The Scruff Factor
No, I swear, I have not abandoned "Dark Leaf." Chapter 13 is coming soon. Honest.
This silly little tale was spawned by two comments made on the Henneth-Annun archive's e-mail list. During a discussion on the movie-Aragorn's "scruffiness", it was determined that Numenorean royalty must have a scruff factor built into their genetics, and that in preparation for the four whole minutes during the LOTR movie in which Aragorn appears in good, whole clothing and well-shaven, (even if his hair DOES need brushing...) he must have been waylaid by Elves and forcibly neatened in preparation for the Council of Elrond.
Someone else then commented on Arwen sneaking up on him while he's athelas-hunting, and the look of half-amused, half-resigned annoyance when her sword touched his jaw... sez our correspondant, he gave off the air of having been one-time-too-many snuck up on by Elves, during his years in Rivendell.
(huge grin) Well... I had a plot bunny bite me on one ankle, and a Nuzgûl ride forth to drag me down to the pit by the other.... and this story is the result. It is unashamedly rated PG (there might be some slightly naughty suggestions somewhere....), and is dedicated to the Henneth Annun crowd with deep affection -- most especially to Meg and Laura, purveyors of fine plotbunnies since TA 23. (Or something like that.)
Ladies, this one's for you….
Part the First: In Which a Ranger is Caught Off His Guard
It had been a while since Aragorn, son of Arathorn, known to the Elves as Estel, to Men Strider, and to Elrond Peredhil as foster-son, had been in Rivendell during the daylight hours, for more than a few short rotations of the clock. Of course, there were no clocks in Rivendell, but that was beside the point. It was a beautiful day late in summer; wisps of white cloud floated in a perfect azure sky, the reassuringly regular sound of the Bruinen could be heard babbling counterpoint to the thousands of homely sounds that made up the daily life of Rivendell, and of course, there was Elfsong everywhere.
As he wandered through the place that had played host to his boyhood, Aragorn Strider Estel Elrondion realized a kind of retroactive homesickness. Having arrived in such a hurry, under such anxious circumstances, he had not had much time to reflect on how good it was to be here at all. He had missed the songs of his Elven kin, and had missed the Firstborn beauty of the Last Homely House. Out in the wilds, wandering all about Middle-Earth on one Rangerly concern after another, protecting other beings, hunting down still others, and visiting, always just visiting, Aragorn was finally back in the one place he could call home--and realizing how much he had missed it, hurt in that good homesick way, even though he was no longer absent.
What an extremely Elvish thought,he decided, and grinned to consider it. Sticking hands in pockets of his over-tunic, he strolled along the ivy-hung pathways that led in, around and through the trees and other flora, idly making his way wherever his feet might take him. As he walked, he whistled a cheery tune.
The three Hobbits who had accompanied him hither were over at the House of Healing, watching over the fourth of their number, the grievously wounded Ringbearer, young Frodo Baggins. Frodo was, in his turn, under the capable care of Aragorn's august foster-father, Lord Elrond, Master of Rivendell; Elrond was a renowned healer, and if anyone could rescue the Morgul-stabbed perian, it was he. And so, until the convening of the Council that Elrond had summoned, Aragorn was off-duty. Off duty, and home in the bargain... not a bad deal, all things being considered as equal.
As he strolled along, Aragorn realized his stomach was growling a complaint against emptiness. The Ranger glanced skyward, considering; given the angle of the sun, it was very nearly time for the noon meal. If he sent his feet in direction of the House, he knew the servants would be about to lay out a private meal for Elrond's family and guests; he knew he had best arrive smartly, because if he did not, and the Hobbits were convinced away from Frodo's bedside by the smell of food, there would be little left for a hungry son of the valley. Yes, decidedly time to head back for dinner....
"Estel! Mae govannen, nîn mellon!"
Aragorn turned at the sound of a familiar voice, and saw an ethereally lovely blond male Elf hurrying toward him. Recognizing Lindir, a member of Lord Elrond's staff and extended household, Aragorn shortened his stride to let the other catch up--and was taken aback to find himself enveloped in a long-armed, surprisingly strong embrace of several heartbeats' duration. During said embrace, Lindir went on at great length, in rather elegant language even for an Elf, about how wonderful it was to have him home again, and wasn't it just dreadful about the poor young Ringbearer, and how could anyone have stuck such a child with a job like this anyway, and on and on....
"Lindir, please, I--it's good to see you too," Aragorn managed to wheeze out, and worked his way out of Lindir's rather strong arms. He gripped the Elf by both shoulders and gave him a friendly shake. "I've been gone so long--it is good to be home. Is it almost time for dinner?"
"Oh yes, of course, of course!" Lindir said, smiling cheerfully, though his nose became somewhat unhappy at the scent of the air about the Ranger. "Umm, come along then--I'll make certain there is someone to draw you a bath and bring you clean clothes."
Aragorn knew a moment's confusion. "Bath?"
Lindir's smooth, high brow furrowed just briefly, like a breeze over otherwise still water. "Well--yes, Estel," he murmured, dipping his chin in embarrassment. "I mean--I just thought perhaps--"
"Lindir, I'm so hungry I could eat an Orc," Aragorn chuckled, putting one arm through the other's and leading the Elf toward the House. "I'll wash my hands, I promise you--but if we don't get to the table before the Hobbits do, we'll be in the kitchen before tea begging Cook for something to tide us over. Trust me when I tell you this!"
Lindir suffered himself to be led along, wrinkling his nose in distress. Was it possible Estel could not tell how--err--high his person smelled? Months in the wilderness, keeping company with the Valar knew what sorts of creatures--and of course his senses, while exemplary for a Man, were nothing compared to those of Elves....
Lindir felt an extended moment of absolute horror at the concept of Aragorn sitting down to table with the Family in his present state, and almost said something to that effect. But then he decided it was not his place to do anything more than offer the suggestion he had already offered. Lindir was a minstrel of the highest order, and a key member of Lord Elrond's household; he was learning diplomacy after all these years, and congratulated himself on winning this battle to curb his tongue.
But he did pause in the doorway to the dining room, to suggest to the young servant on duty that rose water be added to the basin used for hand-washing--and that a separate basin be used after Lord Estel had washed his hands....
The servant sniffed delicately at the air after Aragorn had breezed on by, and wondered briefly who the scruffy-looking person could be, all in dusty black, unshaven and decidedly unwashed. Two and two were added together, and the sum total was Dunedán; the servant sighed lightly and went to fetch clean water, arriving back at his post just in time for the decorous arrival of certain members of Lord Elrond's family.
"What's this, a Ranger caught off his guard?" a merry voice said in Aragorn's ear, as a butter knife found its way to the region of his throat. Aragorn sighed in a distinctly put-upon manner, and knocked the offending article away.
"Stick it where the sun shineth not, Elrohir," he retorted, looking up and back into the grinning face of one of his foster-brothers. Elrohir laughed at him, taking a seat alongside; he was the younger of the twin sons of Elrond, and possessed of a wickedly learned sense of humour.
"Arwen told us all about it, after Father took poor Frodo off to be cared for," he announced, snapping his napkin open and draping it across his lap. "I daresay the look on your face when she caught you was nothing less than precious."
"Precious. Right. I wish you wouldn't use that word...."
"Oh yes, that Gollum thing," said the elder brother, Elladan, taking a seat just opposite Aragorn. "We'd heard you found him, and delivered him to Mirkwood. Why Mirkwood, for heaven's sake? If I were going to try and help anything recover, Mirkwood is the last place I'd take it!"
"I think Gandalf just wanted the creature kept close," Aragorn grumbled, reaching for one of the fragrant rolls, fresh from the oven. He tore the yeasty thing open and happily inhaled its delicious odour, before slathering it with butter and wild clover honey. "King Thranduil does, after all, have extensive caverns below the palace; perfect place for the godsforsaken scraplet, if you ask me."
"Oh quite so, something needs safe keeping, and you hand it over to a soft-heart like Legolas," Elladan scoffed, laughing. "Give him a week, and he'll have the creature wearing flowers in its hair and dancing in the sunshine with Elven maidens!"
Aragorn mumbled something unintelligible through the mouthful of bread; his brothers stared at him, taking far smaller bites and trying not to laugh at him again. "What did you say?" Elrohir asked, finally.
Aragorn swallowed, and had a sip of wine. "I said, Gollum doesn't have any hair. And anyway, Legolas won't have to take care of the creature. He's a prince."
"Hah. It is exactly for that reason that he will think it his duty, " Elladan retorted. "And with his deep love of caves and enclosed spaces, Legolas is exactly the right sort of person to guard this Gollum."
That was a fairly mean-spirited thing to suggest, and Aragorn told him so in no uncertain terms. Legolas Thranduilion, the youngest Prince of Mirkwood, had a powerful dislike of caves--and for that matter, enclosed spaces--that was very well known to the sons of Elrond, though they did not perhaps understand all the whys and wherefores of it. Enough, then, to simply state that Legolas was primarily raised by Silvan Elves, and had absorbed from them a deep love of things green and growing. Caves, and creatures like Gollum, did not foster such a love.
"Well, in any case, if there is an Elf in all Ennor whom this creature is likely to love, it will be Thranduil's fair princelet," Elladan said, trying to redeem himself. "All he need do is sing to Gollum and climb trees with him--and Gollum will become a model of delight and civility."
This made all three of them laugh, if for no other reason than that it made a pretty picture: wizened little Smeagol, with his strange, insinuating way of speech and the obnoxious swallowing sound that gave him his name, sitting up a tree in dark old Mirkwood, singing along with the golden-haired, blue-eyed, handsome Prince who was a dear friend of them all.
"Speaking of climbing trees," Elrohir said, trying not to be too obvious, "you--err--seem to have been in the wild for quite some time, Estel."
Aragorn nodded, his mouth being full with the remainder of his roll, and one hand already reaching for another. Elladan sighed and pushed the honey pot closer, so that perhaps at least the table cloth would not suffer.
"Mmmph-murrm," the Heir of Isildur said, sounding emphatic. The twins looked at one another behind his back; Elrohir shrugged, and refilled the Man's goblet.
"Swallow," he commanded. "then speak. We understood none of that."
Aragorn did as bidden, and swallowed. The wine was a particularly fine vintage.
"Harad. Not exactly sure where it is made, but Lord Cirdan sent it from the Havens for Adar's conception anniversary. Now then, what did you say when you had your mouth full?"
"I said, Yes, I've been away for too long. It is good to be home!"
"Ah. Yes." Elladan helped himself to thin slices of roasted venison when the servants brought a platter, and took a generous helping of the winter asparagus, also a product of the Havens. He reflected happily that having a friend like Cirdan was a very nice thing, indeed. "Estel, I know that out in the wilds, one need not--err--neaten oneself up very often, but--"
"Hobbits," Estel said, just before he began wolfing down a small mountain of venison that had become heaped on his own plate in a trice. He nodded pleasantly to the servant who held out a steaming, fragrant pitcher of whipped horseradish, and allowed her to place a goodly dollop beside the meat on his plate. The Twins exchanged another look, and Elrohir shuddered.
"I am simply not understanding this conversation," he sighed, and far more decorously filled his own plate, nodding thanks to the servant--and grinned understanding as every server managed to depart rather rapidly for the rest of the tables.
"I was in the wild with four Hobbits from Bree onward, chased by Nazgûl--and this right on top of departing Mirkwood," Aragorn announced, rather too rapidly for clarity, but at least he swallowed first. "I'm sorry I did not take time to bathe, but after being with the periannath, I was all too well aware of the fact that I would have to get here and eat swiftly, if there was to be any food left at all." He turned wide, amazed eyes on his Elven brothers. "You would not believe how much they can eat--or how quickly!"
"Or often," Elrohir murmured, grinning. At Aragorn's interrogative grunt, he elaborated: "Estel, food was sent up to the House of Healing, as the Hobbits did not wish to leave young Frodo's side. Even for food."
"Enough was sent there to feed an army," Elladan added, delicately dabbing at his mouth with a pristine napkin. Aragorn simply stared at him; smiling wryly, the elder twin nodded. "Yes, grubby one, the periannath are dining elsewhere. You need not have feared going unfed for their presence here--at least, not until supper time."
Aragorn had the grace to blush. His brothers had the grace to limit their hilarity to decorous sniggers, not outright shouts of amusement.
"Eat more slowly, child," Elladan suggested. "At least you will not look like a Warg, even if you smell like one."