Learning to Smile

Chapter 4

by Little Jewel-(T)
date, 2016

First > Previous > Next in progress

By the next morning, Aerinel's condition was declining rapidly. The twins and Aragorn crept into the room where the little girl lay just as the dawn was breaking over the valley. They were met by Glorfindel on his way out with a basin of water in his hands, his face troubled.

“How does she fare this morning?” Elrohir inquired, inclining his head towards the room as they conversed quietly in the hallway.

Glorfindel shook his head. “Not well, I am afraid. The fever is proving strong and difficult to break.”

Elladan saw that the golden-haired elf was unsettled. He glimpsed into the room behind Glorfindel to see an equally disconcerted Elrond inside, his forehead creased with lines of worry as he paced back and forth slowly.

Aragorn excused himself and slipped into the bedchamber. Seeing the elder elf pacing across the room, wearing the robes he’d worn last night, sent a shiver of apprehension down Aragorn’s back. The fact that Elrond had not changed his attire showed that he had not rested. It did not bond well for the child.  

Elrond broke out from his thoughts as he noticed his human son standing in the room, watching him closely. “Estel,” he greeted. “I did not expect to see you up before the dawn. I trust you slept well?” He smiled tiredly at the ranger, banishing the lines of worry from his face with practised ease.

Aragorn shrugged as he moved further into the room. “As well as possible, given the circumstances.”

Elrond nodded and turned back towards the large, picturesque window, his gaze travelling over the gardens below. Throughout the night the child’s temperature had continued to rise, despite the herbs the elf lord had added to the tea the previous evening. Aerinel burned with a high fever and the coughing was only becoming more frequent and more jarring to her small body.  

“You did not rest last night.” It was more a statement than a question.

Slowly, the elf turned back around to face Aragorn. “No, I did not. I am sure you could tell as much from my clothing,” he said with a teasing smirk, trying to lighten the atmosphere of the bedchamber. He became sober once again. “I felt it best to stay and ensure the child was comfortable. In a strange house, nighttime can be rather frightening sometimes, especially for one so young as Aerinel.” He did not add his concern about the fear the child held for the elves.

Aragorn folded his right leg beneath him as he sat on the edge of the mattress. He leaned over and touched Aerinel’s forehead with the back of his fingers. “She wasn’t this bad last night.” He looked up at his foster father, worry etched into the lines around his grey eyes. “How come she has deteriorated so much in so little time?”

Elrond rubbed a hand across his face exhaustively. “I can only reckon that the child was ill before you rescued her...that and taking into consideration how long the wound in her leg was open to the elements. Together, they must have brought the fever on more strongly.”
 

<>Aerinel coughed harshly, her eyes squeezing tightly closed. She mumbled something unintelligible before attempting to roll over onto her side, fussing lightly with the blanket that covered her.

Elrond moved to the table that stood beside the bed and soaked a piece of cloth in an earthen basin that Aragorn had failed to notice was there. He wrung it out and pressed it against Aerinel's hot brow as he gently eased her onto her back once again. “Easy, 
penneth<>,” he murmured. “Do not strain yourself.”

Aerinel groaned. “I...feel so...hot…’n then...cold….” She twisted away from Elrond’s hand and opened her eyes. She stared at the elf lord for a brief moment, youthful, grey eyes locking with ancient, dark grey ones before she swallowed nervously. “Estel…?” she whispered fearfully.

Elrond smiled down at her kindly. “Estel is right here beside you, penneth, look.”

The child twisted her head around until her eyes fell on the man sitting on the bed. “Estel,” she muttered, reaching out with one small hand towards him.

Aragorn caught the little hand in his much larger one. “I am here, Aerinel.”

Aerinel moved restlessly under the light blanket covering her. “Estel….I’m scared….I-I want to g-go ho-home.” she sobbed. “I’m...sc-scared...don’t like….e-elves.”  

Sensing the child’s fearfulness, Elrond began to soothe her with soft, gentle words, stroking the wet cloth across her face. "Shh, you are going to be just fine, penneth,” he assured, holding the child still with one hand. Ú-vaur gosto. Losto, hên.”

Unable to move in the elf’s strong but gentle grip, Aerinel gulped back a sob and listened to his voice as he spoke to her. Although unable to understand the words, they seemed to have an affect on the child, easing her fear. Her eyelids began to droop and she became still, snuggled down against the blanket.

Losto vae, penneth; le mae dirnen hí.”

With a deep sigh, Aerinel allowed her eyes to close, letting the soothing sound of the words wash over her.

Aragorn looked up as Elladan and Elrohir silently appeared on the other side of the bed. Both twins wore troubled expressions on their identical faces as they leaned over the bed, eyes fixed on the small child that lay there.

“You heard her?” Aragorn questioned.

Elladan nodded. “Aye, we did,” he sighed. “Why does she have such a fear of elves? We have done nothing to warrant her being so utterly terrified of us.”

Aragorn shrugged nonchalantly. “I do not know. Be assured it is nothing either of you have done. She was frightened of you in the forest before she even knew you. Her fear must come from elsewhere.”

“Is she asleep?” Elrohir asked, straightening up and walking over to where Elrond stood by the table preparing some herbal mixture, taking a sniff of the contents. The elf suspected it was another healing elixir, probably stronger than the previous one his father had administered to the child.

The elf lord shook his head negatively as he ground up several sweet-smelling leaves together. “No. She lies merely in a light slumber right now, although she has been slipping in and out of a deeper sleep throughout the night.”

Elladan brushed Aerinel’s hair back and rested his hand on her forehead for a moment. “Poor thing,” he murmured to no one in particular. He rearranged the blanket around her, tucking the child’s small hands underneath the light cover.

Aerinel stirred under his light touch. “I’m cold,” she mumbled trying to pull the blanket closer around her.

Elladan smiled sadly. “I know, penneth, but we must try and keep you cool – at least until your fever lowers,” he said sympathetically as he pulled the blanket away from her face again.

Aragorn looked up behind him as he felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder and found himself gazing into Elrond’s face. The elf’s eyes betrayed none of the worry he felt as he took in the sight of Elladan carefully rearranging the blanket so that Aerinel would remain warm, but her body would be allowed to cool. “How long is it since the child last ate something?” he inquired softly.

Aragorn’s brow furrowed in concentration. “It would have been the night we found her. She ate a few spoonfuls of stew for me...not much, but it was something.” He glanced back over his shoulder at his father.

“I thought as much,” Elrond murmured quietly as he stepped away from the bed. Speaking louder, he said, “Elrohir, please finish preparing this elixir, if you would.”

“Where are you going?” Aragorn called out as Elrond opened the door. The elf lord just raised one eyebrow as he left the bedchamber, closing the door quietly behind him.

Elrohir stepped over to the table and picked up the small pot of hot water. “I must admit, Estel, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did, trapped in that building alone.”

Aragorn paused before answering his brother. Something in Elrohir’s tone made him look up. “I can promise you I was just as startled to discover her as well. Yes, I agree the length of time she was trapped for  certainly causes questions to be asked… Are you implying that I am being untruthful in my words?” His voice rose slightly at the end and a spark of anger flashed in his eyes.

“No.” Elrohir shook his head. “I wasn’t implying anything of the sort, Estel. I was merely saying that it was a...startling surprise to find that a child had managed to survive for that length of time without food or water.”

Aragorn rose to his feet and crossed the room to where Elrohir stood. “Elrohir,” he hissed angrily, pulling at the twin’s arm. “You are implying that I had the child in my care for longer than I am admitting to you! Or that I am lying about the extent of time she was trapped for!”

“No, Estel, that is not what I meant–” The elf tried to intervene, but Aragorn cut him off.

“That is outrageous! What would I gain from that? You saw how ill the child was; look at her now! Do you think I would put her in danger? It is clear to my eyes at least that the child had little or no time left. She would be dead had I not found her!”

“No, I–”

Aragorn leaned in close to the twin. “I swear to you, I have told you the truth. If you choose not to believe me, then so be it!”

“Estel! Elrohir!” Elladan’s voice silenced the two arguing brothers. “That is enough!” He leveled each of them with a withering glare. “Estel, we believe you; there are just some unanswered questions that I am sure will be answered when Aerinel is well again. However, right now, the main concern is the child’s health. Put aside whatever petty disagreements you have until she is well again!”  He glared at his younger brothers.

Elrohir and Aragorn had the good grace to look ashamed. The younger twin extended his arm towards the human. “I am sorry, Estel. What I said was inconsiderate. I admit I have concerns, but I apologise.”

Aragorn nodded, accepted the hand, and pulled Elrohir into an embrace. “It matters not. We are all feeling stressed at the moment.”

Elladan harrumphed and returned to his position beside the bed as the door opened. Elrond entered, carrying a small bowl in his hands. His gaze swept around the room, taking note of the subtle change in the atmosphere, but if he sensed there had been an argument, he said nothing. Instead, he moved over to the bed and sat down, placing the bowl on the table beside him. “Aerinel, penneth,” he called softly, his fingers brushing her cheek in an attempt to rouse her. “Come, awaken for me.”

Elladan peered into the bowl and wrinkled his nose at the sight of the white substance. “What is that?” he asked curiously.

Elrond did not look up as he replied, leaning down to scoop Aerinel into his arms. “Bread soaked in warm milk. I am hoping that I can coax Aerinel to eat some of it for me. It will give her some nourishment to fight the fever.”

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aerinel stirred and moaned tiredly as she rubbed her eyes. She felt fingers brush her cheek gently and heard a rich voice calling for her to wake up, something she did not want to do right now. She had finally gotten comfortable and started to doze off, and now she was being woken up again.

The child felt herself moving, being lifted up, and then her eyes flashed open with momentary panic when she realised that she wasn’t lying in the bed anymore, but was instead was being cradled in a pair of strong arms. “Estel,” she called out, struggling to try and push herself out of whoever’s arms she was in. They certainly weren’t the ranger’s. But the blanket was hindering her movements and whoever was holding her was doing their best not to let her go.

“Peace, Aerinel, peace,” a deep, rich voice near her ear spoke, and a hand caressed her head in an attempt to soothe her. “Ú-vaur gosto, Aerinel, naun hí.”

The strange, flowing words which only moments ago had soothed her now only increased the child’s panic. “Estel!” she cried. “Please...I-I’m...s-scared. I want...y-you.” She couldn’t make out anything around her as her vision blurred with tears. Her struggle to get free resumed.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aragorn was immediately at Elrond’s side when Aerinel started to cry. “I am here, Aerinel. I am here. Do not worry, penneth.” He eased the child out of his father’s arms and held her close to his chest. “You are safe, you are safe...shhh…shhh…” He continued to talk to her in the same strong, soothing voice that seemed able to ease the child's fear as he rocked gently back and forth with the child clinging to him. “There is nothing to fear.”

Aerinel buried her face in Aragorn’s shoulder and give a shuddering sigh. The ranger cupped the back of her head and stroked her hair, murmuring softly in her ear, “Easy, child, you have nothing to fear. My father was just trying to give you something to eat, that is all.”

Slowly, Aerinel calmed down in the ranger’s arms, her small hands clutching tightly to the material of Aragorn’s tunic while he held her close. When her breathing had more or less returned to normal, Aragorn settled the child in his lap and drew the discarded blanket around her shoulders. “Hush, little one, av'osto.”

Aerinel inhaled a shuddering breath and swatted at her wet eyes. “Estel,” she whined. “I don’t feel good. I want to sleep.”

“I know, Aerinel. I know.” Aragorn rested a hand on her forehead, gauging her temperature. There had been no change since the last time he had checked it. “I want you to eat something for me and then you can sleep. You will feel better soon.”

Elrond silently handed the bowl to the ranger. The twins watched as Aragorn lifted a spoonful to Aerinel’s lips and encouraged her to eat. She opened her mouth and obediently took the food, although her eyes still held a glazed look. But she was eating, and that was something.

Aragorn smiled as he fed Aerinel another spoonful. “Do you like that, hmm?”

Aerinel nodded and swallowed. “What is it?” Her thoughts were becoming heavy once again, and she was struggling to keep her eyes open.

“Just some bread and warm milk, penneth.”

Aerinel looked up with glazed eyes into the kind, wise face of the dark-haired elf lord. She remembered him. He had been kind and gentle with her. But her fear of the pointy-eared, glowing creatures had not diminished despite the kindness shown to her. She had learned the hard way not to trust easily.

Elrond frowned. He bent down and looked at Aerinel closely, watching her carefully with his keen eyes. “Aerinel?” He cupped her cheek gently, but the child didn’t react. “Elrohir, finish preparing that tea, will you?” he called over his shoulder. His voice carried a note of urgency.

Ada?” Aragorn had noticed the difference in the child lying in his arms. She was becoming heavier against him.

Elrond shook his head sadly. “She is growing weaker.” He watched as Aerinel’s eyes closed and her head lolled against Aragorn’s shoulder. The ranger placed the child back into her bed, cradling her head as gently as he could. “Is she asleep, or–”

“She is asleep,” Elrond confirmed. “Elladan, please fetch another basin of cool water; it may help to keep the fever down.”

"Ada...is Aerinel going to die?" Elrohir suddenly voiced, looking up with worried eyes from where he was preparing the herbal tea.

Elrond was silent as he glanced down at the young girl that lay in the bed beside him. Aerinel’s face was deathly pale beneath the flush of the fever, and her breathing was shallow and quite often rasping. In his mind, Elrond knew that the small girl was too weak to fight the fever, despite his heart refusing to admit it.

Ada?”

Elrond looked up to see the three worried faces of his sons staring over at him. He sighed deeply, a frown on his forehead. “Aerinel may not survive,” the elf lord said gently. “The fever is very strong and the child is too weak to fight it.”

Aragorn looked away, rapidly blinking away the moisture that came unbidden to his eyes as he thought of Aerinel dying. She had come through so much already and had survived this far; he did not want her to die now. She couldn’t die now.

The twins shared a look of sorrow at the darkening probability of one so young leaving the world before their life had even begun. It did not seem right. As the younger twin paced by his brother, Elladan offered him a quick squeeze on the arm and a small, sad smile. The brotherly moment was interrupted when a harsh cough echoed from the bed, causing all three brothers to twist anxiously towards it.  

Elrond was already in action, pulling Aerinel upright in the bed and slapping her across the back as he tried to get her to cough up some of the liquid hindering her breathing. "Take it easy, Aerinel. Just cough it up,” he commanded sharply, shifting Aerinel to a better position against him and brushing her damp hair back from her face. “Estel, the bowl, if you please,” he said, indicating the basin on the bedside table.

Aragorn passed the empty bowl to his father, who placed it on the bed in front of Aerinel. The twins and Aragorn hovered anxiously, watching as Elrond slapped the girl on the back, attempting to help her clear her lungs. The child only kept coughing and coughing, not able to stop. She glanced up at the elf lord holding her, shaking her head in distress as she gasped for breath.

"Please…stop!" Aerinel moaned helplessly, sputtering weakly as she grabbed one of Aragorn’s outstretched hands and held tight enough to leave bruises, unwilling to let go.

"Shh…" Elrond whispered soothingly, not stopping as he pounded the young girl's back. “We've got you, just cough it up…" he continued, wincing himself as the child cried out, tears streaming down her young face. Aerinel coughed harshly, suddenly swallowing with a disgusted expression. It was a sight that made the other three people in the room inwardly sigh with relief, for it meant that some of the fluid in the child’s lungs had come up.

Slowly, Aerinel’s coughing began to ease a little after that, and soon she was being laid back down against the pillow. Her breath wheezed slowly past her cracked lips and her face was flushed with fever. Elrond frowned. He would have preferred for the child to spit the fluid out, but at least it wasn’t in her lungs anymore. He gazed down at the child, something akin to love in his eyes.

Aerinel’s hair was drenched in perspiration, making the dark strands curl and plaster themselves to her face. Still, despite all of it, the child cracked her eyes open, watching the elves with a hazy disinterest. Lord Elrond was besides her, holding her hand and shushing her softly.

"Es-tel...?" she croaked weakly, twisting her head around to find the man that had been kind to her and kept her safe.

“I am here, little one,” Aragorn said, stepping forward and bending closer to the bed. As soon as the young girl caught sight of him, she let her tense body relax, reaching out and clutching at the man’s fingers.

Aragorn smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed as Elrond picked up the wet cloth, gently wiping the child's face. Softly and slowly, the lord began to sing an old elven lullaby, watching as the girl's eyes drifted lower and lower until she was asleep. Elrond nodded with satisfaction and stood up. He was intent on finishing the fever-reducing tea, this one stronger than before, for when the child next awoke.

Elladan leaned over and gently brushed her damp hair out of her face, revealing a slightly tapered ear. “Apparently, this little one had elvish blood in her veins,” he said in surprise, glancing back up at his father and brothers.

Elrohir set down the cup he was holding and came over to join his brothers. To him, the child’s features did look unusually elven: delicate, pale and fair. “Do you not think that the child has the look of an Eldar child about her?” the younger twin asked, glancing up at his father.
 

Aragorn frowned and glanced down at the young girl. It was her ears that stood out the most. What should have been the softly rounded edges of the ears were slightly curved – though not as pointed as Elves’ were. Naturally, the child was a human, but just enough for them to be distinguishable from another human. He reached out and ran his fingertip along the edge of one tiny ear. Aerinel shifted slightly in her sleep, making a small whimper, a frown on her face.

“Hush, little one,” Aragorn whispered, his voice soft and low. “Nothing is going to harm you here. You are safe.”

Aerinel sighed and clutched her stuffed bear closer as she relaxed into sleep again. Aragorn shared a worried glance with Elrohir. It seemed to him that the child was slowly getting worse, slowly dying.

Elrond looked up from the other side of the room to see his eldest son pacing back and forth across the foot of the bed, frowning.

“What is it, Elladan?” the elf lord asked as he came back over to the bed.

Elladan looked up, his eyes dark and thoughtful. “There is something about the child that strikes me as familiar,” he said. He leaned against the bedpost and ran his fingers through his raven hair.  

Elrohir looked closely at the child, his head tilted slightly. “Yes,” he said slowly. The child did bear a resemblance to someone – who, he couldn’t tell. But he had the vague feeling he did know. “Now that I think about it, she does remind me of someone, but who?”

Lord Elrond raised one eyebrow at Aragorn, who shrugged. He had no idea what the twins were seeing. To him, the child looked oddly similar to–


Elladan suddenly snapped his fingers, making the others around him jump in surprise. “Estel!”

The man looked up, puzzled, glancing around at the elves. “Yes?”

“No!” Elladan waved his question away, not paying him any attention. “Estel – that’s who the child reminds me of.”

Elrohir blinked, looking at his brother. “Estel?” He glanced over at the ranger, then down at Aerinel and back to his twin. “I am sorry, brother, but I fail to see any similarities there.”

Elladan sighed, close to frustration. “Not Estel as he is now. No, when he was younger, Aerinel’s age.”

Lord Elrond stood there, a cup of steaming tea in his hands, a confused expression on his face. It was one his sons recognised as meaning that he was about to ask for a full explanation. Luckily, Elladan got there first.

“Look at her face and look at her hair,” the dark-haired elf prompted. “And remember when her eyes opened? They were a...”

“A silver-grey,” Elrohir said, slowly glancing up at his brother.

Elladan nodded. “Exactly. How many people have you seen with eyes that color, except for Estel?”

“Very few,” Elrohir said, “but grey eyes are not uncommon among the Dúnedain. Father has grey eyes, as did Uncle Elros.”  

Elladan noticed his father’s back stiffen at the mention of his own twin brother, Elros. Elros had chosen a mortal life and become the first king of Númenor. Aragorn was his direct descendent. The twins remembered the tales their father used to tell them when they were young, of Elros, his twin and how they were taken in and raised by Maedhros and Maglor after Elwing, their mother, cast herself into the great Belegaer and vanished from Middle-earth.

Elladan turned back to Elrohir. “But how do you know she is of the Dúnedain?”

“Well, you were saying that she bears a resemblance to Estel, so I was just presuming that she was,” Elrohir argued back. “All Dúnedain have the same features – dark hair, grey eyes, and pale skin – that are rare among lesser humans.”

“But if she is of the Dúnedain, then why was she in a village such as Cragknock instead of one of the Dúnedain settlements further north?” Aragorn protested. “None would give away their children so readily, nor would they allow any child to be raised elsewhere.”
 

<>“Peace, my sons,” Elrond said, stepping between the arguing brothers. “I believe the child to indeed be of the Dúnedain. This was found sewn into a pocket of her torn clothing.” The elf lord held out a small round object on the palm of his hand. “Telwen found it as she was about to throw the clothing away.”

Elrohir pounced on it and held it up, examining it closely. It was a small wooden disc, no more than an inch and a half wide, with an engraving of a tree crossed with two swords and the word “
Adûn<>” carved onto the face of the disc.  

Adûn, or Westerner. This is a Dúnedain medallion.” Elrohir said, passing it to Elladan.

“This still doesn’t explain why she looks elf-like,” Elladan said and flipped the medallion between his fingers.

“Give it here,” Aragorn requested. He caught it easily as Elladan threw it over to him. “I have one similar to this that Halbarad gave me when I first started with the rangers,” he said, looking at the carving on the wood.

The younger twin shook his head again. “Elladan, she is possibly of the Dúnedain, a descendant of Númenor; she has elvish blood in her veins. Naturally, she would look more elvish than other humans.”

Elrond nodded thoughtfully. “What Elrohir says is true. The child must be of the Dúnedain, or at the very least one of her parents must have been. The medallion only confirms this. However, it may go even further back; the medallion could have belonged to one of her grandparents.” The elf lord stole a glance at his youngest son. Aragorn was still sitting on the bed. He had taken Aerinel’s hand in his own and was running his fingers over the small knuckles.

“But Father,” Elladan protested, “she looks more elven than most other Dúnedain people.”

Elrond placed a hand on his son’s arm as he passed by. “I understand, my son. But let us leave this mystery until the child is well again. Then she may be able to help us solve this problem if she comes through the illness.”

If she comes through.

Those four words rang through the minds of the twins and Aragorn with a shiver of fear.

~*~*~S~*~*~


Several light sheets wrapped the bed's small occupant. Her small chest rose and fell slowly, each breath coming in a painful heave. The elves and the ranger hovered anxiously around the room, each taking his turn of watching over the child. Elrohir rested on a chair in the corner and Elladan sat next to the bed, brushing Aerinel's sweat-soaked, dark hair from her eyes and feeling the fever that burned beneath her skin.

Aerinel jolted suddenly, a deep, rattling cough issuing forth and causing her body to shake violently. Elladan immediately moved to sit on the bed, sitting the small girl up against him and rubbed her back, whispering words of comfort into the sleeping child's ears. His gaze shifted up to Elrond, who stood above him, grey eyes filled with concern.

"She burns still..." Elladan whispered softly, not wanting to rose Aerinel from her slumber. His voice was laced with worry. It was clear that the child was deteriorating rapidly.

"And it is as if she is drowning on the fluid in her lungs,” Aragorn added, coming over with a basin filled with cold water and a fresh cloth. He handed them to Elladan before sitting himself down in the large, overstuffed chair beside the bed.

Elrond sighed deeply, his brows furrowed. “The fever should have started to go down, even by a small degree. I fear the tea we are giving her is not strong enough.” He spoke confidently enough, but his eyes were not focused on the child or the bed; rather, they were fixed on the window. His hand dipped into a pocket hidden beneath his robes and he fingered something inside.

Elrohir looked up sleepily from where he was sitting and watched Elrond. “Father, what is the matter?” he asked, noticing the older elf’s restless movements.

Looking up, Elrond replied, “Nothing, Elrohir, I was merely thinking.” Mentally shaking himself he turned around and strode towards the door. “I will go and see if I can find a stronger herb to combat the fever. But I fear the child’s body is too weak to fight against it no matter what I give her. You will call me if her condition worsens?”

"Of course," Elrohir answered. Elladan and Aragorn both nodded in agreement.

Knowing that the child was in good hands, Elrond left the bedchamber, closing the door softly behind him so as to not wake the slumbering child. He massaged his temples as he walked down the corridor towards his study. For some reason he could not fathom, all three of his sons had quietly and quickly grown attached to the young girl that lay in the healing room, especially Aragorn. The ranger had sat by the bed most of the time, whispering to her, talking to her, and wiping her forehead with a cool cloth.

Elrond understood that the ranger had rescued her and therefore it was natural for him to feel more protective over her and want to care for her. Elladan and Elrohir, however, were a different case altogether. He could not find a reason as to why his sons would take such an interest in an orphan child. But he could read their faces easily. He might be old in human years, but he was a father and could still sense his children in a way others could not.

He was so deep in thought that he hardly noticed when Glorfindel stepped out of a room and fell into step beside him.“You are troubled?” the golden-haired elf asked, looking straight ahead.

A frown crossed Elrond’s face. “You are perceptive this evening, Glorfindel.” He was in no mood for idle talk.

The golden-haired elf chuckled, but then frowned. “How is the child? I see that your sons have taken quite an interest in the small, orphan girl that Estel found in the wild. Any particular reason for it?”

Elrond saw one of the serving staff nearby and called him over. “Celboril, would it be possible to organise some food to be brought from the kitchens to my sons? They are in the healing room at the top of the stairs on the right-hand side.”

“Of course, my lord,” Celboril replied with a nod and a smile. “I shall see to it myself at once.”

As soon as the servant was out of earshot, Elrond turned back to Glorfindel. “No, there is no reason… that I aware of presently.”

“Strange,” Glorfindel mused, clasping his hands behind his back as they continued walking along the corridor. “Your sons have never shown much interest in any of the other human children that come here from time to time. Why this child?”

Elrond pierced the Gondolin elf with a glare. “You will continue to press me until I tell you. I know what you are like, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel just smirked back. “You know me too well, Elrond. So tell me, what is the secret surrounding this particular human child?”

“She is quite possibly of the Dúnedain.” Elrond glanced at the elf beside him. “A wooden disc with an engraving of a tree crossed with two swords and the word Adûn carved onto the face of the disc was found sewn into a hidden pocket of the child’s clothing.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. “I see.” He gave no other opinion or answer. Instead, he waited for Elrond to continue.

With a sigh, the dark-haired elf spoke again. “I believe that she could be a Dúnedain; however, Elladan seems to think that the child has more elvish blood in her than the normal Dúnadan, and that she looks more elf-like than human.”

If Glorfindel was surprised, he didn’t show it. “And how has Elladan come to that conclusion, may I ask?”

Elrond glanced at his friend. “The child’s ears are slightly more curved than a human’s typically are. Also, her eyes are a silver-grey, the same as Estel’s. You don’t find many humans with grey eyes unless they are connected to the Dúnedain.”

The two Elves were approaching Elrond’s study. Glorfindel turned to look closely at Elrond. “And what do you make of this?” His voice was calm and measured.

Elrond threw Glorfindel a somewhat irritated look. “To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought,” he said. He pushed open the door and walked into the large, spacious study, Glorfindel following him. “I was concentrating on the child’s illness.”

Glorfindel sagged against the doorframe. “And Elladan thinks it is something more?”

Elrond ran his fingers along the spines of the books sticking out from the bookcase. “So it seems.” He pulled out one book, opened it on the desk, and flicked through the pages, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“And what about you? What do you think of the child?” Glorfindel moved slowly through the study, his eyes roaming over the many floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with ancient books and scrolls.

Elrond didn’t look up from his desk, his dark hair falling elegantly over his shoulders. “At the moment, my concern is the child’s failing health, nothing more,” he repeated.


“I don’t believe you.”

Elrond raised one eyebrow in question at the golden-haired elf leaning casually against the desk.

Glorfindel continued, “You sense something. There is more to that child then meets the eye and you know it. You found something, didn’t you?” Glorfindel fixed his eyes sternly on Elrond. “There was something else on the child other than the Dúnedain medallion – something far more important.”

Elrond paused in his reading before slipping a hand down into a pocket hiding within the folds of his robs and pulling out a fine, silver chain. On the chain hung a small pendant in the shape of a five-rayed star.

Glorfindel moved forward and took the chain from him, inspecting the pendent more closely. He realised it wasn’t a pendant, exactly, but rather, a small white crystal, no larger than his thumb nail, backed by a flat plate of silver metal with designs etched around the edges, almost exactly like…

“The Star of Elendil…” Glorfindel breathed. He looked at Elrond in bewilderment. “How is this possible? What does this mean? It is just coincidence that this piece of jewelry is similar to the the Elendilmír, or something else…?”

The Peredhel shrugged. “I am as lost as you are at the moment, Glorfindel.”

Glorfindel gazed back at the pendent. It was smaller and dirtier than the second Elendilmir that Elrond had in his safekeeping, the original having been lost in the Great River in the Disaster of the Gladden Fields, in which Isildur had met his untimely end. In some ways it was similar, and in others not. “If this is genuine…if this is true?”

Elrond rubbed his forehead. “I do not know. The designs engraved into the silver are intricate. It is too well-crafted to be a fake. The second Elendilmir is in my keeping and has been since it was brought it to Rivendell to be hidden.” He sighed tiredly. “If this is a copy of the Elendilmir it raises more questions than answers. I have yet to examine it closely.”

“Why would someone craft a copy of one of the heirlooms of the Dunedain? Glorfindel fixed Elrond with a steel gaze. “How do you suggest it came into being? And what’s more, how did the child come to have it with her?”

Elrond walked out onto the balcony. “It was sewn into a small pocket on the inside of the child’s tunic along with the wooden disc. Someone obviously didn’t want it to be discovered, nor did they feel secure hiding it somewhere. They wanted that pendant protected, with Aerinel always, and kept hidden for reasons I have yet to understand.”

“Hopefully when the child recovers, she will–” Glorfindel’s words were cut off by a cry from down the corridor.

“Father! Father!” It was Elladan’s voice.

Aerinel! Elrond thought with alarm as he hastened from the study, rushing towards the healing room with Glorfindel close on his heels.

He hurried through the door, coming to a halt beside the bed where Aragorn was holding Aerinel up, firmly rubbing her back. The child's face was deathly pale and her lips were turning blue. She was gasping for breath.

“C... ca­-can't breathe..." she choked out, clutching at the sheet desperately, her eyes wide with terror.

“She woke up and we tried getting her to drink the tea,” Elrohir explained in a panic, “but she just started coughing uncontrollably!”

“Elladan, help me!" Elrond ordered, lifting the young girl into his son’s arms. "Hold onto her – tightly now!”


Elladan obeyed, holding the struggling seven-year-old while Elrond ran his hands along Aerinel's back, positioning them in just the right place. He hoped this would work; there was no other way, for Aerinel was drowning in her own lung fluids. Hands tightened into fists, Elrond brought them down harshly, thumping Aerinel's back in what he hoped was just the right position to shake the fluid loose.

She was drowning in a lake, fluid filling her lungs, her mind slowly shutting down for the lack of oxygen. Darkness was seeping into her vision. Voices were beginning to fade away as her world began to shrink around her. She could not draw breath. Her hands clawed in terror at her throat. Everything was getting slower and slower, slower…


"Keep holding her, Elladan,” Elrond encouraged, continuing to pound. "Cough, Aerinel, get it up!"

She was falling downwards, falling out of Elrond's reach…Her mind screamed at her to breathe, but she could not. There was no breath left...no energy left to breathe…blackness swirled around her mind in a cloud of fearfulness and, oddly enough, calmness… She was falling...falling…falling…


At last, Aerinel gave a deep, shuddering cough, bringing up fluid into the bowl hastily provided by Elrohir, who had just been awoken by the noise and had rushed to the bed with it. Aragorn took Elrond’s place and rubbed Aerinel's back in soothing circles as she continued to cough. Elladan held her, her forehead pressed up against his chest.

Elrond knew that the child was out of danger, at least for the time being. It was a wonder to him that such a frail species survived. It was times like these when he was painfully aware of the fragility of mortals. Elrond ran a hand along Aerinel's face. “Easy, child, you’re safe now,” he murmured gently.

"Scary...no...breath," Aerinel whispered hoarsely. She looked up at the elf that held her, apprehension in her eyes.

“Hush, little one,” Elladan spoke softly, running his hands over her shoulders, for the child was beginning to shiver once again. “It is all right. You are safe with us, we will look after you.”

Elrohir came over to the bed with a cup of water and helped her to take a few small sips.

Every breath Aerinel took raced through her body like fire, and every so often a cough shook her body, leaving her weak and exhausted. All she wanted to do was drift off into a place where there was no pain, no tiredness, no grief, and no fear. “Scary,” she whispered again. She put her thumb into her mouth and bit down on the nail. The ordeal had shaken her badly.

"I know it was, Aerinel. We are here with you now, though,” Elrond murmured as he took the child from Elladan’s arms and laid her back down on the bed. The will of Men, unlike their bodies, was not easily broken. Whether that will was good or evil did not matter; it was strong either way.

Elrond looked worriedly down on the child, once again placing his hand on Aerinel's forehead. The young girl still burned with fever and the coughing refused to leave her alone.

"We have to get her to drink that elixir," Elrond said, his voice grave. "It will ease the coughing a bit – although I can't fully suppress it, since it helps to clean her lungs – but maybe it will help her sleep a bit as well."

Elladan nodded and gently lifted the child up, resting her against his chest as Elrond placed the cup at her lips and massaged her throat to help her to swallow. Slowly, the cup was emptied, and Aerinel was laid gently back down and the sheet pulled back up around her thin frame. She was too weak to protest even if she had wanted to.
 

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aerinel’s whole body trembled, and suddenly she started coughing vigorously. Every cough hurt in her chest and clouded her vision more. Strong arms wrapped around her upper body, holding her in place while the coughs shook her weak frame.

She didn't open her eyes, but immediately knew the change. The coughs were still wracking her body and Aerinel wanted to stop them, wanted to breathe instead, but somebody soothed it away.

"Let it go and just cough; it will clear your lungs. Don't suppress it.”

The coughs didn't stop and her vision was blurry. Someone held her up, supporting her body. Fear grabbed the child. What if the coughs never stopped? She needed to breathe; she was slowly choking to death.

Pain shot through Aerinel like fire. Her chest was burning. Suddenly there was liquid in her mouth. She swallowed with a choking sound as another person wiped the sweat from her brow. Then, when she thought that she couldn't bear it any longer, the coughs finally subdued. Aerinel took a deep breath.

Sweet air filled her lungs and the red spots in her vision disappeared. She took another breath, and another one…

<>Slowly, her brain started working again, and the child could focus on what was going on around her. She could hear sounds more clearly, although she found it still difficult to understand the words which were spoken.

“The tea must have gone down the wrong way,” came one more distinct voice. “The poor little thing.”

Her whole body ached, and the dull pain in her chest wouldn't disappear. The arms were still wrapped around her body and she wondered idly who was holding her. Then her mind focused on breathing again, for every breath was painful and a sharp pain shot through her body whenever she inhaled.

"Elladan, can you hold her a little longer?" a voice asked softly asked. Then someone lifted her face and placed a cup against her lips.

"Drink, Aerinel, it will make you feel better,” a rich voice commanded gently.


Aerinel didn't want to drink anything; her throat was too sore and she knew that it would hurt to do so. But the elf was persistent and wouldn't take the cup away until the child finally swallowed a mouthful. It hurt, exactly as she had expected it to, but she clearly felt the cool liquid running down her throat to her stomach.

A cold cloth was placed on her forehead, easing the pain of her throbbing head a little as someone gently laid her back down onto the mattress. Lying there, Aerinel found it incredibly difficult to stay awake, and within moments, she slipped back into the darkness of unconsciousness.
~*~*~S~*~*~

Elrond let out a breath of relief and gently stroked the child’s face. He, Aragorn, and the twins had spent the last few minutes trying to get Aerinel’s lungs to work again while the face of the small child had slowly gone deathly white. She was resting now, but her fever was still very high.

The pale face of Elrohir appeared, looking down on the still form of Aerinel. "That was close," he whispered, frightened.

Elladan put a hand on the shoulder of his twin, trying to support the other elf. The horror they had all endured during these few minutes in which Aerinel hadn't been able to breathe was still vivid in his mind. They had watched helplessly as the colour left the child's face. Elladan looked at Elrond. "Will she recover now?"

The elder elf sighed. "I don't know. Her lungs are still congested and we can't get the fever down. It's up to Aerinel if she's strong enough to fight this.” The lord of Rivendell rubbed his temple. “All we can do is wait and hope.”

Aragorn exhaled deeply and sat down on a chair beside the bed, reaching out and taking one of the child’s limp hands in his own, running his fingers over the small palm.

Obviously, the twins planned on doing the same. As mischievous as they normally were, as serious they seemed now, they obviously seemed to care for the young girl, as both were preparing to watch over the child, like Aragorn did, praying for the best. It was all they could do.

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

Night had fallen over Rivendell and the house had grown quiet. Glorfindel paused in the doorway of the bedchamber where the child lay and looked inside. The interior was lit up by several flickering candles, casting a warm, golden glow on the occupants of the room. “It is late. You should get some rest.” He spoke quietly, but he knew the other elf would hear him.

Elrond raised his head at the sound of Glorfindel’s voice. “I do not want to leave the child alone.”

“Let me tend to her.” Glorfindel crossed the room to the bed where Aerinel lay. “Elrond,” he said sternly. “You need to rest.”

In answer, Elrond dipped a cloth into the basin of water beside him and laid it over Aerinel’s hot brow.

“Come. You have sent the twins and Estel to bed. Now I am telling you to go to bed.” Glorfindel persisted. “The child will come to no harm while I watch over her. I will call you if the need arises.”


With a sigh of defeat, Elrond stood from the chair. “I will listen to your words this time,
mellon-nín, only because I am weary.”

Glorfindel waited until Elrond had closed the door behind him,  before sitting down in the chair the elf lord had vacated. His eyes flickered over the child, his sharp ears not missing the sound of her laboured breathing nor his eyes failing to see the flush in her otherwise pale face. He leaned back in the chair, letting his mind relax.


Whether it was the soft clink of the door opening and closing that woke her, or perhaps it was that she sensed a different person beside her, slowly Aerinel’s eyes flickered open.

She gazed up at the golden-haired elf with a mixture of curiosity and fear etched onto her face. She turned her head, her eyes searching the room for the other elves or Estel.

“Worry not, little one.” Glorfindel leaned over the bed, seeing her fear heighten. “The others will be back shortly, I promise. They have just gone to rest.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Something you should be doing right now.”

Aerinel reached out hesitantly, her fingertips brushing the strands of golden hair that fell over Glorfindel’s shoulders, before she snatched her hands away fearfully.

“Easy, child. You have nothing to be afraid of. I will not hurt you.” Glorfindel’s eyes saddened at the fear the child held in her eyes for him. “I won’t hurt you,” he repeated softly, taking her small hand in his.

Aerinel curled her fingers around his thumb, looking up at the elf with eyes that were filled with tears.

”Hey now, what is the matter?” Glorfindel asked, making sure to keep his voice low and gentle. But Aerinel only blinked at him, her breathing becoming slightly hitched.

Glorfindel’s heart couldn’t bear to see the child lying there, clearly distressed. “Come here, little one.” Leaning down, he scooped Aerinel up, blanket and all, and sat back down in the chair, tucking the child against his own body. “Hush now, there’s no need to be frightened.” He slowly rocked her back and forth, feeling the child stiffen against him. “No one is going to hurt you…you are safe here...hush now.”

Aerinel hiccuped once or twice and rubbed her eyes tiredly before shivering in the elf’s arms. Glorfindel tucked the blanket more securely around her small body. “You poor little thing,” he murmured. “You need not be so scared of us. We mean you no harm. We just want to look after you.”
 

<>Aerinel blinked up at the regal elf. Her young eyes were unable to belie the unease she felt around these ancient creatures. Her heart did know what to make of them.

The golden-haired elf watched her with interest, his face kind. “You have certainly captured the hearts of  Elladan, Elrohir and Aragorn already, haven’t you? You must be something special to achieve such a feat in such a short time.” He shifted the child in his arms, tucking the blanket under her small chin. He smoothed her hair back from her face, his fingertips repeatedly brushing her forehead. The simple action seemed to calm the child, for she began to relax and placed her thumb in her mouth.

Glorfindel glanced down at her with a chuckle. “I knew a little boy who used to suck his thumb all the time.” The child gazed up at him with large, sleepy eyes.

The ancient Noldo continued to talk softly, seeing the soothing reaction it was having. “Yes, he used to suck it every night when he went to bed. And do you know what that little boy’s name was?” He glanced down and smiled. “His name was Estel.”

Aerinel smiled around her thumb, then yawned.

“Sleep, little one,” Glorfindel murmured. His hand came up and rested on her forehead for a moment. The fever was still very high.

Aerinel yawned again, curling one hand into the elf’s robes, the other still in her mouth. Glorfindel smiled, dipping his head and touching his lips to Aerinel’s forehead in the gentlest of kisses. “Sleep, little Aerinel. Go to sleep,” he repeated, his fëa reaching out to wrap the child in a cocoon of safety and of love.

With a shuddering sigh, Aerinel finally closed her eyes, her head coming to rest on his chest. Glorfindel continued to rock the child until her breathing became deep and even. Being careful not to wake her, the elf settled himself further into the chair, content with the sleeping child in his arms.

As he watched her sleep, his thoughts turned to the pendant that Elrond had shown him earlier. It was a mystery as to how the child came to be in possession of such an article of jewelry. Whoever had sewn it into that hidden pocket certainly did not want it to be found. He shook his head. Whatever happened in the future, for tonight at least the child would be safe, sleeping in his arms.

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