Aragorn looked up at the rope strung high overhead from tree to tree across the river in puzzlement. “What do you think that is for?” he asked the others who had arrived breathless beside him.
“The princess calls it a `flying fox’,” replied Orthadel. “Perhaps you can ask her about it when she gets here, which will be soon enough,” They all looked over their shoulders to see Coralie’s team bearing down upon them rapidly.
“Come on Elf! Let’s see if you can swim!” cried Gimli as he pushed a rather surprised Legolas into the water.
Legolas quickly surfaced. “I could ask you the same question Dwarf, but I can see that Aragorn is going to answer it for me,” he laughed as Aragorn pushed Gimli in the water.
The Dwarf came up coughing and spluttering.
“You could have given me fair warning Aragorn!”
“I did! Legolas warned you!” he laughed in reply.
“Well, I will give you fair warning, that if you don’t throw yourselves in, Coralie’s team will do it for you!” cried Gimli looking beyond them to the assorted Elves and Hobbits that were rapidly descending on them. Aragorn and the others leapt in the water just in time. The Hobbits came to a screeching halt at the river’s edge along with the others.
“That’s not fair! We were supposed to throw you in!” cried Pippin.
“Well as you can see, we saved you the trouble,” laughed Aragorn as he trod water.
Boromir joined in “The water is most pleasant. We all felt like a bit of a swim after the game. Why don’t you join us?” He floated on his back nonchalantly, spitting a stream of water from his mouth like a fountain.
Coralie stood there and shook her head. “Really Aragorn. You could have let them have their fun you know.”
“Yeah! I was looking forward to throwing you in myself!” cried Merry as he surveyed the cavorting figures in the water before him.
Legolas laughed along with the others. “I do believe that that they are disappointed at not having someone to throw in!” He casually swam around Gimli who was doing his best to stay afloat.
“I think we can rectify that situation, Legolas,” said Frodo with a sly grin. Quickly he spun around and pointed his finger in Coralie’s direction. “Throw in our captain!” he exclaimed.
Before she could move, Talagan and Calentaeg had her in their grasp and started dragging a rather reluctant Coralie towards the river.
“Come Princess! We know you can swim. Why are you struggling?” they laughed as they picked her up between them.
“Wait!” she cried.
“Wait for what? The river is calling your name!” laughed Talagan.
“Can’t you hear it?” said Calentaeg pulling her to the water’s edge.
“Don’t talk rubbish!” she cried struggling in their grasp. She looked over her shoulder at Artapel. “Well, you’re supposed to be my body guard or something Artapel! Do something!”
“Certainly, Princess. I will gladly offer my help!’ Artapel ran over and took hold of her arm from Talagan. Everyone laughed at the surprised look on her face.
“You traitor!” she cried.
“I am only doing what the river is bidding me to do, Princess. It is singing your name. Are you sure you can’t hear it?” he laughed as she struggled in his grasp.
“You’re crazy! If you are so determined to throw me in, then at least let me take my clothes off first!” cried Coralie.
Shrugging, the two Elves let go for a moment as Coralie made to pull up her tank top.
“Lady!” came the horrified cry from Legolas and Aragorn.
Gimli sputtered in the water as Boromir suddenly righted himself from his floating position.
“What?” she replied.
“You can’t take off your clothes with all these males here!” cried Aragorn.
Coralie shrugged in response. “What are you talking about Azza? There are plenty of girls about. Besides I have my bikini on. Hold back your brumbies mate, I’m not really taking off all my clothes. Anyway, what else am I going to swim in?” But before he could answer, Coralie had whipped off her top and shorts and was already running for a big tree that overhung the water’s edge. Like quicksilver she suddenly swung out across the water at the end of a rope, finishing with a graceful dive into the smooth surface of the river. The Elves pulled up at the base of the tree followed by the Hobbits as they saw her disappearing form plunge beneath the water.
“Well that’s done it. We’ll never catch her now!” said Frodo rolling his eyes.
“What do you mean?” asked Aragorn as he trod water looking for Coralie to surface. Before Frodo could answer, a slender hand suddenly shot up behind Aragorn and pushed him under the water. He rose coughing and spluttering to the sound of feminine laughter.
“Gotcha!” came the merry reply. He reached out to try and grab her, but his hands slipped through the water as Coralie tumbled quickly backwards and disappeared again. He looked quickly about as the others laughed from the riverbank.
“Seems like the princess made sure you got that dunking after all,” laughed Talagan. Suddenly, Coralie was running up the bank towards the tree again. She stopped as she grabbed hold of the rope.
Aragorn, Legolas, Boromir and Gimli trod water and stared up at her for a moment open mouthed. There she stood in all her feminine glory, with her long slim legs and shapely torso defined by running, skiing and other athletic pursuits clinging to the end of the rope.
“You didn’t see that one coming did you Aragorn? Now let me see…. Who is next?” she asked gaily, swinging from the end of the rope. Again she tumbled into the water with a neat forward somersault finishing with an elegant dive. The Elves and Hobbits on the riverbank rose and cheered together whilst Aragorn swam in the direction of her dive. Legolas, Gimli and Boromir looked on trying to discern her whereabouts. For an age it seemed she was underwater.
“Where is she?” cried Legolas anxiously.
Again, a slender hand emerged from the water and pushed the Elf down from behind.
“Right here!” she laughed and disappeared as Legolas’ head emerged. Aragorn began swimming over to Legolas. “I’ll get her,” said the Elf as he dove underneath. Suddenly Boromir found himself being pulled underwater much to his amusement. Gimli dog paddled, anxiously looking about for this watery marauder, but sighed with relief when he saw her once again emerge, but this time on the opposite bank. At the same time, Legolas came up on the other side. He looked at her in wonder, realising that she had manage to outsmart him.
“Gotcha!” she cried out laughing whilst scampering around the tree roots on the far bank.
He dove back in and swam half way out to where Aragorn was treading water, trying to hold his position against the current as he eyed Coralie on the other side. Suddenly, she dived into the water again. Legolas and Aragorn stroked out towards her.
“You will never catch her!” cried Séretur from amongst the Elves of Aragorn’s team as they floated in the water. Aragorn and Legolas were swimming around in circles trying to anticipate where she may arise.
“She is more fish than maiden. To catch her you would need a hook,” laughed Orthadel.
Suddenly, a cheer arose from the riverbank where her team waited with the other Elves, as her head broke the surface of the water. Within a few short strokes she was climbing out onto the bank. She stood there for a moment, facing the water with her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.
Boromir laughed out loud. “Lady, you certainly are a sight for sore eyes!”
Aragorn and Legolas began to swim back to her side as Gimli waded out of the water and sat down at the river’s edge. “We dwarves are excellent swimmers, like the Lady here, but too much water will make you look like a prune.” Coralie laughed and looked over at him.
“Then it is a good thing that I didn’t give you a dunking Gimli, for I would have been wasting my time!”
“Lady, put your clothes back on!” commanded Aragorn from his position in the water.
“What for?’ came Coralie’s reply.
“Because we can see your… your…”
“My what?” said Coralie looking down at her front then behind, trying to figure out what he meant.
Legolas swam over to Aragorn. “She obviously doesn’t share our concern for her modesty Aragorn,” he said noting the expression on Boromir’s face, who was now grinning from ear to ear.
“I think Aragorn is referring to your bosom, Lady,” chuckled Boromir with delight.
Aragorn looked up at Boromir with exasperation whilst replying to Coralie. “I had hoped you would take the hint, Lady, but that is not what I was referring to at all.”
“Then just what exactly were you referring to?” she asked.
“We can see your figure, Lady,” cried Aragorn.
“So? What’s wrong with it?” she asked genuinely surprised at Aragorn’s reaction.
“Oh Lady! Believe me, there is nothing wrong with it at all!” laughed Boromir out loud.
“Put your clothes on now!” said Aragorn with some force.
“No! They will get all wet. I am not going to swim in my clothes! I am already wearing the proper attire and I don’t like your tone. This is an all Australian, Billabong bikini and as it is the only swimming costume I have, you are just going to have to get used to it mate. I don’t have to do what you say. Who do you think you are?” Coralie stood on the riverbank with her hands on her hips, clearly getting upset by what she perceived as Aragorn’s unreasonable demands.
“I am not going to ask you again,” said Aragorn.
“Then don’t. Make me,” she challenged.
“Make you?” he asked.
“Yeah. If it is that important to you, then you must make me put my clothes back on, because I’m not going to do anything you say!” A murmur went up amongst the spectators on the banks.
“Do you have any suggestions?” asked Aragorn of Legolas as he trod water beside him.
Talagan strode up to the river’s edge with obvious amusement. “Why don’t you challenge her to a swimming race? Surely two strong males should be able to beat i titheniel easily, the matter will be settled honorably, and there shall be no more need of this shouting match.” Talagan stood there with one eyebrow cocked and crossed his arms. “This is not the same as playing football where i titheniel is matched against someone of her own size and strength as before. You two must surely be able to beat her, for she is but a woman, after all.” Coralie shot him a withering look as Boromir nodded in agreement.
“Aye, it is clear to my eyes that she is indeed a woman.”
“Boromir, that is enough,” came Aragorn’s swift response.
“Talagan is right, Aragorn. She is but a mortal woman, and you and I are much stronger. We have seen that she has some skill in the water, granted. But if we race her over a long distance, she is sure to tire out. Then we can settle this matter once and for all. Both your honour and hers will be preserved,” said Legolas in confidence to Aragorn.
“Aye, you are right friend. It is obvious that she feels she is doing no wrong and does not understand the position she has put us in. You are an Elf, and can master the element of water more readily than she, whereas I myself am a fully-grown man and no stranger to swimming either. We are both warriors, and she is but a maiden. There is no way she can possibly win.” Aragorn looked up at Coralie who still stood defiantly on the riverbank.
“A race it shall be then, and when you are defeated, you shall get dressed without any further ado. Agreed?” Aragorn asked with confidence.
“Agreed!” said Coralie. “So what do you propose?”
Aragorn and Legolas were now wading out of the water with Boromir still grinning, not far behind.
“We shall race from down where the river bends back to this spot,” said Aragorn pointing down river.
“But that is over 1500 metres!” exclaimed Coralie. Támurile had come to stand beside her, and held her hand. She gave it a little squeeze.
“It is not that far to swim for one such as yourself, Lady,” said Legolas walking up to her. “Come, it is a pleasant walk down the river and I should like to talk to you on the way.” He held out his arm for her to take.
“What? No shoulder this time? No thank you. I much prefer to take in the scenery with Támurile here. We girls have to stick together, Cave Elf!” and with a toss of her head, she marched off holding the Elven child’s hand. They watched her departing figure as she left them where they stood.
“Now that’s a sight, I would never tire of,” chuckled Boromir as he cast an admiring glance over her retreating form. The Hobbits raced passed and he fell in with them anxious to keep Coralie within his sights.
Aragorn sighed and looked at Legolas. “We had better win friend,” he said as they followed after with Gimli and the others.
“I wish you both luck. I have a feeling you are going to need it. That maiden swims like a fish. Let us hope that your greater strength prevails,” said Gimli.
“Celeborn assured us that there was nothing wanton in her actions, and now that I have seen her like this, I do believe him. He is both wise and just and would have perceived any impure motives on her part. But I cannot reconcile myself to this public display of her obvious attributes,” said Aragorn.
“Neither can I,” agreed Legolas. “It is clear to me, that she knows not what she does, nor perceives the effect she has upon us with the wearing of this tiny garment in a public place.”
“Really?” said Gimli with a slight wink. “Just what effect does she have upon you Sir Elf?” he chuckled softly.
Artapel interrupted them with an amused smile on his face. “Gentlemen, I think you will find it harder to beat the princess over this distance than you had bargained. This is more of an even match than you realise. Talagan has tricked you both. She is more at home in the water than on dry land. Even there, I have a hard time keeping up with her, and I am an Elf and do not tire easily. The princess has boundless energy, and pushes herself physically everyday. Often I receive lectures on the virtues of physical fitness and am forced to accompany her during her `workouts’ as she likes to call them, for as you know I have been appointed her escort in Haldir’s absence.”
“So you have obviously seen her dressed like this on many occasions?” It was more of a statement than a question on Legolas’ behalf. Artapel nodded in return.
“Yes. I am sure you have heard of my report to the Lady Galadriel. She is often dressed thus, but then she is more often in the water than out of it,” He suddenly stopped and looked at them both.
“She doesn’t know that you have sworn her to kin does she?” asked the Elf keenly of Aragorn.
“No, I should have told her earlier, and then perhaps this scene may have been avoided. But the right time did not seem to present itself,” came Aragorn’s reply.
“Let me assure you that I understand your position, Aragorn. The princess is one of the most delightful mortals I have ever met, but she can also be quite formidable in her own way. Her manner though mostly agreeable and quite pleasant, only serves to conceal the determined young woman beneath. I have never met her like before,” assured Artapel.
“Neither have I,” agreed Aragorn and Legolas together at once. They both chuckled at their timed response.
“Tell me Aragorn, what will we do if she wins?” asked Legolas.
Aragorn shook his head. “She can’t win against the two of us. It is a moot point. Even if she were to somehow beat us, I would still have her put her clothes back on. What little she does wear is at least more in keeping with her position than the garment she is presently wearing. And I use that term lightly.”
They had now arrived downstream at the bend of the river. The current increased slightly as it rounded the bank as it flowed onwards. The Elves and Hobbits had already taken their positions for the best vantage points along its banks. Pippin had commandeered the Clie from Támurile and was busy playing ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work upon it.
Aragorn looked at Legolas and shook his hand. “Let’s get this over with.”