The peace and relief, however, were not to last.
The fever came back during the night, this time with a vengeance. It attacked the child restlessly and would not cease tormenting her mind and body. By the following morning, Aerinel was quivering like a leaf caught in a storm in the sheet that was wrapped around her small body, her face flushed with red and her skin clammy. She was unresponsive to any attempts made to wake her, causing Elrond’s fear for her to heighten. None of the calling or shaking, whether by the twins or Aragon, could rose Aerinel from her feverish stupor.
The room lapsed into an uncomfortable silence once more,
each of the
occupants tense and alert, constantly watching the child for any signs
change in her condition.
"Please…” Aerinel whimpered after a while in time, stirring fitfully under the blankets. Her small hands clenched and unclenched, the sheets caught between her small fingers.
Aragorn immediately moved to her side. "Shhh, Aerinel, I am here. Av'osto.” He brushed her hair back, hoping his touch would soothe the small girl as it had done before over the previous days.
"Please… I’m sorry..." Aerinel whimpered again, cracking her unseeing eyes open.
Elladan shared a nervous glance with his twin. He did not like the words the child was struggling to say. His fear was reflected in Elrohir’s eyes.
"Sîdh, Aerinel. Ú-vaur gosto; I am here.” Aerinel crying out in such a way awoke a fear inside Aragorn’s heart that he didn't understand – all he knew was that he was suddenly very worried. “Peace, Aerinel. There is no need to fear; I am here.”
He turned to Elrond. “Ada, why is she crying like
this? It is as
if she cannot hear or see us.”
Elrond face betrayed none of what he was feeling, but his grey eyes were clouded with worry. “I suspect, but I do not fully know, ion-nín. It worries me just as much as it does you.”
“Please...don’t hurt...me,” Aerinel cried out in fear, her eyes wide and unseeing. “Please...”
“Hush, Aerinel, nobody is going to hurt you. You are safe here,” Elladan murmured, his own heart filled with a feeling of dread. Aerinel’s eyes darted back and forth across the room, seeing things that weren’t there. Elladan knew that look. He had seen it several times before, once or twice on Aragorn’s face, and once also on his twin’s. “She’s hallucinating,” he said, his voice low. Elrond did not look up, nodded all the same, confirming what his son had said.
Elrond looked up at his foster son. “Yes, Estel?”
“Is Aerinel going to survive? Tell me truthfully, please.”
Elrond closed his eyes, his heart clenching in fear and worry as he held Aerinel in his arms. "I don't know, ion-nín. I just don’t know." And that was what was really scared the ancient healer.
Elladan pressed his lips together in a thin line. He did not want the child to die any more than Aragorn and Elrohir wanted her to, but looking down at her, lying limp and helpless in his father’s arms, the young elf was forced to realise that she could very well die, very easily. She was so ill and weak.
Elladan nodded in satisfaction as the door closed behind
his father. He
glanced around the room, his eyes landing on Elrohir and Aragorn, who
sitting on either side of the bed.
“Do you think she will ever recover?” Aragorn turned his eyes on Elrohir.
The young twin sighed and reaching his arm forward, placing his hand on Aerinel’s forehead for a moment. "She still burns fiercely.”
Aragorn sagged dejectedly. “It's been four days now, and she still has a fever. If it does not break soon…" The ranger trailed off and looked sadly at the small child.
“She will die.” Elladan approached the bed and placed a comforting hand on Aragorn’s shoulder. “I do not say this to be cruel, but it is the truth. I’m sorry, Estel.” He gave it a light squeeze. “I hope Aerinel will be alright. She is still a child. The Valar should not be ready for her, and I would hope that they will not allow her to leave us just yet. She is strong. She has fought it this far. I am sure she will pull through.” He leaned forward and gently wiped a cool cloth across the girl’s forehead.
Elrohir fiddled with the corner of the sheet. "I know the Valar are not yet ready for her, but they will not turn her away were she to come to them."
"Have faith in the Valar, El." Elladan put a hand on his twin's arm, trying to comfort him. "I do not wish to lose Aerinel any more than you do, but have hope that they will do what they see fit."
Elrohir nodded, but doubt still clouded his mind. What if the Valar did see fit to take Aerinel away from this world when she was still so young, when she had so much to give and receive in return?
Time seemed to haze into one long restless repetition
that slid from one
hour to the next without change. Aerinel grew ever worse, and nothing
seem to have an affect or help her at all, much to the three elves and
Aragorn’s great fear.
The fever that racked the young girl's body only continued to rise, and the harsh coughing only deepened. It was nightfall when the fever peaked and Aerinel slipped deeply into a fevered delirium, causing her to scream with terror from hallucinations, tugging raggedly at the blanket that seemed to twist itself around her body.
"Aerinel, shh – Aerinel, listen to me, little one,”
in a gentle tone, holding the flailing child close to his chest and
back and forth. "It's not real… I am here, you are going to be all
right." He continued, stroking the young girl's unruly and sweaty hair
with one hand, “You are safe, no one is going to hurt you here in my
Elladan and Elrohir stood nearby with Aragorn, waiting anxiously for any command from their father that they could fulfill. Finally, after several minutes of attempting to calm the frightened child, the elven lord looked up at them.
"Go fill a bath. Her fever has spiked again and we must try and get it down,” he said hurriedly, struggling slightly with the thrashing child, who was emitting choked cries. The twin turned and vanished with a swiftness like that of a fired arrow. There was no need to tell them that this was a final attempt to break the fever. After that...who knew what would happen?
“Estel, help me here, please,” Elrond called as he laid
Aerinel on the bed and
began to undo the child’s nightshirt. Aragorn pinned the girl down with
fingers as he did so. Within minutes, Elrond had prepared Aerinel for
and wrapped her naked body in a light sheet as they waited, once again
her close to his own body for comfort.
"Shh, I won't leave you, hush, penneth, hush,” he murmured over and over again. His deep, calming voice at last seemed to have an affect on Aerinel. She sucked in a large, shuddering breath, going limp again in his arms.
Aragorn reached one hand out and stroked her hair. The child lay in his father’s arms, completely unresponsive. Her eyes were half-lidded and unseeing as she blinked sluggishly. She jerked once, whimpering quietly.
“Shhh, Aerinel, it’s alright. You’re going to be alright,” Aragorn murmured, taking her small hand and rubbing her fingers gently. There was nothing more either of them could do. “I wish I had not gotten so attached to you.” Aragorn whispered furiously, almost to himself.
Elrond regarded his son for a moment, then said slowly, “Perhaps, but then you would have to take a look at what it would be if you did not get so ‘attached’ as you put it. You would not care what happened to her...you not have shown her the kindness and care that you have. You might as well have left in the destroyed building alone to die.”
Aragorn bit his lip. “But why does the grief have hurt so much?”
Elrond smiled sadly. Even after all these years of traveling with the Dúnedain, Aragorn could still feel the grief and sorrow of someone passing. “Because my son, you have a heart.”
A cough interrupted their conversation.
"The bath is ready," Elladan said quietly, stepping back
the room. His sharp eyes followed his father's movements with
precision, and he
couldn't miss the complete tenderness that followed in the wake of the
lord's movements. Swallowing hard at the lump that appeared in his
the thought of the child dying, Elladan held the door for his father
followed after him and Aragorn, refusing to let the tears fall.
Entering into the bathing chamber, Elrond stepped quickly over to the tub, filled with scattered herbs and lukewarm water. Kneeling down beside the edge of the tub, he gently deposited the weak child into the water,m supporting her head and neck with his hands. Instantly the girl's body tensed in shook, a painfully raw cry escaping her lips, and her eyes flashed open with terror.
“Mama!" she shrieked so harshly that it made the three elves present wince as if the sound had been ripped from their own throats.
"Cold! It's too cold!" she continued to cry, thrashing wildly and splashing the water everywhere. Elrond pressed her back down, glad to see that the water had at least brought Aerinel crashing back painfully to reality. He sealed his heart against the pain he was causing the child, knowing in the long run it would do her good.
"Mama, please, help me! It hurts! They’re hurting me!" Aerinel screamed again, tears now falling freely down her face. "I want out! Please!" she choked, clawing at the Elrond’s arm, which was pressed against her chest to hold her body down under the water.
"Aerinel, listen to me, child, listen to my voice,” Elrond half-shouted to be heard, desperately trying to comfort the young human. "I will get you out as soon as I possibly can, I promise." But Aerinel wouldn't listen, going into a crazed fit as she tried to escape the water which felt like ice on her overheated skin.
"M-ma-mama! Help me!" she pleaded, her eyes focused on something beyond the elves and lunging forward against Elrond’s arms to try and get to them. "They are hurting me! I just want out! P-please, h-help me!"
The twins glanced up guiltily, heartbreak clear on their faces. Aragorn looked near tears as he watched the child struggling against his father. The ranger knelt beside the tube and gently ran his fingers through Aerinel’s hair. "Hush, little Aerinel. You must stay in the water, just until your fever lowers. Then I promise I will get you out."
Lord Elrond was speaking again, his voice low and
comforting, but the young
girl failed to listen to what he was saying, just barely paying
the sound of his voice.
"Would the two of you please go see to the changing of
and blankets on Aerinel's bed?" Elrond asked, looking up at the twins,
knowing that they would do it willingly. The sheets were soaked with
herb-laced water and some of the medicine that had been spilled upon
they wanted Aerinel to be comfortable, then she would need warm, clean,
sheets and blankets.
Elrond now turned to his youngest son. “Estel, will you stay here with the child for a moment? Aerinel seems to be calmest in your presence.”
“Of course.” Aragorn nodded and moved closer to the tub, sliding his hands behind Aerinel’s neck and supporting her head as Elrond stood up to fetch a towel.
Left alone with Aerinel, Aragorn found himself reflecting greatly on the child lying against his arms in the tub. The small girl he was rapidly learning to love, the girl who had already see so much horror and suffering. “Oh, Aerinel…" he whispered softly, gently stroking a soft pattern with his thumb along the girl's chest. “What you have been through for one so young.”
The child stirred sleepily in the water, a harsh cough escaping her lips before she stilled once, content to lie still now that the initial fear had slowly evaporated to a mere weariness. The man smiled, knowing that the child would soon drift into a much-needed rest, her mind free at last from the horrors that had haunted her for the past few days.
He looked down again as Aerinel reached up and grasped the forefinger of his right hand, gazing up at the man with sleepy eyes. A soft smile tugged at the corner of Aragorn’s lips. “Hey there, penneth,” he murmured. “Your fever had broken at long last. You will be able to rest now and recover your strength.”
The girl didn’t say anything, but closed her eyes again with a sigh. The water lapped soothingly against the edge of the tub. Aragorn momentarily closed his eyes, just listening to the breathing of the child and feeling the thumping of her small heart under his hand, a sure sign that she was alive. It had been so close.They had been so close to losing her.
A soft cough from the doorway alerted the ranger to the presence of one of the twins, breaking the moment of peace, and Aragorn looked up. "The bed is ready,” Elrohir said, holding a towel in one hand.
"Good,” Aragorn answered, lifting the small body of Aerinel out of the water and letting Elrohir wrap the towel around her thin little body. Aerinel gave a small grunt and shifted as she was moved, but almost instantly relaxed limply back into Aragorn’s arms. The man smoothed back the dark curls plastered against her head. One of Aerinel’s hands came up and curled into Aragorn's tunic like she was just a baby.
Aragorn looked down and smiled at her as he carried her back into the bedchamber. The fire had been stoked up, burning brightly and the lamps had been lit, giving the room a warm appearance. Elrond stood beside the fireplace, patiently waiting with a clean nightgown in his hands. One eyebrow was raised at the sight of Aragorn with the child. He caught Elrohir’s eye, but the younger elf just shook his head fondly and followed his brother.
Elladan smiled as he passed by, carrying a basket filled with the used bedsheets and blankets. “Never did I think I would see those clothes be used once again after Estel grew out of them.”
“Neither did I, brother dear.” Elrohir smirked at the man. “It seems our little brother has indeed grown to be a man, for he no longer fits into his romper suits!” His eyes were twinkling with mischief as he spoke. A great worry had been lifted off their shoulders and the impish side of the twin was beginning to show itself once again.
“Yes… it seems only yesterday that Estel was a small boy of five, running into one of our rooms and tripping over his sleeping clothes because of a storm.” Elladan winked at his twin.
Aragorn rolled his eyes at the twins as he sat down in the chair beside the fire, settling Aerinel in his lap. He then looked up at his father, realizing he had no clear idea of what to do.
“No one, but everyone knows I have better aim than you do.”
Elladan quietly came over and gently draped the pale blue
the small child, tucking the edges around her, making sure she was
Aerinel stared up at him with big, round, sleepy eyes. Elladan just
at her, his fingers brushing a strand of hair away from her face. Then
away again without a word.
“Isn’t that the blanket I used to trail everywhere with me?” Aragorn queried, taking a better look at the blanket with curiosity.
Elladan hummed in agreement. “It is. Being warm and soft, I thought it might do nicely for Aerinel.”
“Personally, I’m still surprised that blanket is even around after all Estel dragged it through, including his mouth. He was always chewing on it,” Elrohir commented lightly as he stood beside the chair, gazing down at the child.
Now that the child was free from the dirt and grime that she had been covered in from head to foot after been trapped, and now that the sweat from the fever was gone from her body the elves and Aragorn got their first proper look at the little girl. They took in in the dark hair that framed her small face and the grey eyes that looked up at them so quizzically.
“She is such a sweet-looking little thing,” Elrohir remarked as he gazed down at her. Aerinel sucked in her breath and then closed her eyes tightly. Her thumb came to rest between her lips as she finally give into exhaustion and fell into a deeper, more settled slumber for the first time since the fever had attacked her.
Making sure Aerinel was completely asleep, Aragorn stood and carried the child over to the bed with ease and gently laid her down, making sure her head was cradled by the pillow. Aerinel sighed and curled up on herself as he pulled the covers up over her. He brushed her hair a few times before placing a tender kiss on her forehead. “Sleep, little Aerinel. May your dreams be pleasant,” he whispered.
Elrond watched for a moment, then turned to the twins. “I need one of you to watch over Aerinel tonight to make sure the fever has completely left her. I do not want to take any chances. I would ask Estel, but he is exhausted himself. I need him to rest.”
Elladan nodded. “I will stay here. I am not yet tired.” He glanced at the bed. “She should sleep the whole night, shouldn’t she?”
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