appreciation notes to Kat and to Helen – thanks again for your
willingness to work with my excitable, spontaneous muse.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I don’t own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
Notes: Special thanks to my Live Journal friends, with much appreciation for their compassionate responses and support. This story was inspired by a little dialogue with several of them and a final trigger from Kat.
This story is dedicated to my precious Kat, for her birthday. Many happy returns of the day, sweetie!
I finished knotting my belt and warned Gwinthorian for the last and final time that if he did not get up from our bed and ready himself in five minutes I would ride out on patrol with Garrick and Devon and leave his indolent self behind. Happy to fortify my words with a more attention-getting reminder, I had just raised my hand over that temptingly upturned backside when my elfling’s head popped up and he looked at me with sudden astonishment. I paused and lifted a brow, knowing from Gwin’s blank but intense expression that he was listening to something with his acute elvish hearing.
“Riders,” he said, and he shot from the bed and made a grab for his breeches ere I delivered my ‘get up NOW!’ swat. I was already striding for the opening to our tent.
It was just barely past dawn, but it seemed Minas Tirith had forgotten how to sleep, the city constantly in the throes of rebuilding, cleaning and reorganizing after the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Garrick was striding my way when I emerged from the tent, my enormous corporal’s focus aimed towards the sound of the approaching galloping hooves. I followed his gaze. Two riders.
“Aragorn,” he said.
I nodded, the bright blond hair streaming behind one of the riders giving away their identity before we could actually see their features. “And Legolas,” I said.
“Aye,” Garrick said, now standing beside me, his eyes narrowed and trained on my pup and his elf. “Bit early for them to be arriving from the city.”
“They must have been up before first light.”
Garrick shot me a quick glance. “Our young captain is not sleeping well I take it.”
I sighed. “No. So it seems.” And with all the pressures bearing down upon Aragorn, I feared it likely he would soon begin to close himself off, taking the burdens of a nation upon his shoulders alone – or trying to. I hoped he would not do so, but if he did, Aragorn would have me to deal with.
“He has trained his entire life for this moment,” Garrick said. “Our lad is ready, my old friend.”
I grinned. Only Garrick would refer to the eighty-plus some year-old Aragorn as “our lad” . . . well, no, I would refer to him that way, too.
“But he is yet Aragorn, and I know you are keeping a sharp eye upon him,” Garrick continued.
Gwin, still doing up the last fastenings at the side of his tunic, appeared beside me. “You see?” I said with a nod towards Aragorn and Legolas. “Some elves are ever alert regardless of the hour, ready to be of service.”
Gwin flashed me a wicked little grin and said in a low seductive tone, “Ah, but I am ever ready to be of service to you, my lord.”
Garrick chuckled, glanced at me, then barked a laugh when he saw my reddened face.
“Regardless of the hour,” Gwin went on, all innocence and cockiness.
“That is enough, Gwinthorian,” I said, casting my elf a stern look that utterly failed to fool him. I gave in then and joined Garrick in his chuckling. “Why do I keep you?” I muttered with a slight shake of my head. And before either Gwin or Garrick could utter a clever response, Aragorn and Legolas were drawing their horses to a halt before us.
“Nothing dire,” Aragorn said in greeting. “We simply felt like breaking our fast at camp this morn.”
“‘We’ indeed,” Legolas muttered, swinging down from his horse.
“You see?” Gwinthorian teased, using the exact same tone I had used when saying those words to him. “Given his preference, I vow Legolas would still be abed, too.”
“I did not force him to join me,” Aragorn said, dismounting.
Legolas released a snort. He needed say nothing else, Aragorn’s statement being too absurd to even address. But I saw amusement in the prince’s blue eyes and, indeed, in his whole manner, suggesting something light-hearted quite beyond the moment. Aragorn, too, seemed to be fairly bursting with some secretive pleasure. I delighted within to see it, though I knew not what was pleasing them. However, if it was something they had come to share, Aragorn would bide his time in the telling of it, waiting for the perfect moment like the excellent strategist he was.
That moment came after we had finished breaking our fast and were sitting around the campfire.
“Young Faramir is doing well?” I asked.
“Aye,” Aragorn said. “He will make a full recovery.”
“His greatest obstacle now is the Steward,” Legolas said, casting Aragorn a significant look.
“Boromir?” Devon asked.
Aragorn nodded. “Even so. Faramir’s attentive big brother is being most attentive.”
“He is caretaking overmuch?” I asked.
“He never leaves Faramir’s side,” Legolas said.
“Understandable,” Garrick said. “We heard the boy nearly died.”
“True,” Aragorn said. “Faramir went through a terrible ordeal, so I cannot fault Boromir for being reluctant to leave him, even though Faramir is out of danger. Nevertheless, Faramir needs rest and he resists it when Boromir is there. The boy fights to stay awake with his big brother. The Warden reported that the only time either of them has slept is when Boromir has braced himself against the headboard and pulled Faramir to him, holding him until they both drop into exhausted dozing.”
“Well,” Devon said, “that is at least something.”
“Aye, but not enough,” Legolas said. “The Warden is most unhappy with the situation, and although the man is a vainglorious, swaggering --”
“Legolas,” Aragorn said in a softly stern tone.
“Well, he is,” Legolas muttered. “But he has a point. Faramir needs more rest.”
“Indeed. And this sword cuts both ways. Faramir is also reluctant to be without Boromir’s company because the lad had been suffering for weeks under the terrible misconception that his beloved older brother was dead. Faramir’s lieutenant, Damrod, told me that the boy had been near-mad with grief.”
“So Faramir’s determination to stay close to Boromir is just as strong as Boromir’s is to stay close to him,” I said.
“Indeed,” Aragorn said. He sighed heavily. “I shall have to intervene, though I am reluctant to do so.”
A silence fell as we all considered the two brothers who had suffered such anguish. “To believe a loved one dead,” I muttered, “when in fact . . . !” I shot Gwinthorian a sudden glance and, with the insight of a Dúnedain, he returned my quick look, and then everyone’s head popped up, all eyes on Gwin, the same thought firing amongst the six of us.
“The ravine!” Devon said, staring at Gwin. “The time you --!”
“Oh, no.” Gwinthorian groaned. “No, no, no. Not this again.”
“Aye!” Legolas cried. “The time you became separated from Halbarad in the skirmish by chasing down that orc!”
“I know!” Gwin burst forth. “I truly do know!”
“And no one could find you afterwards!” Dev again.
“I said I kn --!”
“And the whole company called and searched and became frantic!” Legolas looked at me. “And poor Halbarad --!”
“Will you two stop!” Gwin snapped.
But Devon was now so ardent he shot to his feet. “And I found you! With a bloodied, dead orc! There you were, curled up in the bottom of that ravine, looking as dead as that orc! Dead, dead, dead! When you were, in fact --!”
“ASLEEP!” Devon and Legolas cried in unison.
“I knooooooooooowwwwwwww!” Gwin wailed.
“Fine time for a nap!” Devon blurted out.
“And poor Dev,” Legolas said, “sobbing over your apparent corpse!”
“Pleeeease!” Gwin sputtered.
“Gentlemen,” Aragorn said with commanding calm. “Enough of this performance.”
“Aye,” I said. “Any more and we shall needs set you up on a stage and charge admission.”
Legolas and Devon paused to catch their breath and remember themselves, then we all chuckled lightly.
“Sit down, little cub,” Garrick said, taking Devon by the hand and pulling him back down beside him. “You are making a spectacle of yourself.”
“I was making an impassioned case,” Devon said with a superior air, deflating slightly at Garrick’s slow sideways glance.
Of course, Legolas and Devon were not angry. Working Gwinthorian into a fine lather was simply too tempting a proposition to let pass, as my Gwin in a lather was entertainment at its best. Gwin was not angry, either. Not really. Such antics were a fine way to expend a little energy and there were few things Gwinthorian enjoyed more than being the center of attention.
But the remembrance applied whilst we had been considering Faramir’s tragic misunderstanding – for we had all thought Gwinthorian slain when none could find him after the skirmish. Then, when Devon spotted him curled up next to a dead orc in that ravine, well, although the incident had happened many years ago, it was yet a powerful memory for us all. We took a few minutes to let the dust settle.
Gwin finally sighed and grumbled, “Will I ever live that down, I wonder?”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Devon shot back good-naturedly, and we all grinned again.
“‘Twas a fright we all shared, little one,” I said, nudging Gwin with my shoulder. “You can try to imagine it, but, fortunately, you did not feel the horror of it.”
And now, glancing again at Aragorn, I saw that he had, at last, found his perfect opening. He and Legolas exchanged a smirk, then Aragorn pulled a parchment from inside his cloak and handed it to me, saying, “I pray none of us will e’er come closer to what we felt that day than this.”
“What is it?” Garrick asked, watching me open the parchment.
Devon crawled over next to me and leaned in to look, Gwin leaning in from the other side of me, two blond heads blocking my view. I lifted the parchment up and held it aloft in front of us so that we could all see what appeared to be a long list of names, hundreds of them, written in a small hand, a flowing script. A scribe’s hand.
“A casualty list?” I said, darting Aragorn a glance. “Already? How by all that is blessed did they manage this so quickly?”
He shrugged. “I did not ask. This is only one page of many. I brought it because I thought you might find it interesting. Look under the H’s.”
“AHHH! HAL!” Gwin cried. “Your name! Your name is here!”
I looked where Gwin was pointing, and, sure enough, there was my name.
~ Halbarad; First Leiutenant of the Grey Company ~
Garrick released a stoic, ‘humph,’ and said, “You look in fair health for a dead man.”
I suppose it was a completely inappropriate remark, but given the situation, I could not help snorting a chuckle along with Garrick. “Thank you, corporal,” I said. Looking at a grinning Aragorn, I asked, “Is Garrick deceased as well?”
“Only you appear on the lists, my friend,” Aragorn replied, really enjoying this too much. “My condolences.”
Gwin gasped with indignation. “Sir, your sense of humor is positively gruesome.”
“Oh, come now, Gwin,” Legolas said, grinning beautifully. “He is not really dead, you know.”
“Legolas! By all that is blessed! You-you --” Gwin made a most unusual sound, something between a growl and approaching nausea. “Your sense of humor is equally repulsive, sir!”
“Ah, sweetling,” Legolas said with a soft chuckle, his tone now more sympathetic and his eyes full of concern, as were Aragorn’s. “I was but in jest.”
I agreed that this was bizarre enough to be ridiculous, but Gwin’s upset was a bit profound for what were, in essence, merely a few words scrawled mistakenly on a parchment. I handed it to Devon who took the thing over to show Garrick and I put my arms around my very rigid elfling.
“Shh, Gwinling,” I said. “Legolas and Aragorn meant no harm nor disrespect. I am certain they merely found it, well, oddly uncanny. No, perhaps it is not, overall, humorous, but in a bizarre way, it is.”
Gwin relaxed a little, but he said, “It is simply . . . disturbing. No, you are not dead, but someone is! Someone who was mistaken for you, Hal! And why would they mistake someone for you? How would they even know your name when we arrived with Aragorn on the ships with the dead? And none of the Grey Company were killed, so they could not have identified you, or who they thought was you, by those slain around you.”
“True, Gwin,” Aragorn said, now the man of compassion he genuinely was. “All very true. And we shall do everything we can to discover how this mistake was made. The chroniclers who penned these lists were working fast for obvious reasons, but there is every probability that we can find out who made the identification and why. Most likely someone who thought they knew Halbarad at one time or another made it. My lieutenant has traveled far and wide with me, and he traveled even more for many years ere he and I met, so it should prove interesting to find out who thought he recognized our Hal on the battlefield.”
Gwin’s small stiff body relaxed even more under Aragorn’s soothing tones and his quiet good sense. So I felt comfortable looking at my captain and lifting a brow and saying with an ominous undertone, “Hal?”
Aragorn grinned broadly and Gwin sniffed a soft giggle and looked up, glancing between the two of us.
“‘Hal,’ young sir?” I repeated on a growl.
“Pardon. Halbarad.” Aragorn winked at Gwin. “Sir.”
“They will cross Halbarad’s name off that repulsive thing, will they not, Aragorn?” Gwin suddenly asked.
“Indeed, little one.”
“And that is the only copy?”
“Gwin,” Devon said, “look at this thing.” And he turned the parchment around and held it at the top and bottom, displaying the hundreds upon hundreds of tiny scrawled names.
Gwin winced and looked away. “I have seen it, thank you.”
“And having seen it, do you honestly think another document like this would exist anywhere? Do you imagine anyone would need more than one, or order a duplicate to be penned?”
I glanced down at Gwin, feeling that his crisis was waning. Now more calm, he cast Devon a slight grin and said, “Unlikely.”
“None other I know of exists,” Aragorn said. “We merely found it laughably absurd, Gwin. That is why we brought it to show to all of you. Although perhaps you now understand better why you shall likely never live down the story of the ravine.”
And now my irrepressible elfling did laugh.
“Do not fret about this, sweetling,” Aragorn said. “All will be made right. Our Hal --” He cast me a sly glance. “--barad's name shall not go down throughout history as having fallen at the Battle of Pelennor.”
Gwin bestowed one of his most glorious smiles upon Aragorn and said, “Thank you, sir.”
“This truly is a most appalling mistake,” Garrick now said, having taken the parchment back from Devon to study it again.
“Indeed, it is!” Gwin exclaimed. “I am glad you agree with me!”
Garrick looked up. “No, no. I mean this,” he said, and he pointed to the parchment. “They misspelled the word ‘Lieutenant.’ Appalling.”
It was indeed, appalling – an appalling way in which to begin our day. As I had fully expected, an upset of this nature triggered a deep need within my elfling for reassurance, and the best way to reassure Gwin was to show him that nothing had changed, that all was as it should be. Certain behaviors would be answered in certain ways.
So, with very little effort and the true skill of one possessed of his quite special needs, Gwinthorian managed to earn himself a sincere spanking that night. And as I drew him into our tent and over to our cot, I could not help recalling how harrowing it had been to see my Gwin curled up at the bottom of that ravine so many years ago. The shock had been blessedly brief, but the after-effects haunted many of us for weeks. Gwin could not be blamed for his odd quirk of involuntarily falling asleep when overly exhausted, and yet he had felt responsible for causing those he loved such pain.
So he needed to be reassured that he was still loved and that he had atoned, at least within his own brutally self-critical heart, for having frightened his loved ones. Back then, as now, Gwin eventually transgressed enough to earn a trip over my knee. Back then, as now, the heart of the matter for Gwinthorian was that intense hunger to be reassured. And this time he needed to be reassured of something so oddly basic that it seemed almost illusory.
“Reassure me of you, my Hal,” was his inner plea. And though that plea might sound beyond puzzling, it made perfect sense to me that my Gwin would need to erase that false document from his mind by means of a sore bottom. It had never mattered, nor would it ever matter to me why Gwin needed what he needed from me. I loved him as he was, and gladly gave him what he needed.
So Gwinthorian had purposefully been naughty in several quite creative ways today, doing things he knew full well would land him over my knee. And now, seeing him there, and pulling down his breeches to bare that sweet bottom, I also felt a calming within. Aye, he was squirming and apologizing and saying that he really had not meant to be so troublesome today, but that he simply could not seem to help himself, and I was telling him that it was all right, and that I understood, but that he had earned what I was about to give him and so he had best behave and not make things worse for himself than they already were – and we both heard each other very well, because these rituals of comfort and love existed deep within my Gwin and me, and we understood our language as no other ever would.
“I have not yet landed a single spank.”
“I-I . . . I know . . . Hal. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
“Aye. I have now, sweetling.”