“I feel a ton better already,” said Eredolyn, shaking the last drops out of her close-cropped hair.
Eicys sneezed. She wrung some more water out of her own hair, took a deep breath, and dunked her head in the stream again. “Br-rrr!” She surfaced, sputtering. “This is going to take forever to dry. And you can stop smiling smugly at me like that, Ere.”
The girls were splashing about on the banks of the creek in various states of dress and undress, having banished all males deep into the woods with calls of, “And don’t come back until we say!” Taras and Kad were going to make rabbit traps, and Dann was, of course, in charge of gathering firewood.
So they all felt free to splash and shriek and scrub – so long as the Elves remained locked in conversation. It was horribly disconcerting to look up at those flawless, angular faces whilst struggling to scrub black blood out of your socks. They were all quite glad when the sisters disappeared into the woods, with a vague promise to return soon.
Linsul, however, was high in the girls’ good graces: she had produced a comb from her pack, and left it with them. Cebu and Dilly were taking turns at dragging it through one another’s hair: Cebu’s corkscrew curls and Dilly’s long, blood-matted locks were presenting a serious challenge.
Eventually, though, everyone was (relatively) clean, and if not quite dry, at least merely damp. Taras, Dann, and Kad were accordingly called back. Taras had, predictably, stayed within earshot the whole time, but Dann was harder to find. Eventually Wlore located him – and a large amount of firewood – and accompanied both back to their new campsite.
The reaction of all three men was thoroughly gratifying. Taras paused, and there was that sense again that someone used to observing everything had suddenly dismissed all of it in favor of a single sight. Dilly’s long dark hair was smooth and gleaming like polished wood, and her face was bright from the cold water and the walk. A very small, rather silly smile tugged at the corner of Taras’ mouth.
Kad was less subtle. He grinned broadly, leaned back, and whistled. “Don’t you all clean up nice,” he drawled, earning himself a few poorly-aimed missiles and a lot of smirks.
Dann just stood there, looking a bit dazed. “What’d you do to your hair?” he asked Eicys at last.
She flipped the dark gold strands over her shoulder and smiled. Dann’s mouth went dry. “Just a wash,” said she, and skipped off to help Cebu with the haircutting while he stared after her.
Taras was soon seated on a handy rock, his long hair dripping steadily – Cebu insisted it had to be wet if it was going to be cut evenly, even though he’d pointed out that it was being cut with a knife and would therefore be ragged, regardless. Since Tuima had taken her knives with her, Taras had borrowed a dirk off the reluctant Wlore, and was sharpening it for use as a razor while Cebu used Kad’s pocket knife to trim his hair.
When they announced that he was finished, Taras reached automatically to the middle of his back to feel for himself. His hand crept up disbelievingly until reaching a point somewhere around the nape of his neck. “You took a lot off,” he accused.
“It looks good, don’t you think?” Cebu asked the others.
They nodded a bit more vehemently than was strictly necessary. “I probably look like a little boy,” Taras grumbled.
“No you don’t,” said Dilly, who had been watching the proceedings with interest. “You look great.” Taras’ grumbling stopped immediately, though he insisted on going off on his own for a wash and a shave.
The girls promptly pounced on Dann. “What?” he asked nervously, jerking away when Eicys offered a hand to pull him to his feet.
“You need a haircut,” said Eicys, trying valiantly to ignore her friend’s movement.
“Badly,” agreed Cebu. “Come on.”
Dann was too tall for comfort when seated on the rock, so he ended up cross-legged on the ground as the Immies looked him over appraisingly. He was slowly turning red. “This could be difficult,” Cebu said at last, and the others nodded. Dann’s hair was, to be honest, thoroughly nasty. It was a long, filthy, matted mass of snarls that no one was particularly keen on touching. Eventually they decided to hack off about half of it, send him off to wash, and then cut the rest properly when he got back.
A sore head and a dull knife later, Dann was heading upstream in a fog of embarassment. He very nearly ran into Taras, on his way back to camp. The Gondorian still had a faint, far-off smile playing around his newly clean-shaven face, and was twirling Wlore’s long dirk from hand to hand. He looked every inch a prince. The smile faded when he saw Dann, but he did no more than nod stiffly and keep walking. Dann glared at his back. There was no doubt of what the tark’s reception would be; the memory of that little laughing gleam in Eicys’ eyes curled Dann’s fingers into hopeless fists.
He stalked off further upstream until he came to a shallow pool. Dann looked down at his hands for a moment, at the pool again, and back at his hands. Then he kicked off his boots, stripped off his shirt, and proceeded to give himself a thorough wash, his teeth chattering the while. Blood and dirt turned the water black. Dann attacked his crude shirt until the water he wrung out of it ran clear, and scrubbed himself until he was raw and numb. He shook his hair like a dog, splashed his face one last time, and climbed out, half-frozen but reveling in the astonishing – and completely new – feeling of being clean.
He pulled his oversized boots back on, then ripped a few strips from the hem of his shirt and wound them around the footwear in the hopes that they would stay on a bit better from now on.
“Dann?” Eicys asked incredulously when he returned. He felt himself turning red, again, and silently cursed his new lighter skin. Dann’s curses were no laughing matter, either.
“Yeah?” he said aloud.
She blinked, and cleared her throat. “Nothing… Hey, Cebu, Dann’s back.”
Cebu turned around, and her eyebrows went up. “Wow. Lookin’ good, Dann!” she sang out.
Dann’s complexion would have made a tomato feel inadequate.
They soon had him seated again, and the trim was done before his hair was dry. “Wow,” said Eicys, stepping back. “I didn’t know your hair was curly!”
“It’s not,” he said blankly.
“Yeah it is. I guess it was too long and… stuff… before. Anyway, you look great.”
Dann managed to joke croakily, “Tha’s one I never thought I’d hear.”
“I mean it!” said Eicys. “Except it won’t stay straight.” She took the comb from her sister and flattened the offending locks.
Dann, in an agony of embarassment and longing, said, “Yeah, it always used t’ stick up in the back.”
Eicys paused. “It did?”
“What did you just say?”
Dann pulled himself together. “Sorry. What?”
Eicys shook her head in confusion. “Never mind. Hey, look, Tuima and Linsul are back!”
“Oh, hooray,” muttered Eredolyn to herself.
Dilly grinned sympathetically. “Well, at least now we can eat,” she pointed out.
“Lembas!” said Eicys happily. “Here, Dann.” She gave him the pretty little comb, which he stared at in the wary and baffled manner of a male dealing with anything complicated or feminine. –Usually the two are synonymous anyway. Eicys had disappeared to join in the general cheerful confusion, so Dann – who had no intention of approaching either Elf if he could avoid it, and certainly not to return a comb – passed it to Kad.
The Welsh boy attempted a rake or two with it, shook his head upside down, and then ran fingers through his hair until it stood wildly on end. At Dann’s expression, he grinned and said, “Don’t ask me, it’s the fashion. Looks bloody silly, ie?” He twanged out a little tune on the comb’s teeth and sauntered off towards the group again, singing under his breath in a weird language. With a rather bemused expression, Dann followed him. You didn’t have to be insane to be an Immie, but it certainly seemed to help.