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




Ranger-child
Chapter IV

Two Wayward Hobbits
by Larrkin

Larrkin2@yahoo.com

 

"But I didnít mean to do it!" Pippin exclaimed.

"Thatís not good enough, Pip," Merry said, still hopping mad. "You had to do it anyway, didnít you? Just had to."

"But I dinna think your sword would go sailing over the cliff! I-I dinna mean to do it at all! I didnít! It was just, I donít know, a reflex!"

"A reflex." Merry scowled at him, openly skeptical.

"It was! It was an accident!"

"Another accident?" Boromir fired Pippin a dark frown. He glanced back at Aragorn who stood directly behind him, both of them hanging onto the rope that had Legolas dangling on the other end. "This will need answering," he growled to the calm and stoic Ranger. Aragorn said nothing.

Sam and I stood alongside Merry, watching as the two men lowered Legolas down the side of the cliff, to the small ledge where Merryís sword had landed, stuck between some rocks. Pip wandered back and forth, nervously picking at the hem of his shirt. He still gripped his sword, unmindfully giving it intermittent and angry little shakes, as if trying to jostle loose its disobedience.

Pippin, alas, had learned a new trick. The day after what Sam, Merry and Pip referred to as the Great Soap Mystery, Boromir decided to reward us after a hard practice session. Heíd shown us a fancy sword move, how to swirl our blade around our opponentís blade and fling it into the air. It was a wildly fun but difficult trick and, of course, none of us could do it, except, to his everlasting delight, Pip.

He was utterly pleased with himself and he began to show off his newfound talent to an annoying degree. Having Pippin hurl your weapon up and away, and then listening to him giggle with delight whilst you went to retrieve it, got old quickly amongst the rest of us hobbits. Boromir, who seemed aggravated with himself for having started the whole thing, told Pip to, "Cease playing now." And then later, when Pip "forgot," he repeated the request, saying in a firm tone, "I understand it is a fun trick, Pippin, however, it is also dangerous, so you must stop now."

The following day, yesterday, Pip started in again, flinging away our weapons in turn every time we switched partners. Weíd all become instantly surly with the Took and we were reluctant to spar with him at all. Boromir had issued reminders to Pip after heíd flung Merryís weapon: "No more of that, young hobbit," and then after heíd flung Samís: "Pippin! Enough!"

I think we all marveled at the manís patience, but it could be that Boromir felt he was only reaping what heíd sown by showing Pip the trick in the first place, and he therefore felt obliged to extend an extra measure of tolerance. However, after Pippin then flung Sting, Boromir reached his breaking point. He thundered, "Peregrin Took! Any more of this and Iíll tan your backside soundly! You shall attend to serious drilling henceforth."

Warnings usually mean little to Pippin. He listens, his green eyes serious and attentive, and he nods earnestly, and then, after what he deems to be a sufficient amount of time passes, he goes back to whatever he's not supposed to be doing. Yesterday, however, Pip took Boromirís warning to heart, something about the sincerity of the threat from this very large and irritated Gondorian Captain apparently striking a chord within him. He swallowed hard and he behaved during the rest of our practice, so when we made camp tonight I decided to ask him to spar with me a little before supper, just because I knew heíd like that. We hadnít been going at it for long before Pippin gave into his impulse and flung Sting into the air.

As Boromir had rightly stated, this was a dangerous thing to keep doing, since one could never predict where the flung sword would fall, or how. This time, Sting flew far into the air in an astonishingly erratic manner, and it came down point first, nailing the long tail of Aragornís surcoat to a mound of soft dirt.

Those who witnessed it gasped and cried out, drawing the attention of those who had not. Then a somber and collective hush fell. Legolas and Boromir stood frozen and staring, their horrified looks clearly showing what they were envisioning: had it landed just a little closer, Sting would have severely injured Aragorn.

Pippin stood in absolute shock, his eyes huge and filled with panic. Everyone paused, stock still, for a swollen moment, stunned with the image of what could have happened. But Aragorn merely reached around and pulled Sting free. He inspected the tip and said, "Ah, no harm done, Frodo. Fine swordmasters, the elves."

No one moved. We all simply stared, wordless, astonished at Aragornís mild response. He rose and strolled over to where Pippin and I stood gaping. Handing me Sting, he said, "Here you go, Frodo."

I was too speechless to even manage a muttered Ďthank you.í Pippin however, fell apart.

"Iím sorry!" he sputtered. "Aragorn, Iím so, so sorry!" He was trembling now, tears forming in his eyes. "I-I-I canna believe it did that! It just-just flew like-like --"

"Like it had wings?" Aragorn grinned down at him and tousled his curls with his palm. "Aye, it is an elvish blade, light and fast."

"I dinna mean to!" Pip cried. "I dinna mean to!"

"Of course you did not," Aragorn said in a soft, understanding tone. "But we never mean for accidents to happen, young sir. So perhaps you should heed what Boromir told you and cease this kind of play lest someone gets hurt."

No one had yet moved, everyone too shocked to do anything but watch Aragorn behave in a manner none of us, least of all Pip, expected. Legolas stood impassive and somber and intensely focused while Boromir fumed at his side and stared as if wondering who this man was. Gimli and Gandalf sat a short distance away, rigid-backed and attentive. Theyíd both pulled their pipes from their mouths and sat holding them, as if they were far too astounded to actually take a puff. As for my fellow hobbits and I, we simply stood there, watching like everyone else, aghast at what had happened and perplexed about what we were now seeing, all of us at a loss.

Pippin gazed up at Aragorn, blinked, and let his mouth fall open in startled bewilderment. My cousin is no fool, though. Pipís special little gleam entered his gaze, revealing to all of us who knew him what heíd clearly and instantly realized. Aragorn was not going to reprimand him any further than he had, and as much as that astonished him, Pip was never one to turn away good fortune.

He dropped his gaze, shyly, remorsefully, and said in a sweetly sincere tone, "Aye, sir, you are right. I shall indeed watch myself in the future and not be so careless."

"See that you do, little one. I think you should sit down by yourself and think on your actions for a time." He nodded towards a grassy area a little ways off. "There is a good spot. Go and contemplate your behavior until I give you leave to rise."

I have no doubt that Pip was indeed remorseful and sincere in his apology, and I did not wish to see my cousin in pain, but to get away with something like this, something that was no real accident, but the potentially dangerous result of a flagrantly disobedient act, seemed wrong. Apparently Boromir agreed.

"Is that all?" he said, stepping forward when Aragorn turned from Pippin. "Is that all you intend to do? Have him sit down for a time?"

Aragorn turned and said, "What do you suggest?"

"I suggest making it difficult for him to sit during that time! At the very least!"

"You are making too much of this, Boromir. Settle down."

"Settle down?" Boromir looked ready to explode. "I told him to stop playing like that! He nearly skewered you, Aragorn!"

"Nearly. And I have dealt with it. Let it go."

"But --!"

"Let it go."

Aragorn turned and went back to where he had been sitting alone, and Boromir fired a look of angry frustration at Legolas. The elf said nothing. He can school his features into a beautiful, unreadable mask, that one, and even I cannot tell what he might be thinking. Legolas simply watched Aragorn quietly for a moment, then he nodded to Boromir and tugged his head to one side, beckoning him to follow, and moved away. Boromir huffed again, completely exasperated, then he turned, but as he headed off with Legolas he shot a forbidding look over his shoulder at Pippin.

Pip smiled at him innocently. Coming from anyone else, such a response would have seemed taunting or smug, but I knew Pippin meant nothing by it other than to give Boromir a friendly smile, causing me to wonder, as I often did, if my young cousin understood the meaning of discretion. With the exception of Aragorn, any one of us would have gladly done as Boromir had suggested and made it difficult for Pip to sit out his time, but there he stood, wearing a peaceful little expression that all but said, "Well! Whew! That was a close one!"

Boromir did not return Pippinís smile. In fact, Iíd feared he would turn and charge back and deal with Pippin as he was obviously itching to, regardless of what Aragorn had said. But the matter had died down and everyone had gone back to their business. Merry and I settled near Sam and watched him cook, Pippin obediently sitting off on the grassy patch where heíd been told to go. Heíd picked at the tufts of grass, played with a few acorns and looked generally bored until Aragorn deemed his time was up and called that Pip was free to move about now.

It had been a strained period of time, no one saying much. After we ate, Boromir, who had been off quietly talking with Legolas for some time, called us to our evening practice.

And, of course, Pippin had done it again. ĎAccidentallyí this time. So now Legolas was coming up over the side of the cliff with Merryís sword in his hand, Gimli clasping his arm and pulling him up the last few feet. Legolas looked as unmussed as ever, but Boromir and Gimli shifted themselves around and glared at Pippin while Legolas gave Merry back his sword.

"Thank you," Merry said. "And Iím sorry, Legolas."

The elf tilted his glossy head slightly and said with a half-smile, "You have nothing to apologize for, young sir."

"I apologize for my cousinís behavior."

"You donít need to apologize for me!" Pippin snapped.

"Well then perhaps someone should apologize for himself," Gimli growled.

All eyes turned to Pippin. He glanced from face to face, looking at first like a worried rabbit cornered by dogs. Then he stiffened his back and straightened his shoulders and I groaned inwardly to see the gleam of defiance in his eye.

At this point, Iíd have thought Pippin completely bereft of sense but for one thing: I knew how badly he felt about getting away with what heíd done earlier. It was apparent in his detached air and exaggerated flippancy. He was begging for attention. He knew Aragorn could have been injured, and he felt awful for what heíd done, and he didnít understand why the man had let him off so easily.

When that kind of mystery gets under oneís skin all kinds of odd thoughts occur, and I knew very well that Pippinís most profound thought was that Aragorn didnít care enough about him to be bothered with spanking him. Nor did Aragorn think anyone else should waste further time on Pipís antics. My cousin had no doubt sat out his time concocting so many hurtful feelings that heíd tried to make them stop by juggling acorns and tying blades of grass into a chain and looking apathetic.

But heíd been anything but apathetic. His little mind had fashioned a nightmare for himself and the only thing that would make that nightmare stop was to prove it wrong by testing Aragorn yet again. So, heíd had his Ďaccidentí and sent Merryís sword, and then Legolas, over the cliff.

"I am sorry," he said. "I should think everyone would know how sorry I am, but Iíll say it again, Iím sorry, and I apologize."

It was, to say the least, about the most insincere apology Iíd ever heard. The defiant tone of it hung like a cloud amongst us all, daring someone to take action. The only question in my mind, and Iím sure in my fellow hobbitsí mindsí, was who would be the one to take that action. Pippin had made his needs quite clear, and even now he stood there, impassive, as if watching to see how long it would take for the kettle heíd set on the fire to boil.

Again, Boromir spoke first. He gazed at Aragorn and said, "Well?"

Aragorn gave him a sedate look. "Well what?"

As if he were explaining the obvious to the addle-minded, Boromir said, "Aragorn, this young hobbit needs disciplining."

"He has apologized, Boromir. Again you make much out of nothing."

"Nothing?" Boromir went white with rage and Gimli now spoke up:

"Nay, laddie, Boromir speaks fairly. The wee hobbit deserves a more solid lesson for his misbehavior. It cannot be let go a second time."

A direct challenge from the dwarf. Aragorn considered Gimli closely. The rest of us stood stark still and watched. Gandalf, calmly puffing his pipe, observed from his seat atop a far rock, and Legolas busied himself winding up the rope while Gimli and Boromir bristled, firing repeated glares at Pippin, then at Aragorn, and then back to Pip. Aragorn glanced at my cousin, then shot Boromir a frown.

"If you are so determined to discipline him, then do so," he said. "He is your charge while training. You tend to his fate."

I wondered if everyone else felt the same sickening flutter that I did at Aragornís words. We all watched him storm off, clearly exuding an air that forbade anyone from following after him. I glanced at Pippin. He looked positively stricken. My heart thrummed wildly, hurtfully, sudden fear threading along my limbs. This was dreadful and frightening, and I knew I couldnít delay another moment in talking to Legolas about Aragorn.

Iíd tried to speak with the elf several times, and each time weíd been interrupted and never had the chance to return to our private discussion. But this was now too crucial to suffer any interruption nor wait another moment.

Boromir quickly closed on my cousin and scooped him up under one muscled arm, saying, "Very well, Peregrin. Tend to you I shall."

Pip gave him no resistance. There were already tears in Pippinís eyes, and not because he feared what was about to happen to him. The warrior didnít take Pippin away to some private place, either. He moved off to the edge of the clearing, and the first good-sized boulder he came to, he sat and flung Pippin over his knee. He had his britches down to his ankles in seconds and the first spanks to Pipís little bottom rang out across the campsite. So did Pippinís immediate cries.

I saw the others turn and attempt to go about their own business as if nothing was going on, a ridiculous endeavor given how loudly Pippin began howling, but I simply sat down where I could observe quietly and unobtrusively and I watched Boromir thrash my writhing cousin. If I am around when one of my kinfolk is getting spanked I feel a compelling need to remain nearby and vigilant, not so much that they feel intruded upon, but enough for them to feel me there. I want them to know that, should they need to look Ďround and see a compassionate face, they will see mine, and perhaps gain a measure of comfort and the strength to endure.

Boromir looked absolutely resolute, his strong face set with purpose, his swing even and authoritative, his hand swatting down repeatedly on Pipís quickly reddening bottom. Responding with his usual frenzy, Pippin squirmed and bucked and threw his hand back and yelled for Boromir to stop, all to no avail. And Pip, of course, wailed.

But Pippinís wails were not the kind he usually made when being spanked. There was an added measure of heartbreak in his voice. I heard it clearly, and I know Merry did, too. He raised his head at one point, his forehead knit with that Brandybuck knot of dismay, and he cast a sad look to where Pip was carrying on. And Samís soft lips were pressed together into a tight line as he busied himself far too earnestly by shuffling things around in his pack, a sure sign that Sam was also troubled by Pippinís miserable cries.

It wasnít that Boromir was being too hard on Pip. Considering all that had happened, the man was meeting out justice with a good degree of mercy, making me think that perhaps even Boromir realized Pippinís sobbing was about more than just what was happening to his bottom. I think everyone listening to Pipís wrenching wails sensed his feeling of abandonment, his pain when Aragorn had dismissed him so. Perhaps I assumed too much, but I do know thatís how I would have felt.

Boromir, however, gave Pip exactly what he needed and deserved, and I canít say my cousin felt any lack of attention when the big Gondorian Captain was finished with him. Pip had sobbed long anguished cries and then promised repeatedly to never ever flip anyoneís sword again. And when I saw Boromir turn Pip over and gather up his trembling body wracked with sobs, I knew my cousin was in good hands. I turned to seek out Legolas.

*********

He shook so violently in my arms I feared for his health, but I knew I hadnít overdone Pippinís spanking. I gave him a longer version of what Iíd given to Frodo a few days ago, regulating my strength with an eye to the smallness of the bottom over my knee.

My effort had been a sincere one, though, and for two reasons. Iíd wanted this imp to understand that what heíd done, and continued to do, would not be tolerated. It was dangerous, and, had I thought any of the hobbits would be able to actually perform the stunt, I never would have shown it to them. It was a difficult maneuver, taking some time to master, so Iíd taught it to my students as a sort of incentive to improve, a goal to aim for, this silly, yet wholly satisfying move, insulting enough to oneís opponent to make it delightful.

I never expected them to actually be able to do it, and what irony that the very one who, for some unaccountable reason, mastered the stunt nearly at once, was the absolute last hobbit I would have trusted to use the knowledge with discretion. Rightly so, as Pip had proven. And now the danger, which was always a threat with this trick, had reached a perilous level. It had to stop at once, and I meant for Pippin to understand that without question.

My second reason for giving him my best disciplinary effort was even more important. Iíd seen the hurt in the little oneís eyes the moment Aragorn had turned away, leaving him to my charge. Aragorn had been right of course. The hobbits were under my authority when training, but Iíd been so thunderstruck by Aragornís behavior I had actually forgotten that fact. Glancing at Pippinís woebegone face as he watched Aragorn walk away, Iíd felt a painful lurch in my chest for the hobbit, and Iíd became instantly determined to help soothe him by spanking him well and comforting him even better.

I began by staying within sight and sound of the others. I felt that, after publicly flaunting my requests to cease his playing, Pippin deserved a public response from me. That, and I was simply eager to get him over my knee. Once Iíd snatched him up under my arm, I felt him crumbling with every step I took. I sensed a desperation in him that matched my own, and I simply did not care to hunt down some place of suitable privacy. I seated us on the first convenient boulder, tossed him over my lap, bared his round little backside and proceeded to turn it a genuine shade of red while he kicked and shrieked and wailed to the tree tops.

Spanking Pippin was similar to spanking Frodo, although I believe Frodoís alarm was due to the fact that it had been his second trip over a lap in the same sitting. Pippinís frenzied writhing and squalling was due to what I was doing to his bottom, but it was also due to what had so bruised his feelings. I felt that pain for him as well, and I was determined he receive every measure of attention he had coming to him.

So, when he threw a hand back to protect his bottom, I snatched it up and held it, and when he begged me to stop and howled that heíd had enough, I calmly informed him that such was not his determination to make, and that I would decide when heíd had enough. And so I did. Itís instinctive, this feel for how much whoever is over my knee can tolerate. Faramirís endurance was greater than a hobbitís. But I could sense when enough was enough for my brother, and I could sense it now as well for this little one.

Before finishing I made sure to receive a pledge from Pippin. "You must promise me that this disobedient swordplay will stop," I said.

"AYE! Aye, I-I-I pr-promise!"

"Iíll need your word, Peregrin Took. Iíll have no more of it, do you understand?"

"AYE! I-I unn-unnerst-stand! And I gi-give you my w-w-word!"

"No more accidents. No more forgetting."

"N-No-No morrrre! No m-more!"

"You promise?"

"AYE! Prom-promise! I promise!"

"Very well, then. I give you my promise as well, that should you forget yourself and have another accident, I promise you a spanking that makes this one look like a gentle warm-up. Do I make myself clear?"

"AYE!"

Iíd stopped spanking him and quickly scooped up Pippinís quivering form, enfolding him to me, wrapping my arms around him and closing him tightly against my chest.

"Shhh," I whispered. "Shhh, hush now, little one. It is over. Shhhhh."

But it was not over for Pippin. I knew that. And I think everyone hearing him, and who understood what had really happened here with Aragorn, also understood the frantic strain in Pippinís wails. Any one of us who had been dismissed by Aragorn in such a manner would have done just as Pippin was doing now in my arms.

His crying was wrenching to hear, coming, as it did, from the deepest part of him. He would not be comforted. He was far too wounded for comfort. I wasnít even sure my spanking had helped. Oh, Pip would no doubt stop the dangerous swordplay, but his heartbroken weeping was no longer about the spanking. How could I comfort the anguish of dismissal? I doubted any being, wizard, elven healer, even the Valar themselves, could have soothed such a pain.

Pippinís small arms went around my neck and he clung to me with a fragile desperation. I pulled his britches up over his hot bottom and he barely flinched, but instead he buried his face against me, clearly unable to quiet his sobs. I glanced out across our campsite.

Legolas and Frodo had apparently left, for I saw no sign of them, but the others, who had remained discreetly distant, yet heedful of the goings-on, now began to shoot concerned glances our way. Merry especially. His troubled gaze kept lighting on his cousin and he looked as if he longed to approach but felt he shouldnít.

Pippin still clung to me and I to him, keeping him swaddled against my chest. I was just thinking I should try speaking with him, when he lifted his face from my shoulder, hiccuping through his weeping, and, with his lips right at my ear, he said in a tear-soaked whisper, "C-c-ca-nna s-stop . . . B-Bor . . . m-mirr . . . h-help me . . . pl-plea . . . c-canna st-stop cry-cry . . . hel-help me . . . ."

I stood and lifted him, holding him just as he was, attached to my chest, and I started walking. He dangled for a moment, his breath hitching between his sobs, then he wrapped his legs around my waist and held on. I walked, my throat tightening from the sound of his raw despair, my legs moving forward on and on until soon I entered a small patch of woods. I looked back and saw our camp, and felt reassured that I hadnít taken us too far for safety, and there, near where I stood, was a soft-looking grassy area fitted within the gnarled roots of an ancient tree.

I sat and leaned back, careful of my passenger, holding him as securely as he held me, his moist face still buried in the curve of my neck. Pippinís cries had become less violent as we walked, the movement of my body perhaps pacifying him. Now he was just weeping softly, a low rasp that sounded painful. Pippinís sweet voice, hoarse, frayed . . . I squeezed my eyes shut tight to block my own tears.

Moving one hand up, I stroked his wildly mussed hair, petting him, running my fingers through his curls.

"All alone now, Pippin. Itís alright now. Cry all you like, no one to hear you, no one to upset. Just you and I. Go on, little one, cry." And he did, and my chest heated with a dull, painful ache at the perfect wretchedness of his repeated sobbing. I murmured soft nonsense to him and words of comfort, words memorized over time and use with Faramir, words recently said to me by Aragorn, words that made little sense to the mind, but were clearly understood by an anguished heart.

Pippin finally slowed, now close to exhaustion. He lay connected to me in a listless heap, violent shudders frequently ripping through his body, his breath staggered and shallow, despair seeping from him and his eerie low keening still sounding, but lessened now. I continued my murmured litany and kissed his soft curls, lent him all the strength I could and soon he was quiet, aware, listening, but seemingly dazed.

"Why? Why, B-Bor-m-mir?"

His voice was so frail I barely heard his whispered words, but my stomach tightened at the dead, hollow sound of his tone. "Why what, little one?"

"W-Why did he . . . he turned aw-way . . . dinna care . . . ha-hates me, he h-hates me."

He began to softly weep again with a hopelessness that tore into me. Of course, he didnít believe what he was saying. He knew Aragorn did not hate him, but he had to put a name to the depth of what he felt, and the hesitant, hushed way he said the word, Ďhatesí bespoke his dread of it, the power of it, a power that matched his anguish.

"Nay, Pip. You know he does not hate you. Shhh, none of that, now."

"H-He does. Dinna-dinna c-care . . . ."

Pippinís slurred stutters drifted off and all at once he grew still and deathly quiet. It startled me and I looked down at him. His face was wet from tears, his lips parted, his eyes, bleary and red and swollen, all to be expected considering how hard and long heíd been crying. But the look in his eyes was what alarmed me most. Pippinís bright green eyes, never lacking spirit, had gone dull and empty. He stared off at nothing, his lids half-lowered, his thick lashes clumped together and his focus on a place unseen anywhere but in his mindís eye.

I gently pulled him away from my chest and held him by his upper arms, back enough to look directly at him. His bottom still rested on my thighs, his legs wrapped around my hips. Pippin didnít look up at me. His downcast eyes seemed devoid of life, and he sat there, a disheveled little forlorn creature. If Aragorn could only see him . . . .

"Look at me, Pippin," I said. It was as if I hadnít spoken. "Look at me, Peregrin, or I shall flip you back over my lap and wake you up in a more direct manner."

His gaze lifted slowly and he looked at me, glassy-eyed and distant. I doubted he was seeing me at all. I grieved at the sight of him, this cheery, sweet soul so devastated, and my mind struggled to find a way through to him. What could one say? What would I want to hear at such a moment? Brushing the stray locks from his forehead, I cupped the side of his face in my hand, wiping some of the wetness from his cheeks with my thumb.

"Pippin, Aragorn did not mean to hurt you, I am certain of it, and you know he does not hate you. He loves each and every one of you halflings as if you were of his own flesh. Think on how he looks at you, the light in his eyes when he watches you working so hard to learn what you must. You have seen it, I know. Youíve looked over at him and caught that sparkle in his grin that only his beloved hobbits can kindle."

Pippinís brow knit and his delicate features screwed up, a few large fresh tears tumbling down his cheeks. He was hearing me, and he knew I spoke truly, and, as Iíd hoped, the thought of Aragornís special look touched the part of him that was suffering so. When he spoke his voice was barely above a hoarse whisper.

"Then why? W-Why wouldnít he . . . ?" Pipís tiny chin trembled.

"Why wouldnít he spank you?"

Pippin nodded, squeezing his eyes shut, his breath hitching.

"I do not know, but I do know it has nothing to do with how much he cares about you, Pippin."

He opened his eyes and gave me a bewildered look. "How do you know?"

"Because for all he is to all of us, Aragorn is still human. He is subject to the same feelings we are, the same wounds, perhaps some of them far deeper than you or I can see."

Pippin lifted his chin higher to gaze at me more closely. He blinked, narrowing his sore-looking eyes, a flash of innocent confusion alight in their depths. But he was clearly interested in my words and in this notion that, it seemed, hadnít occurred to him. Encouraged, I smoothed back the tangled locks curling beside his face and went on.

"I sometimes think we forget that Aragorn carries a burden just as Frodo does. He is ever so vigilant and attentive, strong as we need him to be, and it seems he will always see to our needs."

Pippin watched me, now mesmerized.

"But, like Frodo, he, too, is subject to dark moments and lonely thoughts. Perhaps those dark moments weigh so heavily on him at times that he seems very unlike himself to those of us who know and love him."

"Oh." Pippinís bowed mouth formed the soft sound.

"I feel that what we saw happening was not Aragorn turning away from a hobbit who needed spanking, but a bigger sorrow than you or I know of taking him on some private journey, and allowing him little of himself to share with others."

Pippin stared at me for a long moment, then he lowered his gaze and studied my chest as if trying to read an answer there. I watched him silently, letting him work it out, giving him time to run through everything again in his mind. He would think now on all of Aragornís recent odd behavior, his silence and withdrawal, his reluctance to assume authority, his solitary gaze. Pip would now see all that from this new place of understanding.

It took him some time, but finally he glanced back up at me, his youthful face now reflecting a promising measure of calm. "Do you think heís alright, Boromir?" he asked in a tear-charred voice.

It was too endearing. This little one, so hurt he had not even been able to stop his frantic crying, was now looking at me with wide eyes full of concern for the man who had hurt him. I leaned down and kissed his cheek.

"I think that if he is not now, he soon will be," I said. "Those of us who love him can do much for Aragorn by keeping our heads and remembering who this man is in our hearts. And when his darkness befalls him, we know him for all he truly is, and still is inside. That has not changed, little one, regardless of how Aragorn growls or skulks or leaves us wondering what we have done to him to deserve such treatment. We have, indeed, done nothing. His feelings for us have not changed. He is just being human, and we can allow him that, can we not?"

Pippin nodded, completely absorbed by my words. "Yes, yes, we can allow him that."

I smiled softly at him. Pippin wasnít quite to the place where he could smile back yet, but there was understanding in his gaze now, a measure of tranquility. He also looked drained, each blink of his sore-looking eyes slower and more languid, as if his eyelids would rather stay shut than blink back open.

I slid down a bit, settling back until I was semi-reclining against the thickly gnarled tree roots, cushioned by the grass. I moved Pippin with me, pulling his legs up as I shifted, and stretching him out until he lay atop me.

"Boromir --"

"Shhh," I replied, folding my arms around him. "Rest a while before we return."

He yawned, shudders jarring his intake of air. "But, Iím not --"

"Do I need to become more insistent, Peregrin?" I lay my hand on his bottom, my one hand covering his entire small backside, and I gave it several gentle pats. Heat radiated right through his britches.

"No!" he cried. Softening his tone, he said, "No, thank you, sir."

I smiled and reached one hand up to stroke his curls and within moments Pip fell into an exhausted slumber. I recalled what Iíd said to him, and how he had calmed at my words, and I suddenly realized that, in soothing Pippinís turmoil over Aragornís behavior, Iíd also, quite remarkably, soothed my own.

I stared off, startled by the thought. I had no notion where those words that gave him such solace had come from. But they had come, all at once, just when I needed them, and they were truth, and they were reassuring, and I played them again through my mind, feeling the inner warmth of that comfort, and the outer warmth of the sweet small body collapsed over me.

***********

I had managed to do it. I had made Legolas "Farmer Maggot" angry.

I tried to recall if Iíd ever seen Legolas this irate before. Heíd been angry at the Council of Elrond, but not this angry. Legolas seemed ever composed, always deep into that elvish state of calm that leant him his air of detached mystery. He had certainly been cross with me several days ago when he and Boromir had, well . . . . But even then, it was his controlled anger. Perhaps in battle he showed his fury, but we had not as yet engaged in any battles.

We hobbits found him fascinating. Pippin especially was intrigued, which wasnít surprising since Pipís manner of conducting himself was almost the complete opposite of the elfís.

"I wonder what would make him angry," Pip had once pondered when we four were discussing our enigmatic elf. "Not just cross, like at that big meeting in Rivendell, but really, out of control, hot-headed, Farmer Maggot angry."

Ever with his eye on Pippinís possible antics, Merry had said, "Best you not try to find out."

"Why not? I think it might be interesting."

"Interesting?" Sam had snorted. "Having an elf hot-headed, Farmer Maggot angry at you?" Sam shook his head. "No, thank you very much."

"Heís so fair. Doíya suppose he gets all red in the face and scary-looking?" Pippin frowned. "I canna imagine our pretty Legolas scary-looking."

"I think he gets coldly angry." The others all turned to look at me. "I think when Legolas is angry he carries that fury with such power and depth that it comes out in quick action and sudden words. I do not think he would show his fury where all could see it written upon him, but they would see it in his actions."

And I had been fairly right in that. Legolas was now composed and beautiful, but he was also unmistakably furious with me. I recalled his disciplinary skills all too clearly and I had no wish to invite that again.

A bit earlier, when Iíd been sure Pippin was safe in Boromirís clearly capable care, Iíd asked Legolas to talk with me privately. Heíd nodded and flashed his soft, agreeable smile, and we had walked a short distance from the camp, arriving soon in a rocky area that provided us with a secluded place to sit and talk. Legolas had leaned back against a large boulder and Iíd climbed atop another one to sit, and there, in that quiet place with the elf, I had revealed my concerns about Aragorn. Iíd shared what I had seen a few nights before, the scene between him and Aragorn and Boromir. He had smiled gently at my confession.

"I felt you were watching."

"I will not ask what happened between the three of you, but I will confess that my kinfolk have been speculating about . . . things . . . ." Iíd paused, reluctant to reveal more unless he asked.

"What things?"

I sighed. "Things like . . . ." I again paused, then plunged ahead. "Well, the condition of Samís soap when you returned it to him, the gouges along the surface."

Legolas was too fair for a blush to be anything but instantly apparent. "Ah," he said with a nod. "Strange marks? Rather like the soap had been scraped across a tooth-like surface?"

I swallowed hard. "Yes. And Boromir constantly wiping his mouth, as if, well, as though --"

"As though he had a nasty taste within?"

"Yes."

"Observant little folk, you halflings."

"And, I fear, far too curious."

"Indeed," Legolas grinned, crossed his arms over his chest and studied the ground. "I noticed your interest. I imagine Pippin was beside himself."

"Oh, yes," I said, on a deep, groaning sigh. I dropped my gaze and shook my head. "They all were."

"But not you?"

I shot him a glance and immediately squirmed at his insightful half-smile. "Uh, well, to return to my point --" I cleared my throat while he seemed to fight off an all-out laugh. "My point is that, clearly, something profound happened that evening between the three of you, and things have been most awkward since."

Legolas nodded, the mirth vanishing from his eyes.

"I talked with Aragorn that night," I said. "I wanted to help him somehow, to help all of you, but he would not speak with me of the matter."

"Nay," Legolas said. "He would not. Aragorn carries his burdens close to his heart. He shall not trouble others with them. It has always been thus with him." He paused and tipped his head slightly to one side, fixing me with an all too insightful look. "I should think you know something of that, Master Ringbearer."

My turn to feel a flush warm my face. "Yes. We talked of that. And I do understand him. But I feel for him, Legolas. I know we all do, but not all of us can help him. If he will allow anyone to reach him, I think it will be you."

Legolas dropped his gaze.

"Iíve been thinking and thinking upon this, and I wonder if, perhaps, Aragornís low spirits are due, in part, to a feeling that he is no longer the only figure of authority within our Fellowship."

The elf remained silent, but he turned his eyes on me again. I could read nothing in those wide blue depths, no censure, no agreement, just a watchfulness that was a bit unnerving. I pressed on.

"When he led us from Bree to Rivendell, Aragorn was the sole voice of authority amongst us. But now, well, there are many such leaders from several races. You, Boromir, Gimli, Gandalf, many strong and capable voices. Perhaps such a thing could move one who has always enjoyed a place of leadership into undue acts of . . . ." I swallowed, losing my train of thought under the intense elvish stare turned upon me. "I mean, it might make him begin to assert his authority more, in a more unrestrained manner."

I lowered my gaze, unable to concentrate. I was not saying what I meant to say. The elfís soft, reasonable voice interrupted my thoughts of frustration.

"So you feel that Aragornís discomfort is due to a new lack of confidence. That he no longer feels certain of his place amongst us. That this is why he over-stepped his restraint and indulged in an excessive means of discipline, and why he now refuses to discipline altogether for fear of over-stepping again, and you feel that this is why he is brooding and isolating himself."

Was that what I meant? Somehow it didnít sound like . . . yes . . . yes, indeed, that was it . . . I think that was it. I glanced back up and found Legolas studying me with a slight air of amazement. Ah, perhaps I had indeed hit upon the very reason and Legolas now understood as well.

"Yes, exactly. And I was thinking that, well, perhaps, what might help Aragorn would be something that would reaffirm for him his rightful place within the Fellowship." And then I had gone on to reveal what I thought was a good idea as to how to help Aragorn.

Never try to second-guess an elf. Legolas instantly and fiercely objected to my plan. And his fierceness increased the more I tried to make my case until he finally turned authoritative, his tone positively Ranger-like.

"No. Enough of this, sir. Any more such talk and I shall reveal your intent to Aragorn, after I have --" He shot me a promissory glare. "After I have spanked you thoroughly for refusing to let this ridiculous plan go."

Finally my own temper was roused. "I do not think it is such a ridiculous plan," I muttered.

Legolas crossed his arms and considered me. "You want me to help you steal away in the night and find you a safe place to hole up, in the hopes that, when your absence is discovered, Aragorn shall track you down and bring you back and be inspired to discipline you, and that this shall help ease what is keeping him locked in his current state of gloominess?"

 

Well, put that way, it did sound ridiculous. Really and truly ridiculous. In fact, what had I been thinking? Nevertheless, I scowled at Legolas, now wholly embarrassed. I felt an extra measure of humiliation when embarrassed in front of him, and I didnít know why, except that the mere notion of this ethereal creature thinking less of me was so painful it made me squirmish and aggravated. And, since Legolas himself was the cause of my discomfort, I, of course, blamed him for it and targeted my annoyance where I felt it belonged, regardless of the unfairness of that. His attempt to shame me and his instant disapproval made me even more aggravated and stubborn and determined that my ridiculous plan had merit. So, though still remembering his disciplinary skills, I went a bit too far.

Sitting up and straightening my shoulders, I gave Legolas my best adult-hobbit, disdainful look and said with dignity, "I understand your reluctance to help me, so I withdraw my plea for assistance. However, grant that I am able to decide for myself what is and is not an acceptable risk. And whatever I decide to do, it will be what I feel is best."

And now, Legolas was, most emphatically, Farmer Maggot angry.

"I grant you no such thing." He frowned darkly. "I said no, Frodo! You shall never eíen think of attempting such an act."

"But I --"

"And did you just dare to imply that you shall decide the matter for yourself if I refuse to help?"

"Well . . . Well . . . actually, no. . . ." But then again . . . yes. And considering Legolasí fierce look and his level of cold fury, it had been most unwise of me. But he had just so ignited my temper!

"Frodo, I do not think that is something you want to imply to me. Ever. And particularly not at this moment."

Noting the dangerous gleam in his eyes, I had to agree. But I also had to sigh and say, "I simply think you should give my plan the credit it deserves. I assure you, I thought out every danger and circumsta --"

"And what of the others and their upset?" he rudely interrupted. "What of their panic? What of Sam?"

"Sam will understand."

"Oh?" Legolas raised his brows, looking uncharacteristically startled. "You plan to explain this to Sam beforehand then?"

Explain to Sam that I planned to disappear in the night in order to help Aragorn? Was this elf mad? "Of course not! He --"

"He would tie you up and then tie you to himself!" Legolas scoffed. "That is why you would not!"

"I sincerely doubt that Sam --"

"And he would also spank you thoroughly for suggesting such a thing."

My jaw fell. "Sam would never!"

Legolas again crossed his arms and gave me a look that all but said, oh, would he not? He sniffed and said, "Is that so?"

"I am only thinking of Aragorn," I grumbled. "This might help him."

"I know you are thinking of him, and it is good of you," Legolas replied, calmer now. "But what troubles Aragornís heart shall not be solved by what you propose."

"How do you know?"

"I know. It is a flawed plan, Frodo," he said. Before I could ask why, he went on. "Have you given any thought to what you shall feel like after Aragorn brings you back?"

The question jarred me a bit. "I know it will not be pleasant."

Legolas released a most un-elf-like snort.

"Very well, I know he will spank me until I canít yell anymore!"

"Aye. Indeed he shall. And most likely in front of all. But beyond that, have you considered the further consequences? The others will also have feelings about what you did. They are here to help you, here because of you, and they all serve a purpose. They shall feel you betrayed their trust, especially Sam."

"Not after I explain to them . . . ." I hesitated.

"Explain what? That out of pity for Aragorn you took it upon yourself to try jarring him back into acting the way we all expect him to?"

A hot jolt of humiliation fired through me. My temper flashed, and I cried, "Very well then! Never mind!" I scooted down from my rock. "You are right! It was a stupid idea and I am sorry to have bothered you!"

I turned and stormed off towards the camp, hot tears of angry mortification blurring my vision. But at once I was scooped up from behind, my feet kicking. Legolas carried me back the few steps to the boulders and he sat, settling me on his lap and holding me there securely. I considered how familiar this felt, how many times Aragorn had done this very thing to me. The elf had a lot of Aragorn in him.

I didnít bother struggling. Struggle with an elf. Of all the nonsense. But I would not look at him, either. And he was obviously waiting for me to, as he said nothing. I held out as long as I could. Then I glanced up and found his soft agreeable smile and compassion in his blue-eyed gaze. He gave his glossy head a few tiny, slow shakes as if both bemused and charmed at the same time.

"Ah, Frodo, you remind me of a friend from my youth," he said quietly. "He had trouble considering all the consequences of his proposed schemes, too."

Although miffed at his portrayal of me and my current position, I was more intrigued by the fondness of the memory alight in his eyes and playing over the smooth, shimmering beauty of his face, so I asked, "Who is he?"

"His name is Gwinthorian," he replied. "He is one of my kinfolk from Mirkwood. Gwin was always able to get me into such trouble with woeful regularity." He grinned.

I quickly grinned back, trying to envision Legolas mischievous and in trouble and led astray by a roguish friend. "Where is he now?"

"He travels with the Grey Company, a group of the Dúnedain, Rangers of the North whom Aragorn used to command. Aragornís long-standing friend and lieutenant, Halbarad, now commands them. Long did this quiet group of guardians safekeep the borders of your Shire, without your gentle kinfolk knowing of it."

I glanced off, a sudden memory coming to me. "I remember once, when I was strolling in a far meadow, I saw, galloping on the horizon, half a dozen horsemen, dark and tall and proud. There were men in the Shire! I ran straight home and told Bilbo of it and he just smiled, and told me I had seen a rare sight indeed, but he would say no more than that. I never saw them again." I glanced back at Legolas, who was watching me fondly. "It mustíve been the Dúnedain."

He nodded. "Aye."

"And your friend now rides with them? A wood-elf from Mirkwood?"

"For many years now."

"Why?"

Legolas smiled. "He has his reasons."

I thought for a moment, watching his far-away gaze. "Ah, as you have your reasons for traveling in the company of a lone and quiet Ranger?"

His smile broadened and his gaze traveled back to mine. "Wise young hobbit."

I sniffed. "Hmph. Ah. So now I am wise?"

"About some things."

"But not about other things, such as what might, or might not be helpful to a certain melancholy Ranger?" I asked, although it wasnít really a question.

"How do you know it is melancholy that haunts Aragorn? It could be something else."

"Something else? Such as what?"

Legolas gave a small shrug. "It could be any number of things, and so, although you conceived your plan with the hope of benefitting him, you could in fact make his problem worse."

I considered this, then said, "I cannot see how."

He laughed gently. "You cannot see all ends? Why, master hobbit, how you disappoint me."

I huffed, which only seemed to add to his amusement.

"Frodo, do not pout so."

Pout? I --!

"I know you had Aragornís best interests at heart when thinking up this plan, and it was good of you to do so."

He stroked my curls back from my face, and I closed my eyes at his touch, just his elven touch, so soothing. I felt him leaning close and then his soft lips touched mine for just a moment, as they had a few days ago when heíd spanked me, then comforted me, his breath, sweet and warm mixing with mine . . . .

"Frodo."

I opened my eyes at his soft call and looked at him, his perfect face so close to mine. "You must leave Aragorn to me. I have known him a long time. Trust that I can help him."

"How?"

"Just trust that I shall. For I cannot permit our treasured little Ringbearer to risk himself in a manner such as you suggest. Do we understand each other, sir?"

He leaned in again and gave me another soft kiss, and at that point Iíd have agreed to anything he asked. I felt my head nodding quite of its own will. "Y-Yes," I murmured. "W-We understand each other."

"Good." He flashed his irresistible smile, then he stood, scooping me up, cupping one hand under my bottom and settling me on his hip.

"Legolas!" I scolded when he began to walk. I kicked my legs several times and to absolutely no avail. "Put me down! Really, sir! This is unseemly."

"I know. But for some reason I cannot fathom, I greatly enjoy carrying you about, Frodo," he replied, without the slightest hint of apology in his tone. "Is that not strange?"

I could think of no reply other than, "Yes!"

"I discovered it a few nights ago after Boromir and I --"

"Please! I remember!" I felt a blush flood my cheeks.

He glanced at me playfully and gave my bottom a squeeze. "You are not still tender back there, are you? Aragornís salve should have worked quickly."

My blush deepened and I sputtered, "No! I mean, yes! Yes, it did help, thank you very much. And no, I am not still tender back there. But, Legolas!" I squirmed some more. Utterly useless. "For pityís sake --"

"Am I offending you terribly?" he asked, that merry light still dancing in his eyes.

All at once I got a glimpse of that young elf who was always getting into trouble with his mischievous friend, Gwin. This was a side of Legolas I had never seen, and suddenly I was struggling to keep from laughing.

"Indeed you are!" I said.

He shot me a quick glance then grinned and said, "And indeed you are a poor liar, little one, for your wide eyes give away your every feeling, and I see an impish hobbit enjoying himself."

I could not help laughing then. I gave his silky blond mane a sharp tug, relishing his responding yelp. "Really, sir, you are the limit," I said. Then I sighed in mock irritation and said, "Will you at least put me down before we enter camp?"

"I shall consider it."

But Legolas did put me down before we reached the others. He gently swatted my backside, another mannerism he had in common with Aragorn, and I parted company with him, feeling both stirringly contented, and oddly bewildered, as to just how the elf had foiled my brilliant plan.

 

*********

Boromir and Pippin were nowhere to be seen. Neither was Aragorn. Gandalf and Gimli were sitting quietly, enjoying their pipes and their private thoughts as they often did during this time of the evening. It was not quite twilight, but nearly. I watched Frodo scoot over to join Merry and Sam, who were gathering their blankets and packs a little closer to the fire, spreading things out in their usual manner, making a nest for hobbits, so to speak, a place where they would soon pile up together and talk softly, tell little jokes and tattle, tease each other, and implore Pippin to sing them something. I was beginning to think I would never again be able to travel anywhere without them, these endearing, small and fascinating souls.

Wandering to the edge of the encampment, I cast my gaze around the countryside. I quickly spotted them, Boromir and Pippin, lying just within the borders of a small wooded glade across the meadow. My little brother had apparently settled Pippin, for the hobbit lay curled atop him, completely asleep, Boromirís fingers smoothing through Pipís curls. I focused on the sweet scene for just a moment, then moved to turn away, and suddenly Boromir shifted his gaze to me, and I swear he saw me, although he could have seen no more than perhaps my bright hair and known it was me, and that I was watching them. He smiled at me, and although I knew he couldnít see my return smile, I hoped he could feel it.

I meandered around for a while, casting my gaze in many directions, but I did not see Aragorn. I knew he was close, though. He had simply secured himself in a place where I would not be able to spot him. No matter. He had first watch tonight, so he would return soon and I would be joining him on that watch to deal with this matter that I had let go for too long.

It disturbed me to think that Frodo had made so many assumptions about Aragornís behavior. The little one was not completely wrong, but neither was he completely right. It simply never occurred to him, as indeed it probably never occurred to anyone else, that Aragornís need for attention and care were just as real as their own. True, his need was less frequent, but when the craving for it came upon him, it was, indeed, quite profound.

Lord Elrond had known of this since Aragorn was brought to him as a foster son at an early age. As a master healer of bodies and spirits, the elf Lord knew that the need for simple care and attention never completely left the heart, especially the tender human heart. Estelís longing to be occasionally taken care of in a special disciplinary manner would, and did, lessen, as he grew, but it would never completely leave his brooding son.

I had met Estel when he was a child, and the love we bore for each other had grown ever since. I had watched him develop into a gifted youth, and then a powerful man, full of a majestic, grander-than-human composure, mixed with an utterly captivating depth of need. And when we had moved into a closer and richer unity, indeed we both found what it was we had been seeking and ever longed for.

In his earlier years, Estel was sometimes in my care, and he needed that care often. Lord Elrondís sons, Estelís foster-brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, often brought him to Mirkwood when they came to visit my fatherís halls, and I frequently traveled to Imladris for extended stays. Estel and I formed a special bond, and we were often in each otherís company, so it was natural that I take responsibility for his discipline when he needed it.

Estel was moving within a world of immortals, feeling immortal himself, and yet he was very human and susceptible to dangers we elves were not, simply by nature of our race. While neither I, nor Lord Elrond, nor his two sons coddled our beloved young mortal, Estel did often need to be reigned in, and taught a lesson in obedience and caution. He possessed a human form, sturdy and strong, yes, but infinitely more fragile than an elfís, and he frequently needed reminding of this. Even when he grew to young adulthood, I often had to deal with him in a disciplinary manner.

And so there came a time when I was needed in my fatherís court, and, for a period of many years, we were separated, and Aragorn went traveling far and wide with the Dúnedain, his treasured kin, the Rangers of the North, and when not with them he took on various identities, learning of the ways and the many peoples of Middle Earth, even occasionally entering into various wars, helping to settle rebellions, serving in places like Minas Tirith with Ecthelion, and riding amongst the warrior horsemen in Rohan.

It was a time of learning for him, and a time of anguish for me. I longed to be with him, but my father needed my support in our own various disputes and matters of diplomacy, so there was little to be done but wait until the time he would release me again, and hope, in the meantime, that my impulsive Estel was remembering his mortality and feeling my concern for him wherever he roamed. In later years, Aragorn told me that Halbarad had proven a rather strict disciplinarian himself, much to the surprise and dismay of his young Captain. I had felt not jealousy, but an instant fondness for Halbarad, and an everlasting gratitude for the authority over Aragorn that he had appointed to himself.

When Aragorn and I joyously reunited years later in Imladris, there had been a change in him. So much had happened to him, such triumph, and such loss, a wealth of growth I regrettably had not shared in, but an expansion of experience and knowledge that fashioned him into the man he now was, wise and patient, compassionate, gentle and oddly regal, wholly commanding, and yet still, occasionally, that little boy within, a private side he shared with only a privileged few.

But a tremendous change had taken place between us, a shift that rocked the foundation of all we knew. We both sensed it at once, but we avoided the matter at first, neither one of us sure of how to approach this shift we knew had taken place, neither of us willing to discuss it openly, or entertain the notion, an awkward state for both of us.

Aragorn not only seemed older now, and more experienced in life, he had, somehow, become more mature. We both wondered if we were mistaken, but of course we loved and knew each other too intimately to entertain that uncertainty for long. Nay, Aragorn was now definitely more dominant, correcting me, almost playfully at times, but firmly. Lord Elrond, aware of so much that transpired within his borders, especially when it concerned his immediate family, watched us in silence for some time before drawing us aside one day.

"The discomfort you both are feeling is unnecessary," he stated. "But it is understandable. Life is ever-shifting and expanding, as it is meant to be. What has happened between you is natural and fair. You are equals now, and only you decide what feels best between you. And all is well."

It took little time for Aragorn and I to discover what felt best between us, and it mostly came down to our natures and our essential inclinations. Aragornís nature was one of fundamental and perfect authority. It had always been intrinsic within him, and now, in his maturity, that extraordinary presence and air of complete command was conspicuous within him. He wore it with astounding impressiveness, bespeaking himself as a force to be contended with even when garbed as a weather-beaten Ranger.

My nature, however, was more impulsive, and while I was less so when setting an example for Aragorn in earlier times, I found that now, that impulsiveness seemed to expand when given free reign, something that both shocked and delighted me. It clearly affected Aragorn the same way. My temper surged more now, my reckless lack of caution at times better suited to a wild young elfling. And Aragorn answered my behavior as I used to answer the same behavior in him. The first time he spanked me was a memory that would live within me forever, and as shocking as it was, we both knew that this was right, it was good, and it satisfied something deep inside us both. And it had stayed this way between us for long years now.

But on occasion, Aragorn also needed to be cared for. Those times were rare, for he thrived on leadership, whether he admitted it or not. Aragorn fought who he was in his mind and in his heart, denying his role, hesitating to accept his rightful standing as Isildurís Heir and Gondorís rightful King, and turning away from that immense responsibility. But, in truth, Aragorn carried within him that undeniable nobility. He was always at his best when pressed to be in command, shouldering burdens with a natural skill that seemed otherworldly.

And now he also thrived in his new role between the two of us, the disciplinarian when he needed to be, as I needed his attention. We had reached a place wherein all was as it should be between us, a perfect blending of strength and need and desires, and woven into that was Aragornís occasional hunger for me to be that Legolas of old, taking him in hand, demanding he release his burdens to me for just a while, and disciplining him, allowing him to be, for that moment, a boy again, cared for, safe, and unconditionally loved. He was so deserving of that, and I never had trouble providing whatever he craved of me. Indeed, I relished it as well.

The sound of low, angry voices, hobbit voices, drew my attention. I moved from the edge of camp back to where the others were gathered and saw that Frodo and Sam were having quite a disagreement. They were both standing and glaring at each other, Sam looking positively livid. On the far side of the camp, Gandalf had pulled his hat down over his face and clearly removed his mind from the scene, and Gimli was judiciously studying the blade of his axe, as if thinking he had better sharpen it for the millionth time.

I sat down a little ways off and leaned against a tree to observe. Merry, looking terribly fretful, glanced over and saw that I had returned. Scrambling up, he scurried over and plunked down beside me.

"Mind if I sit here with you?"

"Not at all," I replied, and I put an arm around his shoulders. He was trembling. "Are you cold?"

"No. Itís just, Sam and Frodo never fight like this. Not like this."

"What happened?" I had not been gone long, and I could not fathom how this had blown up so quickly.

"I donít know. Iíd gone over to talk to Gimli for a while because Iíve been curious about how dwarves fight with axes, and I wondered if maybe an axe was a good weapon for a hobbit, but Iíd wanted to talk to him without Pip around because, well, Pippin gets ideas about things too quickly, and the next thing I knew, heíd be wanting to learn how to fight with an axe."

"Thereís a fearful notion."

"Exactly. I thought this was a good time for some private talk, now that Boromir had Pip off somewheres, so I went over with Gimli for a while, and while I was gone Sam and Frodo were speaking nice and peaceful-like, like they always do together. So, I had my chat with Gimli, then I took a quick moment of privacy, then I went back to the fire, but by now Frodo and Sam were talking in angry tones."

Frowning intensely, Merry lifted a serious gaze and leaned closer to me as if confiding a secret. "Quiet angry tones, like Frodo was trying to settle Sam down. Then, all of a sudden, Sam jumped up and yelled Ďwhat?í all upset and loud."

"What was he upset about?"

"I couldnít make it out, because as soon as he did that, Frodo jumped up with him and glanced about to see if anyone was watching, which of course we all were. So he took Sam off a few steps and tried shushing him right quick-like. Sam yelled something like, ĎNo need to shout?í And then I looked up and saw you were back."

"Hm."

Poor Merry. Earlier he had listened to his beloved Pippinís substantial spanking and his subsequent wails, which was upsetting enough, and now this. Little wonder he trembled.

Sam and Frodo were just glaring at each other when I had returned, and then Merry had been talking, so I had not yet listened to what was going on, but I focused more closely now, instantly astounded by what I was hearing.

Incredibly, Frodo had been foolish enough to confide his plan to Sam, of all people. While Frodo had meant well, the notion had been utterly foolhardy and dangerous. Confessing to Sam that he had even entertained such a thing would have been extremely unwise of Frodo. Yet, clearly, he had done so. And now Sam was reacting with predictable outrage.

This suddenly became quite fascinating. Merry and I watched, transfixed. I had known, and I am quite sure Aragorn and Boromir had known, that it was just a matter of time before Sam took disciplinary action with Frodo, master or not. Sam was simply too protective, and he loved Frodo too much to deny himself the next step. I had never seen Sam so agitated with his master. He was gesturing in wild, short jerky movements, looking like he might explode at any moment.

And with good cause. Frodo must have realized his mistake in confessing to Sam and he was now trying to shore up the banks of the raging River Gamgee. But Frodoís anger had also been kindled and he was fighting back by asserting his position as Samís master.

I had never seen him behave in such a manner. They were still talking too softly, albeit furiously, for anyone but an elf to hear, and I was beginning to regret that I could hear them. I knew Frodoís wrath was driving him to this desperate extreme, but what I heard made me cringe. Although clearly Sam had been rather forthright himself. He had, apparently, already called his master stupid.

"Donít say that again!" Frodo snarled. "I refuse to listen to you call me stupid, Samwise Gamgee! In fact, you owe me an apology for that rudeness. And donít you question me! Donít you ever question me!"

"Donít question you?" Sam looked utterly fierce. "Iíll question you alright if you start in with such nonsense. Donít question you? When you need questioning, Mister Frodo, make no mistake, Iíll do it!"

"How dare you speak to me in that insolent tone!"

Sam looked like heíd taken a physical blow, but he stood his ground. "I donít like having to speak to you disrespectfully, Mister Frodo, but --"

"Then guard your tongue." Frodo paused to glare, then added, "I shall not stand here a moment longer and listen to you rail at me. I trusted you with a private matter, and although I had changed my mind and was not going to go through with it, your outrageous behavior makes me long to do it anyway."

Clearly an empty threat, but Sam believed it and went pale.

"Mister Frodo --"

Frodo bellowed, "Enough!" with a force that made poor Merry flinch. He then stepped up to within inches of his servantís face and glared at him, "This conversation is over, Sam. Now sit down and gain some control of yourself. Iím going for a walk to cool off. Do not even think of following me."

Frodo turned on his heel and headed off into the gathering dusk, absolutely storming with long, Ranger-like strides.

Sam stood huffing, his arms rigid at his sides, clenching and unclenching his fists. Gimli had paused in his sharpening and was now watching him with raised brows. Gandalf had tipped his head back enough so that he was clearly able to see below the brim of his hat, and Merry and I barely breathed. Not a sound was heard in the camp.

Sam lowered his head for a moment, studying the ground, still huffing, then he reached over and began to roll up his sleeve. He headed off after Frodo, now rolling up the other sleeve, and looking like nothing on Middle Earth would stop him in his purpose.

When he had disappeared down the trail, Merry looked up at me, and said, "Uh-oh."

"Indeed," I replied, and just then I glanced up and saw Boromir returning with Pippin draped over his chest. Pipís legs sagged from around Boromirís waist and he was clearly still asleep, supported by the strong hands beneath his bottom.

I said to Merry, "Look you who is returning," and nodded in their direction.

Merry turned his head, and with a soft cry he scrambled up and hurried out to meet Boromir. I watched, charmed by the scene. Merry hurried over to the hobbit nest, sat down and lifted his arms, and my little brother shifted Pippin gently, then lowered him to Merryís waiting lap. Pip licked his rosebud lips and lifted his still swollen eyelids a crack.

"Oh," he whispered hoarsely. "Hullo, Merry. Howír you?"

Merry grinned down at him gently. "Hullo, Pip." He kissed his cousinís forehead. "Iím better now that youíre back. Howír you?"

Pip grinned back "My bottomís burning something fierce."

"I dare say. My poor sweet Pip."

"Nay, Merry. Iím better now, too."

"Shall I get Samís salve? Would you like that?"

"Oooh, that sounds nice. That sounds very nice."

I watched Boromir back away and turn to me, and I briefly wondered if my face reflected the same silly contentment his did. He strolled over and sat down next to me with a deep sigh, then gave me the most self-satisfied smile imaginable.

"Well done, little brother," I murmured.

Oh, indeed, quite a self-satisfied grin.

 

 

To be continued . . . .