1. Boyz on Bath Day
The Company of Nine Walkers had been trudging through the wilds of Eregion for two weeks, when Pippin happened to catch a whiff of his own armpit.
"Ugh," he thought. "I stink. And what's more, everyone else stinks as much or more than I do."
Most of their days and nights had been cold and windy. January was full upon them, and winter had filled the foothills of the mountains to their left with snow and ice. But today's temperature was unseasonably warm, and Pippin felt sweat trickle down the center of his back. His dark blond curls were plastered to his brow, and his neck itched. He had already shed his coat—it was tucked beneath the straps of his rucksack—and had undone every button on his waistcoat and half of those on his shirt. It wasn't enough; he was sweltering. He squirmed, trying to reach a particularly irritating spot between his shoulder blades, right where his suddenly too-heavy sack dug into him.
"What's wrong with you, Pip?" Merry said. "Have you picked up a load of fleas?"
"Just sweat and stickiness and stink, dear Cousin," Pippin grumbled. "We've been long without a bath before, but this is the worst. I would love to soak in a tub..."
"...with a cake of that pine-scented soap the Elves used, in Rivendell," Frodo sighed, as he came to walk alongside his young cousins.
The hobbits had been entranced by the quality and luxury of the bathing facilities in Lord Elrond's house. One could arrange for a deep tub to be brought to one's room, for private ablutions, or indulge in the steams and soaks of the large and elaborate common bathing rooms, with separate facilities, of course, for males and females. The Elven soaps and lotions had been divinely scented, and the towels and robes were thicker and softer by far than any Pippin could recall from Tookborough Hall.
Sam joined them as they tramped through tangled undergrowth as tall as Aragorn, who, as always, brought up the rear of their party.
"Aye, that soap was a marvel, Mr. Frodo, such smooth suds as I've never seen. I would have liked to have learned about it from the Elves. My aunt Beulah's a soap-maker, and she'd have been pleased to have the trick of it."
But Rivendell was many miles behind them, and a tub of scalding hot water with beautifully fragranced soap, baskets full of fluffy towels, and cloths to scrub away the grime of the road was a distant memory. The hobbits sighed in unison, knowing that their next bath might not come for weeks, or months...or at all.
Their path narrowed between thorny bushes. The hobbits were forced to march in single file. Pippin frowned at the striding figure in grey at the front of the line of travelers who led them onward through the bushes without the slightest check in his pace. "He might slow down, just for a few hours," he muttered. "There's nary a breeze in this thicket. This heat, and on a January day...doesn't he feel it?"
"Undoubtedly he does, Master Took," Aragorn's deep voice replied from behind.
"Mayhap our guide leads us on swiftly to find an escape from the strange weather."
"I doubt it," Pippin whispered to Merry, who walked just ahead of him. "I'll bet wizards just don't sweat like normal people."
"Peregrin Took!" Gandalf's thundering voice called out from ahead. "Peregrin, son of Paladin, come here at once!" Pippin stopped in his tracks, his mouth suddenly dry.
"Uh oh, Pip," Merry whispered, "Looks like you're in trouble. Again."
Pippin's legs seemed to have forgotten how to propel him forward. He stared at the top of Gandalf's hat, which was all that was visible of the wizard at the moment, and didn't move. Frodo nudged his young cousin from behind.
"Best get it over with," Frodo said with forced cheerfulness. "Don't worry. Gandalf hasn't turned a hobbit into anything unnatural in years and years." The look of abject horror on poor Pippin's face made the others burst out laughing, which in turn brought a surge of flaming red to Pippin's cheeks.
"Go on, have your fun at my expense," he sputtered. "It will be up to you, Cousin Frodo, to explain to my father just how the heir to the Thainship ended up as a lizard living under the bushes somewhere out in the wilderness!"
Frodo pointed onward. "Go on, Pip. The longer you delay, the madder he'll get."
Pippin shifted his rucksack and walked slowly to the front of the line of walkers, all stopped now and intensely curious about what sort of difficulty their youngest and most foolish member had gotten himself into this time. He stepped around nearly scentless, sweatless Legolas, whose ageless features and impossibly old eyes were as unreadable as ever. Gimli, red-faced and perspiring like a blacksmith before a forge, scowled through his plaited red beard and winked. Pip caught a sniff of the dwarf's pungent odor, confirming his belief that the time for everyone in the Fellowship to have a good rinse was well overdue. Boromir gazed down at him with a sneer, his arms crossed and the fingers of his right hand drumming impatiently upon his thick left bicep. Pippin already knew to breathe through his mouth as he edged past the warrior, who in the hobbit's opinion had the rankest smell of any of them—even worse than Strider after the passage of the Midgewater Marshes.
Finally he stood beside Gandalf, who glared down at him from beneath the brim of his tall hat, which Pippin thought was a perfectly ridiculous object to be wearing in this heat. The wizard said nothing for several moments, allowing the Thain's heir the opportunity to squirm over just what it might be like to live out his life as a lizard.
Gandalf snorted at last. He took off his hat and offered it to the hobbit. "Here—hold this for a moment..." Blinking, Pippin grasped the brim and clutched it tightly.
"There now, no need to crush it, boy," Gandalf muttered, and Pip let up his grip a bit. Pippin couldn't fail to notice that the band inside the hat was soaked through. Then the wizard pulled the leather bag he wore slung across his shoulders up and off; he dropped it to the ground. The hobbit saw that the wizard's grey hair was as damp and plastered to his scalp as his own. Next he watched as Gandalf undid the clasp of his cloak and swung it off.
"Fold that up, lad, and see if you can manage to stuff it into my bag without spilling anything."
Pippin blinked again; he was supposed to actually open the wizard's private bag? Fold up his very own cloak, which was undoubtedly magical in some extraordinary way? Apparently that was precisely what he was supposed to do, for Gandalf glared at him again from under those fantastic eyebrows of his. One evening in Rivendell after several too many goblets of Elven wine, he and Sam had estimated that at least a dozen birds could live in those brows—three nesting pairs to a side. Pippin tried very hard not to think about that as he did his best to carefully fold the thick cloak into a bundle small enough to fit into the leather sack. Pippin's hands trembled as he loosened the strap. He hurriedly shoved the wizard's cloak into its depths without as much as a peek at the bag's mysterious inner contents and closed it again.
When he looked up again, Gandalf was wiping sweat off his forehead with the cuff of one sleeve. The dark grey color of his robe hid the stains quite well, but now that Pippin was close enough to get a good look—and attentive enough to notice—he saw that the wizard's clothes were as damp as Gimli's. And while the wizard didn't smell nearly as bad as Boromir or Strider, the hobbit definitely caught the scent of Big Person sweat. Then, to Pippin utter amazement, Gandalf began to undo the hidden clasps along the left side of his robe, which closed in front like a flap. He loosened it from collar to belt and allowed it to fall open. Beneath his thicker outer garment he wore a lightweight grey tunic, soaked completely through.
"Uncomfortably warm today," he said. "Mind you, this weather is a strange fluke; it won't last long. In two days we will be looking back on this warmth with wistful longing, when the cold and wind return in full force. But I thought we might take this opportunity for a brief interlude. What would you say, Pippin, to a bath, even if it must be a chilly one?"
Pippin realized his mouth was hanging open. He shut it quickly and grinned. "I think that would be a marvelous idea, Gandalf!"
"Carry my hat, my boy," the wizard said. "Once we crest this ridge we soon cross a stream at a shallow ford. I think we shall stop there, for an hour at most, and rinse off a layer of dust."
The news of the impending watery interlude made its way down the line of travelers. The hobbits were not the only ones who hurried forward in anticipation. Aragorn had gotten used to Rivendell again rather quickly, and he too thought back with longing on the bathing facilities of his childhood home. Legolas asked Gandalf if the stream could be guarded; once reassured he stepped eagerly forward. Even Gimli seemed suddenly cheerful. Only Boromir grunted in disapproval.
"A waste of time, if you ask me," he muttered. "The men of Gondor do not tarry for such indulgences as bathing while on duty."
"No offence to the men of Gondor," Gimli growled in response, "but from one who has been downwind from you all day, the Captain of Gondor is in dire need of such an indulgence."
Boromir turned and glared at the dwarf. Suddenly he laughed. "My apologies, Master Gimli, for subjecting you to my fragrance. I have been told, by one with no less discriminating a nose than my brother, that my unwashed stench could gag a cave troll."
"Hmpph," Gimli said. "An accurate assessment. I hope to meet your brother—and his nose--one day."
"I sincerely hope you have that chance," Gandalf said. "But look, here we are!"
A hundred feet down a gentle slope and in a breezy clearing, a sparkling stream bubbled before them. The water was crystal clear and only a few feet deep. Perfectly placed, nicely sun-warmed rocks the size of lounge chairs beckoned. The Company needed no more invitation.
Fifteen splashing and very chilly minutes later, Pippin was stretched out, completely naked, on his back on a surprisingly comfortable rock. His clothes, draped on a bush at the edge of the water, were drying quickly. Merry lay beside him, sighing contentedly, and on a nearby flat boulder lay Frodo and Sam in similar repose.
Pippin lifted himself onto his elbows and gazed about. Legolas had turned his back; he was standing guard on the north bank. Aragorn stood on the south bank, waiting for Boromir to finish wringing out his long dark hair. The Captain of Gondor seemed happy after all to have had a chance to shed his clothes and rinse the sweat and grime away, for he was smiling. The two men were in the midst of a conversation that Pippin couldn't hear over the rushing stream. Gimli was already snoring, his stout, thick form lying spread-eagled and stark naked in the blazing sun. Even Gandalf had stripped to his skin and lay on his back on the largest and most comfortable appearing boulder, his wet hair streaming out from his head like a silver crown.
The hobbit looked at him with curiosity. The wizard didn't look feeble or nearly as old, once his lean and muscular frame was revealed from beneath the loose garments.
"Well, Pip?" Merry muttered. "Have you decided yet?"
Frodo snorted from the next rock. "You know, Pippin--what you always obsess over on bathing days."
"I do not!" Pippin protested.
"Begging your pardon, Master Took, but you do," said Sam.
Merry sniffed. "You'd know, Sam, having been crowned King by our young Took at Crickhollow." The others laughed at the sudden beet red color of Sam's face. "Pip's been mulling it over for weeks. All these Big People, three different varieties, what an amazing chance to see what sort of equipm..."
"Merry!" Pippin hissed. "I never thought you'd tell anyone I was wondering about that..."
"Oh, Pip, Merry didn't need to tell us a thing," Frodo laughed. "You are simply an entirely predictable Took--just like your father, by the way. Bilbo told me that when he was in his tweens, Pally practically made every male hobbit who visited Tookborough line up for measurements..."
"Cousin Frodo! The very idea that my father, the Thain of the Shire, would do such a thing!"
"Yes, inspiring, isn't it, Pip?" Merry laughed. "Well, get to it. Give us your judgment, Master Took."
At once, Pippin stopped pretending and began to chew on his lower lip. Boromir was now standing on the far shore, keeping watch while pulling his numerous layers of what Pippin had begun to call "warrior clothes" into place. Aragorn had just emerged from a plunge and was clambering onto a narrow rock; his pile of weathered garments lay at the edge of the water. Legolas had momentarily vanished. Pippin decided that the Elf either didn't require bathing or was too shy to do so in front of the others. Either circumstance had lead to his disqualification as a participant. The contest was now coming to a close, and a final judgment was in order. He took one last glance around and nodded firmly.
"I've decided," he said. "But I have a bit of a dilemma."
"What sort of a dilemma?" Merry yawned, his eyes closed again.
"Well, there's Sam, he's the undisputed champion of the Little People..." Sam blushed again, even more fiercely than the last time. "And then there's Boromir, whom anyone with eyes can see should be crowned King of the Big People."
"I wouldn't say that in front of Strider, if I were you, Pip," Frodo muttered.
Pippin ignored him and went on. "Second place appears from this distance to be a tie, between old Gandalf and our sour-puss but brave Ranger... But the dilemma is, where does Gimli fit into all this?"
The other hobbits opened their eyes and as one, looked toward where the dwarf lounged, hands clasped behind his shaggy head, on his broad rock directly in the center of the stream.
"Good gracious," Merry said softly. "I see what you mean. Even if you take proportionality to height into the calculation..."
"And even if you don't..." Frodo said, with awe in his voice.
"It appears that the Captain of Gondor has lost his crown, Master Pippin," Sam whispered. All four hobbits nodded solemnly.
Later that evening Aragorn was stretched out on the ground near the wizard. Both were wishing for a smoke, but Gandalf had so far forbidden the lighting of pipeweed on this journey, since the sharp scent could be detected for miles. The Ranger stared gloomily into the fire.
"Well, has the young hobbit's curiosity finally been satisfied?" he said quietly.
Gandalf sighed. "For the moment, until the next idiotic obsession strikes him. Gimli is looking mightily pleased with himself this evening, I noticed..."
"Yes, the hobbits apparently believed that no one could hear their piping voices over the sound of the rushing stream..."
"Then you heard them as well?"
"Of course. What do you think Boromir and I were laughing about?" Aragorn chuckled. "Perhaps it turned out for the best, that Legolas chose to remain fully clothed and on guard throughout the entire episode. I spent my youth among a flock of Grey, Green and High Elves, and they all have a remarkable physical trait, which the Prince of Mirkwood also shares. I happen to know, from earlier travels with said Prince, that Pippin's crown actually belongs to him."
Gandalf snorted. "One assumes that, being Elves, the companions of your youth had the wisdom to know that size has absolutely no correlation to function in these matters...and the kindness to tell you so."
Aragorn grunted. "Perhaps some day you might have a conversation with my step-brothers about Elvish kind-heartedness."
The wizard inwardly cringed at the thought of Isildur's Heir suffering through years of adolescent teasing at the hands of Elrohir and Elladan. He sighed again as Gimli strutted by on his way to a third helping of Sam's excellent stew. "When I next have the chance, I will do just that. But for the moment, I have no desire to witness how our dwarvish companion might react to learning that his arch rival has bested him in yet another arena," muttered Gandalf. "That settles it. No more bathing, until we reach Lothlorien. The Galadhrim at least have the sense to construct private facilities!"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.