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Ere The Final March VII chapter III
A Singular Comfort
part II of II
part I ending:
“Aragorn!” I swatted down hard and watched him arch and yell.
“G-Gandalf . . . he-he gave it to me!”
“Gave what to you?”
In a quick, hushed voice, he said, “The Palantir.”
I froze, hand raised again. A wave of horror shot through me. “What?”
“H-He said it belonged to the one true K-King, and that I should do with it what I w-would, look or not, but to k-keep it safe, and h-hidden.”
I had sometimes questioned Gandalf’s wisdom. Giving Aragorn the Palantir was probably the diplomatically correct thing to do, but knowing my lad as I did, I could not help feeling some resentment towards the wizard. I imagined Legolas would be furious as well.
“It w-was sc-scary, Hal’brad.”
I stared down at him. “Do you mean to tell me you looked into that thing?”
“Aye.” He hesitated, then added in a small voice, “Twice.”
“Twice!” Struggling to remain calm, I lowered my hand to Aragorn’s blazing bottom, resting it there, feeling the intense heat, trying to quiet my panic before asking my next question and wondering if I should even ask it, “Aragorn, what did you see?”
My pup held quite still for a moment, then he burst into renewed weeping, fighting to speak through his tears:
“I saw h-him! Sauron! H-His great red eye! And-And I s-saw . . . I-I saw --”
Aragorn trembled violently now, gulping for air. I feared he might be sick. I turned him over and gathered him up, holding his quivering body tightly against me. He grasped at me with a desperation that made my eyes sting.
“Shhh, shhh,” I murmured. “I am here. You are safe, little boy. Shhhhhh. Breathe, Aragorn. Quiet down.”
I kept on in that manner, murmuring to him, rocking, waiting until he could breathe normally. I could not imagine what else he had seen that had terrified him so. Aragorn was made of raw courage. He had suffered many a severe spanking because that courage had led him into wildly fearless and foolish deeds. What horrors could have reduced him to this?
Clearly this was the darkness Aragorn wanted to protect me from, to protect Legolas from, that and the fact that he had dared look into that loathsome device at all, something I would address with him when this crisis was over. Regardless of that darkness, he was going to tell me of it, and then I planned to purge it from his system. It would torment my pup no longer.
When Aragorn had calmed I sat him on my lap, smoothing the tangled hair from his face. His breeches were still bunched at his ankles but his billowy red shirt protected his modesty, and he sat quietly, looking like a lost twelve-year-old, shudders shaking him now and again. His gaze remained lowered. I would allow that. This was going to be hard enough on him without having to look at me as well.
“Now,” I said. “Go on, sweetling. Tell me what you saw that frightened you.”
Aragorn’s face tightened, but he bravely sucked a deep breath and said, “I saw Arwen, dead. Dead. So very dead! And I dropped the Palantir, and I wanted to r-run, but I heard him, laughing, an ugly laugh. He dared me to pick up the Palantir again, look again, see what I was about to be the cause of by leading my pitiful army against the power of Mordor. He said, ‘Come! Behold what thou shalt reap, Elessar!’ And . . . And I picked it up again, and . . . .”
Aragorn looked stricken, fresh tears coursing down his cheeks. I held him tightly and said, “Shhh. You are here with me, my pup. You are safe. Just tell me. All of it. Tell me at once, little boy.”
As he had since our time in the cave, Aragorn obeyed that tone of mine he knew so well: “I saw everyone d-dead. I stood in a field of dead warriors, there at the Black Gate, and I was the only one left alive, the only one standing there amongst all that death. I had done th-that, led them to their deaths! And you – you --”
He paused, a short burst of new tears erupting from him. Twisting and squeezing the bottom edge of his shirt over and over, he said, “You were dead, my Hal! Dead! And Gwin! Horrible deaths! And – And Legolas! And Boromir! And – And --!”
Again Aragorn shattered, sobbing, near choking on his shudders. He wrapped his arms around his waist, bending over, as though holding himself together. Part of me ached to let him stop talking, but this poison needed to be released lest it continue to fester within him. He was too frantic to continue, though, so I grabbed his wrists and pulled his arms from his middle.
Taking his hands in mine, I held them in his lap and said in a stern tone, “Aragorn, stop! Quiet down. You are a Dúnedain, sir, a Ranger of the Grey Company. You will do as you are told. Now take a breath and calm yourself, then tell me everything you saw.”
He trembled, but he took his deep breath as ordered, then he gazed off at nothing and went on in a low, dreamy voice, as though he could speak of this only if he first removed himself from it. Perhaps that was how he had managed thus far all day, by pushing aside the anguish of these cruel visions.
“My Legolas, my beloved elfling was dead, lying at my feet, and beside him my beloved fledgling, my Boromir. And the dear little ones were hacked to pieces, and Gandalf, and Gimli, and Eomer – everyone, Hal’brad! All dead! All around me, those I loved.”
Quickly losing the edge of his fragile control, Aragorn began weeping once more in his subdued, desperate manner, his hands tightening in mine. I could not recall ever seeing him this distraught. The images must have been very real indeed and very hideous to look upon.
“Is there more?” I asked.
He nodded quickly. “Aye! Then this bad, scary thing, like a man, but not a man, rode up on a great black horse and he said he was the Mouth of Sauron – and, ohhh! He was so foul! And he looked down at me, and he laughed, a nasty, ugly laugh, and he smiled a horrible, black smile, and he had a little bundle with him, and-and --” Aragorn burst into heartrending tears yet again. “And he-he dropped it at my feet and it fell open, and it was what was left of Frodo! I-I saw what they had done to him! Ahhh!”
Aragorn made a strangled noise of anguish and tried to scramble from my lap. I doubt he knew where he was going. He was just desperate to escape those hideous visions. I sensed that this was the first time he had let himself fully recall them, and perhaps the only time he had let himself truly feel them.
I could scarce blame him for his grief. They were indeed horrendous illusions fashioned just for Aragorn. Of course he would want to flee from them in terror. But he was not in his right mind. I held on to him, pinning him where he was on my lap; then I gave him a shake.
“Look at me, Aragorn,” I ordered. “Stop this at once and look at me!”
My voice was still stronger than that evil, thank the Valar. Aragorn turned and looked directly at me, his eyes red-rimmed, glassy with tears and full of wretchedness. Again, I longed to pull him into my arms, hold him and rock him and comfort him.
But comfort was not what Aragorn needed. Right now he needed these visions purged by someone bigger than they were, someone scarier than they were, someone who could make them seem small in comparison. The visions were too real to Aragorn, and he had given them too much importance. They had to be diminished and shown for what they were – nothing. So I needed to fight for Aragorn by using the same weapon as the tormentor within him.
My pup knew that he never need fear me. He knew that he never need fear losing my devotion, that there was nothing he could do to lose that. So, at the moment, I preferred that my suffering lad dread me rather than those hurtful visions. I was no vision. I was very real. And, though I was safe, I was about to become scarier than any false illusion Sauron could conjure.
“Those were frightening things you saw, and I am sorry you had to see them,” I said. “But we have something bigger to discuss than mere visions, for you have been very naughty indeed, little boy.”
Aragorn blinked, then stared at me with a faint look of surprise, clearly expecting to be comforted, clearly puzzled by my abrupt tone and my reference to the terrors that tormented him as ‘mere’ visions. “B-But Hal’brad,” he began.
“Hush.” I said. “You know what you have done, sir. What is more, you knew at the time that you should not be doing it.”
He gazed at me in utter bewilderment, astonished by my severe look and surely wondering why I was not hugging him, murmuring gentle words to him and soothing his distress. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Aragorn simply held very still, studying me with anxious fascination, hiccupping a little, but otherwise silent. I charged on:
“You have much to answer for, my wild pup. You kept secrets from Legolas and myself, something that is strictly forbidden. What is more, you went behind our backs and did a very foolish and perilous thing.”
Aragorn’s eyes flashed. “But, I-I had to show him!” he sputtered, sounding youthfully defensive. “I had to show Sauron who I was, Hal! And-and I had to make him scared of me! I had to--”
“Hold!” I fixed him with my glare that always made Gwinthorian gulp. “You did not have to do anything, sir. You chose to do it, alone and at great risk. Aye, maybe you had a noble goal in mind, misguided though it was, but you knew that what you were doing was wrong because you kept it a secret. You stole away in the night to do it, did you not?”
Blushing severely, Aragorn nodded.
“Aye. You somehow managed to sneak away from Legolas, who you knew full well would never have allowed you to do such a thing, especially not alone!” I gave him a sharp look. “Did you drug Legolas as you once did me, you willful brat?”
Aragorn flushed in anger and exclaimed an indignant, “No! Of course not!” He huffed. “Legolas was just tired! Very, very tired!”
His blush suddenly took on a different and deeper hue and he glanced off, careful not to meet my eyes. I imagine Legolas was tired indeed, as he and my pup were now sharing their bed with the Steward of Gondor.
“Do not snarl at me, my boy!” I pulled Aragorn around to face me more fully, delighting in his gasp when his sore bottom grazed my thigh. “You told neither your loyal elf nor me that Gandalf had given you that cursed thing. Correct?”
He dropped his gaze and muttered, “Aye, Halbarad.”
“Look at me, Aragorn, and speak up.”
He obeyed quickly. I delighted again, for the look in Aragorn’s eyes was more rational than it had been since we had entered this room. He looked petulant, but calm.
“Aye, Halbarad,” he said, a sulky but clear confession.
“So in keeping this a secret, you lied to us. Correct?”
Aragorn’s compliant pout instantly turned into a fierce scowl. He sat up rigidly and glared at me. “No! I did not lie to you!” he shot back. “I do not lie, sir! I was protecting you and Legolas from an evil you did not need to know about! I did not tell you what I saw because it was so terrible!”
I tipped him towards me, swatted him hard, and settled him back on my lap. Aragorn yelped and grimaced and reached behind to furiously rub his offended backside. I frowned, but I was inwardly delighted once more with his spirited defiance.
“Mind your manners, my lad.” I gazed levelly at Aragorn until he flushed, then I said, “Do you allow Legolas or Boromir or anyone the right to decide for you what you will and will not hear?”
His sulk returned. He knew he was wrong. “No, sir,” he said.
“So should you have decided what Legolas and I were allowed to hear?”
It took Aragorn but a moment to come to the only conclusion he could. Legolas and I held a place in Aragorn’s life that dethroned convention and rank, and no more needed to be said. So my boy gave the only answer he could give, the only answer he wanted to give:
“No, sir,” he said with a small shake of his head. “No. I should never decide what you and Legolas are allowed to hear. That is not my decision to make, and I was wrong to do so. I am sorry, Halbarad.”
I was tempted to haul him up and hug him senseless. I instead nodded once to acknowledge his apology and I pushed on: “So, again, in keeping this matter secret, sir, you lied to me and to Legolas. Correct?”
“And what happens to little boys who play with evil Palantirs and keep secrets and do things they know they should never do, and therefore get themselves into scary places?”
Aragorn looked both provoked by my language and horrified by my meaning. But I knew his limits better than he did. Years of taking him over my knee had taught me just how much spanking he could endure. I would not exceed those limits. But my pup was about to be escorted right to the edge of his endurance.
Of course Aragorn dreaded what he knew I was about to do. Again, this would be no gentle comfort spanking. But there was for him, and for myself as well, a singular comfort to be found in a severe spanking as well as in a gentle one. I knew Aragorn could withstand more, and at this moment another spanking was about to become far more real to him than the lies of the Palantir.
“Well?” I lifted a brow. “What happens to such little boys, Aragorn?”
“They get . . . they get spanked?” Aragorn murmured.
I nodded. “Indeed they do, sir.”
Aragorn began to squirm, instantly slipping back into that boyish place. “Oh, pleeeease, Hal’brad! Noo! Pleeease do not spank me again! My bottom hurrrrts!”
“It is about to hurt more.”
“Hush. You have earned another spanking, little boy, and you know it,” I said my tone deadly serious. “You kept a big secret from Legolas and me. You decided for us what we would not hear. You recklessly and willfully looked into that terrible thing, and then you said nothing about it. Is such naughty behavior allowed, sir?”
“Nooo, but-but-but --”
“Then there is nothing more to say. Come, Aragorn.” I began to turn him. “Let us finish attending to these matters. We are not yet done.”
“But I was scared!” he bellowed, wrenching back into a sitting position, desperately seeking an out. “Wait, please! Hal’brad, I had an awful scare, and I-I saw scary, scary things! Gruesome things! Terrible things! Does that not count? I was frightened, and now you are going to spank me more! No fair! No fair, Hal’brad! It was awful! And you do not even care!”
I vow he would have been stunned to hear how he sounded at the moment. I had listened to better arguments from a six year-old. But I reveled in it, for this was no longer a terrified, broken warrior. This was simply Aragorn at his most mutinous, his vulnerable boyish self, and it did my heart good to see it.
“I do care,” I told him firmly, settling his struggles. “Aragorn, I do care. But you were afraid of something that was not real. Visions, my cub. Empty illusions. Lies and tricks of the mind. I know they were terrible to see. Sauron made them uniquely terrible especially for you.
“But, listen to me, Aragorn, and mark me well – those images were false. They. Are. Not. Real. They are never going to be real. They were cruel illusions meant to scare you and hurt you. But they have no power to wound lest you allow them to do so. And, by the Valar, little boy, you are going to stop allowing it!”
Aragorn squirmed in my hands, but he had few physical reserves left, so he cried out again in his plaintive tone, “But I do not want to be spanked again!”
I snorted. “I dare say. Nevertheless, you most certainly are going to be spanked again. There is only one issue here and it usurps all others, little boy – you were willfully naughty. Because you were naughty you saw terrible scary things. That is unfortunate, and I am sorry you suffered such an awful scare. But, Aragorn, that evil could not have frightened you had you behaved yourself and never looked into the Palantir. Correct?”
Now beginning to cry, Aragorn could only sputter, “Pleease! H-Hal’brad! Please n-nooooo more spanking!”
“Answer me at once, my lad.”
“Aye! Correct! I w-would not have been s-scared if I-I had be-haved and never looked!”
“So do you fully understand why you are about to receive another spanking?”
“Aye! Unner-unnerstand! But I-I – p-pleeeeeease! Nooo! I’ll never, ever d-do it again! I-I am sorry, so s-sorrryyy!”
“I-I want to be held noww! Please, pleeeeease hold me! J-Just hold me, pleeeeease Hal!”
“Afterwards, sweetling,” I said, easily turning his struggling, weakened body over my knee. “First, however, as I said, we shall finish attending to these matters. We are not yet done.” Pushing up his red shirt, I blinked down at a bare bottom that was surprisingly near the same color. “And Aragorn, once again, I do not like that name.”
At my first swat Aragorn went rigid, sucked a huge breath and held it, too stunned to move or yell until several more spanks fell. Then Aragorn let go. His first howls rivaled my Gwin’s, and I believe his subsequent frantic sobs actually outdid my elfling.
I myself grimaced at that first spank. Still, I knew exactly what Aragorn could endure, although he probably would have questioned my judgment, given the way he nearly exploded off my lap after that first swat and now required a strong arm and a good deal of determination on my part to keep him in place. Thankfully this would take less time than his first spanking. It very much needed doing, though. Aragorn would do no less for one he loved. Deep inside, he trusted me to do no less for him.
This time I spoke to Aragorn as I spanked him, forcing him to engage in each moment with me. By the time I was finished with my lad he would fully understand the difference between fearing a vision and fearing a very real trip over my knee.
“Tell, me, my wild pup, what naughty things have you done to deserve this second spanking?”
“OWW! OW!OW!OWW! H-Hal’brad pleease! I-I cannot take mor-- AHHHH!”
Aragorn now lost all control and threw a hand behind him, palm up, fingers splayed. I paused. This helpless move always touched me. Did these poor little ones really think it would help? When Gwin did this, and he did it all the time, I sometimes simply had to pause and grin. Nevertheless, all charm aside, I would not tolerate it.
“You have until the count of three to remove that hand, little boy. One. Tw – thank you. You can indeed take another spanking, and you will. So settle down, sir, and talk to me, for I shall continue until we have finished our discussion.” I resumed my swats with an enthusiasm that made him wail anew. “Now, I am waiting for my answer. What did you do to deserve this second spanking?”
“I-I k-kept a big secret from you and Le-Leg’las!”
“Indeed you did. What secret, sir?”
“‘Bout the P-Palantir!”
“And was keeping that big secret a naughty thing to do?”
“Uh huh! Big-gest, biggest naughty!”
Ahh. Aragorn had fully slipped fully into that little boy place. We had further to go, but we could move quickly now. I kept spanking.
“What should you have done the moment Gandalf gave that thing to you, sweetling?”
He whimpered at the endearment, then sputtered, “S-Should’ve told you and Leg’las!”
“Aye, you should have come and told us about it, but instead, what did my brat do?”
“I-I kept it secret and I-I sneaked away . . . I w-waited ‘till Leg’las fell asleep, so tired . . . he was s-so tired, because he and Bor’mir and I, we --”
“Hold!” I stopped spanking, feeling my face grow warm. Aragorn truly was without many of his natural defenses right now, including a decent sense of decorum. I grinned softly down at him and said, “No need to tell me why Legolas was weary, my pup. Just tell me what you did.”
He hesitated. “All that I d-did? Because Leg’las and Bor’mir and I --”
“No! Not all that you did, little boy! Just what you did with the Palantir.”
“Oh. Aye, Hal’brad. I-I am sorry.”
I vow I heard something gleeful in his voice, some teasing little note from a Ranger-imp who was enjoying my discomfort! Ah, well. If Aragorn was having some naughty fun at my expense, so be it. I thought it a promising sign that he was doing well, but I intended to keep his mind on the matter at hand.
“Go on. You stole away, keeping the Palantir a secret.” I started spanking again, a bit more lightly. Aragorn hissed and arched, the imp chased away by a throbbing bottom.
“Then I-I looked into it, and I saw scary, scary things!”
“And did you tell Legolas or me about the scary, scary things so that we might help you?”
“Why not? Were you afraid of how angry we would be when you admitted the naughty thing you had done?”
“Noooo! I was protecting y-you! Too scary t-to tell you!”
“So you decided for us what we would and would not be able to hear. Is that permitted, young bratling?”
“Nooo! I-I am not allowed to decide for y-youuu!”
“No, you are not. And you kept all the scary things to yourself, correct?”
“Aye! So, so h-horrible!”
Aragorn shuddered hard, the experience with the Palantir resurfacing even amidst my severe questioning. Time for him to fully accept that experience for what it was.
Swatting a bit harder now, I gained his full attention once more. He cried out, and I said in a stern voice, “Aye. You looked into that thing, knowing you should not do so, knowing it was wrong to keep such a secret, and you were attacked by an evil that poisoned your mind and wounded your heart, all of which could have been avoided little boy, had you not been so naughty. Correct?”
Kicking and sobbing, Aragorn wailed, “Aye, s-sirrrrr!”
“Were those terrible images real, my lad?”
“Nooooo! No! Not-Not real!”
“Could you touch them or feel them touching you?”
“Does this feel real to you, little one?” I swatted down hard several times. Aragorn arched and howled.
“So should you fear the empty, unreal visions sent to you by a nasty wicked evil?” I demanded, returning to my normal swat strength. “Or should you fear what will happen to your bottom if Legolas or I ever hear of you touching that Palantir again without first talking to us about it?”
Aragorn kicked wildly, trying to wriggle away, but I pulled him back against me so firmly he gasped through his wails. He was very near his limit of endurance. “F-Fear, f-fear . . . fear thiiiiis! F-Fear wh-what will happen t-to my-my OWWWWW!”
I swatted down again and again, loudly and rapidly, but not strongly enough to truly further damage his already scorched backside.
“Are you saying that this spanking is more real than those lying visions?”
“And do you understand that, should you ever try such a thing again, you will receive another spanking just like this, if not worse?”
“AHHHHHHHHHH! Unner-stand! Aye! I un-unnerstand!”
“Then heed me Aragorn, and heed me well,” I said, my voice low and stern. “You shall now cast off those false images. Remove them from your mind and from your heart. They are illusions. They are not real. They will never, ever be real. They have no power to hurt you, and Sauron has no power to make them come true. They are tricks of the mind. Empty annoyances, and they deserve neither your time nor your attention. I shall not allow you to lend them credence one moment longer. They. Are. Nothing!
“So let those falsehoods go, for now and forever. And I shall know if they are still tormenting you. I am watching, my lad. Should I feel the slightest sense that you are thinking of those visions, you will find yourself right back over my knee, regardless of where we are or who might see you kicking and squirming or hear you wailing. And I shall spank you until those lies are truly gone from your mind.
“I am very real indeed, little boy, and you know full well how real my spankings are. And if you need a reminder, then by the Valar just hint that you are thinking of those lies and I shall help you remember! Do you understand?”
“AHH! Aye, Hal’brad!”
I spanked him for another full minute, and then I paused, letting him think. I listened to his ragged breathing and his sobbing, waiting until he had becalmed enough to talk to me. This was Aragorn’s limit. I could take him no further, and there was no need to go further. He had completely collapsed over my lap, softened, weak, surrendered and all mine.
I had needed to be bigger and scarier than the monstrous evil that had attacked Aragorn. My voice had needed to be more real to him because I was a safe fear for my pup. And that was all he had needed. Something bigger to prevail over that evil.
Finally, when his weeping began to slow, I said, “Aragorn? Have you done what I ordered you to do?”
He nodded between his low, hitching crying. “Aye, sir. G-Gone. All gone n-now. Not real. F-False visions, so-so they are g-gone.”
“Gooood, sweetling. Very good. You did well, my pup. I am proud of you.” I patted his bottom lightly, murmuring my litany of comfort: “You were very brave. All done now. All over. No more, spanking. Rest now, little one. Shhh. Rest over my lap. You are safe.”
Aragorn wept more softly now, ragged, childlike weeping, a post-spanking release. And when I began to rub lazy circles over his tense back he started making small humming sounds of pleasure in his throat, muttering under his breath, “All gone now . . . n-not real . . . all g-gone . . . bad s-scary visions . . . gone, g-gone.” He hiccupped and fussed a bit and moved his bottom, then reached back to rub at the hot skin, allowing himself that.
Smiling quietly, I watched him. I loved seeing Aragorn reduced to his boyish state. It had been a while. Legolas saw my pup like this more often than I did. I envied the elf that.
“Gone, g-gone.” Aragorn kept muttering into the bedding. “All gone now . . . bad s-scary visions, gone.”
“Shhh, I know.” I patted his hot bottom again. “You were so brave, little one. And I am proud of you.”
“You are most welcome, sweetling,” I said, petting his damp hair. He was utterly disheveled, a rumpled lad, drooping across my lap. I left him there, resting, letting him calm further. Then I said, “These visions cannot hurt you anymore. You do know that, do you not, my wild pup?”
“Aye, Hal’brad. I know that,” he replied, lifting his head. “They are n-not real. They never were real. They never will b-be. All gone. All gone now. Not real. Stupid lying visions.”
I sniffed another fond grin and rubbed his back in slow circles, “Aye, stupid indeed,” I murmured. “Well said. How wise you are, little boy.”
Turning his head towards me, he lay quietly for some time, gazing off through swollen eyes, staring at nothing. I watched him, smoothing his damp hair back from his face. I touched his bottom lip.
“No blood. Well done, my lad.”
He grinned and blushed, so guilelessly pleased by my words it made me grin, too. Ridiculous how this rugged man could look so impossibly youthful at times. He and Devon shared that ability. Suddenly he sobered though, and he looked back at me.
“I am sorry, Hal’brad,” he said. “I am so very sorry for keeping secrets from you and Leg’las. I-I know better. And I am sorry for looking into the Palantir. I should never have done that.”
“I know, sweetling. I know you are sorry. And all is forgiven, little boy. Shhhh. All over now.”
“Those stupid visions were not real.”
“A spanking is very real, though.”
I nodded and grinned. “Aye. That it is. And what else is very real? Why do I take you over my knee and spank you?”
“You spank me because you care about me, and because . . . .”
He glanced back at me again, turning and bracing himself up this time, his eyes glassy with a sheen of fresh tears. “Because you love me.”
“Aye, sweetling. That is very real.”
“Love is the realest thing there is, Hal’brad.”
I smiled quickly at his childish word. “It is indeed. The most realest. Again, how wise you are, little boy.”
He paused, then said, “Hal’brad?”
“I-I like it when you call me ‘little boy.’”
I raised my brows at him. “Even after I called you that a hundred times?”
“You said you hated it.”
“You are an incorrigible bratling, sir.”
“And I should wash your mouth out with Gondor’s strongest soap for the lies you have told me this day.”
He fell back down and pushed his face into the coverlet, moaning, “Noooo!” into the bedding.
I laughed softly. “Nay, my sweet little boy. You have been through enough. Come then. You wanted to be held earlier. Let me hold you now.”
I gathered up Aragorn’s limp body, hugging him and rocking him, careful to keep his hot bottom off my lap. He held on fast, reminding me so much of that young twenty-two year old I first took over my knee. Aragorn was ever ageless to me, my eternal pup, a human elf, my captain and my little boy. “Come then,” I repeated, “and rest easy in my arms for a while. We have some time before they come looking for us.”
“Before who comes looking for us?” he asked in my ear.
“Our elves of course,” I replied. “Legolas will be able to fend off my Gwin for just so long.”
I heard him grin, then: “You shall needs discipline your naughty elfling for being so impatient and giving Legolas trouble, my lord.”
I sighed with exaggerated dismay. “Aye. My poor weary hand.”
Aragorn laughed, his throat a bit rough from crying. It sounded perfect, though.
I carefully picked up Aragorn and maneuvered us to the top of the bed, then I leaned against the headboard, drawing him onto my lap, his throbbing bottom suspended between my spread legs. He leaned against my shoulder, well settled down now.
I felt I knew what his next question was about to be – the one question that Aragorn always asked and always needed to have answered in the same manner. I let him ask it.
“Aye, little boy?”
“Were you . . . were you ang--”
“Angry with you?” I smoothed the tangled locks from his cheeks and sniffed a small grin, watching him half-grin back at me. “Nay, sweetling. At no time was I angry with you, nor disappointed in you. As I told you over and over, you have made me very proud of you. In all you have done, you have made me proud. You can believe in that and trust in it. I was unhappy with what you chose to do, my pup, because it hurt you, and I cannot bear to see my little boy tormented by such a false evil. I was angry with that hurtful evil, never with you.” I kissed his brow.
He was silent for a long time, playing with the lacings on my jerkin. I left him to his thoughts. He would share them with me when he was ready. Aragorn’s thinking was often sluggish when he was in this state. It took him some time to reason things out, and even then he might need help with what he was trying to say. But he did ask for that help when he needed it, so his spanking worked immediate wonders.
I rested my cheek on the top of his head, smiling at Aragorn’s old childish habit of calling for the grown up’s attention before speaking. “Aye, little boy?”
“I thought you were going to give me a comfort spanking.”
“I thought I was, too. But when you had your quite impressive tantrum, I knew something very big was troubling you. Much too big for just a comfort spanking.”
“Oh!” he suddenly said, his head popping up. “I had forgotten --”
“Aragorn,” I said trying to pull him back into my arms. I had hoped to prepare him before he saw what he had done to the room. Too late now, though. He gasped and stiffened, looking all around.
In truth, it was quite terrible. My lad had been both furious and thorough. I still had no idea how this destruction could be explained. We would simply needs count on the discretion of the very able servants. No doubt they had seen much over the years.
“Ohhh, Hal’brad!” Aragorn breathed. “I did all that?”
“None other, my bratling. And in a matter of only minutes. It was most impressive.”
He turned to me, aghast and wide-eyed. “What shall we tell the servants?”
“Perhaps they will not notice.”
He gaped at me, then he laughed. Finally pulling back from his chuckling for the sake of guilt, he said, “But Hal --”
“Shhh. We shall say nothing, of course, little one, for there is nothing we can say. Let them consider what they will. They will likely think that if their future king can wreak such havoc upon innocent furniture, Sauron is in for a worthy fight.”
He chuckled again, then lay back against me and I gathered him close. He grew quiet. I waited, and after a few long moments, he said, “Hal’brad?”
“Aye, little boy?”
“I do not feel like a future king.”
“Go on, my pup.”
“I . . . sometimes I-I do not want to be Aragorn son of Arathorn.”
He had spoken of this before, and it pained him to speak of it. He usually only did so when he was safe in this little boy space. I was here. I would fend off any vicious orc-ish whisperings that came to torment him, telling him that he was weak and low and craven for having such dishonorable thoughts.
I hugged him and said, “I know. That is understandable, sweetling.”
“I have never had a choice.”
“I know it seems that way,” I said.
He drew back to look up at me. “Seems?”
“You could have refused your destiny. Left it behind and drifted into obscurity for the rest of your life, the mercenary Ranger, alone. You did that for many years.”
His features clouded over. “Aye, but . . . but something was . . . .”
“Missing. I know. Your valor called you back from that life, little boy. Your inner call to rise up against injustice surged forth. You had to be who you were born to be. Aye, you had no choice but, in fact, you did. You chose to listen to your destiny.”
He gazed at me, nodding, a mixture of excitement and melancholy in his eyes; then he leaned back against me again.
I grinned. “Aye, little boy?”
“I fear making mistakes.”
“Mmmm. As do all great leaders, Aragorn. They question themselves. They have doubts and fears. There is great wisdom in that. It is what you do in the end despite those doubts and fears that matters. Leaders follow their hearts, their instincts. Your instincts, Aragorn, are most profound. They set you apart from all others.”
“But, Hal’brad, I-I make mistakes all the time! And people suffer because of it!”
That surprised me. But Aragorn often looked at matters with a skewed and brutally self-critical eye. Curious to see where he would take this, I said, “Who has suffered, sweetling, and how?”
“I-I sent Boromir and Gwin to Osgiliath, and it was a bad, bad decision, Hal’brad! I know that now. And many I love were hurt because of it. My fault.”
Stunned to silence, I listened as Aragorn went on to explain how his decision had brought pain and woe to both sons of Denethor, both halflings and my Gwin. “I make lots of mistakes like that. And it scares me, Hal’brad,” he finally said. “What if I make a bad decision about --”
“Hush, little boy,” I said. “Enough.” I pressed another kiss atop his head. My poor lad! Aragorn’s version of the events that took place a few days ago was so distorted that I fought a chuckle. Of course, that would not do. He was clearly upset, his confidence shaken.
Little wonder. He had been making countless monumental decisions for weeks now. It took enormous confidence to do that repeatedly. Aragorn’s certainty may indeed be wavering, but it was still there, still strong. It merely needed some enlivening. Aragorn was starving for some of the encouragement he so freely gave to others.
He was ready to listen, ready to once again hear the truths he knew so well, yearning for the same reassurance that a comfort spanking provided, his silent plea now deafening: ‘Please tell me I am doing well, that I have made good choices and done the right thing.’ Simple reassurance carried enormous power. As others had sought it from him, Aragorn now needed it from me. This odd little matter of Osgiliath was the best place to start.
“Aragorn, listen to me. You have not done badly by those you love. Quite often what seems to be a mistake is simply Fate taking a hand, and someone such as you following their instincts to bring the best outcome for all.”
“Best outcome? But, but --” Aragorn pulled back to frown at me as though I had not heard him correctly. “Hal’brad everyone suffered because of me!”
“Did they, sweetling?” I smiled at his confused pout and brushed the locks from his eyes. “‘Suffered,’ you say. I see. Very well. Let us look at it another way: Because of your decision, Merry and Faramir had the fun of planning several escapes and actually trying one out, getting as far as the courtyard before they were caught. Faramir therefore received some much needed attention from his future king – much needed because this lad is one who shall likely never get enough attention and shall always seek more, like my Gwin.
“Merry also received some attention. The little one’s naughty plan ended with a sore bottom for him as well, along with the pleasure of seeing his beloved Pippin, another co-conspirator, delivered to his bed and ordered to serve time there as penance.
“Pippin, meanwhile, had the opportunity to release the sorrows and frustrations that had been plaguing him. He turned his fury upon Legolas, who loved the little one, and who would suffer no ill effects from battling a wild bratling hobbit ‘tween. In fact, I vow that Legolas had a fine time and was most entertained. Pippin also received some attention, too much in his opinion, but he had the pleasure of watching Legolas kick in the door to the king’s bathing chamber and he had the fun of making a glorious mess with shattered bottles. For his part in Merry’s naughty plan Pippin also ended up with a scorched bottom and the delightful penance of being forced to go to bed and stay there, his Merry’s bed, as it so happened.”
Aragorn had started smiling halfway through my telling and now he was outright laughing, remembering that, indeed, this was a fair rendering of events. His pretty smile warmed my heart. Pulling him close again and grinning, I pressed on:
“This escape plot would have been neither planned nor attempted had you not separated the two brothers in the first place. But Faramir needed to be free of his overly attentive big brother in order to get some rest, and you needed information about Osgiliath. So because of your decision, mischief took place, a naughty Ranger was spanked, two naughty hobbits were spanked and ended up sharing the same bed, and all were brilliantly entertained by a master storyteller who provided them with a wonderful tale to becalm the healing.”
My pup’s soft laughter vibrated through me. It was too delightful. I hugged him and rocked him, then went on at a slightly slower pace now.
“You also mentioned Gwinthorian’s suffering. But, trust me, little boy, it is good for Gwin and I to separate occasionally. I sometimes send him on maneuvers with our scouts. They spend several nights out reconnoitering the wild. He pouts upon returning and seeks revenge for my cruelty and is rewarded with much attention from me for days afterwards, just as it happened this time.”
I paused to stroke Aragorn’s tangled locks, then I said, “As you know, sweetling, Gwin suffers deep fears during times such as these, as does your Legolas, so, aye, it was hard for Gwin to be alone, but it was good for him, too, because that forced separation gave him purpose and cause. He felt he now had grounds to misbehave, and he set about doing just that.”
“Gwin never needs grounds to misbehave,” Aragorn said.
I chuckled. “Aye, but having those grounds makes Gwin feel justified and eager to earn the kind of spankings that will help ease the true hurt in his anxious heart. So, because of your decision, Gwinthorian decided that he had good reason to be naughty, and he was naughty, and he was thoroughly seen to.”
I kissed my lad’s head yet again, going on:
“As for the sons of Denethor, Faramir did have time to rest, so he was finally healed enough to withstand the special attention he longed for from his big brother. Faramir made certain that he had quite a spanking coming. He clearly hoped that Boromir would catch wind of all his disobedience and rush home to deal with him.
“Like Gwin, Faramir was eager for cause. He would have had no reason to act out had Boromir been here every day making certain he ate well and giving him plenty of attention. So because of your decision, Faramir also felt that he had a perfectly good reason for misbehaving. Like Gwin, he set about to do just that.
“And Faramir’s tale should have ended there, but there was a bigger problem. This is where your decision made the greatest difference, my wise lad. Faramir was carrying a dark secret within. He was suffering a burden of guilt for the way he had mistreated Frodo and Sam. Boromir knew nothing of this. But you learned of Faramir’s torment when he let it slip after you had spanked him for his escape attempt.
“Aye, Faramir had earned a spanking from Boromir, but the lad needed more than that. He needed to be spanked for what he had done to the little ones, and he needed absolution from that one beloved source – his big brother. You brought that about by telling Boromir of his little brother’s anguish, that he might help heal him.
“Aragorn, because you sent Boromir and Gwin away Faramir, tried to escape. You had cause to discipline him and afterwards you accidentally discovered the lad’s secret pain. Faramir might still be carrying his guilt within had it not been for the actions you took; he might still be suffering it. So you did not cause Faramir pain, little boy, you eased it.”
Aragorn had gone very still. I had been rocking him this entire time, and he had simply listened.
“You see, my clever lad,” I continued, “what you call ‘suffering’ I call a very satisfying few days for all concerned. Your instincts served you well, Aragorn, as they ever have. You may not be aware of them on the surface, but they guide your inner self, and that leads you to make wise decisions. You have ever followed your instincts, followed your heart, and it has not failed you.”
He pulled back from me now, plainly fascinated, his eyes glistening. Amazing that Aragorn needed another to tell him this, but I stood ever willing to do so. This unassuming humility was simply part of what made Aragorn the man he was.
He sat quietly, fully focused on my words, unflinching, even though his blistered bottom was now settled more solidly on my thigh. But I had more to say and a vague sense that we had little time left, so I went on, taking full advantage of his attention.
“Sweetling, your instincts no doubt served you a hundred times over on the Quest. I shall discuss one incident that Legolas shared with me. He said that he had urged you many times to use the store of athelas you had packed from Rivendell in order to make more salve, but that you refused every time, even though it was sometimes hard to find the plant on the march and the salve was all used up, much to the dismay of sore-bottomed halflings and fledglings.”
He smiled distractedly. “And men. And elves.”
“Aye,” I grinned. “E’en when you had to go without the comfort of your salve you stubbornly refused to use your stores. But, because you refused, you had that goodly store of Rivendell athelas ready to give to Haldir to keep Boromir alive until they reached Lorien.”
Aragorn blinked, his eyes growing wider.
“Aye, little boy. You could not have foreseen that terrible event, nor could you have known why you needed to keep your store of athelas intact, but because you followed your instincts you were prepared, and your stores helped save your fledgling’s life.”
Urged on by his mesmerized look, I said, “Your instincts guided you to lead your loyal but terrified Rangers into the mountain, to confront the traitorous murderers hiding there. Then you commanded the Dead and they felt compelled to follow you. They believed you to be a man of honor, trusting that you would bring an end to their suffering. You knew to commandeer the Corsair ships and sail us to Gondor. And your courage in seeking out the army of the Dead led us to victory on Pelennor.”
Aragorn leaned close again and I gathered him to me. He was not trembling. He felt steady and alert, and I sensed that he was ready to hear what needed saying.
“Aragorn, you were indeed naughty with the Palantir. I am not condoning your actions by what I am about to say. But it bears heeding, little boy, that Sauron truly fears you. If you were no threat to him he would have cared not that you revealed yourself to him. Instead he went to a great deal of trouble to pull images from your mind and concoct visions that would affect you. Oh, he fears you, my lad. And with good reason.
“Remember this, sweetling, the size of your army means less than the strength of your conviction. In the end, you can do no less than what is right. It is conviction that makes a man a leader, that extraordinary ability to encourage others to face what they must with a gallant heart and the knowledge that, somehow, all will be well. That is what makes a man a leader others are willing to follow into the impossible.”
Aragorn slowly drew back once more, this time turning a discerning look upon me. And in that instant, he had become my captain, once again the grown-up Aragorn. I felt a painful tug at my heart. I could not help mourning that loss of my little boy. Aye, he would return to me sometimes, but I longed to snatch him back, hold him close and protect him a bit longer. Though I loved the man, I did covet the rare and limited time such as I had just enjoyed when my pup was entirely mine and in need of me. Legolas felt the same way when this happened. He had once struggled to share his thoughts on it with me, but he found it too difficult to put into words. I understood entirely.
Aragorn smiled softly and said, “Nay, sir. I have not yet tried to scramble from your lap. I do need you, my beloved lieutenant, as I ever need you, here, with me, and willing to take me in hand. So please, Hal’brad, do not give me leave to go just yet, for I know you have more to tell me, and I need to hear your words. They soothe my heart.”
I rarely felt that Dúnedain insight turned on me with such intensity. It jarred me, but I had to award him a wry smile. Cheeky brat.
“Aye, little boy,” I said. “I have a few words left to share. When we reach our destination, some in this army of noble warriors will falter. In their panic they will lose themselves momentarily. They will forget that, should they turn and run, there is nowhere they can escape to where life will be livable. They will forget that the enemy need not touch them for torment to be their fate, for, should they flee, they will torment themselves until the end of their days
“At that moment, Aragorn, son of Arathorn will speak to them. Through the words you choose and your unshakeable belief in the men you speak to, you will hearten them and help them stand their ground, even in the face of death. You have that certitude deep inside you, Aragorn. I watched you share it with your terrified Rangers when they faced the Paths of The Dead. I watched you convince your loyal warriors that the way in which a man faces death marks the man. And I was proud of you, my lad.
“You still carry that certainty within you, Aragorn. You shall share it with these men who love you. Your voice will travel over the entire army, every warrior finding his courage through your words. These men follow you out of hope. You are life to them and life to those they love. You are indeed your elvish name.
“And you need never worry about those times when you do not feel like a king. I should worry more did you not have a touch of humility. For you are, indeed, all you were meant to be, Aragorn. Fate is far wiser than we are. It has put you here, in this place, in this time, and it has surrounded you with those who are eager to help you. You shall never be a king doomed to live in isolation, my lad. Those of us who love you will not allow it, and make no mistake, little one, we are watching.”
Aragorn smiled quietly and dropped his gaze in that shy manner of his. He sat silently for a moment, then he straightened and winced and muttered, “You spanked me too much, sir. I shall have to lead the Army of the West on foot tomorrow.”
I grinned. “Nay, I know you, my proud little boy. You will be sitting straight and stern in your saddle, eyes forward, head held high and your bottom throbbing.”
Eyes forward, head held high and bottom throbbing, indeed. My wretched, hard-handed lieutenant had sealed my fate beautifully, blast his inflexible Ranger hide.
I stood to one side of the great dining hall, casting my gaze around the assembled crowd. All had answered the invitation from the Steward of Gondor: Come, join us for a last dinner together ere the final march.
It stirred the heart seeing them all assembled, all the Captains and their Lieutenants, all the Commanders and Kings and Princes and Lords of great renown, all joining here at Minas Tirith, ready to march out tomorrow, ready to face the monstrous threat to all Middle Earth.
Legolas came up beside me. I turned to him. Ah. My beautiful elf.
“Standing are we?” he asked, shifting his gaze to the hall.
I bit back my laugh, but only for a moment. Letting it tumble forth I shot him a false glare and muttered, “Bratling elf.”
Legolas grinned his irresistible grin. “I am not the only bratling elf in this hall tonight,” he said.
“Aye.” I followed his gaze to where Gwin and Hal were sitting along the high table next to Garrick and Devon. “So I noticed. Something is indeed amiss there.” I cast Legolas a raised brow.
“I know you are not suggesting that I listen in, sir,” he declared, full of false indignation.
“What good would that do?” I said. “No one is talking.”
“They were earlier.”
Legolas had that glint in his eye, the one he gets when his elvish kinsman is in trouble. How he and Gwinthorian can bear each other’s teasing company mystified me at times. But then, perhaps not. I thought of my brothers.
“And?” I asked him.
“Something about a quarrel with some warriors in the Lossarnach encampment next to them.” Legolas leaned closer. “Apparently Devon and Gwin were overly combative with some lecherous Lossarnachian warriors yesterday. The warriors apologized ere the matter came to blows, but Gwin and Dev were unforgiving and spoiling for a fight. So the warriors, fearing Gwin’s prowess, backed down, ending yesterday’s events. This morning, however, Devon returned for more.”
I nodded. Of course. It was classic Devon. He would not sit comfortably in his saddle tomorrow unless he sat on an uncomfortably sore bottom.
“But I gather Gwin and Devon said nothing to Halbarad or Garrick about this encounter?”
“They did not,” Legolas replied. “Which is why Halbarad looks eager to take Gwinthorian off to their chamber for the night, and why Gwin is firing fierce glares at Dev, and why Devon is carefully avoiding Gwin’s eyes, and why Garrick looks contented and amused by them all.”
“I thought you might enjoy it. Garrick told Halbarad that all has now been resolved with the Lossarnachians. Their lieutenant and several of the others involved are expected at the Ranger encampment this eve for some fellowship and goodwill. Of course, ‘tis evident that Dev has been well spa --”
“Aye. ‘Tis evident.” And I hoped my eyes did not look that red. Hal had put many cold compresses on them, but then Garrick would have done so for Dev as well. Devon was fairer than I was, though.
“Were you as fair as Devon you would look that ghastly, too,” Legolas pointed out, reading my thoughts.
I fired him a scowl and sighed. “Stop enjoying this so much.”
“I plan to really enjoy seeing you mount your horse tomorrow.”
My scowl deepened.
“You did very well taking your seat tonight, though. And not a flinch during the entire dinner. Well done.”
“But I am concerned about something.”
He looked far too mischievous to be concerned about much of anything, but I took his dangled bait. “What?”
“Well, tonight, when Boromir sees your quite colorful bottom . . . Aragorn?”
A hot jolt had shot through me. I gasped, feeling my face burn, and I lowered my head, lest anyone notice their captain looking so completely unnerved.
Legolas took my arm and turned me, walking us a few steps off. “Aragorn, calm down,” he said. “Surely you had thought of this.”
I raised my head and stared at him, my mouth dry. “I-I-I . . . .”
Legolas could no longer contain himself. A quick laugh burst from him, bending him forward at the waist a bit before he controlled it. He turned to me with a glance of sympathetic mirth. “It is indeed a unique dilemma, one we have not faced before, my well-spanked Ranger-child.”
I glared at him, half my mind racing with this unique problem, half my mind considering ways in which to trounce the elfling who stood beside me, trying to subdue his giggles and failing miserably.
“Perhaps the time has come to reveal your secret to him,” Legolas gently suggested, finally calming himself. “Your adoring fledgling will think no less of you if he finds out that you are sometimes spanked.”
My face flushed hotly all over again. “Legolas, how on Middle Earth can I tell him such a thing? Admit that I-I --”
“’Tis just a bit of humbling.”
I shook my head fast and firmly. “No. Absolutely not. I cannot tell him. I would also be admitting to lying to him all this time, you know.”
“Mmmm. True. But I think my little brother will understand your reasons for doing so.”
“No.” Again I shook my head. “No. Boromir needs me to remain who I am to him.”
“Estel,” Legolas put a hand on my shoulder. “You will remain who you are to that devoted young man regardless of anything you tell him about yourself. You know that.”
“Aye, but . . . .” Legolas was making sense. I could not explain my reluctance, even to myself. Nevertheless . . . . “I feel strongly about this. No, Legolas. No. Not now. Perhaps someday . . . but not now, meleth nin.”
smiled softly. “Be iest lîn.”
I nodded at his elvish, “According to your wish” and thanked my beloved: “Hannon le.”
Legolas tilted his head to one side and said with charming directness, “This will be quite a challenge, though, keeping that part of your anatomy, well . . . after all, Boromir is insatiable.”
“He is insatiable?”
“Hmmm.” He grinned. “Oh, very well. You are also insatiable.”
I laughed. “Ah, but you are in a mood tonight, elfling mine.” At his puzzled glance I said, “You are cheeky and proud to be so.”
His grinned softened. “I am only saying that you might end up having to confess something later, meleth nin. Best you are prepared for it.”
I grimaced, trying not to think about how I was going to keep my backside away from my Steward all night. But I had to think about it, and quickly, because Legolas was right. Boromir was charmingly insatiable, splendidly insatiable, and he was drawn to certain kinds of play. His large hands cupped ‘round a bottom perfectly, something he clearly loved doing and something he did wonderfully well. He also loved to smooth his caressing palms over a bottom and squeeeeeze . . . this was going to be impossible.
“Aragorn, how will you manage it?” Legolas suddenly demanded, incredulous. “If Boromir but touches your hot skin . . . and you know how he has a preference for . . . I mean, he loves to squeeze --”
“I know!” I burst in. “Legolas, please! I know!”
Legolas sniffed another small chuckle, then he shook his head. “My poor hot-bottomed Ranger-child.”
“Stop it at once, you bratling elf.” I shot him a fierce glare that failed to move him in the least, so I said, “There is yet time to make certain that I am not the only one with a hot bottom in our bed tonight.”
“Do not be silly, Aragorn. My little brother has done nothing to deserve a spanking.”
Fighting a laugh, I looked away.
“Have you thought up a reason for why we shall needs use Boromir’s bedchamber tonight instead of your own? The king’s chamber was indeed a most impressive sight. Even Gwin was amazed when we came to find you.”
I sighed and winced, not at my beloved Legolas, who was merely having fun with me, but at the situation. “Ah. Thank you for reminding me. You are so helpful this eve, sir.”
“My pleasure. Perhaps Boromir would enjoying seeing the damage you wrough --”
“Shall I stop tormenting you, meleth nin?”
Legolas turned back to the hall, his playful grin fading quickly. I watched him from the corner of my eye. He had something else on his mind. I waited.
“I think that Boromir has been overly quiet off and on tonight,” he finally said. “Have you noticed?”
I had. I nodded. “Indeed. But he has much to consider.”
“Aye. As do all here.”
Legolas fidgeted endearingly. Ever since Amon Hen my elfling tended to overprotect his cherished little brother. I could not fault him for it, though. I did so as well.
I glanced around the room for my fledgling, failing to spot him.
“I do not see him either,” Legolas said, instantly understanding my searching gaze.
We both jumped. Boromir came up behind us chuckling, and said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Legolas and I smiled. “Not at all,” I said. “I thought you were talking with Eomer.”
“Aye. Then his sister joined us, and the wee ones left Faramir and ran off to talk to Gimli and Gandalf, so my little brother joined us, and then, well --”
Boromir raised his brows and turned his attention to the hall with a nod. We followed his stare to where Faramir was sitting alone with Eowyn. One glance revealed much. The young couple sat close together, gazing at each other, clearly aware of little else around them. Faramir was speaking softly to Eowyn, who seemed fascinated by her companion’s fair speech. Ah, poor noble lady. She wielded a sword with expert skill, but she would quite willingly become lost in Faramir’s lyrical words.
I grinned. How perfect. How very perfect! They even looked perfectly matched. Perfect!
“I think,” Boromir said fondly, “that my little brother will not be the least bit lonely in our absence.”
“And I think you are right, my fledgling.”
“And I think my baby brother’s days as a single man are numbered,” Legolas said.
“And I think you are right, sir” Boromir said with a genuine smile. “If so, I am content.”
“She is worthy of him,” I said.
“Aye, little brother. A most worthy lady.”
“‘Tis simply good to see Faramir smile in that way.” Boromir watched Faramir and Eowyn wistfully, then said, “He looks as happy as I feel, as happy as I’ve felt since . . . .” He paused and glanced at Legolas and me, blushing instantly and returning our knowing grins.
“It is a happiness we share with you, sweetling,” I said quietly, making Boromir’s blush deepen.
“Aye,” Legolas added. “A perfect happiness, pen muin.”
Boromir smiled softly. “‘Pen muin?’”
“It means ‘dear one,’” I told him, enjoying his sudden shyness. “You are beloved of an elf now, my fledgling. You will needs learn more Sindarin. As you have seen, our pen muin tends to slip into his own tongue when he becomes overly excited.”
Legolas now blushed wildly, making Boromir and I break into soft laughter. Not that my elfling minded in the least.
Clearing his throat, Legolas nodded to Eowyn and Faramir and said, “I hope the lady understands about Faramir’s frequent need for discipline. He will continue to seek our attentions.”
“No doubt,” I said, winking at Boromir to allow our flustered elf his out. “And the lady shall understand. The people of Rohan are sensible. This practice is accepted amongst them.” I glanced at my two loving companions. “Our big brotherly duties to that young man have just begun, my friends.”
“Of course, Faramir should be straightforward with her from the start about his disciplinary big brothers,” Legolas said, carefully avoiding my eyes. “Otherwise he will have difficulty explaining his occasional reddened backside.”
I began laying plans for my elfling’s slow and painful demise.
Boromir nodded, his gaze returning to Faramir, then my fledgling suddenly turned to me, saying, “Perhaps you could give Faramir some advice on the matter, my lord. How did you plan to explain your hot backside to me tonight?”
Legolas and I froze. We stared at Boromir, shocked to silence. But Boromir simply glanced around the hall again, then looked back at us as though he had said nothing of any great import.
To my amazement, Legolas stopped championing the truth and made a curious attempt at naiveté: “What are you talking about, little brother?”
I gave my elf a dumfounded frown. Of course, Boromir was no fool. He took the question well, his indulgent grin showing that he knew his big brother had not really meant to insult his intelligence.
“Legolas,” Boromir said in an overly-patient tone he rarely used with my elfling, “‘Tis unlikely that any others in this Hall noticed the remaining tinge of redness around Aragorn’s eyes, nor would any suspect that he has been crying this day, rather hard from the look of him. And none will likely notice that he is walking with a slight, yet singular gait. But I recognize that gait all too well, big brother, and I know Aragorn, and I am not blind.”
Lowering his gaze, Boromir’s demeanor suddenly shifted. Strangely bashful again, he said: “I-I understand why you needed to keep your secret, Aragorn. I do. I felt a similar need. I wondered whether or not I should reveal my same secret to Faramir. I feared what he might think of me. I feared that it might diminish me in his eyes. I even felt it was unfair to tell him. I thought he needed to look up to me. After all, I am his big brother, and . . . well, we all need our heroes, sir.”
Boromir lifted his gaze to Faramir again, narrowing his eyes in memory. “So it was a hard decision to make. I struggled with it. It would be a humbling thing to admit. But I longed for some way to ease Faramir’s suffering over what he had done to Frodo.
“I had my own story of Frodo to tell, my own guilt to share. It was similar to Faramir’s, so he would know how deeply I understood his anguish. I could reassure him that he deserved forgiveness and that he could indeed be purged of his pain. But my story involved admitting just how my own guilt was purged. So I hesitated.
“But I knew – I somehow sensed – that my brother would think no less of me if I told him of how the two of you disciplined me. I remembered how I felt when Legolas told me that you spanked him, Aragorn. It had surprised me, but that was all.
“In the end I realized that there was something much more important than my own embarrassment to consider. I could not stand by and watch my little brother suffer when I could ease his pain. So I told Faramir my story, and I was glad I did, for my brother was more than understanding. It did ease his suffering, and he accepted me with a full heart.”
Boromir swallowed hard, clearly beginning to struggle with his words. My throat tightened at the sight. I longed to take him in my arms, ease his discomfort and tell him how well he was doing, a feeling Legolas clearly shared as we both stepped closer to Boromir.
Moving as with one mind, the three of us slipped further back into the shadows behind one of the huge pillars lining the hall. Seeming more at ease in the softer half-light, Boromir continued in his quiet tone, his gaze still lowered with touching shyness.
“What I finally came to understand was that, in keeping my secret, I was underestimating Faramir’s love. It mattered not what I told him about myself – from the intimate love I bore both a Ranger and an elf, to what I had done to Frodo, to the fact that both of you spanked me. Nothing could lessen me in Faramir’s eyes. I need not have feared losing his regard, for what my brother felt for me transcended all else. It was an unshakable love.”
Boromir raised his head then, quiet tranquility in his gaze and a whisper of a smile in his bright eyes. Again my throat tightened, this time with a responding happiness. He gazed at me, then he turned to Legolas. “You once said that Aragorn was still Thorongil to me, my beloved big brother – that he would always be Thorongil to me. You were right.”
His glistening eyes returning to me, my fledgling softly said, “I understand your need to keep your secret, Th’rongil. But, my lord, you are to me now as you have ever been. Nothing can diminish who you are in my eyes. Nothing. Not even the fact that your lieutenant most likely spanked you within an inch of your life today.”
Legolas and I sucked the same quick gasp, making Boromir grin sheepishly and mutter, “I’m sorry. That came out strangely. But, I am right, am I not? That is what happened?”
I nodded, feeling suddenly ashamed. “Aye, you are right. But Boromir, I --”
“Please, Aragorn, please just let me finish what I need to say.”
“Of course,” I quickly replied, knowing how he often struggled when trying to express his most important feelings. Boromir deserved his say. In keeping my secret, I had been protecting him, giving him that hero, but I was beginning to think that honesty might have served Boromir better. Perhaps not . . . the matter yet confused me. Nevertheless, my fledgling deserved his say.
“Go on, Boromir,” I urged. “You are doing an excellent job.”
“Aye, please, do go on, little brother,” Legolas added.
Boromir nodded. “Well, Faramir took a long nap this afternoon, and I slept some as well, for I got precious little sleep last night, what with the endless attentions of my two insatiable bedmates.”
Again Legolas and I gasped. We shot each other stunned glances; then we broke into chuckles. “Boromir!” I exclaimed. “You cheeky --”
“I vow you are now trying to shock us, young bratling of Gondor!” Legolas interrupted.
“My thoughts exactly,” I added.
Boromir laughed. “I’m sorry,” he said, clearly not the least bit sorry. “You’re right. I wanted to shock you. I couldn’t resist saying that. But, please, let me go on.”
Legolas scowled. “Should we allow this insolent child to continue, Estel, or should we haul him off for a private session with a bar of soap?”
I ‘hmmed,’ then said, “Let us give him some leeway for now.”
Still grinning, Boromir said, “I’ll behave.”
“See that you do, sir,” I said with feigned gruffness.
My fledgling dropped his gaze and grew quiet again, concentrating, then he continued, his voice suddenly soft. “I had time to think while Faramir slept, and I thought back on the meeting this morning, and the glances exchanged between you two and Halbarad, and I began to wonder. Then, later, a servant came to me with a problem, so I left Faramir, who was drowsing again, and followed the man to your chamber, Aragorn. Of course, you know what we found.”
I sighed and nodded.
“It was quite a sight! The servant said that you and ‘that very large Lieutenant Ranger’ had been headed there earlier, and you had ordered that none disturb you. The servant was now worried that a fight had taken place, and he was concerned for your state. I assured him that all was well, and he accepted my word. I began to suspect what had happened, but I couldn’t quite believe it yet. Surely you would have told me that Halbarad sometimes disciplined you. Surely I would have noticed something.”
I felt a warm rush of shame, but I remained silent, allowing him to go on uninterrupted.
Noting my discomfort, Boromir said, “But then I reconsidered. After all, why would you tell me such a thing? I hadn’t wanted to share my secret with Faramir. So, if I was right, and Halbarad did discipline you, I understood why you would choose to keep such a secret from me. I did not blame you for what you felt you had needed to do, Aragorn.
“It was strange, though, realizing all this. I was thunderstruck. But I was not angry or hurt or disillusioned. I was, in fact . . . gratified. You were trying to protect me, trying to give me that hero, and that was good of you.” Boromir paused and gave me wry smile, full of comprehension. “It was very good of you.”
“When I first saw you late this afternoon, well, I knew. I just knew.” He turned a look of pure astonishment upon me. “Halbarad took you into your chambers today and spanked you.”
I sighed deeply. “Aye, fledgling mine. I know you do understand, and I am glad of that, but I am also sorry that I never shared this with you.”
“No need,” Boromir said with a quick shake of his head. “There is truly no need, Aragorn. It’s just that . . . well --” He paused and gazed at me, clearly staggered. “It’s just that, I have felt Halbarad’s hand on my backside but briefly, so I wonder that you are walking at all, much less that you were able to sit with the grace you did. Aragorn, you and Gwinthorian are made of stronger stuff than I am.”
His final absurd remark did it. Boromir truly was not upset. He did understand. He was simply amazed by my fortitude. Legolas and I burst into laughter, Boromir joining us. Relief rippled through me, as I vow it did Legolas and my fledgling, and we embraced there in the shadows, the three of us, alone and filled with contentment and warm, rich affection.
“Wise little brother!” Legolas finally declared. “Aragorn, you need no longer fret about hiding the evidence this night!”
Now I blushed furiously.
“What?” Boromir exclaimed. He gaped at me. “How did you think to – that would have been impossible! Aragorn, I would have been most unhappy if you had not let me fondle your perfect --”
“Enough!” I exclaimed, my face in utter flames now. It was a night for blushing all ‘round. My two companions laughed, thoroughly enjoying my squirming.
“You are wise indeed, my fledgling,” I finally said, shifting the focus from my backside. “And I do owe you an apology. I did not mean to underestimate your love.”
“I know,” he said, quieting now. “No more than I had meant to underestimate Faramir’s.”
“You have done quite a lot of thinking this day, little brother,” Legolas said.
“Aye.” Glancing between the two of us now, Boromir said, “And I was not only thinking on the events of today. I thought back on many other days, many times in the past when the two of you were off alone, and although I had thought you were doing one thing, I now began to think that you were, in truth, doing another.”
I felt my eyes widen again – oh! I had not thought of that! But, how obvious! And, of course, my clever fledgling would have worked that out as well. Legolas and I shared a glance of astonishment.
Boromir chuckled softy. “But it makes perfect sense! Why would it not? Legolas knew you when you were a child, Aragorn. Aye, over the years the two of you became something else together, with Aragorn now seeing to your discipline, Legolas, and good thing.” He paused to grin at his big brother’s slight huff of indignation. “But it also makes sense that, while some things shifted, some things remained the same. Why would it not be reasonable that Legolas serve as your disciplinarian now as he ever had, Aragorn? Again, it simply made perfect sense.
“I surprised myself, in all honesty, for the notion did not shock me or repel me. It did not confuse me. It . . . it soothed me. It was, it is, a comforting thought, a wonderful thought!”
Boromir smiled at us, a bright ready smile. “All this time, Aragorn, you have been enjoying the solace of attention when it was deserved. Legolas has ever been with you, there to help you with a strong hand and watchful eye. And that, well, don’t you see? It made my heart glad.”
I swallowed hard, that tight swell of emotion returning to my throat and a tingling warmth shimmering through me. My vision began to blur. But my fledgling quickly came into my arms and hugged me, then backed away, his eyes glistening as well.
“‘Tis all right, my lord,” he said. “You are yet that same hero you have ever been to me. You are my Thorongil, my Captain, my King. And nothing will diminish who you are to me, Aragorn. Nothing. Certainly not a sore bottom, nor the truth of how you came by it.”
I glanced at Legolas. His eyes positively glittered. “I vow, he has some Dúnedain in him, Estel.”
“It would not surprise me,” I said with a gentle smile at my fledgling.
I longed to make that moment linger, but other moments awaited us this night, and I heard sounds from the hall that alerted me to our guests. Glancing at my two beloved warriors, I said, “We must rejoin the others. I feel they are ready to go forth for the night. We needs be amongst them to bid them farewell.”
“Aye,” Boromir said. “But, please, hold but one more moment?” He paused, waiting for our full attention and quickly receiving it. “Earlier, on our way to dinner, Faramir insisted I spend this night as I did last night, in your loving company. He was, in fact, happy to make such an urgent request of me. So I ordered wine brought to my chamber and a fire lit, and . . . well . . . all stands ready.”
My fledgling’s smoldering gaze surged over Legolas and me, sending a jolt racing through my body and landing in places that made me quiver. I released an explosion of breath and exchanged a glance with Legolas who looked wide-eyed and flushed with eager anticipation.
“Insatiable,” Legolas murmured.
I nodded. “Aye, that he is, thank the Valar.”
Ere the Final March