Leave It to Beavers
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Aragorn and Legolas, looking for trouble as usual, had, as usual, been found by it. They tell their stories so that it sounds like their lives are just one big thrilling adventure. Circumstances would seem to indicate otherwise. (Usually Aragorn and Legolas tell their stories from the comfort of an infirmary bed. When I dream of big adventures, broken ribs and puncture wounds don't even come into the equation.)
Aragorn and Legolas's current circumstances were as bad as ever. In short, they were in trouble. A vast inferno raged on three sides. Bits of charred leaves, little more than ashes, fluttered through the air. Vile smoke billowed past them, doing bad things to Aragorn's lungs. (But he smokes his pipeweed so much, I don't suppose a little more vile smoke made much of a difference to him.)
"Told you so," said Legolas.
"No, you didn't," Aragorn said.
"Well, I would have told you if you'd let me," Legolas said. "I thought I smelled smoke."
Aragorn muttered something. If there was one point of contention in his friendship with Legolas, it was Legolas's elven abilities, which Aragorn did not have. Aragorn's only abilities were things like The Ability To Get Blood Everywhere and The Ability to Suffer Excruciating Pain Without Throwing Up and The Ability To Make Enemies Who Hate Your Guts So Much They'd Like To Remove Them From Your Body . These are not fun abilities to have, unlike cutesy little abilities like The Ability To Smell Smoke From Far Away.
"Come quickly!" Legolas said, and darted through some foliage that was not (yet) on fire. Aragorn followed.
They ran and ran, coughing and choking, until at last they were forced to halt for a moment so that Aragorn wouldn't pass out. They stood and stared about, trapped, bewildered, and unhappy.
"Aragorn," said Legolas, "I wish I could tell you that it's been nice knowing you... but really, if you want the truth, most of the time it's just been — painful"
Aragorn coughed a bit, and then nodded. "I know," he said.
"In fact," said Legolas, who was slightly panicky and trying not to show it, "sometimes I wonder if I'm disturbed or something. I mean, what normal elf is stupid enough to get into one bad situation after the other, practically nonstop, all the time? Shouldn't I have learned my lesson? Do I have some kind of disabling short-term memory loss problem that prevents me from remembering how much I hate this?"
Aragorn coughed some more. He was coughing so much that he couldn't really hear Legolas. Later Legolas would feel very, very grateful for this mortal inability of Aragorn's.
Like most wood Elves, Legolas had been taught to hate and fear fire for a very long time. His upbringing hadn't done him much good. If it had made any sort of impact, he wouldn't even have been in such a situation. The first scent of smoke would have sent him sprinting through the underbrush, screaming for help. He did not do this. Instead he stood still and tried not to hyperventilate. He knew that he was supposed to stop, drop, and roll, but as he was not yet on fire, this seemed like a rather extravagant precaution.
He gazed all around, his grey eyes huge. Then he took a deep breath of vile smoke, grabbed Aragorn by the arm, and sprinted through the forest with the human in tow. Aragorn, doubled over and wheezing, did not enjoy this part of the adventure. Legolas enjoyed it still less.
Legolas has an elven ability that is actually useful. It is called The Ability To Sense Nearby Bodies Of Water During Forest Fires.
"Is that smoke?"
"Sorry. What did you say?"
"Is that smoke?"
"Mm. Yes. Looks like it."
"It might be a fire."
"Oh, do you really think so?" (Sarcastically.)
"Lord Elrond should be alerted."
"You run along and find him, then."
"You spotted the smoke in the first place. Good for you. Run along and tell Lord Elrond. He'll want to know. I, on the other hand, want to finish painting this elaborate portrait of a bowl filled with tomatoes."
(With great indignation.) "Paintings of tomatoes aren't portraits."
"Mm. Sorry. What did you say?"
"It would only be a portrait if you happened to be a tomato yourself, and you aren't. You're completely the wrong color and shape."
"Was that an insult?"
Argument begins, and rapidly escalates. The tomatoes are inevitably used as projectiles and instruments of retribution. The violence continues.
Elves tend to be immortal. We assume that we have time to spare for this sort of thing.
Two individuals, out in the forest, were running both out of time and towards safety. Legolas was living through yet another one of his worst nightmares, but he was used to that. At least he was living, he thought. He reached the lake, flung Aragorn into it (using his Superior Strength), and plunged in after him.
"I can't remember this lake," Aragorn said at last, treading water and coughing less. "Was it here before?"
"Well, before me, for instance," Aragorn said.
Legolas thought for a moment, but could not remember the lake either. However, Legolas was not overly familiar with the wood near Rivendell. The wood near Rivendell was a pleasant place and he was not accustomed to pleasant places. For some reason, Legolas generally ended up in parts of Middle-earth where you would never even think to send your prince on holiday.
"I like this lake," Aragorn said. "This is a nice lake. If it weren't for this lake, you and I would be fried by now."
"Yes," Legolas said, glancing up at the raging inferno on all sides of the lake. Legolas felt that they weren't quite safe just yet.
A confused, irritated beaver began to swim in wide, stealthy circles around them.
The sun had set. Lord Elrond, Glorfindel, and I sat in the Hall of Fire. Lord Elrond and Lord Glorfindel were consoling each other, and I was watching. The sight was not an unusual one. I think Glorfindel became the second-in-command in Rivendell because he's so good at cheering Elrond up. Temporarily, of course. No one thinks of my own feelings in this matter, or realizes that good as Glorfindel is at cheering Elrond, he's even more skilled at driving me crazy.
"They may come back soon," Glorfindel said for the third time.
For the first time that evening, the words actually sunk in. Elrond lifted his head and gave the Elf a shrewd look. "What makes you say that?" he asked.
"Ah, er," said Glorfindel.
I stifled a smirk to see his attempt at consoling Elrond being flung back in his face. Watching Glorfindel cheer up Elrond can be quite entertaining sometimes.
The truth is that when something bad happens to Aragorn and Legolas, they never, ever come back by the next morning. Actually, I think they might have managed it once. Just once. An event that occurs once does not institute a trend. I considered pointing this out and thought better of it. Elrond and Glorfindel could figure it out.
At this moment, just when Glorfindel was tentatively patting Elrond on the back, looking as though he thought Elrond might bite him, an Elf-maiden dashed through the door, disheveled and wild-eyed.
"Fire!" she said.
"Fire?" Elrond, Glorfindel, and I said.
"Over there!" the woman cried, pointing in a general easterly direction.
Elrond, Glorfindel and I looked at each other. I could see the same thought reflected in our eyes: Legolas + Aragorn + forest fire equals pain + suffering (less than or equal to) possible grisly death (x 2).
We were still envisioning Aragorn and Legolas as toast, and trying not to, when the woman gave a little sigh and swooned delicately into Glorfindel's arms. Her taste in men might have been dubious, but I must say her aim was good.
It began to rain. Yes, Elrond was informed of the forest fire and minutes later, it began to rain. Yes, this was not a coincidence. And no, I can't tell you any more than that. State secrets, you know.
"Ugh," Aragorn said. "Now I'm really wet."
The beaver circled Aragorn and Legolas yet again. The rain was falling so hard that the little animal was beginning to wonder which parts of its world were lake and which parts were air. The beaver was disgruntled. In its mind, Aragorn and Legolas were to blame for its adverse circumstances.
"Ack," said Aragorn. "Something furry touched me. Was that... you, Legolas?"
Legolas was offended. "I'm not furry," he said.
"Ack," Aragorn said again, beginning to thrash about. "There's something furry in here, and it keeps on brushing up against me!"
Through what practically amounted to a wall of falling water, Legolas could see the blurry shape of Aragorn splashing and gasping. Smoke from the fizzled-out fire obstructed his vision yet more, and— did I mention that it was night? It was. The fire was out, and it was dark.
"Are you all right?" Legolas yelled.
"It's got me!" Aragorn said, thrashing still more. "It's got me!"
"What?" asked Legolas. Legolas was becoming more waterlogged than any Elf likes to be, and his elven hearing was impaired by the noise of the rain.
"It's got me!"Aragorn said again. He could feel the forceful tug, tug on his clothes caused by a beaver trying to remove a human from its territory.
Legolas swam over. "What did you say?" he yelled in Aragorn's ear.
"The furry thing has got me!"
This made an impact. "Furry thing—?" Legolas gasped faintly.
"We have to get out of here!" Aragorn yelled.
They swam to shore. They dragged themselves out of the water. For a few moments, they lay still, trying not to drown in the downpour.
The rain switched off. Aragorn and Legolas lay limp and exhausted in the shallows.
A time passed.
The beaver's wife emerged from the lodge and waddled onto the shore. She was inquisitive and not unfriendly. Unlike her husband, she was more fascinated than annoyed by Aragorn and Legolas's presence.
She waddled over and thrust her furry beaver-face into Aragorn's less furry ranger-face. Aragorn opened his eyes. From his vantage point, all he could see were big orange teeth looming threateningly over his nose.
"Aaah!" said Aragorn.
Aragorn and Legolas showed up the next morning in Rivendell, bedraggled, filthy, and traumatized. Even though something bad had happened to them, they had returned the next day! Everyone was delighted. Even if an event occurs twice, it does not institute a trend. I hope Elrond and Glorfindel realize this and spare themselves further disappointments later on.
"Aragorn!" cried Lord Elrond. "You're back!"
"I tink I hab a colb," Aragorn said, and sneezed.
Aragorn spent his birthday in bed.
Two days later, when Aragorn had ceased to have a fever and hallucinations, he woke up to find Legolas sitting at his bedside.
"Good morning," Legolas said. He thought, I suppose I've often complained about all the pain and suffering I endure at Aragorn's side, but clearly it could be worse: I could be a mortal. It seems like all the particularly disgusting things happen to mortals. Or maybe just to Aragorn.
"Legolas," croaked Aragorn. He thought, Some time during the past two days, while I have been suffering, feverish, and hallucinating, Legolas has had a bath. He scowled.
Now, it seems to me that Aragorn and Legolas truly are good friends, but even good friends get on each other's nerves sometimes, and Legolas and Aragorn found themselves in many situations where their nerves were frayed nearly to the breaking point. Despite all their trials and all their disagreements, they continued to fight danger side by side. All this is to say that Aragorn's scowl and Legolas's mild revulsion did not last very long. Legolas was not a mortal, and Aragorn did not really care for baths.
"I'm glad you're feeling better," Legolas said.
"So am I," Aragorn said.
It is the popular belief that Aragorn and Legolas have many long, poignant conversations with each other as one keeps vigil over the other's sickbed. This is not the case.
"Legolas," said Aragorn, "we have not yet slain the creature that attacked you."
"No," said Legolas. "We haven't."
Both the elf and ranger felt that failure did not become them. They were not used to it. One of the things about them that astonishes me most is their innate inability to give up. They're incredibly stubborn, and they persist, persist, persist until any problem they face falls apart in despair of stopping them. Their earlier forest fire experience had not given them good enough cause to end their quest.
Glorfindel and I entered the sickroom and saw that Aragorn and Legolas were planning to go forth to slay Legolas's assailant. They had a certain glint in their eyes.
"Wait," Glorfindel said, holding up one hand to halt them. "Before you do anything rash, you must be told more about the monster you face."
"Even if its teeth are as long as my arm and its body three times as big as mine—" said Legolas.
"Even if it spits venom and drinks blood and snaps bones with one bite—" said Aragorn.
"—we will face this monster and defeat it," Legolas and Aragorn said in unison.
"You are very brave," Glorfindel said. "However—"
"Its teeth are not as long as your arm, Legolas," I said. "Its body is very small, and it doesn't spit venom, drink blood, or snap bones."
"What does it do?" asked Aragorn, and he began to look slightly worried.
"It chews down trees," I said. I handed him an open book, and pointed to an illustration. "Legolas was attacked by a beaver. In fact, 'attacked' isn't even the proper term for what happened to Legolas. He was just in the wrong place at a bad time."
"Oh," said Legolas.
"Oh," said Aragorn. He had met a creature exactly like the animal in the illustration. While the experience had not been an enjoyable one, he had to admit to himself that the beaver was not dangerous and certainly did not deserve death. His heart sank. "But there must be something out there," he said.
"We heard a large creature crashing and stomping in the woods on the very first day of our search," Legolas added.
Glorfindel grinned. "That was Erestor."
Lord Elrond swept into the room. He looked tired but victorious, which is the way he always looks after dragging Aragorn back from the brink of death yet again. After a quick glance at the occupants of the room, he sighed."Erestor," he said, "Glorfindel, I told you both not to tell Aragorn about the beaver until his constitution could handle the shock."
"I'm fine," muttered Aragorn.
Of the two stalwart adventurers, it was actually Legolas who seemed the more shocked. His face turns a particular shade of pink when he's embarrassed that complements his pale hair perfectly.
"It's a pity about your surprise birthday party," Elrond said. "Even if you hadn't become sick, all the party decorations got wet and soggy in the rain. Some of them even disintegrated."
The four of us made sympathetic noises.
"And," Lord Elrond said, "Glorfindel and Erestor have investigated your... accident, Legolas. It would seem that a beaver chewed down a tree, and it fell on top of you. No ill will was involved."
"It's... very good to hear that," Legolas said.
"Well?" I said afterwards. "Was that all?"
"What exactly did you want?" Glorfindel asked. "They looked quite devastated enough, I thought."
"But they're always doing dangerous things without any fear of the consequences!" I said. "I hoped that this incident would give them at least some small, slight pause for thought!"
"And you pretend to be pessimistic, Erestor..." Glorfindel murmured.
Legolas rocked back his chair so that it balanced on only two legs, and put his feet up on Aragorn's bed of sickness. The next few minutes were filled with nothing but a contemplative silence. Aragorn gazed gloomily at the illustration of the beaver and Legolas stared gloomily into space.
"It's rather cute," Aragorn said at last, slow and thoughtful. "You didn't kick it, did you?"
Legolas winced. "I don't think so," he said. "I mean, in the excitement of the moment, with you yelling so loudly I thought you were being violently savaged, I might possibly have kicked it. Not hard. I'd never seen a beaver before," he added pathetically. "I thought it could be dangerous. You were acting as though it were dangerous. I thought it was gnawing your face off."
"I think the entire past week has been the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me," Aragorn said.
"It was quite a departure from our usual schedule," Aragorn said.
The ensuing silence was much briefer. "Let's find Elladan and Elrohir," said Aragorn after a moment, "and see if we can persuade them to go on a little adventure with us."
"What sort of adventure?" Legolas asked, and his pointed ears literally pricked up with interest. Aragorn found this ability of Legolas's particularly entertaining, and also rather endearing. Having Legolas for a friend was even better than having a pet cat.
"Some adventure in which we get to confront, fight, and defeat villainous characters who deserve to be brought to justice at last," Aragorn said.
"Sounds good," Legolas said. "Elladan and Elrohir enjoy that sort of thing."
"So do we," Aragorn said. "So do we."
"Let's pretend we're going on a hunting trip," Legolas said, "instead of actively seeking out violence, danger, and suffering."
"All right," Aragorn said.
They smiled at each other in perfect agreement.
So. There are a few conclusions I must draw from the whole unpleasant incident. The first conclusion is that we should not draw conclusions too rapidly. When Legolas and Aragorn jumped to a certain conclusion, they caused themselves (and everyone else) much more trouble than was necessary. The second conclusion is that surprise birthday parties can be hazardous to one's health. (But perhaps you already knew that.)
To the best of my knowledge, the two beavers continued to lead happy lives down by their lake. If Legolas did actually kick one of them, he did not inflict any lasting damage. The beavers worked busily, and lake grew larger and larger, displacing a number of forest animals and drowning a lot of vegetation. However, I'm told that it's a good place to go fishing, so I suppose things worked out for some people.
Meanwhile, Aragorn and Legolas enlisted Elladan and Elrohir for their adventure. They went on an 'hunting trip' that lasted for four months and involved more blood-loss than you could easily imagine. When they staggered home, they had almost completely forgotten about the whole beaver incident (or so they said). That was the point of the hunting trip, so I'm glad it worked.
Sometimes weird things happen. I'm an Elf; I understand that. But the whole excitement over the beaver felt utterly random, and left me asking, "Why? Why?"
When I asked Glorfindel, he just grinned at me. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Why did the tree even hit Legolas on the head in the first place?"
"Legolas was in the vicinity," Glorfindel said. "Tell me, can you possibly imagine the tree falling with Legolas in the vicinity and not hitting Legolas? He was doomed from the moment he entered the forest."
"Why the quest?" I asked. "Why the sudden urge to track down hideous monsters and slay them?"
"That's what Aragorn and Legolas do all the time," Glorfindel said. "Unfortunately, this time they were misinformed. People do make mistakes, you know."
"Why the fire?"
"The fire," Glorfindel said, "was apparently caused by some mortals who were trying to clear the woodland a bit. I'm told that if you burn down some trees, the other trees grow taller and stronger. They have more space."
"Misguided mortals," I said. "Obviously their wonderful little plan didn't have the effect they intended. Now we have a big burnt spot in our forest."
"It'll all grow back," Glorfindel said. I thought he was acting rather flippant for an Elf talking about burnt trees, but he's not a wood-Elf, so maybe that explains it. Actually, Glorfindel acts flippant about a lot of things. Maybe it's just because he's weird.
I thought for a few minutes, during which Glorfindel gabbled happily to himself about something or other. He's a Vanya. I think he was trying to make up a poem.
"But why?" I cried, startling him.
Glorfindel sighed and became serious. When Glorfindel is serious, I always feel that I need to be serious too. He's hardly ever serious, after all. However, when Glorfindel is cheerful, which is much more often, I don't feel like being cheerful. I feel like strangling him. I wonder why that is.
"Listen, Erestor," Glorfindel said solemnly, leaning forward to look me straight in the eyes, "it was fate."
"Fate, Erestor," Glorfindel said, still deadly serious. He slumped back in his chair and grinned. "You know Aragorn had to suffer through his birthday somehow."
I suppose the Aragorn-getting-hurt-on-his-birthday trend was one that none of us could overlook, not even Glorfindel, King of the Dense.
"For once, Glorfindel," I said, "I think you're right."
"I'm always right," he said.