Learning to Smile

Chapter 5

by Little Jewel-(T)
December 1, 2016

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Some hours later, Glorfindel’s eyes gradually slid into focus. He frowned at the mantelpiece across from him for a moment, wondering what had disturbed him from his rest. The night was silent; there wasn't a sound from the house below. The fire had died to nothing more than glowing embers, casting flickering shapes on the wall behind him.

Movement against him caused the elf’s mind to leap to awareness as he remembered the child he held in his arms. One look down at the small girl cradled against him and Glorfindel knew exactly why he had woken.

Aerinel’s face was pale but flushed red with fever. She shivered violently despite the blanket wrapped around her thin frame. Glorfindel placed a hand on her brow, feeling the increased temperature of her skin and the perspiration on her forehead.

Aerinel cracked her eyelids open, observing the elven lord with glazed eyes. “Fin…glor…del,” she mumbled, slurring over the name in her fevered state of mind. “I –I….feel...cold.” She clutched weakly at the blanket, trying to pull it more closely around her.  


“On the contrary, little one, you are burning up,” Glorfindel said as he eased her up to sit on his lap, noticing that her nightgown was damp with perspiration that no doubt the cause of the child’s shivers. He looked around for the towels he had brought in earlier.

Aerinel moaned, “I...feel...si – sick.” She grimaced, letting her head fall onto the elf’s chest.

Glorfindel’s concern increased. “Do you think you are going to throw up, child?” he asked with sympathy, his hand coming to rest lightly on the back of her neck. He had already guessed this was the case, judging by how pale and ashen her face had become.

The child didn’t answer, but moments later clenched her teeth together and clutched at her stomach. She didn’t want to be sick. She did not want to throw up all over the elf that held her. She was sure he would not be happy with that at all. But the waves of nausea kept coming, rolling over and over inside of her, threatening to burst forth. Aerinel realised with mounting panic that she was not going to be able to keep the contents of her stomach down. “I – I…” she whimpered.

Thankfully, Glorfindel understood immediately, for he stood with the child in his arms and quickly made his way into the small bathing room attached to the main bedchamber. No sooner had he set Aerinel on the floor with a basin in front of her the child began to throw up, falling onto her hands and knees in the process.

Tears leaked from the corner of her eyes as she continued to heave, having no control over her own body. Glorfindel wrapped a gentle hand around her middle to steady her, and his other hand swept her hair back from her face and supported her forehead as he spoke soft words into her ear.

“Easy, penneth, easy now, just let it all come up, that’s it. Just get rid of it all,” Glorfindel spoke quietly as he held the child. He looked up sharply as a figure appeared in the doorway, meeting Elrond’s peircing eyes.

Elrond took in the sight of the child crouching over the basin on the floor and the golden-haired elf supporting her. “She has gotten worse,” the lord of Rivendell stated quietly.

Glorfindel nodded. “Aye, and the fever is still rising.” He looked down as Aerinel lifted her head and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “Are you finished, little one?” When the child nodded shakily, he handed her a small face cloth. “Wipe your mouth with this.”

Elrond leaned over the other elf and filled the cup sitting on the stone counter with water. He handed it to Glorfindel silently, who held it to the girl’s lips, urging her to take some of the cool liquid. “Take a sip, Aerinel, and spit it back out; it will take the taste away,” the elf instructed.

Aerinel did as she was told, thankful to have the horrible taste of bile out of her mouth. She curled up against the elf, who pulled her into his lap. She was cold, tired, and felt very shaky after throwing up. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, glancing up at the golden elf. “I didn’t mean to get sick, I really didn’t.” She gulped back a sob. She wasn’t going to cry, not in front of these regal creatures.

The dark-haired elf crouched down in front of her. “It was not your fault, little one, nor should you be sorry.” He reached out and touched her forehead with the back of his hand. “You are unwell, child. These things happen when you are ill.”

His voice was kind, and for a moment Aerinel almost believed him. She waved her hand weakly towards the basin. “But I made a mess and woke you all up.”

Elrond smiled kindly. “You did not wake me; I was on my way to check in on you and make sure you were comfortable. I knew Glorfindel was looking after you. Did you think we would be cross with you for being ill?”

Aerinel blinked. She could hear the elf’s voice, but it was as if it was coming from far away, through a tunnel. The words became muddled in her mind as she tried to make sense of everything around her. It was like the room was becoming foggy. She could hear voices, but could no longer make out the words being spoke to her. She tried to grasp onto something, anything, but her confused mind couldn’t seem to make her arms work. Her eyes slid shut.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Elrond frowned when Aerinel didn’t reply to him. “Aerinel?” he called. “Aerinel?” He touched her cheek lightly, but there was no response from the child. She just sat in Glorfindel’s arms, staring across at the far wall. With concern, he noted Aerinel’s increased breathing and glazed eyes.

Glorfindel’s brow furrowed slightly when unexpectedly Aerinel jerked against him. “Elrond—!” His words were cut off as Aerinel’s eyes rolled back into her head and she slumped back just as her body gave another harsher jerk followed by several smaller ones.

“It’s a seizure,” Elrond said, his voice crisp with alarm. “Quickly, place her on her side before she chokes!”


Glorfindel moved to obey the order, lying the child gently on the floor of the bathing chamber on her side. Slipping to the side away from the girl to let Elrond closer to her, his shoulder collided with one of the lower shelves on the wall and sent a small vase tumbling to the ground. It shattered with a crash, the noise vibrating around the room.

However, Elrond ignored the crash as he took off his outer robe, lifted Aerinel’s head up and placed the soft cloth underneath her head in an attempt to tilt her chin up and keep her airways clear while she jerked beneath his hands. “Easy, little one, easy, you’re safe...hush…” he murmured soothingly. He held her still, but gently enough that he wasn’t restraining the child, letting her body shake as it needed it to. “It’s all right...shhh…you will be all right. Av’osto.”

“Can I get anything that would help?” Glorfindel asked hesitantly, standing in the doorway.

Elrond didn’t look up as he replied. “A warm blanket. The child’s temperature will most likely drop rapidly after this.”

Glorfindel nodded and turned to leave, colliding into Aragorn’s tall form in the bedchamber, sending them both reeling.

“Glorfindel, what is going on? I heard a crash. Where is Aerinel?” Aragorn’s grey eyes were clouded with worry as his gaze swept anxiously around the room, noting that the child was no longer in the bed.

The golden-haired elf steadied the man, grasping his shoulder, his sharp eyes noting the man’s tousled hair and the sleepy expression on his face. “Aerinel threw up and then her fever spiked rather quickly and it has resulted in a seizure. Elrond is with her now.”
 

~*~*~S~*~*~

All signs of sleep vanished from the ranger. “Let me go to her,” Aragorn demanded as he tried to step past the elf.

Glorfindel held onto him sternly. “No, Estel, your father has her. She is in the safest hands.”

But the ranger wasn’t listening. “I need to see her. She still has a fear of elves.”

“Estel,” Glorfindel tried to reason with the ranger, “Aerinel is in the middle of a seizure; let your father deal with it. He knows what he’s doing.”

Aragorn glared at the elf and opened his mouth when a pitiful moan came from the bathing room. With defiance flashing in his eyes, the ranger pushed past Glorfindel and vanished into the bathing room.

Elrond glanced up at his son as he knelt down beside him. The ranger reached out and placed a hand on the child’s shuddering body. “I heard her cry out,” he said in a way of explanation, his voice low. “How long has she been like this?”

Elrond again tilted Aerinel’s head up slightly as he sat back on his heels. “The seizure is beginning to let up. It is not as bad as it was a few moments ago, although it is taking its toll on her small body.” He tightened his grip slightly as Aerinel jerked abruptly against his hold and whimpered again. “Her muscles are cramping.

Aragorn frowned sympathetically. “The poor thing. She does not need this.” Aerinel coughed and spluttered, her hands coming up and feebly tugging at the neckline of her nightdress. “Easy there, little one,” Aragorn murmured, his fingers deftly undoing the three small buttons and loosening the clothing around her neck and shoulders. “Take it easy little one, deep breaths…deep breaths.”

A tense few moments followed as Aerinel’s body refused to give up its jerking, continuing to shake slightly against the hands that held her. After one final twitch, it seemed that the seizure had run its course. Aragorn sighed with relief as the child’s body relaxed and went limp, lying unmoving on the floor.

“Sîdh, Aerinel, av’osto penneth. Naun hí.” Elrond let his hand rest on Aerinel’s forehead for a moment, lending some of his own strength to the child. “Peace, Aerinel, do not fear little one. I am here.”

The little girl seemed to hear to the elf’s deep, rich voice, for she moaned weakly and her eyelids flickered open, revealing dazed and confused grey eyes. She lay on the floor, not knowing how she had gotten there. She was cold and every fibre in her body seemed to ache. She did not want to move.

“Aerinel? Aerinel, can you hear me little one?”

A soft, kind voice spoke close to her ear as a hand brushed through her damp hair. Aerinel slowly lifted her chin so she could see who the speaker was. She was met with the face of a man, concern etched on his brow as he stared down at her. She recognised him. No, more than that – she knew him.

"Estel," she said in barely a whisper. He apparently heard her, however, because his stern face broke into a grin.

"Indeed it is, penneth. It is good to see you awake again. You gave us a bit of a scare just now,” he said with a gentle chuckle. Then he sobered as he reached out to pick her up. "Now then, let us get you out of those damp clothes, shall we?"

Aerinel nodded and let Aragorn lift her into his arms so she was resting with her head on his shoulder, little arms entwined around his neck. She didn't say a word, just clung to him mutely and gradually relaxed against him as he stood up.

This worried Aragorn. “Ada?” he asked, glancing over at his father, who was gathering up the broken fragments of the vase in his hand.

Elrond looked up at the note of worry he heard in Aragorn’s voice. He regarded the child in his son’s arms with a critical eye, noticing the way she rested limply against Aragorn’s chest. He stood up and crossed over to where Aragorn stood. “Sometimes a child can be confused or drowsy after a seizure and need to sleep for a while.” He placed a hand on Aerinel’s forehead, gauging her temperature. “It would be best to get her bathed and changed and into bed once more.”

“Bathe her?” Aragorn echoed with a troubled expression. “Surely that would not be wise?”

Elrond shook his head and said with a calm, controlled voice, “On the contrary, it will help relax her body after the seizure.” He rested a hand on the child’s back. “She is shivering. Get her out of those clothes and I will get ready some lukewarm water.” With one last look over the child, the healer stepped out of the room.

Aragorn still with the child in his arms sat down on the small wooden stool present. Grabbing one of the large towels, he draped around Aerinel’s shoulders before unclasping the rest of the small buttons on the nightgown. “There,” he said softly, maintaining a calm and steady voice as he slipped the little gown over her head and discarded it in a pile near the door. He wrapped the towel around her frame securely. “I will get you nice and warm. Do not fear, my little star,” he murmured, his hand brushing through the girl’s dark hair. “I will keep you safe and care for you. I won't leave you alone.”

Aerinel shuddered and burrowed deeper against the man, relishing in the warmth the towel provided. She was tired, though she did not want to sleep. But the feeling of Estel’s fingers brushing her hair and the heat and safety she was surrounded with made her drowsy.

Aragorn glanced up with one eye as Elrond stepped by him carrying a large pail of water. He poured it into the tub before adding a few drops of scented oil to the water. Turning to his son, he said, “Give her to me, Estel. She is almost asleep in your arms, but first she needs a bath.”

Aragorn handed over the child and watched as his father lowered her gently into the tub. Aerinel started slightly at the feel of the warm water against her cold skin, but relaxed with a word from Elrond. The healer picked up a soft cloth and dipped it into the water before dragging it gently over the child’s back. He repeated this several times, all the while speaking in a soft tone and slipping in and out of elvish. The child wasn’t really paying much attention to the elf, just letting the sound of his voice calm her.

A few minutes later Elrond said, “Pass me the towel, please, Estel.”

The man did as he was asked and watched as the elf lord easily lifted Aerinel out of the tub and enveloped her in a cocoon of paternal warmth, wrapped snugly in the large towel. Aerinel stirred slightly and raised her head, gazing around the small room until her eyes came to settle on Aragorn. Immediately, she reached out towards him, but was gently restrained by Elrond.

“Nay, little one, do not try that. Wait until you are dressed and then you may go to Estel,” Elrond said with a hint of amusement in his voice, gazing down at the small human. Raising his voice, he called, “Glorfindel, could you please bring a fresh nightgown for Aerinel?”

The golden-haired warrior appeared moments later with the small garment in his hands, which he handed to Elrond. “I have stoked up the fire again and changed the bedding; she should be more comfortable.”

With a dip of acknowledgement Elrond said, “Thank you, Glorfindel.” Then turning his attention back to the child in his arms, he stood up and spoke once more. “Now, penneth, let us get you back to bed where you belong.” He left the bathing room, followed closely by Aragorn.

With practised ease and gentle hands, Elrond laid the small girl on the bed, drawing one of the lighter blankets over her tiny frame. Aragorn settled himself into the chair beside the bed. His sharp eyes caught the look that passed between his father and Glorfindel. For the first time since bringing Aerinel home, he began to have doubts about whether the child would live. He cupped her warm cheek with his hand, brushing his thumb over the soft skin. A smile pulled at his lips when Aerinel turned her face towards him, blinking dazedly up at him.

“Hush, penneth, “ he whispered, leaning over the side of the bed. “Go to sleep now...you need to sleep, little one.” He continued murmuring soothing words as he stroked her cheek.

With a deep sigh, the child’s eyelids fluttered closed and very soon her breathing evened out and deeped.

Aragorn too breathed a sigh of relief as he settled himself more comfortably. The illness was getting stronger, intent on dragging the child down with it. She does not deserve this, he thought. Why her? Ilúvatar, what has this child done to deserve such pain?

He glanced up as he sensed his father approach him. Elrond murmured, his tone low, “Estel, it has been a long night. You should find some rest before the dawn.”

“I do not want to leave her now,” Aragorn argued back softly. “She needs me. I need to be here with her. In case – in case she does not…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, but his eyes begged Elrond to understand.

The elf lord nodded. He could easily understand the worry the ranger held for Aerinel. “Very well. You may remain, only if” – he raised his hand to ward off any arguments his youngest son might have – “you remain seated in that chair,” he finished.

Aragorn nodded. “I will.”

Elrond pressed his lips into a thin line and turned back towards the table where some of his healing supplies were strewn about on the polished surface. He caught Glorfindel’s eye and pressed his lips into a thin line. It was going to be a long night.  

~*~*~S~*~*~

"We simply can't keep the fever down," Elrohir said in frustration.
 

Aerinel lay tangled up in the sheet that covered her, sweat beading on her forehead and her breathing coming in fast pants. Morning had dawned not an hour ago, and still the child was shaking and sweating at the same time, burning with the fever that raced through her body.

Elrohir once again soaked the cloth he held in his hands in the cold water and laid it on Aerinel’s forehead. For a few seconds it seemed to ease the child’s discomfort, but moments later she started moving around again, her face full of pain and distress.

"She's delirious," Aragorn murmured softly, carefully brushing a strand of the dampened hair away from her face. “The fever has too strong a hold on her now.” It troubled him deeply to see the silent battle the small girl was enduring. As he watched, Aerinel shifted restlessly, whimpering and shivering.

Elrond seated himself on the side of the bed and gently laid his hand on her forehead. The skin was hot to the touch, almost burning, causing the elf lord’s worry to spike even more. “Elrohir, please go fetch a fresh bowl of cold water and a clean cloth and bring it back here quickly," he said to his son calmly. “Oh, and Elrohir,” he called over his shoulder, causing his son to pause at the door, “add some crushed lavender to the water, please.”


Elrohir nodded once before vanishing with remarkable speed. Elladan poked the fire and added another log to it. His eyes wandered across the room, his heart aching for the young child.

Elrond stood up. “I think I will make some more tea. It may or may not help. All we can do it try.”

Aragorn began gently to untangle Aerinel’s legs and arms from the sheet. Moments later, Elrohir returned with the bowl of water, placing it on the bedside table within easy reach.  Aragorn nodded his thanks to his brother and began wiping Aerinel’s forehead with the herb-laced water.

The scent of lavender washed over him and he inhaled deeply, the calming scent soothing his troubled mind. It seemed to help Aerinel too, for the child stopped shifting and grew still, although her face was still grimaced in pain.

Elladan came and stood beside the bed. “Any change?” His grey eyes flickered over the child.

Aragorn shook his head. “None at all. The fever is still rising, no matter what we do.”

“The herbs will help,” Elladan said, nodding towards the bowl. “It seems to be calming her down slightly. She is not as restless as before.” His fingers trailed over the lace edge of the cotton nightdress, smoothening out the wrinkles and creases. “Poor little thing. She doesn’t deserve this.”

“No,” Aragorn murmured.

Softly, Elladan began to sing, his voice calm and untroubled, despite how his heart was feeling.

"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath...

Aragorn knew the song; he had heard it many times in Elrond’s house as he was growing up and it took him back to the bright, happy times, sitting in the Hall of Fire and listening to the elves’ merry-making.

"Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadhremmin ennorath,


On the bed, Aerinel sighed deeply, curling one small fist into the sheet as she settled down, the soft elvish words penetrating through the fog in her mind and quelling the nightmares that haunted her dreams.

"Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!"


Elrohir smiled and closed his eyes, allowing the song to wash over him, the lovely, lilting elvish words sounding so beautiful to his ears. Slowly the song came to an end. He smiled softly at his twin. Anytime Aragorn had had a nightmare as a child, one of the twins would sing that song to him to calm him down. Now it seemed to work on Aerinel just as well.

The room grew silent for awhile, the only sound being the harsh breathing of Aerinel and the occasional cough breaking the silence. The door opened, and Lord Elrond entered with a cup in his hands.

Aragorn nodded his thanks to his father and took the tea. Wiping Aerinel’s forehead a few more times with the cloth, he finally laid his hand on the child’s cheek and began to call her name softly. "Aerinel, Aerinel, little one, I need you to awaken. Come on, open your eyes for me.”

Aerinel stirred fitfully at the sound of Aragorn’s voice, making soft noises of discomfort.

"Come, Aerinel, you must wake up, tithen pen." After a little more persuasion, the child finally woke. Fever-glazed eyes roamed over the three elves standing above her before coming to rest on the man sitting beside her.

"Es-tel?” Aerinel's voice was cracked and weak. Her hand reached for Aragorn, who immediately took it in his own.

“I'm here, Aerinel,” Aragorn said, laying the tea aside for a moment as he began to gently stroke Aerinel's forehead.

Closing her eyes again, Aerinel whimpered, "Everything hurts.”

"I know it does, little one. I know it does, but I'm going to help make you better again." Aragorn reached for the tea once more. "You have to drink this now, Aerinel; it will make you better."

Elladan and Elrohir instantly moved forward to help the child sit up, carefully pulling her out from under her blankets and leaning her against their shoulders as they sat against the headboard on either side of the bed. At their touch, Aerinel stirred and opened her eyes again. She blinked hazily at the two elves.

“Do you remember Elladan and Elrohir?” Aragorn asked, brushing her dark, shoulder-length locks out of her face.

Aerinel nodded sleepily.

“There’s a good child,” Elladan murmured in her ear. "We're here to help you get better."

"You just have to drink the tea," Elrohir continued, rubbing Aerinel’s back in soothing circles, trying to rouse the child from her semi-delirious state of mind. "I even put honey in it so it will taste better."

Aerinel nodded again, resting her burning head on Elrohir’s shoulder. She was too weak to be able to refuse. Elladan wasn’t even sure if the young girl understood what they were saying.

Aragorn brought the herbal drink to Aerinel's lips. "You must drink this now, Aerinel."

Other than a small wrinkling of her nose, Aerinel made no protest towards drinking the tea. As Aragorn held the cup to her lips, Aerinel's smaller hands overlapped the man’s, causing Elladan to smile. It didn't take long for Aerinel to finish the drink, and when she did, she promptly fell right back asleep, her head on Elrohir's shoulder.

"The poor little thing is worn out."

Four heads turned to see a tall, golden-haired elf step into the room.

“Glorfindel,” Elrond acknowledged. “I did not expect to see you so soon. You, after all, spent the night watching over the child.” He did not mention what had taken place during the night. Aragorn had told the twins an abbreviated version that morning, only saying that Aerinel had become more ill during the night and had thrown up. The elf lord was happy to leave it at that for the time being.

Glorfindel shrugged. “I wanted to see how Aerinel was faring.”

Elrond raised one eyebrow. Glorfindel had mentioned nothing about what had transpired between him and the child the previous night. However, the lord of Rivendell had more or less guessed that something had taken place after he had finally persuaded Estel to leave the room after he had fallen asleep in the chair beside the bed. Why else would he have found Aerinel sleeping in Glorfindel’s arms when he entered the healing rooms just before dawn this morning? But he let it go. Now was not the time.

"The child needs to rest in order to heal." Elrond sighed. "Someone will have to watch her at all times should she get worse." Reaching over to the bedside, Elrond dipped a cloth into the bowl of cool water, wrung it out, and placed it carefully on Aerinel's forehead. “I have business I need to take care of today. Will you and your brothers be able to care for Aerinel?” He turned to Elladan, who nodded wearily.

“Of course we can, Adar.”

“Alright, then, but you have to remain quiet so she can rest, and come to me immediately the moment something changes."

“We won’t mind looking after Aerinel,” Elrohir agreed with his twin. “We promise to come and fetch you of anything changes.”

With a final glance at the child, Elrond turned and left the room with a quickened pace. There was much he needed to do this day. He made his way towards his study with eyes clouded with worry. In the hall, he met a servant of the house and called to him. "Can you please bring some food for my sons?" he requested. "They will need it, and I fear I can't convince them to leave the room long enough to eat." The servant nodded and made his way towards the kitchen.


~*~*~S~*~*~

Back inside the room, Glorfindel eyed the two raven-haired elves, taking in their somewhat scattered appearance. “I take you will not be attending the border patrols today?”

Elrohir looked up, and winced, his eyes shining with guilt. “Do you mind very much if we excuse ourselves from the patrols, Glorfindel? Only we would rather be here...if possible.” He shared a glance with Elladan.

Aragorn raised his head and looked bemusedly at Glorfindel. It surprised him that the twins had not taken off in their usual Son’s of Elrond style to hunt orcs, the classic way they usually dealt with worry and feelings of hopelessness.

“No, I do not, Elrohir.” Glorfindel’s eyes twinkled as he draped an arm around each twin’s shoulder and giving them a squeeze. “I think it would be very noble of you to stay here.” The golden haired elf knew how hard it was for them to stay and face the sickness of the small child they were rapidly growing to love, rather than taking off to rage their feelings on evils that were easily destroyed. “You may be excused for today.”

He leaned over the bed and brushed Aerinel’s cheek. The child moved slightly, a low moan escaping her lips. “Hush, Aerinel, go back to sleep,” Glorfindel whispered, withdrawing his hand. He smiled sadly at Elladan as he left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
~*~*~S~*~*~

Time drifted by slowly. The three occupants of the room all felt exhausted, but no one had any intention of sleeping until Aerinel was well. Elrond was in his study trying to find a herb that would fight against the raging fever. Aragorn hadn’t seen his father in over an hour.

Aerinel moaned softly, her eyes squeezed tightly shut and her hands curled into fists.

"I think she's dreaming," Elladan said softly.

"Yes, but the dreams don't seem to be pleasant," Elrohir pointed out, looking at the distressed face of the child.

“Easy, Aerinel, take it easy. You are safe here,” Aragorn murmured.

Aerinel whimpered again, rolling over so that she now lay on her stomach. She moaned as the sheet became once more tangled around her hot body. She coughed, unable to get enough air into her lungs from the way she lay on the bed.

Aragorn gently lifted her up into his arms and patted her back as Elrohir untangled the sheet from around the child. “I’ll get a fresh sheet,” he whispered, rolling the other sheet into a ball in his hands. “This one is soaking.”

“That would be much appreciated,” Aragorn whispered. “Thank you.” He felt her forehead and frowned in concern at the hotness of her skin. The fever hadn’t dropped at all over the last few hours, and it was draining the child’s strength.

Aerinel cried out weakly, obviously distressed. Aragorn took her small hand in his. “Calm down, Aerinel,” he said softly, hoping to soothe the child. “I’m here; you’re safe.” Carefully, he laid the small girl back down onto the bed. But the child didn’t seem to hear his words. Instead, she grimaced in pain. Sweat trickled down her forehead and the side of her face. Aragorn tenderly wiped it away. He glanced up at the twins. “She won’t calm down.”

“It’s the fever; it makes her delirious,” Elrohir said. He came back over to the bed with a fresh sheet, which he carefully laid over Aerinel. The child whimpered as her head tossed from side to side.

Sîdh, Aerinel. Avo-osto.” Elladan knelt beside the bed, taking the child’s fist and prising the fingers open. “Peace, Aerinel. Do not fear. You are going to hurt yourself.”

But nothing Aragorn or the twins did would calm the child down. Three heads shot up as the door opened. “Glorfindel,” Elrohir breathed in relief as the golden-haired elf stepped into the room. “We cannot get Aerinel to calm down. She keeps clenching her fists and her entire body is tensed up. She must relax, for we fear she may hurt herself if she continues.”

Glorfindel frowned as his eyes landed on the restless form of the small girl. Aerinel’s nightdress was soaking and her hair lay in tangles across the pillow. As he watched, the child cried out and shivered violently. “Give her to me.” Glorfindel stepped closer to the bed and took the shaking child in his arms. He sat down in the chair beside the bed like he had done the previous night. He rocked back and forth, whispering words of comfort into her ear that none of the others could hear. “Aerinel, Aerinel, listen to my voice and come back. Do not give up to this illness. You are stronger than it. You can fight it. Let go and return to sleep.”

Maybe it was his voice that calmed the child, or perhaps the dream had changed; whatever it was, Aerinel’s tense body relaxed, going limp in Glorfindel’s arms as she calmed down and settled back into sleep. The elf stood and gently placed Aerinel back down onto the bed, brushing her cheek. Her face was still pale, and the child looked so small and vulnerable to the tall elf. She was sleeping now, and it seemed that whatever dream had haunted her mind had left. But the fever was still as high as ever, and there were no signs of it lowering.

Glorfindel laid his hand on her forehead and spoke softly, glancing up at the twins and Aragorn. “She must rest now.”

The twins nodded and settled themselves into the chairs around the room. Aragorn allowed himself to relax slightly and stretched his cramped legs out in front of him. “Thank you, Glorfindel.”

The elder elf nodded before speaking, a mask of neutrality on his face. “Estel, your father wishes to speak with you in his study.”

The man looked up, and then frowned. “Now?”

Glorfindel nodded again. Aragorn glanced at Elladan, but the elf just shrugged. The man got up and followed Glorfindel out of the room with a puzzled expression on his face.

With a sigh, Elrohir plopped himself down in the chair Aragorn had just vacated. “I wonder what Father wants to speak to Estel about?”

Elrohir shrugged. “Probably the reason he sent us out looking for Estel in first place.”

“Mmm,” Elladan hummed lightly in response.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Ada, you sent for me?” Aragorn stepped into Elrond’s study, followed by Glorfindel. The ranger cast a glance of apprehension over his shoulder. Although he had not been informed what his father wanted to speak with him about, he had the feeling that this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable conversation.

Elrond looked up from where he was seated, bent over his desk. “Yes, Estel, I did.” He motioned for his son to sit down in the chair in front of the large desk. “There is something I wish to discuss with you.”

Aragorn sat down. He shifted uneasily as Glorfindel leant against one of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases. “What is it?”

“Do you remember the Star of Elendil I showed you when I gave you the Ring of Barahir?” Elrond steepled his fingers together.

“Yes.” Aragorn nodded. “Ada, please, what is this about?”

Without a word, Elrond produced a chain on which hung a small, five-rayed star pendant with a white gem in the centre, backed with a thin plate of silver.

“What is that?” Aragorn asked as he leaned over to get a better look at the strange necklace.

“It is a pendant shaped like the Elendilmir.” Elrond handed the necklace to his son.

“But how is this possible?!” Aragorn stared at his father in disbelief. In his hand lay the star-shaped pendant.

Elrond gazed back at his foster son. “I am as clueless as you are, Estel.”

“Where did you find it?” Aragorn asked, looking back up at the two elves.

“It was sewn into a pocket inside the child’s clothing.” Glorfindel pushed off from the bookcase and crossed the room towards them.“It was obviously not meant to be found. I could hardly envision anyone searching a child’s clothing for an object of obvious value and secrecy.”

“Indeed,” Aragorn murmured, taking the strange pendant from Elrond and turning it over in his fingers. His eyes flickered down to the Ring of Barahir that he wore and then back to the necklace. “Do you think Aerinel knows what this is? What does it mean, Father?”

Lord Elrond sighed. “I wish I knew, Estel. I am searching through the books.” He swept his hand around the study, gesturing to the tall bookcases. “But there is no mention of a similar item of jewelry being made that matches the Elendilmir. As for the child, she has been in no fit state to tell anyone anything.”

Aragorn handed the pendant back to his father. “There must be some reason why it was kept hidden. Perhaps it was a trial...an exercise, before the real one was created?”

“But why would it be in the keeping of the rangers? The Elves were the ones who created both Elendilmiri, for they were made with white elven crystals. This one” – Elrond held the pendant up to the light and examined it closely – “this one is less bright, but there is something about it that does not strike me as a fake, however.”  

Glorfindel moved closer to the desk. “I agree with Elrond. There is something larger at work here. Until the child is well again, it will be unlikely we shall have any answers.”

Elrond sighed. “Let us hope that she lives to reveal whatever it is she is hiding from us.”

Aragorn stood up abruptly. “I will return to Aerinel now. Thank you for showing me this.”

“What is it that draws you to the child?”

Elrond’s question caught the ranger off-guard. He turned back around to face the elf. “I don’t know. Maybe it is because I – I see myself as…as a young child; maybe it is something else. But I could not have left her trapped in that house.” He walked towards the door, his soft leather boots making little sound.

Glorfindel raised one eyebrow at the dark-haired elf lord.

“Estel,” his father called. When Aragorn turned, Elrond’s face was stern. “Do not mention this to your brothers just yet.”

There was a pause before Aragorn nodded. “As you wish, Adar.”

~*~*~S~*~*~


Warm afternoon sunlight illuminated the room and a few birds could be heard singing. But Aerinel's condition still hadn't improved. The child was caught in her delirious state, often screaming and thrashing around in her bed, gently held by one of the twins or Aragorn. Time passed slowly for them as they helplessly watched how the young girl struggled for her life.

Aerinel’s pale skin and the dark circles under her eyes clearly showed her bad state, and the ragging breathing didn't make it better. Every time another coughing fit attacked the young girl, the elves tensed at the painful expression on her face. Every breath seemed to be an obstacle for the child which was the more difficult to defeat the more time passed.

In her delirious state, she would often mumble and toss around, whispering words only she could understand. Even Elrond, who had returned to the room after studying a few of his books, couldn't clear the worry from his face. “It can be dangerous if the fever doesn't break, but if we can manage to keep her temperature down, she should survive it."

“She's being haunted by nightmares," Elrohir said hoarsely, glancing at Aragorn. "And we can do nothing to help her..."

Elladan shook his head. “I don’t like seeing her like this...just lying there.”

"I believe the child is strong," Elrond stated calmly. "Her body is young and full of life. I firmly believe that she will survive this."

But Aragorn saw the worry in his father’s eyes, and he couldn't believe his words. "Don't give up,” he whispered to Aerinel. “You can’t give up...you must fight it…for me.”

Another coughing fit shook the otherwise motionless body on the bed, and immediately Aragorn moved forward, pinning the child back to the mattress. Aerinel gasped for breath, opening unseeing eyes and closing them again.

"Calm down, Aerinel, calm down," Aragorn whispered as the girl struggled against his grip. The coughs subdued and silence sank once more over the room.

Aerinel was weak, so weak. The numerous coughing fits had made it unable for her to breathe properly and the lack of air was eating her strength. Breathing and coughing took too much energy, energy that was needed in fighting the fever. They had to get her to wake up, and they had to do it soon.

Slowly, the elder elf stood up and rubbed his hand across his face.

"You should go to sleep.” Elrond turned to see Elladan staring at him.

"I cannot." The elven lord shook his head. "How could I sleep while knowing that the child is struggling with the fever? Aerinel needs me.”

"True, but she needs you at full health and not as a weary elf who could drop down any second." Elladan's look was stern. "Ada, please. I do not tell you to leave Aerinel; I’m just telling you to take a chair, sit down, and rest a bit."

At first it seemed as if the elf lord wanted to say something, but then he just nodded and sat down wearily in the mentioned chair.

A slight smile appeared on Elladan's face. "Thank you.”


 ~*~*~S~*~*~

Night had fallen over the gorge that Rivendell was built into, and the child had finally settled down, sleeping soundly. Aragorn was curled up in the chair he occupied beside the bed and his eyes were fixed on the still form of Aerinel.  

He looked up as Elrond approached the bed. The elf placed a hand on the girl’s forehead, gauging her temperature. He stood up and a smile graced his lips, banishing for a moment the worry from his wise grey eyes. “I do believe the fever is beginning to lower.”

Aragorn sat up with a start, wincing as his back cracked while the twins almost cheered with relief. However, Elrond held up his hand, silencing them with a stern gaze. “The illness isn’t over yet. This is merely the first step. Aerinel’s lungs are still badly congested, and she will be troubled by coughing for some time until the liquid is cleared from her lungs. It will be a slow recovery, and each step will be hard for the child.”

His sons nodded seriously. Elrond smiled softly, tucking the sheet around Aerinel’s small body. His hand stroked Aerinel’s tousled hair a few times. “Rest, little one. Rest and heal.”

Elladan looked over and noticed the faraway look on Elrohir’s face. "Thinking?" the soft voice of his brother interrupted the silence.

Elrohir looked up. "Yes," he replied absently.

Elladan stepped nearer and stood beside the chair his twin was sitting in. "About what?" he wanted to know.

The small smile appeared again on Elrohir's face. “About the first time Estel came down with a fever. We were so worried. I remember Ada having to drug you to make you get some rest for you would not stay in bed. You insisted staying beside Estel the whole time; you were nearly dropping when Ada gave you that drugged tea.”

The older twin pouted. Elrohir  just smiled, mirth twinkling in his gray eyes. Then his gaze wandered to the little child, lying in the large bed. Aerinel’s face was pale, and her breathing pattern was laboured. Nonetheless, her state had improved greatly over the last hour.

Elladan walked over to join his father. "When will she be awake?" the raven-haired elf asked, glancing down at the child.

"Not for some time," Elrond told him. "These coughing fits have exhausted her body greatly, and she needs to rest. I fear that the next few days will not be very pleasant for her, for her lungs are congested and it will take its time to heal. But I think I can safely say that the danger of her dying has now passed." Elrond stroked the sweating face of the young girl, relieved to notice that the fever had dropped a little more.

Aerinel seemed calmer now, sleeping and resting her exhausted body. However, the elder elf also knew that the recovery would be quite a long ­and painful ­one. His gaze wandered towards the twins, who were sitting on two chairs, still bickering with each other. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. They were over two thousand years old, and yet they still manage to act like children. He found this very amusing and inwardly promised himself to bring this up the next time the two insisted that they were indeed adults. Some things would never change and for that he was glad.

He glanced over at his human son. “What troubles you, Estel?”

Aragorn looked up. “She is so small and yet so strong to come through what she has.” He looked down at the small hand in his. “There is more to this child than meets the eye.”

“Children are very resilient. This little one has shown greater resilience than most.” Elrond smiled. “I once knew a little boy that was very resilient. He came through many hardships and grew into a fine man, a leader of his people.”

Aragorn glanced up curiously. “Really? What was his name?”

“He was named Estel by the elves,” the elven lord said with a playful smile. “Hebo estel. Have hope, Aragorn. She will pull through. She is strong.”

Aragorn smiled gratefully at his father. “She is.” He leaned forward and whispered softly into Aerinel’s ear, “You hear that? You are strong. You will make it. I have every faith in you.” He brushed her hair back, hesitating for a moment before bestowing a tender kiss to her forehead. “Sleep well, little one.”

Aerinel turned towards the sound of his voice, and the man could have sworn he saw a slight smile grace the child’s lips for no more than a split second.

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