Learning to Smile

Chapter 8

by Little Jewel-(T)
January 6, 2017

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The halls of Lord Elrond’s house were filled with the echoing crashes of thunder. Streaks of bright lightning illuminated the corridors as the wild winter storm continued to rage over the hidden valley. Rain lashed down in sheets of grey, drenching everything.

A loud crash of thunder awoke the child with a start. Aerinel sat up with fear, breathing hard as she tried to fight off the sheets and blankets that had wrapped themselves around her while she slept. Pulling her legs up to her chest, the seven-year-old tried to stop herself from shaking.

With a trembling hand, she wiped the tears away from her eyes with the sleeve of her nightgown. Aerinel sniffed quietly in the dark, too scared to make any more noise. She felt around for her stuffed bear and hugged it tight when she found it.

Another blast of thunder made her cower away, trying to hide herself under the blanket, hoping that would block out the noise of the storm. “Elrond…” she whispered, her small voice laced with fear. She had come to know that Elrond meant safety and comfort. Shadows danced across the room when the lightening struck. They reminded her of the demons that haunted her in her sleep.

She never told anyone about them. Again and again she saw the flames and could hear the screams of the dying. And always it ended the same. It was the same dream she’d had having ever since Estel had brought her to Rivendell only three weeks ago now.

Lord Elrond was kind to her. The elf had been very patient with the young girl and she liked her new family, but sometimes she felt like a burden to the elves. Images of her dream flashed through her mind and she broke out in a sob and began to hiccup as she sat alone in the dark, crying.

The small night-light that one of the twins had put in her room had long since blown out and the room was dark...very dark. Aerinel whimpered as another crash sounded around the house. She vaguely remembered falling asleep in Elladan’s arms. Obviously, someone had put her to bed afterwards.

Estel’s room was at the end of the corridor and Aerinel knew he would not hear her. Hesitantly, she pulled the blanket away from her face and peeked over the edge of the bed to judge the distance between herself and the door.

As she started to pull the blanket away, the loudest clap of thunder yetcrashed down upon the valley, frightening the poor child even more. Falling off of her bed and tripping over the blanket, she ran for the door and yanked it open, unsure if she should continue. Just then, another bang made her flee across the hall to the nearest room, wanting nothing more than to be in the presence of another.

Reaching up and grasping the door handle, Aerinel slowly pushed against the wooden door, her stuffed bear clasped tightly in her hands. The room inside was in darkness; the occupant was clearly asleep. Not sure whether to enter or not, the child huddled against the door. She had never gone to anyone before. Always Elrond or one of the twins would hear her crying and come to her. But tonight, with the sound of the storm, no one came.

Gathering what little courage she had left, Aerinel slipped into the room, trying to close the door softly behind her without a sound, fearing it would awaken the other person. A blast of thunder, accompanied by a white flash of lightning caused her to slam the door shut in fright.

Terrified of both the storm and the reaction of the person asleep in the room , for whose room she had run into, she had no idea. She stumbled into the corner beside the door, curling into a small ball, trembling with fear. She feared she was in trouble now.

~*~*~S~*~*~

Aragorn’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the door slamming. He lay still in the dark, listening intently. He was sure he had heard something, but what? Not hearing anything else, he turned over in the bed with a sigh and tried to get back to sleep. He had only closed his eyes once more when he heard a sound. He propped himself up on one elbow and gazed around with bleary eyes. It sounded like someone crying.

He blinked and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He glanced over at the door and through the gloom, saw a small figure crouched down in the corner. “Aerinel,” Aragorn whispered, keeping his voice calm as he threw back the covers and stood from the bed. He slowly approached the child. “Aerinel, is something the matter?” He went down on his knees beside her.

Aerinel looked up, instantly recognizing Estel’s voice. Tears streamed down her cheeks and there was fear in her eyes. “Estel, I’m so scared!” she whispered.

Aragorn’s heart clenched painfully at the statement. He didn't really want Aerinel to come into his room – not because he didn’t love her, but because there were some things he didn’t want the child to see. “Did Elrond not come to you like he usually does? Why did you not go to him?”

Aerinel’s eye held his own grey ones and said softly, “Elrond’s room is very far away.” She sniffed and rubbed her nose on the back of her hand.

Aragorn looked at the child’s face closely. He felt that this was not the true reason. Although Aerinel was happy among the elves and felt safe enough to let the elves come to her, she was still fearful of going to them herself. Aragorn sat back on his heels, keeping Aerinel in front of him. “Why me?” he asked softly.

“You rescued me and were kind to me. Please, Estel, please don’t send me away!” Aerinel begged.

Aragorn sighed, He felt torn in two. He could not turn the child away when she came looking for comfort but he did not want the child to see the nightmares that sometimes threatened to overcome himself as well. Nightmares of fighting against the evil that continued to grow, of losing his brothers. Nightmares of how every time one of them were brought back injured, there was always the chance that they might never make it.

“Estel?” Aerinel questioned with the man didn’t answer.

Aragorn rubbed a hand over his face wearily. As of late, Elrond had warned his sons that it was not healthy for a young, traumatized child like Aerinel to be developing such an emotional dependence on them, especially on Estel, for it could lead to problems when she was older.

He sighed again. “Aerinel, you know the rules. Go back to bed, little one. I am sure the nightmares are gone. There is nothing to be afraid of. It is just a storm and it will blow itself out soon,” Aragorn told the child as gently as he could. But he was unable to stand the pleading eyes that gazed back up at him. “If you cannot get to sleep within a half an hour or the nightmares return, you may stay with me, but only if.”

Aerinel nodded sadly. She hadn’t expected anything else. She started to walk backwards. “Good night, Estel,” she whispered.

Aragorn brushed her hair affectionately. “Good night, Aerinel. Sleep well, little one.” He watched her go, but a blast of thunder caused Aerinel to cry out when she was half way to the door. She launched herself into the ranger’s arms, burying her head in his warm chest.

“What is the matter, Aerinel?” Aragorn asked, rubbing the small child’s back in soothing circles. Aerinel whimpered and tried to melt into Aragorn’s arms.

From the force of the child crashing into him, Aragorn’s balance had been knocked over, but his arms had tightened around Aerinel unconsciously. Aragorn recovered from the shock pretty easily, but his heart nearly broke when he saw Aerinel’s large pleading eyes, eyes that were filled with fear, the same fear he remembered experiencing when his own parents had been killed and he had been taken to Rivendell so many years ago. For years he had suffered from the terrifying memories and the fear that came with them.

But when he looked at Aerinel again, he knew. This fear he could deal with. He could help Aerinel overcome her fear of storms just by simply letting her sleep in his bed with him, keeping her safe. “Do you want to stay here with me?”

Aragorn’s soft voice brought Aerinel out of her despair. “Can I?” Her voice was filled with disbelief and with hope.

Aragorn’s eyes welled up and he nodded knowing the quiver of emotion would be in his voice. He stood up, cradling Aerinel in his arms and walked towards his bed. He placed the frightened child on the bed as a bright flash lit up the room. Seeing how Aerinel’s hands clutched at the sheets, he moved to light some candles.

“Estel...do you mind if a bear sleeps in your bed too?”

“What?” Aragorn turned so swiftly so that the candle he had just lit was blown out again. He swore softly under his breath and lit it again, before turning to Aerinel.

“Would you mind if a bear sleeps in your bed too?”

Aragorn raised both eyebrows, but his confusion faded when Aerinel held up her stuffed toy bear. “Of course he can,” the ranger said with a smile. A crash sounded and Aerinel grabbed hold of his sleeve. Aragorn looked down to see fresh tears silently falling down the child’s cheeks. He moved to sit on the bed, pulling the child under his arms. “Hush Aerinel, you are safe now. I have you. You’re safe, shhh…..”

Slowly, Aerinel loosened her grip on Estel’s sleeve.

“Why are you scared of the storm, Aerinel?” Aragorn questioned gently, running his fingers through the soft strands of dark brown hair.

Aerinel looked up and then ducked under the arm wrapped around her shoulders again. “Because it was noisy and scary and bad things come out of the dark…scary,” she sobbed, gripping Aragorn’s shirt, shaking uncontrollably.

“Peace, Aerinel, the storm cannot harm you, and there are no bad things in here, I promise you!” Aragorn assured.

Aerinel rubbed her eyes. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” she sobbed, unable to look up at the tall man. “I’m afraid you’re going to be angry with me for waking you.”

“No, child,” Aragorn murmured, pulling Aerinel into his lap ad cradling her close to his chest. He knew now that he could never refuse Aerinel – not now, not ever. “I am not angry with you. You were frightened. I know what it is like to be scared of storms and bad things. You are always more than welcome to me anytime, day or night. Do you understand?”

“But what about the rule?” Aerinel sniffed, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

Aragorn kissed the crown of her head. “Forget about that for now Aerinel. When you are scared or frightened, you may come to me.”

Aerinel nodded. She knelt up on Aragorn’s lap and kissed the side of his face. “Thank you,” she whispered, her eyes getting heavy.

Aragorn smiled as he laid Aerinel down beside him on the bed, rolling onto one side and pulling the warm blanket over him and Aerinel. He closed his eyes with a sigh. It was good to be back in bed again. However, his eyes snapped open again when he felt a warm little body press against his chest. Aerinel shuffled so she was perfectly pressed into Aragorn’s arms. With a sigh, Aragorn wrapped his arms around the child. The breathing of the two humans mixed together in the stillness of the room. Soon Aerinel’s became deep and even, signaling to the ranger than the child had finally drifted off to sleep, finally feeling safe.

Aragorn’s eyes drifted up to look out at the night sky visible through a small gap in the heavy drapes. He could make out the faint shapes of tree branches as they creaked and groaned with the force of the wind. He glanced down again at the child, taking in the peaceful look on her face as she slept.

“Sweet dreams, penneth,” he whispered, touching his lips to her forehead in a gentle kiss.

~*~*~S~*~*~


Aerinel was woken by the sound of the curtains being pulled apart. She blinked sleepily, a small hand coming out from under the blankets to rub her eyes. Glancing around, she realised that she was back in her own room. Apparently, Estel must have brought her back sometime after she had fallen asleep. A sound drew her attention to the other side of the room, and it was then she noticed an elf standing by the tall chest of drawers.

At the rustle of blankets, the elf turned and smiled at the child, and Aerinel saw that it wasn't either of the twins or Elrond. It was a female. Immediately, she tensed.

"Well hello there, little Aerinel. It is good to see you awake.” The elleth spoke gently, coming over slowly and crouching down beside the bed so as not to alarm the child. "My name is Telwen, penneth.”

Aerinel studied the elf in front of her. She had long, chestnut-brown hair braided away from her face and wore a light green gown. Her face was kind and gentle as she smiled at Aerinel. The child gazed back steadily into her dark green eyes.

Rather than finding it unnerving, Telwen found it quite endearing to be faced with the large, wide-eyed stare of the child. "Would you like some breakfast?" she asked kindly.

Sensing that the elleth meant no harm, Aerinel nodded shyly.

"Good!" Telwen exclaimed softly, standing up. "First of all, let's get you dressed."

Aerinel slowly sat up in the bed, pulling the sheets up around her thin shoulders and she watched the elleth move gracefully around the room, gathering up several articles of the child's clothing.

Telwen returned to the bed and held up two small tunics. One was a sky blue with little silver buttons; the other was a deep red with larger golden buttons. "Well, little one, which one would you like to wear today?"

Aerinel giggled slightly, hiding her mouth behind her hands. No one had ever asked her what she would like to wear before. Shyly, she pointed at the blue tunic.

Telwen smiled. "An excellent choice, young one." She laid it out on the bed along with a pair of dark grey leggings and little grey suede boots. "We girls must always look out best for the boys," the elleth said with a wink as she folded the other tunic away. The remark brought a small smile to the child's face.

Aerinel allowed Telwen to help wash and dress her and brush her hair before gathering a few strands and braiding them away from her face.

"There, as pretty as a picture," Telwen said, kneeling beside the child on the floor. Aerinel stared at the elf with an empty gaze.

Telwen bit her lip and stood up. "Come on, little one, shall we go and join Lord Elrond for breakfast?"


<> Aerinel nodded and took the hand the elleth offered to her. Telwen led her out of the bedroom and towards the private dining room for Elrond's family. She glanced down worriedly at the child by her side. Not a word had passed her lips the entire time.

Rounding a corner, they collided with tall male elf clad in hunting garb coming from the opposite direction.

"Faron! Watch where you are going!" Telwen scolded her brother crossly.

The brown-haired elf laughed merrily, his green eyes twinkling. "Telwen, relax! It was only a small bump, nothing to go up in smoke over. You do tend to get riled up when provoked."

Although similar in appearance, Telwen and Faron had completely different personalities. The two elves had opted to stay on in Rivendell when their parents sailed.

Telwen huffed. "Maybe to you it was, but not to others." The elleth was quiet and gentle with a mild temper and softly spoken, but her brother often teased her, testing her temper.

Faron raised one eyebrow, and then his eyes fell on the small figure hiding behind his sister's skirt, clutching her hand tightly as she stared up at the tall elf. "Is this the little one then?" he asked, bending down to eye level with Aerinel. It was the first time he had seen the human child closely. "Suilad, Aerinel, how are you this day?" He kept his voice low and held out his hand gently. Although he  tended to be more high spirited and energetic and often boisterous, especially when with the twin sons of Elrond, Faron, like his sister possessed a kind and gentle heart.

Aerinel, however, was wary of the ellon and immediately cowered behind Telwen.

"Stop it; you're scaring her," Telwen scolded, pushing her brother away from the child.

Telwen held his hands up in surrender. "I was only trying to make friends." He scowled as his sister glared at him.

"Go, on, shoo. Go and do whatever it was you were doing before you attempted to flatten us."

Aerinel stood silently behind Telwen, her head bowed and her thumb in her mouth as she studied the ellon.

Feron cocked his head. "Quiet little thing, isn't she?" he remarked.


"Says the person who can never keep his mouth shut, even when told. Come on, Aerinel," Telwen said, effortlessly lifting the child into her arms and settling her on her hip.

Wait,” Faron called in Sindarin.

Telwen looked back around. “Yes?”

The older elf nodded his head towards Aerinel. “Does the child have anything to play with?”

Telwen shook her head. “I do not know. Ask Lord Elladan or Lord Elrohir, perhaps; they might have provided a toy for her.” She settled Aerinel more firmly on her hip. “Come on, little one, let us get you some food.”

Aerinel looked up from the designs on Telwen’s dress and saw the other elf watching her. Timidly, she waved her fingers at him. She did not think it was his intention to scare her.

Faron smiled and waved back at the child as he watched his sister turn the corner. He tapped his lips thoughtfully. “I wonder…” He turned on his heel and walked off down the hallway, a plan forming in his mind.


~*~*~S~*~*~

Lord Elrond looked up from his seat at the head of the table as the door opened and an elleth entered with Aerinel. "Good morning, Telwen. My thanks for caring for Aerinel this morning."

Telwen smiled. "It was a pleasure, hîr nín. She was no trouble at all," she said, placing the child down in the empty seat beside Aragorn. The man ruffled her hair affectionately.

"Good morning, Aerinel," Elrohir greeted, but Aerinel just gazed up at him without a word.

Telwen bent close to Elrond's ear and whispered quietly to him, "She spoke not a word this morning for me, hîr nín."

Elrond nodded. "That is to be expected. The child had a nightmare last night and spent the early hours of the morning sleeping in Estel’s bed."

"Ah, I see. Well, good morning, my lords.” Telwen curtsied before she left the room, giving Aerinel’s head a friendly pat as she rounded the table.

Aerinel gazed around the room, her large eyes taking everything in. The golden-haired elf, Glorfindel, sat beside Elrond; beside him sat Estel. Elladan and Elrohir were on the other side of the table.

The table was splendid, covered with an intricately embroidered, crisp, white tablecloth and white linen napkins, colourful, fresh flowers, delicately carved, crystal goblets, fine porcelain plates, and sparkling silverware.

"What would you like to eat, Aerinel?" Elrond asked her kindly.

Aerinel just shrugged. "Anything, sire. I don't mind," she said quietly.

Aragorn sighed and shared a glance with Elladan. Ever since the child had been well enough to join them at the breakfast table, it was the same answer each morning. He watched as his father buttered a piece of freshly baked bread, cut up an apple into bite-sized chunks, and handed the plate to Aerinel.

She thanked him with a nod. She sat in silence, her eyes lowered and focused upon some minute detail of embroidery in the fine white tablecloth as she absently pushed the food around on her plate without lifting any to her mouth. Meanwhile, the others filled their plates and started talking about the events for the day. It was here that Aerinel felt most like a burden, as she felt she was disrupting someone's plans.

Absently, she lifted a piece of food to her mouth, listening to Estel and the twins discussing something to do with the horses.

Elrond's warm voice cut through her thoughts. "Use your fork, child," he said gently.

Aerinel nodded and reached for the utensil. Her arm brushed against the long-stemmed crystal goblet, tipping the unstable glass and spilling its bright red contents over the fine white tablecloth.The child's eyes widened in horror.

Aerinel quickly grabbed her napkin in a futile attempt to blot up the juice, sending a heavy silver knife clattering upon the stone floor with a loud crash in the process. Much to her dismay, her efforts accomplished little but to soil her own napkin and further spread the stain.

At that moment, all that she had been through caught up with her, her sorrow, her grief, her loneliness, and her despair threatened to overwhelm her. Feeling completely lost, she stammered out an apology: "I...I am sorry, Lor' Elron'. I didn’t m-mean it, sire."

Elrond stood and moved towards her. Aerinel cowered down in her seat away from the tall elf, covering her face with her hands as she shook with fear. “Please! I’m sorry! Please!” she sobbed. “I won’t do it again, I promise!”

Elrond was alarmed. He had wanted to see if the child was alright; he hadn't been expecting this. Around the table, the other occupants stood and stared in horror and disbelief.

Elrond knelt beside Aerinel's chair and tipped her chin up, forcing her to meet his gaze. "Aerinel, what is the matter?"

Tears streamed down the small human's face. The way she was cowering away from him, almost as if she expected….

"Aerinel, did you think I was going to strike you?" Elrond asked gently.

Aerinel gazed at the elven lord before nodding slowly, dreading the reaction. But she had been taught never to lie; it only made matters worse.


Elrond stood up and Aerinel cowered down, fearing what was to come. However, instead of any angry words or the blows she had expected, a pair of strong arms lifted her from her seat, cradling her close to a warm chest. She looked up into Elrond's eyes as he spoke softly to her.

"Do not fear child. I will never strike you, nor will anyone in this household do so either. Ever. This I promise you. You have nothing to fear here, Aerinel."

"B-but th-the tablecloth?" Aerinel hiccupped.

"Do not trouble yourself, Aerinel. It is a trifling matter. A tablecloth is of little importance compared to your distress."

With a shuddering sigh, Aerinel closed her eyes and laid her head on Elrond's shoulder, taking in the comfort of the tender embrace as she cried. Elrond sat back down in his chair, settling Aerinel down on his lap. The others slowly reseated themselves.

Elladan leaned over to Aragorn. "She thought Adar was going to hit her?"

Aragorn nodded sadly. "I'm afraid so. That is how she has lived for the past years. Anything that she did wrong or forgot was punished with a beating. It is obvious that there was no love given to her."

Elladan shook his head in disgust. "If that man wasn't already dead by the hands of the Orcs, you can rest assured it would have been by my sword."

"My thought exactly, brother," Aragorn whispered.

Elrond looked down at the child in his lap, whose eyes were filled with tears that threatened to fall. "I'm sorry," Aerinel whispered. "I didn't mean to make a mess."

"Don't be," Elrond spoke kindly. "It was merely an accident. That plain, dull tablecloth is much improved with some colour anyway, do you not think?"

Aerinel didn't reply, but rested her head on the elf's chest like she had done before. It was a relief to know that she would not be punished.

Elrond brushed his fingers over her cheek. “I cannot believe the child would think I was going to hit her,” he said in Sindarin. He glanced up, met Glorfindel's gaze, and knew that the golden-haired elf had been thinking the same. Then, speaking in the common tongue, he addressed the child once more. "I should apologize to you, young one. It has been a long time indeed since one so young has brightened our table."

With a grand sweep of his hand toward the red stain that now covered a large portion of the previously white tablecloth and a smile and a wink in Aerinel's direction, Glorfindel added in a jovial tone, "Quite literally!"

An elf entered with a cloth to soak up as much juice as possible, though when he was finished the tablecloth still retained its newly acquired red hue.

Elladan stood and fetched some milk for Aerinel in a more sturdy cup. "There you are, little one. Try that." He winked at her and was rewarded with a small smile.

Elrond sliced another large piece of the bread, spread it generously with strawberry jam, and offered it to Aerinel, who accepted it gratefully.

"Look, El, Aerinel has a milk moustache." Elrohir exclaimed as Aerinel put down her cup.

Elladan grinned at the child. "So she does! It suits you, Aerinel."

Aragorn looked up and chuckled at the bewildered look on the child's face. "Ignore them, Aerinel," the ranger said kindly as he leaned over and gently wiped the milk off her face with his napkin. "They're just jealous because they don't have one."

Elladan and Elrohir spluttered in protest and would have reached for the milk had Elrond not called a halt to it. The meal resumed and the friendly chatter arose once more. Aerinel sat contentedly in Elrond's lap, eating her bread.

"She is so dainty when she is eating," Elladan whispered to his twin, who was sitting beside him.

The ranger looked up as he heard Elladan's comment. "I suppose she is." He didn't need to add that any food thrown in the child’s direction would have been treasured and eaten with the greatest of care.

"Look at her, not one crumb.” Elrohir marvelled at how one so young could be so clean and careful.

"Which is more than anyone can say for you, Elladan," Glorfindel said from across the table. "You and Elrohir were the messiest eaters I have ever laid eyes on. Even Estel was better than the pair of you."

Elladan had the grace to blush. Aragorn opened his mouth to tease the twins, but was interrupted by an unexpected sound. Looking up across the table, Aragorn blinked and stared at his brother. Elrohir had folded his napkin to form two stiff peaks in the shape of cat ears and placed it upon his head. He shook his head. His brother, a noble, wise, and fair elf lord, with his grand attire and his long, intricately braided hair, was wearing cat ears made from his napkin.

Aragorn smiled at the sound of Aerinel's laughter. She grinned down at the man from Elrond's lap, looking far happier than Aragorn had seen her in many days. The other elves joined in the laughter, and even Elrond found that he could not help but smile at Elrohir’s antics. The rest of the meal passed far more jovially, with Elrohir continuing to amuse Aerinel by folding napkins into ever more elaborate forms, even going as far as to place one on Glorfindel's head while the elf was busy eating.

When breakfast was finished, Elrond turned to his son. "Elrohir, if you have finished demonstrating the fine art of napkin folding, I would like you to check on the new foal and his mother to see how they fare. Perhaps Aerinel would like to accompany you to the stable." He glanced down at Aerinel. "Would you like that, tithen pen?"

Aerinel smiled up at him eagerly. "Please, may I go?"

Elrond nodded. "Yes, Aerinel, you may, but you must be good and obey Elrohir. Do you understand?"

Elrohir lifted Aerinel off his father's lap and set her gently on the floor, taking her small hand in his. "Come on then, little one." The morning was warm and it would do the child good to be out in the sunshine, even for a few hours.

When the door closed behind Elrohir and Aerinel, Elrond turned to Glorfindel. "She thought I was going to strike her. Actually strike her." The elven lord was extremely frustrated over the whole event and anger shone deeply in his grey eyes.

"Who would want to strike a child?” Elladan asked plainly. "What harm could a child do to cause someone anger enough that they would hit them?"

"Many, I'm afraid.” Aragorn sighed and stood up, pushing his chair back. "Her uncle must have been a cruel tyrant of a man. I am very glad he is dead."

Beside him Glorfindel snorted elegantly. "It just shows you what sort of life the child has led up until now," he said, helping himself to more fruit. "She must have been struck each time she did something to displease her uncle, hence her reaction this morning when she spilt her drink."

Elrond scowled deeply. It troubled him deeply that the child had even presumed that he would hit her – that she feared him.

"She is a child, for the Valar's sake." Elladan pointed out. "Naturally, she is going to knock things over and have accidents. It happens to all children, especially you," he said, pointing at Aragorn. "You could never leave anything alone. You always had to touch everything! Remember the spider’s web in Mirkwood?"

Aragorn scowled at his brother. "I thought we were never going to bring that up again? It was bad enough that Legolas knows."

Elladan smirked. "Speaking of the dear prince, how is Legolas getting on? We haven't seen or heard from him for a while now, not since you dragged each other back half-dead after your latest mishap. Tell me, Estel, whose idea was it to venture into the troll's cave?"

"Shut up, Elladan," Aragorn growled. He did not need his father knowing the finer details.

"I'd say Prince Legolas was delighted to return home to Mirkwood and escape you three for a while,” Elrond spoke up. "I'm surprised he still lives to tell the tales of your adventures."

Glorfindel chuckled lightly. "I'm sure he is enjoying the peace and quiet Mirkwood offers. No doubt Thranduil is keeping him on his toes."

Aragorn glanced out the window. "He sent a message at Yuletide wishing us all well. You know this; I told you. You probably weren't listening, as usual." His jibe was not lost on Elrohir, who turned around with a sharp retort on his lips.

"Boys," Elrond warned lightly, sensing an argument brewing in the air. "That is enough," he said as he stood from the table.

Aragorn smirked and Elladan glared back at him.

Elrond resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "If you two have finished your breakfast and have nothing better to do, I would suggest that you help Erestor dust the library. He has been complaining about its state for the last few weeks."

His sons gulped and, mumbling excuses, removed themselves from the room as fast as they could. No one wanted to be stuck dusting the library with Erestor.

Glorfindel chuckled. A tight-lipped smile appeared on Elrond's face. In some ways, he dreaded to think of the trouble his sons could cause when they all got together. And now with Aerinel included in the mix? He trusted his sons to keep the child safe and not lead her into danger, but you could never tell with the twins.

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