The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure—
Or else his dear Papa is poor. - Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), Scottish writer, poet. "System," A Child's Garden of Verses (1885).
With thanks to Deandra.
Be sure to keep him safe and keep him clean. Arwen's parting words had caused Aragorn to gain more than one new grey hair over the past two days. Faramir looked equally troubled.
Long had the King tried to persuade his wife that at seven, Eldarion was old enough to accompany his doting father and the Steward on a hunting trip. Arwen had finally given her reluctant consent with more conditions than many a legal document.
It had been simple enough to track and catch their meals, easy to teach the boy how to follow a trail, tell him that no creature should be killed merely for sport, but only when hunger made it necessary and then quickly and cleanly. It was even possible to teach a lively lad to keep quiet, but to keep one clean was impossible.
Eldarion had been spotlessly clean after swimming with his father and Faramir the previous day, but that was before they had encountered a patch of swampy ground. Ignoring his son's protests that he wanted to play in the mud, Aragorn had risked injuring his back by carrying his son through an especially swampy patch of ground, which he had deemed it unsafe to ride across. The King had never imagined that such a slender young boy would feel as if he weighed like a mumak to carry any distance! All his efforts were for naught; somehow the child still became covered in mud.
"If we return Eldarion to his mother like this, she will never let us take him out again!" Aragorn told Faramir grimly
As they approached Emyn Arnen, much to the King's relief, they found a stream.
"The Valar be praised!" exclaimed Aragorn. "We can give Eldarion a bath."
Faramir rummaged in their packs for a towel and soap.
"I will help you undress, ion nîn," said Aragorn. "We shall soon get you nice and clean for naneth."
"I don't want to wash!" Eldarion protested. "It's too cold to take off my clothes!"
"It is no colder than yesterday when you enjoyed our swim together," his father said firmly.
"That was swimming, not washing!" Eldarion scowled, trying to wriggle away as his father started unlacing the child's tunic. "Only girls like being clean!"
Meanwhile, Faramir, using the brush they usually used to groom their horses with, tried to remove the dried mud from the young Prince's clothing. He had by far the easier task as Eldarion writhed like an eel once his father had coaxed him in the water.
At last both Eldarion and his clothes were passably clean and the travellers continued on their way.
As they approached Faramir's home, King and Steward exchanged relieved glances. Apart from his windswept hair, Eldarion looked almost as presentable as when he had simply been playing in the gardens of the Citadel.
"Arwen should be delighted how well we have cared for Eldarion," said Aragorn. "There is not a scratch upon him and he is clean."
"Éowyn will be so impressed that she will allow us to take Elboron as soon as he is old enough," Faramir smiled contentedly. They rode through the gates, greeting the guards. As soon as they reached the stables, they handed the horses over to the care of the grooms.
"The Queen and Lady Éowyn are in the garden," the head groom informed them.
As Aragorn approached the garden, he quickened his steps when his keen eyes spotted his wife tending a bed of daisies. Eldarion ran on ahead towards his mother.
Arwen rushed to embrace her son.
"I had a wonderful time with Ada and Uncle Faramir," Eldarion told her excitedly. "I helped Ada gather firewood, and we went swimming, I even caught a fish for my supper!"
"Beloved, I have missed you and Farawyn so much!" Aragorn said, approaching his wife to embrace her.
Arwen recoiled. "You are covered in mud, Estel!" she exclaimed. "You badly need a bath!"
Just then Éowyn approached from behind the hedge that enclosed the herb garden. Faramir made to kiss her, only to be indignantly pushed away. "Ugh!" she exclaimed. "You smell worse than an Orc. Go and wash at once before the children see you like this!"
Crestfallen, the two men slunk away.
"Whoever would have thought that Éowyn slew the Witch King?" mused Faramir. "As I recall, the Pelennor fields were extremely muddy at that time. Surely she did not accomplish the deed without getting dirty?"
"Arwen never said a word about how well we had looked after Eldarion," Aragorn said glumly. "One would think Ranger's wives would appreciate a little dirt!"
"It seems we only receive a warm welcome when we are clean!" said Faramir ruefully leading the way to the bathing chamber. The servants were already bustling to and fro with buckets of hot water to prepare a bath for the men.
"Still was it not wonderful being Rangers again in the wild?" Aragorn replied. "What more could a man desire than the freedom to go camping with the son of his body and the son of his heart and a fair wife to return to? Our welcome will be warm once we are scrubbed!"
A/N A very grateful thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed.
The final chapter of Mask of Virtue is now available on this site as is chapter 29 of "A Time to Reap".
This chapter is an extended version of a ficlet written for the prompt "Clean" on the AA List.