Author Topic: The Longest Night  (Read 19 times)

Liam OConnor

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The Longest Night
« on: February 08, 2020, 01:27:47 PM »
The longest night in Arctra was always a time of celebration, a last chance to revel before the hard work of surviving the winter came upon the people. In the new capital of Phalion, just a few months ago, the confirmation of the Goddess' favor had been shown in the birth of twins to Queen Ariana and her chosen consort, Rory - a boy and a girl, in the old tradition of the favored royal line. The celebrations for those births had gone on for a long time themselves, yet now would come to a close with the Dusking and the start of the deepest part of the winter. In the streets of Phalion, huge bonfires were burning, groups of minstrels playing, people laughing and dancing and talking, the whole city gripped with a festival feeling. And in one of the private wings of the fortress, the Captain of the Queen's Guard was pacing back and forth, waiting for news of his wife's labour in the bedroom not too far away.

"What is taking so long?" Liam grumbled, pacing impatiently back and forth, like a lion trapped in a cage. There might be a festival going on elsewhere, but here, there would be no celebrating until Liam was holding his son or daughter in his arms and knew without doubt that both mother and child were safe and out of danger.

Gregor Makos, the sergeant who had trained him and was now his stepfather, leaned comfortably against the wall as he watched the celebrations down in the streets of the city. "Babes take time being born," he said with a shrug. "Don't ask me, I never had any."

"Yes, but it has been seven hours already! What can they be doing in there?" he asked, even as he heard Shaye cry out in pain for the umpteenth time. He froze in place, his head jerking toward the room where his wife was giving birth, the tension and worry apparent in his posture and expression. He felt helpless, unable to do anything but pace and wait and worry. It was not easy for a man who was accustomed to rushing into harm's way to save those he loved, but this was a battle he was not equipped to fight.

"Lad, you want the intimate details, you talk to your mother," Makos told him firmly. "I'm here to stop you from charging in there uninvited. You need to spar or something?"

"I need a drink," Liam muttered, more to himself than to the man who'd once been a role model and was now his stepfather. It wasn't that he wanted to get drunk so much as he needed something to calm his tense nerves. Then again, knowing Shaye and their child were well would accomplish the same thing.

"Look at it this way," the old sergeant-at-arms said, making his way across the room to pour Liam a healthy measure of firewater from a bottle he had brought with him for just such an emergency. "She's only been making noise the last hour or so. Should be over soon enough." He offered Liam the glass with a wry tilt to his weathered face.

Liam grunted in reply as he took the glass from the older man's hand. Soon enough was not soon enough for him. He had never seen Shaye in such agony as this, and it jangled his nerves. As eager as he was for all this to be over, it was the outcome that worried him. He knew women didn't always survive childbirth, but Shaye was young and strong and brave. She was a fighter. There was no reason to believe she wouldn't survive this, just as she'd survived all the other battles that had come before this one.

As that thought came to his mind, another voice took over from his beloved wife's cries - a thin, reedy wail that declared the owner of that voice was definitely not happy with what was happening and would quite like it all to end now, please. Makos chuckled, slapping Liam on the back.

"Congratulations, lad," he said. "You're a father."

Unfortunately for Liam, he had just taken a long swallow of the firewater when he heard that wail and was given that congratulatory slap on the back. He coughed and sputtered as he turned his head in the direction of that wail, ears perked to any further sounds that might tell him how Shaye fared. Was that the indignant wail of a newborn infant he was hearing?

Makos chuckled at the look on his face. "It'll be a small while yet," he predicted. "Your mother will want her calm and comfortable before she lets you in there. That woman is as fierce as any Wild One when it comes to her own."

"But she's all right," Liam said uncertainly, but hopefully. It wasn't quite a question, but he seemed to be seeking just a little bit of reassurance - and from a man who had never had a child of his own.

"Liam, if there'd been any trouble, you would have known by now," Makos told him, squeezing his shoulder. "Meara's not the type to make a man wait until it's all over to tell him how wrong it went. Have a little faith in your mother, aye?"

Liam had plenty of faith in his mother; it was fear for his wife's life that terrified him. He and Shaye had fought too hard and too long to be together, even if they hadn't known it at the time. He simply could not lose her now, and if he did, he would blame himself. After all, it was his child she had been birthing.

"I need to know," he murmured, eyes fixed on the door to the bedroom, as if it might open all on its own.

"You will know. In about half an hour." Makos was obviously not going to let him go charging off before Meara came for her son. It was going to be a long half hour.

Liam grumbled again, as he dropped into a chair and drained the firewater in his glass. Half an hour might as well be half a year, as far as he was concerned. Hadn't he waited long enough? And yet, he didn't really want to see his wife and child covered in the gore of birth and afterbirth.

"Do you think it's a boy or a girl?" he asked, curiously. He wasn't sure which he'd prefer. Every man wanted a son, but there was something about the thought of having a daughter.

"It's a child," was the older man's response. "You know I see no difference between boys and girls. I drilled the pair of you exactly the same way, and you've both done me proud. Although if that is a girl, I think your mother might throttle you if you sign her up for the army."

That, at least, got a small smirk from the big man. "I do not think it will be necessary for my daughter to follow in her mother's footsteps," Liam admitted in agreement with his stepfather. They were a country at peace, and while they still maintained a military force capable of defending their nation, there was no reason to think any daughter of theirs would need to fight a war.

He knew Shaye well enough to know that the life of a soldier was likely the last thing she wanted for any child, male or female. They both knew intimately the stain of blood on their hands, after all.

"Well, if a child of yours wants to be the First of the land, at least you know they won't have to kill to do it," Makos commented.

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
 
- J.R.R. Tolkein

Liam OConnor

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Re: The Longest Night
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2020, 01:34:39 PM »
Liam flicked his gaze toward Makos, brows arching upwards. He understood what the man meant, but he was not sure he wished the responsibility of First Blade upon any child of his.

"That is a long time off," he remarked. There was no use in worrying about such a thing now, when his child was only taking his or her first breaths.

"Indeed it is," the older man agreed with a smile. "And with Shaye exploring healing, your children will have several options just in their own home."

"Perhaps we should wait to see if it's a boy or a girl before planning their life for them," Liam suggested, though he was in agreement with the man. He didn't know what the future held in store for them, but he was hopeful their children would at least know peace.

Makos chuckled again. "Good point," he agreed. "For now ... to your child, and all their siblings to come!" He raised his own glass, downing the firewater in one swallow without even a wince for the burning as it went down.

Liam raised his glass, too, but as he brought it to his lips, he realized with a scowl that it was empty. He might have gotten up to refill that glass if his gaze hadn't swung to the creak of the bedroom door as it slowly opened, his mother emerging with a smile on her face. He held his breath a moment, as he waited for her to speak, but that smile on her face was a good sign.

"Congratulations," Meara said, as she turned her smile to her son. "You have a beautiful, healthy daughter."

From the room behind her, there was no more wailing of the newborn, but Shaye was just visible, sitting up in bed with a blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. Makos' smile softened, glad to see the fierce little troublemaker from all those years ago so well settled these days.

"Is-is that her?" Liam asked tentatively, almost shyly, as he peeked past his mother into the room. He caught sight of Shaye, looking healthy and well, with a tiny wrapped bundle in her arms, and he felt his heart swell with pride and joy and something else he couldn't quite put a name to just yet.

"Unless your mother's smuggling her first grandchild under her skirts, I'd say it is, lad," Makos pointed out, flashing a teasing grin toward his wife.

Shaye looked up, weary eyes bright in a smiling face, one hand reaching out to invite Liam to come and meet his daughter.

Meara went to Makos' side, stepping out of her son's way. "Well, what are you waiting for?" she asked him, with a grin. She knew Liam well enough to know he was a little terrified of being a father, but she had a feeling he'd be amazing, if he could just get over his fears.

In the end, it was Shaye's summons that made him move to his feet. He handed the glass to Makos and stepped forward to join his wife and meet their new daughter.

Wrapping an arm about Meara's shoulders, Makos leaned down to murmur into her ear as Liam stumbled away from them. "Should we stay in case he panics, or do you think he's got this?"

Meara smiled, looking more than a little weary herself. "He'll be fine. They need this time together," she told him, turning to brush her fingers against his cheek. "Take me to bed. I'm tired."

"Those two sentences just aren't compatible," Makos teased her as they turned away, closing the bedroom door to let the new parents find their feet on their own.

Inside, Shaye's smile warmed as Liam approached. "She's finally here."

"So, she is," Liam murmured as he moved closer, pausing a moment to look Shaye over and make sure she was truly well. He touched a tender kiss to her lips, the worried look on his face fading. "May I see her?" he asked, almost shyly again.

Returning his kiss affectionately, Shaye gently adjusted the little bundle in her arms, twitching aside a fold of the blanket to show him the sleeping face of his newborn daughter. "Come here and you can hold her."

"Hold her?" Liam echoed, looking slightly panicked at the thought. He supposed he was going to have to do it at some point, but he hadn't really given it much thought until now.

Shaye laughed gently at his reaction. "You're going to have to do it eventually," she pointed out. "Come and sit on the bed beside me, and cuddle your little girl."

He scowled a little at her scolding, but did as she asked, settling himself beside her on the bed and looking over at the tiny bundle in Shaye's arms. "Are you well?" he asked, returning his attention to that of his wife.

"I am very sore, and very tired," she admitted with a smile. "But also very proud of myself. Here." She gently maneuvered the baby girl in her swaddled blankets over and into Liam's arms, relaxing her head onto his shoulder to look down at the sleeping infant.

"I, uh ..." Liam mumbled as Shaye deposited their daughter in his arms. He looked down at the small bundle, obviously in awe of the miracle he was holding in his arms. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so perfect. "She is ... small," he observed aloud.

"For which I am very grateful," his wife said in amusement. "She's bigger than the prince and princess were when they were born."

"Yes, but they were twins," he argued, presuming that was why they'd been smaller and also why there had been two of them. There was only so much room for them to grow inside the womb - or so he assumed, though he didn't like to think about it too much. "I heard her crying," he said, as he peeked past the blanket to see if she had ten fingers.

"I'm not surprised she cried," Shaye mused. "Meara gave her a good smack to get that started. Apparently babies who don't react to the smack are usually close to death, so the crying was a good thing."

"There is nothing wrong with her lungs," Liam agreed. "Such a loud ruckus from such a tiny creature," he murmured, still looking the newborn over, not quite believing she actually belonged to them. He'd had nine months to get used to the idea, but it still came as something of a shock to him to know they had created this tiny creature.

"According to your mother, she's perfect," Shaye told him, lifting her head to kiss his cheek. "We made a baby. I can't quite believe it." Like Liam, she was a little in awe of the whole concept of being a parent.

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
 
- J.R.R. Tolkein

Liam OConnor

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Re: The Longest Night
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2020, 01:36:12 PM »
"It seems so," Liam said, but whether he was remarking on their daughter's perfection or the simple fact that they'd made a baby was uncertain. Both were true, it seemed, much to their surprise. "She is ... beautiful," he said, unable to hide the awe from his voice.

"Mmm," Shaye agreed, tipping her head back onto his shoulder. "I was so sure she would be a boy. I had his name picked out and everything." She laughed tiredly at her own hubris.

"Oh?" Liam inquired, turning his head to arch a single brow at his wife. "You're not disappointed, are you?" he asked, curiously. How could she be when she'd just given birth to the most beautiful baby girl he'd ever seen?

She laughed softly. "How could I possibly be disappointed?" she asked him in turn. "I had my heart set on giving you an Eoghan, to honor your father, that's all. Maybe next time."

"I see," Liam murmured, with a thoughtful frown, before looking back at the tiny newborn in his arms, as if contemplating something a moment. "What about Oona?" he tentatively suggested. He wasn't sure if they'd ever have a son, but even if they didn't, they could honor his father by naming their daughter after him instead.

As he looked down at his daughter, she abruptly sneezed, wriggling one tiny hand up to rub at her nose while smacking her lips before sighing heavily and falling back to sleep. Shaye smiled once more. "I like Oona," she agreed softly. "Are you sure?"

Liam chuckled as he watched the tiny girl sneeze and then try rubbing her nose, like a person in miniature. "I'm sure," he said, a happy grin on his face, which was a rarity for him, even when he was feeling happy.

His wife watched him in amusement. "I haven't seen a smile like that since the night we got married," she teased, and it was true. Even then, he had been very intoxicated. This time, he was just purely happy.

Liam grunted. "I was drunk," he pointed out, as if that was a good excuse for being ridiculously happy. He wasn't denying the fact that he was happy though, nor was he quite able to wipe the grin from his face.

"Yes, you were then," she said with a low laugh. "You aren't now. Makos wouldn't have let you get drunk before you got to see your first child."

He had had a drink, but it had only been one. She could probably smell it on him, but it wasn't enough for him to feel it. "Can a man not be happy without his wife making a fuss?" he asked, trying and failing to hide the smirk from his face.

"Can a wife who has been in labour all day not tease her husband?" she countered innocently. "You know, she could probably do with being dressed a little. It's pretty chilly, even wrapped up in a blanket."

"Oh, uh ..." he stammered. "She looks content enough," he pointed out, with a frown. "Should I dress her then ... or do you want to do it?" Holding his daughter was one thing, but taking care of her was quite another. He didn't know the first thing about taking care of a baby, but he supposed he was about to learn.

"Oh, I think you should do it," Shaye informed him with sleepy mischief. "You and she have nine months of full contact to make up for, after all. She and I know each other rather more intimately by now."

Liam scowled. That was obviously not the answer he'd been hoping for. "What, uh ... what should I dress her in?" he asked, looking around the room for an obvious answer.

"Your mother left a little dress and leggings out," Shaye told him, gesturing toward the dresser against the wall. "And you can wrap her back in the blanket afterward."

"Leggings?" he echoed with a wince. How in blazes was he going to fit the baby's tiny body into leggings, of all things? "Isn't she a bit ... small for leggins?" he protested.

"You could always bring her back over here, and we can both try to get her into the leggings?" came the suggestion, though Shaye would really much rather not have moved about too much if she could help it.

"I will try," he said, unwilling to give up so easily, but wondering why his mother wouldn't have laid out something a little more practical for their daughter's first outfit. She was going to be covered by a blanket, too, after all. "What do you say, little one? Shall we try and get you dressed?"

Unsurprisingly, he didn't get a huge amount by way of response from his daughter. Oona was still sleeping, evidently very comfortable wrapped up in her father's arms, one hand resting against her mouth as she sighed in her sleep.

Liam frowned uncertainly as he looked down at their daughter. "Shaye, look at her. See how content she is? Do you really want me to disturb her, just to put a silly dress on her?"

"Do you want her to get ill from being cold, or have hives all over her skin from having nothing between her and the wool of the blanket?" she answered. "Whatever we do for the next few weeks, she's going to protest."

"She doesn't look cold," Liam murmured a protest, though he wanted what was best for their daughter. He heaved a sigh as he moved to his feet. "I'm sorry, little one, but it's time to get dressed."

"Take it up with your mother if you still think it's unnecessary afterward," Shaye suggested, relaxing back against the pillows. Despite the aching in her body, she seemed to give no sign of her discomfort; a holdover from her years as a fighter who could not risk showing any weakness.

Liam furrowed his brows. He wasn't about to argue with a woman who had just spent the last eight hours giving birth, but he wasn't sure why he was the one who had to take it up with his mother if he was opposed to the baby's clothes. It wasn't so much the idea of dressing her as it was the outfit his mother had chosen - all of this without even seeing the outfit as yet. "I didn't say it was unnecessary," he grumbled to himself as he moved over to the table his mother had set up to make it easier to change the baby.

To give Meara credit, the little outfit she had made herself for her grandchild to wear was not complex. A simple loose dress that could be pulled on over the little head, and a pair of soft leggings that would easily stretch comfortably over the chubby little legs. Oona stirred just a little as he moved, aware of that movement, but not yet waking.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
 
- J.R.R. Tolkein

Liam OConnor

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Re: The Longest Night
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2020, 01:36:44 PM »
Liam had to admit the outfit his mother had laid out did look warm and cozy, not to mention cute, but he wasn't going to admit that out loud. The trick, he thought, wasn't so much dressing the little one as it was doing it while she was wailing in protest. He paused a moment before settling the little one on the dressing table and carefully unwrapping her from her blanket, looking her over while he did to make sure she had all her fingers and toes.

Oona started to wake up as she was unwrapped - as warm as it was in here with the fire burning, it was still winter in a stone castle, and the chill in the air was enough to cause her discomfort. Her arms and legs flailed as she was unwrapped, the chill on her skin prompting the beginnings of the wail that would become oh, so familiar over the next days. At least Meara had already put a cloth diaper on her granddaughter and covered the ugliness of the cord at her navel.

Liam was relieved of that, at least, but he only looked at her a moment, perplexed as to how to fit her into the outfit while her arms and legs were flailing in protest. And yet, he didn't want to hesitate too long and risk giving her a chill.

"All right now ... Just hold still and you'll be toasty warm in a jiffy," he promised. "Er ..." Should he start with the dress or the leggings? Dress, he thought, taking the little thing up and looking it over a moment as if trying to sort out how to get her into it. "Um ... Does this go over her head?" he asked, uncertainly.

"Yes," Shaye told him. "Loosen the drawstring so it slips over her head easily, and then you can tighten it after her arms are in so it doesn't slip down and bare her shoulders."

He'd dressed and undressed Shaye countless times, but he couldn't ever remember her clothing being as complicated as this - or perhaps it was just the small size that had him perplexed.

"Very well," he replied, murmuring to himself, "I can do this." He took up the tiny garment, doing as Shaye said and loosening the neckline before very carefully easing it over the newborn's head. It was only then he realized his hands were shaking, but he wasn't about to let that stop him when his daughter was counting on him.

At least Oona was only grizzling at this point, apparently a little mollified by the warmth of the hands gently maneuvering her arms into the soft little dress for the time being. Shaye watched, charmed and amused at the sight of the Rebel Commander, Captain of the Queen's Guard, intimidated by the action of dressing a baby.

"There, is that better, little dove?" he asked, smoothing the cloth of the dress down over her tiny body. Now for the hard part - the leggings! Liam looked them over a moment, stretching them out to make sure he wouldn't have any trouble sliding them up her legs. He realized they were just tiny trousers really, made to keep the little one's legs warm. "Hmm," he murmured, considering a moment before realizing he'd have to do it one leg at a time.

There was a definite suggestion of waterworks in the making in answer to his query, Oona's kicking legs making getting the leggings on so much harder than it needed to be.

"Shhh, be still," Liam urged, settling a hand against the infant's tummy and leaning close so that he could press a soft, but bearded, kiss to her cheek. Very softly, he started to hum a tune, long forgotten until now - something his mother had once hummed to him a long time ago.

Little fingers tangled in his beard as soon as he came close enough, but with the combination of his warm hand on her tummy and his voice humming that soothing melody to her, slowly Oona's kicking eased, even as she went back to grizzling in complaint about the indignity of her situation.

He smiled and continued to hum as he untangled the baby's fingers from his beard, brushing a kiss against her hand, before easing away to fit her little legs into the leggings, one leg at a time. For a moment, it was almost as if no one existed in the entire world but the two of them. She was his whole world, if only for a moment, and his heart swelled with the warmth of fatherly affection.

"There, now. Better?" he asked, as he wrapped the blanket back around her. It wasn't perfect, but did it really matter?

Still grumbling a little, but clearly happier now she was dressed and warming up again, Oona smacked her lips, rubbing at her nose with her thumb once again.

"It sounds as though that went rather well, rua," Shaye commented from the bed.

Liam chuckled a little at the sight of his daughter smacking her lips at him. "Well enough, I suppose, for the first time," he admitted, carefully scooping the newborn back up into his arms. "No need to make such a fuss, little one. We will not let any harm come to you," he whispered to his daughter as she rested against his shoulder.

Those little fingers curled trustingly into the neck of his shirt as he jostled the baby gently, holding on as she sighed and began to drift back to sleep.

"I suppose we can hope that this is a sign of things to come," Shaye murmured. "A well-behaved baby would be nice."

"At least, there is only one of them," Liam pointed out, as he made his way back to the bed to retake his seat by her side. "She seems content enough now," he observed. "Do you want to hold her, lea?"

Shaye's smile gentled, knowing how much that offer cost him. "I've been holding her for months," she reminded him. "She seems very happy with you right now."

"She is even more precious than I could have ever imagined," he admitted, his voice uncharacteristically soft as he watched the little sleeping angel on his shoulder.

"She is going to be the captain's little angel," Shaye predicted, already imagining Liam taking watch inspection with a toddler on his hip, waving a wooden sword around.

"I do not doubt it," he agreed with a grin. He had imagined having a son, never expecting a daughter, but now that this sweet creature had come into his life, he could not imagine loving any child more. "But she need not learn to use a sword, as her mother did."

"She'll have the choice," Shaye agreed. "Unless she decides she wants to become a serial murderer, we'll support any decision she makes with her life."

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
 
- J.R.R. Tolkein

Liam OConnor

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Re: The Longest Night
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2020, 01:40:00 PM »
Liam furrowed his brows at Shaye's remark, as innocent as it might be. "Do not say such things, lea. The gods might hear you," he whispered back.

Her smile turned rueful. "If the gods are as fair-minded as they are believed to be, then they owe me this one," she answered with a shrug of one shoulder. "Destiny stole years of my life from me. It can protect our daughter instead."

"We will protect her," Liam pointed out, though that probably went without saying. They'd have their daughter blessed in the temple, as was the custom, but it would be Liam and Shaye who kept her safe.

"You know what I mean," she murmured, blinking to keep her eyes open, still entranced by the view of Liam holding their daughter. "We'll have to make sure she knows Vespera, as well as Tala and Adare. They'll all be around the same age."

"Yes, of course," Liam murmured in agreement, as entranced by their daughter as Shaye was of seeing him holding her. Had he even heard a word she'd said? He had starting humming to her again, his voice a low rumble.

Shaye laughed wearily once again, nestling down into the blankets on the bed to watch as he lulled their baby girl to sleep. She'd have to wake up again herself whenever Oona needed to eat, but for now, she was content to rest and fall asleep to the sound of his voice.

Though he didn't realize it, it seemed Liam was lulling both wife and daughter to sleep with the sound of his voice. He couldn't remember the words to the lullaby, but it hardly mattered. Some part of him remembered the melody, caught deep in his memory from childhood. Oona, he thought, a soft smile on his face. The name was perfect. The baby was perfect. His father would be proud. And Liam had Shaye to thank for it all.

She would have argued that point, if he had made it aloud. But for now, there was nothing but peace in their rooms, while outside, the fortress and city of Phalion celebrated the last night before the long dark, and the promise of summer to come.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
 
- J.R.R. Tolkein