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.
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.
“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
Aerinel more firmly on her hip. “Come on, little one, let us get you
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.
Aerinel gazed around the room, her large eyes taking
everything in. The
golden-haired elf, Glorfindel, sat beside Elrond; beside him sat Estel.
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.
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