Beta appreciation notes for my astounding team:
Kat – thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light.
Chris – thanks for your amazing editing
NOTES: This series finds us back in the setting of A Tale To Becalm The Healing, picking up where that arc left off. For those who haven’t read it, I recommend that you check it out first.
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
Ere The Final March
Halbarad turned to me with his long, slow look. His long, slow look is usually enough to silence me, but this definitely needed further questioning.
"I thought we were riding with Aragorn and the others after we dined," I said, glancing at the warriors and nobles seated around the trestle tables. It seemed they were nearly finished, so we would be setting out for the Grey Company’s encampment on the Pelennor Fields shortly.
The men in the hall were hardly a jovial crowd, but such was to be expected in the aftermath of the great battle. Few had escaped grievous loss of some kind. The past several days had been filled with funerals and sorrow, the suffering of wounds and adjustment to new realities. These humans were weary and heartsore, and their misery was not yet over.
I inched closer to Halbarad, again forcing away the familiar dark terror that haunted me and became especially intense after a battle. He was here. He was safe. I had not lost him to senseless mortality. That something as random as a flying arrow or as common as the cut of a sword could rip one such as my Hal from all existence was simply beyond my grasp. The possibility of it, the finality of it, horrified me. Aye, death could find an elf in the same way, but it still seemed incomprehensible.
Legolas had once said to me, "Gwin, when you are beside Halbarad, you fight with a ferociousness I have never before seen in you." But Legolas had not marveled at my intensity. He loved a mortal, too. And a moment later he had grinned quietly at my knowing glance and said, "Aye, mellon nin, you are right. I do the same when fighting beside Aragorn."
I slid even closer to Hal until my thigh pressed tightly against his larger, more thickly muscled one, the physical need to be connected to him roaring within me. I still felt unsettled after being forced to spend several days away from him, helping Boromir in Osgiliath. Aye, perhaps there had been sense in it, but sense of a human kind, sense of a sensible kind, and what did I care for that?
But Hal had asked it of me, and there is nothing I will not do for my Halbarad. So I went to the ruined city, and I advised, and I absorbed all I could, and it had felt good to be of use to the noble young Steward of Gondor. Upon returning this morning, Boromir and I had given our report to Aragorn, and standing there near his Captain, my Hal had flashed me his quietly proud smile. My heart raced, the soft glitter in his exquisite eyes suddenly making the time I had spent away from him seem less painful.
Boromir then entertained us all by throwing a splendid fit over his little brother’s misbehavior, and when Aragorn had sent his fuming Steward to his chamber for a clearly much-needed period of calming down, Hal and I had escaped to our own chamber for a private welcome home. But we had only enjoyed half an hour together before my Ranger informed me that he was due in the Houses of Healing to, of all the ridiculous nonsense, tell a tale!
I had been less than supportive. But I had expressed my displeasure in what I felt was a mature and forthright manner.
"What?! A tale? You are leaving to tell a tale? Are you in earnest?"
"Aye. It will help becalm those who are healing and settle the wee Took," he had said, tossing me my leggings. "Come."
"I do not care if that pesky wee Took is settled! Let him stay unsettled," I had cried, sadly watching Hal fasten his breeches.
"I have just returned, Hal!"
"And we have had some time together."
Hal had given me one of those lazy, heated grins that steals away my breath, and murmured, "Is it ever enough, my Gwin?"
How dare he be so tediously right at such a moment? I had furiously yanked on my leggings, grumbling, "This hardly seems fair, sir."
"I promised. And they are waiting," he said with a soft, sympathetic grin. "Come join us."
"No. Thank you."
"You prefer to sit alone and sulk?"
"I do not sulk!" I shot back, suddenly recalling that Aragorn said he had sent Legolas off to the Rohirric encampment. "I shall see what Legolas is doing and join him."
Halbarad had paused and raised his brows at me in a wary glance that all but bellowed his misgivings.
"We will behave!" I had cried before slamming my way out of our room.
And Legolas and I had behaved, contrary to my best efforts to do otherwise. Feeling cantankerous, I had tried to interest Legolas in some harmless mischief, but he had been insipidly incorruptible, even when we found the dwarf in his favorite swill establishment and the openings for roguery were plentiful. My prince’s exasperating goodness made for a wearisome time. So, upon returning, my ill-humor having grown, I had been in a perhaps somewhat less than gracious mood, my insolence earning some immediate disciplinary attention from a certain austere Lieutenant Ranger.
One would think that after being spanked in front of, and alongside, Aragorn and Legolas numerous times, it would no longer embarrass me, and indeed it had not. But I had never gone over Hal’s knee in Boromir’s presence, and it did serve to add a level of distress to the situation. Of course, when I had grumbled about it later, Hal’s response had been fitting: "Your offense was against Boromir, little one. Letting him witness your correction was just." Vexingly right, my Hal.
I dropped my gaze and poked with my knife at the remnants on my plate, muttering, "Have you decided that we will not be going with the others? I was looking forward to seeing the Company again."
And I had hoped we would ride to Pelennor and back before Halbarad finished the task he had begun earlier in Aragorn’s chambers. I remembered his words with a shudder:
"We will continue this later, for I have not finished with you. This lesson was too fast and too short, and you know it, little Gwin."
I had lain there weeping in Aragorn’s chambers, in that familiar position – across Hal’s lap, my bare bottom burning – listening to him declare that this was going to continue later. And now it was ‘later.’ I also recalled Boromir’s teasing words:
"Gwinthorian, wouldn’t you like to ride down to the Ranger camp with Halbarad and the others, too? Nice ride upon the back of a fine, swift steed? Of course, you would, no doubt, want to have the rest of your private, uh, ‘conversation’ with him first, my lord."
Abominable man! I liked Boromir, but really, that comment had been irksome. Of course, I had probably provoked his wrath by making that small remark to Faramir about his eating habits. A valuable lesson – never cross young Faramir within earshot of his protective big brother.
And now my bottom still stung, and I had the rest of that earlier spanking coming . . . the larger part of it coming, if I knew my Hal. No force in Middle Earth was going to stop him from completing his task, but a small delay, just a little longer reprieve until after our ride, would have been nice. Feeling Hal’s gaze upon me, I affected my most Gwin the Pitiable look and turned sad eyes to him.
Pouting never works with my Hal, so why do I still play with these futile attempts to elude the inevitable? Well, an elf can hope. And my protests are part of our ritual. There is comfort to be found in the familiar, and at the moment, I was seeking comfort wheresoever I could find it. When I pout, Hal is going to turn his soft frown upon me and murmur, "Enough of that, Gwinthorian," and sometimes I need, just need, for that to happen as it always has.
"Enough of that, Gwinthorian," Halbarad now murmured, frowning softly at me.
My insides warmed at the sound of his firm tone and the sight of Hal’s gentle grey eyes, full of understanding and amusement and forgiveness. My Ranger forgives me everything. He always forgives me everything. And the comfort of Halbarad’s eternal compassion is something I never tire in seeking again and again, just to feel it there, constantly holding me up.
I nearly smiled, but I restrained the urge. Not that I needed to. Even when I defeat the impulse, Hal sees the smile I have not shown. An answering sparkle now lit his eyes, and he turned to gaze out at the men.
"Are we going with the others?" I asked again.
"Then, will we not be leaving soon?"
"Well . . . if we are leaving soon . . . Halbarad, I doubt Aragorn will want to wait while you . . . you . . . ." I genuinely squirmed.
Sitting on Halbarad’s other side, Aragorn now turned to us, having overheard our conversation. "The evening is yet young, and I have a few matters to attend to here before we leave," he said. Glancing at Hal, he added, "You shall have ample time to finish that chore you began this afternoon, my friend."
"Chore?" I bristled.
Aragorn, being impossibly Aragorn, tossed me a perfectly smug grin.
"I take it you mean me, my lord Captain? I am that chore?" Lowering my voice, I growled, "Spanking me is that chore?"
Hal ignored me and gave Aragorn a curt nod. "And finish I shall, my lord." He cast me a sedate look, though I knew him to be grinning inside, so classically Halbarad.
"Oh," I grumbled, wincing up at him. "How delightful. ‘A nice ride upon the back of a fine, swift steed’ after one of your quiet talks. I cannot wait."
Hal turned his gaze to the hall once more. "You clearly need the rest of our quiet talk, Gwinthorian. The sooner, the better."
Aragorn raised a brow and said to Halbarad, "‘Quiet talk’ is an overly delicate way to describe what it is you do to this elfling when you have him over your knee, my friend. Gwinthorian is anything but quiet, and you are hardly talking."
Hal took a swig of ale and replied, "I enjoy irony."
Again, Aragorn cast me a sly grin. Abominable Ranger! I leaned over in front of Hal, fixed Aragorn with a glare and opened my mouth to let fly a suitable retort.
"Gwinthorian, daro si," Halbarad murmured.
Being told to ‘stop now’ before I had even started was enough to make me fume, but it certainly brought a bright flash of delight to Aragorn’s eyes. The only thing that would make this moment more insufferable would be for Legolas to – ahh, yes. He had joined us just a little while earlier, having dined with the two hobbits and the two noble brothers in the Houses of Healing, so he had been inconveniently present for our little exchange, and now my kinsman turned to me from his seat on the other side of Aragorn and grinned one of his most impish grins. Legolas and I are partners in bedevilment unless one or the other of us is in trouble alone; then we sometimes delight in exalting our own goodness and in plaguing the other over his misfortune. This was obviously one of those plaguing times for Legolas.
"Can I come watch, Gwin?" he now said with a cheeky tone and a wink of superiority that I could not help admiring. Perfect, my brother. Mimic my earlier words that had helped to land me in this situation. Perfect.
Halbarad and Aragorn exchanged a long, slow look, then turned to Legolas. He blinked and sobered, his eyes growing wider as though he clearly realized too late that his remark was ill-advised. He fired rapid glances at both Aragorn and Halbarad. Ahhh. My turn to enjoy a little superiority.
"What was that again?" Aragorn asked.
The jeer Legolas had made was not terribly impertinent, and within the seconds that followed, the choice as to whether or not he desired further attention this night was up to him. He need only admit his minor error and say he was sorry, perhaps even make a jest about it. After all, it was but a small slight.
But Legolas had also said much without words, and the message he had silently sent was what mattered. He clearly felt a need for attention or he never would have made an insolent remark to begin with. So it came as no surprise to any of us that my kinsman simply sniffed at Aragorn, looked away and grunted a dismissive, "Nothing. Do not concern yourself, Aragorn. My remark was directed to Gwinthorian."
I, of course, sympathized completely. The quiet terrors that haunted me haunted Legolas as well. We had shared them once, the private images that plagued us, Legolas softly saying, "It comes to me as a repeated vision, always the same scene: Aragorn is somehow being crushed, crushed by the enemy, seconds away from being killed, all that he is, his precious, extraordinary life, about to be extinguished in this brutal senseless manner by some mindless force, and I am screaming his name and fighting to get to him. But I am moving slowly, as if trapped in mud, unable to break free, held back by arms and swords and bodies and battle . . . and . . . and I . . . I cannot get to him . . . ."
Legolas had been trembling, utter panic in his eyes, and I shook him, pulling him from his waking nightmare, my beautiful prince looking so heartrendingly terrified in that moment that I had taken him in my arms, and for some time we simply held onto each other, consoling each other through the anguish of our own dreadful immortality.
Aye, I understood full well why Legolas needed Aragorn’s attention before we rode to the Black Gate. And now it seemed he would receive it.
Aragorn turned back to Halbarad and said, "I vow we are in for a long night, my friend."
"Aye, indeed it does seem so," Hal answered. "Will you need more time before we ride for Pelennor?"
Aragorn glanced at Legolas, who sat silently, a grim set to his pretty mouth, and his eyes smoldering with rebellion. Turning back to Hal, he said, "I may wait until we return tonight to have my own quiet talk with Legolas. I shall consider the matter."
Halbarad pushed his chair back and rose, saying, "Then, if you have no further need of me, my lord, I shall begin attending to my duties now."
Aragorn gave him a nod and said, "As you will, sir. I shall send a servant with word on when we will be leaving."
"Gwinthorian," Hal said to me, knowing he need say nothing else.
My chest fluttered. "My only question is, ‘Why now?’" I demanded. Sometimes I just needed to dance that sword’s edge. "Why can this not wait until we return? Why, Hal?"
The corner of Aragorn’s mouth crooked up into a wry grin, and he shook his head slightly. Halbarad waited a nice long moment; then he said, "You can rise and leave this hall with dignity, Gwinthorian, or you can leave it slung over my shoulder. Choose."
Moments later Halbarad and I were moving swiftly through the passageways of Minas Tirith, me, as usual, struggling to keep up with his long-legged strides. All too quickly we were nearing our chamber; then we were in our chamber; then Hal had shut the door and turned to face me.
As ever, Halbarad did not appear angry, even though he was about to spank me. The only time Hal looks angry with me is when I have done something foolhardy that could have endangered my life. His fear triggers his anger until he is assured of my safety; then he calms, his wrath spent. But, although he never spanks me in anger, his remembered alarm sparks a keen intensity when he then has me over his knee later. So I see his anger when it is upon him; however, I do not suffer its effects.
Then there are times such as this when Hal is not upset. He simply understands the need within me, often before I do, and he knows how to answer it, and my Hal’s answers are always more than enough. While Halbarad’s Dúnedain insight had unnerved me in the beginning, I ceased becoming disturbed by it long ago.
One time, after Hal had given me his piercing look, asked if there was something I wanted to tell him and succeeded in getting me to, once again, confess something I wished I had not, Legolas had grinned later and patted my sore bottom and shared what he had learned in loving a Dúnadan:
"Even when I have tried to mask my feelings or my deeds from him, Aragorn ferrets them out. And if he thinks I should not have been trying to hide such information from him, he makes me sorry that I did."
I had been surprised. "You mean he spanks you for that?"
"Aye. Well, depending on its severity. For instance, he does not like it when I decide to keep something from him for his own good. He does not appreciate me making that choice for him, what is good for him to hear and what he does not need to hear. And when on occasion I do so anyway, I cannot keep such a thing from him. Just as you will not be able to keep your naughty secrets from Halbarad. He is going to find out, Gwin. So it is better to simply avoid trying to hide anything from a Dúnadan."
"That is easier said than done," I had pointed out. "There are often things I would rather Hal not find out about. However have you managed it?"
Legolas had smirked and said, "Not well at all, I fear."
So, aye, Hal knew why I had done what I had done this day, said what I had said, behaved as I had, and he would help me to see it as well, once my bottom was nice and hot and my resistance had flown and I was simply his to do with what he would. He would patiently talk me through it, gently demanding I answer his questions, correcting me, guiding me and eventually laying the truth of my actions before me. And when all that was done and I lay drenched in remorse, my Halbarad would gather me to him and love me, flaws and all, unconditionally accepting me as he had over and over, time after time. Halbarad kindled my belief in the miraculous, for Hal himself was a miracle to me.
I watched him now, wondering what he planned to do, seconds stretching to minutes. I could never predict my Ranger’s approach. Would he pick me up and hold me for a while, settling me down for a talk before he spanked me? Would he grab me at once, no preamble, no talking, just quickly seize me and hurl me over his knee, ripping down my leggings and spanking me with immediate fierceness? Even at his most forceful, Hal was controlled. Safe. He was merely driven to make a point – and he always made it well.
But, in these instances, Halbarad might do anything. My chest thrummed as I studied him, this magnificent huge warrior of such quiet strength and endless understanding. I never tired of drinking in his unrefined handsomeness and his compellingly gentle gaze, marveling that this man desired to be with me, that he had chosen to love me for so many years, wanting me for his own.
How I had fought my own need for him at first! For I knew what would eventually happen. He would tire of me. They all did. And I could not bear that.
Legolas was the only one who had never tired of me. But that was my prince; that was Legolas. He had extraordinary sympathy for hopeless causes and small lost creatures, taking them to his heart and nurturing them. "Ah, Gwin," he would say to me with his irresistible smile, "you are so much more than you know." And I would smile back at my radiant prince and hope that Legolas always stayed as he was, pure and beautiful and compassionate, and that he would never tire of befriending me.
Hal had never tried to tell me that I was more than I knew, but he had shown me that truth every day, year in and year out. And as more and more time passed with Halbarad clearly desiring my company, I began to allow a small ray of bright possibility to shine within me; perhaps I could begin to believe that what Legolas had with Aragorn, I had with Halbarad. It had never been safe to entertain such a notion. I fought it. But, of course, Hal won out in the end.
I could not remember when he had started saying it, it was so long ago, but Halbarad had started saying it every time he finished spanking me, speaking the words in my native Sindarin, softly and with his slow, lyrical accent. For the longest time, I would burst into fresh weeping when hearing it:
"You are part of me, Gwinthorian. You are dear to my heart. I shall never leave you, nor will I abandon you to your own harmful whims. Do you understand, my love?"
At first I would cry that, ‘no, I did not understand!’ And I did not! And Hal would rub my fiery bottom and soothe my anguish, then gather me up and tell me that it was all right that I did not understand now, but that someday, within the fullness of time, I would.
I longed to believe what he said, those beautiful elvish words that he said. I simply did not see how it could be so. I knew Hal was not lying, but I felt it was he who simply did not understand, that the fullness of time would begin to work on him, and that, like the others, save Legolas, he, too, would grow weary of me. I would not fault him when that day came. I would quietly exit his life, feeling fortunate to have enjoyed what time he had seen fit to share with me. But, no, I could not let myself believe those magical words.
And then, somewhere along the way, when year after year passed with no change in Hal’s devotion, I did begin to understand, and to my astonishment, I began to believe his beautiful litany. Somewhere along the way, Halbarad’s firmly repeated and constant truth became real to me. With his slow and persistent manner and his eternal strength, he had moved into my heart, pushing out the broken bits it had splintered into at a very early age, thousands of years before he had even been born, replacing the shards with a fullness and a richness, teaching it to beat again with a wholesome rhythm.
I still sometimes shattered anew when hearing his elvish incantation. It still had the power to overwhelm me. And I somehow knew that Halbarad never tired of saying it, that he was as moved when saying it as I was in hearing it. I heard his love for the message in the way he formed the words, each phrase a silken caress, ". . . you are dear to my heart. I shall never leave you . . . ."
"So deep in thought," Hal said, jarring me from my musings and advancing on me slowly. I held my ground. "What fills your mind, Gwinthorian?"
I watched him in silence, knowing that he would want to answer his own question. He took hold of my shoulders and leaned down to kiss my brow; then he released me, sliding one palm down my arm to take my hand. "Images of battle, perhaps? Of all you have seen these past few days, the sorrow and loss and pain?"
He turned and led me to our bed . . . ahhh, a calm dance tonight. A gentle soothing to replace the dark phantoms. Ai! the Dúnedain! Such flawless insight.
Hal sat on the edge of our bed, and in one smooth move perfected by practice, he settled me over his lap, angling me snuggly against him with my chest resting on the coverlet and my legs free to kick, each motion relaxed and geared towards comforting me with the familiar before he would then proceed to overpower the specters bedeviling me by administering what I suddenly knew was going to be a memorable spanking. Hal’s most memorable spankings were the ones meant to rescue me from my own ruinous torments.
He drew down my leggings firmly and at a leisurely pace, saying, "Shhh, little Gwin. No need to tremble so. I am here. I know your fears. I know what has vexed you this day, the cause of your impudent words and your naughty behavior. Shhhhh."
"Hal, please," I whispered, my voice already breaking and my first tears stinging my eyes. He rubbed my bottom, caressing the remaining ache. It felt good, hypnotic. I longed for it to last, and I also longed for him to begin. "I-I am sorry!"
"Hush now. I know. And you know what I shall now tell you – that you have nothing to be sorry for. So enough, little one. Let us release you from this misery. It has been left unattended, so it has festered. I will not allow it reign over my elfling one moment longer."
And with that, Halbarad’s first swat fell, and I cried out, and I continued to cry out for some time as his hand continued to fall, over and over, spank after searing spank. Hal’s large hand is unerringly accurate, as if it knows the exact spot on my bottom where I am dreading another blow might fall. Of course, within moments there is no place on my bottom where I am not dreading another blow might fall.
My wails reverberated around our chamber walls. I know I am loud. When we are in an enclosed space like this, I can tell how loud I am. I like being loud, although Legolas often enjoyed beleaguering me about it:
"No doubt they heard you back in Mirkwood."
"I was not that noisy!"
"You were! My ada is no doubt assembling our warriors to ride out and save you from a band of murderous orcs."
Legolas and his dry wit. Ah, well. So be it. It feels right to express my . . . dismay. And I expressed it now, crying and yelling with each blow during what seemed like hours of Hal’s determined spanking. Of course, this had not really been going on for hours, but I saw no reason to dwell on such tiresome specifics. It felt like hours, and that was what mattered to my backside.
"You are in fine voice this evening, Gwinling."
Oh, no. Gwinling. No, no, not that name! It was unfair for him to use that name! It never failed to melt my most stubborn inclinations, weakening me to but a shadow of my obstinate self. Gwinling. So endearingly juvenile and uniquely mine. So perfectly Hal. I responded with a long and enthusiastic squall.
"Aye. Fine voice. It fairly echoes through our chamber."
Halbarad and his dry wit. I declined to honor his observation with a reply, but simply continued in my usual manner for a while, my kicking becoming increasingly violent and my attempts to wriggle away more frequent until Hal grew tired of my antics and increased the strength of his hold. He never had to increase his grip much, just enough, a firm reminder, a boundary slammed in place to reassure me, and sometimes a murmured verbal command: "Stop your insolence, little brat."
Hal had said those very words the first time he spanked me, and I had given him cause to. I had screamed loudly and begged him to stop after the first dozen swats. In retrospect, I had shown a pathetic lack of endurance. But I had never felt anything like that. I became quickly frantic, knowing I could bear no more of what he was doing to me, knowing I could make him stop if I chose to, knowing I did not want to make him stop, fearing that I had no idea what was happening to me or what I really wanted, and thinking that I had possibly taken leave of my senses. But it hurt! I did want him to stop! And I was so drenched in shock and embarrassment and confusion that all I seemed able to do was to cry and yell.
"That is quite a fuss you’re making, young elf," Halbarad had noted after listening to me for a few minutes.
I had answered in elvish, riddling my reply with enough foul language to turn the air blue.
"Have you forgotten that I speak Sindarin?" he asked, frighteningly calm.
In my distress, I had indeed forgotten. I simply knew more foul language in elvish than in the Common Tongue, and I had been too flustered to remember that he would be able to understand me. In defiance, however, I nearly pretended that indeed I had remembered and I had meant to say such things to him.
But Hal’s spanking was taking incredible precedence over my willfulness, and it suddenly seemed ill-advised to pretend any such thing. So I sputtered an honest confession that I had forgotten his knowledge of elvish.
"Despite your lapse in memory, little one, you owe me an apology for your vulgar language."
To my utter astonishment, I gladly cried out, "I-I am sor-sorr-sorryyyy!"
"I will forgive you your impudence this time, Gwinthorian, as you did forget, but should you ever use such words with me again, I shall wash your mouth out with soap."
I had been too stunned to do anything but roar out my shock and pain and indignation. It was probably the scream that had jarred poor Legolas into an awareness of my anguish despite his own precarious position over his Ranger’s knee some distance away. I had started thrashing furiously, and Hal had yanked me to him, locking me against his body with an authoritativeness that had made me gasp, and then he had said it:
"Stop your insolence, little brat."
"Gwinthorian." I flinched at Hal’s sudden voice and his next, and notably harder, swat.
"AHH! Aye, H-Hal?"
"You know that is not allowed."
Ai! Wretched Dúnedain! "Aye, H-Hal."
"No drifting off in your mind."
"N-No, s-sirrr. I-I know."
"Are you with me, Gwinling?"
"Aye, Hal. I-I am s-sor-ry."
He always knew. I might slip away in my mind for a moment, but he always knew! But, by all that was blessed, I was still right here! How strong did he think my mind was? I certainly felt every single spank he had delivered in my short reverie, ten in all, and every one classic Halbarad.
I do lose all sense of time when I am over Halbarad’s knee, but I can roughly gauge the length of a spanking by the degree of heat on my bottom, and this one had been going on for a long while now. The coverlet beneath my face was soaked with tears. I had nearly torn holes in it with my twisting. I can fight succumbing for a while, but not for long, and that familiar sense of desperation now ripped through me, followed by the most telling evidence of a long spanking – my loss of focus.
There comes a point wherein I lose my ability to think clearly . . . and strangely . . . strangely, when that happens, whatever had been tormenting me suddenly seems insignificant. All that was so important and complicated becomes trivial when my backside is in flames, vanquished by the more demanding feel of Hal’s huge hand striking my aching bottom again and again and again. That sensation eventually conquers everything, all thought, all worry, all torment; it is inescapable; it commands full attention, and it annihilates any other concern. All else falls away.
All I know is Hal’s relentless spanking. All I know is the sting of each scorching spank, the throbbing of my backside, my repeated distraught sobs, my scattered thinking. All I know is Hal’s constant powerful grasp around my waist, his firm thighs under my quivering torso, his voice, his scent, his presence . . . all I know is Halbarad.
And, stranger still, in my diminished state, I come to my senses, realizing that this is not going to stop, that nothing I can do will make it stop, that I will never outlast him. I shall be here for all time, over Halbarad’s knee, my bottom on fire, his spanking hand descending and descending, endlessly spanking, never tiring, and there is nothing I can say or do . . . but . . . there is something I can do, and before long, I am more than willing to do it.
Surrender then becomes a welcome haven. And it must be an honest surrender, for I learned long ago what happened when I tried to pretend submission in order to make the spanking end. It had been yet another situation in which the wretched Dúnedain insight proved singularly wretched, but at least upon hearing my sentence, Legolas had been sympathetic:
"Ai! Poor Gwin! Aragorn did that to me, not long ago, in fact. It was after you coerced me into trying to steal that vile wine from those vile dwarves."
"Aragorn spanked you every other night for a week?"
"Aye. It was awful."
"All because we tried to steal that wine?"
Legolas had blushed and looked off. "Well, no . . . not just for that."
I had asked for further details and been told that they were unimportant. But Legolas was right; it was awful, and it had been a very long week, and I had never again tried to feign surrender.
And I did not feign it now. I simply collapsed, my sobs raw and fragile. And I knew that within a heartbeat, Hal would read my yielding and . . . ahh, his next spank was lighter; the next lighter still.
"It is time to talk, my Gwin," he said in a low, warm voice.
He had been frightened. More than frightened. My Gwin had been terrified of the specters within him.
I find it amazing that two immortals as powerful and deadly in battle as Legolas and Gwinthorian harbor such fears for the safety of their mortals. Gwin and I are never far from Aragorn and Legolas when fighting, so I have witnessed our two elves in the heat of conflict, and the sight of them in battle is like nothing I have ever beheld. I yearn to pause in fascination and simply watch them, this ethereal pair covered with black splatters of orc blood, appearing too fair and too young to be so engaged, and yet destroying with graceful savagery every enemy around them. No human, no matter how masterful a warrior, can come close to the ferocious skill of an elf in the frenzy of battle.
And yet now, before another massive engagement, both these ruthless warrior elves had again fallen victim to their gentle hearts. Amazing, aye, but completely understandable and strangely endearing.
Aragorn and I were not immune to the suffering of those same fears for Legolas and Gwin, for what could take a man’s life in battle could also kill an elf, but perhaps, as mortals, we looked upon the cessation of life with an acceptance that our immortal elves could not call forth. So Aragorn and I would now needs help our elflings with their fears, and neither my Captain nor I would have it any other way.
I gazed down lovingly at the lithe, youthful form gracing my lap. Gwinthorian released occasional small quivers, his weeping and shuddering beginning to lessen, his charming bottom fiery red. A familiar sight, but never in all our years together had I tired of seeing it. I marveled at the vision of him there, over my lap, beautiful in his well-spanked state, surrendered and completely mine. He turned his head to the side, facing me, his perfect features now free from tension.
I began to rub his bottom. Given its tender condition, my caress should have hurt. Yet, how many times had I seen a child fresh from a spanking reach around to rub furiously at his burning little cheeks? There must be some comfort in it. It often made my elfling purr. Releasing my hold from his waist, I began another ritual petting, reaching up to stroke Gwin’s soft, liquid mane of gold, my palm starting at the top of his head and gliding slowly, slowly down, all the way to the feathery ends of his tresses, where I lingered to rub his back before repeating the languid motion.
"You are part of me, Gwinthorian. You are dear to my heart. I shall never leave you, nor will I abandon you to your own harmful whims. Do you understand, my love?"
His soft voice found its way through his slightly increased weeping. "Na, Hal."
His small elvish ‘yes’ always made me smile, Gwinthorian’s childlike essence coming forth to match his outer demeanor, nothing in his tone but surrender and trust.
It had taken many years to reach this place with my elfling. I never despaired it taking so long, for I knew how hard he was trying. The end result would be worth the wait. But I inwardly grieved for how difficult it was for him to trust, my anger often kindled by thoughts of what anguish must have driven him to such a point.
I had learned all I needed to about Gwinthorian’s youth from Legolas. It had taken me a long while to subdue my inner rage at the injustice of his treatment. I still had not fully conquered that rage. I likely never would.
Fate had intervened many times to keep me from meeting Gwinthorian’s parents, and while I did not dread the meeting, I knew that such an encounter would be unpleasant for all, especially Gwin. So Fate knew best, and I could not help agreeing with it. Those beings calling themselves Gwin’s ‘parents’ clearly did not deserve his company. They had given my Gwin life, and for that I was grateful, but their actions thereafter had been reprehensible. Legolas had needed to say little about them to say much. He had told me about his first sight of Gwin, enough for me to glean the truth of my elfling’s parents:
"Gwin looks the way he does because of their beauty, but that, and their wealth, was all they gave him. I first saw Gwin’s parents at my father’s court. Even amongst the elves, they were a couple that turned every head, but I found them proud and distant and of little interest.
"They returned a year later, but I was away during their second visit. On the day they left court to return to their region, I happened to be riding home on the same path through the forest by which their party was exiting. The couple rode proudly side by side, surrounded by their attendants. We nodded as we passed and I rode on, and further down in their entourage, I saw a small elfling sitting on a horse that was far too big for him. A dour-looking adult rode behind him, his tutor, no doubt, or his personal servant. I wondered who the little one was, for he was richly garbed. Indeed, I had never seen such an elfling.
"’Their son,’ Ada told me later. ‘His name is Gwinthorian.’ He said that they had brought their son to be officially introduced at court. But Ada looked downcast, and when I asked him what was wrong, he said, ‘I can rule my kingdom, Legolas, but I cannot tell my subjects how to raise their elflings.’ Knowing my father would not stand idly by if he suspected a little one was being ill-treated, I asked him what he meant."
Legolas had paused, gazing off sadly in remembrance; then he went on: "Ada said that Gwinthorian was a delightful, winning elfling, captivating all in his path. ‘He reminded me of a certain precocious young prince,’ Ada said with a wink, ‘one who knew he was pretty and charming and who liked the attention those gifts afforded him.’"
I had grinned at this picture of my Gwin as an elfling, so like the Gwin today.
"But nothing slipped past my father’s careful eye. ‘I fear this little one is very much alone,’ he said. ‘Aye, he is a gregarious bundle of excitement, but only with others. I sensed a wall between him and his parents. He was never eager to leave with them when they excused themselves, and they never . . . touched.’
"I was not certain I had heard Ada right. ‘You mean they never picked him up and held him or carried him or hugged him?’ I asked.
"Ada nodded. ‘They never touched him, my son. Not once did I see them so much as take his hand. Nor did I see him reach for theirs, nor go to them with the eagerness of a well-loved elfling. And each time Gwinthorian sang a lovely song or recited a poem or made the courtiers laugh with a riddle, he would glance at his parents, looking without seeming to look, his hungry gaze near pleading for their approval, only to be instantly disappointed when they seemed disinterested or were engaged in conversation elsewhere. Ai! Legolas, I could scarce bear to watch it after the first few times. It pulled so my heart.’
"I felt a rush of anger. I thought again of passing them just hours before in the forest and of that exquisite little one, watching me, his wide blue eyes locked on mine as if fascinated. After we passed, I had looked back at him, finding that he was already turned and looking back at me. Something surged within me, a mad urge to go back and snatch him up and take him home to Ada, but all I did was lift my hand in a slight wave, and the little moppet did the same, his melancholy gaze knotting my stomach."
It had been more than I could bear hearing. I had suspected something of this sort, given Gwinthorian’s repeated – nay, near constant bids for attention once I began to discipline him, but the actual facts were bitter.
It had made perfect sense that Gwin would become quickly enamored of the attention I gave him. He had been starved for it. Legolas had provided friendship, a kinsmanship based on equality. He had often engaged in mischievous deeds with Gwin, but apparently nothing so severe as to earn spankings, for none had ever taken my elfling over his knee as I had done. So my starved Gwin craved the kind of care that only this special attention provided. He had reached for me as a ravenous waif reaches for a feast. And, in doing so, he filled a place within me I had willingly left empty all my life, feeling I had no use for it.
Once, when Aragorn and I stood at a distance watching our elves race each other up a tree, their soft laughter drifting back to us, my young lord had turned a thoughtful gaze to me and said, "It is as if you have been waiting for him all these years, my friend."
I had nodded slowly and cast him a quiet smile. His own astute observation clearly embarrassing him a bit, Aragorn had dropped his gaze and nudged at the grass with the toe of his boot and added, "Although, even a long wait such as yours wouldst hardly be enough to fully prepare you for Gwinthorian."
We had chuckled, but I had returned my gaze to the graceful form scurrying still higher in the tree – too high really – bright golden flashes of his hair sparkling through the foliage. "Nay, my lord," I had murmured. "Gwin came to me not a moment too soon."
"How is my Gwinling?" I now asked, nearly purring myself at the feel of his soft, hot bottom beneath my palm.
Depending on how Gwin chose to respond, I would know whether or not he needed more spanking. In truth, I usually did know at this point, but Gwinthorian sometimes surprised me, lashing out at me with rebellion after feigning obedience. It always amused me.
Although he never got far with it, Gwin customarily chose impertinence as his favorite form of defiance. In his broken-down and distraught state, he could let fly his feelings with entertaining forthrightness. So he might choose to answer my question with something along the lines of what he had spat at me during one difficult spanking: "How am I-I? How d-do I look, you s-silly ass!" I often struggled to keep from bursting into laughter.
But this time I felt certain of Gwin’s acquiescence. This had been a long spanking, even for Gwin. It had needed to be, for my poor elfling had been buried beneath an avalanche of fears. He had needed a firm hand to reach in and pull him free of that crushing weight, just as Legolas would needs pulled free of his equally heavy burden, a task for which Aragorn was more than suited.
Gwin hiccuped and sniffled and rubbed his wet face into the coverlet; then he said, "My-My bottom h-hurts."
I smiled. "Does it, sweetling?"
"Uh-huh. Hurts b-bad."
"Then perhaps I should cease your spanking?"
"Aye! Oh, p-please, Hal, please! N-No more sp-spanking. I am sorry, so sorry."
"I know you are, little Gwin. And now that you are hearing only my voice, I think you realize that there was more to this bottom-warming than the simple need to answer your day of rude behavior. Is that not so?"
Gwin paused, sucking a few shallow gasps. "Aye . . . more . . . aye, H-Hal."
"Indeed. Very good, my Gwinling." I went on to sprinkle small loving phrases over him, soothing him with the words Gwin always needed to hear – how proud I was of him and how good he was, little endearments that made him squirm with embarrassment for enjoying them so. It would settle him for what he had left to do. He listened, his head resting on the coverlet, his eyes closed as he quieted, drinking in my every word.
Soon I said, "I told you that I knew your fears and what has vexed you this day, the cause of your impudent words and your naughty behavior. Do you remember?"
He opened his eyes halfway and nodded. "Aye, Hal."
"Now I would hear you tell me, sweetling, what has vexed you so. What has kindled my Gwinling’s ill-humor?"
This was always hard for Gwinthorian. Just looking at what he deemed to be his faults was difficult enough; to confess them was near impossible. This, too, had taken him years to learn how to do, for it had never before been safe to admit to his flaws. In his youth, Gwin had been forgiven neither his mistakes nor his failings. Legolas had also told me what he knew of this:
"He rarely spoke of his home life, and he seemed reluctant to ever visit there. Remembering what I did of his parents, I could not blame him. But I formed a picture of what life had been like for him from what little he did say, sometimes after he had downed a bit too much wine.
"From what I gathered, Gwin did not spend much time with his parents unless they were traveling or in the company of others. He never said much about his infrequent times alone with them, but from what he did say, I got the feeling that they were unpleasant encounters. ‘I was a disappointment to them, Legolas,’ he once told me. ‘I was too silly, too excitable, not refined and elegant in that elvish way they preferred. One can hardly blame them for choosing more harmonious company.’
"He spoke of them with sadness, not anger, but he spoke with guileless honesty and a touch of bitter bewilderment, and I surmised much from that alone. As I see it, Halbarad, Gwin’s loving spirit was with him at birth, and it refused to be tamed, despite the coldness of his parents. They saw defiance in that, and they answered his behavior by withdrawal of affection."
Aye, it was best for all concerned that I never meet Gwinthorian’s parents.
He was thinking now, silently pondering my question. It took him a little longer to think after a spanking. I waited. If he needed more help, he would say so. And Gwin had many ways of making his needs known, not all of them a direct, "Hal, please, help me."
Sometimes his cry for help came in the form of how long he made me wait for an answer. He knew I would wait for a certain amount of time, but beyond that interval I would know that he was having trouble, that he had wandered too far in his mind, or perhaps not far enough. He might be stuck, unable to move, or in an effort to avoid the harder truth, he might have stumbled off in the wrong direction and now he was confused and needed his focus sharpened.
Though more passive than open defiance, avoiding his task by withdrawing was still a form of resistance, so when Gwin could not respond after a certain length of time, I answered his call for help as indeed I always would. I started swatting slowly, but firmly. Given his condition, it would not take Gwin long to find his tongue.
"AHHHHHHHH! AHH, Hal! Pleeeeease! N-No more!"
I said nothing. He already knew what I required and what he needed to do to stop my spanks. He held his fate in his hands, which was how it should be, how it had to be. I gave my Gwin what he needed, but he asked it of me first. In hundreds of ways, with actions and means that never ceased to astonish me, Gwin asked this of me, and thank the Valar, for I was more than eager to provide what he desired.
After a fresh half dozen spanks, I paused once more and let him catch his breath. He was crying again, but too weakened to thrash about . . . so close now. I thought it best to remove any thoughts of a reprieve from his mind.
"Do not fret. If we have not resolved this by the time the servant arrives with Aragorn’s message, I shall tell him that we have been detained but will join them later."
"Oh!" Gwin wailed.
"I know you are eager to be with the Company again, little Gwin, and we shall ride to their encampment this night, never fear."
"But only after we have finished here." I swatted him again.
"Ahh! HAL! Pleeeease!"
"You shall always come first, little Gwin." Swat!
"Aye, pretty Gwinling? You have something to say to me?"
"Shhhhhhh," I purred, rubbing his bottom. "Easy. Breathe deeply. Then tell me."
He wept a little, soft tears of resignation; then he said, "I-I . . . w-wanted you, H-Hal . . . and I . . . I was ang-angry."
Ah, a good beginning. "You were angry with me."
"Uh-huh. Be-Because you w-went to go t-tell a t-tale, a s-stupid tale!"
"Hmm." He was working backwards this time. Very well. We would eventually get to the real heart of the matter, so we would go at his pace. "You mean today. You wanted me to stay with you in our bed a little longer rather than leave to tell a tale."
"AYE!" he shot back.
I gave him a gentle spank, making himyelp. "Your tone, little elfling. Mind your impudent tone."
"Aye, H-Hal. S-Sorry. But we had so little t-time together, and you ended it f-for such a reason! I-I got mad."
"I noticed. My Gwin is often of a jealous bent of mind," I said, grinning. "No matter, sweetling, for that is part of who you are, and I love you as you are. You know that, do you not?"
He was calming more now, with fewer tears and his words less riddled with stammering. He was fragile, though, recovering, but still squirming inside. He needed gentle urging and many reassurances that all was well.
"So you were angry, and you left our room to find Legolas--"
"Aye," he interrupted, hurrying on in a suddenly scornful tone, "and Legolas . . . ." He paused to huff, then snarled, "Legolas was being g-good today!"
"Ahhhh." Again I grinned. How frustrating to encounter a well-behaved Legolas when an ornery Gwinthorian was on a mischievous tear! The sudden need Legolas had displayed at the table made sense now as well – his ill-humor hit him later than Gwin’s had, and no doubt Legolas regretted the missed opportunity to act out by causing a little harmless trouble with his kinsman. "How inconsiderate of Legolas to be so good."
His voice thick with pouting, Gwin grumbled, "Aye."
"You were angry, and Legolas provided you no support. So you returned to the city with him this afternoon still angry and spoiling for a fight. Is that not true, my Gwinling?"
He sniffed. "Aye."
"You displayed a bit of ill-humor and caused some trouble for Boromir in the street, and you knew full well what you were doing, did you not, little brat?"
"Uhh . . . uhhh, well . . . ."
I lifted my hand.
"AYE! I knew! Aye, Hal! I knew I should not have said anything about anyone’s luncheon going untouched!"
"But you did so anyway," I said, lowering my hand. "Why?"
"Uhhhhh . . . ."
Too late. I again lifted my hand.
"We can stay here for hours if you like, little one."
"NO! No, please, Hal! I-I said it – I mean, I blurted out what you and Aragorn were muttering about because . . . because . . . ."
I could feel him cringing inwardly, but he knew I would demand that he face what he had done and admit it to me. It seemed he still did need help, but I was growing concerned about the fierce color of his crimson little bottom, so I tried another incentive, one that my Gwin particularly hated.
"NOOOO!" he howled. "OWWW!"
"Are you bellowing at me, Gwinthorian?"
"Nooo! No, Hal! I-I am sorry, but please, pleeeease do not do that!"
"Do not count like that! Do not count to three! I hate it when you count!"
"I know you do, and I would rather not be forced to count, sweetling. You are doing very well thus far, but you are also beginning to try my patience. You know what you did and why you did it, and you will tell me or I shall begin my count again with ‘two’."
"I wanted your attention! I-I – oh, Hal! I was angry, and I wanted to-to get your attention." He groaned deeply, sounding utterly humiliated, and buried his face in the crook of his elbow.
I did not enjoy making him confront his misbehavior and the ensuing embarrassment he always suffered, but it was vital. Over the years Gwin had learned how to struggle through this distressing task, and more importantly, he learned that he could admit anything to me and he would still be loved and forgiven, regardless of what silly or vindictive or simply naughty thing he had done. And after his confession began, he repeated the same phrase and question he had asked a thousand times, always in the same small voice:
"I am sorry, Hal. Are you . . . mad at me?"
He asked it, knowing the answer. And I repeated what I always said in return: "Nay, little one. I am upset with what you did. I am never upset with you."
"Oh, Hal. I-I was cheeky on purpose to-to get your attention." Another groan.
"You were indeed, you saucy brat. And instead of you getting scolded, Boromir threw another small fit, and he ended up with everyone’s attention."
"Aye!" Gwin spat, lifting his head. "He did!"
"Suddenly everyone was concerned about Boromir, were they not?"
"Aye! It was not fair! They weregiving him wine and settling him down and talking about his little brother, talking about how Faramir could not be spanked right away and how Boromir would needs wait until tomorrow, and I simply sat there, watching, getting more and more angry."
"And you had just spent two days helping Boromir, and then I had left our bed to go tell Faramir a tale. These pesky brothers! It was not fair!"
"Aye! Not fair! Not not not! And-And I just got angry all over again!"
I smiled at his indignant little sputtering self. Gwin in a temper was too adorable. "So, you asked if you could watch when Boromir spanked Faramir. Such sass."
Gwin rested his head on his arms again and sighed. "Aye."
"Did you want to watch Boromir spank his little brother, Gwinthorian?"
I remained quiet for a moment, then asked him in a thoughtful tone, "Gwinling, did you want me to spank you then and there, in front of all?"
He paused, staring off. "I . . . I do not know."
"When the servant delivered Pippin’s message and it seemed I might leave, what did you feel?"
"I felt angry at that wretched little Took! And I felt sad and alone and . . . and I did want you to spank me right then, Hal, no matter who was there. I just wanted you, my Halbarad . . . I wanted to . . . to feel like I mattered, too, and . . . I just wanted you."
"Ah, my sweet Gwinling. Very good."
He shot me a quick glance over his shoulder and a lovely shy smile.
"And so it seems we have found the reason for this spanking, have we not, little one?" He lowered his head and nodded. "Tell me, Gwinthorian."
"Temper. My ill-temper."
"Because regardless of how angry I might feel about something, it is never acceptable to turn that anger on others."
"Aye." I patted my fingers lovingly on his bottom. "Are others to blame for your ill-humor?"
"Do they deserve to have that wicked elvish brattiness turned upon them?"
He squirmed a bit. "Nay, Hal. I am sorry."
"I know, Gwinling. And you apologized bravely to Boromir and Aragorn and Legolas. I was very proud of my Gwin."
Again he squirmed, but it was a pleasurable little squirm, as if my words, so juvenile in nature, yet so delicious to Gwin’s tender soul, were tickling him on the inside.
We had not gone over this earlier in Aragorn’s chambers, this ritual of discovery and confession, and although Gwin knew all his answers, it was, again, comforting to him to follow our familiar pattern. This part was over, then. Time for the harder part.
"So I spanked you and took you with me to hear the rest of the tale; then you were cheeky again afterwards, when the others joined us."
"Not overly cheeky," he said in a sulky tone. "Pippin was cheeky, too."
"I am not concerned with Pippin’s behavior, Gwinling. Aragorn will take care of him. You are my concern."
He tried to hide his little grin. "Aye, Hal."
"And now we come to the real heart of all this, forwe have joined our story in the middle, have we not? Come, little one. Let us find the beginning."
Gwin went still and silent, listening, ready to be led, but needing to be led, and that was fine. He could count on me to take him a certain distance, but he would be responsible for that one final step to the ultimate truth behind it all. For now, I gave him a good start:
"I explained that I had promised the others a tale in the Houses of Healing, Gwinthorian, and that should have been a sufficient reason to quiet your anger. So your upset was, I am certain, built upon something else." I rubbed his bottom, patting it a little in a promissory manner, reminding him of his vulnerable position. "So, what deeper anger was your tantrum based upon?"
He bit his bottom lip, then said, "Hal, will you . . . will you hold me now?"
"Not yet, little one."
"No. Your pretty bottom will remain under my hand for now."
"But, Hal, I--"
"No." Gwin always tried to maneuver himself off my lap and out of firing range at some point, usually when the most difficult confessions were due. "We are not far enough along yet, my Gwin."
I sighed and raised my knee, exposing the more tender surface under the curve of his bottom. "Are you arguing with me, Gwinthorian?"
"AHHH! NOOO! Oh, please, Hal! No, sir! Not arguing!"
"Who decides when you are allowed off my lap?"
"You do, Hal! You do! Sorry! I am sorry!"
"Very good, and you are forgiven your impudence, little one." I lowered my knee and went back to rubbing, Gwin relaxing again and releasing a long gasp. "Now answer me," I said. "What deeper anger was your tantrum based upon?"
His pause to think was shorter this time. "I missed you, and . . . and I had not wanted to go to Osgiliath. I did not want to leave you."
I smiled. "Aye, sweetling. Very good. That angered you, did it not?"
"Even though you could be of help to Boromir and Aragorn."
"And even though you would be gone but for a few days."
"A few days or a few hours . . . . " Gwin turned his head, burying his face in his arms again, his voice tightening with fresh tears. "I-I did not want to leave you . . . n-not so soon after . . . not . . . I-I was not ready to leave you y-yet."
"So soon after what?"
A small desperate sob broke free. Gwin squirmed. "Ohh, Hal . . . !" he barely whispered. "I-I just ne-needed to be near y-you, needed to s-see you, touch you!"
"So soon after what, Gwinthorian?"
"A-After the battle! I-I could not bear leaving you so s-soon after the battle!"
And finally, we were at the origin of it all and the essence ofhis anguish. It was not as if Gwin had been unaware of all this, but he had successfully buried his terror for the tragic reason that he saw it as a weakness to be so frightened of losing what he treasured. I had explained to him long ago that there was a difference in being afraid of battle and afraid of loss due to battle, and he had understood, yet he still felt he was somehow lacking for having such fears.
His staggering dependence never failed to touch me. Those with impenetrable hearts and with eyes that saw only shortcomings might find that dependence revolting. I found it endearing beyond measure.
We had been here countless times, each time Gwin needing to hear yet again what he always heard from me. I did not mind repeating it any more than I minded repeating what Gwin called my ‘beautiful litany.’ I understood why he needed to be near me after the ordeal of fighting. Fearing for the life of another was not a frailty. It was no failing on his part that he needed to be reassured of that over and over, nor had I provided an insufficient lesson all those times.
But Gwinthorian’s earliest lessons were those of deprivation, of loneliness, a stark and empty pain so desolate he could not dwell in it. His tenacious spirit had subdued that pain, but the memory of it lurked in the dark shadows of his soul, waiting to tear at him in times such as these, dragging him back to the raw fear born in that impotent place of childhood.
It was an ugly, hateful thing that tore at my Gwin, but it was not stronger than love, and as it exploited his most tender vulnerabilities, I countermanded in kind, using childlike words with my frightened elfling.
"Aye, little one," I murmured. "After the battle. After the fear. You wanted to stay close. My Gwin had been scared, so scared. It was that ‘big’ scared, was it not, sweetling?"
His renewed weeping was low and hushed, as though he dare not allow it full voice. "S-Scared . . . ai! Hal . . . that aw-awful b-big scared . . . b-biggest scared!"
And now I did gather him up, sweeping his limp body into my arms, enfolding him to me. "I know, my Gwinling," I whispered. "That biggest scared. I know."
He buried his face in the crook of my neck, his warm breath coming in short gasps against my skin as he wept, his arm wrapping around me in a tight embrace. I rocked him slowly to calm his unrestrained trembling.
"S-Sorry!" he whimpered through broken weeping. "S-Sorry, Hal!"
"Shhhh. Is there ever reason to be sorry for feeling that biggest scared?"
He shook his head, quick little shakes.
"N-No need for s-sorry. . . no n-need."
"Mmmm." I kissed his brow and slowly petted his silken cascade of hair, feeling him begin to relax. "What have I always told you about that biggest scared, Gwinling?"
He nuzzled closer, his lips moving against my neck as he whispered, "There is no shame in fear."
I smiled. "Aye. Very good."
I held him quietly, still rocking back and forth. We were not quite finished, but I felt it best to let him calm before going on. When his breathing became even and slow, I leaned my head down to look at him. Ah. Pretty elfling, looking back at me with glistening eyes. He straightened to a sitting position, his gaze never leaving mine. Gwinthorian’s beauty had the power to mesmerize. But his expression held a remaining shadow.
"Aye, Gwin," I said in a hushed tone. "The conflict to come. The march." I ran my fingers down through his long locks. "That is part of your anguish as well. I know."
"Do you know what Eomer called it?" he said, his voice hollow. "‘The Final March.’ He turned to Legolas today and asked, ‘Do we meet to discuss The Final March?’ Gandalf looked at him and said, ‘That is an unfortunate way to describe our campaign, sir.’"
"Gandalf is very wise," I replied. "No one can see all ends, Gwin. Not even the most powerful of your race."
His large eyes welled once more, and I gathered him to me again. We had been here before as well, this precipice of a great campaign, Gwin trembling over the uncertainty of the future, his crippling fears of loss erupting within him. We had never before faced a trial on such a massive scale. It should have been of little consequence, for an arrow could find either of us at any time, no matter the size of the conflict. But it did matter, as Eomer’s words carried a bitter ring of truth.
I could do naught but hold Gwin and reassure him as best I could. I struggled to find a way to comfort him, realizing in the end that all I could do was follow the most familiar path.
He loosened his grip and drew back to look at me, his expectant gaze open and artless and speaking silently to my heart and my mind: ‘I believe in you, beloved. I trust your words. Speak to my heart as I now speak to yours, as you have ever done, my Halbarad.’
I smiled softly at him. "Shall I, my Gwin? Shall I speak to your heart? You know what is in mine."
Gwin nodded, one large tear rolling down each perfect cheek as he spoke: "You are part of me, Gwinthorian. You are dear to my heart. I shall never leave you . . . ."
I kissed him gently, continuing, "Never leave you, nor will I abandon you to your own harmful whims. Do you understand, my love?"
"Na, Hal," he said, his small sad smile answering mine as I wiped away his tears.
"Tell me then, beloved, what do you understand?"
He returned my kiss, then pulled back but a few inches, gazing directly into my eyes, murmuring, "I shall never leave you, nor you, me. There is no power that can separate us fully, for we live within each other, Hal, now and for all time."
"Aye, my clever Gwinling. For all time."
Then he smiled again, his stunningly beautiful elvish smile, and he kissed me again, deeply and for a long while. It crossed my mind that I should not allow this. We would soon hear a knock on our door and receive our summons from Aragorn. But even my fortitude has limits. Gwin squirmed on my lap, testing my fortitude to the degree wherein I groaned; then I realized, when he wriggled about and wrapped his legs around my waist, that he had been pulling one leg free of his clothing.
Suddenly he drew back again and gazed at me with a charming smile. I knew that Gwin’s eyes would reflect complete inner peace only when all battles were fought and won and all skirmishes behind us. That day might never come, for even if we returned to Minas Tirith in triumph, there would still be a land in turmoil to help settle and rebuild.
But for now, my Gwin’s smile was charming, and a deep radiance glowed in his eyes, and he looked like himself again, sweetly youthful, ever my Gwinthorian.
"Those truly are the most exquisite words, my Hal," he said, his voice sweet and low. "Truly, a most beautiful litany."
End of Chapter I - Beautiful Litany
Ere The Final March to be continued.