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 IV

by Larrkin



"How old did you say Aragorn was?" Pippin asked.

"He didn’t say, Pip. And you’re interrupting him again," Merry said with a sigh.

Faramir watched them, grinning, then he glanced at me. He lay, courageously, on his back with an arm curled behind his head. Merry was stretched out on one side, tucked around his irrepressible cousin, both halflings propped up on their elbows and watching me with eager expressions.

I had settled a chair between their beds, and now I sat, leaning back, pipe nicely lit and my legs crossed comfortably. I had arrived when their noonday lunch trays were being removed, and, as per Aragorn’s request, I’d stopped the servants in the corridor, lifted the linen on Faramir’s tray and made my assessment. Aye, Aragorn’s concerns were valid. Two-thirds of Faramir’s meal remained untouched.

"Check that Faramir is eating enough, Halbarad," Aragorn had told me earlier.

"You have reports that he is not?"

We exchanged solemn looks, then Aragorn sighed and said, "How he longs for attention."

"And he seems determined to seek it, even in so harmful a way."

Aragorn’s frown deepened. "Perhaps he has done this in the past, but he is too weak right now to behave in such a manner."

"I assume you will let his brother deal with Faramir if, indeed, the lad is not eating enough." After giving his report this morning, Boromir had been nearly uncontrollable when hearing of yesterday’s happenings.

"With pleasure, and I’m certain Boromir will be happy to oblige," Aragorn replied. "Let him warm his hand on his little brother’s behind this time. Faramir seems ever eager to provide him with cause, and his big brother is surely eager for the duty."

"Has Boromir settled down after his tantrum this morning? I had begun to fear for his brother’s backside."

Aragorn flashed me a wry grin. "I am working on it. It might take him some time. But Boromir would never touch someone he loves in anger, Halbarad."

"I did not think so. He would have needed to practice forbearance while helping to raise his maltreated and precocious little brother."

"Nay, he would not have needed to practice forbearance, but he did, and he does. Boromir disciplines from love, not from the need to punish. Which is why Faramir’s treatment of Frodo and Sam is so disturbing."

I nodded and said, "Aye, two spankings, both delivered without comfort afterwards." Again, Aragorn and I exchanged frowns.

"It was punishment. Thank the Valar Frodo and Sam had each other. And . . . ." Aragorn paused to gaze off. "Knowing those two, I think they would have come to understand Faramir’s harshness. They are such compassionate creatures, these little ones, so intuitive."

"I was not interrupting!" Peregrin now compassionately snapped over his shoulder at Merry. I grinned.

"You were, too."

"I was just asking--"

"Pip, was Halbarad in the middle of telling us a story?"

"Well, not in the middle, no. He’d just begun."

"Even so!" Merry shot back. "The man wasn’t two minutes in before you’d interrupted three times!"

"I did not!"

"The first time you butted in and said that what you’d love to hear was a story about when Aragorn was younger and got into some kind of trouble."

"Well, I am weary of heroic tales, Merry, and you must be, too. After all, we’ve been hearing them for how many yawning months now? And Aragorn is always so snoringly righteous. I merely yearned to hear something a little different, that’s all, something with Aragorn being naughty for once, and here sits the very man who can tell us such a tale."

Merry ignored him. "The second time you wondered if Aragorn had ever been spanked, and I have to tell you, Pip, I was purely mortified to hear you ask such a thing!"

"But you also were wonderfully shocked to learn that he had!" Pippin shot a gleefully wicked glance over his shoulder at his blushing cousin. "HA! Proof! A red face! You’re still intrigued and embarrassed to be so."

Merry plowed on. "And the third time you burst in with a loud, ‘Merciful Middle-Earth!’ when Halbarad revealed that it was he himself who had done the honors."

"I was there when I said it, you know. I remember."

"And then you – four! You interrupted four times!"

Pippin rolled his eyes. "Aye, because when he started up again, I begged to hear the story of when Halbarad first spanked Aragorn. I knoooowww, Merry!"

"Gentlemen," Faramir said. They glanced over at him, seemingly surprised to recall that there were others in the room. "I, for one, would like to hear Halbarad’s tale. But, were I him, I would do exactly as he is doing right now. I would sit back and enjoy my pipe and wait until two ill-mannered halflings yielded me the floor."

Merry and Pippin glanced my way. I puffed quietly and returned their gaze.

"Peregrin," Faramir went on with gentle sternness, "you are in the service of Gondor now and under the command of the Steward. Do you remember the vows of fealty I helped you learn?"

Pippin looked indignant. "Of course I do!"

"Then I invite you to recall them, and know that, as second in command to my brother the Steward, I charge you, in his name, to control your impulses to interrupt. If you cannot, I shall answer your insubordination in a corporal manner just as soon as I am given clearance to take an impulsive halfling over my knee. Or--" He flashed Pippin a pernicious grin. "I shall recommend such duty be performed by the Steward himself."

Pippin’s eyes shot wide. "Oh," he breathed, then he swallowed hard. Turning his gaze to me again, he said, "Pardon me, sir. I shall remain silent henceforth."

I pulled my pipe from my mouth and studied it, saying, "Have I your leave to continue then, Master Took?" I flashed him a frown.

"Please do, my lord," Pip replied in a small voice.

Merry pulled him closer and kissed his head, and Pippin snuggled his sore bottom back against his cousin.

"To answer your question, Peregrin, in this story I am about to tell, Aragorn was a young man, in what you would call his ’tweens’ - perhaps your age. How old are you?"

"I’m twenty-eight," Pip said.

I stared at him. "Excuse me?"

"Twenty-eight!" Pip repeated. "I’m twenty-eight!"

It took me a moment to fathom this.

"Well, I am," Pippin said in a small voice.

I cleared my throat and said, "Aye, well then, Aragorn was younger than you in this tale. He was but twenty-two."

Pippin grinned. He turned to look over his shoulder at Merry and wiggle his brows. "Only twenty-two," he practically giggled. "Younger than me."

"Hush, Pip."

Once more, I began my tale. "The first time Aragorn came to be amongst his own kinsmen, his foster brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, with whom he often rode, accompanied him North, to the home of his ancestors, with a charge from Lord Elrond – that Aragorn assume his rightful place as Lord of the Dunedain. The elven brothers left him with us and returned to Rivendell.

"We were all seasoned warriors and older than Aragorn, having been Rangers of the Wild all our lives, and into our midst came this young Lord of the Dunedain, Isildur’s Heir, a child of noble ancestry and of legend and renown, our kinsmen, a young warrior with a list of heroic and courageous deeds already to his name. Raised by the elves, foster son to Lord Elrond, Aragorn was well know amongst we Numenoreans when he came to us and took command of our troop . . . ."


"They do not doubt you, Aragorn," I told the scowling lad. "They know your high lineage. Long have we communicated with your foster father in Rivendell. Lord Elrond has kept us appraised of your exploits. Your kinsmen trust in you and their loyalt--"

"So you have said. I know all that Halbarad, but--"

"I have not finished, young one. You will hear me out."

"Nay, sir! You will hear ME out!" Aragorn paused to glare at me and draw a breath. There was no point in arguing with him. He would hear nothing I said when he was this upset. Fortunately, we had now walked far enough from the encampment that only I would witness Aragorn's ill humor.

"I know these men are aware of who I am," he went on. "But all they know is what they have heard. As you said, they know of my deeds. They do not know me, though, and they still look to you for leadership."

"I feel you are mistaken, sir. They--"

"Nay, sir, I am not!" Aragorn fairly simmered, holding back much of what he was feeling, and yet still displaying an impressive temper. "I have watched them when I give an order. Their gazes fly to you. And you, Halbarad, nod! You nod your approval of my orders, as though I were a puppet leader and you the actual man in charge to whom they look for an aye or a nay."

"My lord, that simply is not true."

He paused to stare at me. "I know what I have seen, Lieutenant. Are you calling me a liar?"

"Never, my lord," I responded calmly, my own temper in check. "I meant to suggest that, given your current disposition, perhaps you are seeing something which is not there."

"Oh. I see. I am not a liar. I am merely seeing things."

"My lord--"

"That is so much better." Aragorn began stalking forward again, an angry snap in his long and determined stride. "I feel better already. Thank you for easing my mind, Halbarad."

I fell in step beside him, listening to him grumble on in this manner, and marveling at my own restraint. Aragorn’s descent into astonishing audacity had been more rapid of late, his manners decaying to a decidedly childish level. Aye, he was young and eager to prove himself. But he need not have felt so ill at ease and so desperate to demonstrate his worthiness to his own kinsmen.

For they had loved him on sight, these hardened warriors. True, they knew Aragorn by reputation, by word and deed. They knew who he was by ancestry, and they were aware of what he had the potential to become. But such facts were only a part of what this young man meant to them, and when Aragorn came into view, riding straight and proud between the two resplendent elves, it was plain from the very way they drew breath that my brother Rangers saw only Aragorn, that he alone rated their immediate attention. Although young and still rather boyish, he brought peace to their hearts with his extraordinary presence and his commanding manner, and even with the quiet elvish light in his eyes, setting him apart, and declaring him a force of distinction.

He looked directly at each man with obvious admiration as he was introduced, repeating their names as he heard them, in a voice rich and warm: "Garrick. Bergren. Thayer. Logan. Erland. Hadden. . . . ." Aye, they loved him at once.

This band of Rangers, the finest of the Dunedain, men of the most elder bloodlines, were tired of dangerous times and restlessness, tired of watching for, and guarding against, the dark things that crept forth in the black of night, threatening the quiet lives of the simple and the plain. They were men loyal to the ideal of freedom from fear, so they would continue to serve as guardians and champion the meek until the end of time if need be, but they longed for a little peace.

They did not discount my leadership over the years. We were a tight-knit unit, all of us supporting and complimenting each other. They respected and valued my authority. But they had also looked to the coming of their young Chief with great anticipation, as had I. And for the first week after Aragorn’s arrival, all was well. But soon after his foster brothers left, Aragorn began to display a certain recklessness, compounded by his attitude of increasingly strange presumptuousness.

He was impulsive. He indulged in casually heroic and oft unnecessary deeds. When informed by our scouts of enemy positions or movement, Aragorn’s first instinct was to engage the foe, paying regard to their numbers only when forced to. He repeatedly raced headlong into potentially perilous situations and, curse the fates, through skill and sheer luck, he always managed to triumph, reinforcing his irresponsible behavior. The young lordling had taken on a cocky half-smirk he directed my way anytime good fortune yet again saved his incautious backside. He had even, on occasion, actually uttered the words his expression clearly conveyed:

"You see, Halbarad? There was no need to fuss and fret. Once again the Grey Company surmounted all odds to emerge victorious."

At such times I fell back on every ounce of restraint I possessed. The men, however, would dart glances of concern my way. Yet, I continued to offer my counsel and my cautioning words, knowing that Aragorn would soon begin to heed them.

The young tend to think of themselves as immortal, but having been raised amongst true immortals, Aragorn’s actions bespoke his failure to remember that he was not one of them himself. He endured my guidance, but this was the foster son of Lord Elrond, a child of Imladris, one upon whom destiny had left its mark. Aragorn’s inherent sovereignty had been well nurtured, and it raced through his veins, so he did not always choose to listen to me.

I understood, as indeed the men seemed to as well, that Aragorn would need some time to adjust. He had yet to learn that the Rangers served a higher purpose than the mere presence of brute force. We gathered intelligence, relayed information to rulers and chieftains and maintained a covert watch on the rise of sinister goings-on throughout Middle Earth. We moved with stealth, elusive agents for rightness, capable of creating havoc for the enemy from the shadows. We were disinclined to seek glory. We instead sought to do good and disappear. Aragorn had yet to fully understand what it was to be a Ranger, much less Lord of the Dunedain and Captain of the Grey Company.

His men would do anything he commanded, of course, but his attitude was worrisome to all of us. These warriors were well trained to obey unquestioningly, and they would do so, but these Numenoreans were an elite and highly intelligent force. They were not mindless orcs, and they understood what they were seeing in their young Captain’s behavior. Their exasperation spilled over at times.

"How much longer do you intend to tolerate this?" Erland had finally asked me just that morning.

"Aye, how long?" Farrell had added.

"My lord," Hadden said, "the longer you wait before having a private word with Lord Aragorn, the harder it will become,"

"I have had many private words with him," I muttered.

Garrick, a Ranger of my age and experience muttered in return, "Then perhaps it is time to do more than just talk."

A giant of a man who found conversation tiresome, Garrick rarely bothered to splice words together, much less utter them, so his remark was unexpected. A quick glance at the rest of the men had told me they were all in accordance. Their good natures were increasingly tested, but, more importantly, they were concerned for their young Chief. Aragorn’s approach ended further talk, but after a particularly difficult and sudden change of plans that morning, Aragorn’s temperament had become equally difficult with equal suddenness and we had halted early for the day.

And now Aragorn was still muttering, and I realized I hadn’t heard much what he’d been muttering, but I began to listen now, not quite believing what I heard.

"I think we should turn the troop and head into the hills and clean them all out for good."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

Aragorn stopped striding and turned to me with a heavy sigh. "You didn’t hear me?"


"Two warg attacks on villages in this area, in the past two months. I know that they only seemed bent on terror, and that the men were able to drive them off before any were hurt, but we know the creatures must be gathering in those woods at the base of the mountains. We should go now and destroy them while they are gathered in one place, before they move on to threaten other regions."

I stared at him. "My lord, are you suggesting that our group of twenty-five ride down upon an undisclosed number of wargs in the hopes of wiping them out?"

"It is not an ‘undisclosed number’ Halbarad. Both villages reported a small band of about twenty wargs. I would count us feeble indeed if twenty-five Rangers could not deal with twenty wargs. There are not even enough beasts to go around. Five of the men will be denied a kill." He flashed me a wry grin that quickly vanished when he encountered my stern expression. "Are you telling me that the elite Grey Company is not up to this task, Lieutenant?"

"Nay, I am telling you that we have no idea how many beasts lie in those woods. The villagers reported around twenty both times, but it is doubtful they are the same twenty in both attacks. Wargs do travel in small roving packs, aye, but they live in much larger communities with other packs. There could be hundreds of them in those hills, Aragorn! They’re no doubt sending out small raiding parties to hide their actual numbers and create fear and tension in the countryside."

He ‘tsked.’ "Wargs are not that intelligent."

"They are wild and savage, but that does not mean they are stupid. They are indeed intelligent, my lad!" I cared not that I was too familiar. His arrogance and lack of respect for the danger involved pushed my limits. "Wargs speak amongst each other in a black language that only the ancients and the orcs can decipher. They are organized and clever and deadly. You have traveled with Gandalf and your brothers and you do not know this? Have you never encountered these creatures?" It was possible he had not. Aragorn had spent little time in the North, the native habitat of these beasts.

He turned a dark glower my way and remained silent.

"My lord, these wargs that live at the Edge of the Wild are cunning and bloodthirsty," I went on. "They often join with the orcs who dwell in the lower mountains to the far North and together they sweep across the countryside, ravening and plundering, running raids for food or carrying off innocents to enslave."

"I know all this, Halbarad. I have heard of these creatures often." Aragorn snapped.

"Aye, you may have heard, but have you ever encountered a warg?" I pressed. Of course he wouldn’t answer, and I need not have even asked, for it was suddenly clear to me that he had never had contact with wargs, which could account, in part, for his brazenness. I intended to make certain he knew more about what he was considering. "They are not mere wolves, although they are descended from such. They are twice the size of a wolf, and twice a ferocious. They are fast and sturdy, capable of long-distance runs without rest and large enough for an orc to ride upon like a horse--"

"Are you afraid of these animals, sir?" Aragorn shot back.

For a moment I was too incensed to speak. Drawing upon all my self-control I replied, "No, my lord. I do not fear them, but I have a sensible respect for them. And I suggest you understand all you can about your enemy before you decide how to deal with him."

Aragorn stared coldly at me for a long moment, but I had more to say. "Those hearty souls who choose to live in the shadow of these mountains know these creatures better than you do. They also know how to gather quickly within their defensive walls and protect themselves. They have been doing so for generations. It is their choice to remain in these parts, despite the dangers.

"Aye, small bands of wargs have been marauding about of late. That is reason for concern and it is information that must be passed along to others who gauge the movements of evil forces. But that is all we can do, Aragorn, for I assure you that, although a mere band of twenty were causing trouble, they were but a part of a whole. There is an old saying amongst the Rangers: ‘For every warg you see, ten lie in wait.’"

Aragorn looked completely skeptical. "I cannot accept that. There surely are not two-hundred wargs in those woodlands!"

"Cut the number in half then," I said. "Is it any more feasible to mount an attack with our twenty-five Rangers if there are a mere one-hundred waiting?"

He looked to be considering the wisdom of my warnings, but then that hubristic glint sparked in his eye again and he sneered, "This is ridiculous. I do not accept that this old Ranger saying is true."

I caught his meaning full well. "’Old saying,’ my lord. Not ‘old Ranger’ saying. Young Rangers say it too."

Clearly he hadn’t expected me to catch his insult, which had been, just as clearly, intentional. He glanced down and remained quiet, then said, "That was impolite of me. I apologize, Halbarad."

He actually startled me to silence.

"Let us return," he said, and we began walking back to the encampment.

He was silent on the way back, but I sensed the tension in him. He was plotting something. It was unlike him to back off so readily, so I listened to his silence with an inner ear, trying to pick up the murmuring of his private deliberation. This was not ended, but I could only speculate as to what Aragorn’s next move might be. I resolved to watch him carefully, although I was already accustomed to that.

My failing was in underestimating Aragorn, and in falling asleep. Instead of falling into a light Ranger’s sleep that night I dropped into such a deep slumber that I did not move until the sun was already up the next morning and Garrick was shaking me awake. I exploded into action at his touch.

"Hold!" he cried, gruff, but in control, his arms stretched out to grab me if need be. "It is morning, sir. I volunteered to wake you lest you rip the head from any other who tried."

My blood was already racing. I glanced around, still groggy and weaving on my feet, sluggish from a sleep that had been too long and too heavy. But my alarm was at full force.

"Where is he?"

I didn’t need to tell Garrick who ‘he’ was. "Our noble Captain is gone, sir," Garrick growled. "Along with that young idiot, Devon."

I groaned and began staggering to where the troop was gathered. Aragorn, gone. And with the other newest recruit of our company, Devon, the son of a valiant member we had lost in an encounter with some orcs several months earlier. At least Aragorn had taken another with him, but Devon was not well seasoned, and his presence with Aragorn was of no comfort to me, nor would it be to any of the men.

Enlisting the lad’s aid had been unfair of Isildur’s unbridled whelp. Devon clearly idolized his renowned Captain. He would gladly do whatever Aragorn asked of him, and, unlike any of the others - older Rangers with experience and common sense - the lad would not try to counsel Aragorn against his folly. He would go along, delighted to be asked, eager to serve his hero. Devon and Aragorn, off on their own in this country. My stomach clenched.

The night fires were all but burned out, and the men, their fast already broken, began moving towards me as Garrick and I approached. I’d never slept so late, usually rising an hour before dawn.

"Did he give me a sleeping draught?" I suddenly heard myself mumble.

Farrell, the most knowledgeable amongst us in herb lore, now appeared at my side, "I fear he must have, sir," he said, another who did not need to ask who ‘he’ was. "Lord Aragorn learned a great deal from the elves about plants and herbs. He knows what to use for what. He could have been keeping an eye out for what he wanted for some time, or he possibly brought a supply of dried herbs from Rivendell."

My head was starting to throb and I sucked back a groan, the brightness of the morning sun painful. I stopped walking and closed my eyes, fighting nausea, and placed my palm over my brow as if trying to keep my head from rolling off my neck.

"Your head hurts, does it not, sir?" Farrell asked.

I could only manage a small, "Aye."

"As I thought. A sleeping draught made from a substance little used, since it does have the aftereffect of a headache."

I was going to kill him. Quietly, but effectively, I was going to kill Isildur’s Heir. I was then going to feed him to the wargs that he and his senseless accessory were, no doubt, off playing with at this very moment while I stood here, near-vomiting from head pain, and needing to mount an immediate rescue. If the Valar had any mercy they would spare Aragorn, son of Arathorn, until I got to him. Because I wanted to be the one to kill him.



I glanced around. Three pairs of eyes stared directly back at me; three enthralled expressions of those held spellbound. I hoped they were breathing, but it was hard to tell.

"You should rest now," I told my audience. "An hour’s break, then I will return and tell more."

Pippin positively erupted. He scrambled up, stood on the bed and bellowed, "WHAT?!"

I pocketed my pipe and studied him, standing there in his nightshirt, huffing, stunned, his arms rigid at his sides and his hands clenched into small fists. Hobbits were wonderfully entertaining.

"Perhaps I should make it a two hour break," I said with measured calm. "Some temperamental patients seem in need of a nice long nap."

"Pippin, stop it!" Merry fussed, grabbing his cousin’s hand and tugging. "Get back down here and hush, else we’ll be waiting for two hours instead of one!"

"I heard him! But I don’t see why we have to wait at al--"

"Lie down at once and be silent, you saucy halfling!" Faramir commanded. "Or, so help me, I shall come over there, haul you from that bed, flip up the tail of your nightshirt and make you sorry you were born!"

Pippin sat. He looked my way. I thought Gwin a champion at this, but I had never in all my years seen a pout as glorious as the one gracing the sweet features of Master Peregrin Took.

Merry pulled his cousin down beside him and covered him up, shushing him with murmured words, although Pippin had already pressed his lips into a tight, angry line. I stood and glanced at Faramir. He was watching the halflings, but he turned his gaze in my direction, then shook his head and smirked wearily. The lad’s temper was surely affected by his condition, but he still had the good sense to focus his anger at me onto an unruly Pippin instead.

"An hour then," I said, and I left, eager to quit the room now swollen with an invisible force of petulance radiating from one small halfling.

I found Aragorn with Boromir, talking with the city engineers amongst a mountain of rubble on the fifth tier. The two warriors broke away from the others at my approach and I gave them an overview of the patients’ conditions while we walked back towards the Citadel. They both chuckled when I described Pippin’s reaction to my decision to take a break.

"And my little brother?" Boromir asked. "How are his spirits?"

Faramir’s overprotective sibling had calmed down considerably since his earlier uproar. Aragorn had fielded a good deal of his Steward’s temper with understanding, but finally his tolerance gave out and he had sent Boromir to his quarters. "You need some time alone, my fledgling," he had said to a fuming Boromir. "I will join you in a while to discuss your conduct, but first, go to your quarters and search for your warrior’s control."

I now glanced over at Aragorn, who gave me a small nod. "Your brother still seems frustrated with his situation and is therefore bit touchy, but I feel that is to be expected from one such as Faramir. His spirits are otherwise good," I replied. "He had been looking forward to your return this morning, and the moment I entered he began to question me about you. Before I even had a chance to sit down he asked how you were, what time you got back, if you had inquired after him, when you were coming to see him and if you had heard about his . . . misadventures."

"Misadventures?" Aragorn snorted. "You mean his naught--"

"No!" Boromir turned to him, abruptly. "Do not say that word!"

Aragorn lowered his head, trying to hide his chuckles, but his shoulders shook. Boromir scowled at him good-naturedly, then he turned back to me. "What did you tell him?"

"Why, the truth, my lord. I said that you’d been informed of his antics this morning, and I told him of how you stomped about Aragorn’s quarters, roaring that you were going to spank your little brother so thoroughly he would never sit again, then keep him under twenty-four hour surveillance for the rest of his life."

"I did not say that," Boromir protested.

"You did," Aragorn confirmed, amusement in his tone. "Word for word. Halbarad speaks truly."

"Pippin and Merry’s eyes were enormous," I continued, "and Pippin whimpered a small, ‘oh dear.’"

Aragorn once more gave into laughter, again trying to hide it, again failing miserably.

"Very well," Boromir muttered. "Mayhap I did say that, but you did not have to tell Faramir I said that."

"But he asked. Then I told him that you had to be physically restrained from storming down to his room and beginning his brotherly lesson in obedience."

Boromir stopped suddenly and stared at me. "You told him what?"

"And that you were now resting comfortably, having had a sleeping draught forced down your throat to sedate you."

Aragorn also halted and sputtered through his laughter, "Halbarad, enough! My poor trusting fledgling does not know you well enough to realize that you are but having a little fun with him."

Boromir frowned my way. "’Fun?’" he sneered, the word sounding like a curse. He sniffed with open disdain and began walking again, grumbling, "I do not think much of your humor, sir."

"My apologies, my lord," I said, still impassive. "You are right. "My humor was unseemly."

Aragorn cleared his throat and we continued on our way, but a moment later, after Boromir had glanced at me several times from the corner of his eye, he said, "In truth, Halbarad, that was indeed quite funny."

I turned to him and caught his boyish grin, and then I looked past him to Aragorn, who was watching the younger man with a quiet smile. Little wonder my pup was so fond of this Captain of Gondor.

These brothers had endured much, and while they were both adjusting as well as they could to the many shocks that had befallen them, they were still two fairly young men, clinging to each other after dark and ugly fears had dragged them through cold caverns of anguish.

Aragorn had been reluctant to send his Steward to Osgiliath, but Boromir had been unable to go for more than half an hour at a time without checking in on Faramir. The healers reported that each time the Steward entered their room, Merry and Faramir would awaken, as if they hadn’t ever fully fallen asleep. Pippin often tagged along with Boromir, and they would stay far too long, just keeping company with the patients. The healers adamantly insisted that their charges be allowed some peace, but none were willing to confront Boromir again, especially after the first few times he had thundered his displeasure with them.

In the end, Aragorn had done what he felt he had to do, and the patients finally rested undisturbed for nearly a day and a half, waking only for meals, which Faramir picked at, clearly as a sign of protest and a desire to seek his brother’s attention. That Boromir would hear of it, Faramir clearly had no doubt, and I glanced again at the Steward, wondering if he might really need a sleeping draught poured down his throat when he heard of this.

"My lord," I said to Aragorn, "I came to report my findings on that matter you had asked me to investigate earlier."

Aragorn and his Steward both looked at me with interest.

"What matter?" Boromir asked.

I exchanged glances with Aragorn.

"Something Halbarad needed to - " He paused to send me a quick glare. " - investigate for me."

"Aye." Boromir smirked. "So he said. What were you investigating, Halbarad?"

"Welcome back, little brother!"

The cry came from behind us and we all paused and turned to see Legolas and Gwinthorian striding up the cobblestones. Aragorn sidled me a cocky look. Reprieved. We turned and watched the two elves approach. They were a sight, these Mirkwood kinfolk, the sun glittering on their streaming, silky locks, their blue eyes bright with an ancient gleam, and yet their features beautifully boyish, youthful. Between the two of them, not a hair seemed out of place.

Boromir grinned and walked back towards them and Legolas hurried his step until they met and embraced, the elf looking for a moment as if he intended to lift the Steward of Gondor off his feet, something he would have no trouble doing. Gwin continued on, heading my way, muttering as he moved past them, "Gentlemen, this is neither the time nor the place."

"How is it you still tolerate that endless sass?" Aragorn asked me.

"I rarely listen to him," I responded.

Boromir and Legolas now headed our way. "We found both Eomer and Gandalf at the Rohirric encampment," Legolas told Aragorn. "They will be here to meet with you at the appointed hour."

"Good. And Gimli?"

"He was at his favorite swill establishment, as you predicted, my lord," Gwin answered. "He will be here as well."

Aragorn turned a small frown at him. "I said nothing about ‘swill.’"

Gwin merely beamed him a sweet smile and we all turned and moved on towards the seventh tier and the Citadel. Aragorn and I dropped back a short way and lowered our heads to talk softly.

"You checked his tray?" he murmured.

"Aye. Two thirds of his luncheon went untouched."

"Two thirds of whose luncheon went untouched?" Gwin cried, whirling to look back at us.

Boromir froze in his tracks. He turned to us, instantly aware, his eyes flashing dangerously. Aragorn and I paused and remained calm, but it was plain that Boromir already knew in his heart who we meant. He released an explosion of breath and growled, "For how long?"

"Boromir--" Aragorn began.

"Since I’ve been gone?" he shot back. "The whole time I’ve been gone he has not been eating?"

Aragorn and I closed the space between us and the rest of our party. People were noticing our gathering. The sight of their future King, their new Steward and two bedazzling elves was intriguing enough, but Boromir in a brewing rage was simply fine entertainment.

Legolas was closest to him. He placed a hand on Boromir’s arm and said, "Come, little brother. Gwin spoke truly: This is neither the time nor the place."

Boromir attempted to pull his arm away, to no avail, of course, and the elf continued to hold him until Aragorn and I joined them. Legolas turned the now livid warrior and we all began our trek once more, Legolas saying, "It is unbefitting the Steward of Gondor to throw a tantrum in the streets, little brother, so let us continue this away from curious eyes."

We made it to the Citadel, and then to the King’s private chambers before Boromir once again exploded, his performance this time rivaling his earlier one. None of us needed to be there, as the Steward paced and blew off steam, barely noticing that others were present, but we stood witness anyway, providing a supervisory presence lest Boromir tried to storm the Houses of Healing. All of us were in silent agreement with his ranting over his little brother’s behavior, and finally, when he began to wind down, Aragorn had him sit and take some wine.

"I know you wouldst never approach Faramir when you are this angry," Aragorn began in a reasonable tone. "And when you have had time to calm yourself and consider the matter, I know you will see Faramir’s act for what it is."

Boromir fumed. He glared off at nothing, clearly hearing Aragorn, but still too angry to grant understanding full attention.

"You may go to him this evening after our council meeting," Aragorn said. "Either take him his dinner, or wait for his tray when he has finished to use as evidence, or do what you will. I trust you to consider how best to handle this. All I ask is that you wait until tomorrow to administer any . . . corporal response."

Boromir flashed him a scowl, but Aragorn said, "He needs this time to recover from his visit over my knee yesterday, so I insist you allow him that before you heat his backside again. Am I making myself clear, my fledgling?"

It’s oddly beguiling, seeing a powerful warrior pout. Boromir did it as charmingly as Aragorn always had.

"Aye, my lord," Boromir grumbled. "I shall do as you request. I shall talk to him tonight and discipline him tomorrow."

"Can I come watch?" Gwin asked.

Legolas, who was sharing the window seat with him, frowned indulgently at Gwin and kicked his ankle.

"Ow!" Gwin cried. "What was that for?"

"Could you at least feign a little elvish decorum, you rogue?"

"Well, I missed all the entertainment yesterday," Gwin declared. "I was slogging through Osgiliath being supportive and useful while all the fun was going on back here."

Aragorn turned to Gwin. "Are you saying that you consider spankings to be ‘entertainment’ and ‘fun?’" he inquired, more exasperated than angry. Gwin’s irreverent nature brought that out in people, but although some of Aragorn’s ire was pretense, it carried a serious undertone, for Gwinthorian was often thoughtless in his speech, and he needed that pointed out to him. "If so," Aragorn went on in a smoldering tone, "then let me see if we can accommodate you."

Gwin sighed with exaggerated petulance, "Aragorn, by all things blessed! You know what I meant."

"Halbarad," Aragorn said, turning to me, "of the three of us, you and Legolas and myself, you are the only one who did not mete out a spanking yesterday."

"Aye, my lord. That is true."

"I am sorry, my friend. That was inconsiderate of me."

"I had not wanted to say anything, sir, however--"

"Thank goodness your charge has returned in time to fill that need."

"Aye, my lord."

"’Charge?’" Gwinthorian said in a small voice.

"I’m certain some ‘fun’ can be arranged for your charge’s ‘entertainment,’ can it not, my friend?"

"Most certainly, my lord," I answered. I turned my own look of light displeasure upon Gwin. "I would not deign to see this elfling miss out on any ‘fun.’"

"No, indeed," Aragorn said. "In fact, we could all use a little ‘entertainment’ right now. We have some time before the others arrive. What say you, Legolas? Are you game for a some ‘entertainment?’"

"That sounds like ‘fun,’ my lord."

"But, I did nothing!" Gwin protested.

"Nothing?" Aragorn interrupted. "I had planned to tell my Steward something personal and upsetting in private, but he found out about it down in the streets. Someone had been listening with elvish ears when he should have been minding his own business."

Gwinthorian sobered and blinked. "But, well, I could not help but overhear--"

"And then you blurted out the matter, when you had to know that I was talking in a hushed voice for a reason. And I shall go further, and guess that you also knew who I was talking about, and who I was trying to keep that information from for the moment?"

I sometimes wondered about my elfling’s inner timing. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to distract others from an immediate problem by drawing attention to himself - as at this moment. Boromir, while clearly still preoccupied with his brother’s misconduct, was also now caught up in the scene unfolding around him. He was watching us, his now-divided focus lessening the heat of his temperament and helping him find a little balance.

Gwin had made Boromir’s distraction possible with his impertinence. Aragorn, Legolas and I all realized that fact deep down inside, and our reactions were therefore more pretense than true anger. But we all realized something else as well, something far more significant. The three of us - and for all I knew, Boromir as well - had a profound understanding of what might cause a person to misbehave. And Gwin was demanding to be noticed.

It was understandable if one knew Gwin. He had been less than enthusiastic about accompanying Boromir to Osgiliath, but Aragorn had spoken to me about it and I had agreed that, of course, Gwin should go. Despite his often-flighty manner, Gwinthorian had an astounding gift for assessing situations. He could ride through a city or a village or an encampment, observing with his quiet, clear-eyed gaze, and come away with an incredible amount of information. He could tell you how many people were there, usually hitting the number, as we would find out later, with freakish accuracy. He surveyed the land and the crops, the buildings, the stores, the livestock, the armament, the defenses, the number of children, the number of elderly, the balance of men to women, how many geese and chickens he’d seen - and he remembered it all. He would be able to advise Boromir as to estimated materials needed to rebuild the ravaged stronghold, and he would retain all the facts and numbers and be able to report them at any time. He’d given Aragorn an astonishingly detailed appraisal of what would need to be done in Osgiliath, what the rebuilding would entail and how long it would likely take.

But Gwin had not wanted to leave Minas Tirith, for Aragorn had asked that I remain in the city to weigh in on several of the meetings he had planned with the various city officials and field commanders, strategists and advisors, and, although Gwin was as deadly in battle as Legolas, he felt a mystifying, yet acute need to stay close by me after an intense engagement. It was one of the many things I found endearing about him, and it was also why he had returned today with a feisty attitude that almost always landed him over my knee, gaining him the attention he craved.

And so, Gwinthorian was behaving true to his nature. Upon learning that I had planned to spend time in the Houses of Healing today, Gwin’s gaze had darkened.

"Come join us," I’d offered.

"No. Thank you."

"You prefer to sit alone and sulk?"

"I do not sulk! I shall see what Legolas is doing and join him."

I had paused and given him a somber look.

"We will behave!"

And he had stormed out of our chamber and ridden off with Legolas to the Rohirric encampment on the Pelennor Fields in search of Gandalf and Eomer. So it was a testy Gwin who had trudged up the street towards us with Legolas. He’d poked at Legolas and Boromir hugging, then remarked about Gimli’s swill establishment, all in teasing good fun, with a slight edge to it. But then he had pounced on the chance to cause trouble by blurting out what he’d overheard and knew had to be a private matter.

However, Gwin’s rudeness was all but ignored as, alas, Boromir ended up with all the attention, being escorted to Aragorn’s quarters, allowed the chance to rant, and then getting some comfort from Aragorn. And with all the talk of Faramir getting spanked again, little wonder that at this point my elfling’s cork had popped.

In the first quiet moment after Boromir calmed, Gwin had asked an impertinent question meant to gain him the full attention of us all. Could he come watch Boromir spank Faramir indeed! Of course, teasing disdain from Legolas was not enough, and Gwin pressed on, making more unseemly remarks about spanking. He’d been hurling down gauntlets right and left, and we all had too much affection for him to ignore the gesture.

So now Gwinthorian sat glancing apprehensively at us, taking in the attention he had so earnestly pursued. And as to whether he had sensed that a little easing of tensions would help Boromir, I couldn’t say, but his misbehavior was timely, so Aragorn, Legolas and I gladly gave him what he wanted.

He was used to this by now, this Rangers’ manner of rascally vexing, driving home a point with a jesting seriousness. He had experienced it enough over the years, ever since the first time I had spanked him, the first time he had ever been spanked as I later found out – which explained a lot – the night many years ago when he and Legolas had run off to thieve some wine from a company of dwarves. He looked anxious at the moment, but Gwin wasn’t afraid of what he’d earned. His greater fear was the lack of this kind of attention.

"I feel I have misspoken myself," he now said.

"Misspoke yourself? I do not see how," Legolas said.

"Nor do I," Aragorn said.

I echoed, "Nor do I."

"You seemed to speak quite plainly," Legolas continued. "You said you missed the entertainment and the fun--"

"I know what I said," Gwin shot back.

"I am only trying to help make clear--"

"Do not help me, Legolas!"

"He’s right," Aragorn said, looking at me. "This is entertaining."

"I know I am having fun," I replied.

Boromir snickered, drawing our quick glances. The Steward’s eyes positively glittered with suppressed laughter. His little brother was not forgotten, but for now Boromir’s inner roar had been tamed thanks to the dependable misconduct of a certain unruly elfling.

I stood quickly. Gwinthorian flinched and pushed himself back further into the corner of the window seat. But a sudden knock at the door interrupted our sport. It was a day of vexing interruptions, yet how telling it was that Gwin released a small groan of irritation rather than a sigh of relief. I opened the door to find one of the servants from the Houses of Healing standing breathless in the corridor.

"Oh! Sir!" he gasped. "I am so glad to have finally found you. I’ve been searching all over for you, and then I heard you were seen coming here, and--"

Boromir shot to his feet bellowing, "NO! Do not tell me they’ve escaped again!"

"No! Oh, no, my lord! No! No! No!" the quivering servant cried. "They are all just where they should be, safe in their beds."

Aragorn, who had also jumped to his feet along with Legolas, placed his hand on his Steward’s shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief.

"I merely came to deliver a message from one of the patients."

"Does my brother have need of me?" Boromir asked heading towards the door.

"No, my lord. Lord Faramir was just waking up when I left to find you with this message, I mean, to find you, sir." The servant nodded to me.

"The message is for Halbarad?" Aragorn asked.

"Aye, my lord," the servant replied, dipping his head slightly to the future King. "From the wee hobbit, Pippin."

We all eased our stances and exchanged looks of sudden amused tolerance. "What is the message?" I asked.

"He said to tell you, my lord . . . well, what he said was, ‘Tell him his hour is up.’"