Little Fledgling chapter 3



Notes regarding this story:


This story was inspired by Larrkin's wonderful 'Attention Deserved' series, of which I am a devoted fan. As other fans will recall, those stories are an AU, based on the idea that Aragorn stayed in Minas Tirith somewhat longer than he did in Tolkien's canon, and that he, as 'Thorongil', developed a close relationship with a then four-year-old Boromir. When they met again in Rivendell, Boromir recognised and remembered Aragorn, and that closeness was rekindled.


After Larrk first started posting her stories, I asked if she had any plans to write the tale of Aragorn and little Boromir, as I was longing to read it. She replied that she didn't, and so it came about that I started writing it myself, with Larrk's very gracious permission. Needless to say, I've tried very hard in writing this to stay true to Larrk's vision of the characters, and the story itself. I hope I've done it justice. :)


And for anyone who needs to re-read Larrk's stories and refresh their memory, they are all up on her page, here:



Thanks to:


Hadra – thank you for all the help, for booting me along when I got stuck, and for letting me bounce so many ideas off you.

Shotboxer – thank you for your careful editing, for catching my many errors, and for insisting that I get rid of all those unnecessary dashes. <g>

Laura – thank you for being so kind as to offer this story a home!


And finally, an extra-special thank you to Larrk, for being so very generous as to let me play in her sandbox, and so very encouraging while I was writing this. I'm truly honoured that you'd accept my story as the 'official' prequel to your wonderful AU. Your stories have given me so much enjoyment and inspiration, and I only hope that I've managed to give some of that back with this tale.



So, without further ado, my take on the story of Aragorn and little Boromir. I hope you enjoy it.


Disclaimer: No infringement of copyright is intended. All recognisable characters are the property of Tolkien Enterprises and/or New Line, and no profit is gained by the writing or posting of this story.


Warning: This story contains spanking, both of Boromir as a child, and (through flashbacks) of Aragorn as a child. If this offends you, hit the back button now.





Little Fledgling

Chapter 3


By Kat


Aragorn rose early the next morning, and the first item on his list of duties was a trip to the Houses of Healing, to have his shoulder looked at. He knew for himself that it was healed, of course; Elrond had taught him well, and his own skills were not inconsequential. But he had only a small supply of herbs with him, and no athelas, so it had been easier to submit to the ministrations of the healers, who were much better stocked than he. While their attentions might be tiresome at times, he could hardly fault them for being thorough in their care.


The healer who had tended him looked over his wound carefully before finally pronouncing it healed, although he did warn Aragorn to be careful with it for a week or two longer. Aragorn discarded the sling with some relief, and found it quite novel to have the use of both hands again; being limited to one had been growing rather tiresome.


He thanked the healer for his care and walked back up to the Citadel, to seek out the Steward and ask about his duties. Ecthelion greeted him warmly and was pleased to see him healed – and, it seemed, he was even more pleased about how Aragorn's most recent task had turned out. The Steward had shared breakfast with his grandson that morning, and had been regaled with stories about Boromir's new hero, and the things they had done together. He thanked Aragorn for taking such care in watching over the child, and Aragorn grinned, saying in return that it was his pleasure. He also added diffidently that it was his intent to continue to spend time with Boromir when he could, even after Denethor returned, which seemed to please Ecthelion to no end.


"You will be a good influence on him," the Steward said, smiling. "He is a clever boy, but he has a stubborn streak a mile wide, just like his father. He needs a firm hand at times, but a kind one also, and that has been lacking of late."


"His mother's illness is unfortunate," Aragorn said quietly. Ecthelion nodded, sighing.


"She has never borne the city well; she pines for the sea, I think," he said. "It comes and goes, though it seems to be growing worse. In truth, I fear for her, and I worry for her son. Denethor does his best with Boromir, but it seems events conspire against him at times." He shook his head sadly, but then he looked at Aragorn and smiled. "Boromir will appreciate your attention; he already adores you. You answer a need there, Thorongil."


"It is my pleasure to do so, my lord," Aragorn said again. "As you say, Boromir is a bright child, and a loving one. He is deserving of that attention."


"Aye, that he is," Ecthelion agreed, his fondness for his grandson obvious. "And so, I had better let you go. Boromir was quite overjoyed that you were coming to watch his lesson again. He will be most disappointed if you are late."


"Aye, my lord," Aragorn said, getting up from his seat. "Are there any duties you would have me take care of today, other than that?"


"A few missives you might look over, but they are not urgent – and there is a council meeting tomorrow afternoon at which your presence would be welcome," Ecthelion said. "Aside from that, rest yourself. You are barely healed – and indeed, you have not been released from your last duty yet," he added with a chuckle. "Denethor will be gone at least a fortnight, likely even longer, and Boromir could well use your watchful eye, if you were of a mind to give it."


"He will have it," Aragorn said, then offered a wry smile. "Although if he should test me too much, he will also have my hand across his bottom, and then perhaps I will not be quite so adored."


Ecthelion laughed. "That is something else he could use, on occasion," he agreed wryly. "Good luck with him, Thorongil. Again, you have my thanks."


Aragorn bowed and departed, feeling much more light-hearted about his child-minding duty than he had two days ago. He might have been dubious about the assignment at first, but he had quickly become very fond of Boromir, and in truth he was looking forward to spending more time with the child – especially since Boromir so obviously needed his attention.


It was nearly time for Boromir's lesson, so Aragorn headed straight across the courtyard to the gate, making his way down to the sixth level and the practice grounds once again. He quickly located the children's lesson, which was just about to begin, and took up his position as a spectator on the sidelines. Boromir spotted him as soon as he came in and waved to him joyfully, and Aragorn waved back with a grin before leaning back against the wall to watch.


The lesson proceeded in much the same way that yesterday's had, although some of the exercises were different, focusing on different aspects of swordplay. Once again, Aragorn noted with approval just how much effort Boromir was putting in. The little boy's face was intent as he concentrated on his movements, and considering that he was only just four, his focus was indeed impressive.


Once the main part of the lesson was out of the way, the roomful of little swordsmen again turned pleading looks on their instructor, obviously hoping for another bout or two of sparring. This appeared to be the routine, and Aragorn guessed that perhaps sparring was withheld if the class was badly behaved, thus giving them a good incentive to pay attention during the lesson. His guess was proved right when Taracar smiled and nodded, saying, "All right, you've worked hard today. Two rounds of sparring. You can choose your partners for the first one."


This announcement caused general excitement, and there was a great deal of shuffling as pairs of friends quickly teamed up to spar. Many of the children obviously had preferred partners, but Aragorn noticed that Boromir dutifully waited until most of the pairings were sorted out, then approached one of the children who was left over, a boy of similar size to himself. Apparently he didn't have a particular friend he wanted to spar with, and Aragorn suddenly remembered what he had said, about not often being allowed to play with the other children.


He found himself wondering if Boromir actually had any friends his own age. If not, then it was small wonder that the little boy was so lonely. True, Aragorn himself had grown up without friends his own age – but he had had his mother, and Elrond, and the twins and sometimes Legolas, and indeed many other elves who had been willing to play with him and keep him company. He had only been alone when he had wanted to be, and he had never been truly lonely. Boromir, by contrast, was most likely lonely even when he was not alone.


With that thought, Aragorn felt a deep pang of sympathy for the child, followed by another rush of determination. He would help this little boy. He would provide a friend such as he had once had, a figure apart from parents or teachers, someone Boromir could come to if he was lonely or unhappy. This he would do for as long as he could – although even as he thought it, he knew that would not be nearly long enough.


Do not dwell on it, he told himself firmly. Give to him all you may, while you may. It may not be enough – but it will be something, at least.


Nodding to himself, he turned his attention back to the floor, watching with interest as the sparring began. As in yesterday's first bout, Boromir and his little opponent were well-matched in size, but Boromir apparently had a slight advantage in skill, and he used it. Aragorn was interested to note, though, that the child did not use the first technique they had worked on yesterday, that of striking short of his reach in order to trick his opponent. He made a mental note to ask why later that day. Knowing what he did of Boromir, he was fairly sure the boy would have a reason for the omission – indeed, even as he watched, Boromir used another of the techniques they had studied, and managed to neatly score a point on his opponent. Truly, for a child so young, he had quite a gift for swordsmanship.


Boromir won his first match, five points to three, and as Taracar called a halt the boy's eyes immediately went to Aragorn. Aragorn met the look with a warm smile and a nod of approval, and Boromir beamed at him before turning his attention back to his instructor, who was now assigning partners for the second match. Taracar was apparently pairing for ability again – and interestingly, Boromir was paired up with his rival of the previous day, Eradan. Aragorn wondered if that was a deliberate move on Taracar's part, but the old soldier's expression was quite unreadable, although he did nod to Aragorn as he passed him on his way around the room.


Once all the pairings were assigned, the match began, and Aragorn saw at once that this time Boromir was using his new technique, and using it rather well. The little boy was deliberately holding back from his full reach, and keeping his defence very tight, obviously trying hard not to let Eradan score on him. They exchanged a series of parries, during which time Eradan did manage to score once on Boromir – but suddenly the tables were turned as Boromir abruptly moved on to the second part of the technique, striking from overhead to force Eradan's sword down.


It worked quite remarkably well, perhaps because Eradan had been taken by surprise. Whatever the reason, Boromir used his advantage perfectly and struck, aiming for Eradan's shoulder. The bigger boy tried to step back out of the way, but he did not step back far enough, and Boromir's sword just managed to connect. It was a light touch – Boromir had remembered the rules – but Eradan looked quite stunned for a moment, and Aragorn had to work hard to keep from grinning. Clearly the older boy had not expected such a thing from his smaller opponent.


There was a momentary pause before they began again, and then both of them brought their little swords up, circling warily and eyeing each other with distrust. The wary looks on both small faces were enough to make Aragorn smile despite his efforts not to. On adult soldiers it would have been deadly serious, but on small children it was simply endearing.


Another exchange of parries, and Boromir made another mistake, allowing Eradan to gain a second point. Aragorn saw a look of relief on the face of the older boy, who was clearly worried about the possibility of losing to a younger classmate. However, that look was short-lived, because almost as soon as they began again Boromir made use of another trick Aragorn had taught him, and managed to score another point of his own. That left them tied again, two to two, and again Eradan looked like he really wasn't quite sure how this was happening.


They backed off again, circling for a moment or two before coming back to attack, and Aragorn saw they were both being very careful now. Boromir's small face was utterly intent, and he appeared so serious that he actually seemed rather older than his years. Aragorn felt another surge of affection for the little boy, and kept his eyes on Boromir, watching his movements closely as the two parried again. The same sequence followed once again – a point to Eradan and then another to Boromir – but this time when they started again Boromir abruptly lunged forward, dancing past Eradan and ducking under his sword, spinning to score another point as he went.


Aragorn blinked in surprise as he recognised the manoeuvre, which was not one he had shown Boromir. However, he had used it himself while he was sparring yesterday – indeed, he had managed to tag Beredil with it. Had Boromir picked it up just from watching him?


Taracar's voice rang out then, calling a halt to the match, and thus leaving Boromir the winner of his bout, by one point. Aragorn noted approvingly that he didn't gloat; in fact he appeared quite shocked himself by his victory. After a moment he said something that looked to be polite to Eradan and held out his hand, and the other boy took it. To his credit, Eradan even managed a grudging smile, despite his obvious disappointment.


Both of them turned to look at Taracar then, as he praised his weary class for their hard work before finally dismissing them. The children began to file obediently off the floor, and Boromir's eyes immediately fixed on Aragorn, a brilliant smile forming on his face as he realised his victory. Aragorn grinned back, and a moment later the little boy had come bounding over to him, now beaming fit to light up the room.


"Th'rongil! Th'rongil, did you see?" he asked breathlessly as he came to a halt, stumbling over the name in his excitement. "I beat him! I've never beaten him before, not ever!"


Boromir was almost bouncing in place with delight, his hair wildly tousled, his eyes sparkling in his flushed little face. Still grinning, Aragorn went to one knee, putting a warm hand on one small shoulder. "I did indeed see, little fledgling," he said, automatically using the pet name he seemed to have adopted for Boromir. "And a fine victory it was too! I am very proud of you!"


In answer, Boromir gave him another of those brilliant smiles and then flung himself forward into Aragorn's arms, although thankfully he did remember to drop his sword first. Aragorn hugged him back warmly, closing his eyes briefly against another rush of tenderness. It seemed like such a simple act, to hug this child, but as he held the warm little body in his arms, he could feel the rightness of it.


I will help him, he vowed to himself again, echoing his earlier thoughts. I will give him all that I may, while I may. I swear it.


Boromir clung fiercely to him for several moments longer, then finally pulled away, looking up at Aragorn with nothing less than sheer adoration. Once again, Aragorn found himself almost embarrassed by the devotion he saw in the child's eyes.


May I never fail him, he thought swiftly, as he smiled down into the flushed little face.


"You fought very well today, little fledgling," he said, his voice warm. "You should be very proud of yourself."


"I fought well because you taught me," Boromir said, still gazing at him adoringly.


"Nay, you fought well because you learned well and you used what you were taught," Aragorn said. "I may have done the teaching, but you did the work, little one. Of course, there is a lot of work still to do," he added with a grin. "For you are a fledgling still, even after your victory today. But if you continue to learn well, then your skill will only increase."


Boromir nodded vigorously. "I'll learn well," he said. "I promise I will. But will you teach me more? Please?"


"Aye, I will teach you more," Aragorn said. "Not always new tricks, mind – sometimes we will just drill, and practice the old tricks. But practice we will, together. Yes?"


"Yes!" Boromir agreed excitedly.


"Good!" Smiling, Aragorn smoothed the boy's tousled hair, then glanced around at the rapidly emptying room. "And now, my little fledgling, it is time for you to practice some other things," he said, turning his attention back to Boromir. "We must get you to your tutor for your lessons with him. Is Ivoren coming for you?"


Boromir's face had fallen somewhat at the reference to his academic lessons, but apparently his victory was enough to keep him from being too unhappy at the prospect. He shook his head at Aragorn's question. "I told her I'd ask if you would walk with me," he said hopefully.


"And so I will," Aragorn said. "But in that case, come; we should be off."


He stood and held out his hand to Boromir, who took it happily. "Your arm is better," the little boy said as they started to walk, having apparently noticed Aragorn's lack of sling.


"Aye, it is as good as new now," Aragorn said with a smile. "And I must say I am relieved; it was becoming tiresome to only have the use of one."


Boromir nodded. "I had to wear a sling once when I hurt my shoulder," he said, wrinkling his nose at the memory. "It was awful. I wasn't allowed to play outside or go to training or anything. It took ages to get better."


"That must not have been easy," Aragorn said. Considering how much Boromir enjoyed his martial lessons, being deprived of them would have been quite a blow. "How did you hurt your shoulder?" he asked, looking curiously at the child.


"Training," Boromir replied, matter-of-factly. "I had only just started, and we were doing sparring practice and Targon accidentally hit me. It really hurt. I wasn't angry with him, though," he assured Aragorn. "He was really sorry, and it was only an accident. And he got in lots of trouble anyway. Master Taracar is his grandfather," he added, as if this explained everything – which perhaps it did, Aragorn thought wryly. Taracar would most likely expect his grandson to know better.


"Aye, well, accidents can happen in training," he said. "I am sure that Targon learned his lesson after that."


"He did," Boromir agreed. "He's much more careful now. He's almost old enough to go into the next class," he added wistfully. "They have bigger swords. I can't wait until I'm old enough."


Aragorn grinned. The note of longing in Boromir's voice as he mentioned 'bigger swords' reminded him more than a little of himself as a child, growing up in Rivendell. He could still recall trailing after Elladan and Elrohir, looking longingly at their bows and quivers and their gleaming swords, wishing for the day when he would be allowed his own. It had seemed most unfair to him that everyone else got to have weapons when he was not permitted them – and his attempts to remedy that imbalance had earned him quite a few sessions over Elrond's lap.


"You will have a bigger sword one day," he told Boromir now, comfortingly. "You need to get a bit bigger yourself before you are ready for a sword to match. For now, though, you do very well with the one you have."


He smiled down at the boy as they exited the practice building, both of them blinking a little in the sudden brightness. Aragorn suddenly remembered that he had some questions for his little charge relating to swords and the use thereof, and looked down at Boromir with interest as they continued to walk.


"That reminds me, little one," he said. "I meant to ask, where did you learn that last move you used on Eradan? I did not teach you that one."


Boromir cast a swift, almost guilty look upwards, as if worried that he might be in trouble. "I saw you use it," he confessed sheepishly. "When you were sparring with Lieutenant Beredil. I tried to practice it after my nap, but I wasn't sure if I had it right. I just wanted to try it."


"Well, I think Eradan could attest to the fact that you did have it right," Aragorn said with a smile, and Boromir smiled in return, looking very relieved. "It is all right to copy things that you see others doing," Aragorn went on, more seriously. "It is a good way to learn. However, if the move is complex or you are not sure about it, it is best to practice it with someone else first, rather than trying it out while you are sparring. Do you know why?"


Boromir nodded. "Because sparring can be fast, and if you make a mistake you could hurt your partner," he said, sounding as if he was repeating something he had been told. He was looking guilty again. "Master Taracar says that too – that we shouldn't use any moves unless we've practiced them with someone else first. He says we're too little to learn it just from watching yet." He cast another anxious look at Aragorn. "I'm sorry, Thorongil. I didn't really mean to. It just – happened."


"Aye, you got carried away," Aragorn said, keeping his tone mild in response to Boromir's obvious worry. "It happens, and I am not angry with you, little one. However, it sounds as though you do understand why you should always practice first. Will you promise me that you will do that from now on? I would not like to see you hurt, nor any of your opponents."


Boromir nodded, looking up at him with wide eyes. "Yes, sir," he said earnestly. "I promise. I won't do it again."


"Good boy," Aragorn said, nodding his approval. "The rules are there to keep you safe, little fledgling. That is why you should obey them."


"Yes, sir," Boromir agreed again, soberly – too soberly for a child who had just had such a victory, Aragorn thought with a frown. He purposely lightened his tone when he spoke again, hoping to take away the lingering anxiety he saw in Boromir's face.


"Now, onto my other question," he said, giving the boy a reassuring smile. "I saw that you did not use the first technique I showed you in your first fight – the one where you hold back from your full reach. I was curious as to why, and I imagined that you would certainly have a reason for it." He gave the small hand in his a gentle squeeze.


"Oh! Master Taracar says that we shouldn't use the same moves in every duel," Boromir immediately explained, looking earnestly up at Aragorn. "He says that it makes us too . . . too . . ."


"Predictable?" Aragorn guessed, and Boromir nodded.


"Yes! Too predictable. He says we should do different things. So I thought I wouldn't do that until my second fight."


"That is very sound reasoning, little one," Aragorn said, impressed. Ai, but this child was sharp! "Master Taracar is right; it is not good to be too predictable. You want to keep your opponents on their toes – which, I might add, you did an admirable job of today with Eradan."


He winked at Boromir, who grinned back at him, clearly buoyed up by the memory of his victory. "I've never beaten him before, not ever," the little boy said wonderingly, and Aragorn couldn't help but smile. Boromir sometimes talked as if he had been taking combat lessons for years on end, a trait Aragorn found very endearing.


"Well, you beat him today, my fledgling," he said warmly. "And a fine victory it was. Although you must not feel bad if he wins again in the future. You took him by surprise today, but he will be ready for you next time, and he has more experience than you. I do not think you will be able to best him every time, at least not yet."


"I know," Boromir agreed. "But even if he wins for ages, now I know I can beat him. If I did it once, that means I can do it again. I just have to keep trying," he added firmly, prompting another grin from Aragorn.


"That is a very good attitude, little fledgling," he said approvingly. "If you are patient and work hard, you will beat Eradan again. I am sure of it."


Boromir gave him another of those adoring looks. "I bet nobody ever beats you," he said.


"Nay, not so. I am as fallible as the next man," Aragorn replied. "I can be taken by surprise too – and I have been, more than once," he added wryly, as they entered the tunnel to the seventh level. "No one should ever believe themselves invincible, Boromir. It makes them careless – and indeed, 'tis only encouragement for someone to come along and prove them wrong."


Boromir's brow creased as he thought about this, but after a moment he nodded in apparent understanding, and the conversation turned to other things as they walked up the slope of the tunnel, finally emerging through the gate onto the seventh level. They made their way across to the Steward's House, and Aragorn took a reluctant Boromir first to his chamber to drop off his sword, then up to the study where his lessons took place. Oronar was waiting inside, and Aragorn knelt down in the doorway to say goodbye to Boromir, who was regarding his tutor dolefully.


"Do not look so discouraged, little one," Aragorn said, smiling fondly at the child. "Your lessons will be over before you know it – and after that, I have a surprise for you." He had had an idea as they were walking, and he intended to start preparations as soon as he had left Boromir with his tutor.


Boromir perked up at once, his eyes alight with sudden interest. "What is it?" he asked excitedly. "Are we going to practice some more?"


"Ah, now, it would not be much of a surprise if I told you," Aragorn said, grinning. "You will have to wait and see. Now, off you go, and be good for your tutor." He turned the little boy by the shoulders and gave him a pat on the backside to start him walking, grinning unrepentantly when Boromir threw him an indignant look over his shoulder.


"I will be back to pick him up when you are finished," he told Oronar as he straightened up, and the man nodded. And so, assured that Boromir was safely occupied for the next hour and a half, Aragorn headed off to put his plan into motion.






Aragorn's first task was to check with Boromir's mother, just to make sure that the plan in question was acceptable to her, and this he did straight away. Finduilas was sitting up in bed, looking very pale but, Aragorn thought, perhaps better than she had looked the previous evening. She welcomed him in, and just as Ecthelion had, she took time to thank him for watching over Boromir.


"It is very kind of you, my lord," she said, in her soft voice. "With my illness, and Denethor so busy, Boromir has oft been left with only his nurse for company. He is a high-spirited child, and I know he longs for other companionship. I am very grateful for what you are doing for him."


"It is my pleasure to do it, my lady," Aragorn replied simply. "Boromir is a very bright and deserving child. I am glad to offer what help I may."


Finduilas smiled warmly at Aragorn's compliments to her son, and thanked him again for his kindness. Once Aragorn had assured her that there was no need for thanks, he then went on to describe Boromir's triumph during his martial lesson that morning, and told her of his idea to surprise the boy with a reward. Far from being concerned about his plan, as he had feared, Finduilas accepted it at once. "Oh, he will love that, my lord," she said, her eyes glowing as she imagined her son's reaction. "It is a wonderful idea. Please, do so with my blessing. I know that Boromir will be safe with you."


Aragorn thanked her warmly for her trust, then bowed and bid her goodbye. With permission given for his plan, his next task was to find Ivoren and enlist her aid. She proved easy to find, as she was currently tidying things in Boromir's chamber, and Aragorn explained his plan to her, asking if she might set out some suitable clothes for Boromir to wear. She readily agreed, and immediately offered to take over the next task on Aragorn's list, that of visiting the kitchens.


"I will take care of that for you, my lord," she said, smiling. "We will have everything ready by the time the little one's lessons are over. Shall I bring it all back here, or take it down to the stables?"


"Take it to the stables, if you will," Aragorn said, nodding his thanks to her. "I am going there now to tend to my horse, so he will be ready for his load, and the grooms can aid you when you get there."


Ivoren curtseyed to him and hurried off out the door, no doubt heading for the kitchens to begin preparations. Aragorn likewise headed for the stables, to see to his horse and further ready things for the afternoon's events. Once all was in order, he headed back up to the seventh level, and went to collect a few things from his own chamber before walking back across the courtyard to the Steward's House.


It was just about time for Boromir's academic lessons to be over, so Aragorn went straight up to the study and knocked lightly on the door. It was yanked open almost immediately, and Boromir greeted him with another of those sunny smiles, appearing quite delighted to be rescued.


"Hello, Thorongil!" he said. "Can we go now? Where are we going? What's the surprise?"


Aragorn couldn't help but smile at the child's enthusiasm – and given the rather weary look on Oronar's face, he had the feeling that it had been ongoing throughout the lesson. The man looked quite as relieved as Boromir to have it over with, and he exchanged a wry look with Aragorn as Boromir began to pepper him with questions. Aragorn grinned, holding up a hand to stay the torrent.


"Enough, little one, enough," he said, laughing. "We are going right now, and you will find out what your surprise is in due course. Come along now, you need to change clothes, and then we will be off."


He held out his hand to Boromir, and the child took it eagerly, trotting along beside him as they began descending the stairs. "Why do I need to change clothes?" he asked curiously, as they reached the bottom.


"So that you will not get cold," Aragorn informed him with a grin, purposely being mysterious. Boromir took the bait, immediately chiming in to ask why he might get cold, and Aragorn laughed, letting go of the small hand and leaning down to scoop Boromir into his arms. "You will have to wait and see," he said with mock severity. "Now, come – or we will never get there!"


With that, he carried Boromir down the hall and into his chamber, depositing the child in a giggling heap on the bed. There were clothes laid out there, including a warm coat, and Aragorn laughingly exhorted Boromir to change into them. The little boy hurriedly scrambled off the bed and did so, only running into difficulties when he got to the buttons on his coat, which were apparently proving troublesome. Seeing the problem, Aragorn knelt down and did them for him, smiling into the excited little face.


"All right then, little fledgling," he said when he was finished. "Let us be off!"


Boromir cheered and ran for the door, and Aragorn followed, reaching down to take the child's hand as they headed out of the Steward's House. Boromir trotted along beside him, obviously eager to get to wherever they were going, and just as obviously trying to hold back his questions. His expression only grew more puzzled as they passed through the seventh gate and walked down the long slope, and he frowned in even greater confusion when they turned right instead of left at the bottom, heading away from the practice grounds.


"Thorongil, where are we going?" he finally asked, apparently no longer able to bear the suspense. Aragorn laughed and took pity on him, squeezing the small hand held in his.


"First of all, we are going to the stables," he said, smiling warmly down at the child. "Then we will meet my horse – and then we are going to go for a ride outside the City, and for a picnic. There are some nice woods a little way to the north, and I thought we could stop there for lunch, and then perhaps explore a little afterwards. How does that sound, little one?"


Boromir's eyes had grown wider and wider during Aragorn's explanation, and the look of sheer delight on his face was quite adorable to witness. "Yes!" the little boy exclaimed a moment later, practically bouncing with joy. "Oh yes, please! Thank you, thank you!"


He seemed too busy bouncing up and down to say any more, but his expression said it all, and Aragorn was instantly glad that he had come up with this particular plan. It had occurred to him as he was taking Boromir to his tutor, trying to think up something that would serve as a celebration of the boy's victorious duel. He had suddenly hit on the idea of a picnic, and it had seemed like a good one to him. He doubted that Boromir got to leave the City often, and the woods to the north were indeed a fine place for a picnic and a bit of exploring. There was no risk of being set upon by enemies, not so close to the City, and of course Aragorn did not intend to let Boromir out of his sight, which took away any danger of the child getting lost. Seeing Boromir's joy over the prospect was easily enough to reassure him that he had made the right choice.


"Have you been out of the City before?" he asked Boromir, as they approached the stables. The little boy managed to stop bouncing long enough to answer him, his face still suffused with joy.


"Three times that I can remember," he said. "We went twice to visit Uncle Imrahil – he lives by the sea – and Mother says we went once when I was a baby, too, but I can't remember it. And once Grandfather took me out riding with him, but he doesn't ride much anymore." He turned a bright gaze up to Aragorn, his eyes sparkling. "His horse's name is Hyarmendacil, but Grandfather just calls him Hyar. He says that since he has to say 'hyah!' anyway to make him go that it's an easy name to remember."


Aragorn chuckled, appreciating the humour of the name. "I hope his horse does not get confused between the two," he said with a grin. "Else he might end up going when the Steward does not want him to."


"That's what I said," Boromir agreed, beaming up at him. "But Grandfather says that he is a clever horse and he knows the difference. What's your horse's name, Thorongil?"


"His name is Tior," Aragorn replied. "And he is a clever horse too, like your Grandfather's. There can be no such confusion with his name, though," he added with a wink, and Boromir giggled.


"Does he go fast?" he asked, as they reached the entrance to the stables.


"Aye, he does," Aragorn replied with a smile. "As you will find out when we ride him. Come, his stall is this way."


He led the way through the stable courtyard, passing buildings left and right until he got to the one where Tior was housed. Leading Boromir inside, he saw one of the grooms standing with the horse just outside his stall, patting the smooth chestnut neck and talking quietly to him. Aragorn had saddled Tior when he was there earlier, and he could tell by the bulging saddlebags that the picnic he had requested had been packed. Tior, for his part, was standing quietly, showing his usual gentle temper.


"This is Tior, little fledgling," Aragorn said, smiling down at Boromir. "Come and meet him; he is good-tempered and does not bite."


Boromir nodded eagerly, and Aragorn led the child over to where the horse was standing. The groom bowed politely and withdrew, and Aragorn nodded his thanks to the man before reaching out to stroke Tior's soft nose.


"Hello there, Tior, my friend," he said softly. "Would you meet another friend today?" The horse nickered at him, and Aragorn grinned, taking that as a yes. "Boromir, this is Tior," he said, then bent and lifted the child into his arms, raising him up to eye level with the horse.


"Hello, Tior," Boromir said, and reached out slowly to stroke the horse's nose as Aragorn had. Tior sniffed the outstretched hand experimentally, then allowed the caress, bringing a bright smile to Boromir's face.


"I think he likes you, little one," Aragorn said, and Boromir beamed up at him.


"He is a very nice horse," he said. "And he is very big!"


"Aye, he is big indeed," Aragorn agreed with a grin. It was true, Tior was a tall horse, but he was also very even-tempered, and Aragorn knew he would take no issue with bearing them both. "Come, then," he said to Boromir, who was still stroking the horse's nose. "I will check his gear, and then we will set off."


He put the child down, smiling when Tior lowered his head so that Boromir could keep stroking. He quickly checked the contents of the saddlebags, then out of habit made sure again that the girth was tight. Satisfied that all was in order, he turned to look at Boromir, who was still patting Tior with childish delight. "Are you ready, my fledgling?" he asked, and Boromir nodded at once.


"I'm ready! Are we going now?"


"Aye, we are going," Aragorn said. "Come, we will take him outside and then we can mount up."


He took Boromir's hand again, and held Tior's reins with the other, leading both child and horse out of the stable into the cobblestone courtyard. "Stand fast, my friend," he murmured to Tior as they stopped, then bent down to lift Boromir into his arms again. He stepped around to Tior's side and lifted the boy easily into the saddle, making sure he was settled before setting a foot in the stirrup and mounting behind him. "There we are," he said, wrapping an arm around Boromir and pulling the child back against him. Boromir tipped his head back to beam at him, and Aragorn grinned back, taking the reins in his free hand. "Now, we will make our way down and out. Are you ready, little one?"


"Yes!" Boromir exclaimed, and Aragorn laughed at his enthusiasm.


"We will not be galloping just yet, my fledgling; we will get out of the City first," he said. "But once we do, then Tior will put on some speed for you. Come, let us be off!"


He clicked his tongue at Tior, expertly flicking the reins, and the horse obediently started off. They made their way down through the City at a fast walk, following the main road as it turned this way and that down the hill. Boromir appeared quite delighted by the ride and the journey, and he chattered happily to Aragorn as they rode, pointing things out here and there and asking more questions than Aragorn could count. He did his best to answer them all, not wanting to discourage the little boy's thirst for knowledge. When he had been a child, there had always been patient adults willing to answer his questions, and he felt he could surely offer Boromir the same kindness.


They finally reached the Great Gate, set in the City Wall at the very bottom, and Aragorn raised a hand in greeting to the guards posted there as they rode through the iron doors. Once they were out on the road, he urged Tior into a trot, keeping a firm arm around Boromir as they began to move faster. The little boy turned his head, craning over his shoulder to look up at Aragorn.


"Where are we going, Thorongil?" he asked. "How far is it?"


"It is not too far," Aragorn replied. "We are on the Great West Road now, and we will follow it for a time, then we will turn off west from it. There are some pleasant woods that way, and fields, and a stream most excellent for picnicking beside."


"A stream? Can we go swimming, then?" Boromir asked eagerly, and Aragorn smiled.


"You may wade a little, but I think it is a bit too cold for swimming today," he said. "I do not want to take you home with a chill! But after we have had our picnic, we can explore a little, if you would like. The woods are good for walking in."


"Yes, please," Boromir said happily, nodding. He turned back to look at the road ahead, then glanced at Aragorn again. "How far does the road go?" he said curiously. "Does it go a long way?"


"A long way indeed," Aragorn said. "All the way to Rohan, and then further still."


"That is a long way!" Boromir agreed. "Have you been all the way along it?"


"Aye, and further," Aragorn said. "I have travelled far in my time. The Great West Road is just one of many I have been on."


"I would like to travel some day," Boromir said wistfully. "Sometimes Oronar tells me stories for history lessons – not just about Gondor, but about the other lands too, and sometimes they have elves and dwarves in them. I've never seen an elf, but I'd like to."


"Well, perhaps some day you will," Aragorn said, smiling down at the child. "The elves are a wondrous people. 'Tis a gift indeed to meet one."


"Have you met an elf before?" Boromir asked.


"Aye, I have met one or two," Aragorn said, with a wry smile. 'One or two', indeed – but no, his identity must be kept secret, and so he could not afford to give out details, even to this little one.


Especially to this little one, no matter my fondness for him, he told himself firmly. He is grandson to the Steward, one day to be Steward himself. If all I desire comes to be, then one day he will know me for who I am. But he is too young yet, and my position is too tenuous. I wish it were otherwise, he thought with a sigh, glancing down at the small fair head before him.


"So, little fledgling," he said, deciding to opt for a change of subject, one that he knew would distract Boromir from thoughts of elves. "What would you say to Tior showing off his speed for you, as I promised?"


"Yes!" Boromir said excitedly, turning to look over his shoulder again. "Can we go fast? Very fast?"


"Aye, we can go fast. But let me make sure I have a good hold on you first," Aragorn said with a grin, as he pulled the little boy closer. He felt Boromir cuddle back into the curve of his body, and wrapped his arm more firmly around the child's waist. "I will not let you fall, little one," he said softly, and Boromir tilted his head back, smiling up at him.


"I know," he replied, and the simple trust in his voice and his eyes brought a rush of sudden feeling to Aragorn's heart.


May I ever be worthy of such faith, he thought fervently to himself, looking down into the child's shining eyes. "Here we go then, my fledgling," he said, and Boromir eagerly turned his face back to the road, while Aragorn took a tighter hold on the reins. "Tior, show us your speed, my friend," he murmured, then dug his heels into the horse's sides, crying, "Hyah!"


Tior sprang forward at once, eager to stretch his legs, and Boromir's squeal of excitement was almost lost in the pounding of hooves as the horse moved smoothly into a canter, then into a gallop. Aragorn leaned low over the saddle, holding the reins with one hand and Boromir with the other, enjoying the rush of wind in his face as they flew down the road. Tior's gait was smooth even at a full gallop, and he ran light and swift, bearing them away from Minas Tirith and out into the countryside.


Aragorn kept his arm locked tightly around Boromir's waist as they rode, and at first the child clung to him with both hands, wrapping small fingers around folds of his coat for reassurance. But as they continued on, and Boromir got used to the sensation of speed, Aragorn felt his grip slacken and finally release. A moment later the little boy slowly lifted both arms out to the side, holding them spread as if he were pretending to fly, and Aragorn heard him laugh delightedly at the sensation. Grinning, he urged Tior on faster still, knowing that all three of them – man, boy and horse – were thoroughly enjoying the ride.


It took them perhaps an hour to reach their destination, with Tior going at a full gallop for most of that time. He was a strong horse, and he had clearly not been getting enough exercise to suit him of late, so Aragorn let him run as he liked. He finally called for the horse to slow as they approached the field he intended them to stop in, and at his direction they left the road, cantering over the fields until they reached a patch of woods and a clear, gently-flowing stream.


"Whoa, Tior," Aragorn called, pulling back on the reins, and the horse yielded at once, slowing down into a trot before finally halting. He was blowing a little, but certainly not winded, and Aragorn had the distinct feeling that he had been reluctant to stop.


"This is where we get off, little fledgling," he said cheerfully to Boromir, loosening his hold on the boy. "Did you enjoy the ride?"


Boromir twisted in the saddle to look up at him, and Aragorn couldn't help but smile when he saw the child's face. Boromir's cheeks were pink from the wind, his hair was wildly tousled and there was a smudge of dirt across his nose, but it was all eclipsed by the look of sheer joy he was wearing.


"That was so much fun!" the little boy said, his voice shrill with excitement. "We went so fast!"


"Aye, we did," Aragorn agreed with a grin. He slid neatly out of the saddle, and reached up to lift Boromir out after him, standing the boy on his feet in the lush grass. "Tior can go fast indeed when he wishes to. Can you not, my friend?" he added to the horse, patting one chestnut flank fondly. Tior snorted in response and lowered his head to crop at the grass, and Boromir giggled.


"Can we go fast on the way home, too?" he asked hopefully. "Will Tior mind doing it again?"


"I do not think he will mind," Aragorn said, smiling down at the boy. "In truth, I believe he was glad to get some exercise! So yes, we can go fast on the way home. But for now, here is our picnic spot. What do you think?"


Boromir looked around, taking in the wide fields on one side and the woods on the other, his gaze finally resting on the stream they had stopped beside. "It's pretty," he said happily, looking up at Aragorn with a bright smile.


"It is pretty, and I am glad you like it," Aragorn said fondly. "We can sit by the stream for our picnic, if you like. Are you hungry?"


"Yes, very," Boromir said, nodding. He cast a longing look at the bulging saddlebags, and Aragorn grinned.


"In that case, look and find a good spot where you would like to sit, while I unload our lunch," he said.


Boromir trotted off to do just that, while Aragorn began unpacking the saddlebags. The food had been carefully packed in small cloth sacks, to allow for easy carrying – and there certainly looked to be plenty of it, Aragorn noted wryly. They would definitely not be going hungry.


Once he had finished unloading, he gave Tior a slap on the rump, indicating that the horse might wander if he so chose. Tior snorted but did not move, continuing to crop at the lush grass where he stood, and Aragorn left him to it and turned to look for Boromir, who had gone a little further up the bank.


"Can we sit here, Thorongil?" the child called to him. "It's flat, and the grass is dry!"


"That is what we want," Aragorn agreed with a smile, as he went to join the boy. Boromir had indeed picked a good spot, and they sat down on the grass to unpack the food, of which there was plenty. Aragorn was pleased to see that their lunch included some of Boromir's favourite sweet biscuits, as he had requested, and he grinned when the child's face lit up at the sight of them.


"Lunch first," he told the boy, and Boromir nodded obediently, appearing quite untroubled by that proviso.


They took full advantage of the kitchen staff's generosity, and as they ate Aragorn couldn't help but think that the picnic had indeed been an excellent idea, if he did say so himself. The sky was clear and blue, the sun warm, and the surrounding woods and fields were green and lush with the new growth of spring, providing a wonderfully tranquil backdrop. He could hear birds calling in the nearby woods, and with the soft burble of the stream beside them he felt that he could almost have been back in Rivendell, picnicking in the woods with Elladan and Elrohir. It had been quite some time since he had had such a sense of peace, and he was enjoying it immensely.


Boromir also appeared to be greatly enjoying himself, and he chattered happily as they ate, pointing out various things that interested him and asking yet more questions, which Aragorn did his best to answer. For all that the little boy clearly did not enjoy his academic lessons, he nevertheless seemed to have a real thirst for knowledge, and Aragorn could almost see him storing away information as his questions were answered. By the time they had finished eating he had got onto the subject of the nearby woods and what kind of animals might live in there, so Aragorn decided that it was as good a time as any for their walk.


They packed up the leftover food, of which there was quite a bit, and took it back to where Tior was still cropping grass, so that Aragorn could store it back in the saddlebags. Boromir had saved one of his biscuits to give to the horse, and Aragorn watched to make sure the child knew to keep his hand flat when he offered it. Boromir did, and Tior accepted the treat eagerly, crunching down the biscuit and sniffing around Boromir for more, making the boy giggle as the velvety nose snuffled at his coat.


"No more, Tior, my friend," Aragorn said with a chuckle, patting the smooth neck. "You can go back to your grass."


Tior turned his head to snuffle briefly at him too, then resumed cropping at the lush grass, leaving Aragorn and Boromir to head for the woods. Aragorn shortened his stride so that the child could more easily keep up with him, and together they followed the path of the stream as it meandered through the field and into the trees.


The woods were cool, the thick canopy overhead blocking most of the sun, and Aragorn stopped briefly to button Boromir's coat up again, not wanting the child to get cold. Boromir seemed quite taken by the woods, and regarded his surroundings with frank fascination, often trotting ahead to look at something new that caught his eye. Aragorn let him, although he was careful to keep the little boy in sight at all times. These woods were not especially dense, but he knew all too well how easy it was for children to get lost. He had done so himself once as a small boy, playing in the woods around Rivendell, and he could still remember how distressing it had been.


Of course, he thought wryly, he should never have been in the woods alone in the first place. He had been only a little older than Boromir was now, and as such he had not been permitted to wander away by himself. But Elladan and Elrohir had been away, and Elrond and Glorfindel had been busy, and his mother had been tired that day – and Aragorn, or Estel as he had been called then, had a small boy's energy, and he was bored.


He had gone out to play in the gardens, he recalled, and he had wandered further and further until he was on the edge of the woods. It had been a warm, pleasant summer's day, and the woods had looked very inviting, green and cool, the sweet trills of birdsong echoing out of the trees. He had hesitated beside them for a time, knowing that he was not allowed to walk in the woods by himself. But temptation had finally got the better of him, and he had told himself, with a small child's self-serving logic, that surely it would not matter if he only went in a little way.


His decision made, he had ducked under the shadow of the first trees – and as if it had been waiting for him, a rabbit had suddenly appeared, hopping merrily out of the undergrowth while Estel watched in fascination. The rabbit had taken one look at him and promptly fled, and Estel had immediately forgotten all about only going in a little way and committed himself to tracking it, the way he had seen his brothers do. He had scampered after the fleeing animal, keeping it in sight for quite some time before finally losing it in a hazel thicket. Disappointed, he had turned to walk back the way he had come, and it was only then that he had realised he had no idea where he was.


He had not been frightened at first. In fact, he had been quite convinced that all he needed to do was retrace his steps and he would find his way out again. Unfortunately, retracing his steps had proved to be far more difficult than it sounded, and all he had managed to do was get himself even more lost.


He had wandered for what seemed like hours, completely forgetting that if he was lost he was supposed to stay in one place and wait to be found, something he had been told on more than one occasion. And by the time he did finally remember that instruction and stop again, he was tired, hungry and miserable, not to mention very worried about how much trouble he would be in when he was found.


He had not doubted that he would be found, of course. As far as he had been concerned, elves could do anything, so they could certainly find one naughty boy lost in the woods, even if he had kept walking when he was supposed to stay put. As it turned out, he was right, although he did spend several rather unhappy hours huddled in a tree before his prediction came true.


It had in fact been Elrond himself who had found him – just as it was starting to get dark, something that Estel had not been at all happy about. Enormously relieved to finally be rescued, he had fairly thrown himself on the elf lord, nearly falling out of the tree he had climbed in his haste to get down. Elrond had gathered him into his arms and hugged him, then carried him, sleepy and sniffling, back to Rivendell, to be given a bath and tucked safely into bed. There had been no scolding that night, but Estel had seen his mother's pale face and reddened eyes, and had felt terribly ashamed of himself for frightening her so.t of the tree he had climbed in his haste to get down.,


Of course, Aragorn remembered ruefully, there had been plenty of scolding the next day, when he had been summoned to Elrond's study to account for his disobedience. There had also been a very unpleasant session over the elf lord's knee, once his explanation, such as it was, was found to be less than satisfactory . . .


"You know that you are not allowed to go into the woods by yourself, Estel," Elrond had said, his voice quiet but very stern. "You were very naughty to disobey – and you knew you were being disobedient, did you not?"


Estel, who had by then been lying in his least favourite position in the world – stretched out bare-bottomed across his ada's lap, waiting for his spanking to start – sniffled and closed his eyes tightly. "Yes, Ada," he whispered softly, unable to deny it. "I'm sorry."


"I know you are sorry now, little one," Elrond replied. "But you must learn to do as you are told. You know better than to wander off by yourself, and I will not see you lost to us because of carelessness. The rules are there to keep you safe, and you will obey them, or your bottom will sting. Do you understand, my son?"


"Y-yes, Ada."


"Good." Elrond's voice was still soft; there was no trace of anger in it, just a stern and decisive firmness. "Then let this spanking remind you not to disobey again."


Estel felt his ada's hand pat lightly on his bare bottom, and squeezed his eyes even more tightly shut, stiffening his legs to try to brace himself. It was only a moment before the first swat came, lighting a stinging fire across his bottom, and he jumped, biting his lip to hold back the squeal. This time, he told himself fiercely, he was not going to cry . . .


And that resolve lasted until about the third swat, Aragorn thought wryly, remembering his attempts to be stoic with amusement. After that, I howled loud enough to be heard clear across Rivendell.


He smiled at the memory. Elrond had not spanked him either long or hard, but he had been determined to make his point, and Estel had been in floods of tears by the time the spanking was over. However, once that point had been made, he had been gathered up into the elf lord's strong arms to cry out his pain, just as he always was. Elrond had held him close, hushing him, stroking his hair and wiping the tears from his cheeks, until he was ready to face the world again. His bottom had been sore, but his ada's comfort had always made it better.


Although I still ate supper sitting on a cushion that night, Aragorn recalled with a grin, as he quickened his pace to catch up with Boromir again.


They enjoyed a pleasant walk, following the path of the stream as it meandered through the woods, listening to the sounds of the birds calling in the treetops. Aragorn kept Boromir entertained by naming the birds they could hear, and after a while Boromir joined in, making guesses of his own based on the names Aragorn had given. He picked it up quickly, too, Aragorn was pleased to note, and so he added in a few more lessons as they walked, explaining some of the basics of tracking to the child. Boromir listened attentively, and after that they both kept their eyes open for tracks on the ground, so that Aragorn could explain what had made them. For his part, Boromir seemed simply delighted by the attention he was getting, and he trotted happily beside Aragorn, listening intently to his explanations. Aragorn thought wryly that he was willing to wager the boy never paid such careful attention to his tutor's lessons.


He eventually decided that they had walked far enough, and they turned and headed back the way they had come, still following the stream. Boromir took the opportunity to demonstrate his newfound skills as they walked, each time looking to Aragorn for confirmation or correction. Aragorn made sure to keep any corrections gentle, not wanting to discourage the child's enthusiasm. In truth, he was quite impressed by how well Boromir had absorbed what he'd been taught, and he told him so, causing the little boy to beam at the praise.


They finally emerged from the woods, coming back out into the field beside the stream, blinking in the bright afternoon sunshine. Tior was still cropping grass, having barely moved from where they had left him, and Boromir laughed at the sight.


"He is still eating!" he said, grinning up at Aragorn.


"Aye, well, he did run a long way," Aragorn replied, smiling. "And he is a big horse; it takes a lot of grass to fill him."


Boromir nodded, looking down thoughtfully at the grass. "I wouldn't think grass would taste very good."


"To us, perhaps not," Aragorn said. "But to a horse, I think it tastes very good indeed."


"I suppose so, or they wouldn’t eat it," Boromir agreed logically. "But he likes biscuits too." He gave Aragorn a hopeful look. "Can we have something else to eat? I'm hungry again."


"Your legs must be hollow, my fledgling," Aragorn said with a laugh. "But yes, you may have another snack, and we can sit by the stream for a while before we head home."


Boromir sighed at the mention of returning home, but after a moment he directed another hopeful look at Aragorn. "If we're going home afterwards, couldn't I go swimming? Just for a little while?"


"No swimming," Aragorn said firmly. "It is too cold, and I do not want you catching a chill. You may wade in the stream if you like, though, where it is shallow."


Boromir sighed again, but nodded, apparently deciding that wading was better than nothing. They walked across the field to where Tior stood, and Aragorn took some of the leftovers from lunch out of the saddlebags before they sat down on the bank to eat. Boromir soon lost interest in the food in favour of wading in the stream, so once he had taken his boots off Aragorn helped him roll his breeches up to his knees, then found a shallow spot where he could wade safely. Boromir splashed happily in, then turned to grin at Aragorn.


"It's cold!"


"Aye, well, I did warn you," Aragorn replied with an answering grin. "Now you see why I will not let you go swimming."


"Are you coming in?"


"To get my feet cold?" Aragorn raised an eyebrow. "I think not, my fledgling. You are the one who wanted to wade."


Despite those firm words, however, it was not long at all before Aragorn somehow found himself removing his own boots, rolling his breeches up and joining Boromir in wading in the stream. The little boy's delighted smile was reward enough for the cold feet, he thought fondly. And at least this way, he could make sure Boromir stayed mostly dry.


They spent a pleasant half hour playing in the stream, and then sat up on the bank, wiggling their bare toes in the sun until they were dry enough to put their boots back on. At that point, Aragorn decided that they really ought to be heading home before it got too late. It had been a long day for Boromir, and he had lessons to attend in the morning, something Aragorn reminded the boy of when he protested the decision to leave. Boromir sighed, but finally nodded his acceptance, and Aragorn ruffled his hair fondly.


"This will not be the only time, little fledgling," he told the child kindly. "We cannot do this every day, but I will make sure we have time for another picnic soon."


That assurance – and the prospect of the ride home, if not the actual arrival – cheered Boromir up considerably, and he gave Aragorn another sunny smile as he was lifted into place on Tior's back. Aragorn swung himself up easily behind the child, clicking his tongue at Tior, who did indeed seem eager for some more exercise. Aragorn held him back as they trotted over the grass, but once they reached the road he gathered Boromir close against him and let the horse run, the sheer speed of it drawing delighted laughter from Boromir and making Aragorn grin.


Tior held his pace easily as they took the Great West Road back to the City, and another hour of travel saw them cantering up to the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, Aragorn reining Tior into a trot as they came near. They trotted into the wide courtyard beyond the Gate, Tior's hooves clattering loudly on the cobblestones, and then began following the winding path back up through the City, finally stopping at the stables on the sixth tier.


They dismounted outside the building where Tior was housed, and Aragorn led the horse in through the open doors, Boromir walking beside him. A groom came forward to offer assistance as they entered, and Aragorn nodded and thanked him, handing over Tior's reins. He usually liked to tend to his horse himself, but he wanted to get Boromir home. It was getting late, and the little boy had to be tired.


"Come, little fledgling," Aragorn said with a smile, looking down at Boromir as Tior was led to his stall. "We will get you home and to bed, I think. You have had a long day."


"I'm not tired," Boromir insisted, and Aragorn grinned.


"Yes, you are. And, you have lessons in the morning and you need your rest – and you have not had supper yet, either. Come along, little one."


He held out his hand to Boromir, and the boy took it, but before they got halfway to the seventh gate Aragorn was carrying him, having noticed that Boromir was having trouble keeping up with him. Not tired indeed, he thought wryly, looking down at the weary little face. This child is far too stubborn for his own good!


He took Boromir back to the Steward's House, and they made their way down the halls to the child's bedchamber, where they found Ivoren making up the bed. She looked up and smiled as they entered, and Aragorn returned it, lowering Boromir gently to the floor.


"He is quite worn out," he told her, and this time Boromir didn't protest, although that may have been because he was too busy yawning. Ivoren nodded, smiling fondly at the child.


"You can leave him with me, my lord," she said, bobbing a quick curtsey to Aragorn. "I will get him something for supper and then put him straight to bed."


Aragorn was about to nod his agreement, only to be pre-empted by Boromir, who immediately turned a pleading gaze on him.


"No, Thorongil, please don't go yet," he begged. "Couldn't you stay just a little longer, and tell me a story? Please?"


Looking down into the wide grey eyes, Aragorn found the appealing gaze very difficult to say no to. Boromir seemed to be enjoying his company so much, and it seemed a shame to disappoint him. And after all, he reasoned to himself, it was not as though he had anywhere else to be. What harm was there, really, in staying to tell the little boy a bedtime story?


"Very well, little one," he said, smiling. "I will stay and tell you a story before you go to sleep. If that is all right?" he added for the sake of politeness, turning to Ivoren.


"Of course, my lord," Ivoren replied. "It is very kind of you. If you will stay with Boromir, I will go and get some supper for him from the kitchen. Shall I get something for you also, sir?"


"Nay, thank you." Aragorn shook his head. "I have had too much picnic today, so I think I shall wait a while longer to take my own meal. I am not a bottomless pit like this little one!" He grinned at Boromir, tousling the child's hair, and was rewarded with a giggle and a beaming smile.


"Very good, my lord," Ivoren said with a nod. She began heading for the door, and Aragorn glanced down at his little charge again, smoothing the hair he had just mussed.


"Come, little one," he said kindly. "Let us go now and say goodnight to your mother, while Ivoren is fetching supper for you. I am sure she would like to hear about your day, and after that you can have some supper and go straight to bed."


Boromir nodded, although he was careful to add his proviso. "After a story," he said firmly, and Aragorn chuckled.


"Aye, after a story. But after that story you must go to sleep. You have had a long day, and you have lessons in the morning."


Boromir made a face at that, causing Aragorn to chuckle again. Smiling down into the tired little face, he bent and scooped the child into his arms, balancing him on his hip.


"Come, you can have a lift down the hall," he said. "We do not want you falling asleep before you have had your story, do we?"


That got an emphatic head shake, and Boromir happily put his arms around Aragorn's neck, holding on as they made the trip down the hall to Denethor and Finduilas' chambers. Aragorn knocked and waited, and when he heard the soft call to come in, opened the door and stepped inside. Finduilas was lying in bed, looking pale and tired, but she broke into a smile when she saw them.


"Captain Thorongil," she greeted Aragorn politely. He returned her smile, moving closer to the bed.


"My lady," he said, bowing his head. "I have brought your son to say goodnight, for he is most eager to tell you all about his day."


"I thank you, my lord," Finduilas said, laughing a little. She turned her smile on Boromir, her eyes warm with love. "Have you had a good day today, my little one? Come, give me a hug."


Aragorn put Boromir down, and watched with a smile of his own as the little boy trotted over to the bed, climbing up onto it and leaning eagerly into his mother's arms. He hugged her carefully and kissed her cheek, then sat back, his eyes shining.


"I've had such a good day, Mother," he said excitedly. "I sparred with Eradan and I won! And then Thorongil took me on a picnic, and we rode right out of the City and a long way away. His horse went so fast! His name is Tior, and he's a very nice horse. I gave him a biscuit and he snuffled me. And Thorongil took me walking in the woods, and showed me how to track things. We saw fox prints! And we went wading in the stream, but it was very cold, so Thorongil wouldn't let me go swimming. And . . ."


The flood of words went on, as Boromir related his day in a jumbled but very enthusiastic fashion, and Aragorn listened with an indulgent smile, pleased to think that he had made the little boy so happy. Though truly, it did not take much – all Boromir really wanted was some attention. Like all children, he needed to feel that he was loved, that he was heard . . . that he mattered. It seemed like such a simple thing to need, but Aragorn knew all too well how deeply the lack of it could cut.


He will not lack for it while I am here, he vowed silently. Would that I could fulfil his need longer . . . but I will give him all that I may, for as long as I may.


He watched Boromir for a moment, his gaze settling wistfully on the flushed little face, and suppressed a sigh. It would not be long enough, he knew – but it would be something, and it was all that he could give.


He pushed aside his moment of melancholy then, telling himself once again not to dwell on the future, and continued to listen as Boromir happily chattered on, eager to share all the details of his exciting day. Finally, though, the chatter wound down and the little boy began to droop again, his weariness catching up with him. Finduilas noticed at once, and reached out to gather her son into another embrace.


"Bedtime for you, my little one," she said, kissing his forehead tenderly. "You are very tired, and 'tis no wonder, after such an exciting day. Off to bed with you now, and sweet dreams."


Boromir nodded, clearly too tired now to protest that he wasn't. "Th'rongil's going to tell me a story first," he told her solemnly. "He promised."


"Well, that is very kind of him," Finduilas said. "You must remember to say thank you to him, for the story and for the picnic."


"I will," Boromir said. "Goodnight, Mother." He pressed a sleepy kiss to Finduilas' cheek, then pulled away and climbed carefully off the bed, wavering a little on his feet. Aragorn stepped forward and picked him up again, and Boromir leaned wearily against his shoulder.


"I will take him off to bed, my lady," Aragorn said, nodding to Finduilas. "I bid you a good night."


"And to you, Captain," Finduilas said softly. "And thank you. For all you have done, and all you are doing."


She smiled at him, and Aragorn could see the honest gratitude in her eyes, her pleasure in her son's happiness. He shook his head gently.


"There is no need for thanks, Lady Finduilas," he said. "It is my pleasure to do what I can."


"You are a good man, Captain," Finduilas said. Her gaze went to Boromir, still leaning against Aragorn's shoulder, and her smile widened. "But I think now you had better get my son to bed, before he falls asleep on you."


Aragorn glanced down, taking in Boromir's half-closed eyes, and chuckled. "I think perhaps you are right, my lady." He dipped his head, bidding her a final goodnight, then crossed to the door and slipped quietly back out into the corridor.


They made the short journey back to Boromir's bedchamber, and found that Ivoren had set out a simple supper of bread, cheese and honey, along with a glass of milk. Boromir was too tired to be enthusiastic about food, but Aragorn managed to coax him to eat a little, sitting down at the table and setting the child in his lap. Boromir dutifully nibbled at the bread and cheese, but he quickly lost interest. By the time Ivoren returned a few minutes later, the little boy was half-asleep, leaning back against Aragorn's chest.


"Oh dear," she said softly, laughing a little. "You have quite worn him out, Captain."


"It has been a long day for him," Aragorn agreed, gently lifting Boromir off his lap. He set the boy on his feet, smiling at the sleepy protest the action garnered. "Soon, little one," he said, smoothing Boromir's hair. "You need to wash up, but then it will be bedtime."


Boromir's only reply was a yawn, which drew smiles from both Aragorn and Ivoren. Ivoren led the little boy off into the bathing chamber, telling him kindly as they went that he was far too tired for a proper bath, and so a quick wash would have to do. Aragorn sat down on the bed to wait, and some ten minutes later a quickly washed, nightshirted Boromir came padding out of the bathing room, to lean wearily against Aragorn's knee.


"Oh, 'tis definitely bedtime for you, my fledgling," Aragorn said, giving the little boy a fond smile. He lifted Boromir up onto the bed, turning back the covers so that the child could slide beneath them, which Boromir did without a murmur of protest. He lay back against his pillow, turning sleepy grey eyes on Aragorn.


"Can I still have my story?" he asked hopefully.


"Aye, if you think you can stay awake for it," Aragorn said, gently teasing. Boromir immediately assured him that he could, and Aragorn smiled, smoothing a hand over the child's tousled hair.


"Then you shall have your story," he said fondly. "But first, you must say goodnight to Ivoren." The woman had just emerged from the bathing chamber, and Aragorn beckoned her over with a smile.


Boromir sat up in bed, giving Ivoren a sleepy smile of his own, and wrapped his arms tightly around her neck when she bent to hug him. "Goodnight, Ivoren," he said, kissing her cheek.


"Goodnight, love," Ivoren said warmly. She pulled back and pressed a kiss to the little boy's forehead, then straightened up. "Sleep well, and sweet dreams to you. And straight to sleep after the captain has told you your story, all right?"


Boromir nodded, and Ivoren gave him a last loving look, wishing him goodnight once again before curtseying to Aragorn and slipping quietly out of the room. As the door shut behind her, Boromir cuddled back down under his covers and turned an expectant look on Aragorn, who chuckled.


"Aye, you may have your story now," he said, grinning. "Let me see now . . . which one should I tell tonight?"


He made a show of looking thoughtful, although in truth he had already decided which story he was going to tell. It was an elven tale, one that Elladan and Elrohir had often told him as a child. The twins had always put a great deal of enthusiasm into their telling of it, doing different voices and acting out the exciting parts, much to their little brother's delight. Aragorn could still clearly remember sitting entranced by their performance, and how much he had loved it, every time.


Smiling at the memory, he turned his attention back to Boromir and began the tale. His version wasn't nearly as impressive as the twins', but he nevertheless made a good performance of it, and found himself rather enjoying doing the different voices and making Boromir giggle. The little boy was quite transfixed, and he listened wide-eyed as the story unfolded, his sleepiness forgotten. When the tale finally came to an end, he gave Aragorn a beaming smile.


"That was a very good story," he said, his delight obvious. "Thank you, Thorongil!"


"I am glad you enjoyed it, little one," Aragorn said warmly. "But now, it is time for you to go to sleep. You are very tired."


Boromir nodded, his eyelids already beginning to droop a little, as his weariness caught up with him yet again. "Will you come to my lesson tomorrow?" he asked hopefully, cuddling down further under his covers.


"Aye," Aragorn said, gently tucking the covers in around the child. "And I expect to see you in fighting form, so off to sleep with you now, and rest well."


He leaned down to kiss the little boy's forehead, and Boromir took the opportunity to wrap both arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "Thank you for the picnic, Thorongil," he whispered earnestly, then kissed Aragorn's cheek. "I had so much fun."


"I am glad to hear it," Aragorn said, returning the hug. "I had fun too – and we will do it again soon, I promise." He smiled and sat up, tapping Boromir's nose with a finger. "Now, sleep."


Boromir giggled at that, giving Aragorn a tired but very happy smile. "Goodnight, Thorongil."


"Goodnight, my little fledgling. Sleep well, and have sweet dreams."


He gave Boromir a last fond look, then got to his feet and stepped away to put out the lamp, leaving the room lit only by the dim glow from the window. Making his way across the darkened room, he slipped quietly out into the hallway and closed the door behind him.






Having left Boromir safely in bed, Aragorn went back to his quarters to read over the missives that had been left for him. He had barely finished the last one when a servant arrived at his door, extending an invitation from Ecthelion to join him for supper. Aragorn accepted and made his way back to the Steward's House, where he found Ecthelion in the dining hall. The Steward first asked after his health, then enquired about his afternoon, smiling in such a way that Aragorn knew he had heard about the picnic.


"I wanted to give him a reward," he said with a smile of his own, after telling Ecthelion all about Boromir's triumph during his sword lesson, and his own idea to take the boy out of the City for the afternoon. "He worked hard for that victory. I thought he might enjoy a picnic."


"It was an excellent idea," Ecthelion said warmly. "Finduilas was delighted; she knew how happy it would make Boromir. She worries about him being lonely, especially while she is so ill. You have taken a great weight off her mind, Thorongil."


"I am glad," Aragorn replied. "I have seen how much she loves her son. I only hope that her illness will pass, and she will be able to spend time with him again herself."


"I hope for the same, though I fear it will not be borne out," Ecthelion said, and his grief at the thought was obvious. "This bout will most likely pass in time, as the others have, but they seem to be growing worse, and the healers can do little for her. There is a shadow on her now – and Denethor sees it, though he will not admit it. He loves her dearly, in his way; more dearly than any other. If she should perish . . . I will admit, I fear what he might become."


He sighed, and Aragorn was suddenly struck anew by how old he looked – older even than his years, which were many. Wanting to offer comfort, he put a hand on Ecthelion's arm. "Denethor is a man of strength and far sight, my lord," he said quietly. "He will be a good leader in his time."


"Perhaps," Ecthelion said, and for a moment he wore a narrow look, almost a knowing look, his eyes searching Aragorn's face. Aragorn had wondered once or twice before if Ecthelion might have guessed, or at least had some suspicion, about his heritage, and he wondered again now. However, a moment later that look was gone as if it had never been, and the Steward gave him a small smile.


"And Boromir will be Steward in his time, too," he said lightly. "He is a bold little thing already. He will be a great captain, I think."


"He is quite a budding warrior," Aragorn said, glad of the change of subject. "He shows a great deal of skill for his age."


"He has the talent for it, and he certainly practices," Ecthelion said with a chuckle. "He rarely lets go of that sword of his. You should have seen him when he was first allowed it. I believe he would have slept with it under his pillow if he could have."


"I can believe it," Aragorn said, grinning. "His enthusiasm for his lessons is obvious."


"Aye, now if only he showed the same enthusiasm for his academic lessons," Ecthelion said wryly. "Getting him to sit still is a task in and of itself."


"I confess I feel some sympathy for his tutor," Aragorn said. "However, I was much the same at his age."


"I can imagine you so, somehow," Ecthelion said warmly. Aragorn could hear the fondness in his tone – the same fondness that he knew galled Denethor so – and he suddenly felt a moment of misgiving. How would the Steward's son react on returning home, to find that Thorongil now had not only the esteem of his father, but of his son as well? Denethor already resented him, resented Ecthelion's love for him, and the loyalty his men gave him. Aragorn had never wanted his relationship with Denethor to become a rivalry, but it had done so despite his efforts, and his new fondness for Denethor's son would surely add another link to that chain of resentment.


And yet, he thought sadly, what was his alternative? To turn his back on Boromir, just when the child had learned to trust him? He could not do that. He would not do that.


Boromir needs me, he thought, knowing it was the truth. And while he is not my child, I already love him as if he were. I cannot back away from this, not simply to assuage Denethor's ego – nay, and not for anything else. My fledgling needs me, and I will answer that need as best I can. If there are consequences with Denethor . . . then so be it.


As he made that private vow, he suddenly realised that he had been lost in his own thoughts, and had lost track of the conversation. He turned quickly back to Ecthelion, and found the Steward watching him.


"Pardon, my lord," he said quietly. "I was distracted for a moment."


"Aye, you are troubled," Ecthelion said gently. "And yet that is nothing new, for you have been troubled as long as I have known you, Thorongil. And while I may not know your past, nor even your true name, nonetheless I care for you as a son, and as a loyal friend. And so I would say this to you: you have a good heart, Thorongil. Do not fear to follow it. And I hope, as your lord and as your friend, that whatever burdens you bear will one day be eased."


"Thank you, my lord," Aragorn replied, touched once again by Ecthelion's obvious fondness for him. "It has always been an honour to be your captain, and your friend."


Ecthelion smiled at that, and patted his arm. "You have done much for me, and for Gondor, Captain Thorongil. The honour, I think, is mine as much as yours."


He reached for his cup of wine and drained it, placing the cup back down on the table. "And now I think I will leave you," he said, getting wearily to his feet. "It seems to have come time for old men to retire to bed. You will be at the council meeting tomorrow?"


"Aye, my lord," Aragorn said, nodding. He had risen to his feet when Ecthelion did, and now he smiled. "And I think I will also retire. I have had a long day; your grandson has worn me out."


"He is good at that," Ecthelion agreed with a chuckle, as he stepped away from the table. "But you, at least, can keep up with him better than I. I grow tired just watching him some days." He smiled, and Aragorn returned it.


"Goodnight, my lord," he said. "I will see you at the council meeting."


"I will welcome your counsel at it," Ecthelion replied warmly. "Goodnight, Thorongil."


Aragorn bowed, and once Ecthelion had left the room, he went to seek his own bed.