Gandalf sat in one of the high-backed chairs around the large, circular table in the middle of Lord Elrond’s study. There were maps and documents spread out all over the polished, dark mahogany surface. Elrond sat with his arms crossed over his chest on the other side of the table, deep frown lines set between his dangerously glinting grey eyes.
Glorfindel and Erestor were positioned on either side of the raven-haired elf lord. Elladan and Elrohir were also present, as was Aragorn. All were seated, expect for the ranger, who preferred to lean against one of the many bookcases in the room and observe the discussion from a discrete (if not exactly safe distance) as he listened to the voices, their tones rising in volume as tempers grew shorter.
“Are you implying that the One Ring has been found?” Glorfindel’s voice was hard as he pinned the wizard with his steely blue eyes.
“No! No!” Gandalf waved his hand in the air. “I do not imply anything of the sort, although it may very well be the case.”
Elladan rolled his eyes at his twin. Gandalf was talking in riddles again…nothing new there.
“Speak plainly, Mithrandir.” Elrond’s voice was cool, but there was an edge to it. “Explain to us how you came to this conclusion, if you would.”
Aragorn winced inwardly at his father’s tone of voice. It did not bode well for the wizard. Gandalf however, seemed unfazed by it all. “Do you remember Thorin and his Company?”
Elrond sighed. “How could I forget?”
Elrohir sniggered lightly. “Lindir was almost driven to distraction with thirteen dwarves and a hobbit running loose around Rivendell.”
“Excellent!” Gandalf continued. “Then I presume you all remember Bilbo?”
“The hobbit?” Elladan spoke up.
“Yes, that’s the one.” Gandalf chewed his pipe thoughtfully.
“What does a Hobbit have to do with the One Ring?” Erestor asked, clearly getting frustrated.
“I believe that Bilbo may have acquired the Ring while travelling through the Mountains.”
Elrond fixed Gandalf with a stern gaze, one eyebrow raised as he rested his fists against the table. “And how did this happen?”
Gandalf looked taken aback for a moment. “Well, I am not really sure about the series of events that led to it, but we can assume–”
“Gandalf!” Elrond called sharply through clenched teeth, halting the wizard in his tracks. “You do know, and you will tell us.”
Gandalf glanced around at the other occupants of the room. “I suspect that Bilbo came into contact with the creature called Gollum, formerly known as Sméagol. He was once a Stoor Hobbit of the River-folk who lived near the Gladden Fields and, somehow Bilbo managed to obtain the Ring from him. I am afraid I do not know the circumstances of how the Ring changed hands, but I fear that Gollum is now seeking to try and take it back. There have been reports of some new terror abroad, a ghost that drinks blood. It climbs trees to find nests, it crept into holes to find the young; it slips through windows to find cradles.”
Elladan looked disgusted. “That is horrible!” he cried, glancing over his shoulder at the door. Gandalf’s description made him want to go and check on Aerinel to make sure the child was still playing happily in her room. One look at Elrohir told him his twin felt the same way.
Elrond rubbed his temples. “If this is the One Ring, how can we be sure?”
Gandalf leaned across the table, stabbing at the wood with his finger. “I have been to Minas Tirith. I have read the scrolls of Isildur where he describes the Ring.” He sat back. “Still, we cannot prove that Bilbo’s ring is the One Ring at all. Therefore, I was tracking the creature Gollum.”
“Gollum,” Elrohir spoke the name aloud. “It is an unusual name, is it not?”
“Not so unusual for a creature fallen to darkness, brother,” Aragorn said, speaking for the first time. His voice was low and urgent, for he knew the dangers of such creatures. The ranger stepped around the table and came to stop behind Gandalf’s chair. “Tell me, Gandalf, what has been done about protection for the Shire? If we suspect the discovery of the One Ring, surely others will have also. I myself have been privy to Master Bilbo’s supposed ‘vanishing tricks.’”
Gandalf huffed. “The Rangers’ guard on the Shire has been doubled as of late. I warned Halbarad personally of it that last I spoke with him. He did not mention it to you?”
Aragorn glanced down at the wizard, raising one eyebrow much like his adoptive father. “No, he did not,” he said in the same low voice.
Gandalf shifted uneasily. “That is not my fault. Perhaps it slipped the man's mind. The main thing is that the borders of the Shire are well-guarded.”
Aragorn said nothing, but glanced back up at his father, wondering what the elderly elf was going to do.
Elrond stood up from his chair. “This news is not to be taken lightly,” he said. “But neither is it to be rushed at and listened to as truth. It could very well be a false trail and the ring some harmless magic trick.”
“By the Valar, Elrond!” Gandalf thundered, banging his fist on the table, getting to his feet with speed. Everyone jumped. “Can you not see what is happening?”
The elf lord glared at the wizard, but Gandalf ignored him as he ranted.
“Mount Doom is in flames again! Sauron has returned to Mordor! You know this, but yet you will not admit to it! Foolish elf!”
The twins and Aragorn held their breath. Rarely had they seen Gandalf so angry and never with their father. They knew Elrond would not tolerate being spoken to like that in his own home.
Gandalf sighed. “I believe Saruman to be a traitor to the White Council. Indeed, Isengard has almost become a fortress! He has agents in Bree and South-farthing. The Shadow of Mordor is lengthening.” The wizard sighed again as he gazed at the faces around him. “It is my belief that Saruman may have found one of the lost palantíri. I fear we can no longer trust him!” Gandalf swept out the large sleeves of his robe, exaggerating his point.
The elves and the ranger were quiet after the wizard’s outburst. This revelation of such information had surprised them all. No one had been expecting it.
Elrond sat further back in his chair. “If it is just your belief, how can we prove it?”
“Elves! You’re all the same!” Gandalf was clearly growing annoyed. “If you must know, there are others who agree with my suspicions of Saruman.”
Elrond raised one elegant eyebrow. “Do elaborate. Who are the others?”
“Your mother-in-law is one of the them!” the wizard snapped tiredly.
Elrond flinched slightly at the mention of Galadriel and the faintest hint of a snigger could be heard from the general direction of the twins. “I see.” Elrond chose his next words carefully. “If the Lady Galadriel deems it wise not to trust in the White Wizard, we must accept her caution.”
Gandalf sat back down with a huff, muttering under his breath about stubborn elves and their inadequacy to listen to any forewarning.
Finally, Glorfindel spoke. “What do you plan to do, Mithrandir?”
Gandalf sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I plan to track down Gollum. It is my hope that I will be able catch him before something else does…and I will not be doing it alone. I will need help.” He looked up and fixed his grey eyes on Aragorn.
The ranger inclined his head gracefully, accepting what the wizard was asking of him.
Elrond tightly pursed his lips together. “I should have known you would do something like this, Mithrandir.” There was no anger in his voice this time, only a barely audible hint of sadness. But the elf lord knew he could not stop his son. Aragorn had long grown into a man and taken his place as leader of the Dúnedain.
“However” – Gandalf’s voice broke through Elrond’s thoughts – “there is the matter of the pendant.”
Elrond’s head shot up and he glared openly at the wizard. Gandalf realized his mistake too late.
“What pendant?” Elladan asked quickly, looking between his father, Gandalf and Glorfindel. The latter was wearing a expression of concern on his face.
The elven lord realised there would be no keeping secrets now. Slowly, he reached into his robes and withdrew the delicate pendant. He laid it out on the table for all to see. Aragorn knew what it was. It was the necklace Elrond has shown him almost a month earlier when Aerinel was ill with fever. The necklace was almost identical to the Elendilmír.
Elrohir snatched it up and examined it closely. His eyes grew wide as he saw the five-rayed star backed on a thin piece of silver. He looked up at his father. “Where did you find this?” Elrohir asked as Elladan leaned over his shoulder to take the pendant from him.
“This is just like the Elendilmír,” he murmured, turning it over in his hands. Both twins gazed expectantly at Elrond, searching for an answer. “Only this is not set into a circlet, but hung on a chain, like a necklace. Who would create such a piece?”
In that moment, the elf lord could have gladly strangled the wizard for opening his mouth. He took a deep breath before answering his sons, “It was found sewn into a hidden pocket in....Aerinel’s old clothing.”
The cries of surprise and astonishment followed. Elrohir looked utterly shocked. “In Aerinel’s clothing? You mean this belongs to Aerinel?”
“I knew it!” Elladan hissed. “Didn’t I tell you Aerinel was different from other humans – more elf-like, similar to Aragorn in her appearance? There must be some connection! There must!”
“Peace, Elladan.” Elrond held up his hand for silence. “Aerinel herself may not know about it. Her parents were killed when she was quite young. It was obvious someone did not want this pendant found. No one would think to search through a child’s clothing.”
“So...what exactly does this mean?” Elrohir asked hesitantly.
“It means, young elf,” Gandalf said sternly, “that we have more questions than answers at this stage.”
Elladan realised that his youngest brother had not spoken nor come over to examine the pendant. He turned on Aragorn sharply. “You knew?”
Aragorn stared at the tips of his boots, guilt shining in his eyes. “I wanted to tell you, but…” His gaze shifted to Elrond.
“I told him not to say anything – not to anyone, not just you.” Elrond finished for him. “Forgive me, but I wanted to know more before I mentioned it. Aragorn in particular had a right to know; the Elendilmir is part of his inheritance.”
Elladan sat back in his chair, unhappy with the answer he received but accepting it all the same.
“So what is to be done?” Erestor asked.
Gandalf fiddled with the sleeve of his robe. “Well, I intend to hunt for Gollum along with Aragorn if he agrees to accompany me… I’m not getting any younger, I’ll have you know!”
Aragorn grinned slightly while Elrohir snorted elegantly behind his hand. “Indeed.”
The wizard glared at him in mock indignation.
“But what is to be done about the pendant?” Elladan asked with worry. “If Aerinel is truly connected to Isildur and Aragorn, she must be protected!”
“What Elladan says is true,” Elrond agreed.
Glorfindel looked over at him. “We must discover what we can before we take any action.”
Elrond raised his head and looked at Gandalf. “It looks like you win again, Mithrandir.”
The wizard chuckled. Elrond looked around at the others in the room. “I have given Gandalf permission to look into the mystery surrounding Aerinel and see if he can discover who Aerinel’s parents were, as well as what connections she might have to the line of Isildur.”
“What will become of the child?” Glorfindel asked.
Elrond sighed. “Until we know the truth, the child must stay here in Rivendell.”
A look of joy passed over the faces of his three sons. But Aragorn sobered as he remembered that he would be leaving soon with Gandalf. He would not be there to enjoy the time with Aerinel.
Gandalf spent three days in Rivendell. On the fourth morning, he and Aragorn prepared to leave. The wizard waited at the bottom of the steps as Aragorn said his farewells to his family.
Elrond stood with his son on the balcony. “Aragorn, son of Arathorn, I have said this once and I will say it again. You are my son, if not by blood, by all else that matters.”
Aragorn nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He knew that when he left his home and went out into the wilds, there was always the chance he might never make it back home. Elrond also knew it, and it terrified him.
Dawn was just breaking over the horizons of the mountains in the distance as everything slowly came to life once more with the new day. There was still a sharp bite to the air, for winter had not quite let go of the land.
Aragorn turned as he sensed, rather than heard, someone come up behind him. He saw Elrohir walk out onto the balcony, followed by Elladan, who was carrying Aerinel in his arms. The child’s face was streaked with tears.
“Little Aerinel wanted to say goodbye, didn’t you?” Elladan spoke, looking down at the small girl clinging to him.
Aerinel nodded, her eyes sparkling with tears in the early morning light.
“Oh, come here, dearheart.” Aragorn held out his arms and took Aerinel from his brother.
The child clung to him, burying her face in his shoulder. “Don’t want you to go,” she sobbed.
“Shh….” Aragorn murmured, rubbing her back in soothing circles, noting that the child was still dressed in a nightgown with a warm cloak draped around her shoulders. “I will be back, penneth. Don’t you worry, little one, alright?” Aragorn tried to assure the sobbing child.
“Don’t want you to go!” Aerinel repeated. Elrond looked on sadly. The child had come to trust Aragorn more than any of the elves, and now he was leaving her.
“I will be back before you know it,” Aragorn murmured in her ear, “I promise.” He bestowed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “Please do not cry, little one. I want to remember your smile, not your tears.” He brushed the hair away from her face. “Hm? Will you smile for me?”
Aerinel sniffed loudly before attempting a rather watery smile. Aragorn kissed her again. “That’s my brave girl.” He looked down as he felt something being pressed into his hand. He saw it was a wooden Dúnedain medallion. “Aerinel, this is yours. You should keep it.” He tried to hand it back, but Aerinel shook her head.
“Keep it. It kept me safe and now it will keep you safe,” she whispered.
Aragorn felt tears sting in the back of his eyes. “Thank you, little one. I will keep it safe and return it to you when I come home.”
“Aragorn!” Gandalf called from below.
The ranger kissed Aerinel once more before handing her over to Elladan.
“Stay safe, little brother,” Elrohir called after him teasingly as he watched the man hurry down the steps. “Who would we play pranks on if you are gone?”
The elves watched until the ranger and the wizard vanished into the forest, swallowed up by the trees.
“Come on, Aerinel,” Elladan whispered as he turned and entered the house. Aerinel sniffed and rested her head on the elf’s shoulder. “Estel will be back before you know it.”
Aerinel woke up with a start, letting out a soft cry as she sat up in the large bed. She fought off the bed sheets that had wrapped themselves around her arms and stomach while she had been sleeping. She tried desperately hard to calm her breathing as she wiped the tears from her eyes on the sleeves of her nightgown and sniffed quietly in the dark.
“Estel?” she whimpered. At the thought of the ranger she broke out into a sob and she began to cry as she sat alone in the dark. “Please Estel, I want you,” she sobbed quietly to herself.
After a few minutes she gathered her blanket into her hands and carefully slipped off the bed, landing with a soft bump on the floor. Now there was only the difficulty of getting across the room to the door. Shadows played on the floor as clouds blew in front of the moon outside.
Taking a deep breath, Aerinel dashed across the room as fast as she could, tripping over items of clothing that lay scattered about on her way. Upon reaching the door, she grasped the handle with both hands, standing on her tiptoes to do so, and pulled the heavy wooden door open. Once out in the dimly lit hallway, Aerinel padded across to Aragorn’s bedchambers and pushed open the door. “Estel?” she called in a whisper. “Estel?”
In her fear, the child had quite forgotten that the man was no longer in Rivendell. His bedchamber was empty; there was no fire in the fireplace, no lamps lit, and no curtains drawn.
Aerinel bit back a sob. Estel was gone. The man she trusted was gone, and she didn’t know who else she could turn to. The words Elladan had spoken to her as he put her to bed came back to her now.
You may always come to either me or Elrohir if you are scared, Aerinel. We will look after you, I promise.
Hesitantly, she made her ways towards what she knew to be Elladan’s bedchamber. Standing in front of the tall oaken door, Aerinel stood on her tiptoes and grasped the gold, ornamented doorknob, slowly turning it and releasing the door catch. Nervously, she glanced inside the huge room. Not a sound was to be heard except for the light breeze as it whistled down the gorge.
She paused for a moment and chanced a look back down the dark hallway, searching for signs that any of the elves were awake. No one was present. Swallowing back her tears, Aerinel squeezed through the narrow opening in the doorway and quietly padded up next to Elladan’s bed.
The tall bed was covered in light blankets that fell in folds from where the elf lay sleeping. Aerinel could barely see the top of the bed, and so putting her own blanket around her shoulders, she quietly climbed the wooden frame, catching hold of the blankets, and pulled herself up to lean over the elf and stare at him.
Elladan was sleeping on his back, his lips parted slightly, one hand clutching the blanket and the other resting lightly across his chest. But it was the elf's eyes that caused Aerinel’s small heart to stop momentarily.
Elladan’s eyes were open.
The child watched him for a few seconds to see if he would blink; perhaps the elf was merely awake and thinking. But when Elladan did not move or blink, horror swept through the child. The only people he had ever seen who lay perfectly still with their eyes open were dead people.
Tears pooled in her eyes as fear shot through her like a lightening bolt. “Elladan!” she called, shaking him lightly. “Elladan!” But the elf did not move, for he was far away wandering the path of elven dreams.
Crying rather loudly now, Aerinel slipped off the bed and
ran from the
room. She could not believe that the elf was dead. He had put her to
hours ago and had been very much alive. She stumbled along the
heading for the room that lay at the end, the one she knew belonged to
“Elrond,” she sobbed, banging on the door. “Please wake
up. Please!” By
this stage, the child was almost hysterical. Abruptly, the door opened.
scrambled in shock back into the shadows and waited to see if the elf
But Elrond had elven eyes and easily spotted the frightened child when he opened the door. His frown softened in concern as he leaned down to look at the small girl crouched into the corner. “Aerinel, what are you doing up at this hour?” he asked softly, though he was sure he already knew the answer. “What is the matter, penneth?”
Aerinel opened her mouth once or twice, but no words came out. Elrond grew concerned and knelt down on the soft carpeting, bringing himself eye-level with the child. “What is wrong, Aerinel? Tell me.” He could see the tears streaming down the child’s face and gently held out his hand. “Tell me what happened, Aerinel,” Elrond repeated.
“Got scared,” Aerinel mumbled around her tears. “Went to Estel’s room, but no one was there, so I went to Ell’dan but he’s gone!”
The elf lord frowned slightly, not quite following the
“Ell’dan’s dead!” Aerinel finally sobbed out as she fell forwards into the elf’s strong arms.
Elrond caught the child and held her close as he tried to make sense of what he had just heard. Elladan is dead? He frowned. “Aerinel, why do you think Elladan is dead?” he asked, still was at a loss as to the child's distress.
“Because his eyes were open, but he wasn’t awake!” The child’s crying increased again.
“Oh, Aerinel." Sudden realization hit the elf, stealing his breath away for a moment as he gathered the small girl in his arms and held the her tightly against him.
Aerinel laid her head on the elf lord's tunic and pressed her ear against his chest, listening to the steady beat of the elven heart. Her hands tightened involuntarily in the folds of the silky shirt as Elrond picked her up and began to walk back down the corridor. He rocked the child gently, now finally understanding the child's fears.
When he spoke, his voice was very soft, but it reverberated loudly in his chest under Aerinel's ear. “Aerinel, elves sleep with their eyes open." He stroked the child’s hair with his free hand and continued, "So when you saw Elladan, he was merely sleeping. You have nothing to worry about. Come, I’ll show you.”
Aerinel nodded slightly. She pushed away from the elf and stared up into the large, dark eyes, "Maybe then the others in the village were just sleeping. Maybe they weren't dead after all!"
The hope in the little girl’s eyes stabbed through the elf's heart. He looked away with a sigh before returning the gaze that was begging him to agree. "Such hope in such a little person.” How much you are like Estel, dear child. Elrond smiled down at Aerinel. He dreaded explaining the truth to the child and then having to stare into the huge tear-filled eyes. Pulling Aerinel back into his arms, he waited until Aerinel had once again settled against him and continued to explain.
After thinking for a bit how to explain it to Aerinel gently, he said, “Humans don't sleep with their eyes open, Aerinel. Only elves do." He waited to see how the child would respond. When Aerinel didn't speak, he leaned down to look into the child's face. "Aerinel?"
The small girl nodded, trying hard not to cry again. "I understand. I just... hoped." She fidgeted with the button on the elf's shirt near her hand, not meeting the his eyes.
Elrond sighed. Sometimes fate could be cruel. Humans
lived such short lives.
The elf lord really hadn't wanted to grow attached to the child when
had brought her to Rivendell. Now as he comforted Aerinel, he realized
too late and he was falling into the trap...again. He smiled to himself
pushed open the door to his son’s room and stepped inside. Aerinel
clung to him
fearfully as they approached the bed.
Elrond smiled, looking down at the child in his arms. "Yes. I am afraid so,” he said, answering for the girl. He brushed his palm over Aerinel’s hair as he continued, “I am afraid Aerinel just discovered that elves sleep with their eyes open."
Elladan clicked his tongue sympathetically. “Oh, the poor little thing. I had almost forgotten that humans don’t. What a revelation for her. I suppose we should have warned her…”
“She thought it meant that you were dead.” Elrond sighed and stared at his son, who instantly reached out to take the child from his father.
“Oh, my poor penneth,” he murmured, cradling her close to him. Aerinel sniffed and snaked her little arms around his neck, clinging to him tightly.
“When I told her elves slept with their eyes open, she...hoped it meant the villagers would still be alive,” Elrond murmured to his son.
Elladan felt his heart going out to the little girl. "Poor child,” he whispered, rocking her back and forth in his arms.
Aerinel shifted against him, her head lying in the crook of the elf’s elbow. She opened her eyes and glanced up at Elrond.
The older elf smiled down at her and brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. “Hush, child, you are safe, you are loved.” Aerinel nestled against Elladan’s shirt and closed her eyes again, letting out a shuddering breath.
After several minutes, Elrond spoke again. "Are you ready to go back to your own bed now?"
Aerinel paused, curled safely in Elladan’s arms. Quietly, she finally responded, "Can I just stay here for a little bit longer?" She tightened her hold around the elf's arm, as if dreading being denied the safety. "Please?"
Elladan smiled as he continued to rock her back and forth. “Shhh, little one, of course you may.” He picked up the baby blanket Elrond had placed on the bed when he came in and draped it over the child. “Sleep, tithen pen. I will watch over you,” he murmured, leaning down to place light kisses on her cheeks, nose, and forehead.
Aerinel sighed against him and released her grip, relaxing into the strong arms that held her. She was content to lie there with her ear pressed to the elf's chest, listening to the steady heartbeat. Elladan began to hum an old elven lullaby that his mother had sung to him and Elrohir anytime either of them were frightened. The child in his arms smiled against him and relaxed further, the soft humming lulling her back to sleep. In moments, the child was fast asleep.
Elrond smiled fondly as he watched his son comfort the child, letting her know she was well cared for and well loved. He brushed the stray locks of hair from the small face and watched the sleeping child. The human's long, dark eyelashes brushed her pale cheeks, and her mouth was slightly open as he breathed slowly and deeply.
“Would you like me to put her back into her own bed now?” Elrond asked softly.
Elladan paused, considering the question. He, too, knew
if the child awoke
again from a nightmare, she would more than likely stay in her own bed
than come and look for someone. “Would you mind if Aerinel stayed with
Back in his own room, Elrond walked over to the large window and pulled open the heavy drapes, gazing out into the moonlit world below him. He could hear the sound of the rushing river near by. A night owl flew past, screeching as it hunted for food. Deer bounded through the trees on the far side of the valley. Everything was serene and peaceful, a small world hidden from the evil seeking to destroy it.
The elf lord sighed deeply, thinking. It was good to hear his wife’s lullaby again under the rafters of Rivendell. Maybe he would raise the child after all. After all, the house could use some light in these dark days. The image of the pendant rose in his mind. What it meant, he could not tell.
Perhaps the child had other family members willing to take her in? He had considered the solution before, and it had its merits. It could be better if Aerinel grew up among humans, not elves. There was no doubt that if she was Dúnedain that one day she would seek to return to her own people and come under the strong leadership of Aragorn.
And then there were his sons to consider. They had grown so attached to the child in such a short space of time. The twins he could understand, for he had seen how they treated Estel and how much the boy had adored them. But he had never seen Aragorn with a child. He was surprised at how gentle, calm, and understanding the man was when it came to Aerinel’s fears and how much the girl seemed to trust him. Maybe it was because he was a human? Or perhaps because he was the one to rescue her? Whatever it was, the child had developed a strong love for the ranger.
He smiled to himself. Time would tell. If she stayed in
would be enjoyable to watch Aerinel grow up into a beautiful young
wondered absently as he fell back to sleep what type of adult the young
would grow into and what kind of world she would face.
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