Judgement tempered

A/N

Posted, especially for Susan W, for her unfailing encouragement. This is an old story, previously posted to another community.

Readers familiar with 'Out of Memory and Time' will recognise my OC, Dariel, as the bonds of a lifelong friendship are forged between a young Faramir and the ex-ranger turned Commandant of the military academy.

Judgement tempered

Dariel, son of Daralon was a man to inspire respect by sheer force of personality. Physically he was a powerful man, short by the standards of the men of Gondor but what he lacked in stature he made up for in breadth of shoulder and yet so light and nimble on his feet that he could appear as if by magic. His voice easily carried across the expanse of the parade ground and there were few souls, even the innocent, who did not quake in guilty misapprehension when that voice boomed.

As Commandant, Dariel had been in post for four of the five years of his secondment to the military academy. His tenure had initially been temporary; he had had no wish to leave his post as one of the three watch commanders of the Rangers of Ithilien but an injury sustained in a skirmish on Gondor's southern border had seen him invalided back to the White City for treatment. Judged too incapacitated to return to the front line, he had accepted the post at the academy with reluctance. After a year as deputy he had been promoted to his present post.

Like the proverbial new broom he had swept away many of the accepted customs and practices of training and discipline, scandalising the other instructors and shouldering the criticism from many of the other troop commanders who resisted all change as unnecessary and unsettling. But Dariel had the support of the Lord Steward himself and the naysayers were soon put in their place.

Life for the cadets was hard, intended to not only prepare them for battle but also to toughen them up and prepare them for command. Before the changes of Dariel's regime the cadet's accommodation had been spartan and the food inadequate in quantity and quality. Bullying, by both instructors and cadets, was common and discipline was savage but unpredictable; actions that one day earned the miscreant a vicious flogging could the next merit only a reprimand. Much depended on the whims of the instructors and the status and wealth of the cadet. Dariel himself was a graduate of the old regime and because of his experiences he knew what the cadets suffered. He made it a condition of accepting the post that he should be free to instigate whatever changes he thought necessary to improve the standards expected of the cadets by the time they graduated.

One of the first beneficiaries of the new regime had been the Steward's younger son, the Lord Faramir. Following his two years in Dol Amroth as an esquire he had entered the academy at the same time as Dariel was promoted to his new post. So, cadet Hurin, as young Faramir was known, entered the academy at a time of change; the barracks, while still lacking in material comfort, were now at least clean and weather tight; mattresses and bedding were replaced, the communal wash house refurbished and a copper boiler for hot water made available for personal hygiene and for laundry. The quantity and quality of food was vastly improved, for Dariel recognised that the cadets were growing boys who needed adequate nourishment if they were to achieve their full potential and to be strong and healthy enough to protect Gondor in its increasingly desperate fight against the forces of Mordor.

But perhaps the most significant of the changes of Dariel's regime involved the regulation and administration of discipline. Dariel was a hard taskmaster who expected all of the cadets and instructors to give of their very best at all times. He reduced the number of petty regulations but the few remaining rules he expected to be obeyed without question. Word quickly spread through the ranks and within weeks the whole atmosphere of the academy had changed for the better. Boundaries were set and those who flouted the rules quickly found themselves held to account.

The first of the newly instigated disciplinary parades came as a shock. All cadets trained and drilled six and a half days a week from dawn until dusk. On the seventh day they were released at noon, giving them a half day to visit with family, to relax or to spend as they wished. Under Dariel's new regime a disciplinary parade was held at noon on the seventh day. All cadets and instructors were on parade in full dress uniform. Accolades and awards were handed out for exceptional study, hard work or special achievement. After these pleasantries, those cadets who had been placed on report during the previous week were called forward to face their comrades. Minor misdemeanours earned the wrongdoers fatigue duties or loss of privileges; serious infringements were dealt with corporally.

These offenders, after having their offences and punishment announced to their comrades were instructed to strip off their tunics and undershirts. Each in turn were then secured facing the backboard of a wagon and subjected to a thrashing from the master-at arms with a birch. The instrument of correction was a bundle of whippy birch twigs, bound together at one end; it was a punishment designed to inflict pain and humiliation without causing incapacitating injuries to the recipient. The usual sentence was twelve strokes, increased to twenty for serious or repeat offenders.

What was most shocking to those witnessing these new disciplinary parades was that one of the first recipients was cadet Hurin; Faramir and a fellow cadet had been discovered brawling by Dariel himself. Dariel had dragged the two apart but despite the evidence of ripped uniforms and bloody knuckles neither one would admit to the cause of the ruckus. Being the son of the Steward afforded the youngster no special privileges and he and his adversary had faced the ignominy of being the first to experience the kiss of the birch. To his credit young Hurin had taken his punishment without cry or complaint, enduring the discipline far better that the older boy. The only time he had shown any emotion was as he was being helped away and he had spied his father and brother on the edge of the parade ground, both having witnessed his disgrace. His back had straightened and he had pulled away from the two friends assisting him back to the barracks, making the last few yards unaided on pure bloody-minded willpower.

Dariel never enquired of the youngster as to whether he had been called to account by his father or brother for his lapse of discipline but it was clear that by his actions he had earned the grudging respect of his comrades and instructors and while training continued to be rough on the younger Hurin he was allowed to participate without undue handicap. Now four years on cadet Hurin and his contemporaries were less than a week away from graduating, all anticipating the two week furlough that would precede their assignment to their first active unit as junior officers.

It was the free afternoon of the last week of training and Dariel had presided over the disciplinary parade, thankful that for once there had been no corporal actions required. With the parade dismissed the cadets had dispersed noisily, leaving only the echo of their jubilation to reverberate around the empty parade ground. After a final walk around, Dariel headed across the practice yard with the intention of visiting with the Armoury Master, an old ranger comrade.

As the still, warm afternoon progressed the two men settled on a bench in the sunny courtyard each with a full pipe and a tankard of ale, content to enjoy the unaccustomed peace and quiet. Dariel had been dozing for a while when his companion nudged him awake, who, using Ranger signals pointed to the archery range and indicated that he should listen. After a few moments of silence Dariel heard the tell-tale whisper and thud of arrows loosed and hitting a target. Time after time, in a regular rhythm, the same sound filtered out to them. The armourer slipped into the weapons store and discovered that two quivers each with twenty arrows was missing, as were two bows, one short bow as used by cavalry troops and one long bow as favoured by the Rangers.

Expecting to find an unauthorised challenge in progress, Dariel, on reaching the range spied only one archer who was in the process of retrieving the spent arrows. The target butts had been moved into an unusual formation; the first was directly in front of the firing position set at about fifty paces, the one to the left at seventy five paces and the one to the right at one hundred paces; each positioned so that from the firing point they appeared to be side by side. The archer retrieved the spent arrows and had stuck them into a hay bale at his side for speedy access.

In a display of quite exceptional skill the archer took up the short bow and fired all forty arrows in quick succession aiming for each target in turn, every arrow hit the centre of its intended target, all but the last which landed just outside the centre ring. The archer relaxed his stance as the last arrow flew and was heard to utter a curse as the last dart went wide of the narrow bull's-eye of the furthest target. Dariel was astonished at the level of skill displayed, way above the standard expected of a cadet; indeed, it was way beyond the skills of many of the experienced Rangers of Ithilien.

"That was quite a display, Cadet Hurin. Perhaps you would care to retrieve your arrows and show me just what you can do with a long bow." Dariel's words cut through the still air of the practice ground causing the youngster to tense and then to turn hesitantly to face his unexpected and unwelcome audience.

For several long, long moments the two eyed each other, neither saying a word. Dariel raised an eyebrow expectantly. "Why so shy, Cadet? I would see if you can match that display with a longbow," Dariel said, plucking the short bow from the youngster's hand and nudging him gently towards the targets.

With leaden feet Faramir trudged to the targets and retrieved the arrows, snatching the one wayward dart with a snort of disgust. Having replaced the arrows in the bale he returned to the middle distance target and moved it backwards twenty paces further than the last target to accommodate the longer flight of the long bow. Shucking off his tunic and adjusting his armguard the cadet picked up the long bow and adjusted his stance on the firing plate. Dariel stepped back and gave the youngster permission to begin.

By the time the last arrow flew Faramir was sweating with the exertion and his arm dropped, his quaking muscles no longer able to keep a grip. He drew a couple of shaky breaths and accepted a dipper of water from the older man, gulping down a few hasty mouthfuls and tipping the rest over his head.

"Do you not wish to see how you did?" Dariel asked.

"My aim was poor. I have no wish to see my failure confirmed."

"I agree that your results with the long bow fell short of your earlier display but your efforts were more than creditable. Retrieve your arrows and try again," The Commander instructed him.

Faramir did as he was bidden and in truth in the nearer two targets all of the arrows had landed within the inner two circles, only on the furthest target were the darts scattered randomly, two having completely missed the target.

Faramir again took position on the firing plate and readied his stance, pushing aside the pain in his muscles. Dariel adjusted the youngster's stance and instructed him to concentrate only on the furthest target. After five arrows were loosed Dariel again issued more instructions and the next ten arrows flew straight and true.

"Enough now, Faramir or by tomorrow your arm will be useless," he said taking the bow and propping it against the rail.

"May I not finish the last five, Sir?" Faramir begged, rubbing his shoulder and shaking out his arm to relieve the spasms caused by overuse.

"No. Tomorrow you will be drilling all day in preparation for the graduation parade, you will need all your strength for that."

"But, Sir. . ."

"Retrieve your equipment and return the butts to the correct positions, Cadet Hurin. . .there are still some matters you and I need to discuss."

"Yes, Sir," the youngster grumbled suddenly apprehensive about what the Commander wished to discuss with him. . .and not at all keen to find out.

By the time Faramir had resituated the butts and returned the weapons to the armoury Dariel was sitting on the hay bale next to the firing plate, a jug of ale and a platter of bread and cheese at his side. At Dariel's direction, Faramir sat down on the ground and, after initial reluctance, accepted his share of the fare on offer.

"That was an impressive display of archery, Faramir," Dariel commented, causing the youngster to blush and shrug his shoulders self consciously. "I deem you did not achieve that level of skill in your normal training session here in the academy!"

"No, Sir."

"Would you care to tell me your secret. . .and who you found to tutor you?" Dariel asked.

"I have set up a practice range in one of the gardens up near the Citadel. I practice on my free afternoons. . .if the Steward does not have any other duties for me. I have my own weapons. . .at least I have a short bow; my brother had it made for me for my fourteenth birthday," the youngster explained.

"And your teacher?"

"I don't have one. I try to take on board all that the instructors here tell me and put them to use."

"And what about the long bow?"

"I can't practice that up in the city," the youngster explained, "I don't have my own bow and even if I did, the garden is not long enough to accommodate the increased range of such a bow."

"So where do you practice?" Dariel queried, taking note of the Cadet's suddenly uneasy demeanour.

"Not here!"

"Apart from today!"

"Well, yes, apart from today."

"So?"

"I spend my yearly furlough with my mother's kin in Dol Amroth. My uncle, Prince Imrahil, arranged for me to receive tuition from his own weapons master. Up until last year he instructed me using my own short bow; last year he deemed I was strong enough to begin training with a longbow"

"You have received instruction from Master Darmion!"

"You know Master Darmion?" the startled youngster asked.

"Only by reputation. In his prime Darmion was the champion of every contest he ever entered. . . .you are more fortunate than you realise, young Faramir," the older man chuckled.

"Perhaps then his skills are slipping, if my earlier demonstration was anything to go by!" Faramir groused.

Ignoring the youngster's petulance, Dariel changed tack. "Why did you not join your classmates this afternoon? I understand that they were all planning to have a celebratory gathering at the swimming hole."

"I did not want to swim today." Faramir's reluctance to meet his gaze alerted the older man to the fact that he was not being entirely candid.

"You were included in the invitation?" he queried.

"Yes. I just decided not to go."

"Why?" Dariel demanded, unwilling to let the uneasy cadet evade his probing.

"I was invited . . .but my presence is not usually welcomed at their social events. . . They find my presence . . .constraining. They are entitled to let off steam without feeling that they must watch what they say. . ."

"Has it always been like that!" Dariel demanded, pulling the youngster up and around to face him. Oh, he had known that the Steward's son had not had an easy ride during his time at the academy but he had been unaware of the extent of his isolation.

"It is fine, Sir. I would not have you think I have been mistreated. I do not fit in but that is my fault not theirs. I get on well enough with most of my classmates. . .I just don't have any close friends. None of them share my interests or my extra responsibilities. . .and I have never shared their 'barrack-room' mentality. They think I am standoffish. . .and they are probably right.. .!"

"Is there no one you are close to?"

"In the beginning there were those who sought my company but they were just after the advantages they perceived in being connected with the Steward's family. . .once it became clear to them that I had no influence. . ." the lad shrugged. "Then there were some who thought to gain 'respect' by intimidating me. . .Well, you were witness to how that ended! They didn't expect me to fight back, they thought I would just roll over and be cowed. . .but Boromir taught me how to stand up for myself and the thrashing it earned me was worth it for keeping the bullies off my back."

"I'm sorry, Lord Faramir,"

"Why are you sorry, Sir You have done nothing wrong."

"I thought I knew all that went on under my jurisdiction. You should not have had to cope with this situation alone," Dariel apologised.

"With all due respect, Sir, you could have done nothing. I had the support of my brother and my uncle. . .and even my father, in his own way," the youngster assured him. "I am not like Boromir; I do not have his easy manner or his 'common touch'. I am not cut out for the military life. . .but I have no choice. I will do my duty to the best of my ability. . .but I will never be a natural soldier no matter how hard I try. . .the worst aspect of my time here is being constantly compared to my brother and never, ever coming up to the standards he set.. .!" For the first time Dariel saw the overpowering emotions that the boy before him was trying so hard to suppress. "I will never be as strong as Boromir, never be as proficient, as capable . . .I will never be the leader of men that he has already proven himself to be. . ."

"No one expects you to be Boromir," Dariel said gently.

"No, but when the Steward awards the Sword of Honour at the graduation parade, I will be the first Hurin for at least three generations not to be the recipient and I will have to face the disappointment in my Father's eyes. . .I am not. . .I have not the qualities he values in a Hurin!"

Dariel considered the man-child before him. He was tall and slender, lacking the muscle bulk for many of his contemporaries; barely a hint of fuzz upon his chin, his long limbs, coltish; a testament to the late growth spurt that made him still uncomfortable in his own skin. Boromir at the same age had been a man full formed, already confident in his strength. Where Boromir was an oak, Faramir was a willow, with all the potential of subtle strength and flexibility. Dariel was astonished that Faramir had such keen insight into his situation and he could now understand his wish to excel in the one skill that Boromir had never made his own. Boromir could wield a heavy two handed broad sword for hours without breaking sweat, even when weighed down by heavy armour, but he had never been more that proficient with a bow. Faramir's skill with the sword was technically correct but he lacked the mind set for close hand to hand combat, but from the demonstration he had just witnessed . . .well, Dariel wished he had half that talent.

"May I go now, Sir?" Faramir requested. "I am expected up at the Citadel to dine." Faramir got to his feet and saluted the Elder. He would have retreated swiftly but Dariel's command halted him.

"Not so hasty, young sir. Haven't you forgotten something?"

"Forgotten something, Sir?" he replied, not quite meeting Dariel's eye.

"Yes, cadet Hurin. It seems we have discussed the 'what' and the 'where' but we have yet to unravel the 'why' . . .or the consequences. . .!"

"The-the consequences, Sir. . ." the suddenly very apprehensive youngster whispered.

"Yes, the consequences. But first, tell me why you would take such a risk," Dariel demanded of the lad who was now standing to rigid attention before him. "Why would you flout so many rules, right under my nose. . ."

"The contest, Sir," Faramir blurted out, referring to the end of course archery contest due to be held on the day before the graduation parade. "It was my last chance to practice. My only chance to practice with the longbow. I want to win. . .I need to win. . .if I am to stand any chance of being selected for the Rangers!"

"I see. And had you considered the consequences of being discovered? That even at this late stage it would be impossible for me to overlook such a grave lapse of discipline, that I could or would ignore the brazen flouting of so many regulations? Had you considered, lad?"

"Not seriously, Sir," Faramir admitted. "I hoped to avoid being discovered,"

"Hum! Well, now we have a serious problem, don't we? As far as I can see we have two choices."

"Do we, Sir?"

"We do. Tell me honestly, Cadet Hurin. Did the fact that there were no more disciplinary parades before you graduate influence your decision when deciding on your course of action today?"

"It crossed my mind, Sir," Faramir replied, blushing.

Dariel flashed a brief grin, "Thank you for your honesty." He moved behind the youngster, further disconcerting him. He let the silence lengthen. Faramir tried desperately not to squirm but the tension was building and he was acutely aware of the Officer's scrutiny.

"As I said, it appears we have two options. Allow me to explain and then we may decide how best to proceed," the Cadet Commander whispered quietly into Faramir's ear. "Option one would be that we deal with this as we would any other serious infraction committed by a Cadet; that is you face the next disciplinary parade and answer for your actions! What say you?"

"But there are no more such parades before we graduate, Sir."

"True. That option would unfortunately mean that you would have to be back-coursed. . .unfortunate, I know but . . .!"

"But, Sir! The next course will not graduate for six months!" the horrified youngster gasped.

"True but if this matter is to be dealt with as a Cadet I see no other way."

"What is the other option, Sir?"

"The other option is that I allow you to graduate with your classmates but rather than release you onto your planned furlough you would be held in custody until the next Court's Marshall. Of course, by then you would no longer be a Cadet and would be subject to the full measure of Military discipline." Faramir couldn't hold back a gasp at the prospect. The Cadets had all been required to attend one such session and had had to witness the sentence of the Court being administered; preparation, they were told, for when they would be responsible for the discipline of the troops under their command. There was no leniency for those found guilty, the flogging they had witnessed was brutal and bloody, the trooper concerned unable to even stand when released from the hurdle to which he had been secured. His crime had been insubordination; Faramir weighed up the number of his transgressions and his face blanched

Faramir tried to disguise his fear; the first option would have his disgrace made public; the second . . . .! Faramir wanted to weep but he ruthlessly forced back his tears and visibly mastered his emotions. Honour demanded that he face the consequences of his actions.

"So, Cadet Hurin, what say you? Which would be your choice?"

"I am not best placed to decide. I will leave the matter to your superior wisdom. I place my fate in your hands, Sir," he replied, the firmness of his voice at odds with the pounding of his heart.

Dariel nodded and placed a hand on the quaking youngster's shoulder. "A good and diplomatic answer! At ease, Cadet." Faramir relaxed slightly and in doing so his quivering legs gave out on him and he crumpled to his knees.

"May I present another option, Faramir?" Dariel said kindly. Faramir raised his head but refused to meet the other's eyes as the tears he had so desperately sought to vanquish leaked down his pale cheek.

"What option, Sir?" he whispered, scrubbing at his cheek with the back of his hand.

"That we deal with this matter here and now, just between the two of us," the Commander offered. "It will not be an easy option, I will not go easy on you; such a catalogue of broken rules requires a memorable response. I offer this in acknowledgement of your previously good disciplinary record and because, while your actions this day were ill-judged, they were done with the intention of self-improvement."

Faramir allowed the words to sink in and then scrambled to his feet. "You would really do this for me, Sir. You would see to my discipline without it casting a stain on my record?"

Dariel chuckled. "You seem surprisingly eager to feel the weight of my displeasure, Cadet Hurin."

That sobered the youngster. "Would you wish me to go and fetch the birch from the Armoury, Sir?"

"That would be a good start." The youngster raced off and while he was away Dariel cleared away the tray and mugs and took off his own over-tunic. Faramir returned with the birch with less speed and enthusiasm than he had departed, the realisation of what was to come finally hitting home.

"Where do you want me, Sir?" he asked. "I could lean against one of the target butts or the rail," Faramir offered helpfully.

"This bale will suffice," Dariel assured him taking a seat on the bale and placing the birch beside him. When Faramir made to remove his tunic Dariel stopped him and pulled him to his side. "That will not be necessary, Faramir, your back is not my intended target."

"I-I don't understand, Sir."

"Yes you do, Faramir. I intend to apply this much needed discipline to an entirely different portion of your anatomy!" Faramir swallowed hard against the sudden realisation of just what the Commander intended, his actions made clear when he patted his lap. "Let us not delay, Cadet Hurin, we would not wish you to be late for your appointment with your Father, would we?"

Faramir was appalled, he had not been taken over anyone's knee since his nanny had ruled the nursery; his tutor favoured a ruler for rapping knuckles and his Father had, on occasion, utilised a switch. Only honour prevented Faramir from bolting as the awfulness of his predicament washed over him in sickening waves. He stood rooted to the spot, his fearful gaze fixed on the older man's heavily muscled thighs. He would have pleaded for mercy but for the dryness of his mouth which prevented him from uttering anything more than the undignified squeak that forced its way past his lips as Dariel grabbed his wrist and pulled him forward, tipping him over his lap. He had no time to struggle, his stomach had barely landed against hard muscle when he found himself secured and immobile, his legs trapped, a heavy forearm clamped across his lower back.

Dariel ignored his gasping desperation, his grip tightened taking away any possibility of the youngster wriggling or evading what was to come. Dariel waited in silence; Faramir wanted to beg him to begin, to get it over with but Dariel was in charge here, Dariel was working to his own agenda and Faramir could do nothing but submit. Eventually the tension went out of Faramir and he slumped in surrender.

"Ready, Cadet Hurin?" Dariel asked, raising his hand. He had spared the youngster the added embarrassment of baring his buttocks for the coming chastisement; the thin, close-fitting uniform breeches would offer little in the way of protection from what was to come.

"STOP! I've changed my mind," Faramir gasped, made desperate by the older man's mastery of him. "I demand that you let me go!"

Dariel's response was to gather together and secure the youngster's wrists at the base of his back, rendering him completely immobile. "I am in no rush, Cadet Hurin, nor will I be goaded to suit your wishes, so settle down. . .I will begin when I am assured of your full attention."

"You have my full attention. . .Sir!" he wailed.

"Hush, Faramir." Dariel sat back, prepared to wait until Faramir ceased to struggle against what was to come. It took some time before once again Faramir surrendered himself to the inevitability of his predicament. In that moment Dariel's hand fell.

The fire ignited by that first blow raced up Faramir's spine pulling him rigid against the restraining limbs. He sucked in a desperate gasp but had no time to release the howl of pain before the next volley of spanks blazed an inferno in his rapidly heating flesh.

Over and over the heavy calloused hand impacted against his bottom and thighs; Dariel was a methodical disciplinarian, landing several spanks in one place before moving on to the next. Faramir had no chance for stoicism or pride, right from the beginning the force and insistence of the chastisement drew gasping sobs from his throat. Dariel proceeded in silence letting his hand impart its message. Faramir's sobs turned to howls and still the lesson continued; he was powerless to move and he grew desperate in the face of his impotence. Just when he feared that he could endure no more Dariel ceased, resting his heated palm against the youngster's lower back.

"What was this chastisement for, Cadet Hurin?" Dariel asked. Faramir was still too distraught to answer but Dariel was prepared to wait.

"Faramir, what was this chastisement for?" he asked again when the youngster's sobs had finally settled.

"For br-br-breaking the rules, Sir. Bad. . .I was ba-bad, reck-reckless, Sir. Took weapons without per-permission. . .training without supervision. . .un-unauthorised. . .bad, Sir. . .very bad."

"Faramir, why did you not ask for assistance? Why did you not seek the aid of myself or one of the weapons instructors? We would have been willing to assist you had we known that you desired to improve your skill above and beyond the scope of normal training."

"I did not want to seek special privileges, Sir." Faramir sobbed

"We could have worked around that. Is it not the case that your pride was at work here? Isn't that why you concealed your true skills from your instructors, doing just enough in your drills to show competence while still hiding your true potential?"

Despite his predicament, Faramir's temper flared, "I always worked hard in my lessons!"

"But none of your reports reflect the level of skill I witnessed earlier. Pride, Cadet Hurin, that is the reason you are here now. I am minded to withdraw your name from the contest."

"OH! No, Sir. Please do not do that, I beg you. I just. . .I wanted just once to shine. . to excel at something. . .and I want the chance to serve in the Rangers. Please, Sir," he begged.

"But you know the Captain General has ruled that no newly qualified Officers may be posted to Ithilien! However well you do in the contest you will not be posted there; you are too young and too inexperienced for such a dangerous posting."

"It is a recommendation only, Sir, it has not been written into orders. . .I checked, Sir. If I can prove that my skills are up to the task I might still be considered."

"But why the secrecy? Why not be up standing about your talent?"

"My father always attends the contest. . .I wanted him to be proud of me," the youngster whispered. During the discussion Dariel had released the youngster's hands and he now wept quietly, his face buried in his palms. Dariel allowed him a moment of respite and then hardened his resolve for this lesson needed bringing to a close.

"Cadet Hurin, you have been disciplined for the catalogue of offences you have committed this day and for those I now consider the slate has been wiped clean. However, we still need to address your disregard for the maintenance of proper military discipline and your attempts to hoodwink your instructors and your fellow cadets by concealing your true skills. For each of these breaches you will receive six strokes of the birch."

Before Faramir had the chance to move or to protest his hands were once again captured and secured at his back leaving him gasping in fearful anticipation. He felt himself being tipped forward slightly and he braced himself for the first blow. It was far worse than he could ever have imagined. The bundle of sticks landing on his already roasted buttocks seared like a brand and he couldn't hold in a scream. He couldn't move away nor could his shattered wits keep count of the wickedly accurate blows as they landed with measured regularity. The pain mounted and multiplied, building to a crescendo of torment beyond what he thought he could bear.

And then it was over. A hot hand rubbed soothing circles over his lower back as he sobbed out his distress into his liberated palms. "All done now, Faramir. All done. All is forgiven." The quiet reassurance drifted over him as he wept. Released from the restraint of the older man he slipped to his knees until he had regained a measure of composure.

It was quite some time before the youngster finally calmed "May I be excused, Sir," he requested quietly.

"You may. I suggest that you freshen up in the barracks before you venture up to the Citadel."

"Will you inform the Steward about this, Sir?"

"No Faramir. I told you this was between us. . .however, your father is far too astute to miss the fact that that you have recently been punished and I would counsel you to take him into your confidence."

"I will. And-and thank you, Sir."

"And just what are you thanking me for, Young Faramir?"

"I deserved a harsh punishment for my misconduct. I thank you for your understanding and compassion in dealing with this matter yourself and not insisting that it be brought to official attention. I would not have wished to dishonour my father and brother in such a shameful and public manner."

"Just bear in mind, if you ever do find yourself posted to Ithilien, that Commander Arminas taught me all I know about keeping reckless and foolish youngsters in order. He does not hesitate to express his displeasure in a most 'hands on' manner. . .usually in full view of the Company; it is a most reliable and effective method of teaching those under his command that he will not tolerate lapses in discipline."

"I will keep that in mind, Sir."

"And, Faramir, please be so kind as to inform your fellow cadets that from tomorrow until the archery contest I will be holding extra practice sessions for anyone who wishes to hone their skills."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Dismissed, Cadet Hurin." Dariel smiled to himself as the stiff-backed youngster saluted and limped away towards the barracks. The Commander himself headed off the Citadel to have a quiet word with Lord Boromir, the Captain General, intending to issue him and the Steward with official invitations to attend the archery contest and advising him, unofficially, that they had a potential Ranger in the graduating class.

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In the archives of the Citadel in the duty log of Commander Arminas of the Ithilien Rangers is to be found an entry recording the arrival in post of Ensign Hurin, the first newly commissioned officer to achieve such an honour in many years.

It is also recorded that Cadet Hurin did indeed experience the Commander's summary justice on many occasions. . .though that is indeed another tale and one that Steward Faramir, Prince of Ithilien would like to consign to the darkest, dustiest, most remote corner of the archive.