Grandchildren were an epiphany for Myles.
He had been an only child, never close to his younger relatives. His duties (and his drunkeness) had kept him far away from children during most of his years in the palace. He hadn't married before Eleni (who was quite done with raising children, thank you, at least on a day-to-day basis), and he had adopted his daughter once she was already grown. He had never really experienced children before, not like this.
He reveled in their sweetness. Their affection was always offered freely, without pretension or self-consciousness. They loved him, without him doing really much of anything to earn it, other than just be there. He enjoyed the way they would squeal when they saw him, wrap their arms around his neck and beg for kisses, and cry when it was time to go. He saw himself reflected in their eyes, and the vision humbled him. It wasn't an odd man well past his prime they saw, but a powerful giant who knew everything there was to know, someone they trusted completely. His heart never failed to be cheered by sentences starting with the words, "Grandda, how come?".
He marveled at the ways they were like tiny reproductions of the people around them. Aly with her little crooked smile, say, or the easy red flush of Thom's cheeks. He even saw Eleni in them, in Alan's strangely elegant grace, or Thom's aptitude for nurturing. He pondered the bits of them that were like no one they knew, for instance, where had Aly picked up her finicky noblewoman routine? Where did Alan's proclivity to show off come from? They were like sponges, constantly taking in new information, even things he thought they had no way of knowing (how did Alan know that his impression of Myles should be completed with a wine glass? Myles had essentially stopped drinking long before Alan began entertaining his siblings with clever impersonations of the family, and yet somehow he knew).
He was stunned by their capacity for knowledge, the way that Thom could rattle off inane trivia facts about long-ago histories even Myles had never heard of, or how Aly could invent her own clever little codes. He was amused by all the ironies that they contained within their little psyches (it was a favorite memory of his, the day Aly came running up to tattle on Alan for dirtying his clothes, she covered in a thick layer of mud herself). They could have such intense fear for commonplace things, such as thunderstorms or spiders, or even just an odd shadow on an entirely normal and unassuming wall. And yet, the overwhelming fears adults latched on to completely passed them by. They had no conception of war, or starvation and disease, but they were terrified of imaginary monsters under the bed.
They surprised him in less pleasant ways too. How they could turn from perfect darlings to terrifying monsters in the blink of an eye. Their aptitude for cruelty was as astounding as it was guileless. Children had no conception of the feelings or wants of others, so when they tormented each other it was done without malice or forethought. This made it all the harder to discipline them. Their needs were all immediate, and intense, and generally expressed through whining, crying, begging, and, on especially rough days, tantrums. They thrived on schedules, and on one's ability to anticipate in advance what they might need at any given time. He hadn't realized, not really, what hard work it was. They kept you on your toes at all times, one slip up or moment of confusion and they were on you like wolves. It was amazing the way their memories worked, that they couldn't for the life of them recall where they had set that very rare book you were reading just moments ago, but they knew for a fact that once you let someone who wasn't them have extra dessert and why can't they have one now and it just wasn't fair.
Myles wondered about their future. It was difficult to picture exactly what kinds of people they were growing into, but he was eager to watch it happen.
"What are you thinking about?" Eleni's soft voice came out of nowhere, and Myles nearly dropped the candle he held in surprise. The flickering orange light just barely illuminated the interior of the room they stood in front of. From inside he could hear the soft sighing noises the three of them made when they were asleep, tossing in the beds their grandparents had specially made for them. Their trunks were open and half packed while the other half of their belongings were still strewn across the floor.
Myles smiled back at his wife, "Just checking on the children. It's too bad they're leaving tomorrow. I've had a good two weeks with them here." He wrapped his arm around his wife's waist, began to slowly walk down the hall to their bedroom.
"Good, but exhausting," Eleni said. "I'll miss them all, but I'm glad to get you to myself again." She leaned into his side, and he gave her a squeeze.
"That's what I like to hear," Myles chuckled. They reached their door, and Myles reached out to hold it open for Eleni.
Instead of entering she whirled to face him. "Do you regret not having children?" she asked quietly.
Myles hesitated for a moment, thoughtfully contemplating his answer. Yes, he loved his grandchildren deeply, but he certainly couldn't deny it was nice to be able to give them back after a time. He reached out to stroke Eleni's hair, and grinned. "No. I think what I have now is nearly perfect."
"I agree," she said, smiling back at him, the pleased curl of her lips warming him as it always did.
Eleni turned away to enter their cozy bedroom. Myles followed her happily, blowing his candle out and leaving the quiet corridor in darkness once more.