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.
A Tale to Becalm the Healing
Chapter Iby Larrkin Larrkin2@yahoo.com
It all began when a certain young Captain of Gondor and a certain young hobbit decided they had endured enough confinement, and would take their leave of the Houses of Healing. After their first attempt to decamp, the Warden in charge reported the matter to me and I, in turn, reported it to Aragorn. He had smiled and said that escape attempts were to be expected.
“Merry and Faramir are restless, Halbarad,” he said. “Three days past Pelennor and already they are restless. That is a good sign.”
“Indeed,” I responded. “However, as you had ordered bed rest for several more days, this breech needs addressing. I have not known young Faramir long, but I have known Pippin long enough to know to expect mischief. I feel certain another escape shall be attempted.”
“Tell the Warden to set a watch outside their chamber.”
The second attempt took place the next day. Stopped by the watch, a cantankerous Faramir had been attempting to pull rank on the guard when I happened to round the corner and witness what the two failed fugitives clearly wished I had not. Aragorn was less amused than he had been the day before.
“I shall talk to them,” he said.
“Aye. Talk.” Aragorn studied my skeptical look. “They have been healing but a few days. What more would you have me do?”
I watched him for a moment, then said, “Aye, they are indeed still healing, but they are also feeling stronger, so they are more bold. Young Faramir remained steadfast in front of that guard who was, by the way, a head taller than him. He ordered the man in no uncertain terms to stand down. And as for Merry, he looked like a sulky princeling who expected to be allowed to do as he wished, regardless of who had ordered what.”
Aragorn raised a brow. “Is that so?”
“In my opinion, these two could withstand more than a talk.”
He thought for a moment. “Nevertheless, talk I shall. All I ask of them is a few more days of full bedrest, and then they can begin to move around for short periods. Surely they can grant me that.”
We exchanged glances, mine dubious and Aragorn’s optimistic.
“I shall explain it to them again,” he said.
“Aye, my lord.”
“Perhaps they simply need to understand the importance of a few more days abed.”
“Aye, my lord.”
And so today, when I once more appeared outside Aragorn’s counsel room, he scowled, immediately dismissed the company of division commanders he had been meeting with and joined me in the corridor.
“Please tell me they did not --”
“I am sorry to inform you that --”
“What happened to the guard?”
“I have no idea, but I am sure there is some explanation.”
“How far did they get?”
“All the way to the main courtyard.”
“Where you and Legolas and Gimli were waiting?”
“To go even that far in their state!” Aragorn worked his jaw. “Are they back in their chamber now?”
“Aye, we escorted them back. I left Legolas and Gimli in charge of them.”
Aragorn pivoted and we began striding once again towards the Houses of Healing.
“I hope you ordered their guardians to sit upon them,” he muttered.
“For all I know they are. Merry and Faramir were protesting loudly when I left.”
“This will not do, Halbarad.”
“No, my lord.”
He glanced over at me. “You were right, sir.”
“Aye, my lord.”
“Are you grinning?”
“No, my lord.”
“Aye, my lord.”
We moved quickly through the corridors and across the pavilions and gardens to the Houses of Healing. Faramir and Merry were housed in the private chamber reserved for the use of the nobility, a private and quiet suite that was nicely secluded, an isolation for which I felt they were about to be grateful.
Aragorn flung open the chamber door, bursting into the now-silent room. I followed less dramatically. Merry and Faramir were sitting on their beds, looking both startled and irritated, an interesting combination. Legolas perched at the window, half-sitting, his arms crossed over his chest and one leg crooked up on the low sill. Gimli sat on a stool, pipe in his mouth, puffing away, his broad face stern and his eyes watchful. Tension hung thick in the air. I closed the chamber door and turned to observe the proceedings.
“Well?” Aragorn said.
A flood of babbled grievances poured forth from both patients until Aragorn held up his hand and cried, “Enough!”
Merry glared. Faramir glared. Aragorn studied them wordlessly and with far too much poise. Faramir was the only one in the room who did not know my captain well enough to fathom the underlying peril of a seemingly composed Aragorn. Merry, however, blinked with sudden understanding, his eyes going wide. Ah, too late, young hobbit. But, of course, he knew that.
“Legolas,” Aragorn said, still gazing at the two miscreants. “Did these two prove difficult to handle?”
“Nay, not too difficult,” the elf replied. “But they have had much to say.”
“I can imagine.”
Gimli cleared his throat. “Aragorn, I fear our wee Master Brandybuck has picked up some unsavory speech habits from these Rohirrim troops. Such colorful language ill suits our sweet laddie. And Lord Faramir is no better, although one can forgive him a certain saltiness of tongue given his time long afield where civility oft suffers.”
Faramir bristled. “Now just a momen --”
“Hush.” Aragorn ordered.
Faramir hushed and glowered at Gimli. He seemed to enjoy it. I vow I glimpsed a grin ‘neath that mass of beard.
Aragorn crossed his arms and paced a few steps, his gaze lowered. He knew what he must do and he was not hesitating to do it. He was merely letting Merry and Faramir await his judgment.
Merry fidgeted. He wiggled his dangling feet, struggling to appear composed. But whilst halflings could managed to weave the occasional slight falsehood, they were too honest a little people to deceive others very well, and they were endearingly unable to fool those they were close to, especially when under pressure. Merry was clearly anxious about something other than having just been caught.
Worse still, he knew very well what Aragorn planned to do. Knowing was of no comfort, however, for Merry had clearly been over my captain’s knee many times in the past. I felt a bit of compassion for the imp. Unlike his co-conspirator who was enjoying his last moments of blissful ignorance, Merry had good reason to feel anxious. So he wiggled his dangling feet.
Faramir, however, appeared defiantly noble, sitting straight and proud, his chin high, and his manner regal. He looked much better after several days of absorbing the athelas vapors, a warm glow now flushing the cheeks that had been deathly pale before. His clear bright eyes glittering, he studied Aragorn with the gaze of a presumptuous young warrior with nothing to fear. I had seen a similar look on the man who was about to deal with the inappropriate behavior of this certain presumptuous young warrior.
“After our talk yesterday I thought we had reached an understanding.” Aragorn stopped pacing and faced them. “Gentlemen, were my instructions misleading?”
“No, my lord, but --”
“No, but Aragorn --”
“Was there some part of ‘you are to remain in bed for two more days’ that you did not understand?”
“No, you were very clear --”
“Of course we understood you, it’s just that --”
“Then, if you understood me, this was a case of open insubordination. You chose to ignore my orders. Is that not so?”
“Well . . . well, yes and no,” Merry said.
Aragorn focused on the hobbit. “Yes and no, Master Brandybuck?”
Faramir stared at Merry, his face blank, clearly trying to hide his befuddlement whilst Merry, seemingly startled by what was coming from his own mouth, pushed on:
“We . . . we were coming to find you, to tell you that we felt well enough to be up and about.”
He fired Faramir a pleading glance, all but begging support of his sadly transparent defense. Faramir looked torn, and at that moment a commotion was heard outside the door that drew every eye. I stepped back just in time to avoid getting knocked aside by the door as it slammed open. A small whirlwind raced into out midst, yammering at full speed:
“Merry! I got rid of the guard! What are you still doing here? I thought you were going to meet me --”
Pippin froze and halted in mid sentence. His black cloak caught up to him, swirling around his now-rigid body. He stood and stared, open-mouthed, at everyone in the room. We all stared back, a stunned silence filling the air.
I cleared my throat. “As I said, there was a good explanation.” Aragorn frowned my way and nodded.
Gimli withdrew his pipe, saying, “Well now. Why am I not surprised by this?”
Pippin looked like his legs might give out. He gasped several times, then cast a woebegone look at Merry and said, “When you never showed up at the stable I came up to the main courtyard, and when that was empty I came up here, and . . . oh, Merry!”
“It’s alright, Pip. Come here.” Merry held out his hands to his cousin.
Pippin scooted over and hopped up on the bed beside Merry, who put an arm around his shoulders and said, “They caught us in the courtyard. Legolas and Gimli and Halbarad were waiting down there. I guess they figured we might try another escape.”
“You guess?” Aragorn growled. “Obviously Halbarad was right. I thought you would obey my orders, but he felt you needed closer supervision. And I am thankful Legolas and Gimli heeded his warnings better than I did, and joined him to keep watch.”
Aragorn rarely lost his temper or resorted to shouting, nor did he now. He did not need to be loud. Aragorn smoldered. Memorably. And those facing his ire recalled well the power of his quiet upset. Still pacing off and on, his arms still crossed over his chest, he addressed the three chagrined parties on the beds.
“I understand your desire to end your confinement, but such is not your decision to make,” he said. “The Warden is attending to his duties with diligence and concern. He does not deserve to suffer these antics from disobedient patients. And there are others who care about you and worry about your health.” He glanced around, saying, “Is that not right, Legolas?”
“Aye, my lord.”
Aragorn shot a stern look at Faramir. “And how do you suppose your big brother would answer, young one?”
At the mention of Boromir Faramir’s back stiffened and he stared at Aragorn, stricken.
“You owe others your best efforts to get well. Neither one of you has the strength to have reached the stables. I am surprised to learn that you made it as far as the courtyard. You had to be drained of strength upon returning.”
Legolas said, “Aragorn, if I may offer a word?”
“Faramir maintained a brave front of endurance, but it was clearly a struggle for him. Halbarad helped him up the last flight of stairs and then to his bed. Merry, of course, I carried after the first flight of stairs.”
Aragorn turned a fresh scowl toward the culprits who squirmed and frowned at the helpful elf.
“Nay, do not glare at Legolas,” Aragorn said in a scolding tone. “He cares enough about you to report the truth. I am trying to be patient, gentlemen, but your behavior is beyond reckless and I am at a loss to understand it.”
“. . . your behavior is beyond reckless and I am at a loss to understand it.” Having said those exact words to Aragorn in his youth, I allowed myself an inner grin.
There was little else that needed to be said. The guilty parties knew quite well what they had done wrong, and they had no defense for their actions, so all that remained was a proper disciplinary response. Pippin’s part in it needed explained more fully, though, as there was no telling what this little one had done in order to assist the patients.
Pippin was utterly artless. When Aragorn asked him to explain the absence of the guard, Pippin cheerfully reported his part in the conspiracy with enthusiasm and pride:
“Well, y’see, I reckoned
that if I told the guard you would like to see him, Aragorn, well, he
would listen to that,” Pip boasted.
“Pippin,” Merry murmured, growing anxious.
“I didn't really lie, Aragorn. Not really. Not technically. I'm sure you would have wanted to see him at some time during the day, and that's all I said – that you would like to see him.”
“Pip.” Merry fidgeted.
“I said, ‘Excuse me Caspian’ - that's his name, Caspian, nice chap – ‘excuse me, Caspian, but Lord Aragorn would like to see you.’”
Merry groaned. “Oh, Pip.”
“I told him you were down in the West Tower conference rooms, and then I made an excuse half-way there, saying I’d forgotten to do something, but I’d be along directly, and I sent him on his way.” He suddenly turned to Merry and hurriedly added, “I should’ve taken him out by way of the courtyard, then I’d have seen the trap waiting for you. Of course, then I’d have been the one caught, and, of course, they’d still know what we’d tried to do.”
“Pip, no more, please.”
“Caspian was quite obedient when I mentioned Aragorn’s name though, Merry. And he hadn’t bothered me earlier when I’d brought your clothes in. He’d just asked what was in the sack, and I’d told him some books to keep you occupied.”
“And how was that not a lie, Master Took?” Aragorn said in an exasperated tone. “That, plus what you said about me wanting to see him?”
Pippin seemed startled for a moment, then he tightened his features into a look of bewilderment, as though he could not quite fathom how it was Aragorn failed understand his meaning.
I would have puzzled over Pip having any life-preserving instincts, but it was all too clear that he was simply and innocently accustomed to blurting out whatever was on his mind. He displayed a natural boldness and lack of self-restraint that was oddly charming. Little wonder he both endeared himself to others, and made his more cautious cousin squirm, as he was now. I imagined that Pip’s candor had made him confess faults without reserve in the past, much to Merry’s dismay.
“Well,” he now explained slowly to a frowning Aragorn, “as I said before, what I told Caspian wasn’t really a lie because you would want to see him sometime --”
“Peregrin!” Merry could bear it no more. He pulled Pippin close, clapped his hand over his young cousin’s prattling mouth and said directly into his astonished face, “No more, Pip! You’ve already cooked yourself good n’ proper. Now get off the spit!”
Pippin stared at him with wide eyes, cast a glance around, made a fair assessment of the playing field at last, and looked slightly ill. He nodded and Merry released him.
Pippin tossed a sheepish glance at Aragorn who stood glowering. “Uhh . . . uhh . . . I suppose it was something of a lie after all.”
“Something of a lie?”
“A white lie.”
“A . . . lie.”
“Nay, sir. Several lies.”
How the others kept straight faces was a mystery to me, but they were more accustomed to halfling antics than I was. I found biting my inside cheek until the pain distracted me to be a useful trick. Gimli and Legolas looked strangely unperturbed, as though they had witnessed this kind of thing too often to be surprised by it.
But Aragorn’s ill humor was just. What these three had done represented a serious breech in discipline. Aragorn could not let it go, nor was he the least bit inclined to do so. Merry knew that, and he wore the look of a penitent hobbit. Pippin knew it too, though he was obviously choosing to avoid thinking on it. But Faramir, ah, he still had no idea what was about to happen, and indeed, why would he?
According to Aragorn, Boromir had always taken care of Faramir, acting more like a loving father than a brother, sheltering him from the harshness of Denethor, teaching him, guiding him and even attending to his discipline. His protective instincts for his sibling ran deep. Upon witnessing Boromir’s needless, but understandable, fretting over Faramir, even though the young man was healing well, Aragorn had dispatched his Steward to Osgiliath for a few days to fully assess the situation there. He was due back the next morning, though, and news of this mischief would likely set him off most royally.
Faramir was, no doubt, eager to see Boromir again, yet he also had to be feeling a sick wash of remorse for what he had done, dreading how his older brother was going to react. Given Boromir’s role in his life, Faramir plainly felt it was his brother’s comeuppance he had to fear, so he watched these proceedings from behind a wall of protection and with the contrived safety of a condemned man who faced the noose anon, but not at present. After all, what had all this to do with him?
Again I was reminded of a certain young Ranger, a newly appointed Captain of the Dúnedain, leader of our seasoned group of warriors. Young Faramir was much like a young Aragorn in search of vital guidelines. Clearly the time had come to introduce Faramir to his future king’s boundaries.
“Enough of this talk,” Aragorn now said. The tension in the room shot up a notch, a feeling that slithered up the spine. Aragorn turned again to Legolas.
“I need your assistance, mellon nin. I can handle two disobedient rascals, but not three.”
Legolas eased down from the window ledge and moved forward. “How may I be of service?”
“Would you be so kind as to escort Master Took to his chamber and administer some clearly much needed discipline to his very deserving backside?”
“With pleasure, my lord.”
“Unless you would like the honors, master dwarf,” Aragorn said to Gimli.
Gimli snorted. “If so ordered I shall perform the deed with efficiency,” he replied. “But, the elf is better at heating a hobbit’s wee bottom, so --”
“Now just a moment!”
Faramir’s bellow echoed throughout the chamber. He had shot to his feet and now he stood casting a horrified gaze around the room.
“What in blazes are all of you babbling about, if I may ask?”
But Faramir had not asked, at least not civilly. He had demanded, and in a most discourteous tone. It was, to say the least, undiplomatic. I glanced around. Gimli had risen to his feet and removed his pipe whilst Legolas had lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. I realized that I had instinctively shifted to a prepared posture. Of course, none of us expected Faramir to take action, but a warrior feels a threat shoot throughout his system regardless of actual danger. As for the halflings, they merely looked astonished. Aragorn responded calmly, but in kind, delivering a shock to the young man in answer to his shocking behavior.
“I am referring to a spanking, youngling. You and Merry are about to receive one from me, whilst Legolas shall escort Pippin hence and --”
“Oh no, sir!” Faramir roared. “Not me! You most certainly will not do that to me!”
I closed my eyes, thrust for a moment back in time to when I heard nearly those exact words snarled at me. I caught the scent of camp smoke and of the falling dew at night and the damp, rich earth. I heard the call of a night owl and felt the whisper of a wild and lonely wind from the Ettenmoors. And when I opened my eyes, having only had them shut for a few seconds, the man who had many years ago uttered those similar words to me stood gazing at me, sharing that memory, his eyes soft with recognition. Aragorn was clearly remembering what I was, and in that memory, he found compassion for the panicking young man.
“Faramir,” he said in a gentle tone, turning to face him. “I again invite you to consider what your brother would say to your outburst.”
Once more, regret washing over Faramir’s features. But Faramir dreaded what Aragorn was suggesting more than he dreaded Boromir’s displeasure. He swallowed hard and said, “Please . . . my lord, please, allow Boromir to see to my discipline.”
“But he has always --” Casting a bashful glance around the room, Faramir bit back his next words, his face flushing to a deep shade of red.
“Faramir,” Aragorn said, his eyes full of soft and kindly lights. “Were he here, Boromir would be the first to agree with me. You disobeyed my direct order. This duty is, therefore, mine. We both know that I shall have no trouble with your brother when he returns tomorrow, although I cannot say the same for you.”
“Tell me,” Aragorn went on in a tone of curiosity, “what did you think would have happened today had you been successful?”
Faramir shifted his weight from foot to foot, his face flushed, his arms stiff at his sides, ending in tight fists.
“Let us say you and Merry did indeed escape your chamber and had the stamina to reach the stables. What then? Did you think to mount a horse together? Did you think your strength up to that, much less leaving the city? Were you planning to ride out and around, do what you pleased and then come back sometime later tonight? Were you perhaps thinking of crossing Pelennor to seek out Boromir in Osgiliath? To show him how much better you were doing?”
Faramir winced and shifted and had nothing to say. Aragorn went on.
“Did you think no one would miss you at the noon meal? Or that the guards at the city gate would not report your passing? How did you think to explain your actions when they were called to my attention? You had to know that I would quickly learn of it and instigate a search. What had you planned to say?”
Faramir still had no reply. I winced inwardly. It is oft difficult watching the young face what they loathe facing. And again, he seemed to be the only one in the room who did not understand what was happening below the surface. Faramir had the air of a boy to him, his fragile, troubled manner adding to his unusual beauty, his unawareness making him seem vulnerable. I felt for him. This lad, reknowned for his brilliant way with words, suddenly found himself with none to aid him. He looked lost, his sad gaze traveling aimlessly, seeking refuge.
Aragorn sighed. He turned to Merry. “Master Brandybuck, what do you have to say to my questions?”
Merry dropped his gaze to his lap where he began to pick at the hem of his shirt. Pippin put an arm around his cousin’s shoulder and leaned his head against Merry’s.
“It’s alright,” he murmured. “Aragorn already knows. He’s just making sure you do as well.”
“I know, Pip,” Merry whispered back. He lifted his gaze to Aragorn and said, “Of course we knew we’d be caught,” he ventured. “But we didn’t think about it much. We just wanted out. We wanted our way. And we wanted . . . .”
“Go on,” Aragorn said in a hushed voice.
“We wanted some attention, I guess. We’ve been bored to tears in here, and there’s so much going on out there now. We wanted to be part of it. We don’t want to be left behind in anything. But you wouldn’t listen when we said we felt better.”
“Is that true, Merry?” Aragorn asked.
Merry grimaced, then muttered, “No. No, sir, it isn’t true. You listened. You just didn’t agree. You said you knew better. And . . . and I guess that, well, you did know better. We just didn’t like it. So . . . so we decided to do what we wanted to, and show you that you were wrong, and that we would be fine out of bed, that we were ready.”
“And did you think I would accept your action and praise you for taking such initiative, for disobeying me in order to show me how wrong I was?”
“Well . . . maybe you would have.”
“Now that I think about it . . . well . . . probably not.”
“Most assuredly not.”
Merry squirmed again. “I guess you’re right . . . so I-I, well . . . I guess we were looking for attention. And we wanted our own way. And we thought maybe we could force you to accept what we wanted.”
“Mmm.” Aragorn nodded. “So you have said.”
“But Pip was just being his loyal self, helping us.”
“Of course. So does he not deserve to be disciplined as well?”
Merry thought for moment, then grimaced again. “Aye. He does.”
“Merry!” Pip exclaimed.
Merry turned his head up and looked directly at his startled cousin. “You do. You know you do.”
“Aye, but you dunno need to go agreeing so ruddy fast! And-And --” Pippin cast Legolas a wary glance. “Oh, Merry! An elvish spanking!”
“You know how I hate it when Legolas spanks me!”
“You hate it when anyone spanks you. I’m sorry, little one.”
“That’s it?” The youngest hobbit scowled at his cousin. “Well. I like that!”
“Nay, sweetling, you shall not like it at all,” Legolas said, strolling towards Pippin. “But come, for I have my orders.” He stopped and held out a hand. “Are you coming willingly, or would you prefer to ride slung over my shoulder?”
“All the way to my chamber? No, thank you very much.” He kissed Merry’s cheek, then he scrambled down from the bed, straightened his clothes and looked up at Legolas. “I’m ready.”
“Ah,” Legolas smiled down at him. “Brave young hobbit.”
“Brave?” Pip snorted. “I am trembling, and well you know it. And I intend to yell. Loud and long.”
“I expect no less.” Legolas lifted a brow, adding, “In fact, I intend to make certain you do.”
“Oh!” Pippin huffed.
Legolas grinned, and he seemed unable to resist doing what he did next. He scooped the little one up and sat him upon his hip, his hands forming a cupped seat for Pip’s wee bottom. Pippin relaxed into place as though he had fully expected this for they had done the same thing hundreds of times. I felt quite certain they had.
“Aye, you do indeed tremble,” Legolas said. “As usual. But you are also very brave, sir, for you are facing what you must.” Legolas turned his gaze to Faramir, who had stood silent and watchful during of all this, and said, “You know that you have erred, little one, and you admitted to it, and you have accepted your consequences.”
“What choice do I have?” Pippin sulked. “I dunno like it, but, what else can I do? If I was spared, do you think I could I sit by and watch Merry suffer a sore backside, knowing that I’m just as guilty for my part in what we did?”
“Nay, of course you could not.”
“And d’you think I could endure the guilt of knowing what I’d done?”
“Not at all, sweetling.”
“And isn’t it fair that I be given the chance to atone for my wrongdoing, too, just like Merry and Faramir?”
“Aye, ‘tis indeed most fair.”
“Unanswered guilt is a terrible burden. A terrible burden.”
“Aye, wise Master Took.”
“Need I remind you of a terrible past incident involving flung swords and misunderstandings and unattended guilt?”
“Nay, sir! I remember all too well.”
“As do I!” Gimli blustered. “So can we quit this tiresome business and move on? Aragorn, if my service is no longer needed I shall take my leave and find something more pleasing to do, something involving a nice cold draft of ale.”
“You are dismissed, my friend,” Aragorn said. “Thank you for your fine service this morning.”
Gimli nodded and winked at the elf, saying, “Give him one for me.”
“Oh!” Pippin squeaked indignantly.
“We shall take our leave as well, my lord,” Legolas said, gliding to the door with his doomed passenger.
“Legolas, on second thought, take him to my chambers instead of his own,” Aragorn said. “None shall hear him from there. Should you begin spanking him in his quarters his bellows will likely sail over the balconies and throughout the city. I wouldst rather these brave citizens suffer no further upset.”
“Oh!” Pippin squeaked again.
“And one more thing,” Aragorn said.
“I know,” Legolas flashed him a look of gentle seriousness. “The lying. It shall be cleansed away, Aragorn, fear not.”
Pippin sucked a sharp gasp. “Nooooo! Not a soaping too!” He began to wriggle. “Oh, no!”
“Did you lie to Caspian, sir?” Legolas asked, not the least affected by the little one’s struggles.
Pippin went still, his eyes wide and pitiful. “Aye, but,but,but . . . .” He paused, then: “Aye.”
“Mmmm. Very well then.” Legolas gave Aragorn a nod and headed out.
“Wait! Aragorn!” Pip cried. Legolas paused at the door and turned so that Pip need not twist around. “Aragorn, I-I’m sorry.”
Aragorn flashed Pip his soft smile. “I know, sweetling. ‘Tis all right.”
Pippin’s parting smile was soft and sweet and full of the promise of redemption.
It seemed oddly quiet in the chamber when Legolas left and closed the door. I had been leaning with one shoulder against the wall, my arms crossed over my chest, a silent spectator. Legolas had sent a clear message to Faramir through Pippin’s words, although I wondered if Pippin knew all along what Legolas was about and was a willing partner in the lesson. The little one often acted as though he knew less than he did, but I sensed in him an instinctive wisdom, hidden perhaps even to Pippin himself, but present for the benefit of those around him.
Faramir now studied the floor, his head held high, his shoulders back, but his gaze lowered. Aragorn had told me much of him, of Denethor and his treatment of his youngest son, more, really, than I would have desired to know. This young one had born brutal hardship and suffered long.
But Boromir had saved his brother with his love and his attention. The savage rent torn in Faramir’s heart when he had thought his brother dead had begun to heal. And now he was testing his boundaries with Aragorn, discovering what he could expect from this man who apparently would not allow him to suffer the guilt of disobedience, nor endure the anguish of dismissal nor to get away with defiance and misbehavior.
“Aragorn?” Merry said in a small voice. “I lied, too. We weren’t coming to find you and tell you that we felt well.”
“I know. Thank you for telling me, little one. We shall attend to it. One naughtiness at a time, though.”
Aragorn strolled over and sat down beside the squirmy halfling. Merry leaned over and hugged him about the waist. “I’m sorry, too.”
Grinning quietly, Aragorn stroked Merry’s honey-colored curls and murmured, “I know that as well, sweetling.” He looked up at the quietly hovering young man. “Sit down, Faramir.”
Faramir sank onto his bed, his eyes still lowered, and muttered, “I also wish to apologize, my lord. We behaved badly. I-I . . . .”
“Shhhh,” Aragorn said. “ I know. But enough sorries for now. I would see this over and done so that you may both rest. I know you are beginning to feel better, and I know you wish to do what you will, but you must accept my judgment regarding your health. Trust that I do know more than you do in this matter.”
“Yes, sir,” Merry said, his voice muffled against Aragorn’s side.
“Yes, my lord.”
“And be advised, I shall not be questioned or countermanded. Ever. I intend to make certain you both understand that. We shall attend to this now, and then you are to rest, and you are not permitted to leave these rooms for two more days regardless of what goes on outside these chamber walls.”
Both Merry and Faramir nodded and said nothing. But a moment later Faramir raised glassy eyes and said, “Please, my lord. Is this . . . this other measure --”
“Other measure?” Aragorn raised a brow.
Faramir blushed intensely and ground out, “Is . . . is a, a s-spanking really necessary?”
“Aye, sir. Indeed it is.”
“M-Must it take place h-here, and now, and with --” He lowered his head again. “Witnesses?”
“You and Merry are in this together, so you shall share the consequences of your actions together. It is just, Faramir. And Halbarad is my trusted lieutenant. I choose for him to stand witness, and I need him here for another reason.”
Merry lifted his head. “What re --”
“You shall find out soon enough, little one,” Aragorn said firmly. He glanced up at me and half-smiled. “Although Halbarad will most likely light his pipe and sit down in the corner for a short smoke, paying no mind to what I am doing. Is that not right, Hal?”
Hal! ‘Hal’ indeed. Impudent pup. “Most likely,” I muttered, casting Aragorn a scowl that made his grin widen. Bratling Ranger.
“This is your final word then?” Faramir now ventured, his voice low. “Is this your desire?”
“You heard what Pippin said?” Aragorn asked gently.
“Yes. And he was right. I understood his message.”
“Would you see Merry disciplined and expect to be spared yourself?”
“Of course not, my lord!”
“I know. You have a noble heart, Faramir. So I shall ask you the question you just asked me: is this my desire?”
Faramir bowed and shook his head, thick, sandy locks falling to cover his face. His words sounded choked, “I-I do not know! I think . . . I think that it is not your desire to do this, but it is your desire to attend to what needs doing.”
And suddenly I understood what this tormented youngster was really asking. I shot Aragorn a look, but he was already sending me a knowing gaze of his own. Poor lad. He simply had to know, was Aragorn doing this from mere duty alone, or was he doing it because he cared about Faramir? Ah, so wrenching, this poor young man. But he was in the very finest of hands.
“Faramir. Look at me,” Aragorn ordered, his tone gentle. When Faramir obeyed, Aragorn said, “It is my desire to care for those I love, to give attention where it is needed and where it is deserved. That is my desire. I consider you to be under my guardianship now, and for as long as I am your lord, you shall have my special care. Starting today. Just as those in the Fellowship have always had it. Just as Boromir has always given the same to you.”
Faramir watched him, a soft sheen of tears glistening in his eyes. “Aye, my lord.”
Merry lifted his head, turned to Faramir, grinned, and winked. “Oy. Poor Faramir. Aragorn spanks hard.”
I chuckled softly with the three of them, then moved over to the stool Gimli had vacated. As Aragorn had said, I would have time for a short smoke, and I liked the idea. I drew forth my pipe.
As he had told me he would, my pup began with the little one. Careful of the his injuries, Aragorn drew Merry over his lap and pulled down his britches, baring his very small backside. So diminutive, these halflings! Aragorn’s hand nearly covered both of Merry’s little round cheeks at the same time. Most efficient. Though tense, as indeed he should be, Merry settled into position with ease, clearly familiar with his place over Aragorn’s knee.
Aragorn’s style of spanking had ever been direct. He did not hold with a slow build-up, and neither did I. He started spanking Merry with rapid, even swats, setting up a goodly pace and a steady rhythm. Merry bore it well, arching and hissing at first as they all do, but I was interested to note that he was otherwise a silent recipient. Judging from earlier talk, it sounded as though his cousin leaned more towards bellowing. I believed that of Pippin. It made sense, just as it made sense that Merry was so stoic.
My guess was that the two were often disciplined together, probably for mischievous deeds undertaken as a team. So if Merry was usually spanked in front of his younger cousin, he might feel obliged to set an example of courage, choosing to restrain his cries and hopefully save his younger cousin additional upset. Pippin, however, would feel free to let fly.
Aragorn was also a silent recipient, although his silence stemmed from sheer stubbornness. Gwinthorian, though, was like Pippin. My Gwin howled long and loudly, almost, I seemed, ere I had delivered his first spank. But I loved how completely he collapsed beneath my hand, shattering with open, trusting abandon. It was just one of the countless charming things I loved about my sweet elfling.
Merry was fussing mightily now. His small legs kicked of their own accord and his rosy bottom wriggled. Clearly he was at that irrational point wherein he thought he could somehow squirm away, avoid the next spank, always an empty hope. There was nothing wrong with Aragorn’s aim and a bit of hobbity squirming was not going to save Merry’s bottom. But such attempts were always endearing to witness and they all did try. I drew in a few final puffs feeling that it would not be long now.
A moment later, Merry broke and began to cry. In truth, he shattered and began to wail, as those who hold back for too long sometimes do, He yelled and kicked, thrashing as wildly as Aragorn would permit, and he did permit some of it. The release would soothe Merry’s sudden upset. He had held out admirably, but now he had lost all control. He even flung his hand back to cover his reddening bottom, a truly desperate move.
Aragorn tipped up his leg to lift Merry’s bottom and focused his swats on the tender area ‘neath the curve of his cheeks.
“Merry,” Aragorn murmured. “Remove it.”
Merry howled and nearly exploded off Aragorn’s lap, snatching his hand back so quickly the move could scarce be seen.
“AHHHH! Aragorrrn! AHHHHHHHHHHH! Please, please, pleeeeease!” he wailed. “Nooo! Not th-therre!”
Ah, another who could not bear to have his tender undercurve warmed. That place when spanked was oft the downfall of many a courageous soul. Merry was clearly growing weary now, so his apologies became more plentiful and sincere and Aragorn was ready to listen to them.
“Aragorrrn! Pleease! N-No more! I’m sorrrry!”
“Sorry for what, little one?”
“I-I’m s-sorry w-we tr-tried to esca-esca--”
“Yeeeeeesss! I’m sor-rrryyy!”
“And for what else?”
Merry released a groaning whimper between his repeated sobs. “F-For ly-lying to y-you, and for-for-for n-not listen-listening to you!”
“Aye, sweet Merry. Shhh, very good.”
I knew Aragorn was nearly finished, so I put out my pipe and rose to tap the cinders into the fireplace. Turning back, I studied Faramir as I had been throughout Merry’s ordeal.
He had scarce moved a muscle whilst Merry was being spanked. Keeping his head lowered, he had studied his hands worrying at his nails with his thumb. Every now and then he glanced up, but then he would quickly drop his gaze again as though he could not bear to look. And his anxiety now grew as it was nearly his turn over that lap. I had been told that being second in line for a spanking was a dreadful thing indeed.
Two years ago, after injuring himself in a careless horse stunt, something my Gwin had helped cause, Aragorn had been in Faramir’s same position. I had the honor of spanking Gwin and Aragorn at the same time, but they had the ill-advised effrontery to argue over who would go first.
Unbeknownst to them, I had already decided the question of spanking order, but I allowed them to argue the matter a bit that they might expend a little anxious energy. When their quarreling became tiresome, I declared that if I could spank them both at the same time I would, but that I had made up my mind in advance and there was nothing more to be said. Afterwards Aragorn informed me that going second was most dreadful.
The little one’s sobbing was continuous now, and I realized that Aragorn had just delivered his final swat. He was shh-ing Merry, rubbing one hand on his back. I stood in the shadows, watching Faramir watch Aragorn, the young man’s shock softening to fascination as he observed, now bravely attentive, no longer looking away. It had to be reassuring to him, for I felt certain Boromir consoled Faramir in this same fashion. Aragorn was a master at comforting, his voice soothing, his manner calm, his low purring sounds mesmerizing.
“Halbarad,” he had once told me with a quiet smile. “I learned from several experts: Elrond, Legolas and you.”
Aragorn scooped Merry up in his arms and rocked him, then he turned his gaze to me and I sat down beside them.
“Shhh, Merry. Hush now. I must see to Faramir. So come, little one. Here are arms even stronger than mine to hold you and comfort you. I wouldst not leave you to weep alone when such a worthy embrace stands ready.”
It seemed Merry barely knew what was happening he was so overcome, his little bottom so sore and hot and distracting, his tears fogging his vision. But when I reached over and gathered him up from Aragorn’s embrace, Merry slid into my arms with ease. I enfolded him to me, wrapping him against my body as he quivered and wept softly. He glanced up at me once, his wide, teary-eyed gaze open and trusting, then he snuggled his head against my chest and rubbed his cheek against my tunic, still shuddering and crying softly and hiccuping.
It was a wholly new and delightful feeling, hugging this little one, feeling his feathery curls tickle my neck and his small arms cling to my torso. I kissed the top of his head and glanced at Aragorn who sat watching us with a look of quiet contentment. His eyes sparkled and he nodded once and we turned to look at Faramir.
When on our way to their chamber, Aragorn had asked me to stay with him during the spankings. “ . . . to help Merry while I spank Faramir,” he had said. “He will need comforting, Halbarad, and Legolas will be busy dealing with Pippin.”
I had nodded, pleased to be asked to assist. Of course Aragorn would chose to spank Merry first. It might have seemed cruel to make Faramir wait, and to, if not watch, then at least glimpse, and certainly hear, Merry’s ordeal. A spanking from his king apparent would be hard enough on Faramir without making him suffer in that tense second position.
But Aragorn had spanked Merry first in order to let Faramir see exactly what he could expect, what was about to happen to him and what would follow afterwards. And now, though Faramir’s eyes were wide with apprehension, his gaze also held a measure of ease.
He had learned long ago what to expect from Boromir and from his lieutenant, Damrod, a valiant man of my approximate age who had obviously served the sons of Denethor for many long years. Clearly Damrod occasionally took these brothers in hand. But now Faramir had seen Aragorn spank Merry, and now he knew what to brace himself for.
Though Merry had wailed piteously, Aragorn had not been overly harsh with him. The little one’s rounded bottom was a dark rosy pink, but it could have been a much deeper shade of crimson had Aragorn been using more strength or if the spanking lasted longer. I sensed that Merry knew he had been spared, and he no doubt knew that Aragorn would have been more severe had he not been concerned for Merry’s weakened state.
Faramir would not receive a full-scale spanking either, and for the same reason. Although Aragorn could not allow their misdeed to go unanswered, neither would he risk their health by letting them become too frantic and overwrought.
But Aragorn knew, as did I, that Faramir’s greatest fear in facing this was not the degree of pain, but the degree of possible disgrace. He now knew that he would be able to withstand it, and that was the assurance Aragorn had sought to give him, a silent message that said, ‘As you have seen, I shall make you answer for your disobedience; I shall let you atone; but I shall not endanger you, or ask you to suffer more than you can bear.’
Aragorn stood. Faramir shot to his feet, although it was clear that the lad immediately regretted his reflex. He lowered his head in surrender, but then that last small bit of self-preservation roared forth, and he haltingly said, “I do regret my actions, but p-please my lord. I ask you, as a fellow Ranger, please . . . is this necessary?”
Aragorn moved the few steps to Faramir’s side, placed his curled finger under the young man’s chin, and lifted it, turning it enough so that he was looking at Merry and me.
I had been rubbing Merry’s back and holding his curly head to my chest, just letting him weep it out softly, lightly kissing his brow several times, murmuring phrases that were so instinctive through my use of them with Aragorn and with Gwin, that they flowed from me with each outward breath: “There, there, little one . . . shhhhh . . . hold on to me, that’s it, just hold on . . . I have you safe now . . . you did so well . . . so proud of you . . . all over now . . . .” phrases and words that sounded like a lulling melody to one suffering the upset of a flaming bottom.
Faramir’s expression softened at the sight of us, his eyes suddenly glistening with unshed tears, and at that moment Merry looked over his shoulder and the two conspirators locking gazes. Faramir tilted his head slightly to one side, a tear tumbling free from each thickly lashed eye.
“Ask me your question again, my fellow Ranger,” Aragorn said.
Faramir lowered his gaze. “I beg you, sir, allow me to withdraw it.”
Removing his finger, Aragorn said, “So granted. I wouldst ne’er make you suffer by yielding to such a request, young one. I know it was made without thought, so let us forget it, and move on to what needs doing.” He wiped the tears from Faramir’s cheeks with his thumb, then said, “Are you ready?”
The lad lifted his chin and nodded once, bravely responding, “Aye, my lord.”
To be continued . . .