Learning to Smile

Chapter 7

by Little Jewel-(T)
December 9, 2016

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The pale rays of the early morning sun filtered in through the small gap between the drawn curtains. They cast a soft glow around the room, illuminating intricate patterns of leaves and branches on the walls and floor.

Aragorn sat in the large, overstuffed chair he’d pulled up to the side of the bed, watching the steady rise and fall of Aerinel’s chest as she slept. She was finally free of the fever that had almost claimed her life several times in the last five days.


The ranger stretched out his legs in front of him and folded his arms behind his head, his eyes flickering casually around the room. They rested momentarily on Elrohir, who was sound asleep in a chair close to the dying fire. Despite Elrond assuring them that the child was out of danger and strongly advising them to get some rest, neither the ranger nor the twins had felt like leaving the room since the previous night.

Aragorn smiled to himself. The younger twin had succumbed to his exhaustion shortly after Aerinel’s fever had broken completely in the early hours of the morning. Elrohir had curled up in the nearest chair and quickly found rest, wandering the paths of elven dreams. He had not stirred for hours. Aragorn’s gaze was drawn up to the door at the sound of quiet murmuring. His father and Elladan stood talking in low voices just outside the room. He strained his ears to hear what they were saying.

“Should she not be waking now?” Elladan asked, trepidation evident in his voice as he glanced over at the bed where the sleeping child lay. “It has been hours since the fever broke and she has not moved once. It is beginning to worry me.”

Elrond closed his eyes at the question and rubbed a hand over his face, a gesture he often did when tired. Both the twins and Aragorn had been asking the same question since dawn had broken over the tips of the mountains. “As I have said before, Elladan – many times – Aerinel has been very ill. Her body is exhausted and weak. She needs all the sleep she can get to recover and regain her strength. Do not forget that she is quite young and such an illness can–”

“Wait!” Elladan cried, silencing Elrond’s speech as he noticed a small movement from the bed. “I think she is waking!” He pushed himself away from the doorframe and hurried over to the large sleeping couch, passing the chair where his brother slept. He created a draft as he passed.

Elrohir blinked wearily as he felt his twin rush past him. “What’s going on?” he queried, rubbing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes. He spied his brothers eagerly leaning over the bed. “Ada, what’s going on?” he asked as the elven lord walked slowly across towards him.

Elrond smiled down into the sleep-filled eyes of his son. “I do believe that Aerinel is waking.”

Elrohir detangled himself rather ungracefully from the chair, moving to join Aragorn and Elladan as they gathered around the bed. All of them were eager to see the small child fully awake for the first time.

“Aerinel, please wake up. You’ve had us very worried,” Aragorn said softly, holding Aerinel’s hand and squeezing it lightly. He was rewarded with a flickering of the child’s eyelids.

“Wake up, little one; you’ve been sleeping for a long time,” Elrohir echoed gently, kneeling beside the bed. Elrond leaned over Elladan’s shoulder. The healer in him was anxious to see the child awake after her long illness.

Anxiously the twins and Aragorn watched as the child struggled to wake up. Her small hands curled into fists as she clutched the bedclothes, her eyes scrunched tightly closed. She twisted underneath the blanket, a small hand coming up to rub the side of her face.

Finally, her eyelids flickered and slowly opened, revealing dark, silvery eyes clouded with tiredness and confusion.

~*~*~S~*~*~


Consciousness returned to her slowly. She felt unbelievably tired. At first, everything was sort of blurry and she didn't know what to make of it. Then as she left herself relax, her mind became more aware of her surroundings. The first thing she noticed was the fact that she was lying on her back on something soft, and that a warm heaviness was covering her. She felt content and peaceful and desired to remain there in the place of warmth and safety she was currently engulfed in. But something urged her to wake up.

Aerinel tried to open her eyes but found it impossible; they were so heavy. As her mind floated to the surface of waking, she began to notice other things. Her chest hurt badly, her whole body felt tired, there was pain down her left leg, and her mind was surrounded in a thick fog. What had happened? Where was she? Nothing was making any sense. She must have made a small sound, for the noises around her changed and now she could vaguely make out the sound of voices among the other noises.

"I think she is waking.”

She heard a soft, melodic voice call her name. “Aerinel, please wake up. You’ve had us very worried.”

Her seven-year-old mind struggled to understand what the voice was saying.

“Come on, little one. You have been sleeping a long time now.”

The voice jarred her memory and stirred an image of a tall man who had held her and comforted her, had cared for her and told her she was safe. She had been trapped, alone and scared in the destroyed building until the kind man had rescued her. She needed to wake up, that was what the voice was telling her. Desperately, she fought against her mind, willing herself to open her eyes.

At first, she saw nothing, only the brightness of the outside world blinding her. She moaned, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to turn away from the glare. A shadow fell over her face and she felt a gentle hand caressing her cheek.

Slowly, she opened her eyes again, blinking a few times, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the light. Gradually, she began to make out the shape of blurry visions standing above her. As her eyes became adjusted to the light, the fair face of a man framed by raven hair came into view. He leaned over her with a mysterious smile, relief shining in his gray eyes.

“Mae govannen, tithen pen.” His voice was deep and rich, filled with warmth and kindness, and it instantly made Aerinel feel safe. Why that happened she did not know, but it just did; she couldn't explain it. She blinked up at him, her young mind not quite aware yet. Another face joined the first one, looking down at her.

“She doesn’t seem to be able to hear us,” Elladan murmured softly in the elvish tongue, gazing down at the child. His mind was filled with worry. “Perhaps the fever had done some lasting damage after all.”

Elrond rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps not understanding us might be a more accurate guess.”

Elrohir frowned. “The child is a Dúnadan; surely she would understand the basis of Sindarin?”

“Perhaps not.” The elven lord glanced down at the younger twin. “The child is still quite young and perhaps if she has been raised in an environment where the language was not spoken, she would have never been taught the Elven Tongue.”

Aragorn leaned over the bed. “Aerinel, can you hear us?” he asked, switching to Westron. The child turned her head and gazed at the man sleepily. Aragorn smoothed her hair away from her face. “Do you remember me, little one?” He waited patiently.

Aerinel’s lips moved soundlessly few times before any sound came out. “Estel?” Her voice was weak, and the ranger had to strain his ears to hear her properly.

“Yes, little one, it is I.” Aragorn smiled. “How are you feeling?”

Aerinel gazed around her and suddenly felt very vulnerable, lying on her back with four strangers staring down at her. She didn’t like it at all. Immediately, she tried to sit up, struggling with the sheets. But her body was so weak she could not lift herself up. This only frightened her more, and her breath caught in her throat as she started to panic.

Elrohir pushed his brothers aside, having seen before anyone else what the child was trying to do. “Easy, easy there, little one…I’ve got you…I’ve got you,” he murmured as he lifted the child up and sat her on his lap, leaning her against his chest. “Shh… Sîdh hên, av'osto. Le mae dirnen hí,” Elrohir said, his quiet words soothingly the child, whose small hands clung onto the elf’s robes tightly as she gazed wildly around the room. The elf rubbed her back gently. “Peace, child. Do not fear. You are safe here.”

Aerinel glanced up at the elf that held her, her eyes wide and her face full of – fear? Doubt? Elrohir couldn’t tell. But he knew instantly that the child wasn’t comfortable being so close to him.

Elladan leaned over Aragorn’s shoulder. “The poor thing, she’s terrified.”

Aerinel shrank away from the tallf, burying her head closer to Elrohir’s chest. She did not like this at all. There were too many of the pointy-eared creatures around her. She didn’t even know why she was trying to hide in the robes of the one that held her.

“And you are just adding to that fear!” Aragorn scolded the twin, pushing him away from the bed.

“Boys…” Elrond said, his voice carrying a certain warning note that all three of his sons recognised immediately. “Aerinel has just woken up in a strange place she does not know. Naturally, she will be fearful. Just be gentle with her; help her to understand that we will not do her any harm.”


Aerinel looked up and caught sight of the ranger. She remembered this man. He had been kind to her. Uncertainly, she shyly reached out for him, straining against Elrohir’s hold.

“Estel,” Elrohir called. “I think she wants to go to you.”

Aragorn moved over and took the child from the elf. “Come here, penneth.” He sat back down the chair he had occupied all night, settling Aerinel on his lap. The child relaxed back into his strong arms, gazing up at the man contentedly. She knew she was safe with this person.

“She seems to have taken a shine to you, my son,” Elrond said with a smile, stepping closer to the chair. He knelt down in front of it, making sure that the child could see him clearly. “Well met, little Aerinel.” Elrond’s voice was soft and gentle. He reached out and took the girl’s small hand. “It is wonderful to see you awake. You have slept for a very long time.”

Elladan leaned over his twin’s shoulder. “She is licking her lips quite often,” he whispered quietly.

“Perhaps she is thirsty?” Elrohir suggested, glancing up at his brother with a frown.

Elladan nodded, straightening up. He walked over to the pitcher that rested on the table and poured some of the water into a cup. He came back over to the chair where Aragorn sat and handed him the cup. “I think the child is thirsty,” he said in way of explanation when Aragorn looked up at him questioningly.

“Ah,” said Aragorn with understanding. He took the cup and carefully shifted Aerinel in his arms. “Aerinel, would you like a drink?”

The child nodded eagerly. She leaned forward to clasp her smaller hands around Aragorn’s larger one as he held the cup to her lips. She started to gulp the water, the cool liquid easing her parched throat.

“Slowly, Aerinel,” Lord Elrond warned gently. “Do not gulp it, for you will make yourself sick.”

Aerinel slowed down her gulping, but didn't stop until the cup had been drained. Shyly, she handed the cup back to Elrohir. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“My pleasure.” The elf smiled down at her. “Was that nice, little one?” he asked.

Aerinel nodded. Elrohir smiled again and gave her leg a friendly rub. He was surprised when the child whimpered quietly and buried her head in Aragorn’s chest, at the same time pulling her leg away from his touch. The Elf removed his hand quickly. “I am sorry, little one! I forgot about your leg.” He reached forward to brush her face, but Aerinel swiped his hand away. Elrohir’s hand rubbing the still-healing wound on her leg had caused it to start throbbing painfully. She hadn’t noticed it much before, but now it was hurting badly.

Lord Elrond’s heart ached to see the lines of pain that appeared on the child’s face. He placed a hand on Aerinel’s pale cheek, directing the child’s attention back to him. “Aerinel, I need to check your leg. Is that alright?”

Aerinel nodded slowly and lay still in Aragorn’s arms. She tensed immediately as she felt the Elf gently pull the nightgown she was wearing up to reveal her lower thigh. She buried her face against the man’s tunic, her body shaking with fear.

Elladan noticed this and frowned at the child’s obvious fear of the elven lord. “Ada...” he whispered, too softly for the child to hear. “Remember what Estel told us? That she had obviously been beaten…”

Elrond glanced up and realised his actions had frightened the girl as he remembered what Aragorn had told him of the child being beaten by her uncle.

“Nay, little one,” he murmured, stroking one white cheek. “I would never harm you; you have my word on that. I do not mean to cause you to fear. For that, I apologise.” Aragorn felt Aerinel tremble against him slightly.

Elrond finished checking the wound swiftly, pleased to see that it was healing well with no sign of infection. The stitches still held, despite the constant twisting and turning of the child when she had been caught in the throes of the fever. It would be another day or two before the stitches could come out though.

He stood up, settling the nightgown around Aerinel’s legs. “There, little one, all done. You are a very brave girl.” He stepped over to the table in the room, where a small bowl of herbs lay waiting. Efficiently, he ground the herbs together and added half of a cupful of warm water. Mixed together, they created a healing elixir that would help with the pain. He handed it to the child. “Here, drink this, Aerinel,” he encouraged gently.

Aerinel drank it obediently. “Why am I here?” she asked once she had finished the tea.

“Because you were very ill, penneth,” Elrond explained kindly, resting his hand momentarily on the top of her head. He took the cup from her hands with a kind smile. “You are only now beginning to recover.”

Aerinel rubbed her eyes tiredly. “There was a bad man…he was going to get me.”

Elladan’s brow furrowed. “When was this?” He came to kneel beside the chair, taking the place his father had just vacated.

Aerinel shook her head. “Don’t know.” She looked down at the elf on the floor. “It was scary,” she whispered. “Then there was a nice voice. Said it was safe. Told me to go to sleep.”

“Ah.” Elladan smiled and nodded up at Elrond over his shoulder. He knew what this was about. “You were caught in a bad dream, little one.” He took hold of her small hand. “The voice you heard was Glorfindel, telling you to sleep. He came and chased the bad dream away.”

“Who’s G’or’indel?” Aerinel asked, her voice becoming very sleepy.

Elrohir chuckled at the child’s pronunciation of the golden-haired warrior’s name.

“Glor-fin-del” – he said slowly for the child’s benefit – “is a very dear friend to us. He dwells here in the house with us. You shall meet him soon.”

Aerinel nodded, and that seemed to be the end of the questions until her eyes snapped open again. “Why was I having bad dreams?”

Elladan shook his head. “You are a curious child, are you not?”

Elrond stepped over beside his son and answered the girl. “You were delirious, child, and we nearly lost you this night."

Aerinel seemed content with that answer – or else the painkilling tea was beginning to take effect, for she leaned back into Aragorn’s arms with a sigh, watching the elves with a hazy, detached disinterest. Aragorn wrapped his arm around the small girl, pulling her closer to him so she wouldn’t slide off his lap.

The girl sighed deeply and snuggled closer to Aragorn, bringing one hand up and clutching at the collar of the man’s loose-fitting tunic. Weariness was catching up with her, her eyelids slowly drooping. Despite her wanting to stay awake for longer, the child was losing the battle against her exhausted body.

"Rest, little one," the elven lord said softly. Aerinel looked up as the cool hand came to rest on her forehead. Then, her eyes closed and sleep claimed her once again.

~*~*~S~*~*~


Aerinel sighed deeply in contentment, turning over in the bed as awareness returned her once more. She blinked tiredly, rubbing her eyes with a fisted hand. She was relieved to find that she was more alert now. The fog that had clouded her mind earlier was gone, and she felt more in control of her own body.

“Hey there, penneth,” a quiet voice said to the right.

Aerinel turned her head slightly to see who had spoken, feeling the soft pillow under her head.


“How are you feeling?” the voice asked again. One of the identical elves came into her line of sight, sitting down on the bed beside her.

Aerinel gazed at the elf. Her chest still hurt and her breathing was labored, but she felt better, more alert than the last time she was awake. “Better,” she whispered, voicing her conclusion.

The dark-haired elf smiled and took her hand. “I am glad.”

Aerinel fidgeted with the corner of the bed-sheet, gazing at the elf lord through the corner of her eye. “I’m sorry,” she whispered eventually. “But which one are you?” She hoped he wouldn’t be offended or angry with her.

Rather the elf was neither as his laughter rolled pleasantly, light and open around the room. “I am Elrohir, little one, and do not be troubled. Many find it difficult to tell us apart.” He considered the child before him with an amused sort of twinkle in his eye. “How about I let you in on a little secret, eh?”

Aerinel blinked up at him. “A secret?”

Elrohir nodded and lowered himself to be closer to the small girl. “In time, you will learn how to tell us apart, but until then, I’ll help you out. You should know that Elladan has a small white scar just beneath his left eyebrow, and my nose has a slightly larger bridge due to a certain young Estel breaking it for me when he was a child!”

Aerinel grinned nervously as she studied the elf before her closely, finding that what he said was true. She giggled slightly then and tried to sit up in the bed, but a sudden pain in her chest caused her to double over. This abrupt movement had been too much for her weak and battered body. Aerinel whispered in pain, her eyes closing tightly. She felt a hand on her back, helping her to lie down again.

"Easy, Aerinel," Elrohir murmured. “Take it easy.”

Aerinel cracked her eyes open as the pain subdued. "Elrohir?” she whispered as she saw the now-familiar elven face bent over her.

"Yes, penneth,” Elrohir replied. "And you shouldn't make such a hasty move, for you have been very ill and your little body isn't ready for that yet. You had a high fever and you were delirious.” The elf tenderly stroked her forehead. “You need to rest.”

Aerinel reached out and clasped her hand in his.

Elrohir lips curved upwards. “What is it?”

Using Elrohir’s hand as something to hold onto, she slowly tried to raise herself onto her elbows, for she found lying flat on her back quite unnerving with the tall, regal elf gazing down at her. But her lungs didn't agree with her movements, for they sent her into a harsh coughing fit. Her chest burned with pain as the rough coughs hurt her throat and shook her body. The child found that she was helpless against the attack and tried to gasp for air.

"Hush.” Elrohir’s voice was soft, but commanding. "Don't fight it. The coughs will help to clear your lungs."

After a few seconds she felt better; the coughing fit had started to ease off. Aerinel relaxed slightly, closing her eyes for a brief moment. A cup of water was pressed against her lips, and she greedily gulped down the cool liquid. It calmed her hurting throat somewhat, and she was able to catch her breath.

“Is that better?” Elrohir questioned gently.

Aerinel nodded but clutched the elf’s hand tightly as he made to lay her down again. “Please...” she whispered.

Elrohir nodded in agreement, understanding what the child wanted and propped her up against several pillows. Aerinel smiled and nestled against the pillows. “Thank you.”

Elrohir seated himself on the bed once again. “Are you hungry, little one?” he asked, scraping his raven hair behind one pointed ear. “Is your little tummy hungry?” He ran long slender fingers teasingly over the child’s stomach, bringing forth a small giggle from Aerinel’s lips.

After a moment of consideration, Aerinel nodded. “Yes.”

“How do you feel about some broth?”

The thought of food was strangely alluring, and so the child nodded again. “Yes please.”

Elrohir stood to his feet, and Aerinel was reminded of how tall he was. “I will be back shortly. Try and rest, little one.” He dipped his head and bestowed a tender kiss to the girl’s forehead before leaving the room.

Aerinel watched the elf go and rubbed a hand over her eyes, wiping away the moisture that had gathered there. Rare were the moments where somebody had treated her with such tender affection, and never had anyone kissed her with such kindness. Relaxing against the pillows, she slowly drifted towards sleep, cocooned within the warm blankets that covered her.
 

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aerinel cowered in the corner of the room behind the large dresser, tears leaving pale streaks down her dirty cheeks. She curled into a small ball, desperately wishing he wouldn’t see her. Perhaps he would pass her by. Maybe, just maybe – no chance!

“Get up, you filthy rat bag!” his voice thundered down on top of her. “Get up, or I’ll make you do it myself!”

Slowly, the girl uncurled herself and stood to her feet, shaking with fear.

The large man seized her by her arm, dragging her out towards him. She cried with fright, but this only enraged the man more and he gave her a hard shake.

“What have I told you about stealing food from the larder?!” he bellowed at the child, shaking her roughly by the shoulders.

Aerinel only cried harder.

“You are a thief! A dirty, disgusting little thief! That’s what you are!” The man grabbed her other arm and held her close to him.

Aerinel cringed and tried to wriggle away, but his grip was too strong. “P-please… didn’t mean to… just so hungry,” she gasped out through her tears. “Please… uncle.”

The man threw her to the floor. “Don’t try that ‘uncle’ lark with me! It won’t work. You are a filthy, thieving child and need to be taught a lesson! How dare you steal from me!” He began to unfasten the thick leather belt that hung around his waist. “You will never steal food from me again or anyone else! Do you hear me?!”

Aerinel cried out in fear. “Please please!” she begged. “I won’t do it again! I won’t, I promise!” She curled up on the floor. “Please....”

“You can bet your life you won’t, you thieving brat!” the man growled. He grabbed the child by the back of her torn and tattered tunic, hauling her off the floor. “Now you listen to me, brat. You are a disgusting, thieving child and you are going to learn your lesson good and hard this time! Oh yes, you certainly are!”

Aerinel screamed and tried to get away as the man raised the leather belt, ready to bring it down over her back. She braced herself for the onslaught of pain to come. She closed her eyes –

“Aerinel!”

A voice from far away seemed to call her name. But she was too frightened to listen.

“Aerinel, wake up, little one,” a gentle voice called again, this time more urgently.

Something shook her shoulder. “Come on, wake up, Aerinel!”

~*~*~S~*~*~

“Come on, wake up, Aerinel!”

Aerinel blinked and slowly opened her eyes. She was back in the room in the house of the elves and one of the kind, identical elves was standing over her. A bowl of steaming broth rested on the bedside table. She gazed up at the elf. “Elrohir?” she questioned uncertainly.

The elf nodded. “Yes, little one, it is I… Are you alright?” Elrohir reached out and ran his finger over her cheek. “You were crying. What happened?” His sharp eyes easily saw the tear stains on the child’s face.

“Bad dream,” Aerinel mumbled, burying her head in the many pillows.

Elrohir looked concerned. “Do you want to tell me about it?” he coaxed gently. But Aerinel just shook her head. The elf sighed. “Alright then. He turned his attention back to the bowl. “Can you eat some of this broth for me?”

But Aerinel shook her head.

Elrohir sat back on the bed, a look of surprise on his face. “But I thought you said you were hungry, penneth.”

Aerinel just shook her head again before burying her face in the pillows, unwilling to look at the elf.

“Come on, Aerinel. You need food, little one.” Elrohir’s voice was kind but firm as he spoke to the small girl, gently but firmly trying to pull her out from beneath the covers.

But the child was obstinate and refused to let go of the pillow.

Elrohir held out a spoonful of broth towards her, hoping the delicious smell would entice the child to eat. “Just one spoonful? Just for me?” he coaxed gently.

Aerinel shook her head, but looked up and bit her lip.

Elrohir sighed and set the spoon down in the bowl. “What is it little one? Tell me… I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

Aerinel said nothing, but reached up her arms towards the elf.
 

Elrohir shook his head. “Alright, come here, penneth.” He lifted the child from the bed and settled her in his lap. Aerinel sighed deeply and snuggled into his robes.

The dark-haired elf shook his head affectionately and smiled. “You are a funny little thing, do you know that?” He reached over for the bowl of broth, pulling it closer to him. “Will you eat some of the broth for me now?”

Aerinel glanced up at elf. “Will I be in trouble?”

Elrohir looked completely confused. “For eating? Why on earth would you be trouble for eating?”

“Because to eat, I have to eat food and he said that was stealing and I was never to steal from him or from anyone, ever,” she said in one breath. Aerinel glanced up at the elf with large, solemn grey eyes.

Elrohir realised with a start that the child wasn't lying; she was being deadly serious. “Aerinel,” he said, pulling the child so that she sat straddled across his lap. He held her small arms firmly. “Aerinel, listen to what I tell you. Eating is not stealing. Do you understand? Eating is not stealing,” he repeated slowly.

Aerinel blinked up at him. “It’s not?”


“Nay, little one, not at all.” Elrohir shook his head, emphasising his words. “Stealing is when you take something that is not yours, without asking and never returning it, using it for your own enjoyment.” He cupped Aerinel’s face. “You are not a thief; you are a hungry little girl, and I am offering you food. You are no thief.”

“So…I’m not a…thief?” Aerinel repeated hesitantly.

Elrohir shook his head. “No, little Aerinel, you are not a thief of any kind.”

“So what he said was untrue?”

Elrohir couldn’t help but smile at the small voice that asked the question. “It was indeed untrue…but who said that? Who told you that you were a thief?”

Aerinel fidgeted on the elf’s lap, wrapping the folds of the robe around her small fingers. “Uncle...” she whispered softly.

Elrohir snorted inelegantly. If that man wasn’t already dead, the elf would have his head for what he had done to the small, innocent child sitting in his lap. “Thief” indeed, and what then was the child supposed to do to get food? Beg? Grovel? Elrohir’s thoughts were furious, but he didn’t let his anger show on his face.

“Just forget about what he said, Aerinel; he is gone and will never harm you again. Now, would you like some broth? I believe it has cooled down and will be quite nice.”

A rumble of a small stomach made one of Elrohir’s eyebrows raise slightly. “I shall take that as a yes, then?”

Aerinel giggled and clutched her tummy. “I think it’s hungry.”

Elrohir smiled. “I think it is. Will you eat some broth for me?”

After a pause, Aerinel nodded and settled herself more comfortably in the elf’s lap.

“Good girl.” Elrohir dipped the spoon into the bowl and lifted it to the child’s mouth. He was pleased when Aerinel opened her mouth obediently and drank the broth.

Aerinel consumed half the bowl before she’d had enough. Elrohir was pleased that she at least had eaten something. He sat there in the chair with the young girl in his arms, slowly rocking back and forth. Her full stomach and the feeling of warmth surrounding her soon enticed Aerinel to sleep again.

Elrohir’s eyes roamed over her face as she slept. To him, she looked so innocent and peaceful, and yet at the same time, so tiny and helpless. It was a wonder she had even survived until Estel had found her. Reaching across he pulled one of the blankets from the bed and tucked around her small frame. He brushed her hair back affectionately. “You are safe here, little one,” he whispered. “You do not have to fear us. We will keep you safe.”  

The quietness and warmth of the room, the songs of the birds from outside, and the fact that he had not gotten much sleep made the elf drowsy. Without giving it too much though, Elrohir let his eyes become unfocused as he slipped into a light sleep.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Elrohir’s head shot up at the sound of voices speaking in low tones in the room. His eyes landed on his twin, sitting on the end of the bed. Elladan smiled at him ruefully. “We didn’t mean to wake you; we were trying to be as quiet as we could.”

Elrohir shook his head. “No matter. It seems I had dozed off. I did not mean to.” He spoke around a yawn.

“You looked quite comfortable sitting there with Aerinel curled in your lap,” Aragorn commented from his place on the floor beside the fire, gesturing to the slumbering girl leaning against his brother.

It was only then that Elrohir remember he still held the child in his lap. One glance down assured him that she was still asleep. He relaxed and glanced at his brothers. Both looked as if they had just bathed and changed their clothes and they looked well-rested. “Sleep well did we?” Elrohir asked slyly, narrowing his eyes at his twin.
 

“Like a babe!” Elladan replied with a mischievous smirk.

Sensing an argument beginning to simmer under the surface, Aragorn glanced around the room for something to change the topic. He spied the bowl sitting on the bedside table. “Did she eat something?” he questioned.

Elrohir hummed in response. “About half-bowl of broth, and then she fell asleep again. She really is quite worn out, the poor little thing.”

“At least she ate something.” Aragorn stood and walked over to the chair. His eyes softened as he gazed down at the sleeping child. “The poor thing is so thin for a child of her age.”

“She will recover; it will just take time.” With a sigh, Elladan flung himself onto the bed.

Aragorn scowled at the eldest twin. “That’s Aerinel’s bed, you big lump. Get off it!”

With a shuddering cry, Aerinel jolted awake, bolting upright in Elrohir’s arms. Her eyes were wide and she was shaking, causing the elf to grab hold of her quickly before she fell off his lap onto the floor.  “Hey, hey, what’s the matter?”

Aerinel turned fearful eyes on Elrohir. “Where is he? He was here! He was here!” she wailed in horror, clutching his tunic frantically.


“Who was here, little one?” Aragorn asked, crouching down in front of the chair. “Aerinel?”

“He was here. S-said I was bad a-and came to take m-me away!” Aerinel cried softly, covering her eyes with her fists.

“Who was here, Aerinel?” Elrohir repeated gently, taking her hands in his, pulling them away from face. “Tell me Aerinel.” He was aware of his brothers looking on with concern.

“Uncle…” came the sniffled reply.

Aragorn shot a sharp glance at the twins. “It’s alright, Aerinel,” he soothed. “Your uncle isn’t here. You are safe. No one is going to harm you.” He ran his fingers through her short hair.

“P-promise?”Aerinel hiccupped, begging him with her eyes.

“I promise,” the ranger declared firmly.

Aerinel wriggled out of Elrohir’s grip and slid to the floor before wrapping her arms around Aragorn’s neck. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything.”

Aragorn was surprised and touched when the child hugged him. He returned the embrace, enfolding Aerinel in his strong arms. “You are most welcome, little one. I would do it again in a heartbeat for you,” he murmured. Aragorn finally pulled her away from his shoulder and cupped her face. “No more tears,” he whispered, brushing away her remaining tears with the pad of his thumb. “You need to learn how to smile, not to cry.”

Aerinel nodded, her dark lashes wet as her eyes sparkled with tears and tried a small smile. Aragorn cupped the back of her head and drew her close to him once more, stroking her hair with gentle caresses. The twins looked on with soft smiles. It was like watching a scene from Aragorn’s childhood play out before them, only the roles were reversed this time. Instead of them comforting Aragorn, it was the ranger doing it to another lost and heartbroken child.

“Your hair needs a brushing, sweet one,” Aragorn murmured, his fingers gently untangling the dark strands. Aerinel sagged in his arms, weariness stealing over her once more.

“Mmm...slee-py...” she mumbled incoherently.

With a light chuckle, Aragorn carefully stood and carried her over to the bed, shoving Elladan off the sleeping couch with his foot.

“It will take a lot for her to heal fully,” Elladan whispered to his brother as he picked himself up off the floor.

Elrohir smiled, watching as Aragorn laid the child down and pulled the covers up over her. “I’m sure that with a little care and kindness, she will recover just fine.” He gave his twin a knowing grin, tilting his head towards their human brother. “It what will happen to her when she is recovered that worries me.”

Elladan rolled his eyes. “I’m sure,” he said, but he couldn’t help the smile that stretched across his face.
 

~*~*~S~*~*~

Many hours later, Aerinel was feeling lonely. The child had slept on and off throughout the day, but now she was awake and curious about the strange elvish home where the man called Estel had brought her. “Estel?” she called out hesitantly. But there was no answer.

Neither the ranger or the identical elves – Elladan and Elrohir – had been in the room when she had awoken. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep, feeling safe and happy in the ranger’s arms.

Slowly, she sat up in bed and stared around her surroundings for the first time, taking everything in. It was a spacious room with a large window from which golden sunlight shone into the room. If she got up on her knees in the bed, she could vaguely see what she thought must have been part of the gardens. Judging by the light in the room, she guessed that it must be sometime in the evening.

There were several chairs dotted around the room and a table in the centre of it. The fire that had burned brightly only a few hours ago was now just a smouldering pile of ashes.

Carefully, Aerinel slipped out of the bed, clutching the sheets as a wave of dizziness washed over her. She shivered, feeling the cold floor beneath her tiny feet. The young girl eyed the door across the room and, after a moment’s thought, silently tiptoed her way towards it. Following a small struggle to reach the handle, the door eased open without a creak, and her small face framed by dark hair peered out into the corridor.

Seeing nobody around, Aerinel ventured out a little further, her curiosity getting the better of her. Her nightgown trailed on the floor behind her, being a little too big for her, as she slowly crept along the corridor. She was fearful of meeting any of the regal creatures that must live in the big house. Aerinel whimpered as another wave of dizziness crashed into her. Maybe leaving her bed hadn't been such a good idea after all. But the feeling of loneliness and the urge to feel safe again overcame any other emotion.  

She grimaced as her stomach churned, making her feel nauseous. “Estel?” she whimpered. She wrapped her arm around her middle and closed her eyes. She wanted to go back to her room, but as she glanced around herself, she realised that she was lost.

All the corridors around her looked the same. “Estel, where are you?”


~*~*~S~*~*~

“Honestly El, did you seriously think that would work?” Elladan scoffed at his twin as the two elves bounded up the stairs together.

Elrohir huffed. “It was worth a try.”

Elladan sniggered. “I’m sure it was, brother dear. That is, until Adar finds out. Then it will not be so worth it.”

The two elves hurried along the corridor, bickering between themselves.

“Well, next time you pull a stunt like that, warn me first!” Elladan scowled at his brother.

The younger twin turned to him, a sharp retort on the tip of his tongue. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a small bundle curled up against one of the doors.

“Elladan, look,” he called out sharply, throwing out a hand to stop his twin. “Look over there.” He pointed at the bundle.

“Aerinel,” Elladan breathed as he realised who and what the bundle was – a child in a nightgown. Quickly, he and his brother rushed over to her. “Aerinel, what are you doing out here?” he asked, crouching down beside the child.

Aerinel looked up at the sound of the elves’’ voices. “El’dan?” she croaked.

“Yes, little one. What are you doing out here?” the elf asked again, opening his arms for the child.

Aerinel tumbled into his waiting arms, whimpering, “I don’t feel good.”

Elladan stood with the child in his arms. “Come, let’s get you back to bed where you belong.” Elrohir followed his twin, his keen eyes noticing how white the girl’s face was.

Using his foot, Elladan pushed the door open and entered the bedroom. “Now then, penneth,” he said as he lowered the child onto the bed, “why on earth did you leave your lovely, warm bed?”

Aerinel closed her eyes as her stomach heaved right at that moment. She clung to Elladan’s hand, gazing up at the elf with large, pleading eyes. With a sigh, Elladan complied and sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. Elrohir came over and draped a blanket over the girl, resting his hand on her forehead.

“Bit feverish,” he murmured to Elladan, too softly for the child to hear. “I will fetch Ada immediately.”

Elladan watched him go and then turned once more to Aerinel. “Well, little one, are you going to tell me what you were doing out of bed?” His voice wasn’t angry, but Aerinel still felt unsure of the elf’s reaction.

“Lonely” was the quiet answer she gave. “Wanted Es-tel.”

Elladan raised one eyebrow. “You were lonely? But why? We hadn’t left you; we were just out of the room for a few minutes.”

Aerinel sniffed. “I know. Missed you.”

Elladan felt his heart melt at those words. “I am sorry, child. We shouldn’t have all left you like that.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “We will never truly leave you, I promise you.” He looked up as the door opened and Elrohir returned, followed closely by Lord Elrond and Aragorn.

The elven lord frowned at the child, who was lying very still on the bed with half-lidded eyes. “We are not quite well yet, are we?” he said softly, glancing at his eldest son. Elrond crouched beside the bed and felt Aerinel’s forehead.

Aerinel whimpered and curled up under the blanket, worn out from her adventure.

“Easy, child,” Elrond murmured, focusing on sending her slowly to sleep with a quiet bit of magic. It was really just to help chase away the fear inside of her that kept her from closing her little eyes and getting the rest she so dearly needed after her adventure.

Her eyes flickered closed and her grip on Elladan’s hand relaxed. Within moments, the child was sleeping.

Elladan stood up. “We should let her sleep. After her little adventure, she is tired out, poor thing.”

“What happened?” Aragorn asked with concern. “Why was Aerinel out of bed when she should be resting?”


Elrond stood beside his foster son. “That too is a tale I would love to hear. Come.” He put an arm around Elladan’s shoulders and led him from the room. “The child will sleep for a few hours at least. You will be back before she awakens.”

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