Learning to Smile

Chapter 2

by Little Jewel-(T)
October 10, 2016

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The Rangers travelled through the darkness away from the smouldering remains of the destroyed village. Once stars instead of smoke ruled the sky, Halbarad, striding at the head of the group, raised his hand, signalling the band of men to halt. Turning, he looked at Aragorn questioningly. “Will this do for the night? It is not much, but it is sheltered from the wind.” He gestured to a small clearing visible between the trees.

Aragorn nodded as he stepped into the small clearing in the forest, gazing around in satisfaction. “Indeed it will, Halbarad.”

With a short bark of orders, the older ranger quickly instructed a few of the men to start a campfire and help prepare the small rations of food they had with them.

Aragorn sat down with his back against a tree, careful of the precious bundle he carried in his arms.

“Strider, is there anything I can get you?” Tyrion, another of the rangers, stepped up beside his leader, his eyes taking in the sight of the small child wrapped in the large cloak.

Aragorn looked up. “Tyrion,” he said in greeting. “Could you find a waterskin and some fresh bandages? Oh, and please bring me my healing kit. The child’s leg needs attending. I fear I may need to stitch it.”

Tyrion nodded and left to gather the items that Aragorn had requested. He passed by Halbarad, stopping to ask the older ranger for his waterskin and where he could find Aragorn’s healing kit.

“How is the child?” Halbarad asked as he rummaged through his pack, searching for the waterskin.

“Still unconscious from what I could tell, the poor little thing,” Tyrion replied. “How could anyone leave a child to starve?”

Halbarad stood up, the waterskin in his hand along with Aragorn’s pouch of herbs and a small bag of other medical supplies. “Maybe no one intended to leave the child, Tyrion. Under the circumstances, anything could have happened. We will know more when the child recovers, Valar willing that she will. Now, was there anything else that Strider requested?”

Tyrion shook his head. “No, only clean bandages. I was going to ask Derent if he had any to spare.”

“No need, I have some here. I'll take these things over to Strider. I want to see for myself how the little one fares.” Tyrion nodded and moved away, but Halbarad’s voice called him back. “Tyrion, whenever that stew is ready, set aside a small bowl half-full and let it cool. Perhaps the child would like some when she wakes.”

“I’ll see to it myself, Halbarad,” Tyrion assured the older ranger.

Aragorn looked up as Halbarad knelt down beside him. Halbarad inclined his head towards the child. “How is she?” he asked as he set the things Aragorn had asked for down beside the other rager on the ground.

“Still unconscious, I am afraid.” Tenderly, Aragorn brushed his fingertips across Aerinel’s brow. “And the fever has risen slightly. I need to give her something to break it before it gets any worse.” He glanced at his herb pouch. “There should be something in there to help combat the fever. I will need her to drink some water for me. Aerinel…Aerinel, awaken, little one,” he called softly, gently trying to rouse the child. A low moan escaped the child’s lips, her head weakly turning from side to side as she struggled to return to consciousness.

Aragorn eased her upright in his arms, leaning her back against his chest and allowing her head to rest against his shoulder. “Easy, child…shhh…it’s alright, you're safe now,” he murmured, brushing her hair back from her face. “Can you hear me, Aerinel?”

Weakly, Aerinel reached out for something to hold onto. Her small fingers curled around the material of Aragorn’s leather overcoat as she struggled to open her eyes.

“Come on, Aerinel, open your eyes for me,” Aragorn coaxed calmly but persistently, rubbing her cheek gently while Halbarad looked on. Slowly, Aerinel’s eyes cracked open. She clutched at Aragorn’s arm, not quite aware of her surroundings. The young girl gazed around with half-lidded eyes, not really seeing anything. Her breathing was slightly accelerated.

“Shhh…easy there.” Aragorn’s soft voice caught her attention, and she felt a cool hand brush across her forehead. She turned her head around slowly and gazed up
with dazed grey eyes at the man that held her .

Aragorn gently cupped her face and brushed his thumb over her cheekbone. “You are not quite with us yet, are you?” he murmured, pulling Aerinel’s head back down to rest against his chest. The young girl allowed him to do so, unable to resist him.

Crouching down beside Aragorn, Halbarad reached over and tipped Aerinel’s chin up, studying her face. “She needs to drink; she is dehydrated. Her pupils are dilated and she probably has a headache.” He picked up the waterskin and unscrewed the cap before handing it to Aragorn. “Try and encourage her to drink, even if it is only a few sips.”

Taking the waterskin, Aragorn brought it to the child’s lips and tilted it slightly, encouraging her to drink. At first some of the water dribbled down Aerinel’s chin and she started to cough as she swallowed it down the wrong way. Aragorn waited patiently, patting her back carefully.

Aerinel ceased coughing and slowly shook her head, reaching out for the waterskin. Aragorn obliged and let the small child clasp her hands around his, pulling the container closer to her mouth. The water eased her parched throat and seemed to help clear Aerinel’s mind a little, for she gazed around with a little more awareness than she had before.

Aragorn and Halbarad waited, allowing the child to take in her surroundings, not wanting to startle her. Gradually, Aerinel seemed to realise that she was being held by someone and glanced behind her at Aragorn. Immediately, she began to squirm and wriggle, desperately trying to get out of his hold.

Aragorn instantly released her, as he did not want to frighten her. Straight away, Aerinel scrambled out of his lap and came to a halt a few feet away, crouched low with her hands hugging her knees.

Aragorn started to move towards her, but Halbarad’s firm hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Wait,” the older ranger whispered softly, “let the child come to us instead.”

The two men waited, watching the small girl’s eyes roam over them as she took everything in, as young children were wont to do.

“It’s all right, Aerinel,” Aragorn said quietly. “You have nothing to be afraid of. You will not come to any harm here, see?” He held up both his hands in a gesture of peace. “This is Halbarad, a good friend of mine. He won’t harm you either, I promise you.”

Halbarad stood to his feet and immediately Aerinel cowered away. However, the older ranger didn’t come anywhere near her. Instead, he stepped over to his pack and unwrapped a pile of blankets. He then turned and came back over to where Aragorn knelt and, all the while, Aerinel fixed her gaze on him. He smiled to himself as he laid out the bedroll near the fire before looking over at the child. “Here, little one, will you not sit on this? It is by far more comfortable that the cold, hard ground.” He patted the blankets encouragingly.

Aerinel hesitated for a moment. An icy wind blew through the trees and the child shivered violently.

“Aerinel, please come over here,” Aragorn pleaded kindly. “You are shivering. Come over here closer to the fire and get warm.” He saw the child shaking and was concerned for her health. “Come; you need to be warm, Aerinel, or you will get ill.”

Aerinel got to her feet as if she were very tired and stumbled over to the bedroll. Aragorn caught her and gently lowered her to the ground, drawing a blanket around her shoulders. “There, that is better, is it not?”

Aerinel nodded shyly. “Thank you….”

The man nodded in welcome. He looked up as he caught sight of Tyrion coming across the camp, a bowl in his hands. “Ah.” He glanced at the child with a small smile. “How do you feel about some food, Aerinel?”

A few minutes later, Aerinel sat curled up on the bedroll beside the small campfire with a bowl of warm stew in her hands. She looked up at the ranger sitting in front of her, wariness in her eyes. Although the tall, rugged man had shown her nothing but kindness, the little girl still seemed uneasy and afraid around him as if she had learned never to trust anyone easily. Her eyes paused momentarily on his face, reflecting his dark, tangled hair, the pale, strong face, and sharp gray eyes.

Aragorn smiled kindly at her. “You needn't be afraid, little one. No one here will harm you," he murmured quietly, noticing how the child’s eyes kept darting around and how she would jump at the smallest of noises. “I will not harm you.” He reached out with one hand, but stopped as he noticed her pull away from him slightly. “Alright, little one, I won’t come near. You eat your stew. It’s good for you and you need it.” Aragorn moved away and settled his hands in his lap, his eyes fixed lightly on the child as he took out his pipe and began filling it.

Aerinel dipped her head and ate a few spoonfuls of the stew. All the while, she kept one eye on Aragorn as if afraid that he would advance on her. She grimaced as her stomach churned against the food and looked up at the ranger once again, checking to see if he was still watching her. He was.

Aragorn's heart filled with sadness as he noted the sorrow glistening in the young girl's eyes. The horror Aerinel must have witnessed was far more than any child should ever have to see. "Little one?” he ventured softly, taking a chance and reaching out towards her.

Aerinel’s head jerked up as the large, calloused, but gentle hand touched her knee. He gazed into a pair of silver-grey eyes not unlike his own. "Y-yes?" she stammered, nearly upsetting the bowl clasped in her small hands.

Aragorn took away the bowl of half-finished stew, then gently took one of her smaller hands in his. Aerinel made to pull it away, but Aragorn held onto her gently, but firmly. “Peace, little one. I will not harm you, I promise. Trust me.”

Aerinel paused for a moment before she nodded and let her hand rest in the larger one of the ranger.

Aragorn smiled again, trying to put the young girl at ease. "You said your name was Aerinel, correct?”

Aerinel nodded slowly. “Y-yes.”

"Did you know that it is an elven name? It means ‘Star of the Sea’ in the common tongue,” Aragorn asked, curious to see if the child understood what her name meant.

Surprisingly, Aerinel nodded. “Yes, I know.

Aragorn titled his head to the side, studying the child before him in the light of the fire. “How do you know?”

“I was told… Mama… because of my eyes… storm… at sea,” Aerinel stuttered quietly. Her voice was quiet and broken, causing Aragorn to strain his ears to hear her properly. “But Uncle always said it meant ‘evil one.’”

“He did, did he?” Aragorn pressed his lips into a thin line and gently squeezed the child’s hand. “I wouldn’t believe what your uncle told you. Your name means ‘Star of the Sea,’ and it is a beautiful name.” He was curious to know why the child’s uncle had told her that her name meant such a thing.

“I never told Uncle that I knew what it meant. I was scared.” Aerinel rubbed her face against the head of the small toy she still held. Halbarad had handed it to her when she had woken and she had refused to put it down.

Aragorn smiled and pointed to the stuffed bear Aerinel held close to her. “And who is this?” The bear was made out of a soft, brown material and had three buttons sewn onto its face: two for eyes and and one for a nose. It was rather sweet, and Aragorn could imagine the mother of the little girl sitting by the fire sewing the small bear for her daughter.

Aerinel shrugged. “He never really had a name. I just always called him… Teddy.”

“Are you upset about your losing your uncle?” Aragorn asked carefully. He was surprised when Aerinel frowned, the skin between her eyes crinkling.

“He is… was… a very cruel man. I hated him,” she whispered. “I had to stay… with him since… since… Mama and Papa went… away… they never came back.”

“Your parents went away?” Aragorn frowned in confusion. Surely her parents wouldn’t have abandoned their child in the hands of a cruel man.

“They’re dead.” Aerinel said simply, looking up at him with large, empty eyes. “They were killed.”

Aragorn released a slow breath. “I am sorry, little one.”

“It is not your fault.” Aerinel paused and looked away. Aragorn knew that the child was reluctant to talk, to tell him, a man she did not know, of her past. He could understand that.

"When the…bad things…came, Uncle tried to hide in the house, but they found him. There was a fight and then the flames came." Aerinel looked up at Aragorn. "I cannot say I am sorry he is dead. I am very wicked to think such things, aren’t I?”

“No, no, little one. You are not wicked.” Aragorn shook his head, pulling the small girl closer to him even though she tried to pull away. “You are not wicked; don’t even think that… What was your uncle like?”

Aerinel looked at him for a long moment, sizing up whether or not to tell this stranger. “Mean,” she whispered. “I had to clean and if I didn’t he would…” Here she stopped talking, unsure.

“He would what, penneth?” Aragorn prompted, leaning in towards her.

Aerinel looked up over the head of her toy. “Hit me,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to be bad.” A tear slipped down her face. “I really didn’t.”

“Hush, child,” Aragorn soothed, brushing his thumb across her knuckles. “You are not bad, Aerinel. You are only a child.” His anger towards the child’s supposed ‘uncle’ had grown as he listened to Aerinel. The thought that someone could hold an innocent child like a prisoner in a house and treat her like a slave sickened him. It should never happen to her, to anyone.

“I was trapped in that room when the roof fell on top of me. I-I was s-so… scared an’… an’…” Aerinel choked on a sob as another tear rolled down her check, the events of the night catching up with her. She started to shake as she sobbed into her stuffed bear.

“Shh, little one,” Aragorn reached out and tried to touch her head, but Aerinel shied away in fright.

“It’s alright, Aerinel. Nothing will harm you here, I promise.” Aragorn had never had many dealings with small children, but he could not deny how much he wanted to hold Aerinel close and shield her from the fears that haunted her.

Hearing her name seemed to calm the child, and her sobs slowly quietened. Aragorn held out his hands to her. “I will not harm you; you have my word… will you not to come to me?”

Aerinel paused for a moment, her eyes fixed on the older humans. Slowly, very slowly, she inched her way over to Aragorn and placed her tiny hands in his much larger ones. Aragorn smiled and was rewarded with a rather watery attempt from the child in front of him.

“Now,” Aragorn murmured, “can you tell me what happened that night?”

Aerinel sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “There was a big moon in the sky.”

“A full moon?” Aragorn interrupted her.

Aerinel nodded. “Yes. It was same as every other night. Uncle yelled at me to go to bed. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. Then there was a lot of yelling and shouting…and banging.” She looked at Aragorn. “The door was broken down and the bad things came in. I tried to hide. I heard Uncle shouting. Then there was silence. Then it got really hot and there were flames all around… I… I… don’t remember much else.” She sniffed again. “I’m sorry.”

“Shhh, it’s all right,” Aragorn murmured. “You remembered very well.” He noticed Aerinel’s head dropping and her eyelids closing. “Come, little one, it’s time you slept. You are very tired and you need to rest,” Aragorn gently coaxed. As if on cue, Aerinel yawned widely. The ranger smiled and patted the blanket. “Come little one, lay down your weary head and sleep.”

Still clutching her bear tightly, Aerinel crawled onto the soft bedroll and lay down, watching the ranger intently with sleepy eyes. Aragorn covered her up with a blanket, tucking the edges in around her. “Sleep well, little Aerinel,” he whispered, brushing a finger across her brow.

The child closed her eyes with a sigh, and within moments she had fallen asleep, worn out with fear and exhaustion.


The fire crackled and snapped as the flames danced up into the air, casting a warm golden glow around the small glade in the forest where the rangers had set up camp. The stars twinkled in the darkness of the night sky, for there were no clouds overhead that night, the storm having blown them all away.

Aragorn sat on a broken log that had been shifted close to the fire. He was hunched over, his elbows resting on his knees and his pipe in his mouth. The ranger’s shaggy hair fell around his face like a dark curtain, shielding him from onlookers. He appeared to be staring at his feet, but in truth, Aragorn was staring at the small, skinny bundle lying asleep beside him.

Aerinel was curled up on a bedroll on the ground beside Aragorn’s feet, several blankets covering her against the chill of the night air despite the fever running through her. The tattered old bear was clutched tightly in her arms. Even in sleep, she refused to let her precious toy go.

Kneeling down beside her, Aragorn’s hands gently moved over her, checking her small body for any further injuries. But other than discovering a few light scratches and bruises that he knew would fade and heal in a few days, he was relieved to find no other major injuries. Poor little thing, he thought as he applied a light salve to one of the deeper cuts on her thin arm. His fingers brushed over her forehead. The fever has risen slightly, he mused as his sharp eyes caught sight of her dry and cracked lips. He ran his hands over her torso, feeling the small ribs sticking out prominently under the skin, the result of little or no food.

Aerinel shivered slightly under his touch. Reaching into his pack, he pulled out his own blanket and draped it over the sleeping child, shielding her from the chilly night air. “Easy there, penneth, shhh… you just sleep,” he murmured as he sat back on the log.

Aerinel,” such an unusual name for a human child. Aragorn mulled the thought over in his mind. “Star of the Sea.” Why name a child as such?

The Ranger knew that some descendants of the Númenóreans had bestowed Elven names to their children. But that had been a Dúnedain tradition, not a human one, and it had died out a long time ago. Why revive it now? Who were your parents, little one? he pondered, watching the soft rise and fall of the girl’s chest as she breathed. Why did they give you the name of Aerinel? Aragorn was shaken out of his thoughts as Halbarad sat down next to him on the fallen log.

"How is she?" the older ranger asked, inclining his head towards Aerinel, who shifted in her sleep and rolled over.

Aragorn sighed and removed his pipe from his mouth. "According to Aerinel, the Orcs attacked on a night with a full moon. She remembered looking out of the window and seeing it before the house collapsed around her. ”

Halbarad glanced up sharply at Aragorn in shook. “Aragorn, you do realise that the last full moon was seven days ago this night. Are you saying that the child was trapped alone and scared, in that burnt-down building for more than seven days?” He shuddered. “It doesn’t bear even thinking about.”

Aragorn didn’t reply. He reached down and affectionately brushed his fingertips across Aerinel’s forehead.

“Did she eat anything for you?” Halbarad asked, the tender action not lost on him.

Aragorn sighed. “She is not as dehydrated as she was. But with the fever I need her to drink even more. She is undernourished, but what could one expect after being buried alive for the length she was? I tried to coax her to eat some of the stew for me. She ate a few spoonfuls, but she pushed the bowl away looking as if she was going to be sick. She just clamped her mouth shut after that, and I could not bring myself to force her to eat the food. She is already frightened enough.”

"Give her time. Her stomach will have shrunk from the lack of food. It will take a while for her to get back to her usual self," Halbarad said as he poked the burning logs with a stick. The fire crackled and spat merrily, the sound of it alone bringing warmth to many of the men sitting or standing around the small glade, either resting or caring for their weapons. Neither mentioned what Aerinel’s ‘usual’ state might be.

With a sigh Halbarad looked at Aragorn. "What are you going to do with her?"

The simple question took Aragorn by surprise. In truth, he hadn't even thought about what to do with Aerinel. It had not even occurred to him that he was going to have to try and find the child a new home. Where would she go? Who would take her in?

Aragorn turned his head and gazed back at the older ranger. "I have given no thought to that matter yet, Halbarad. What shall I do? I cannot care for a child, not one as young as Aerinel, nor can she accompany us."

Halbarad rubbed his hands together absently. "It is true, what you say. We are men, warriors. Most of us do not have experience with children. Perhaps one of the neighbouring villages will take her, or maybe she will have family she can tell us about. The main thing is that she needs a home.”

"Nay, she does not have any living relatives. Her uncle was the last family member she knew about. Her parents are dead. She said they went away and never came back." Aragorn shook his head with a sigh, gazing into the fire, lost in thought.

With a sigh, his eyes glanced down at the sleeping child beside him. Without knowing why, he reached out and gently stroked Aerinel's shoulder-length hair. He smiled to himself as he brushed her hair away from her face. It was dark, similar to his.

Unexpectedly, Aerinel awoke and began coughing – harsh, rattling coughs that wracked her small body as she curled on her side as if trying to stop them. But they refused to let up. Again and again she coughed desperately trying to drag much needed air into her lungs.

A cold chill swept over Aragorn as Aerinel started to struggle for breath. Raising her to a sitting position, he rubbed the child's back, gently but urgently coaxing air into the tortured lungs.

Aerinel felt someone picking her up and gently setting her down on her knees, one arm supporting her while another rubbed her back. She continued to gasp, her body shaking with the force of the coughing as she gasped for breath in between the coughs.

Halbarad looked on worriedly as the young girl clutched at her chest as though in pain. Obviously, the harsh coughing was hurting her.

"Deep breaths, Aerinel… slow your breathing… take it easy." It was simple for Aragorn to say, but he knew that it was nearly impossible for the child to follow. Helpless, the only thing he could do was support Aerinel and rub her back in soothing circles until the convulsive cough eased up on its own.

Aerinel coughed weakly and choked for a while, making no move to rise or speak. She seemed utterly exhausted, which didn't surprise Aragorn. He knew the child was in pain from the way she was hunched over, trying to curl back in on herself.

"Halbarad," Aragorn called softly as he held Aerinel against him. "Can you pass me my waterskin, please?"

Halbarad nodded and got up, returning a few moments later with the waterskin. He passed it to Aragorn, who was still kneeling next to Aerinel, gently rubbing her ribs to try and steady her breathing.

"Shhh, little one, take it easy," Aragorn murmured again as he raised Aerinel's chin and pressed the waterskin to her lips. "Just sip it slowly, that’s it."

Aerinel drank a small amount of water before she turned her head away. Aragorn frowned at the young girl's still-labored breathing. "Aerinel… Aerinel, can you hear me?" he asked, concerned as he turned her in his arms so he could see her face.

Aerinel said nothing, but nodded her head and just closed her eyes, as if wishing she could fall asleep and forget about everything. Her throat must have felt as though it was on fire, and her head and chest ached from the lack of oxygen.

Aragorn lowered Aerinel onto the pile of blankets, checked her pulse, and listened to her breathing. He frowned at what he heard: the child's lungs were badly congested. The ranger continued to rub her ribs until her breathing had calmed down to a normal level. He smiled sadly as he watched Aerinel's eyes close while she drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

"How does she fare?" Halbarad whispered quietly as he crouched down next to Aragorn, careful not to disturb the sleeping child.

Aragorn ran his fingers through his hair. "I fear the illness has gone to her chest. There is liquid in her lungs." He brushed his hand lightly over Aerinel's forehead and frowned at the heat radiating off the young girl. "Her fever has also risen. I was hoping it wouldn't," he murmured as he retrieved a cloth. He wet it with the cool liquid from his waterskin before placing it on Aerinel's forehead.

As he did so, Aragorn couldn't help but notice how small and innocent the girl looked. She seemed to remind him of himself when he was a young boy, taken as a child to Lord Elrond in Rivendell when his parents were killed by Orcs. He’d been alone in the world, lost and frightened, wanting only a kind hand and a kind heart to soothe him.

“By my guess, I’d say the child has had that cough going on a while now. Something that bad doesn’t come on immediately like that.” The older ranger glanced at Aragorn.

“Aye, there is truth in your words, Halbarad.” Aragorn shook his head. “We shall just have to watch her and hope that it does not develop any further.” Having said this, the ranger settled himself down beside the child, watching her as the night passed.

<>For a while, Aerinel slept peacefully, but soon she began to shiver and moan quietly as the fever took hold of her. Aragorn replaced the now-warm cloth with a fresh, cool one and spoke soothingly, hoping to calm the child and coax her back into sleep.

"Hush, little one…go back to sleep. Nothing shall harm you. Shhh..." Aragorn murmured softly as he held Aerinel's hand in his, his thumb stroking her knuckles. But the young girl continued to twist and turn, crying out in feverish nightmares.

Sîdh, Aerinel, naun hí; ú-vaur gosto,” Aragorn spoke softly, slipping back into the Grey Tongue as he wiped the child’s forehead once more. “Peace, Aerinel, I am here; there is no need to fear.”

The Elven words seemed to help calm her, for Aerinel ceased to twist and turn and her breathing became deep and even once more. With relief, Aragorn sat back and ran his fingers through his hair. He gently settled the blankets but paused as he caught sight of the growing stain on the side of the child’s leg where the bandage was. A quick look confirmed his fears: the child’s leg was bleeding again.

Carefully removing the red-stained bandage, Aragorn used the corner of the cloth to wipe away the blood. He bit his lip as he gazed down at the wound. It was jagged and the skin was badly torn around the edges. One look at it and he immediately knew that it would need stitching to heal properly.

With a heavy heart, Aragorn prepared a needle and thread. He was loathe to put the child through more pain, but he had no other choice. Nor did he have anything with him that would numb the area, which made everything worse. He would just have to rely on his skill and pray that the small girl remained asleep for the duration of the operation.

He carefully bathed the wound using what little water he had left before steeling himself for what he was about to do. But before he could begin, the sound of horses’ hooves reached his ears. He looked up, startled. Halbarad was already on his feet, calling urgently to one of the men. A quick and heated conversation ensued before Halbarad strode quickly back across the camp to where Aragorn crouched beside the child.

"Aragorn, there are riders approaching!" he called out, his voice sounding slightly panicked. Men were standing up, securing their weapons and preparing themselves.

Oh, please not now. Aragorn closed his eyes and put down the needle. “How many are there?" he asked as he stood up, his eyes bright and alert. He shot the shivering child at his feet a worried glance. The last thing they needed now was a fight, especially with this ill little girl on hand.

"Tyrion estimates about two or three in number. They are riding at a fast pace, heading straight for this glade. Shall I tell the men to prepare for an attack?" Halbarad spoke quickly, his anxiety showing.
<>“No. Warn the men to be on alert, but do not drawn weapons unless strictly necessary,” Aragorn ordered.

However, Halbarad did not get the chance to relay the order to the rangers before two large, black stallions cut swiftly through the trees. With them, another dark chestnut horse kept pace. It bore no rider, but each stallion had a figure clad in dark coloured cloaks atop its back.

Before any of the rangers could draw a weapon, the rider nearest the men raised his hands in a sign of surrender and spoke. “Weapons will not be necessary,” he said as he lowered the hood of his cloak with his other hand.            “We come as friends of the Dúnedain.”

In the light of the fire, the men gathered around could see the rider had pale skin and long dark hair, the colour of ravens, held back over pointed ears by a braid on either side of his head. The creature spoke again, saying, "Mae govannen, Dúnedain. We mean you no harm. We come seeking your leader." His voice was musical and light as he dismounted from his prancing stallion.

"And you have found him!" Aragorn cried, rushing forwards unable to believe his ears as he recognized the voice he knew so well. "Elladan! It is a joy to see you!" he said as he clasped the tall elf in a crushing embrace.

"And you too, little brother!" Elladan said, laughing lightly and returning the pressure. The second rider lowered his hood, revealing a gently smiling face identical to that of Elladan.

"Elrohir, this is a surprise! What brings you out to the wilds looking for me?" Aragorn asked, his curiosity growing each moment. Around them, the men moved away, giving their leader a private moment with his brothers. Indeed, Aragorn’s interest was piqued. He had not seen his brothers in many a year now, not since things had broken down so much between himself and the Lord of Rivendell.

"Our father is in need of you," Elrohir said as he too dismounted and came to stand beside his twin. "There are things he wishes to speak with you about," he added, dropping his voice to a whisper.

Aragorn frowned as he looked from Elladan to Elrohir. “And pray tell me, what need does Lord Elrond have of me that he would send the two of you out searching for me now?” He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced from one elf to the other.

Elladan clasped his shoulder. “It would be unwise to discuss such things out here in the open. Even trees have ears, little brother.”

Aragorn bit his lip and opened his mouth to ask more questions, but he was interrupted by Halbarad urgently calling to him.

“Strider, Strider, the child – Aerinel – she’s gone!”

Aragorn turned quickly, his face filled with horror. “What? Where is she?”

“I do not know.” Halbarad spread his hands and shrugged helplessly. “She must have been frightened by the arrival of Lord Elladan and Lord Elrohir. My guess is she fled into the trees. The men cannot find her anywhere around the camp.”

Aragorn cursed under his breath. “We need to find her. She is not well. She won’t have gone far. Tell the men to search the nearby trees, but do not approach her if they find her. I do not want to frighten her into running further.”

Halbarad nodded and moved away towards the nearest trees. Aragorn made to follow him, but Elladan’s strong arm halted him. “Estel, who is this ‘Aerinel’ Halbarad speaks of?”

“She is a young child, only seven years old whom we rescued from a destroyed village not three miles north of here. She is ill; I need to find her.” Aragorn broke away from Elladan and headed towards the fire, looking for any sign of small footprints in the slightly damp earth.

Elladan watched his younger brother. “We shall help.” He glanced at his twin for confirmation.

Elrohir nodded. “Yes. Tell us what she looks like and what was she wearing, although I doubt there is a surplus of small children running around the forest at night.”

Aragorn smiled at them gratefully. “Thank you. She is quite small; she won’t have gone very far. She has short dark hair and her left leg is badly injured. She is dressed in a tunic and leggings. Her name is Aerinel, but I doubt she will answer to it just now.”


Elladan nodded and, with his twin at his side, joined in the search for the child. The men spread out, calling out softly for the child, but there was no sign of the young girl anywhere.

Elrohir broke away from Elladan and continued to search through the trees on the far side of the clearing, looking for any sign of a wandering child . He heard Aragorn calling the child’s name on the other side of the glade. His sharp eyes spotted his twin standing on the left of the glade staring into the forest, completely motionless.

Curious to know what his brother had found, he walked over to Elladan and opened his mouth to speak, but was surprised when his brother shushed him, pointing to the forest. “Fear not, young one, we will not harm you.” Elladan called quietly into the trees.

Elrohir looked at his brother in puzzlement. “Are you suggesting that the trees have no need to worry?”

Elladan glared at him. “No, but I think the child that is hiding among them might,” he said a little acidly, raising an eyebrow. “Do you not think so?”

Understanding dawned on Elrohir’s face, and he returned his gaze to the trees. He saw nothing, but could feel a tingling sensation running up his spine. They were being watched. He cast his gaze around, hoping to catch sight of the girl. There! His sharp eyes picked out a slight movement among the bushes and he glimpsed the figure of a small child. “Penneth,” he called out softly taking a step forward. “Little one, will you not come out?”

However, the figure only retreated further among the trees. The elves could feel the fear rolling off her in waves.

Elladan touched his arm lightly. “Go and find Estel; the child will not come to us.”

With a nod, Elrohir left to find Aragorn, knowing it was best to try and let the ranger and coax the child out.


Aerinel sat crouched upon the ground, shaking in the bushes as she watched one of the strange, glowing creatures walk off. The cold breeze chilled her to the bone and made her teeth chatter loudly together. She felt so cold, scared and alone. She wanted to find the kind man that had cared for her, but fear kept her rooted to the spot. She didn’t dare move in case one of the glowing creatures found her. But one had already found her.

It seemed to easily see the shivering child hidden among the bushes, maybe even smelled her blood and knew she was injured. It took a slow step forward.

Aerinel began to panic when she saw the creature take another step towards her hiding place. She had never seen creatures that glowed under the light of the moon before, and they frightened her. She looked around wildly for an escape route.

Her head snapped up. Someone was coming, she could hear the approaching voices. She shrank back deeper into the bushes. Three beings walked towards her now. Two were taller than the other and glowed faintly. The third being stood a little apart from the others and was speaking softly.

One called, “Aerinel, little one, please come out. We will not hurt you, I promise.”

Aerinel froze. They knew where she was. She started to tremble with fear.

“Aerinel,” he called again. “Please come out to me. I will not hurt you.”

The child recognised the voice of the kind man. Slowly, she began to make her way forward one trembling step at a time. Then she suddenly began coughing. She tumbled to her knees as the harsh coughs wracked her small body. She couldn’t breathe, and she was frightened.


Elrohir waited until Aragorn heard the coughing and immediately rose, moving towards the sound. He found Aerinel on the ground, gasping for breath. Scooped her into his arms, he made his way back towards the glade. The twin sons of Elrond followed their brother with concerned looks over to where he was kneeling on the ground, holding what Elrohir could make out, a young girl, no more than seven or eight summers old.

Elladan dropped to his knees beside Aragorn and firmly rubbed the young girl's back, murmuring soft reassurances. Slowly, the coughing subsided. Aerinel fell back against Aragorn, her chest rising and falling irregularly as her eyes drifted closed again.

"Aragorn, who is she?” Elrohir asked, a frown on his fair features as he stood behind the ranger, his dark cloak flapping around his calves in the light breeze that blew through the glade. He gazed down at the young girl. “Why is she with the rangers?"

Aragorn glanced up at the tall elf standing behind him and gazing down at the child in his arms. "This is Aerinel," he said as he carefully shifted the child in his arms so that her head rested against his shoulder. “Like I said before, we rescued her from a burnt building in her destroyed village. She is not well. She is young and she is dehydrated and malnourished.”

Elladan’s face was grave as he checked Aerinel’s vitals. The child was indeed weak and very ill.

“You said the village was destroyed. How did this occur?” The younger twin crouched down in front of his younger brother, questions tumbling from his lips.

Aragorn glanced up at Elrohir. “A pack of Orcs is terrorizing the lands around here, plundering and destroying the villages and towns, killing every living creature they come across, be it human or animal. Their movements are most unlike the Orcs I have dealt with in the past.”

Elrohir's eyes grew dark as he learned of the movement of the Orcs. His eyes once again strayed to Aerinel. Noticing the flush in the child's cheeks, the elf placed his hand on her forehand and quickly snatched it away. "Ai! She is burning with fever!" he exclaimed.

Aerinel's eyes flickered open at the sound of the elf’s voice. Elladan looked down at her, noting with interest and worry the way the child's silvery eyes shone in the firelight, bright with fever.

Aerinel’s eyes widened in fear as she took in the sight of the two before her. She shrank back against Aragorn as one of them reached out to touch her.

“Easy, Aerinel, it is only Elrohir. He will not harm you; he is my brother.” Aragorn shifted Aerinel around in his arms so that he could see her face. “You have nothing to fear, little one.”

Elrohir looked down at the child and his sharp eyes caught sight of the dark red stain seeping through the torn material of her leggings. “Estel, she is bleeding.”

Aragorn glanced down to where Elrohir pointed and cursed softly. “I meant to stitch it, but was unable to. You arrived as I was about to start and then the child ran off.”

Elladan knelt down beside his brother and gently took the small leg in his hands. Immediately, Aerinel pulled it away with a whimper and tried to hide in the folds of Aragorn’s tunic.

“Aerinel, easy, Elladan won’t harm you. He is only trying to help.” Aragorn gently rocked back and forth. “Let him have a look at your leg.”

“No,” Aerinel moaned as tears began to slip down her face. “No, please no,” she cried.

Aragorn couldn’t understand it. He glanced at Elladan beside him, who knelt perfectly still, waiting patiently. “Aerinel, what is wrong? Why do you fear Elladan and Elrohir? They will not harm you, I promise. They just want to help.”

“No,” Aerinel whispered. “They g-glow. They’re not like you. Strider… I’m f-frightened, please don’t l-let them near me.”

“Oh, Aerinel,” Aragorn whispered, stroking her cheek gently. “Do not be frightened. They only glow because they are elves. See?” He pointed at Elrohir. “He is an elf, a good person, and he will not harm you. Look at his ears – they are pointed instead of round. I promise you they are not bad, nor will they harm you. I would never let them near you if they intended to harm you.”

He nodded to Elladan, who once again took the small limb in his hands. This time, however, Aerinel didn’t pull away. Instead, she just lay in Aragorn’s arms, her little body tense as the gentle hand carefully pulled the material of her leggings away from the wound. She buried her face against Aragorn's chest, her small fist curling tightly against her side, her eyes gazing at nothing. Aragorn continued to stroke her cheek, trying to distract her from the pain or from Elladan, he wasn’t sure which.

Elladan tenderly examined the jagged wound. “Estel, the wound needs to be sutured. It is too deep and it will get infected if left any longer without treatment.” He gingerly felt around the wound with his finger, and Aerinel cried out. “I am sorry, penneth,” Elladan murmured before looking back up at Aragorn. “There are tiny shards of wood caught in the wound. They will be causing the child great pain and need to be removed.”

“That would make sense,” Aragorn spoke up softly, his hand still brushing Aerinel’s hair. “The child’s leg had been caught under a wooden beam from when the house collapsed around her. I fear the beam itself was actually holding the sides of the wound together.”

“It will have to be closed,” Elladan said seriously. “It cannot wait. The longer it is left like this, the more open to infection it is.”

Aragorn knew what Elladan meant, and he nodded. “Very well. Do what you must.”

“Will I do it or will you?” Elrohir asked, taking in the sight of the shivering child being held by his younger brother.

“I will do it,” Elladan said, standing up and rummaging around in his saddlebag for the small medical kit he carried with him always. He was better at antiseptic salves than Elrohir was.

“Elladan,” Elrohir said and looked up from bending over the small girl. “You cannot put her to sleep. Her fever is too high.”

Elladan paused, an earthen jar in his hands. He reached out and felt the child’s forehead. Elrohir was right. It would be too dangerous to put her to sleep with such a rise in her temperature. He bit his lip. The cut in her leg needed to be closed.

“Just numb the area around the cut,” Aragorn suggested. “That way it will not pain her.”

Elrohir nodded. “I agree with Estel. It is the safest way. Perhaps give her something to calm her?”

Elladan nodded. “Yes, that would be the best option we have.” Carefully, he mixed together the ingredients that he needed. He wanted the herbs to be strong enough to make the child drowsy, but not strong enough to knock her out completely. “Elrohir, please pass me your waterskin,” his twin requested quietly, keeping one eye on the child and how she just lay in Estel’s arms, unmoving. The elf knew this was partially from fear of him and his twin. Elrohir did as he was asked. He watched as his twin poured a small amount of the prepared mixture into a cup before diluting it with the water.

With the remaining mixture, Elladan carefully added a few more ingredients and mixed it together to form a thin paste. Then he took both mixtures over to where Aragorn sat comforting the little girl. “Here, try and get her to drink this. It does not matter much if she does not, but it would be less distressing for her.”

Aragorn took the offered cup and brought it to Aerinel’s lips. “Come on, little one, drink this for me. It will ease the pain in your leg.” He gently rubbed the corner of Aerinel’s mouth, encouraging her to open it. Slowly, Aerinel took a small sip, and another, and then another. “That’s it,” Aragorn murmured tipping the cup further.

Elrohir watched his brother with interest as he helped the child to drink the mixture of herbs. Beside him, Elladan was rummaging around in his kit for his needle and thread. The cut on the child’s leg looked extremely painful, but the little girl had not uttered a single sound other than to voice her fears about him and Elladan.

Having prepared what he would need to stitch the leg, Elladan sat back down and watched the child. She had taken the cupful and now lay limply in Aragorn’s arms, her eyes opening and closing sluggishly and her breathing becoming deeper and even. Her small hand curled and uncurled in the material of Aragorn’s tunic, and every so often her lips would move as if she was trying to say something.

Elladan touched her cheek, but Aerinel didn’t move or flinch. Assured that the child was sedated enough, he quickly applied the rest of the salve to her leg. A gentle pinch to the skin a few moments later told the Elf that the area had gone numb. Elladan looked up at Aragorn. “Estel, you might want to keep a hold of her. I do not know if she will feel any pain or not.”

Aragorn nodded and shifted the child in his arms so that she faced him, her chest pressed up against his, her little head resting against his shoulder. Elladan gently cleaned the wound with a soft cloth and some warm water that his twin had heated up. Elrohir hissed in sympathy with the child as his twin withdrew several small splinters of wood.

As the needle pierced her skin, Aerinel whimpered softly and she clutched at Aragorn’s tunic.

“Shh, little one,” Aragorn murmured, brushing her hair out of her eyes, noticing that her breathing had sped up slightly. He held her tightly while Elladan placed in a neat line of small stitches, trying the best he could to ensure the cut would not scar. Aerinel only moved once more, but was gently hushed by the ranger. When Elladan was finished, he applied the rest of the salve to the wound and wrapped it in a clean bandage.

“There, that should help ease the pain of it once the drowsiness wears off.” He reached up and brushed his fingertips across her forehead. “She burns with a fever, Estel. I fear the wound was already infected. She needs to be cared for properly. She will not survive out here in the wild.”

Aragorn bit his lip. He knew what Elladan said was true. He glanced down at the small, trembling child in his arms. In his heart he knew he could not care for her out in the wilderness. She needed someplace warm and dry.

Elrohir reached out and touched Aragorn's shoulder, drawing him out of his thoughts. "Estel, she is seriously ill. I agree with Elladan on this one. She needs to be kept warm and she needs to be cared for. She needs medicine; otherwise, I fear for her life. You know this.”

Aragorn nodded in agreement. He knew he wouldn't be able to treat Aerinel properly. She needed to kept warm and looked after. "What do you propose?"

Elladan looked at Elrohir, who nodded. "We will take her to Father – he will be able to care for her. He wishes to speak to you anyway. It would be best if we took the child to Rivendell with us. She will not survive long out here."

Aragorn nodded. Elladan bent down and glanced at Aragorn for permission before effortlessly lifting the child up into his arms, cradling her close to his chest. Aerinel murmured something and turned her head into the elf’s chest, seeking warmth and comfort. Elrohir followed his twin, thoughtfully picking up the discarded bear. He knew such a thing could only belong to the child.

Halbarad came over as Aragorn prepared to mount his horse. "Shall we expect your return?"

Aragorn looked at Aerinel, cradled in the Elf’s arms, and then thought about what Lord Elrond wanted him for. "You had better not. Send word to me in Rivendell of where you are when you have need of me, and I will meet you there."

Halbarad nodded. "Very well. Take care of the little one."

"I will do all that is in my power to save her," Aragorn said as he swung himself up into the saddle. He looked over to see Aerinel, now been held by Elrohir, who was already mounted.

Elladan jumped up nimbly onto his horse's back, his long cloak swinging out behind him. He reached out and took the young girl back from his twin, wrapping his cloak around her thin figure.

He swung his horse around to face Aragorn and Elrohir, urging it into a fast trot. "Come, we cannot delay."

His brothers nodded, and together, all three riders disappeared into the night, heading for the secret valley of Rivendell and the Last Homely House of Lord Elrond.

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