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Boundaries Redefined - Chapter II
I could not remember ever feeling more humiliated or more ridiculous.
The closest I’d ever come to being this mortified was on my twentieth birthday. Fortunately, Denethor was away at the time . . . at least I thought myself fortunate. In hindsight, had Denethor been there, I’d have only needed to endure a dull birthday dinner and some of my father’s tiresome speechifying about the splendidness of his firstborn, instead of suffering through what actually transpired.
A few friends decided we needed to do a little celebrating to mark the occasion, so after we’d celebrated enough to become obnoxious, a state in which I rarely found myself, they had dared me to scale the Tower of Ecthelion, claiming it to be a real test of courage, especially while intoxicated. I was woozy enough to take them up on their stupid challenge.
Singing bawdy songs, and laughing like idiots, we’d staggered, torches in hand, through the moonlit streets to the base of the Tower named after my Grandsire. I’d actually managed to climb about fifteen feet up when Lieutenant Damrod arrived with six of Minas Tirith’s most massive guardsmen and a scowl on his face that would have frightened a cave troll.
The guards had hauled me down and turned me over to the Lieutenant, who then gave them orders on what he wanted done with my five trouble-making friends, a fate that I was blissfully too groggy to hear. Then Damrod dragged me off to my bedchamber, where he stayed to keep watch over me through the night. Each time I woke up to find the room spinning, Damrod held my head while I wretched, and when my stomach had no more to give up, he ordered a noxious concoction from the Healers and personally forced it down my throat.
I remembered nothing until the next morning, when my father’s merciless Lieutenant had me out, bright and early, drilling the men and practicing like always, though my head pounded and my stomach roiled. But Damrod confined me to my room during the more intense sun and heat of the afternoon, saying I was to ‘think about my foolishness,’ while drafting him a ten page treatise entitled, Reasons Why Climbing the Tower of Ecthelion Is a Dangerous Enterprise, and Why I Shall Never Again Attempt Such an Asinine Deed.
But the real humiliation came that evening, when Damrod returned to my chamber with my fifteen-year old brother in tow. Apparently Faramir had caught wind of this story and thought climbing the Tower to be a grand notion. He’d been heard bragging up and down that he was certain he could do it. As ever, Damrod had ears everywhere.
He sat Faramir in a chair, then he leaned against the mantle and bid me stand and read my treatise aloud. When I’d finished, he had me throw it into the fire, then he took me by the elbow and escorted me to my bed, saying, “Lest you still think this a good idea, young Faramir, allow me to demonstrate what will befall you, or your foolhardy older brother, should either of you try such a stunt again.”
Damrod sat on my bed, hauled me over his knee, yanked down my breeches and proceeded to give me a hiding I never forgot. In front of Faramir. I’d tried to hold back my cries, but the Lieutenant was having none of that. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t about to end, or even lighten this lesson, until I showed him that I understood him fully, and had demonstrated penitence to his satisfaction by producing a healthy, loud response, something I was soon more than eager to do. In fact, I completely shattered over Damrod’s lap.
I’d never felt so humbled and embarrassed, falling apart that way in front of my little brother, and I never forgot that sense of shame. All because I’d allowed myself to be dragged into some silly foolishness. My only bit of consolation came upon learning from one of those idiot friends of mine that the guardsmen had carried out Damrod’s orders with such thoroughness that none of the instigators sat the entire next day.
But this, amazingly, felt worse. My backside wasn’t throbbing . . . yet. I didn’t know for a fact that it would be. But still, this definitely felt worse. Again, I’d lowered my guard and allowed myself to break my own rules of conduct befitting my station. And, again, I was regretting it.
I was not a guileless little hobbit. I was a Captain of Gondor, a leader of men, firstborn to my noble father, raised in privilege with the finest training and the best Minas Tirith had to offer. I had an important role and a duty, an example to set and a code of responsible behavior to uphold. With the exception of just a few slips, I had always been scrupulous about setting that good example. Ever since I could remember, from the earliest times when Aragorn, posing as Thorongil, had so deeply touched my young life, I’d trained to be the kind of warrior that others could look to and emulate, the kind of man Thorongil had been to me.
I had led thousands of men into hopeless battles, emerging victorious. I’d stood on the highest rooftops of battle-scarred Osgiliath and replaced her flag, having just helped Faramir defeat the evil forces that had attacked her. My name resounded on the wind as the troops cheered; they had looked up at me, their faces glowing with pride. I’d spoken to them, their Captain, their commander, and, again, they had cheered, roaring my name.
And now I’d been found rolling in a mud hole with four hobbits.
To another, this may seem a small matter, one I was taking far too seriously. But the scene kept flashing through my mind: Aragorn – the man I’d loved and worshipped as a child, and loved still, and Legolas who had lodged himself so firmly in my heart – standing there, watching us . . . oh, but I cringed inside! What I felt went deeper than mere embarrassment.
These two extraordinary warriors had invited me amongst them, honoring me with their care and their attention. They enjoyed my company. They made me feel . . . ‘special.’ In private moments with Aragorn, I was still his ‘fledgling,’ and Legolas never called me by name anymore. I was now, permanently, ‘little brother,’ and although it was, as Merry had said, an odd feeling at first, I actually relished it to a degree that shocked me.
I relished all of it, all the gestures of familiarity that Aragorn and Legolas bestowed upon me: the way they made me feel welcome, and how they sometimes teased me as I used to tease my little brother, the quiet smiles I saw them aim my way while they watched me take meticulous care in training the halflings, and – what touched me most – the fact that little I said or did escaped their notice.
How oddly protective they were. Protective. Of me. I did not need protecting. I was ever the one giving protection. How was it then possible that such a thing had the power to move me so?
I never presumed enough to suit them. If Aragorn saw me hesitate before approaching when they were quietly talking, he would lift his chin, his eyes alight with a soft smile, and signal me over, or say something like, “Boromir, join us.” Or, if Aragorn and Legolas were heading off in some direction, and the elf caught me gazing after them, he would grin quietly, and say, “Come, little brother.” And I would dash to catch up, reminding myself of how Faramir used to trot after me. These days had been filled with countless such moments, small signs of affection that may have seemed insignificant to another, but that touched me in a way I’d not felt before.
I had always been respected amongst men. I had a few friends, but I had, for the most part, separated myself from many by design, knowing that a leader is often very much alone, knowing that someday, as Steward, I would need to accept that solitude, as it seemed Denethor had.
So I had really never felt anything like . . . this. I’d not allowed myself to feel it. I had no place for it. On the rare occasions when he’d had to discipline me, Damrod’s ensuing comfort was almost too sweet to bear, but I was so determined to set a good example for my brother and my men that I did not require near the amount of attention that Faramir did. I was, therefore, the comforter, the disciplinarian, the one who gave the solace instead of receiving it. I was the big brother, and I knew that role, and I liked that role.
But, to my surprise, I found myself intensely drawn to this new role as well. Aragorn had forced it upon me, and I felt it shifting within me, finding a home amongst my more familiar self. And now, oh, how I enjoyed it when Legolas or Aragorn would hold me. I sometimes nearly wept from the sheer pleasure of it, the feel of strong arms around me, warming me, the closeness, the acceptance of these two compelling warriors, so at ease with the need to give and take physical affection.
That now meant the world to me, that acceptance. They meant the world to me. I did not like looking foolish in front of them. I hated feeling that I may have disappointed them, behaving as I did when I had been left ‘in charge,’ so to speak. So, no – there was never a time when I had felt so humiliated or ridiculous.
I glanced up now, the rustling of leaves drawing my focus to the tree standing just beyond the glow of the firelight. Legolas appeared, dangling from the lowest branch, then dropping noiselessly to the ground, having just climbed down from the top of the great oak where the high night breezes were stiffer and better for drying clothes.
“Nearly dry,” he announced to the group of us sitting around the fire. “Cheer up, little brother,” he said, gliding down beside me. “Soon you shall have your own clothes. Then you can return Aragorn’s duster and get back into your breeches, like we grown-ups, instead of sitting here with your bottom wrapped up in a blanket.”
I was still too angry to look at him, or at anyone for that matter. I heard the little ones snicker, though, and Gimli chuckled. I was grateful that Aragorn and Gandalf were off a small ways conferring quietly, or no doubt they would be enjoying my situation as well. The fact that I was the only one still without his clothes made my indignity even more complete. The hobbits’ wee togs had dried a while ago, being small enough to take less time. Mine seemed to be taking hours. Mine had taken hours.
And it had seemed to take hours to wash off the most extraordinarily sticky mud I’d ever encountered. I swear there had been some tar in that mud hole. Gandalf and Gimli had joined Legolas and Aragorn at the scene of our disgrace, bringing with them plenty of soap, blankets and cloaks. We’d all dragged ourselves from the mud, which suddenly felt wholly disgusting, and we were summarily marched over to the lake, a soggy group of muck-covered miscreants, the more responsible ‘adults’ following behind us like an escort of guards.
The hobbits, though physically miserable, seemed resigned to their fate, but not particularly degraded. They grinned a bit amongst themselves, offered up plenty of apologies for their disobedience and over-played their dread about what repercussions they might suffer due to Aragorn now being ‘extremely displeased.’ The fact that Aragorn hadn’t shown much extreme displeasure had them curious, but hopeful that all would be forgiven once an explanation was rendered. So far, though, Aragorn had only ordered us to the lake and nodded indulgently through the halflings’ apologies, but he held up a silencing hand when they tried to tell what happened.
“Later,” he said, and the hobbits seemed content with that.
The indignity of this situation, however, and my anger with myself hit me so hard it was staggering. I could barely force myself to be courteous to the little ones. We waded into the water, the hobbits moaning loudly about the cold, then we’d stripped down, each of us selecting a nearby boulder, of which there were plenty rising up from the lake floor, on which to pile our muddy clothes. After cleaning ourselves, which required a good bit of soap, we then washed out our clothes as quickly as possible. But it took a long time, given that sticky factor. While we worked, shivering away, the others quickly kindled a large fire on the shore and started holding the cloaks and blankets close to the flames to warm.
I’d finished first, then I started helping the halflings with their clothing, as it seemed to be taking them forever. I immediately saw why they’d made so little progress. They were shivering so much their fingers were stiff, and their lips had turned blue. No wonder they’d gone so quiet. The others had been too busy at the fire to notice the hobbits’ silence.
I yelled to the others, informing them of the hobbits’ plight, then I picked up each half-frozen little mite and carried them, one by one, to shore, passing a trembling moppet to one of the ‘big folk,’ who wrapped them in the warmed blankets, then carried them over to the fire. Modesty was not a consideration. Each hobbit ended up in a lap, to be held and warmed beneath blankets and cloaks. Gandalf gathered up Pippin. Aragorn first took Merry, bundling him in a blanket and delivering him to Gimli, who waited near the fire with another warm cloak; then the Ranger returned to collect Sam. And Frodo was, of course, swaddled up and cuddled into the arms and lap of ‘his’ elf.
I stayed in the water to work at the pile of muddy hobbit apparel, cleaning feverishly to keep from freezing up as well. The others cast worried glances at me, so I put on a brave front, snarling that I wasn’t cold every time one of them would insist I come out or leave off. I welcomed the discomfort, though. I felt absurd and I needed to be alone, as much as was possible at the moment, so this toilsome duty was just the thing I needed right now. And I really didn’t care that parts of me had gone numb.
Finally, Aragorn and Legolas threatened to come in and haul me out of the water if I didn’t finish at once. I fired them both a glare, but they outnumbered me, and Aragorn looked as though he knew I’d been taking more time than was needed, as, indeed, I had.
Legolas watched me, and when I’d wrung out the last clean garment and slapped it onto the pile, he passed Frodo over to Aragorn, who gathered the Ringbearer in to share the same blanket and cloaks with a quite pleased-looking Sam. The elf grabbed up the now dry and warm blanket that had enclosed Frodo, plus another, and brought them to the water’s edge.
I staggered out, dropping the pile of clothing over a boulder on the shore, then I stood still and allowed Legolas to throw one blanket around my shoulders, and begin wrapping the other around my waist. I willed my legs to keep holding me up, fought my rigid muscles, and tried to gather the blanket closer around my shoulders, but I was lightheaded with cold. And when my blood started flowing again, and a staggering pain lacerated the areas that had been numb, I feared I would be sick.
When Legolas had my bottom-half covered, he yanked the blanket around my upper body more tightly, drew me into an embrace and began to rub my arms and back. Suddenly, he stopped. He pulled back and really looked at me closely for the first time. His eyes widened, then instantly darkened with alarm and he grabbed me again and held me close for several minutes, his embrace so crushing I feared a cracked rib did he not let up. I think he muttered a few elvish curses. I’m not sure.
“Ai! You are a block of ice, little brother,” he muttered in a shocked, yet menacing tone. “Stop trying to keep from shivering and chattering your teeth! I can feel how frozen you are, even through these blankets.” Legolas pulled back again and held my eyes in his fierce blue gaze, still rubbing his hands furiously up and down my back and along my arms. “Your lips have gone purple! You should not have stayed in that water for so long, and you know it. How dare you risk yourself so! What were you thinking? Why, little one? Were you trying to do yourself injury?”
I was too stunned to find my voice. ‘Little one?’ I gaped at him.
“We are not finished with this, little brother, I promise you,” he stormed in a hushed voice. “I should turn you over my knee and heat your backside right now for what you have done! But perhaps I shall instead simply pick you up and take you over to the fire and bundle you into my lap as I did little Frodo.”
That did it. My temper exploded. Just whom did he think he was talking to? I was no hobbit-tot! Pick me up indeed! Heat my backside indeed! Turn me over his knee? I would dearly love to see him try! I stared at him, outraged, my blood racing, heat scalding my face and shooting through my veins. If he was hoping to warm me up by speaking to me this way, he was a brilliant strategist. But I was of no mind to tolerate such treatment from this confounded elf! At least he had kept his voice low. The others couldn’t hear his scolding. I struggled to match his restraint, not at all certain that I could. In my blind fury I could scarce put words together, or even find words to match my anger!
“Why you impudent . . . you-you-you . . . you confounded --! Do not dare try to pick me up, you --”
“Hold your tongue,” he snapped under his breath, rubbing my arms fiercely. “Or I promise you, young brat of Gondor, the rest of the Fellowship shall witness something you do not want them to see.”
I felt my mouth drop open. I tried to pull away, sputtering, “You dare --!”
“Hush!” he said, holding me with ease. “Or you shall find out exactly what I dare.” He fumed at me, then said, “Can you walk?”
I fumed back. “Of course I can walk, you idiotic --”
“Enough! Not. One. More. Word, sir! Get yourself to the fire. Now, little brother. And hope that my temper cools whilst I hang these wet clothes in a high tree to dry. Go! And as you turn to go I shall try to keep from giving you the few first swats you richly deserve.”
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. And yet, what else could I expect? Already I’d begun to suffer a loss of esteem. Already I had forfeited some of the elf’s regard. To have him so angry with me, threatening me, talking to me as though I were a little boy . . . it felt awful. And to be this angry at him felt just as bad.
I staggered from him on stiff, aching legs, backing away for my first few steps; then I turned, trudged to the fire and sat down, looking at no one. In fact, I closed my eyes, for, I swear, I felt the stinging press of tears. As though being caught covered with mud was not bad enough, now I’d enraged Legolas. Of course, I was the person with whom I was the most displeased. But that did not mean that I would tolerate being spoken to in such a demeaning manner. Insolent elf!
He’d had nothing further to say to me when he returned a bit later after laying out our clothes in the treetops back at the encampment. He gathered up Merry and Pippin while Aragorn took Frodo and Sam and we all traveled back up to the campsite.
My ill humor had only grown over the past few hours, although the elf’s temper had, apparently, cooled. Either that, or he was displaying it in his teasing. I glanced at him now, wondering . . . . My clothes had been drying an awfully long time, and no one but Legolas was about to shimmy up that tree, to the height where the elf had gone, to check on them.
“Are you certain my clothes aren’t dry yet?” I asked him.
Legolas blinked at me, pure elvish innocence. “What are you suggesting? That I would lie about such a thing, just to make you sit longer, bare-bottomed, while everyone else is dressed? I am wounded, little brother.”
Oh, I would like to wound him! I fumed, my face heating instantly again.
Pippin turned to Merry and said, “Merry, d’you suppose elves tell lies?”
Merry shrugged. “How should I know?” He turned to Frodo. “Do elves tell lies, Frodo? You know more about fair folk than I do.”
Of course there was an undertone of merriment to this, it being a silly question to begin with, and I knew from the way Pippin glanced at me before asking it that he was looking for some way to be entertaining, perhaps to lift my spirits. I appreciated the gesture, but I was in no mood for merriment. Had I my clothes, I would have stormed off and sat by myself somewhere.
“Why not ask the elf?” Frodo suggested, and attention shifted back to Legolas.
“Well, Master Elf?” Merry inquired. “Do elves tell lies?”
I felt Legolas glance at me. I kept my focus low and on the fire, ignoring all.
“I cannot speak for all elves,” he replied.
Frodo heaved an exaggerated sigh, then said, “As I once told one of your kin, ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both yes and no.’”
Everyone laughed, then Legolas said, “Aye, Gildor told me. You have a reputation amongst the elves for a certain naïve outspokenness, little one. ‘Elf-friend,’ they call you, ‘favored of elvish bearing and speech.’ But this question is hardly one that begs counsel.”
“And yet the wee one still cannot get a straight answer,” Gimli rumbled.
“Because there is none, dwarf,” Legolas returned. “The answer shifts with each of my kin.”
A quiet pause followed, then Sam turned to Frodo and said, “You were right.”
And everyone chuckled again.
This was the kind of thing I relished, this gentle fellowship, and yet, at the moment, I was overly aware that I was wearing only a blanket from the waist down, and a cloak atop Aragorn’s duster. It reminded me of when Faramir used to take my surcoat and try it on, looking exactly like what he was – a little brother wearing his big brother’s clothes. At the moment, however, I did not feel the least bit adorable.
“Yes, Sam,” Frodo now said. “But, Legolas did answer Merry’s question. He said the answer shifted with each of his kin, meaning that, some elves may, indeed, tell lies.”
I ground my teeth, wondering when Aragorn was going to finish his interminable ramblings with the wizard and come back here to announce our fate. They weren’t even discussing this matter. They were discussing course and plans and whatever else they sometimes counseled over, so could that not have waited until he’d dealt with our doom? But Legolas was speaking again:
“I shall say this about elves and falsehoods: I have known some elves who occasionally stretch the truth, and some who occasionally omit facts, or alter them a bit to suit their purposes.”
Pippin looked at Merry again. “Sounds like a bit of fancy elvish blather. I think he’s saying that, yes, elves do lie. What do you think, Merry?”
“I think you’re a deep-thinker, Pip.”
“We prefer the word ‘prevaricate,’ to the word, ‘lie,’” Legolas said.
“’Tis not the name that matters, but the deed.” Gimli muttered.
Legolas ignored him, and went on to say, “An old friend of mine from Mirkwood who still rides with the Grey Company is quite good at it.” He paused, and I felt him glance at me again. I remained impassive. “If one overlooks the fact that he is nearly always caught in his deceptions by Halbarad, the Lieutenant Ranger who commands the troop, Gwin is something of a master at prevaricating.”
“He cannot be much good at it if he’s always getting caught,” Pip muttered.
“Ah, but there is getting caught, and there is getting caught, Peregrin,” Legolas said.
Pip’s face tightened in puzzlement. “What?”
Legolas merely said, “Never mind. Should you ever meet him and get to know him, you shall understand what I mean, but believe me when I say that Gwin is quite a gifted prevaricator.”
“Learned from him, did ye?” Gimli said.
“That was uncalled for, Master Dwarf,” Aragorn said.
We all looked up to see the Ranger approaching. Gandalf was already heading out to take first watch.
“Just a bit of fun, laddie,” Gimli replied. He glanced back at Gandalf, then said, “The wizard is not joining in our counsel over this matter?”
“He gave me leave to speak for him.”
I felt a tingle dart up my spine. Now, to it at last. I would have this done with, and move on, and hopefully I could live down my disgrace by proving myself more responsible in the future.
Aragorn sat down on the other side of Legolas, turned to him, and said, in a low voice only he and I could hear, “Did I just hear you tell Pippin something about meeting and getting to know Gwin someday?”
“Something like that, aye.”
Aragorn looked at him closely. “Imagine that again, mellon nin.”
Legolas glanced at Pip, then burst into soft laughter. “You are right. Forgive me. Such a meeting would be ill-advised.”
“To say the least.”
“What’s so funny?” Pippin asked.
“If they wanted to tell us, they would have, Pip,” Merry said.
“It is of no importance, Pippin,” Aragorn said, winking at the halfling. He drew forth his pipe and looked at me. “Still no clothes?” He glanced at Legolas who shrugged and grinned.
“I just checked a bit ago. Still damp.”
I shot him a glare. “I thought you said they were ‘nearly dry.’”
Legolas didn’t miss a beat. “They are,” he said. “They are nearly dry, but still damp.”
“Hmmmmm.” Aragorn held the elf in his shrewd gaze for a long moment, then he turned to me again, and said, “If you would be so kind as to hand me my pouch, sir. It is in my left inner pocket.”
I have no idea why I felt so embarrassed fishing out Aragorn’s packet of weed and handing it to him. It was a simple act. But no doubt many little things were going to embarrass me for a while. At the moment merely sitting here felt awkward, yet there was nothing else I could do.
We all waited for Aragorn to light his pipe, then take his first few puffs, the way he often did before speaking.
“Very well,” he finally said. “I am ready to hear about how everyone ended up in the mud. However --” He held up a hand when Pippin sucked a big breath. “I would hear this story from Master Samwise, and ONLY from Master Samwise. Sam, if you please.”
I was satisfied that Sam would tell a fair version. He blushed when all eyes turned to him, but after a small nod and smile from Frodo, Sam cleared his throat, stood and began to speak as if reciting a story. He didn’t get far.
Everyone started at the sudden outburst, then turned shocked looks to Frodo, who was scrambling up to grab Sam’s arm.
“Wait! Sam! No! Please, Sam! No!”
Those of us who had been covered with mud knew at once why Frodo was suddenly distressed. The reason sat beside me, his forearms braced on his drawn-up knees, his blond hair cascading down his shoulders, and his perfect face solemn with concern for the Ringbearer.
Frodo flashed a stricken look around to his fellow mud-bathers, all of us gazing back at him, trying to convey our understanding as tactfully as possible, which wasn’t saying much when it came to a certain ingenuous hobbit. Pippin glanced at Legolas several times, acting so ill at ease that Merry finally leaned over and whispered something in Pippin’s ear. Immediately Pip dropped his gaze to the fire and stared at it, obviously not daring to take his eyes off it.
Sam shifted his weight from foot to foot. He looked as distraught as Frodo. “I-I-I --” He cast Frodo a flustered glance. “Mister Frodo, I-I don’t know what to do.”
“Sam,” Aragorn said, demanding the stammering halfling’s attention. “I take it there a problem?”
“Aye.” Sam heaved a tense sigh. “You could say that.”
Aragorn puffed his pipe and studied the hobbits, none of whom would return his gaze. He looked at Frodo again. The Ringbearer stood rigidly, one hand clenched into a fist and one clutching the sleeve of Sam’s shirt. He looked so small and miserable and desperate, his wide eyes liquid and focused on the ground.
Then Aragorn looked at me. I glanced at the hobbits, making certain that none of them were watching us, then I turned back to Aragorn, slanted a quick glance at Legolas, then looked back at Aragorn and winked.
Much can be said without saying a word, and both Aragorn and Legolas understood at once. They understood the heart of the matter, and that was enough. Aragorn slid a warning glare to Gimli, but the dwarf did not seem the least bit inclined to make Frodo or any of the hobbits suffer further. He gave a slight nod, joining our silent warrior band, and we now turned to the matter of saving one little hobbit’s pride.
“Well, then,” Aragorn said. “Let us see if we can find out what happened without dwelling on certain details, shall we? I feel we can do so.”
Four halflings raised hopeful looks to the Ranger. I did as well. And in that moment, as I watched Aragorn gaze affectionately at the little ones, my love for him threatened to burst through my aching chest. Legolas had once said that Aragorn was still Thorongil to me. Aye, he was. He was that gallant, majestic hero, and he had never stopped being Thorongil to me. He was ‘Thorongil’ to all. The halflings’ relief was plain. They knew all would be well now, that Aragorn understood. He didn’t understand the particulars, but he did not need to. What he understood was how important and private a matter this was, and he respected that, and so another way would be found to handle this.
Through careful wording, Sam did indeed manage to tell the tale with surprising accuracy, leaving out the subject of the dispute, and saving Frodo’s dignity. And when he sat down with a sigh of relief, Frodo leaned over and kissed his cheek, making the poor gardener blush yet again.
“So, to sum up,” Aragorn said, “several remarks were made by Pippin, remarks that were of a teasing nature and directed towards Frodo. Is that correct, young Took?”
Pippin rolled his eyes, “Well, I hardly --” Merry nudged him and glared. Pippin winced. “Aye.”
Nodding, Aragorn continued: “And Frodo felt that Merry was teasing him as well.”
“Yes,” Merry said. “I wasn’t, though. I was winking at Pippin to try shutting him up, but, well, that signal was dropped.”
“I should say so,” Gimli said. “Dropped most soundly. Young Took reads a strong swat on the backside better than any other signal.”
Pippin huffed and Aragorn gave the dwarf a look.
“Pardon,” Gimli muttered, and went back to puffing his pipe.
“To continue, Frodo, in a fit of rage, then shoved his cousins headfirst into the mud hole.”
“Which was deeper than it looked,” Sam added.
“Which was deeper than it looked,” Aragorn repeated.
“I’d have given a barrel of the finest malt beer to have seen that!” Gimli exclaimed.
“Gimli.” Aragorn frowned.
After glaring at the dwarf for a moment, which Gimli ignored in order to blow a smoke ring, Aragorn said, “Frodo then followed his cousins into the mud and continued to push them in again and again.”
“And I have to tell you, Aragorn, that was most distressing,” Pippin said with a pathetic sniff. “Poor Merry and I were positively drenched in mud, and we couldn’t so much as get up out of the muck or gain our footing. I began to fear for my very life!”
Everyone paused to stare at Pippin, whose talent for melodrama was not to be surpassed.
“Well, I did,” he whimpered.
Merry leaned over to his cousin and said, “Pippin, we didn’t use up nearly all that soap today, so I’d choose my words more carefully if I were you.”
Pippin’s eyes widened and he blinked over at Aragorn. “Pardon.”
Aragorn cleared his throat and lowered his gaze. These were supposed to be serious proceedings. It would not do for him to laugh. Legolas, however, was softly chuckling.
“And now we come to the rescue of Merry and Pippin,” Aragorn went on. “Boromir and Sam waded in, Boromir hauling Frodo off his cousins and Sam trying to help them up.”
“Without success,” Sam muttered.
“You were only trying to help, Sam,” Merry said. “It wasn’t your fault we all ended up sitting chest-deep in mud.”
“But you were all, by now, in the mud,” Aragorn said. He turned his gaze to Frodo. “And how did everyone end up in the mud, young Baggins?”
Frodo squirmed and sighed and murmured, “Everyone ended up in the mud because of me . . . because I . . . because I lost my temper with Pippin, and with Merry, who didn’t deserve it.”
Pippin never knew when to keep quiet. “Meaning I did deserve it?”
“You DID!” Merry, Sam and I cried.
“So everyone is now in the mud,” Aragorn said. “And Boromir managed to swat Frodo out of his temper tantrum and into reason, then he settled everyone down and helped make peace, correct?”
The hobbits all nodded, and Frodo said, “He was quite something, Aragorn. You would have been proud of him.”
I felt a painful knot in my throat. Turning my gaze to Aragorn, I saw him watching me with such fond regard that I had to look away, suddenly shy. I glanced at Frodo. He was also watching me, his sweet, youthful face remarkably pretty in the firelight and an openly admiring look in his glittering eyes that made my face heat up.
“I never thanked you, Boromir,” Frodo said. “None of us did.”
I watched, amazed, as Frodo rose and came over to me. He knelt down beside me, his gaze soft and dreamily contemplative, and he put his arms around my shoulders and hugged me, then he pulled back and kissed my now-fiery cheek and said, “Thank you, sir, for swatting me back to reason, and for helping me make peace with my cousins.”
I had no words. I gazed at him stupidly, my mind a blank as what seemed like hours passed.
“Mighty Gondor,” Gimli said, chuckling, “toppled by the affections of a wee halfling.”
He may have been roguish, but bless that irksome dwarf at such a moment. Everyone grinned and Legolas joined in, doing his part.
“You have the tact and finesse of a Balrog,” he told the dwarf.
Gimli answered with another smoke ring.
Frodo giggled then turned and plunked himself down on my lap, quite as if he belonged there. I grunted at the impact, then wrapped my arms around him while Legolas leaned his head down to Frodo and said, “Sit lightly, little one. The man has no breeches on.”
Again my face lit up as light snickering traveled amongst the others. Legolas turned to Aragorn, caught his frown and said, “Would you like me to say ‘pardon?’”
“Moving on,” Aragorn paused. “Where were we? Oh yes, so amends being made, courtesy of our diplomatic Captain of Gondor, it seems a free-for-all then ensued, and thus we come to the scene that Legolas and I witnessed, and the end of our tale. Correct?”
The hobbits and I nodded.
“Now that the facts are clear, it is time to decide what needs to be done.”
A silence fell, then Merry said, “Does something really need to be done? Everything’s all worked out now.”
Aragorn’s gaze moved first to Frodo, then to Pippin. “Aye, all did work out, as you say, but I had left orders, and those orders were disobeyed, and as a result, we spent the evening at the lake, something I had specifically wanted to avoid. Is that not right?”
Merry sighed and looked defeated. “Yes.”
“It seems that two hobbits are responsible for that situation. And those two are answerable for their actions."
Frodo shifted in my lap, and Pippin lowered his head. Merry put an arm around his cousin and said, “But, Aragorn, haven’t Frodo and Pip suffered enough? After all, we near froze washing up in the lake.”
“Aye, Merry, but all of you suffered that fate, so it is of no special consequence to Frodo and Pippin.” Aragorn then looked at me, his frown deepening, and said, “And one of you suffered far beyond what he should have, far beyond what it was safe for him to endure, so that you might be garbed in the clean clothes you are wearing.”
Again all heads turned to me, Frodo twisting to look up at me. “What?” he said in a hushed voice. I dropped my gaze to him, and he turned and placed his little hands on my arms, rubbing them as if thinking I still needed warming, his eyes swimming with concern. “Boromir, are you . . . you kept saying you weren’t cold!”
I had no reply, but I didn’t really need one. Everyone kept staring at me, and the awkwardness of it was dreadful and I longed to crawl away somewhere and be alone. After feeling the hero, undeservedly, moments ago, I now felt so ashamed I could barely draw breath.
“It was nothing, little one,” I grumbled. “Just a feeling of cold, like you felt for awhile, and then I warmed up. I am fine now. No need for fussing.” I pulled free of his hands and turned him back around, closing my arms over him again. But glancing down at his face I saw him staring straight ahead with a dark frown, and, looking quickly around the circle, I saw that the others wore the same frown . . . a frown of concern and. . . of disapproval.
I could scarce believe it. I turned a fierce glare on Legolas, but the look he had waiting for me was the one I’d seen down on the lakeshore when he’d threatened me, promising what I’d blissfully managed to forget. That determined glow once again lit up the blue-eyed gaze staring directly back at me, and I felt a shiver course up my spine.
“So, you see,” Aragorn now continued, much to my relief, “although you all suffered the consequences of your actions, the two who began the conflict have not atoned for what they did by causing it in the first place.”
Again, Merry protested, “But they have made up! We all said we were sorry. We all apologized. It’s over now, so why not let it be?”
“Because it isn’t over,” Sam said, drawing all attention.
“Aye, Samwise,” Gimli said. “You see the truth, don’t you? Tell them, lad.”
Sam nodded and turned sad eyes to Merry. “It’s like a flung sword. If it just lies there, unanswered, it cuts worse.”
All was quiet. I held Frodo, feeling him tremble, my cheek resting on his dark curls. He turned slightly in my arms and brought his lips to my ear, whispering, “It’s alright, Boromir. Do not fret for Pippin and me. This is just, so please, do not tremble so.”
I froze, stunned by the truth of his words. He was right. I was the one trembling, not Frodo. And I knew at once that it was not the fate of the poor halflings that had caused my trembling. My tension had been building from the moment Aragorn had announced to everyone that I’d suffered from staying in the water too long. That tension had grown when I’d caught Aragorn’s disapproving frown, and then it had become even stronger when I’d seen the elf’s look of reproach. Obviously, Legolas had spoken to Aragorn about my freezing condition when down on the shore.
After returning to the hilltop camp, I’d tried to stay clear of the others, as much as was possible, which wasn’t much at all, as those of us without our clothes had been ordered to sit near the fire and stay warm until our things were dry. So, there I had perched, across the fire from the little ones, listening to them chatter and be their typical cheery selves, while Aragorn and Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf had conferred quietly a little ways off.
My mood, already foul, soured even more. I’d felt like the member of a gang of mischievous urchins, an overgrown hobbit, just one of five mud-playing children forced to sit down and behave while the grown-ups went off by themselves to talk like grown-ups. That feeling of looking ridiculous simmered within me so intensely that I had no interest in dinner, eating just enough to draw no one’s attention to my lack of appetite.
But at some moment, during that time when the grown-ups had been talking, Legolas must’ve privately told Aragorn about me, and if he had done so with that startling elvish vehemence he had shown me at the shore, no doubt the Ranger now had it in mind that I needed disciplining for my stupidity. I hadn’t been spanked since leaving Rivendell. I did not care to be now. But if Legolas thought he was going to perform the honors, he was sorely mistaken!
Aye, elves were reported to be incredibly strong, and the few times when Legolas had held me with a little force, I’d sensed that raw, dormant power. But I was not exactly a callow youth. Some things I would not allow, and if my brother elf tried to spank me, I would fight him with all I had. He might very well challenge my abilities, but that was all he would do. He would not win. Legolas simply looked too . . . fair, too graceful to be a genuine threat. His build was still that of a youth’s, somewhere between the ages of nineteen and twenty-four, lithe and strong, but still developing.
I liked that he called me ‘little brother.’ I accepted it on the basis of all that he was – on his age and his status, and on my affection for him. Aragorn clearly respected him. Legolas was of an ancient and immortal race, and I liked that one such as he would take notice of me and care about me. He was a beautiful elven Prince, several thousand years old, with the boyish look of a youth not yet twenty. How could I fail to feel overwhelmed by his attention?
But attention of a disciplinary nature? No. That was inappropriate coming from him. So, although I dreaded what I felt I was about to receive from Aragorn, I preferred a spanking from him rather than facing the need to battle Legolas. I had no desire to hurt or humiliate my elven brother. I was sure to do both if he tried to force me into taking a spanking from him.
“Aye, Sam,” Aragorn now said, offering him a soft smile. “Like a flung sword left lying indeed. Your wisdom speaks truly.” Sam blushed fiercely. “So, Pippin and Frodo, both of you must be attended to, lest your breach be left unanswered. Do all here, save the two in question, agree?”
Everyone said a firm, “Aye.” Merry, Sam and I sounded perhaps a bit less enthused, but we also knew the sense of it. It needed doing. Pippin had already shown how badly he handled being forgiven without consequences, while Frodo, being, in truth, the real wrongdoer, could not be dismissed.
“Gandalf agreed this needed doing. So, we shall get to it now, and let the little ones sleep free of a sentence over their heads.”
“How is that worse than sleeping with a sore bottom?” Pippin muttered through his pout.
“You shall have to tell us, Master Took, the next time you must wait a day for your discipline,” Aragorn said.
“Which could quite possibly be anytime within the next week,” Gimli added. Then he blew another smoke ring, and glanced at Aragorn. “Pardon.”
To be continued