Beta appreciation notes for my astounding team:
Kat Ė thanks for your incredible "waffly" reviews, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for being such a constant light.
Chris Ė thanks for being such a terrific person, for your wonderfully perfectionist nitpicking, and for your thoroughly amazing editing, and editing.
And thanks, Bella, for the great title!
And thanks, Chris, for the Ďwhat if Sam got sick?í bunny I forgot to thank you for!
And Laura, thanks for the important detail about the fait accompli.
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
Warnings: My ever-present touch of slash.
For dearest Derby, who has been more than patient, and who loves Sam so. (And youíre right, Derby, so do I!)
I glanced around. Gimli, Merry and Pippin, the only ones who had not known of Samís deed beforehand, were frozen in shock. They stared at Sam, but they had no further response, for it was impossible to look at Sam in that moment and not grieve for him. He sat, eyes downcast, utterly unmoving, remote in bearing but still holding onto Frodo.
I had thought to reveal the truth behind Samís cold and administer his spanking tonight. The Fellowship would be rested and relaxing in the knowledge that we would not resume our trek until morning. But I started noticing an uneasiness in Samís manner not long after I announced him cured. Much to his embarrassment, his kinsmen fussed over him and made him rest, Frodo practically climbing onto his lap to keep him still, while Merry and Pippin quickly took care of the chores Sam usually performed. He squirmed and allowed it, but soon he began glancing at me more frequently, a circumspect shadow in his gaze.
His disquiet grew steadily through supper, although he delighted Frodo by eating well, but when all that needed doing was done, and the pipeweed smoke began to curl above our heads, I knew for a certainty that it was beginning again. The worry that had weakened Sam and helped his illness take hold was already back, his guilt and his secret even more profound now. He would not rest. He would sit quietly all day, holding Frodo, staring off, thinking far too much, and allowing his self-reproach to chip away at him. I would have to bring this matter before the Fellowship now. But, at that moment, the halflings once again began chattering about Samís amusing misbehavior.
"Itís time to help him remember his naughtiness!" Pippin exclaimed, drawing chuckles from all but Boromir, who released his customary groan.
"I vow you are curious to find out what happened during your missed day, sir," Gimli joined in.
Sam glanced at him warily. "Uhhh . . . ."
"You tell the story of what happened yesterday, Legolas!" Pippin implored.
"Yes, you elves tell stories so well," Merry agreed. "I mean, I know it isnít a story exactly, but more of a narrative--"
I thought this over as they chattered on. Legolas telling the story . . . hmmm . . . aye . . . Legolas would be precise, and he would eventually come to a very revealing part . . . aye, it would be perfect. And clearly Legolas realized it as well and agreed, for he flashed me a cunning look, and I gave him a nod and returned his slight smile.
So, with his natural storytellerís skill, Legolas had entertained us with the antics of Master Samwise, and now, despite a bit of disruptive commotion from an overprotective Ringbearer, Samís dark secret had been revealed.
He barely seemed to be breathing. He didnít move. And I knew exactly how he felt.
Samís transgression may have seemed less significant than mine had been, yet it was no less profound a matter for this honest young hobbit. Aye, indeed I knew what Sam was feeling. I remembered every word:
"I fear you cannot stop us, my lord. You cannot fight us all. You cannot force our obedience. You cannot deny your actions to Lord Elrond when we place this case before him, or any number of other cases Ė your less crucial, yet nonetheless irresponsible, deeds since your foster brothers left our company. I feel certain your foster sire will be less than pleased, as will all your other tutors and advisors at Rivendell. So, given the circumstances, I think the burden of judgement will not fall upon the Rangers for what we had to do, and that we will be forgiven our insurrection."
The memory assaulted me, as fresh as when it had happened, that ferocious crush of the deepest humiliation I had ever withstood. I was still half-sickened by that feeling, even all these years later. Would I ever forget it, how awful I felt? How I longed for the ground to open up and swallow me? Seconds stretched to hours as I sat there amongst the solemn Rangers, wanting to vanish, bleeding inwardly, something within me convulsing, suffocating me as I lowered my head, thinking that this couldnít be real, I couldnít be here, this couldnít be happening.
Shame. It was pure shame. And now, watching this usually genial halfling endure his own version of that shame, feeling echoes of it myself, I knew why each loving soul witnessing Samís anguish had to quickly glance away, as the Rangers had done that awful morning so long ago. It pained them to see one they loved suffer so. No one could speak. Even little Pippin, always ready with a quick joke or a cheeky bit of teasing, was struck dumb. As had happened at the gathering of the Grey Company, compassion had silenced every voice.
I studied Sam, knowing that he had responded in the only way he felt he could. He had gone deep within, seeking a dark place to hide away with his disgrace. It was an instinctive response. I also had fallen into that dark abyss, so deeply, in fact, that I didnít know Iíd started shedding tears, so deeply that I heard nothing Halbarad had said and knew naught of his proposal until he told it to me after the meeting ended. I heard the Grey Companyís first shouted, "Aye!" Then I heard Thayer say, "All those in favor of Lieutenant Halbaradís plan as he hath set it forth, say, íAye!í" The second resounding, "AYE!" from the Rangers startled me into the realization that something had indeed taken place Ė what, however, I knew not. I had lifted my stunned gaze to Halbarad, bewildered by his look of quiet satisfaction, wondering what on earth he could be so pleased about. I hadnít really been fully present, though. I had been locked away with my anguish.
And that was where Sam had gone. I saw his hold on Frodo relax. Frodo frowned in perplexity, then sat up and turned to look at Sam. A soft gasp flew from the Ringbearerís lips. He was too sensitive a soul for anything concerning his Sam to slip his notice, and I doubt he had ever seen this look on Samís face.
Emptiness. Samís eyes had gone hollow, like he wasnít there anymore. In a very real sense, he wasnít. He couldnít allow himself to feel anything right now. What he would feel first would hurt too much. So he took himself away, and the sight of the empty shell of Sam that was left behind was what made his Frodo gasp.
Less than a minute had lapsed since Legolas had halted his narrative, yet it must have seemed like the passing of an age to Sam. He had surely sensed the silence and the othersí quick glances away. I suspected that it wouldnít occur to Sam that they were all simply too thunderstruck to speak. As my fledgling had done, Sam had no doubt instantly woven a web of assumptions, all false, and all based on how guilty he felt Ė thoughts that the others were appalled by him, so appalled they couldnít bear to speak to him or to look at him. And he didnít fault them for their disfavor.
He stiffened when Frodo touched his shoulder, making his young masterís eyes go wide with alarm. But Samís shame was now so overwhelming that he couldnít accept a soft word or a comforting gesture that he felt he didnít deserve.
Had someone offered me tenderness in my moment of self-torment amongst the Rangers, Iíd have pulled away, too. I could not have suffered kindness in that moment. I just wanted to make it all stop. I wanted it to go away. I didnít want what was happening to be real. I longed to go back in time, stop myself from my foolishness with those wretched wargs.
But, most of all, I childishly longed to be rescued. I wanted someone to step in and pull me out of that inferno of humiliation. I wanted my masterful elven brothers to find me in that lost place, to haul me to my bedchamber and pass me back and forth over their laps, taking turns spanking me as they used to when Iíd done something especially awful, then holding me between them on my bed as I cried and then slept.
I yearned for Elrond to arch an eyebrow at me and make me squirm before escorting me to his study, to the special chair he kept in the corner of the room and used for only one purpose. I ached for my Adaís seemingly eternal spanking, his strong arms afterwards, and for his elvish endearments that could reduce me once more to his little boy, no matter my age.
I longed for Legolas to snatch me up and, despite my hardest struggles, hold me over his knee, forcing me to accept the hiding he was about to deliver, and I craved his fervent responses to my heightened arousal after his tender comforting.
I longed to feel accepted again, loved again, safe. I wished for absolution, even though I didnít fully feel I deserved it. I wanted a guardian there beside me in that desolate moment amongst all those heroic Rangers I had so longed to impress, someone who I knew loved me despite the stupid thing Iíd done.
I hadnít known back then that Halbarad was that guardian. Big and handsomely imposing, authoritative and ever present, he was always observing me, his glistening eyes seeing everything, his intuition too sharply tuned to me for my comfort. I hadnít known it back then, but during that dark moment of dishonor, my Lieutenant was already reaching into that inferno and pulling me out. Halbarad had done that for me. I now had the blessed chance to do the same for Sam.
"Sam?" Frodo studied him.
Sam glanced down, and softly said, "You knew, didnít you, Mister Frodo?"
Frodo looked instantly remorseful. "Yes. Aragorn figured it out the night we discovered you were sick. He asked me how much tea had been in my cup."
Sam grimaced and said nothing.
"You meant well," Frodo said. "Your heart was in the right place, Sam."
"But not my wits, what few I have," Sam muttered without a hint of humor. "Iím sorry, Mister Frodo. Iíve never done something like that before and I promise to never do it again, not as though you have any reason to believe me or anything."
Frodo tried to interrupt, but Sam charged ahead, his eyes still downcast. There was no emotion in his voice. He struggled to spit out the words, as though he simply had to say them but wasnít comfortable explaining himself.
"Just let me finish, please, Mister Frodo, then Iíll shut up. I just want to say that Iím sorry I got sick and Iím sorry everyone got all worried, especially since it was me doing this fool thing that caused it all. And Iím sorry you all were calling out things like, Ďgood old Sam!í and Ďhooray for Sam!í It seems wrong letting you cheer for me when allís I did was make myself get sick. Youíd have been better off cheering for Strider and his elvish medicines for fixing me up so good Ďn quick.
"So, Iím sorry everyone had to find out. I donít expect youíll be ready to trust my word after this, but I promise that I wonít never do it again."
Frodo, Merry and Pippin all let fly a wealth of comfort and reassurances Ė of course his word was still good! Of course they still trusted him! Heíd meant well, for pityís sake! It was all right now. Gimli, however, a true warrior, remained silent. He puffed his pipe and slid a significant glance to me that said all he needed to. I returned his solemn stare, giving a slight nod of understanding, then turned back to study Sam.
His gaze remained lowered. He nodded a few times, but he wasnít really listening to his kinsmen. He wouldnít allow himself to believe them. As far as Sam was concerned, heíd done the unthinkable Ė heíd lied to Frodo, to everyone, but worst of all, to Frodo. Heíd damaged his trustworthiness, and I felt certain that Samís inborn integrity had been reinforced throughout his life with the kinds of hobbit homilies that were now haunting him, such as, "Once lost, honor canít be bought back." As far as Sam knew, he might never fully regain the trust he had thrown away. Aye, it was awful that heíd been caught in that lie, but the lie itself was the greater offense.
Yet, what had he just said? "Iím sorry everyone had to find out."
I suddenly remembered something Halbarad had once told me. On occasion, when Legolas and Gwinthorian had given into temptation and done something that could only be described as a profound error in judgement, Halbarad and I would put them before us on our horses and take them off to some secluded place for the night, far enough away so that the peace of the Company wouldnít be disturbed by the sound of distant elvish wailing. Of course, we didnít mind if our elflings heard each other. In fact, it seemed fitting that elflings who erred together were disciplined together.
After being in the vicinity numerous times when Halbarad spanked Gwin, I noticed that, as he had done in the past with me, my Lieutenant had several phrases he always said while his hand rose and fell. The one I noticed in particular that he used with Gwin was, "You are sorry youíre being spanked, little elfling, not for what you did."
"But, Gwinís not sorry heís being spanked," I once said to Halbarad while Legolas and Gwin slumbered in our arms, both elves red-bottomed and lost to their rare sleep state that usually followed a spanking.
"He is and he isnít," Halbarad answered with a small laugh. "Gwinthorian does not like to be spanked. He is always sorry when it comes to how his little backside feels. But he would be much sorrier were he not found out."
"And he would do it again," I said. "Not the exact same transgression, but something equally wrong."
"Indeed. In fact, as you have surely witnessed, if I do not see to his disobedience within what he feels is a decent length of time, his misbehavior grows worse until I finally deal with him."
I nodded, thinking back on several such incidents, my gaze drifting down to Gwinís rounded and glowing bottom.
"My little one is not truly sorry for his actions," Halbarad continued. "Deep inside him lies a reason for what he did, and even if he is not entirely aware of why he did it, the visible reason itself makes perfect sense to him. So, to the outward eye, Gwinthorian both is, and isnít, sorry. But the inward eye is where truth lies, and, in truth, Gwin is neither sorry for what he did, nor sorry he is being spanked for it."
I now thought over Samís quiet distress while the halflings continued offering him their assurances that he was still trustworthy. "Iím sorry everyone had to find out." Ahhh, yes! Like Gwin, Sam wasnít sorry for what heíd done, but considering what he had gone through before falling ill, I knew that, contrary to his claim, Sam was not sorry heíd been found out. I shuddered to think of what he might have continued to put himself through had his illness not exposed his little deceit. And now, forgiveness for that deceit was too difficult for him to accept.
I watched Sam, seeing his innocent confusion and his sense of bafflement over what was tormenting him. He suddenly raised his eyes to me, and I shuddered inwardly at the heartbreakingly silent plea in his usually confident gaze. I saw Gwinthorian seeking Halbaradís care. And I saw myself on that bitter morning so long ago, seeking a rescuer.
"I disagree, sir," I said with a sudden firmness that startled the others. "I think you will indeed do something like this again." The hobbits turned dumbfounded looks at me, but I went on, saying, "I think you will do whatever you feel you must in order to protect and help Frodo, including disobeying any of my orders that get in the way of you fulfilling that duty."
Sam stared at me, saying nothing. The same could not be said of his kinsmen. Frodo remained still, his eyes downcast, knowing he could not interfere with what he agreed needed doing here, yet surely feeling slightly awful about not rising to Samís defense. Merry and Pippin were ruffled enough to make up for Frodoís silence, though.
"That hardly seems fair," Merry said, his Brandybuck frown speaking volumes. "Sam just made an honest mistake, thatís all. It doesnít mean he canít ever be trusted again. If he says he wonít do it again, you can be sure that he wonít. A promise is serious business for hobbits, Aragorn."
"Aye, no hobbit would ever be so vile as to go back on a promise," Pippin scowled. "You canít presume to know what Sam will do. He meant well, like Frodo said. And he fell sick because of what he did for Frodo. I think he deserves better than to have his word doubted."
"I am pleased to know what you think, Peregrin," I said. "However, I am not doubting Samís word. I do think he will never do this particular deed again, but he may do something like this. When it comes to choosing between what I have ordered and what Sam feels is best for Frodo, what choice do you think Sam will make?" Pippin and Merry threw Sam speculative glances. I pressed on, now turning to Sam. "Sam, did you begin to regret your deed before you got sick, or afterwards?"
Engaging him in conversation served to jar Sam. He looked thoughtful, but only for a moment, then he said, "Afterwards."
"So, before you fell ill, you did not feel youíd done anything wrong?"
It was as I thought. Sam had managed to push aside his earlier regrets. But now I watched him thinking back on it, and that natural Samwise honesty returned. "Well, no, I reckoned Iíd done something, well, a little wrong. I kept feeling twinges, like, bad feelings that what Iíd done werenít completely honest. But . . . but . . . I was glad I got sick instead of Mister Frodo, so, no. No. I guess I didnít think Iíd done something all that wrong."
"You felt youíd done a good thing, a noble thing, something good for Frodo."
"You knew best what needed doing, and that was to give Frodo your share of the athelas. So even though you were being a little dishonest, it was well worth it."
"Aye, well, Mister Frodo needs all the help he can get, what with that ruddy Ring Ďround his neck. And I never get sick. Well, I never had been sick. So where was the harm?"
"And, if given the choice, you would do it all over again, just as you had."
I tilted my head to one side and gazed at him, loving his predictable, if misguided, devotion. "Then we have a problem, Sam. Donít we?"
Pippinís patience gave way. His pouting frown blazing, he huffed and demanded, "What problem?"
"Sam did do a good thing, Aragorn," Merry now said with deliberate patience, as if explaining something that should have been obvious to anyone. "An unselfish thing. Iím surprised you canít see that."
"Aye," Pippin snapped. "Sam knew what he was doing."
I raised an eyebrow. "He did?"
"Yes!" Merry shot back. "He may have bent the truth a little, but Sam knows whatís best for Frodo, and he made a sound decision. We can make decisions on our own, Aragorn. We are adults!"
Legolas, Boromir and Gimli shifted, the tension in them fairly crackling, but they remained silent and disciplined, obediently allowing me to handle this hobbit insurrection. I myself felt it was going well.
"Thatís right!" Pippin added hotly. "Maybe Sam shouldnít have done what he did, but it was still a selfless thing, and it couldnít hurt, and--" Pippin suddenly paused and glanced at Sam and Frodo, who had remained noticeably silent in this. Frodo still hadnít even looked up. Pippin, now a bit hot under the collar, focused on his cousin and sighed with obvious irritation. "Frodo," he said, "donít you have anything to say?"
Sam stiffened. Frodo looked up slowly, his expressive eyes filled with sorrow. "Oh, Pip," he said.
Merry and Pippin both fell silent. They studied Frodo, knowing at once from his reaction that they were missing something extremely important here. They glanced at Sam and myself and the others, then they looked at each other uneasily. Gimli removed his pipe, cleared his throat and stated the obvious:
"Ah, well, Aragorn, what can one expect? The wee ones are not of a warrior culture."
"Hmm." I had awaited the floor, feeling it better to hear all Merry and Pippin had to say before proceeding, but they hadnít surprised me in the least with their assumptions. I let them think over their behavior and their words for a few moments, and I did the same, then I looked at Pip and said in a calm voice, "Pippin, you just said, Ďit couldnít hurt,í meaning, I take it, that a double dose of the athelas tea couldnít hurt Frodo."
Pippin quietly answered, "Aye."
"How do you know that? How could Sam know that? There are certain roots and plants that can help if taken correctly, but they can kill if taken incorrectly."
Merry and Pippin gasped. Their mouths fell open slightly and their eyes grew huge with horror. But Sam, Sam had paled so rapidly and looked so suddenly sick that I feared he would lose his supper. Frodo had been watching him warily. He quickly took Samís hand and put an arm around his shoulder, saying, "Sam, Iím all right. Let Aragorn go on."
Samís wide eyes now swam with a film of tears. He stared at me, seemingly ready to fall apart in the few seconds since Iíd finished speaking. I hurried on, knowing I did not need to say much more, but knowing that it was important for these little ones to hear exactly what needed saying.
"Be at peace," I said gently. "Athelas is not one of those plants. But you did not know that, Sam. What if it had been one of those dangerous plants? What if Frodo had become ill?" I turned to Merry and Pippin. "I know Sam thought he was doing a good thing, Merry. I know his heart was in the right place, Pippin. But Sam could not see all ends, nor every possible consequence of his action." I glanced back to Sam in time to see two large tears tumbling down his cheeks, Frodo reaching up to wipe them away. I steadied my resolve and said, "Sam took it upon himself to ignore my orders and to act as he saw fit." Pausing again, I moved a slow and solemn gaze to Merry and Pippin. "And that, my young friends, is the problem.
"Sam thought he was doing something to help Frodo, something noble. None will fault him for his kind heart and his good intentions. I certainly do not. My problem with Sam is that, in order to do this good thing, he disobeyed my orders. He dangerously presumed that he knew best.
"Sam was fortunate this time. He merely became ill himself. But as I am sure you can imagine, it could have been much worse. And, in the future, should any of you presume to think you know better and therefore decide to ignore my orders, the consequences could be disastrous.
"I command this Fellowship. My orders must be obeyed at all times. You cannot pick and choose which of those orders you will follow. You must abide by them all without question or hesitation. We have yet to encounter danger, but I assure you, we will encounter it, and at such times you cannot stop to consider whether or not you agree with my commands. Such hesitation could cost you your lives, or perhaps the life of another."
The hobbits were all listening intensely now, barely moving, completely grave, as they needed to be. I turned my gaze to Merry. "I know you are adults, Master Brandybuck. But obedience to orders has nothing to do with age. Think back on the first night we met in Bree. You said something very similar: ĎWe are not children in need of a keeper.í Do you remember?"
Merry nodded slowly.
"I spanked all of you that night to instill in you a respect for my command and to give you an understanding of what would happen should you choose to go against my orders. You needed to accept my authority."
I paused and shot a quick glance to my fledgling. Aye, he was studying me and blushing, no doubt remembering how I had done the same to him, and for the same reason. His blush instantly deepened at my glance. I saved my fond grin for later and turned my attention to the halflings again.
Sam was clearly struggling to hold back his tears, Frodo stroking his hair and whispering to him, but, despite the enormity of his upset, there was also a new clarity in Samís liquid gaze. He might still be grasping at understanding, and he was clearly fighting his crushing remorse, something I would be helping him with momentarily, but hope shone in his eyes. He watched me steadily, ready to listen, ready to obey and eager to free himself from the vicious grasp of the doubts and bewildering fears that had plagued him since he started all this.
I gave him a soft smile and murmured, "Do you remember that night, Sam?" He nodded. "You were the first one I spanked, the first one to challenge me. Do you recall what you said?"
"Aye, Strider." Sam sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve, then he coughed, a tiny wry grin slipping out. "I said something like, ĎI donít obey you,í and ĎI serve Mister Frodo.í"
Three silent warriors tried to hide their grins. "You are close," I said. "Your exact words were, ĎWell, I don't answer to you, Longshanks. I serve Mister Frodo. I do as he says. I answer only to him and Mr. Gandalf, and I don't plan to be changing my loyalties anytime in the near future, thank you.í"
Three warriors surrendered the field and succumbed to their chuckles.
"You remember every word?" Sam asked through his sniffling, a small bemused smile now appearing.
"A Dunedain trait," Legolas said. "One of the more annoying Dunedain traits." Then he did something I rarely saw Legolas do, something entirely un-elvish. He rolled his eyes.
The hobbits stared at him, utterly astonished, then they fell into sudden giggles.
I cast him an exaggerated frown. "I shall remember that."
And now everyone fell into soft joviality, not a rollicking laughter, but a gentle shared mirth, an easing of the tension that had fallen upon us. But all knew that this matter was profoundly important, and the hobbitsí obvious shock and fright when they realized the gravity of what Sam had done bespoke their understanding. They now were fully aware of the possible ghastly consequences of disobeying orders.
When the chuckles died down to smiles, Sam said, "Strider, I owe you an apology. I was wrong to go against your orders. Iím sorry."
"We all owe you an apology, sir," Merry said. "Well, Pip and I do, for taking off on you like that."
"Aye, weíre sorry, Aragorn," Pippin added. "We shouldíve known better." He glanced at Frodo. "Only Frodo kept his head."
"I didnít keep my head at first," Frodo admitted. "I was plenty upset when I found out Aragorn planned to spank Sam."
It was the first mention of something everyone knew was coming. Merry and Pippin threw sympathetic glances at Sam, but they said nothing. They understood why he needed to be spanked, and they loved him too much to voice an objection.
"Well, Frodo," I said in a gentle voice, "in all fairness, you were upset because you thought I planned to spank Sam for getting sick."
"What?" Pippin squeaked, turning an astonished look to his cousin. "Frodo! Aragorn would never be so low as to spank Sam just for getting sick!"
"I know, Pippin!" Frodo shot back.
"Hush up, Pip," Merry said. "We were all shaken up that night and you know it. Frodo was just on edge and tired and worried about Sam, so leave him be. If youíd been riding with Aragorn that night and found out that Sam was going to be spanked, you might have thought the same thing, and youíd have bellowed the stars down."
Everyone grinned, including Pippin. He then winced and said, "Aye."
I looked at Sam. He was watching me, waiting for my word. I smiled quietly, stood and held my hand out to him. "Come, Sam. Let us get this over with. Then your fretful Frodo can cease his worries and sleep well in your arms this day."
Frodo and Samís cheeks blossomed with the same hue of pink. Sam gave Frodo a shyly acquiescent smile, then he rose and started around the fire.
"These are ready, Aragorn," Boromir said. He grabbed one of the torches he and Gimli had fashioned earlier and dipped it into the fire, then handed it to me, Sam now taking my extended hand.
"This cave goes back for miles, and there are small alcoves tucked away here and there," I told him as we turned and headed away from the others. "Let us find one to our liking with a nice grouping of boulders."
"Aye, Strider. Whatever you think is best."
It wasnít that there was any doubt in my mind that I had this coming. I even wanted it. Because the fact that Iíd been dishonest was bad enough, but finding out that Strider was more upset because Iíd disobeyed his orders and just why that was such a bad thing made me dizzy with fright.
I hadnít once imagined that giving Frodo too much kingsfoil might hurt him. Not once! And I shouldíve thought of that. When Strider brought it up and it hit me what couldíve happened, oh! All I could do was picture how awful it couldíve been, how really, truly awful. I couldíve hurt Frodo! I couldíve made him sick! Samwise, you fool!
So, as we strolled further back into the cave, I kept thinking that, oh, my, yes, I surely wanted this. Well . . . I did and I didnít. It had been a long time since Strider last did this to me, and I sure wasnít in the kind of shape for it that Pippin was, so this was not going to feel very good. That is to say that my behind wasnít going to feel very good. But inside of me, where the darkest guilt was, that was going to feel better after this. That guilt was pretty bad, so a sore backside was definitely the lesser of two evils there.
Because Strider was right to be doing this. Iíd been plain nervy, thinking I could just do as I pleased, thinking that I knew better than a Ranger, a King even. The thing was, when it came to Frodo, well . . . I still just felt like I knew him betterín anyone, so I could decide things for him betterín anyone else, and that was bothering me some.
But I figured the best thing to do would be to talk that over with Strider and see what he thought, because I never again wanted to make a mistake like Iíd just made. When I thought about how close a call this was, how I couldíve really hurt my Fro . . . no, I didnít never want to come that close again. I guess I really understood now what it was like to do something so wrong that a trip over someoneís knee would make me feel better.
I can understand how others sometimes need something special like this. Frodo wanted me to paddle him that time he sassed me so fierce, even though he didnít know thatís what he wanted, and when heís needed it, Mister Frodo knows just how to go about getting it. Like Pippin does. They need it for those reasons that come from deep inside, and that was all right. Everybody is who they are.
Merryís more like me, though. Heís not one to need much walloping himself, and usually if he is walloped, itís because he got caught in some mischief, not because of a Ďdeep insideí reason. And Merry takes care of Pippinís wallopings, never the other way around.
Thatís how it was for Frodo and me, too. We both knew that. What happened between us when I had paddled Frodo was the same as what always happened in our most close, private times. We were both different with each other in those times. Frodo wasnít Master of Bag End when we were that close. Weíd learned what we both wanted long ago, and ĎMisterí Frodo became just Ďmyí Frodo in those times, all mine, and certainly not my Ďmaster.í And now, after that first tanning I gave Frodo, some of that Ďdifferenceí spilled over into everything between us.
"You are very quiet, Sam."
I flinched at the sound of Striderís low voice. "I . . . I guess I am."
He stopped walking and smiled down at me, then he let go of my hand and took the torch over and wedged it in a hole amongst a pile of rock. Some big boulders were there, too, and Strider picked one out and sat down and looked at me.
I squirmed. Well, Samwise, this is it. My stomach knotted up. And I just stood there, looking back at the Ranger. I think Striderís calm was unnerving me, because Iíd probably only been frozen there for about a minute, but it felt like longer. Strider finally crooked a finger at me, his soft half-grin never leaving his face. I still couldnít move. This suddenly didnít seem real. But my bottom was tingling, and I had a curious urge to run.
"Strider, I really, really am sorry!" I blurted out, surprising myself.
"I know, Sam."
He sat, waiting, and I stood there, and then all at once the Ranger jumped up and headed for me, his long strides eating up the space between us. "Forgive me, little one," he murmured as he hoisted me up, turned and carried me back with him. "That probably looked like a very long space to cross, did it not?"
I just gazed at him, my heart hammering away, and a second later he was back on the boulder again, and he settled me on his lap, sitting up.
"Would it help to talk a bit first?"
I had no idea. "Uhhh . . . ."
"What is troubling you, aside from the fact that you are about to be spanked?"
I knew something was bothering me, something Iíd planned to talk to Strider about, and now all I could think of was where I was and where I was about to be in a minute.
"Perhaps it is something about Frodo."
Frodo. Oh! "Aye! About Frodo! Strider, I know youíre right about everything. I shouldnít have done what I did, and I shouldnít have disobeyed your orders. It was flat-out wrong of me to think I knew more than you, and Iím sorry as I can be for that. But the thing is, when it comes to Mister Frodo, I do know him betterín anyone else."
"Aye, sir, you do indeed."
"And thereís times when I know best what would help him."
"Without question," Strider said. "And I am glad of that, Sam. You can be of great help to Frodo and to me, because you do know him so well."
I wasnít quite sure what to say, so I just listened, but I was feeling better about things already.
"You and I both know that the Ring is influencing him at times, and in those times I shall rely on you to advise me." Strider paused and smiled, then said, "You are a valuable member of this Fellowship for many reasons, Master Gamgee, not the least of which being that Frodo loves you so. But you must work with me, not behind my back. We must trust each other and know that we are both trying to do our best to help Frodo."
A sinking feeling washed over me. "Do you still trust me? Even after this sneaky thing I did?"
Strider grinned. "It was an error in judgement. It was not Ďsneaky.í And yes, Sam, of course I still trust you."
I watched him for a minute, wondering how it could be that I hadnít lost his trust. Something inside kept nagging at me that such a thing just werenít possible, that Iíd never get the Rangerís real trust back, or anyone elseís, and that this was my bed to lay in again. So, Strider was most likely just trying to be nice, saying he still trusted me. I just felt like I had to tell him that, even though, like usual, it seemed he already knew.
"I know you wouldnít lie to me, Strider, not like I did to you, so I believe you, and I hope this doesnít sound like an insult, but I want you to know that if you canít trust me all the way, well, I understand that, and I wouldnít blame you none."
Strider sighed and smiled a little and shook his head, saying, "The resolute Master Samwise."
And the next thing I knew, he whooshed me up and tossed me over his lap. I was just feeling the shock of those muscley thighs under my stomach when Strider, quick as you please, had my braces unfastened and my britches pulled down to my knees.
Oh! Iíd forgotten how awful this was! How hard this was! How the cool rush of air felt on my bare skin and how I wanted to hide my face forever! I was one hot flush of embarrassment! Just so, so embarrassed! I heard my own grunted whimpers, and then I realized that my sight was blurry because I was starting to cry. And I couldnít stop myself Ė I reached back, covering my bottom, just so, so embarrassed. I heard myself babbling, too.
"Strider, dooooonít! Please, please donít! Iím sorry! Iím sorry! Donít paddle meeee! Please, please pull my britches back up!"
"I intend to spank your sweet bottom, little one, not your britches."
Then I felt his big hand take hold of both my wrists and move them just above my backside, and I felt his other big hand start gliding over my bottom, smooth-like, and then I heard Striderís hummy low voice again.
"Shhhhhh, pretty Sam, hush. Settle down now. There, there. No need to feel ashamed. I know you donít like this, and Iím sorry. But I would not dream of leaving you now. I care too much about you to leave you with all that big ugly hurt inside. Shhhhhh, breathe easy for me now. Youíre a good little hobbit, a noble little hobbit who did a naughty thing, thatís all. Even good, noble hobbits make mistakes sometimes. But theyíre still good, and because theyíre so good, they deserve to be spanked for their naughtiness. Donít they, little Sam?"
Tears ran down my face. I was shaking. I squirmed, but couldnít move much because he held me so firmly. Striderís voice sounded nice, and his hand on my bottom felt good and big and safe. But I couldnít answer him. I couldnít. What he said in his lullaby tone sounded pretty, but those words Ė they were like the ones Iíd used with Frodo to calm him down, Ďlittle oneí words, Ďnipperí words. Part of me felt plain silly, hearing them spoken to me. Those words werenít for me. Not me. They were for my sweet Frodo when he was fussing and he needed to know I was there and he was safe, that someone bigger and stronger was taking care of him. But I was too grown up for those nipper words. And, again, I had to be honest and tell Strider that.
"Shhhh, go slowly, little Sam. Take your time. We are not going anywhere. No rush. Plenty of time."
"Strider, Iím not . . . Iím not Ďlittleí Sam." And I couldnít think of what else to say, how else to tell him that his words werenít for me. I just burst into more tears.
"I know," he murmured. "I understand how strange this feels, but, when you are over my knee, you are indeed Ďlittleí Sam. And there will be no fussing about that. Do I make myself clear?" SWAT!
"AHH!" Iíd cried out before I knew it. I squeezed my eyes shut and arched up and gasped, and I knew in a blink that, ohhhh! This was going to be just awful! "AYE! Clear! Very clear, sir!"
He went back to rubbing my bottom again, and I relaxed down and just cried quiet-like and listened to Striderís soothing tone.
"Good, little Sam. You are good, you know. And you are worthy of so much. Our gentle noble soul. Do not fret now. No more hard thinking. I am here. And all will be well. And when I am finished spanking your charming little bottom, you shall be free again. I know you feel badly about what you did. I know all about that big ugly hurt inside. So, shhhhh. Itís all right. No more worrying, little Sam. I shall not leave you alone with your guilt."
And then . . . then I heard Strider, really heard him, his tender words softening my tight stomach and making me blush all over again . . . and I thought about what he said . . . and I remembered why I was here, the scary dark reason I was here, how my foolishness couldíve hurt Frodo and what a dangerous thing it was to think I knew moreín Strider and how I should never, never have disobeyed his orders. It was a big ugly hurt inside me, and I didnít know how to stop it.
And as awful as this felt, as embarrassing as this was, being bare-bottomed and spread over Striderís lap, seconds away from getting a stinging paddling, hearing nipper talk and knowing it was for me, as squirmy as that made me feel, there were worser things . . . oh, my, much worser things. In fact, this suddenly didnít seem so embarrassing and awful compared to how much those other worser things hurt.
"Strider," I said, barely able to whisper, "please . . . I canít . . . please, Strider . . . make it go away. I . . . I canít make it stop. Please make that big ugly hurt inside go away."
"Aye, little Sam. I intend to."
Poor Sam. It really had been a long time. The first spank is always astonishing, but for Sam, who was so rarely in need of disciplining, it would have felt hideous. So I got it out of the way quickly, using the shock of it to make a point. Now I began spanking him with steady, even firmness. He released a soft bursting cry, then began gasping and whimpering through his tears.
How well I understood his upset! Sam was not like Frodo or Pippin, not like my fledgling, or my beloved Legolas . . . not even like myself. He did not need this kind of attention, not even occasionally. It would simply never occur to Sam to seek this out. He was here as the result of an honest error in judgement rather than a hidden bid for notice. So he would not handle this spanking well, and indeed, he had not thus far, falling apart the moment his sweetly rounded little bottom was bared.
I had known a few individuals like Sam Ė Halbarad, Garrick, Elrond, Glorfindel, a handful of others from my past . . . Gandalf, of course, was another, and that lovably irascible dwarf who believed himself to be as big as any massive human warrior of Garrickís proportions.
Sam was like them. He was one of the most extraordinary souls Iíd ever encountered. He was much like Halbarad in many ways, his integrity, benevolence and his honorable nature almost beyond belief. Sam was clearly at ease in his role as Frodoís servant, although he was the most authoritarian servant I had ever seen, just as Halbarad was the most authoritarian lieutenant Iíd ever seen.
Aye, Sam was comfortable within himself, knowing who he was, and content to be so, but his inherent nature was also one of humble selflessness. And while that was a virtue, Samís self-sacrificing nature had set in motion events that had eventually landed Sam over my knee.
So this was very hard on him. He was already wriggling, his little legs starting to jerk, and he kept pulling his arms as though testing to see if Iíd loosened my hold enough for him to yank his hands free and cover his reddening bottom. His soft weeping was steady, having started before my first swat fell. And yet he knew this atonement was necessary. Poor Sam. He could not bring himself to say the word Ďspank,í yet here he was, having to suffer it being done to him, knowing that he needed it. Aye, I understood, but I also understood something this little one did not.
Unlike my maltreated fledgling, Sam did indeed deem himself worthy of forgiveness. But he was so rarely naughty that he did not know what to do with his shame. Guilt was unfamiliar to Master Gamgee, so he was unable to find a way to overcome it. Unlike Halbarad or the others of that confident nature Iíd known, Sam couldn't create his own absolution. He could not say to himself, "I made a mistake. I have apologized for it. I am still worthy. And thereís an end to it."
No. Sam needed absolution from some source outside himself. He couldnít stop the Ďbig ugly hurtí because he did not fully understand it, where it was coming from and how to destroy it. That was the innocent confusion Iíd seen in his eyes earlier, his sense of bafflement over what was tormenting him, his lost, silent plea similar to Gwinthorian seeking Halbaradís care, and my longing for a rescuer.
And the way to rescue this dauntless hobbit was to take him far away from his typical Samwise levelheadedness and that voice of the Ďbig ugly hurt.í The two were tied together, so to remove the ugliness, I had to silence the levelheaded Sam and make sure that my voice was the only one he heard. Master Gamgeeís powerful sense of self would need to step aside.
Tender words, spoken with quiet sincerity, were a powerful tool, and one I relished using. I delighted in speaking lovingly to whomever was over my knee, and I especially enjoyed it with Sam, for he had needed to hear words that nudged him into a much less adult frame of mind, and I had an unabashed fondness for speaking in that manner, so how delightful that it also served a purpose.
Of course it would unnerve him. I had counted on that. He had actually squirmed with embarrassment. But I knew from experiencing it myself that, deep inside, Sam also yearned for the comfort of being Ďlittleí Sam. He longed for someone to release him from that confusing torment, just as I had longed for my brothers and my Ada and Legolas in his most authoritative bearing to release me from my humiliation.
Samís slight protest was understandable, but that first hard spank took care of that nicely. Sam had calmed then, and listened, and he had reached for that rescue, asked for it, and I had smiled down at his honey-colored curls and vowed within myself to do my best by him.
And now I sensed in Sam a softening, a prelude to full surrender. It had not taken long. His round bottom, adorable as all hobbit bottoms were, was becoming a pretty shade of crimson, and he was kicking more furiously, his weeping now turning to sobbing. More and more he was leaving behind that big ugly voice.
He had stopped trying to yank his arms, so I released his hands to see what he would do. He left them there for a moment, then he dragged them forward, grasped two fistfuls of my breeches and began twisting the material, reminding me of Pippin. Hobbits were so incredibly endearing. I kept spanking him silently for a while, pulling him deeper into that surrender, listening, and watching him closely.
What I heard were penitent sobs, a lament unlike an angry or panicked sob. There was a mournfulness to this sound, and it was what Iíd hoped for from Sam. A penitent sob was a releasing of grief, often puzzling grief. It was the last stage of surrender, an apology to oneself, and coming from this sweet hobbit, who had not deserved the torment he had put himself through, it was like a song.
"You are so quiet, little Sam," I said.
"No-No, Iím n-not! Iím b-bawling!"
I smiled. "Aye, but you are being spanked, little one. You are supposed to be bawling."
Samís answer was an especially loud squall.
"We both know why you are being spanked, donít we?" I asked.
"Be-Because I lied!"
Interesting. Sam had slipped a little further beyond reason than Iíd anticipated. "Try again," I said gently.
"Uhhhh . . . oh, oh, S-Striderrr! I-I dunno!"
"You do know, little Sam."
"May-Maybe Iíll re-remember if you s-stop hit-hitting me!"
I bit back a laugh at his small attempt at sass. "If I stop what?"
"Hit-Hitting! Hitting m-meee!"
"Is that what Iím doing, little Sam?" I tipped his backside up and started paddling his tender underbottom. Sam squealed and thrashed. I increased my hold, immobilizing him, and swatted away. "Well? Am I hitting you, sir?"
"NOOOO! No! No! Nooooo! Aaaaahh! Stop! Stop that!"
"What am I doing?"
I instantly tipped my leg back down and returned to his hot backside. "Ah. I thought so. Aye, I am indeed spanking your sweet bottom. Now, what did you say about remembering?"
Sam just sobbed for a few moments, then he finally whimpered, "I-I Ė ohhhhhh! I-I donít knowwww. P-Please, S-Strider! I really d-donít!"
He was no longer being defiant. Sam had clearly exhausted his defiance on that one attempt at sass. Now he was simply becoming too frantic and confused, and he would need a little help through this.
"You said that you were being spanked because you lied, but that is not why youíre over my knee, is it, sweet Sam?"
Sam squirmed and wriggled, always so useless, but at this point in a long session it was near impossible to keep from trying to inch away from that next swat. He gave up quickly and sputtered, "Nooooooo, n-not Ďcause a l-lying!"
"Perhaps you are being spanked because you disobeyed my orders?"
"Because you didnít drink your athelas tea?"
"And because you gave your share to Frodo?"
"Ah. That was naughty, little Sam, was it not?"
"N-Naughty . . . aye, naught-naughty!"
"Are little hobbits allowed to countermand my orders?"
Sam paused in his sobbing, then hiccuped and spit out, "Wh-What? Do wh-what?"
"Countermand," I said, grinning a bit. "Are little hobbits allowed to ignore my orders and instead do what they want?"
"Ohhhh. No. No, n-not allowed."
I spanked slower now and with lighter swats. He was tiring quickly and he had taken a lot, considering the fact that he had little tolerance built up for this.
"I understand that you were trying to do something good, little Sam," I said in a hushed voice he had to settle down to hear. "And I think you now understand why what you did was naughty. But you know Frodo better than anyone, so in the future, you are to come to me when you have an idea that you think might help him. Do you understand?"
"Do you have something else to say to me, little Sam?" I murmured, now stopping my spanks.
He had been sobbing steadily, but a bit less intensely as I slowed my swats. Now Sam burst into fresh tears and cried, "Iím s-sorrry! So sorry, Strider!"
"Shhhhhh," I said, gathering him up into my arms. "Shhhhhhh. I know, little Sam. I know."
He wept with open abandon, clinging to my neck, burying his face against my chest, repeatedly muttering, "sorrryy, so sorrryyy!" I smiled against his soft locks and cuddled him in a firm embrace, shushing him lightly and rocking, feeling him tremble and shudder while releasing the remains of his anguish. It took Sam a while to slow his weeping, but I kept encouraging him to take his time; we had time, and he was so worth all the time he needed.
He felt so small in my arms. The little ones always feel fragile in my arms, even though I know they are truly the sturdiest of creatures. But holding a halfling fresh from a spanking is a uniquely exquisite feeling. Legolas and Boromir and I had marveled over it once, shamelessly enjoying our fondness for it.
"We probably should not enjoy it so," my fledgling had said with gentle seriousness.
Legolas had cast him a bemused look. "Why not, little brother?"
"Well," Boromir shrugged. "After all, the poor little moppets are crying and suffering."
Legolas Ďhmmm-ed,í then said, "They are crying, I shall not deny you that. But they are not Ďsuffering.í Not really."
"They are and they arenít," I stated. "They are suffering outwardly, but inwardly they are at peace."
"True." Boromir nodded.
Legolas had flashed a soft smile at Boromir. "So I am of the opinion that we are well within our rights to gain pleasure from cuddling an armful of well-spanked hobbit, little brother."
My fledgling had laughed. "I bow to your elvish wisdom, sir!"
"Aye, little Sam?"
"Am I still Ďlittleí Sam?"
"Do you wish to be?"
He lifted his head from my chest and gazed at me, and I had to smile. Samís eyes, red-rimmed and glassy from shed tears, held a peaceful glow, a calm Iíd not seen for days. He looked beautiful.
He smiled shyly, then said, "If itís alright . . . could I be little Sam for just a bit longer?"
"It is more than alright," I murmured. "Stay little Sam for as long as you like."
He studied me closely, and before I knew what I was saying, it was said: "Shhh, no fussing, little Sam. It is all right. I am sure."
Sam gave me a faint look of surprise, then he sighed, and his body relaxed, as though any last doubts he might have had about this had just been vanquished. His eyes drifted shut and he nuzzled close to me again, his arms going around my neck. "Thank you, Strider," he whispered, his lips close enough to my ear to tickle.
I enfolded him against me, rubbing my cheek on his curls, a warm rush of pleasure racing along my limbs. How delightful to be able to give this extraordinary young soul something he so rarely sought. He seemed perfectly content to rest there in my arms, and for some time, I simply held him, rocking slightly, murmuring about how good he had been, and all the small phrases of comfort that he had probably said to Frodo, but rarely heard directed to him. He was so still, and I listened for a change in his breathing, thinking that he may have fallen asleep. But after Iíd been holding him for a while, he quietly said, "Strider?" in a tone that sounded both curious and a bit fretful.
"Mmm? A sudden troubling thought, little Sam?"
He drew back and looked up at me. "Itís probably silly."
I raised a brow.
"Well, I was just thinking . . . well . . . if I was waiting for Frodo to come back from a . . . a paddling, Iíd have that salve of yours all ready and in hand, and I was just thinking that, well . . . ."
Ahhh. Of course. Although Sam had no reason to feel embarrassed in front of Frodo, he would no doubt feel so. Unfortunately, there was no way of avoiding that. But their relationship had shifted since Samís more authoritative side had come forth and he had taken Frodo in hand. Given who Sam was, and who he had now become to his master, he would squirm at the thought of Frodo doing for him what he so enjoyed doing for Frodo.
I smoothed the curls from his forehead and murmured, "I think I see. You would rather I applied the salve than Frodo."
Sam instantly looked torn and baffled and he began struggling to explain what he clearly did not understand himself. "It isnít that I donít want Mister Frodo to do it! I just . . . it just . . . I mean, I know heíll want to do it, and well . . . ." He huffed and made little sounds of frustration. "I-I canít explain it . . . but somehow it just doesnít sit right with me, I mean, Mister Frodo doing that for me . . . I know he Ė he loves m-me, and heíll want to . . . oh! . . . " He heaved a final sigh and gazed at me, adorably pouty in his vexation. "Strider, what do you think?"
It was something I hadnít experienced before, and I needed to consider it for a moment before I could help him. I did understand Samís concern, but there was also Frodo to think about, and a solution to Samís dilemma was not readily apparent.
Finally, the simple truth of the matter provided the only answer I could offer him. I gazed at the extraordinary young hobbit who was nestled so trustingly in my arms, watching me with earnest expectation, and I suddenly realized that Sam had indeed learned a lesson. He was looking to me for help with a problem that concerned his Frodo. He admitted within himself, and to me, that he didnít know what was best, and he was seeking my counsel. I again smiled softly at him, and I leaned down and kissed his furrowed brow.
"I think you are to be congratulated on your wisdom, little Sam. You asked me for my advice about something concerning your Frodo. One spanking has gone a long way."
I waited for him to realize the importance of what heíd done in asking for my help. Sam blinked and thought, and then his modest smile reappeared, his face flushing a bit as he struggled to accept my praise.
I kissed his brow again, and said, "As to your dilemma, I do understand. But regardless of how squirmy it might make you feel to have Frodo tend to you, keep in mind that you are still the same dear noble Sam he loves and respects. No spanked bottom can change Frodoís devotion to you, or lessen who you are in his eyes. He will want to take care of you with the salve as you have taken care of him, and it will give him great pleasure to serve you, to show you his devotion. You must admit that this chance does not come very often for Frodo."
Sam winced and sniffed, releasing a wry grin.
"I think you know how Frodo would react were he to hear that you were uncomfortable with this. So, little Sam, you must ask yourself which is worse Ė enduring the squirminess of accepting your Frodoís loving care, or enduring his reaction when he found out you would rather he did not tend to you. The choice is clear, and yours to make."
Samís eyes widened slightly. He stared at me without seeing me. He was lost in thought, picturing Frodoís hurt, a hurt he would most likely try to bravely mask. Sam really did not need my advice on this. He just needed help sorting it out. And, of course, he instantly knew his answer once the matter itself became clear.
He blinked, Ďseeingí me again, then he flashed me a softly resigned smirk and muttered, "Of course youíre right. That is the choice, and no mistake. And the truth is, Strider, there are worser things than me feeling a little embarrassed about being over Mister Frodoís lap, getting salve spread on my backside. Heíd act like it didnít matter, of course, if I asked him not to, I mean, if he thought it made me feel squirmy. And heíd be full of brave words. I can hear him now: ĎIt's all right, Sam. I understand. Please donít feel badly about this.í
"But Mister Frodo is just about as bad at lying as I am, and heís flat-out not able to lie to me, so his hurt would show biggerín anything behind all those brave words." He paused to watch me gravely. "You know what I mean, donít you, Strider? How my Frodo can look so sad, your heart just breaks? And itís even worse when you know that heís trying to cover up his sadness.
"So, youíre right. Frodo wonít think less of me, and itíll make him happy, and I reckon there are a lot worser things than me feeling a little red-faced. Oh, my, much worser things."
"Ah, gentle-hearted little Sam," I murmured, and I couldnít help leaning down to lightly kiss his small mouth. Then I gave him a playful wink and said, "From what I understand, my salve feels quite good on a well-spanked bottom. I think you will enjoy it enough to quickly forget your squirminess."
Sam glanced away, flustered and blushing with abandon. Then he flitted a sheepish look at me and said, "Anything for my Frodo."