Notes of appreciation for my astounding team: Kat – thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light. Bella – thanks for making me smile with the lovely nagging and the ever-Tookish excitement. Derby – thanks for offering your expertise, your time and your energy and for always being so supportive.

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 disrespect intended.

Ere The Final March

Chapter VII – part II

The Voice of The Heart

by Larrkin

Earlier in the day, Halbarad and I stood on a slight rise at the edge of our encampment, watching Gwinthorian and Devon talking, their blond heads close together in a manner that bellowed trouble.

Garrick, my friend,” my lieutenant said, “I wager you that both Gwin and Devon will end up with sore bottoms come morning.”

Halbarad and I wager in word alone. Still, his was a bet I had no intention of taking, and subsequently losing. So I merely asked him why he felt it necessary to insult my intelligence in such a manner, and Halbarad had laughed.

Now, watching Devon meander his way through the disbanding Grey Company, many of whom still wore small grins following the afternoon’s entertainment provided by the departing Lossnarchian warriors and my cub, I found myself wondering if Gwin had managed to earn himself a spanking yet. Perhaps not. Devon had worked with amazing speed.

Sadly, my cub had also acted with neither discretion nor foresight. I frowned. Devon getting himself into a little mischief was one thing, but this involved others outside our company, and it had been potentially dangerous.

Aye,” Thayer said, noticing my gaze. “‘Tis fortunate our lad is so winsome and the warriors of Lossarnach are of a forgiving nature.”

Most fortunate,” I muttered, shuddering inwardly. I felt Thayer’s concern as he studied me.

Nothing needs doing, Garrick,” he finally said. “Go deal with him. You know that all is well within the camp.”

I did know that. My concern at present was less for the orderly Grey Company and more for the unhappy lad now entering Halbarad’s tent. But my anger was surging too fiercely to face Devon at present, so I turned to Thayer and said, “Would you make certain Devon stays put?”

Thayer gave me a short nod and look of respect. “Certainly. Farrell plans to spend the afternoon preparing more of his curatives. He can work in the tent and keep an eye on Devon from within. Take your time, my friend.”

I muttered my thanks and headed off at a brisk stride, walking away, anywhere, off towards the mountain into which Minas Tirith was built. I would never attempt to spank Devon unless I had a full measure of control. At present that control was wanting. My cub would just have to wait for me, although I would not be so unfeeling as to make him suffer a long wait for his ‘certain doom.’

I grabbed up a slender stick and marched along, crisply whacking it against the side of my boot every few steps. I did not feel the blow through the leather but it was satisfying to loose some of my anger. I would, of course, toss the stick away before returning. I used only my hand on Devon’s small backside. If a spanking went on long enough, and was delivered with sincerity, a firm hand on a bare bottom was always enough for Devon. But he had, at times, tested my limits of restraint. This was one of those times.

Taken as a whole, a few insults hurled by a young one like my cub would hardly seem a great matter. It was offensive and exasperating, but Devon, a considerate lad by nature, had been acting for reasons other than simple retaliation against a crude comment. My boy had been seeking my attention, and he had certainly managed to get it.

However, Devon had no way of knowing how the men of Lossarnach would respond to his taunting. They were certainly good men. According to Halbarad, we were awaiting a large contingent of more such Lossnarchian warriors – more good men from the further reaches of the Southern Fiefdoms, marching to Gondor’s aid.

These were tense days between brutal engagements, though. Men who were facing a battle and forced to hold were men on edge and perhaps more prone to react violently to a challenge, no matter how childish. My lad had been alone when scoffing his insolence towards five large warriors. He had apparently been feeling as immortal as his favorite mischief-making elf. Despite his boyish appearance, Devon is an experienced fighter, well able to defend himself, but even Gwinthorian would have been challenged by five warriors bigger than he was. Devon was lucky that the Lossnarchians had been honorable enough to simply march him back to his company and allow us to deal with him.

I ground my teeth and whacked my leg again. No. No going back yet. He would needs wait. I marched on.

I blame you,” I had once told Halbarad. We had been walking our horses rather than riding, our conversation drifting to the most recent and astounding disobedience of our companions, who were seated, sore-bottomed and in disgrace and forbidden to dismount, towards the rear of the strolling company. “This is all your doing.”

Halbarad raised a brow at me and uttered a surprised, “Excuse me?”

Aye. Your doing. All those years ago. You placed that wee hellion in my care and rode off with our young captain for the safety of the Ettenmoors.”

Halbarad let loose one of his sudden explosive laughs. “I shall have to tell Aragorn that one,” he remarked. Casting me his handsome lopsided and indulgent grin, my lieutenant clapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “I know you are not serious, and I understand your longing to blame another, believe me. There are times I long to blame Aragorn for charging me with the duty of giving a certain bratling elf what turned out to be his first spanking.”

It was my turn to chuckle. “Dorwinion wine?” I asked, and I grinned at Halbarad’s pained look and nod.

Dorwinion wine,” he said. “The origin of all my years of suffering.”

And Gwinthorian’s,” I said. “He had cause to stare at you so fearfully that night.”

We chuckled, recalling the look of absolute horror the certain bratling elf had displayed when Aragorn announced his fate.

Aye, and not even my elfling’s worst fears could prepare him for what very shortly befell his bottom.” Halbarad’s voice softened then, as did his eyes. “But by the time I had finished spanking Gwin and gathered him up, I knew. The only thing I had the right to blame Aragorn for that evening was his far too accurate insight. He understood what I had refused to confess even to myself. And he merely smiled when seeing the two of us intertwined later that night. But when Gwinthorian is at his impossible worst, I do still long to blame our clever young captain for my misery.”

I looked off with a quiet grin.

You also knew the first time you took Dev over your knee, my old friend,” Halbarad said. “You knew it as I had known it. Gwinthorian and Devon entered our hearts long before we allowed ourselves to see it, and there was naught we could do about that, and no other we could blame.”

Halbarad had been right, of course. I slowed my stride, gazing off at nothing, thinking of the golden-haired cub waiting for me, probably pacing by now. His soft grey eyes would be wide with concern when I entered the tent. He would stop to stare at me, to sense, and to hopefully gain some insight as to what kind of spanking to expect. And my cub would give me that same irresistibly tragic look he had given me so many years ago when I had first spanked him.

Devon had been a Ranger but a short time when that spanking came about. He had entered the Grey Company as a full recruit only a month after his father had been killed. Einar, my mentor in my wild youth, brought his son to camp from time to time over the years, so we had all watched Devon grow up. When he grew older, though, I began to struggle with my feelings for him.

At twenty-one years, when he was of an age to join the Rangers, he was beautiful and, to my mind, prohibited. He would find a wife one day, have children, have a family, whereas I, having never found someone with whom I cared to share anything but friendship, had decided that I was not meant to enjoy such a closeness with another. I had resolved to accept a warrior’s life of solitude, as had others before me.

It felt completely improper to care about Devon too much or too deeply, yet it proved near impossible to keep from doing so. Nevertheless, I kept my distance . . . or I at least tried to. Devon seemed determined to attach himself to me, and I could not bear to turn away Einar’s son.

And then, Aragorn arrived, riding into our lives one evening flanked by his magnificent elvish brothers, outshining them both. Isildur’s heir burst upon the Grey Company like a whirlwind of promise, an extraordinary presence whose coming we Numenoreans had eagerly anticipated.

Our young captain both captivated and confounded even the most reticent Rangers. Devon had been enthralled. And Aragorn, a year older than Dev and wholly aware of his affect on the younger lad, knew exactly who to engage one morning when he decided to undertake his most foolhardy and dangerous act since joining the Rangers. Devon had trustingly followed Aragorn off in the pre-dawn hours, both of them nearly ending up as the main course in a dinner hosted by over one hundred vicious wargs.

The Rangers rode through that sea of wargs, not knowing what we would find within the cave where we had spotted Aragorn and Devon sequestered behind a wall of fire they had wisely constructed to keep the beasts at bay. With Rangers guarding our flanks, battling the hordes of wargs and setting them aflame with torches, Halbarad and I charged our mounts to the cave where Aragorn and Devon, his leg broken, waited helplessly.

I barely remember bolting from my saddle and leaping that wall of fire. Inside the hazy cavern I found two frightened, filthy and spent lads, coughing and hacking, their eyes streaming from smoke, both of them looking about ten years old.

I took a quick moment to grasp them to me in a fierce hug, my heart near bursting to see them alive and not too badly torn and bloodied. Kissing both their brows, I turned and signaled to Halbarad, then I picked up Aragorn and hurled him over the flames, out to my lieutenant. I watched Halbarad retrieve our flailing captain, haul him up and slam the little one down before him on his mount.

I bent to pick up Devon, but he grabbed me around my waist, buried his face in my chest and held on, too terrified to let go despite my attempts to pry him loose. “Garrick!” Halbarad yelled. We had but moments. Not knowing what else to do I reached down and gave Devon a powerful swat on his behind. It worked. He yelped and drew back suddenly, loosing his hold, and in that moment, as carefully as I could, I hauled him up over my shoulder, jogged back a few feet and took the wall of fire at a run once more.

Devon passed out as I mounted, and then we rode, racing from the cave, our two little ones safe, if damaged. Fearing more jostling of his broken leg, I drew Devon down from my shoulder and folded him tightly against my body, my stomach clenching at his stillness. We rode for hours. I held on with my legs, trying to stay mounted at a steady gallop, trying to keep him as still as possible. I felt Halbarad’s gaze upon me several times, as well as Aragorn’s, but I could think of nothing but the boy. A cadence repeated in my heart, resounding with the thunder of our horses’ hooves: ‘Let him live, let him live, let him live.’

Shortly into the second hour my passenger awoke, coughing and struggling, nearly unhorsed us both. I spoke sternly to him, that he might hear me and stop thrashing. It worked. Devon turned his sore-looking, glassy eyes up at me with such a trusting gaze that my heart galloped more swiftly than my mount. I spoke to him, got a little water into him and ordered him to spare his raw throat by staying silent. He ignored me of course, beginning with an indignant croak:

Y-You--! Garrick, you swatted me!”

Indeed I did. And if you utter one more word, little boy, I shall pull you close and give you more of the same.”

He stared at me challengingly and opened his mouth. I shook my head.

Not. One. More. Word.”

Devon closed his mouth and his eyes filled with tears. I murmured comforting phrases to him and he leaned into me, rubbed his head against my chest and promptly fell asleep. I pulled him closer. Suddenly I was not nearly as exhausted as I should be, and Devon seemed no burden at all.

Halbarad and I had learned long ago how to cloak our inner workings, and we did so that day upon reaching our camp destination. When Aragorn and Devon were safely abed in the shelter, their injuries being tended to, I roamed the camp, checking on the state of the company.

After reporting to Halbarad, I went off by myself, walking for about ten minutes, until I came across a copse of fir. Moving to a clearing within their sheltering boughs, I sank to my knees, shaking violently, silent tears slipping down my cheeks, the horror of what could have happened slamming into me.

But, he was safe. He was alive. He would heal. He was safe. Just a broken leg. A clean break, Farrell had said. I had not lost him. He was alive. He was safe, sleeping, guarded, my Devon was alive.

And when I began to breathe normally again, then came my anger. It took longer to conquer that. I stood and paced the copse, back and forth, back and forth, clenching and opening my fists and grinding my teeth. I was furious with Aragorn! I ached to do to his backside what someone should have done weeks ago, after his elvish brothers left and the little one’s behavior grew dangerous.

Impossible brat! How could he have done this? Aragorn had not ordered Devon to join him, of course. He had not needed to do so. He knew that Devon would leap at the chance to join his new captain who he idolized. Devon would neither question him nor try to dissuade him from his wildly dangerous plans in any way. I paced and growled and swore that Halbarad had best do something with Isildur’s unmanageable heir before I did.

As for Devon, I yearned to go back, haul him from his bedding, turn him over my knee and spank him for several days straight. True, he was young and he had been far too trusting of that wild Rivendell terror. But if Devon was too spellbound by Aragorn to refuse his captain anything, then I intended to keep Devon right where I could see him. Every minute. Not only was such a measure needed, it was what I desired to do . . . what I ached to do.

I longed to hold Devon at night, listen to him breathe, sit him before me on my horse, keep him at my side always. And sometime during my calming down period, strolling back to camp, I began to realize the shocking gist of what I had been thinking. It stunned me. I shoved it away. But I had nowhere to go with my thoughts. Now what? Einar’s golden cub was alive. Now what?

A day and night passed. I stayed away from the shelter during the day, keeping busy by fashioning a crutch for Devon and listening to the men growl and fret. The proud Dúnedain, last of the great Numenoreans. Fretting. All because of the reckless whelp sleeping like an innocent boy next to Devon.

It sounded as though every Ranger longed to tan their willful captain’s backside, pass him around perhaps, all of them taking a turn. They spoke in jest, but doing so helped soothe their anger and fright. I could not blame them. They loved Aragorn. They did not wish to see him die due to his wild behavior. I had dreaded the thought of Devon being sent away, yet all of us feared for his life, and Aragorn’s, if something was not done. So eventually they began to discuss the only strategy that made sense.

Comforted by the private plan Halbarad had confided to me the night of the warg battle when we sat outside the shelter where Aragorn and Devon lay sleeping, I listened to the men in silence, distracting myself by estimating Devon’s smallish frame and what length to make the crutch, then rubbing the wood smooth.

The next day Devon’s eyes glittered with unshed tears when I handed him his crutch. He smiled up at me beautifully and thanked me, and again I felt a warm surge of something I had to shove down deeply. I avoided Halbarad’s glance on our way to the central fire where the Grey Company was gathering to confer and decide upon the fate of our two youngest. And decide we did.

Halbarad set out immediately afterwards, taking our young captain on retreat. Thayer and I alone knew that the lieutenant was heading for our Ranger cave in the Ettenmoors. We would have a week to rest and see where things lay, find out whether Aragorn could adjust his behavior and remain with the Rangers, or whether he and Devon would need to be sent back to foster longer and hopefully grow up. And Halbarad, brilliant strategist that he ever was, placed Devon in my care.

He had discussed the matter with me first, of course. I was more than pleased. My desire to keep Devon close was about to be fulfilled, and I thanked the Valar that Halbarad was so astute.

Garrick, who better?” he said to me, that quiet, knowing smile in place. “Who better to deal with the boy than one who loves him the way you do?” At my blank stare, Halbarad went on: “I did not know how you felt about Devon until I watched you attend him during that first day and night. You hid it well until then, sir. But, no doubt you have been suffering your own private struggles and surplus of respectability.”

Halbarad has ever been the only Dúnedain able to read my thoughts, despite how carefully I cloak them. Even my blank stare is fathomable to him, and he studied me, nodded, and said, “Aye, ‘tis as I thought. Integrity beleaguers you. And respect for Einar. A desire to do right by his son. Simple muddled thinking, confusing this time now with the past, when Devon perchance seemed like a younger brother. Mayhap even suffering the mistaken belief that if you followed your heart in this matter you would be dishonoring your mentor’s memory.”

I rarely blushed but I did then, and I fired Halbarad a daro si glare that would have laid most men low. He was, of course, not the least bit affected.

Do you not see, Garrick?” he went on. “The only way to dishonor Einar’s memory would be to deny what you know is true, and to ignore what you must have sensed Devon shares with you.”

Stunned, I had managed to grunt out a, “No.”

Aye,” Halbarad said with his quiet smile. “I said I had not known how you felt in this matter. But from the first week that lad joined us it has been apparent how Devon feels about you. You know far more than you allow yourself to realize, Garrick. Think back, and consider the matter here --” He lay a hand over my heart. “Not here --” He touched my temple.

As your friend, I offer only this advice; do with it as you will,” he said. “Watch Devon’s eyes when he gazes at you. Observe as a Dúnedain. Then, if your mind tells you one thing, and your heart another, ‘tis best to follow the voice of the heart. It knows not fear. It knows only truth.”

Lastly, Halbarad shared with me a strategy he was planning for our young captain:

By the way, I consider this far too serious an offense for just one spanking. I plan to spank Aragorn every other night for a week.”

That sounded fair to me.

I used that same strategy with my cub several times over the years, especially when he had needlessly endangered himself. Would that I had the time to achieve it now.

Tossing my stick away, I headed back to our encampment, my temper now under control. I forgave myself that temper. I usually did not need to calm myself down before approaching my cub, even though the need for discipline was a fairly regular occurrence with us. Devon had misbehavior down to an art.

Simple high spirits usually landed him over my knee. Devon was an everlastingly boyish lad and Gwinthorian’s absurdities were often far too tempting for my cub to pass up, even though he knew it would likely lead to trouble. To my way of thinking, those were spankings he invited, and I gladly gave Devon exactly what he sought.

And as for the times when Gwin was not involved, those spankings were purely of Devon’s unique design, and they came about because Devon either ignored what he knew he was supposed to do, or willfully decided to do something he knew he should never do. My cub had an astounding talent for getting into the most unlikely and unexplainable difficulties imaginable.

He sometimes defied belief, leaving me staring at him, speechless, while he stood amidst whatever disaster he had impossibly managed to achieve, his eyes huge with utter bewilderment as to how all this came about and clearly wondering how he was going to convincingly fib his way ‘round whatever he should or should not have done. My cub was a source of endless entertainment for the Rangers, who looked upon Dev as a fascinating bundle of potential calamity.

This, however . . . . I paused before the tent. This could have ended very badly. It was about to end very badly for my cub.

I threw back the flap and entered. Devon halted in mid-pace to stare at me, his soft grey eyes wide with concern. He studied me, seemingly listening, trying to discern what kind of spanking to expect. Then my cub turned his irresistibly tragic look upon me. I fought a fond grin. A movement in the shadows caught my attention.

Just leaving,” Farrell said, packing his goods. He threw his things together with careless urgency, pausing to accept my thanks on his way out.

He was good,” Farrell murmured. “Said nothing. Just paced, or sat and wrung his hands. I left him alone with his thoughts.”

I nodded, and Farrell exited.

Glancing once at my nervous lad, I dropped my gaze, crossed my arms over my chest and wandered further into the tent. It was large, big enough to hold a meeting with half a dozen emissaries. A brazier glowed in center space, low flames burning, and several small tables and chairs stood here and there, but it was to Halbarad’s high double cot standing off to one side that I now headed at a slow, thoughtful stroll. Devon lingered on the other side of the tent, about as far away from me as he could get, watching me. Finally, he could bear the silence no longer.


I glanced at him again. He now looked tragic and desperate. “Aye, little boy?”

He blinked hopefully at the endearment. “Just how angry are you?”

This was a brave question, but Devon often asked it, especially when he knew that certain doom was at hand, but he could not quite fathom to what degree it was about to descend. Why Devon worried about degree at this point was a mystery to me. But I found many things about my Dev baffling, even after all our years together. I did not mind answering him, though. We even had code names worked out by now with which to satisfy his urgent curiosity.

Warg angry,” I replied. I had been remembering them all too well this day.

He gasped and took a step back, his eyes blinking wide. “What?! That angry? Warg angry? You’re that mad at me?”

Devon --”

You cannot be that mad at me!”

I am not mad at you, sweetling.”

But, you just said --!”

Settle down. Think. Am I mad at you, my Dev?”

He twisted his hands together. He now looked tragic and desperate and little boy like. “No. I-I know. Not mad at me. You’re never mad at me. Angry about . . . about what I did. Yes. That’s it. You’re angry about what I did.”

Sadly for my cub, we had been together for too long. He seemed so small and miserable, and his gaze would have likely evoked pity from another, as would his distress. But, to me, it was simply telling behavior. Devon needed this badly, so badly he was trying to appeal to my sympathies, knowing that it would not work, that it had never worked with me. Today I was singularly beyond tolerating his attempts to beguile me. And, of course, failure was exactly what Devon had counted on. I would not let my cub down.

I halted, staring directly back at him. “Stop that,” I said quietly. “At once.”

Devon froze, caught and knowing it. He unclamped his hands, lowered them to his sides and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “It’s just . . . .”

I sat, and watched him for a moment. “Just?”

Well, can we . . . can we talk about this?” he shot back.

Indeed we shall.” I patted my thigh. “With you in a familiar position.”

Garrick, I --”

Hush,” I said. “Come.”

And yet, I knew he would not obey me. His need had clearly increased far beyond his ability to be compliant. Deciding to speed this along, I crooked my finger at him. It was a move Devon particular deplored. He equally hated my following stern words: “Do not make me come get you, little cub.”

Devon rarely resorts to outright defiance, but it is interesting when he does. He does it, again, knowing he will not win, counting on that. He straightened up into what probably felt to him like an adult stance, lifted his chin and said, “I would like to discuss this first, if you please.”

I gazed at him for a moment. “Would you?” I said. I shot up and stalked his way. “I do not please.”

Wait! Wait! Garrick, no!” Devon held up a halting palm, backed into the side of the tent, and scurried sideways, finding no escape and babbling as I closed upon him. “Wait! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m coming! I’ll come! Please, Garrick! Stop!”

Too late, sweetling,” I murmured, reaching for him.

With no option left open to him, my cub panicked and took the offensive, ramming himself against my torso, fists flailing. Normally I would have indulged his need to expend a little energy, but I was in no mood to tolerate his nonsense today. I merely bent and hauled him up and over my shoulder. Devon had been up there often enough for me to know to hold his legs. My cub had quite a kick. I stormed back to the cot, but during that short trip, Dev managed to make his usual desperate sounds, pound my back, buck up several times and pull my hair.

You have just made this more difficult for yourself, little boy,” I said, sitting down.

Please, Garrick! No! I-I --”

Hush.” I slung him down and over my lap, a quick and easy move perfected with much practice. “There is nothing you can say.” I tossed up his surcoat and shirt and pulled down his breeches, baring the very pretty bottom I knew so well.

Devon gasped and wriggled and cried his familiar little desperate squeak when he felt cool air on his vulnerable behind. “Nooo! I-I-I --”

That is enough,” I said.

But Devon had a huge fire burning within him. I had not started spanking him, yet he struggled and bucked and kicked wildly, unable to settle himself alone.

One little cub, out of control, lost in turmoil. I sighed.

I could simply start spanking him and let him exhaust himself with his useless thrashing. That was sometimes the best option. But I knew my cub well. Today Devon needed the comfort of total restraint, at least at the beginning. So I began shifting him around. I closed his legs between mine, turned him over my left thigh, then grabbed his wrists and held them both in one hand at the small of his back. Devon became lightheaded and nauseous if left to hang down over my knee, his head near the floor, so I moved his upper body to rest on the cot.

My wild cub was now securely locked in place. He was unable to so much as wriggle, his small round bottom tipped up at a perfect angle. Denied the privilege of movement, Dev was now entirely helpless, entirely mine and entirely safe. As he usually did when I restrained him, however, Devon had been letting me know, quite loudly, how much he would rather I not do this to him.

Devon,” I now said in a low tone, “I said hush.”

He went silent and still. I rested my palm over his quivering bottom and watched him. Once he accepted the inevitable, restraint soothed Devon, as well as making him anxious. It seemingly made no sense, but this feeling was not exclusive to my cub, nor was the strategy mine. I had learned of it from Halbarad, who often found it a useful and necessary means of dealing with a frantic Aragorn.

The freedom to move is too great a responsibility when he is panicking,” Halbarad had once told me when I conveyed my concerns about the times when Devon was overly agitated. “Sometimes Aragorn’s frenzy is so profound that he cannot bring it under control. He needs to have all freedom removed. Only when he is forced to be still is he soothed and comforted. I did this the first time I spanked him.”

And it soothed him?” I asked, a bit stunned.

Aye. He was frozen in place, upset and strained, weary from the journey, furious that I had usurped his power and terrified because I was about to spank him. It was too much for the lad. He needed to feel that someone else was stronger, someone who was not going to abandon him to his fear. So I locked him down over my lap this way. It was merciful, my friend, trust me. Aragorn was indeed soothed. Of course, it made him anxious, too.”

Noting my confused frown, Halbarad went on: “He is soothed because he can no longer put up a struggle. He has done all he can, and now he has no choice but to give in and accept his spanking. And he is anxious because, well --” Halbarad paused to grin. “Because he has no choice but to give in and accept his spanking. It is safe anxiousness.”

I thought about it, trying to understand it. Watching me, Halbarad said, “It sounds strange.”

Aye. But I do trust your word,” I quickly said.

He grinned. “Try it with your little one. See what happens, what you sense from him.”

And I had, and it still worked to this day. Devon now quivered, but he lay quietly, unable to do anything else. I rubbed my palm over his perfect, creamy bottom, letting the moment hum for us both, making him wait and making him feel his defenselessness and my control.

Halbarad had been right. Devon always responded to this with obedience. Being given no choice calmed him. His breathing was shuddery, and I knew he was merely moments from tears, but this was a sweet helplessness for my cub, a safe helplessness, unlike the unsafe helplessness of the future.

I raised my hand.



When I have reason to yell, I yell. And when I’m over Garrick’s knee, he always gives me more than sufficient reason to yell.

His first spanks are simply dreadful. They are. No matter how many times he’s done this to me I’m never prepared to brave those first spanks. By the third spank my dignity has flown, a small loss, as I rarely have use for it.

Garrick has little use for my dignity either. Yes, his temper is always under control before his hand starts to fall, but I feel his occasional choice of public locations when bestowing certain doom reveals a definite lingering testiness. At least he usually makes it to the perimeter of camp, my reluctant self in tow, before his fragile control collapses. I suppose I should be grateful he’s never pulled down my breeches and spanked me at the central fire. I’ve actually been lucky thus far.

I once pointed out to him that Halbarad never spanked Gwin within sight of the company, and Garrick gave me the answer I have yet to find my way ‘round: “What Halbarad does to Gwinthorian has nothing to do with us, little boy.”

My suggestion that perhaps Halbarad had better control of his emotions than his corporal did was met with a decided lack of enthusiasm. It was also, to say the least, ill advised, given my position at the time over Garrick’s knee. Gwin was impressed with me the next day, though:

I have never heard you reach quite that pitch before, Dev! I vow you shattered glass.”

My response was to call him several filthy names in the elvish, with all courtesy, of course, as Gwinthorian and I are on the friendliest of terms. He ‘tsked’ and looked adorably scornful.

Devon! That coarse accent! Ew!”

Garrick had now settled into his rhythm, and ohhhhhhhh! How I longed to kick! I longed to move! I ached to move! I hated it when he restrained me like this! Hated it! And I . . . I didn’t hate it. Garrick does indeed know when I’m too upset to go anywhere near his lap, and this had been one of those times.

It was the waiting that disarmed me. He usually doesn’t make me wait. My Ranger is eager to get down to the matter as soon as possible, one reason why we sometimes only make it as far as the perimeter of camp. And he was warg angry? More cause for increased upset. And why was it taking him so long?

All Farrell had said upon entering the tent, his arms full of his various jumble of odd plant life, was, “Garrick will return anon. You are to stay here, Devon. I shall keep you company. And I am to make you aware that Thayer, Logan and Hadden have decided to sit outside at Halbarad’s fire until Garrick returns, in case you unwisely attempt to overpower me, knock me silly and escape to the protection of the Lossarnachians you managed to enchant today. So I suggest you make yourself comfortable whilst you are still able to do so.”

He then offered to instruct me on the making of an unguent used for something I didn’t care to think about and I scowled at him and he left me alone. But after a while I began to consider his offer, because Garrick had been out there for years now and I could have used a distraction. It was taking Garrick an awfully long time to calm down. Surely night had fallen. Of course, I worked myself into a bit of a frenzy.

Garrick handles my agitation with his easy grace, though. He subdues me in his usual offhanded manner and suddenly I no longer need to worry about something as complicated as movement. There is an inexplicable feeling of safety that comes with being unable to so much as flinch. It’s a ghastly admission to make, even to myself, because I do dread it, and I entertain no hope of understanding the matter.

But the truth is, when Garrick holds me still, and he’s spanking me, endless stinging swats raining down again and again, so perfectly on target that I simply want to explode off his lap, there’s something liberating about being able to do nothing to stop it. All I can do is yell and sob. All I have to work with as a port of release is my voice. My head and shoulders are of little use. Tossing my head around invites it to start aching, which is miserable to endure when my bottom is on fire.

I have my voice, though, and that has become the stuff of legends within the Grey Company. During particularly difficult spankings I’ve been known to scream my throat raw, prompting Farrell to pour nasty remedies into me afterwards. Attempts to pout Garrick into feeling remorse for driving me to such a state always fail as he is of the opinion that my bellowing is inordinate and shamefully attention seeking.

I should spank you again for doing that to yourself, little counterfeit,” Garrick once growled, watching me sputter after Farrell had dosed me.

My assurances that there was nothing counterfeit about my bellowing when I’ve been over his knee for a while simply earned me a skeptical frown and a swat on my painful behind. Garrick felt he knew better. Like Gwin, I frequently find myself grumbling about the Dúnedain, even though I am one myself. And I challenge any of my brother Rangers to spend some time over Garrick’s lap and remain silent.

Warg angry. He was warg angry. That was the worst angry possible. And I did not see it. How did a few pathetic attempts to beleaguer some overly sensitive warriors compare to rousing the ire of one hundred plus ferocious carnivores preparing to consume Aragorn and me? Garrick is usually fair about this, so I was baffled, and that meant trouble, or at least a very long spanking, as Garrick would keep this up until I did see his point of view and was suitably contrite about it.

After he’s been spanking for a while, when my bottom is getting well warmed up, and I’m bawling loudly as I am now, Garrick tests my temperament. He’ll loosen his grip a little on my wrists, then a little more, and a little more, and if I behave he’ll release them completely and my arms are my own again. If I thrash at the first sign of loosening, he clamps down and movement is once more forbidden until the next time he decides to let me attempt some self-control.

At the moment, my bottom was throbbing something fierce and Garrick was beginning to loosen his grip on my wrists. The choice was up to me now, and this was never a good time for me to make a decision. I’ll often be unable to choose whether to struggle and remain immobile or behave myself and get the use of my arms back. The crook of my elbow is a very comforting place in which to bury my face and weep. So while I’m trying to decide, Garrick releases my arms.

Sometimes I’ll feel a sudden surge of rebellion at this point and I’ll flail about and try to lever myself off his thigh and I’ll immediately be back at the beginning, my wrists pinned to the small of my back, Garrick’s hand picking up the pace a bit. But this time I was ready to be good. I felt a desperate longing to knot all of Halbarad and Gwin’s bedding into my fists.

Garrick hasn’t missed a single spank, of course, and now my burning bottom was becoming my only focus, my crying turning into sobbing. The time had come to flat out beg, something I never have a problem resorting to. Speech, however, was often a challenge.

G-Garriiiiick, p-p-pleeeeeeeease! S-S-Stop! P-Plea-Pleeease s-stop! I-I’m s-sorrrrrrryyyyy! AHHHHHH! Noooooooo more! S-Sorryyyyy!”

Mmm hmmm. Aye, my pretty cub. I know you are sorry. We shall discuss your sorries soon, sweetling.”

Endearments like that at such a moment melt me and soften me and warm me deep inside, so much so that I don’t even panic at the ‘soon,’ Garrick promised, rather than a preferred ‘now.’

And still Garrick’s hand continued to fall and fall and fall. But he suddenly paused, and I knew why. Breathless with tears, I hiccupped and gasped and rubbed my messy face all over Gwin’s blanket; and Garrick lifted my trembling legs up and over his lap, and I was no longer imprisoned between his thickly muscled thighs.

I was now stretched out entirely over my Ranger’s lap, and ohhhh! I could kick! But, ohhhhhhh, Garrick began rubbing his large palm up and down the backs of my thighs, petting me with that warm spanking hand, such a gentle touch for such a large, powerful man. Meanwhile, his other hand wandered under my shirt to rub my back. And then he moved from my thighs up to my hot bottom, carefully gliding his fingers over the stinging skin his endless murmurs pouring over me . . . I’m so good, such a good little cub, so well behaved, he’s proud of me . . . and on and on, and I melted more, softened more under my Ranger’s soothing hands and quiet words. I felt him reach down and remove everything I was wearing below the waist, his unspoken message clear – “You will be remaining here until this evening when our guests arrive, little boy. You will not need your clothing until then.”

Garrick was by no means finished with me. But breaks, such as this one, made a longer spanking possible. I became too breathless otherwise, too frenzied. So we rested, and he murmured and petted me and I waited, weeping, but quiet and still. Garrick decides when he starts spanking me again, when all that crashes over me again. Amazingly, while I lay there, waiting, my Ranger expects me to think.

He patted my bottom and said, “Devon, what shall we be discussing when we start again?”

I knew the answer, but once in my foolish youth, soon after Garrick started disciplining me, I was too furious to feel cooperative and I stupidly spat out, “Don’t you know?” I ended up standing all the next day. Cooperation became attractive after that. He doesn’t always ask me to consider an upcoming question, but he does if he senses that I’m confused on some point, as I am now about his warg anger.

W-Why,” I stammered in reply. “Y-You w-will want me-me to tell you w-why I’m g-get-ting sp-spanked!”

Very good, sweetling,” he said. “Think on that now.”

It is wise to never argue some points with my Ranger. So I usually do try to think on the question. Garrick is wretchedly aware of it if my mind wanders, and he brings me back to the matter with a fast swat, so I do my best to concentrate

But at the moment I had wargs on my mind, those endless, horrible wargs. I’d had nightmares about snarling wargs for days after that terrifying episode. I would sit up, breathless and panicky, sensing them around me, closing in. Or I woke in a cold sweat, trembling. Sometimes I’d even scream.

And Garrick was always there, his muscled arms enfolding me against his warm, huge body. I’d breathe in his calming scent and nestle against him. And I knew that this helped settle him, too.

It moved me to realize the depths of his horror over that disgraceful episode. My guilt surged so ferociously that I actually found comfort in the dreadful “every other night” spanking routine he’d devised for the week of Aragorn’s retreat. At the end of that week I was woefully familiar with Garrick’s spanking methods, and I felt certain I’d served my penance. I also went through the most wrenching heartbreak I’d suffered since my father had died.

Knowing just how to achieve my goals, I’d demanded a long spanking that final night. But it would never be long enough. It would end. And when it ended, I could not stop crying, not even after Garrick had tried his best to soothe and comfort me as he did so well every other time.

But it was the forthcoming loss of that very comfort that drenched me in grief. This was over. The week was over. Halbarad and Aragorn would be returning the next day and Garrick would blend back into the company, leaving me to do the same. Yes, he had been kind enough to place his bedroll next to mine and be there to hold me through my night terrors, and perhaps, just perhaps he would still do that for me. It was a big brotherly type of kindness, after all, and I felt that such was how this magnificent warrior thought of us, a big brother tending to an immature little brother.

But the spanking was over. This wonderful, awful, bewildering and sweetly painful closeness was over. And Garrick still saw me as a younger brother. A boy. A troublesome boy at that. Nothing more. I knew it. He didn’t see me the way I longed for him to. He’d never see me that way. Never. Especially not after this. That alone was shattering.

But just as shattering was the discovery of what Garrick’s discipline awakened within me, that burning, ravenous need for more. I couldn’t stop the need, and I certainly couldn’t try to understand it. It just was. And now, after experiencing his spanking and his comforting, after loving that breathtaking closeness with him, my grief in knowing that it was over sickened me, engulfed me, stole my breath away, kept me sobbing inconsolably.

I would leave the Rangers. How could I stay, feeling this depth of loss day after day, night after night, seeing him, but not belonging to him, no part of us touching? How could I bear never feeling him take me over his knee and spank me again? So I wept, unable to stop.

I would not tell him what was wrong. I couldn’t, despite his demands that I do so. Admit to this astonishing man how I felt about him? How I’d felt about him for months, for years now? Dúnedain though he was, Garrick was unaware of what I’d struggled so hard to hide from him for so long. How could I admit my thoughts to him now? And, primarily, how could I expose myself by making known how eagerly I craved his attention? How could I tell him that I’d never felt anything as wonderfully overwhelming as what he’d been doing to me every other night that week?

Though older than me, Garrick was not considered old in Numenorean terms. He would soon find a woman, sire hearty sons, have a family. No. I could tell him nothing. So I kept trying to push him away, crawl weeping from his lap where he held me, get the anguish of this last parting over with. And, finally, to my horror, Garrick again turned me over his knee.

I was sobbing at once. “Garrick! Pleeeeeeease, nooooo! I-I cannot b-bear morrrre!”

You shall have to, sweetling,” he said, and he began. His spanks were light, but I’d already taken a scorching spanking, so the feel of Garrick’s large hand swatting my hot skin, even lightly, was unimaginable. I exploded, kicking and bucking and squealing over his thighs. “Now, little boy. You will tell me now what torments you. No more of this.”

I really could take no more, and I’d had no choice. “End-Ending! A-All overrrr! You’ll lea-leave meeee! D-Don’t w-want meee!” It was all I could manage. I covered my face in shame and collapsed into wails, so humiliated I longed to die.

But Garrick swooped me up into his arms at once, rocking me. “Shhhhhh, pretty Dev,” he purred, kissing the side of my face. “Shhhh. Hush now. I know. Enough Devon. This is not over, sweetling. It will never be over. Do you hear me, little love? It will never be over. I do not wish for that. And now I know that neither do you.”

Little love?’ I stopped sobbing at once. ‘Never be over?’ I shuddered against his shoulder; then I drew back to gaze at him, my eyes stinging and blurry. But I blinked at what I saw on his strong beautiful face. I saw reflected there what I’d felt for him for so long. But . . . then, he had to have known. He had known! Garrick would have known.

Aye, sweetling. I know,” he said, a soft smile of understanding in his eyes. “But you needed to tell me, little one. You needed to choose this, to want it enough to tell me of your desire for it. And you have been very brave. You did choose, and you did tell me. And though you did not say much, you said enough, my Dev. All this week you have been silently telling me of how it is with you, so now I shall tell you how it will be with us from now on.”

Garrick’s soft smile traveled to his lips. He studied me, smoothing the hair from my face, and he said, “I am yours as you are mine, for as long as you desire it. You are going nowhere, beautiful boy and neither am I. We shall no longer sleep side by side, Devon, but together. You shall sleep in my arms, and we shall explore all there is to explore about each other and share all we have to share.

And heed me well, my pretty bratling, when you are in need of a spanking, you shall go over my knee and be thoroughly spanked. If you choose to misbehave, or if you foolishly endanger yourself I shall spank you. If you are naughty every day, I shall spank you every day. You will never need wonder why you are being spanked, for we will be clear on that. Nothing you do will escape my notice, little boy.

Aye, you are a warrior, a man, a Ranger, a Dúnedain and a Numenorean, but you and I also know who you are deep inside, Devon. You are my little cub. Mine. And I lo --”


You are not considering the question, my little cub,” Garrick said with maddening correctness. “I feel more convincing is in order.”

Garrick!! AHHHHHHHHH!”

Again, that hot explosion burst within me, wrenching me back to the here and now, back to Garrick’s big hand spanking me. I became instantly lost in that first spank sensation all over again, something Garrick claimed was part of the beauty of a short rest period.

Then we get to begin anew,” he had once told me, as though extolling the virtues of that.

It really wasn’t the same, because my bottom had been hot and sore to begin with, but it never seemed wise to point that out to a Ranger who was rested and ready to begin again. At least now I could kick and strain my legs! I could twist the covers! I could resume my screams. And yet, despite the joy of these newfound freedoms, the urgency to attend to business became all I knew. Please let Garrick be ready to move us along as well!

But when my Ranger spoke I realized that whilst giving me time to think things over, he had been doing the same. Casting back over the meeting with the Lossnarchians, he’d discovered a small matter that he felt warranted further investigation. His hand rising and falling once more at a steady pace, he was eager to share his discovery with me:

Devon, you said nothing to me yesterday or last night about your encounter with those warriors, did you?”

My heart fired into my throat and lodged there.

And Gwinthorian said nothing to Halbarad, else he would have shared it with me.”

It seemed unfair, this collaboration of first lieutenants and their corporals. But since Gwin and I had collaborated ourselves, vowing to keep quiet about the Lossnarchians lest Garrick and Halbarad get the wrong idea and march over to our neighbor’s encampment for an explanation, I could hardly complain. Gwinthorian was going to be a bit put out with me when Garrick had a talk with Halbarad. It seemed both Gwin and I would be undertaking the final march tomorrow with sore bottoms.

Garrick now muttered something about a bet with Halbarad that he was glad he hadn’t taken, but I couldn’t hear the details. What I did hear, loudly and clearly all over my aching backside, was Garrick’s displeasure with me for neglecting to mention an incident yesterday that I knew he shouldn’t trouble himself with. He’d had enough on his mind.

But, as the withholding of information was never a popular subject, I merely responded in the most reasonable manner given my indefensible position:


Hmm. It seems we have yet another matter to deal with, little boy.”

I buried my face in my palms, and wailed and kicked and tried to convince myself that my bottom was no longer a part of the rest of me. The length of this spanking spoke to Garrick’s level of upset, but I was still confused, and becoming more confused by the minute. Finally:

Why are you over my knee, Devon?”

Oh, such an opening for sass! And I’d been stupid enough to make use of it over the years. But I was in no shape to do so now.

Bec-cause I did-didn’t t-tell you ab-bout yesterd-day! ‘B-Bout the-the war-riors! An-And I-I’m soorrryyyyy!”

Aye. That’s one reason. Are you permitted to keep such things from me, little cub?”

Noooooo, no-no, ssirr! An-And I-I’m soorrryyyyy!”

But you did it anyway. Both you and Gwinthorian said nothing to Halbarad and I.”

Hadn’t we all ready established that?! “Yess, sirr! An-And I-I’m soorrryyyyy!”

What else?”

Thankfully he didn’t ask me why Gwin and I hadn’t confessed. Because of course we had no excu --

Wait. Why did you two not tell Halbarad and I what had happened?”

I kicked and sobbed and gave my excuse: “I don’t knowwwww!”

Perhaps the two of you said nothing because you knew we would be unhappy to hear how you had behaved in the matter?”

It was a good thing I loved Garrick so much because there were times when I almost loathed him. “YesYessY-Yesss! You’re right! We agreed n-not to say anything be-because we knew y-you’d be angry ‘bout our be-behavior. AN-AND I-I’M SOORRRYYYYY!”

Your sorries would carry more weight, Devon, if you did not bellow them at me.”

I’m soorrryyyyy!”

He sighed and blessedly moved on: “Why else are you being spanked, sweetling?”

I considered mentioning that his endearment would carry more weight if he wasn’t tanning me while saying it, but I reconsidered. “Be-Because I-I t-taunted th-those war-warriors to-today! And I-I’m sorrry! I’m s-so sorry!”

Aye, little cub, I know you are sorry. Such behavior was unbecoming to a Ranger of the Grey Company, was it not?’

Y-Yes, Garrick.”

Did those men deserve to have you disturb their day so churlishly?”

Nooo.” My face burned as hotly as my bottom.

And did Rubian deserve to be attacked by an ill-tempered, bad mannered, hot headed little berserker?”



AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Garriiiiiiiiick! Pleeease!” Garrick had picked up his pace and intensity. I felt badly enough about Rubian without this going on! “NOOO! Nononooooo, sir! He-He did n-not! Sorrryy!”

And this brings us to the matter of why I was warg angry.”


Did you just bellow at me again, Devon?”

Noooo! S-Sorry, sir.”

Garrick went quiet for a moment. He actually paused, resting his hand on my scalded backside. I wept piteously and struggled to catch my breath, daring to hope that my Ranger was easing off.

You can answer your question yourself, you know,” he said in a quiet voice. “What was it about the wargs that made it the worst degree of my anger?”

How like him to involve me in this quest when my bottom was in flames. “I-I needlessly en-endangered my-myself.”

Aye. Very good, little boy. When you endanger yourself as you did with the wargs, I become my most angry, do I not?”

I nodded.

Devon, you were alone today when you insulted and challenged not one man, not even two, but five warriors who were larger than you. I am proud of your fighting skills, sweetling, but what you did was foolhardy and dangerous. You did not know those men. You did not know how they might have reacted. And there were five of them!”

A very hard spank made me arch up and squeal.

Was that a wise thing to do, little one?”

Nooo, sir!”

Garrick started spanking again. “Is purposely endangering yourself ever acceptable behavior?”

Nooooo! No, sir! But-But – OWWWWWW!”

There are no ‘buts.’ None. You never do it, Devon. Do you?”

OWWWW! Nooo! N-Never! Soorrryyyyy! Pleease! I-I’m sorrryyy, Garrick! Sorrryyy!”

Garrick paused, and he . . . ohhhhhhhh . . . oh, he stopped spanking again, and he started lightly rubbing my bottom! I feared it might be too late. I’d never sit my saddle tomorrow. I moaned miserably at the thought and rubbed my face against Gwin’s now saturated blanket. I would have to tell him how helpful I found it and thank him for the use of it.

But then, Garrick spoke again, slowly, his voice earnest and soft: “Dev, why do I become so angry, warg angry, when you endanger yourself?”

I quieted, my crying now slower and rich with sorrow. This was the easiest question to answer, and the hardest truth to face, for I knew that Garrick’s anger came on the heels of his fear for my safety, and that my deliberate waywardness had been the cause of that fear.


Be-Because . . . .” I paused to release a soft burst of tears. “Because you love m-me.”

Aye, my cherished little cub. Because I love you more than life itself.”

I burst into a fresh volley of tears. “Oh Garrick! I-I’m so sorry! B-But I-I didn’t mean to d-do that! I didn’t mean t-to frighten y-you, or-or to do what I did! That wasn’t what I-I --” Again I broke down into broken weeping.

Garrick’s rubbing hand went still on my bottom. “Dev, do you mean that, you did not go there in order to taunt those men, that it was unintentional?”

Yes! I didn’t m-mean to do that! I-I felt b-bad about yesterday, about how G-Gwin and I treated those m-men. We didn’t let them apolog-gize! We w-were just so so mad, even though they were t-trying to say sorry! And then to-today I . . . I just w-wanted to be nicer to-today.”

You went to make peace, little boy. Is that what you are saying?”

His hand felt so good, rubbing my bottom so nicely. I shuddered from the sensation, weeping softly. “Uh-huhhh!”

Ah. Well, that was very good of you, sweetling. So, then, what happened?” he asked.

It was a perfectly reasonable question. I had my answer prepared:

I-I don’t knooowwww! Dunno whyyy! Why did I do that? I-I hated doing that! So-So whyyyy?”

I broke into repeated small and miserable sobs, ashamed once again of how I’d teased those men. My confusion roared back, along with that rush of hot embarrassment I’d felt as I was doing it and the scary feeling that I hadn’t been in control of my actions. I needed Garrick’s calm strength. I needed my strong, sweet Ranger’s help.

Garrick! Help! P-Pleeeeease! T-Terrible person! I-I terrible!”

Nay. Shhh, Devon; hush now. My poor little bewildered cub. Shhh. Of course I shall help you, beloved.”

And the sound of his warm deep voice, the instant way he said he would help me, as though he did indeed know the answers that would settle my confusion made me weep fresh tears.

Garrick hauled me up into his arms and held me against him, my bottom off his lap for now, and he rocked, murmuring to me, telling me not to be frightened, that all would be well, that I wasn’t a terrible, mean person, just a confused little cub. And he would help me when I had calmed down.

I wept softly against his warm skin and held on to his shoulders, such broad shoulders, broad enough for anything. Waves of heat radiated through me from my backside, making me shudder. I could hear the sounds of our camp outside the tent, the quiet muffled nickering of the horses, the deep low voices of the men, the clink of metal against metal, the occasional laugh or call, all comforting familiar sounds.

But the source of my greatest comfort surrounded me, his muscled arms holding me up against his large body with seemingly no effort. The disorder in my head quieted. All would be well now. Garrick knew what I did not. Garrick understood. He would help me when he decided it was time, when he sensed from me the level of composure he was waiting for; then my Ranger would help me. Until then, I rested, breathing in Garrick’s peace, listening to his calming silence.

Those outside our troop, those who did not know Garrick, sometimes eyed him suspiciously, clearly wondering about his stillness. I saw their glances, as though they were thinking that this giant of a warrior needed to be carefully watched, and it saddened me. Garrick was indeed a reticent man, but he had a good heart, a big heart, and he was wise and forbearing. Garrick said a great deal with his silence, especially to me. My quiet Ranger was positively eloquent. One only had to listen.

Soon he shifted me, and I relaxed, feeling him move me where he would. He lay me back against the crook of his arm, my bottom now resting between his thighs. I winced and he smiled with his serene fondness, so watchful of me as always.

Stings hmm?” he said.

I nodded. Garrick just studied me for a long moment, smiling suddenly at my beginning blush, smoothing my wild hair back from my face, running his fingertips over my cheeks and lips, watching their progress over my face, as though memorizing the feel of it, his hands so strong, yet so gentle. Impossible to believe that the careful hand moving so tenderly over my features was the same hand that had wrought such havoc with my whimpering bottom, but I felt the heat of his palm when he cupped my face, and it sent an odd tingle through me.

Will you live, my poor hot-bottomed little cub?” he murmured, his eyes glittering.

I tried to force a pout, but failed completely, far too mesmerized by him to feign a good huff. Instead, I found myself giving him a shy smile and uttering a silly, “Uh-huhh.” He grinned again.

My Dev. Pretty boy,” he murmured. He paused; then in a more somber tone, he said, “It is hard to hear that from others, is it not?”

I watched him, nodding slowly, listening intently.

Garrick watched his fingers move through my locks. “Aye, and I vow that it is hard to hear what goes through your mind when they leer and make such comments. I can only imagine what you might be thinking at such a time: ‘Is that all they see? Only that – a pretty boy? Camp follower, perhaps? There amongst the Rangers for one thing alone. Only good for satisfying a warrior’s pleasure.’” His gaze returned to my eyes. “‘Surely such a one cannot be a great warrior himself.’

I nodded again, frowning to hear those quite accurate words, so like the ones that had been digging away inside me. Tears of anger stung my eyes.

Legolas is not bothered by such things,” I grumbled.

Shhh. Legolas is who he is, and you are who you are,” Garrick said. He leaned down and gave me a small kiss. “But I know. It is not easy to walk away from such perceived insults. I remember how I used to feel when it happened to me.”

I fired him a stunned glance. My Garrick was astoundingly handsome, but I could not imagine he’d ever heard the kinds of comments or received the kinds of looks Gwin and I had!

He laughed at my shocked expression. “That hard to believe, is it?”

No! Of course not!” I cried. “I just . . . just --”

Shh, ‘tis all right, Dev; I know,” he said, his chuckling dying down. “Nay, sweetling; others did not think me a plaything. Quite the opposite.”

He smiled, watching me, and went on: “Some saw a big warrior they should fear at once. No doubt I would turn violent at any moment. Others choose to think that all large and able warriors were also stupid. To their way of thinking I had no more to offer than my sword, just as others may believe that you have only one thing to offer. My tendency towards silence seemed to bear out their judgment. Another hulking yet mindless warrior.”

I blinked, instantly furious, my face flushed with anger. Oh! I saw it all so clearly! My Garrick was indeed terrifying in battle, but he was a gentle giant of a man otherwise. And he was also brilliant. Halbarad always consulted him on strategy. And, when Aragorn grew older, and was riding with the Grey Company rather than Rangering out in the wild on his own as ‘Strider,’ he relied heavily on both Halbarad and Garrick’s advice.

And not only was Garrick a brilliant tactician and warrior, but he knew the hearts of others. He watched others, learning them, a practice I also acquired by observing how he did it, something we had now in common. I had not mastered the finer points as Garrick had, so situations like the one that had caused this whole mess – and my temper – got the better of me. But Garrick’s unearthly calm stemmed from an understanding of men’s hearts. I loved it about him.

So, to hear that others judged him by his size and his silence and thought him . . .

STUPID!? I stared at him in near-sputter, ready to let loose with my indignation. Garrick’s eyes twinkled.

I am flattered by your anger, beloved.” He kissed my frown. “I did not mean to infuriate you, but to show you that I do understand how hard it is to show compassion to those who insist upon displaying their ignorance. It was more than clear how some chose to think of me, simply because of the way I looked. It still is. They dare not confront me, but it is easy to tell what they are thinking. Halbarad used to become most indignant about it.” He paused to grin. “He would oft have splendid bouts of fury after such an instance.”

Halbarad?!” I gasped. Garrick nodded and we both burst into a chuckle.

Aye. Both of us took some time learning to master tolerance. But we had some very good advice.” Garrick raised a brow at me. “Perhaps you know this advice, sweetling?”

I nodded. “We cannot control others, but we can control how we react to them.”

Your father’s words, my Dev. And we have been here before, have we not? You and Gwin, insulted by a word or a look?”

We had. Again I nodded. This had been a sore point for Gwin and I before, and each time we’d let our tempers overrule our compassion we ended up exactly where I’d landed today. For some reason I rarely remembered my father’s words in such times.

Somehow, though, this felt different. Today felt different. I cast Garrick a puzzled glance, wondering if perhaps it was indeed just that simple, that my taunting today had only been due to that tense episode yesterday. Again, it seemed like more than just that.

Aye,” he said, “we have been here many times, and yet, this time the slight was harder to forgive. It stayed with you. And though you sought out those men today to make peace, somehow you could not.”

That’s what I don’t . . . Garrick, I don’t understand. Why didn’t I make peace? Seeing Roland and James today reminded me of the looks those louts in their party gave Gwin and me yesterday. But Roland and James didn’t look at us that way.”

Garrick watched me silently as he always did, letting me try to reason it out on my own, but ready to step in if I needed his help. I thought back again, recalling the discomfort Roland and James appeared to be suffering due to the behavior of their countrymen, especially Jessup. That hot sense of shame shot through me again. I’d been unforgiving yesterday and bullying today. Small wonder Roland and James thought little of me.

Those two men were good men,” I muttered bitterly, “clearly better men than me, so I don’t underst --”

We can continue this talk with you face down over my lap again, little cub, if you persist in this manner.”

I glanced at him and saw that look I dared not challenge.

Is that what we need to do, Devon?”

I shook my head, acutely aware of my hot backside and the resolute look in Garrick’s eye. He missed nothing, my Ranger. “No, sir.”

Are Roland and James better men than you, sweetling?”

No, sir.”

No. What do you know about inviting more spanking, little boy?”

I grimaced, knowing the response he was seeking. “Your arm will always outlast my bottom.” He watched me expectantly. “So yield the day and sit the next day.”

Garrick flashed me his quiet smile, his knowing smile. I lowered my eyes and grinned as well. I could read him, too, and what I saw in my Ranger’s eyes said, “You knew I would not let you say what you did, my cub. Test me and you shall receive what you have sought.”

No more such talk then,” he said. His voice turned suddenly soft once more: “Tell me what troubles you, Dev.”

Why?” I squirmed, growing frustrated with my bewilderment. “You asked me what happened, and I still cannot answer you. Why did I provoke them today? Why would that slight from yesterday seem bigger this time than it has at other times?”

It is not the slight that is bigger, Dev. It is the times themselves. These times make all things seem bigger.”

I gazed up at him, feeling my mouth fall open a bit.

Aye, sweetling. You are no different than when this has happened before. Gwin is no different. And while you have not met these particular men before, you have met others like them, with their leers and their comments, so the men are no different.

It is the times that are different, sweetling. And they are indeed bigger. Much bigger. Harder to control. More frightening. That is all there is to it, but that is a great thing indeed. So you responded, as you felt driven to respond. You cannot control the approaching storm. You can only watch it sweeping our way full of thunder and lightning and fierce winds.

But you can beat down a gale. And it seems you must do so. You feel driven to fight what you can, whenever you can. You are not alone, beloved. Tempers are shorter throughout all the camps, and within the city itself, no doubt.

That does not excuse your action, my wild cub, but perhaps it helps to know that others are suffering a similar grumpiness. Your compassion won out in the end, when you looked at Rubian’s face and realized what you had done. I watched you, sweetling. Your eyes reflected your remorse. Your ‘sorries’ were spoken so loudly through your gaze you need not have uttered a word.

But you owned up to your wrong and you asked forgiveness, and I was very proud of you, my Dev. You are not powerless against that storm, sweetling. Not when your humanity shines forth so brightly. So now you can continue to battle that storm by forgiving yourself as readily as Rubian forgave you. And you know how to do that, do you not, little boy?”

Garrick watched me for a moment, then he quickly pulled me up, gathering me close again, knowing what he’d seen in my eyes and that I would burst into tears better when wrapped within the safety of his arms, my face pressed against that sweet, muscled space where his shoulder joined his neck. Again my Ranger rocked his large body back and forth, and I felt his murmured words rumble through his body as well as I heard them:

What do you say when you have been naughty, sweetling?”

Sorrry! Sorrrrrry, Garrrick! So sorrry!”

Ah,” he said, and he pulled me back and kissed me. “Now, that is a sorry of understanding, the voice of the heart. It is a sorry for you, my Dev. For you hurt yourself in these past few encounters with these men. So forgive yourself, sweetling, as I forgave you endangering yourself and as those warriors forgave you.”

He paused, and I hugged him again, pressing my face back against his warm skin. I heard him chuckle softly. “I believe Rubian was ready to come to blows with me, did he not have some assurance that you would go unharmed.”

I couldn’t help grinning, then chuckling with him. Garrick drew me back far enough to kiss me deeply and then look into my eyes and smile a lazy smile that made my face flush.

You bring out the protective warrior in many, little cub,” he said wiping the tears from my cheeks. “But you are my little cub, Devon. Mine. So say it. Say it now.”

I smiled instantly, loving it when Garrick became stirringly possessive like this. Well aware that I was flashing him the ‘little boy smile’ that he loved, I murmured, “I am yours, Garrick, as you are mine, for as long as you desire it.”

He watched me with his exquisite stillness; then he kissed me again in that long, languid manner that ignites me within, and murmured, “You are going nowhere, beautiful boy and neither am I.”

It is wise to never argue some points with my Ranger.

End of Ere The Final March Chapter VII – part II

Ere The Final March, Chapter VII – Epilogue to be continued . . .