Beta appreciation notes to all my betas – Kat, Helen, Derby and Meghann, thanks so much for watching my back, Team Larrk!.
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these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
Halbarad was watching me. Legolas was, too, although he was slightly distracted. When at home here in Mirkwood, life as Thranduil’s son, beloved young Prince of the realm, occupied my elfling’s time, often drawing him from my side to his father’s.
The Grey Company had been camped within the woodlands of Thranduil’s kingdom for a week. We had arrived after spending some time following the stealthy movements of a company of orcs traveling amidst the lower regions of the Misty Mountains. Their behavior made clear the rise of evil throughout Middle Earth, so we watched them, engaging them in skirmishes off and on. When we were a days’ ride from Mirkwood we moved in for a final time and did away with the lot of them, having learned all we needed to know. We then journeyed on, entering Thranduil’s lands and heading for his court that we might inform him of these matters.
As it so happened, Elrond, my brothers, Glorfindel and several other dignitaries and their entourages were visiting from Rivendell so a joy-filled reunion took place between me and my beloved kin. I decided at once that after many long months of battle and roaming my Rangers could use a respite.
Thranduil welcomed the Grey Company warmly as he ever had. “A most civilized group of humans, near elvish in manner,” he had once called our troop. High praise indeed. Well earned, though, as we kept mostly to ourselves.
When it came to Legolas choosing to live in the world of men, Thranduil had once said, “If I must be without the company of my beloved son, I rest well in the knowledge that he rides with so worthy a troupe of warriors.”
And as to the relationship Legolas and I shared, like Elrond, Thranduil had merely accepted it with the ease and trust of one who saw no error in the wisdom of Love. The king of Mirkwood’s discernment matched my own ada’s. Thranduil and Elrond had ever been firm and devoted fathers, looking upon Legolas and me as though we were both their sons.
Being back in Elrond’s company was always a singular situation for me. He could not help being my indulgent ada, fondly and innocently demoting me to a more juvenile standing. I struggled briefly with the shift in status, but it was also strangely . . . comforting. I refused to try delving into the whys and wherefores of that. It simply was and there was no use fighting it. Legolas found the matter charming, but he could scarce tease too much as his ada tended to do the same to him.
So an adolescent feeling slithered over me more and more and I felt myself coasting into a youthful state of mind. Elrohir and Elladan helped contribute to my boyish standing, my older brothers having an absolute gift for reducing me to the status of a ten year-old. It began the first time they caught me alone.
“Are you truly surprised to see us, little brother?” Elladan asked after the three of us embraced. He then grabbed me and tossed me up high and caught me ‘neath the arms, holding me dangling above him whilst grinning at my useless squirming and my yelps of, “Elladan, no! Stop that! Put me dow – do not – aargh!”
Laughing and ignoring my protests, Elladan had called, “Ro!” Then he flung me and I went sailing through the air, clearly once again the wee youngster my brothers doted upon.
Oh, no. Their cherished ‘Tossing Estel’ game was on. I surrendered to their silly roughhousing with an inner groan, knowing the folly of struggle.
“Ada’s scouts informed him of your heading.” Elrohir snagged me from the air with graceful ease. “So he decided to extend our stay.” He pitched me back to Elladan and they went on tossing me back and forth with every worded exchange. Their affectionate play really was absurd. But ‘twas ever thus. I was their little brother, and I loved being little brother to my elvish big brothers, so, ah well.
“We missed you!” Elladan exclaimed.
“Ada no doubt wished to make certain his little boy was behaving himself.”
“Indeed! He needed to see that his youngest was behaving as befits the son of the Lord of Imladris --”
“Isildur’s Heir --”
“Lord of the Dúnedain --”
“Captain of the Grey Company --”
“Nay, my sons,” came a voice from on high. “For unlike his two older brothers, my youngest does not astonish me by displaying such inappropriate behavior.”
My brothers froze, Elladan pausing in mid-swing, and I hung suspended whilst the three of us turned, looking up towards the staircase. There he stood, frowning down from the upper landing, his eyebrow sincerely arched. Elrond had ever been able to draw upon us unawares.
“Kindly cease tossing your little brother about, my sons,” our ada said. “He is due the respect of all his titles. He is also over eighty years old. Such treatment is undignified.”
“Yes, sir,” Elladan muttered, lowering my red-faced and falsely scowling self to the ground.
I was, of course, grateful to Elrond for putting a stop to my brothers’ nonsense, but I would have enjoyed his rescue more had he not then said to me, “Are you all right, little one?”
I winced and nodded. “Aye, thank you, Ada.”
“Over eighty years old.” Elrohir snorted under his breath after Elrond had left us. “He is still but a little boy.”
Elladan tousled my wild hair. “A mere elfling.”
They turned to leave, Elrohir suddenly tugging me around to give me a playful swat and saying, “Do not forget, Master Lord of the Dúnedain --”
Elladan yanked me away, delivering a swat of his own. “You shall ever be little brother to us.”
I would have objected to their behavior more strongly had I not been so very mature and above taking offense at such folly. But I vow my brothers did their part in helping lure forth what Halbarad called his ‘wild pup,’ a name I considered most unbecoming for Isildur’s Heir.
So Hal was wary and watchful of his pup. My attitude, which he sensed far too accurately for my comfort, was reason enough for his vigilance, but I added another. I could not help myself. It had been a long time between restful periods for our troop and I was unaccustomed to leisure, so I quickly became a bit . . . bored. And Halbarad had long maintained that a bored Aragorn was an Aragorn that bore watching.
But it was not just lethargy that had fully awakened my unrestrained side. I wanted something. Badly. I wanted to learn that marvelous horse trick I had seen Legolas perform years ago.
I had first watched him do it in battle. He grabbed the reins of a galloping horse, hurled himself in front of it, sailed high into the air, swinging over the charging steed in a sweeping arc, then he slammed down into its empty saddle.
Stunned, I had halted in my tracks, drop-jawed on the battlefield. Seconds later Halbarad had roared my name and rushed forth to behead an orc who was about to behead me. That evening I suffered a blistering scolding from my first lieutenant. I had borne it with good grace, counting myself fortunate to not be enduring a blistering spanking instead. Hal looked greatly tempted.
“Never forget who you are, Aragorn! Who you are to your people, aye. But more importantly, who you are to those who love you.”
In the end I had withstood only one quite genuine Halbarad parting swat, which was more than enough. He was right to upbraid me. I had been beyond careless. Nevertheless, that trick had been astonishing to behold! I had to learn how to do it!
Over the years Legolas had flatly refused to teach it to me. But he knew how restless I was becoming in Mirkwood, so after some fresh beleaguering on my part he began to reconsider. His objections were as they had ever been, though, and he argued them vehemently during what turned out to be his last stand one eve as we undressed for bed:
“First of all, it is not a trick, Estel.”
“I have heard you call it a ‘trick.’”
“You know very well what I mean.” He gave me a look, his brows knotted into a straight line over his intense gaze. When he chose to, Legolas could appear frighteningly stern.
“I know,” I quickly said. “Indeed, I do know. Of course you are right. My apologies.”
“It is a technique.”
“Aye. A technique.”
“A battle maneuver.”
“And a very good one, too.”
“It is not a playful stunt.”
“It is not meant for show.”
“Of course not.”
“And it is not meant for men.”
“Legolas, truly, I do understand.”
“It is difficult even for elves. Most cannot perform it.”
“But, I --”
“It would be the greatest folly for a man to attempt it.” He studied me with a frown worthy of Elrond.
“So you have said. Repeatedly.”
“You are simply not strong enough. And your bodies are too heavy and clumsy for such a technique.”
I stared at him. “Thank you.”
“Again, you know what I mean.”
I sighed. “You mean that I am not an elf. I cannot walk atop the surface of snow nor see for great distances nor hear a leaf fall two leagues away, nor leap from treetop to treetop.”
“That is what I mean.”
“I want to learn it.”
“Teach it to me. Please.”
Once in bed I had continued beseeching in a presumptuous manner that eventually made Legolas laugh it was so absurd.
“Stop this at once. Ai! You are behaving like a knee-high elfling! Where is your pride sir?”
“I know not, nor do I care. What is pride when there is such a tri . . . uh, battle maneuver to be learned? Legolas, I want to learn!”
“So I gather.”
“It would help me in battle. It might even serve to save my life one day.”
He stared at me. “Of all the incorrigible pressure! You will say anything to get your way!”
“May I take that as a yes?”
I vow the sigh Legolas heaved left no air in his body. He then cast me a weary glance. “I shall agree to this on one condition only.”
I bit back a cry of delight. “Anything!”
“We shall needs first gain permission to pursue this lunacy. Our adas must approve it.”
He had saved his best for last.
“What?” I flipped over to gaze down at him in horror. “Permission? As though we were elflings?”
“I feel we are acting as such.”
“But we are adults! Seasoned warriors! You cannot be seriou --”
“Those are my terms.”
“But --” I huffed in exasperation. “But they will never agree!”
“You know they will not!”
He shot me a triumphant grin. “You are most likely right. They are wise enough to recognize stupid, senseless risk when they see it. I recognize it as well, but I am more easily coerced than they will be.”
I glared down at him. “That is not fair!”
“I find it most fair. And the fact that you are so upset says much. You also think this foolish.”
“I do not!” I fumed.
“And you think that our adas shall consider it foolish as well, and that you will not be given permission.”
“I do not!”
“Then you need not worry that they will refuse. You shall ask, they will agree, and there will be an end to it.”
Legolas is sometimes able to turn a disagreement around with amazing ease. I continued to fume at him, contemplating how it was that he had maneuvered me about so skillfully.
But, of course, such things all came down to who had the advantage, and clearly Legolas did in this case. He had something I wanted, so the tables had turned between us and Legolas was enjoying that immensely, taking on a dictatorial temperament from which he would not be budged. I had little choice but to accept what was, a situation made slightly more tolerable given my current bent of mind.
“I feel silly asking,” I finally grumbled.
“Good. Then do not ask. But I shall not watch you break your neck unless our adas are fully aware of our doings. Those are my conditions.”
“Please, do not make me do this.”
“There is nothing more to say.”
I glowered at him. “Please . . . I --”
“Come here, Estel.”
And Legolas pulled me down and rolled atop me. Aye, there would be no further discussion. Legolas could not be moved when exerting his authority. I was in for a long night of Legolas exerting his authority . . . not necessarily a bad thing as he did it quite well. There was, indeed, nothing more said.
Elves are the most obstinate race in Middle Earth.
The next morning, determined to make this as difficult for me as possible, Legolas forced the issue when we left the dining hall even though Glorfindel and my brothers were still in our company. I had intended to ask for our adas’ consent in private, but when Legolas blurted out an indiscreet, “Estel has something to ask you, Lord Elrond, and you, Ada ,” I was obliged to beg my wretched permission then and there, my brothers and Glorfindel watching with barely concealed amusement whilst I inwardly writhed. Writhing was clearly what my beloved prince had in mind. I decided to fume at him until the end of all time.
Rising to the challenge, I voiced my proposal with a casual air and as much dignity as I could muster. I vow I could feel Legolas struggling to keep from rolling his eyes skyward. A moment of deafening silence followed. Then Glorfindel burst into laughter. My brothers joined him.
I swallowed hard. I could withstand this. I could. I was above a little teasing. I pictured myself sailing in a graceful arc over a racing steed. I pictured myself, a mere human, mastering a difficult elvish battle maneuver. I was certain I could do it. And when I performed the move in front of them they would all have to eat their attitudes.
“What maneuver?” Elrond asked, his face tight with bewilderment. Thranduil mirrored my ada’s expression. I suspected that these two experienced warriors of old knew very well what I was asking and were also trying to make me squirm, attempting to decipher just how much I wanted this by feigning perplexity and forcing a more detailed explanation. I wanted this very much indeed. I remained calm.
“Trillium’s move,” Glorfindel offered, still chuckling. “The boy wants to attempt Trillium’s Sweep.”
Aghast, the adas looked at me.
“I forgot that it had a name,” Legolas muttered.
“Indeed it does, my son.” Thranduil’s frown was every bit as ominous as Elrond’s.
“And were Lord Trillium at court he would likely be laughing as much as we are,” Elrohir said.
“Estel --” Elrond began in his, I-am-about-to-flat-out-refuse-this-request tone.
“Ada, please!” I exclaimed, my face bursting into even more heat. I confronted all these high elves with their expressions ranging from disapproval to outright amusement and I held my ground. “Please. I shall be extraordinarily careful. I shall practice only when Legolas is with me.”
“If you fall and break your neck it will not matter that Legolas is there witnessing it, youngling,” Elrond said, always so inconveniently wise.
A wave of disappointment washed over me. I had no defense against such logic. And then, to my surprise, Glorfindel stepped close to Elrond and Thranduil and asked for a private word.
Elrond lifted a brow and Thranduil gave a nod and they moved off to speak privately. I watched, wishing again for the hearing of an elf. But even Legolas and my brothers dared not listen in. Such disrespect was unthinkable. So we all silently watched the elders deliberate. They finally returned.
“Our friend makes you a generous offer, my son,” Elrond said. “He is permitting you to practice this nonsense from the back of his trusted mount.”
Asfaloth! Glorfindel’s mighty elven mount! I gasped, astonished by this honor. “Really?” I exclaimed. “Really?” Now I truly sounded like the boy he had called me.
“Yes, really.” Glorfindel released his quick and ready laugh and tousled my hair. “At least make use of Asfaloth whilst behaving like a ten year-old, little Estel. He has more sense than you do.”
“Asfaloth will not allow you to fall,” Elrond said. “You are to practice only with him. Do not ever attempt this on any other steed.”
I foolishly blurted out, “But, Ada, my mount is --”
“No!” Elrond glared at me, freezing the words in my mouth. “No other horse but Asfaloth! He alone will be able to keep you safe. Do you understand?”
“Aye, Ada.” I gave a solemn nod. “Only Asfaloth.”
Thranduil turned to Legolas and said, “You are in full charge of this, my son. Use your good judgement. If after some time it becomes clear that Estel cannot do this thing, you must end it at once.”
“And,” Elrond said with his most stern glare, “if and when Legolas concludes that the lessons shall end, you are to abide by his ruling without argument. Is that clear?”
“Aye, Ada. I will!” I said, too excited by now to be annoyed by this small factor. Their treatment had been humiliating, but I cared not. They were agreeing! And if my beloved Legolas was the one making the decision as to whether or not the lessons continued . . .
But my brothers had been watching me too closely. Elladan said, “Ada, do you think Legolas the best person to decide when the lesson ends?”
“No offense, sir,” Elrohir said quickly when Legolas bristled and shifted his stance. “But Estel can be a beguiling force and you are, perhaps, more easily won over than would be another.”
“If our meaning is clear,” Elladan added.
“Oh, ‘tis most clear indeed,” Glorfindel said with a clever grin, Legolas glaring at my brothers. “And ‘tis a point well taken.” He looked at Elrond. “Perhaps I should also supervise and add my opinion as to when the lessons should stop.”
And so the next morning, after we had broken our fast and the sun had burned the slippery morning dew from the grass, Legolas and I headed down to the Western Meadow. Glorfindel met us there with Asfaloth.
“I shall retrieve him,” he had said, rather than allowing the stablemaster to meet us there. “I can then explain the situation to Asfaloth on the way and inform him of what he needs to do.” And such was all that noble mount would need to know.
The Western Meadow had been chosen for my training ground as it was not visible from the palace and Elrond had forbidden my brothers to form a possibly disruptive audience. Only two others joined us that morning, there at the invitation of our adas.
Halbarad and Gwin stood watching from one side of the field. Gwin was clearly bored, but my lieutenant was poised at full alert, his legs spread in his ready stance, his muscled arms crossed over his chest and his intense gaze following my every move. To say that Halbarad was seriously displeased when learning of all this would have been a profound understatement. He was, in fact, calmly livid.
But Halbarad was a courteous man. He had been communicating with Elrond regarding my progress long before I joined the Grey Company, both of them sharing a respectful admiration for one another and an abiding love for a certain Isildur’s Heir. So Halbarad would neither criticize nor condemn any decision Elrond made with regards to me. But my lieutenant was most unhappy with a certain Isildur’s Heir for pursuing this matter to such a degree. I confirmed his displeasure on the eve of my training:
“Are you truly upset about this, Halbarad?” I had cautiously asked when no others were near.
He had merely looked off, puffing his pipe and narrowing his eyes. Few people could make me squirm the way Halbarad and Elrond could. It seemed most unfair that both were present in Mirkwood to unnerve me at the same time.
“I plan to be careful.”
“I am fully aware of the risks.”
“For mercy’s sake, sir, Asfaloth will not allow me to fall.”
“Nay, sir, he will not,” Halbarad finally said, still gazing off. “But I wouldst prefer it was unnecessary to trouble that noble steed.”
I sighed and muttered under my breath, “I doubt Asfaloth shall voice an objection.” That earned me my lieutenant’s full attention. He turned to me so quickly that I immediately exclaimed, “Pardon!”
Hal gave me a deep and measured look. “I shall be watching closely, my wild pup.”
And so Hal did. He watched me crash to the ground again and again. Asfaloth did not allow me to fall. But the challenge of this move, and what had clearly given everyone concerned pause, was what I needed to be able to do before I even hit the saddle.
I had to race directly into Asfaloth’s charging path, grab his reins, make a mighty leap and swing upwards, sending myself sailing into that high sweeping arc – hence the name, Trillium’s Sweep – then down onto the saddle. Most of the risk, therefore, took place before Asfaloth could help me. He did maneuver himself beneath me the few times I became airborne, a task that likely he alone could have managed.
But the only times I did become airborne were when Legolas and I timed it perfectly and he could grab me by the waist as I ran by and throw me into the air before scrambling out of Asfaloth’s oncoming path. I flew! High, high into the air! Then Asfaloth’s reins pulled me back and I swung over, sailed down and slammed into the saddle! Ow. A jarring blow, but the actual doing of the trick, ahhhhh, what a marvelous feeling!
I had not, however, achieved that flight under my own power. The best I had managed was a small pathetic leap into the saddle, mostly hurling myself against Asfaloth as he thundered by, a fumbling last ditch grab of the saddle, then jumping up and swinging myself into it, leg first. I had done that a hundred times. How common. It was nothing near the same as the huge, flying, sailing arc of Trillium’s Sweep.
Legolas had made it look so easy. And he honestly did his best to teach me. But the problem was exactly what he had predicted it would be – I was not an elf. My human body simply could not do what it needed to do. I had not the capacity. I tried my best, using every ounce of energy within me to achieve that great huge leap. It was not enough, though, and that was completely maddening.
“Aside from a few small details your human body looks no different than an elvish one, but it is constructed in different ways. It has unique needs and constraints,” Elrond had told me when I was a youth and once again raging at the unfairness of being unable to do everything my brothers did. “Yes, your muscles are strong and lean, but they are also more dense, heavier, and in need of a great deal of energy to perform. So you must care for yourself with sleep when needed and accept that there are some things you shall ne’er be able to do. There is nothing wrong with you, my son. You are simply human, not elfkind. The sooner you accept the truth of who you are the more content you shall be.”
I cannot say Elrond’s wise words had much effect. All my life I had tried to achieve an elvish standard, and at the moment I was very unhappy indeed. My frustration urged me to my feet again and again, ignoring how much it hurt when I hit the ground. After a dozen times I felt every fall more intensely, my body screaming for me to stop.
Of course, Gwinthorian cared not, but I was surprised that my other three guardians allowed me to continue. I felt their concerned gazes upon me, my embarrassment and anger surging each time I failed. I dared not look at Hal. But several times I accidentally glimpsed him from the corner of my eye and caught his flinch at my moment of impact.
After every fall I scrambled to my feet, a task that became more difficult each time. “Again,” I would gasp, and I vow I could feel Halbarad practicing profound restraint to keep from charging forth to demand that Legolas stop this absurdity.
When we broke to dine at midday, my lessons ended for good. Asfaloth had done a commendable job, but he could not do what was needed – he could not increase my strength. And, in the end, it was clear that strength – or, rather, my lack of it – was the problem.
Legolas made it look easy because he had massive quantities of elvish power upon which to draw, enough to propel him into flight with one great leap. I simply did not have the leg and upper body prowess necessary to achieve that flight. It was a crushing blow, but I had no intention of giving in to it. Since lack of strength was the issue I simply needed to discipline my muscles, increase my stamina. Bodies could be trained to behave as we demanded. With practice I was certain I could do it.
When Elrond and Thranduil joined us at the field for a report ere we went in to eat I did my best to appear unaffected whilst asking for more time, even though I ached so profoundly that it took much concentration to keep from gasping and limping. I should have saved myself the effort. Halbarad’s stony face spoke volumes. That, combined with Glorfindel’s uncharacteristic solemnity told my ada all he needed to know. As for Legolas, he was adamant that we were not returning to the practice field, completely sealing my fate.
“It is finished, my lords,” he said in a hushed voice, clearly too shaken to say more.
“Legolas allowed this to go on for longer than I feel ‘twas comfortable for him to permit,” Glorfindel informed the somber adas. “I vow he was trying to grant Estel every opportunity he could, e’en though I believe all present, save the lad himself, quickly knew it was not to be. I was disinclined to step in, but I could scarce bear watching much more of it myself.”
“Enough then,” Elrond said with a nod, and after I had regretfully thanked Asfaloth, all of us bestowing appreciative words of praise upon the tireless mount for his efforts, Glorfindel led him away and we returned to the palace.
“These were the conditions to which you agreed,” Elrond reminded me when I began a fresh protest during our meal. “Legolas was to have the final word upon it. He has given his ruling, and Glorfindel has concurred. There is an end to it, sir.”
At my sullen silence Elrond then said, “Estel, look around you. All who were there today, save young Gwinthorian, still appear shaken by what they witnessed you endure. They love you, my son. Legolas, Halbarad, Glorfindel, even little Gwin, love you and care about you. You know this. I vow Glorfindel is chiding himself for having let you abuse yourself for so long. And as for your lieutenant, you are fortunate ‘twas not he in charge of stopping you when he felt enough was enough. Halbarad would likely have hauled you from the field after two attempts.”
“But, this was only my first endeavor,” I said.
“‘Twas also your last.”
“Ada, please, I need more time!”
“With practice my legs will grow stronger. But I must keep at it in order to condition them to . . . well, to p-perfor --”
I swallowed hard. Elrond was staring at me as though I had taken leave of my senses, his brow dangerously arched. He leaned closer and said, “Heed me well, little one. Should I hear one more word of this I shall excuse us from table, take you to my chambers, turn you over my knee and spank you until the furthest thing from your mind is the desire to practice Trillium’s Sweep.”
My cheeks flooded with heat whilst beside me I distinctly heard Legolas sputter a mouthful of drink. Incredibly rude of him to have been listening, not that Elrond seemed to mind.
“Now then, this matter is closed,” he said, his tone carrying a smoldering warning.
I sat there, blushing horribly, feeling mortified, feeling as though all those nearby had heard my ada threaten to spank me and feeling like a well-chastised elfling. After a few minutes Elrond leaned closer again and murmured, “Come now. Cease your sulking. There is naught to be gained from pouting save my increased displeasure. So be wise my son and put this behind you. Think on something else. The diplomatic gathering tomorrow, perhaps.”
Oh. Marvelous. That was just what I wanted to do – think about donning dress garments and attending a reception tomorrow. Elrond knew how I dreaded these events. I suspected he brought it up to help me concentrate my fury in another direction. Ever the brilliant strategist, my ada.
I groaned. “Ada, may I not go with Halbarad and my Rangers instead?”
“You know you may not. You are expected here.”
“But my brothers will be here. They can serve in my stead.”
“I would have all my sons with me. You have long been afield. Many who watched you grow up will be in attendance, expecting to see you.”
I groaned again and looked away, knowing I was pushing Elrond’s limits of patience. But I cared not. I was irate and frustrated and every move hurt. And I certainly did not feel like putting on fussy dress garb and being civil tomorrow! Elrond turned to me again.
“Aside from my wish that you attend this function, your Rangers will be leaving at dawn. Do you think it wise to spend most of the day on horseback, given what you just put yourself through? Nay, Estel. It is unthinkable.”
In truth it could have been argued that I was my own master. As Elrond himself had said, I was over eighty years of age and I had earned my honors and the right to my adulthood and my self-determination.
But when I was with Elrond, as it was when Legolas was with Thranduil, there existed between us an unspoken code of conduct, a covenant of respect owed by a son to his ada that supplanted all other convention. Being considered Elrond’s son was an honor, so it was a privilege to make myself answerable to him. For, just as my brothers had rightly observed that I would always be their little brother, Elrond would ever be my ada, worthy of my obedient deference.
However, that did not mean I always liked being obedient. In fact, at times it brought out the absolute worst in me. At the moment I felt humiliated and angry and I had no desire to be distracted from that.
I could be off with my Rangers tomorrow, expending some of my furious energy, even though I knew it would likely be painful to ride. The journey would be a short one, providing additional support for an insufficiently guarded caravan of goods headed for Thranduil’s domain through an area that had recently been suffering increased trouble from wandering brigands. It was just the kind of thing I would have relished after feeling so inadequate. Perhaps there would even be a nice little set-to with some vicious evildoers in need of taming - ahhh!
But instead of ridding Middle Earth from some of her villains, I would be here, dressed up, cleaned up and behaving myself like Lord Elrond’s good little mortal son. I sat and seethed, my feelings, I was certain, well noticed by those who kept casting me wary glances. I cared not!
“I should be with my men, Ada,” I grumbled, pushing the food around my plate with my knife. “I am their Captain. They need me.”
“Lieutenant Halbarad will have matters well in hand.” Elrond turned a fresh frown upon me, and said, “Your attitude is becoming too apparent. For the last time, cease your sulking. And eat your meal, Estel. Do not play with it.”
Was it possible to feel further humiliated? Another hot surge burst through me and I near hurled my knife to my plate in a useless display of temper. If Elrond insisted on treating me like an elfling I should at least enjoy the fun of behaving like one!
But suddenly Legolas clamped a restraining hand over my leg and squeezed hard enough to make me flinch, effectively distracting me. Leaning forward past me to speak to Elrond, Legolas said, “I believe Estel to be too weary to remain at table, my lord. He had a long and difficult morning. Mayhap it would be best for all concerned if he and I finished dining in our chamber. I shall make certain he eats well.”
Aye, it was indeed possible to feel further humiliated. I truly did plan to fume at my elf for all time. I withdrew into my rage and went silent whilst Elrond thanked Legolas for his fine suggestion and gave his approval.
“Consider yourself fortunate that I spoke when I did, ere you found yourself over your ada’s knee in front of my ada’s entire court,” Legolas said later.
I winced and tried to avoid envisioning that. So, of course, I saw it all too clearly.
We lay in bed, obeying a message from Elrond ordering me to rest during the afternoon and to drink the soothing tonic he sent with the messenger. The tonic had relaxed me very nicely indeed. But though my abused and throbbing body becalmed, my mind refused to do the same. Legolas held me close to his side, half draped over him – so familiar and comforting a pose.
“You were spoiling for a fight, melleth nin,” he went on. “I can think of no worse target for your anger than your ada, nor a less likely place to indulge in a temper tantrum than my ada’s dining hall.”
“Temper tantrum indeed!” I growled and tried, thankfully in vain, to pull away from his arms. “Will you kindly refrain from using these degrading terms?”
“I am speaking the plain truth in plain terms. I am sorry you do not like hearing it.” He sighed then he murmured on in his ‘trying to settle Estel’ tone, his lips against my hair. “I know it is oft times difficult to be treated like this by our adas. I know you are disappointed and you are frustrated. For what it is worth, I was proud of you. And I truly do understand --”
“No, Legolas!” I exclaimed, lifting my head to look at him. “I am pleased to know that you were proud of me, and I do know that you have compassion for me. But you cannot fully understand what this is like! You were right. I am not strong enough, and I have no say in what my body will do. As I am not elfkind, I simply cannot perform as an elf.”
“I have ever suspected that you were not elfkind.” He chuckled whilst I again tried to struggle free, and when I had relaxed against him once more he said in a quiet voice, “Estel, you are wholly wonderful enough as you are. How I wish you could see that.”
I sighed and took a long lock of his silky hair in my hand, twisting it through my fingers. “I longed to do it because it looked . . . magnificent,” I muttered. “And because I thought it might aid me someday. I was not doing it to prove myself.”
“Ah, sweetling.” He murmured. “Were you not?”
I scowled down
at my dress garb. They were comfortable clothes, elvish made, soft,
finely textured and of the perfect weight, never too hot. But unlike
my elegant, modest forest greens at home, these were too . . .
ornate. I felt silly. Mirkwood styles tended to be more elaborate
than what was standard in Rivendell. But, of course I had ever been
appreciative of the splendid garments Thranduil had gifted me with
“I like the blue. It suits you well, though you ne’er wear it,” Legolas had said the first time we stood together before the glass, both of us wearing our new apparel, tunics of understated shades of blue shot with silvery mithril threads. The vestments were very different from each other, the color being the only similarity. Still, for some reason it made me blush.
Legolas had grinned. “Do you mind this, melleth nin?”
“Nay. Of course I do not mind.”
I watched him now, positively shining, flashing his gentle, irresistible smile whilst moving with graceful confidence around the Great Hall, stopping here and there to talk, his people eager for his company. Their beloved Prince had returned home. He kept seeking me out, his searching gaze returning to this spot in which I had chosen to remain, withdrawn but present. Aye, Legolas. I am here. And I am behaving. It was almost as though he heard me each time, and he would send me his quiet grin.
I had been making the rounds of the Hall, sometimes with Legolas and sometimes with Elrond and my brothers for hours now, even though I still ached from my practice session at the Western Meadow the morning before. I enjoyed our kinsmen from Lorien. But I had grown weary of mingling and so had begged a respite and had taken up a spot near one of the doors to nurse my mostly untouched wine and my profound boredom.
I stood stiffly, longing to be off with my Rangers, adventuring and engaging some savage beasties bent on mayhem. And I knew that Gwinthorian, standing beside me, felt the same way. He was there at the request of his sovereign:
“My guests are oft disappointed to learn that the comely elf with the ethereal voice no longer resides in Mirkwood,” Thranduil had said whilst visiting our encampment several days earlier. “Therefore, young Gwinthorian, I shall relieve these good Rangers of your mischievous self for the day and evening. When the entourage from Lorien arrives your presence is requested at my court, sir. We eagerly await your good company and your first song.”
‘Requested,’ not ‘commanded,’ for Gwin was now considered a Ranger, and as such he was subject first to my rule and to the mandate of the Grey Company. Not that Gwin would ever refuse the king of Mirkwood anything. He returned the deep affection Thranduil had bestowed upon him since Gwin was an elfling first come to court, and to refuse Thranduil’s request, especially whilst enjoying his hospitality, would be unthinkable.
But it was Halbarad’s quiet insistence that overruled Gwin’s discontent when we learned that my Rangers were needed elsewhere. Halbarad had been ill at ease with leaving Gwin behind, but he led the Grey Company forth at dawn, trusting that Gwin could behave himself for a day.
So it was a snarly Gwin who stood sulking at my side after a morning of socializing and singing. We both were of similar foul moods. Gwin sighed. Thinking to distract him from his melancholy, and just because I felt like stirring up a little trouble, I leaned closer to him and murmured, “I hear that some of what the caravan is transporting hence is a shipment of Dorwinian wine.”
Gwin flashed me a scowl just to scowl. Then he thought about what I had said and he looked off, thinking. “Oh?”
“You are certain?”
“So I hear tell.”
“Hm.” Gwin studied the wine in his goblet, swirling it around. “Hmmmmm.”
“It has been a while since you have enjoyed some, has it not?”
“Aye. Quite a while.”
I grinned. “I advise against luring Legolas down to the wine cellars for a little thievery. Our prince may be privileged, but Thranduil would take a dim view of stealing. As would I. As would Halbarad.”
He ‘tsked’ at me and looked off. “I was thinking no such thing.”
“I am glad to hear it, for you know what Halbarad would do to you. I feel certain you have not forgotten the first lesson he taught you about the thieving of Dorwinian wine.”
Ahhh, the fair of face! Gwin went positively rosy. This was fun. I chided myself a bit for beleaguering Hal’s elfling. Had Legolas been doing this and I was in my right mind, he would be getting a stern glance from me.
But I was not entirely in my right mind. I ached and I was irritable and feeling awkward in this elaborate clothing and the day was not yet half over. I was just as miserable as Gwinthorian was, so I allowed myself some harmless delight in teasing him.
“Aye, Hal dealt with you very well indee --”
“‘Hal?’” Gwin gasped. “‘Hal,’ is it? I see! Now that he is not present to hear you it is suddenly ‘Hal.’”
I chuckled at his startled look. “I called him Hal long before you did, little Gwin.”
He scowled anew, ever so amusingly possessive. After sulking for a moment he muttered, “I am going to tell him you called him Hal.”
Of all the absurd --! I burst into a short laugh. “Go ahead and tell Hal,” I said. “I care not. He will either chuckle at your silliness or give you his bemused look.” Having sunk to Gwin’s level, I wallowed there more: “In fact, let me know when you plan to tell him of my insolence. I would like to be there.”
Gwin studied me for a long moment. “You are certainly in a mood of late. I vow Devon was right.”
Best to ignore this little snare of course, especially given the impish gleam in Gwin’s eye. But I was curious . . . . “Right about what?”
“He said that when you are with your ada and your brothers and they are treating you like a little boy you start to behave as such.”
Well, thank you so very much, Dev. I scoffed. “Devon does not know everything.”
“Hmm.” Gwin kept studying me with irritating closeness. “I wonder. Dev is every bit the Dúnedain you are. And, now that I think on’t, your behavior of late bears him out.”
“Nonsense,” I said. I leaned down to look directly into Gwin’s wide eyes. “Now you shall cease this at once, or when Hal returns I shall be the one doing some telling.”
“And just what will you tell my Hal?”
“I shall tell your Hal that you were a tiresome, teasing bratling in his absence. He warned you that you were to stop plaguing me with your veiled taunts, remember?”
Gwin huffed and cried, “You started this!” He turned away, but my threat had struck a chord. “Oh, very well. Forgive me for offending your tender sensibilities. Faith but you humans are a delicate lot.”
His impertinence was astounding, even for Gwin. But it bespoke his anger about having to stay behind today. Much as it was an honor to be singled out for his singing and requested to appear by Thranduil himself Gwin would have of course preferred to have been off with the Rangers instead of here in Thranduil’s glittering Hall, dressed in sumptuous clothes and being fawned over and admired because of his voice and his charm and his beauty. What was all that compared to spending hours in the saddle beside his Hal, slogging through a dark, dank forest?
Feeling frustrated and vengeful the night before in camp, he had made me the target of his wrath, dropping snide remarks about my failure to perform Trillium’s Sweep until Halbarad had informed him in no uncertain terms that such taunting was offensive to all and disrespectful to his captain, and that Gwin would cease his behavior at once else Hal would assume that Gwin’s mouth needed a good cleansing.
“And should your pestering be of a particularly abusive degree, I shall forego the soap and warm your backside instead, that you might have a more sound reminder of the unseemliness of ridicule.”
Gwin had stopped his teasing at once, but his anger grew and festered.
Knowing that Gwinthorian could shatter others with his skillfully phrased words, I thought it best to stop him in his tracks lest he get too far down that pathway. I turned a stern look upon him. “Any more of this, sir, and I vow I shall start taking you down word for word that I may then offer Halbarad a written report when he returns.”
“I am stopping! But first I really must add that it was quite a performance you treated us to yesterday morning.”
Oh no. We were back to this again. Clearly he had not heard me. I ignored the simmering tingle within. No. No, this pest of an elfling would not bait me!
I shifted from foot to foot and asked, “How would you know? I question how much you even saw. You were paying no attention.”
Gwin snorted. “Was I not? Really, sir, crashing to the ground in that graceless fashion, time after time. Ew. Faith, Aragorn! ‘Twas as though you simply could not grasp the lesson nature was trying to teach you. It was embarrassing to watch. I tried not to do so. I tell you truthfully, I averted my eyes out of pure respect. That is likely why you thought I was not watching.”
I snorted back, refusing to swallow a word of this prattle. This was merely Gwin at his brattiest. Yet, his needling stung. Aye, it did sting. I shifted my stance. It was difficult to be teased about my failings when I was so stiff and sore and bruised because of those failings. Legolas had been greatly dismayed by the bruising when first surveying the damage last night as I lay on my stomach, especially the damage done to a certain part of my body. Ducking into bed and quickly covering myself with a sheet had helped not a bit. He had swept it off at once and gasped.
“Ai! Estel! Your backside!”
“Your bottom! Your sweet, sweet bottom! Just look what you have done to it!”
“No, thank you. OW!”
“You deserved that.” He rubbed my bruised rear, then his hands moved over my body. “Here. And here. And here. Everywhere! On your hip and your legs. Big terrible bruises. Do they hurt?”
“No,” I lied. Why upset him further with the truth? “OW!”
“Hmmph! I thought as much. Liar.” He sighed.
“Aye, well, if you insist on whacking me like that, of cour --!”
“Why did you keep going? Stubborn, stubborn Ranger-child!”
“You know why,” I said.
“You were trying to make a point, prove that a man could perform Trillium’s Sweep.”
“Aye, and I still say I could have done so, had I been allowed to – OW! OW!”
“I feel certain you were not going to say what it seemed you were going to say. You made a point, sir, indeed you did, by falling over and over again on your poor abused bottom.”
Without thinking, I shot back, “When you have me over your knee you also abuse my poor bottom quite wel – OW! Legolas!”
“I must have been addled. I let you continue for too long.”
I sighed and braced myself up to look back over my shoulder, noting the colorful display that had my elf in such an uproar. It really was ghastly. Glancing up at his scowling pout, I grinned. “Pretty color. I rather like it. OW! Stop that!”
“‘Pretty?’ Aye, it is pretty dreadful!”
“OWWW! And you are making it worse!”
Gwinthorian released a tragic sigh. “I suppose you were trying to prove some kind of point, something along the lines of men being as good as elves, or as capable as elves, or some other such rubbish.” He forged on, circling like a hungry warg smelling blood. I was suddenly reminded of a certain cave and a fire and Dev with a broken leg and circling wargs. In comparison, Gwin’s badgering had simply become tiresome.
“That is enough, Gwinthorian,” I said in my best authoritative voice.
Such a warning from me was usually enough to make Gwin behave. At any other time my rule was as valid to him as was Halbarad’s. But this little one was clever and observant. He knew that I was at something of a diminished capacity – thank you again, Dev.
So here was an opportunity to enjoy insolence with impunity! Such was rare, especially when I was the target, for though I had threatened to report his behavior to Hal, Gwinthorian knew that I would not do so. I fought my own battles. No matter what he cared to say, Gwin knew that Halbarad would hear none of it. So this clever elfling was clearly of a mind to make the most of both my situation and Halbarad’s absence.
“Well there’s gratitude!” he exclaimed, oh so wounded. “I am trying to be compassionate, sir. In truth, Aragorn, I felt badly for you.”
“Aw, Gwin, ‘tis good of you to care. Now you shall be silent on this matter, or I promise you --”
“Very well! No more threats, please! I shall stop. But I believe I deserve to be treated with a bit more courtesy for having endured that tedious show yesterday. It would have been far more sporting of you to have accepted your human limitations and cease making a spectacle of yourself.”
I often envied Hal his right to discipline Gwin. At the moment I longed to haul him off, wash his mouth out with Mirkwood’s most highly scented soap, then spank him for the cheeky bratling he was. I felt certain that, under the circumstances, Hal would not begrudge me the privilege.
But my pride and my anger were quickly transcending any other thought or desire. They filled my mind, making it difficult to form a reply. Gwin the warg circled closer:
“It is all right, you know. You need not feel ashamed. None think less of you for what you are unable to do. You are only human, Aragorn. There is naught you can do about that.
“And I hope you are not angry about being forbidden to continue training. After all, everyone has your best interests at heart, and ‘tis plain that you are unable to make good decisions for yourself about such a matter.” He gave a wry sniff. “If they did not know that fact before yesterday, they certainly know it now.”
I stared off. I was not listening. Hmm. Interesting choice of colors that elf had on. Not at all flattering. I wondered if he could perform Trillium’s Sweep. He was an elf, after all, so . . . I was not listening. I wonder how many of these assembled elves could perform Trillium’s Swee--
“So, I am certain you agree that ‘tis for the best, my lord. You made a good effort, but you are not elfkind, and no mere man shall ever be able to perform Trillium’s Sweep. To continue trying to make a point would have been a further waste of your time and Legolas’ and everyone else’s, not to mention taxing poor Asfaloth needlessly.”
It mattered not a whit that I knew what Gwin was doing. The ferocious bite of his words was all that mattered, blinding me to reason, and the only thing that filled my mind and made my blood pound furiously was a need to do that which I so fervently wanted to do, what I knew I could do! Perhaps all I needed was just one more try, or perhaps two . . . .
I scanned the room for Legolas, spotting him in the far corner with several of his kinsmen, examining a new bow, testing it and passing it about. As though sensing my gaze he turned quickly, seeking me out once again and smiling when he saw me in my same spot. I lifted my chin in greeting and he nodded once and went back to the bow and his company. Ah. Appeased. I turned to look at Gwin . . . .
A feeling of dread washed over me. Pure, sick, dark and ominous.
It had been building for some time, but I could not find its source. I thought perhaps the Grey Company was riding into the scene of an attack upon the caravan, e’en though there had been no reason to suspect trouble ahead. The morning scouts reported all was well and the caravan was making good time, heading our way. And ere long it came into view, drawing closer, the escorts waving both arms in the air. Riders were approaching to greet us, our own heading forth to speak to them, all was well, and yet that dread was now maddening. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong . . . .
“I feel it, too.”
I flinched at the deep voice next to me, and turned. Garrick’s expression was grim. I glanced at an anxious looking Dev on the other side of him, and suddenly I knew – Aragorn. Something had happened to my pup . . . no, not yet . . . but something was about to happen to him. And just as horrible, the feeling was compounded by another – Gwin. Aragorn and Gwin were in trouble!
“Halbarad, go,” Garrick said in a rare urgent tone. I shot him a look. “Matters are well in hand here.” He tugged his head back towards Thranduil’s kingdom, several hours away at my mount’s fastest pace. “Go!”
He need not have told me twice, nor encouraged me further. We shared a final nod and I spun my horse around and sped away, heading back to Thranduil’s court, near ill with apprehension . . . .
Tiernan’s family had been Royal Stablemasters to the King for generations, but I had never seen one of them in my ada’s Great Hall. The moment I saw him there, hovering in the doorway that led to the gardens, I experienced an eerie sensation.
Tiernan shifted his weight from side to side and twisted his hands, his anxious gaze locked upon my ada who stood beside me talking to our guests. Seeing my notice, the stablemaster quickly waved to gain my further attention. No need. I was already striding his way. Suddenly I glanced towards the place where Aragorn had been lurking, Gwin at his side. They were gone. A hot jolt of fear shot through me and I picked up my pace, rushing now.
My ada appeared beside me, Elrond beside him, the three of us weaving our way through the guests. Tiernan looked increasingly worried at our approach and when we neared him the poor fretful elf could scarce speak clearly.
“My liege! M-My lords! Perhaps I-I should not be . . . t-‘tis none of my business . . . and, and perhaps Lord Aragorn had permission to take Asfaloth, but when he --”
He did not need to finish. We broke into a run, racing towards the Western Meadow, Glorfindel, Elladan and Elrohir now with us, no doubt having seen us hurrying over to speak with Tiernan.
I could scarce breathe. Aragorn would not do this. He would not! Knowing the risk, knowing the danger, knowing it was forbidden – nay! Nay, he would not! The twins, too alarmed to remain quiet, held a brief and fear-filled debate:
“Ada, Estel is not so foolish,” Elladan said.
“Nor so disobedient,” Elrohir added.
“Even if he is, Asfaloth will not obey him,” Elladan offered.
“Glorfindel, is’t not true?” Elrohir pleaded. “Estel cannot force Asfaloth to --”
“Ai, lads!” Glorfindel said in a hushed tone. “Nay, if he senses danger Asfaloth will not obey Aragorn. But think on’t! Such is what we fear! What might that foolish boy do next?”
The twins gasped and we sped on, six elves in dress robes and tunics flying towards some possible horror we dreaded finding. And when we rounded the last bend of shrubbery that blocked the meadow from our view, I focused my sharpest gaze towards the far end of the field, seeing what I prayed I would not see.
Asfaloth stood at the edge of the meadow, observing the action further downfield. There, galloping towards Aragorn was his own mount, Arien, Gwin on his back, no doubt to guide him. Aragorn was already running forth reaching for the reins, nearly intersecting Arien’s path.
We all cried out at once, fear gripping our throats. Another voice joined in, not words, but a deep and thunderous roar. I glanced to one side. Halbarad was leaping down from his mount, a huge blur of warrior, bolting towards Aragorn. How? What was he --? I could not think – run! Just run! We raced towards Aragorn, everything happening at once, instantly, yet at a slow, ghastly crawl.
Aragorn caught Arien’s reins and began the leap he had ne’er been strong enough to accomplish; Gwinthorian swung both legs to one side and kicked himself free from Arien’s back; our chorus of ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ boomed across the meadow with Halbarad’s terrified roar and Arien panicked.
He whinnied and reared. Yanking his reins he hurled Aragorn skyward, sending him flying at such a speed that he was unable to control his fall as he had the day before when he kept failing to make his leap. He careened down and smashed to the ground with sickening force.
We sped on, all converging where Aragorn now lay in a crumpled heap, Gwin kneeling over him. Aragorn was, blessedly, groaning. Not unconscious, not screaming, but gasping for each ragged-sounding breath. Halbarad snatched Gwin up and out of the way, pulling him into his arms whilst I fell to my knees on one side of Aragorn, Elrond on the other. Aragorn’s eyes were open, glassy with pain.
“Shhhhhh, I am here. We are all here, your ada and Halbarad, all of us. Shh. Breathe easy.”
Aragorn, being Aragorn, made an idiotic move as though to rise. He immediately went pale, gasped and fell back, Elrond and I scrambling to support him.
“Let that be a lesson to you, my son,” Elrond said, his voice lovingly chiding. “Lie still.”
“Ada --” Aragorn sucked a sharp breath, looking as though he might be sick. “Sorry! S-Sorry, ada!”
“I know,” Elrond said. “But this is not the time for sorries. Quiet, Estel. I must check your injuries.”
“H-Hurts to br-breathe,” he stammered, gasping, clearly embarrassed. “C-Chest, ribs . . . I-I think broke - broked r-rib-ribs . . . m-must be . . . and-and my ar --”
“Your arm. Aye, ‘tis fractured to be certain, along with several ribs. But you must hush now, little one. Listen to my voice. Breathe lightly, slooowwwly . . . eeeeasily,” Elrond murmured in a low, mesmerizing tone. “I needs check you ere we can move you within,” he crooned, turning Aragorn with delicate care.
Aragorn closed his eyes in quiet surrender and pressed his lips together into a tight line, his familiar stalwart look when he was injured. Elrond quickly went to work, his healer’s hands moving with tender surety over his son’s body.
I sat back on my heels, watching, then I suddenly glanced upwards, noticing Gwin for the first time since Halbarad had swept him up out of the way. His feet dangling, Gwin hung in Halbarad’s arms, half-covered by his cloak, his wide eyes focused intently upon Aragorn.
I stood and stepped closer to them, studying my kinsman. Gwinthorian, ferocious in battle and as rugged a warrior as any Ranger in the company, now looked like a frightened child bewildered by the outcome of a game gone badly. I glanced at Halbarad’s grim face.
“Stunned merely,” Halbarad murmured, reading my concern. “He shall be fine. He cannot stop shaking, but my Gwin shall be fine.”
I nodded, then said, “You . . . you knew something --?”
“Something,” he grunted. “Not what, but . . . something.”
Awed by his insight, I had no words. I again dropped my gaze to Gwin, worried by his spellbound state. Reaching out I stroked his silky head and he glanced at me as though suddenly seeing me there.
“Oh, Legolas!” Gwin said, his voice soft and vague. “I-I-I . . . s-sorry. I tried to get him to stop! W-When he – when Asfaloth ran away, and Arg-gorn, when he said that his horse could do it, when he said we were going to get Arien, I-I tried to tell him, but, sorry, Leg’las! I-I could not --”
“Shhh, Gwin. Not now. As Lord Elrond said, there will be time for sorries later.”
“But Aragorn is hurt! B-Bad, bad hurt --”
I ‘tsked’ and ‘shh-ed’ him again and said, “Aye, but we have seen him injured before, in battle, many times, just as we all have been, you and me and Halbarad, Dev – all of us.”
He might have been dazed, but Gwin was still too sharp to accept my weak argument. “Not like this! Leg’las, he-he smashed to the ground! H-He hit so, so hard!”
“Aragorn could not be in better hands, sweetling,” I said, struggling to keep my voice calm. “Lord Elrond is one of the greatest healers in all Middle Earth. And Lerin arrived just this day with the entourage from Lorien. Aragorn shall have two great healers seeing to him, though indeed his ada is more than enough. He shall be wonderfully well attended.”
“But, Legola --”
“Hush, Gwinling,” Halbarad commanded in a quiet voice. Gwin bit his bottom lip and buried his face against Halbarad’s broad chest as though he could bear to watch no longer.
Halbarad and I exchanged a meaningful look. It was not difficult to work out what had likely happened. I had glanced several times at Gwin and Aragorn during the reception, an uneasy feeling perched in the back of my mind, a small inner voice whispering that I should separate them. If only I had heeded that voice!
“Two broken ribs and a broken arm,” Elrond now said, easing back with a sigh.
A rush of relief coursed through me. I found, to my surprise, that I had been shaking and was shaking still.
I turned to look at Halbarad again. He was kissing the top of Gwinthorian’s head, but he was staring directly back at me, plainly speaking to me as well, and I felt as warmed by his calm and steady gaze as Gwin no doubt felt in his arms.
“Shhh,” he repeated. “‘Tis all right now, little one. All will be well.”
It is odd that elves are the finest healers, as they ne’er are ill. My ada is one of Middle Earth’s most esteemed healers, yet what he and Lerin had done was amazing even by elvish standards. It hardly seemed possible that my bones could mend in merely two weeks. But it seemed they had.
I opened my eyes. Lerin was moving quietly about my chamber, his tall graceful form gliding from the bookcase to the desk. He paused and put down his book, then said without turning, “So, you have awakened, little Estel.”
I sighed at my popular name amongst the High Elves. Would I ever be anything but ‘Little Estel’ to them?
“Aye. ‘Tis good to see you, sir.”
Lerin turned to cast me a quiet grin, and before he could ask the question he asked every time he began a visit with me I said, “I am feeling much better.”
He quirked a brow, half-grinning to himself and strolled my way.
“Where is Legolas?” I asked.
A typical Lerin short response. “Out? He has scarce left the room for two weeks,” I said, sitting up and leaning back against the pillows. “How did you get him to venture out?”
Lerin sat on my bed. “Sound reasoning. And when that did not work I placed him outside your chamber and sent him off with a swat and the promise of more if he returned ere your dinner arrived.”
I chuckled. “An entire afternoon away from our chambers? He shall be unhappy about that.”
“He shall survive the hardship. Come.” And Lerin pulled back the bedding, picked me up and dragged me forth, standing me between his spread legs. Would I ever feel older than ten years of age when amongst these elves who watched me grow up?
Reaching beneath my nightshirt he laid his enormous hands over the two ribs that had been fractured and waited, his head bowed, as though listening to my body. Then, enclosing my arm in his palms, he did the same.
“The speed of your recovery is becoming legendary far and wide,” he murmured as he worked. “‘Tis being called miraculous.”
I winced to know I was being so discussed.
“But your ada’s healing gifts are legendary.”
“As are yours, sir,” I said. “You are too modest.”
Lerin had no response – again, typical of him, but he removed his hands and straightened my nightshirt again, silent and with a thoughtful look on his face.
I tried to wait patiently, then finally I asked, “I am healed, my lord?”
He paused, then said, “Your ada should tell you, little Estel.”
“Your judgement is as his, though,” I insisted, my forebearance near gone. “He said so. Ada shall concur with your decision. And you know he will not mind that you gave me your opinion first.”
Lerin’s expression remained unchanged, but a moment later he said, “Mmm. I shall likely be sparing him the disagreeable task of facing an ill-humored son who has been waitng all day for a determination.”
“That wouldst be a great kindness, sir,” I said.
Narrowing his eyes at me, Lerin stood, lifted the coverlet and waited for me to climb back into bed. I would have objected had I not wanted something from him, so I obediently went back under the coverlet and waited, watching him sit again on the bedside.
“I shall give you the good news first – your arm is indeed completely healed.”
I could not help grinning. I had suspected as much. “Aye, it feels perfectly fine now. And the bad news?”
“Your ribs are completely healed as well.”
I grinned anew, then thought for a moment. “Oh.”
Lerin actually chuckled. “Well said.”
“I-I am most grateful, of course, and pleased, but. . . .”
He cast me an indulgent glance. “But you are not eager to face what now awaits you.”
In fact, I felt more than ready to be disciplined for my actions. During the past two weeks I had tormented myself inwardly for what I had done and for what I had caused my loved ones to suffer, all for a childish longing and a selfish desire to have my own way. Was I eager to be spanked for my misbehavior? Valar save me, indeed I was! But I also was not. And Gwinthorian shared my feelings, for those who decided our fate concluded that since I had to wait until I was healed before I could be safely disciplined, it was only fair that Gwinthorian wait as well.
Several days after the incident Gwin and Halbarad, Glorfindel, Elrond, Thranduil and, unfortunately, my brothers, assembled in my chambers to hear a full account of what had happened. Gwin was chosen to do the explaining, a good decision, for Gwin had ever been a fine storyteller. I knew he would be fair, and if his memory somehow failed him I would gladly step in and offer him aide.
So Gwin began with our mutual taunting at the reception, although he was spared the need to repeat our interaction word for word.
“We can surmise the gist of it, Gwinthorian,” Thranduil had said. “‘Twas enough to provoke a powerful reaction. No need to regale us with the particulars.”
Visibly relieved, Gwin continued, telling of how Tiernan had released Asfaloth only under duress, and of how the wise mount had then refused to cooperate, escaping to the far end of the meadow and forcing us to return to the stables to retrieve Arien. He then told of how I pressed him into riding Arien, saying that it was only fair he do so after tormenting me into returning to the Western Meadow. All true. Gwin had objected strongly and I had cared not a whit.
“I vow that is when Tiernan thought it best to seek out a higher authority,” Gwin had said.
“I do vow,” Thranduil breathed, frowning intensely.
“Thank the Valar,” Elrond added, his frown just as intense.
They were all frowning in their own degrees of severity. But there was also a measure of compassion in their gazes. They knew how badly we felt.
After the great confession I spent my days healing in our chamber, Legolas always with me. According to Devon, who visited several times, Halbarad was keeping Gwin under close supervision, as he always did after Gwinthorian had done something dangerous enough to have become terrified.
Halbarad wisely knew that Gwin found comfort in being allowed little freedom after carelessly tempting Fate. And in this particular instance Gwin was likely to try earning himself some immediate disciplinary action rather than having to wait. So Halbarad was keeping close watch and not giving Gwin the chance to court trouble.
But several days ago, when my mending was near complete, Gwin had somehow managed to slip away from his Ranger. Having just stretched out for my enforced afternoon sleep, Legolas and I looked up in surprise when Gwin burst into our chamber, shut the door, and turned to me in near tears.
“Precious hearts of the Valar, Aragorn!” he cried. “Have you not healed yet?”
We had just started gaping at his blasphemy when seconds later there came a firm knock and the door swung open, gently whapping Gwin and shoving him backwards. Halbarad stepped in.
“Lose something?” Legolas asked.
Hal looked behind the door where Gwin stood in wide-eyed silence. “Not any more,” Hal replied, and he held the door open for his distressed elfling. “Sir,” Hal said, and it was all he needed to say.
Shooting me a look filled with angry desperation Gwin headed out, scooting under Halbarad’s arm and keeping his backside from Hal’s swatting range. But Halbarad had been practicing restraint, so, much to his real dismay, Gwin need not have feared Hal’s reach.
“Sorry to disturb you,” Halbarad said, grabbing Gwin’s arm before his elfling hit the corridor.
“Not at all,” Legolas replied, and the door closed.
I understood Gwin’s impatience. He had been enduring his wait to be disciplined whilst witnessing Hal endure his wait to discipline us, and that had to have been unnerving.
For, of course, Halbarad had been ‘chosen,’ so to speak, to discipline us both. This was fitting. Like Gwin, I was also subject to the mandate of the Grey Company. Halbarad was my first lieutenant and my second in command. If I could not perform my leadership duties, he was next in line. And never had I seen Hal more delighted with that station.
But as we were visiting in Mirkwood it was proper protocol that the lord of the domain give some ruling, even if such a ruling was for appearances alone. Thranduil generously shared his authority with Elrond and Glorfindel in this matter, and after Gwin had finished his storytelling confession, Thranduil announced their ‘choice:’ Halbarad would attend to our disciplinary needs. The announcement was mere decorum, though. The duty had been Hal’s all along.
In his typically efficient manner, Halbarad made it known then and there that he would discipline Gwin and me in the presence of each other and with Legolas allowed to attend. My brothers eagerly offered their services as further witnesses, or perhaps Halbarad would like some hands on assistance? My lieutenant merely shook his head and the elders found his decision to be quite satisfactory.
Thoroughly scandalized and appalled, I listened in silence. For a long time I had enjoyed a near exclusive role of authority, spanking Legolas when he needed it, often when Halbarad was also spanking Gwin for the same naughtiness. So it was bad enough that Hal would be spanking me, given my current status in our social hierarchy.
But to be spanked with Gwin? In his presence? Nooo, no,no,nooo! Such was an added humiliation I had not seen coming. I had been uncertain as to what to expect, but I had never expected to be placed on the same level as Gwinthorian! Something exploded within me. I slammed my fist onto the bed and began to yell, my words pouring forth before I even thought about what I was saying, much to the astonishment of all, including myself:
“No, no, nooooo! That is not the way things work! No! Halbarad spanks Gwin and I spank Legolas! That is the way of things!”
Flushing bright red, Legolas said, “Estel. Hush. You shall damage your ribs.”
“But, I am captain of the Grey Company!” I bellowed on. “I am Halbarad’s equal! Nay – I am his superior officer! His Captain! I do not deserve to be demeaned in this fashion, alongside his bratling of an elf!”
Elrond, his brow ominously raised, said, “I vow you could do with a bit of humbling, Estel. Be grateful, my son, that I am not dealing with you myself.”
I saw no reason to be grateful, and I opened my mouth to say so, but Halbarad’s smoldering, “That is enough, little boy.” instantly silenced me.
It was, indeed, enough. All was silent. I cast a sheepish glance around at the astonished faces staring at me, my words echoing back through my mind and, I vow, ricocheting ‘round the chamber walls. I longed to melt beneath the bedcovers.
Days later Elrond allowed that he felt my tantrum indicated that I was taking too high a dose of the tonic he had prepared to help quiet my discomfort. It had served to subdue my sense of propriety as well. I regretted my outburst, but only because it was ill-planned and I sounded hysterical. Secretly I had meant every word.
Temperaments were indeed fragile the first few days after my accident, though, when the shock was raw. The more powerful the fear the longer it takes to ease from the heart, and what I had done had frightened my loved ones badly.
There was nothing anyone could say to me that I had not already said to myself ten times over. However, my loved ones were the wisest and most thoughtful of souls. They knew how badly I felt, but they also knew that inner wounds would fester and grow, causing far more damage if nothing was said.
So, although it hurt to listen to the pain I had caused them, listen I did. I had wronged those who cared about me, and they had the right to tell me how my thoughtless actions had affected them. I vow it hurt worse than did my physical injuries, but I was grateful those concerned engaged in some healthy scolding. It was a generous act, allowing me to begin on a road to atonement. Only Hal would be spanking me, but they could spank me with their quietly stern and sincere words of fear and with the hurt in their eyes. By the Valar, it was compassionate of them to do so.
Of course, my brothers were the exception. They had their own way of dealing with their little brother. No quietly stern and sincere words for them. Oh, no. The first day Elrond had given them permission to upset my tranquility they exploded into my room with expressions that said all that needed to be said. Nevertheless, they had plenty to say, beginning with Elrohir’s bellowed:
“Ohhhh, how we wish you were ours to spank, little brother!”
“We plan to offer your lieutenant a sizeable bribe to allow us the right to share you,” Elladan exclaimed.
“Failing that, we plan to offer him a hefty sum for allowing us to have at you when he is finished.”
“If indeed there is anything left of you.”
“Rumor has it that Halbarad is all but pacing the corridor outside your room, waiting to hurl you over his knee.”
“If only we could watch!”
Ever a tactful pair, my big brothers.
“GENTLEMEN!” Legolas had cried. “Has he not been battered enough?”
“NO!” came their unanimous reply.
After ten more minutes of playful and not so playful scolding, they quickly exited much to my relief. I was surprised they quit when they did as they clearly were having a marvelous time tongue-lashing me, but Legolas found out later that Elrond had ordered my vengefully loquacious brothers to meet him in just fifteen minutes time from when he had allowed them to have at me. My wise ada.
And so, two weeks had now passed, during which time Legolas and I had remained in our chamber. I had mended and slept and downed my ada’s tonics and worn his poultices and we had entertained the occasional visitor. By all rights I should ne’er have healed this quickly. But a great deal of other healing had occurred during those two weeks, especially when all concerned had been given fair hearing and I could begin to make my amends by listening with grace.
The rest would be up to Halbarad. All concerned trusted him to represent their interests well. As did I. I could never accept absolution from anyone’s mere words alone. Full atonement was going to require more than that. So while I was more than ready for what I knew was coming, I was also most emphatically and positively not.
For beneath my lieutenant’s patient composure, and despite the blistering scolding he had given me, rivaling any blistering scolding he had ever given me, Halbarad was still most emphatically and positively simmering.
So I knew what this was going to feel like. Halbarad had been simmering many years ago in the Ettenmores, the first time he had taken me over his knee. He had been simmering at other times as well when giving me a spanking. If I gave it thought I could have likely catalogued each one. But for some reason that first time in the Ettenmores kept coming to mind, and at present memory was serving me all too well when it came to a spanking delivered by a simmering Halbarad. Oh, indeed. I knew what this was going to feel like.
Lerin now reached over and tousled my hair. “Such a woebegone look, little Estel. Your reluctance to feel entirely pleased about healing so quickly is justified. But you are also too modest, for ‘twas your mind helped heal your body at such a speed. Your Rangers are calling it a miracle. Indeed it was, but ‘twas also sheer force of will. Your force of will. A desire to heal is the most powerful tonic there is. Deep inside, you know this, for you are elven raised and elven wise.”
I studied Lerin, his words stirring my insides and tightening my throat. A grin entered his otherworldly gaze. “Aye, indeed, you know this. You helped your ada and me heal you, and you did it at such a pace because you were eager to receive what you so richly deserve.”
Lerin’s eyes glittered and he chuckled with gentle seriousness at my stunned expression. “Ah, little Estel, how much you are dreading what you are so longing for.”
I vow Lerin had some Dúnedain blood in him.
As was usually the case when he behaved in an appalling manner, Aragorn had something stirring deep within him. So I would save my pup for last and take Gwin over my knee first.
I rarely had such concerns when it came to Gwin’s needs. My elfling’s wants were simple and ever the same – attention, attention, ever attention. Gwinthorian’s hunger for it was insatiable. It was one reason why we were so perfectly matched. Gwin craved attention and I loved giving him all the attention he craved.
So my elfling would go over my knee first, which would please him and not please him. But when he was well-spanked and Legolas was holding him and calming him, I would be able to take all the time I needed to with Aragorn. And he would likely need much time.
The problem that had driven him to such potentially ruinous extremes was clear to me and to the others who loved him. But I knew my pup. Aragorn was going to need convincing in order to accept what he needed to accept. And that was just fine with me. I had spent two weeks looking forward to convincing Aragorn of that which had made him forsake sanity and near kill himself. I had also spent that time struggling with my regrets for failing to handle the matter ere it came to this.
For I had first noticed it shortly after our glorious Lord of the Dúnedain, had arrived at the Ranger camp many years ago. How young he had been, radiating an otherworldly air, standing so majestically between his two elvish brothers. And how hungry he had been to prove himself . . . aye, this problem had been apparent way back then, and while it had been of concern to me, I had never before seen the need to address it. Until now.
Very well. Address it I would. I was most keen to do so. In fact, my observant corporal had noticed my enthusiasm.
“Eager are we?” Garrick had asked several days ago when it seemed clear that, amazingly, Aragorn’s time of healing was drawing to an end.
Casting my old friend a look of mild surprise, I had said, “What makes you ask that?”
Garrick had snorted and said nothing more, and that was plenty.
Now he sat quietly watching me from the corner of his eye. This had been going on for some time. I stared at the fire and smoked and continued to ignore him. He continued to pretend not to notice I was ignoring him. Finally he cleared his throat and removed his pipe.
“You shall be at it all day tomorrow, then?” he asked.
I nodded. “We are meeting Legolas and Aragorn at mid-morn.” I stroked Gwin’s soft hair, my elfling laying sound asleep, his upper body stretched over my lap just as a sleeping Devon was stretched over Garrick’s, a common arrangement for us all. Gwin’s slight body kept twitching with exhaustion, as he had been wakeful for the past five days and nights.
“And you might spend the night there at the palace.”
“Perhaps. I cannot say for certain.”
Garrick grunted. We had discussed this earlier using nearly the same words, but such was my corporal’s manner of lending support. He remained at hand offering his attentive inattention. On occasion he asked a question he already knew the answer to. It was an oddly comforting, old language between us, the devotion of friendship – simply being present. He studied me from the corner of his eye. . . .
“Stop,” I said, gazing at the fire.
“You could not have dealt with this afore now,” he said. “Our young captain would have just denied it and there you would be.”
Frightening, Garrick’s level of insight. I cast him a look of mild exasperation.
“Halbarad,” he said in a quiet tone. “You have not been neglectful.”
This was something Garrick often said to me, and he was usually right, but this time --“He might have listened to me earlier had I --”
“Nay. He would not have. You know how ‘tis with Aragorn. You could ne’er have simply told him this truth and expected him to accept it. He learns through his own experiences, and they are oft times hard lessons. You cannot spare him that by simply telling him something.”
“‘Tis the same for most,” I said.
“But with our young captain it oft seems to involve pain.”
“Aye.” I shook my head. “If you could have seen him, my friend, trying and trying to master that cursed stunt . . . .” I gazed off, seeing it yet again, wishing I could not.
“Go on,” Garrick said patiently asking to hear yet again what I had told him before.
“He ran right into the path of that charging steed, his arms stretched out, reaching for the reins, only seconds to grasp them lest he be run down, and when he did grab hold, he took his biggest strides, near running directly under Asfaloth’s hooves.
“Then he leaped.” I paused, seeing it again, repeated again and again . . . . “He could only get so far, time after time. Of course he could not become airborne, save the times Legolas threw him, but he would get high enough to be yanked back by the reins, then SLAMMED to the ground, usually on his rear or his hip or side, since he had been twisting in mid air. . . .”
And every time he smashed into yet another heap I flinched. I could not help myself. My pup, hitting the ground, a loud, ‘OOMMPH!’ an explosion of breath escaping him, every limb jerked from the impact. Sometimes his head snapped back, his dark hair a tangled cloud around his face. I vow I felt a jolt of pain ripple from him.
It made me ill. And it did Legolas, too. His smooth face was tight with anguish, pale and ghostly. I wondered how he could tolerate it, keep letting it go on. I wondered how any of us could. Glancing at Lord Glorfindel I knew that he, too, was watching with dark disquiet. I still could not fathom why we let it continue. Any one bad collision, any wrongly twisting fall could have damaged Aragorn beyond repair. He could have hit his head and never awakened again or broken something unfixable, shattering bones that would never mend correctly . . . .
Such are the possibilities that take place in battle, too, but those risks are undertaken for a purpose. This risk was all for the sake of a daring trick and to satisfy Aragorn’s hunger to be what he was not.
“You would have done exactly what Legolas did,” Garrick now said. “You had to allow him to continue. You and Legolas showed him the greatest measure of love.”
He was right. It would have been easier on Legolas and me had we stepped in. Stopping my pup would have served us both and done nothing for him.
“Witnessing his pain was not easy, but you did so for his sake. You have ever given our young captain exactly what he needed, Halbarad.” Garrick made a small chuckling sound that drew my eye. He watched me with his wry grin. “I have no doubt you shall do so tomorrow as well.”
“It shall be my pleasure.”
“I am going first, Aragorn.”
I turned to Gwin, mildly incredulous. “Excuse me?”
“I said I intend to be spanked first. My Hal will likely choose me to go first anyway, but I still intend to volunteer. I just thought you should know.”
We were making our way to the library, Thranduil having offered the room to Halbarad for this disciplinary event: “It is quiet and isolated in that far wing of the palace. You shall have complete privacy.” Complete privacy sounded very good to me indeed.
I shot a half-glimpse over my shoulder to where my lieutenant and Legolas were following us, fairly closely. They had either not heard Gwin’s muttered declaration, or they did not care to acknowledge it. So I turned back to frown at him.
The issue of spanking order had not occurred to me. After waiting two excruciatingly long weeks to be relieved of my massive load of guilt I was simply relieved this day had finally arrived. What did it matter who went over Hal’s knee first?
But Gwin’s cheeky high-handedness hit hard. He shot me a cocksure glance, looking like a pretty and spoiled princeling, daring me to object. Clearly I had best not even try. He had decided what he wanted. Gwinthorian wanted to go first and, by the Valar, Gwinthorian would indeed go first!
Suddenly spanking order mattered very much.
“You just thought I should know, eh? How considerate of you to keep me informed, sir. But, I am curious, what makes you think you have a say in this?”
He sniffed. “I suppose you think you have a say in it.”
“As much as you do.”
“Come now, Aragorn. Until a moment ago, what did you care?”
“I simply said nothing because I knew the right to go first was mine.”
Gwin scoffed. “I think not!”
“It makes perfect sense.”
“Indeed? How so?”
“I am Captain of the Grey Company.”
Gwin seethed. “And?”
“It should be obvious. The right is due me because of my rank.”
“Rank?” Gwin wrinkled his small nose. “Rank has nothing to do with spanking order, sir.”
“I disagree. Rank is everything. And as you have no rank, little Gwin, ‘tis I who shall be going first.”
“Rank indeed!” Gwin made a sound of utter disgust.
“As I said it makes perfect sense.”
“Not to me! And as I choose to not recognize your idiotic ran --”
Halbarad could pack much into one word. I suddenly realized that we were standing outside the library, Legolas and Halbarad frowning at Gwin and me. I fidgeted beneath their glares, trying to recollect just how long we had been standing there quarreling and sincerely hoping we made it inside to the privacy of the room before Halbarad’s composure gave way and he picked up Gwin or me and began spanking there and then. In such an event I would be happy to let Gwin go first.
“That. Is. Enough,” my lieutenant murmured quite loudly indeed. Hal appeared riled to a menacing degree. I took a step backwards, suddenly feeling a bit too close to him. Eyeing us like a hungry warg he growled, “I vow that if I could spank you both at the same time I would.”
And if anyone could do it, Halbarad could. He grabbed Gwin’s upper arm with one big hand and mine with the other and marched us into the library. Legolas followed, closed the doors and threw the bolt with an ominous clink.
Striding towards a grouping of divans and chairs, Halbarad muttered, “I cannot fathom why either of you would imagine you have a say in who goes over my knee first, but let me assure you, gentlemen, you do not. I made this decision some time ago, and your preferences had nothing to do with my choice.” He shoved me down onto a big chair and dragged Gwin a few steps further. “I thought to give you a chance to spend some of your anxious energy by letting you bicker, but I have heard quite enough.”
He sat on a big divan, yanked Gwin to him and turned his elfling over his knee. Gwin hit Halbarad’s lap with a soft cry and I grimaced, waiting for that brat of an elf to dart me a cheeky grin.
“Do not dare taunt Aragorn with a victorious smirk, Gwinthorian,” Halbarad said, ever atop all possibilities. “Legolas is watching. Should you be tempted to gloat, I shall be vexed to learn of your bad manners. I am vexed enough as ‘tis. You do not want to vex me further. Am I making myself clear, sir?”
Gwin nodded rapidly. “Aye, Halbarad.”
I felt somewhat consoled. I truly had not cared who went first. I had simply cared about Gwinthorian’s intolerable attitude.
He looked fully subdued now. Hal pulled Gwin’s tunic up and his breeches down baring his creamy soft and vulnerable looking bottom. Knowing what my lieutenant was about to do to that bottom, I cringed and struggled to quiet my fluttering stomach.
Gwin’s was surely fluttering more. He had already begun his preliminary whimpering. Ohhh, those awful few seconds after one’s backside was bared and before that first spank crashed down – oh!
Legolas sat down on the arm of my chair and reached behind me, smoothing his hand over my back, a silent, ‘I am here.’ I looked up and he dropped his gaze to me and we exchanged a warm glance before Halbarad gained our attention by wasting no time in delivering his first loud swat. Gwinthorian’s response was louder:
I had seen Hal spank Gwin so many times I could not begin to count them. When Gwin and Legolas ran afoul of fair behavior together, Hal and I oft spanked them at the same time. Witnessing Gwin’s spanking now should have been nothing out of the ordinary.
But it was. When we spanked our elves together I was not a spectator. I was busy attending to my own duties. I would hear Gwin’s wild carrying on and Halbarad’s low conversation, but I rarely so much as glanced over at Hal whilst I was attending to the sweet backside ‘neath my hand.
Now I was required to pay complete attention to this, and watching Gwinthorian being spanked suddenly became wholly . . . intimate. It was also horrible, because I was going to be stretched out over that lap next, Hal’s paw-like hand smacking down on my bare bottom over and over in that same manner. I was witnessing what was about to happen to me, with Gwinthorian expected to watch me just as attentively as I was watching him now.
I had dreaded this ever since Hal had announced his intention to spank Gwin and I together. When visions of the scene had crept into my mind I had not allowed myself to think about it. And now I was unprepared, with no coping strategy in waiting. In truth, though, nothing could have prepared me for the actuality of this.
Each time Hal’s big palm swatted down Gwin jerked and yelped and writhed, his round bottom bouncing and growing more pink with each blow. I longed to stop looking, and yet I had to look, and not only because Halbarad was insisting I watch, but because I was suddenly drawn to the fascinating sight. I could not help pressing down into the seat of the chair and fidgeting and trying not to fidget, but wholly aware that I wanted to fidget more and more. And I kept fighting the urge to squeeze my legs together tighter. I could scarce think what was happening to me! And Hal’s hand kept falling and Gwinthorian’s pretty bottom became rosier and shinier . . . .
Suddenly I was moving. I had jumped up! I was striding away, stalking off, my legs carrying me somewhere, anywhere away from that sight! I headed for the hearth and the soothing fire – there were more big chairs there – good, head for the chairs. I could still hear of course . . . .
Halbarad stopped spanking. Oh. That did not bode well. I had hoped he might not notice.
“Aragorn. Halt,” he ordered. “Look at me.”
I had been responding to Halbarad’s commanding tone since he first directed it my way in the Ettenmoors many years ago. I froze and turned to him, blinking at his stern frown. Oh. My lieutenant was seriously cross with me.
“Return to your seat. At once, little boy.”
“Uhh . . . nnnoooo? I-I would rather not, Hal.”
A long quiet pause, then: “No?”
“I mean I-I wouldst rather not . . . I do not want . . . I do not want to watch! Please, Hal. I-I do not!”
“That is not your choice to make, sir.”
“But, why Hal? Why? Is there some reason why I must watch?”
My lieutenant looked ready to tumble Gwinthorian from his lap and put me in his place. He turned to Legolas and lifted a brow, and Legolas, clearly eager to assist, jumped up and advanced upon me in such an aggressive manner I felt compelled to seek refuge by stepping behind the chair nearest to me.
“Wait! Wait!” I grasped the top of the chair, feeling less than safe with this being the only object between me and my rapidly closing elf. “May I just sit here quietly waiting until you are ready for me? Perhaps – perhaps read a book?”
That brought Legolas to a standstill. He paused to gape at me, then he turned to Halbarad with wide eyes and a look of pure astonishment. I bristled. I did not think it such an outrageous request.
“No,” Hal said.
“But I-I do not want to watch, Hal!”
Suddenly Gwin released an anguished snarl, lifted his head and wrenched around to face me, crying, “A-Ar’gorn, you silly ass! S-Stop calling him Hal! AHHHHHHH!”
“I am in no need of assistance, thank you, my foul-mouthed Gwinling.”
“AHHHHHHH! Aye, s-sir! S-Sorryyyyy! OWWW! Sorryyyy!”
Halbarad looked at me, then he turned back to Legolas and nodded.
My elf was fast. Ere I could blink Legolas was upon me. He clamped my forearm in his strong grasp and towed me back to our chair, ignoring my desperate pants of, “but-wait-I-nooo!” Sitting once again, he spread his long legs and yanked me down between them, my back to his front, his arms wrapped around my chest.
Now held immobile I recoiled under Hal’s frown and wondered what had possessed me. “I suggest you behave yourself, little Estel,” Legolas murmured in my ear. “Else I fear you might ne’er sit again.”
Sound advice. I sat in defeat and cringed, suddenly realizing just how many times I had called Halbarad Hal.
“I require more than simply your presence in the room, Aragorn,” my lieutenant said. “I expect your full attention.”
Sputtering from his last few intense swats, Gwinthorian darted me a scorching look that surely matched his scorched backside whilst Halbarad, still seriously cross, had a few more things to say:
“You entered into this pact of dangerous horseplay together, Aragorn. You took Asfaloth without Glorfindel’s knowledge or permission. You knew you were only to practice that ridiculous stunt when Legolas was there to help you. Gwin goaded you on and you took the bait. So you will be spanked in the presence of each other. Now attend!”
And Halbarad’s long arm rose once more over that pretty pinkening and vulnerable bottom. He spanked down and I vow I jerked as much as did Gwin. He, however, spoke for both of us:
Well, I had done it now. Pondering how many meals I would needs take whilst standing in Thranduil’s dining hall, I did, at last, attend. As I had expected, Halbarad meant business. He spanked Gwinthorian in silence for a while, as was his usual manner, glancing at me too often for me to do anything other than pay attention, so I tried to watch without getting overly pulled in.
But Gwin’s performance was loud and difficult to ignore. I comforted myself by recalling that this was simply his standard procedure when over Halbarad’s knee. I wouldst ne’er behave so disgracefully. I would preserve my dignity. I would.
Gwin squalled and yelped and bucked and wriggled and squirmed over Halbarad’s lap until Hal finally paused and grunted, “Very well,” and began to shift Gwin around.
“Nooooooo!” Gwin cried, “Noooo, H-Hal, pleeease! No, I-I will be g-gooood!”
“You are being very good, Gwinling,” Halbarad replied, closing Gwin’s flailing legs between his to lock them down. “You are also suffering from far too much freedom of movement. I shall help you with that.”
“B-But I do not w-want help!”
Halbarad chuckled softly. He drew Gwin’s arms behind him, holding his wrists at the small of his back, and now Hal had indeed helped with Gwin’s excessive freedom of movement. Gwinthorian could now scarce move a muscle. But his rounded bottom was tilted up over Hal’s thigh at a perfect angle, and that big hand rose once again over that now-reddening backside and came down with a loud smack! Again I flinched.
It was a curious thing, sitting and watching Gwin’s spanking take place. I found myself seeing much. Halbarad’s ruggedly handsome face was composed in loving concentration, his gaze traveling over Gwin, focusing not only on his bottom, but on all parts of his elfling. I felt as though I was watching Hal do what I did when I spanked Legolas – observing, being mindful, listening, and I became engrossed, feeling myself in both places.
“Mmmm,” Legolas purred against my ear. “Good, Estel. Relax.” He laced his fingers with mine and drew my arms over my stomach with his, and we both gazed on, closely bound to each other and the sight before us.
Before long Halbarad began talking to Gwin, asking him exactly what he and I had said to each other during the mutual taunting session that Gwinthorian had soundly won, lest those words simmer within his elfling and begin to torment him. “From the beginning, little one. You and Aragorn were at the reception . . . .”
Gwin did his best to reply given his state of upset. He actually did very well. And so Halbarad and Legolas finally heard what Gwin said that had helped push me past all reason and back out to the Western Meadow two weeks ago. I knew Gwin had been in fine form that day, but when replaying the scene in my mind I had wondered if I had been overly sensitive to his words. Clearly I had not. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for the depth of Legolas and Hal’s stunned reaction.
Legolas trembled, his body tensing around me, whilst Hal pressed his lips together tightly, as foreboding a mannerism on him as was that fearsome quirked brow on my ada. Good thing Halbarad and Legolas loved Gwin so dearly and fully understood the place deep within him from whence those words had come. I understood as well.
Still, hearing the full extent of Gwin’s cutting remarks affected Halbarad to the degree that he actually stopped spanking. Again I understood. He needed to calm down before he continued. Halbarad would never touch Gwin in anger, but his tolerance had been sorely tested. He needed a moment to quiet himself within.
I knew that. So did Legolas. And, to his clear and instant horror, Gwinthorian knew it as well. It sent him into an immediate panic.
Sucking a sharp breath, he held it, trembling all over, then Gwin’s loud wails exploded forth, “Hal’brad, pleeeease! Sorryyy! SO, SOOOOOO sorrrrrrrryyy! I-I-I p-please Hal! Sorryyy-Sorryyy-pl-pleeea – d-do not h-hate meee!”
At this last piteous cry, Halbarad closed his eyes, clearly pained. Of course Gwin did not mean what he was saying, for this was his Hal, and no matter how much Gwin had tested him over the years, Halbarad had ne’er been anything but accepting of him. But, though it was rare, Gwin’s early wounding would sometimes resurface, and it did now, frightened as he was of what he had done.
True, on the surface Gwin had only engaged in a bit of teasing. But words had life. Gwin’s had been especially potent and he had wielded his weapon of words at me when I was not armed to fight him. So, even though it was I who took action, and even though I was responsible for my own deeds, what Gwinthorian had done to incite my actions was significant. He was answerable for that. He realized now just how powerful his words had been, and ‘twas likely he had spent two weeks agonizing over what could have happened. So Gwin had finally slipped into his darkest terror.
“Shhhhhh, Gwinling, shhhhh,” Halbarad said, gathering up his shaking elf. He held him closely, murmuring quiet reassurances over Gwin’s weeping:
“You know I could ne’er hate you. There is nothing you could do that would ever make me hate you. Enough of that. Hush now. Shhhh . . . .” Hal rocked his big body back and forth, calming Gwin further with his continued words, and eventually Gwinthorian heard him. He began to quiet, especially when Halbarad told him something that should have been most upsetting to Gwin, but was, in fact, oddly and entirely comforting:
“Of course, sweetling, you must know that this changes things. Such a degree of naughtiness cannot be fully attended to with this one spanking alone.”
Gwin stiffened and hiccupped and sucked a quick breath. “Oh . . . oh, noooo!”
“Aye. Every other night for this upcoming week.”
Gwin buried his face against Hal’s chest, twisted his fists in his clothing and began to weep anew. But indeed Halbarad had just bestowed upon his distraught elf the perfect means of comfort. Gwin’s crying now held a note of supreme relief. And though it might have seemed odd that Gwinthorian would be comforted by the promise of a spanking every other night this week, the four of us understood the sense of it. Halbarad then took the last step of solace:
“As I told you the night you were taunting Aragorn, words indeed have power, sweetling, and since those hurtful words came from that pretty mouth, I shall needs cleanse the stain of them away by washing it --”
“Oh, nooo! Hal, noooo!”
“No?” Halbarad drew Gwin back and looked down at his tear-streaked face with a scolding gaze of loving disapproval. “Such impertinence, my Gwinling. We are clearly not yet finished little one. Are we?” Flipping Gwin back over his lap before his elfling’s squeak left his throat, Halbarad again raised his hand . . . .
I shuddered, wondering how this child-like elf could withstand Halbarad’s disciplinary talents. I watched Gwin kicking and squirming, though still well contained in Hal’s grip, and I listened to his carrying on, and although I knew that I was hearing nothing different than what I usually heard when Halbarad was spanking Gwin I yet found myself squishing back into Legolas more.
He leaned round and kissed my ear and whispered, “Easy, sweetling. Halbarad knows what he is doing. You know that Gwin is fine.”
I gave a small nod. Although his bottom was now quite red, Gwin was in the safest of hands. I knew that. I truly did. And my compassion for Gwin was, admittedly, in part, of a selfish nature. I was glad to see him receiving the attention he deserved, and a great deal of it, plus his disciplinary due. But I was also aware that I was just as deserving of that same intense level of attention, and the sudden physical surety of it made me involuntarily clench my backside.
For though Gwin was clearly tiring, Halbarad was clearly not. My lieutenant was possessed of a near inhuman stamina when it came to the amount of spanking he could administer in one sitting.
“Does your hand sting after a long spanking?” Gwin had once asked him.
“Nay,” Hal responded, typically stoic.
Gwin stared at him, wide-eyed, then: “How is that possible? How can your hand be that tough? And how can your arm not tire?”
“I consider it a gift, Gwinthorian. Clearly the Fates knew you were one day going to cross my path. I was prepared accordingly.”
Hal’s swats now slowed and became lighter in force. “You caused a great deal of trouble with your impudent tongue, did you not, my Gwinling?”
“Did you know how Aragorn was going to feel when you said those things to him?”
“Did you recall what I told you about words?”
“W-Words have p-power!”
“Indeed they do. And did you remember what I said about tormenting Aragorn?”
“N-Not toooo. Y-You said not to d-do it!”
“Then why did you do so, Gwinling?”
“I do n-not kn-knowwwwwwwOWWWWW!”
“I think you do. We talked about this. Try again.”
“I-I-I was ang-angry!”
“Ah. And why was my Gwin angry?”
“I w-wanted to go with youuuuu! OWWWWWW!”
“You could not go with me.” Hal picked up his pace and force a bit. “And when you cannot have your way I do not expect to find out later that you vindictively created a great deal of trouble because of it.”
“Can you always have exactly what you want, sir?”
“In this case, duty required you to be elsewhere. And I require you to accept such duty with grace. Do you understand?”
Halbarad then shot me a look that fired right through me and lodged in my backbone. “You were not the only one responsible for what happened, ‘tis true. But at any time you could have walked away from the situation and it would have ended.
“I know you tried to tell Aragorn not to use his mount. You and I have been discussing this for two weeks, and I expect that you now understand what you should have done at many different points. And you especially know what you should have done when Aragorn decided to retrieve Arien.”
“Gone for h-help! Leg’las, or L-Lord Elrond, or-or Lo-Lord Glorf-find-Glowfin -- OWWW!”
“Lord Glorfindel. Aye, indeed, sir. That was all it would have taken. And should anything like this ever occur again, whether it be with Aragorn or with Devon or Legolas, what should you do?”
“THAT! F-Find help!”
“Very good, my Gwinling. Do you recall what I said you would need to do when these spankings were over today?”
Gwin groaned deeply as though his shame had become too great to bear. I found tears blurring my vision, but I listened, fascinated, knowing what Halbarad was expecting of Gwin,
“‘Polo’gize. I-I hafta ‘polo – say sorryyy! Lot of sorries!”
Thankfully Hal accepted that condensed answer from Gwin. Reciting the name of everyone to whom we owed an apology would have been an overwhelming task for poor Gwin at the moment. I was a bit in awe of his ability to speak at all. This was one of the more intense hidings I had ever witnessed Halbarad give his elfling. But then, when it came to Halbarad’s spankings, Gwin was made of stronger stuff than I was.
And now, suddenly, Gwin turned his teary face to me, and he said, “S-Sorry Ar’gorn. I-I – sorryyy! B-But, Ar’gorn, s-so what if you are not an elf? My-My Hal is not an elf, and there is n-none finer than my Hal’brad.”
I blinked, watching Gwin bury his pretty face in his crossed forearms. Legolas gave me a gentle squeeze and I felt a sweet stirring within, that soothing warmth of truth flowing through me. Mystifying the way Gwinthorian would sometimes hit a target with such extraordinary precision whilst giving every impression that he did not even know that target was there.
And now, finally, with a quiet smile and a murmured, “Aye, my Gwinling. Very good,” Halbarad stopped spanking. He rested his palm on Gwin’s backside, near covering the small hot surface completely. “Shhh, ‘tis all right now little one. All is forgiven.”
Gwin cried and cried, his slender legs twitching, but otherwise still. He arched his back, trying to fit his burning bottom more snugly into Hal’s big palm, seeking a comforting caress. How often Legolas had done that when he lay well spanked over my lap, and how often I myself had done it . . . .
Murmuring his soft chant of nonsense words, Halbarad began rubbing Gwin’s bottom with delicate caution, drawing soft whimpers and hissing from him, but calming him further, his other hand petting Gwin’s bright liquid mane, his palm stroking down the glistening locks, moves familiar to them both. Hal’s handsome face was serene, his gaze following his gentling hand, traveling down his trembling elf, down to Gwin’s fiery bottom.
Gwinthorian fully dissolved in surrender was a mesmerizing sight. And I suddenly realized how relaxed I had been when a moment later Halbarad lifted his head and fired a gaze directly at me.
I recoiled, sinking back into Legolas.
Halbarad regarded me with his air of perfect command, a masterful look that had ever vanquished my authority. I slid down deeper into the cushions, pressing myself back against Legolas even more. He grunted softly.
“‘Tis no use trying to push yourself out through the back of me,” Legolas muttered into my ear. “There is no where to hide, Estel. He sees you.”
I tsked and straightened myself at once. Legolas chuckled. “Thank you, my brave Ranger-child.” Maddening elf.
Halbarad had meanwhile gathered Gwin up and was once again holding him and rocking him, murmuring against his ear. I caught some of the familiar litany Halbarad repeated at the end of Gwinthorian’s spankings: “ . . . part of me . . . dear to my heart . . . never leave you . . . nor will I abandon you to your . . . .” Finally I heard Gwin’s quietly murmured, “Na, H-Hal.”
I tensed anew.
Halbarad kissed Gwin’s head, then he lifted his gaze to me again and said, “Aragorn.”
I unwisely glanced at Gwin’s blazing red bottom and felt a hot shot of panic.
“We have business to attend to.”
“Uhhh . . . .” I swallowed, sought composure, tried to keep from looking at Gwin’s bottom, instantly looked again at Gwin’s bottom, shuddered again and murmured, “Uh-huh.”
Halbarad and Legolas exchanged glances of fond indulgence, the rogues. I could not fault them. I sounded witless.
Hal resituated Gwin’s breeches, ignoring his weak squeals, then he scooped up his limp elfling and stood. Legolas gave me firm a nudge and we stood as well. Shifting me to one side, he asked, “Can I trust you to behave for a moment?”
I glared at him and waited with dignity, whilst Halbarad passed Legolas a liquefied, oblivious Gwinthorian. Legolas again sat, Gwin in his arms, then he spread his legs, and gently lowered his charge between them, holding Gwin as he had me, yet balancing that very sore bottom just above the cushion. Nevertheless, Gwin came alive.
“Nooo! H-Hal!” Gwin fussed and twisted ‘round and struggled with little strength or conviction. Legolas easily contained him and Gwin settled almost as quickly as he had begun. He turned wide eyes to Legolas, who could not help giving Gwin a fond grin and a small kiss on his forehead.
“Be still you tiresome brat,” Legolas murmured. Then he shifted his kinsman once more so that Gwin faced front, wrapping his arms around him as he had me. “‘Tis now your turn to attend, sweetling,” he said. “I suggest you do so.”
“Aye, Leg’las,” Gwin said, wholly subdued.
And, suddenly, all eyes turned to me. Ai! My wretched backside clenched again! Now seated once more, Halbarad observed me with a predatory look that made me long to scramble back to the protection of the arms that were now wrapped around a soggy-looking Gwin.
“Come here, little boy,” Halbarad said, and he crooked a finger at me. “Do not make me fetch you.”
Few things could have galled me more, and Hal knew it. He had known it from the Ettenmores.
“I do not like it when you do that finger wiggle at me, Hal’brad,” I had told him after spanking number two when I was hot-bottomed and weakened and being comforted in his arms. “That ‘come here little boy’ wiggly finger.”
“Nay. I do not like it.”
“Mmmm. I see.”
“I-I-I thought you s-should know.”
He had been doing it since.
Now I unclenched my bottom, clenched my teeth and fists and moved towards my enthusiastic lieutenant, wondering what other insults he planned to add to my approaching injury. The greatest humiliation would be for Hal to make me pull down my own breeches and lay myself over his lap. I was not certain I could bear that indignity if he demanded it of me. I would needs go down fighting.
But two weeks of waiting had clearly caught up to Halbarad. The instant I was within reach of his long arms he snatched me up and tossed me over his lap, displaying a barely controlled urgency that made my heart lurch. With one swift yank, he pulled my breeches all the way down to my ankles, baring my backside; then Halbarad started spanking me using his most sincere degree of enthusiasm.
What the --! Valar help me!
I sucked a huge gasp. I tensed. My legs tensed. My back tensed. My whole body tensed. Ai! Alas, again my bottom tensed! I could not help it. Shocked by Halbarad’s rapid, hot spanks I gulped more sharp breaths, one after the other. I squeezed my eyes shut. I scrambled my hands over the cushions, seeking anything to grab onto and twist, anything to distract me!
But nothing could distract me from this! Halbarad was spanking me and spanking me, a wholehearted walloping with no merciful, slow build up, no preamble. He had started at the level it usually took some time to reach.
This rarely happened. Rarely – nay, more like it ne’er happened! Desperate for a distraction I bit my bottom lip, feeling that stab of pain unique to a habit Halbarad had broken me of long ago - and then I remembered. Again, it was in the Ettenmores, this time on the third night of my ‘every other night for a week’ spankings. Tender-bottomed, fed-up and mutinous, I had tried to tactfully reason my way out of spanking number three, failed and thrown an all-out tantrum.
“You have taken this too far, lieutenant!” I had yelled. “If you think I plan to submit to this indignity for yet another night you had best rethink the matter! This reversal of rank ends now!”
Halbarad simply crossed his arms over his chest and waited, letting me hang myself as high as I liked. His indifference enflamed me more. I paced back and forth in front of him, waving my arms, stomping and orating, determined to make an impression upon a man who had absolutely no intention of being impressed.
“Who the Valar do you think you are, sir?” I roared. “You have severely overstepped your authority! You do not rule me, nor my Rangers. I have been cooperative thus far, but enough is enough! My patience with you is at an end! Now, we are going to pack up and return to the Ranger encampment immediately! There will be no more disciplinary action taken! You, however, shall face a disciplinary tribunal upon our return!”
I regaled Halbarad at length in this fashion, clearly boring him, though he listened with polite indifference. However, when I began to make light of what I had done: “There were not that many wargs, sir!” my lieutenant exploded with cold, astonishing fury.
Halbarad silently snatched me up, turned me over his knee, tore down my breeches and treated me to the kind of spanking he was giving me now. In no time I had bellowed my throat raw.
And yet, though I knew I had crossed a boundary and triggered his intense reaction, I did not then, nor did I now, fear Hal. Aye, Halbarad’s anger had been roused, but it was contained. He had simply become intent upon making a point and he wanted my undivided attention as quickly as possible.
He had that attention now as he had it then. I had ended up spanked and soaped and weeping in his arms for hours, full of sincere regrets. I may not at present be suffering sincere regrets for throwing a tantrum, but I was beginning to sincerely regret having let Legolas drag me from our bed this morning.
Aye, my lieutenant was riled to a menacing degree. So be it. I could withstand this. And I would withstand it! Gwinthorian was witnessing something he had ne’er before been permitted to see, but I did not intend to entertain him. I refused to treat Hal’s elf to the performance he had given me.
No. I would instead show him how to take a spanking with grace and courage. I gasped huge gulps of air and braced myself. I deserved this. I did. And I could withstand it.
“He is biting his bottom lip.”
“Is he indeed?” Halbarad raised his thigh and began spanking that sensitive undercurve beneath Aragorn’s backside.
“It sounds as though his lip has been released.”
“Not at all.”
Aragorn shot me a perfectly furious glare.
“I hope you are not glaring at Legolas, my pup,” Halbarad said to him, the first words he had directed to Aragorn since yanking his pup over his knee. “He did you a good turn. It has been some time since I spanked you. Had you forgotten that biting your lip is forbidden?”
“N-Nay, sir,” Aragorn ground out, having instantly looked away from me. “I-I-I--”
“You learned that lesson many years ago, did you not?”
“Then you know how vexed I would have been had I seen a bloodied lip after your spanking was over.”
“I am vexed enough as ‘tis. You do not want to vex me further. Am I making myself clear, sir?”
“So there shall be no glaring at your loyal Legolas and no more lip biting.”
“Nay, s-sir. S-Sorry, sir.”
How Aragorn was holding on was beyond me. Not a tear, not a wail, not a whimper, not a moan, save the cry he had just released. And he had gone silent again. I suppose I should have been used to this by now. But even after all our years together Aragorn’s willfulness astonished me.
Halbarad would win. Aragorn would, of course, eventually break down. But he was carrying within him such a load of guilt that he was going to allow himself to be spanked and spanked and spanked.
Fortunately for Aragorn, Halbarad and I spoke that very special language unique to my Ranger-child. We knew what he deserved better than he did, and in his most trusting, quiet place, Aragorn knew we did as well. So he was safe to be obstinate and to test his boundaries. Halbarad would welcome the opportunity to remind Aragorn of where his boundaries were. He knew exactly how to handle his little boy.
From the moment he hauled Aragorn over his knee Halbarad had been using his finest ‘attention getting’ technique. It was a shocking sight to behold, and doubtless awful to endure, so Aragorn was naturally doing his best to appear unaffected. Gwinthorian struggled more openly.
Squirming in my arms, he murmured in a hushed fretful voice, “Legolas, why does he not cry out?”
“Because he is Aragorn, sweetling.”
Such was all the answer Gwin needed.
But I had no fears for Aragorn whilst Halbarad’s palm smacked down again and again. I watched knowing he was in the best of hands. Yet, still, not a tear, not a wail, not a whimper, not a moan – ai! my Ranger-child at his most resolute! By now I would be near crawling out of my skin.
Suddenly Gwinthorian’s small fussy sounds became fussier and he began twitching about. Thinking I had been unwittingly holding him too tightly I loosened my embrace. He immediately yanked his arms up and covered his eyes with the heels of his hands, his palms cupping his forehead.
“Uuuhhhhhhhgh!” he ground out, and he curled down as though hiding himself from view. It might have been less satisfying than jumping up and escaping across the room to take refuge behind a chair, but it would have to suffice. I vow if he could have crept ‘neath the chair cushion Gwin would have done so.
For the second time that afternoon, Halbarad stopped in mid-spank. Eyes twinkling, he studied his elfling. How the man kept a straight face was beyond me. Indeed, I was near biting my lip myself in order to keep from chuckling. Gwin was too adorable.
“Gwinthorian,” Halbarad said.
When Gwin did not immediately reply I whispered, “Best answer him. You might not be able to see him, but Hal can most assuredly see you.”
He bristled and growled back, “I know that!”
“Then speak up, Gwin. Now. He looks ready to put you on his lap beside Aragorn.”
Halbarad cleared his throat. “Gwinthorian!”
A small, muffled, “Aye, sir?”
“This will not do.”
“Oh, but Hal’brad!”
“Uncover your eyes, sweetling.”
“But I-I-I do not want to watch! Please! I do not! Not, not, not!”
“That is not your choice to make, sir.”
“Remove your hands at once.”
“Noooooooooo! No, Hal! No counting! Ew!”
I could have drawn Gwin’s hands down and held them, but Halbarad expected Gwin to do this. My kinsman was not foolish enough to risk Halbarad uttering the next number, so he surrendered, uncovered his eyes and once again faced the scene before him. And once again our ever-consistent lieutenant repeated his previously spoken words with near perfect precision:
“I require your full attention, not merely your presence in the room. Now attend, sweetling.”
And with that, Halbarad lifted his arm again and brought it down with a sound whap! across Aragorn’s rosy behind. Gwin jerked as much as Aragorn did. Before he could start wriggling anew I grabbed his hands, wrapped my arms around him more securely and cuddled him back with me deeper into the chair. “Shh,” I whispered close to his ear. “What is it, little Gwin? Are you fretting for Aragorn’s backside?”
“No. I mean, yes. I-I mean, I am, but my Hal’brad knows what he is doing, Legolas.”
I grinned. “Aye. He does.”
Gwin wriggled, then: “It . . . it just feels like . . . like I am still over Hal’s knee, even now. Just watching Aragorn getting spanked . . . it-it is strange. F-Feels as though I am still being spanked, as though I am there, over my Hal’s knee, too.”
Well, that must be unpleasant. “Aw, poor sweetling.”
“Aye, little one. ‘Ew’ indeed.” I kissed Gwin’s head, but all I could do beyond that was to hold him securely and hope to offer him some measure of comfort while he witnessed something he had never seen before.
I truly did understand his uneasiness. I had never watched Halbarad spank Aragorn either. I had briefly considered that fact when Halbarad announced how he intended to handle this. Witnessing another receiving a spanking was not a common occurrence, so at the time I had thought little more of it than that, plus the fact that I was simply glad to be included.
But when Hal yanked Aragorn over his knee and bared his backside and set upon him with such vigor – ai! A hot burst exploded in my stomach and a quivering surge shot through my limbs!
No. This could not be. I could not be . . . I could not be so . . . enthralled! NO! Nevertheless . . . .
The more I watched the more drawn in I became, the more spellbound, and fascinated, and overwhelmed and the more embarrassed to be feeling all of that. Nevertheless, behind the loud spanks, behind Aragorn’s constrained gasps and desperate huffs, and behind the wriggling of a Ranger-child who simply could not remain still ‘neath such an assault, behind all that was something utterly exquisite: Aragorn was being cared for by one who was devoted to him. The very sight and sound of that was breathtaking. I could not tear my eyes away.
Halbarad gazed down at Aragorn with both determination and tenderness, as he had with Gwin. But this was much different than watching Gwin being spanked. This was Aragorn, my Aragorn, and to see Halbarad spanking him, to see that bottom I knew and loved so well being so well and lovingly attended to made me long to writhe to my heart’s content without this sweetly wilted elfling in my arms to take notice of my state.
Then Aragorn had caught his lower lip between his teeth and bitten down. Hard! Ai! A perfect distraction. My focus had shifted from my hungry staring to preserving that precious bottom lip. Gwin’s small rebellion had proven another fine distraction.
But now Gwinthorian was resting against me, quiet and watchful and Aragorn’s lip was no longer in peril. So I could turn my full attention back to watching Halbarad spank my beloved Ranger, and ohh! That hot, quivery excitement burst anew in my stomach! Again I watched too closely and saw too much, and all of it was still far too alluring. Sooo much to take in . . . .
Halbarad was a big man, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, lean and muscular – a true Númenórean. Gwin looked like an elfling when stretched over his lap and now, amazingly, even Aragorn looked somewhat boyish whilst held down in that position . . . ohhhhh, what was it about that tantalizing sight? I watched, transfixed, feeling my eyes widening as through endeavoring to take in more. How could Gwin hide his eyes when there was such a sight to see?
Aragorn’s lieutenant had long arms, large hands and a tireless, mighty swing. His brawny forearm lay over the small of Aragorn’s back and his palm curled around Aragorn’s side, holding his pup firmly in place. I gazed, my heart thrumming at the sight. It was, quite simply, the flawless vision of a spanking.
Aragorn’s upper torso lay supported over the divan, but most of his body bowed gracefully up and over Halbarad’s lap, his bottom curving across Hal’s solid thigh at the perfect place for each spank to fall. Aside from the fact that Halbarad was blistering his backside, the position looked most comfortable. I knew that it was.
Aragorn’s long legs lay stretched out over the remainder of the divan, a solid surface upon which he could kick. And kick he did. Halbarad had pulled Aragorn’s breeches down to his ankles, leaving his bratling’s legs enough freedom to thrash about.
So Aragorn’s legs bucked and kicked, they tensed then relaxed and they jerked out with sudden jolts, behaving as though they had a will of their own. How well I knew the feeling. Halbarad would likely tolerate this for only so long before removing Aragorn’s freedom of movement. I would have done so.
I kept shifting between feeling like both the giver and the taker. I guessed at what each blow was like and I knew how my hand felt when connecting to Aragorn’s delightful backside. It was a unique sensation coursing through me, throbbing along my veins, and I felt myself pulled towards that scene, absorbing it, yearning for something . . . .
Nay, I did not wish to be in Aragorn’s place. I wouldst never wish to be in Aragorn’s place. Not across Halbarad’s lap. No, no, no, noooo, thank you! I had received the occasional swat from Halbarad and that had been more than enough to convince me to ne’er run afoul of his disciplinarian side.
But Aragorn was receiving the full, glorious measure of his lieutenant’s devoted attention, and there was something enviable in that. I could not have stopped watching my beloved Ranger accept that attention that he so richly deserved for all the Dorwinian wine in Middle Earth.
Hal’s spanking arm rose and fell, up and down, that heavy palm connecting to Aragorn’s helpless bottom with a smacking sound that crackled through the room and shot down my spine. Oooohhh, how I longed to squirm! I longed to squirm for Aragorn’s sake, wriggle down deeper into the chair and writhe around in sympathy. How I wish he would allow himself more than just that, my stubborn, stubborn Ranger child!
Halbarad’s attention-getting spanking was certainly intense, but though time had seemed to crawl by whilst I was lost in a fog, I was aware that, in actuality, little time had passed since he began. Halbarad did indeed know what he was doing, and when I could appease my squirming emotions long enough to actually form coherent thought, I knew what Halbarad was doing, too.
He was wearing Aragorn down quickly that he might then attend to matters without the troublesome antics of a mutinous pup, saving his most important matter for last, when Aragorn’s stamina would be failing.
Hal looked well on his way to achieving his goal. Aragorn ground his fists into the cushions. He tensed and gasped, his back and his legs straining and rigid. He looked ready to explode. Halbarad’s sudden assault had thrown Aragorn off his stride from the start and he had ne’er regained his footing.
Suddenly Halbarad glanced over at me and froze, his hand poised in its upward arc. He stared at Gwin. I realized that I had not felt him shifting for a while, so I leaned ‘round to look at him. Though his head was upright, his eyes were closed and Gwin was fast asleep.
This sometimes happened to Gwinthorian. When overly exhausted, he could fall asleep suddenly, sometimes in the most unlikely places. It was amazing. It was also, thank the Valar, rare, for although Gwin’s finely honed senses had never allowed him to fall asleep when he was in a possibly deadly situation, he had, on more than one occasion, frightened loved ones nigh unto death themselves.
Once, after a skirmish with a band of orcs, Gwin had drifted a little farther from Hal than usual during the battle and afterwards he could not be found. A frantic search ensued, and soon Devon uttered an anguished roar that brought the entire Grey Company running.
There, at the bottom of a shallow ravine, lay a dead orc and, curled into a ball beside him, an apparently dead Gwinthorian. When we reached the ravine and began down the side, Devon, sobbing, was dropping to his knees beside Gwin, and despite Garrick’s bellowed, “NO! Devon wait!” he turned Gwin over, at which point Gwinthorian startled and woke from the dead.
Devon looked ready to kill him on the spot and indeed he near hugged Gwin to death ere Garrick and Halbarad reached them, Aragorn and I fast in their wake. But Gwin could not be held accountable for giving us all such a fright and near slaying poor Devon with horror, for Gwin’s odd quirk was involuntary. Apparently he had seen this orc trying to escape the lost battle, chased him down, dispatched him, then sat down and promptly gone to sleep. I had seen Gwin fall asleep like this only a few times since knowing him, the last time being nearly eight years ago.
And now he was sleeping soundly in my arms. I glanced up at Halbarad, exchanging a quick grin. “Still catching up on two weeks of lost sleep?” I asked.
Halbarad gave a nod. “Aye. He dozed by the fire last evening, but later he was awake in our tent all night.”
Aragorn jerked his head up and whirled to look at us, his hair whipping round his face. He gaped at Gwin, and all at once I realized the truth of it – Aragorn had been forbidding himself to shatter in front of Gwinthorian. Pure pride had kept him from it.
No. It could not be that simple. But I darted Halbarad a glance and found him watching me with his quiet stillness and I knew at once that I was right. Hal gave me a nod. Aye, it was indeed that simple.
Resting his hand on Aragorn’s bottom, Halbarad said, “Are you perhaps recalling the last time Gwin fell asleep like this, my pup?” He began petting Aragorn’s head, stroking his tangled hair. “It was nearly eight years ago, during the trouble we had with some trolls. Remember?”
Aragorn managed a faint nod.
“Our company was engaged in ridding the region of some trolls that had been tormenting the people there. Since Gwin especially despises trolls, he had been fretting overmuch. His sleep began to suffer. You and Devon were naughty and managed to get yourselves captured, so when the company rode in and defeated the lot and you and Devon were rescued, Gwin fell right asleep, did he not, sweetling?”
Another faint nod. Glassy eyed and shaking and looking very close to collapse, Aragorn lowered his forehead to his crossed arms, gazing at Gwin. Halbarad kept murmuring and petting.
“As it had then, Gwinthorian’s sleep has suffered these past two weeks. He felt remorse for his part in what happened, and he feared for you, my pup. He would lie awake at night, haunted by terrible imaginings of what might have happened.”
Aragorn trembled so violently Halbarad had to pull him closer to secure him better. I trembled, too. Hal’s loving words, spoken in his deep and honey-smooth voice carried neither judgement nor condemnation. He simply spoke the truth, explaining matters as they were and as gently as he could.
“Gwin is devoted to you, sweetling,” Halbarad continued. “But few can arouse his jealousy as you can, e’en knowing there is no cause for jealousy. We understand the deeper reasons for his sometimes-inappropriate behavior. Such was the source of his harsh words two weeks ago.
“Despite that sass of his, Gwin adores you, for you have ever shown him the kind of love and acceptance that has helped heal his deepest wounds, even when that love comes in the form of gentle beleaguering or the occasional swat.
“Such is a small part of who you are, Aragorn,” Halbarad went on. “You cannot turn away from the suffering of another. A lesser man wouldst not have endured such insolence from a bratling elf. Yet, e’en though you were not entirely yourself that day, you were yourself in essence. You did not round on Gwin or abandon him despite his abusive treatment of you. Your goodness and loyalty are just a few of the things I love about you, sweetling. And, Aragorn, I am ever and always, proud of you.”
Aragorn burst into tears. He could endure a great deal of Halbarad’s spanking, even his most sincere spanking; but Hal’s loving words, kindly spoken, were more than Aragorn could bear. He shattered noisily and with complete abandon, plainly caring not if he woke Gwin, though Gwin did not so much as flinch.
As he had with Gwinthorian during his crisis, Halbarad gathered Aragorn in his arms and held him, rocking slowly and murmuring words of comfort. Aragorn curled up in his lieutenant’s lap and cried and cried. He had much to cry about. He had just withstood a sincere preliminary spanking, and Halbarad had not yet e’en begun to address Trillium’s Sweep.
But, more staggering still in Aragorn’s mind was the fact that even though he had been so very naughty and disobedient, Halbarad still loved him. He was still proud of him. Few things felt as miraculous and stirred the heart as profoundly as did unconditional devotion. Halbarad’s assurance that it was still there and still strong was utterly overwhelming for a little boy who had endured two weeks of hurtful guilty thoughts.
For, despite the long talks Aragorn and I had shared regarding those hurtful thoughts, I knew that my efforts did little towards easing them. We both knew that they could be purged entirely only by one such as Halbarad and his steady spanking.
I watched him holding Aragorn, rocking him whilst he wept, and I understood how Gwin felt earlier.
“. . . . just watching Aragorn getting spanked . . . it-it is strange. F-Feels as though I am still being spanked, as though I am there, over my Hal’s knee, too.”
It did feel that way, as though I was doing what I was watching Hal do, and it was strange and wonderful. I held my armful of warm, well-spanked Gwin and tried to keep from waking him whilst wiping away the two tears that had left ticklish paths down my cheeks.
My gaze fell to Aragorn’s bottom, so muscular and round and smooth and shiny with Hal’s discipline. Such a splendid bottom. I felt a sudden desire to touch it, glide my palm over the hot, silky skin, knowing what Aragorn’s fine backside felt like when warmed by my spanking. And it was already so brightly colored. I sent up a silent plea that Aragorn’s willfulness was at an end, and that his poor backside would be spared any unnecessary further attention by unnecessary further misbehavior. I had an eerie feeling no one was listening.
When Aragorn began to quiet Halbarad murmured, “Are you all right, little boy?”
“Answer me, Aragorn. You have found your voice.”
“A-Aye, H-Hal’brad,” Aragorn quickly replied. “S-Sor-ry! Sor-ry I w-was so quiet before.”
I thought I heard something overly fragile in Aragorn’s tone. Halbarad plainly did as well. He drew Aragorn back and studied him for a moment, then he cast me a quick glance of reassurance. “Shhh,” Hal said, kissing Aragorn’s brow. “You are doing very well.”
Aragorn hiccupped and released a huffed sob. “Th-Thank you . . . H-Hal.”
Ah, there was my Ranger-child! I grinned. Halbarad’s brow shot up.
“‘Hal’ is it, little boy?” he said, mildly amused. With a seemingly effortless grab and flip, Halbarad repositioned a gasping Aragorn back over his knee. “We have many things to attend to, sir. ‘Tis time to get to it. And thank you for reminding me of yet one more.”
And Halbarad started spanking Aragorn again, this time at a more customary rate of speed and intensity. But when Halbarad’s first swat cracked over Aragorn’s sore backside I could not keep from flinching. Aragorn went rigid with shock, then:
Aye. Aragorn had found his voice.
“Before we move on we clearly have a few basic rules of protocol to go over,” Hal said. “What is my name, little boy?”
“I am try-try—OWW! Hal’BRAD!”
“Better. I am willing to be a bit more lax during times of high stress. But we both know the difference between impassioned crying out and bratty testing. Do you agree?”
“A-Aye! B-But, but , but --”
“Then you knew what you were doing. You made sport of that name on purpose.”
Aragorn ground his fists into the cushions, hesitating to admit to his bratty behavior. But, as Hal’s arm did not seem to be tiring – “A-Aye!”
“I see. Do you recall what I said about my name our first time together in the Ettenmores?”
I seriously hoped that Halbarad had not engaged in a long dissertation about his name in the Ettenmores.
“You said, ‘M-My name is H-H-Halbarad, A-Aragorn, so-son of-of-of Ara-thor-thor –’”
“Thank you for trying.” Halbarad chuckled softly. “Your attempt was sufficient. I said, ‘My name is Halbarad, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I leave your name intact as a show of respect, and you will grant me the same respect in return. Do you understand?’”
“Mmm. Good. And what did I say next?”
Aragorn went still, then he kicked wildly again and cried out, “Ohh, nooooo! Hal’brad. Noo, pleeeease!”
“You do not remember?”
“Nooo! I doooooooo remem-mem-b-but --”
“I said ‘ . . . failure to do so will earn your insolent mouth a visit with my bar of soap.’”
Aragorn burst into fresh tears, mixing in some pathetic little, ‘Oh nooo’s’ and still kicking like mad.
“I-I hate s-soap!” Obviously he felt that Halbarad did not know his feelings on the matter.
“How unfortunate,” Halbarad said. “Settle down, sir, lest I add a soaping to your spanking every other night this week.”
Well, that was a foregone conclusion. Aragorn clearly thought otherwise. He sucked a sharp breath and froze, plainly trying to grasp this shocking new truth, then he burst into yet another display of insubordination, bucking, kicking, and thrashing around as much as Halbarad would permit.
“Nooo, Hal’brad, pleease!” Aragorn wailed. “N-Not all w-week! AHHHHH!”
“Stop that impertinence at once,” Halbarad said. “You know the terms, little boy. They have been in place since the Ettenmores, after you had needlessly risked your life engaging an army of wargs. Did you needlessly risk your life attempting Trillium’s Sweep without supervision, on a mount who did not know the move?”
“Aragorn. Answer me.”
“Then hush. Of course you shall be spanked every other night for this upcoming week. I care for you too much to do less, little boy.”
The statement plainly touched Aragorn even through his distress. He wept with a bitter, resigned tone, then: “Sorry Hal’brad! I-I-I sorryyyy! Was naughty.”
“Naughty indeed, but I forgive you your brattiness, sir. We shall return to this in a moment, but finishing up the issue of ill manners --”
And Halbarad continued with the lesson in protocol, letting Aragorn know that escaping across the room and sassing him from behind a chair were unacceptable ways of expressing his distress. Ere Hal had finished making his point Aragorn had first apologized, then succumbed to that most futile act of desperation, wrenching his hand back to protect his blazing backside.
Grinning softly to himself, Halbarad said, “You are forgiven your bad manners, my wild pup, and you have obviously endured enough burdensome freedom.” He pulled Aragorn’s hand away, adhering it to the small of his back, then he closed Aragorn’s legs between his muscled thighs, locking him into a rigid hold and making him as stationary as he had Gwin. “There.” Hal nodded, satisfied. “You deserve this comfort.” Aragorn’s wailed protests did as much good as Gwin’s had.
“Hush, little one. We have much left to talk about. You do not want to bellow yourself out too early.”
Halbarad was right – they now needed to actually discuss Trillium’s Sweep even though Aragorn had already been enduring his spanking for it. Hal’s plan had worked. Aragorn would not wish to prolong this. He was in no shape to do so, nor would there be a need to do so, for there was nothing Halbarad could say about Trillium’s Sweep that Aragorn had not already heard from Elrond and the others. He had apologized and been forgiven.
So this spanking was to, amongst other things, allow Aragorn to forgive himself. Halbarad listened to him admit each wrongdoing and to apologize for it all so that Halbarad could then, speaking for the collective, say what felt like enchanted words to the one receiving them: “‘Tis all right now. All is forgiven sweetling.”
Not long after Halbarad and he became linked together, Gwinthorian, who was still endearingly trying to work out the finer aspects of spanking, turned to me once and said, “Legolas, a spanking does not reconcile me to Halbarad. He has already forgiven me ere he begins.”
“It reconciles me to myself.”
I had cast him a quiet grin. “Aye, sweetling.”
“A sore bottom is a small price to pay for an easy heart, Legolas.”
Gwinthorian sometimes hit the mark very well indeed, e’en though one wondered if he knew where the mark was to begin with.
Now fully collapsed, he lay sagged bonelessly upon me. I held my little kinsman like an armful of comforting warm blanket, Gwin’s head nestled back near my jawline, his absurdly soft hair tickling my neck. I was glad to have my blanket of comforting Gwinthorian, for now, having finished with the naughtiness of Trillium’s Sweep, Halbarad was ready for the crucial issue, the one he planned to demand Aragorn face. He had wisely left his pup enough strength to face it.
“As I said, I am proud of you for admitting to all your naughtiness, and for saying all your sorries. Now we shall talk about the why behind your actions,” Halbarad began in his typically straightforward manner.
Aragorn gasped deeply, “The w-why?”
“Oh, indeed, sir. The why. Surely you did not think we were finished. There is more here than merely the breaking of rules and the doing of a dangerous elvish trick. That in itself is bad enough, but there was a reason why you were so naughty. That --!”
“ -- is what we are going to settle here and now and for all time yet to come, little boy.”
“Aragorn, why did you attempt Trillium’s Sweep when you had been expressly forbidden to do so?”
That was a sincerely terrible question. This would have been a perfect place for Gwin to utter an ‘ew.’ I near did it for him. Out loud and with feeling.
I did feel a wave of compassion for Aragorn, for this part was going to be very hard. Yet, as one who had been terrified that day, then furious beyond measure with my monstrous bratling Ranger-child, I also championed Halbarad’s rigor.
“I do n-not knooOWWW!”
“You do know. You had tried to perform the move repeatedly and unsuccessfully the day before. You had given it every effort and beyond. So why did you risk your life to try again when you knew you would fail?”
“I-I might n-not have faaaaaaaaailed!”
Halbarad halted, his hand raised high. “What?”
His quietly incredulous tone sent a chill down my spine. Halbarad could pack much into one word. Something ominous in scale and yet solacing emanated from the lieutenant. I felt my eyes widen. Aragorn plainly felt it as well. He sobbed quietly, unable to speak.
“I know you cannot answer, Aragorn,” Halbarad went on, his voice suddenly soft. He resumed spanking. “But the time has come for honesty, so you shall listen, little boy, for I have much to say.
“You did not think you could perform Trillium’s Sweep when you went back down to the meadow with Gwin. You knew, deep inside, that you would fail as you had failed the day before. But that wisdom was thwarted by something louder and more malicious.”
A jolt shot through me and I froze, the truth behind all this bursting upon me exactly when Halbarad began to speak it. And everything fell into place, perfect and understandable. Aragorn froze too. I watched him, sensing him listening with desperate fascination, thinking, concentrating, though by now he was likely unable to reason well. Halbarad helped him by slowing his swats, yet keeping them firm and steady.
“I shall speak plainly, though you do not need this explained to you, little boy, for you are very wise. You knew the hidden truth of this all along, again, deep within you, as you know it now. And it is time for it to be seen in the full light of day, for your reckless behavior must come to an end, sir, here and now and for all time yet to come. I shall not allow you to continue risking yourself because you cannot admit what is driving you.
“Aragorn, you had but one goal that day, and it was not to perform a move you knew you could not perform. After feeling so humiliated and defeated the day before, you needed to feel reassured of what you knew in your heart to be true, that you were still loved, still worthy, still someone deserving of attention. You wanted to end up exactly where you are right now, hearing exactly what you are hearing.”
Aragorn buried his face in the crook of his elbow and sobbed. I turned glistening eyes to Halbarad, marveling at his attentive devotion and his brilliant insightfulness. He released Aragorn’s wrist, quirking a half-grin when his pup left it nestled there, then he reached beneath Aragorn’s shirt to rub his back. Still spanking steadily, he went on in his gentle mesmerizing tone:
“I know these are hard things to admit to sweetling, but you have nothing to feel ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with needing to be reassured of your worth. It is the most natural of urges, especially when your dignity has just suffered a blow, as it had when you were trying that absurd trick.
“So what better way to get a bit of that solace than by doing something strictly forbidden and entirely naughty? And it had to be something on a grand scale, because there lays deep within you the biggest ‘why’ of all.
“You are not an elf, and that is the ‘why’ behind your beleaguering of your devoted Legolas, the reason why you pressured him into teaching you a trick you could not perform. You refused to accept the fact that, as a man, you could not do something an elf could do. So you spent hours battering yourself, trying to prove your worth, trying to prove that you were as good as any elf. Aye, sweetling, you had something to prove, or you thought you did.”
Aragorn moaned. “Ohhhhhhhhh, Hal’brad pleeeease. No morrre!” And he drew his free arm away from his back and wrapped it over his head, my poor boy trying to hide again, and with good cause. These would be excruciating truths for him to hear, and to know they came from his Hal. But there was no other way, and I blessed Halbarad for having the wisdom and the love to make his pup face these matters.
All along he had been rubbing Aragorn’s back and spanking away with firm steady swats. Now he slid his hand out from underneath Aragorn’s shirt. “Shhh, shhhh,” Halbarad said in a warm, deep tone, gently drawing Aragorn’s arm down and away from his head. He began stroking and smoothing Aragorn’s wildly messy locks.
“So hard, I know. But ’tis only Legolas and me here, and as you have known these truths deep inside, we have known them all along as well, and loved you nonetheless. You have no reason to feel embarrassed in front of us, little boy. Your behavior is understandable. You were raised away from your own kind where you would have been able to measure yourself on an equal footing with other men. Instead you grew up surrounded by a race of superior physical prowess. You have been measuring yourself against that elvish standard since, one that is impossible for you to achieve.
“I understand your reasoning. I see how you became set upon ever striving for that which you could not possibly achieve. I have compassion for your feelings on the matter. However, mark me well, sir, I shall no longer tolerate your attempts to become an elf.” And Halbarad swatted down with particular emphasis.
“I regret to inform you that you shall never grow pointed ears, little boy, nor shall you ever be able to match an elf in any physical way. Accept it. I am watching, and I shall crack down hard --”
“— if I so much as suspect that you are feeling the need to prove yourself capable of doing something only an elf could do. You shall find yourself right where you are receiving another blistering spanking.”
“OWWWWWWWW! Hal’brad! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”
“You are a man, sir. A good man, a superior man, the hope of your race and worthy of that title. Consider who you are, Aragorn, rather than who you are not. And accept that as well, for I intend to see you do so. There is no elf who is better than you merely by merit of his race. And I shall not permit you to endanger your life in pursuit of the respect and admiration you already have and have never lost. Do you understand, sir?”
Aragorn lay in full surrender, sobbing into the crook of his arm. “A-Aye, Hal’brad.”
“You did not lose the respect or the admiration of any, despite your defeat two weeks ago. I have watched you accept greater defeats with complete grace, so Gwinthorian’s masterful taunting simply managed to hit a very fragile mark within you at precisely the worst time. He, of course, had no idea what he was doing.”
Halbarad paused and glanced over at Gwin. With a soft grin that crinkled the corners of his eyes, he said, “Gwin admitted to me that he had only been teasing you so that you would report his naughtiness to me when I returned. He was genuinely surprised that you paid the slightest bit of attention to his words. He expected you to ignore his pesky banter. After seeing what he had set into motion, my bratling was too flummoxed to know what to do.
“I shall break his confidence but a little and share with you something he said to me, something I do not think he would mind me telling you. He said, 'I do not understand why Aragorn would listen to a word I said. It was the reason I continued on as I did. For why would Aragorn, great as he is, lend any credence to my stupid teasing? So what if he is not an elf, Halbarad?'
“I told him, ‘so what indeed, Gwinling.’”
I watched, moved by how deftly Halbarad had handled this most painful topic. He had saved Aragorn undue struggle by explaining matters with straightforward honesty. Aragorn had needed attention from one who understood what it was to be human, and Halbarad was that man. For if there was anyone, human or elfkind, who was a second father to Aragorn, it was Hal.
His swats had been slowing since his last quick volley, and now I suddenly realized that he had stopped spanking. His palm rested on Aragorn’s horribly red backside, rubbing slowly. Aragorn sobbed with heartfelt abandon, his raw voice choked with tears. I had heard Aragorn cry too many times to count, but hearing him cry now, knowing I had not caused his weeping, somehow brought tears to my eyes as well.
And yet I knew Aragorn was fine, better than before Halbarad’s first powerful spank had fallen, in fact. And Halbarad looked much more relaxed as well, content to simply allow Aragorn release his tears whilst he gently rubbed his bottom. So intimate an act, yet I minded not. This was Hal. Of course I minded not.
“Hal’brad?” Aragorn finally murmured.
“Aye, little boy?”
“You are r-right. ‘Bout all-all of th-that. So right. I did want to b-be as good as a-a-a elf, and I could n-not be. So I w-was sad --”
“Only sad, sweetling?” Halbarad suddenly asked.
Aragorn paused for a moment, jarred by Hal’s interruption and plainly struggling to form clear thought.
“No!” he finally cried. “No! Not j-just sad! I was ang-ang-angr . . . I was mad, H-Hal’brad! Mad! H-Huge mad! Not fair!”
“Not fair that you could not do all these wonderful things an elf can do, is that it, little boy? Not fair that you were not an elf.”
“Aye! Not fair! Like G-Gwin said: Not! Not! N-Not! I just w-wanted to do that tr-trick! So w-wonderful! And I-I could not! I-I could not!”
“Not fair that you are a mere man. Not fair that you must be just a Ranger and Captain of the Grey Company. Not fair that you are a leader, a man other men admire and long to follow. Not fair.”
I blinked and held my breath. Aragorn had once again gone rigid with thought. I had no doubts where his real preferences lay, regardless of how desperately he had wanted to perform the flashy Trillium’s Sweep. I cast Hal a look of admiration which he, of course, refused to notice.
“Aye, little boy?”
“G-Gwin w-was right.”
“Uh huh! So-So what if I-I am not a-a-a elf? So wh-what, Hal?”
Hal chuckled. “So what indeed, sweetling. Well said.”
Aragorn was quiet for a moment, then he suddenly cried, “Oh, Hal’brad, I am so s-sorry!
“Shhh. ‘Tis all right, for you understand now. So all is forgiven littl --”
“No! No! I-I mean, I am s-sorry ‘bout that, but, but, Hal, I-I also told Gwin a hu-hurtful thing! A bad hurtful th-thing!”
Hal narrowed his eyes in thought, gazing at Aragorn for a moment, then: “Ahh! The hurtful thing you told Gwin was that you had been calling me ‘Hal’ long before he did, correct?”
Aragorn let fly a fresh and mournful wail. “Uh huuuhhh!”
“And you are feeling badly about what you said because I told you that you can rouse Gwin’s jealousy.”
“Shhhhh, little boy. Hush. You and Gwinthorian both said things you did not mean that day. True, those particular words would have hit the mark with Gwin, just as many of his hit the mark with you. And when he is once again awake, you shall have the chance to tell him sorry. You both have sorries to say to each other.”
Quieting, Aragorn sniffled and hiccuped and finally nodded. “Aye.”
“Shhh, very well then. ‘Tis all right now, little boy. All is forgiven. All over now. Rest. Breathe easy for me. You deserve to lie safely over my lap now. You were so brave and said all your sorries. So now ‘tis time to rest quietly. Shhhhh. I am so proud of you.”
Aragorn wept quietly for a few minutes, his soft sobs full of relief, then he said in a small voice, “Th-Thank you, Hal-Hal’brad.”
Hal glanced over at me and we exchanged grins. That polite response said so much. I grinned yet again when seeing the sparkle that lit up Halbarad’s eyes, touched that he should be so affected. He began murmuring to Aragorn now, that slow, calming canticle of solace, beginning with, “You are most welcome, my wild little pup.”
Aragorn lay melted over Hal’s lap, drinking in gentle words and constant pets. I found it strangely comforting that Hal’s words and phrases were similar to mine when I had a vulnerable Ranger-child in just such a state. Halbarad reassured, he complimented, he spoke with simple sweetness and he enveloped Aragorn in a blanket of safety. Finally, after Aragorn had been lying quietly for some time, he began to speak as well:
“Aye, little boy?”
“Is G-Gwin mad at me?”
I raised a brow at that. One truly never knew what might come out of someone’s mouth when he was thoroughly spanked and in a depleted state. Amazing that whether or not Gwin was angry with him would trouble Aragorn, and to the extent that it was the first thing out of his mouth. Hal looked a bit startled as well. A well-spanked little one was a source of ever surprising mental twists.
“Nay, not at all.”
“But I said that h-hurtful thing and --”
“And he said many hurtful things as well, so hurtful that you risked your life to answer them. Are you mad at him, sweetling?”
“Nor is he mad at you.”
Astounding to watch Halbarad at work. He went on:
“You both wanted the same thing that day, little one. You had been yearning for it for many days in fact,” he went on. “Do you know what it was?”
“Uhhhh . . . .”
“What is at the heart of most spankings? What is the naughty person seeking?”
“Aye. Very good. How wise you are, my pup.”
Aragorn wiggled his feet in happy response, and I choked back a laugh. It was too delightful.
"You both wanted attention, and, though you did not know it at the time, you both used each other to get that attention. There was never any real hurtful intent. Neither of you wouldst wish to hurt the other. Is that not true?”
“Aye, Hal’brad.” A brief silence, then, “Hal’brad?”
“Aye, little boy?”
“I-I knew I could not do it.”
“And I . . . I knew L-Legolas was right to s-say ‘no.’”
Halbarad glanced over at me with a quiet grin. “Of course you knew. My pup is very wise.”
“I wanted to . . . I wanted to be like a . . . I wanted to be like a-a elf.”
“I am not a elf, though.”
“Nay. You have been taught to reason and think in elvish ways, and that is good, but you are not an elf in body.”
“And I will never, ever be a-a elf . . . in body.”
“Never is a long time, sir.”
“Aye, but, Hal’brad, I shall n-never turn into an elf in body.”
“Nay. Then you shall stop trying to become one, sweetling, and stop expecting your human form to do what an elf’s body can do. Is that correct?”
“Uh huh. I will n-never be able to do what an elf does.”
“Does that matter, little boy?”
“No. Nooo, no, no, no, no. It does n-not matter. Because --” And finally, Hal’s repeated assurance of how wise his pup was had taken root. Aragorn grew quiet, then he levered himself up and turned to look over his shoulder at Halbarad. “Be-Because there is so much that I can d-do.”
Halbarad broke into his handsomest smile. “Ahh! How very wise my pup is.”
“S-Sorry, Hal’brad. Sooo sorry!”
“I know. And all those who love you know how sorry you are, sweetling. And now that you have taken your spanking and said all your sorries, you are going to let all the hurt of it go now. It is over. All over now. All gone. And everything is put to rights again. Do you understand?”
“Good. Then come. Let me hold you, little boy.”
And once more Halbarad gathered up Aragorn and held him, keeping that scalded bottom suspended as best he could.
Aragorn wrapped his arms around Hal’s broad shoulders, burying his head against his neck, still shuddering and releasing soft teary sounds. I gazed at the sight, newly enchanted. How big Halbarad looked, and how sturdy and sure! What must it feel like to be caught up in that embrace, sporting a blistered bottom? The embrace looked nice; the blistered bottom made me shudder.
And yet I watched, too captivated to look away, as I had been from the beginning, admiring what Halbarad had just accomplished. He had taken Aragorn’s hand and guided him through some difficult passageways and along a journey of discovery so that Aragorn might then explain back all he had learned. Of course, Aragorn had already known these things deep inside, but he had been unable to find them until Hal had nudged him in the right direction.
And now Halbarad allowed Aragorn all the time he needed, for he had been through much and he had done well and his little boy was deserving of comfort and attention. Aragorn snuggled closely, Halbarad encouraging him to do so, murmuring to him, his lips brushing his pup’s tousled hair.
“Hal’brad?” Aragorn asked after a time.
Hal grinned softly to himself, plainly aware of what Aragorn’s next question was going to be and waiting for it. “Aye, little boy?”
“W-Were you . . . when-when I did that b-bad thing, w-were you ang . . . angr --”
“Was I angry with you?”
Aragorn buried his face in Hal’s shirt and nodded fast.
Halbarad glanced my way, his look saying what I already knew: ‘He, of course, knows the answer; but there is comfort in ritual, so he, of course, must ask.’
“Nay, sweetling,” Halbarad said. “Have I ever been angry with you when you were naughty?”
“Never, Hal. Not never ever.”
“Nay. Not never.”
I felt I was
witnessing an exchange that Hal and his pup had perhaps engaged in
before, and I savored the moment, feeling privileged to share their
Halbarad and I sat mirroring each other, arms full of red-bottomed little ones, and it was a unique situation. I relished holding Gwin in my arms, but I also understood the delights of holding a well-spanked ‘little boy Aragorn.’ So, though happy with my own circumstance, I yet could not help feeling slightly envious of Halbarad. Would that I had two laps!
But Halbarad suddenly turned his calm gaze my way and studied me. I flushed ‘neath that insightful Dúnedain watchfulness, but he quickly gave me his mild look and a quiet grin. “You have tended to my Gwin admirably, sir,” he murmured. “And you have bravely stood witness throughout this little one’s ordeal. We are privileged to have been granted your company, Legolas. I could not have attended to these naughty younglings without you, nor would I have wanted to do so.”
Now I well and truly blushed. Aragorn turned his head to gaze at me, sweet loving sparkles lighting up his drowsy, glassy red-rimmed eyes. “Hello my belov’d Leg’las,” he said.
“Hello my beloved Ranger-child.”
“Perhaps it is time we traded,” Halbarad said, and he glanced at Aragorn. “Gwin is clearly past caring, little one. Do you have a preference regarding whose lap you grace?”
Aragorn looked back and forth between us, utterly flummoxed, then he said, “Both.”
I had one very squirmy Ranger-child in our bed.
“Stop fussing.” Aragorn fussed more. “Estel!” I said in a sharper tone. “Enough!”
He huffed at me, pouting with spectacular enthusiasm. “I cannot get comfortable.”
“And whose fault is that?”
I chuckled. “Let us go down to camp that you might tell him so.”
He stopped wriggling and lay still, on his side, curled against me. I could not resist going on:
“Be sure to use that sulky tone and call him ‘Hal.’ That would really serve to make your point.”
Aragorn sighed, lightly thumped my chest with his fist, then grabbed a lock of my hair and began playing with it. “Not funny. Not.”
I chuckled again and glanced down at him, watching him, enjoying him so much it felt plain wicked. “If you think you are uncomfortable now imagine how you would feel after he finished with you.”
“Noooo, thank you.” Aragorn glowered in that little-boy manner that went straight to my heart. Then: “Leg’las?”
I grinned. “Mmm?”
“I cannot get comfortable!”
I sighed with false ire. “Then you had best come here, little Estel.” Picking Aragorn up, I pulled him over to stretch out atop me. “Better?”
Snuggling down upon me, his warm breath tickling my neck, he murmured, “Mmm. Aye.”
“Hmmph. I hear that grin in your tone. You are now where you wanted to be all along, are you not?”
“Impertinent brat.” Reaching down, I lightly pinched his sore rear. He yelped and flinched, then he raised his head and smiled beautifully at me.
“But now I am comfortable. So no more fussing, Leg’las.”
I raised my brows, then I could not help chuckling once more. I actually could not have been more delighted, for Aragorn had been fully lodged in his little boy place since finding his way there whilst over Hal’s knee earlier in the day.
Gwin had roused to a drowsy state shortly after Hal and I ‘traded’ our burdens, so we had remained in the library for a while, allowing our well-spanked pair to rest ere we took our leave. Gwin and Aragorn said their shy but heartfelt ‘sorries’ to each other, and when we rose Aragorn surprised us all by stepping forth to gather Gwin in his arms and kiss him softly.
“No one can replace you in Hal’s heart, lid’dle Gwin,” he murmured. “I am his pup, aye, but you are his beloved Gwinling.”
Gwinthorian responded accordingly. He burst into soft weeping, drenching poor Aragorn in tears and more apologies. Whilst Halbarad and I stood staring, pondering what to do, Aragorn displayed his masterful nature e’en whilst deeply lost in his little boy place. Giving Gwin a slight smack on the behind he said, “Stop that, you silly ass. Enough sorries. Turn me loose.”
We had all laughed, Gwin most of all, though going so red-faced it looked painful. Then Halbarad had taken him back to the Ranger encampment and Aragorn and I had returned to our chamber. We had remained here since, Aragorn resting off and on after his ordeal.
Towards late afternoon my ada thoughtfully sent heavily laden trays and a note saying that he and Elrond had felt it best that Estel be spared a trip to the dining hall. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough for him to make an appearance. I was grateful. Come morning Aragorn would be better ready to face whatever teasing the twins visited upon their little brother until Elrond caught them at it and put a stop to it. Until then I had delighted in having my Ranger-child all to myself.
“What . . . what was it like?” Aragorn now quietly asked. I glanced at him. He wore a bashful expression that made me take notice. “What was it like . . . well, watching me, I mean . . . watching Hal’brad . . .well . . . .”
“Do you mean, what was it like watching Halbarad spank you?”
He nodded, blushing wildly.
His question was so endearing I could scarce form logical thought for a moment. Then, all I could summon was, “It was a very pretty sight indeed, sweetling.”
“Pretty?” he exclaimed, now going positively scarlet. “It was not!”
I laughed softly, having failed to realize how indignant he might be by such a notion. But I could hardly lie, so: “Aye, indeed it was. Your sweet bottom bounced a little with each swat.”
“It did not!”
“And you wiggled like the wild little pup you are.”
“I did not!”
“And you kicked and kicked and your hair flew all around, and all the while your pretty bottom grew redder and redder.”
“Halbarad left off too soon, though.”
Aragorn actually squeaked in shock.
“Is he always that lenient with you?”
He glowered at me.
“He must have been feeling merciful.”
Huffing his exasperation, Aragorn muttered something about having heard enough of this and he tried to scramble off of me. I laughed, scooping him back and holding him more firmly, though he did little to resist. “Aww, forgive me, sweetling. I should not tease you.”
He fired me a glorious scowl. “I am going to tell Halbarad what you said.”
I laughed. “Nay, please!” And I chuckled at his ‘tsk’ and rolled eyes. “But I was being honest about what I saw, little one. I meant what I said about your spanking being a pretty sight. Estel, believe me, it was.”
Aragorn frowned down at me for a moment, then he sighed in resignation and rested his head down on my shoulder again, saying, “Pretty indeed.”
Hugging him closely, I said, “Indeed. Pretty. I could not look away. It was quite enthralling seeing my beloved being so well and perfectly attended to. Halbarad’s devotion to you was clear with every spank. You likely felt that.”
Aragorn lay quietly, thinking that over, and the images danced through my head once more, images I would never forget. The sight had been far more than merely ‘pretty.’
“It was really pretty, Leg’las?”
I grinned. It was as though he had read my thoughts. “More than that. So much more that I cannot describe it to you well, sweetling.”
“That means it is a very big feeling.”
“Maybe someday I will get the chance to see Halbarad spank you.”
Now I really laughed. “Never, my sweet Ranger-child!” I exclaimed. “How Gwin bears up under that man’s hand is beyond me. I am sorry to deny you the experience, but I plan to never get anywhere near your heavy-handed lieutenant’s lap.”
I felt Aragorn chuckling against me. “Never is a long time, sir.”
It might have seemed more merciful to allow Gwin his actions without bringing them out into the open, but it was definitely the wrong thing to do for my elfling. Allowing Gwinthorian to think he had outwitted me had proven disastrous in the past.
So I could not let it go, and my elfling knew it, and Gwin confirmed that when we returned to our tent. I stretched us out on our cot, Gwin resting in my arms and he pushed me for the conclusion he did not know he really wanted.
“I am so weary,” he said, yawning quite sincerely.
“Even after all that sleep you had a little while ago?” I asked.
He turned his head to gaze at me. “Uh huh.”
I chuckled softly. “Stop, little counterfeit.”
Gwin’s eyes flew wide. “What?”
“I know you too well, sir. Further pretense is unnecessary.”
“You . . . you knew?” he said in a hushed voice.
“Gwinthorian.” It was all I needed to say. He erupted.
“I-I had to pretend to be asleep!”
“Aragorn would not have let himself surrender in front of me!”
“I-I watched him getting spanked and spanked, and I asked Legolas why he did not cry out. ‘Because he is Aragorn,’ he said! But I knew! I knew why he was being stubborn, Hal!”
“Gwinthorian, enou --”
“Please do not spank me again! OW!”
It was but a small swat, but it likely stung mightily. I rubbed at the sting. “Hush, little one. Not another word. I do not intend to spank you again.”
He stared at me, wide-eyed and mildly bewildered. “Are you angry with me, Hal?”
I ran my hand over his bottom, the silky skin still warm. “Nay.”
“Unless you feigned sleep in order to escape watching Aragorn’s spanking.” I said it knowing he had not done so. Gwin bristled with charming indignation – Gwin was indeed quite charming when bristling.
“No! No, Hal! I did not!”
“Hush.” I drew him down and kissed him. “I know you did not. You were doing Aragorn a kindness.”
“Aye. Well, I was trying to,” he said, his ruffled feathers smoothing. He went quiet and thoughtful, then: “Would this be a little white lie then?”
“Lies do not come in colors, Gwinling,” I said, wondering what kind of rubbish he had been listening to from what roguish Mirkwood kinsmen. “Lies either are or they are not.”
“Well then, why --”
“Because I consider your action to be not a lie, but a strategy. And therein lays the difference.”
“Oh.” Again he went quiet and thoughtful. He was thinking far too much today, my elfling. “But are those differences simply words --”
“We could continue to debate this, sir, during which time you might very well convince me to rethink my position. You are a skilled wordsmith, my Gwin, and should you choose to address it further I might come to believe that you cannot live with my assessment --”
“Then I shall likely rethink the matter, perhaps resolve that you had indeed lied, then change my plans accordingly, spanking you every other night for two weeks instead of just one we --”
I raised a brow at him and patted his bottom.
“It was quite a brilliant strategy, was it not?”
“Aye, Gwinling. Quite brilliant indeed.”