Epilogue: Cooling Down

Aragorn entered the tent, and Legolas looked up from sharpening his blades. From the corner of his eye, he noted Gimli did the same. Both of them were fighting grins, while the man glared at them.

It was with some relief, the elf saw Aragorn still had his beard, though it was much neater than it had been. Legolas also noticed his friend's face was flushed and his ears seemed to be red, as well. The man held up a hand to point at them, and Legolas gasped. Aragorn's fingernails were clean! Looking more closely, he could see the redness could be found on the man's hands and up his wrists, disappearing under the sleeves of his shirt. The elf's eyes then strayed to the exposed skin at the man's neck. Red!

Before Aragorn could speak, Legolas said, "You are clean! Scrubbed raw practically!"

Gimli snorted, then looked away from them, coughing. No doubt trying to hide his laughter.

"Yes, I am clean. Very clean. From the top of my head to the bottoms of places I would rather not discuss!" Aragorn fumed.

Legolas covered his mouth with a hand, trying unsuccessfully to hold in his laughter.

"It is not funny, Legolas! I am to be these people's king! And I doubt I will ever be able to look the bathkeep's wife in the face again!"

"I doubt she will be looking at your face anyway," the elf mumbled from behind his hand, drawing more chuckles from the dwarf.

When the man turned his fury on the dwarf, Gimli shook his head and raised a hand. "Oh, no you don't, lad. You weren't the only one humiliated today, and I know enough about how bath houses work to know it wasn't the bathkeep's wife who was doing the scrubbing." At the man's sigh, he continued. "Sure, you were compelled to strip and bathe, which you needed, but I'm also sure you weren't sprawled in a tub, your manly bits exposed for the world to see while that woman poked her head in the room either!"

To his horror, Legolas felt his face flame with embarrassment. "Gimli!" he hissed, darting a heated glance at his friend. It was mortifying alone without repeating the affair.

Gimli shook his head again, smiling and chuckling. "Aye, you were, Elf, and I wasn't much better! I don't doubt me she caught herself an eyeful! Probably the best day she's had in a while too; after all the death and destruction, she has the honor of three handsome warriors like us brightening her day."

Legolas gaped at his friend a moment, then burst out laughing.

Aragorn looked between them a minute, frowning, before joining in, laughing so hard tears streamed down his face. "Well, when you put it that way," he managed to get out amid the laughter.

Legolas grinned at the man. "Maybe when you are king, you can make the bathkeep and his wife head of the royal baths!" This solicited more howls from Gimli, but only for a moment.

A wicked gleam flickered to life in Aragorn's eyes, and he looked between them with a feral grin. "Maybe when I am king, I will insist you both bathe there."

Legolas was never sure afterwards, but he almost thought he heard amid Aragorn's gleeful laughter, Gimli mutter under his breath, "I will never bathe again."

And for the first time since he was an elfling, the elf found bathing something to dread.

The End

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