Beta appreciation notes for original: Kat and Shot – thanks m’dears.
Beta appreciation notes for rewrite: Kat and Derby – thanks my precious, ever patient team.
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“Please just hand it over, Mister Frodo. That small lake at the bottom of this hill is perfect for washing, and it’s warmish enough for you to go around in naught but your vest and coat ‘till I’m done.”
“I don’t need a clean shirt, Sam. No one else has clean clothes.”
“None of the others has their gardener along to help see to their comforts, neither. But as I’m here, and as a nice clean shirt would more’n likely feel good, I plan to stand right where I am until you hand it over.”
I lowered my head and smiled. When first observing them together in Bree I noticed that Frodo and Sam enjoyed a master-servant relationship unlike any other. Sam clearly adored Frodo and he treated him respectfully, but he also cared for his master in a no-nonsense manner. If Sam decided that Frodo needed something, he made sure Frodo accepted it, regardless of what Frodo himself had to say about it.
I should have moved to where I could not overhear them, or at least have had the courtesy to stop listening, but Master Gamgee at work on his charge was too delightful a scene to pass up, so I sat quietly and smoked and pretended that my distance was enough to keep me from hearing what went on. No matter, as they seemed to be paying me no heed. Clearly realizing the folly of taking on Sam, Frodo had removed his vest and was now unbuttoning his shirt, muttering all the while.
“This is silly, Sam, and utterly unnecessary,” Frodo groused. “You’ve walked all day, cooked, practiced with Boromir and now you want to wash my shirt.”
“That sums it up nicely,” Sam said in his cheery manner.
Frodo sighed and snatched the offered coat from his unflappable servant. “You should be resting, not trotting down the hill to do my wash.”
“I’ll rest, soon as I’m finished,” he said, taking Frodo’s surrendered shirt from him. “Now, once I’ve got this clean I’ll hang it over that tree there and this breeze will dry it in no time.” He turned the garment over in his hands, making small disapproving sounds about its condition. “Aye, it looks like you’ve been crawling around the underbrush alright,” he grumbled, shooting Frodo a reproachful look that his master pretended not to see.
Ah, Frodo had told Sam what had happened after Boromir and Legolas caught up to him last evening. Again I smiled, recalling the little one’s subdued manner when the two satisfied-looking warriors had returned him to camp. He had been full of humble apologies for everyone, and I later noticed him walking with that adorable, just-spanked gait. Deservedly so, as I found out upon hearing the tale.
Sam now turned to leave, and before he had taken his second step Frodo said, “Sam, thank you.”
Sam grinned at him, and then he trotted off, the shirt clutched in one fist and, in the other, a bar of soap.
I puffed my pipe a few more times, then glanced around for Legolas. He was crouched on a far rock, gazing off over the vista below. I leaned my head back against the tree, thinking things over.
It had been well over a week since I had spanked Legolas and vowed to soap out his mouth. How rapidly things had changed in that time! Since a few days after my elfling’s spanking, when Merry and Frodo and I had happened upon Legolas and Boromir smiling and laughing together, my two warriors had become close companions. Legolas now referred to Boromir as ‘little brother.’ It made me grin, and it clearly delighted the great Captain of Gondor.
“I vow, Aragorn,” Legolas had said a few days after first calling Boromir ‘little brother,’ “he absolutely thrives upon it! He beams that big, shy smile when he hears it. Whoever would have thought it? I find myself calling him little brother all the time now, just to see that boyish grin!”
We had shared a small chuckle, my happiness blossoming. How perfect to see these two becoming fast friends! And all because they had begun by earning spankings for their ill-mannered treatment of each other. Legolas had earned something else as well, something I had yet to attend to. Sam and his soap brought my negligence to mind. However, all was well now, all misdeeds forgiven, all bad humor forgotten. So why reopen the matter?
Because it lay waiting to be finished. Because it had been more than a mere threat, it had been a vow spoken with intent. And because, although I felt certain Legolas had comfortably dismissed it from his immediate thoughts, he yet held the memory of that vow and intent somewhere in the back of his mind.
Odd though it might seem, my elfling expected me to follow through with what I had promised him, actually drawing a measure of comfort from my steadfastness. I did not intend to let him down.
I gauged how much fight I had in me at present. I doubted Legolas would give me trouble, but it was possible I would be inviting his resistance should I pursue this further. However, the opportunity had presented itself nicely. Sam had a bar of soap down at the water’s edge, and although the small lake was close enough for someone to be heard should they cry out from there, it was not within eyesight of our encampment. I could find a secluded spot for added privacy along the shoreline, some high weeds to shield us from curious eyes . . . .
Ah, well. I had rested enough.
I stood and knocked my pipe clean and called, “Legolas.” He glanced over his shoulder with a questioning look, then stood and headed my way when he saw me approaching. “Walk with me,” I said.
Legolas nodded and we headed off in the direction the lake. We talked of small matters on the way, laughing over a few of the little ones’ silly moments. And I told him again, as I had many times, of how pleased I was that he and Boromir were getting on so well.
“I never would have guessed from the enormous smile you flash our way when we are being good.”
“You do realize that have told me this at least one hundred times, Aragorn.”
“Only one hundred times?” I shoved him with my elbow and we laughed.
Approaching the water, we heard Sam’s voice. He was speaking in a serious tone to someone, and upon clearing the trees we saw Boromir standing with a solemn expression, listening to the hobbit. Sam was hugging Frodo’s wrung-out shirt to his side as though it was Frodo himself, unmindful of its wetness.
“I know it was for his own good --” They both turned and watched us draw near. “Oh,” Sam said. “Good. You’re all here. I can say this once and have it done, since I don’t think Gimli or Gandalf’s taken a turn with poor Mister Frodo over his knee.”
Legolas and I drew up beside Boromir and the three of us stood in front of the hobbit like schoolboys about to be scolded by their tutor.
“Now,” Sam began, gazing up at us with a perfectly tutor-ly frown. “I don’t mean to criticize, because I know you, well . . . you all do what you do for Frodo’s sake, and I’m the first to admit that there’s times when he needs a good . . . trip over someone’s knee. So I know you’re only doing what needs done, and it does help him. I-I guess. Well, no . . . no, it does. It does help him. I have to admit it’s . . . it’s a good thing.”
Sam paused to swallow, this last confession clearly having been hard to make. I felt proud of my two warriors for maintaining a respectful attitude, something I knew was a struggle, given how oddly charming this was. I also could not help recalling what Frodo had once told me with a fond smile: “Sam doesn’t like to say ‘spank,’ you know, in any form. He’ll put it any other way he can rather than utter that word. He is so dear, my Sam.”
“So,” dear Sam now continued, “I’m not saying you shouldn’t do such a thing to Mister Frodo. In fact, hard as it seems for me to believe, I’m thanking you for it. He knows you do it because you care about him, and I know it, too, deep inside. And any help you can give Mister Frodo is welcome to me, even if it means he has trouble sitting.”
I bit the inside of my bottom lip to keep from bursting into a grin. On either side of me I sensed Boromir and Legolas fairly trembling from the strain of keeping an earnest demeanor. We all deserved high praise for our efforts.
“But, what I want to say is, actually, what I’m asking is that you, well . . . .” Sam hesitated. We waited quietly. “I guess I’m asking that you go easy on him, but, wait . . . no. No, I’m not asking that, because I know a lesson isn’t learned unless it’s given in a way so’s you don’t forget it, if you take my meaning.
“So, look, I’m not asking that you hold back from giving Frodo what you think he needs. I trust you to know just how much to give him and how much he can take, and I know you won’t never really hurt him, not in a way so’s he’s frightened at least, but just in that way where his backside is smarting enough for him to learn his lesson. I’m just, just --”
Sam huffed in frustration and dropped his gaze, struggling to conjure the proper words and muttering to himself, “Come on, Samwise, you fool, enough prattle! Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
“Sam,” I said, unable to abide his discomfort. He glanced up hopefully. “Perhaps you are asking that we spank Frodo enough to make our point, while remaining ever mindful of what a halfling can tolerate.”
The tightness in Sam’s features relaxed in relief. “Aye!” he said. “Exactly. I can’t be mad at you for what you do, but in a way I can’t help it either. And if my Frodo can understand that, I reckon you can, too.”
“You reckon wisely, Sam,” Boromir said. “And he is blessed to have you to comfort him afterwards.”
Sam flushed and shifted from foot to foot. “Well, I just wish I could spare him some lessons in the first place, or leastways offer him something to ease his pain.”
“But you do ease his pain, sir.” Legolas smiled gently. “You ease the pain in his bottom by way of his heart, with the love you give to him.”
“Aye.” Reaching out to tousle his curls, I said, “There is no greater ease you can offer than that, Sam.”
The rosy glow on Sam’s cheeks deepened to a warm red. He grinned up at us. “Mister Frodo deserves all that and more.” Then he took a deep breath, saying, “I’d best be getting back. But thanks for hearing me out. I guess we understand each other better now, and if sometime I seem mad at any of you after you’ve . . . dealt with Mister Frodo, understand there’s no hard feelings.”
We all nodded. “Sam,” I said as he turned to leave. “Do you recall helping me seek out the athelas after Weathertop?”
“Aye,” he said, “kingsfoil, that weed you chewed up and put on poor Frodo’s wound.”
“See if you can find some on your way back to camp,” I told him. “It should be growing near the mossy places at the base of the evergreens. Gather it for me and I shall make up a salve for you to use on Frodo’s sore bottom next time.” I raised a brow and added, “For I fear there will indeed be a next time.”
Sam’s eyes grew huge and round. “Oh, thanks, Strider! Aye! I’ll find lots! Bless you!”
I tousled his curls again and said, “My pleasure. I should have thought of it ‘ere this. Oh, and one more thing.” I held out my hand. “May I borrow your soap?” From the corner of my eye I saw Legolas stiffen.
“Do you have something you want washed out?” Sam asked. “I’m pretty good at that. I’ll take care of whatever you have needs washing if you like.”
Legolas made a small sound in his throat. I kept from laughing outright but I did allow myself a grin. “No, Sam. Thank you for offering. That is most kind of you. But this duty I can perform myself.”
He shrugged and plopped the soap into my waiting palm, “As you say then. I’ll have the kingsfoil ready for you when you get back.” He spun and headed back to the camp, disappearing into the trees moments later.
I turned to Legolas. My elfling’s eyes were so wide they seemed ready to swallow his face. I swear he had stopped breathing. Meanwhile, Boromir, ever attentive, watched him with interest, clearly puzzled. I tossed the soap up and down in my hand a few times, then I cast Boromir a glance and said, “Would you excuse us, my fledgling? Legolas and I have something private to discuss.”
Boromir shot a fown of sudden alarm at Legolas, whose elvish reserve seemed near depleted. Careful not to meet our eyes, his gaze remained downcast, his fair skin absolutely glowing.
“Something is amiss here,” Boromir said with his usual bluntness.
“It does not concern you, sir,” I said.
His suspicious glance flashed between the elf and me. “I think it does.”
“No,” Legolas murmured. He looked up and fastened a determined frown on Boromir. “Aragorn is correct. This needs remain between he and I alone. Please, leave us, little brother.”
The Captain of the White Tower did not like being told to surrender the field. He set himself, lifted his resolute chin and said to Legolas, “But you are uneasy about something. I would stay and be of help if I can.”
“You cannot help me.”
“I refuse to leave until I know what goes on here.”
Bold attitude from one who had full knowledge of how I responded to insubordination. Still, I admired Boromir’s loyalty. And I could not help remembering the stubborn stance of a certain four-year-old child in Gondor, the memory near making me grin. Legolas, however, was becoming exasperated with his little brother’s obstinacy.
“Is it not sufficient that I ask for some privacy?” he asked, his blue eyes glittering.
“No,” Boromir replied. “And I grow more curious the more you object.”
Now I questioned him: “You do not fear there will be consequences for your stubbornness?”
Boromir turned to me, a shadow of apprehension crossing his face. “Consequences?” He frowned. “Merely for being stubborn?”
“Consequences for insubordinate defiance then,” I said.
He took that in, saw the truth of it, gave a short nod, and said, “If there are consequences to be borne, so be it.”
Legolas shifted and growled low in his throat.
“But you do not even know why you are risking your backside,” I pointed out.
“No matter.” He shrugged. “It involves my big brother, so I shall remain at his side in case he needs my aide.”
Two feelings slammed into me instantly. One was tenderness at hearing Boromir refer to Legolas as his “big brother,” a term my fledgling had never used in all his life, but one with which he clearly felt comfortable, even after such a short period of time. Legolas seemed to melt as well, his eyes glistening fondly.
The other feeling was blacker and hit harder, a feeling of sudden division from my two beloved companions. I had feared this, knowing it could possibly happen, that in caring for all my charges I might become the disciplinarian, the outsider, a figure of authority disconnected from the closeness of the others by my role.
When the idea had first occurred to me it had been too painful to fully explore, so I had ignored it, hoping I could somehow avoid facing it. Of course, as things oft do when we ignore them and try to avoid them, it festered and grew in power, and now here it was, strong and alive and potent, staring at me through the aggravated gazes of my elf and my fledgling. A sudden rage burst within me.
“Very well! Remain at his side then,” I snapped. “You may watch as your beloved big brother gets his mouth washed out for the foul elvish speech he used against you.”
Legolas closed his eyes and shuddered, then he opened them again, firing me a thunderous scowl. Unwilling to abide that fierce look, I glanced at Boromir. His mouth hung open, sounds of astonishment coming from somewhere in the back of his throat, and he cast stunned glances between Legolas and myself.
“No,” he breathed. “You cannot.”
My hurt and anger surged. “Cannot?” I fumed. “Watch me.” I bore down on Legolas, grabbed his arm and began marching him toward the water, furious with myself for my lack of restraint and hating my surrender to the darkness that grew blacker with each heartbeat. Boromir was instantly beside us.
“Aragorn, no! Do not do this thing! Do not humiliate him so!” he cried, shoving me even further into that darkness with his reasonable protests and his show of loyalty for Legolas. My better nature reviled me for what suddenly felt like an abuse of power, and yet, overwhelmed by baffling resentment, I seemed unable to stop myself. I did not think it could get blacker, but a moment later Legolas proved me wrong.
“Peace, little brother,” he told Boromir in a hushed voice. “I can bear it. Do not distress yourself so. It is merely soap, and it will be over with quickly.” He sniffed a small grin. “And he is right, you know, my words that night were unspeakably vulgar. You would likely help him in this duty were you to learn what I said of your ancestors.”
Oh! To speak as if I was not even there! To further join forces and sympathies against me, as though I was the enemy, one so foreign I could only be spoken of with distance! My throat tightened into a painful knot. I bent down at the shoreline to splash the bar of soap in the water, getting it wet and sloppy.
“I don’t care what you said!” Boromir growled. “It cannot be so foul as to deserve this disgrace! Aragorn, the matter is long since over and done with! We have made amends! What purpose does this serve?”
I barely recognized my own voice or the words that came spilling out; “I do not answer to you, young one.”
“Answer to reason then!” he cried. “Answer to decency, to fairness!”
I shot up and faced him. “Enough! If you choose to witness this then do so in silence.”
Boromir stared at me. “What has gotten into you?” he asked, his voice low. “Aragorn?” He blinked as though in disbelief, searching my face for something lost. “What are you doing?” he murmured, clearly stunned.
I dropped my gaze, awash with too many feelings to suffer them all at once. Glancing up at Legolas, I took in his calm dignity, his willingness to face what he knew I had to do, and his compassion for my position. His nobility shamed me, his words making me feel even worse:
“It is all right, Estel,” he said mildly. “We both know what you must do. And you, little brother,” he said, turning his bright eyes to Boromir, “listen to me. Aragorn is following through on a threat spoken with intent, uttered at a time when it needed to be made. Your compassion is touching and much appreciated, but I feel that you can understand his position. Could you leave a promise unfulfilled?”
Boromir looked tempted to say that he indeed could, when he knew full well that he could not. “No,” he admitted. “But it is still unfair. And it is not right. This is being done in my name, and as such I am uneasy with it.”
I stood there, completely cut out of the conversation, a bar of soap dripping in my hand. Leveling a glower upon Boromir, I said, “As you are so distressed by my brutality, it is perhaps better that you leave now.”
He glared right back at me. “I shall not only remain here,” he growled, “I demand that you do to me what you are about to to do to my big brother. I was just as unruly that night. I shall not suffer Legolas to face this shame alone.”
“No!” Legolas cried.
“No. I will not hear of it,” I snarled. “Legolas is answering for his coarse speech. You did not --”
Before I could finish my thought Boromir let fly the filthiest, most shocking, most disgustingly base and vulgar string of sentences it had ever been my misfortune to hear. Rarely in my eighty-seven years had I heard anyone, tavern drunkards or rowdy men at arms, tipsy elves, course dwarves, or even foul-mouthed orcs use such obscene language. My elfling’s mouth fell open, his eyes widening. And, when finally finished, Boromir flashed me a triumphantly insolent look and arched his brow.
“And now, great Ranger of the North?” he gloated. “Have your sensitive ears been sufficiently offended? Do I deserve to have my mouth washed out with soap, too?”
He stood there, taunting me with his impudent, little-boy expression, and I vow I longed to force the entire cake of sticky soap into his ill-mannered mouth and make him eat it, then heat up his backside for the sake of mere principle. I settled for the next best thing. I yanked him forward, grabbed him by the jaw, and snarled, “Open!”
It does not happen to me often, thank the Valar, because getting my mouth soaped out is amongst the nastier things I am ever forced to endure. Odd how just a bar of soap applied to one’s mouth can be so ghastly. But, difficult as it was to bear, it had been even more difficult watching my little brother suffer it first.
I had been torn between wanting to kiss Boromir for his interference and wanting to treat him to his first taste of elvish discipline. Though touched and warmed by his outrage, I was also stunned by his audacity in challenging Aragorn so relentlessly, and shocked by his decision to join me in my debasement. But shocked does not begin to describe how I felt upon hearing Boromir’s tirade of profanity, all of it aimed towards Aragorn’s character.
I was impressed by my little brother’s indelicate vocabulary. He certainly had no need to learn any elvish obscenities. He displayed a talent for stringing the words together in a creative manner, though. It might prove interesting to see what he could do with a new language.
“I can still taste it.” Boromir sat down beside me, wiping his mouth on his sleeve yet again.
“Be mindful of your actions, little brother,” I warned him. “You have wiped your mouth countless times since we returned. The hobbits are growing curious.”
He froze and glanced over to where the halflings seemed to be innocently going about their business of smoking and finishing up what scraps of dinner they had left. He dropped his arm and studied them for a moment, then said, “No, they’re not.”
“They are. Keep watching.”
He did, and within moments it became clear that I was right. All four of them were casting us casual glances so frequently it was humorous.
Boromir released a soft groan and looked at me fretfully. “You don’t think they suspect anything, do you?”
I gave him an indulgent grin. “Suspect that an elven Prince and the Captain of the White Tower just had their mouths washed out with soap?” I snorted. “Unlikely.”
He sighed. “You’re right. It would never enter their wildest imaginings. It wouldn’t enter mine and I was there.”
“As, unfortunately, was I.” I cast him a look of exasperation. “Perhaps the experience will teach you to let your big brother take care of himself in the future.” At his dumbfounded stare I went on. “There was nothing you could have said or done to stop Aragorn. You simply ended up with a soapy mouth for continuing to interfere after I had asked you to leave. You need not have worried for my sake.”
“Well!” Boromir scowled. “There’s gratitude!”
“Moreover, after what you said to Aragorn, I am surprised that all you came away with was a nasty taste in your mouth. You should be unable to sit. Were you ever to speak to me in such a manner, you would be standing for days.”
“Ha! You would have a fight on your hands you would likely never forget, elf.”
I sniffed and muttered, “Not much of one I vow.”
“We men of Gondor know a few moves that would likely land you on your backside before you could blink!”
“How intriguing.” I feigned a yawn.
Boromir 'tsked.' “Ah, the arrogance of elves.”
“Ah, the impudence of men.” Suddenly I laughed, then smiled warmly at his surprised expression. “Kindly remember who it was that knocked Isildur’s Heir on his backside ‘ere you start boasting about landing me anywhere, little brother.”
He instantly relaxed and laughed as well. “I still want to hear that story.”
I grinned and said, “And so you shall, but another time, when you can laugh as loudly as you like. This time is for quieter fellowship.” I glanced up, looking for the first stars to appear, and said, “Better to allow the gathering shadows to work their calming spell at present rather than laughing riotously over stories.” I winked at him then shot a significant glance at the hobbits. “Some of us seem over-tired.”
Boromir turned a fond gaze on the little ones. “Aye,” he said. “I supposed ‘tis best we not tempt them into gathering around asking questions. They would be over here at once, demanding to hear the tale.”
“And it is not a tale the halflings need hear.”
We smiled in agreement, then fell silent for a while. I studied Aragorn from across the camp. He sat atop a large boulder with his back to us, smoking and talking to Gandalf, or rather Gandalf was talking. Aragorn nodded every so often, his back bent, his whole manner suggesting weariness. The sight of him tugged at my heart. It was all I could do to stay where I was and allow him his counsel. Besides, I needed to speak with Boromir alone.
From the corner of my eye, I saw him again reach up and swipe at his mouth with his sleeve.
“You should not have done that,” I said.
“Oh! Aye.” He winced. “I forgot. Sorry. I don’t know why I keep doing it. It doesn’t help make the taste go away. Dinner tasted awful.”
“No, I meant that, in all seriousness, you should not have challenged Aragorn.”
He blinked in surprise and stared at me. “But how could I just do noth --”
“I am grateful,” I quickly added with a gentle smile. “Do not misunderstand me. I am grateful to you for standing by me and facing down that fearsome bar of soap my brave little brother.”
He grinned and shyly lowered his gaze.
“I know how hard it was for you, but I wish you had simply let me be the big brother, and that you had left me to my fate. Better that than seeing you suffer the same misfortune.”
He had borne it so bravely, though, closing his eyes and gagging only twice while Aragorn held his jaw in one hand and quite painstakingly moved the soap around his mouth with the other. It was wrenching to witness, and I had not wanted to watch, but I felt I owed Boromir my attention, at the very least, in case he looked to me for solace. My stomach churned and clenched, but I was glad I had remained heedful, for within moments Boromir’s watering eyes indeed flew open and he fired me a gaze that shot straight to my heart.
When Aragorn was finished with him, he made Boromir stand and watch as he treated me to the same. I had not held up quite as well, coughing and sputtering several times, making my ordeal last longer. But as Aragorn worked his back was to Boromir, and I saw what my little brother could not.
Several renegade tears slid down Aragorn’s cheeks. He gasped and wiped his sleeve over his face, pretending to clear away his tangled hair, then he shot me a glance to see if I had noticed, becoming newly angry when it was clear that I had.
Aragorn was more distressed by what he had felt compelled to do than either Boromir or I had been. His strained, furious expression said all. He looked lost to himself, disgusted by his own behavior and walking an edge of irrationality that frightened him. The confident leader fell to one side and I glimpsed in his place an angry little boy, hurt and betrayed and hating every feeling he felt powerless to fight.
His eyes glazing over with a fresh tears, Aragorn remained fixed on his task, working with a seeming desperate focus, as though trying to quiet his smarting conscience by doing his job well.
Finally his fragile poise shattered. Aragorn dashed the soap to the ground and stalked off, his legs stretching into long, swift strides, the tails of his dark duster fluttering in his angry wake.
Astonished and silent, Boromir and I watched him storm completely from sight before falling to our knees at the shoreline and cupping up handfuls of water to wash out our mouths.
After much spitting and sputtering Boromir choked, “What do you make of that?”
“He hated having to do it, of course,” I coughed back.
“He certainly put his heart into it for hating it so much.”
“Of course. You know he could do no less.”
“Aye, blast his unyielding Ranger hide.”
I struggled now to keep from fidgeting and possibly alarming my little brother, but I could not help fretting inside. I knew exactly what had happened and when it had happened:
“But you do not even know why you are risking your backside.”
“No matter. It involves my big brother, so I shall remain at his side in case he needs my aide.”
“Very well! Remain at his side then. You may watch your beloved big brother get his mouth washed out for the foul elvish speech he used against you.”
There. It had taken place right there, at that moment when Boromir called me ‘big brother,’ aligning himself with me against Aragorn, or so it would have seemed to a certain Ranger. I had felt a foreboding twinge at the time, but things had moved too quickly for me to fully examine it. However, all questions about Aragorn’s rapid decline and his inordinate fury became clear when considering that moment.
My Ranger had every reason to feel isolated and hurt. Of course he would feel placed at a distance by what had happened between the three of us, and Aragorn would loathe that distance, even going so far as to view it with a certain horror. He was a man born to a destiny, a great leader. But, although gifted with a near otherworldly ability to lead men, the role was not always to Aragorn’s liking. He oft disdained it, dreading the isolation into which he felt the leadership role placed him. What had happened today would strike directly at that issue.
I could only begin to imagine what he might be telling himself right now. His fledgling had turned on him, both of us now seeming to be in league together, excluding him. Preposterous conjecture to be certain, and Aragorn should have known better than to think his adoring fledgling and me capable of such betrayal. But common sense was evading my beloved Estel at present. Irrational passions were at work.
I still had not been able to speak with him alone. After collecting ourselves, Boromir and I had returned to find Aragorn calmly mixing the salve, Sam at his side, wide eyed and fascinated. Evening was already descending. Aragorn had then spent some time talking to Gandalf as they often did at the end of the day, discussing the next day’s course.
I watched now as my Ranger stood and looked back over the encampment, taking in the whereabouts and safety of his Fellowship, affording Boromir and I just the briefest glimpse before moving off to take the first watch. He melted into the quickly gathering shadows of the woods.
I glanced at my little brother. His melancholy, downcast gaze said much. Aye, he had noticed Aragorn’s every move and look. I glanced at Gandalf. His glittering eyes flashed briefly upon Boromir and me. Hm. I wondered if I should speak to him about this. It felt inappropriate to approach Gandalf when I was uncertain as to whether or not Aragorn had . . . nay. Nay, my Ranger would not have troubled Gandalf with so personal a matter.
Of course, this could not be left to fester amongst the three of us. My little brother was uneasy, his movements quick and anxious. He needed to be settled and I longed to help ease his troubled heart. Aragorn should have some time alone to grow quiet inside before I followed to talk with him, although if left too long my Ranger’s brooding might lead him into even darker and more unreasonable imaginings than --
“Are you angry with him?” Boromir asked with a suddenness that made me flinch.
“No, of course not,” I replied with mild surprise. “No more so than when he spanks me. Are you?”
“No. Nasty though that was, no, I am not angry with him. But --” His features tightened and he struggled to speak. Finally, in a voice low and strained, he said, “I-I feel badly, Legolas. You’re right. I shouldn’t have interfered. And I think I know why he became so angry. I defended you and it looked as though I’d turned against him. I didn’t! It wasn’t my intent to hurt him like that.”
“Shhh,” I said, moving closer to him, touched by his insight. “I know.”
“But I did hurt him. And I should have seen it coming. I should’ve known how it would look. I didn’t think, I just acted. I saw what he was going to do and I-I just couldn’t turn away.”
A dark turbulence filled his eyes. There was more here than just Boromir defending Legolas against a soaped mouth. My little brother was seething, struggling with something enormous and shrouded. I glanced around to see if anyone was taking note of his distress, but night had closed in enough to shield the two of us back in this dark space amidst these boulders.
The hobbits were snuggling down close to the fire as they always did when darkness gathered, Merry and Pippin curling up together in a charming tangle of arms and legs, draped over each other with lovable familiarity Pippin had begun one of their hobbit songs, his pure, sweet voice filling the air with a simple tune about home and hearth.
Frodo sat cross-legged donning his now dry and freshly clean shirt, the little one’s large eyes positively glittering as he smiled at Sam, who grinned with bashful delight. Gandalf had moved down nearer to the fire, he and Gimli watching the hobbits and the fire and puffing on their pipes, Gandalf blowing a few interesting smoky designs.
“How could I have done that?” Boromir now muttered, speaking more to himself than to me. “How? I don’t know what came over me.”
I reached over and snagged our bedrolls, then slid back to the darkest corner of the rocks behind us, preparing and bracing up the bedding. Boromir watched me with vague indifference, his mind clearly elsewhere, his gaze troubled. When I had things arranged I sat and leaned back against the rock. “Come,” I said, lifting a beckoning arm. “We shall talk of this.”
Boromir blinked as though suddenly aware again, then glanced around, bashfully at the others.
“Come, little brother,” I said again. “All are going about their own business.”
He moved back to join me, entering the circle of my arm a little stiffly. I drew him close to my side and said, “Relax. You are not betraying him to lie like this with me. We both love him and we are gathered together to speak of how to help him.”
Boromir nodded. “Aye. Good. Very good. I want to do that. Right now, in fact. We should both go to him now. Little wonder he grew so furious.”
“I would ask you something first,” I said. “A moment ago you said you did not know what came over you.”
He turned to me with a startled look. “I-I don’t. Something went off inside me, and I had to stop him, I just had to step in. I cannot explain it.”
“Perhaps we can find out why,” I said. “Tell me of more of Faramir.”
I sat up and stared at him, his implication all too apparent. “Aragorn is nothing like my father.”
“I know he is not. From what little I have heard of Denethor, I know.”
“But, are you implying --”
“I am implying nothing. I do not think you see Aragorn as a father, any father, but especially not your father.” Legolas cocked his bright head slightly to one side. “However, seeing me in such a humiliating position, perhaps it is possible that Faramir entered your thoughts, even if only fleetingly.”
I considered this. It hadn’t occurred to me, but . . . . “Aye. Perhaps.”
He gathered me back into the circle of his arm and I went willingly, thinking over his words. “Aye, that’s exactly what must have happened,” I murmured. “And, it was odd, because, this was Aragorn, and I knew it was Aragorn standing there, angry and threatening, but for a brief moment, he was no longer Aragorn.” I closed my eyes, drifting back into that awful moment. “He . . . it was as if he became . . . .”
“Denethor.” Legolas placed a hand on my cheek and urged my head down against his chest. “And I was Faramir,” he murmured against my brow.
I nodded, a sick feeling slithering through my veins, an old fury so enormous I dared never entertain it long. One small crack in the inner wall holding back those bitter memories would quickly widen until the dam shattered and a flood of ugliness washed through. I heard a small groan slip from my throat as I felt that deluge begin and I squeezed my eyes shut tighter against it.
But Legolas wrapped his arms around me and pulled me closer. I felt the silky smoothness of his flaxen locks against my cheek, and I breathed in his scent, fresh and clean and wild as the woodlands. I heard his heartbeat beneath my ear, strong, steady, a cadence to latch onto while the tides of despair threatened to drag me under.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “You are here with me now, little brother.”
“Little brother . . . .” I muttered against his chest. “Little brother.”
“Tell me of him.”
“What has Aragorn told you?”
“Not much. I would hear more from you.”
So I began telling Legolas what I’d told Aragorn about my brother and my father. He leaned his head against mine as I spoke, listening with exquisite stillness, and there in our dark corner, wrapped safely within his arms, I felt a measure of protection against the violent rage those dark memories aroused within me.
It could be that my sense of calm came from the charming picture of firelight dancing across four sweet halfling faces, or the sound of Pippin’s enchanting voice, or the scent of pipeweed and woodsmoke and the calm end-of-the-day contentment, but I found myself relaxing more and more against Legolas, talking freely about some of my saddest memories. We were a short distance from the others, so there was no chance of being overheard. And the memories came, and they were bitter, but I could watch them instead of being in them.
I told Legolas of Denethor’s growing severity in the years after my mother died, of his increased cruelty to Faramir, of Faramir’s brave attempts to please a man who had no intention of awarding him merit, nor even of noticing him except when he needed a target for his venom. I told him of myself and Faramir, of our brotherly bond made strong by the shared adversity of life with Denethor, of how I was ever my little brother’s protector and caregiver, the one who loved and bolstered him and gave him attention, and the one who even ended up disciplining him.
And suddenly the same memory I’d had yesterday while contemplating Frodo’s reluctance to practice came to me – the memory of that time when a belligerent fifteen year old Faramir refused to attend daily practice and I’d spanked him for the first time since he had been a child:
“What does it m-matter if he finds out?” Faramir had screamed from his position across my knee. “He-He already hates m-me!”
I had continued to spank him although his bottom had become quite rosy and his bellows lusty. “Father doesn’t hate you, little boy,” I replied, hoping I sounded sincere. It had been hard to say such a thing honestly, since my father’s disdain for Faramir had become open and well known.
“He does! You-You know he d-does! Everyone knows he d-does! W-What difference if he discovers something n-new to hate in me? And rot y-you, Borm’mirrr! I’m old enough to-to choose when I p-practice!”
“Ahhh! Stop! Boromir! H-Hurrrrrrts! S-Stop! P-Pleeeease stop!”
“I’ll stop when I have your vow. You decide when this spanking ends, little brother. Promise me that you will return to the practice grounds to drill as we always have, as we need to do every day, and I’ll let you up. This concerns your very life, sweetling. I do not take that lightly and neither shall you.”
He kicked and bucked and cried a while longer, my stubborn, stubborn little brother! But finally Faramir relented and collapsed over my knee, sobbing in defeat.
“I-I promise! I p-promise!”
I pulled his breeches up over his flaming little bottom and turned him over to hold him close. Of course he would have none of it. But at fifteen Faramir still had a boy’s slight frame, and I was considerably bigger than him. And he did not really want me to let him go. But he had to struggle a little so I wouldn’t know that.
So, I allowed him a small measure of his defiance, and when he had objected enough to save face, I gathered him to me more determinedly and saw that he accepted the comfort he deserved. Cuddling Faramir close, I talked to him for some time, making certain he understood me, for there was more to this than simply discipline, and there were things I would have him know.
He would know from the beginning that part of a spanking was the solace that followed, and that one would never take place without the other. The consolation afterwards was never going to be an option for my little brother. He would understand the reason for both the discipline and the comfort, and accept that he was worthy of both.
Always quick and insightful, Faramir understood that I would brook no arguments, and he surrendered to my every decree, his arms wrapping around me and his head falling down upon my shoulder, his soft shudders close to my ear.
“B-Bor’mir, why? W-Why does he hate me so?” he finally ventured.
I ground my teeth to battle back my own tears of compassion and fury. They would do him no good. Faramir needed his big brother to be a strong rock to cling to, a comforting harbor, a safe refuge from the storm that was our father. Again I’d repeated what I was not certain I myself believed:
“Our father loves you, Faramir.”
“Nay.” He pulled back to look directly at me, his gray-green eyes glazed and reddened. Then he lifted his chin, a strangely stoic look entering his gaze as it had begun to do so more and more of late. “Nay, Boromir; he does not. I remind him of her. I look too much like her.”
Faramir had said this before and it lanced into me like a spear every time I heard it. But the greatest pain was in the truth of the matter, for Faramir did indeed look more like our mother than I did. He had her same sad, haunting eyes.
“Well, it cannot be said that I serve no useful purpose, big brother.” He’d sniffed a pathetic little laugh. “He has you to love and me to spend his bitterness upon.”
“Oh!” Legolas cried softly cuddling me closer. I realized I had been narrating my memory, not quite as it played through my mind, but accurately nonetheless. “Oh, such sorrow!” He grew quiet for a while, then Legolas sighed and said, “Faramir is fortunate in you, sweetling.”
Feeling my face warm at his endearment, I grinned a little and said, “He did not think so that day. He especially did not think so the next time he tried to sit.”
I heard his answering grin above me, then he said, “You were more than an older brother to him. You were more father to him than Denethor ever was.”
“You worry about him now that you are far away and unable to protect him.”
“Aye. I have lain awake many nights thinking of him. My dreams of late have been troubled, bad dreams about Faramir being in danger, and I can never get to him in time.”
“Shhhh. Only bad dreams.”
Suddenly I yawned and looked over to where the fire blazed low. The hobbits, all but Frodo, had fallen asleep, and the Ringbearer’s luminous eyes, mesmerized by firelight, were merely heavy-lidded slits. Gimli had curled up and was snoring, his back to the fire, and Gandalf sat braced against some boulders, asleep, his knees drawn up to his chest and the wide brim of his hat pulled down over his face.
I had been talking for longer than I’d realized. And I was suddenly drowsy, something it seemed Legolas knew before I did. He shifted us a bit, guiding my head down to pillow upon his thigh. His fingers slid through my hair, and I felt a heaviness in my limbs and my eyes, but I went on talking, unwilling to end this time with Legolas for the sake of mere sleep.
“But there is one bright ray of hope for my little brother, thank the Valar,” I said. “Before I left, I implored my father to do one thing for me. Faramir is Captain of the Ithilien Rangers, troops who guard our borders. I persuaded my father that, with so many enemies on the move, until I returned Faramir should be sent to stay in Ithilien and captain his men without returning to Minas Tirith to report. Denethor was all too happy to grant my request.
“So I hope my brother is still there in the outer lands with our best lieutenant, Damrod. Damrod is like a loving uncle to Faramir. Indeed, he was close to both of us when we were growing up, even disciplining us at times. So I know Damrod will watch over Faramir and guard him with his life.”
“Quiet now. You did all you could,” Legolas said. “You are still protecting him, even from afar. In your heart you protect him, and every time you stand up for another in his name you protect him.”
I suddenly thought again of Aragorn and what had happened earlier. All this time I’d spent talking of Faramir and I’d completely forgotten this man I loved and had hurt hours earlier! I struggled to sit up, saying, “Come! We should go talk to Aragorn at once.”
“Shhhh, hush now.” Legolas took hold of my arms and kissed my brow. “Come, little brother,” he murmured firmly guiding me back down. “Sleep but a little now. There will be time for apologies later. You are too weary at present for more.”
“Well . . . maybe I’ll sleep . . . just a little,” I replied with another yawn. Legolas sniffed his small grin.
He rearranged us one more time until I was half-laying across him on my side as he held me. “Aye. How wise you are, sweetling. You will achieve nothing when you are this tired. Sleep. Then you will be more able to face Aragorn.”
So sleepy. His tunic felt soft beneath my face, his body warm and inviting. I closed my eyes, muttering, “Your watch is next. Wake me . . . I shall go with you . . . we can talk to him . . . then.”
I was quiet for a moment, then something drifted into my mind, a snatch of the tune from earlier, something Pippin had sung. “That song Pippin sang tonight, I . . . I remember it from when I was a child. I think Thorongil must have sung it to me . . . I mean . . . I mean Aragorn.”
Legolas was silent, then he said, “Ah, I think you speak of The Fall of Gil-galad. An ancient song. From what I hear, Bilbo translated it. No doubt that is how Pippin learned it.”
“Pippin could not recall all the words tonight,” I said, and Legolas sniffed another smile. “I’ve always liked it . . . that tune . . . it . . . it reminds me . . . reminds me . . . .
Legolas began humming softly, the very tune, sweet and low and intimate, carried through his body and into mine on a clear and perfect elven voice. It was the last thing I remembered.
Boromir’s moans were low at first. I glanced down, seeing at once the tightness in his features, the movement behind his eyelids as he watched something dreadful playing through his mind. Pulling him closer, I reached up and smoothed my palm over his hair, saying, “Shhhh.”
But he wrenched free of me, suddenly violent, twisting onto his back, his head tossing while continuous, muttered, “nononooo’s” ground from his throat. “Faramir . . . .” he moaned. “NO! Fire! NO!” He jerked his arms around as if fighting off an invisible foe, still moaning, louder now, “Faramir! NOOOOOO!”
It took some doing to avoid his flailing limbs, but I grasped him, locking my arms about his, and dragged him over to me again, eager to quiet him lest the others were disturbed. From the corner of my eye I could see the halflings stirring and shifting. I didn’t want to wake Boromir but there seemed little else I could do.
“Shhhhhhh,” I ordered, firmly but gently. “Boromir, hear me. Wake up.” He had stopped thrashing about, so I pulled him back and shifted him until he lay cradled in my arms, facing me. I gazed down, watching him release a few more low, anxious moans, then I leaned over and softly kissed his mouth, halting his cries. “Wake up, little brother,” I said. “Shhh. Just a dream. Come back to me now. A bad dream, nothing more.”
Boromir’s eyelids lifted a bit. He blinked slowly several times, and then he looked up at me, dazed and groggy, but becoming aware now, raw bewilderment in his eyes.
“You had a nightmare.” I stroked his face with the backs of my fingers. “But all is well, dear little brother. Shhh. Breathe easy now. Good. Look at me, just at me. All is well now.”
He listened to my murmuring, blinking away tears. “I couldn’t get to him,” he said, his voice quavering. “I tried to run, but, it . . . it was so hard . . . I was moving so slowly, so slowly . . . .”
“Go on. Tell me all. Let us be rid of it.”
“I couldn’t get to him, and Faramir . . . Faramir was burning!”
I drew him against me and held my distraught little brother, feeling his great body shudder, but soon Boromir began to relax and I pulled him back to gaze at him. Looking tired, but calm, he returned my gaze.
A few tears slipped from the corners of his eyes. I caught them, then I held my glistening finger up, saying, “Look. Your nightmare.” He focused on the wet tears balanced on my fingertip, then I flung them off to one side. “Gone. All gone now.”
He stared at me for a long moment, his look one of pure astonishment, then he suddenly released a small laugh. “You preposterous elf,” he chuckled. “I am no child that you should treat me so.”
“That depends on one’s point of view, little brother.” I grinned back. “But you are here with me, and you are safe, for I shall permit no harmful dream to assault you, and wherever Faramir is, Damrod watches over him, and the bad dream is now flung to the wind.”
“Ah,” he said, “the wisdom of big brothers.”
I kissed his brow and guided his head down to my chest again, resting my cheek against his hair, and then I lifted my head a moment later to make certain the hobbits were still sleeping and I saw a lone figure standing at the periphery of the light. How long he had been standing there I could not say, but Aragorn was close enough to have heard and seen all with his sharp Ranger’s gaze and hearing.
I froze, a sick feeling in my stomach. He approached silently, looked down at us, and said, “Your watch.”
End of Chapter I
Ranger-child to be continued --