Learning to Smile

Chapter 11

by Little Jewel-(T)
February 1, 2017
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Things had settled down in Lord Elrond’s house once again. The emotions that had run so high gradually began to calm, leaving behind a more peaceful and understanding atmosphere. Elladan and Elrohir had come to terms with what had happened and were once again speaking to each other. Aragorn had more or less healed entirely, although Elrond had warned him about not overdoing it on any strenuous activity.

Both the ranger and the twins had been especially attentive to Aerinel, making sure the child felt loved and wanted. However, the increasing appearances of Orcs on the borders of the realm pulled the twins and Aragorn away from Rivendell more than they would have liked – but it could not be helped.

Elrond or Telwen would often find Aerinel perched on the large window seat in the room overlooking the main courtyard, staring out at the gate leading to the forest and watching eagerly for any signs of Aragorn or the twins returning.

Today was no different. Elrond paused in the doorway, his eyes fixed on the small figure curled up behind the heavy drapes as she gazed endlessly out of the window. It was not that he minded the child sitting there, but he had tried to encourage her away. He did not want her to be frightened if one of his sons returned home injured.

“Have you thought what you are going to do with the child?” a low voice asked from beside him.

Elrond flicked his eyes to the side to see that Glorfindel had joined him in the doorway. With hazy disinterest, he said, “Unfortunately, I have not given it much thought. My mind was preoccupied.”

“The Orc attacks?” the golden-haired warrior questioned.

Elrond nodded, then a frown creased his forehead as he heard Glorfindel chuckle. “And pray tell me, mellon-nín, what do you find so amusing?”

Glorfindel just shook his head. “I will warn you, the longer you leave it, the more difficult it will be to find a home for her. Your sons will not be able to let her go so easily.”

Neither will I, Elrond thought to himself as Glorfindel left him. His gaze fell on the child once more. She had not moved the entire time he was there. Approaching her with silent steps, the elf crouched down beside her. “Aerinel, penneth, what troubles you so?”

Aerinel turned to look at him with a startled expression, for she had not heard the elf lord’s approach. “Estel?” she asked hopefully, her eyes lighting up.

Elrond sighed and moved to sit on the window seat beside her. “I am afraid not, penneth.

“When will they be back?”

Elrond wrapped an arm around her small shoulders, pulling her close to him. “I do not know.”

Aerinel just nodded at this reply as she settled herself comfortably beside the tall elf. “Miss them,” she said eventually.

“I know you do.” Elrond gave her a gentle squeeze. “I do as well.”

“They went out after the bad things, the…Orcs, didn’t they?”

Elrond looked down at the child with a weary grin. “Nothing slips past you, does it? Did one of the twins or Estel tell you?”

Aerinel shook her head. “I guessed,” she said simply, her hands playing with the edge of the fine robe Elrond wore. The silver embroidery fascinated her. Craning her neck to see out the window behind her, she asked, “When will I be leaving?”

The child’s question took the elf lord by surprise. Taking a deep breath he tried to form a believable answer. “I do not know just yet, child,” he said slowly, gauging her reaction with sharp grey eyes. “Why do you ask? I thought you were happy here.”

Aerinel shrugged. “No reason. I am happy.” They lapsed into silence until Aerinel spoke again. “Will I get to see Estel, Elladan, and Elrohir before I go?” She bit her lip as she looked up at Elrond.

In her young eyes, the elf lord saw fear and hope mixed together and he knew what was troubling the child. Elrond sat back, realizing that he had found the root of the problem that was causing the child to watch for his sons. Aerinel was afraid she would leave without seeing either the twins or Estel again. She was afraid that, like many of the people in her life so far, his sons would just disappear, becoming another memory to be treasured until forgotten as she grew older.

This realization almost broke the elderly elf’s heart. “Of course you will, Aerinel,” he whispered, pulling her into his lap and wrapping his arms around her tightly. “Do not fear. I would never send you away without letting you see the twins and Estel.” He chuckled lightly. “They would have my head if I dared to do such a thing.”

Aerinel reached up and touched the elf’s face. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You are very kind.”

Elrond tilted his head down to see her face more clearly. “Would you like to spend the day with me, child?” he asked gently.

Aerinel looked up into the wise, old eyes of Elrond and saw the kindness he was willingly offering to her. She reached out and grabbed the chance, not wanting to let it go, should it slip through her fingers. “Yes, I would like to.” She took the elf’s outstretched hand and slipped off the seat as Elrond stood up. She was not even up to the elf’s hip when she stood beside him.

Elrond smiled down at her kindly. “Then come, tithen pen. I have much work to complete in my study, but you may join me there. Would you like that?”

Aerinel’s lips broke out into a rare smile and she curled her fingers around the hand that held hers more confidently. “Yes, please.”

And so the child spent the morning in Lord Elrond’s study happily using colored sticks of wax to draw pictures on offcuts of parchment that the elf did not want.

At first Elrond was tense, reluctant to take his eyes off of her. He sat at his desk, determined to make a dent in the pile of documents piled up on one side of the polished surface, all the while keeping one eye on Aerinel. But he soon relaxed as Aerinel proved a quiet child, lying on her stomach on the run in front of the fire with her colors and parchment, quite content with her drawing. Elrond couldn’t help but smile as he noticed her little pink tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration. It had been many years since a child had curled up in his study.

The door opened around midmorning and Glorfindel entered the warm room, a plate in his hands which he presented to Aerinel with a flourish. “For the little lady,” he said with a wink.

Aerinel sat up to take the plate and her eyes lit up at the sight of the sticky golden treat. Elladan had introduced her to honey cakes not too long ago, and the child had developed quite a sweet tooth for them, though she did not get them often. She eagerly accepted the plate from the golden-haired warrior with a delightful smile.

“Aerinel, what do you say to Glorfindel?” Elrond spoke up from the desk, his voice low and encouraging, not at all reprimanding.

“Thank you, Glorfindel.” Aerinel said, holding the plate close to her.

Hannon le,” Elrond corrected gently.

Aerinel hide her face for a moment, getting her tongue around the words before she spoke them aloud. “Hannon le, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel ruffled her hair affectionately. “You are most welcome, little one.” He paused and shot a sly look at the dark-haired elf. “Elrond is teaching you Sindarin then, is he?”

“It will not hurt the child to know a few words in Sindarin,” Elrond said, continuing with his writing without looking up.

“I see.” Glorfindel seated himself on the rug beside the child. “Well, what words have you learnt?”

Aerinel swallowed her mouthful of cake before glancing up at Elrond shyly. The elf lord nodded encouragingly. “Go on, penneth, show Glorfindel what you have learnt.”

Aerinel took a deep breath. “Hannon le means thank you, saes is please, suilad is greetings, mae govannen is well-met, and namárië is goodbye.” She looked up again at Elrond. “Was that all right, sire?”

Elrond smiled. “That was perfect, child. Well done, and now go back and finish your treat.”

Glorfindel chuckled as Aerinel dove back to her plate. He got up and settled himself more comfortable in the chair beside the desk. Aerinel paid neither of them much attention; she was too absorbed in finishing her picture and enjoying her honey cake.

Outside, a light misting of rain began to fall from the threatening grey clouds that hovered overhead, covering everything in delicate rain droplets. Before long, the bell sounded throughout the house, announcing that lunch was served.

Elrond stood and smiled in approval as he watched Aerinel tidy up the pages she had been using and gathering up the sticks of wax, then arranging them by colour in her hand.

“Neat little thing, isn’t she?” Glorfindel commented quietly.

Elrond couldn’t help but agree with him. “Indeed, which is more than could be said for either Elladan or Elrohir.” He looked down as Aerinel came over to him and shyly handed him the colored sticks.

Hannon le. I enjoyed my colouring.”

The elf was touched and he found himself kneeling down to the child’s height. “Would you like to keep them?”

Aerinel stared at Elrond in disbelief. “Really? I could keep them?” The she faltered. “But why are you giving them to me?”

Elrond gently drew the child closer to him. “Because I want to give them to you, dear-heart, and because I take joy from seeing you enjoying them.”

“So…I can really keep them? Call them my own?”

Elrond laughed, feeling all the tension from the morning's work leaving him. “Yes, child.” He used his hand to curl the child’s fingers back over the sticks still in her hand. “They are yours now; keep them safe.”

Aerinel face lit up. Stepping forward, she hugged the elf a little awkwardly, unsure of how he would react, but she needn’t have feared. Elrond wrapped his own arms around her and kissed the top of her head.

“Thank you, Lord Elrond,” she said timidly when she pulled away.

“Elrond. Call me Elrond, little one.” the elf lord said. Then he tilted his head to the side. “There is one thing, however, that you must do to keep the colors.”

“What?” Aerinel asked, unconsciously copying the elf by tilting her own head to the side.

Elrond tipped her chin up with one long elegant finger and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “You must smile more. You must learn to smile more, little one. Do you promise me that?”

Aerinel giggled as the elf’s breath tickled her ear. “I promise.”

“Good!” Elrond smiled broadly as he sat back on his heels, facing the child. She was still grinning, cradling her precious colours to her chest. He shook his head. Something so simple as dyed sticks of wax could bring so much happiness to a child.

Glorfindel chuckled and picked Aerinel up, electing a squeak of alarm from her as he settled her on his shoulders. “Come, Aerinel, or we shall be late for the midday meal, and that just will not do at all! The twins will have scoffed down all the nice things before we get there!”

Aerinel’s giggle bounced around the room as she clung to Glorfindel’s head to stop herself from falling, but there was no fear of that. Glorfindel would never let her fall.

Elrond shook his head with a fond smile as Glorfindel bore Aerinel away, singing some old, silly tune about a mouse raiding the cheese cupboard. He took delight in seeing the golden-haired warrior playing with the child. It seemed to bring out the more youthful side of his old friend.

~*~*~S~*~*~

The long hours of the afternoon slipped away pleasantly enough. After the midday meal was finished, Lord Elrond returned to his study after settling Aerinel down for her nap in her room. In spite of the fact that the child still needed one most days, the elf lord was carefully reducing the amount of time she was allowed to sleep little by little. He knew the child was still young, but he was aware that a nap during the day would only lead to her waking up some time during in night.

Almost an hour later, Elrond decided it was time to wake the child. As he reached for the handle of the door, he heard a puzzling sound. Stopping his movements to listen, the elf tilted his head up towards the ceiling of the room. It was almost like someone stomping around on one of the upper floors.

His curiosity piqued, Elrond followed the noise through the house, arriving at the bottom of the main staircase. It sounded as if the noise was coming from the floor where Aerinel’s room was. As he climbed the stairs, the noise turned into a more recognisable sound. It was laughter – child’s laughter at that, followed by a menacing voice.

“I am going to get you! You may hide, but you will never stay hidden from me, my dear little friend! Ready or not! Here I come!”

Elrond stood at the top of the stairs, a look of utter surprise on his face as he saw the owner of the voice come stomping – yes, stomping – around the corner, his hands curled into claws and his face pulled into a snarl with a rather dangerous gleam in his eyes.

“Glorfindel?” the Lord of Imladris asked casually, crossing his arms over his chest.

The “monster” stopped and straightened up, looking a little sheepish. The golden-haired warrior grinned. “We are playing hide and seek,” he explained.

“We?”

“Aerinel and myself. The little imp is rather unnervingly good at disappearing.”

“I see.” Elrond cast his eyes around. “And where, may I ask, is Aerinel?”

A giggle reached the elves’ ears from some place nearby. Glorfindel raised a finger to his lips, cautioning Elrond be silent while he crept around the other side of the decorative sideboard. Elrond watched with amusement as Glorfindel readied himself to pounce on the unsuspecting child crouched behind the sideboard. “Do not scare her too much, Glorfindel,” he warned. The ancient warrior shook his head with a wink.

GOT YOU, little minx!”

Aerinel shrieked with delight as a pair of hands grabbed her and she was tossed high into the air before being caught safely in Glorfindel's arms. She clung to his neck with breathless giggles, her eyes shining with glee.

“Now then, who thought they could evade capture by the mightiest warrior in the land, eh? Who? Who?” Glorfindel asked as he began to tickle the child under her arms, taking joy in the sound of her mad giggling.

“You sound like an oversized owl with a nut stuck in your throat, Glorfindel,” Elrond commented coolly over the sound of the laughter, but he couldn’t help the smile that played on his lips. He had not yet seen Aerinel as happy or carefree as she was now. All her worries and fears were gone and in their place was a happy, gleeful child, the one she should have been all along.

Elrond gave the golden-haired warrior a stern look. “I would be pleased if you did not get Aerinel overly excited.”

“Why? She will sleep tonight.”

Elrond spoke again in Elvish. “Yes, she may, but I will be one having to calm her down before bedtime after your hijinks.”

Knowing that there was some sense in what Elrond said, Glorfindel let the child calm down, settling her on his hip. “Well, penneth, did you enjoy your game?”

Aerinel nodded vigorously, her thumb in her mouth.

Elrond sighed. That was another habit he was going to have to start breaking the child out of before too long. Then he frowned. Why was he concerned with the habits of the child when he knew she would be leaving them soon? “Come, Aerinel, you need to get cleaned up before dinner.” The anger he felt towards himself for thinking such things made his voice a little sharp.

Aerinel turned her head back to Glorfindel and gave him a squeeze around his neck. “Thank you. I enjoyed my game today.”

“You're welcome, Aerinel.” Glorfindel handed the child over with ease, saying nothing, but raising one eyebrow in question towards Elrond.

Once Aerinel was in his arms, Elrond regretted his temper immediately. “Say goodbye to Glorfindel, little one,” he said a more gentle tone. “You shall see him again at the evening meal.” He wrapped his arms around her small body more securely and kissed the top of her head.

With a fond shake of his head, Glorfindel watched as Elrond carried Aerinel towards family quarters before turning on his heel and heading off towards his study.

~*~*~S~*~*~

It was Elrond, rather than Telwen, who gave Aerinel her bath that night, making sure there were plenty of bubbles present and allowing Aerinel to splash as much as she desired to. More and more, he found himself growing attached to the child.

He helped her into her nightgown, doing up the five small buttons in the front and brushing out her damp hair. Then the elf tucked Aerinel into the large bed, making sure to draw the curtains closed and leave the nightlight on low. He sat with the child until she fell asleep. Then he rose and went to the private lounge reserved for him and his family, looking forward to some time of peace and quiet.

However, when he walked into the warmly lit room he found Glorfindel already there, perched in one of the comfortable armchairs, along with Erestor, his chief advisor, who was reading. He was very nearly tempted to roll his eyes.

Glorfindel looked up as Lord Elrond entered. “She is asleep, then?”

Elrond nodded. “She is quite worn out. She seems to have enjoyed her game with you.”

Glorfindel chuckled, looking satisfied. “I was pleased to see the child’s eyes brighter this afternoon. She appeared well and content. It was nice to hear her laughing.”

“Yes, you certainly caused enough of a ruckus in the halls.” Erestor peered over the top of his book to scowl at the golden-haired warrior.

Glorfindel shrugged. “You are only a child once. Let her have her fun.”

“At least some of us are dignified enough to grow up afterwards,” the advisor retorted. “We do not resort to acting like a child whenever the fancy takes us!” So saying his bit, Erestor went back to his book.

Glorfindel shook his head, wondering if Erestor had ever had a sense of fun.

The three elves sat in a comfortable silence for a while.

“Living in here is certainly helping Aerinel to heal.” Glorfindel’s voice broke the silence. He spoke cautiously, gauging Elrond’s reaction. “My only hope is that she isn’t missing your sons too much.” He had a hunch of what the dark-haired elf was thinking of. “Mellon-nín, you cannot blame yourself for the feelings you have for the child. You are a father; they come naturally to you.”

Elrond sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “I know, Glorfindel. But I cannot grow attached to this child.”

“Why not?” came the gentle reply. “You did it once before with Estel.”

“I had no choice,” Elrond said coolly.

Glorfindel blinked. “Yes, to taking him in you did, but you did not have a choice falling in love with the boy. Your heart was lost the moment he started crying for his parents. So why is it so different with Aerinel?”

Elrond said nothing, preferring to gaze deep into the flames in the fireplace.

Outside, the wind had begun to pick up from a light breeze to more stormy weather, sending the wind howling down the gorge and branches of the trees thrashing around. The rain, which had started out as a light drizzle, had developed into a heavy downpour, creating puddles in the courtyard and drumming loudly on the roof of the house.

Glorfindel stole a glance at Elrond after a while, wondering how the elf felt about his sons being out in such weather. “Do you not feel concerned for the twins and Estel tonight?” he asked at last.

Elrond put down the book his was currently skimming though with a grim look on his face. "It is indeed a foul night for them to ride. However, I trust that they will be safe."

Glorfindel didn't look convinced. There would be no shelter against this storm in the wild.

"They are all good horsemen. Elladan will make sure they will remain safe."

Erestor snorted elegantly. Nine times out of ten the sons of Elrond returned home with one or more of them injured. It seemed to be a particular knack of theirs.

A sudden flash lit up the sky, followed seconds later by a huge roar. There was a sound of a door being flung open and tiny feet pelting along the passageway. Aerinel burst into the room with her eyes wide with fear, tears streaming down her face, and flung herself at Lord Elrond, burying herself in his robes.

Elrond’s heart melting for the child, he wrapped his arms around Aerinel, who was shaking violently. “Sîdh, Aerinel. Av’osto, penneth, av’osto,” Elrond said softly, trying to comfort the child as he soothingly rubbed her back in circles. “There is nothing to fear.”

An elf looked in, about to summon the elves to dinner, but Glorfindel shook his head and indicated that they would eat in here. It would be cruel to leave any child alone when she was that frightened.

Aerinel clung to Elrond, her muffled sobs sounding around the room. “Aerinel...Aerinel, take it easy; you are safe here,” Elrond murmured, rocking the child back and forth. Erestor and Glorfindel looked on as Elrond tried to calm the child.

Eventually, Aerinel was calm enough to sit sleepily on Elrond’s lap, her sobs fading to hiccups and then gradually disappearing. She gazed around the room and gulped when she saw the other two elf lords. She looked up at Elrond and rubbed her eyes. “I am sorry I disturbed you.” She fidgeted for a moment. “I’ll go back to my room now.”

She made to move off Elrond’s lap, but the elf held her against him. “Nay, penneth, you will stay here with me.”

Aerinel nodded, but she started to cry again. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I didn’t mean to…”

Elrond grew concerned and tipped Aerinel’s chin up. “What is it, child? What happened?”

“I-I wet the bed,” Aerinel cried helplessly. “I didn’t mean to. I really didn’t. Please don’t be mad!”

Elrond’s heart went out to the girl. “Oh, child! I could never be angry at you! Do not worry about the bed. A change of sheets and everything will be alright.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Erestor slip out of the room, no doubt to alert one of the household servants.
 

<>Aerinel hiccupped a few times, cuddling closer to the elf whenever another roll of thunder sounded. The storm was directly overhead and the flashes of lightning were illuminating the whole room. The elves tried to resume a normal conversation whilst eating the food provided by the kitchen staff.

The thunder was so loud that none of the elves did not hear the commotion in the yard, having no idea that Aragorn and the twins had returned until the door opened and three very wet beings entered the room.


They were more than wet; they were soaked, streams of water running down their clothes and dripping onto the carpet. Elrond had never seen any of his sons look so bedraggled, and he had taken them swimming many a time. The twins’ hair was plastered to their heads and faces, and water ran in little streams down their bodies to a growing pool under their feet. Aragorn, for his part, looked like a drowned rat. Elrohir was thoughtfully carrying his boots, but Aragorn and Elladan still wore theirs, their feet squelching as they moved.

"Good evening, Ada," Elladan said brightly as he noticed Elrond observing them coolly.
<>"Why," Elrond asked at length, "are you wandering around Imladris dressed like that?" For both elves were dressed only in their undershirts and the leggings they wore under their riding trousers. These were soaked and clung to their bodies. Each was carrying an armful of sodden clothing. The ranger between them carried only his leather overcoat, but his tunic, shirt and trousers were dripping water everywhere.

"We were cold and wet, father. And we needed to see to the horses first." Elrohir flushed, ashamed of himself. It would have been funny had it not been so inappropriate. The sons of Elrond had just marched through some of the busiest halls of the Last Homely Home in little more than their underclothes.

Elrond looked disapproving. He had a feeling he knew who had initiated this disgraceful behaviour. "Elladan?" He turned to his eldest, who was grinning wickedly whilst picking food off the table. Erestor, who had reentered the room behind the twins, attempted to smack his hand away, but missed, whacking his fingers off the edge of the table instead.

It had been Elladan's idea, of course, Elrohir and Aragorn agreeing rather quickly. They had all been soaked to the skin, even their cloaks being little protection against the driving rain. The stables had been warm, but the weight of the cold, sodden clothing had been oppressive, turning even the smallest task into an effort. He had wanted to strip down to only his underclothes, but Aragorn had objected. "Oh, Ada,” Elladan remonstrated, “our clothes were too wet to move in!"

Erestor snorted in a very undignified way, looking highly unconvinced. Elladan shook his head and strode over, dumping the armful of cloak, tunic, shirt, trousers, and chainmail shirt in the elf’s arms. Erestor nearly stumbled under the weight. The drenched cloak alone weighed more than most elves would be able to bear.

Glorfindel sniggered as the chief advisor staggered out of the room. Aragorn unsuccessfully tried to smother a laughter as he followed Erestor out to leave his coat somewhere.

Aerinel awoke at the sound of the many voices. She blinked and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Her face lit up into a delighted smile of disbelief at the sight of the twins She dropped off Elrond’s lap, racing towards Elladan. He picked her up and held her tightly against him as he spun around before throwing her up into the air and catching her. "Wheeeee!" shouted the often stern elvish soldier.

Elrohir burst out laughing, handing his already overburdened father his clothes. Aerinel had a way of turning Elladan back into a youthful elf very quickly. Aragorn slipped back into the room, a smile on his lips as he witnessed his eldest brother playing with the child.

Aerinel caught sight of the ranger and immediately struggled a little, reaching out towards Aragorn. Elladan obligingly handed her over to the ranger. Aragorn smiled as he was greeted with a soft kiss and a whispered “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, Aerinel,” Aragorn whispered back, holding her close. He kissed the top of her head and ran his fingers through her hair, marveling at how soft the strands felt.

Elrond smiled as he watched his sons gathering around the child, greeting her and cuddling her.

“I think they like to have someone to greet them when they arrive home weary, tired and wet. It makes all the difference.” Glorfindel stepped out of the room with Elrond. “Your sons certainly like the attention they are receiving in there.”

Elrond shook his head with a laugh. “And they are lapping it up, I can assure you!”

It won’t make it any easier to part from her, a voice inside the elf lord’s head said.

~*~*~S~*~*~

When Elrond returned from gathering several towels and dry shirts, his three sons were sprawled on the rug, drying off in front of the fire with Aerinel lying in between them. Elrohir had thoughtfully put their boots to dry near the hearth and was sitting with Aragorn, their backs to the warmth of the flames. The younger twin was rocking back and forwards with laughter.

Elladan was lying on the rug, his knees bent up in the air. Aerinel was crawling on the ground beside him, wiggling her way up near his head.

Elladan caught her up and placed her on his knees. At first Aerinel clung on tightly, unsure of what the elf was doing. Gently, Elladan began to rock his knees back and forth. Aerinel soon caught onto what the elf was playing at. Grinning with childish slyness, Aerinel reached down and grasped the tails of the drying undershirt gripped firmly in her hands.

"Go-go, horsey!" Aerinel called, happily tugging at the “reins.”


<>Aragorn watched in barely suppressed mirth as Elladan reached up to hold the little girl steady as he moved his knees back and forth to simulate galloping.

Aerinel shrieked with laughter, drumming her heels gently against Elladan's thighs to make him speed up. The tips of her toes ran over his exposed stomach.

"No, no, that tickles!" Elladan broke up into laughter, trying to catch hold of the tiny feet.

Aerinel sensing her advantage, leant forwards and wriggled her toes more. Elladan was left in uncontrollable fits of laughter. "No, Aerinel! Stop!" Elladan cried out, trying to stop his laughter.

Aerinel immediately stopped and pulled away, looking at Elladan suddenly as if she was afraid she had made him angry. Elladan grinned in relief, he was free. “It’s alright, Aerinel, I’m not angry with you, dearheart! That just tickled, that’s all!”

"Tickle him, Aerinel! Get him!" Elladan's treacherous twin called, crawling over to join in the attack. Aragorn grinned evilly and was quick to assist Aerinel and Elrohir.

Elladan groaned as Elrohir tipped Aerinel onto his stomach to tickle him, all too happily aided by Elrohir's long fingers and Aragorn’s strong hands. Soon all four were rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter, alternately tickling and being tickled, especially Aerinel. She squirmed and wriggled around, crawling in and around the elves as they gently wrestled each other, taking care not to harm her.

Elrond laughed in spite of himself. He had not heard his sons laugh so freely in quite a long time. He did love them. Even if they more often than not behaved in a manner fit for most immature of elflings, not seasoned warriors.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Some time later Elladan carried a very sleepy child up up her room. Aerinel had almost fallen asleep in front of the fire, she was so tired, and it was no wonder, for she was up many hours past her usual bedtime. Her head rested on the elf’s shoulder, her little arms wrapped loosely around his neck.

Elladan had to shift her slightly as he opened the door. Thankfully someone had already been in and lit the lamps in the room so he wasn’t in complete darkness. His father had told him of Aerinel’s little accident. As he guessed, the bedsheets had been changed.

Carefully, he laid the young girl onto the bed, making sure her head was resting on the pillow, then pulled the blanket over her, tucking the edges around her body. “Losto vae, penneth,” he whispered to her, brushing a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Aerinel stirred slightly at the sound of the voice but with a quiet, soothing murmur from the elf, she then rolled over and curled into the blankets, bring her thumb to her mouth. Elladan shook his head as he gently removed the small thumb from her mouth and tucked the blanket more securely around her.

Slowly walking backwards away from the bed, Elladan winced as he stepped on something soft and squishy. Looking down, he realised it was Aerinel’s bear. Knowing that the child would panic if she woke up and could not find it, the elf picked up. He went to place it on one of the pillows, but accidentally tripped over a pillow that had been discarded on the floor.

Elladan stumbled, trying to catch himself without making too much noise. His hissed in pain as something sharp pricked the palm of his hand, the hand he was holding the stuffed bear in. This puzzled Elladan greatly. Why would child’s toy have something sharp in it?

He was still thinking this over as he walked out of the room examining his hand – and collided with Elrohir.

“Elladan, watch where you’re going!” the younger twin scolded. The he noticed the frown on Elladan’s face. “What is it?”

Elladan held up the stuffed bear. “I tripped over a pillow on the floor and clutched this tightly. Something sharp stuck my hand.”

Elrohir cocked his head to the side. “Let me see.” He took his brother's hand and turned it over gently, running a finger over the palm. “Yes, there is a mark here on the skin. You say something sharp is inside the bear?”

Elladan nodded and handed the toy wordlessly to his twin. Elrohir took and it and began to press it firmly all over. “Ouch!” he exclaimed as he too felt something pierce his skin. “What on earth would be hidden within a child’s toy?”

Elladan shrugged. “You are as puzzled as I am.”

“Maybe we can slice open the back seam here and see what it is? Come!” Elrohir spun on his heel and walked off towards his chambers, Elladan hurrying to catch up.

Once inside, Elrohir found a small pair of scissors and carefully unpicked the seam that ran up the back of the toy. Elladan looked on over his shoulder, itching with curiosity. Elrohir pulled out the old bits of rags used to stuff the bear.

Something clattered off the floor. Both elves looked down. There, lying on the ground amongst the bits of cloth, was something one would not usually expect to find hidden in a stuffed toy. Elladan scooped it up and looked at it closely. It was a brooch – a silver brooch. But this was no ordinary piece of jewelry. This was in the shape of a five-rayed star.

Elladan looked at Elrohir and gulped, the brooch sitting in his hand. “Adar?” he asked.

Elrohir nodded. “Adar!”

~*~*~S~*~*~

Elrond paced back and forth behind his desk. His sons looked on with worried expressions. The brooch lay on the polished surface, glinting in the light of the many candles and lamps illuminating the grand study.

Aragorn had been informed the moment the twins had arrived at the study, followed closely by Glorfindel, who had meet them on their way.

“It is obviously one of the brooches of the Dúnedain. There is no other explanation.” Glorfindel said. “A five-rayed star brooch that the Rangers pin over their cloaks on the shoulder.”

Aragorn picked it up gingerly and turned it over his hands. “But how did it come to be hidden in a child’s stuffed toy? It doesn't make any sense.”

“Well, someone clearly did not want it to be found,” Elladan spoke up.

Elrohir shifted on his feet. “We now know that the child is indeed part of the Dúnedain. No one else would have access to a brooch like that unless there was some family connection. This at least clears up that mystery.”

“But it just creates another handful!” Elladan said in frustration. “We know the child is Dúnedain, but why was she living in Cragknock instead of one of the Ranger’s strongholds? Why did someone hide the brooch in her stuffed bear? Does Aerinel even know what she was carrying?”

Aragorn stepped in. “The brooch would have be easy to hide in her stuffed bear. That, and it would also be hidden in the place least likely to be investigated!” He spread his hands out, emphasizing his point.

“Boys, please.” Elrond held up his hand for silence. “Arguing will not solve anything.”

Elrohir took the brooch from his younger brother; something had caught his eye. Holding it up to the light, he studied it carefully.

“What have you found, Elrohir?” Glorfindel asked kindly, coming to stand beside him.

Elrohir frowned. “This brooch is made from mithril,” he murmured. “See how it shines against the light?”

The others in the room crowded around, each taking turns to hold the brooch up to the light. Glorfindel looked at Elrond. “There is something not right here. Someone was trying to cover something up, either to hide it or forget about it. My guess it was the one of her parents.” His voice was strained, and Elrond could hear the underlying worry.

Elrond rubbed his temples. The mystery surrounding Aerinel was only becoming deeper and more uncertain the more he tried to investigate.

Elladan was now examining the brooch. “Elrohir is right. It is made of mithril. But how? Only the chieftain's brooch is made of mithril instead of regular silver, the one brooch handed down through each generation to the hair.” He looked directly at Aragorn.

“No one who didn't know about this would be aware.” Aragorn said pointedly. “It is hard enough to tell mithril from silver; people who did not know the difference would not be able to distinguish the two.”

“Estel, the brooch Halbarad gifted you – where is it?” Elrond asked.

“Upstairs in my room, pinned on my cloak.”

“Fetch it for me, please,” Elrond said, not giving a reason. Aragorn did as he was told. When he returned, he handed it to his father, who took it and held it against the brooch found in Aerinel’s bear. They were identical in shape and size.

“This doesn’t tell us anything except what we already know!” Elladan was growing a little impatient.

Glorfindel silenced the younger elf with a look, his eyes warning Elladan not to push his luck. Taking the two brooches, he examined them closely. On the back of Estel’s brooch, there was a small engraving of a tree with a tiny gem of emerald placed above it, surrounded by seven five-rayed stars. This was emblem of Elendil and his heirs.

“I wonder…” Glorfindel murmured quietly. He turned the other brooch over and looked at it closely, his fingers tracing over the surface that would face the cloak. “Does anyone have a knife?”

Elrond took one from a drawer in his desk and handed it to to the ancient warrior without a word. His sons crowded around, watching as Glorfindel used the tip of the knife to scrape the back of the brooch. “Aha!” he exclaimed with satisfaction as the silver coating on the back began to peel off. “The coating on the back is made of silver, not mithril. Now why would that be, if the rest of the brooch was cast in mithril?”

“Someone wanted to cover something up?” Elrohir suggested.

Glorfindel nodded. “Exactly, and I intend to find out what it was.” Slowly, the silver was coming off. The golden-haired warrior brushed off the last few remaining fragments and held the brooch up. Now visible was an engraving of a tree with a tiny gem of emerald placed above it, surrounded by seven five-rayed stars.

“Dear Valar!” Elladan exclaimed as Glorfindel handed the brooch over to Lord Elrond. “It was the emerald I felt,” he explained. “Someone had coated that extremely well. It would not have been looked for unless you went hunting for it.”

Elrond took it silently and studied it for a long time without saying anything. “Little jewel,” he murmured finally.

“Pardon?” Glorfindel stepped closer.

Elrond sighed and sat down in his chair. “Little jewel,” he repeated. “It was something Aerinel said to me several days ago. I paid no attention to it at the time, but now I see what she meant, although I do not think she meant to let it slip.”

“What did she say?” Aragorn asked.

Elrond looked up at the four faces eagerly waiting for an answer. “We were watching the stars come out one night. Aerinel asked me what they were and I told her they were little jewels put there by the Valar to light up the night sky.” He inhaled deeply. The child said she was a little jewel, that’s what her mother sometimes called her. Aerinel told me that her mother always said that she had to keep her little jewel safe, never let it go and always look after it. Of course, the child thought her mother meant her, but now I am beginning to think her mother meant the brooch.” He brought one hand up to rest under his chin, deep in thought.

Elladan blew out his cheeks. “Well,” he said unsure of what else he could say. “Her mother was obviously one very wise and clever lady.”

“Also a very scared one.” Elrohir cut in. “If she was that concerned about the brooch and went to that much trouble of hiding it in the child’s toy, she must have been very worried or frightened about someone or something.”

“This will cause panic, not only among the elves, but among the Dúnedain!” Elladan said. “Aerinel could turn out to be more that just an orphaned child. She could be...I don’t know...another heir to the throne of Gondor, for all we know!”

“Elladan, please!” Elrond said. “It is obvious that the child was abandoned. Now for what reasons, we still do not know. Aerinel presumes it was because her parents ‘died.’ I am not sure how much to believe. She could have been just told they died. But whatever the reason, she cannot be told of what we found here. This must be kept in complete secrecy until the truth is known.”

The twins and Aragorn nodded in understanding.

Elrond sighed deeply. “Now, the first thing to be done is to send a message to Mithrandir. He may know of something that could be of help to us. Elladan, Elrohir, I leave you in charge of arranging the dispatch. Estel, your job is to keep Aerinel as ignorant as possible. She is a quick child and will soon learn that something is up.” He stood up and came around the desk, heading for one of the large bookcases. “Oh, and see if you can sew up the bear again; the child will miss it in the morning,” he called over his shoulder.

Aragorn shook his head with a smile and picked up the discarded bear laying on the table, along with the old bits of cloth. “I’ll see if Telwen can mend it. She is usually quick at this sort of thing.” With a last look at his father, he too left the study, leaving only Glorfindel present.

“You know something!” Glorfindel’s voice was accusing when he spoke the moment the door clicked closed.

Elrond turned around. “That child, there is something about her.” He clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing again. “There was another child. Arador, Estel’s grandfather, had another sibling apart from his brother….a sister I think...but it was all very hushed up. I believe I was told she was stillborn-”

“But you are beginning to think otherwise?” Glorfindel cut in.

Elrond looked at him. “Yes. I have very vague knowledge of it…Halbarad would most likely known more. His great-grandfather was Arador’s father.”

“Should we send a message to the Rangers requesting his presence here?”

“Yes,” Elrond said quietly, walking towards the balcony. “Yes, I think that would be best.”

“You still haven’t told the twins about the pendant? Do you think that wise?” Glorfindel asked, glancing towards the door.

Elrond sighed. “If they knew, they would start imagining all sorts of possibilities. Estel had a right to know...the child is Dúnedain, after all. She will most likely return to the Rangers once she is old enough.” He shook his head. “No, until I know more, the pendant will be kept secret.”

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