and then let out a satisfied bleat. The little lamb answered with one shockingly loud for such a wee thing. Aragorn laughed and Halbarad finally relaxed. "It would be more than my life is worth had we lost that ewe or her lamb," he said. "She’s Miriel’s pet."
Aragorn struggled to his feet, assisted by Halbarad’s firm yank on his hand. He stretched his back, grunting in satisfaction as it popped in several places. "How is Miriel?"
"More than ready to have her own little lamb."
"When do you think she’ll have it?"
"Midwife said any time now. Miriel’s pains started at midnight, or nearly." He shrugged, his cheeks reddening with embarrassment. "I am glad, actually, that this ewe needed help. Keeps me from worrying what’s going on in the house."
"Miriel will be fine, as will the baby, fear not," Aragorn assured him. "‘tis a fine thing, a baby in springtime." He squinted into the early morning sun as it peeked over the treetops. He shivered and chafed his arms. Spring it may be, but it was a chilly morning. He could do with a wool coat like the ewe’s right now. "Good that she is in a nice warm, dry bed and not like her poor ewe, out in the pasture in the cold damp."
"Fancy any midwife letting her do that!"
"Is Ivorwen here?"
"No, she could not come so she sent along Faeldes."
"She’s a bright young girl. She’ll do well for Miriel."
Halbarad snorted. "If Miriel allows her to do anything. This is her fourth and she thinks by now she needs no help."
Aragorn smiled softly. "Well, even the best mothers sometimes need help. Like this old ewe of yours."
"I’m going to tell Miriel you called her an old ewe."
Aragorn’s eyes widened. "You wouldn’t–" Then he saw the grin on Halbarad’s face. He immediately grabbed a handful of Halbarad’s hair and before Halbarad could do much more than squawk had Halbarad in a fine headlock. He rubbed his knuckles hard against the top of Halbarad’s skull and then let out his own squawk as Halbarad suddenly wrapped his arms around Aragorn’s waist and lifted him straight off the ground.
They both fell, Halbarad on top, and for a grand few minutes indulged in a wrestling match worthy of any boyhood scuffle. Finally Halbarad caught Aragorn in a headlock of his own and twisted his ear until Aragorn cried out in surrender. Halbarad released him and they fell back, laughing breathlessly as they looked up at the pink-tinged clouds floating in a delicate blue sky.
Aragorn put his arms under his head. "On a morning like this, you can almost imagine all is well with the world."
The ewe let out a soft baa. Halbarad sat up and watched the lamb start to suckle. "It is," he said, "for them. Thanks to you."
Aragorn sat up and plucked a grass stem. They quietly watched the lamb as it staggered about and finally found its way to the ewe’s udder and started to suckle. "Would that helping birth lambs be my hardest task," he said softly.
Halbarad immediately slapped the back of Aragorn’s head. "No doom and gloom from you today. Just look at that sunshine!"
Aragorn did, and felt its growing warmth on his face. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Halbarad was right. It was a day for celebrating new life and feeling the warmth of the sun and smelling the fresh new grass underfoot. Horrors may lurk to the east and the south, but right here, right now... there was peace.
At the sound of scuffling beside him, he opened his eyes. Halbarad was on his feet, looking across the pasture toward his house. "Ah, now that’s fine," he breathed, joy lighting his face.
Aragorn followed his gaze. Faeldes stood in the doorway, a small bundle in her arms.
Halbarad was already running, and with a smile, Aragorn ran after him. He slowed as they reached the garden in front of the house, then waited at the gate as he watched Halbarad take the tiny bundle from the young midwife. Halbarad peeled back the blanket and looked long and wonderingly, then looked toward Aragorn, tears in his eyes. "A daughter," he choked. "I have a daughter!"
"I am happy for you, my friend," Aragorn said warmly. He stepped closer and looked at the tiny face, the rosy mouth and button nose. She opened one blue eye, then the other and stared at Halbarad as though she somehow knew he was her ada. "She is as beautiful as the bright blue sky."
"That is what we shall name her – Gailluin, bright blue light, for surely in her lifetime light will again shine in the east and the sky will be ever be clear and beautiful."
"It is a good name," Aragorn said, but then his throat unaccountably tightened and he dared say no more.
Faeldes reached for the baby. "Best see to Miriel," she said. "She will be wondering what her husband thinks of his new daughter."
Halbarad nodded. "Just so." He gave Aragorn one last happy, teary-eyed smile, then turned and disappeared into the house.
Aragorn remained by the gate, watching the sky as it filled with the golden light of morning. It never ceased to cause him wonder, this dichotomy in his life. A healer, and sometimes even a temporary shepherd... but also a Chieftain, and someday a warrior king who might...
He stopped himself. No, not might, but will. He will someday defeat the darkness rising in the East.
"You spoke true, Halbarad. Ilúvatar willing, light will again shine on all of Middle-earth," he murmured, then headed for the well to clean up.
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