Learning to Smile

Chapter 3

by Little Jewel-(T)
October 10, 2016

First > Previous > Next

Aragorn and the twin sons of Elrond rode hard through the night, pushing their horses at a fast pace. The hidden valley of Rivendell was only three leagues – or ten miles, as the crow flies – from where the rangers were camped for nightfall. The horses cantered steadily through the forest and across the wilderness, urged on by their riders who were anxious to reach the Last Homely House before it was too late for Aerinel.

The storm had finally blown itself out and the rain had eased off, making it easier to see. All that remained was the harsh, cold, northern wind that tugged on the edges of the riders’ cloaks as they raced through the murky gloom. Dark storm clouds rolled angrily above them with the threat of more rain, hiding the moon and cutting off the precious light of the stars.

The child had succumbed to exhaustion not long after leaving the rangers’ camp. She rode in front of Elladan, whose strong arms circled protectively around her slumped body, keeping her close to his own. Aerinel woke a couple of times, disorientated and frightened by the jarring movement of the horse beneath her. Each time, she was hushed by the elf holding her before her body surrendered to the fatigue and slipped unconscious once more.

Elladan had wrapped Aerinel in the folds of his thick cloak, hoping it would offer the child some protection against the cruel wind that nipped at their faces. The elf gazed down at the child in his arms. He saw the flush on her cheeks and felt the irregular rise and fall of her chest underneath his arms. His eyes saddened whenever he looked at her; she was far too thin for a child of her age.

Elladan tightened his hold on Aerinel as he felt the child begin to shake against him. A bout of harsh coughing wracked her small body. Thinking quickly, Elladan reined his stallion to a halt. He knew he could not continue to ride and hold onto Aerinel securely, and it would be foolish to try.

With a glance over his shoulder to see how his twin was faring with the child, Elrohir realized that Elladan wasn’t following them. “
Daro,” Elrohir called out, raising his hand and signalling for Aragorn to stop. As he brought his horses to a standstill, Elrohir’s ears picked up the sound of harsh coughing over the noise of the wind. His hands tightened on the reins as he turned his own mount around, his eyes scanning the area for his brother. He saw him not a few meters back, easing the child up in his arms.

Aragorn turned in his saddle, wondering why Elrohir had called out to stop. His eyes caught sight of Elladan. Wheeling his horse around, he briskly trotted back over to his brother. Elladan was holding the young girl close to him as he spoke soothingly to her, rubbing her chest in an effort to calm her breathing. Aerinel’s hands were curled into the soft material of the elf’s deep blue robes. Her eyes were closed tightly as she struggled for air while she coughed.

“Hush, little one, take it easy,” Elladan murmured softly into her ear. “Just breathe – that’s it, just breathe. In and out…in and out.” Slowly, Aerinel’s breathing evened out and she loosened her iron grip on the elf’s robes. The elf continued to whisper gentle words of comfort to the child as he checked her vitals, sliding in and out elvish and the common tongue. He found her small heart racing, pounding against her chest, and a rapid spike in her temperature. The child was growing steadily worse with each passing moment. It did not bode well for the her.

“Here,” a voice to his side said. He turned his face to see Elrohir come up beside him, holding out his waterskin. “I would say her throat must be hurting after that.”

Elladan took the offered waterskin with a nod of thanks and brought it to Aerinel’s dry and cracked lips. “Come on, little one, drink this for me,” the older twin coaxed gently, tipping it slightly and encouraging her to take a sip.

Aerinel didn’t have the strength to refuse. She slowly drank a few mouthfuls before trying to turn her head away. The elf noticed this and took the waterskin away, relieved that she had at taken least a few sips.

“She is growing weaker,” Elrohir said, his voice grave. His eyes, although no one could see them, betrayed the fear he felt for the young girl.

Aragorn pursed his lips into a thin line. “She is dehydrated, I fear. She is also far too thin – half-starved, by the looks of things. But I could not get her to drink any more for me. She has only had a few sips apart from what she has had to drink now,” he said, tilting his head towards Elladan. “She would not eat anything, either.”

Aerinel moaned weakly and tried to reach out towards Aragorn. Although the ranger had assured her that the glowing creatures – elves, he’d called them – wouldn’t harm her, Aerinel wanted to get away from them.

“No, little one, you must remain still for me,” Elladan cautioned her gently, wrapping the cloak around her small body more firmly.

Aerinel whimpered, her head against Elladan’s chest as a tremor shook her small frame. Her head was pounding and all she wanted to do was sleep.

Elrohir leaned over in his saddle and placed a hand on her forehead. “The fever has risen. Her body cannot fight it without medicine.”

Elladan adjusted his hold on the child, noting with alarm how fast and shallow Aerinel’s breathing was becoming. The elf wrapped his arms around Aerinel more securely and looked at his brothers. “We move now,” he said softly.

Elrohir and Aragorn nodded and kneed their horses on again, followed by Elladan with Aerinel. Time was running out.
 

~*~*~*S*~*~*~

The grey dawn began to break across the land. The pale rays of the winter sun peeked over the summits of the Misty Mountains, casting the sky in a labyrinth of pastel colours. The air smelled fresh and clean after the storm, as if the rain had washed the valley. Birds sung gaily in the trees, accompanied by the constant rush of water from the Bruinen.

It was a serene and peaceful scene, but inside the beautiful Last Homely House of Rivendell, Elrond Peredhel paced uneasily on the floor of his vast study. Every few moments, he glanced out of the large balcony windows that overlooked the main gardens. He could not shake off the feeling of unease that had settled in his heart overnight.

Despite the stunning beauty around him, he was completely unaware of it. Pausing for a moment, the elderly elf leaned against his desk, his eyes scanning the contents scattered about the smooth surface with little interest. In retrospect, Elrond knew that the twins had only left to search for Aragorn less than a week ago. It would take them time to locate the Rangers and find his foster son. But the elf lord could not shake off the feeling of dread deep within his heart.

The last they had heard, the rangers were travelling near Bree; therefore, the twins had decided to start their search in that locality, hoping that luck would aid them. He knew it would most likely border close on two weeks before there would be any sign of his sons, judging from past experiences.

Aragorn. Estel, his foster son. He had not seen the boy for close on to a decade now, not since he had discovered the truth about Estel and his daughter, Arwen. He and Estel had parted on bitter terms, the ranger leaving the place he had called home for so many years with a heart filled with sorrow and remorse, leaving behind an equally melancholy Elrond.

So deep in thought was the elf lord that he failed to hear the door to his study open as another elf stepped into the room.

Hír-nîn?” the elf questioned hesitantly, not wishing to startle his lord.

Elrond looked up, mildly surprised to see the other elf. “Moranuen,” he greeted. “What news is there?”

Moranuen dipped his head respectively. “Your sons have crossed the border into the valley, my lord. They will be arriving within the hour.”

Elrond was torn between relief, nervousness and shock on hearing this information. “Are you quite sure?”

“Certain, my lord. The border guards reported it not long ago. I took it upon myself to inform you.”

“And tell me, Moranuen, did the border guard say which of my sons are returning?” Elrond held his breath, waiting.

“I am afraid not, hír-nîn,” Moranuen replied.

Straightening up from his desk, Elrond inclined his head, dismissing the younger elf. “Thank you, Moranuen. Please ask Celboril to see if there is anything left over from the morning meal. No doubt my sons will be hungry when they arrive.”

“Of course, hír-nîn.” With a small bow, Moranuen turned on his heel and left the study, almost colliding with a tall, fair-haired elf on the way out. “Lord Glorfindel, forgive me. I did not see you there,” he apologised.

The golden Nolldorin elf waved the apology aside. “No matter, Moranuen.” He glanced inside the study. “You have informed Elrond of the arrival of his sons?”

Moranuen nodded. “Yes...forgive me, but he seemed surprised.”

“Aye,” Glorfindel glanced back over his shoulder into the room before facing Moranuen and clasping his shoulder. “Do not dwell on it. Have someone ready to take the horses when they arrive.” Having said so, the older elf disappeared inside the study, closing the door softly behind him.

Moranuen shrugged and went on with his daily activities.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Inside the room, Glorfindel watched his lord with a critical eye. Elrond stood with his back to him, his eyes focused on the world outside the window. It was one that just happened to look out upon the front courtyard of Rivendell.

Elrond did not notice Glorfindel’s presence. His thoughts were far away, wandering through memories and worries, snagging on the emptiness that ached in his heart. It had been seven, almost eight years since he had seen his youngest son, and he had many years ago closed off Estel’s room, keeping its contents safe until the boy – no, he was a ranger now – returned home.

He ran a hand over his face, massaging his temples. There was no fooling his heart. No matter how old Estel became or how long he stayed away, the human would always be his son, no matter what.

How he longed to see that smiling face just once more before another year passed. Never had he felt his human side more keenly than now. Never in his immortal life had the passing of simple, human years seemed so long as the past few had. No word, no news. Until now.

It had been by chance that a message from Gandalf the Grey had turned up, requesting to speak with Estel. Immediately, Elladan and Elrohir had seized the chance to ride out and search for their little brother. And now his sons were returning…with or without Estel, he did not know.

He was so completely absorbed in his thoughts that he didn't hear the figure coming up behind him. Following his lord’s gaze, Glorfindel asked rhetorically, “What is it that you are so worried about, Elrond?"

Startled at the sound of the voice, Elrond turned. Despite the obvious tension, the golden­-haired elf laughed softly at the look of surprise on Elrond's face. "I'm sorry,
mellon-nîn. I didn't mean to startle you."

Elrond nodded absently. "It's fine.”

“You are worried about Estel, are you not?” By the tensing of Elrond’s shoulders, Glorfindel knew he had struck a nerve. “You are worried about how he will receive you – and how you will receive him.”

Elrond did not say anything for a long moment. Then he sighed deeply. “You see through me far too well, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel chuckled lightly. “That may be so–” He cut off as something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He turned towards the window and at the same moment Elrond drew a sharp intake of breath.

In the distance, three horses emerged from the thickness of the forest, riding hard towards the gates of Rivendell. The sons of Elrond had returned.

The two elven lords waited in silence, Elrond straining his eyes to see his sons. Finally, they cleared the last of the trees, and he could see them more clearly. "They have Estel with them,” he murmured. It took the elven lord by surprise to see his human son riding between the twins.

Glorfindel had noticed this as well. "I must say I am mildly surprised they are returning with Estel so soon. Something must have occurred to bring them home with such haste. Do you know what has happened?” he questioned, never taking his eyes off the approaching figures.

Elrond shook his head. “Nay, I do not yet know what happened. But I fear for what I will discover.” He looked at the riders more closely. “They appear to be uninjured. But something has to be wrong, judging by the pace they're setting–” Elrond broke off abruptly. His oldest son was holding a bundle close to his chest. It bore a resemblance to the shape of a small body.

Glorfindel had noticed this as well. "I would guess that whatever it is Elladan is holding is the cause of their speed.”

Elrond turned and hastily left the study, followed closely by Glorfindel.

By the time the two elves had reached the main doors of the house, the twins and Aragorn had arrived in the courtyard, their mounts lathered and breathing hard. None of their riders looked much better. The twins’ long ebony locks were wind­blown and their faces covered in worry; Aragorn’s face was dirty and grim, as were his clothes, but that was to be expected from being out in the wilds.

"Father!" Elrohir cried, his face breaking out with relief as he saw the Lord of Rivendell coming down the steps, his deep purple robes trailing out behind him.

Elrond nodded, his eyes taking in the appearance of his adopted human son. "What is it? What have you gotten yourselves into now, Elrohir?"

Elrohir slid from his horse, the reins still clasped loosely in his hands. “Father, we have found Estel. It was by mere chance that we stumbled upon the Rangers close to the area of the North Downs.”

Aragorn had by now dismounted and stood beside his horse, unwilling to meet his father’s eyes. Elrond looked over at him, relieved to see the ranger unharmed. “It is good to have you home, Estel,” Elrond said kindly.

Aragorn slowly looked up and met the piercing gaze of the elf lord before Elrond turned his attention to Elladan who alighted from his mount a little more slowly, careful of the precious bundle in his arms.

Elrond could see now that it was a child, quite young, nestled in what appeared to be Elladan’s cloak. Her eyes were closed and her head rested against the elf’s chest. “A child, Elladan?” He raised one eyebrow. “Please explain yourself at once.”

“Father, I can explain,” Aragorn said as he stepped forward. “My rangers stumbled across a village destroyed by Orcs and fire. This child was the only survivor. She is, I fear, very ill.”

Elrond reached out and pulled the cloak away from the child’s face. “It is a girl,” he stated, looking up at his sons. Even as he watched, the child shivered, unconsciously trying to seek warmth in Elladan's arms. Reaching out, the elf lord placing a gentle hand on the child's forehead, frowning at what he felt. "She burns with a fever."

Elladan inclined his head. "Yes, she is ill both with fever and cold. Estel fears the illness has gone into her lungs. Also, there is a nasty gash on her right leg. I have already stitched it, but I fear that it could be infected.”

Elrond’s brow furrowed at those words. "Give her to me,” he said, holding out his arms. “I will take her to the healing rooms at once. You three may join me after you put away your horses and clean yourselves up."

Elladan gently placed the child in his father’s arms. Aerinel’s eyes flickered open and she whimpered as she felt a new unfamiliar set of arms holding her. She desperately tried to cling onto Elladan’s robes, her eyes darting wildly around. “S-St-Strider?” she called weakly, attempting to push herself out of the elf’s arms.

“Hush, little one. You are safe here. No one is going to harm you,” Elladan spoke softly. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze as he withdrew his arms from around the small child.

Elrond cradled Aerinel close to him, feeling the heat radiating off her. He could hear the deep rattle in her chest and how she struggled for air with each breath. His son was right; the child was seriously ill.

“Strider?” Aerinel cried softly again, trying to raise her head to catch a glimpse of the man. Handing his reins to Elrohir, Aragorn moved to his father’s side.

“Peace, Aerinel, I am still here,” he murmured, giving her hand a light squeeze. “You are safe. I will stay with you.”

“Estel, “ Elrond spoke quietly. “Your clothes are filthy with mud and sodden from the rain. Go and put on clean clothes, my son. The child will be safe with me.”

Aragorn shook his head. “Nay, I do not want to leave her alone among strangers. Let me come with you.”

With a sigh, Elrond nodded his consent. Still holding the child’s hand in his, Aragorn followed his father as the elder elf made his way up the steps and into the house.

“Come, Elrohir,” Elladan called to his brother, making him turn around. “The sooner we are through with the horses and clean ourselves up, the sooner we can return to Aerinel.”
 

~*~*~S~*~*~

Elrond swiftly made his way through the house towards the end of the home where there were several rooms reserved for injured or ill people. He met Glorfindel as he reached the top of the grand staircase. The fair-haired warrior said nothing, but raised one eyebrow in question at the sight of the small child wrapped in one of the twin’s cloaks in Elrond’s arms and the bedraggled state of the lord’s youngest son trailing behind.

Elrond shook his head. “Questions will be asked and answers will be told, but at this moment, the child needs care and attention. I will need your help, Glorfindel,” he added as he caught sight of the mud stains on the floor left by Aragorn’s boots. Celboril would have a fit when he discovered them.

“Of course,” the golden-haired elf replied instantly. He knew the whole story would come out later, but right now the first priority was the child lying in Elrond’s arms. He opened the door to one of the rooms, stepping back to allow Elrond in, accompanied closely by Aragorn. The room was not very large, but it was comfortable and housed a fireplace that would help keep the child warm.

Gently, Elrond laid the child on the large bed set against the wall, frowning at how small and terribly vulnerable she looked. She shivered violently, her eyes gazing around with trepidation. “Easy, child,” the elf murmured, reaching out to touch her hair. He stilled his hand when he saw the girl shy away from him, curling in on herself. “All right, I won’t touch you.”

Elrond turned to Aragorn and spoke, just as the man was about the lower himself into a chair. “Estel, before you do anything else, you will go and change this moment. You are soaking wet and dripping mud all over the house. Celboril will not be pleased.”

But Aragorn stubbornly refused, “No, father. I will stay with Aerinel if you will.”

However, Elrond was firm. “Estel, you will catch your death of cold if you remain in those sodden clothes any longer. Is that what you want? To be laid up in bed for naught but seven days?”

“But Aerinel–”

“Aerinel will be fine, Estel. She will not go anywhere.” Elrond pointed to the door. “Go and change…now!”

There was no point in arguing with the elf lord when he used that particular tone of voice. Pulling himself to his feet, he brushed his hand over the child’s hair. “I will be back, little one, I promise.” Meekly, he left the room, eliciting a grin from Glorfindel as he watched the human slink out the door.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aerinel lay on the bed, breathing fast. More pointy-eared creatures surrounded her and there was no escape. She was scared. She was cold, her leg was paining her and she felt awfully sick. She wanted Strider, but the man had left her in the arms of the dark-haired, glowing creature and walked away and out of the room.

Elrond’s heart went out to the small child. He pitied her, lying there obviously frightened. He knew the only way he would be allowed to touch her was if he gained her trust. Keeping his movements slow, the elf sat down on the edge of the bed. Glorfindel tactfully left the room to gather what healing supplies Elrond might need.

Elrond watched the child for a moment before he stretched out his hand towards her. As before, the child cowered away from him once again. “I will not hurt you, child. I am Strider’s father. I adopted Strider when he was a little boy, just like you.” He kept his voice low and calm. “Strider grew up here. We call him Estel.” He tried again to touch the child and this time she did not shy away, instead letting him rest his larger hand over her smaller one. “There, little one, there is nothing to be afraid of here. See? No one will hurt you.”

Aerinel looked up at him with large dark eyes, watching his every move.

Feeling that he was getting somewhere, Elrond picked up her hand and held it in his. “I heard Estel call you ‘Aerinel’…is that your name, little one?” He was rewarded with a shaky nod of the child’s head. “That is a beautiful name. My name is Elrond and I want to look after you; will you let me?”

The child made no protest, maybe it was fear that caused her lack of answers, but the elf lord took this as permission. He looked up as Glorfindel re-entered the room, his arms full of items. Among the items, Elrond’s sharp eyes saw a small, cotton nightshirt, obviously one of Estel’s old ones that would do nicely as a gown for the little girl.

With Glorfindel’s help, Elrond managed to get the child out of her wet, torn, and bloodied clothes. He could easily feel her ribs beneath his fingers. The child was nothing but skin and bone. Aerinel just lay there, unresponsive, as Elrond skillfully dressed her in the nightgown.

“Glorfindel, I need you to hold her. I need to examine the wound in her leg. It will be painful, since it is infected. Given the fact that she is so ill, however, I do not know if she will notice or not,” Elrond spoke, keeping his voice calm as he reached for the small limb, unwrapping the bandage around it.

Glorfindel nodded and carefully placed his hands on the small girl’s uninjured leg and shoulder, wincing at how hot the child was. "She is quite warm, Elrond. The fever has spread through her whole body,” Glorfindel said, noticing how tense the child had become.

Elrond nodded. “Mostly likely from the wound.” He bent to examine the wound, his hands feeling the area around the jagged cut. “Elladan did a fine job of stitching it,” he muttered. The skin around the cut was red and puffy, a sure sign of infection.

Glorfindel quirked an eyebrow. “How do you know it was Elladan?”

Elrond did not look up as he replied, “Elladan ties a small knot at the start of the thread so it does not pull through. Neither Elrohir nor Estel do this.”

“Ah,” Glorfindel said before his attention was snapped back to the child. Aerinel jerked underneath his hands and tried to scream, but she was so weak she barely made a sound.

Elrond gazed down at her, his wise eyes full of suffering for the girl. “Hush, little one. I am do not want to hurt you. I am trying to help you. I'm sorry that this gives you pain, but your wound is badly infected.”

Aerinel’s silver eyes were glassy with fever as she gazed up at the elf lord.

“Shh,” Elrond murmured softly. “I am almost done now.” Moments later, he was spared from putting the girl through more pain, as the child’s eyelids fluttered closed and her head lolled to the side.

“She has lost consciousness,” Glorfindel stated softly, brushing the child’s dirty hair away from her face.

Elrond frowned. “That may be a blessing for the poor thing; she would not have liked what I am about to do,” he said as he picked up a small, silver knife. “The wound needs to be drained to allow it to heal; otherwise, there is a chance she could lose the leg altogether.”

Glorfindel winced in sympathy as Elrond cut a small incision in her leg beside the stitches and a greenish fluid began to flow out. Using a cloth, the elf lord wiped away the fluid before carefully washing the wound with warm water. He repeated this procedure a number of times until the water ran clear. A few minutes later, he finished by wrapping a clean bandage around the child’s leg before putting away his supplies.

Glorfindel gazed down at the young girl. “I wonder what name the child was given.” He looked around at dark-haired elf lord behind him. “Do you not?”

Elrond glanced up from the small medical cabinet in the far corner of the room. “I believe Estel called her ‘Aerinel.’”

Glorfindel cocked his head to the side. “‘Star of the Sea’ in Sindarin? That is an unusual name to give an adan child,” he mused. “I wonder how she came to have that name.”

“I am sure we shall know the whole story soon enough,” Elrond said quietly. His sharp elven hearing caught the sound of three pairs of booted feet hurrying up the stairs, coming towards the room they were in.
 

~*~*~*S*~*~*~

Aragorn reached the door of the bedchamber just moments before Elladan and Elrohir. As he stepped inside, followed closely by the twins, his eyes were immediately drawn to Aerinel, who was lying in the large bed near the window with her eyes closed. She had been changed out of her dirty, torn clothing and was now dressed in a soft, cotton nightdress. The heavy blankets of the bed had been rolled down and a light sheet covered the child.

The ranger saw Elrohir frown at the rattle they could hear coming from Aerinel’s chest every time she took a breath.

“She is finding it difficult to breathe,” Elladan whispered to his twin, standing at the end of the bed, gazing down upon the small figure that look so tiny on the large sleeping couch.

“Aye,” Elrohir agreed with a nod. “She looks so...” He motioned with his hands, trying to find a word to describe what he felt. “…fragile, just lying there.”

“Take it easy with her; she is just coming around, for she passed out not too long ago.”

All heads swiveled to look at the newcomer in the room.

“Glorfindel,” Elladan acknowledged. “How does the child fare?”

The fair-haired elf stepped up closer to the bed and crossed his arms over his chest. “She is weak and the fever is only weakening her body more, the poor little mite.”

Elrohir clicked his tongue sympathetically.

Aragorn sat down on the edge of the the bed and gently stroked the young girl’s hot forehead with the backs of his fingers.

Aerinel moved her head slightly towards his touch and slowly opened her fever-glazed eyes. She blinked sluggishly, her eyes fixed in confusion on the pair of identical elves wearing matching robes of maroon and purple and standing at the foot of the bed. She tried to rub her eyes, but her arms felt too heavy to move.

Aragorn chuckled softly, directing the child’s attention to him. “Do not worry, little one. You are not seeing double. They are twins. That is why they are identical.” Aerinel turned and looked at what appeared to be a young man sitting beside the bed. Her eyelids flickered with confusion.

“Do you remember me, Aerinel?” Aragorn asked slowly.

Aerinel frowned as she tried to push through the fog that was surrounding her mind. This man was the one that had rescued her and had been kind to her in the forest. “Strider?” she whispered hesitantly.  

The ranger smiled. “Yes, little one, although you can call me Estel.”

“Estel,” Aerinel repeated, the word unfamiliar on her tongue. “I like that. It has a nice sound. Nicer than Strider.” Her voice sounded tired and rough.

“Greetings, Aerinel,” Elrohir said gently, moving up closer to the child on the other side of the bed and taking one of her hands in his larger one.

Aerinel looked up at the elf through weary eyes, although her mind was becoming slightly more alert. She remembered these two glowing creatures from the forest. One of them had treated her leg. Now she was surrounded by several of them. “Where am I?” she asked, sounding scared. Her eyes darted around the room in an almost wild manner.

“Peace, Aerinel, you are safe,” Elladan spoke up from the end of the bed. “You are in the House of Elrond.”

Aerinel’s eyes widened a little more when she heard the name. “I have heard of Elrond. Some of the men in the village used to speak of him. They say he is very wise and” – her voice dropped to barely a whisper – “that he is a magic elf.”

Elladan smiled. The small girl spoke with the sweet innocence of a child, refreshing to hear once again beneath the rafters of the ancient house. “You are correct, Aerinel. He is very wise, and yes, he is an elf, but I don’t know about being magic.”

“I am sorry,” she whispered. “You know my name, but I do not know any of yours.”

Elladan chuckled. “Forgive me. We are the sons of Elrond. I am Elladan, and that other odd-looking elf over there is my twin brother, Elrohir,” he said. He pointed at Elrohir, who made a face back at his brother, causing Aerinel to smile slightly.

“The man sitting beside you is our little brother, Estel. You are already acquainted with him,” Elrohir said, pointing across the bed at Aragorn. The ranger smiled as Aerinel turned her head and stared at him.

The younger twin suddenly realised what he still held in his hand. “Hey, look what I’ve got,” he said softly, producing the bear from behind and holding it towards the child. He had taken the stuffed toy out of his saddlebag when he left the stables, but had forgotten it until now.

Aerinel’s eyes lit up at the sight of the old tattered bear. “Teddy! You found him,” she cried weakly as she tried to pull herself up to take the bear from the elf. This resulted in a fit of coughing that shook her whole body. The elves winced at the coarse sound.

“Easy, little one, easy,” Aragorn murmured as he rubbed her back in soothing circles like he had done before. When the coughing ceased, he helped Aerinel to lay back down.

Elrohir smiled and tucked the bear under the sheet beside Aerinel. She immediately pulled it close, rubbing her cheek on the worn patch on the bear’s head. “Thank you,” she whispered shyly, looking up at the raven-haired elf with her large, silver-grey eyes.

Elrohir smiled at her gently as he knelt beside the bed and brushed a hand across her hair. “There is no need for thanks, little one. I can tell he is special to you and that you love him very much.” He was pleased when the child did not shy away from his touch.

Both twins looked up as the door eased open and a tall, dark-haired elf with shining grey eyes entered the room holding a steaming cup in his hands.

“Ah, I see the child is awake,” the dark-haired elf commented, coming over to the bed and setting the cup down on the bedside table as he leaned down slightly. He gently touched the back of his hand to the child’s forehead for a moment before withdrawing it. He smiled. “And what is your name, little one?” he asked kindly. “I am Elrond Peredhel, father of these three mischief-makers here.” His eyes twinkled as Elladan protested good-naturedly behind his back. “Do not worry about Elladan and Elrohir; they will not harm you. They are just very energetic.”

Aerinel stared at the elf above her, her eyes travelling over his long dark hair, intricately braided; his watchful eyes; his purple and silver robes; and the intricate designs embroidered on the clothes, taking it all in.

“I think she is shy, Father,” Elrohir spoke up from his kneeling position beside the bed with a smile.

Elrond smiled. “That is quite alright.” He glanced up at Aragorn, his earlier question repeated in his eyes.

Aragorn gazed down at the child. “Will you not tell them your name? The twins told you their names and father has introduced himself.”

Aerinel looked up at the ranger before peeking back at Elrond. “Aerinel,” she whispered.

“And tell them how old you are,” Aragorn encouraged.

“Seven” was the reply as Aerinel fiddled with the sheet, pulling it closer to her.

“My goodness, you are a big girl, are you not?”

Elrond smiled at Elrohir’s attempt to make the child feel more at ease around them. He caught Aragorn’s gaze, questions visible in his wise old eyes. But the ranger shook his head slightly. He would tell the rest of the story later when Aerinel was asleep.

“A beautiful name for a beautiful little girl,” Glorfindel commented. Aerinel’s eyes flicked to him.

The elf was tall and wore silver robes with a deep red sash around the middle. His outer robes were also of a deep red colour. But it was his face that captivated Aerinel. It was was fair and young, fearless and full of joy.

The golden-haired elf smiled as he watched the child’s eyes move back and forth. “She is quite a perceptive child, isn’t she?” he murmured softly to Elladan, who stood beside him. “I am watching her eyes. She is taking everything in.”

“Perceptive or curious?” Elladan asked. He spied his father as he picked up the cup and stirred the contents gently while he blew on it for cooling.

Glorfindel chuckled. “She is a child, Elladan. You get both. Still, there is a shadow behind this little one’s eyes. I can sense it, a shadow of uncertainty and of fear.” He watched as Elrohir played with the stuffed bear, making it talk and bringing a small smile to Aerinel’s face.

“I do not know the full story, but from what Aragorn has told me, the child was treated harshly in her earlier years and suffered a great loss. I’m assuming he speaks of her parents.” Elladan resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his brother’s antics.

Glorfindel said nothing, but observed the child with interest.

Elladan looked up as Elrond came back across the room, holding the steaming mug of amber liquid in his hands, He recognized it immediately and wrinkled his nose. His father shook his head and turned to the young girl.

“Aerinel, little one, I need you to drink this for me. Can you do that?” Elrond asked, holding the mug out towards her. “It will make you feel better.”

<>Aerinel nodded weakly. Aragorn moved to sit behind her and gently helped her to sit up, as the child was far too weak to do so on her own.

“I am sorry, sweetheart, but this is rather bitter,” Elrond said as he tipped the liquid into Aerinel’s mouth. She shuddered, but nonetheless swallowed it without a fuss.

“I am surprised but happy that you do not fear us anymore, little one,” Elrohir commented as he watched the child drink.

As soon as Aragorn had eased Aerinel back onto the bed, she blinked up tiredly at the elf. “Why would I? You're nice. Besides,” she said, turning to Aragorn as her eyes began to close, “you saved me and were kind to me. I know you won’t hurt me.” Her eyes began to close as she spoke the last words, and it was not long before she was fast asleep.

Elrond frowned as he felt Aerinel’s forehead. The fever was still rising slowly. He hoped the herbs he had given her would help to break it.

“Will she be alright, father?” Elladan asked anxiously.

Elrond lazed down at the sleeping child with worry in his eyes. “I do not know, Elladan. Her fever is very high. Her condition is perilous. I fear it will be touch-and-go for a long while.”

The twins nodded and settled themselves around the room. Elrohir pulled up a chair to the bed and sank into it, rearranging the cushions to his liking. Aragorn held Aerinel’s hand as he brushed her hair back from her face. There was something about the child that he could not, for the life of him, place his finger on. He could only hope that he would have the chance to discover what it was.

“Estel.”

The ranger turned at the sound of his father’s voice. Elrond held his son with a steady gaze. “The child, how did she come into your care?”

“That is a tale I too would much like to hear.” Glorfindel stepped up beside the lord of Rivendell. He turned to Elladan. “I did not expect you and your brother to return so soon with Estel. Your father was most surprised indeed.”

Elladan grinned back at him. “That was a stroke of luck, nothing more. The rangers had made camp not three leagues from here. However, we had not expected to return so soon. We were going to hunt for awhile with the rangers, but things changed.”

“And you had the child with you by then, when the twins found you?” Elrond asked, turning back to Aragorn.

The ranger nodded. “The village of Cragknock was destroyed by Orcs, who set it alight. There were no survivors except for this little one.” He looked down at Aerinel. “She was trapped beneath a burnt-out building that had partially collapsed. She had no means of escape.”

“Until you came along.” Elrond glanced up at Aragorn.

The man bit his lip. “We managed to get her out. She was injured and dehydrated. We moved from the village, for none could bear to stay near it. We then set up camp in the forest. Aerinel gradually got worse, and I was beginning to get rather concerned. However, Elladan and Elrohir showed up, and I am so thankful they did.” Aragorn sent a look of gratitude at his brothers. “Perfect timing, as usual!” He couldn't resist the gibe.


Elrond gazed down at the sleeping child, his hand coming to rest lightly on her forehead and feeling the unnatural heat radiating off her. “She is weak. But this I sense is not just from the recent injuries and trauma. There is a weakness and fear that goes deeper into the heart of this little one.”

Aragorn shifted uneasily. “Her parents are dead. She did not tell me when or where, only that she was entrusted into the care of her uncle, who, from her words, was a cruel man. I can only imagine that the child was not cared for with love and kindness.”

Elrond’s face was grim. “If this is true...”

“I know she speaks the truth,” Aragorn hurriedly cut across his father. “I doubt a child of seven would know how to lie as such.”

Behind him, he heard Glorfindel chuckle. “I once knew a little boy who knew quite well how to lie if it meant getting out of lessons or sneaking an extra berry tart from the kitchens before mealtimes.”

Aragorn had the grace to blush. “Thank you, Glorfindel. I really needed to be reminded of that right now. It was in grave danger of slipping my mind. But that’s not the point.”

“Estel, what Father was trying to say is that sometimes in certain circumstances, a child might feel the need to invent a falsehood to survive, or sometimes to get attention and sympathy.”


“It is not like that with Aerinel.” Aragorn rounded on the elder twin. “You did not see the fear in her eyes every time I made to move towards her. She was terrified. Look at her reaction to you when you tried to tend to her leg. Look at her reaction to
Ada and Glorfindel.”

“Peace,” Elrond said, tucking the sheet around the child more securely. “The first thing is to make sure Aerinel heals. Then we can discuss other matters. But for now, let her rest.”

“She is so tiny,” Elrohir said and leaned over the side of the bed. “She is too small and thin for a child of her age.”

A smile pulled at the corner of Elrond’s lips. “She will grow, Elrohir. Some children are just smaller at certain ages. Now hush, you three. Let the child get some rest, for she needs to sleep.”

The bedroom grew quiet as the twins settled down, engaging in soft conversation with Aragorn.

Elrond smiled slightly he watched his sons talking quietly together. It was nice to have them come home without being injured or close to death, for once. His gazed landed on Aragorn. It was good to have him home too, but the elf lord could feel the tension between himself and his adopted son. Time may have helped, but it had not healed all wounds. His eyes flickered to the bed where the small girl lay sleeping.

There was something about that child. Something that told him there was more to this little girl than met the eye.

He shook his head. Now was not the time for that.

First > Previous > Next

top