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:
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.
The next morning, Aragorn rose early once again, and went briefly to the stables to check on Tior before heading over to the practice grounds for Boromir's lesson. This time he was early, and he had a few minutes to speak to Boromir before the lesson began, which seemed to please the little boy to no end. He had clearly recovered his energy, and he spent most of their conversation bouncing on his toes, obviously eager for his lesson to get started.
Taracar finally called his pupils to attention, and Boromir waved happily to Aragorn as he bounded away to his place. Aragorn waved back, then leaned against the wall to watch as the lesson began, keeping a fond eye on Boromir's efforts.
He had been unable to resist looking in on the child last night, as he left the Steward's House after eating with Ecthelion. Boromir had been fast asleep, and Aragorn had simply stood by the bed for several minutes, smiling down at the peaceful little face, watching the slow rise and fall of the boy's breathing. He was growing more accustomed to these surges of protectiveness now, but the one he'd felt then had nearly brought tears to his eyes. Boromir had been beautiful in sleep, grave and innocent and utterly peaceful, and Aragorn had wanted nothing more than to keep his fledgling safe from harm, always. The thought of leaving Gondor – something he knew would eventually be inevitable – had never grieved him more.
Give to him all you may, while you may, he had repeated to himself again, like a mantra. And as he had slipped from the room, leaving Boromir still sleeping soundly, he had promised himself once again that he would do so.
And so I will, he thought again now, watching as Boromir brandished his little sword in front of him, trying out the new move Taracar was teaching them. The child stumbled a little, then quickly regained his balance and tried again, his brow creasing in concentration. After a few more attempts, he was definitely getting the idea, and by the time Taracar had worked his way around to him, only a few gentle corrections were required before the man nodded his approval and moved on. Boromir paused to glance hopefully over at Aragorn, and was met with a warm smile and another approving nod. Beaming, the little boy went back to his practice.
The rest of the lesson proceeded on a fairly even keel, although Aragorn noticed what seemed to be a small epidemic of distraction among some of the other children. Two of the older boys finally ended up being scolded by Taracar for larking about and not paying attention, and things quietened down after that. However, it seemed there had been too much rowdiness today for Taracar's liking, and the usual treat of free sparring at the end of the class was withheld, to the obvious dismay of his pupils. The two boys who had been reprimanded looked suitably ashamed of themselves, and Boromir looked positively mournful. Once the class had been dismissed – with some firm encouragement from Taracar to behave better tomorrow – he came trotting over to Aragorn with quite a bit less bounce than he'd had at the start of the lesson.
"No sparring," he said with a sigh, looking up at Aragorn with unhappy eyes.
"Not today," Aragorn said, patting his shoulder in sympathy. "But do not look so sad, little one. You paid attention well today, so it was no fault of yours. And I am sure you will be allowed to spar again tomorrow."
"I hope so," Boromir said dolefully. "But I wanted to spar today." He sighed, then brightened again, a hopeful light dawning in his eyes. "Thorongil, could we spar? Like we did before? And could you teach me some more?"
"I am sorry, little one, but I cannot today," Aragorn said gently, hating to disappoint the child further. "There is a meeting that I must attend this afternoon, and I am not sure how long it will run."
Boromir's face fell. "So . . . I won't see you at all today?" he asked plaintively, his distress at that thought obvious.
"Nay, you will see me," Aragorn quickly assured him. "I will come when the meeting is over, and we will have some time together before supper, although I am not sure how much. Would that I could spend all afternoon with you, but I have duties that I must do, my fledgling. You understand that, do you not?"
Boromir nodded, although his crestfallen expression did not change. "Yes, Thorongil," he said quietly.
"Good lad." Aragorn gave him a kind smile, nodding his approval. "We will still have time together, little one. And tomorrow, after your lessons, we will have another lesson of our own. All right?"
Boromir nodded again, looking a little happier, and Aragorn smiled and held out his hand. "Good. Now, come, we must get you to your tutor. I do not want you to be late for your lessons."
Boromir looked crestfallen all over again at the mention of lessons, but he did not protest, merely taking Aragorn's hand with a sigh and trotting quietly beside him as they made their way out of the practice grounds. Aragorn wondered at the child's moodiness, but he did not press him to talk, so the journey was a silent one as they walked along to the tunnel, then back up to the seventh level and across to the Steward's House.
With a stubbornness that Aragorn was beginning to learn was quite typical of his little charge, Boromir remained silent as they walked up the stairs to the study where he had his lessons, although his small face became even more downcast as Aragorn opened the door. He glanced inside at his tutor, then turned a gaze of pure misery on Aragorn, who knelt down in front of him.
"There now, little fledgling," he said, smoothing the child's hair. "It is not as bad as all that. I will see you for supper. And perhaps this afternoon, you could visit with your mother. I am sure she would like to see you."
Boromir bit his lip. "I wasn't allowed to see her this morning," he said softly. "Not even to say good morning. Ivoren said she was very, very tired and that she was sleeping."
Aragorn did not miss the slight emphasis Boromir put on 'Ivoren said'. From what he understood, the boy had generally been told that his mother was 'tired' rather than ill, no doubt in an attempt to stop him from fretting over her. It seemed, though, that his sharp little fledgling was not accepting that euphemism so readily anymore, if indeed he ever had.
"I am sorry to hear that, little one," he said gently. "But perhaps you will be able to visit her this afternoon. And if she is still too tired, then perhaps Ivoren will take you for a walk."
"I'd rather walk with you," Boromir said, his lower lip protruding into a sudden pout.
Aragorn sighed inwardly; it seemed there would be no placating Boromir today. Small children, he reminded himself, did not tend to take well to concepts such as 'later' or 'tomorrow'. He recalled throwing a fair few tantrums himself as a child over words like that. And given how disappointing Boromir's day had already been, he supposed he should not be surprised that the boy was becoming sulky.
"I would like to walk with you too, my fledgling," he said, making sure to keep his voice gentle and patient. "If we have time before supper, we can go for a walk then, if you would like – or perhaps after, if you are not too tired. But for now, you must attend your lessons, and I must attend my meeting. We both have our duties to do, and we must see them done before we can play." He reached out to tilt Boromir's chin up, looking the boy in the eyes. "Do you understand that, little one?"
Boromir eyed him unhappily for a long moment, but finally he nodded, although the pout did not fully leave his face. "Yes, Thorongil."
"Good." Aragorn tapped the boy's nose with a finger, offering a kind smile. "Now, little fledgling, off you go to your duty. Your tutor is waiting for you. Be good for him, and I will see you this afternoon."
He turned Boromir by the shoulders and gave him a little push, just as he had yesterday – although in deference to the boy's moodiness, he omitted the swat this time. Boromir went obediently, throwing a mournful look over his shoulder, and Aragorn gave him an encouraging smile before shutting the door.
He went back downstairs in search of the boy's nursemaid, and found her tidying Boromir's chamber. He stopped only briefly, to tell her that he would be back after the council meeting, but that she would have Boromir to entertain for most of the afternoon, and then continued on his way. He still had two hours before the meeting, and he wanted to visit the practice grounds again, this time for some practice of his own. With his injury, he had not had much chance to drill lately, and he knew he could not afford to get out of condition.
He found several of his men in the practice arena, including Beredil and a young lieutenant named Damrod – a clever, dependable man whom Aragorn had great regard for. They were sparring together when he arrived, and he stood on the sidelines to watch their bout, which ended with Beredil as the victor. Match over, they withdrew from the arena and came to stand with him, greeting him cheerfully.
"You have been to the healers, I see, Captain," Beredil remarked, gesturing towards Aragorn's shoulder, now free of its sling.
Aragorn nodded. "Aye, 'tis as good as new. And I am most grateful to be free of the sling; it was becoming very tiresome to only have the use of one arm."
"Better one arm than one leg, sir," Damrod said, his wry tone telling Aragorn that he had had experience with such a handicap.
"Aye, I remember that," Beredil said with a laugh, confirming Aragorn's suspicions. "One of his first skirmishes, and he broke his leg," he went on to explain, grinning at Damrod. "I would swear to this day he was more angry than hurt. The healers had to threaten him with dire consequences to get him to rest it. 'Tis a wonder that it healed at all, given how little regard he had for his injury."
"It healed," Damrod replied calmly, quite unfazed by Beredil's teasing. "And I obeyed the healers' instructions as much as was necessary."
"As much as it suited you, you mean," Beredil returned cheerfully. Damrod's only reply was a smirk, and Beredil grinned and clapped him on the shoulder, then turned back to Aragorn.
"Have you come to spar, Captain?" he asked. "I would be happy to match you, if you need a partner."
"I, too, Captain," Damrod put in. "We can turn about, if it suits you."
"Aye, I would appreciate it," Aragorn said. "I have not had much chance to drill or to spar lately, and I could use it. I will be sat in a council meeting all this afternoon, so I had best get my exercise now."
"Indeed so, sir," Beredil said. "And if you are to be in council all afternoon, we had best get to it! Damrod, will you go first?"
"Nay, you go," Damrod replied easily. "I will wait this one out, and take the match when you tire."
Beredil nodded agreeably, and waited politely for Aragorn to precede him out into the arena. They sparred in turnabout fashion, with Aragorn taking on first Beredil, then Damrod, until he finally had to take his leave. He thanked the two lieutenants for the matches, leaving them to take up their own match again, and left the practice grounds to return to his quarters, conveniently located among the guest rooms on the seventh level. He took time to quickly wash and change his clothes, then headed for the Court, the conference chambers therein, and the council meeting.
Valar help me, Aragorn thought several hours later, as he pushed his chair back from the conference table. I am more exhausted from these hours of sitting than I would be from any battle!
The various topics of discussion – or more correctly, argument – had finally been put to rest for the day, and the council meeting had drawn to a close, much to Aragorn's relief. He could see that relief echoed in the faces of the others who were present; they all looked tired, and Ecthelion himself looked grimly exhausted. Aragorn moved to his side as the others began to file towards the doors, regarding him with concern.
"Are you well, my lord?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
"Aye, I am all right," Ecthelion replied, giving him a nod and a tired smile. "Old men should not be forced to sit so long around the conference table; it wearies them. But I will go and rest now, and perhaps drink a cup of wine. Or two."
"Aye, my lord," Aragorn agreed wryly. "I feel much the same myself."
"Ah, but you are not an old man, Thorongil," Ecthelion said with a chuckle. "You must surely have energy to spare, after sitting at your ease for these past hours."
Aragorn grinned, seeing the twinkle in the Steward's eye. "I had better hope so, my lord," he replied. "For I promised your grandson I would visit him after the meeting was over, and I am sure he will not have run out of energy yet."
"Indeed he will not," Ecthelion agreed. "You may have to wait for your wine until he has run himself ragged."
"Likely himself and me as well," Aragorn said with a laugh, and Ecthelion smiled in return, waving a hand at the door.
"Go, lest he becomes impatient and starts finding mischief," he said, getting carefully to his feet. "I will retire to my chair and my wine, and I wish you luck."
Aragorn chuckled. "I may well need it, my lord," he replied. Smiling, he bowed to Ecthelion and headed for the door, slipping out into the main hall and moving swiftly to the exit.
Outside, he made his way across to the Steward's House, walking with his usual long stride and enjoying the feel of the late afternoon sun on his face. He would take Boromir out for a walk, he decided, as he neared his destination. The sun was pleasant, and it was still over an hour from the time when Boromir usually had his evening meal. There was plenty of time for a stroll in the fresh air, and perhaps spending some time outside would improve the child's mood.
Of course, he may have cheered up on his own by now, Aragorn thought, hopefully. He had a disappointing morning; it was not surprising that he was out of temper, but with luck he has had a better time this afternoon. Surely such a little one cannot remain sullen for too long.
He felt a moment of misgiving with that thought, recalling that he, as a child, had been quite capable of sulking for days on end if he thought he had reason. He would have to hope, he thought wryly as he entered the Steward's House, that Boromir was not as stubborn as he had been.
Unfortunately, that hope was dashed as soon as he entered Boromir's chamber. Indeed, it was dashed in an even more spectacular way than he had feared, because not only was Boromir not in a good temper, he was not present at all. There was only Ivoren, sitting on the window seat, anxiously twisting a fold of her skirt between her hands. She sprang to her feet when Aragorn came in, and his heart sank when he saw the look on her face.
Surely not, he thought in disbelief. Surely Boromir would not have dared.
"Do not tell me he has run off again," he said grimly, and Ivoren blanched at his tone.
"I wish I did not have to, my lord," she said, her distress obvious. "I left him in his chamber for no longer than fifteen minutes, and when I came back he had gone. I sent one of the guards to look for him, but he could not find him, not with an hour and more of searching. I'm so sorry, my lord!"
Aragorn shook his head, holding up a hand. "Nay, mistress, do not apologise. He is of an age where you should not need to watch him at every moment. He knows he is not to wander away alone; the disobedience is his. Fear not; I will find him – and when I do, I will deal with his behaviour."
Ivoren nodded, although she still looked troubled. "Wherever he is, my lord, he is keeping himself out of sight. Andor, the guardsman, took another man with him and searched until they had to go on duty, and they found no trace of him. I would guess, my lord, that he is hiding somewhere. He has not been in a good temper today."
"So I witnessed," Aragorn said wryly. "And I, too, would guess that he is hiding. I will search anyway. If I have not found him ere it grows dark, then I may have to rethink matters."
"He has never once stayed out past dark, my lord," Ivoren said. "We have not often been able to find him when he does this, but he has always returned home before nightfall."
"Aye, when he grows hungry, no doubt," Aragorn remarked dryly. "That is a comfort, at least. Nevertheless, I will look for him. If he comes back while I am gone, I pray you, keep him with you. I will want to speak to him when I return."
"Yes, my lord," Ivoren agreed, giving him a quick curtsey. Aragorn nodded politely in return, then headed back out the door, striding grimly down the corridor. He was determined to find his wayward charge – and to put a stop, once and for all, to this unfortunate habit of truancy.
An hour of searching had turned up nothing.
Aragorn had enlisted help in the end; he had met Damrod as he emerged from the tunnel onto the sixth level, and after they had exchanged greetings and Aragorn wryly explained where he was going in such a hurry, the young lieutenant had offered to help him search for Boromir. Aragorn had gratefully agreed, and had left Damrod to search the sixth level while he himself went down to the fifth. Now, after an hour of fruitless searching, he could only hope that Damrod's luck might have been better than his.
They had agreed to meet up again where they had parted, just inside the sixth gate, and Aragorn headed that way now. He kept an eye out for Boromir as he walked, although he was not holding out much hope of finding the boy. Wherever Boromir was, he was staying out of sight – either that, or he had gone even further down into the City, in which case Aragorn was going to be even more displeased than he already was.
He walked back through the sixth gate and saw Damrod waiting for him; the younger man raised a hand in greeting and walked over, shaking his head in response to Aragorn's questioning look.
"Nothing, sir," he said, as he came to a stop in front of Aragorn. "I have not seen hide nor hair of him. If he is on this level, he is hiding himself well today."
"Aye, that he is," Aragorn agreed with a sigh. "And it is growing late, now." He glanced up at the sky, noting how low the sun was, and frowned. "His nurse said that he has never stayed out past dark, but sunset is not long away."
"I am sure that nothing has happened to him, sir," Damrod said, and Aragorn could tell that he was trying to be reassuring. "Most likely he has just got caught up in whatever he is doing – or he is worried about the consequences when he does come home. None in this City would dare harm the Steward's grandson."
Aragorn nodded, although the frown did not leave his face. Damrod had a point, but the fact remained that Boromir was only four years old – and only just four, at that. Small children could get into all sorts of trouble if left to their own devices for too long, as Aragorn remembered well from his own experiences. Boromir had already stayed away longer than usual, and while Aragorn knew that Damrod was probably right about the likely reasons for that, he still could not help being worried by the boy's continued absence. He too doubted that anyone in Minas Tirith would harm Boromir, but that did not rule out the possibility of accidents.
"I suppose we can be comforted that he cannot get lost, at least," he said after a moment, trying to reassure himself. "And even if he might slip through the internal gates unnoticed, he could not possibly make it out of the City."
"Nay, the guards would spot him at once," Damrod agreed. "My guess would be that he is hiding somewhere, sir, likely worried about the trouble he will be in when he goes home."
"Aye. Either that, or he has sneaked home while we have been occupied in looking for him," Aragorn said wryly, but Damrod shook his head.
"Andor is on the gate this evening, sir," he said. "Young Boromir would not get past him unseen, and he would have sent someone to find you."
Aragorn nodded, recalling Boromir's comment about how he did not risk trying to sneak past the guards when Andor was on duty. "Aye, Boromir mentioned Andor," he said. "It seems he is known for his powers of observation."
"Not much gets past him, sir," Damrod said, giving him a small smile. "And he is well aware of the young lord's penchant for wandering. Indeed, that could be why the lad has stayed out so long today," he added thoughtfully. "With Andor on duty, Boromir must know he will be caught if he attempts to sneak back through the gate."
"True enough," Aragorn agreed. "Although at this point, he must know he will be caught anyway. He has been missing all afternoon; he can hardly expect not to be questioned about it."
"With all due respect, Captain, he needs more than to be questioned about it," Damrod said, rather grimly. "If I may say it, young Boromir needs a firmer hand than he has been getting. And he is testing you, sir."
Aragorn did not bother to ask how Damrod had come by all the information he seemed to have. Beredil had made several comments before now about the younger lieutenant's budding spy network. "Damrod always has his ear to the ground," he had said, and Aragorn had found it to be true. Damrod always seemed to know what was going on, although he was usually unfailingly discreet about it.
"I had come to much the same conclusion," he said, nodding slowly. "He wants my attention, it seems, and he knows this is a good way to get it. I think perhaps he was feeling neglected today."
"It would not be the first time," Damrod said flatly, then shot Aragorn a quick, apologetic glance. "Pardon, sir; I speak out of turn."
"Nay, you speak the truth," Aragorn replied, waving away the apology. "He has not been getting enough attention of late; that much is obvious. He wanted mine today, and so he sought it in the most effective way he knows. Well, he will have it, and plenty of it. Believe me, Lieutenant, I will be having a very long talk with that little boy when I catch up with him."
Damrod nodded, the hint of a smirk flashing briefly across his face before he became serious again. "It would not go amiss, Captain."
"Indeed not, it seems," Aragorn said dryly. "He is testing me, you say, and I agree. It is a test I shall not fail."
He sighed then, glancing once more towards the sun, which was dipping ever lower in the sky. "But first I must find him, and that is proving more difficult than I had anticipated."
"It often does," Damrod said wryly, casting his own glance towards the horizon before turning back to Aragorn. "Captain, if I may – as long as he is hiding himself, I have my doubts that we will be able to find him. He has proven in the past to be quite adept at staying out of sight until he is ready to be seen. But I do not think he would dare stay out for long after sunset, and that is not far away. If I might suggest it, perhaps it would be best if you returned to the Citadel to wait for him. I cannot see him staying away much longer, and there is not much sense in you combing the City for him while he creeps home of his own accord."
Aragorn was silent for a moment, considering. He knew Damrod was right – if Boromir was hiding, as seemed to be the case, he could be in any one of a hundred places in the City, and it was unlikely that they would be able to find him unless he wanted to be found. But it was also unlikely that such a young child would stay out long after dark, no matter how frightened he might be of the consequences of his disobedience. Boromir would no doubt be tired and hungry by now, and starting to think longingly of home. Eventually, Aragorn was sure, that longing would outweigh any fear.
However, that did not stop him from being worried about the child now.
"I too doubt he will stay out long after dark," he said finally, glancing at Damrod. "At the very least, he will be getting hungry by now. But I will admit, the fact that he has already stayed away longer than usual concerns me. I would feel better, I think, if I were searching."
"With your leave, Captain, I can continue to search," Damrod suggested. "That will leave you free to wait for him – and to ensure he does not promptly hide himself again once he gets home," he added wryly. "If I find him before he goes home by himself, then I will bring him straight to you."
Aragorn hesitated a moment longer, then finally nodded. It would probably make more sense for him to go and wait for Boromir, rather than searching for him further. His talk with the child should not be put off, not after such behaviour, and at this point he would probably "find" Boromir more quickly if he simply waited for the boy to give up and come home.
And when he does, he thought grimly, we will have a discussion that will leave him sleeping on his stomach tonight!
"You speak wisely, Lieutenant," he said. "Very well. I shall go back up the hill, and wait for our young truant to return. Hopefully he will soon give up being stubborn."
"There is only so much stubbornness that can fit into such a small package, sir," Damrod said, and Aragorn smiled.
"Perhaps so, but Boromir has it in full measure," he said wryly. He reached out to briefly grasp the other man's arm. "My thanks for your help, Damrod."
"No thanks needed, Captain," Damrod replied. "With your leave, I will search for an hour after sunset, then I will come back up myself. If he has not returned by then, I will fetch others and we can all continue searching. But truly, sir, I do not think it will come to that. Young Boromir knows his way around, and he cannot get lost, nor can he make his way out of the City. When he is ready, he will come home."
Aragorn nodded, clapped Damrod on the shoulder in thanks, and then they parted, Damrod going through the gate and down to the fifth level to continue his search, while Aragorn headed for the tunnel that led to the Citadel. He strode quickly up the lamplit slope and through the seventh gate, stopping there briefly to speak to the guards on duty. As Damrod had said, one of them was indeed the infamous Andor, a tall, keen-eyed man whose face reminded Aragorn of a falcon's. It fit well, he thought, with the man's rumoured powers of observation.
Andor greeted him with a polite bow, and nodded gravely in response to Aragorn's request that he keep an eye out for Boromir, saying rather grimly that he would send the boy straight home when he finally appeared. Aragorn nodded his thanks, thought for a moment, then added another request – that Andor also send someone to notify Ivoren when Boromir returned. He knew she was concerned for her little charge, and he did not want her to worry needlessly, if it happened that she wasn't waiting there with him when Boromir came home.
Andor readily agreed, his solemn expression softening a little at the mention of Ivoren's name. Seeing it, Aragorn felt a moment of curiosity, and found himself wondering if perhaps there was something between them. A moment later he thought wryly that if he really wanted to know, he probably ought to ask Damrod.
Pulling his thoughts back to the matter at hand, he thanked Andor again for his help and continued on to the Steward's House, striding in through the main door and down the hall to Boromir's chamber. He found Ivoren inside, lighting the lamps, and explained to her that he had come back to wait for Boromir to return, while Damrod was still searching. Although she looked rather anxious, she too assured Aragorn that Boromir had always returned safely from his unauthorised excursions, and that they had often been unable to find him until he wanted to be found.
"We gave up asking him where he hides, my lord," she told Aragorn with a sigh. "He would tell us and then immediately find a new place to go where he could not be found. There are so many places a little one can hide in the City, and he is very clever at staying out of sight when he wants to."
"He is a sight too clever for his own good," Aragorn replied dryly, and she gave him a small smile and nodded.
"I will leave you to wait then, my lord, and to speak with him when he comes home," she said. "I will be nearby; you only need call for me if you need me."
Aragorn thanked her, and she gave him a quick curtsey before hurrying out of the room, leaving him to settle himself on the window seat and wait for Boromir.
The minutes passed, and he tried to reassure himself, to quell the nagging concern he could not help but feel for the boy. He knew, logically, that Damrod and Ivoren were probably entirely correct in their reassurances – after all, Boromir had done this disappearing act many times before, and he had always come home safely. Nevertheless, Aragorn found that the worry did not leave him, and he knew that it would not until Boromir was safely home.
Once he was, then Aragorn would see about making very sure that this behaviour was not repeated.
He supposed he should not really be surprised, all things considered. Boromir had wanted his attention, that much was clear, and he had set about trying to get it in the best way he knew how – a way that would also, conveniently, test whether Aragorn intended to follow through with his promised discipline. That was also not surprising; Boromir had been lacking discipline for quite some time, and now that Aragorn had imposed some, the child would feel the need to push at those new boundaries. He would want to test the water, to make sure that Aragorn meant what he said, to see if there might be some way around these new restrictions. All children did it; Aragorn himself had been no different, even with long-established rules. But Elrond had pulled him up sharply every time, and now Aragorn intended to do the same for Boromir. His little fledgling needed love and discipline in equal measure, and for as long as it was in his power to do so, Aragorn intended to see that he had them.
He wanted my attention, and he will have it, he thought determinedly. And he may test the water all he likes, but he will find it uncomfortably hot.
Newly resolved, he continued to wait, although as the minutes passed, he could not keep from shooting glances at the window and the darkening sky beyond. The sun had fully set now, and yet there was still no sign of his wayward charge. Surely Boromir would not dare stay out much longer? The boy was barely four years old. No matter how frightened he might be of punishment, he must know he could not hide forever. At the very least, he had to be hungry by now!
Unless something has happened to him, Aragorn thought anxiously, before he could stop himself. He is so young – even if none would harm him, he could still have had an accident. What if he is hurt? He may not be able to come home!
The thought was not a pleasant one, and Aragorn frowned darkly, his worry suddenly increasing tenfold. He found himself longing to get up and pace, or even better, to go and join Damrod once again in searching for the boy. It had not yet been an hour since sunset – in truth, it had probably only been about twenty minutes – but he was finding it increasingly difficult to wait.
Twenty minutes after that, he was finding it even more difficult – and indeed, he might well have simply given up waiting at that point and gone out to join Damrod in his search, if there had not suddenly come the sound of soft, hesitant footsteps outside the door.
He knew at once that it was Boromir, but he was unprepared for the sheer depth of relief he felt, knowing that the child was safe. It still seemed incredible to him, how quickly Boromir had found a place in his heart, but he could not argue with his feelings. He loved the boy, just as much as if Boromir had been his own child, and he could only be deeply grateful that his little fledgling was safely home.
Now, he thought wryly, he just had to make sure his relief did not interfere with his intention to impart some very well-deserved discipline.
With that in mind, he schooled his features to sternness, just as the door was slowly pushed open and Boromir slipped inside. The little boy looked so miserable that Aragorn felt an immediate stab of sympathy for him, but he forced himself to maintain his severe expression, and spoke before Boromir had even seen him.
"Where have you been, Boromir?"
Boromir started, turning to stare at Aragorn with wide, frightened eyes, suddenly looking like nothing so much as a startled faun. Those eyes widened even more when he saw Aragorn's stern expression, and he took an involuntary step backwards, appearing so terrified that for a moment, Aragorn thought he might bolt. Not wanting to frighten the boy any more, he hurriedly held out a hand, letting his voice gentle as he spoke again.
"Nay, little one, do not be afraid. No matter what you have done, you have nothing to fear from me."
Boromir remained frozen, still staring at him uncertainly. He was clearly far too distressed right now for any scolding, and so Aragorn held out his arms, abandoning all trace of sternness for the moment, wanting first and foremost to take away the fear he saw in the child's face. "Come here, little fledgling," he said, his voice as gentle as he could make it.
Perhaps it was the use of the affectionate pet name, or perhaps the offer of a hug was simply too tempting to resist, but Boromir hesitated only a moment longer before barrelling across the room and flinging himself into Aragorn's arms. Aragorn lifted the child onto his lap and held him close, and Boromir wrapped both arms tightly around him, hiding his face against Aragorn's chest. He was not crying, but Aragorn could feel him trembling, and he rubbed a hand gently over the boy's quivering shoulders, trying to reassure him.
"Shhh, little fledgling," he murmured. "There now, it is all right. There is no need to be so frightened. No matter what you have done, you need never be afraid of me."
He stroked a hand over Boromir's hair, comforting, and after several long moments the boy spoke, although he didn't lift his head.
"But I d-disobeyed you," he said in a small voice. "I thought – I th-thought you'd be angry with me."
Aragorn shook his head, still smoothing the child's hair. He had been angry – but most of that had been worry, and beyond that he had been angry with the disobedience, not with Boromir himself. Given how distressed the child was, it seemed important that he make the distinction clear.
"Nay, little one, I am not angry. I am not pleased with what you did, but I am not angry with you. There is a difference." A thought occurred to him, and he added gently, "Is that why you stayed away for so long today? Because you thought I would be angry with you?"
Boromir nodded against his chest, still not lifting his head. "I w-wanted to come home – I really did – but I was afraid," he confessed, mumbling the words into Aragorn's shirt.
"Afraid of me?" Aragorn asked softly, but this time Boromir shook his head.
"Not of you – but I th-thought you'd be angry with me. Father always g-gets angry when I'm bad, and he s-says that he's ash-ashamed of me – and d-disappointed. And then he w-won't talk to me." Boromir sniffled, and Aragorn could hear the hint of tears in his voice as he finished miserably, "I th-thought you wouldn't want to come and see me anymore if you were d-disappointed."
The distress in the child's voice was painful to hear, and Aragorn had to close his eyes for a moment, fighting back a sudden surge of fury at Denethor. How could the man be so insensitive to his little son's feelings? That was no way to discipline a child, nor anyone for that matter. Discipline should be done with love, with warmth and kindness, not with such cold indifference. Denethor's method might teach Boromir to obey, but the lessons the boy learned would not be the right ones.
They will be based in shame and fear, not in love, Aragorn thought grimly. After all, where was the absolution in such treatment? Where was the forgiveness, the peace that should come when the discipline was over? There was none, and his poor little fledgling simply had to suffer the shame Denethor imposed on him.
He opened his eyes and took a breath, forcibly pushing away the fury he felt as reason reasserted itself. His anger could not help Boromir, no matter how righteous he might feel it to be. He could not change Denethor's behaviour. All he could do was try to counteract it with his own.
That will have to be enough, he thought. I must try to show Boromir that discipline can be done with love – and that my affection for him will not wane because he misbehaves.
He glanced down at the small fair head nestled against his chest, fighting down another surge of anger at the boy's father. I will show him that my affection, at least, does not come at a price.
He pulled away a little then, reaching down to take Boromir's chin in his hand, tilting the child's face up so that he could meet his eyes. Boromir gazed back at him miserably, and Aragorn stroked a finger down his cheek, looking gravely into the sad grey eyes.
"Boromir, hear me," he said, his voice quiet but firm. "I am not ashamed of you, nor am I disappointed. You could not disappoint me, little one. Aye, today you did something naughty, and we will speak of that in a little while. But you are still my little fledgling, dear one. That will not change. And my little fledgling could never disappoint me, no matter how naughty he might be. Even if I must scold him, even if I must discipline him, it makes no difference."
He cupped Boromir's cheek in his hand, almost overcome by the look of desperate hope the child wore, and spoke softly but emphatically. "No matter what you do, you still hold the same place in my heart, my little fledgling. Do you understand?"
There was a long pause as Boromir gazed up at him, his expressive little face showing mingled hope and disbelief. Aragorn did not look away, simply giving Boromir time to absorb what he had said, and was rewarded when the child finally nodded, slowly, his eyes suddenly bright with tears. A moment later he threw himself back into Aragorn's arms, burrowing against his chest and fisting both hands into the material of his coat. Aragorn could still feel him trembling, but he thought that this time it was as much from relief as from residual fright.
"Shhh, little one," he murmured, holding Boromir tightly against him. "It is all right now. We will talk soon, but for now just sit with me, and be comforted. I am here with you, and you are safe."
He stroked Boromir's hair again, then went back to rubbing the small shoulders, and to his relief he soon felt the tension begin to leave the child's body. The trembling finally stopped, but Boromir just cuddled more closely against him, still keeping his face hidden against Aragorn's chest. Aragorn did not rush him, waiting until he was sure that Boromir had recovered from his fright before he finally spoke.
"Are you feeling better, my fledgling?" he asked, his voice still very gentle.
There was a pause, and then Boromir nodded against his chest. "Yes, Thorongil," he said quietly.
"Then, do you think you are ready to talk now?"
Another pause, longer this time, then another nod. "Yes."
"Good boy," Aragorn said approvingly, and after a moment Boromir slowly lifted his head, looking up at him with earnest grey eyes.
"I'm sorry, Thorongil," he said softly.
Aragorn nodded, stroking a hand over the boy's hair again. "What are you sorry for, little one?"
Boromir bit his lip. "I disobeyed you."
"Aye, you did," Aragorn agreed, his tone becoming more serious. "Are you ready to talk about that now? And can you remember that even if you are due a scolding, you are still my little fledgling, and you have nothing to fear from me?"
Boromir hesitated for a moment, then nodded, lifting his chin in an obvious attempt to be brave. He seemed to be over the worst of his fright now, and Aragorn thought that it was safe to proceed. He would have to scold the child – aye, and deliver the promised spanking, too. He would not be doing Boromir any favours by going back on his word. The little boy had disobeyed, deliberately, and he had known full well what the penalty would be. Aragorn had been quite clear in his warning, and Boromir had chosen to ignore it.
He will have to learn that there are consequences to his actions, he thought, steeling himself to do what he must. He wanted my attention, and now he will have it. And I will teach him, here and now, that discipline can be done with love.
"Good boy," he said again now, and gave Boromir a last reassuring pat before lifting him gently off his lap, placing him onto his feet on the floor. Boromir gazed up at him sorrowfully, his grey eyes wide with appeal, and Aragorn willed himself to remain firm. The little boy looked nervous, but he was no longer unreasonably fearful, and now it was time for a lesson to be learned.
"All right, my little fledgling," he said, allowing his voice to become sterner again. "First, I would have you tell me where you went today."
Boromir's chin quivered, but he answered bravely, if sheepishly. "I went into the City."
Aragorn nodded in approval of the child's honesty, although his tone remained firm. "That was disobedient, was it not?"
Boromir nodded, looking miserably down at the floor, and Aragorn reached out to put a finger under the boy's chin, gently tilting his face up. "Answer me, little one."
Boromir looked up at him pitifully, finally saying in a very small voice, "Yes, Thorongil."
Aragorn nodded gravely. "Aye, indeed it was. You know you are not allowed to go into the City by yourself. We have already had this discussion. So why, my little fledgling, did you do it?"
Boromir quailed a little under the stern tone, looking up at Aragorn with sorrowful eyes. "I wasn't going to," he pleaded. "Really I wasn't. But – you didn't have time to talk to me – and I wasn't allowed to see Mother – and Ivoren was busy – and I was lonely," he burst out, his eyes suddenly filling with tears again. "I just wanted to go out and play, and Ivoren said she would take me to the gardens but she didn't, and I waited for ages and ages, and I was bored! I'm sorry, Thorongil! I didn't mean to, I really didn't!"
"I'm sorry, Ada! I didn't mean to! I was just bored!"
The words echoed out of the past and into Aragorn's mind; his own words, so similar to Boromir's, and spoken by his five year old self in a very similar situation. Just yesterday he had been thinking about the time he had wandered off into the woods and got lost, and Boromir's plaintive explanation brought it to mind once again. It had indeed been boredom that had driven him to disobey and go into the woods by himself, as he had sheepishly confessed to Elrond when the elf lord had asked him to explain himself. Unfortunately, the cry of 'I was bored' was not, in Elrond's opinion, a good reason to disobey instructions, and he had informed Estel of that in no uncertain terms.
"That you were bored is no excuse, Estel," Elrond had said. "You know the rules. They have been explained to you many times before." He leaned forward in his chair, regarding his disobedient son sternly. "What is the rule about going into the woods?"
Estel bit his lip, looking down at the floor. He could not truthfully say that he did not know the rule about not going into the woods by himself. He did know it, and Ada knew he knew it, and he could not lie to Ada. But he also knew that answering that question would seal his fate, and he simply could not bring himself to do it. He hung his head, wishing with all his heart that he had not gone into the woods yesterday.
There was a pause, and then Elrond reached out, tilting his face up with gentle fingers. "Estel," he said, his voice softly warning. "Answer me, my son."
Ada didn't sound angry, but Estel recognised the warning in his tone, and he knew that he would only be in more trouble if he didn't obey. He met his ada's stern gaze miserably, mumbling, "I'm not allowed to go in the woods unless someone is with me."
"That is correct. And was someone with you today?"
Estel shook his head, biting his lip.
"Estel. An answer, please."
"Then you broke the rules, did you not?"
"And what happens when you break the rules, Estel?"
"I g-get spanked. Ada, please don't," Estel begged, both hands going automatically to cover his bottom. "Please don't spank me! I'm sorry!"
"Sorry is not enough, my son. Not this time," Elrond replied, his tone leaving no room for argument. "You disobeyed, and now you must face the consequences. Now, come, let us have this over with."
And so, Estel had found himself upended over his ada's knee, and he had been soundly spanked . . . just as Boromir was about to be. No matter how sympathetic Aragorn was to the child's plight, he could not allow himself to be swayed by pleading, just as Elrond had not. Boromir needed this. Indeed, he had all but asked for it. It had not been only boredom and loneliness that had driven the child to disobey. No, Boromir had wanted attention, and he had wanted, whether consciously or not, to test the new boundaries that had been set for him.
Now I need to show him that I intend to enforce those boundaries, Aragorn thought firmly. After all, he had been entirely clear in his warning, and that warning had been ignored. That the child's discipline had been inconsistent up until now was no excuse – indeed, that only made it all the more important that Aragorn not be inconsistent. Boromir had disobeyed, and now it was up to Aragorn to introduce him to the promised consequences. His little fledgling would simply have to realise that the rules were here to stay.
"I am sorry that you were bored, my fledgling," he said now, keeping his voice quiet but firm. "However, that is no excuse for disobedience. You know that you are not allowed to go into the City by yourself, and I warned you of what would happen if you did it again. Do you remember what I said I would do, little one?"
Boromir obviously did remember, because his eyes went very wide, and he shot Aragorn a panicked look. "No! Thorongil, please – please don't! I'm sorry! I won't do it again!"
"That is what you said last time, my fledgling," Aragorn said, managing – with an effort – to harden his heart to the child's pleading. "And yet you ignored my warning, and you disobeyed again. I told you what the consequences would be, and I do not go back on my word. I am going to spank you, little one."
"But I'm sorry!" Boromir wailed pitifully, sounding as if he would burst into tears at any moment. "Please, Th'rongil, please! I won't do it again, I promise! Please don't!"
Forcing himself not to be swayed, Aragorn leaned forward and cupped Boromir's cheek in his hand, looking into the child's frightened eyes. He kept his voice low, wanting to be firm but still reassuring. "Boromir. What did I say about going into the City by yourself?"
Boromir stared at him pleadingly, and Aragorn tapped the boy's cheek with a finger, raising an eyebrow. "An answer, little one. What did I say?"
A pause, and then Boromir said miserably, "You said I sh-shouldn't."
"That is correct. And you disobeyed me today, did you not?"
Boromir's lower lip trembled, and the tears standing in his eyes began to spill down his cheeks. "Y-yes."
Aragorn nodded gravely. "Yes. And what did I say I would do if you disobeyed like that again?"
"You said you'd – spank me," Boromir said tearfully, his grey eyes fixed miserably on Aragorn's face. It took almost everything Aragorn had to remain stern under that pitiful gaze, and he spared a moment to wonder if it had been this hard for Elrond to spank him when he was a child. It had certainly never seemed hard for him – but then, Elrond had had three children of his own, plus several thousand years of experience before Aragorn had come along. Surely this sort of thing got easier with time?
He looked down then, into Boromir's tear-filled eyes, and wondered who he thought he was fooling. Knowing his foster father for the kind and compassionate elf he was, Aragorn realised that Elrond had probably found it just this difficult, every single time.
But Ada did what he had to, because he knew it was necessary, he thought, knowing it was the truth. He had needed discipline, just like any child, and Elrond had given it to him, while still letting him know that he was loved. Now, he had to do the same for Boromir.
"Aye, that is what I said," he agreed now, quietly. "And you knew that when you chose to disobey. You are going to be spanked, little fledgling. But," he added more gently, seeing Boromir's face crumple anew, "there is no need to be so frightened."
He moved his hand up from Boromir's cheek, to stroke the tousled hair. "You need never fear me, Boromir," he said, looking deeply into the child's eyes. "I will never harm you. What I do now, I do for your own good, because you must learn that actions have consequences. I do not do it to hurt you, but to teach you, because I want to see you grow up as a man of honour. It was done for me, and I would do the same for you. Do you understand what I am saying?"
Boromir was still tearful, but he was listening closely, and his panic had subsided again. "Yes," he said in a small voice, only to add pleadingly, "But Thorongil, I don't want to be spanked."
"I know, little one," Aragorn said gently. "It will not be fun. But it will be over soon, and you will have learned a lesson, and your disobedience will be forgiven and forgotten. You know that you were naughty. Now it is time for you to own up to that naughtiness, to take your spanking, and to learn how to do better next time. Do you think you can do that, my brave little fledgling?"
Boromir bit his lip, still looking very apprehensive, but after a moment he gave Aragorn a hesitant nod. "Yes, Thorongil," he said softly. "I can be brave."
Aragorn nodded his approval, feeling a surge of pride at the little boy's courage. "I know you can, dear one," he said. "Now, come, let us have this over with."
He kept his eyes locked with Boromir's for a long moment, making sure that the child was not going to panic again, before he reached out and gently lifted him up, settling him easily into place over his lap. Boromir did not resist, but he squirmed a little as Aragorn manoeuvred him into a more secure position, and Aragorn put a hand on his back in reassurance.
"There, little one," he murmured. "Be brave now. I am here with you."
Boromir stilled again, and Aragorn decided to get the next part over with quickly. He flipped up the back of the child's shirt and gently but efficiently tugged the little breeches down, leaving them bunched around Boromir's knees. This time Boromir let out a soft whimper and wriggled more energetically, and Aragorn pulled him closer, tucking an arm securely around the child's small waist.
He could feel Boromir trembling against him, and he rested his free hand on the small of the boy's back, rubbing gently. He knew Boromir was frightened, and he did not want to drag this out, but he did intend to give a last explanation of what the discipline was for, just as Elrond had always done for him. It was important that Boromir understand exactly why he was being spanked – and hopefully, the sound of Aragorn's voice would help to ease his fear a little.
"All right, my little fledgling," he said, keeping his voice gentle, but allowing a hint of sternness to return to it. "You are going to be spanked now, because you disobeyed the rules. You know that you are not allowed to go into the City by yourself. It was very naughty of you to disobey like that. Do you understand, little one?"
There was a pause, and then a very small, trembling voice answered, "Yes, Thorongil."
"Good," Aragorn said quietly. "The rules are there to keep you safe, little one, and you must learn to obey them. I am going to spank you to help you remember to obey from now on."
With that, he turned his attention to the small bare bottom in his lap – but despite his firm words, he suddenly felt a moment of real uncertainty over whether he would be able to go through with it. Those trembling little cheeks looked so helpless, so vulnerable . . . ai, he had never had to spank a child before!
On those occasions when he'd had to mete out discipline, the recipient had always been an adult; young, perhaps, but still considerably older than the little one in his lap. Until this moment, he had not fully realised what a difference it would make, how hard it would be. Could he really bring himself to spank his little fledgling? Could he bear to make the child cry, as that soft little bottom reddened under his hand? Could he bring himself to actually hurt Boromir?
I do not do it to hurt him, he reminded himself firmly. I do it because he needs it.
It was the truth, he knew. Boromir did need this. Aragorn knew from his own childhood – and after – how important the ritual of discipline and forgiveness was, how healing it was. His fledgling had been deprived of that comfort up until now; Denethor's punishments offered nothing of forgiveness, nor of healing. But Aragorn would not see that lack continue, not while he could do something to prevent it. No matter how hard this was for him to do, it nevertheless had to be done.
Steeling himself, he gently rested his hand on Boromir's bottom, covering it easily. He felt the little cheeks tense under his hand, and his resolve wavered again, but only for a moment. A firm reminder to himself that he was doing the right thing was all it took, and then he lifted his hand, bringing it down firmly across Boromir's bottom.
The swat was not hard, but it was certainly sharp enough to sting, and Boromir jumped as it landed, his head jerking up in shock. Given that the boy had never been spanked before, Aragorn was expecting a noisy reaction, and was rather surprised when all he got was a gasp. Either Boromir was trying very hard to be brave, or he was simply too shocked by the sting to react right away. Whichever it might be, though, Aragorn highly doubted that he would be silent for long.
He raised his hand again, seeing the pink flush he had left behind on the small bare cheeks, and feeling a moment of grief that he would have to add to it. But he was resolved, and he did not let himself pause longer than a moment before administering the second sharp swat. He had already decided on ten in total, which was about what Elrond would have given him at that age. Ten swats might not sound like much, but with such a little one, he knew it would be enough to make his point.
Easily enough, he thought wryly. He could still remember his reaction to ten swats, when he had been Boromir's age. No matter how hard he had tried to be stoic – and he had tried, every time – he had invariably been wailing pitifully by the time the spanking was over. Oh yes, ten swats from Elrond had certainly been enough to make a point!
That said, however, it seemed that Boromir was trying just as hard to be stoic as he himself always had. The boy gasped again at the second swat, wriggling a little under Aragorn's arm, but he still did not cry out. The third swat elicited much the same reaction; the gasp was louder and the squirming a little more energetic, but apart from that, Boromir was showing a level of stoicism that Aragorn found quite surprising.
He was not spanking overly hard – he had, of course, been carefully moderating the force of his swats – but he knew that the child's bottom had to be stinging. The little cheeks were already a rosy pink, and the way Boromir was wriggling told him that it was certainly uncomfortable. And yet, his stubborn little fledgling had not even let out a whimper.
He brought his hand down again, slightly harder this time – and this time Boromir did whimper, a tiny, choked off sound of distress that made Aragorn's heart contract painfully. Ai, but that sound had been so small and desperate, so . . . stifled. Yes, that was it – stifled. As if it was taking everything Boromir had not to cry out, as he desperately tried to endure his discipline bravely.
Aye, that is it, Aragorn realised suddenly. He is trying to be brave for me, trying to impress me with his fortitude. He so craves my approval . . . likely he thinks I will disapprove if he makes a fuss. And I said myself he should be brave; he had no way of knowing what was meant by that.
Not wanting any such misunderstanding to continue, he stopped and rested his hand on Boromir's bottom, feeling the heat there, as well as the tension in the small body.
"Boromir," he said quietly. "Little one, hear me. It is all right to cry if you need to. You do not need to hide your tears from me."
There was a long pause, then a soft sniffle, and a tearful little voice said, "But – but you – you t-told me to be b-brave, Th'rongil."
Aragorn sighed inwardly. As he had thought, his words had been misinterpreted. That would have to be remedied at once – and, he thought, he had best be more careful in the future. Boromir's discipline up until now had been erratic, but what there was of it had been much harsher emotionally than anything Aragorn would mete out to him. It would undoubtedly take time for the boy to get used to the difference.
"Aye, that I did," he said now, gently. "And you are being brave, dear one. You are taking your spanking, and facing up to the consequences of being so naughty. But you do not have to do so silently. Let your tears come. They are part of the discipline, part of the healing. And I promise, I will think no less of you for them."
Another pause, as if Boromir was thinking about that, and then he asked tremulously, "D-did you cry? When – when you g-got sp-spanked?"
Aragorn couldn't help but smile, touched all over again by Boromir's obvious desire to impress him, to emulate him. "Every single time," he assured the child quietly.
He felt some of the tension drain out of Boromir's body then, and the child sniffled again, louder this time. A moment later Aragorn felt him reach down, and then a small arm wrapped itself around his leg, just below the knee.
"I'm r-ready, Th'rongil," came the little voice from his lap, and Aragorn felt such a surge of pride that he could scarcely contain it.
"My dear little fledgling," he said, his voice soft with affection. "You are so brave."
Steeling himself all over again, he patted Boromir's bottom in warning and then lifted his hand again, bringing it down firmly across both bare cheeks. This time, to his relief, the reaction was far more typical of the child Boromir was – he squealed and bounced over Aragorn's lap, kicking both small feet in the air.
"Owwww! Hurts, Th'rongil!"
"I know it does, little one," Aragorn murmured. Forcing himself to remain stern, he swatted again, the spank just as sharp as the previous ones had been. Boromir cried out shrilly, a tearful wail of childish protest, and squirmed energetically over Aragorn's lap, both feet kicking up once again. Given how distressed he sounded, Aragorn knew that real tears were probably not far away.
So much the better, he thought, even as he silently grieved at the thought of making Boromir cry. He needs the release, and the comfort afterwards, just as much as the discipline.
With that in mind, he made the seventh swat just that little bit sharper, snapping his wrist as he brought his hand down, knowing that the action would worsen the sting. He was not surprised when Boromir jumped hard at the impact and let out a miserable wail, kicking wildly at the air for a moment before abruptly giving way to tears.
"Aye, little one," Aragorn encouraged, trying hard to ignore the way the sobs tore at his heart. "That is the way. Let it out."
And Boromir did. His cries rose in pitch and volume with the next swat, his earlier stoicism now completely abandoned. Indeed, as the last two swats were administered, he reacted the way any child being soundly spanked would, the way Aragorn remembered doing himself over Elrond's lap all those years ago – a pitiful wail with each spank, and a background of staccato, convulsive sobs.
Coming from his little fledgling, those sobs were simply too heartrending for Aragorn to bear. His usual procedure when meting out discipline was to let his penitent stay across his lap for a time after the spanking was over, murmuring words of reassurance, but allowing his charge some time to catch their breath and relax again under his touch, before offering closer comfort. On this occasion, however, he found he simply could not bear to go another moment without gathering Boromir into his arms. Once the last swat had been administered, he paused for barely a moment before lifting the child up off his lap and into a comforting embrace, holding him tenderly against his chest. Boromir promptly flung both arms around his neck, clinging to him desperately and sobbing into his shoulder, and Aragorn rubbed his back soothingly, crooning a gentle litany of reassurance to him.
"Shhhh, little fledgling," he murmured. "There, hush now, it is all over. You were so brave, dear one. Shhhh, you are safe. I am here with you, and all is forgiven. My dear, brave little fledgling."
He spoke on and on, murmuring nonsense words of comfort as Boromir sobbed against his neck, hot tears trickling down to wet the collar of his shirt. The small body trembled in his arms, narrow shoulders heaving with each convulsive sob, but Aragorn kept up his litany of comfort, rocking Boromir in his arms and rubbing his back in small, soothing circles, all the time feeling a tenderness that threatened to overwhelm him.
The rush of feeling was not unfamiliar to him. He always offered comfort after meting out discipline, and he always found the giving of that comfort to be a uniquely satisfying experience. It felt good to be the protector, to be able to provide what had been given to him so many times before. He knew how much that consolation meant after a spanking, how healing it was to the recipient, and he had found that it was equally healing from the other side, the tenderness and sheer intimacy of it stealing his breath. Aye, the role of comforter was one that he had treasured from the first.
But this time, it was somehow different, somehow . . . more. Aragorn could only think that perhaps it was because Boromir was so very young. He felt more fiercely protective and somehow more proprietary than he had on previous occasions, a part of his mind proclaiming loudly that this was his little fledgling, his to love and discipline and comfort. Such possessiveness was surely ill-advised, given his circumstances – but his feelings could not be denied, no matter how ill-advised they might be. Right now, they were staggering in their intensity, and he was unsurprised to feel his own eyes sting with tears.
My little fledgling, he thought fervently, cuddling Boromir more tightly against his chest. Not mine by blood, but mine nonetheless. And I would do anything to keep you safe.
Closing his eyes against the tears, he continued to rock Boromir in his arms, murmuring words of reassurance and gentle praise as the child slowly began to quiet. It took some time, as upset as Boromir was, but little by little the convulsive sobs subsided, first into hiccups and hitching breaths, and then into sniffling. Finally he was quiet, lying limply in Aragorn's arms, only the occasional sniff attesting to his earlier distress.
No doubt Boromir was exhausted from his tears, but Aragorn did not want to let him sleep just yet. First, he wanted to make sure that the child truly understood, not only why he had been disciplined, but also that Aragorn's affection for him had not changed.
With that in mind, he smoothed a hand over Boromir's hair, following it up with a gentle kiss to the top of his head. "How is my fledgling?" he asked quietly, his voice warm with affection.
There was a long pause, and then Boromir slowly lifted his head, another soft sniffle escaping him as he sat up. After a moment he cautiously pulled back out of the hug, only to wince and squeak as his weight settled onto his bottom. He tried to wriggle backwards on Aragorn's lap, but Aragorn quickly lifted him up, shifting him forward instead so that Boromir ended up sitting on one of his thighs, the sore little bottom dipping between his spread legs.
"Better?" he asked kindly.
Boromir nodded, although there was a definite pout forming on his face. "My bottom hurts," he said plaintively, looking up at Aragorn with teary, red-rimmed eyes.
His expression was so woebegone that Aragorn could not help but smile, albeit with sympathy. "Aye, it will sting for a time," he said, tracing a finger down Boromir's tearstained cheek. "But it will not last long. You will likely need to sleep on your stomach tonight, but in the morning you will feel much better."
He stroked the boy's face again, pausing for a moment on the protruding lower lip before cupping Boromir's cheek in his hand. "I am so glad you are safe, little fledgling."
His words were soft but emphatic, his relief that his little charge was unharmed coming through clearly in his tone. He knew enough of Boromir to know that it would not go unnoticed, and sure enough the child was gazing up at him, the pout gone, his small face suddenly very solemn.
"Andor said . . . he said that you were worried about me," he said softly, watching Aragorn with serious grey eyes.
Aragorn nodded slowly, meeting the boy's gaze with equal solemnity. "I was worried, little one. You were gone for a long time, and Minas Tirith is a big place. I had begun to fear that something might have happened to you."
Boromir's eyes darkened, and he bit his lip, his distress obvious. "I'm sorry, Thorongil!" he burst out, looking earnestly up at Aragorn. "I didn't mean to stay away so long, I really didn't!"
Aragorn put a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder, trying to offer reassurance. The discipline was over; there was no need for Boromir to upset himself all over again. "Aye, I know," he soothed, keeping his tone warm and understanding. "You were frightened. I understand, little one. It is all over now; there is no need to fret."
But Boromir only shook his head, his eyes welling with fresh tears. "I wanted to come home," he said pleadingly, as if Aragorn had not spoken. "I really did, I didn't want to be afraid, but I c-couldn't help it. But then it was getting dark, and I was hungry, and I knew Ivoren would be w-worried about me, so I came back up. And then Andor was on the gate, and he pinched my ear, and he s-said that you'd been looking for me, you and Damrod, and that you were w-worried too."
The words had come out in a rush, and now Boromir's chin began to quiver, the tears suddenly spilling over. A moment later he leaned forward and pressed his face against Aragorn's chest, wrapping both arms tightly around him.
"I didn't mean to make you worry. I really, really didn't," he said, his voice small and very sad. "Sorry, Th'rongil, biggest sorry."
Aragorn closed his eyes for a long moment, the guilt and grief in that soft, childish apology twisting painfully at his heart. Boromir was so well-spoken for a four-year-old that he usually sounded older, but right now he just sounded like what he was – a very small boy who deeply dreaded his new hero's disapproval, and who simply did not seem to realise that he had already been forgiven.
Although given the way Denethor treats him, that is hardly surprising, Aragorn thought grimly. Grief tightened his throat for a moment, and he folded his arms around Boromir, hugging the child close to him. I must make it clear to him that I will not treat him thus – will never treat him thus.
And, echoing his earlier thoughts: I must show him that my affection, at least, does not come at a price.
Opening his eyes again, he stroked a hand over Boromir's hair, carding his fingers through the soft strands. "Boromir," he said gently. "Little one, look at me."
A pause, and then Boromir slowly pulled away, looking up at him sorrowfully. His eyes were brimming full, his face flushed and wet with tears. His nose had started to run, and after a moment he snuffled wetly and ducked his head, lifting one small hand to wipe his face.
Aragorn caught the hand gently in his before it could reach its target, and reached into a pocket of his coat for a handkerchief. He tilted the boy's chin up with a finger and held the square of linen to his nose.
"Blow," he ordered kindly, a rush of tenderness welling up as he recalled Elrond doing the same for him.
Boromir obeyed, still watching him with teary eyes, and Aragorn tenderly wiped the child's face before putting the handkerchief to one side. Turning back, he lifted a hand to cup Boromir's cheek, settling the other on one small shoulder.
"Do you remember what I said before I spanked you, Boromir?" he asked, looking into the sad grey eyes. "Do you remember that I said when it was over, your disobedience would be forgiven and forgotten?"
Boromir gulped and nodded, biting his lip. "Y-yes," he faltered. "But . . ."
"No," Aragorn gently interrupted him. "No buts, dear one. You have taken your spanking, and bravely too. You have apologised and I have accepted. Your discipline is over, and all is forgiven."
Boromir's forehead creased, as if such a thing was simply beyond his understanding, and Aragorn could not help but feel another surge of bitterness towards Denethor. He quickly forced it down, knowing that above all, Boromir should not see anger in him at this moment. Denethor's behaviour was not something he could change; all he could do was try to show Boromir that Denethor's was not the only way.
"All is forgiven, my fledgling," he said again, knowing that Boromir needed to hear it. "You misbehaved, you have been disciplined, and now it is over. I know this is not what you are used to, but from now on, this is what you can expect from me." He leaned down and pressed a kiss onto Boromir's forehead, his voice softening as he said it one more time, murmuring the words into the child's hair. "All is forgiven."
A beat, and then he pulled back, looking down into Boromir's flushed face. To his relief, there was hope dawning there now – the same tentative hope Aragorn had seen earlier, when he had told the boy that he could never be disappointed in him. He purposely did not rush things, simply holding Boromir's gaze and letting him come to his own conclusions, and was rewarded when the frown finally began to smooth out.
"Really?" Boromir questioned softly, his eyes never leaving Aragorn's face. "You're – you're really not angry with me?"
"I am really not angry with you," Aragorn assured him, his voice gentle. "Nor was I angry with you before. I was displeased with what you did, but my feelings for you did not change. And I did not spank you because I was angry with you. I spanked you to teach you, because you must learn to obey the rules – and because I care for you, Boromir."
He stroked his thumb along the child's cheek, looking gravely into the tear-bright eyes. "We have not known each other long, but you have found a place in my heart, little fledgling. I care for you very deeply, and I would grieve just as deeply if something were to happen to you. I was worried about you today – but that worry only sprang from love." His other hand lifted to tap the boy's nose affectionately. "Do you understand what I am saying?"
There was a moment of hesitation, and then Boromir nodded slowly, his hopeful look giving way first to surprise and then to a tentative smile. "You're saying that – that you love me," he said softly.
"Aye, dear one," Aragorn agreed, returning the smile. "I love you."
He leaned down to kiss the boy's forehead again, only to have Boromir wrap both arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "I love you too, Th'rongil," the little voice whispered earnestly in his ear, and Aragorn felt soft lips press against his cheek, a childish kiss followed by an even tighter hug.
He closed his eyes again, folding his arms around Boromir, feeling tears prick sharply behind his eyelids. It did not seem possible, that he could love this child so much after such a short time – and yet there it was, that unimagined tenderness flooding his chest with a sweet, liquid warmth, the mark of love within his skin, almost stealing his breath with its intensity. It did not need to be explained or understood; it simply was.
My little fledgling, he thought fervently, his lips moving silently in time with the words. My little fledgling. I would do anything to keep you safe.
He let the world fall away, focusing simply on the warm little body in his arms, and they sat like that for long minutes, the silence broken only by the soft sound of their breathing. Boromir was very still, and Aragorn had just begun to wonder if the child had fallen asleep when a small voice finally broke the silence.
Aragorn pulled back so that he could see the child's face, smiling as Boromir blinked up at him sleepily. "Aye, little one?"
Boromir's tone was plaintive, and Aragorn chuckled, dropping another fond kiss on the child's forehead. "I am not surprised, seeing as you missed supper this evening," he said, then added with mock severity, "Although you ought to be sent to bed without any, after such behaviour."
He winked at the boy, making sure that Boromir knew he was not in earnest, and was rewarded with a shy little grin.
"But I would not send my young warrior to bed on an empty stomach," he went on, returning Boromir's smile. "After all, you will need your energy for our lesson tomorrow."
Boromir sat up straighter at that, his eyes widening. "Our lesson?" he asked hopefully, and Aragorn nodded.
"Aye, our lesson. We have some sparring to do, and I have some new tricks I wish to teach you, if you would like."
His smile widened as Boromir's face lit up. Even with his tearstained cheeks and reddened eyes, the little boy's smile was beautiful.
"Yes, please!" he said eagerly. "Thank you, Thorongil!"
"You are most welcome, little one," Aragorn said. "Now, what do you say we call for some supper for you?"
Boromir answered with a vigorous nod, and Aragorn chuckled, lifting the child gently off his lap onto the floor. He made sure Boromir was steady on his feet, then leaned over to help him with his breeches, which were still bunched around his knees.
"We had better get these back up," he said kindly, and Boromir stood obediently still while his breeches were eased back into place, although he winced and bit his lip when they slid over his bottom. Aragorn patted him on the shoulder, giving him a sympathetic smile.
"All done," he said. "Now, let me see about supper."
He rose to his feet and went to call for a servant, and was touched when Boromir shadowed him to the door, clearly wanting to stay close to him.
Ivoren appeared quickly in response to the call, and she greeted Aragorn with a quick curtsey, although her eyes immediately went to Boromir. She smiled in relief at the sight of him, and Aragorn had the feeling that she had been concerned not only about Boromir's disappearance, but also about whatever discipline Aragorn had intended for the boy. He could hardly blame her, he thought. As Boromir's primary caretaker, she had doubtless seen the results of Denethor's discipline, and had most likely been the one to do the comforting afterwards.
Boromir smiled shyly back at her, and Aragorn was pleased to see that he apologised without being prompted, telling Ivoren earnestly that he was sorry he had worried her. She immediately knelt to hug him, forgiving him and scolding him in the same breath, and held him for a long moment before letting go.
"You must be hungry; you have had no supper," she said kindly, rising to her feet. "I will bring something for you – with your permission, my lord?" she added, turning to Aragorn.
"Aye, that would be a kindness," Aragorn said with a smile. "We cannot have a young warrior going to bed hungry."
"No indeed, my lord," Ivoren agreed, and Aragorn could see the relief in her face at his easy manner. "I will go straight to the kitchens now, and bring supper for you both."
Aragorn nodded his thanks, and Ivoren vanished out the door, closing it behind her. Once she had gone, he smiled down at Boromir, who was still standing close beside him. "Come and sit with me, little one."
He walked back over to the window seat and lowered himself onto it, and Boromir followed him readily enough, although he hesitated over actually sitting down. He directed an appealing glance up at Aragorn, clearly apprehensive about the idea, and Aragorn grinned and lifted the child into his lap, once again positioning him so that there was no pressure on his bottom.
"Is your bottom very sore, little fledgling?" he asked kindly, once he had the child situated.
Boromir nodded. "Being spanked hurts," he said solemnly, leaning his head against Aragorn's chest.
"Aye, it does," Aragorn agreed, wrapping an arm around the small shoulders. "But I think you have learned a lesson from it, have you not?"
Boromir nodded against his chest. "I won't sneak away again, Thorongil. I promise."
"That is good to hear, dear one." Aragorn lifted a hand to smooth the child's hair, enjoying the softness of it beneath his fingers. "And so, the spanking has fulfilled its intended purpose. Aye, your bottom will be sore for a little while, but you have learned from it. And you understand that you have been forgiven now, do you not?"
"Yes. Once the spanking's over, then you forgive me," Boromir recited obediently. He cuddled closer, wrapping his arms around Aragorn's chest, and Aragorn smiled down at him tenderly.
"Aye, that is correct," he agreed, his voice soft. "All is forgiven."
Boromir snuggled even closer to him on hearing that, and Aragorn folded his arms around the boy, thinking to himself that Boromir had in truth learned more than one lesson from his first spanking. He had learned the obvious lessons, of course; that he ought not to sneak away, and more generally that he ought not to disobey the rules laid down for his protection. He had also learned that Captain Thorongil did not renege on his promises, and that the boundaries that were set for him would indeed be enforced. But, more importantly, Boromir had also learned today that there were other methods of discipline apart from those his father used – methods that did not shame him, that did not make him feel unloved or leave him to suffer his guilt. He had learned that discipline could be meted out with love and kindness rather than with anger, and with the desire to correct and teach rather than punish. And while those lessons might be too subtle for such a young child to truly comprehend, Aragorn knew in his heart that on some level, Boromir would understand the difference, and remember it.
I can only hope that it makes up at least in part for Denethor's treatment of him, he thought with a sigh.
He took a breath, forcibly pushing thoughts of Denethor away. They would only serve to raise his ire against the man – ire which he had already determined would not help Boromir, and so was useless to dwell on, no matter how justified it might be. Instead, he closed his eyes and purposely quieted his mind, concentrating only on the moment, on the feel of Boromir cuddled against his chest and the soft sound of the child's breathing. Boromir, for his part, seemed perfectly content where he was, and they sat peacefully for some time before Aragorn finally felt him stir and shift.
"Thorongil?" the small voice asked, and Aragorn opened his eyes, looking down into the upturned little face.
"Aye, little one?"
"Can you stay and give me my bath tonight?"
Boromir was gazing at him hopefully, and Aragorn wondered at the request for only a moment before the answer came to him. Bath time would of course reveal a rather pink little bottom, and childish dignity would probably insist on as few witnesses as possible to that telltale glow.
"Are you embarrassed about your spanking, my fledgling?" he asked now, giving the boy a gentle smile.
Boromir's cheeks were slightly pink, but he answered with endearing dignity. "A little bit. But mostly I just want you to do it. Will you, Thorongil? Please?"
Aragorn nodded, touched once again by Boromir's obvious desire to stay close to him. "Aye, I will give you your bath," he said kindly. "And I think you will find that it will make your sore bottom feel much better. I know it always worked for me," he added with a wink.
Boromir's eyes lit up with interest, and he gave Aragorn a faintly mischievous look. "Will you tell me a story about when you got spanked?" he asked hopefully.
Aragorn chuckled. He supposed he should have expected such a request to crop up sooner or later. As a child, he had never quite dared to ask Elrond such a thing, but he had certainly asked Elladan and Elrohir, and they had usually been happy to oblige. Estel had loved their stories of childhood escapades, in which they would cheerfully describe their various misdeeds and the predictable retribution that had followed. It had always made him feel better after he had been spanked, to know that his big, brave, warrior brothers had also been on the receiving end of such discipline.
He grinned, a memory surfacing of Elrond frowning when he had caught them at it, telling the twins with mock sternness that they ought not to encourage their brother into mischief.
"We are not encouraging him, Ada!" Elladan had replied. "We are discouraging him! We tell him all about how hard you spanked us afterwards."
"And besides," Elrohir added impishly, "Estel does not need to repeat our mischief. He is quite capable of thinking up his own!"
"I think a story could be arranged," he said now, turning his smile on Boromir. "If, that is, you behave well during your bath, and do not get me too wet."
"I won't get you wet!" Boromir assured him. "I won't splash, I promise."
"Ah, now, it would be no fun if you did not splash a little," Aragorn said, giving the boy a conspiratorial smile. "I would just prefer that you were the one having the bath, and not me. Agreed?"
Boromir nodded, smiling back at him, and Aragorn regarded him fondly for a moment, pleased to see that the child seemed to be recovering his equilibrium. Considering how distressed Boromir had been earlier, he now seemed to be bouncing back from his first spanking with impressive resilience. Although in truth, Aragorn thought, he would have expected no less from his brave little fledgling.
Rather to his relief, he also could not detect any resentment over the discipline. Quite the contrary, in fact; it only seemed to have strengthened Boromir's attachment to him, if the boy's obvious desire to be close to him was any indication.
But then, I always wanted to stay close to Ada, afterwards, he thought, remembering his own reluctance as a child to leave Elrond's side after being spanked. As much as he had disliked the spanking itself, he had always loved the comfort that followed it. He could still recall sitting on Elrond's lap, held in his ada's strong arms, feeling so safe, and loved, and never wanting it to end. And Elrond had understood, he knew. The elf lord had let him stay close for as long as he needed to, never sending him away before he was ready to go.
Ada would let me be his assistant, he recalled fondly, remembering how Elrond had found ways to keep him entertained while still letting him stay nearby. We would read together and he would ask me questions, or he would let me pass him things while he was working with his healing medicines. I was so proud that he would let me help with something so important.
He smiled at the memory. Aye, he too had needed that continued closeness after a spanking – and he had been accustomed to that form of discipline, to feeling loved and safe and forgiven. For Boromir, this was entirely unfamiliar, a far and welcome cry from his father's cold, dismissive punishments. He was not used to discipline being a healing experience, or a loving one. And given how starved for attention he already was, it was hardly surprising that he wanted to stay close to Aragorn now.
After all, Aragorn mused grimly, I am giving him something he has never had.
He pushed aside his grief at that thought, letting determination settle in its place, crystallising hard and fierce within his mind. Boromir might not have had that comfort up until now, but he would have it from now on.
For as long as I can give it to him, Aragorn vowed silently.
A knock came on the door then, interrupting his thoughts. He dutifully called out, "Come!" and the door opened to reveal Ivoren and another woman, carrying trays of food and drink. They both greeted Aragorn politely, then began arranging things on the table, swiftly setting two places and leaving the trays of food in the middle.
As they finished, Aragorn lifted Boromir out of his lap, set the child gently on his feet and got up, nodding his thanks to the pair. The second woman curtseyed quickly and vanished out the door, but Ivoren stayed behind, giving Boromir a fond smile before turning to look at Aragorn.
"If you would like to call me when you are finished, my lord, I will come back and give Boromir his bath, and then get him into bed." She smiled, somewhat wryly. "He has had a long day today."
Boromir immediately spoke up before Aragorn could answer, shaking his head. "Thorongil's going to give me my bath tonight, Ivoren," he said. "I asked and he said yes. Didn't you, Thorongil?" he added, glancing up at Aragorn hopefully.
Aragorn caught the touch of anxiety in the child's voice, and gave him a reassuring smile. "Aye, little one, I did. I will deal with his bath tonight, mistress," he added to Ivoren. "You can leave him with me; I will get him settled in bed before I go."
"As you wish, my lord," Ivoren said. She sounded a little surprised, but certainly not displeased, and Aragorn got the impression that as long as his presence was making Boromir happy, she would wholeheartedly approve of it.
"Everything is prepared in the bathing chamber when you are ready," Ivoren went on. "There is plenty of water in the boiler, and fresh towels. I will leave you to your supper, and send someone back to tidy up when you have finished."
Aragorn nodded and thanked her, and Boromir gave her a beaming smile, which was fondly returned. "Goodnight, Ivoren," he said. "Sweet dreams."
"And to you, love," Ivoren replied with a laugh, bending down to kiss the child's cheek and pull him into a brief, warm hug. "I will see you in the morning. Goodnight, my lord," she added to Aragorn as she straightened up, and gave him a quick curtsey, which he replied to with a nod and a smile. She crossed to the door and slipped out, closing it quietly behind her, and Aragorn turned a fond look on Boromir.
"Time for supper, I think," he said, and Boromir nodded eagerly, although a moment later a frown crossed his face as he regarded his chair. It was padded, but not overly so, and Aragorn could imagine that it must look quite hard indeed to Boromir at the moment, given how tender his bottom must be. He couldn't help but smile at the child's apprehensive look, a smile which became a full-fledged grin when Boromir reached back to tentatively rub his bottom, as if to test just how sore it was and whether sitting down was really feasible.
"I would advise using the pillows from your bed," he said kindly. "If you really cannot sit, then you can always kneel on them instead."
Boromir shot him a grateful look and went to get his pillows, piling two of them onto his chair before very gingerly sitting down on top of them. He winced a bit when his weight settled onto his bottom, but after a moment or two of wriggling he apparently found a tolerable position, and met Aragorn's gaze with a sheepish little smile.
"Eat up, little one," Aragorn said, returning the smile. "You have had a long day, and you will need your strength for sparring tomorrow."
Boromir brightened even more at the mention of sparring, giving Aragorn a much happier grin before obediently turning his attention to the food. Aragorn did likewise, although he first poured himself a generous cup of wine, which he rather felt he needed after the events of the day.
They talked a little as they ate, but Aragorn got the impression that Boromir was rapidly becoming too tired for conversation, and by the time they had finished their meals he could see that the child was starting to droop with weariness. He coaxed Boromir to finish the last of his milk, then rose to his feet and held out a hand to him, smiling.
"Come, little one. We will see about that bath."
Boromir obediently slid off his chair, moving carefully in deference to his sore bottom, and let Aragorn lead him into the bathing chamber. As Ivoren had said, there was plenty of hot water in the boiler, and Aragorn busied himself with the transfer of it into the bathtub. Once that was done, he turned to help Boromir out of his clothes, leaving the breeches until last. He lowered them as gently as he could, but Boromir still winced as the fabric slid over his bottom.
"Still sore?" Aragorn asked, his voice gently teasing, and when Boromir nodded solemnly he gave the child an indulgent smile. "Well, let us have a look."
He took Boromir by the shoulders and gently turned him around, casting his eye over the area in question. The little bottom was still pink, but the worst of the flush had already faded, and Aragorn knew it would most likely be gone by the morning. He had not been severe; the spanking had only been enough to cause a transitory sting.
"That is not so bad," he said, adding quickly, "although I am sure it feels bad! The bath will help, though, and you will feel much better in the morning."
He patted the small shoulder kindly, then rolled up his sleeves and dipped one arm into the water. Reassured that it was not too hot, he gently lifted the child into the bath, manfully suppressing a smile at the squeak Boromir let out when the water touched his bottom.
"Give it a moment," Aragorn encouraged. "The water will help with the sting."
Boromir had scrambled to his knees at once, and now he gave Aragorn a mournful look, wriggling in obvious discomfort. Aragorn waited patiently, and as he expected, after a few moments the little boy began to settle down. Boromir finally sat back on his heels, and Aragorn smoothed a hand over his hair, giving him a kind smile.
"Is that getting better?" he asked, and received a hesitant nod in response.
"Yes. It doesn't sting so much now."
He sounded distinctly relieved, and Aragorn nodded in satisfaction. "Good. Now, let us see about getting you clean, shall we?" He reached for the soap and washcloth that were sitting by the bath, giving the child a quick wink. "For I fear that you are very grubby once again."
He tapped Boromir's nose for emphasis, and the little boy grinned at him, brightening once again. He seemed quite happy to be washed as opposed to washing himself, so Aragorn soaped up the washcloth and took on the task.
Boromir stayed obligingly still for the most part, although the washing of small feet brought on a fit of giggles and a fair amount of squirming, not to mention some splashing. The first time he managed to accidentally splash Aragorn, Boromir's eyes went very wide, his expression immediately becoming apprehensive. But Aragorn merely wiped the water off his face and grinned at him, and the child relaxed and smiled back, one of his beautiful, sunny smiles that had captivated Aragorn from the start.
He found himself thinking back to his own childhood, remembering that he too had loved bath time when he was small – especially the part where he would be able to splash whoever was bathing him, be it his mother or Elrond or the twins or, on one wonderful occasion, Glorfindel. He could still recall Elrond's laughter when he came to check up on them, only to find Glorfindel dripping water all over the floor and Estel near hysterical with giggling.
"It appears you have won this battle, my son," Elrond had said, arching an amused eyebrow at the scene. Glorfindel had merely laughed in response and begun rolling up his wet sleeves.
"He may have won the battle, but he has not won the war," he replied. "I would advise you to back away now, my friend, unless you wish to join in."
Elrond's eyebrow had arched even higher at that, but he had wisely fled the scene, Aragorn recalled with amusement. He also recalled that the splashing fight that had followed had been wonderful fun, and that he had enjoyed himself tremendously, especially when Glorfindel had pronounced him the victor.
With that memory in mind, the second time Boromir splashed him – not so accidentally this time – Aragorn promptly retaliated by splashing back. Boromir's look of surprise was quickly replaced by delight, and a minor war immediately ensued, the combatants matching each other splash for splash. By the time the hostilities finally ceased, Boromir was breathless with giggling, and Aragorn, also laughing, found himself with a wet shirt and an even wetter face.
He leaned against the side of the tub, wiping dripping hair out of his eyes and grinning at the delighted look on Boromir's face. The little boy appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, and Aragorn was glad to see it, especially after witnessing his earlier distress. Even at the best of times, Boromir was often so serious, almost too serious for such a young child. Seeing his beaming smile now, his pleasure in simple spontaneous fun, made Aragorn want to hug him.
"I yield, my fledgling," he said now, still chuckling. "The field of victory is yours. Although I think lake of victory would be a more apt description."
He winked at the boy, and Boromir replied with another of those heart-melting smiles. "You're all wet, Thorongil," he observed merrily, although a moment later he frowned in sudden concern. "Can I still have a story?" he asked anxiously, clearly worried that he had broken their agreement about not getting Aragorn 'too wet'.
"Aye, you may still have a story," Aragorn reassured him, his voice warm. "I was a willing participant in that battle, little one. And we had fun, did we not?"
Boromir nodded, smiling again, and Aragorn returned it. "Aye, so we did. You did nothing wrong, my fledgling." He rested a hand on the child's wet hair, ruffling it gently. "However, we must get you out of this bath before you can have your story, so let us finish cleaning you up – before you wrinkle up into a prune!"
He glanced about for the washcloth and soap, and found them both lying in a puddle beside him. Picking them up, he soaped up the washcloth once more and gently washed Boromir's face, smiling into the bright grey eyes.
"Close your eyes so I can wash your hair," he said when he was finished, and Boromir obeyed, tipping his head back obligingly. Aragorn gently lathered up the boy's hair, taking care not to get soap in his eyes, then tilted him backwards to rinse him off, supporting him with one arm across his back. Boromir leaned trustingly against him, allowing Aragorn to move him as he would, and once his hair was rinsed clean Aragorn sat him up again.
"No soap in your eyes?" he asked when the child opened them, and Boromir shook his head, beaming at him. The look of adoration on his face made Aragorn chuckle. Not only, it seemed, was he a great warrior, but he could also wash hair without getting soap in his victim's eyes, a feat apparently worthy of accolade.
Hair washing over, he decided that Boromir was probably clean enough, especially since the bath water was now rapidly losing its heat. Not wanting the child to get cold, Aragorn lifted him out of the tub and set him on his feet, then glanced around for towels. There was a pile of them to one side, and he neatly snagged two off the top, wrapping one around Boromir's small shoulders.
"I think half of your bath has ended up on the floor," he said wryly as he began towelling the child dry, glancing down at the puddle Boromir was standing in. Boromir's reply was a grin and a stifled yawn, and Aragorn smiled.
"Bedtime for you now, I think," he said kindly. "You have had a very long day."
Boromir didn't protest, which in itself told Aragorn how tired he really was. The child stood obediently still while he was dried off, although he let out a little squeak when Aragorn patted the towel across his bottom, and quickly reached back to rub the affected area.
"Still a bit sore?" Aragorn asked, and when Boromir nodded he patted the small shoulder in comfort. "It will feel much better in the morning. Now, let us get you into bed, shall we?"
He swung the child up into his arms, and carried him towel and all back into the bedchamber, depositing him gently on his bed. A quick search of the clothes press yielded a nightshirt, and Boromir obligingly held his arms up while Aragorn tugged it over his head. Retrieving the towel the boy was sitting on, he tossed it back towards the door to the bathing chamber, then turned down the covers on the bed.
"In you get, little fledgling," he said, patting the mattress. Boromir obediently crawled under the covers, and Aragorn tucked them around him, smiling fondly at the child. "There now. Are you warm enough?"
Boromir nodded, looking up at him with hopeful eyes. "Will you tell me a story now?"
"Aye, you may have your story," Aragorn said with a chuckle. He sat down on the edge of the bed, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Let me see now . . ."
"You said you'd tell me one about when you got spanked," Boromir put in pointedly, and Aragorn grinned.
"Aye, so I did," he agreed. "Give me a moment, then, and I will try to remember a good one."
Boromir fell silent, watching him expectantly, and after a few moments of thought Aragorn made his decision. The incident where he had got lost in the woods had been on his mind since yesterday, so it seemed logical to tell that story, especially since it bore a definite similarity to Boromir's misadventure today. It had always made him feel better as a child when his brothers told him about similar mistakes they had made, so hopefully his tale would have the same effect on Boromir.
He shifted back to lean against the wide wooden headboard, and Boromir rolled over to face him, propping himself up on one elbow to listen. Aragorn smiled down at the expectant little face and began his tale, describing that day all those years ago when he had been five years old, and bored, and had wandered off alone into the woods surrounding his home, something that was most emphatically forbidden.
He did not give details about exactly where that home was, of course, nor did he give any names. He also did not bother to explain the distinction about Elrond being his foster father – it would only have added unnecessary confusion to the tale, and besides, as far as Aragorn was concerned, the elf lord was his father, in every way that mattered. However, he was careful to refer to Elrond as 'my father' instead of his usual 'Ada', a term which Boromir would probably have questioned.
Boromir listened raptly as the story unfolded, and Aragorn embellished the tale somewhat for his benefit, describing his long ago adventures with dramatic flair. He told the child about how he had wandered lost for what seemed like hours, and how tired and hungry he had been, and how worried about being in dreadful trouble when he was found – and then how frightened he had become as time had gone on and he had not yet been found. He spoke of his relief at finally being rescued, and the way he had scrambled down from his perch in a tree to fling himself into Elrond's arms, very grateful to be carried home and tucked safely into bed. And finally, he related the events of the next morning, when he had been summoned to Elrond's study to explain himself, only to be given a good spanking when his explanation had been found unsatisfactory.
"I pleaded with my father that I had not meant to disobey, and that I had just been bored," he told Boromir, smiling at the child's obvious fascination. "But alas, he was not swayed. I knew the rules, he said, and I had broken them, and so I would have to face the consequences. And so he put me across his knee, and he spanked me – and I am afraid that I did not take it nearly as bravely as you did, my little fledgling," he added with a wink. "I made a terrible fuss."
Boromir looked surprised for a moment, and then he grinned. "Really?"
"Oh, aye. A terrible fuss! Birds took flight outside my father's window! You could have heard my squalling from a mile away!"
Boromir was giggling now, looking quite delighted. "A mile is a long way, Thorongil. You're exareggating."
Aragorn laughed out loud, finding both the correction and the childish mispronunciation to be hugely endearing. "Aye, perhaps I am 'exareggating' a little," he said with a grin, smoothly repeating Boromir's new word. "But believe me, I did make a dreadful ruckus. And I did not go into the woods alone again!"
Boromir's giggles had subsided, and he nodded in understanding. "So you learned a lesson," he said, and Aragorn smiled to recognise his own inflection in the words. "Did your father forgive you afterwards?"
"Aye, he did indeed. As soon as the spanking was over, I was forgiven, and the slate was clean. That was the way it was always done, with my father."
"I like that way better," Boromir said simply, and Aragorn could hear the wealth of longing in his tone. He reached out, stroking the child's hair, then brushing gentle fingers down his cheek.
"I like that way better too, dear one," he said. "And that is why I will always do things that way. I cannot speak for anyone but myself – but you can be sure that whenever I have cause to discipline you, you will always be forgiven afterwards, just as you were today." He cupped Boromir's cheek in his hand, saying gently, "Do you understand?"
Boromir gazed up at him for a long moment, searching Aragorn's face with serious grey eyes, as if seeking the answer to a question. Aragorn did not look away, hoping that the child would see that he meant what he said, and at last Boromir nodded solemnly, apparently satisfied.
"I understand, Thorongil," he said softly.
"Good," Aragorn replied, his voice warm with affection. "And now, it is time for you to go to sleep. It is well past your bedtime, and you need your rest."
Boromir was apparently tired enough not to protest, and he obediently snuggled down under his covers, pulling them up around his chin. Aragorn rose to his feet and went to blow out the lamps, leaving only the one nearest the door still lit. Finished, he crossed back over to the bed, smiling fondly down at Boromir.
"I will see you at your lesson in the morning, little one," he said, leaning over to kiss the child on the forehead. Boromir promptly wrapped both arms around his neck, hugging him tightly and pressing a kiss to his cheek.
"Good night, Thorongil," he murmured in Aragorn's ear, and Aragorn gave him a gentle squeeze before pulling away.
"Goodnight, little fledgling," he said warmly. "Sleep well, and have sweet dreams."
Boromir smiled up at him sleepily, and Aragorn gave him a last loving look before turning and walking to the door. He opened it, leaving it ajar while he went to blow out the last lamp, then slipped out into the hall, closing the door quietly behind him. Suddenly feeling very tired himself, he made his way to the main entrance, then out into the courtyard beyond, heading for his own quarters and his bed.
As tired as he was, Aragorn had no trouble falling asleep once he actually went to bed. However, his peaceful night was interrupted when he found himself starting awake some hours later, not sure of what time it was, but immediately aware of two salient points – first, it was still full dark outside, and second, there was someone else in the room with him.
He bolted upright, responding to the possible threat with well-honed Ranger's instincts, scanning the room for the intruder. Dark as it was outside, the moon was bright and he had not closed the curtains, which left him easily enough light to see by. When he actually saw who his visitor was, however, he could only blink in surprise, finding himself staring into two wide grey eyes.
"Boromir . . . what are you doing in here?" he asked, hearing his voice come out roughened with sleep. He took in the child's huddled posture, the tearstains clearly visible on the small face, and his forehead creased in concern. "What is it, little one?"
"I had a bad dream," Boromir whispered, staring at him pleadingly. He was standing still beside the bed, his eyes owl-wide in the dim light of the room, and bright with unshed tears. Aragorn responded automatically to the appeal in those eyes, holding out his arms to the child.
"Come here," he said gently, and almost before the words were out of his mouth, Boromir had launched himself up onto the bed, wrapped his arms around Aragorn's chest and burrowed against him. He was ice-cold – hardly surprising, since he was barefoot and wearing only a nightshirt – and Aragorn could feel him trembling, although he was not sure whether it was from cold or distress or both.
He quickly lay down, tucking the covers around them both, and Boromir responded by cuddling even closer to him, pressing his face into the hollow of Aragorn's shoulder. Aragorn rubbed his back soothingly, hushing him, trying to get the trembling to abate.
"There now, little one," he murmured. "It was just a dream, nothing more. It is all over now."
Boromir's breath hitched, but some of the tension seemed to leave his body, as if just hearing the words said out loud was enough to reassure him. Aragorn kept up his litany, murmuring soft words and rubbing the child's back in slow, soothing circles, even as he silently wondered at this latest turn of events.
That Boromir had come looking for comfort was obvious, and perfectly understandable. But . . . if it was just comfort he had wanted, he could easily have gone to his nurse, who had her chamber just down the hall from his. Even if Boromir might rather have had his mother's comfort, Ivoren had looked after him since he was a baby; she was far more familiar to him than Aragorn was. That he had chosen to come to Aragorn instead – leaving the Steward's House to do so, and crossing the courtyard in the dark, when he was already frightened – spoke volumes about just how attached he had become to his new hero.
He did not just want comfort, Aragorn thought, vaguely surprised by the proprietary pleasure the knowledge gave him. He wanted my comfort. He wanted me.
He closed his eyes, the now familiar feeling of tenderness cresting once again, flooding his chest with gentle warmth. It seemed impossible that Boromir could have bonded to him so strongly in such a short time, and yet, that there was a bond between them was simply undeniable. Aragorn felt it too; as far as he was concerned, he could not have loved Boromir more if the child had been his own flesh and blood. He did not know what it meant, he did not know how it had come about – but as he had realised earlier, it somehow did not need to be explained or understood. It simply was, and there was a rightness to it that he could not deny.
Swallowing hard against the lump in his throat, he cuddled Boromir closer, moving a hand up to stroke his hair. The child's trembling had eased, but he was still cold against Aragorn's side.
"You are a block of ice, little fledgling," Aragorn murmured.
There was a pause, and then Boromir slowly lifted his head, regarding Aragorn with teary eyes. "It's cold outside," he said in a small voice.
"I should say it is," Aragorn agreed quietly. He trailed gentle fingers down Boromir's cheek. "Are you feeling better now?"
Boromir nodded, lifting one small hand to scrub at his drying tears, and Aragorn covered it with his own.
"Do you remember what you were dreaming about?"
Boromir shook his head. "No – but I woke up scared," he said softly. "And then I was too afraid to go back to sleep."
"My poor fledgling." Aragorn squeezed the child's hand in comfort, then went on, purposely lightening his tone. "Well, that will not do at all. You need your rest if you are going to fight well tomorrow. We will have to find something that will help you sleep."
Boromir hesitated for a moment, biting his lip, then asked hopefully, "Could I stay here tonight, Thorongil? Please? I wouldn't be afraid with you here."
It was Aragorn's turn to hesitate. Logically, he knew that he really ought to say no. It would not do for Boromir to make a habit of this, and Aragorn knew he really should take the child back to his own bed, even if he stayed there with him to keep him company. And yet somehow, looking into those hopeful grey eyes, 'no' simply would not come.
What harm can there be in it, really, he thought. He is only a little boy, and he has had a very difficult day, and now a nightmare. If he needs some extra comfort tonight, I am not going to deny him.
He was aware in the back of his mind that he was simply trying to justify to himself what he was about to do, but somehow it just didn't matter, not when weighed up against Boromir's appealing gaze. The child had indeed had a very hard day, and his nightmare had clearly upset him a great deal. If it would give him comfort to stay with Aragorn just this once, then where was the harm?
Ignoring the feeling of faint foreboding he got about the 'just this once' part, he gave Boromir a fond smile, his decision made. "Aye, you may stay here tonight," he said kindly, and any lingering uncertainty he felt was quickly eased when Boromir wriggled up to kiss his cheek, wrapping both arms around his neck.
"Thank you, Thorongil," he whispered earnestly, and Aragorn smiled, hugging the child close.
"You are very welcome," he said. "But keep in mind, you should probably not make a habit of this. And we will have to get up early in the morning, so that we can get you home before Ivoren finds you gone and starts to worry. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Boromir replied, scooting down to rest his head on Aragorn's shoulder again. Aragorn put an arm around him, nobly ignoring the very cold little feet that had found his leg.
"Good. Now, it is time for you to go back to sleep. You have had a long day, and you need your rest – and so do I, if I am to match you tomorrow." He stroked the child's hair, adding gently, "No more bad dreams for you tonight."
Boromir lifted his head again, regarding him curiously. "How do you know?"
"Because I am here, and I shall keep them away," Aragorn replied simply. "Now come, lie down." He waited until Boromir had obeyed, and then said, "Close your eyes."
Boromir did, and Aragorn watched him for a moment, his gaze lingering on the tearstains that marked the flushed cheeks. He was suddenly very glad indeed that he had let the child stay. Boromir had done more than enough crying today, and Aragorn silently resolved to make sure that tomorrow gave his fledgling no cause for tears.
Taking a breath, he began to sing softly, an old song in the elven tongue that Elrond had often sung to him when he was having trouble sleeping. Boromir stilled for a moment, seemingly surprised, then he cuddled closer, letting out a soft sigh of pleasure. One small hand came up to stroke Aragorn's chest, and it was only a minute or two before Aragorn heard the child's breathing even out and slow, telling him that his charge had gone back to sleep.
Not long after that, he was asleep himself.