Written for the LOTR Community "Bunny Hutch" challenge. For Lbilover, whose prompt I answered; and for Baylor for her birthday, and in honor of "The Care and Feeding of Hobbits," one of the first fanfiction tales I ever read.
“But I must admit,” he added with a queer laugh, “that I hoped you would take to me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But there, I believe my looks are against me.”
“They are - at first sight at any rate,” laughed Pippin with sudden relief after reading Gandalf’s letter. “But handsome is as handsome does, as we say in the Shire; and I daresay we shall all look much the same after lying for days in hedges and ditches.”
“…You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way the servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would - well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”
“I see,” laughed Strider. “I look foul and feel fair. Is that it?”
From “Strider,” FotR.
Merry “Do you think we can trust this Strider?”
Frodo “I think that if he were a servant of the Enemy he would seem fairer and feel fouler.”
Merry “He’s foul enough!”
From the movie, FotR, along the way out of the Breelands before Strider and the Hobbits reach the Midgewater Marshes.
I look foul and feel fair. Why does everyone assume that this is how I prefer to appear? I was not born in a barn or raised in a farmyard! I was raised as the son of a great Lord among Men and Elves. As a child I was never allowed to come to the table with dirty hands or face or with hair tangled and greasy. As a young man serving at my adar’s board I was expected to dress in comely garb and for my boots to be clean and without stains. Had I taken up a book while still wearing an archer’s glove Erestor would have clouted the side of my head. Had I come into my mother’s rooms and sat upon her cushioned chair still reeking of the stable or the practice yard, she would have sent me forth posthaste to bathe, forbidding my return until I should be an ornament to her quarters rather than a jarring note!
But bathing is a luxury for those of us who patrol the lands in search of the Enemy’s creatures; and what use is it to comb my hair now when within half an hour I will most likely be crossing swords with ruffians or orcs, who care not whether my hair is in order or matted? And should I enter Butterbur’s establishment dressed as befits my proper station as the Heir to Isildur, what would he make of me then? Would I not spend every spare moment having to match courtesies with him, whilst fending off every sneak thief come in off the Greenway seeking to fatten their purses by lightening mine? One such as I am must hide within plain sight, after all. One dressed as I ought to be garbed calls attention to himself from all of the wrong people, and chances are that I would have been dead before I began my third score of years had I taken on royal airs when still a young Man.
But, tonight, I am returned to the house in which I was raised, and tonight I shall bathe and dress as I please, not so as to blend in with landless folk passing through the crossroads of Bree. I think I might even shave! Ah, to be rid of this foul stubble! I almost wish that I were as Isildur and his son Elendur were said to be, as beardless as an Elf—or Hobbit! What will Frodo and his companions think of me when they see me garbed in true keeping with my station? But, then, ought I to shave after all? It takes so blessedly long for my beard to grow as it is, and it’s likely that within a week I shall be out searching the wild for signs of the Black Riders, orcs, or the sell-swords purchased to the Enemy’s designs. I will have the irritation of the beard growing in once more without the full benefit of protection for my face. No—I shan’t shave it, not this time. But I shall certainly trim it!
And to wear clothing that is both clean and comfortable and that becomes me—what a pleasant thought. I do tire of appearing foul to others while feeling fair.
As Aragorn approached the privies, he saw that Meriadoc Brandybuck stood, obviously feeling lost and forsaken, in a hallway running between the bathing chambers and the rooms of refreshment, some ways from the guest chambers off of the Healers Wing to the Last Homely House where he was housed. The Man felt compassion for the Hobbit, who must feel totally out of his depth by this point. After the last two weeks of anxiety and fear for Frodo, to find himself in such a large establishment with so many hallways leading to who knew where must have been almost more than the young Brandybuck could take. Although, now that he thought on it, Brandy Hall where Merry had been born and raised ought to have been in many ways very similar to Elrond’s home in Rivendell, with similar interspersing of functional rooms with living quarters.
Before Aragorn could slow his pace, Merry saw him, and the Man could see the relief in the Hobbit’s face. “Oh, good! Please, will you direct me back to my room? Only I have no idea how to tell you which corridor my room is on. We just got here last night, you see. I’ve had no chance as yet to become familiar with the place at all. Someone else led me here this morning, and I am so turned around as to feel totally lost!”
“I shall be glad to help you back to your room, Merry,” Aragorn said, and had the distinct satisfaction of seeing the Hobbit give a start of surprise.
“Did I meet you last night or something?” Merry asked.
“Or something,” the Man said, feeling highly amused.
“We haven’t been properly introduced, I fear. Meriadoc Brandybuck of Brandy Hall in Buckland on the edges of the Shire, at your service.” Merry gave quite a graceful bow.
Aragorn inclined his head equally gracefully, intoning, “Aragorn son of Arathorn, born in the Angle but raised as a son of this house, at the service of you and all of your family, my friend.”
Merry, who’d not fully straightened from his bow, looked up in shock. “Aragorn? Strider? Is that you?” His return to the vertical was made in haste.
Aragorn bent down to whisper into the Hobbit’s ear, “Not so foul now, am I? Do I clean up nicely?” He then straightened, a huge, satisfied smile on his face. “Now, if you will follow me, I need to check on when Master Elrond wishes my presence so that we can probe Frodo’s wound.” And as he led Merry back to the way to the Healers Wing a pompous march that Denethor of Gondor used to have played as he entered the Hall of Kings to serve as his father’s deputy was running through his mind.