“All right, everyone, listen up!” Gandalf called. “I know you all have busy schedules today, but since it’s the first week of camp, I need all of you to do some extra tasks.” There was the muted sound of several counselors sighing in unison. “Gimli, you’re still up for chopping some firewood tonight, right?” Gimli nodded eagerly.
“Yes, sir! I got the hatchet sharped up already.”
“Good, that’ll help us get set up for the Welcome Bonfire on Friday. Boromir, you’re in charge of getting the hall in order before the parents visit. Make sure the boys have picked up their shirts, and for goodness' sakes check Pippin’s ‘hiding place’ before the bonfire.” Boromir tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile.
“I checked this morning, Gandalf, and already emptied out the fireworks and candy,” he said, handing a bulging plastic bag to the camp director.
“Honestly, those two,” Gandalf huffed. “Legolas, you’re dealing with the tree over by the boys’ dorm, right? I want it trimmed away from all the bedroom windows.” Legolas inclined his head solemnly, and behind him Gimli rolled his eyes. “So, Aragorn, that leaves you with the most important task. Get that pernicious cat out of my camp and back to Dreamflower Camp, where she belongs,” Aragorn nodded.
“I’ll find her,” he said, with only the faintest trace of reluctance audible in his tone.
“And see if you can find her most recent stash. I’ve heard we’ve lost three fishing flies and a couple of arrowheads, and I suspect that’s where Cook’s spare keys got off to.”
“Yes, sir,” Aragorn said.
“All right, see you all at lunch.” At Gandalf’s dismissal, the counselors trotted off to their various tasks, while Aragorn alone set off toward the center of camp. Halfway there he saw Legolas waving him down from the top of a far-off tree. Several branches lay on the ground already, and Gimli was dragging them off towards the chopping block.
“Aragorn!” Legolas yelled. He pointed upwards, towards the… Aragorn sighed. He was pointing at the top of the flagpole, which is where for some godforsaken reason, the cat had decided to perch. Legolas held his hands out and to the side, palms up - his version of a shrug, because it was visible across even competition-sized archery ranges. ‘What can you do?’ his posture clearly asked. Gimli had also followed his pointing finger, and Aragorn saw him laugh as he dropped the branch he was holding. Both of the counselors had now stopped their work to watch him. Great. A difficult quest, an ungrateful cat, and now an audience. This day kept improving.
“Aragorn?” a soft voice called from behind him.
“My lady?” Aragorn asked, spinning around, and then fought back the urge to bury his head in his hands. What was he, a 14th century bard? But she laughed kindly, and his embarrassment disappeared to make room for his hopeless and irrevocable crush. It was Arwen, the daughter of Elrond, who directed River Dale Camp, just across the river.
“Dad sent me to retrieve Smaug, Galadriel's cat," she said, holding up a cat carrier. "I was wondering if you could direct me to her. I’d heard you tracked her many miles through the forest before, which is no small feat,” Aragon, despite his internal screaming, heard himself speak.
“Let me get her for you,” he said. “She's rather precariously balanced at the moment.” He pointed at the top of the flagpole, where she was perched. Arwen raised one eyebrow.
“Quite a climber, that Smaug.”
“An odd name for an odder cat,” Aragorn said, walking up to the base of the flagpole with trepidation. “She seems to have a knack for getting himself into high places. We’re starting to wonder if she can just fly.”
“Probably,” Arwen said with a smile. “She is Galadriel’s cat, so it wouldn’t entirely surprise me.” Aragon chuckled and then, steeling himself to possible failure, began to climb. It was easier than he’d expected - the metal was weatherworn, and gave enough purchase to his boots that he could scramble up relatively quickly. He dared not use the rope, in case it knocked the cat down. In just a few moments of exertion, he’d reached the top. Locking his legs around the pole, he considered the cat in front of him.
“Hello, Smaug,” he said at last. “I have something for you.” From his pocket he withdrew a sparkling pink keychain that Boromir had loaned him, in exchange for complete silence on the source of said bauble. The cat jumped at it, and he grabbed her firmly about the middle, loosening the grip of his legs and sliding carefully down the pole. At the bottom, he turned and presented the cat to Arwen, feeling a bit self-conscious. But he shouldn’t have worried. Amusement and admiration danced in her eyes as she carefully took the cat into her arms.
“You’re quite the expert at that, aren’t you?” she said. “I’ll have to call you next time this little one finds her way out of Dreamflower Camp and back onto the top of our waterfall.”
“Yes!” Aragon blurted, and then managed to mostly control his voicebox again. “I’d be happy to help you. Your camp. With the cat.” She left with a smile, and around him the bustle of camp started up again. He was fairly certain, though, that bets had either just been or would soon be exchanged. Camp counselors were notorious gossips.