This is a sequel to my friend Claire's story, The Inn At Bree, wherein Frodo, following an accident with the Ring in the Common Room, has an encounter with a mysterious Ranger who takes a dim view of careless hobbits and expresses his displeasure in a corporal manner. I've picked up the action moments afterwards.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee.


By Larrkin

My bottom was thoroughly heated, and I vow my face was burning as hotly as my backside was. I sniffed and rubbed my moist eyes and began to search for my misplaced dignity when a sudden commotion came from outside the door.

Strider whirled, his sword drawn, flashing in the firelight and pointing towards the wild foe about to burst into the room. But what crashed through the door was a tumble of barbarous hobbits, all flying curls, and flailing limbs, tangled cloaks, and dangerously brandished ‘weapons’ – a candlestick, a table and a pair of fiercely knotted fists. My jaw dropped. Although Merry, Pippin and my dear Sam rather resembled a litter of small, snarling puppies, I was still impressed by their wrath.

Clearly Strider found them endearing in their bravado. He relaxed and drew back with a crooked grin, despite Sam's threats and name-calling. Had I not been so startled by my gentle gardener’s ferociousness I would have grinned as well.

“You have a stout heart, little hobbit,” Strider told Sam. “But that will not save you.”

I cast Strider a kindly glance. He was surely more entertained by my kinsmen than threatened by them, and yet the warrior didn’t deny his smaller foe their dignity by laughing at their attempted attack. He bestowed his respect generously upon my companions, saying much with his good opinion and helping to calm their frenzy. I grew fonder of Strider by the moment.

Shielding his sword, the warrior turned to me and said in a hushed voice, “You can no longer wait for the wizard, Frodo. They are coming.”

A jolt of fear ripped through me. And yet, strangely, despite the approaching danger, and despite the fact that this man had just spanked me, I felt amazingly safe in Strider’s company. It was perhaps unwise to trust too much and too quickly. I was frightened and desperate and therefore easy prey for someone claiming to offer us aid.

But for the first time since Gandalf had left Sam and me in the woodlands of the Shire, I truly did feel safe and it was because of this warrior who stood watching me with quiet attentiveness and a masterful air of command.

Strider again crossed to the window to glance up and down the street. Meanwhile, flashing me worried gazes, my companions trotted over to me, near bursting with questions. But my attention stayed focused on Strider. A moment later he turned and moved swiftly to the door, saying, “We cannot linger here. Gather your things and come with me. Quickly.”

Pippin was such an everlasting Took. When he’d had a bit too much brew he was even more rash than usual, which was saying a lot. He set his stubborn little jaw and I braced myself.

“Just like that!” He snorted. “And who are you to be telling us --"

Strider was upon him before he could blink. He scooped Pip up and held my sputtering cousin at arm's length and eye level. Merry cried out and he and Sam surged forward, but I was in their path, and I stepped forth and flung my arm out to halt them.

No,” I said. “Don’t.” Sam and Merry froze, gaping at me. “Wait,” I said. They looked thunderstruck, but they stayed where they were, darting desperate glances at Pippin and the warrior who so easily held him aloft.

"You will do as I say, sir,” Strider told Pip, “and be thankful that I have no time at present to deal with your trouble-making prattle in the room below.”

Pippin stopped kicking, his eyes going wide with alarm and Strider pulled him closer, adding in a low tone, “But I shall attend to you soon enough, so I advise you to avoid further kindling my displeasure.”

Strider then lowered my stunned cousin and cast Sam and Merry a stern glare. They glared back, bristling, but otherwise subdued.

"Come," Strider said. "There is no time to waste."

I glanced at my kinsmen, understanding their astonishment. But they were good sensible hobbits. They surely didn’t expect me to gainsay this warrior. I knew they didn’t trust him, but I felt Strider was a safer bet than were those horrific black-cloaked Riders that had pursued us to the Ferry, and I was sure my companions would agree with me when the heat of this moment had passed. Yes, they were good sensible hobbits. And this was no time for a debate.

I grabbed my cloak and donned it, nodding at the others to do the same. “Let’s go,” I said to them softly, grabbing up my things. “We’ll discuss it elsewhere.”

Moments later we were hurrying after Strider, slipping out a side entrance of the Prancing Pony and across the wide courtyard that separated the main building of the inn from the wing directly across from it.

"Of course," Merry groused. "Back out into this cold, sloggy mess again when we'd just got warm and dry."

"Do you plan to lodge a protest then?" Pippin slyly asked him.

Merry was clearly not in a mood to be baited. "Hush up, Pip."

"Mister Frodo?" His pots rattling, Sam hustled along beside me. "Are you alright?"

I squinted through the rain at his worried expression. "I'm fine, Sam.”

"That Longshanks, he didn't hurt you or nothing . . . I mean, did he?"

"I'm fine, Sam."

"It's just that, well, you seem to be walking a bit stiff-like is all."

"No, I'm not."

"Well, if you're sure--"

"I'm fine, thank you, Sam."

The journey was brief, but we were still soaked when entering the other wing. We followed Strider up a narrow, winding staircase and into a second floor room where a cozy fire was waiting. A table and chair sat near the fireplace and another chair was near the window. One large bed lay across from it. This was obviously not what the innkeeper would've called a "hobbit sized accommodation."

Moving further into the room, Strider lit several candles, saying, “We shall be safer in my quarters tonight, gentlemen.”

Merry turned away from the Ranger and grumbled, “I have my doubts about that.”

The corner of Strider’s mouth twitched, but he kept his amusement to himself, bolted the door and crossed to the window. My kinsmen and I removed our cloaks and gathered around the hearth, holding our wet and freezing hands towards the warm fire. Again I faced their questioning stares, but I still wasn’t ready to explain anything. I wasn’t even sure that I could.

So I turned from the fire and my friends’ curiosity and I wandered over to join Strider at the window. He was gazing out so intently that he didn’t notice me there beside him, and I looked to see what held his rapt attention. He kept scanning the area below, his quick glance casting around the courtyard and then returning to what I realized was the window of our now empty room across the way.

Suddenly his gaze dropped to me. I peered up at him, that inexplicable feeling of safety growing even more. Strider was, well . . . handsome, for a man. I’d had few doings with the race, but he was certainly a huge cut above the characters we’d seen since entering Bree. Yes, even wet and disheveled, Strider was downright ruggedly handsome.

Frodo,” he said, a little sharply perhaps, or so he seemed to think, for a moment later he smiled wearily as though in apology. Lowering his hand, he placed his palm on my chest and urged me away from the window. “Not so close. Stand back,” he murmured. Then, once more with that weary grin: “Indulge me, little one.”

I nodded, uncertain as to why I was obeying him. But he had a reason for what he asked and, strangely, that was enough for me. I longed to know what was going on behind that unfathomable warrior’s gaze, but I again felt warmed by his protective manner, that sense of safety coursing through me even more strongly. Strider truly was an extraordinary presence. There was a steadiness in his dark eyes, and he gave forth a quiet and compelling strength that felt so comforting I could scarce tear my attention away from him.

But the sound of shuffling feet and sniffling hobbits abruptly drew my focus. I glanced back at my friends. They huddled near the fire exchanging frowns of puzzlement and shooting me worried glares. I sighed. They deserved my attention, even if I still felt that I couldn’t explain my willingness to trust this mysterious man. So I shuffled back and joined them at the fire, returning their stares in silence until I decided to move things along with some gentle nudging.

Damp night,” I said.

Sam refrained from comment, but Merry and Pippin both erupted.

What?” Merry glowered.

Damp night?” Pippin fumed. “That’s all you have to say? Damp night?”

Well?” I said. “Isn’t it?”

My cousins refused to be distracted from their upset. They began riddling me with hushed questions about this high-handed stranger – what the blazes did he think he was doing, and who the blazes did he think he was, ordering us around, and what the blazes was I about, obeying him so readily and, and, and . . . just what was going on here?

Having no desire to watch my already volatile friends explode into further displays of outrage, I felt disinclined to tell them anything about what had happened before they burst into our room earlier. Besides, I simply couldn’t admit that this stranger had turned me over his knee and spanked me. It still made me squirm.

I answered the few questions I could, but I just didn’t know much about Strider, other than the fact that he packed a solid wallop when spanking a halfling. I could offer them little more than my instinctive feelings about the man. At the moment their ability to trust him would need to be based on their faith in my instincts. But they were too overwrought to put much faith in anything other than their own anger.

“’Yer too trusting, Frodo,” Pip grumbled.

Merry sniffed and said, “That fellow is mighty scruffy looking.”

Even my loyal Sam finally weighed in: “Ain’t no harm in finding out a bit more about him, Mister Frodo.”

We shall, Sam,” I said, staring down at the fire.

I tried to think of some way that I might help them. They surely longed to place their faith in this big and obviously skilled warrior as I had, but they were being cautious for my sake, doubly so since I had apparently thrown my own caution to the wind. I longed for them to share this growing sense of safety with me and to gain some inward peace. I longed for them to feel as settled as I did, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve that.

Strider turned from the window and crossed to the table, drawing our immediate attention, which was fine with me. Removing his cloak and sword, he studied us with a somber, patient gaze. We stared back.

A sense of mild dread unexpectedly slithered up my spine. I glanced at my friends. My usually amiable kinsmen stood glassy-eyed and wary and shifting from foot to foot. They'd been through a lot today, withstanding each bizarre and dangerous happening with admirable fortitude. However, enough was enough. Now strained to their limits of forbearance they looked ready to unleash their shredding tempers upon this presumptuous stranger. But they were also weary, equally ready to collapse into the immense bed that stood there looking soft and deep and inviting.

Most importantly though, they were curious about Strider and about all that was going on here. They had questions and they wouldn’t be able to fully rest without some hard answers.

Strider flashed me a quick glance, and suddenly I knew that he intended to answer my friends’ questions with his own brand of hard answers.

I could have intervened. I could have told my friends that this man had spanked me without hesitation and that he would do the same to them unless they tucked away their ill-humor and cooperated with him. But, again, I sensed that this wasn’t the best time to tell these three what Strider had done. It would indeed serve to enrage them further, and once their danders were up, that would be it. My warnings would fall on deaf ears.

I found myself turning once more to Strider, and he darted me another swift look, this one full of understanding and carrying a silent command: “Trust me.”

I did trust him, and all at once I understood the source of that baffling trust. After he’d spanked me, Strider had not cast me aside. He had taken a few moments to comfort me. It was his compassion that had won Strider my trust.

He had not harmed me, and he could have done so, as cross as he had been. But, in truth, Farmer Maggot had given me worse. Strider’s spanking and the comforting that had followed had taught me not only a lesson about caution, it had shown me that he was fair and kind. I could safely accept his authority over me.

Strider was obviously quite ready to now help my beloved friends as well. So I withdrew and let fate take its course, which it did, with the help of a certain resourceful Ranger.

Strider sat and looked at my friends and said, “I assume that by now Frodo has told you what he knows of me, which is precious little. But, I assure you, I can be trusted. I have been friend to Gandalf the Grey for many years. He told me of you, Frodo, and of your quest. So I know the burden you bear. I also know that you expected to meet Gandalf here. I was to meet him here as well.”

He paused, his eyes full of turmoil. “Why Gandalf has not arrived I cannot say, but without the wizard you have no guidance. So you need to trust me. I shall see you to safety, but you must follow my lead without questions and without troublesome antics.”

Pip, of course, was the first to snap back. “Now just a moment --”

Strider fastened a smoldering gaze on Pippin that instantly silenced him. I was impressed. But Merry stepped forward, eyes flashing. “Just who do you think you are, ordering us about?” he growled. “Why should we listen to you?”

“Merry --” I said, hoping to slow that Brandybuck temper a bit.

“Well, why should we?” Merry cried, turning on me. “I know you’ve been willing to give this scoundrel a chance, Frodo, but I still don’t understand why! Just how do we know he's to be trusted?”

My ever protective Sam shouldered himself in front of me and faced Merry with
a darkly growled, “Now see here, Master Brandybuck, Mister Frodo’s allowed to trust who he wants to trust.”

“Sam, for mercy’s sake, I’m just asking for an explanation!” Merry shot back.

Fired up again by Merry’s zeal, Pip stepped closer to him and said, “I say we were doing just fine on our own! We should go back to the Common Room and wait for Gandalf. He might even be there by now.”

“Death awaits you there.” We all turned startled glances back to Strider. “And if Gandalf does not arrive?” he continued softly. “What then? Will you keep your rooms and wait the night? Then another day and night? Then another? Will you be able to truly rest? Will you feel safe at any time, night or day? And if Gandalf never comes? What then, little halflings?”

Pippin lifted his chin and glared. “Then we four will figure that out when we need to with no help from strange and mysterious folk such as you!”

Strider merely watched him.

Merry now intervened. “Sir, we might not look it, but we are, in fact, all of us, grown up adult hobbits. Well, with the exception of Pip here who’s still in his ‘tweens but near enough an adult to be called one, I-I suppose.”

Pippin blushed a little. “Thank you, Merry.”

Merry nodded, turning his fierce glare on the Ranger. “My point is, we’re quite capable of taking care of ourselves, thank you. We don’t need nosey scruffy big folk meddling in our affairs. We are not children, and we don’t need a keeper.”

“I agree; you are not children,” Strider said. “But I do not agree that you are in no need of a keeper. You are sorely in need of one, sir. You are innocents in a world that is suddenly larger and more perilous than your secluded Shire. Danger surrounds you, but you have not the eyes to see it. Left to your own devices, little one, you would not have survived this night.

So listen closely, gentlemen, whilst I make clear a few facts. I intend to get you to safety, but our path is a dangerous one. Whether or not we survive depends upon your ability to follow my instructions. There is no room for error. So you shall listen to my orders and obey them to the detail. There will be no hobbit uprisings, and no defiance should you happen to disagree with my instructions. You will do everything I tell you to do, exactly as I tell you to do it, like good, well-behaved little hobbits. I trust you are adult enough to understand me.”

My kinsmen went rigid and fastened savage glares upon the Ranger. And, of course, tweaking their tempers was exactly what Strider had intended. His arrogance made even my blood surge, and I knew what he was up to. Merry and Pippin, excitable and far too courageous for their own good, were fairly dancing with outrage.

Strider's calm gaze traveled over us. He smiled suddenly, and said, “Ah, already such mutinous looks. So be it. But I shall not be moved on this matter, gentlemen. It is crucial. I intend to make certain we understand each other ere this night is through.”

I wasn’t sure I was ready for what was about to happen next, but I braced myself and reminded my conscience of how much better Sam and Merry and Pippin would feel afterwards. Their backsides would feel worse but their hearts would ease. Of course, my naive kinsman did not suspect what was about to befall them. It had been an astonishing evening thus far, and it was about to become even more astonishing, beginning with which of my kin was the first to challenge the Ranger.

Sam, who had stood so silent and watchful, now stepped forward and snarled, “Well, I don't answer to you, Longshanks. I serve Mister Frodo. I do as he says. I answer only to him and Mr. Gandalf, and I don't plan to be changing my loyalties anytime in the near future, thank you.”

I felt my jaw drop.

Strider turned his soft, agreeable smile upon my bristling companion. “Well said, Sam. I shall never ask you to change those loyalties. However, I do demand that you yield to my authority and obey my rules. And I can think of no better way to gain your respect of those rules than by showing you the consequences of defiance.”

Again, Strider moved so swiftly that we scarce drew a breath before facing the shocking sight of the Ranger back in his chair with Sam upended over his knees. Sam had landed with an “Oomph!” and he now lay in that stunned silence I remembered all too well.

The room erupted, Merry, Pippin and Sam all howling at once. My cousins began to rush Strider, but I stepped in their path and merely gave them a quiet look. They paused, too stupefied to move further, and gaped at me.

Unable to face their shock, I turned back to Strider, who had just secured a wriggly Sam over his lap. Sam kicked and yelled, his frenzy increasing when Strider undid his britches and yanked them down, uncovering his backside. Fresh hot embarrassment shot through me. Sam rarely found himself in this position. He was too shy to even say the word ‘spank,’ and now he lay bare bottomed over this stranger’s lap! My stomach clenched and knotted.

Then the sound of Strider's first swat echoed through the room. Four hobbits jumped. I thought I actually cried out my inner, ‘OHH!’ But all was silent, and then the next swat fell, then the next, and the next and then the eerie hush was shattered with Sam's first wild cry.

Merry and Pippin stood frozen in horror a moment longer before they lost control and descended upon me, yammering and making the most frightful show, demanding, incredibly, that I do something to stop this.

Do'ya see what that man is doing?” Pippin bellowed. "He's, he's . . . !”

“That man is spanking him!” Merry roared. “He’s spanking Sam!”

I wondered if Merry thought I hadn’t noticed.

Frodo! Frodo!” Pip squeaked. “Do something!”

Make him stop!” Merry exclaimed.

Make him stop? Had I not been so upset for my poor distraught Sam I would have smiled at my cousins’ ridiculous plea. I cast them a wry glance. “And just how do you suggest that I make that man stop?”

They digested that, then Pip drew forth the little blade he loved to carry around.

“There are three of us!” he shouted. “We can rush him!”

They would learn where my sympathies lay soon enough; it might as well be now. I snatched Pippin’s knife from him, tossed it onto the table, then turned back to him with a frown of pure older-cousin supremacy. “Do nothing,” I said, my voice stern.

Merry and Pippin looked as though I’d utterly taken leave of my senses.

What?” Pippin shot back. “Nothing? Do nothing? How can we do nothing?” As he often did when beside himself, Pip flashed his wide-eyed gaze to his beloved and squeaked, “Merry?”

Just older and wiser enough to be a bit more discerning than Pip, Merry turned to me and we exchanged a perceptive look. He then shuddered and closed his eyes for a long blink, clearly struggling to accept what he suddenly understood was about to happen. Turning his sad gaze to our younger cousin, Merry sighed and uttered a phrase Pippin was quite used to hearing:

Hush up, Pip.”

But Pippin had been listening to Sam’s wails for too long now, not to mention the sound of Strider’s ominous, endless spanks smacking down upon poor Sam’s behind. Pip was too alarmed to be hushed. “Hush u--What? But, but, but, Merry, what if, what if that man decides to . . . to --”

I said hush, Peregrin. Leave off. Do as Frodo says.”

Merry’s use of his full name finally stunning him to silence, Pippin merely stared at the two of us, wincing at the sound of Sam’s next howl.

Sam had been howling pretty steadily for some time now. But he lay still over Strider’s lap, all the fight having left him. It had been a difficult thing to watch happen to my sweet Sam, but aside from a few glances at my cousins, I did watch his ordeal, refusing to look away, hoping that Sam would feel me there, staying with him in spirit, whispering a silent message to him, ‘I’m here, Sam. I’m with you.’

Strider now delivered one final swat, then his hand rested at last on Sam’s red bottom. The Ranger rubbed slow circles over Sam’s heaving back, letting him lay and sob all he liked, and I waited, certain that my trust in this man was not in vain.

And then Strider cast me a quick look of reassurance, and I again found peace in the depths of his patient gaze. All would be well now. Sam was in the very best of hands. My cousins would be, too. And I hoped that by watching Strider comfort Sam, Merry and Pippin would feel a little comforted as well.

Strider pulled Sam's britches up over his very red bottom, then he gathered him into his arms and held him close, Sam burying his face against Strider’s shoulder. I could feel my poor Sam’s embarrassment radiating from him.

Shhhh, there now, little one. Shhh,” Strider murmured. “All over now.”

The warrior rocked back and forth slightly, holding my limp and softly weeping Sam close to him. The room seemed still after the loud business that had just gone on, only the sound of the snapping fire and Sam’s snuffling filling the silence. It was lovely, although a tension yet lingered, for everyone knew that the evening’s events were not yet over.

I glanced at my cousins. Merry and Pippin were watching closely, eyes wide with fascination and a silent question: ‘Could it be? Could this warrior be treating their kinsmen with compassion? Did Strider understand this as they did?’ I felt like smiling.

Strider stroked Sam’s curls until he quieted and fell into soft hiccupping, then he drew Sam back to look at him. Sam was too embarrassed to return Strider’s gaze, so the warrior said in a firm voice, “Your attention, young sir.” And Sam quickly lifted his glassy-eyes to Strider.

There is naught to be gained from defiance but a sore bottom, Sam,” Strider said. “Do you understand?”

Sam nodded. “Aye, s-sir.”

Good,” Strider said. “I expect only your obedience, nothing more. You have shown a reluctance to trust me, and that is wise. Trust is something that must be earned. I do not expect you to trust me at once, especially not after the rough start we have had. Nor shall I ever expect you to change your loyalties. Frodo is blessed by those loyalties, and I am glad of them as well. But belligerence and opposition to my orders will not serve us. I cannot afford to wrestle with it. You had to understand that on a deep level, sir. I believe you do now.”

Again Sam nodded. Strider waited, watching Sam for a long moment as though expecting something. Suddenly I realized what that was, and I hadn’t heard Sam bellow it at all, not once, not yet.

Now he blinked and quickly said, “Oh! I-I’m sorry, sorry . . . .”

Strider,” the warrior said with a nod.

Sorry, Strider. I’m sorry.”

Then all is forgiven and forgotten, young sir.”

I felt a huge swell of gratitude wash over me. In truth, it could be argued that Sam had done nothing to be sorry for, other than to be distrustful of a stranger who had hauled his master off and scared them all terribly. But the need for Sam to apologize was a matter less obvious, more understood in a quiet, inner place – ‘I am sorry for refusing to give you the benefit of the doubt . . . I am sorry to think that you meant us harm when you had done these things to protect us . . . I am sorry that I was so offended by your manner that I let myself dislike you due to that reason alone.’

Those quiet inner reasons abounded, understood, if not spoken aloud. But they were nonetheless very real, and that was why Sam needed to voice a ‘sorry’ for them, lest they sit within and simmer.

Suddenly Sam let loose an enormous yawn. Strider grinned and gathered him up and carried him to the bed. Drawing back the coverlet, he deposited Sam on the bed, then crouched down to rub Sam's back and study him for several long minutes.

My cousins and I watched, slightly spellbound. And a few minutes later, when Strider rose and moved away from him, Sam glanced at me, but it wasn't a reproachful or angry glance. I took a few steps towards him, but Sam shook his head, looking suddenly quite exhausted.

“I'm alright, Mr. Frodo,” he said. “Although,” he added with a sniff, “I might just walk a bit . . . stiff-like tomorrow.” He winked at me and my face flushed and we exchanged shy grins.

Of course!”

I whirled at the sound of Merry’s stunned voice.

That was why,” Merry went on. “That’s why you trusted Strider, because he’d already, he must have . . . .”

Aye,” Strider said, quickly closing on Merry. “Frodo knew from experience that I could be trusted, that I would not truly harm you. He knew that you would end up with smarting backsides, but that was all.”

All?” Merry gasped, backing away from the approaching man.

But Strider was upon him now, and he scooped Merry up, sat, and tossed him over his lap, just as he had done to Sam. “Aye, all. You were in need a lesson you would remember deep down. That was all.”

Unfortunately, Strider was correct. We had needed these lessons. We would indeed be inclined to challenge his authority unless he made perfectly clear to us from the beginning just what the consequences of such trouble would be. Strider was making good sense. But that was a hard admission to make when one’s britches had just been yanked down and one’s bottom was bared.

Merry fought the admission with both fists, sudden panic clearly overcoming his reason. He actually began to argue. He yelled that he hadn't really done anything to deserve this and Strider suggested that he rethink the purpose of this lesson and Merry claimed that he understood everything perfectly now, having seen what Sam went through, and that this step really wasn’t necessary, to which Strider replied that Merry was already displaying a mutinous reluctance to accept Strider’s authority by giving him trouble over this very necessary step. Sound reasoning. Merry growled, snapped his mouth shut into that stubborn line that only a Brandybuck could achieve and buried his face in the crook of his arm.

I glanced at Pippin. My little cousin stared at the proceedings, frozen in place, round-eyed, and now quite aware of what his fate was soon to be. He wiped the sweat from his upper lip and darted a fear-filled look at me, but there was little I could offer him in way of solace. I fought the urge to go to him and gather him up and hold him and comfort him, but I felt that too much comfort right now would only serve to panic Pippin further. Then Strider’s first swat hit Merry’s bottom and, again, Pip and I jumped at the sound, Pip even releasing a small cry.

Once more, Strider wasted no time, setting up the same steady and unwavering pattern of spanks on Merry's backside as he had with Sam. I knew what Merry was feeling. This warrior had a memorable swing and a large hand and he used both with dismaying efficiency.

But Merry had gone silent. I sighed. Few creatures were more stubborn than my cousins from Buckland were, and Merry was a Brandybuck through and through. Having failed to outdo Strider’s sound reasoning with his own hobbit good sense, Merry now remained closed mouthed, clearly refusing to give this Ranger the satisfaction of hearing him wail.

I winced at this ill-advised tactic. Strider meant business, and Merry's stubbornness was only going to gain him a longer spanking and a sorer bottom. There would be no telling Merry that, though. This was his lesson, a necessary acceptance of the fact that his doggedness was going to avail him nothing. This might take some time. But, once again, I stood loyally at hand, waiting for my kinsman to come to his confounded senses.

It did indeed take some time. Merry had surpassed the length of spanking Sam had endured and gone a little beyond when Strider, obviously quite aware of Merry’s intent, decided that further steps needed to be taken. In a compassionate desire to help Merry reach a point of yielding, the warrior began talking to him, just talking, but it was quite enough.

“Let me make you aware of why you are in this position, young sir, as it seems you feel you are being treated unfairly. You cannot learn some lessons by merely watching others learn them. Were Sam to tell you that, ‘aye, his ruddy spanking hurt, and I do not recommend you invite one for yourself,’ it would have little meaning for you. However, this --” He delivered a strong swat that made Merry grunt. “This is something you shall remember on that deep, personal level of which I speak. And consider this, little bratling – if it is fairness you seek, then ‘tis most unfair of you to expect Sam to learn your lesson for you, is it not?”

Oh dear. That comment would have painfully tweaked Merry’s sense of honor, and Brandybuck honor was not to be trifled with. He released a strangled huff, his fragile hold on obstinacy close to crumbling. I squirmed with him, and Strider went on:

“‘Tis alright, young Merry. I understand. And do not be too hard on yourself. I know you did not mean to be unfair. You were frightened, and there is no shame in that. Fear is powerful, little one. It sends even the noblest souls down ignoble pathways at times. There is wisdom in your desire to escape this fate. I vow it is most unpleasant.”

Merry shattered. Little wonder. He felt understood and forgiven, and few things were more shattering than that. Add a long spanking to the mix and of course Merry collapsed into such loud and frenzied sobbing that Strider halted at once and gathered my trembling cousin up into his arms and a rocking embrace.

I watched, tears glistening in my eyes, shaking from what had just taken place. I would not wish to enter into a debate with this man on any subject. Strider had that rare ability to see truth from both up close and far away, and to make others see it as well, regardless of what uncomfortable feelings such insight kindled.

But what impressed me more and more was not merely Strider’s gentle reasoning alone, but the fact that he had the grace to deliver it with tenderness. There was neither judgement nor condemnation. Just simple facts explained and understood and let go.

And now, as Merry wept against Strider’s broad shoulder – the same shoulder Sam and I had wept upon; it must have been growing quite damp by now – my cousin was able to take in Strider’s concern for him and to be comforted by it, the beginnings of trust.

Merry’s weeping finally slowed, and Strider took the same steps with him as he had with Sam, drawing Merry down from his shoulder, talking to him quietly, calming his upset and allowing him to say his very important, ‘sorries.’ Then he delivered Merry to the bed beside Sam, settling him in the same manner, stroking his golden curls and observing him. Merry lay curled on his side, facing Strider, his body relaxing until even his sporadic twitching stopped.

Sam, meanwhile, seemed aware of very little. His eyes were mere slits and he looked to be in that twilight of peace that came right before sleep. I gazed at him fondly. Ahhhh. Such serenity. But then I turned to Pippin.

My poor little cousin had positively squished himself into a corner as though hoping to come out the other side. He braced there, tension shooting from his every limb, his eyes glittering with fatigue and dread.

Pippin?” I said. No response. He didn’t so much as glance my way. His eyes remaining locked on the man crouching beside the bed. Poor Pip! Poor terrified little mite! I took a step towards him. “Aww, sweetling --”

Hold, Frodo.”

I darted a look back at Strider. He rose, watching us, then he came round the bed and advanced on Pippin, who consequently came alive.

No! Please! Don’t!” Pip shook his head with small rapid jerks, slipping into his thick Great Smials brogue as he did when most upset. “I-I-I dinna mean anything by what I said! Truly! I dinna!”

“Shhhh,” Strider murmured, closing on Pip in just a few strides. “I know, Pippin.”

“I'm sorry, sir! Sorry, sorry, sorry! I'll be good! I will! I'm really, really, truly quite sorry!”

“I know you are, little one.” Strider squatted before Pippin, who was fairly shaking out of his skin. Reaching out to run his large palm up and down over Pippin’s arm, the Ranger made a few calming sounds and purred, “Shhh, enough now. No more fussing. Come. Let us get this over with quickly. What say you, little Pippin? Shall we?”

“No!” Pip cried, crushing himself deeper into the wall. “No! P-Please!”

Due to Pip’s mischievous nature, he had been spanked fairly frequently. But it seemed that the prospect of going over this big person’s lap, and the anticipation of that warrior’s large hand swatting down upon his bare backside had thrown my cousin into a tizzy.

In truth, such panic was unlike him, but when Pippin was overly tired he lost control quickly, his cranky, unreasonable, impatient and just plain nonsensical side taking over. This was one of those times.

He now actually tried to kick Strider, as though thinking, absurdly, that he could damage this warrior, or fend him off, or do anything effective at all. Yes, my pitiable cousin had passed the barriers of reason. I nearly turned to Strider and told him so: ‘Forgive him. He’s gone ‘round the bend.’

But, as I should have suspected, Strider didn’t need me to tell him anything. He was clearly astute at recognizing young unstable, overly exhausted hobbits, for he cast me a mild glance that soothed my heart at once.

With his customary ease, the Ranger scooped Pippin up, returned to the chair and smoothly slung my quivering cousin over his lap. Pulling down Pip’s britches, Strider got to the matter as quickly as possible.

Silent resistance had never been to Pippin's liking. He was, in fact, impressively vocal and he held nothing back now. I cast Merry a quick glance, wondering if Pippin’s squalls would have him scrambling from the bed. But Sam and Merry had fallen wholly asleep. I had to grin. Asleep with flaming backsides. Asleep through Pippin’s howls. Somehow, it made perfect sense.

Left alone now to stand witness to my cousin’s ordeal, I turned back to Pippin, owing him the same loyalty of presence I’d shown to the others. Despite Pip’s increased noise and frenzy, Strider went no easier on him than he had on any of us. The Ranger's rugged face glowed in the firelight, his handsome features composed, his attention focused on his task. Pippin wailed and wriggled and kicked, and after some steady bottom-warming, Strider began to speak:

“You most of all need to learn caution, young sir,” he said. “You have a dangerous carelessness about you, Peregrin. You criticized Frodo for being too trusting, but you caused that ruckus in the common room tonight by blathering on about who Frodo was, heedless of who might be listening, and causing your cousin to panic.

Listen to me closely, Pippin – never prattle on to strangers, telling them who you are and what your business is, and never, ever reveal Frodo’s true identity. Am I making myself clear?”

Sobbing heartily, Pip managed to wail, “A-A-Ayyyye!”

“I know you would never willingly choose to harm your beloved kinsman, but you could have placed Frodo in very grave danger with your reckless chatter. I vow you will display more cautious behavior henceforth, or I promise you a constantly throbbing bottom.”

AHHHHHH! I-I’m sorrrryyyyyy! Sorryy, sorrry, sorrryyyyy!”

I hope you are, young one. I shall tolerate no further such antics from you. I am watching, Peregrin Took. You shall do as I tell you, when I tell you to do it, with no questions and no hesitation. And you will remember what happens to foolhardy hobbits who behave impulsively.”

“Aye, s-sirr! R-Re-Rememmberrr! I'll rememberrrrrr!!”

Strider's hand stilled at last. I released my held breath. I vow Pip’s spanking had been the most intense. But Strider was right – the trouble tonight had been caused by Pippin’s careless blathering. It had frightened me into reckless action and, well, thank goodness for the quick thinking of this watchful warrior.

So Strider had saved his best for last, which was wise of him. Merry would have been most upset to have witnessed Pippin’s spanking. However, I’d seen Merry give Pip as much as what this Ranger had just given him, so Strider had remained within responsible boundaries.

Pippin had now utterly collapsed, weeping and twitching over Strider’s lap. He re-fastened Pippin's britches, then Strider gathered up his fourth hobbit of the evening, comforting him, purring in his ear, cuddling Pippin as he done to us all and letting Pip further dampen the clothing covering his shoulder. He refrained from expecting my cousin to say that he was sorry, though, as Pippin had been bellowing it all along.

I smiled softly, then I suddenly noticed that Strider was watching me. I flinched, my cheeks flooding with heat. He murmured to Pippin, but the man’s gaze stayed fastened upon me, as though his words were intended for me as well as for Pip:

“Shhhhhhh, sweetling, shhh,” he whispered. “All is well. Hush, now. It is over. Be at peace, little one. You are safe. You have been very good. No more fussing. Shhhhhhhh . . . .”

They were extraordinarily personal words, and yet Strider had said them to all of us, as though taking us into his protective fold by enclosing us within his cloak of intimate endearments.

I felt lulled by Strider’s humming tone, his words flowing over me like a soothing caress. And dear, sweet Pippin actually released a small coo, ‘mmmmmmm.’ Again I smiled, and Strider did, too, and I watched him rise one more time with a well-spanked hobbit in his arms. He carried Pippin to the bed as he had the others, settling him in beside Merry, gentling and calming him with his touch until Pippin made no other sound, which only took a few moments.

And then, at last, all was still. Strider cast me a serene grin. “Ah. Peace.”

I returned his grin, then I shifted, feeling suddenly awkward. Casting me a perceptive glance, Strider moved to the chair near the window, sat and crooked a finger at me, saying, “Come, Frodo. I would see you resting with your kin, but first, come here, and we shall talk if you wish it.”

I did wish it, although I had no notion of what I wanted to say. However, while crossing to him I realized that what I really desired was simply to be with this man. I longed for some quiet time alone with him. Such closeness sounded good after all that had happened.

Strider apparently agreed, for when I drew near he reached out and gently gathered me up to sit upon his lap. I blinked at him, shifting a bit, startled by the realization of how much I had longed to feel his reassuring touch.

Does this please you as well?” he asked.

I blushed and he cast me his ready smile. “Yes,” I said, smiling back at the notion that having me upon his lap pleased him.

My lap can be a comfortable place, can it not, little one?”

I giggled quietly. “From this position, indeed it is.”

He chuckled, a warm, deep sound, and I leaned against his strong body as though I had been doing it all my life. It felt unusual, but entirely wonderful. And it was even better when he wrapped his arms around me.

You need not say anything, Frodo,” he said. “Just rest quietly, if you so choose.”

I don’t know why, but it seemed odd that this warrior should know so much about comforting. He was well schooled in it, though. He was, in fact, marvelously good at it. His offer of quiet time was a splendid comfort indeed. It felt like a luxury after everything that had happened. How generous of him to bestow upon me his watchful presence and the secure haven of his lap.

I relaxed and drifted in that refuge, listening to the snores of my companions. My kinsmen were now tended to and settled and sleeping peacefully because of this commanding warrior who had spanked us all so thoroughly this night.

Strider?” I suddenly ventured, feeling an urgent need to say something and to say it quickly. “Thank you.”

He dropped me a thoughtful glance, then he grinned and grunted and looked out the window. I vow the man was feeling modest.

Thank you for caring for us so well,” I went on. “My kin are sleeping peacefully because of you. And I feel certain they shall behave themselves and obey you from now on.”

He turned back to me, mildly amused. “Only ‘they’ shall behave themselves, Frodo?”

I blushed yet again. “I doubt any of us will be troublesome from now on.”

Mmm.” He lifted a brow. “Do you indeed?”

“Oh, yes. I think we shall be entirely cooperative now. Don’t you agree?”

Mmmm. If you say so, sir.” He cast me a clever glance. “You know your kinsmen far better than I do.”

I wondered just how much insubordination he thought we hobbits had in us. “Well, they might lapse a bit now and then. But they understand you, and they will be more careful now. Don’t you, well, don’t you agree?”

Again he chuckled softly, then he said, “‘They’ will be more careful when it suits them. But, aye, we do have an understanding now, and they know what will happen should they choose to prove troublesome.” He cast me a lazy, smoldering grin. “As do you, I trust, Mister Underhill.”

My face really caught fire this time, but I couldn’t hold back a small chuckle. “If you say so, sir.”

You hobbits are a cheeky lot,” he muttered with a great warmth of affection.

His grin really was nice, and this moment of calm felt lovely, intimate and again, so safe. I leaned back into him more deeply, letting that sense of safety warm me, and soon I was drifting on that feeling until I remembered no more.