Beta appreciation notes to my dear Kat – thanks so much for watching my back, and special thanks for the late night brainstorming and encouragement, sweetie!
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I don’t own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
The Troll Incident
I flinched at the murmur. Uh-oh. Aragorn. Casually strolling up behind me. And, Valar help me, he was sure to have another ingenious plan in mind. The murmur gave him away.
I turned. There it was, that gleam in Aragorn’s eye, a clear warning that he’d once again fallen victim to the little boy who lived within him, the one that emerged every so often to lead my otherwise noble captain into calamitous misbehavior inviting my willing and dim-witted self along for the journey.
I knew this Aragorn all too well. The first time he’d visited himself upon me I’d nearly ended up either burned alive or devoured by an army of hungry wargs. In retrospect, either fate would’ve been preferable to facing Garrick’s subsequent over-the-knee means of expressing his displeasure with my decision to follow Aragorn into near catastrophe.
I’d barely known Aragorn at the time. Our new captain had been with the Rangers for less than a month and I was utterly awed by him. So when he came to me – me! – with a secret plan I could scarce believe my good fortune! My captain had made the brief reconnaissance seem fairly harmless, and completely exciting:
"What say you, Devon? You and I can take a quick ride over to where the wargs are massing, determine their numbers and ride back with some valuable information."
"Sir . . . alone? You and I alone? Determining the unknown numbers of a gathering of w-wargs . . . alone? Please excuse my presumption, my lord, but, well, is this . . . uh, wise?"
"What can happen? ‘Tis naught but simple observation."
"What about Halbarad? He watches you closely."
"Leave Halbarad to me."
Had I known at the time that Aragorn intended to drug Halbarad I’d have perhaps rethought the matter.
Many times since over the years I’d heard Aragorn’s soft, "Dev," murmured behind me, and I’d flinched, knowing that soon, without fail, I was going to be facing Garrick and certain doom should I turn and answer Aragorn with an eager, "Aye, sir?"
But I had never failed to do just that, and as night follows day, certain doom, courtesy of Garrick, had followed my willingness to follow my captain into whatever new scheme he had devised. I truly was the most consistent horse’s ass when it came to Aragorn and his infernal, ingenious plans.
And I knew that what Aragorn had in mind this time involved that cursed troll.
Whilst traveling north, the Grey Company had come upon a valley nestled at the foothills of the Ettenmoors. According to the scattered crofters and residents of the few small hamlets in the region, a Stone-troll had wandered into their valley and had been terrorizing the countryside.
Unlike the mute and savage cave trolls, Stone-trolls were slightly more civilized. They wore clothing instead of a loincloth and they lived in small groups of two to five, squabbling like children most of the time, for they spoke a loose version of the Common Speech and they had very little intelligence. Rogues were the most loathsome of their brethren, shunning and shunned by even their own. They had been known to migrate great distances, usually leaving a path of destruction, and now this one had plainly found good hunting grounds here amongst the crops and livestock of this quiet valley. Taking up residence in a cave within the foothills, it ventured forth to raid several nights a week, then vanished again before the sun’s rays could turn it to stone.
This had been going on for months now and the people had not the skills to defend themselves. They had lost some good men in the attempt, though, and the shadows of rage and heartbreak and loss, along with the despair of their helplessness burned in the eyes of the plain, stoic folk of this region. The Grey Company, to the man, seethed inwardly, their strong faces dark with anger.
"The thing speaks the Common Speech, milord, if you can call it that," one of the crofters told Aragorn. "But there’s ought reasoning with a dratted troll. It just threatens to eat us iffen we follow it or give it trouble. Stupid sod! Kill us all and it’ll kill it’s own food supply after a while!"
"True words indeed, sir," Aragorn had said.
The creature had staged a raid the night before we arrived, so it now had enough plunder to keep it sated and in its cave for several days. The men of the valley showed the Rangers the entrance to the troll’s cave, but of course it was pure folly to stalk a troll into its dark lair. Caves could be shallow or they could be huge, winding back under hill for miles. Close quarter fighting was to the beast’s advantage. Many a man could end up swiped aside and dashed upon the walls of the cavern. Better to battle a troll out in the open, where there was plenty of room for the troop to maneuver and the troll can be surrounded and eventually brought down.
So the Rangers would needs wait until the troll’s stomach sent it forth again, after sundown, of course. We pitched camp several miles away downwind of the cave and settled in to wait.
And now Aragorn was plainly bored and casting me that look I both dreaded and relished. I knew I was going to regret answering him with my very agreeable, "Aye, sir?" And I knew I’d answer him so anyway. For I was just as big a fool as my captain was when it came to challenging my valor just for the sake of doing it, even though we always regretted our folly afterwards when certain heavy-handed disciplinary persons caught up with us.
"Devon, explain this to me," Garrick had once calmly asked, though at the time he had been spanking me for so long and with such vigor that I could scarce draw breath, much less form words. "You know that Aragorn’s plans are going to land you exactly where you are right now. So why do you not simply decline his invitation to follow him down this ruinous path that you know will end in certain doom?"
I’d had no answer to that question save a heartily bellowed, "I don’t kn-knowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!"
But Aragorn had never ordered me to follow him down that path to certain doom, nor would he ever need to do so. Noooo, when my captain was hit by a sudden need to do something of a questionable nature, I was most definitely his man. Aragorn had the most ingenious plans! And, though I’d never felt it wise to admit this to Garrick, the truth was, doing something of a questionable nature with Aragorn was fun! Our exploits were sometimes imprudent and most often reckless. But about half the time they turned out rather well, leaving the two of us feeling right pleased with our sore-bottomed selves. And when they ended in slight disaster, well, those slight disasters were not our fault. They simply, truly were not. Things just went mysteriously wrong in those instances, and, well, how could we have foreseen those odd circumstances?
Nevertheless, Halbarad, Garrick and Legolas took such a dim view of our deeds that Aragorn and I always ended up dreadfully spanked. Regardless. Of. The. Outcome. Success or failure, certain doom was a foregone conclusion from the moment of Aragorn’s whispered, Dev.
Now was this fair? I suppose the slight disasters were deserving of some disciplinary action, even though they were not our fault. But to be disciplined when there had been no disaster? Aragorn sometimes tried to point out the unfairness of this and reason with our Higher Authorities. However, we always received the same tedious response, the argument favoring certain doom for which neither Aragorn nor I had devised an answer:
"Outcome matters not. You endangered your lives needlessly. There is nothing more to say."
The few times that I had jumped up beside Aragorn and declared that there most certainly was more to say! I’d found myself immediately silenced by a positively knee-collapsing glitter in Garrick’s eyes. It was either sit down and go silent or abandon my Rangering days and my will to sit a horse. So I’d sit whilst I still could.
Taking all that into account in the space of about two heartbeats, I flinched at Aragorn’s whisper, wisely equating that sound with certain doom.
"Walk with me."
"I am about to meet with the elders to discuss our plans for after this troll is attended to."
"Mmm." Sometimes Aragorn liked to build up to things slowly. So I listened and nodded and noticed Legolas heading out to the watchpoint. Aragorn and Legolas usually shared the watch, as did Garrick and I. Aragorn caught my gaze.
"I shall join him shortly, but first, I would talk to you."
"Oh? Talk to me about what, sir?" And I gave him my best falsely innocent grin.
He chuckled softly.
"May I be so bold as to suggest that it has something to do with a certain troll?" I inquired.
Still chuckling, Aragorn pulled out his pipe and pouch and started packing some weed. "Ah, Dev," he said. "Such a Dúnedain. Such a clever lad."
"Nay, sir, not at all," I said. "Were I truly a clever lad I would, with all due respect, ask to be excused from this conversation."
"Not much chance you will ask that, I vow," Aragorn said, eyes twinkling.
"None whatsoever, my lord. So, you see – not clever at all."
"I stand corrected."
We reached a small grouping of boulders at the far edge of the clearing and sat. "Best to stay where they can see us," Aragorn said, which was really his way of saying, ‘Best to stay where we can see them.’
"Halbarad and Garrick are paying us no heed," I said, watching the smoke curling into the sky from Aragorn’s pipe.
"You know as well as I that when Halbarad appears to be paying no heed he is, in fact, paying a great deal of heed."
"As is Garrick," Aragorn said.
"You are right, though." Aragorn nodded, studying the warriors briefly. "They suspect nothing. Yet."
As though confirming Aragorn’s words, Garrick, Thayer and Halbarad now moved apart, Thayer heading towards a fire where some of the older men were gathered, Halbarad and Garrick strolling towards another, still talking.
Aragorn puffed his pipe thoughtfully for a few minutes, building the suspense, then he said, "Do you recall the last time the Grey Company battled a troll, Dev?"
I narrowed my eyes in thought. "It’s been quite a while. Mmmm . . . ten years or more?"
"Legolas was not with the troop yet. He joined us about a month later."
That startled me. Aragorn grinned softly.
"It is difficult to recall a time when he was not among us, is it not?"
"Yes. His father had need of him for many years, so you told me – the years when you and I were first with the troop."
Aragorn went silent for a moment, gazing off. I waited, leaving him to his memories, and after another minute or so he cast me a quick look, gave a small sheepish laugh and said, "Sorry. I was thinking of a time when my brothers and Legolas and I were out traveling the wild."
Ah! A story! He went on:
"We had been out adventuring for several months when we happened across a trail of destruction, and, since such a trail usually leads to something foul that is likely causing trouble, we, of course, followed it."
"After a few days of searching, and after encountering several parties of disgruntled people, we learned that we were, indeed, pursuing a troll. We eventually found the pest and did away with him."
Only Aragorn would refer to a monstrous troll as a ‘pest.’
"The most efficient way to kill a troll is to either cut its throat or drive your sword through its eye and into its brain. But first it must be weakened and brought to its knees or lower, where a warrior can get to its neck or its head. It can be a messy, deadly business, bringing down a troll. ‘Tis near impossible to do so alone. So --" He chuckled. "So, of course, I wanted to try it."
"My brothers and Legolas agreed to give me the chance."
I lifted a brow, surprised that Aragorn had been permitted to take such a risk, but with three formidable elves no more than a hairsbreadth away, ready to step in should Aragorn be threatened, I assumed they felt there was little risk.
"I was often trying to prove myself in my younger days," he went on. "I vow my brothers and Legolas believed that I would learn more from actual experience, and they were right. The experience was certainly a bit humbling."
I shared his grin, imagining my noble captain as a proud youth in the company of three masterfully skilled and powerful elves. He would be ever eager to show himself worthy, ever struggling to earn their respect, refusing to believe that he already had it . . . behavior I had witnessed him still engaging in when we were around elves, especially his brothers.
"I quickly realized that one man armed with but a sword is no match for a troll. I was not going to be able to bring that creature down alone."
"I have heard of no man who could."
"Nay, but I was going to be the first!" We chuckled. "However, within about a minute I realized my folly. My brothers and Legolas joined me and just as quickly it was all over."
"Within about a minute it was all over?"
"Mmm. You no doubt know that a troll can also be brought down with a single arrow."
"Well, yes," I said. "Firing up through the soft roof of the troll’s mouth and into its brain will kill it near instantly."
"Aye. ‘Tis a certain kill shot, however, ‘tis also most difficult."
"I do vow!" I sputtered. "Hitting such a mark on a moving target?"
"A target that is trying to stomp upon you or kill you with one blow."
"Or eat you alive?" I scoffed. "Something of a distraction. The archer would needs remain perfectly still in front of the troll, despite the danger, and close enough to take exact aim."
"Mmm. It would require fortitude and a good eye."
I nodded, envisioning it. "But I’ve heard it said that a few of the fair folk --" I cast Aragorn a quick look. He was watching me with a half-grin, expectant and clever. "You’ve seen this done, haven’t you, my lord?"
I gasped. "Your brothers – no! Lord Glorfindel – no!" Again I gasped. "Legolas! Legolas can do it!"
Aragorn chuckled softly. "Aye. He can. Few can match his skill with a bow save Lord Glorfindel, and perhaps the Marchwarden of Lothlorien, Haldir."
"To fell a troll with such a shot! That’s something I’d love to see!"
"And so you shall see it, my friend! When our troll grows hungry again and emerges from his lair, the Rangers shall distract it long enough for Legolas to step forth and take his kill shot."
I stared quietly at Aragorn, seeing it in my mind, the troll’s attention drawn to wherever the Rangers wanted to draw it, the creature’s mouth open and roaring, yelling threats, yelling foul trollish obscenities, and Legolas standing straight and steady before it, aiming his bow to match the troll’s erratic movements, as though the two were connected by an invisible thread, then, ‘zwing!’
"Kill shot," I murmured.
And suddenly, a strange, sad sensation smacked into me and my mind went blank.
"Dev?" I looked at Aragorn. He was watching me closely. "Perhaps you would not love to see such a demonstration after all."
"Yes. I-I mean . . . well, of course . . . I think it will be quite a sight."
"Aye, it is that."
"And the troll will be dispensed with quickly."
I shot to my feet and paced a few steps.
"You have been practicing your bowmanship for some time now," Aragorn said. "Legolas is an excellent teacher. I know. He taught me. And your skill far surpasses mine."
I stopped pacing and turned to him. "No."
"Aye." He studied me. "You would like to try that shot yourself, would you not, Dev?"
I thought about it, fearing it, but ah! The glory of it! "Yes. Oh, yes."
Aragorn flashed me his irresistible smile. "Well, then . . . ."
They were hours late. For the hundredth time I checked the stars. Four hours. Four hours I had been on watch. For the hundredth time I thought back over what Aragorn had told me before I left to go on duty:
"When I have finished meeting with the elders I shall join you, melleth nin. Perhaps I shall bring Devon. He could use a few hours away from Garrick."
So why had they not come?
I told myself I was being foolish. I told myself to stop this anxiousness. I tried to think of something else and failed. I gave Aragorn the benefit of the doubt – clearly this meeting of theirs had simply run much longer than he had anticipated. I then tried to reason out what they could be discussing that was taking so much time. We already had a plan for dealing with this troll. It was sated now, but it would emerge again sometime over the next few nights and when it did I would dispatch it.
So what was taking Aragorn so long?
Of course, anything could have delayed him, and if I went rushing back to camp in search of him, only to find my Ranger still deeply embroiled in some tiresome Rangerly matter, Aragorn would be seriously exasperated with me. So I wrestled with my anxiousness. Was my imagination out of control? Was it worth possibly embarrassing Aragorn simply to ease my own unrestrained fears?
As the time passed and the hour grew late and my anxiety increased I repeatedly considered leaving my post to seek him out. But, aside from the utter impropriety of the act, Aragorn would hate it. He resented feeling ‘mothered’ as he put it. When I had joined the Grey Company he was elated, but we had quickly been forced to do some adjusting, for I had spent a lifetime watching over Aragorn and he made it clear that he would tolerate no coddling.
"Halbarad is nursemaid enough," he had grumbled.
"He cares about you."
"I know, but . . . hmmph." Then he said, "We need to find Halbarad someone to pay attention to. Someone who will give him so much trouble he has less time to bother with me."
I had thought about that, then grinned and said, "Hmm. Interesting notion."
He grinned back. "We shall needs go on a quest for such a one. A new recruit."
"A new Numenorean?" I had joked, and we had both laughed at the impossibility.
In truth, I seriously doubted there was anyone in Middle Earth who could give Halbarad as much trouble as my Aragorn.
By the time Hadden came out to relieve me it was midnight and I was wholly overwrought. I raced back to camp, praying to find my Ranger puffing his pipe and deeply embroiled in some tiresome Rangerly matter.
The moment I saw the campfires a hot jolt of dread ripped through me. The camp was bedded down for the night. All was quiet. No meeting was taking place. And there was no sign of Aragorn. I hurried to the fire where Garrick and Halbarad, still awake, were quietly puffing their pipes, sitting on their bedrolls. Devon would have been asleep with his head on Garrick’s thigh by now – had Devon been in camp. Halbarad and Garrick looked up at me expectantly.
"Legolas?" Garrick said, a wary gleam entering his eye.
Halbarad glanced beyond me. "But, where are --"
"Not with me!" I gasped. "They never arrived."
Garrick and Halbarad shot to their feet, the three of us sharing a look of horror.
"Four hours," Halbarad stated in a dark, flat tone. "They have been gone for four hours."
We stared at each other for another moment, then turned and charged towards the fire where Thayer and the older Rangers were sleeping.
"They told Garrick and me that they were going to join you, share your shift," Halbarad muttered.
"I thought Devon had fallen asleep out there with you two."
"No," I said. "They never joined me. I-I just assumed Aragorn was still meeting with the elders." Of course, that now seemed a foolish assumption.
The camp was beginning to stir. From the corner of my eye I saw those Rangers who were yet awake watching us hurrying through camp. They rose up to follow, poking others to wake, their faces grim.
Thayer looked stunned by our news. "They would not – not --"
"Not a troll," Farrell muttered, voicing all our fears. "They would not be so foolish as to take on a troll, just the two of them."
"Aye," Halbarad called back, he and I dashing after Garrick towards the horses. "They would. They are that foolish."
Within minutes the Grey Company were rallied and mounting, saddles left behind. And, indeed, we all knew where to find Aragorn and Devon.
Our first order of business had been to get rid of the two men assigned to stand watch over the entrance to the troll’s cave. That was easily done. Two obedient Rangers, relieved by their captain himself, headed back to camp and Devon and I took their place, settling down behind the rocks to survey the situation. Best to wait a bit. The moon would be full again tonight as it was last night, and at this time of year it was enormous and white and radiant, beaming down, bathing the land in an eerie twilight. The sky was black and clear and awash with stars. It was meant to be.
"Perfect night to slay a troll!" I said. "The skies themselves are on your side, Dev. They are bringing you a lantern by which to take your shot."
"How courteous of them, milord, to bring such a very large lantern indeed," he said, flashing me his winning smile.
The moon, just starting its ascent, lit up the high sheen of Devon’s golden hair, so unusual a color for a Numenorean. It made me think of Legolas. My elf would be quite a fetching sight to behold on a night such as this. A shimmer of regret rippled through me, thinking of him alone out at the watchpoint. And then I considered how furious he was going to be with me and my tender mood vanished.
Perhaps Legolas and Hal and Garrick and the stern-faced elders would forgive our escapade this time. They might. What we were attempting would, after all, benefit the Company. It might spare our men unnecessary injury or worse, so what harm was there in our attempt? Of course, such was often our defense, and it had never saved Devon and me from the all-encompassing, insurmountable, ‘you-endangered-yourselves-there-is-nothing-more-to-say’ counterclaim. Nay, Dev and I were most likely headed for Devon’s quite suitably named ‘certain doom.’
I had to applaud the lad’s courage in willingly accepting Garrick’s retribution. Not that my fate was any less grim. At least Devon knew whose knee he would be going over whereas I was left to ponder which of my two painstaking disciplinarians would spank me this time.
Legolas or Halbarad? Both choices made me shudder. Although . . . well, Hal was, perhaps, a bit worse. Legolas was no less severe, an elvish spanking certainly being an awful fate. But I was more accustomed to him as Legolas was usually the one spanking me. Hal stepped in only occasionally, and oft when my offense involved the Rangers – like now. But sudden, unaccountable changes in protocol could take place at any time – like now. So I was ever left to ponder the matter.
Hal and Legolas were discreet enough. An exchanged glance, mutual nods and my fate was decided. Usually they did not even need that. But sometimes they actually entered into a fleeting debate whilst I stood there shifting from foot to foot and fuming and longing to melt into the ground.
I felt the entire question was unbefitting my station. Why did Legolas and Halbarad get to decide who disciplined me? Just who had granted them that privilege? I did not recall doing so. It was my backside in question. After all, I was already agreeing to be disciplined in the first place. Who was Captain here?
Devon’s whisper yanked my attention back to him – large, soft grey eyes, suddenly filled with concern. Ah! Careless of me. Of course this sensitive boy would feel my sudden mood.
"Sir, if you’ve changed your mind, I understand comple --"
"Not at all, Dev. And I pray you drop the ‘sir.’ Remember our agreement?"
Another grin, a shy one this time. "Yes. Call you ‘Aragorn,’ when we are engaged in a private mission, right sir?"
We chuckled at his deliberate failure. "Aye."
Deference to command had been ingrained in Devon long before we had met, so although he might try to relax the courtesy of rank, he would largely fail. It was second nature to him now.
Not that it mattered to me. I had simply thought easing the formality would help ease his restlessness, so I gave him my leave and let the choice be his. Mentioning it now served the purpose that it usually did, the tension in his body falling away.
"How long shall we wait?" he asked.
He nodded, but sidled me a swift uncertain glance. Understandable. He would be apprehensive of course.
"Soon the moon will rise enough to fully illuminate that area in front of the cave’s hidden entrance," I said. "I want you to have every advantage, Dev. We can wait a little while longer."
"Are you sure no one will wonder why Logan and Erland have returned to camp?"
I shook my head. "The men were already drifting apart from the central fire, dividing into their smaller parties. Logan and Erland will go straight to their group of companions and settle in. None save their fire-mates will likely think much about their return. But if anyone should ask they will simply say that you and I relieved them." I shrugged. "That will be explanation enough. None are likely to be suspicious of anything, for not even their daring captain is fool enough to take on a troll with naught but that young sprout Devon at his side."
"Little do they know that the young sprout is a gifted archer, able to rival even an elf."
"Well . . . ." He shrugged.
"Come, Dev. Take credit where ‘tis due."
He blushed and looked away, typically modest, and I smiled to myself and settled back to wait, wishing I could risk a quick smoke. This was going to go well. Perhaps we really would be excused certain doom this time. I was, after all, also doing this for Devon’s sake. He had been training with Legolas for some time now, and we had all been commending Dev on his progress and his diligence.
"He is now better with a bow than you are," Legolas had cheekily informed me one day.
Lifting a brow, I had replied, "No doubt. He practices. It makes a difference."
"No doubt. Or mayhap he is simply more talented."
"Sword is my weapon, not the bow. But, hmmm . . . mayhap we should hold a little archery contest."
And Legolas, who ever knew my inner thoughts as well as Halbarad did, had turned to me, his teasing finished, and said with an affectionate gaze, "So that you can discreetly lose, melleth nin?" He chuckled at my blush. "You would not need to do so. Devon truly is as good as I say."
So here was a chance for Devon to test himself, and I wanted to give him that chance. He deserved it. Making this shot would do things for his confidence that mere spoken praise could not, so it seemed unthinkable to allow this rare opportunity to pass by unheeded. Aye, Legolas could dispense with this troll quickly, but why not give Devon his attempt first?
I glanced at him, watched him observing, anticipating, planning. The moon was nearly in position. Good. He would not need to wait much more. The longer Dev had to wait the more anxious he would become – he would start thinking too much.
But a sudden notion occurred to me, something I had not considered until now.
"Dev," I called softly. He turned to me. "Fate gave you this opportunity. I merely came up with the ingenious plan for making it possible." We shared a smirk. "But I would not have fashioned this plan unless I felt certain you could make the shot. I have been watching you practicing. I know you can do it."
He gazed at me for a long moment, then looked down shyly again, mindlessly running his fingertip over his bow. "I-I appreciate your faith in me."
"But, Dev, it never occurred to me to ask how you feel about this, if it is something you would like to try."
He lifted his gaze and stared directly back at me and said with quiet calm, "Aragorn, I don’t intend to try; I intend to do it."
I was so startled I released a small laugh. Then, fearing he would think I was laughing at him rather than with delight at his statement, I quickly said, "No, I --"
"I know, Aragorn," he said, flashing his ready smile. "I feel a bit anxious, yes, but that’s good. Legolas says that a slight nervousness prevents overconfidence, and that men should strive to practice a bit of humility as overconfidence oft leads to their downfall."
"What?" I sputtered out such a laugh this time that I had to duck my head to recover. "Why that arrogant --! ‘MEN should strive to practice a bit of humility’ indeed!" I stared at him. "Meaning, I gather, that only elves are permitted such self-assurance?"
He chuckled. "Apparently. So says your elf, anyway." His eyes sparkling, Devon went on: "Of course, Legolas was in jest, but he was also in earnest. You know that, Aragorn. And so do I. Every good warrior knows that, while confidence is fundamental, it is never wise to underestimate your enemy. That’s all Legolas was saying."
I scowled in mock indignation. "Aye, sir. I know. ‘Tis just his manner of speech that annoys me. ‘MEN should strive to practice a bit of humility!’ Of all the . . . !" Devon watched me with fond amusement. I huffed one last time and mumbled, "Pardon my interruption. Pray continue."
"Well . . . ." He looked towards the cave. "As I said, yes, I’m a bit nervous, but I’ve been going over the scene in my head, the many different ways it might turn out, and I’ve been planning my moves accordingly. And, well, to be honest, this could turn out to be a frightful tragedy, Aragorn. We might end up having to run for it, an angry rogue troll in hot pursuit."
Another rash chuckle burst from me. I had no idea what he might say next. "That would be frightful indeed!" I sputtered.
"Yes," Devon said, grinning. Then he turned to me again with gentle seriousness. "But to not try, to not test myself, to know that I had this opportunity and chose to pass it by due to lack of confidence in my abilities, not knowing if I’ll ever again have such an opportunity – ah! The regret that would follow! Regret is the most frightful tragedy of all, Aragorn."
I stared at him. Over the years Devon had stubbornly refused to age much outwardly, so the Rangers were all guilty of treating him as though he were much younger than he really was, as though Devon was the favored little brother amongst his fond older brother Rangers. We referred to him as ‘the lad,’ or ‘the boy,’ and Devon plainly took quiet pleasure in this treatment.
I, too, overlooked the fact that Devon was but a year younger than I was. It was a mistake to diminish him, though, for despite his boyish looks and his impulsiveness and his frequent, unfortunate absence of common sense, Devon was also deeply insightful. His calm perceptiveness emerged every so often, as it had now, and when it did all I could do was smile in admiration. Amazing. I had sought to ease Devon’s disquietude, and he had instead eased mine.
"Aye, Dev," I said. "Regret is a far bigger troll than the one down in that cave. And you, sir, are very wise for such a sprout." We chuckled and I tousled his hair, my fingers getting tangled in the long thick locks. I growled and muttered, "Faith, lad! Garrick needs to cut some of this off for you."
"Garrick likes it long," he replied. "I dare never e’en touch it with my own blade, Aragorn."
I snorted at this endearing notion, then I glanced down at the hidden cave entrance. Almost ready. Aye, this was going to go well. I sensed it even more so now. I let myself be comforted by that feeling, and with the knowledge that, whilst reassuring me, a bit of Devon’s tension had eased as well. He was calling me Aragorn.
Stupid, stupid troll.
Didn’t it know Aragorn had an ingenious plan?
In truth, Aragorn’s plan didn’t have to be all that ingenious. Trolls weren’t known for their intelligence, even though some, like this one, could speak. They had come by language via some dark path that taught them the basics, then left them to figure out the rest on their own. The result was a jargon usually found amongst the most isolated of peoples.
What this meant to Aragorn and me was that we needed to keep it very simple when seeking to lure this creature out. That really was the only device making up Aragorn’s ingenious plan – we lure the thing out into the moonlight, Aragorn draws it’s attention whilst I take aim annnnnd – zwing!
The plan should have worked. As Aragorn explained it to me back at camp, it was brilliantly simple, the perfect combination when dealing with a troll. I’d been moved by the fact that he plainly had no doubts that I could bring down this creature with one arrow and one difficult shot. His faith in me had enkindled my own, and by the time we were lying on the rocks talking outside the creature’s cave I was so certain that I could do it that I became near-boastful to Aragorn.
But by then I was entirely positive, my confidence at its peak, overflowing, in fact. There was plenty of it to share with my captain when he was suddenly attacked by guilt for perhaps placing too much on my shoulders.
Nay, Aragorn. All is well. Self-assuredness hummed within me like a calm, gentle song, urging me to listen and handing me the right words to ease Aragorn’s heart as well. It was one of those times when I felt something so strongly that I didn’t even form the words in my head before saying them. I just opened my mouth and the right ones flowed out. Such times were a welcome change from those other times when I was facing a stern Garrick and all I seemed able to spew forth was a bunch of nonsensical sass.
But Aragorn’s worries were appeased the moment he saw that I had none myself, so now that the moon was up and huge, just clearing the tree line and shining down on the wide area of dirt and boulder outside the cave, we put Aragorn’s ingenious plan into action.
"Remember, Dev," Aragorn had said as we scrambled down the rocks. "Volume. We know not how far back our voices must carry. I only hope that we can draw it forth without needing to enter the cave and search for it."
"As do I. I have no desire to enter a troll’s cave." Aragorn and I had rather a bad history when it came to caves.
We strolled out from behind the boulders and stood in that moonlight-bathed area before the cave. Two Rangers, come to slay a bad, stupid troll! My heart thudded. Hot quivers of excitement raced along my limbs. And Garrick flashed before my eyes, wearing his, ‘you shall ne’er sit again, little boy,’ frown. I blinked hard to clear the vision. Then I glanced at Aragorn. He was wearing his, ‘let’s be naughty and enjoy every minute of it’ grin.
"Ready?" Aragorn murmured.
I grinned back and nodded and Aragorn began. Speaking in a voice that the Grey Company could likely hear in camp, he said, "Stop complaining! We are not lost."
"I’m tired!" I bellowed back. "Let’s rest here for a while."
"No! We push on. I think we are close to my brother’s village."
"Think? You THINK? You said you knew where we was goin’!"
"I do! There’s a stream just past these woods, and we follow that stream to town."
And we heard it! A ponderous gait heading our way -- thud-thud-thud. Slow. Even. In no hurry. Clearly the troll had not been deep within the cave. Its smell was already strong.
My heart in my throat, I yelled, "You’ve gone and got us lost, you dolt!"
Aragorn raised both brows in delight, enjoying my cheek as much as I was. "I have not! And guard your tongue, you young lout!" Aragorn paused a moment, then: "Get up off the ground!"
"Get UP!" Aragorn barked.
"NO! I’m tired I tell you!"
"Stay here then! See if I care! I’m better off alone!"
The troll had paused but a few strides away from the shrubbery near the mouth of the cave entrance, still hidden from us as we were from him. We stood ready, Aragorn in battle stance, sword drawn, me posed with my arrow fitted, ready to aim and shoot.
"Look, what’s the matter with you?" I said, my tone changing. "All I want is a short rest. Why’re you being such a mucker?"
Aragorn really was a rather superb performer. In a suddenly anxious voice, he said, "There are caves in these hills. You never know what might be in a cave. Mayhap we should have been more quiet."
Aragorn had just issued the perfect invitation to the troll, ‘join us.’ It did.
With a mighty bellow the troll crashed through the shrubbery. "MAY’AP!" it roared, then: "Ehh --?"
The troll halted to gawk at us, two battle-ready warriors, weapons drawn and pointed at it. Aragorn gave it no time to think. With a yell, he rushed forward, raised his sword and drove it point down through the top of the beast’s foot.
The troll reared its head back and howled, its ugly red mouth gaping open wide, moonlight pouring in, lighting it up excellently. I heard Legolas’ quiet voice in my mind: "See the shot as though it has already been made." And I held still, aiming, aiming, aiming, then . . . .
My arrow hit true, lodging so deeply up inside the roof of the troll’s mouth that only the fletching was visible. The troll froze. Its eyes rolled up in its head and an odd grunting came from its chest. Aragorn backed up swiftly, coming alongside me, and we watched, mesmerized, the troll, unconscious, swaying as though trying to decide which way to fall. Those eerie deep grunts were still coming, though I vow the thing was dead.
And then, the troll’s knees buckled and it collapsed. Just toppled, as though all its bones melted, and it fell. Less than a minute had passed from the time the troll crashed through the bushes to the time it hit the ground, dead. Less than a minute, and this creature who for months had caused such terror and pain and loss and sorrow and suffering had been vanquished. With one arrow. Mine.
Aragorn turned at me, eyes bright with excitement . . . then . . . .
It attacked so swiftly it must have been close to the entrance, following in the first troll’s footsteps, waiting inside. Troll number two burst through the shrubbery, took one look at the dead troll number one, threw back its head and bellowed a thunderous roar. Had I been less stunned and better prepared I could’ve had another perfect shot at another open troll mouth. But Aragorn and I could do nothing but stare for a few seconds, too shocked to think. Troll number two was bigger, uglier and clearly had one thought: Kill.
Of course, this just wasn’t fair. Two trolls, plundering the countryside? But only one at a time, therefore leaving one set of tracks? Trolls had no business being that clever. Why they had chosen to do things this way was a mystery, but I had the oddest sense that the designated plunderer went out raiding so that the other could layabout and do naught but enjoy the spoils, and something told me that this bigger troll was the layabout, coercing troll number one to do the plundering. And the revolting ‘why’ of that was something I didn’t care to contemplate, especially since our deaths seemed imminent.
Aragorn and I had survived some pretty ghastly situations over the span of our careers in disastrous mischief, beginning with the infamous Warg Party. We had therefore learned to think fast and understand each other instantly. But neither of us thought clearly in this moment, else we would never have tried to bring down that second troll as well. We should have turned and run. But for some unknown reason it never occurred to us to do anything but fight.
So when troll number two advanced upon us with a fresh heart-stopping howl, it didn’t surprise me to hear Aragorn yell, "Dev! The same plan! Ready your bow!" And he yelled it in the elvish, so the troll couldn’t protect itself against our strategy. For it was obvious that this troll was not stupid. It had seen at a glance how troll one had been felled and it had observed that I held the deadly bow, so it wisely decided who it was going to rip asunder first.
It came after me with shocking speed and a horrible red fury in its eyes. I scrambled about, barely avoiding its great grasping palms whilst Aragorn darted and raced, slicing and stabbing at the troll’s leathery skin. We did little save making the creature angrier, though. This troll was fast and deadly, swinging its great arms about, pounding its massive fists down, barely missing Aragorn and me several times.
We had to maneuver it into the same position that had been the ruin of troll one, with its foot settled enough for Aragorn to drive his sword down through it and the moonlight shining into the thing’s open mouth as it roared in pain, allowing me to fire another perfect shot. But the troll refused to cooperate. It kept moving, moving, stepping all over, thudding about, so just how were we going to get it into position? It seemed impossible. And even if we could recreate the right conditions I was so shaken I wasn’t sure I could repeat my success.
Nevertheless, I kept another arrow loaded and ready whilst Aragorn and I danced with this stupid, stupid troll. I prayed to the Valar to grant me just one more chance, one more impossible shot. But I had apparently used up my allowance of grace for the day. Whilst I looked down to make certain my arrow was fitted tightly, the troll spun my way, arm swinging and knocked me back into a recess between two boulders.
I slammed against the rocks, gasping from the pain. My bow went flying, the troll got right in front of me, blocking all exit and there I was. Trapped. Death in the form of one monstrous beast leaning down, reaching for me, eager to tear me limb from limb. Aragorn was howling, and I saw the troll’s red eyes glaze over with murderous, ferocious intent, and all I could think was that if I became dismembered right now Garrick was going to be very put out and would likely spank me until the end of all time.
What had happened was clear. Two trolls. One lay dead, the feathered end of an arrow sticking out of its yawning mouth. The other had cornered my Devon between two boulders and was reaching for him.
I was instantly off my mount, racing across the moonlit space, my heart bursting, the Rangers riding in to back me up, leaping from their horses, drawing swords, fixing their bows with arrows and all of us bellowing roars that rivaled the troll’s. The startled beast turned, and in that second I reached Devon.
"Come, little boy," I growled. "Enough of this playing."
But Devon was now panic-stricken and transfixed, escaping his terror by wandering in his thoughts. So I grabbed his arm and yanked him from the boulders and away from the troll, whose focus was now upon the company of warriors pouring in to surround it. I saw Devon’s bow lying nearby, so I snatched it up and pulled Dev to a place where we could watch.
It looked bad for the troll, not that it cared. It did not run. It wanted blood. So it began swinging its arms and bashing down its fists, aiming for any warrior it could. But it was too frenzied, so it was doing no damage. The Rangers dodged the beast’s assault and attacked in turn.
Aragorn dashed up to us through the turmoil. "Halbarad is getting the men to position the troll and Legolas is ready. Alright there, Dev?"
Glassy-eyed, Devon nodded, swallowing hard, stunned by his near brush with death. I glared at Aragorn, too furious to speak. He caught my eye, paled and looked away, and for a few moments we watched the Rangers racing at the troll, badgering it to turn to the necessary position whilst avoiding its swinging fists.
I glanced to one side. Legolas stood close by, striking his perfect elvish stance, watching, tranquil and serene and holding his bow down before him at the ready. He looked beautiful, standing there so quietly amidst the chaos. At just the right moment he would lift his bow, take aim, let fly his lethal arrow and this nuisance of a creature would fall.
But Legolas suddenly turned and looked directly back at me. He watched me, then he glanced over at the dead troll, then he cast Devon a discerning stare, and then he looked at me again. I gave him a small grin and a nod, murmuring in a voice I knew he would hear, "Aye, Legolas. Let him try."
The elf returned my grin. After first making certain the Rangers were still getting the troll into position, he came striding over to us.
"Dev," he said in a firm tone. My cub flinched and looked at him. "Come, sir. Finish what you began." I handed Legolas Devon’s bow and he fitted it with an arrow and held it out to my cub. "Come. You shall fell them both."
Devon blinked. Still trembling, he took his bow and glanced at me. "I missed your first triumph, little boy," I said. "Now show me what you can do."
He blinked again, and in that moment Devon came back to himself, his eyes going wide and clear. He straightened and nodded to Legolas. "Yes, sir," he said.
And whether or not Devon managed to make this shot again mattered not, for he had refused the troll victory over him. It could not frighten him into withdrawal. He was facing the creature again, and in so doing Devon preserved his integrity.
We followed Legolas back to the best firing position. Aragorn watched us, then he rushed back to Halbarad with the change in plans. Legolas slid close to Devon’s side, no doubt noticing his student’s tremor as he took his stance and readied his bow.
"You did beautifully the first time," Legolas murmured. "The second time is even easier. Inner calm, Devon. Find that quiet space again. See the shot as though it has already been made."
Devon grinned to himself over some private thought, relaxing enough to do so, and Legolas caught my eye and winked. "Once more then," he said close to Dev’s ear. "As Garrick said, show us what you can do – what you have already done. I am proud of you, young sir."
Those words visibly affected my cub. Devon drew a deep breath and, I vow, grew taller. He glared at the troll, who was still trying to kill at least one human. But the Rangers had at last succeeded in positioning the creature perfectly, and the Grey Company then witnessed just how these two scamps had brought down the first troll on their own.
Aragorn rushed forward and, with a cry of fury drove his sword down into the creature’s foot. It opened its mouth wide to howl, Devon raised his bow and held absolutely still, aiming, aiming, aiming then . . . his arrow flew.
Legolas himself could not have made a more perfect shot. Devon’s arrow slammed into the roof of the troll’s mouth and sank deep into its head. The Rangers broke their watchful silence with a united gasp. But the troll could make no sound save a deep guttural groan. Its eyes rolled up, and though it was on its feet and swaying, the beast seemed already dead.
The men cleared a wide perimeter, watching the troll reel, then at last it crashed down, falling over its comrade. They would make an interesting statue when the dawn’s rays turned them to stone. The trolls’ tyrannical reign over the people of this valley had come to an end, and for a moment all was silent. Then the Rangers broke into cheers, and when they turned and saw who had made the difficult kill shot, they cheered even louder. Aragorn ran over to Devon and the two of them embraced and smiled, laughing like little boys.
"Two Dev! Two for two!" Aragorn exclaimed. "Valar save me! You were magnificent! You did it! You did it!"
"Nay, Aragorn, WE did it!" Devon cried. "I couldn’t have done it without you!"
In part I wanted to begrudge these two their ill-gotten happiness. Halbarad did as well. He cast me a glance that gave away his every thought. Standing there amongst the overjoyed company who were offering Devon and Aragorn congratulations, my old friend and I struggled between feeling amazed by Devon’s achievement, delighted that the troll menace was over, and happy for, and furious with, Aragorn and my cub. Glancing at Legolas I knew that he shared our feelings.
But in the end everyone deserved this moment to celebrate their exhilaration and relief. Not a man had been lost nor injured, reason indeed to cheer. However, when the backslapping and congratulating died down, the sight of those massive dead bodies began to combine with imaginings of what could have happened here, what almost had happened, and what would have become of Devon had we arrived seconds later. A reflective silence settled amongst the men and they began to turn more grim and solemn glances towards their captain and his partner in mischief.
The Rangers had been in direful predicaments due to Aragorn and Devon’s exploits many times over the years . . . many, many times. We were oft bewildered by their capacity for placing themselves in the path of outrageous, needless danger. And, though stouthearted warriors, the Grey Company were often, to their chagrin, shaken for days after Aragorn had done something like this. Not because of any danger to themselves, regardless of how profound, but because their beloved ‘little brother’ and their invaluable captain had placed themselves at such risk.
"Is your life as our Chieftain not exciting enough for you, sir?" Thayer, in an uncharacteristic fury, had once demanded of Aragorn. He had merely gone red-faced and silent.
"I shall ask him your question again during our private discussion on this matter," Halbarad had said, leading Aragorn off for a well-deserved spanking. "Perhaps he will have an answer for you when I have finished with him."
I sometimes entertained the notion that it might be good for morale to draw lots when Aragorn had earned a spanking, giving each frustrated Ranger an eventual chance to discipline his captain. I felt certain Aragorn could still command the respect of his troop, even if he had been bare bottomed over every warrior’s knee.
Halbarad had laughed when I shared my notion with him. "We should put it to a vote."
"I am but jesting," I told him.
"I am not!" And we had laughed.
Things had ended well this time. Would we could take only that good outcome into account and disregard the misconduct that had led to it. But this could just as easily have ended in tragedy, and no doubt every warrior standing there, quiet and reflective in the presence of those monstrous trolls was now considering, in diverse, gruesome detail, what might have been. No, regardless of the triumphant end result, we could not go easier on our two bratlings.
Halbarad took command, as was his duty when Aragorn fell from grace, and our lieutenant would remain in command until such time that he turned the leadership position back over to our captain. Aragorn could not gainsay Halbarad’s authority at this time, for such had been a condition of Aragorn remaining to captain the Rangers many years ago after a certain warg event left his leadership in question. Aragorn’s authority was forfeit when he behaved in this manner, a stipulation to which he had readily agreed. It was either accept that provision or be returned to Rivendell. And the provision held to this day. Good thing, as Aragorn had oft proven a need for it.
"Well done, all," Halbarad barked, and he ordered a return to camp. Morning was still hours away. Dawn would be soon enough to send messengers throughout the countryside. The dwellers herein could deal with whatever the trolls had stored in their cave.
We mounted, Legolas, Halbarad and I in front, leading the company the few miles back to camp. Aragorn sat in front of Legolas and Devon perched before me. Our two renegades had brought no mounts. Unwilling to alert the troll, they had chosen instead to run from camp to the cave. But, no matter, for when Aragorn and Devon had dishonored themselves Halbarad never permitted them to ride their own horses back to camp, even if they had brought their mounts to the scene. Aragorn rode with Halbarad or Legolas, Devon with me. This had become a standard, humbling ritual that our bratlings hated.
"We hate it!" Dev had once told me after his certain doom had been attended to and he lay sore-bottomed and outspoken in my arms. "We do! It makes us feel like two naughty little boys being brought home in disgrace."
"Which you are," I responded. "That describes you both perfectly. A little humbling is in order since you have usually caused a great deal of trouble. Halbarad is very wise."
He squirmed. "But I-I feel on display, as though . . . as though everyone is looking at me."
I chuckled. "Oh, doubt it not, my cub, they are. And they are envying me my duties."
I understood why Devon and Aragorn disliked this, though, Aragorn in particular. Usually he pouted the entire way back, as did Devon. But today I did not need to see Devon’s face to know that, instead of sulking, the two of them were sharing an inner contentment, their delight in their accomplishment overruling their humiliation as well as their dread of the upcoming certain doom. But while Devon and Aragorn were enjoying fleeting grins, Halbarad, Legolas and I exchanged glances quite opposite in nature.
Again, I fought my anger. These two had indeed accomplished something amazing. I was, in part, so proud of my cub I wanted to toss him in the air and then hug him senseless. I had, in fact, given in and hugged him right after Aragorn had, fiercely and thankfully. But I could do no more, for this was a victory with hooks – the danger snatching back a measure of joy from the final triumph.
That element of danger had been unnecessary. Had Aragorn come to us with his plan, one that included the Rangers as backup whilst Devon took his shot . . . shotS, we could all be celebrating now, wholeheartedly, instead of in this restrained manner.
But Aragorn had not acted as our responsible, intelligent captain. He had been insubordinate to the rule of the company, to which we were all answerable, especially the one in leadership position.
And now, courtesy of a certain Isildur’s brat, I kept recalling the awful scene that met my eyes upon reaching the cave. I kept seeing Devon, terrified, pressing himself back into a recess between two boulders, trapped, with no way to escape the giant hand reaching for him, about to grab him and squeeze the life out of him, or bash him against the rocks, or tear him apart, and perhaps even . . . devour him.
I could not stop imagining all manner of terrible possibilities, endless ‘what-might-have-happened’ glimpses flashing through my mind – the troll grabbing my panic-stricken cub, shoving Devon into that huge trollish mouth and biting down, Devon screaming and writhing, reaching for me in agony, wailing my name – ‘Garriiiiiiiiiick!’ – the troll biting, moving its jaw from side to side, Devon’s blood spurting --
I let fly a soft anguished gasp, sick with horror, and I squeezed my eyes shut, willing that vision gone ere I opened them again. My stomach heaved and clenched! Hot fury raced through my limbs! And in my exasperation I longed to flip Devon over, pull down his breeches and spank him as we rode! It would be a first, but I was certain I could manage it just fine. Ohhhh, the temptation was fierce! And not one Ranger would gainsay me. In fact, I vow a few would smile . . . more than a few.
Of course, my discerning cub felt my quiet fury, and he set about trying to lighten my dark mood. Impossible, of course. These visions were pushing me beyond my limit.
He tensed at the ‘sir.’ "I killed them both. Two trolls. I killed them."
"Indeed you did."
"One shot a piece."
"Aye. Most amazing."
He relaxed a little. "Are you . . . uh . . . p-prou --"
"Proud of you? Are you asking me if I am proud of you?"
"Well . . . I . . . yes."
"I am very proud of you, my Dev."
He heaved a small gasp of relief. Then: "But you’re also quite angry with me."
"I am not even going to dignify that comment with a response."
"Yes. I know. Sorry. I . . . stupid question. Of course you’re angry with me. I-I know you’re angry with me. Everyone is angry with Aragorn and me. It’s just --"
"Stop right there, my lad. Is everyone angry with Aragorn and you?"
It was always important to remind Devon of this critical distinction. Otherwise he was inclined to take on something he had no business accepting. He knew very well what I expected him to say.
"No! Oh, no! I-I forgot! I-I mean that, well, no one is angry with Aragorn and me; they are angry about what we did. Right?"
He knew it was, of course. "Aye."
"Right. Sorry. That’s what I meant to say, that everyone is angry about what we did, and, and so, well, I’m wondering . . . ."
And then he asked what he really wanted to know and had the astounding courage to voice:
"Just how angry are you?"
"Little boy, this might just go beyond warg angry."
That silenced him. My affectionate ‘little boy’ would ease his heart a bit, but only a bit. For this was an answer he rarely, if ever, heard. Devon and Aragorn’s mischief did not usually go to the point wherein one of them had nearly been killed. My cub truly had been but moments from a most horrible death. I knew none of it had been intentional, but that would have meant nothing if the troll had been faster than the Rangers and it had grabbed up Devon in that massive paw. I could not stop imagining that, had the Rangers been one second later, had I reached my cub one second later –
Again I paused to calm my trembling insides and quiet my horror. I was not sure the full impact of what nearly happened had hit Devon yet. But he now knew where I stood on the matter. He also knew that he was always safe with me, even in the face of my worst upset. At present my upset was at its highest point. I had not e’en begun to consider the wider aspects of it. Had anything happened to Devon, Aragorn’s guilt would have been unimaginable. Whoever spanked him would have much to deal with. I would have relished the opportunity to get my captain over my knee as well, although I knew he was in very good hands, whether those hands turned out to be elvish or human.
Halbarad this time. I turned at his quiet call and saw that we had arrived at camp. The troop was slowing and dismounting around us. Perhaps I could not ease my clenching stomach, calm the fluttering in my chest, quiet the blood pounding through my veins nor block Devon’s imagined tortured screams, but I could deal with my cub at once and perhaps ease some of the anguish for us both. Devon was ever eager to get his ‘certain doom’ over with as quickly as possible. I was more than ready to oblige him.
"Garrick?" Halbarad repeated. "All right my brother?"
I gave him a mild grin and a nod, which he returned. Jumping down from his horse, he held up a paw for my reins, saying, "I trust you have something to discuss with your young Ranger?"
"Indeed I do. Thank you." Tossing him my reins, I slid to the ground, hauling Devon with me. "We shall be awhile."
I took Devon by the elbow and said, "Come, sir. Silently. I do not wish to hear one word, little boy. Not one." Devon began prattling at once.
"Garrick? I-I-I just --"
"I am hearing words, Devon."
"But I-I just wanted to say --"
"Nay. You do not want to speak."
"Unless you wish to tell me that you must relieve yourself --" I glanced down at him with a raised brow. He shook his head. "Then there is nothing to say."
I kept pulling Devon through the camp, heading for a place of privacy in the woods beyond. Considering how impatient I was to get him over my knee, I knew I would not get far into those woods.
"But-But, I’m sorry, Garrick," he kept doggedly on, trotting to keep up with my strides.
"Mm. Indeed. You are going to be, my cub. Even more so now, as you seem determined to ignore my orders to remain silent."
"But I --"
"I cannot put it more simply or plainly, sir. Be quiet."
"But, I’m sorry! And that’s all I wanted to say. That’s all. Really. I’m just sorry!"
"But, umm, well, thank you for rescuing me. I was so scared!"
"You still are not listening to me. Silence, you impossible bratling!"
At last Devon went silent. For a moment. Then he growled and he huffed at me! I was so surprised I nearly stopped in my tracks. Perhaps his lack of sleep was impairing his judgement. I glanced down at him and found him glaring up at me. Angry? He was angry?
"You don’t even care!" Devon suddenly exclaimed. "The fact that I killed two trolls doesn’t even matter to you! Nooo, you don’t care about that! All that matters to you and Legolas and Hal is that Aragorn and I did it without your leave, you inflexible, pigheaded ass of a Numenorean!"
Oddly, what startled me most in his little tirade was neither the name calling, nor the fact that Devon had so thoroughly and incautiously exploded. What gave me the most pause was his use of the name ‘Hal.’ It sounded so peculiar I nearly laughed. How I wished Halbarad had heard it! I would needs tell him of it later.
Of course, Devon was simply making clear what he desperately needed from me. Trust my lad to take the most direct route to that end. Being in a particularly authoritative mood right now, I was more than happy to oblige him. In fact, I had been but moments from changing course myself, restraint having fled. So thank you, little boy, for your excessive behavior. And privacy be hanged.
I turned at once from the direction of the woods, steering Devon towards the closest target available, a grouping of boulders at the edge of camp, the very rocks, in fact, where he and Aragorn had sat last night no doubt plotting their disobedience. Something about that felt very satisfying.
Devon sucked a sharp breath, jerked back and whispered, "No!" Then he started struggling in earnest, bracing his legs and releasing short desperate squeaks and hushed pleas: "Nooooooo! Nononoo! Please, Garrick! Not here! Don’t spank me here! Nooooooo, pleeeeeeeease! I’m sorry! I’ll be quiet! I’ll be good! You – You can’t do this!"
I could think of no better response to his challenge than to offer him a demonstration of what I most certainly could do and fully intended to do. So I remained silent and continued to march Devon over to the rocks and he continued to dig in his heels and thrash about, making quite a spectacle of himself even before his spanking began. Finally he dropped to the ground, wrenching his arm and immediately crying out, surprised, it seemed, by how much that hurt. Devon at his most unreasonable suffered from an appalling lack of common sense.
Growling softly, I picked him up, tucked him under my arm and carried him the rest of the way.
"These antics are not helping you, little one," I told him. And yet Devon babbled on.
Meanwhile, having seen to their mounts, the Rangers were now drifting back to their fires to settle in for the last hours remaining until dawn. They were doing their best to be discreet, but what was going on between Devon and me was clearly fascinating, so their attempts to appear disinterested were dismal at best. The camp was unusually silent. My cub had earned a most devoted audience.
I felt certain that, like me, the men regretted seeing their ‘little brother’ having to endure this after his heroic deed, but the fact that Devon was alive by sheer luck alone was still fresh in their minds and all too real. I sensed that I was not the only one haunted by visions of what might have been. So whatever sympathy the men had for their ‘little brother’ paled in light of what had earned him this fate.
Reaching the boulders, I sat, turned Devon over my knee, lifted his cloak and jerkin out of the way and pulled down his breeches. He gasped at the first touch of cool air on his bare skin, then he let fly a wail of protest.
"Noooooooooooo, Garrick, pleeease don’t!" he cried, and he wriggled around, wrenching his hands back to cover his pretty round bottom.
"Shhh. Huuush, little boy. Stop that naughtiness at once." I pulled his hands away and clasped his wrists together, holding them against the small of his back. "Almost ready." He seemed less than consoled.
I, however, nearly smiled. Just seeing that enticing smooth target over my lap helped loosen a few of the knots in my stomach. I gave his bottom an encouraging pat, then swept the ends of my cloak over to pool ‘neath his head and closed his wildly squirming body between my legs.
"There now. Safe and secure."
I meant that most sincerely. And I knew Devon felt the same way. He was in one of the safest places possible when he lay stretched out, bare bottomed over my knee. True, I was angry, but I was in control of my anger. I never spanked Devon otherwise.
We had suffered a bad scare, one that brought with it severe aftershocks, and, unlike the shared winding down after the anticipated danger of battle, this fright was caused by recklessness and a deliberate lack of restraint. Spanking Devon after such a scare helped settle that fright for both of us, bringing the turmoil back into balance.
And doing this in full view of the men who had shared in that bad scare would likely help them as well. Nothing like seeing justice done to quiet one’s inner frenzy and satisfy one’s sense of fairness. The Rangers were about to be quite satisfied indeed.
Sometimes Devon’s misbehavior stemmed from a deep reason, and in those times we would work out what was troubling him whilst I spanked him. My cub became most reasonable when over my knee.
But there was no deep hidden design here. This was as simple and straightforward as it could be. This was impulsive, danger-seeking, little boy naughtiness. Waywardness for waywardness’ sake. And such was all that inspired most of the trouble Devon and Aragorn invited for themselves. They had chosen this end result the moment they casually sat upon these rocks and plotted their mischief, for they knew that it would end no other way. Yet when I asked Devon why they had done this I expected to hear his customary reply:
"I d-don’t knoooowwwwwwwwwwwwww!"
But he did know, for we had revisited this many times since that first warg adventure, and Devon would admit to it ere I let him up. Aragorn had invited him along on a little adventure, and my cub could never say 'no' to his captain. I knew why, and so did he – he longed for Aragorn’s approval. So to refuse would have been unthinkable.
But admitting that was far too distressing a prospect for my Dev. He needed to be pushed to the place wherein he had no choice but to face that inner truth. And I was most eager to push him there.
Devon lay subdued now, trembling, immobile, with no hope of thrashing about to tempt or distract him. Aye, there he lay, waiting and quivering, my Dev, under my hand, his pretty bottom, rounded and fair and adorably small for a full-grown man, tipped up over my knee and ready for my discipline. He was here; he was safe and he was mine and I intended to solidify that truth and drive away these ferocious visions in the most effective way I knew.
Giving that sweet backside a few more fond pats, I felt the first quiet hum of contentment begin to purr within me, and I raised my hand, eager for more.
Stupid, stupid Aragorn.
This was all his fault! It was always all his fault. Him and his stupid ingenious plans. Him and his stupid murmured, "Dev." If I had the intelligence Sauron gave an orc the next time Aragorn came up behind me and murmured, "Dev" I’d turn around and punch my captain in the mouth, Isildur’s Heir or no. I’d take a spanking for that and glad to.
However . . . no. What was I thinking? I couldn’t blame Aragorn for my decision to follow him. I could, however, blame him for knowing exactly what he was doing when choosing me as his designated partner in mischief. So I did blame him for that, and I blamed him for his irresistible smile and for being so full of cleverness and for his mesmerizing ability to persuade me to join him in any number of utterly insane deeds, making them seem perfectly sound. Overall, I suppose I blamed Aragorn for simply being Aragorn. And that seemed valid enough.
But it wasn’t his fault that two dishonorable trolls had deceitfully tucked themselves away in that cave, waiting to attack any trusting Rangers who had come planning to slay just one troll. In truth, Aragorn’s ingenious plan had worked! Twice! And as for the slight disaster part of this entire mess – well, once again that just wasn’t our fault. It simply was not. How could we have foreseen such odd circumstances? If not for that second rotten troll things would have been just fine . . . .
So it was that second rotten troll’s fault! Stupid, stupid troll!
This was one of those times when things had turned out well and yet Aragorn and I were still facing certain doom. So the few secretive grins we shared on our humiliating ride back to camp were the only brief bits of glory we enjoyed. At least for now.
Later we would be able to take pleasure in our accomplishment, after time had soothed the racing hearts and fervid imaginations and calmed the haunting visions that had made our company go so suddenly silent and grim. Some sudden fears struck fiercely. They needed to be healed by a sense of restored justice. And this was indeed justice, for although Aragorn and I hadn’t meant to terrify the Rangers, the fact remained that we had done just that. Had we not chased off on our glorious adventure no slight disasters, whether they were our fault or not, would have occurred. We were answerable for that. And that, unfortunately for my captain and me, meant certain doom.
This was a new low for certain doom, though. Spanked in view of the company! Oh, the Rangers had heard me being spanked before. If we were encamped somewhere long enough to pitch tents and Garrick had occasion to spank me, he would escort me inside the tent and, well, my voice was quite celebrated by now.
But the men were about to watch me being spanked! And when I saw where Garrick was dragging me and grasped what he meant to do, I panicked. He couldn’t mean it! Spank me here? Right here? At the edge of camp? In view of everyone? He couldn’t! He wouldn’t! Oh, pleeeease, Garrick! Please, please, pleeease don’t do this! Don’t shame me so!
However, that was exactly what Garrick intended. If they chose to watch, the Rangers would see quite a performance, for at the height of a spanking I didn’t care about dignity or how I looked or anything other than crying my hardest and bellowing my loudest and doing my best to wriggle away from that next hot spank! And the men would see everything, hear everything. They would see me kicking and wriggling and writhing over Garrick’s lap, my face wet with tears whilst my bare bottom grew pink and then red – ohhhhhh, this was too awful to think about!
I’d had no more time to suffer such thoughts, though. Garrick moves too fast, impossibly fast for a man of his size. And he can pick me up and carry me wheresoever he chooses as though I’m no bigger than a waist-high halfling. So, in a flash I was tossed over his knee, my clothes shoved aside and my bottom bared. Now locked down over his lap, I barely had time to lodge a wailing protest before his first swat connected with my tender backside. I gasped and jerked and opened my mouth to let fly my customary first bellow. But then I stopped, and for some perverse reason I decided to hold my tongue.
By the third spank I was still holding my tongue – quite firmly and solidly between my front teeth. It stuck out a little from my lips, though I doubted anyone, save perhaps that dratted elf, could see what I was doing. I bit down so hard that I expected to taste blood in my mouth and tears stung my eyes – although to be fair the tears might have been from Garrick’s spanks.
But I wasn’t wailing. The sting from my bitten tongue produced bright flashes behind my squeezed-shut eyes, but I hadn’t made a sound. I was most impressed with myself. I’d found a brilliant method of defiant distraction! I’d have to tell Aragorn about this.
I don’t know what prompted Garrick to investigate my silence. But, after spank number four there was a flickering pause before spank number five and I was suddenly aware that he’d shifted. I popped open my eyes to find Garrick leaning down next to me, watching me, frowning at me with that black glare of his that makes my heart leap into my throat. He’d ducked down and caught me biting and wincing, silent tears running down my cheeks. I was in a very bad position to be facing that black glare of his.
In retrospect I could have buried my face in his cloak to hide my strategy, but retrospect was no friend to me at that moment. Garrick seemed seriously irked with my brilliant method of defiant distraction, and in his plain, forthright manner he expressed his disapproval by straightening up and continuing on, this time treating me to his strongest level of spanking, his hand swatting down so swiftly and with such vigor that I abandoned my tongue-biting with all possible speed in favor of a lusty yell that, I vow, echoed ‘round our campsite and into the woodlands beyond.
Garrick’s strongest level of spanking is somewhat unimaginable. I hoped my following lusty yells would appease him, but Garrick seemed content to remain unimpressed. He just kept spanking me at that extreme level whilst I desperately tried to make up for lost wailing time.
"That was a very naughty thing to do, little boy," he finally said. "There shall be no more such biting. Ever. Should you choose to do such a naughty thing again, I will return to this manner of spanking . . . ."
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Nooooo! S-Sorry, G-Garrick! Sorry! S-Sorry! Sorrrrrryyyy! I-I-I won’t-ever-nev-ever-neverrrrrr! AHHHH!"
He finally eased back to his normal spanking intensity. I lay breathless and quivering with aftershocks, no longer holding back my sobs. My folly brought to a swift halt, I now had nothing to distract me from the fact that I was on public display. But I quickly realized that I had a far greater distraction available to me than merely a near-severed tongue. And all I had to do was to lay there and accept it.
Garrick spanked down over and over in his perfect non-rhythmical cadence, at times following a pattern, at times random, and every swat landing with stinging perfection. He had this down to an art, my Ranger. And, as ever when he had chosen to fasten me down so tightly, I was desperate to writhe, to kick, to wiggle, to behave in a thoroughly undignified manner. Ohhh! How I ached to move! And because I couldn’t move I bellowed all the louder.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Garrriiiick! OWWWWWWW! P-Pleeeeeeease! AHHHH!"
I could do nothing but lay there and roar and sob and wail and Garrick kept supplying plenty of incentive for me to do so. He’s good at incentive, my Ranger.
And as for his current unique choice of locations, well, surely the men weren’t watching. Surely they wouldn’t care. Surely there was nothing much to see here – just Devon getting spanked again, yelling his throat raw again. You’ve heard it many times before, my brother Rangers, and it’s not a very pretty sight. It would be most ill mannered to watch. Intrusive. Vulgar behavior unbecoming a Dúnedain.
All of that sounded perfectly sensible, nevertheless I didn’t have the courage to turn my head to check if the Rangers were actually watching. No need. They weren’t. I just knew they were not. They were far too courteous. I even comforted myself with what I imagined Aragorn might say after this business was over:
‘Nay, Dev. No one watched. The men just went about their own business. In fact, many went back to sleep. Many others turned away to enjoy a smoke and some quiet talk. We could hear your wails, of course, but no one cared to watch you getting spanked. Think on’t. Would you choose to watch such a thing happen to another?’
No, of course I wouldn’t choose to watch. And, yes, that’s what my captain would likely tell me. Was Aragorn even in camp, though? Perhaps Legolas or Halbarad had taken him off to be disciplined. And before I’d fully thought it out I turned towards camp to see if Aragorn was present . . . .
I could scarce believe it. The men were watching! I gasped and stared, disbelieving – ohhh! They were! Indeed they were! Ohh! I squeezed my eyes shut and quickly turned my head. Too late, though. I’d seen too much. The Rangers weren’t exactly staring, but they were glancing up, spellbound, observing, then looking away as though telling themselves that they weren’t really watching. But they were! The rogues! They were!
Ohhhhhh, of all the --! I let fly a howl of protest and fury. I would not be watching if this were happening to another! I would be considerate! I . . . I -- And I had to admit that if someone else was in my position I would likely be doing exactly what my brothers in the Grey Company were doing. How could they help themselves? How could I blame them?
My face burning, I abandoned all hope of coming through this with even the slightest shred of dignity remaining. I’d had no business thinking that dignity had ever been within range, though.
"Dignity is something you had best never aspire to, little boy," Garrick once said. He was just full of good advice like that, my Ranger. He’d shared those thoughts with me after he had spanked me in our tent for the first time and I’d been cringing at the thought of ever facing the company again.
"They heard me!" I’d wept against his broad chest, my sore bottom settled on his lap. "They all heard me carrying on in here, Garrick."
He’d chuckled, a warm, low rumble. "Indeed they did, little boy. I vow the wee halflings heard you back in the Shire."
As the Grey Company had been relieved of our rotation guarding the borders of the Shire the day before and had since moved swiftly north, leaving the region far behind, I hadn’t found Garrick’s remark particularly comforting. "How can I face the troop again?" I buried my face in my palms. "Why did I have to be so loud!"
"You were loud because I gave you no choice but to be loud," he said. Prying my hands from my face, he kissed me and went on: "I demanded it of you. And, lest you forget, sweetling, had you and Aragorn behaved yourselves back in the Shire your spanking and your embarrassment would have been unnecessary."
"I know, but, I’m soooo . . . Garrick, I’m so ashamed."
"Shh, little one. Hush now. You have no cause to be ashamed. Aye, the men heard you, but these Rangers love you, my cub. Ever since your father brought you to camp as a lad, they have loved you. They might, perhaps, cast you a slightly teasing glance or pat your backside, but that’s the worst of it. And I reckon my Dev can bear that small bit of humbling."
I had, and it had never been worse than what Garrick had predicted. In fact, most of the time the Rangers simply ignored the fact that I’d been walloped and near-yelled the camp down.
So now they were seeing instead of just hearing. And . . . well, was this so much worse now that they were seeing instead of merely hearing?
Yes! Oh, yes! It was infinitely worse! It was so much worse I could scarce fathom it! Maybe I couldn’t blame the men for their curiosity. They were likely bewildered by it themselves. But neither could I keep from quivering with humiliation. I lay my cheek on Garrick’s cloak and sobbed, shame coursing through me. A moment later I felt him lean over me and murmur in my ear:
"Remember what I once told you, sweetling? Aye, they see you, but these men love you, my cub. You have no cause to feel ashamed. But perhaps you would like to bury your face in your crossed arms. You have ever found that comforting. Would you like that, little boy? Can you behave yourself if I free your hands?"
I burst into fresh wails. Who but my Garrick knew me so well that he could practically hear my thoughts? Who but Garrick could whisper words of comfort to me on one end whilst setting fire to my other end? He hadn’t missed a spank whilst exercising his Dúnedain insight, but his swats were slower and lighter, and just that bit of relief mixed with how touched I was by his compassion left me able to do no more than whimper, "Y-Yesss! Ohh, yes! Be-Be-have! Can be-behave! Oh, pl-pleeeasse, G-Ga-Ga --"
"Shhh, sweetling." He chuckled again and kissed my burning cheek – the upper one. "Very well," he murmured, then he straightened and released my wrists and I groaned and drew my stiff arms up. I instantly folded them over my head. It helped. I could still derive comfort from the scent of Garrick’s cloak but I could lose myself, hide beneath my arms as well, so I nestled there and wept out my mortification.
Resuming the methodical, relentless, everlasting rise and fall of his hand over my poor scalded backside, Garrick said, "I hope you are thinking about the question I am about to ask you, Devon."
I would be as soon as I finished squealing. "AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Y-Yes, sirr! AHHHHH! I-I know! I kn-know! I-I-I knowwwww!" And I thanked the stars that I did indeed know what he was going to ask.
"And, since you are behaving so well, perhaps you would also like the freedom to kick your legs," he said. "Would you enjoy that as well, sweetling?"
I was shameless. Oh, the joy of being able to kick! "Y-Yesss G-Gar-rick! Pl-Pleeeasse, oh pleeeease!"
"Then first answer the question, little boy; why are you being spa --"
"B-Because I needless-ly danger-en-endangered my-self! I r-ranned away with Ar-Ar’gorn and s-shot the troll, no – no sh-shot T-TWO t-trolls without per-permis-sion! W-Was naught-ty!"
"Ah. Straight to the heart of the matter," he said.
He paused and patted my bottom. Why, oh, why would it never just go numb? Traitorous ass.
Garrick moved his leg, lifted my now-throbbing backside and stretched me out fully across his lap. Oh, lovely moment! It seemed ludicrous that this position was so comfortable. But after being held still, safe as that felt, the longing to move was by now maddening. When I was repositioned Garrick picked up again right where he had left off.
And then he simply spanked me for a while, generously granting me plenty of time to enjoy my freedom whilst once again providing plenty of that incentive at which he excelled. I tried not to think about the performance I was giving. But I doubted my brother Dúnedain had ever seen such a sight. They surely had never seen someone try to swim off another’s lap, and my kicking was destined to become as legendary as my voice, not to mention my bucking and bouncing and wriggling and squirming, none of which ever made much of an impression on Garrick, who never had trouble keeping me right where he wanted me to be. He did allow a certain amount of thrashing about, though, what he termed ‘lap antics.’
"These lap antics of yours are getting out of hand, little cub," he would say when I was becoming too rambunctious. "Settle down, else you know what I shall be forced to do."
What he was forced to do when I couldn’t settle down was to once again lock me into that position wherein I couldn’t move, that ‘safe’ position wherein such a difficult matter as self-control was removed from me. Sometimes I needed that safe position again, so Garrick was wise to threaten it, benevolent, actually. All his strategies when dealing with me were to my benefit, not empty threats he hurled simply as a means of exercising his control.
But my thoughts were brief, because, well, because Garrick was spanking me and spanking me and because I deserved it. I’d seen the faces of our men when they began to consider all the terrible things that could have happened. The fact that those horrors had not come to pass didn’t matter. What did matter was that Aragorn and I had done just what we wanted to do regardless of how our actions would affect the others.
I’d known that. I always did know it, deep inside, every time Aragorn and I behaved this way. But I was able to push that truth away, usually until right about now, when Garrick had been spanking me for a while, spanking and spanking me until I knew nothing but his steadfast, falling hand and that fire on my backside and my gasping and sobbing.
I don’t know how long it’s been going on . . . I never can tell. It always seems to last forever. I just lay there and sob and hiccup and howl and kick and wriggle around and my bottom is burning hot and blazing and it seems Garrick will never stop, never tire, and my guilt comes rushing to the surface and all else melts away. This time my guilt was more bigger, more and more bigger and . . . and bigger, so much more bigger because, well, this time I’d nearly been . . . nearly been . . . killed.
And all at once I remembered that troll’s face shoved up in mine, his foul breath and glistening teeth, his big thick hand coming closer and closer, reaching for me. I jerked, terror crashing over me, thundering in my ears – I’d nearly died! I truly had almost died! In a harrowing way! And my crying became breathy and desperate, ragged, gasping and broken. I knew Garrick heard it, too. I could feel his slight hesitation, a breaking of his rhythm, and tried to tell him --
"Garriiiiiiiick! S-Scared! I-I-I – s-so scared! T-Troll! It-It was – AHHHHHHH! Sorry, so so sorrrryy - Garrickp-pleeeeeeeeese! H-Help m --"
I got no further. Garrick swept me up, gathering me against his big body, holding me, ‘shushing’ me, soothing me with gentle words, strong, calming words murmured in that deep, warm tone, and I trembled and I held on to him, feeling his rock-hard shoulders beneath my hands, burying my face against his thickly muscled neck, nuzzling under his long hair. He rocked me, my huge, gentle Ranger, speaking in his hushed voice, hoisting me against him those powerful arms, keeping my blazing bottom well up off his lap.
Safe. I was safe. I hadn’t expected to shatter so, especially not from fear. But I rarely came so close to death. It hadn’t fully hit me until now, when Garrick had spanked me and spanked me, forcing me into this raw and open place. And when my shaking slowed and my sobbing began to quiet and I’d calmed enough to breathe evenly again he leaned me back into the crook of his arm, still holding me very close, and he gazed down at me. My guilt surged again at the shadow of concern in his eyes. But Garrick smiled softly and with gentle fondness.
"Aye, my poor sweetling. You had a very big scare, did you not?"
I nodded. "Uh huhhh." And my vision blurred again. "I-I know how bad-badly I scared y-you, too, G-Garrick, and I didn’t mean to, and I-I’m so sorry, sooo very soorr --"
"Shhhh. There now, little one. I know you did not mean to do it. You never mean to do it. Do you?"
I woefully shook my head. "Noooooo, b-but, but Aragorn and me, we do it anyw-way."
"Aye, you do. So, in a moment, when you have calmed fully, I shall turn you back over my knee and we shall finish your spanking, and I shall let you say your big sorry, the one that comes from the deepest part of you."
"Ohhhh, Garriiick!" I groaned, but I’d known we weren’t finished, and although I dreaded the thought, I also welcomed it. My backside didn’t thank me for such sentiments, and in a moment I would be far from welcoming it. But I reached up around Garrick’s neck and pulled myself close to him again, hugging wordlessly, relishing the safety of the big muscled arms that enclosed me, and holding me close again.
"L-Like you s-said, Garrick - the wargs," I murmured in his ear, "maybe this is worse, these trolls, w-worse than the w-wargs."
"Nay." He hugged me and petted and played with my hair. "This was as bad as the wargs, but not worse. It was very bad indeed, though. So we both know what is going to happen all this week, every other night, do we not?"
He drew me away enough to look at me. "Devon."
I winced and peeked up at him and nodded, shuddering. "Uh-huuuuh. I mean, y-yes, Garrick."
Of course I knew what he meant. Every other night this week I would go back over my big Ranger’s knee and be thoroughly spanked. I moved my fingers in his thick locks, dreading, and yet really needing, this most severe of consequences for my life-threatening behavior. It had to be this way. I needed it to be. We both needed it to be. But, knowing Garrick was watching me, I winced, flickering my sore eyes down and back towards camp. His warm chuckle moved through my chest.
"Nay, sweetling. We shall not needs entertain the Grey Company for the rest of the week. Your next spanking shall take place in private. If that is agreeable to you."
I huffed out a gasp of relief.
"Unless you prefer to --"
Once more I felt his low chuckle rumble in his chest before he again turned me over his lap. And although I knew he had to go on, self-preservation forced a little shameless struggling and useless pleading from me when my Ranger hugged me once again to his big body and his heavy arm rested over my back.
"Garrick, are-are you almost d-done? You are, aren’t you? Y-You’re almost finished, r-right? AHHHHHHHHHHHH!"
"Hush, sir. That is quite enough impertinence."
"Sorrryy! AHHHH! Sorrryyyyy!" I was indeed always sorry after asking such foolish questions. Garrick would stop when he was ready. There was no hurrying him, no pushing him. I knew that. And I especially knew it now, for we had not even finished going through our important ‘why’ questions.
Two ‘why’ questions needed to be discussed before my spanking ended. Garrick would gather me up from his lap and into his arms for comforting only after those questions had been answered to his satisfaction. The first ‘why' question – ‘why are you being spanked?’ – had been answered. Now came the more difficult second ‘why’ question – ‘why did you do this naughty thing?’
Ohhh, that cursed second question! It created such squirmy feelings within me! And to have to answer it in front of the Rangers was awful! Of course, I knew they were too far away to hear our words. No matter. I still felt horribly . . . visible.
"Devon, you knew that what you and Aragorn were planning to do was dangerous, did you not?"
I buried my face in his cloak. "Uh-huhhh."
"I cannot hear you, little boy. Lift your head and answer me."
I groaned and jerked my head up. "Y-Yes, sirrr!"
"But you chose to do it anyway."
"Y-Yesss, sir! And – AHHHHHHHHHHH! – I-I’m sorry, G-Garrick!"
"I know you are, sweetling. But why did you agree to join Aragorn?"
"I don’t knooooowwwwwww! AHHHHHHHHHHH!" Garrick increased his speed and force a bit and near sent me flying from his lap. He held me firmly, never letting up.
"You do know, my Dev. Try again."
"AHHHHHHHHHHH! G-Garriick!" Twisting his cloak in my fists, I stammered between my sobs, "Because I-I wanted to k-kill the troll, and, and Ar’gorn said I w-was good ‘nuff to t-take the kill sh-shot, and s-said I w-was better than him even!"
"Ahhh. I see. Well, that must have been a wonderful thing to hear, little boy," Garrick said, his voice full of quiet compassion, his swats burning and even, but returning to his regular pace. As ever, Garrick’s calm understanding was harder to endure than his upset.
"Ohh, Garrick! It-It was!" I cried.
"So you longed to prove Aragorn right? Is that not so?"
I buried my head under my arms and gave the only answer I felt capable of in that moment: "Uh-huhhhhh!"
"You did not wish to let him down."
"NOO! Ohh, nooooo!"
"And? What else?"
"Ohhh, Garriiick, pleeeease," I moaned into his cloak. "No morrrre!"
"Come, sweetling. Nearly done, and you have been very brave."
I didn’t know which was worse, inviting more spanking upon my poor enflamed and throbbing bottom or enduring my inflexible Ranger’s painful questions. Garrick would not stop until I had relented and answered him. He would not back down. He would not leave me alone nor go away or stop spanking me. This was not going to stop until he had what he wanted from me. My Garrick was perfectly unrelenting.
There was nothing but this moment. There were no scary trolls. There were no Rangers watching us. There was only Garrick and me and my throbbing, fiery backside and the cloak, soaked with tears, beneath my face and the next hot spank and questions to be answered. And my bottom could take no more. I arched up and howled.
Ohhhhhh, stupid stupid troll!
I sometimes near-faltered at this point. My Dev was tiring and teetering on the brink of collapse, jerking up with each swat, his pretty bottom a shiny, rosy red and so hot that I knew each spank was deeply felt. I all but cringed myself each time my hand cracked down on that sweet little backside.
But it was precisely now, when Devon was stripped of all resistance, that he could face what had driven him to misbehave even in the face of such danger. He needed me to bring him here and to remain with him, a fixed and steadfast force, ever accepting and never abandoning him. To fail him now would be unthinkable.
So I kept on, despite his oft creative and adorable attempts to avoid the most embarrassing, difficult truths. This time there were no hidden reasons behind Devon’s misbehavior. These were the same reasons that were usually behind his naughtiness with Aragorn. But those reasons were powerful enough to urge my cub into these exploits each and every time Aragorn invited him along, so they deserved my attention each and every time.
This spanking had been quite long and severe, though, and Devon would be facing another one the night after tomorrow, so it was time to stop. The tension within me had finally eased for now, and I had felt it ease within my cub as well after he had shattered with fear. By the end of the week the last remnants of our terror would be fully purged, leaving behind one very sorry, very sore-bottomed little boy and a memory that equaled the wargs in terms of severity. There was but one final obstacle to overcome. Devon had this last confession to make ere we could end. And my cub was up to that much. He would needs work his way up to it, though.
"Come now, my sweet Dev," I said. "Tell me why you followed Aragorn on such a dangerous and naughty mission."
"Ohh, G-Garrick! Was soooo naughty!"
"Aye, shhhh. I know. But ‘tis all right. I am here," I murmured. "You know you are safe, do you not, sweetling?" He could do no more than nod and weep. "Then tell me, little one. Why?"
"Be-Because I wanted to d-do something fun and n-naughty, and-and-and I’m sorry, G-Garrick!"
"I know little boy. Go on. You are not yet finished."
He groaned softly and squirmed. "Because I-I wanted to s-show Ar’gorn that he-he was right ‘bout my shooting, and I-I’m sorry, G-Garrick!"
"Ahh. Indeed. Of course you would want to show him, sweetling. But perhaps it would have been wiser to show him when all the troop was there to back you up."
"Uh-huuuuuuhhhhhhh!" he wailed. "And I-I’m sorry, G-Garrick! I’m sorrryyy!"
"I know little boy. And? What else?"
"At once, Devon," I said, my voice softly stern. "Why did you follow Aragorn when you knew what would happen?"
My lad sucked a deep ragged breath, then: "Bec-cause I w-wanted to p-please Ar’gorn! M-Make him pr-proud of meeeeeee!" He burst into a torrent of fresh tears. "And I-I’m sor--"
I swept him up into my arms once more, cutting off his final apology whilst Devon covered his face with his hands and broke into hushed sobs.
"Shhhhhh, little one. Shhhhhhh. I know."
And now I removed my cloak and wrapped it around Devon and picked him up, carrying him into the woods and away from the camp. I found an ever-present and convenient fallen log upon which to sit and hold my weeping and exhausted cub.
"‘Tis all right now, sweetling," I purred, rocking slowly, relishing the feel of him in my arms. "We are alone now. Shhh. You did very well. I am proud of you. And all will be well."
Dawn was about to creep into the forest, but for now the light was soft and our solitude complete, despite the sounds of camp I had left not far behind. During our move Devon’s crying had been as typically strong as it always was after he had been forced to admit to something he found shameful and mystifying.
Long ago I, too, had been mystified by Devon’s need to please Aragorn, for it was more than plain that Aragorn already loved and esteemed Devon. They were near the same age and Devon even had more experience at Rangering.
But I quickly came to realize that my cub’s devotion to Aragorn was the natural response of an adoring ‘little brother’ for a ‘big brother.’ Of course he would always seek to impress Aragorn and hope to make Aragorn proud of him, even though his attempts were truly unnecessary.
"You do not need to earn Aragorn’s love and approval," I had oft told my cub in these moments, when he was at his most little-boylike. "You already have it, my sweet Dev."
And he would blush and look away and nod and murmur that ‘he knew,’ and I had ever been forced to accept that, for it was as much as my cub could give. In the end, Devon was in awe of our captain simply because Aragorn was Aragorn. And that seemed valid enough.
When Devon began to quiet I drew him down and eased him back in my arms and smoothed the tangled locks from his wet face.
"You are a mess, little boy," I said, smiling down at him. Devon simply watched me, still weeping lightly, but there was a calmer look in his wide, liquid eyes. Good enough. He could hear me now. "Ahh, my poor sweetling. We have been here many times, have we not, my Dev?"
He nodded, his fingers playing with the ends of my hair. "Y-Yes, Garrick."
"So, first of all, what is it you need to say to me from that deepest part of you?"
A small fresh sob, then: "Oh, Garrick! I-I’m sorry! S-So sorry!"
I grinned again and kissed his brow. "I know, little one. Shhh. And all is forgiven. But you will needs apologize to the troop, as you know. At first meeting."
He nodded eagerly. As was tradition, he and Aragorn would need to perform this courtesy together when Halbarad next called an official meeting. Only then would the matter be fully over and done with.
So now I simply held him, and I rocked him a little, and I told Devon what I had told him many times before, what he already knew – deep inside – that he need never prove himself to Aragorn, nor seek to win Aragorn’s approval, for he already had it. And that Aragorn loved him regardless of whether or not Devon ever again followed him off on some naughty adventure, and that Aragorn’s affection for him was based not on Devon’s blind devotion, but on who Devon was.
He listened and I knew that – deep inside – my cub believed me. He always did . . . until the next time Aragorn came up with some brilliant notion. And I had to content myself with that, for the next time Aragorn approached him, well, Devon was yet Devon and Aragorn was Aragorn and if there was a finer recipe for potential disaster I had yet to learn what it was.
"Garrick?" he ventured after a long period of silence.
He huffed and squirmed. "M-My bottom hurrrrrts!"
I grinned. "Does it indeed?" An indignant and sore-bottomed Devon was shamelessly adorable.
"Uh-huh." He sniffed. "‘Deed it does."
"Mmm. I see. I hope you are not seeking sympathy from me, little one."
"But, y-you spanked me too h-hard."
I chuckled. "So you always say."
"Because you always do."
"Then I vow you know what I shall say next."
He studied me, then he huffed again, louder this time, fired me the most delightful pout of exasperation and exclaimed, "Not true!"
I had to laugh. "What is not true, sweetling?"
"You d-did not go too easy on me!"
My Ranger-child was sick with guilt.
Aragorn sat near me to one side, hugging his knees close to his chest, curling down over them and huddling deeply within his cloak. He rocked a little now and then, staring at our small campfire and doing his best to keep from staring at Garrick and Devon. As if that were possible. At less than six feet tall Devon was small for a Numenorean, but there was nothing small about his lung power. He was shatteringly loud. Garrick had been spanking him for some time now, much to the furtive fascination of the Rangers. It was an enthralling sight, and a most provocative one . . . little Devon, blond and boyish, squirming over Garrick’s muscled thighs, his round bottom wriggling . . . quite the sight.
"Intriguing, is it not, Legolas?" Halbarad said. He sat on the other side of me, puffing his pipe and leaning back against a boulder, his long legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles. "Curiously intriguing."
"Intriguing," I murmured. "Aye. A fine word. And the corporal’s technique is . . . ."
"Just so. Admirable indeed."
I picked up the softest of low growls, and from the corner of my eye I glimpsed Aragorn huddling deeper within his cloak. When Garrick had dragged Devon over to the boulders clearly meaning to spank the boy in full view of the troop, Aragorn had shot me a wild-eyed look that silently cried, ‘you are not going to spank me here and now, too, are you, Legolas?’
But it was not the embarrassment of a public spanking that worried Aragorn. An immediate spanking, even one with an extra dose of humiliation such as Devon was enduring would have ended in absolution, and Aragorn wanted to suffer longer than that would have allowed. No spanking, public or private, would have helped him at the moment. His need had grown beyond that. So of course he had not wanted to be disciplined as soon as we returned to camp. He wanted to torment himself first by withstanding everyone’s displeasure for a while. So be it.
It helped that I was so furious with him. I could grant him his wish. I could also ignore Aragorn’s wary glances, refusing to acknowledge his unspoken fears as to what I intended to do. I had no trouble making him sit with his dread and suffer my silence. And Halbarad shared my current disposition. When Aragorn surged to his feet, excusing himself to head for the latrines, the lieutenant watched him skulk off, then turned to me and said, "He fears that you might explode at any moment and follow Garrick’s example."
"Aye. Tempting," I replied, and we shared a snicker. "But, nay. I shall not."
"He seems fairly certain you do not intend such a thing. But he is not completely certain." Halbarad snorted. "Let him sit and fret for a while, the young bratling scoundrel."
I cast the lieutenant a glance. He seemed calm and contented, but ohh, Halbarad was simmering within. As was I. "That was my plan," I said. "And as you are now in command, sir, I volunteer myself and Aragorn for first watch tonight."
"Granted," Halbarad said with a slight grin. He puffed his pipe for a moment, then said, "You spoil our lad over much, Legolas, letting him suffer a day’s wait, giving him just what he wants."
"No more than you would be doing."
He scoffed. "True." Nodding towards Garrick and Devon, he said, "Young Dev became most belligerent."
Now I scoffed, recalling Devon’s name calling impudence. "Indeed! Typical when guilt is overwhelming – demand as much penance as you can."
"And that boy has ever excelled in making his desires known. It seemed Devon said something foul." Halbarad raised a brow at me.
"Alas, I was not listening," I lied. Let Garrick tell his close friend that Devon had called him ‘Hal.’ I was not about to do it. But, Halbarad tilted his head to one side and studied me, his other brow rising, so I quickly added, "I-I doubt Devon expected Garrick to respond in such a public manner."
Flashing a perceptive grin, Halbarad looked away again. "Nay, indeed, poor boy. But my old friend has ever been a cunning tactician."
"Aragorn will no doubt give me some trouble, too."
"No doubt. With the burden of guilt our lad is bearing he will likely offer you a fair measure of insolence." Another knowing glance. "Or so you hope?"
"Mmm. A bit of battle beforehand might be just what my Estel needs, and if it is, so be it. I shall have no objections."
Halbarad barked a quick laugh, then he grew silent and shot me a sudden sharp glance. "You are certain I cannot deal with him this time? Happy to oblige."
Had I not been with the company, Halbarad would have seen to Aragorn’s discipline as he had been from the time when his young captain first joined the Rangers. But, gentleman that he was, the lieutenant honored my place in Aragorn’s life above his own desires. I recognized Halbarad’s unique place in Aragorn’s life as well, so, although no formal agreement had ever been reached between us, Halbarad and I shared Aragorn’s disciplinary duties.
I knew how much Halbarad yearned to spank Aragorn for this troll incident. However, I had first and final say in the matter, and this time I had no intention of relinquishing my rights to my Ranger-child. And my conscience was at ease, for Halbarad had spanked Aragorn several months ago, after another incident that had involved the troop.
The shrewd glimmer in Halbarad’s gaze revealed that he had not really expected me to hand Aragorn over to him, so I said, "Thank you for your selfless offer, but you had the honors last, sir."
Halbarad chuckled. "Aye, well, my offer stands."
"Good of you," I said, watching Aragorn slumping back our way. Head down and arms crossed over his chest, he fairly glowed with sulkiness. "I shall keep that in mind."
My gloomy Ranger-child dropped down beside me and once again hugged his knees to his chest and shrugged his cloak around him, plainly trying to close out the world with his huddled pose – or to at least close out Devon’s howls. Garrick still looked calmly determined, though, and considering his glower on the way back to camp he might continue spanking Devon for some time. Aragorn’s big corporal was quite the thorough disciplinarian.
"Do not worry," Aragorn had told me the first time I had heard the sounds of Devon being spanked inside their tent. "Dev is made of strong stuff."
"I have no doubt he is," I had replied. "He would have to be, since you are ever getting him into trouble."
Aragorn now cast me another wary glance, and I judged that he had been suffering long enough.
"Nay," I said.
He raised his head and looked at me with questioning eyes.
"I shall not be spanking you now. Tonight you and I have first watch. That will be soon enough to discuss your disgraceful behavior. Until then, get some rest. You have had none this past night, and ‘tis a long time ere our watch."
Oh, how he knew it! And even though a lengthy and miserable wait was just what Aragorn craved, the confirmation of it was a shock. He responded with a look of pure woe, then he cast a glance towards Garrick and Devon as though wondering if he might be better off suffering Devon’s awful fate rather than enduring the long hours of waiting amidst his justifiably exasperated Rangers. Aye, the wait was what he had wanted, and aye, he wanted it not. Furrowing his brow, Aragorn began to gnaw on his lower lip.
"Stop!" I flinched at Halbarad’s sharp command. He glared at Aragorn and growled, "Stop that at once, young sir!"
I feared Halbarad might abandon all decorum and fling Aragorn over his lap without delay. In such an event, I would ne’er gainsay the lieutenant.
Darting Halbarad an anxious glance Aragorn instantly released his lip. "You know that is unacceptable," Halbarad went on, again in that voice that sent shivers down my spine.
Aragorn swallowed hard. "Aye, sir. Pardon me."
Halbarad frowned a moment longer, then clamped his pipe back in his teeth and muttered, "Very well, but I am watching, little boy." And even though I was not the one in trouble I vow I felt my backside tingle with instinctive pre-spanking dread. Faith, but I wouldst never want to end up over that man’s knee!
Aragorn rubbed his nose on his sleeve, looking all of twelve years old. He then cast us another glance so drenched with misery that it struck right at my heart, and despite my fury and all the fear and horror of near disaster, I nevertheless longed to gather up my woebegone Ranger-child and soothe his wretchedness and tell him all would be well. For it would be. Tonight when his bottom was blazing and he lay trembling and drained in my arms, he would indeed feel much better. Worse, but better. I had to grin at Halbarad’s next words:
"‘Twill be all right soon enough, my little pup," he said in a milder tone. "Lie down now and get some rest." Scolding one minute and soothing the next – typical of Aragorn’s beloved lieutenant.
His eyes glazing over with unshed tears, Aragorn obediently stretched out beside me, as comforted as he was likely to be. He seemed suddenly exhausted, events clearly catching up to him, and though it was doubtful he would sleep with all the ruckus Devon was making, at least Aragorn was resting.
Halbarad re-packed his pipe, glancing back over to where it seemed Garrick was finally winding down. Though still spanking Devon, he was talking to him now and getting shuddery hushed responses in return. I watched, too, feeling my tense insides calming more and more.
A few minutes later Halbarad softly cleared his throat. I turned to him. A quiet grin of contentment had settled over the lieutenant’s handsome features. He dropped his gaze to Aragorn and gave a nod and I glanced down, smiling softly. How could this exasperating young rogue look so innocent? Heedless of Devon’s squalls, my Estel was fast asleep.
Aragorn stood looking out over the valley. "I have been thinking."
"Oh?" I came alongside him and began removing my weapons. He did so as well, distractedly passing me his sword and cloak when I reached for them.
"As Captain of the Grey Company I feel that, when on watch, it is dangerous to engage in any activity other than keeping a sharp eye out for danger."
"Any activity such as . . . oh, say, spanking?"
"I see," I said, and I ignored his words completely, just as I had ignored his silent, wary attitude earlier when Garrick was spanking Devon. For this was still Aragorn at his most anxious, but now, instead of hiding ‘neath his cloak and his quiet withdrawal, Aragorn was hiding behind an air of casual insolence.
He had indeed suffered a long and difficult day at camp. Many appreciative parties of delegated representatives came and went all day, bringing tokens of food and drink from the grateful folks who had been terrorized by the trolls, and Aragorn, as Chief of the Grey Company, was at his best with the admiring people. He did his Rangers proud, despite his own inner torments. But when the camp was free of visitors the discomfort between Aragorn and his men had lingered like a thick fog.
Until either Halbarad or I took Aragorn off alone for a ‘private discussion,’ one that made his eyes red and had him standing for his next meals, the men knew that their captain had not yet atoned for what he had done. Aragorn’s Rangers loved him, so they were not overly harsh with him. But because they loved him they were brutally honest about how they felt. Aragorn had not even needed his keen Dúnedain insight to sense their hurt and their abiding fear and their feelings of frustration with him. And that was precisely the anguish he had wished to endure.
Very well. I had indulged him. He had enjoyed plenty of anguish and now he was mine, all mine, to discipline. I, too, had suffered through this day’s long wait, and I had reached the end of my good will. However, as we both knew what was about to happen, I could play with Aragorn a bit before spanking him. As I had told Halbarad earlier, I had no objections to a bit of a friendly battle if that was what my Ranger-child wanted.
Practicing commendable restraint, I strolled over and rested our things against a most conveniently placed fallen log, then wandered back to Aragorn, saying, "So, ‘no activities whilst on watch other than keeping a sharp eye out for danger’ . . . hmmm. An inspired concept. You shall likely wish to bring it up at the next council meeting. However, regarding this night, let me ease your mind by assuring you that, having thoroughly observed this region, I detect no dangerous forces about to descend. All is peaceful now, Estel. Be at ease. Nothing will interrupt us, so no more fussing."
He turned and seethed down at the uncooperatively quiet valley.
"However," I continued in a cheerful tone, "if you are uncomfortable about this we can return to camp and ask Halbarad to reassign the watch. Then I shall follow Garrick’s example and spank you there. The boulder where he sat and took Devon over his knee is still available."
Aragorn scowled at me. "But why would you spank me at camp?"
"Because I would want to spank you at camp." His scowl deepened. Good. "Well, sir?" I pressed. "Shall we return and speak to Halbarad?"
"Nay," he mumbled. "I am content."
I nodded. "Very well then. Come," I said. "I have a fine fallen log waiting to be put to good use."
Aragorn narrowed his eyes and studied me closely. "You believe I am going to fight you."
I grinned. "Are you?"
"I certainly am not going to now!"
I burst out laughing whilst Aragorn, clearly startled by what he had blurted forth, fumed and flushed. He turned on his heel and began striding towards the waiting log. "Why would I fight you, sir?" he said with airy composure. "I certainly deserve this. We both know that."
I trotted up to stride beside him, still chuckling. "No question."
"And it would make no sense to fight you, Legolas. I shall not win. So, what folly!"
"Not that such folly has ever stopped you before," I said, unable to resist, though it was most uncharitable of me to point it out.
More fuming. He was surely reaching his fuming level. I removed my cloak, draped it over the log, sat and pushed up a nice cushion of cloth where his head would soon be. Then I looked at him expectantly.
"Right," he said. Near trembling with feigned valor and unruffled self-sacrifice, Aragorn came alongside me and began to undo his breeches.
"Stop!" I said, grabbing his wrists. Aragorn’s eyes widened, glittering with sudden dismay. Aye, sir, you know exactly what I am about to do. And I drew my Ranger-child around to stand between my spread legs. "Remove your hands, little boy. I shall see to that."
Aragorn looked mutinous.
The most merciful thing to do is to turn the person over your knee first, then pull down his breeches. But there are other ways to bare a backside, several of which make one cringe with mortification. Some find it awful to be made to drop their own breeches while standing alongside the lap they are about to grace. Others find it worse to obediently stand there whilst their disciplinarian does those honors.
And yet others hate being dragged between a cursed elf’s legs and having their breeches pulled down for them. As Legolas was in an unpredictable mood, I had thought to perhaps escape any sudden, nasty moves like this from him by doing my own honors and choosing my own form of disgrace. That volunteered decision was bad enough, but not as bad as what he did indeed now plan to put me through.
I could never keep from trembling when he did this to me. It was always, always awful! And Legolas played it well, malicious, spiteful elf. His strong hands on my hips, he kept repositioning me, drawing out the procedure with arduous precision. I stood shaking and struggling to keep from either biting my lip bloody or splitting his open. Hurry, hurry, hurry! Get it over with!
Meanwhile he kept muttering whilst situating me: "So well behaved. No naughty defiance. I am proud of you, Estel." Then he patted my backside and reached for the fastenings on my breeches. "Good boy, my little Ranger-child."
Something snapped. I reacted without a moment’s thought. "Sorry to disappoint you," I said, and I knocked his hands away and promptly backed up. "But I am not made of stone, you infernal plague of an elf."
He sat gazing at me with a maddening gleam of triumph in his eye. Then Legolas laughed, softly and indulgently. "You are not disappointing me, Estel," he said. "And of course you are not made of stone! The two trolls you and Devon vanquished can no longer say the same, though, can they? ‘Tis time you and I discussed that matter at length."
All at once Legolas looked downright eager to spank the effrontery right out of me, his eyes glittering in that, ‘No quarter, sir,’ way that stole my breath away and made my heart start racing. So I swiftly backed up further, readying myself for him, absorbed with remaining preoccupied by non-thought. Best not to ponder too much when my actions were making no sense. And, self-preservation aside, fighting Legolas made no sense. Fighting at all made no sense. I deserved to be spanked. I had earned it. I wanted it . . . well, in a way I wanted it. I surely did need it. And I was, most assuredly, never going to win against my elf.
Yet something deep within surged forth and made me provoke a fight just when Legolas was about to give me precisely what we both agreed I had coming. Pure, senseless emotion, far removed from good judgement pumped wildly through me. And Legolas knew that. He had coaxed it forth, although in truth he had needed to do little coaxing. Nevertheless, well done, my masterfully clever elf! Now come share in the results of your efforts!
Legolas rose, a swift, fluid movement, showing none of the eagerness I knew he felt. I sensed it surging within him, but he simply sighed and said, "So, we shall fight after all."
I gave a nod, my muscles ready, twitching, eager.
He stopped and angled me a tolerant look. "Come now, little bratling. Are you certain you wish to do this?"
‘Little bratling.’ Oh, he was spoiling for this fight as much as I was! I nodded again, sensing what he was going to say next, knowing before I heard it that it would likely send me right over the edge. But he surprised me. Lowering his gaze, he said, "Hmm. A nice grassy surface. We shall come away less filthy."
"Soft to fall upon as well."
"Be silent, you cowardly ass of an elf!"
And that delightful bit of insolence did it. He looked at me, eyes gleaming even more dangerously, and then he said it: "Very well. Let us get on with this. Come. Best me, little brat."
I charged. Legolas charged. We collided and went down and all I can say about what followed is that Legolas gave me a fair chance to expend a little nervous energy without injuring him or myself . . . much.
We grappled for a while, and I gave it my best, but in all honesty these occasional fights of ours were mostly defensive drills for Legolas. I attacked and attacked and he smoothly countered me each time, inflaming my fury when I achieved few results, save his satisfying grunts and gasps from my blows. But Legolas believed that when I invited this from him, I wanted his best, so he obliged me by doing plenty of attacking himself. I never had the feeling that I was being merely humored . . . much.
"You asked for that," he had once teased whilst I nursed a split lip after one of our fights. "I am not completely benevolent."
I had shrugged and said, "‘Tis your loss, sir, if you understand my meaning."
And so we fought on, and he gave me plenty of opportunity to wear myself out, but when Legolas had withstood all he cared to and decided it was time the battle ended, he ended it forthwith.
"Do you wonder why I fight you?" I had once asked him in the aftermath, when I lay in his arms, safely hot-bottomed, groggy, and reduced to a soft-minded state.
"Nay, sweetling." He studied me closely, then said, "But perhaps you would like to tell me."
"I cannot!" I had cried. "It is like a madness, Legolas! I taunt you, knowing I have been naughty, and then fight you, knowing I shall not win. Is that not madness? ‘Tis as though I am standing outside myself, watching, as though I were another. I cannot stop myself."
"Of course you cannot, little boy," he said, his voice a soft purr. "Nor should you try. You fight me because it is safe to do so. You fight me because you are not going to win. You do not want to win. Not against me at least."
"Oh, nooooo," I groaned, thoroughly ashamed. "That cannot be true."
"Shhh . . . Shhhh, hush! Do not upset yourself, Estel." He sighed. "You already know what I shall tell you, but I shall gladly tell it to you again, for ‘tis hard to remember some truths when in a state such as you are in." He kissed me gently and murmured, "Estel, in the end ‘tis not me you are fighting. There is something huge and hurtful within that would destroy you did you not destroy it first."
"Aye. And sometimes that guilt is very big indeed. You cannot battle it alone. You need a powerful ally to help you in your fight, and having found one --"
"Aye. You then seek to make my anger very big indeed, so as to help you vanquish that big guilt within. You fight me, and in doing, you invite a most sincere level of --"
"Certain doom?" We grinned over Devon’s silly name.
"Aye. You gain exactly what you need of me."
I thought that over. "Then . . . I am using you."
"I am! Legolas, I am using you." I studied him, frowning. "You do not mind?"
"Mind?" He chuckled softly. "Sweetling, think on that." I did, and then I grinned and Legolas chuckled again. "I welcome the opportunity to give to you all you need of me. The gift comes to us both."
"Even if the gift comes with bruises and an aching body?"
He had kissed me again. "Even so. You are worth that and more, my beloved Ranger child."
"Wake up!" Legolas said with a smirk, having just picked me up and flung me over his head, landing me on my backside. "Let that teach you not to daydream whilst fighting me. I demand your full attention, sir! Am I so meager an opponent?"
And before I could answer him, Legolas grabbed me again, rolled over on top of me, scrambled up and sat on my hips, holding my wrists down on either side of my head. Infuriating elf was playing! He grinned down at me, called me his ‘adorable little Ranger-child,’ then he flung me about some more and finally ended up holding me, his front to my back, his legs and arms wrapped around me. I struggled, huffing, unable to move. It was one of my contemptible elf’s favorite maneuvers and I hated it!
Yet a shiver of anxiety flashed through me. Aye, Legolas was having a fine time playing with me, but I knew that he was also angry. He sometimes teased and sported like this when he was at his most furious as it helped rein in that fury. So, indeed, deep within, Legolas was a bit provoked.
"Poor little Estel," he murmured. "You hate it when I hold you this way. I know. You cannot move a muscle, can you?"
I grunted and wrenched about, getting nowhere, and Legolas just kept chuckling, so I went limp, refusing to entertain him further. Of course, my yielding entertained him more. He nuzzled my neck, nipping softly. Vile, vile elf! I simply had to thrash about then! More low laughter, more nuzzling . . . there was no winning at this.
"Do you know what you are reminding me of, little son of Elrond?"
I froze. Oh no. No, no, no, n--
"Ahhh, it seems that you do know," he purred, his breath now tickling my ear.
Of course I did. Legolas always used that unique, ‘little son of Elrond’ name for me when delving into one particular memory. I jerked my head away and he snickered and went on: "You remind me of a certain wild little boy I met in Rivendell, Lord Elrond’s youngest son, who came charging into his ada’s study one day, his older brothers in fast pursuit, much to the astonishment of a diplomatic party that had just arrived from Mirkwood."
I wriggled and bucked again and Legolas did not even have the decency to flinch, his hold never wavering. "Legolas," I said on a sigh of pure disgust, and I called him something truly foul in elvish. Pointless, but oh, it felt good.
Legolas could move with blinding speed. He flung me around so that my backside was in range, gave me several blistering swats, then locked me back up in that loathsome position again before I could draw breath. I hissed and gasped.
"That was exceedingly ill-mannered, sir. Most unbecoming," he said over my huffing. "Such language would have earned you a mouthful of soap in your ada’s house. And, coincidentally --"
I groaned. "Ohh noooooo."
"Aye! Coincidentally, that was exactly what your two older brothers had in mind. Elladan was clutching a bar of soap and Elrohir was yelling, ‘No! Not in ada’s study, you wee bratling! Come back here!’"
I flushed all over again, even though I had heard this story many times. Legolas loved it. I had once asked him why. "Ah, but that tale is precious to me, sweetling!" he had exclaimed. "It was the first time I laid eyes on you, and you were utterly charming and hilarious and adorably out of hand. You were having a grand time leading your brothers a merry chase! Elrond was splendidly mortified! And yet, there was naught but pure pride and affection hidden beneath that amazing frown of his when he grabbed hold of you. And he held you, and said, ‘My lords, allow me to introduce my son, Estel.’"
Bearing in mind his endearing reason for loving this story I could hardly fault Legolas for enjoying the memory. I had wonderful memories of it myself, for that had been my first view of the most magnificent elf I had ever seen, a Prince of Mirkwood, who was watching me with fond amusement in his bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile whispering over his perfect mouth. Those who are ignorant enough to believe that a child cannot form an infatuation are foolish indeed. And it was that magnificent prince’s fault that Elrond caught hold of me so quickly that day, for my first sight of Legolas had near stopped me dead in my tracks.
"Your eyes grew enormous and round when we locked gazes, and you did not even seem to notice or care that your ada had captured you. Ah, Estel, that is indeed a memory dear to my heart, so I shall always love that story."
But my scoundrel of a prince also knew that my memories of the scene were further linked to the remembered aftermath, when my brothers had washed my mouth out with soap and walloped me most thoroughly for some harmless bit of mischief that had gone badly and had simply not been my fault.
"I cannot help it if you remind me of that boy when you are at your most belligerent, Estel," Legolas now murmured, his lips against my ear again, making me squirm anew. "And now, sir, are we done? Are you ready to behave like a good little Ranger-child?"
I snarled and tried to thrash about.
"Ah. Then you have not yet had enough sporting." He sighed. "Very well, sir. I suppose a bit more of this frolicking will do you good. But then we shall get down to it." And he turned me loose with a suddenness, smacked my backside again and shoved me away.
I shot up and flew at him and for a little while longer we ‘frolicked.’ No blood was drawn, but only because when, at one point, I closed my teeth over his arm, he growled, "Bite me, little boy, and I shall haul you right back to the center of camp, turn you over my knee, pull down your breeches and give your Grey Company an exhibition that will match Garrick and Devon’s blow for blow and then some."
I instantly spat out his arm. But the mention of Garrick’s name summoned a vision of my corporal’s stern expression today when our paths had crossed. Garrick rarely needed to say much in order to convey his sentiments and he had not needed to today. He had stopped, looked directly down at me from his towering height – a comforting sight on the battlefield, but strangely less comforting today – crossed his arms over his chest and said, "Well?"
I felt it a seriously inopportune time to remind him that, as his Captain and Chief of the Grey Company, I outranked my corporal and therefore his terse greeting was lacking the suitable tone of respectful decorum. Instead, the only thing that came to mind, and subsequently out of my mouth, was a rather small-voiced, "I beg your pardon, Garrick. Please allow me to apologize most sincerely for --" And I could not force myself to elaborate along further lines, such as, ‘for nearly getting your beloved cub horribly slain by that troll;’ so I said, "for causing you and Devon to suffer undue . . . uh . . . distress."
Garrick’s eyes had narrowed. "Distress?" He looked off for a moment. "Distress," he repeated in a low tone. And I sensed that my corporal was doing his absolute utmost to keep from dragging me over to the boulders where he had sat earlier in the day and doing to me what he had so skillfully done there to Devon. I would have been forced to protest such an action on principle alone, but I felt that an aggravated Garrick would have given my protests little consideration.
Indeed, locking his menacing gaze upon me, Garrick had merely leaned down and murmured, "With all due respect, young sir, were you mine to discipline I would have turned you over my knee the moment Devon had left it, and I would still be spanking you."
As it was then well into the afternoon, I could only swallow hard and mutter a humble, "Understandable, sir."
And I surely did understand. So much so that I would have uttered not one word of protest had Garrick gone to Halbarad or Legolas and requested a turn with me over his knee. I had wronged my corporal deeply, spiriting away his beloved Dev yet again and placing him in harm’s way. I had known exactly what I was doing, too, and although I had a reason for doing it, it truly had been most reprehensible of me.
So I stepped closer to him, reached up to place my hand on Garrick’s shoulder and said with my warmest sincerity, "Truly, sir, I am most deeply sorry."
Appeased as he could be, Garrick had given me a brief nod and moved off, leaving me with a shiver down my spine and guilt sizzling in my stomach. Nevertheless, I also had an everlasting sense of gratitude that I was not Garrick’s to discipline. Legolas was indeed bad enough.
"Dreaming again are we?" Legolas declared, having managed to pick me up, toss me around and painfully swat my backside. "Very well then," he said with a tone of finality. "Since this is clearly beginning to bore you, and since you are going to need some remaining strength for what I am about to do to you, ‘tis time to move along."
I disagreed. Again I charged him and again he picked me up and tossed me down over his back and again I landed with an ‘ooomph!’ on my rear . . . but then . . . then, suddenly – as though the fall had jarred forth the vision, or the memory of Garrick today had brought it to mind – suddenly I saw Devon, forcing himself back into the rocks, trapped, frantic, unable to escape, the troll leaning into him, reaching for him, Devon’s face a mask of horror, and I could do nothing, nothing to stop that huge reaching paw, about to close upon Dev and squeeze the life from him!
He had nearly died. I – I had near killed Devon! I had! I had near killed that sweet boy last night! My doing! Mine! And for what? A vain attempt to right matters ourselves. A stupid yearning for adventure. If Devon had been kil . . . if the Rangers had arrived but a moment later . . . ! Devon’s horrified face flashed before me again – he was trapped, gaping at that troll, staring at his death, because of me!
I ran my fingers through my hair and began to pull – pull and pull and pull, trying to tear that horrific vision out of my head! And something hurt badly, very badly, and then Legolas was there beside me, grabbing me, calling me and I scrambled away, tried to push him away, but he had me in his arms in an instant. No! Go away! I think I gasped out the words. But I could not escape him, and I heard him, speaking through the troll’s roars and Devon’s screams, or were those imagined screams . . . ?
"Enough!" Legolas was saying. "Estel! Stop! STOP!" Then, one of his most dangerous elvish snarls, and a muttered, "Very well."
"Legol-noooo!" I choked. "I-I – Dev nearly – dead! The bad troll near killed --"
I felt him stand and yank me up with him, growling, "Indeed he did. And we are going to discuss that at length, sir, as soon as you come to your senses."
And then Legolas had me over his shoulder and my head was upside down and he was striding, that familiar, graceful stride – Legolas, carrying me as he had so many times before. I knew this feeling. It was a comforting feeling, a solid safe feeling to cling to. Even though I struggled and he swatted me hard, this was still comforting, brief though the journey was. And when he sat and took me down from his shoulder and turned me over his lap, I felt tears, cold and wet on my cheeks. So peculiar, crying before a spanking . . . but, then, all of this was peculiar . . . horrible visions, and ohh! My head hurt!
Legolas worked fast as though racing some unseen force. He tossed my clothing up and over my back and yanked down my breeches – oh! The cool air on my naked skin! And he pulled my trembling body close to his, tucking me tightly against him, as though preparing to unleash something so big that he needed to hold me quite firmly. A flash of dread shot up my spine and then . . . and then, Legolas started spanking me.
I went rigid with shock! Merciful souls of the dead! By the sixth spank I was breathless and in less than a minute my body was squirming of its own accord, anything to get free of his next awful smack! There had been no gentle build up. Legolas was spanking me at his most intense level! Rapid, hard swats! Burning hot and precise and unending, over and over and over!
And suddenly nothing, no vision, voices, nor awful imaginings, nothing took precedent over what he was doing to me! My heart pounding, I flung my hand back, desperate to shield my bottom, but he knocked my arm away, grabbed my wrist and held my hand at my back, and more of those stinging hard spanks followed and I could not wrench away. I sucked a huge breath and responded in the only way left me:
"Oh. I see I finally have your attention."
"OWWWWWWWWWW! LEGOLAS! What are you do – AHHHHHHHH!" Valar help me, I had to make him stop! Or at least let up! And I heard myself blurt, "Not-Not in – AHHHH! OWWW! – Leg’las! Not in an-anger! Nev-Never in ang-ang --"
"Never in anger. Aye, you impertinent bratling. We never spank in anger." He snorted. "Estel, only you would attempt to scold me whilst I am blistering your backside. Such insolence! You know full well that I am not spanking you like this out of anger."
I knew, and, well, that had not been one of my finer strategies. "Soorrry! Sorrry! I-I know . . . AHHHHH! I-I meant –"
"I know exactly what you meant. You were trying to accuse me of inappropriate anger so that I would lessen my intensity," he said. "Is that not so?"
It was, and how dare he know it! I squirmed and bucked and tried to roll away, which only provoked him further. Another flurry of fast swats had me bellowing into the cloak ‘neath my face.
"Well? Is that what you intended, sir?"
And he tipped up his knee and started spanking the tender undercurve of my bottom. Merciful stars! My head shot up and I wailed.
"AYYYYE! Soorrryyyyy! AHHHHHHHHH! AHHHHH! S-Sorry Leg’las! SORRYYY!"
"There. I knew my Ranger-child could be reasonable," he said, lowering his knee, his swats returning to my fiery backside. "I may indeed be angry, Estel, but I was not spanking you in anger. You know the difference. I was trying to force your attention onto something other than self-destruction."
I had indeed known the difference. Legolas had not been the least bit out of control, but in times of desperation, desperate measures were, in my opinion, permissible, even in the form of a few white lies. And had our positions been reversed I would have done the same to him.
But – ‘self-destruction?’ What did he --? And he still had not let up! Legolas was yet spanking me in that hard, fast manner, and I wrenched around and pointed out that detail: "B-But – AHHHHHHH! Legolas! Why – what are youuu – S-STOP!"
"Not until I hear an apology for that appalling performance."
‘Appalling performance?’ I had given an appalling performance? I must have. Legolas claimed I had and his was the only opinion that mattered at the moment. But, lest he think I knew what I was apologizing for:
"W-What? I-I do not knowwwwwww! AHHHHHHHHHH!"
"I had best ne’er see you rip at your hair like that again, Estel."
Ohhhhhhhh. Indeed. I remembered now. The awful visions. That was why my head . . . no, my scalp hurt. And why Legolas was somewhat perturbed.
"S-SORRRRRRRYYY! I-I did not knowwwww! Legolas! Please STOP!"
Stop indeed. I was just getting started, and before I was done Aragorn was going to wish he had never heard the word ‘troll.’ I did slow my pace and lighten the force of my swats, though, giving him a chance to catch his breath.
I was not surprised to hear that he had no immediate recollection of what he had been doing. Trying to yank his hair out by the roots would have hurt badly, so something as huge as the memory of Devon under attack had to have taken over his mind in order for Aragorn to be so unaware of his actions. No matter, I had needed to stop him at once. And now that he was lucid again, we could move on to the spanking I had been aching to give him all day.
"I take it you now recall what you were doing," I said. He nodded, gasping, still shaking.
"Aye. P-Pulling my hair."
"Be-Because I remembered. All of a sudden, I re-remembered." He swallowed hard, tense as a bowstring over my lap. I spanked on.
"I-I saw it all again, Dev, and the troll, and I-I wanted to make it stop. So I-I . . . ."
"Tried to pull the visions out of your head?"
"I-I-I guess so."
"It does not quite work that way, does it?"
"No. Those visions shall remain for all time, Estel. For all who saw Devon near killed by that troll."
"I KNOWWWWW! OWWWWWWWWWW!"
"Your tone, sir. Do not bellow at me."
Aragorn gasped and sputtered and when he spoke again his voice was deep with strained control. "I am sorry. Sorry, Legolas. But I-I do know! I DO! I know how bad this was!"
"I DOOO – OOWWW!"
"More of that impudent tone. Perhaps when your pretty bottom is more colorful you will be more able to talk to me in a civilized manner. You had best settle down and think about this for a while, little boy."
"OWWWWWWWWWW! I-I mean, p-please Legolas, do-do not make me think!"
I had to chuckle at his wording.
"No thinking!" he exclaimed. "I-I have been th-thinking all day! Please, no m-more thinking!"
"Hush. Or, as you so presumptuously told me ere our small battle, ‘be silent.’"
And I did the same, leaving him to reflect. Of course the last thing Aragorn wanted to do right now was think about this troll incident, and I did not particularly enjoy forcing him to endure more anguished pondering. But I knew how Aragorn learned best.
Nothing I could say would be as effective as what Aragorn said to himself, what he already had been saying to himself. It was not through my lecturing that my Ranger-child came to his most meaningful truths. It was through the honest murmurings of his own noble heart. For Aragorn there was no finer teacher than his own integrity, and that voice had been his companion all day, standing quietly amidst the chaos of Aragorn’s darker, screaming guilt orcs and merely saying, "Think on what you have done." I would not expect my Ranger-child to bear that voice’s brutally honest company alone for much longer, though.
For just as he had memories of the troll attack, so did I, and my fears yet raged within me, needing to be acknowledged. The unthinkable had been evaded by mere seconds. Seconds! Had the Grey Company arrived any later, two young Rangers would have been lost: Devon would have lost his life in a horrific manner and Aragorn, had he survived the troll, would have surely lost part of his soul after watching his young friend die. Would Aragorn ever have been able to atone for what he had directly caused? His remorse and torment would have been harrowing. My Ranger-child would have been forever damaged. The grief that would have arisen from many was too gruesome to contemplate.
All because of simple disobedience and naughtiness. Nay, there was no dark inner turmoil hiding within Aragorn. There was only a ferocious regret and guilt that needed to be purged. I stood ready to do quite a bit of purging.
For a while I let my hand on Aragorn’s bottom speak for me. I kept up a steady pace of firm swats, enjoying it so much that I began feeling a bit guilty myself . . . but not too guilty. If relishing Aragorn’s spanking was unbecoming, then alas – I was a brute. But, spanking my Ranger-child was uniquely satisfying, appeasing my lingering panic within as nothing else could have done.
Oohh, this was good. The feel of Aragorn, safe over my lap, his warm weight across my thighs, his body writhing and grinding down against me, unable to keep still, the slight bounce of his torso in response to my every swat, his small bursting cries and soft gasps and his complete inability to wriggle away from my relentless spanks, ah! It satisfied me so deeply I could scarce fathom it. I was connected to him at such times, connected in a way similar to our most intimate joinings, and yet, not so, for the intimacy of spanking Aragorn was unique and simply beyond all words.
I had not closed him tightly between my legs, nor was I certain I would do so. Restraint was reassuring. Being permitted the freedom of movement was far more difficult. Nevertheless, freedom was ever preferable, so for now I let him arch and squirm and stiffen his legs and kick. If Aragorn became too frantic I would, of course, fasten him down.
"Hal’brad does that, too," Aragorn had grumbled once after a spanking when he lay in my arms. "He holds me down ‘tween his legs like you do."
"Does he indeed?" I had tried to summon a vision of that but sadly fell short of the mark.
"Aye. And I do not like it, Leg’las."
"Mmm. I shall try to remember that next time." Aragorn was plainly unable to recall that he had no trouble doing such a thing to me.
"I told Halbarad the same thing."
I blinked. "You what?"
"I told him, I said, ‘Hal’brad, I do not like it when you hold me still like that and I cannot move.’"
I could not stop grinning. "I wish I had been present for that. What did he say?"
"He just said, ‘The day I let you dictate terms to me, little brat, is the day the Argonath tumble into the Anduin.’"
I burst out laughing! "Clearly his message made an impact if you recall it word for word."
"Not much of an impact," he muttered in a sulky voice. "He still holds me down."
"Perhaps Halbarad will let me watch next time he spanks you, and I can remind him."
I grinned at the memory and drew Aragorn closer to my body, cuddling him to me, releasing his wrist just long enough to do so. But he responded with such wild wrenching about that I had to quickly grasp his wrist again and hold him down and scold him: "Stop that at once, sir!"
Aragorn exploded into more thrashing about and violent kicking. "Oh," I said. "I see." And seconds later he was bent over my left thigh with my right one closed over his legs. "Shh, there now, sweetling. All nice and secure. No more worrisome freedom. No temptation to move about. Now, where were we?"
And we continued on for some time with Aragorn in his new position of restraint. I was most happy to oblige him, having a particular fondness for holding him like this.
"You are much louder when you cannot move, little boy," I said.
"I am n-not!" Aragorn roared.
I smiled. "Oh. Indeed. My mistake. Though I vow they heard you bellow that back at camp."
"They did not!"
I chuckled softly. If Aragorn had the capacity to argue with me, he was doing well. That he had reached for the comfort of restraint said much. He felt he deserved it, and though his guilt was fierce, it was, indeed, merely guilt.
Halbarad had once told me, "When ‘tis simple guilt driving him, his needs are also simple. There is naught else to be done with Aragorn but to turn him over your knee and spank him for a nice long while. It settles him, for in those times of greatest anxiety, Aragorn oft cannot stop that savage inner spinning within him."
"‘Savage inner spinning.’" I had nodded. "Aye. He has ever been that way."
"Mmm," the lieutenant responded, seeming not the least surprised to hear this. "I imagine that as little Estel he had much to prove. He likely charged about trying to prove it as much as possible."
We chuckled. "Indeed, much to Lord Elrond’s vexation," I said. "Aragorn is still little Estel within."
"Aye. Very much so. My wild pup lives up to his nickname. He has since the day he came to us. And, I shall tell you something, Legolas . . . ." Halbarad had paused and gone thoughtful for a moment, as though considering whether or not this was something he should share. I waited quietly. Then he turned to me and said, "I have never been convinced that these times when he and Devon misbehave are entirely harmful."
I felt my eyes widen.
"True," he continued, "his adventures have the potential to become harmful, but most of the time they are not. And Aragorn gains something from such irresponsible folly." Halbarad paused again to smile softly and gaze off. "He is like a fine stallion, pardon the comparison. At times he needs to simply break across the meadow and run at full speed for no apparent reason. Kick up his heels. I vow it is in his blood. I cannot fault the lad for being what he is. I can only support him in devotion and discipline him when he tries to run too far." He grinned at me. "As you ever have, young prince."
I had felt my face grow warm under the big lieutenant’s favorable regard.
"Devon adores his captain," Halbarad continued. "So these mischievous adventures of theirs are going to continue. Best we be ready for it. Garrick knows what to do for Devon. And we know what Aragorn needs, what he is reaching for at such times."
I had nodded. "He needs the safe boundary of a fence."
"Exactly. Knowing he has that safe boundary allows him to fearlessly run free, as he sorely needs to do. He can do so knowing that others are watching out for him, and that he will not be permitted to leap that fence."
I realized that I had been nodding throughout Halbarad’s observations, admiring his insight. I had known this for all of Aragorn’s life, feeling it within, but never avowing it in words.
Halbarad had cast me his unnerving insightful grin. "Aye, young princeling, you knew this long before I even met my wild pup," he said. "And we understand that when ‘little Estel’ emerges and earns himself a spanking, that is just what he needs – a long period of time stretched out over the lap of one who will heat his backside to what seems to be an intolerable degree."
We had shared a grin. "How fortunate for Estel that he has two laps ready to receive him," I said.
"I stand ready any time."
Aragorn was now nearing that intolerable degree. We were not there yet, but his bottom was the shiny reddish hue that I knew from grim experience burned fiercely. His face still buried in the crook of his arm, he was crying heartily whilst still wriggling to the small extent I would permit. Deciding to test his readiness to move on, I slowed my pace to a near stop, released his wrist and watched him slowly drag it up beside his head where he grabbed a fistful of cloak and twisted. Good thing my cloak was elven made as Aragorn tended to punish it mightily during a spanking. Good thing his was elven made, too, as I tended to do the same.
"How obediently silent you have been, my Ranger-child."
He choked and coughed. "Th-Thank you."
I smiled. "Ah. Good, little one. Would you like to talk?"
"Aye! Oh, aye, Leg’las, pleeease, I-I--"
"Shhhhhh. Breathe easy, sweetling." And it seemed my endearments were suddenly too much for him. Aragorn burst into fresh tears and it took several more minutes of ‘shushing’ to quiet him again. I rested my hand on his hot backside, listening to him striving to obey through his broken crying.
"Good," I finally said, patting his bottom. "And since you have been so obedient --" I lifted my leg, picked up Aragorn’s lower torso and spread him out over my lap.
"Ohh, Leg’las! Ohhh!" And he cried a bit more, wiggling a little just to feel his freedom.
I grinned at my too-delightful Ranger-child, then I took a moment to let myself simply gaze at him, admiring the view of his strong body stretched out over my thighs in such docile compliance, his long legs, muscular and lean, resting on the log, and his fine, perfectly rounded bottom, so red now, so beautifully glowing . . . . I swallowed hard, shut my eyes and forced myself to think of how close I had come to losing him. My eyes popped back open.
"Just a friendly swat to make sure you are yet awake," I said.
"I aaaam, Leg’las! I aaaam!"
"You had best be, sir, for you have much to say for yourself."
"I-I-I dooo! Sorries! Lotsa sorries! Big sorries, Leg’las!"
Oh. So we were already well into that little boy place. Hmm. I had indeed been spanking him for quite awhile. So be it. I knew that he would still be perfectly able to discuss things.
"Oh, no. It is not yet time for your sorries," I said. "We have a few things to talk over ere you are allowed your sorries."
"Oh, nooooo." He groaned and gave his legs a small kick. Ah, plenty of spirit left there.
"What was that?" I gave him another crisp spank.
"OWWWWW! Nothing! Nothing, Leg’las!"
"Do not play with me, Estel. I am in no mood to tolerate it. I encourage you to consider your position lest your manner become too impertinent." And I followed my stern words with several lighter spanks.
He squirmed and kicked a little more, hiccupping small repeated sobs into the cloak, then, "Aye, s-sir. N-No playing. Sorry!"
"Good. Now, take some deep breaths." I reached under his shirt to rub his back, calming him enough to rid him of his hiccups, and I smoothed my spanking hand over his bottom, patting it now and then. I wanted him more composed for our talk. He could remain in his little boy place, but I intended to talk to my adult Ranger-child, too. For just as Aragorn had needed a long spanking, he now required this comforting ritual of accountability. It was time to go over what he had done, and why, voicing all the demons that would lie in wait to ambush my Ranger-child did we not purge them all now.
Of course, that was going to stir up a great deal more upset. So for now I gave him an interlude of quiet, petting him, and feeling myself calm, too, readying us for whatever else was coming.
"Very good, little one," I said when he had been breathing steadily and evenly for a while.
"Thank y-you, Legolas," he murmured in a tear-filled voice. "I – Legolas, are you --"
I asked it for him, saving him the trouble. "Am I angry with you?"
He nodded rapidly.
Releasing a choked sob, he said, "N-Nay. ‘Course not."
"Nay, sweetling. ‘‘Course not’ indeed. However --"
"I am most unhappy with what you chose to do. Talk to me, my Ranger-child. What possessed you to entice Devon out there to face that troll? Just the two of you. In the dark."
"But we had to go in the d-dark," he muttered. "Trolls do not come out in the dayti – OW! OWW! OWWWWW!"
"Believe me, Estel, my arm is not the least bit tired. Play with me like this and I assure you that I shall begin spanking right where I left off."
"OWW! NOOOOOOO! P-Please, Leg’las, no more sp-spanking!"
"You are not acting like a little boy who has had enough spanking," I said. "You know very well what I meant. Did you truly think Devon could make that shot in the dark?"
Aragorn paused, gasping softly, then he lifted his head and turned to look back at me. "Aye. Of course I d-did. I believed he could do it, else I never would have taken him out th-there."
I stared at him, not certain I had heard him correctly. Leaning down, I brushed the hair from his eyes and forehead, saying, "But it was dark, sweetling."
"Not that dark."
"You could have done it!"
"Sweetling, Dev does not have my eyesight. Nor does he have near my experience."
"But-But . . . but . . . ." He gaped at me, wide-eyed, as though this was the first time he had looked at things from another point of view, as though it had never occurred to him that Devon might have been unable to accomplish his task. "B-But the moon was b-big!" he blurted out. "So, so big! B-Big and white, like tw-twilight! Like it had been the night before! Like it will b-be tonight! S-So I knew how bright it would be there at the cave. An-And I knew Dev could do it! H-How could he miss?"
"Very easily, I fear," I said, utterly dumbfounded by how thoroughly he had misled himself. I suddenly wondered – "Estel, what did you plan to do if Devon failed?"
He blinked. "Failed?" Then, in a hushed voice, "He said he did not plan to f-fail. D-Dev said, ‘Ar’gorn, I-I don’t intend to try; I intend to do it.’ Dev said that, Leg’las. He was sure he could do it. And s-so was I."
"I see." This was unbelievable. I swallowed hard, torn between feeling madly charmed by the childish blind faith of these two and wholly dismayed by it. "So at no time did you e’en consider the possibility of failure?"
Clearly he had not, and the sudden realization of his folly hit Aragorn so hard that his eyes filled with fresh tears. Stunned though I was, I felt for him. He truly had managed to convince himself – and poor Devon – that his strategy had been reasonable and now his embarrassment was so overwhelming he scarce knew what to do.
I felt his temper threatening to erupt, although ‘twas not me he was angry with. Nay, Aragorn knew who was to blame for his humiliation, and he knew I did not deserve his wrath. But I was a truth-bearing nuisance shining a rational light on Aragorn’s reckless imaginings, forcing him to see them for the foolish notions they were. So he fought back his shame in the only way he could, grasping for some bit of salvage from his sinking ship:
"But-But-But he did it!" he cried. "D-Devon did it! He DID! T-Twice! He killed two t-trolls! OWWWWWW!"
"Mind your tone, little boy," I growled, sitting up again and following that powerful swat with another. "I know Devon did it twice. But do not dare use that triumphant outcome to justify the atrocious risk. Not when you both would have been dead had the troop not arrived when we did. Need I remind you of how close Devon came to being grabbed by that troll?"
"OWWWWWWW! NOOOOOOOO!" He turned back around and buried his face in my cloak, writhing as though trying to wriggle away from my words. But I clamped down and held him so firmly his twisting did little good.
"Devon did the near impossible for a human. Those shots would have challenged e’en my elvish eyes. ‘Tis to Devon’s credit that he had such faith in his abilities, and your faith in him, your encouragement of him was to your credit as well. But this was a most inappropriate and dangerous way in which to test that faith. And Devon managing to do the impossible is not the point here. Should he have been put in that position at all?"
"OWWWWWWW! Nooo!" Aragorn sputtered, "B-But I had a good ‘why,’ Leg’las! My ‘why’ was that I-I knew he could do it, and-and I wanted to let him! I thought it would be g-good for Dev! I-I did, Leg’las!"
I sighed heavily. "I believe you, sweetling. And I do understand your ‘why.’ ‘Twas a generous impulse. But it was, truly, an impulse, acted upon with little care or consideration. It was a little boy urge to do exactly what you wanted to do. Neither you nor Devon had good cause to believe that he could take down a troll with such a shot. Aye, he did, ‘tis true. But it was unbefitting to believe he could, and the greatest of folly to risk your lives in the attempt and to have no other plan in readiness."
"Leg’laaaaaaaasssss! OWWWW! Pleeease! I know all this n-now!"
"Then I trust you also know that if you had brought your plan to Halbarad and the elders they would have agreed to help give Devon the chance you wanted him to have, but with the proper safeguards in place. Are you going to try to tell me that it did not occur to you to do so?"
Aragorn paused, quivering right on the verge of an explosion. I knew he wanted to lie, and I knew he could not bring himself to do it, adding frustration to his emotional upheaval. He writhed on my lap and groaned into the cloak.
"AHHHHHH! OWWW! All right! Aye! I c-could have as-asked Hal!"
"Indeed you could have. Why did you not do so?"
"I do not knowwwwww!"
"Oh, I think you do. Try again."
"But I do not kno-OWWWWWW!"
"Then I shall put it to you in plain terms, sir."
"Aye, the truth is that it would have been far less exciting a victory had Devon killed the troll with the entire Grey Company there to step in if needed. What glory would there have been in that? Nay, you did not wish to have your little adventure spoiled by such tiresome safety."
A low growl built within my Ranger-child, bigger and bigger until at last it burst forth. "Leg’las!" he howled. "H-HUSH!"
The word ‘hush,’ so sweetly innocuous amidst all Aragorn’s fury made me yelp a quick laugh. Ill-timed, to be certain, but the laugh burst free ere I could stop it. ‘Hush?’ At such a time? Nay, I could not help myself.
Aragorn, however, erupted. He reared up, wrenched around to glare at me and roared, "SILENCE, you stupid, stupid elf!"
Well, that was a more direct plea, and it required but one response. Silence he got. I shoved Aragorn back down and began silently spanking him again, covering his already fiery bottom with a volley of small swats that would have felt very big indeed after everything he had absorbed thus far. He sucked a strangled gasp then he sent a roar into the muffling cloth beneath his face followed by a wailing chorus of sobs. He kicked and stiffened his legs, twisted my cloak with his fists and did his best to squirm away from my hand.
After I felt he had wearied of my silence, I said in a calm tone, "I know you do not like hearing these things, little boy, but truth is truth. And I am not trying to torment you by speaking to you this way, for I know you are fully aware of what could have happened and how truly naughty a deed this was. It was so naughty that the word ‘naughty’ is insufficient. I am certain you agree."
"Ayyyyee! So-So naughty . . . no – big! B-Bigger than nau-naughty!"
"Oh, much bigger. So we do needs speak of it that you might acknowledge what you have done and then be able to say your sorries from the deepest part of you. Do you understand?"
Aragorn wept openly. "Aye, L-Leg’las! Unners-stand!"
I should think he did understand. He had explained all this in similar terms to me often enough. My heart went out to him, though. Aragorn willingly accepted responsibility for what he had done, but I knew how wrenching it was for him to listen to the plain, jarring facts.
However, he had made some poor choices, and it would have been irresponsible of me to allow Aragorn to avoid facing what he must, simply because I knew how hard all of this was for him. It would not help him now, nor the next time he was tempted to be incautious. As Halbarad had said, ‘. . . these mischievous adventures of theirs are going to continue.’
So my duty to Aragorn was to be that solid fence, keeping him safe, even from himself. I could not fail my Ranger-child. I would not shirk my duty to him. He trusted me to do no less than my best for him, and it was my pleasure to do so. I owed him my all, for my beloved Estel deserved it.
I knew his limits, though, so I finally stopped spanking him, ending with a sincere swat that made Aragorn arch up and cry out, then I let him rest and catch his breath. He covered his head with his arms, a move that brought tears to my eyes, and my Ranger-child quietly sobbed. It was painful to hear, yet I remembered something else Halbarad had told me: "You must first tear down the broken pieces before you can rebuild something good. It is oft an untidy affair, but there is no other way."
He was right, and ohh, how completely my Estel shattered into pieces! Unable to keep from touching, I smoothed my palm over his burning silky bottom and stroked his messy hair and rubbed his back, but I was not yet ready to gather him up. I wanted to keep my little boy safe over my lap, relishing the feel of him there, so wholly my own, and I knew deep within that Aragorn also wished to stay right where he was. So he simply lay over my welcoming lap, quivering off and on, his sobs slowing to a soft, broken weeping.
"Shhh, little Estel," I purred amidst soft sounds of comfort. "Shhhhhhh, sweetling."
After some time he unfolded his stiff arms and slid his hands down, curling them into fists on either side of his head. I watched him turn his face to the side, gazing off and looking far too adorably appealing.
Then came a shyly ventured, "Leg’las?"
"M-May I p-please say s-sorry for c-calling you s-stupid? T-Twice?"
"Aye, sweetling. That would be a fine idea."
"Sorryy!" he cried. "So sorry, Leg’las."
"You are forgiven, my outrageous Ranger-child. However --"
"Ohhhh . . . ." He made a tight sound of distress in his throat, but then bravely moaned, "I-I suppose I can not blame you."
"I suppose not."
"You are n-not st-stupid, Leg’las."
I chuckled softly. "Well, thank you, Estel."
"Not stupid at all. I-I was just an-angry!"
"So I gathered. You did not like hearing the truth."
"Noooo, but you w-were right – truth is t-truth."
"Mmm, and those truths were indeed hard to hear."
A short pause, then: "I was wrong to inv-vite Dev to come kill the t-troll. I-I know that. W-Was naughty of me. And I am s-sorry. So sorry."
I patted his bottom. "I know, sweetling."
"B-But . . . I . . . ." He made a strangled sound in his throat, squeezed the cloak in his fists, and said, "I-I watched Dev practicing with you, and I was surprised, because he was so, so good – just like you said he was. Y-You were right. He was better than I was. And I-I was so proud of him, watching lil’ Dev shoot like an elf, like you, Leg’las. B-But . . . well . . . al-almost like y-you. N-Not as good as you. Almost, but n-not."
I listened, a grin slipping free.
"And . . . I got so-so excited, and I thought, ‘He can d-do it! Dev can kill the t-troll!’ And I thought of how g-good that would make him feel and how h-happy he would be, and how proud everyone would be of him. I-I saw it in my head, all the cheering R-Rangers, and Garrick, smiling so big . . . Garrick has that nice big pretty smile, Leg’las."
I grinned. "Aye, that he does."
"N-Not as pretty as y-yours, though. Almost, but n-not as."
I chuckled, loving him near beyond my ability to breathe. "Thank you, my sweet Ranger-child." I kept rubbing and patting his bottom and his back. "You were speaking of watching Devon. Go on," I told him. "You are doing very well."
"Uh-huh, and, so I just wanted to let Dev try, but . . . I did not think. I was so s-stupid. OWWWWWWWW!"
"You need to rephrase that. Is my Ranger-child stupid?"
"Nay! I-I-I mean, not stupid – I was not s-stupid. I . . . uhhh --"
"Youuuu made a poor choice, resulting in an unforeseen yet nonetheless life-threatening situation for you and Devon?"
"Aye. Just that."
"Aye, sweetling, you did indeed do just that."
"Ohh, Leg’las!" he said on a low moan. He lowered his head to his crossed arms, beginning to weep again, quietly, and from the deepest part of him. "Awful! Soooo scared! Wh-When I saw Dev, poor lit’le Dev, t-terrified! And the troll almost had him! And I-I could do nothing . . . nothing! And Dev w-was sooo scared, and oohhhh! I keep seeing it, Leg’las! Poor Dev!"
I quickly reached down and scooped him up, gathering Aragorn and purring, "Shhh, sweetling. Shhhhh – ‘tis alright now."
"I am sorry, Leg’las!" he blurted out repeatedly. "Sorry, sorry, soo sorry!" He held onto my shoulders as though fearing he might be pulled from me, hiding his face ‘neath my hair, snuggling in the crook of my shoulder, his weeping raw and hoarse. "N-Never would hurt Dev . . . never! B-But I almost . . . because of me he w-was almost --!"
"Shhhh. Estel, Devon is safe, sore-bottomed, and no doubt curled up on Garrick’s big lap, wrapped within his strong arms there at our encampment. He is at peace, surrounded by the Rangers who love him. And you are safe in my arms. I have you. Feel where you are, little one." And I hugged him closely and I rocked and purred gentling sounds to him until he began to relax against me.
"So s-sorrrryyyy, Legolas. Sorry for e-everything, for all the naughtiness."
"I know," I murmured against his hair, and I could have demanded a more detailed list of sorries, but I saw no reason for that. "I know," I repeated, kissing his head; then I murmured what he longed to hear: "And all is forgiven, my beloved Ranger-child."
Aragorn gasped a small sob and made a low tone rumbling in his throat. I felt him struggling with what he so longed to receive. But forgiveness, sweet as it was, could also be a most difficult blessing to accept. And Aragorn was suffering from honest bewilderment, making his acceptance even more difficult.
"How c-could I have done that, Leg’las?" he said, his hushed tone full of puzzled innocence. "How? How c-could I have been so --"
I cleared my throat.
"Uhh . . . how could I have fooled myself like th-that?"
I had no answers for him other than simply waywardness. But Aragorn was confused and pondering, so I could not let him sit quietly with his thoughts, as he was wont to do. When in this state Aragorn was easily led astray by nasty inner voices. So I needed to hear his thoughts, lest he wander down some harmful path.
I drew him away from my shoulder and rested him back against my arm that I might study him. Aragorn gazed quietly up at me. His eyes looked sore, but they were bright and shiny and alert. Kissing him lightly, I said in a stern tone, "Talk to me, little boy. You know better than to keep your thoughts secret. Do you decide what I am allowed to hear?"
"No indeed. Then do your thinking aloud."
"Aloud. Aye, Leg’las. I-I was thinking of how eager Dev was, how much he wanted to try that shot, especially after I t-told him the story of when my brothers and you and I fought the troll. He became so excited when he found out that y-you, his t-teacher, could make that special k-kill shot!"
I felt my face warm. Aragorn grinned, and I grudgingly did as well, pleased with the way speaking of this was helping calm him.
"Remember, Leg’las? It was a mean troll. A big one. A Rogue Troll."
I nodded. "Aye. And you were determined to try slaying it by yourself. Your protective brothers were appalled."
"Uh-huh. Elladan said, ‘Alone? Absolutely not!’ And he sounded just like our ada!"
"That he did." We chuckled, then I continued: "And Elrohir told you, ‘Legolas will take care of this creature, little brother. Stand over there and do not get in his way.’ Ai, Estel! You looked ready to explode into a most sincere tantrum."
"But then you said . . . ." And Aragorn watched me, waiting with eager delight for me to finish his thought.
I smiled at him. "Then I said, ‘Why not let Estel try? Between the three of us we can make certain he comes to no harm.’ And . . . And . . . ."
And I stared off, a sudden thought occurring to me. Could . . . could it be that simple? Of course!
I glanced down at his perplexed gaze and flashed him another smile. "Estel, you said that when you saw Devon practicing, your sudden thought was that he could kill the troll. Of course you became excited! I vow that, deep inside, you suddenly saw that Devon could do what you had tried to do many years ago when your brothers and you and I encountered a different troll. You briefly drifted back in your mind to that other time and that other troll. You had not been able to kill that troll then, but now, together, you and Devon could kill this one!
"Of course, you were unaware of these memories, and you had no idea that they were driving you. You simply became very excited and eager to handle that troll by yourselves. And that desire was powerful enough to convince you of anything, most of all, that Devon could not fail. Combine that with your kindhearted wish to see little Devon succeed and you were attacked full force. Estel, no wonder you did what you did!"
Aragorn had been still and attentive whilst I spoke, and now he peered up at me, thinking, thinking, thinking . . . . "Ohhh," he whispered, and he began to slowly nod, seeing that what had been mysterious, unsettling behavior before now made sense. It made perfect sense. Well, it did if you were Aragorn.
"I h-had a reason," he murmured to himself. "A reason! I d-did."
I grinned. "Indeed, you did, little boy. You had a very good reason for inviting Devon to slay the troll, even though you did not realize it. Together the two of you would dispatch that troll with no elvish assistance." I raised a brow. "A triumph for men?"
Aragorn gazed at me, his eyes widening. Then, with a heavily breathed, "Ohhh!" he smiled back, beautifully, and he surged up into my arms with a small laugh and a joyous, "Thank y-you! Oh, thank you, Leg’las!"
I kissed his head and murmured, "You are most welcome, my outrageous Ranger-child." And a moment later I was not surprised to hear him suddenly release a few soft, choked sobs against my neck. After such a scare, after his uncertainty and his worries, naturally there would be tears, Aragorn’s emotions running wild. I hugged him and rocked, feeling him squeeze tightly against me, holding on and burying his face ‘neath my hair, as though to say, ‘let me hide within you while all these feelings roar ‘round and batter me.’
"Sorry, Leg’las," he whispered. "I-I am not s-sad, and I am so happy you figured out why I-I . . . ." And such was all he was capable of at the moment.
"Shhh, little one," I murmured. "All is well. There is indeed a rational explanation for what you did. And now you have many big feelings of relief after your scary confusion. So of course you have a few tears to spend. ‘Tis all right, sweetling. You are safe in my arms. So do as you will, my beloved Estel."
And for some time I held him and rocked him, Aragorn shuddering against me in soft, recurrent and ragged weeping, the last of it all working through him. Finally he slowed, and when he had been still for some time I drew him down to rest in my arms again, finding only a sweet peace in his quiet gaze. His eyes glistened now with milder tears, and he reached up and ran a finger down my cheek, murmuring, "I love you, my Leg’las."
I brushed the tears from his cheeks and smiled down at him, my eyes stinging as well. "I love you, too, my pretty Ranger-child." As I had expected it would, his face instantly flushed a bright red at the word ‘pretty,’ making me grin. Kissing his brow, I said, "Come now." And I gathered Aragorn up and moved us to the grass, retrieving both our cloaks on the way. I stuffed mine ‘neath my head, and covered Aragorn with his – or tried to.
"Stop fussing," I told him. "And stop tossing off your cloak. You chill easily after a long spanking."
"I do not," he pouted. "And it hurts when it touches my bottom."
"Your cloak is elven made, sir. You can feel its warmth, but there is certainly no heavy pressure from the cloth. Now that is enough. Settle down."
"Oh, all right," he grumbled, hissing at the slightest touch of the cloak on his backside. Ai! Such drama! I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Finally Aragorn positioned himself to his satisfaction, curling up against and half-atop me in our familiar manner. I held him closely and he nestled in, nuzzling his face into the crook of my neck and breathing in deeply as he loved to do.
"Mmmm," he purred. "Mmmm. You smell so gooood."
I grinned at his customary remark, loving him so much in this boyish condition that my chest expanded with joy and I could scarce remain composed. Mine. Aragorn was all mine for this precious interlude. I felt his warm body draped over me, limp and drained, but wonderfully cozy, his heartbeat close to my own and his breath warm against my neck, and it seemed there could be no more perfect moment.
"Leg’las?" he soon ventured whilst playing with my hair, lacing it around and through his fingers.
"Nay, sweetling," I quickly said. "I did not spank you too much." And I laughed at his exasperated huff. "Or too hard."
"I was not going to say that!"
"Pardon. My mistake. You often do try to tell me that, though."
He considered that for a moment. "Because you always do."
I grinned and brushed the hair from his forehead and said, "What were you going to say, sweetling?"
He met my gaze, his eyes wide with raw and artless amazement, ‘little Estel’ in his boyish state of unguarded wonderment. I ached from the beauty of it. "I was going to say thank you again," he said in a soft tone of awe. "For being so smart, and for . . . for understanding what I could not. I felt so s-scared, like what I had done made no sense, not even just pure naughtiness sense. But there was a real reason behind what I did, and you found it, Leg’las!"
"And it was a very good reason, little one," I said, understanding his need to keep going over that comforting fact. He relaxed with endearing ease and I went on: "Of course, you did not know of this reason, else you might have thought more carefully about what you were doing."
He looked skeptical. "I would have?"
I chuckled. "Of course. You do have a conscience, Estel, even when you are slipping into your very naughty place. Had you fathomed what was driving you, you would have reconsidered the matter, or at least thought about it in a different light."
"I would have?" he repeated.
"Aye, sweetling." I lightly kissed his somber mouth. "Trust that I know you better than you know yourself at times."
He nodded and said in an earnest tone, "Aye, Leg’las. You are very wise."
It was my turn to feel my face grow hot. Aragorn burst into laughter. "And your face can go as red as my ada’s does when he is angry!"
I had to join in his laughter then, both of us envisioning Elrond in a temper. His face could go an astonishing shade of red, and when matched with his raised brow it was enough to make any guilty elfling take to his heels. Aragorn’s big brothers and I had faced that awesome sight many times before little Estel entered our lives, not that I would ever tell him some of those tales.
"I doubt my face is as red as your well-spanked bottom, you impudent son of Elrond," I pretended to scold. I tickled my fingertips over the hot skin of his backside, making him gasp and yelp and try to wriggle away from my touch. "Settle down now, little boy," I told him, hoping he ignored me as I wished to play with him longer.
But I could not ignore his tired-looking eyes. They were bright with relief and euphoria, yet also glassy with weariness. As the functioning adult here I should quiet him down to rest now, do what was best for him rather than indulging us in extending these blessed moments.
However, I comforted myself with something Halbarad had once told me, Aragorn’s lieutenant entering my thoughts to share his wisdom yet again, as he had so often this night. We had been speaking about our love of this respite following Aragorn’s spankings and of our reluctance to bring it to an end by letting him drift off into usually much needed sleep:
"Aye, the period of time when he is safe in that little boy place is indeed precious and rare," Halbarad had said. "‘Tis understandable that we yearn to make it last as long as possible."
Nodding, I had confessed, "I cherish it so that I find myself avoiding responsible conduct. I let the moments slip by when I could demand he settle down and rest. I let him stay awake because I want those times to last. I do what is best for me, rather than what is best for him."
Halbarad had grinned and said, "Legolas, what makes you think that sleep is the best thing for him at such a time?"
I had merely gazed at him, having no answer. Finally I shrugged and said, "He is a man. He is clearly tired. And when he is in that little Estel space he cannot make good choices for himself."
"And sleep is a best choice?" At my frustrated glare Halbarad had chuckled and said, "I am merely questioning your fixed belief. As for me, I sometimes encourage him to settle down and rest, despite my desires to extend the sweet moments. And, aye, ‘tis hard indeed. But sometimes I allow him to simply exhaust himself on his own. As he is tired, he eventually always does, and I enjoy the time he takes to get there.
"Aragorn cherishes those after-spanking interludes as much as we do, Legolas, even more, I vow, as ‘tis the only time he can be wholly free of his adulthood. ‘Tis why he fights sleep so. But then . . . ." He had paused to eye me closely. "Perhaps you know this feeling as well, when you are in his place."
I did indeed! Oh, how I would fight sleep when Aragorn held me after spanking me! My expression made Halbarad chuckle anew.
"You see?" he said. "You do understand. So, my advice? Your instincts serve you well, little princeling. I vow they ever have where Aragorn is concerned. Trust them. And enjoy the precious interlude after his spanking as I do, without feeling you need end it too soon for his sake. What is best for our little boy in that moment may not be what you think it is."
I blinked, suddenly aware that I had been absorbed with my own musings, something Aragorn would have been most unhappy about had our positions been reversed. I glanced down at him and found him watching me, but looking through me with a vague emptiness in his gaze suggesting his own preoccupation with other thoughts. I smoothed the locks from his brow and he flinched, shooting me an aware and guilty glance.
"Shhh, ‘tis all right, sweetling," I said with a gentle smile. "It seems we were both off elsewhere in our thoughts."
"Oh." His face relaxed into a wry little grin and he said, "That was naughty of us, Leg’las."
I laughed. "Indeed it was! I am ashamed of us."
Aragorn laughed in return, then he said, "What were you thinking of?"
"Halbarad," I said. Well . . . I had been.
"So was I!" he exclaimed. "I-I was feeling sad for him."
"Were you, little one?" And though I felt I knew his reason I asked him anyway: "Why were you feeling sad for Hal?"
He gasped and coughed out a loud, shocked laugh. Ah! Perfect! How Aragorn reveled in impertinence! "HAL?" he cried. He sighed and ‘tsked’ at me and frowned mightily, too adorable to bear. Wiggling up closer to my ear, as though to impart a great secret, he murmured with relish, "Leg’las, Halbarad does not like that name."
"Oh, indeed. I forgot. Thank you, Estel." I kissed his brow. "I shall bear that in mind."
"See that you do," he said.
"I shall rephrase my question: Why were you feeling sad for Halbarad, sweetling?"
"Well, I . . . I thought that he might have wanted to . . . to . . . ."
"To spank you?" Aragorn winced and gave a nod. I chuckled. "Aye, indeed he did. So perhaps the next time you misbehave it will be Halbarad’s turn to spank you. You should do something naughty next week and make him happy."
"What?" Aragorn reared up and stared at me, eyes wide. "What? Do something naugh – next week? NO! No, no, nooo, Leg’las!"
"Well, you cannot do something naughty this week," I said. "You shall be busy every other night."
He gasped. "Oh, noooooo!"
"Estel." I gave him an incredulous look. "Surely you did not doubt it?"
Aragorn just stared at me, playing along well, though I was certain he had held no doubts whatsoever about his fate during the upcoming week. He finally sighed and mumbled, "Nay. I-I guess not."
"I guess not as well, my naughty Ranger-child. Now come here." And I cuddled him back down over me again. "Do give some thought to a bit of harmless mischief after our week is over, though, for Halbarad’s sake."
"Perhaps include Devon again. If Garrick ever allows you near him alone, that is."
He lightly punched my chest.
"Not a lot of mischief, mind you, and certainly nothing truly dangerous. Just naughty enough to earn a nice spanking from your lieutenant."
"A nice spanking? Nice? From Halbarad?" Aragorn huffed and shot up again, gaping at me. "Halbarad’s spankings are not nice, Leg’las. Not, not, not! ‘Tis clear you have never had a spanking from him!"
I spat out a chuckle. "Nay, by the Valar! And I never shall, little boy!"
The two big Rangers exchanged an, ‘Ahh, I see,’ look.
"Mmm," Garrick said. "That makes sense then. Aragorn did have a reason other than pure mischief."
I nodded. "Aye, though he was surprised to learn of it."
Riding between Garrick and I, Halbarad said, "I had ne’er heard that story. Lord Elrond kept me informed on most matters he thought important, but --" He glanced at me. "Perhaps he never heard this story either?"
I shrugged. "The twins might have simply forgotten to mention it to him."
"Or perhaps they thought their ada would be unhappy with them for allowing his little mortal son to play with a troll," Halbarad said, "e’en with the three of you standing by."
"Quite possibly," I said. "Although, we had so many adventures when the four of us were out wandering Middle Earth that the twins might have considered the tale too insignificant to tell. But clearly Estel’s memory of it was at work, deep within, probably from the time the troop first began tracking our troll. Seeing Devon’s adeptness with a bow jarred something loose, giving rise to Estel’s sudden impulse."
"Mmm." Halbarad nodded. "I was willing to believe it pure mischief. ‘Tis interesting to learn there is an actual reason this time."
"This time," Garrick repeated with a snort. He glanced over his shoulder to where his cub and the Captain of the Grey Company rode side by side at the rear of the troop. "They are both still sitting most carefully in their saddles," he said, turning back around.
"I do vow," Halbarad said with a light chuckle. "And will be for some time. The two of you did yourselves proud."
"Cruel of you to break camp so soon, though," Garrick said, plainly meaning not a word of his rebuke. "Forcing our young captain into the saddle the morning after his discipline?" He shook his head and cast Halbarad a stern frown. "Very hard, lieutenant."
"I am a hard, cruel man. You know it, my old friend."
"I know it well."
Deciding to join in the fun, I said, "Of course your decision has nothing to do with the fact that our bratlings’ sore bottoms will get worse as the week goes by, making this, in truth, the kindest day to move camp."
"No bearing whatsoever on my decision," Halbarad said.
"Nonsense, Legolas," Garrick said.
"Pardon." And I fought my grin as valiantly as were they.
"‘Tis the upcoming storm front you wish to stay ahead of, is that not so, Halbarad?" Garrick said with feigned solemnity.
"Mmm. Aye. The storm front," Halbarad replied. He turned to me. "I trust you feel the approaching rains, master elf?"
"Indeed, but why --"
"You shall no doubt want the camp to be under tent tonight ere the rains arrive," Garrick went on.
"Aye." Halbarad nodded. "The camp must all be under tent."
"And we needed to move to another location in order to do this?" I asked.
"Of course," Garrick said. "Our former site was completely unsuitable."
"Ah," I said with a nod. "Well then, of course Aragorn needed to brave his saddle today, sore bottom notwithstanding. You had no choice, lieutenant."
"None whatsoever, little princeling."
We all chuckled a bit, then Halbarad turned to Garrick and said, "Alas, poor Devon. Once again our youngest will be spanked within the encampment. This is becoming habit, my friend."
"Indeed." Garrick grunted. "I am most seriously regretful."
"The company shall now have an image to match the sounds coming from your tent," I pointed out.
"Aye, much to my cub’s dismay."
Halbarad said, "I vow Aragorn is hoping the rain will be gone by tomorrow night."
We chuckled again, then Garrick looked past Halbarad to me and said, "Have you told him yet?"
I shook my head. "Nay. Tomorrow night will be soon enough for him to learn of it."
Halbarad turned to me and said again, as he had earlier when we discussed it, "Most generous of you."
I glanced at him, smiling, recalling his visit to the watchpoint last night and his offer to take the remainder of my shift that I might return my well-spanked and exhausted Ranger-child to camp. I was glad to see Halbarad, solid and strong and so full of assurance, for I had been lying there, my trusting Estel asleep in my arms, and feeling that I had perhaps relished this spanking too much. As was usual, Halbarad had seen plenty and sensed even more.
"Do not trouble your mind so," he had murmured. "I have also felt what seemed like unbefitting satisfaction when spanking him."
"How did you know I was --?"
"Ah." He had grinned. "You have been with us for too long to hide your thoughts from me, my young one. And fret not. The contentment you feel is normal. You are not pleased to be causing him pain. Rather, you are relishing the release of your distress. Our fears for Aragorn will cripple us should we allow them free rein, so there is no shame in enjoying their passing. Our lad here would be the first to understand that. So, do not think yourself evil or mean-spirited. It is reasonable to feel gratified while spanking him, especially when he has caused you great alarm. At the risk of insulting your elevated heritage, little princeling, such a reaction is only human."
I now told Halbarad, "‘Tis my pleasure. And ‘tis only fair."
"I doubt Aragorn will see it that way," the big lieutenant replied.
"You do not think he suspects?" Garrick asked us.
"Nay, he would be protesting if he knew," I said. "He has no cause to suspect anything, and I see no reason to inform him that Halbarad and I shall be taking turns spanking him every other night this week."
"Agreed," Halbarad said. "No need to upset the boy. Aragorn would only fret about it –" He darted a roguish look my way. " – given the fact that I am much harder on him than you are."
I sputtered a laugh. "What?"
"Oh, ‘tis no reflection on you, Legolas," Halbarad said, that playful glitter in his eye. "‘Tis because of who you are to each other. You cannot help being lenient. You have a conflict of interests."
"And does your corporal also share this problem of a conflict of interests as concerns his Devon?" I demanded.
Garrick cleared his throat ominously.
Halbarad was good. "Nay," he said without hesitation.
"And why not?" I demanded.
"Because I say so."
Garrick coughed loudly, utterly failing to hide his bark of laughter.
I shot Halbarad a counterfeit glare and said in my best lordly Prince of Mirkwood Voice, "Sir, should you ever find yourself with a companion of your own, such as Devon is to Garrick, or my Estel is to me --"
"You mean, a tiresome bratling with a talent for trouble and in need of constant disciplining?" Halbarad interrupted, clearly enjoying himself immensely.
"Just so! Should Fate ever send such a one into your life I shall be there to remind you of your words. Then we shall see what you have to say about a conflict of interests."
Garrick could no longer remain silent. "Our young prince has a point," he said.
Halbarad broke into more of his deep chuckling. "As ‘tis unlikely such a one shall ever cross my path, the point, sirs, is moot."
The Troll Incident