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Back to the Place Where I Belong

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After months of travelling and sleeping at the side of the road, the bed was a luxury. The pillows were soft and fluffy, the covers were warm and perfect for snuggling into. So unused to such comforts was Lord Baralin, the youngest child and third son of Lord Ravondir and Lady Halloth, that he briefly forgot where he was as he woke up. Then it all came flooding back. He had made his return to Doriath the previous week, and yesterday he had arrived on his father’s estate, much to the joy of his family. After distributing gifts to his nieces and nephews, he had indulged in a hot meal, a warm bath and much needed sleep in his own bed in his own room. Travelling was the joy of his life, but coming home was nice. For a while, anyway.

The young elf stretched lithely and climbed out of bed, shedding his nightclothes on the floor before pulling on a pair of dark leggings and a cream coloured shirt with loose sleeves. He brushed his hair, hints of a deep red-gold glinting amongst the dark brown locks, and then, barefoot, he headed downstairs to see about getting himself something for breakfast. He didn’t at all mind making his own food, and rather preferred it to letting servants do it for him. He knew that his older brothers scorned him for it and the servants thought him odd, but he didn’t care either way.

As he headed past the living room and stepped in the direction of the kitchen, he found himself stopped by the sound of a throat being cleared. His father’s throat being cleared, to be precise. Blinking, he turned around to see Lord Ravondir standing behind him with green-robed arms folded over his chest. “Good morning, Adar, sir,” he said, erring on the side of caution. One was not generally greeted by a cleared throat unless one had done something that one should not have.

“Inside,” Ravondir said shortly, unfolding his arms and pointing to the living room.

Baralin sighed to himself, but obediently went where he had been directed. He paused as he entered the elegantly decorated lounge area, and looked around slowly. The rest of the family was gathered, seated in a semi-circle around an unoccupied pale blue ottoman; Lady Halloth, her dark auburn hair braided in a coronet, was on one of the settees, waiting for her husband to join her. The three comfortable chairs placed next to the settee were occupied by Baralin’s elder siblings. Arvellon, Ramirith and Siliveth. He sighed again, already wishing he had stayed in bed. He adored his sister, but his brothers…

“So, Baralin. Explain,” Ravondir ordered his son, sweeping into the room and sitting next to his wife.

Baralin hesitated. He wondered if there was something that he had missed. Must have missed something, he mused. Adar wouldn’t call a family meeting for no reason. “I’m only going to get breakfast,” he replied eventually, not sure what else he could say.

“Sit.” Ravondir watched his youngest child, the unplanned one, the surprise one who had arrived over three hundred coronarí after his other children, and waited until the young ellon was perched on the edge of the ottoman before continuing. “We asked you yesterday where your travels took you. What did you mean by “you don’t want to know”, Baralin?”

“I should think that would be obvious,” Baralin answered pleasantly.

The comment made Ravondir’s hazel coloured eyes narrow, and he pinned his child with a hard stare. “No. We do want to know what you have been doing, elfling. You were gone for nearly two coronarí, and then you come home and presume to dismiss our questions? I think not. Where were you?”

Exhaling as he realised that this discussion wasn’t going to be ending soon, Baralin shifted back on the ottoman to get a bit more comfortable, and pointed in a northerly direction. “That way.”

“I see you got your ears pierced yet again,” Ramirith observed critically, running his dark green eyes over the colourful trinkets that both studded and hung from his brother’s ears. “How many is that now, five in each ear?”

“Four in my left and three in my right, though I don’t see why you care,” Baralin said blandly. “They’re my ears. I’ll do what I want with them, and you do what you want with your ears.”

“Sticking them full of holes like that is a vile habit,” Ramirith declared.

“You did agree to stop at two, ion-nín,” Lady Halloth spoke up quietly. “I rather think you have gone somewhat…over the top. At any rate, your father and I are more interested in your adventures than your ears. You went north. Where?”

“I just kept travelling north, that’s all.” Baralin fell silent, but a hard look from his father, accompanied by a rather forceful order to elaborate, made him sigh and reluctantly elucidate, “I encountered humans. They were called the Lossoth, and they took me in and made me feel very welcome.”

“The Lossoth?” Arvellon repeated incredulously. He stared at his baby brother, and then let out a bark of laughter. “Snowmen? What sort of name is that? What, are they made of snow, with stone mouths and carrot noses? Do they come to life as they do in our little niece’s nursery tales?”

“So ignorant,” Baralin murmured, almost to himself.

“Leave him be, Arvellon,” Siliveth said softly.

The young lord ignored his sister and pressed on with his interrogation. “Well, what are they?”

“What do you mean, what are they?” Baralin snapped, his dark blue eyes flashing in rarely seen anger. “They’re men and they happen to live in a snowy land, so they are called the Snowmen. That’s just what they’re called, Arvellon. They aren’t monsters or creatures out of a story. They’re men. Men and women and children.”

Arvellon lifted one shoulder in a lazily elegant shrug. “And these…barbarians, they stuck you full of holes, did they?”

“I had the newest piercings done when I was there, yes,” Baralin replied. He paused, rather significantly, and then added, “The Lossoth are particularly skilled at tattooing the skin as well. They consider tattoos to be almost sacred, and their tattooists are valued as highly as their warriors and their priests. It’s really a very fascinating culture, if only you were broad-minded enough to explore it.”

“Tattoos,” Halloth whispered faintly.

“Did you have any of those done?” Arvellon demanded.

“Again, I don’t quite see why it should be any concern of yours, but as it happens, I thought about getting a tattoo of your face, brother,” Baralin replied. “But then I remembered I don’t like it very much.”

“Baralin,” Ravondir chided sharply. “Apologise at once.”

“Sorry,” the young elf dutifully said.

“I’m sure,” Arvellon snorted. “So did you get one of these vulgar…tattoos, then?”

“Yes, I did get one,” Baralin confirmed. “It’s on my chest, and you’re not seeing it, so don’t even ask.”

As his elder sons glanced at him for support, Ravondir nodded briefly and focused on his youngest. “I am not asking, I am giving you a command. You will show us, since you went to the trouble of getting it.”

Looking unhappy, Baralin clearly thought about refusing, but it was not in his nature to disobey orders. He tugged his shirt down to reveal a short line of words inked in black over his heart. He stayed silent on their meaning, though he knew that his father or brothers would start asking questions, and he was surprised when his sister gave him an encouraging smile and said, “I like it. I think it is very tasteful, muindor-laes. And I suppose that must be the language of the Lossoth…will you tell me what the words mean?”

“‘Live your dreams’,” Baralin said quietly. “That’s what they mean.”

“A fine sentiment indeed, ion-nín,” Lord Ravondir concurred, his voice gentler than before. “Any father is pleased when their child has the opportunity to live their dreams, but I wish that your dreams would not take you from us for such long lengths of time.”

Baralin didn’t know what to say to that. He couldn’t promise to come home sooner next time. Travelling just didn’t work that way. Either you were ready to return home, or you were not. And even when you were ready, it was a long road to your front door. Eventually, he settled for saying, “I have always come back.”

“See that you continue to do so,” Ravondir replied softly.

“What is that?”

Baralin’s eyes had been locked on his father’s in a brief moment of understanding, but the sharp question from his mother made him look quickly at her. He followed her gaze and realised that when he had let go of his collar, his shirt had not fallen back into place. The tip of a scar was poking out over the top of it, and he quickly tugged his clothing straight. “Nothing.”

“It did not look like ‘nothing’,” Ravondir said tersely, the softness of before now gone. “Off with the shirt. At once.”

There was no use in arguing, and frankly, Baralin just did not have the energy to fight his father on this point. He knew he would lose. With a quiet sigh, he pulled his shirt off and dropped it on the floor before holding his arms out to either side. A wide scar, pale pink in colour, marred his otherwise flawless flesh from midway down his chest to his navel, where it curved around to his back. Secretly, he thought that it was terribly impressive. Neither of his brothers could boast of anything like it. Of course, he knew better than to say as much out loud, and he also knew to treasure the trophy; his fast elven healing abilities would see it eradicated before the year was out, and as proud as he was of it, he had no intentions of getting a new one.

“What happened?” Halloth breathed, her noble composure slipping.

“I got mauled,” Baralin explained reticently. “By a bear.”

“What?”

“It didn’t do a very good job,” Arvellon murmured under his breath.

Baralin’s eyes flickered at the comment. He didn’t think either of his parents had heard it, so he ignored Arvellon’s words, and Ramirith’s answering smirk, and instead focused on Ravondir and Halloth; he was surprised to see that his usually calm mother looked on the edge of tears, whilst his father seemed to be torn between anger and worry. “It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t know that there were bears in the area. Especially not mean bears.”

“Did these barbarian friends of yours not warn you?” Ravondir asked acidly.

“I had not met the Lossoth at that point, Adar. I was still travelling by myself and I knew little of the land,” Baralin clarified. “It was good fortune that a hunting party came across me before the bear could do any more damage. They rescued me and they took me in, fed me and healed me. I was grateful to them. I shall always be grateful. I owe my life to those…barbarians, as you see them.”

Ravondir inclined his head slightly. He might not think much of the Lossoth, but they had saved his youngest son’s life, and that was not something he could argue with. “You stayed with them, very well. Where? In a village? I trust that your living conditions were at least adequate.”

“Their settlement was perfectly fine. They’ll have moved by now, though,” Baralin replied idly. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he froze. He tried to cover it by grabbing his shirt and pulling it back over his head, but an inevitable command to explain further came from his father. He evaded it as best he could, saying briefly, “They were just having some trouble.”

“Do elaborate, Baralin,” Ravondir said frostily.

Baralin was silent. Telling the truth would get him confined to the safety of his home for the rest of his immortal life. Hiding it was not an option. He had never been any good at lying, no matter how often he had practiced his “but I’m telling the truth, honest” face in the mirror. Lying just did not come easily to him. So he took a deep breath and spoke three words, a single name that made the temperature in the room drop to icy. “The Dark Hunter. The settlement was close, relatively speaking, to his lair.”

Pale, and clearly shaken by the revelation, Ravondir stared at his child as his wife gripped his hand. “And you were there? My son was eating and sleeping within striking distance of the Dark Hunter?”

“But you left as soon as you were well, muindor-laes,” Siliveth said anxiously, searching her younger brother’s eyes. “You would not have stayed longer than you had to, once you realised the danger you were in.”

“I stayed long enough to repay some of the kindness that they did me,” Baralin replied quietly. “I helped to fight whenever the Dark Lord sent his minions to raid the settlement and carry off women and children. I don’t expect any of you to understand, but I could not just run and leave them to fight for their lives after they had worked so hard to preserve mine.”

“It was not your battle to fight!” Ravondir exploded, his fist crashing down on the small table next to the settee. “You will not be going there again, elfling. You will not be going off again at all. You will stay here at home where you belong, and where I can keep an eye on you.”

“So we are to be stuck with him,” Ramirith drawled softly.

“That is enough from you!” The usually calm and composed elf-lord trembled with rage, with fear at the thought of what might have been, and he turned his blazing gaze upon his youngest. “You, Baralin, you will be staying here. You are my child, and I will not permit you to put yourself in danger like that again. The Dark Hunter is never to be taken lightly.”

“I won’t go north again,” Baralin conceded quietly. “But you cannot stop me from travelling.”

“I can and I shall,” Ravondir replied severely.

“You’ll have to tie me up.” There was no insolence or defiance in the young ellon’s words; they were just plain and matter of fact. “That is the only way to keep me here.”

“Then that is what shall happen, elfling,” Ravondir snapped.

Suddenly it was all too much for Baralin. His elder brothers and their smug, smirking faces, his mother’s eyes glazed with unshed tears, his father’s expectance that he could just say “yes, sir, of course, sir” like a good little boy after so much time answering only to himself. Feeling stifled, uncomfortable, he got up and strode from the room without another word, slamming the door shut behind him with a satisfyingly loud crash. He heard it being thrown open moments later, but he ignored Ravondir calling his name and headed upstairs, taking the stairs two at a time.

“Baralin, come back here!” Ravondir commanded, as he followed his son.

“No, I won’t,” the youth insisted. “Go away, please.”

Please come back here. You are my son, and…” As he reached the top of the stairs, Ravondir stopped and exhaled, his eyes on his youngest child’s retreating back. “And I will miss you if you leave again. Worry about you. If the Dark Hunter is on the move again, that bodes ill for all of us. Not just your mortal friends. All of us.”

Just before he got to his bedroom, Baralin wheeled around and strode back down the hallway until he was standing in front of his father. “So what am I meant to do, sit at home and be miserable?”

Affection was not a word often associated with Lord Ravondir, but he pulled his son into his embrace so that the younger elf could feel how he trembled at the thought of losing him. “I do not want you to be miserable. I do not. But this…” Ravondir put his hand to Baralin’s lower back and traced the scar hidden beneath the shirt. “This, I do not want for you. I do not want you to be hurt again. I do not want you being maimed or mauled or having to be brought back from the brink of death. I do not want you to be killed.”

“Adar,” Baralin protested softly, drawing back slightly and meeting his father’s eyes. “I can’t just settle down with a wife and children. I can’t be lord of an estate. I can’t do the things you always thought I would do, just because they were expected of me. I know I haven’t made you proud like my brothers…Siliveth has done better than me, too…but I can’t change who I am. This is my life, and I’ve chosen how I want to live it.”

“You are brave,” Ravondir said quietly. “I shall give you that. My brave son.”

“I’m just different,” Baralin corrected his father.

“And that certainly is brave, in our society. You are a good boy, Baralin. A good son.” Sighing quietly, Ravondir held his youngest child at arm’s length and looked into his eyes. “I shall probably never understand your wanderlust, but I want you to know that I do love you and appreciate you. And if you will go off gallivanting, you must learn to take better care of yourself. I will not be hearing about any more of these dangerous situations.”

“My scar will fade soon enough,” Baralin commented. “And I usually am more careful. It isn’t common for me to be mauled by bears. And I’ve never camped outside the Dark Hunter’s lair before.”

“Please be more careful when you are out there, ion-nín. That is all I ask.” Once he had received his son’s promise, Ravondir nodded quietly and gave the young ellon a steady look, laden with paternal disapproval. “On a less urgent note, though still one that I feel strongly about, there is also the way that you behaved with your elder brothers.”

Baralin paused. He had forgotten all about his brothers, and he scowled slightly to think of them. No doubt they would have glasses of all too expensive wine in their elegant hands now that the drama was over, and they would be sipping at their wine and smirking together as they quietly conferred about just what was happening to their baby brother. He sighed and looked at his father. “What about it, Adar?”

“It was disappointing,” Ravondir replied. “I cannot have such behaviour from you. Oh, I will not deny that they behaved poorly, but they are not the ones standing in front of me right now. You are. I will not have my son lowering himself to rudeness and disrespect, when he knows quite well that he is to rise above any provocation.”

“You say rise above it like it’s easy,” Baralin protested. “They deserved both my rudeness and my disrespect, Adar. I’m not sorry for it, and they won’t be either.”

Putting a calming, warning hand on his son’s shoulder, Ravondir said, “I will be dealing with their behaviour. But I want you to know that I will not let yours go unpunished either.”

“Arvellon and Ramirith are going to get smacked?” Baralin asked gleefully. He would take any punishment for the chance to see his elder brothers put firmly in their places. “Adar, that is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever heard.”

“You are not to go running back in there shouting about it,” Ravondir replied firmly. “I will talk to them privately. Now, go on to your room and wait for me. You might as well use the time to start unpacking your clothes and any…souvenirs that you picked up along the way. I want you to think things over whilst you are doing that.”

Baralin sighed to himself, recognising that he had only been instructed to unpack so that his mind was kept off the prospect of sneaking downstairs to his father’s study to spy on his unfortunate brothers. He recalled that standing quietly in a corner usually preceded a spanking, and he doubted that Ravondir’s methods had changed that much in the time that he had been away. He would have relished the opportunity to peer through the keyhole as Arvellon and Ramirith got their comeuppances, but like a dutiful son, he gave his father a respectful nod before returning to his room.

After watching Baralin all the way to his bedroom and hearing the door click, Ravondir made his way downstairs and found his elder two sons standing at the wine cabinet on the far side of the living room. Arvellon was leaning against it with his arms over his chest, a smirk on his lips as he said something under his breath that made Ramirith laugh. Ravondir strode over to them and put one hand over the first of two glasses that Ramirith had been about to pour into, and he met his middle son’s startled and irritated look evenly.

“Come. I wish to speak with you both privately.” Without giving the younger ellyn a chance to protest or question him, Ravondir turned abruptly and swept out of the room with a swish of his forest green robes. He led the way to his study, a wood paneled room adorned with pictures of birds, though a framed portrait of his wife sat on his desk; on the wall to the left of the door was a painting of his four children, done when Baralin had been not much over his majority, and to the right of the door was a painting in an identical style, but this was of his grandchildren – three young grandsons from Arvellon, one adult granddaughter by Ramirith, and three younger granddaughters from Siliveth.

“I trust that all went well with Baralin, Adar,” Arvellon said smoothly, a slight smile playing on his lips as he and his brother seated themselves before the desk. “The elfling is…difficult, we know.”

Wordlessly, Ravondir opened the top drawer of his desk and removed a black leather strap. He coiled it neatly and set it down in front of him. “Baralin is the reason we are here. What exactly did you think you were doing to him?”

It fell to Arvellon to respond, for Ramirith was still, staring at the strap as though transfixed by it. “Excuse me, Adar?”

“You two, sneering at your brother. Belittling him, ridiculing him,” Ravondir said, ticking off on his fingers. “I do not want to hear an argument that he was not well behaved; I know it. But it is not up to either of you to correct him, and it is certainly not right for you to mock him. Do not think I did not hear you, elflings.”

“Adar…Adar,” Arvellon protested. He looked like he did not know whether to argue against the accusations leveled at him or against the fact that he had just been called an elfling. Eventually self-preservation won out, and he focused on the first. “Adar, you disapproved as well. You called those…Snowmen he met barbarians.”

“I am your father, and Baralin’s. It is up to me to disapprove. I do not approve of the Snowmen, the Lossoth, whatever you wish to call them, no. I do think they are barbarians,” Ravondir agreed. He paused and looked hard at his elder sons, his gaze flinty and unwavering. “But speaking of your brother in the way that you did, saying you were stuck with him, that the bear did not do well. What was that supposed to mean, Arvellon? Did you wish your brother dead? Either of you? Ramirith?”

“They were only jokes, Adar,” Ramirith said uncomfortably.

“Were they? Well, they were unacceptable, and I will not have you making such jokes again,” Ravondir declared, rising fluidly and stepping out from behind his desk. “I expect better from both of you. So. Leggings down and over the desk, now.”

As Arvellon stared in shock, Ramirith blinked quickly in surprise. “Adar, you cannot be…”

“I am entirely serious,” Ravondir confirmed. “You have behaved like little boys, not the responsible young lords I expect you to be.”

“This…it is ridiculous,” Ramirith protested, whilst his elder brother gritted his teeth in anger. “Entirely undignified. Arvellon and I are lords of our own estates. We have children of our own. I hardly think that this is appropriate.”

“Fathers and lords in your own right, yes,” Ravondir concurred. “So you can understand why your behaviour was as undignified as the punishment you are to receive. You both behaved like spoilt children.”

Ramirith fell silent and shook his head in disbelief, and Arvellon raised his eyes with a look of contempt for the strap wrapped around his father’s hand. “All right, Adar, really,” he said, patronising disdain dripping from his every word. “That is enough. You can stop joking now. It was very funny, but enough.”

The arrogance and insolence were too much for Ravondir, and he gave his eldest son such a furious look that the younger ellon stood quickly and took a step back from him. “Come here, Arvellon Ravondirchil. Now,” he commanded. His heir made no move to obey, so he closed the gap between them with two quick strides and grabbed Arvellon by the collar. Taking advantage of the young lord’s shock, he overpowered him quickly and pushed him down over the desk before he could put up a fight. Instinctively, Arvellon caught hold of the other side of the desk to steady himself, exactly what his father had wanted him to do.

“Adar,” Ramirith gasped. “You can’t…”

“Can’t? Can’t, Ramirith?” Ravondir demanded. “Get over here, beside your brother.”

His middle son stayed perfectly still, so Ravondir gave him the same treatment that Arvellon had received, though not before pulling his leggings down to his knees. With both of his grown children bent over the desk, he took his position behind them and sent the long strap flying. It landed across both vulnerable, muscular bottoms, though the angle at which it was swung made it snap down hardest on Ramirith’s cheeks.

“Adar…Adar, stop,” Ramirith said through gritted teeth.

“Be silent,” Ravondir replied shortly. Wordlessly, he continued the strapping, watching impassively as one bottom turned quite pink and the other went red. Occasionally he could hear an incoherent cry of pain from either of the young lords, interspersed amongst the repeated whooshes of the strap sailing through the air and the distinctive crack as it connected with bare flesh, but to their credit, the ellyn did not fight any more. Ravondir was quietly relieved. He did not like having to lose his temper with any of his children.

Eventually, he paused and moved slightly so that the strap would fly at a different angle. “Hold your positions,” he warned his sons. Ramirith said nothing, breathing hard against his upper arm, each breath laden with tears. Arvellon was silent too, but his face was a study in rage, his knuckles white as he gripped the far side of the desk. Reluctantly, Ravondir suspected that his eldest son would like nothing more than to get up and hit him. He sighed quietly and resumed the strapping, the hardest blows landing on Arvellon’s bottom this time, until both of his sons had flaming red flesh from their cheeks down to their thighs. Though they both did their best to hide it, neither of them were able to help their weeping.

“I will not have such behaviour from you two ever again,” Ravondir said quietly. “Do you hear me, elflings? Or it will be a cane, next time.”

“Y-yes, sir,” Ramirith replied, his voice choked.

After getting the same from Arvellon, Ravondir nodded. “Very well. When you are calm you may get up, right your clothing and go directly to bed. No more nonsense from either of you.”

“Yes, sir,” Arvellon said stiffly.

“I shall not go to bed like a little boy,” Ramirith whispered mutinously.

Ravondir doubled the strap and brought it down on his second son’s bottom again with a sharp snap. “I said, no more nonsense. Your old rooms are made up for you, as they always are, and you will go to bed directly.” He landed another blow with the strap, and spoke over the sound of Ramirith’s cries. “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir!” the younger elf sobbed in pain and frustration.

“Good boy. I will leave you to compose yourselves and fix your clothing, but I will be making sure that you are both abed in thirty minutes.” Ravondir knew that his sons would not want comfort from him, so he contented himself with briefly resting a hand on each of their heads before coiling the strap and returning it to the top drawer of his desk. From the same drawer, he took out a small paddle made of leather, and tucked it into the pocket of his robes. He didn’t like having to use an implement as severe as the strap, but Arvellon and Ramirith had needed it; Baralin did not.

He went upstairs to his lastborn child’s bedroom, where he found the young ellon sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, surrounded by rumpled clothing, two cloaks, a compactly folded tent and a bedroll, as well as an assortment of weaponry, two drinking flasks and some cooking equipment; a handful of hair ties, loose earrings and foreign coinage was scattered in amongst all the debris. Baralin looked lost, overwhelmed by it all, as though he had spent so long living out of his pack that the notion of putting everything away just did not make sense to him. He hadn’t done much in the way of tidying, but Ravondir did not have the heart to scold him for it. Besides, Baralin had stayed away during his brothers’ discipline, and that had been the main reason for ordering him to unpack.

“I have spoken to Arvellon and Ramirith,” Ravondir said, breaking the silence and making his youngest jump slightly. “They will be going to bed shortly.”

Baralin was quiet, letting that sink in. His big brothers were going to bed, and he knew what that meant: they really and truly had been punished. He pitied them a little, for he knew well just how much that would have damaged their pride, but he didn’t feel too sorry for them. “What about me, Adar?” he asked.

“You will also be going to bed after your spanking,” Ravondir replied evenly.

“I only got up an hour ago, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet,” Baralin complained.

“You will be going back to bed after you have been spanked and fed,” the elf-lord amended. His lips twitched very slightly in a suppressed smile at the expression on his son’s face. His comment had only made Baralin look unhappier. “And yes, I am quite aware that you rose not long ago. Still, you have been so long on the road, catching up on your rest will do you the world of good. That aside, I believe you will want to rest when we are through.”

Baralin sighed quietly, but in stark contrast to his elder brothers, he lowered his leggings and placed himself over his father’s lap without needing to be prompted. He didn’t hear the soft breath of relief from Ravondir, but nor did it occur to him to fight and make things more difficult than they had to be. He had been the only one of his parents’ four children to resist the expectations of a noble society, something that had caused much tension when he had first announced that he was leaving to go and travel outside of Doriath. But aside from that, he had always been the easy son. Pleasant and polite, apologetic when he needed to be, sweet-tempered, gracious when it came to receiving discipline; as different from his brothers as it was possible to be.

 Resting one hand on Baralin’s lower back, Ravondir picked up the paddle and began the punishment immediately, the leather implement landing crisp smacks that were loud in the otherwise quiet room. It didn’t stay quiet for long. Unlike Arvellon and Ramirith, Baralin felt no shame in his tears, and he started to cry into his crossed arms as the paddle painted his bottom a rosy shade of pink. Ravondir continued in silence, applying a number of firm swats to his son’s most sensitive spots before repeating them over the crying ellon’s cheeks. The fiery sting made Baralin go up on his arms and throw his head back, but he didn’t fling his hand in his father’s way to try and stop the paddle.

After finishing up with one last smack to the centre of Baralin’s dark pink bottom, Ravondir set the implement aside and gave his youngest child’s back a gentle, circular rub. “Try not to get into any more trouble, laes-nín. Look after yourself when you’re out there. Come home more often. Your mother and I miss you, as does Siliveth.”

“I’ll t-try to be good and c-careful,” Baralin choked out, though he did not promise to come home more often.

Ravondir lifted his son up and hugged him close to his side, enjoying the comfort that he had not been able to give his elder two children. “That is my good boy,” he murmured, dropping a kiss atop Baralin’s head. “My good boy, it is forgiven. All over now. All is well.”

“It isn’t well at all. I just got paddled and I’ve only been back a day,” Baralin said in a muffled voice, his face against Ravondir’s shoulder.

Smiling slightly at that, the elf-lord tucked some loose hair behind his son’s pointed ear. It was a darker brown than his, and lit up with strands of a very deep red that had come entirely from Halloth. Ravondir had always thought that Baralin had lovely hair, especially when it glinted in the light; he was just relieved that the boy had not discovered a tribe of outlandish folk who dyed their hair. Piercings and a tattoo would have been the least of his and Halloth’s worries then. “You did just get paddled,” he agreed, focusing on Baralin. “But your brothers just got strapped, and they are both, as they are so fond of telling me, lords and fathers in their own right.”

“They’re a pair of bastards,” Baralin muttered, rubbing his eyes.

With his arm around the young elf’s waist, Ravondir lifted him up slightly and gave his tender bottom a firm pat. “We just had a discussion about that sort of behaviour. Are you so eager to repeat it already?”

“No,” Baralin sniffled. “I’m sorry.”

“Hmm. Well, at any rate, I would beg to differ with you on the name calling. I was there when both of your brothers were conceived.” Ravondir might have misheard, because Baralin was busy using his sleeves to dry his tearstained face, but he thought that his lastborn mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘eww’. Smiling faintly, he kissed Baralin’s head, and then sobered. “I am sorry that Arvellon and Ramirith spoke so ill of you, my little boy.”

“I’m used to it, Adar,” Baralin sighed. “Used to them.”

“They may not be thrilled to have you home again, but the rest of us are delighted that you are back where you belong.” After a final kiss to the brow, and one last reassuring squeeze, Ravondir helped Baralin up and gave him his nightclothes. “Here you are. Breakfast in bed, and then it will be back to sleep with you.”

“I’ll try to sleep,” Baralin conceded. He tugged his shirt off and replaced it with the knee-length night tunic that he had been given, and he dropped the shirt and his leggings onto the floor before climbing into bed and settling on his side. With his head pillowed on his arm, he watched his father turn to go and order him some breakfast from the kitchens. “Adar?” he said softly. “I missed you.” Ravondir paused and glanced back at him with a wordless smile.

As he was left alone, Baralin snuggled into the blankets and realised that it was true. He had missed Ravondir. And Halloth, and his big sister, and her husband Brandir, who had been a better brother to him than Arvellon and Ramirith ever had; and then there were his nieces, especially the smallest one, little Neldiel, who Baralin suspected would be something like him as she grew up. Coming home wasn’t always easy, but there were some people in his life who made it all worthwhile. He would stay for a time, he decided, before setting off on his next adventure. After all, the world would always be there.