Beta appreciation notes for my astounding team:
Kat Ė thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light.
Chris Ė thanks for being such a terrific person, for your wonderfully perfectionist nitpicking, and for your amazing editing Ė and thanks for turning a blind eye when I insist upon doing it my way, even when itís not the proper usage. <g>
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 havenít 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
Chapter IV, The Salve of Consolation
To say that Pippinís curiosity often gets the better of him is to overstate the obvious. It drives him to positively asinine behavior, a good example of which being now, when Pippin seemed determined to question our fates as Aragorn and Legolas were escorting us to Aragornís quarters Ė or Ďback to the setting of the transgression,í as Aragorn put it.
"I donít understand," Pip was grumbling. "Iíve never understood. Just how is soaping out a personís mouth supposed to help him learn anything?"
"In your case, Master Took, Iíd say the question is fairly asked," Aragorn replied.
I bit my tongue to keep from chuckling. My poor Pip. He was miffed, and a miffed Pippin is a calamity in the making. He and I trotted along between Aragorn and Legolas, heading down one of the back corridors on our way to something that, in my opinion, has to rank as one of the nastiest consequences for fibbing known to hobbit.
Pippin had just endured a mouth full of soap at the hands of Legolas the day before yesterday, so his tizzy was certainly just. Meanwhile, Iíd been enduring a spanking from Aragorn, but heíd mercifully held off on this other consequence yesterday while Halbarad told us his story. And now my turn with the soap had come. Oh, but I was dreading this!
I supposed weíd earned it, though. Me telling Aragorn that Faramir and I werenít really trying to escape the Houses of Healing but that we were coming to tell him we felt well enough to be up and about was an outright lie, and Pip, while in the heat of battle with Legolas Ė or rather, during the soaping Pip had earned for fibbing to the guard, had blurted out another whopper about Boromir and foul elvish. One fib atop another. A record even for my wee Took.
Pippin had always displayed a strangely un-hobbitlike way of fiddling with the truth. His fancies were usually harmless little Ďwhite lies,í so I would merely scold him for it and let it go, but maybe I could have saved him a few of the nasty mouth cleansings heíd experienced at the hands of these scrupulous big folk if Iíd nipped his bad habit in the bud early on. I couldnít see myself washing his mouth out with soap. It sent a shiver up my spine even thinking of it. But I could have tanned his bottom for it. Now, seeing his miserable little doom-filled face, I felt a bit lax in my duty to him.
However, I was comforted by the notion that even if I had been spanking Pippin for his creative truth twistings all along, it mightíve made no difference. Pippin had a way of simply being himself regardless of my attempts to correct his behavior.
"And another thing Iíve never understood," Pip was rattling on, building up more steam. "Why is it that the use of certain language Ė even elvish certain language, which is not as widely understood as the Common Tongue Ė why is it that the use of certain language is met with a bar of soap? Iíve heard some pretty disgraceful speech bandied about amongst the various troops, and I donít think those warriors using it are getting their mouths washed out with soap!"
I cast a quick glance up at our escorts. They were sharing a slight grin over our heads . . . very slight. I knew I should simply let fate take its course. I knew from his peevish tone and his stiff little march that Pip was cooking up a dangerous brew of indignation, and I knew that he wouldnít listen to me if I told him to hush up. But I never can help making last-ditch efforts where my Pip is concerned.
"Pip," I muttered. "Hush up."
It was definitely the wrong thing to say at the wrong moment.
"I will not!"
Pip stopped dead in his tracks, his arms straight at his sides, his hands knotted into fists and his eyes bright with resentment. Uh-oh.
"Hush up, you say?" he sputtered on. "Hush up?"
I crossed the few steps back to him, gently murmuring, "Iím sorry, Pip," but I knew it was too late. Iíd keyed him up good and proper. Fine. Just ruddy marvelous, Merry. Nevertheless, I kept trying to douse the Flames of Peregrin.
"Pip, I didnít mean Ďhush upí like . . . well, like that."
"Like what? How else can you mean Ďhush upí other than Ďhush upí? Does Ďhush upí have some meaning other than Ďhush upí? And why should I hush up?"
I placed my palm on his shoulder. Touch usually helps to calm my Pip. But this time he just kept glaring at me. Oh, dear. "I just meant --"
"You meant Ďhush upí! You said it, so thatís precisely what you meant!"
One more try, Brandybuck. "Sweetheart --"
"Oh, stop!" Pippin shook off my hand. "Donít Ďsweetheartí me, Mer --"
Ahhh, weíd heard that stern word aimed our way many a time. It was a far more effective Ďhush upí than my direct Ďhush upí could ever be. We hushed up and looked at Aragorn. He and Legolas were paused, half-turned and watching us, both of them with one eyebrow arched. I couldnít help grinning at the sight, though it was probably less than suitable given the circumstances.
"Weíre fine," I offered quickly.
Aragorn uttered his usual response to nonsense: "Excuse me?"
Pippin huffed. "Iím not fine, Merry, so kindly speak for yourself." Turning his glare to the two bemused big folk, he snipped, "Iím just asking a civil question. I trust thatís permissible."
"Of course," Aragorn said. "You have never been denied your right to question Ė provided your tone is civil."
Obviously, Pippin hadnít heard that last part. He lifted his chin and said in a demanding voice, "Well then, Iím questioning the need for, and effectiveness of, this barbaric ritual."
Aragorn and Legolas exchanged glances again; then Legolas tilted his head slightly to one side and looked at Pip. "Barbaric?"
Aragorn was more direct. He turned and closed on Pippin in three long strides, grabbed my cousin and whooshed him up into the hip-carry we hobbits had become very familiar with during our journey.
"Not here, Pippin," Aragorn said. "Control yourself until we are behind closed doors. Then you may continue." Aragorn glanced at me and said, "Merry," which was really all he needed to say before whirling and heading off again. I trotted after him.
Now it was just me hurrying to keep up between two long-legged warriors. Aragorn had been right, though. We werenít in a main corridor, but this was still too public a place for Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel, all decked out in his splendid garb, to stage a tantrum. One might rightly argue that staging a tantrum was no less undignified than being picked up and hauled about in such a manner, but that argument clearly hadnít occurred to Pippin, and I certainly wasnít going to be the one to suggest it.
Aragorn was wise to lay hold of Pip and contain him before his little kettle of ire boiled over. Pip was still fuming, yes, but now he was doing so in silence, and although being hoisted up and toted wasnít going to do much for his temper, the act itself usually helped to calm him some, despite his best efforts to hold on to his huff.
We hobbits had become used to the warriors doing this to us from the start on the Quest, and though it had felt a bit odd at first, we didnít object . . . well, not much. Had we been in the Shire and these big folk had tried to carry us about like tots, we would have objected mightily. But we werenít in the Shire, and all of us were treated in this same manner, Frodo and Pip perhaps a bit more than Sam and me, so we werenít about to tease each other over it. None of us minded this simple bit of pampering that the warriors, for some reason, seemed to have a fondness for.
Unfortunately, at the moment, Pippin was in no mood to be pampered out of his ill-humor. His temper really was up. Gratitude for a bit of spoiling now would only distract him. Aragorn and Legolas clearly sensed that Pipís restraint would be short-lived, so they quickened their pace. Now I was jogging to keep up and, to my surprise, getting too winded much too quickly. But a second later, I was airborne as Legolas scooped me onto his hip, saying, "Forgive me, Merry. You should not be forced to exert yourself so."
So we reached Aragornís quarters quickly, and good thing, as Pippin seemed ready to explode.
"Put me down!" he demanded the moment Legolas closed the door. My cousin squirmed and kicked, but Aragorn held him determinedly while striding a direct path to one of the chairs near the hearth.
"I think not, Pippin," he said in a calm tone. Controlling Pipís wrenching about, Aragorn sat and plunked him firmly onto his lap, saying, "Settle down. I am interested in what you have to say, sir, but I encourage you to remember what I just said."
Pippin went still and knit his brow. Meanwhile, Legolas had taken the chair across from them, situated me on his lap, and whispered, "Do you mind sharing this seat with me, Merry?"
"I donít mind if you donít mind," I whispered back, my focus on Pip. I knew he hadnít heard what Aragorn said about a civil tone. As if on cue, Pip darted me a puzzled little frown.
"You asked if a civil question was still permissible," I reminded him. "Aragorn said that yes, it was, as long as it was asked in a civil tone."
"Oh." Pip frowned again, plainly vexed with such inconvenient terms. "I see."
"You obviously object to getting your mouth washed out with soap," Aragorn said.
"You called it barbaric," Legolas added.
"Aye! And it is!" Pippin exclaimed, his fire properly rekindled. He shot a glare at Legolas and said, "Youíd know what I mean if youíd ever had your mouth washed out with soap! It tastes awful, no matter what kind of soap is used, and itís . . . itís . . . ."
"Embarrassing?" I offered. "Degrading?"
Pip blushed furiously at my all too descriptive words and cast a woeful look my way. "Merry, please."
"The point of any uncomfortable consequence is to discourage certain behaviors in the future, Pippin," Aragorn said, rubbing small circles over Pippinís tense back.
"Well," Pip said with disdain, "this particular consequence isna very effective, if you donít mind my saying so."
"I donít mind you saying so," Aragorn replied. "Nevertheless, understand that should you choose to behave in a certain manner, you will be answerable for the deed."
"But just because a person uses certain colorful means of expression --"
"In elvish or otherwise, Pip, it is unseemly," Aragorn told him in a firm tone. "Aye, the troops have a way of speaking amongst themselves, but do you hear Legolas or Boromir or Halbarad or Faramir or any high-ranking nobleman use such language?"
Pippin paused and thought that over. "Well . . . no."
"Aye, nor are you likely to, even in the most extreme circumstances. Those of us in certain positions must hold ourselves in a different stance, Pippin. Do you understand?"
Aragorn could have explained further, but that was not his way, especially when dealing with someone whose dander was up, like Pippinís was now. Rather, he made Pip think, discover for himself what Aragornís meaning was. Reasoning it out would help draw Pip from his temper, and Aragornís unspoken message was one of respect, saying, ĎI shall not insult you by being so rude as to suggest that you need this explained more fully, for I know you to be intelligent, and I know you understand me.í
And, indeed, my Pip had grown reflective, gently pulled into a more rational state by a wise and patient Ranger. Now Aragorn could work with him.
"Aye," Pip said, his voice suddenly soft. "I do understand, and youíre right, Aragorn. I see that now. But, as to this other matter, a little white lie --"
"Is a lie, regardless of size or color," Aragorn interrupted gently, still rubbing Pippinís back in slow circles. "I know it is a habit, little one. I know that your fibs are small and neither injurious to others nor harmful in nature. Most of the time you are merely trying to save yourself, or perhaps someone else, from another consequence that you know has been earned. But has one of your little white lies ever saved you, or anyone else, from a spanking?"
Pippinís body had now fully relaxed. He gazed at Aragorn, the serene composure the Ranger seemed to radiate at such times clearly wrapping around my cousin. "No," Pip muttered. "No, Iíve never been able to fib myself out of a spanking."
"So you end up with both a spanking and a soaping."
Pippin looked down and nodded slightly. "Aye."
Aragorn paused, and then said, "Pippin, would you want to be able to fib yourself out of a spanking? Would you want to get away with such a thing?"
My cousin quickly shook his head, his gaze still lowered.
"Look at me, little one," Aragorn softly commanded. He waited until Pippin obeyed, then he said, "How would you feel if someday I or Boromir or Legolas or even your beloved Merry believed one of your little white lies? How would you feel if you managed to deceive us and therefore truly escaped a spanking?"
"I . . . I . . . ." Pip swallowed hard, his lower lip trembling. "I would feel awful. I would hate it, Aragorn. I would hate it!"
"Of course you would, sweetling. My hope, Pippin, is that you come to understand that a lie isnít going to help you and, should it become too much of a habit, it may indeed harm you one day. If you play with the truth too much, soon the line blurs between what is truth and what is a lie."
"But, Aragorn, doesnít everyone lie at one time or another?" Pippin asked. "You lied about who you were when we first met you. You lived a lie every time you took another identity, and . . . and . . . ."
Pippin suddenly stopped and sucked a quick breath, his eyes growing wider. I knew just what he felt. I felt it, too. He respected and loved Aragorn, and it seemed discourteous to question the choices this man had been forced to make in his life, regardless of how well the argument fit Pipís defense. So now Pip was clearly appalled with himself for having used Aragornís past merely to make a point. Regret was hitting my cousin fast.
"Iím sorry, Aragorn!" he blurted. "I didnít mean Ė I-I didnít mean --"
Aragorn smiled softly. "Shhh, Pip, shhhhh. I understand." He kissed Pippinís brow, then said, "You are right. I did conceal the truth about myself, but I did so for a higher good. I trust you recall what a Ďnecessary strategyí is."
I suddenly remembered the second . . . or was it maybe the third night after we had set out from Rivendell? No matter. We sat Ďround our evening fire, our still newly formed Fellowship, all of us fed, most of us smoking, Legolas tolerating it with his elvish reserve, Boromir looking as if he might just take up the practice, and Frodo, having put off his pipe for the evening, reciting a nice long poem that one of Aragornís elvish brothers had taught him.
"It is a verse about when Aragorn was riding with the Rangers," Frodo had said, and weíd urged him to share it, despite the subject of the poemís cringing. It was the first time I think Iíd seen Aragorn blush.
Afterwards, Pip and I had asked him about his early years in Rivendell, for heíd never talked much about himself, neither before nor after Weathertop, and we were curious about Aragornís hidden past. And so he told us, in his own brief way, and it was that part, what heíd said about his identity, that now flashed into my head:
"In his wisdom, Lord Elrond had ever advised me to hide my true lineage when away from Rivendell. Indeed, Lord Elrond had cloaked my true identity from the time I was a child. He named me Estel and raised me as his son, protecting me from the outside world of Men. He knew that it would be dangerous to reveal myself as Isildurís heir, for he feared that those who sought power would use me to their own ends, and the corruption of Men would consume his human son.
"So my real name stayed buried to all but a few. The Rangers, my brother Dķnedain, knew who I was. To them I was Lord Aragorn, but to all others, I was ĎStrider.í I was also on my own for many years, and during those times I assumed different names."
Heíd paused then and glanced at Boromir, who had dropped his gaze and was grinning quietly, something Iíd meant to ask him about later and never did.
"So you had to lie about who you were?" Pip had asked.
"Lie?" Gandalf had drawn his pipe from his mouth and fixed Pippin with an even stare. "That is too harsh a word, Peregrin Took. Rather say that Aragorn did what he needed to in order to survive; he accepted this necessary strategy. There is a difference between that and a lie."
And Gandalf had gone on to explain the difference between Ďlying for selfí and Ďa necessary strategy.í He made good sense, as wizards usually do. And suddenly I knew why that memory had popped into my head.
"Aye, a necessary strategy," Pip said. "I remember, Aragorn. Sometimes a slight falsehood is needed to preserve the good, and sometimes it is necessary to protect oneself or another from --"
Pippin paused in mid-breath, realization dawning. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open, a few small Ďahí sounds escaping, and I joined him in that sudden understanding, instantly recalling the sight Iíd awakened to earlier.
Iíd heard low male voices when opening my eyes, so Iíd poked my head out from under our blankets and saw Aragorn, Legolas and Boromir standing together near the window. Faramir was still asleep, and the three warriors were talking, or rather, Boromir was talking and the others were listening. I watched them, drawn to Legolas and Aragornís intense focus on Boromirís words. They nodded as he spoke; then they all murmured back and forth, and then, suddenly, they all turned their heads and looked directly at me, startling me so that I recoiled back into Pip and woke him up. Now I realized what theyíd been talking about.
"Ohhh," Pippin breathed. "Boromir . . . earlier, did he . . . ." Pipís brow knit, and he gave Aragorn a puzzled frown. "But, Boromir wouldnít . . . he wouldnít tell you --"
"No, Boromir told me none of the particulars you shared with him, Pippin," Aragorn said. "He would not betray your confidence, nor would we ask it of him. But Boromir says much when he says little." He smiled softly and turned his eyes to Legolas, saying, "Is that not so, mellon nin?"
"Aye," Legolas replied, a return smile in his quiet tone. "My little brother cannot help betraying himself. He is cunning with a sword and compassionate towards others, but he lacks the art of pretense."
Pippin and I grinned. How true this was of Boromir.
"He wished to help you, Pippin," Aragorn said. "And in all that he did not say, Boromir told me plainly that you had lied to protect another and your act was selfless. So, now, Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel, tell us what has proven so difficult to say. The longing to do so is shining in your eyes. You know it is safe to tell us anything, Pippin. You are with those who love you."
I watched my little cousin simply melt against Aragorn, as indeed I would have, too. A warmth swelling in my chest, I leaned back into Legolas, and he wrapped his arms around me, and we listened to Pippin open up his heart and unburden himself. Aragorn held his gaze, watching him with eyes full of affection, his big hand still rubbing slow circles over Pippinís back.
And so my Pip explained what was so difficult to admit, that heíd taken it upon himself to protect Aragorn from hearing something, even indirectly, about Frodo. Although still squirming from his presumption, Pip had clearly reached a new understanding after his time last night with Boromir.
Once again I felt a wash of gratitude for those blessed elves at Lothlorien who had saved Boromir Ė for the company of Galadrielís finest warriors, who, we were later told, had shown up on that terrible day too late to help fight, but in time to save Boromirís life, those warriors who had then kept him alive all the way back to that enchanted wood and to the Lady herself. I could not imagine our Fellowship without Boromir. I knew that whatever he had said to my beloved Pippin last night had made a profound difference to him.
And yet, large tears spilled down Pipís cheeks towards the end of his confession, and he began apologizing far more than what was needed. Aragorn gathered him close and comforted him.
"Shhh, Pip, enough now," Aragorn murmured. "No need for tears. You did very well."
Still rattled, Pippin slid into his thicker Great Smials brogue. "I dinna mean ta insult yer fortitude, Aragorn. I-I would neíer . . . I-I dinna mean --"
"I know," Aragorn quickly said, "nor did you insult me, Pip, so fear not. Shhh, hush now. No more fussing. Settle down; then we shall go on."
I felt Legolas move, and he shifted me up just a bit so that he could lean in and kiss my cheek; then I felt his lips at my ear, and in his elvish murmur, soft as velvet, he whispered, "Relax, sweet Merry. No need to tense so. Your Pippin could not be in better hands."
I nodded, knowing the truth of his words, and I did relax again, unaware that Iíd been tensing. I leaned back against Legolas once more and watched Aragorn hold Pippin, letting him calm in his own time.
"Pip, you didnít do something bad," I finally said, knowing that he was more embarrassed than anything else.
"Nay, little one, you did not," Legolas added. "Your sensibilities were keenly focused on the feelings of another."
"Aye," Aragorn said, drawing Pippin to a sitting position and wiping the tears from his cheeks. "Your intentions were noble, sweetling, and you held to your desire to do good despite the fact that you were being subjected to a merciless soaping by an unrelenting elf."
Pip and I blinked in surprise, and my cousin flashed me a quick Ďdid you hear what I just heard?í glance. But Legolas didnít miss a beat. In a voice rich with mock indignation, he said, "Unrelenting elf? I beg your par --"
"Even in the midst of this mistreatment --"
"Now, just a moment, Aragorn! You ordered me --"
"-- in the midst of this barbarism --"
A string of elvish filled the air, some of it sounding a little naughty and, indeed, causing Aragorn to pause and arch a brow at Legolas. Trying not to laugh outright, I sat up and turned to look at the elf and saw the sparkle of delight in his poorly faked expression of upset.
Aragorn stared at Legolas pointedly, then said with measured and clearly false menace, "If I may be allowed to continue?"
Legolas huffed and shot back, "By all means, my lord. Slander away."
Clearing his throat, Aragorn returned his attention to Pippin, who was by now simply squirming with suppressed amusement.
"In the midst of such unjust and monstrous treatment --"
Legolas made a low growling sound in his throat, but he said nothing.
"-- you held to your yearning to spare another undue suffering." Aragorn tilted his head to one side, his smile taking on a gentle sincerity, and he said, "You displayed a brave selflessness, Pippin, the same selfless courage that saved Faramirís life. This morning while you slept, Boromir spoke to Legolas and me, not of particulars, but of the overall meaning behind your falsehood. Your fib had been so ill-conceived as to be suspect, and indeed we felt certain there was some hidden meaning to your actions. I had my suspicions, but I needed to hear you confirm them. I had not expected to hear what I did, but I am far from insulted, sweet Pippin. How could I be when your only intent was to save me suffering?"
Aragorn leaned over and kissed Pippinís brow, then hugged him, and said, "Boromir was fiercely adamant in his belief that your little lie was not an offense that warranted a mouthful of soap, sweetling, and I agree with him."
I heard Pip suck a sharp breath; then he yanked back from Aragorn and stared at him and gasped. "What?" Turning quickly to me, he said, "Merry! Did yíhear what he said?"
I nodded, unable to hold back a grin at his astonishment. "Yes, Pip. Iím sitting right here. ĎCourse I heard."
Pippin was unjostled by my little poke. He glanced at Legolas, then shot another look at Aragorn, and said, "But-but I did lie, Aragorn."
"Aye. That, you did."
"I sullied Boromirís good name."
Aragorn raised a brow at Pip. "I understood that he had addressed that issue with you last night."
"Oh." Pippin gave a befuddled nod. "Right. So he did. Youíre right."
With a bewildered grin, Aragorn said, "Of course, if you still feel the need to have the nasty fib cleansed from your mouth --"
"No, no!" Pip shot back. "Nooo, Boromir handled the matter just fine, thank you." He grinned at Aragorn. "I suppose this wee fib could be called one of those necessary strategies then?"
Aragorn Ďhmm-edí and reflected, then said, "Well, I would not call it Ďnecessary,í but it is so in a certain Tookish mind, and in this case, that will suffice."
Pippinís grin widened, and then he turned to me, and that pretty grin faded. "Ohhh," he said in a small voice. "I forgot! My poor Merry!" Turning quickly back to the Ranger, he said, "Aragorn, could you --"
"Nay, little one, Iím afraid not," Aragorn replied with a slow shake of his head.
"Pip, let it go," I said, certain he was headed for trouble. "My lie wasnít near as noble as yours, and you know it."
He cast me a sympathetic wince. "Aye, but . . . oh, Merry. This strong Gondor soap!"
I glanced at the bathing chamber with its restored door, and I couldnít help an inner shudder.
"I do not think that was of particular comfort to your cousin, Pippin," Aragorn said.
Pippin bit his bottom lip; then he scrambled down from Aragornís lap, crossed the few steps to me, and he reached up to hug me. I leaned down, and then Pip was in my arms, and Pippin in my arms always made me feel better. I sometimes felt a bit dishonorable about that. Pip was, no doubt, certain that I often took him in my arms to comfort him, but actually I got as much comfort from it as he did.
"Iíll go in there with you if you like," he said.
I could think of nothing Iíd like less than to have him witness what was about to take place . . . but oh, my, dear Pip. I patted his back and said, "Thatís kind of you, mílove. And donít take this wrong, but Iíd just as soon go it alone, thanks."
"I understand," he whispered. "Iíll be waiting for you out here."
We drew apart, and I slid from my elvish perch, awash with dread. Right. Best get on with it. I pressed my lips together tightly and gave Aragorn a nod.
"I would offer you the option of a spanking instead," Aragorn said, standing. "But soap is more suitable to this matter, sir."
"Another spanking?" I shivered. "No, thank you. The one you gave me the day before yesterday was memorable enough. I am not my cousin, Aragorn. My bottom isnít that tough."
Pippin, naturally, took the bait. "Wha --? Tough? My bottom isnít tough, Merry, and well you know it!"
Aragorn, Legolas and I all burst into chuckles, Pippinís puzzled little frown making us chuckle even more. Then he grasped what heíd said and turned adorably crimson.
"I-I mean . . . ." Pip darted glances around at all of us; then he quickly hung his head to hide a bashful little grin. "Thatís not . . . I-I mean, that isna what I . . . what I mean to say is . . . thatís not what I meant!"
"You meant your bottom is not tough," Legolas said.
"Aye," Aragorn added. "You said it, so thatís precisely what you meant."
Unable to help him, I gleefully joined the other side, which is precisely what my impish cousin would have done in my place. "What else could you have meant but that your bottom isnít tough?" I asked.
Pippin kept Ďtsk-ingí and moaning little moans and trying to hide his giggles.
"Ai! but we should not beleaguer Master Took so, for he speaks truly," Legolas said. "I know from extensive contact with it, that his bottom is indeed quite soft."
Pippin gasped and hid behind his hands. "Ohhhhhh," he exclaimed in mock anguish.
"True, mellon nin," Aragorn declared. "Having had Pippinís little bottom over my knee many times, I can also verify its softness." Turning to me with admirably contrived sternness, he said, "You have falsely stated that your cousin has a tough bottom, Master Brandybuck. You owe him an apology, and best you see to it, lest I am forced to conclude that you need more than one session with the soap."
"Oh, I donít know about that," I said, loving the way Pippin was enjoying all this. "Having had more experience with Pipís pretty bottom than anyone here --"
Pippin squeaked and dropped his hands, his expression of horror full of poorly suppressed laughter. "Merry!"
I was unfazed. "Having had more experience with Pipís pretty bottom than anyone here, I stand fast to my statement. Although his backside is usually soft and tender --"
"Merry! For the luvva --!"
"-- when Pippin comes back from a spanking and I take him over my knee to apply the salve --"
"Salve?! We havenít had salve for -- "
"-- when I used to take him over my knee to apply the salve, I can report that Pipís usually soft little bottom felt not only hot, but decidedly tougher after a spanking."
Aragornís eyes were alight with merriment. "I stand corrected."
Pippin snarled playfully and started for the door, mumbling, "Right. Thatís it! Iím not about to stay here and listen to this a moment long-EEEK!"
Legolas whooshed him up before heíd gone five steps. Aragorn and I laughed, watching Legolas toss Pip in the air and catch him while my cousin squealed.
"Oh, no, Shireling brat," the elf said, grinning. "You told your courageous Merry that you would wait for him, and wait you shall, even if I needs hold you in my lap until Aragorn is finished with him."
He gave Pip a frolicsome swat, chuckling at his responding squeak. Then Legolas did indeed sit back down, and he perched Pippin right where Iíd been perched moments before, Pip looking just about as falsely indignant as Iíve ever seen him.
But then my cousinís melodramatic glance fell upon me, and I, of course, was smiling at him, entertained by my Pip as I never fail to be, and his gaze softened, that sudden reflective quiet he was able to summon instantly overtaking the last remnants of Pippinís phony airs and replacing them with a sweetness of heart that glittered in the green depths of his eyes. Ah, even after all our years together, Pippin quite simply enchanted me.
"Oí course Iíll be here waiting for my courageous Merry, ye daft elf," he muttered, his fond look making me blush. "Heíll need me here waiting for him after going through such a barbaric consequence."
It did not take Aragorn long. The scene we four had just shared before Aragorn escorted Merry to his doom took longer than the actual Ďbarbaric consequence.í As they oft did, Pippinís antics had made for some fine entertainment.
After Aragorn followed Merry into the bathing chamber closing the door behind him, Pippin turned to me and said, "They got it back on its hinges, I see."
I paused to think. One never knew what was going to come out of this little oneís mouth. Then I grinned and said, "Ah. The door. Indeed. And I understand the craftsmen did not say a word about it."
"Well, they canít blame me for that one."
I studied him. He was obviously in an oddly frisky mood, brought on, no doubt, to cover his concern for Merry and because he had managed to get away with calling me a daft elf. Ever willing to be entertained by him, I merely responded with a surprised, "Oh?"
"Well, they canít," he insisted. "I certainly didnít kick that door in. Youíve something of a fearful temper, yíknow, Legolas."
"Have I? And who left the floor of Aragornís bathing chamber a sea of broken glass?"
"Itís hardly the same thing, though, is it now?" he said in an indulgent manner, suggesting that I had not thought the matter out properly. "I was, after all, defending myself and using what means were at my disposal."
I released a light scoff. "Call it what you will, sir. The end result of your self-defense was a sea of broken glass."
"Aye," he said, shooting me a saucy grin. "But I dinna kick the door in."
I narrowed my eyes at him and said, "Peregrin, are you seeking to pick a fight with me?"
"Good gracious, no! Of all the silly things to do!"
"You are behaving in an astoundingly cheeky manner for one who is sitting where you are. I am quite certain Aragorn will have enough soap left after he finishes with Merry for you and I to have another little cleaning session of our own."
"Now, really, sir, there is hardly call for that," he said in that same indulgent tone, causing me to wonder if he had reconsidered and really did feel the need for some cleansing after all. "Perhaps we should change the subject, though."
"Or simply enjoy each otherís company in silence?"
"Aye. We could try that, I suppose."
I gave him a wry grin and wondered just how long this would last. Not that it mattered, really, for a cheeky Pippin was a contented Pippin, and it made my heart glad to see him merrily pushing his limits of insolence.
My little brother had much to do with Pippinís contented state, and again I felt a shimmer of pride in him. He had cleared up a matter that had been troubling Pippin for days now, and although Boromir would not reveal the particulars of it to Aragorn and me, Aragorn was right in that Boromir revealed much while saying little.
The soft morning light had been spilling in through the window, casting my little brotherís earnest face in a warm glow as he told us what had happened the night before.
"I can honestly say this," he had finally said in a voice hushed with sincerity, "Pippinís lie was a selfless one. He did not utter it merely to save himself from more soap, and he has been troubled by it since. He knew it was ill-conceived. But it was an involuntary response."
"So you have said, my fledgling, many times," Aragorn murmured. He placed his hand on Boromirís shoulder, then slid it down his upper arm and rubbed, a move meant to calm my intensely focused little brother.
Aragorn and I had noticed long ago that Boromir struggled to communicate when his feelings ran deep. As a result, he sometimes seemed irrational or angry, as he had at the Council of Elrond when he jabbed a finger at the highest-ranking nobles from far and wide and declared that it was only because of Gondor that their lands were kept safe.
"I hadnít meant to say that," he had shyly told Aragorn and me weeks later when we were quietly discussing Frodoís sometimes odd behavior and the increasing power of the Ring over him. "I hadnít meant to get up there and rant and rave," he had gone on. "Aye, the Ring had surely begun to work on me from that first moment I laid eyes on it, but I also failed to consider my words carefully and say what I meant to say."
We knew it troubled him from time to time, his perceived failure to communicate, especially after his fall from grace with Frodo, where my poor little brother, suddenly driven mad by the Ring, had exploded into a state of frustrated rage.
So this morning when he told us of Pippin, Boromir was trying hard to convey his perceptions, and Aragorn encouraged him lovingly, as he always did, assuring him that we, indeed, understood what he was saying. Boromir had also told us that he preferred the privacy of his own quarters as a place in which to spank Faramir, promising Aragorn that he would gain permission first from the Warden before helping Faramir there.
Then we all suddenly felt we were being watched, and we turned to see Merryís head sticking out from under the blanket, his golden curls tousled and his wide eyes gazing at us with interest. I smiled now, recalling my little brotherís grumbled promise to deal with the Warden in a civil manner.
"Something makes you grin, Legolas," Pippin said with a quiet smile.
I glanced at him and laughed softly. "I was thinking of Boromir off to seek out the Warden when we left him a little while ago."
"Oh, dear!" Pippin giggled. "Iíd have loved to have seen that meeting!"
A sudden knock at the door interrupted our shared laughter. Pippin scooted down from my lap, and I stood, watching him scurry to the door and open it. Eomer. The Rider towered over Pippin, staring down at him with that permanently cross look. He then lifted his gaze to me and his brows rose in an almost comical expression of surprise.
"Oh, no!" Pippin exclaimed, and I vow he looked tempted to fling the door shut in Eomerís face.
Looking down at him again, Eomer merely grunted and said, "Good morrow to you as well, Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel. May I enter?"
"Oh, my poor, poor Merry!" was all Pippin could manage.
I was a bit taken aback myself, my last sight of Eomer having been from the back of Halbaradís horse where the Ranger held me mounted before him like an elfling who was too little to ride alone. My face burned. Eomer had surely known that Halbarad had spanked me, and he surely knew what Aragorn had likely done to me last night, and now here he stood, gazing at me with a look that made me long to melt into nothingness.
Nevertheless, I stepped forward and said, "Aye, come in. You are seeking Aragorn?"
"They told me at the Houses of Healing that I could find him here and that my young Esquire was with him." Pippin made a groaning sound and shut the door, but he mercifully held his tongue Ė for now. Eomer glanced around Aragornís quarters, then said, "Are they here?"
I had no idea what to tell him. ĎAye, they are in the bathing chamber,í seemed awkward. It was the truth, but the very oddness of the statement begged an explanation. I hesitated, unsure if it was better to simply be honest about what was taking place and allowing Merry to suffer the added humiliation of Eomer knowing what had happened to him in there or to allow Eomer to draw his own conclusions, bizarre though they may be. His arrival was untimely, to be sure. Pippin solved my dilemma in purely Pippin style.
"If you must know," he said, "Merry is in the bathing chamber. There." He pointed to the restored door. "And Aragorn is in there, too, washing my poor Merryís mouth out with soap for telling a fib."
A shiver shot up my spine. I cringed. Were I Gwin, I would have uttered a sincere, ĎEw.í I instead opted for dignity and assumed a blank stare when Eomer fired a sudden look of shock my way.
"Indeed," he said, looking every bit the imposing Rider of Rohan. "How barbaric."
It was, in truth, the most absurd thing he could have said in that moment. Pippin and I simply looked at each other and burst into laughter. I could not help myself. But at least I kept my legs. Pippin giggled so much he collapsed into a seated heap on the floor. To his credit, Eomer remained impassive, watching us as though wondering if it had all become too much for we poor Fellowship members and deciding that it would be polite of him to pretend disinterest in our madness.
I finally gained control of myself and retrieved Pippin from the floor, depositing him in one of the chairs; then I turned to a very uncomfortable-looking Eomer and gave him a brief explanation of our behavior, Pippin calming down as I spoke.
When I finished, Eomer cracked a crooked smile and gave a nod and said, "Ah. A singular choice of word on my part, given the circumstances."
The door to the bathing chamber suddenly opened, and Aragorn came out followed by Merry, his eyes downcast, his face shiny from obvious crying, but a stoic look on his brave little face. Then he looked up and saw Eomer.
"Oh, no!" he cried, his eyes growing huge.
My heart went out to him. Merry was clearly struggling to calm down. Noble young mite that he was, he drew himself up, bowed to Eomer, and said, "My lord."
"Meriadoc," Eomer said, inclining his head in greeting. He then nodded to Aragorn and said, "Lord Aragorn."
"Lord Eomer," Aragorn greeted him in kind. "Have you come to speak with my young friend?" He placed his palm on Merryís shoulder, a comforting move.
"I have. He and I need to have a private discussion. The Warden told me that he is well enough to be held accountable for his disobedience, so by your leave, sir, I have come to see to his discipline."
These proceedings had become far too civilized for a certain young Guard of the Citadel. Pippin came rushing over to stand in front of Merry. He turned to Eomer and cried, "You do not have my leave, sir!"
"Pippin," Aragorn said in a low menacing tone. "Not another word."
"But, Aragorn, after what Merry has just been through, couldnít this wait? Does he have to be spanked now?"
Hearing his fate spoken in such plain terms made Merry shudder. He groaned as if in pain and said, "Pippin, stop. Stop. Itís all right."
Turning to his cousin, Pippin said, "But, Merry, itís not all right. This can wait, canít it? Canít he come back tomorrow? Why does it have to be now?"
"Because it does, Pip. And thereís an end to it." Merry cast a calm look around at we big folk, a quiet understanding in his eyes. Tomorrow we would set out on our march to the Black Gate, something Pippin had clearly forgotten in his upset. Our tomorrows were running out.
Pippin studied him, his shoulders slumping in defeat. All he could say was, "Oh, Merry." And all Merry could say in response was, "I know."
I glanced at Aragorn and found him watching me, and I noticed something disquieting in his eyes. He was sharing the little onesí despair, but something else lingered in his gaze, a sort of . . . mischief. He fired a look to Eomer, and I suddenly felt another shiver shoot up my spine. Ew.
Aye, Legolas knew what I was about. His deep blue eyes had widened with awful understanding, and I vow he longed to bolt for the door. Ahhh. Eomer, here to question, here to provide a little insight into last nightís goings-on at the Rohirric encampment. Of course, such beleaguering was hardly dignified, an unseemly thing to even contemplate doing to my elfling, and it was far too good to pass up.
I did sympathize with Merry and Pippin, though. Merry had just endured something he rarely had to endure, and though he had done so with courage, it was impossible to maintain oneís dignity during such an act. It was not something I particularly enjoyed doing to anyone. I often despaired at Pippinís propensity for playing with the truth making this duty necessary, although Boromir and Legolas sometimes shared in the duty of cleansing Master Tookís mouth.
Merry, however, was unaccustomed to this . . . although, in truth, it was not something one ever became accustomed to. It was indeed a nasty procedure, and even someone like Pippin, who had been through this more than just a few times, struggled to endure it.
My elven brothers had introduced me to it when I was five years of age, and they continued to subject me to it until Ė well, the last time they had threatened me with it was in Rivendell, just before our Fellowship left for the Quest, when Iíd been storming about in a frenzy making sure all was in readiness to leave. I had been horrified when they told me what they intended.
"Can you not hear yourself, little brother?" Elrohir had scolded. "Some humility will serve you well at present."
"And since you cannot find that humility within yourself," Elladan added, "we feel it is our duty to bring you back down to Middle Earth."
"What you need is a spanking," Elrohir said.
"But a mouthful of soap has always been a stronger lesson for you, Estel," Elladan finished.
Fortunately, Elrond had called them aside and spoken to them, and moments later they left me in agitated peace.
"You are lucky, little one," Elladan muttered as they passed me.
"Or perhaps not," Elrohir said. "Ada will see to you later."
"Although our soap would have served you better."
"Aye, bratling. You dread it more than a spanking."
I was too distracted to do anything but glare at them. But my brothers were right. Unlike Merry, Iíd have chosen a spanking over a soaping anytime.
Halbarad was the only other who had ever dared do this to me, and when he had first forced it upon me, several times, in fact, during that long week of learning and isolation with him, I felt like a hobbit, completely small and at his mercy. It was somehow different than when my brothers had done it. It was ghastly, and it left me shattered and furious when he was done. Halbarad would not allow me to curl up alone with my shame, though, forcing me to accept his comfort despite my embarrassment. But this act lived on in my heart as one that truly vanquished me.
So it took all my determination to do this to the little ones, to anyone, in fact. I longed to spare Merry the indignity, but of course, that was impossible for both our sakes. I talked gently to him as he cried and sputtered, though, and I was merciful in how many times I used the soap, and afterwards, I held him and quieted him as he curled up in my arms and wept out his mortification.
In the end, Merry had rallied with the amazing spirit of a hobbit, drawing back from my shoulder when his weeping had stopped, and saying through his sniffles, "Iím awfully glad Iíve been given leave to take strong ale again. Itíll help wash away the taste."
And now Merry was talking quietly to his cousin, easing Pippinís upset regarding Eomerís intent, although the opposite should have been taking place. But, like Frodo after some rare occasion when Sam had been disciplined, Pippin was wise enough to know that Merry would be best soothed by staying in his familiar role of the comforter.
So we big folk had a few moments, and Eomer and I could now speak, and my elfling looked like Gwinthorian when facing a coldly livid Halbarad.
I took Eomer by the arm and led him to the chairs near the hearth, saying, "Come, sir. Let us give the little ones a moment. I wouldst hear how things are amongst the Rohirrim. Have you anything to report from the perimeter patrols? How stands your army?"
Eomer obliged me readily, a soldier to the core, well-spoken regarding all matters of comings and goings within the vast Pelennor landscape below the city. He had been through much for one so young. He was near thirteen years younger than my fledgling, yet the weight of Rohan now lay upon his broad shoulders. The loss of his uncle had surely wounded him deeply, but he bore it as he was expected to, as he had been trained to deal with horrific loss all his life Ė with courage and an understanding that he had to go on, that others looked to him for steadfastness in their despair. As many like him, Eomer was an enigma to most, seemingly alone in his role as leader, able to detach from all apparent emotion with near inhuman stillness.
Yet, I knew that Eomer did have support, quiet and subtle, but ever present. Gamling, Theodenís commander, a man Eomerís age and charged with great responsibilities, including outfitting the king in his armor before battle and rallying the Lords of the Mark, was Eomerís tent partner. They had grown up together and were constantly in each otherís company.
So Eomer understood the complexities of the warrior bond, and although he was clearly one such as Halbarad or Garrick or Master Samwise, with no need for certain forms of reassurance himself, he was, as they were, nonjudgmental of those who did need such things and fully ready to provide what was needed.
And so it was with a certain mischievous gleam in his eye that Eomer asked me, after giving his report, if there was something in particular I wished to know. Legolas hovered near the hearth and shifted his weight from foot to foot, un-elvishly fidgety.
I exchanged a lazy grin with Eomer and said, "Forgive me, sir. I should thank you, first of all, for allowing Legolas to join your patrol last night."
"Not at all, my lord. It was my pleasure." Eomer glanced at Legolas, who was judiciously studying the carvings on the mantelpiece. "I believe you were right Ė your elf had indeed wandered from the Ranger encampment and become turned around. It was well that you and I met on your way back to the city, that you might ask me to watch for him. He was, I fear, heading for the tree line beyond the far perimeter when we spotted him and my men surrounded him."
"Was he indeed?" I said, watching Legolas bend to closely examine and trace a carving with his fingertip. "How unfortunate it might have proven had he actually made it to the woods."
"Oh, I feel he was not so foolish as to attempt such a thing," Eomer said. "He did, however, take exception to being confined by my Riders and to being stopped and questioned."
"Aye, but I knew that he was, no doubt, simply ashamed at being found so far afield and riding alone, two infractions against your orders."
Eomer really was quite good at this.
"Well, I am sure it was a bit humbling. And you are right," I said. "He was, indeed, simply turned around."
Legolas sighed loudly and tipped his head up to gaze at the ceiling. Eomer pushed on, plainly enjoying this as much as I.
"After we contained him, I sent for your lieutenant right away, as you had requested, asking him to await our arrival in the dark of the tent shadows. I made certain to ride a long enough circuit to give him time to reach the camp before us; then I guided our approach from the rear, that Legolas should encounter Halbarad at once before entering the encampment. I felt it would prove less uncomfortable for Legolas than an open reunion with your lieutenant in front of my men."
"That was thoughtful of you," I said. Legolas crossed his arms over his chest and studied the toe of his boot, nudging the floorboard a little.
"As it turned out, your wayward elf did not even see your lieutenant until Halbarad snatched the reins from his hand. Rangers are known for their stealth, but I would have never thought that a man could surprise an elf. Legolas seemed lost in thought, though, so he was somewhat distracted."
I leaned in. "And then?"
Eomer chuckled. "I have never before seen such a look on one of the fair folk! Halbarad grabbed the reins, and Legolas looked down, clearly wondering what had happened; then he looked up at me as if thinking that I had taken them; then he flinched and glanced to his other side where Halbarad sat looking at him and holding his reins. Legolasí eyes grew huge and his mouth fell open, and I vow it was all I could do to keep from breaking into laughter!"
I myself held to no such restraint and laughed loudly, Eomer joining me.
Now fully red-faced, Legolas scowled at us both and snarled, "I fail to see the humor in this." Then he glanced up and paled. I followed his gaze to see Merry and Pippin approaching with interested expressions.
"My lords, please," Legolas muttered under his breath. "Enough taunting! You have had your fun at my expense. Please, enough! Do not shame me in front of the little ones."
Eomer and I exchanged speculative glances, and then the hobbits were upon us, Pippin immediately asking, "Whatís so funny?"
Legolas looked perfectly composed, though I saw his inner squirming.
"Nothing, young Took," Eomer replied. "Although I see that time and a three-day gallop to Minas Tirith with a wizard has not diminished your fierce curiosity about that which does not concern you. Did Gandalf stop along the way to address your dangerous encounter with the Palantir, or have you still not been disciplined for that?"
Pippin blushed. "I had already been . . . before we left . . . ." He shot Merry a shy frown. "Gandalf didnít have to stop."
We all turned surprised glances to Merry, who looked quite satisfied with himself.
"Well, sir," I said. "We stood at the barricade and watched Gandalf ride away with Pippin, and you said nothing about your little cousin suffering that ride with a sore bottom."
"Iíd spanked him before we knew what Gandalf planned," Merry said. "Then I brought him into the Golden Hall for our meeting and sat him in that big chair and told him not to move."
"Would you have spared him the spanking had you known what Gandalf planned?" Eomer asked.
Eomer stood with a grin and said, "Nor shall I spare you your spanking for riding with the Rohirrim against orders, despite the barbaric deed that has just been done to you."
"Barbaric?" Merry exclaimed.
We all laughed then, Pippin saying, "I told you so!"
"Come, wise young hobbit," I said, rising. "Let us leave Eomer to his duty." Turning to the warrior, I said, "Feel free to stay here and tend to your littlest Rider for as long as you need. Then please be so kind as to return him to the Houses of Healing to rest. We shall take this one with us and meet back with the others there."
"Very well," Eomer said with a nod. "Thank you, sir."
I nodded, watching Pippin hug Merry senseless. "Until later, Esquire of Rohan," I said when he was finally released.
Merry heaved a sigh and said, "Until later, my lord."
Aragornís room seemed larger when the others left, and Eomer seemed larger, too. Perhaps it was because of his long wild blonde hair and his constant frown. These Riders had a beautiful savage air to them, a coarseness and barely bridled power. They were fascinating to me, and I was proud to count myself amongst them, and as Eomer looked down at me now, I felt I owed him nothing less than the full measure of my honesty.
"My lord, I must tell you that I regret disobeying your uncle, my king and my liege lord, but only because I would have preferred not to disobey what turned out to be his last orders to me. I do not regret having ridden into that battle with your sister, nor anything that happened thereafter, save that I . . . I could do nothing to prevent what happened to him."
To my dismay I felt a few tears course down my cheeks. Eomer watched me quietly; then he sat back down and gestured me over. I crossed to him and stood before his chair, and he pulled me closer and wiped at my teary cheeks with the backs of his fingers, a gesture of tenderness I hadnít expected.
But, really, I was just getting to know Eomer, and this spanking he was about to give me put me in mind of how I felt that first night in Bree when a Ranger completely unknown to us had pulled down our britches and spanked us all. I was squirming at the moment for many reasons, those same feelings of embarrassment coursing through me.
"Merry, I appreciate your honesty," Eomer said. "Your attitude, however, comes as no surprise to me. Of course you do not regret your actions, and I have no intention of forcing you to say that you do." He sniffed a small grin and said, "What folly."
"But . . . but, I disobeyed an order --"
"Aye, indeed you did, and that is what I intend to address here, young sir. Orders are orders, and they are never to be disobeyed simply because you do not agree with them. You must never countermand your superior officer or presume to think your way is better. Surely Aragorn taught you that. I imagine he had his hands full of teaching with four halflings to deal with."
"Yes. Well . . . ." I shrugged. "We did have some things to learn."
"Obedience to orders being one of the first, I vow."
"Oh . . . I guess so. We did have to learn that one a few times."
Come to think of it, I should have known better than to do what I did, although I could not have seen myself refusing my lady when she grabbed me up and plunked me before her on her horse, saying, "Ride with me!" But Sam came to mind with his athelas tea disaster, just one instance amongst . . . several when one of us had to learn a lesson about obedience to orders. Eomer had a point.
"A few times." He grinned. "I dare say. I shall assume that Aragorn tried to teach you that orders are to be obeyed, all of them, whether you agree with them or not and whether you understand why they are given or not, and an order from your king, sir, is absolute. It is that disobedience that I am here to take care of. I am more than grateful for what you did, Merry, for all that you did. I can never repay the debt owed you for saving my sisterís life."
"My lord, you have already --"
"I have already told you this, aye," he said. "The first day you were able to have visitors, I sought you out."
"Yes," I said, smiling. "You were like Boromir and Pippin, staying far too long in the Houses of Healing, but at my ladyís side, and also you came to see me."
He nodded and grinned as well, then said, "Aye. Your deeds and my sisterís deeds did you both honor. No regret needs be attached to those. But you both owe penance for the choice to disobey."
"Both?" I blinked and stared at him, certain Iíd misheard him. "Do you mean to tell me that . . . surely you donít intend to . . . you wouldnít . . . ." I couldnít get it out it so shook me.
"I wouldnít what, sir? Spank my sister for what she did?"
My face flooded with heat, the thought of my lady in such an undignified . . . of Ė of being subjected to --! Again I could only sputter, "Yes! You would not . . . could
not . . . dare to Ė to . . . no!"
"Aye, Meriadoc. The Warden is assessing her now. If he pronounces Eowyn able to withstand it, I plan to visit her after I finish with you, and I shall turn my little sister over my knee as well. This behavior of yours cannot and will not be tolerated. Eowyn is a Shieldmaiden of Rohan. She knows full well what she has done, and believe me, sir, Eowyn expects to pay the price for her disobedience to orders."
"Even after what she did?" I cried, my fury cresting. I couldnít believe this! "She saved Lord Theoden from a horrible death, and nearly got killed in the doing!"
"Aye. Even so. She is going to be spanked, as you are about to be, and both of you will think twice before ever disobeying an Order of the Mark again."
"Oh, no," I growled, suddenly overwhelmed to think of Eowyn suffering such a fate. I couldnít explain it, but it just seemed utterly unthinkable. "Oh, no, sir," I said, stepping away from him. "I think not. I shall not allow this!"
"You shall not allow it?"
"You heard me," I muttered. I suppose Iíd gone a little balmy, but I simply couldnít stop. The image of Eowyn being spanked! I couldnít bear it. I stormed towards the door, muttering under my breath, "Aragorn will not stand for this either! Iím sure he has not gotten far! When I tell him of this --!" I turned and shook my finger at an astonished-looking Eomer, who still sat there watching me, and I snapped, "Aragorn wonít allow you to do this, you great oaf!" And then I turned again, making use of a few of those filthy elvish words while reaching for the door handle. I got no further.
Iíd never felt myself airborne so quickly. I positively flew. Everything spun. I shut my eyes to keep from being sick, and I twisted like mad in a pair of strong hands and arms. I kicked and I thrashed, and I think my fists connected with Eomerís face several times, not to mention hitting other parts of him with my flailing heels. His grunts were lovely.
I was certain Eomer thought Iíd gone crackers, and hearing my own screams, a part of me thought so as well. I wasnít hollering as my Pippin does when he doesnít want to be spanked. I was thunderous, yelling the kinds of things that made no sense whatsoever but came pouring out when one was about to be forced to take a spanking, things like, ĎStop it! Put me down! Nooo! You canít do this!í and other variations of the same, mixed with plenty of disparaging remarks about the potential spanker. I screamed them all, and so raucously that I vow the windows rattled. I bellowed even louder when Eomer fastened me in his arms so tightly that I could no longer inflict injury upon him. And my most deafening roars began when Eomer carried me to Aragornís bed. I mixed those screams with the foulest of elvish terms, a bit impressed to find myself so immediately fluent, not that Eomer understood any of it.
He flung me over his knee within seconds, hurling me across his muscled left thigh while his right locked down my legs. Iíd been having flashes of sanity throughout my daft misconduct, marveling at my utter loss of control, but it seemed too late now to do anything but keep on. Obviously weary of my howling, Eomer somehow grasped my wrists together, then pressed my own hands to my mouth, improvising a self-inflicted gag and effectively halting my ruckus. A moment later, we were both surprised by a quick knock at the door. It opened, and Legolas leaned in, spotting us on the bed.
"Having trouble?" he asked with a languid smile. But there was a glint of gentle seriousness in his eyes.
Of course! Legolas had to have heard me! I squealed and wriggled as much as possible, and then I froze in sudden horror, realizing that Legolas wasnít addressing me. He was focused on Eomer, studying the man with a quiet, penetrating gaze. As Legolas often did, he was saying much without saying a word, his thoughts conveyed with just his eyes. I could almost hear his very words:
ĎYou, of course, have our trust, my lord,í his gaze said, Ďbut could you use our help in calming this little one? I know you will welcome our aid if needed. So, is Merry simply acting up, or are you having trouble with him?"
Eomer clearly heard that unspoken message as well. "No trouble," he said, his tone confident and calm. "But, I thank you for your concern," he added with warm sincerity.
"Very well. Carry on," Legolas said, and he began to withdraw.
I started my ruckus again, fighting to speak, wild with rage, tears blurring my eyes. Legolas paused and waited until I had worn myself down and settled, huffing as best I could through my hands; then he smiled indulgently and said, "Oh, and Merry, I took the liberty of conveying your colorful elvish to Aragorn. He bid me let you know that he is considering another soap session later."
He flashed me another winning smile, and then he was gone. I stared at the closed door, stunned, and suddenly something collapsed within me. Legolas leaving me like that jarred something loose inside me, and all at once I knew that although this wasnít going to be pleasant and although I still didnít like that Eomer was planning to spank my lady, Legolas and Aragorn knew that they had left me in safe hands. They trusted Eomer to do what was best for me, and I needed to trust him to know what was best to do for my lady.
I instantly felt a bit ashamed of myself, and I just melted, and I started to cry. I could do nothing but cry. I lay still, and I felt Eomer moving above me, undoing my braces, tugging up my shirt and talking to me in a lightly scolding tone that made me cry even more.
"That was quite a performance, little sir. Quite a performance. And here I thought your cousin was the most ill-mannered halfling Iíd ever spanked . . . not that I had ever spanked a halfling before. But you, Merry, you soundly outdid the young Guard of the Citadel. Hardly behavior befitting a Rider of Rohan, even my littlest Rider of Rohan. Do not fret, though. I shall simply add the offense in with your standing offense and address them both here and now, lest the burden of your misdeeds begins to weigh upon you. Noooo, I cannot allow my littlest Rider of Rohan to suffer that."
His words reminded me so much of the kind of thing Aragorn or Legolas or Boromir might say that it made me cry more. I knew such words well. I had a similar store of such talk reserved for my Pippin. Odd how it sounded so fresh and new and stomach-twisting from this position. The affectionate familiarity in Eomerís slightly juvenile words, but phrases chosen just for me, made for a strangely comforting scolding.
Eomer shifted again, drawing my hands behind me to hold them at my back, obviously trusting from my sudden lack of fight that my lunacy had passed and that I knew he would simply gag me again should I get too noisy. Then, Eomer, Lord of the Mark, began to draw down my britches.
A hot flush shot through me, and yet, there was nothing I could do to stop this. I rested my cheek against the soft coverlet and cringed and wept, shaking with mortification as my bottom was bared and the air caressed my flinching skin. Always the worst moment for me, this moment when I was so very exposed. I was never able to prepare myself for it in my head, and when it happened, oh! How my stomach fluttered! How I burned with embarrassment!
Waiting . . . feeling Eomer study me and almost Ďhearingí him thinking about what he was doing and seeing Ė oh, how my insides squirmed! That moment just before the first spank falls is always the worst, the agonizingly long seconds dragging out beyond belief.
I kept tensing, regretting my insanity too late. Yes, this was going to be rather bad. I actually wished that Aragorn had told Eomer about spanking me the day before yesterday. The effects would no longer be visible, but knowing of it might have served to slow Eomer down a little . . . or maybe not. Just please donít let him be a talker! No pre-spanking lectures! Please, please, please just let him get on with it, silently and without further delay!
Ah, Merry, what folly. Be wary of your wishes lest they come true.
Eomer did start spanking me. Without preamble. He didnít need to say a word. His spanking spoke for him. My eyes flew open at his first swat, and I sucked a sharp breath and held it for the next few spanks before letting loose with my first wails. They were more like squeals of shock, actually, and I tried to kick and buck up, but he held me too securely. I couldnít move. I felt myself panicking, fearing that I wouldnít be able to withstand this and that he didnít know how to spank a hobbit . . . but . . . but, Pippin had withstood it! How Ė
"Shhh . . . there, there now, little Rider," Eomer said in a hushed tone. And immediately the intensity of his spanks grew lighter. Oh, they still were bottom searing, but they were tolerable, more hobbit-sized, like my Fellowship warriorsí always were.
"I know that was a shock," Eomer went on, "but I like to get the immediate attention of the offender over my knee by making my first half dozen spanks extra forceful. I am sorry if it frightened you, little one, but to warn you would have defeated my purpose. Settle down now, and let us get on with this."
Settle down? Settle down?! Of all the --! Obviously, the man had never been in this position. I was tempted to tell him that he neednít bother to make his first half dozen spanks so fierce, that he had the attention of the Ďoffenderí over his knee simply because the offender was over his knee! No. Clearly, he had never been in this awful position. But he was more than adept on the giving end, and he was now well into giving, with vigor. Pippinís every Ďmy poor Merry!í suddenly made sense. I was in complete agreement with my Pip. ĎPoor meí indeed! Yes, this was going to be rather bad.
Oh, how I wanted to kick! That desire hadnít taken him long to kindle. I yearned to buck up and writhe about, to gain just a little relief from the helplessness. Being held so soundly and so easily was dreadful. I could only undulate my bottom a little, and that was just too degrading. No, no, no! I had a shred of dignity left. So I lay immobile, lifting my head off and on to bawl to the room instead of into the coverlet.
Suddenly Eomer stopped. I was so startled, I ceased my wailing. He was finished? Surely not. He wasnít spanking me, but his hand lay over my stinging bottom like a silent promise of more. I hiccuped and waited, thinking that maybe he had stopped to lecture.
After a few minutes, he said, "Merry, would you like to be able to move? Kick your legs perhaps? Feel your arms free?"
I nodded eagerly, thrilled with his insight. "Yes, p-please, my lord. I-I would like th-that."
"Can you promise to behave yourself and be a good little hobbit if I release your limbs?"
I felt his words slither inside me, loosening tightly knotted places, special words carefully crafted to gain a certain result. He knew of this . . . Eomer knew of this method to achieve release, the use of what Sam would call Ďnipperí words.
My mind flitted back again to the time Sam gave Frodo his tea, then got sick himself, and in his medicine-induced grogginess, his polite restraint gone, heíd lashed out in frustration at Aragorn, saying, "I know whad yer aboud, Strider, usiní them nipper words on me like I were a liddle Ďun! Makes me FEEL like a liddle Ďun, it does. Liddle Sam. Aní I know Ďcause Iíve done the same to my Frodo!"
I flinched. "What?"
"Answer me. Do you promise to behave yourself if I let you go?"
As if I could possibly overcome him even if I didnít behave myself. "Yes, s-sir. I promise."
Releasing my hands, he lifted his imprisoning leg and gently pulled mine up and over his lap. I breathed a sigh and shifted my tight limbs, so happy to be free of restraint that I wiggled a bit just to feel my freedom and stretched my arms out above my head. But a moment later I jerked and cried out, Eomer resuming his spanking with the same enthusiasm as when heíd left off.
Odd how a short break doesnít help. When the spanking starts up again, it feels so much worse. And now Eomer seemed to hit his stride, paddling away with fresh dedication and making me doubly glad that my legs were now free to kick and my hands free to twist fistfuls of coverlet. It did help to move.
Eomer just spanked me for a while, saying nothing, his big hand seeming tireless as it smacked down over and over and over, always right on the mark, and I was wrenching around, trying to avoid the next spank and fighting the urge to reach back, my legs shooting out straight, then tensing, then wiggling, and always, always kicking.
My mind was blank, and it was also spinning with thoughts, more and more scattered, thoughts I had only when being spanked: ĎHow much longer? . . . no more, please no more! . . . not there! Ahhhh! . . . tired, so tired . . . ow ow ow owwwwww! . . . sorry, sorry! so sorry! . . . please, sir, please, Eomer, Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, please stop!í Useless thoughts . . . my mind blank, yet full of useless thoughts, spinning and colliding.
I donít beg. I donít. I didnít with Aragorn that first time. I held everything in with him that first time until I couldnít stand it anymore and it all came bursting out. This time Iíd started crying earlier than I ever do, but it was anger crying, not spanking crying, and, well, once you start something like that . . . but it didnít count, it didnít, and I donít beg. So I wondered whose voice that was wailing, "Pleeeease! Please, Eom-mer! No morre! I-I-Iím sorry!"
"Ah, Merry," Eomer said with a sigh. "I know you are sorry. I suppose anyone with a bottom this bright red would be sorry for anything, even if they did not quite understand what that was."
"I d-doooo unnerstann! I doo!"
Eomer paused, and he slowed, and I shuddered and shook, aching and weary, my bottom throbbing beyond belief, each new spank ripping through me.
"I know you are trying to understand, little Rider, but I feel I am being unfair to expect it of you."
He slowed again, sounding reflective . . . interesting . . . Eomer reflective . . . warrior, leader, Lord of the Mark . . . thinking about the hobbit who lay sobbing over his knee. I rested my head, the coverlet beneath my face wet and cool, and I cried softly, too sore now to move, too sore to do anything but listen and take each slow and casual spank he chose to give.
"Merry, you were not born into this warrior culture and raised in it like my sister and I were. It is a hard concept to grasp, complete obedience to your commander. As you can see, even Eowyn still struggles with it. Perhaps, rather than expecting you to achieve unquestioning obedience, the best I can do is to show you what will happen if you choose to go against it." Another swat fell, making me cry out.
"You are in the service of Rohan, little Rider. You swore an oath to obey the Order of the Mark. I hold you to that." Another swat! "And when you choose to disobey what orders are given you, you know what you can expect."
Eomer delivered several quick spanks to seal his point. I couldnít rear up anymore. I could only lay weeping. And then, it seemed he was done. It had gone on forever, and now it was done. His hand lay unmoving upon my burning skin. I heard my repeated sobs emptying into the muffling coverlet, and weariness overtook me further; and then I felt his large palm rubbing my bottom. A tiny part of my mind thought that, noooo, Eomer would not do such a thing Ė rub a hobbitís sore bottom? Noooo. But he was, and he was speaking softly to me, a nice soft voice, a gentle hum, like my Fellowship warriors . . . .
"Shhhhh, thatís it, Merry, quiet down now. It is over. Rest now. Shhhhh."
Like Aragorn. Like Boromir and Legolas. Like my Fellowship warriors . . . Eomer was like them, so like them. I had not known. He had seemed distant and commanding, stern. But I just had not known him. His hand felt soothing, like his voice . . . comforting.
"Good, breathe easy for me. No more spanking, little one. You did well. I am proud of you."
Sometimes it happens that tenderness triggers tears. Gentle words and kind treatment seem almost too much to take in, and I felt that fresh volley of tears rise up and spill out. I pressed my face into the soggy coverlet, trying to smother them before he heard and saw . . . .
"Ah, Merry, now what is this?"
I shook my head and turned away and struggled to overcome this, but oh! Too late! And a moment later my shock soared beyond reach as I felt Eomer pick me up and gather me to him! He did! He hauled me right up and into his arms, so familiar a move, yet so unexpected. He held me up, off his lap, easily bearing my weight, and I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, so broad, so solid.
"Shhh, little Rider, shhh," he said. Then he rocked a bit, saying nothing, letting me bury my face in his yellow mane and lose myself there. After a while, he softly asked, "Merry, do you weep for a reason I can help you with, or do you weep from the salve of consolation?"
Ohhh. There it was . . . the salve Pippin had missed. Weíd had it all along, not the salve for our aching bottoms, but salve for our hearts, and it was always abundant, and here it was again, reducing me to these tears. I nestled deeper into Eomerís thick long hair and whispered, "The salve, mílord . . . salve."
"Ah." He nodded and rubbed my back. "As I thought. So it was with your wee Pippin. Such carrying on while I spanked him, and just as much when I stopped."
The mention of Pip made me grin. Eomer drew back a little to peer down into my face. I gazed back at him, my eyes feeling sore and swollen and my weariness now so big, but Eomerís brows were raised, and he was looking at me with great affection and the kind of soft smile that reached all the way to his dark eyes, making them crinkle at the corners like Aragornís.
"You are as sorry-looking as Pip was when Iíd finished with him, my little Rider," he said with frank amusement. It made me grin again. Then he cleared his throat and said, "Oaf? Did you really call me an oaf?"
I had to laugh at that, and he gave me an exaggerated frown and muttered, "I forgot to spank you for that, and for your tantrum. Perhaps next time."
"N-Next time?" I sputtered. "Oh, no, mílord! Iíve learned m-my lesson!"
Eomer snorted and lowered me to his lap, making me arch and gasp. Reaching down to untangle my britches, he said, "Aye, thereís a phrase Iíve heard more times than I can count, and from your precious Lady Eowyn, my ever-errant little sister."
I gasped again and stared at him.
"Oh, yes," he said, chuckling at my expression. "Think onít a moment. Think of what you know of Eowyn, her stubbornness and her devotion to Rohan and honor and all she feels so strongly about. It has ever been thus with her. Who do you think was always one step behind her, spanking her for her many infractions? I vow there were times when I despaired of her ever being able to sit again. She has winning ways, my sister, and I love her dearly, but keeping Eowyn safe from herself has been a challenge over the years. I fear no mere man will ever tame her, and woe to him who tries."
Stunned, I thought this over. Eomer sifted me and pulled up my britches over my fiery bottom.
"Ah, well," he shrugged. "Thereís nothing for it." He studied me for a moment, then brushed the wayward curls from my face and played with them a bit. "A word of warning," he said with a lazy smile. "Hang about with my sister overmuch and you will surely find yourself right back over my knee."
I blushed and winced, but then I returned his grin and said, "Thank you, my lord."
He ruffled my curls. "You are most welcome."
Eomer lowered me to the floor and stood; then he looked down at me and said, "You are quite done in."
"I am fine, just a bit . . . no, just very sore."
He watched me, suddenly quiet; then he said, "May I carry you, my little Rider, just until we reach the main corridor?"
I gazed up at him, wanting to say yes; and yet, I was unaccustomed to being asked, and I suddenly felt strangely shy. But Eomer merely grinned and reached down and scooped me up . . . just like my Fellowship warriors. Yes, this was most assuredly a pampering these warriors were fond of.
"Allow me to make this an order then," he said.
"Aye, my lord." I grinned. "How may I serve Rohan today?"
"Ride with me," he said, his gentle smile returning.
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and laughed, and as we headed from the room, I told him of how those very words, uttered by his sister, had started this journey for me.
End of Chapter IV- The Salve of Consolation
Ere The Final March to be continued . . .