Elrohir, dressed in heavy traveling garb, rode south out of Fornost following the track to the Old North Road. After months of successfully tracking orcs with Halbarand's men, he was going home to Imladris. The Great Road was safer for his season of toil, and contented, he looked forward to spending time with his family. Usually, he would have made short work of this journey. Crossing the North Downs at an angle and skirting the Weather Hills southeast would have gotten him to the Last Bridge across the Mitheithel in two days time and he could have made the dash through the Angle and arrived home with the setting sun, camping only one day in the wild. It was the right thing to do this time of year: November with cold flurries in the air and brown leaves flying in the wind. That had been his plan. But, as he swung onto to Helluin's back that morning at Fornost, a Ranger riding in from the south had hailed him.
"I'm glad I found you here still, my lord. I was told this was urgent." The ranger handed Elrohir a letter. He expected to see his father's crest on the wax seal or Aragorn's elegant script at the very least. There was no device, simply a tattered, ink splattered sheet, folded many times into a wad. He smoothed the smudged page and read a single line:
I need to speak with you in Bree about the girl.
Elrohir knew no "Wallace." It was not a name of Eldar or Dúnedain. It was a mystery, one Elrohir was still pondering as the town of Bree appeared around the Cheatwood hillside in the weak late afternoon light. Helluin danced, snorted, and laid back his ears at the sounds and smells of the town.
Elrohir rode into the courtyard of The Prancing Pony and tossed the boy his reins. He whispered for the roan stallion to go quietly with the lad. The evening business was just picking up and Elrohir nodded at the barkeep, one of the many Butterburs who had owned the inn over time. Elrohir could never keep them straight. They were all round and short and observant, but could keep a secret if need be. The man was serving several travelers so he made his way to the corner table that he favored. Meg, the serving girl, smiled a little nervously and brought him a tankard; she was half-way fearful of these Elvish brothers who often accompanied the handsome Ranger Strider here and this was the fiercer of the two. The other would smile and flirt and was quite charming unlike this stern and grim one.
"Send Butterbur over when he is free," was all the courtesy she got from him, as he removed his leather gauntlets and settled at a corner table.
The barkeep soon bustled over. "Will young Mr. Strider be joining you, my lord?"
"Nay. I am looking for a man named Wallace. Do you know him?" Butterbur gawked, surprised at Elrohir's inquiry.
"Yes, of course. He's been in here several times today, scenting the air like a deer waiting for a hound," Butterbur said, wondering what a high lord like this would want with Old Wallace, but knowing to keep his tongue behind his lips. "There." He pointed to a gray haired, old man just then coming inside the door.
The man was obviously a farmer, his coverall filthy with dung and dirt. His stringy hair hung from a balding pate. A scrubby child that could have been a girl followed him. Narrow-eyed, he searched the room. Presently, the man saw the elf lord and immediately came to his table. Butterbur discreetly disappeared.
"Ah, my lord. I see you received my message," the man said nervously, standing before him. Elrohir indicated a chair across the table. Wallace eased himself into it, sighing loudly about old bones. The child collapsed on the floor at his feet. The man rubbed his hands together anxiously, stuttering a bit, unsure how to begin. Elrohir waved to Butterbur and a brimming tankard appeared to loosen the farmer's tongue.
"Thankee," he said, taking a deep draught. "The thing is," he finally spat out, "Dalenda has met a man, a barrelmaker in Archet. He wants to wed her."
"My felicitations," Elrohir said, becoming more confused by the moment.
"The thing is—well—he don't want the child. He can't stand the sight of such as she. She is too old for me to handle and needs too much of the back of my hand to keep in line---the Elf blood, I'd imagine, beggin' your pardon. The money has proved helpful over the years but ---" Elrohir's patience ran out with this incoherent speech.
"Good sir, what has this got to do with me?" he demanded.
"Lord Elladan, I thought you might want to dispose of her, bein' her father and all. Otherwise, there is a man I know who would purchase her and take her south." Elrohir coughed into his ale. Elladan's daughter? He eyed the urchin, tucked in near the table leg, her knobby knees drawn up to her chin.
"Úan*, stand up and let the lord see you." Wallace grabbed the girl by her tangled hair, which was the closest handle and emphasized his command with a hearty tug.
"Úan? You call her that?" Elrohir was growing angry again.
"Of course, because of her appearance. That is why Dalenda's husband does not want her and I can get little from the sale of her." The child stood before him; grimy, it looked as if years had passed since a comb was run through her grayish-yellow hair. Layers of dirt covered her and Elrohir was certain most of it was dung. Her head hung, the mass of hair covering her face.
"Look at the lord, Úan!" Wallace jerked the child's arm. Elrohir saw old bruises there. In a voice he used to discipline his hunting hounds, Elrohir commanded:
"Do not do that again." He took the child's chin gently in his hand and raised her head. He found himself looking into eyes that were Arwen's. The girl had the straight family nose and the sardonically arched brow inherited from Elrond. He brushed back her hair to reveal delicate ears sweeping to graceful points. Underneath the filth, the girl was beautiful. And, she was definitely Elladan's child.The thump of Wallace's purse on the table broke Elrohir's captivation.
"If you'll take her, I'll return this quarter's payment," the man offered grudgingly.
"How long have I been paying you?" Wallace seemed stymied by this question.
"Since my daughter bore her. Nine years this harvest." Elrohir leaned across the table, placing the purse back into the farmer's hand and grasping his arm.
"You would give your granddaughter to me? Do you trust I would treat her well? What sort of creature do you think I am if I am so uncaring as to desert her all her life?" A chill ran through Wallace; he recoiled from the look in the lord's eyes.
"I care not; do with her what you will!" The old man, strengthened by his panic, pulled away and stood.
"I will take her and you may keep the payment, but never will you have interaction with her again." The barely contained rage of the Elf terrified Wallace.
"That's fine by me." He looked down at his granddaughter and felt a moment of pity for her fate. "Úan, you stay here. You belong to him." Wallace, taking his money, quickly scuttled out of The Pony without a backward glance at the girl.
Elrohir sat looking at the child who stared at the floor again. Nine years of age, the girl was tall and very thin. Her feet were bare on this cold day and her leggings so worn, her knees seemed like to pop through. He saw a tear drop to the dusty stone.
"Child, you cry for one who would leave you here? Do not shed tears for one who treated you so basely." She looked at him fiercely and he saw the family fire in her eyes.
"He is my grandfather!" she shouted, drawing attention to their table. Elrohir caught Butterbur's eye and the stocky man came quickly.
"I need a room," he sized up the child, "and a bath and your serving maid."
"My lord?" Butterbur stammered, scandalized.
"This is mine now and it must be gotten clean." That news didn't ease Butterbur's mind.
"I don't hold to such, my lord. You and your kin have always been most polite but the girl is but a child---"
"Nay, Butterbur, do not think so of me---I have just discovered that I am its uncle."
* * * * *
Meg blew her damp hair from her face and commenced to scrubbing again. She had washed the girl and dumped the water and now the boys had carried in clean buckets and she would start again. The girl sat quietly in the water not fighting her, yet not helping either. Meg had never seen such a filthy or thin child.
"Here, love. Let's try the hair again." Meg poured a quantity of sweet smelling soap into the child's mass of hair and worked it in, trying to pulled her fingers through some of the bigger rats' nests. Finally deciding she had done as much as possible without calling on the Valar for help, she wrapped the child in drying sheets and led her down the hall to Lord Elrohir's room. A timid knock brought no answer. Meg pushed open the door of the empty room. On the bed lay the child's new attire: small clothes, a fine lawn shirt and leggings and a jacket and boots. She helped the little girl dress and told the child to leave the boots and jacket for later. The girl caressed the velvet of the embroidered blue coat; she had never seen anything so fine.
Meg sighed mightily and picked up a comb ready to do battle with the girl's hair. After several minutes of silent tugging and squirming, the child began to cry. Wiggling loose, she ran to the corner and crouched there, staring balefully at the woman who was causing her so much pain. Meg tossed down the comb, bade her stay and left to clean up the bathing mess, leaving the hair for her betters to deal with.
Soon, Elrohir entered carrying a wrapped parcel. He eyed the child huddling in the corner. The urchin had an evil look on its face but it was clean. Its hair hung down in a wet tangle. Clean, it was obvious the child was a girl and quite striking.
"I wouldn't let her comb my hair. She pulled it," it spoke.
"It looks as if it hasn't encountered a comb in a long while," he said nonchalantly, picking up the offending item. The child shrugged elaborately.
"No need to comb a monster's hair."
"Come here!" The little girl jumped at the command and walked slowly to him.
"Have you purchased me to serve you or for your pleasure?" she asked impudently.
"I have not purchased you." Úan could have disagreed; she saw the money change hands, but she was half-frightened of this tall, dark lord. One life lesson that she knew well was never to let anyone know when she was hurt or frightened. She stood most arrogantly, hands on hips, doing her best to stare down her uncle. Elrohir, hiding a smile, sat in the chair, bade her come again in a tone neither wayward horses nor stubborn little girls could resist, and when she stood before him, turned her and began to work on the mess. He was much gentler than Meg, and the girl remained quiet for awhile, allowing him to tug at the knots. Finally, she bit her lip against the pain and stamped.
"You have the temper of your aunt," Elrohir observed coolly.
"I have no aunt!" she snapped. "What do you know!"
"Yes, you do, and I would comb her hair in just this way after she ran through the brambles when your age." She turned slowly to him, eyes wide.
"Are you my father? My mother said you hated me and didn't want me because I am nothing but a ______." She ended with a word no young girl should know and certainly not one that a lady of a noble Elven house should ever utter. Elrohir explained this to her and she contemplated him, her head cocked to the side.
"I did not know that."
"I am your uncle. My name is Elrohir." She held out her hand, in a grand unconscious gesture as if she were indeed a lady.
"I am pleased to meet you, Uncle, I believe. I am Úan."
"You have no other name?"
"Nay, I need none!" the little girl was prickly. "What is wrong with it---it describes me and that is what a name is supposed to do."
"Nay," he smiled, "Gala describes you better."
"What does that mean?" The child was ignorant.
"We must teach you Sindarin. It means shining." She again looked at him as if he were mad and then yawned copiously. "Are you tired?" she nodded.
"Yes and very hungry. Might we eat today?" she asked. "Grandfather didn't feel I needed my meal today since I was to be gone."
"Your meal---you have one each day?"
"Oh, yes. He fed me daily---unless I was bad." The sprite caught his hand. "I will try not to be bad for you, Uncle, but I have an evil nature." At that moment, Elrohir's heart melted and he pulled the girl to him.
"Nay, child, you must never believe that."
Meg brought supper to their room. The child's eyes grew wide and she swallowed several times as the covers were removed on the roasted chicken, baked squashes, and crusty bread. Elrohir pulled up a second chair to the table and carved the bird. Úan continued to stand. He raised a brow at her.
"Is aught amiss? Are you not hungry?" She nodded vigorously, eyes on the glorious food. "Come eat then." It was her turn to look confused.
"When you are finished, I will have the leavings." Elrohir was appalled. How had this child, his niece, been raised? Perhaps he might need to track down Wallace and teach him how to treat children. But, some of his anger he held in check for his brother.
He sat her at the table, tucking a napkin around her neck and set a filled plate before her. The child ate like a starved animal, nearly growling over her food. He feared she might be sick afterwards: she ate so much so fast. Meg bustled in with a hot blueberry tart, tea for Elrohir, and a pitcher of cold milk for the child. Somehow, the girl managed to cram much of the tart inside her. When she was full and groggy, Elrohir carried her to the bed. He stretched out beside her, pondering what uproar his homecoming would create in Imladris. The child turned and wrapped her thin arms around his neck. Whatever the cost, Elrohir knew, the girl would go to her proper home and his brother would answer to him.
* * * * *
It was a slow ride home to Imladris amid the swirling snow flakes. She rode along before him, draped in her new gray cloak and acting like a fine lady, except when Helluin danced a little too energetically. She had never been on a horse. At first, the stallion's prancing drew an involuntary shriek from her as she wildly clutched at the saddle pommel. Soon though, enveloped in her uncle's strong arms, she relaxed, feeling safe and a bit noble atop the tall horse.
As they rode along, she told him about her life and the girl painted a very grim picture of an uncaring, flighty mother and a grandfather who railed against his daughter's folly and used the child to work the farm. Elrohir was weighing what he might do to his brother, when he noticed the girl had been silent for some time.
"Gala, are you ill?"
"Nay, where are we going?" she asked shyly, fearful of being cuffed for the question.
"Rivendell---Imladris, the home of our family."
"Are there others there? Many?"
"Your aunt Arwen…Lord Aragorn, if he has returned…your other grandfather—"
"I'd prefer not to have another," the child said quietly. "Grandfathers are mean," she whispered. "They hurt."
"This one won't."
"He will think I am ugly. They all will hate me. Please can't we just continue riding?" the girl begged. For the first time, Elrohir heard in the girl's tremulous voice how fragile her bravado was.
"I assure you, no one will hate you. Why would you believe you are ugly?'
"My ears." Elrohir heard her swallow a sob. "They are misshapen and hideous." He reined in the stallion and turned the child so she faced him. With a gloved hand, he pushed back his black hair, revealing his ears. She gasped, raising trembling fingers to touch them, so like her own.
"Do you think I am ugly, Gala?"
"Nay, handsome, Uncle." He grinned at her.
"Believe me, child, your grandfather will find you enchanting."
* * * * *
Arwen, trimming the last of the berry-filled branches of the garden bushes for harvest decorating, heard Elrohir's stallion coming before the call of the horns announced him. Leaving her basket, she walked to the stables to welcome her brother home. The smile of greeting froze on her astonished face; her brother had a child sat before him.
Elrohir slid off in a swirl of cloak. The child grasp Helluin's mane tightly, looking wide eyed at the beautiful lady, dressed in leggings and a coat just like a boy, just as she was dressed. Elrohir kissed his sister and wrapped her in his arms.
"Where is Elladan?" he asked against her ear.
"What's this?" Arwen asked, ignoring him and reaching her hand up to the enchanting sprite. The girl surveyed her shyly, looking so much like a princess atop her charger.
"Nay, my niece?" Arwen turned her startled gaze on him. He silently answered her appraising glance with a shake of his head.
"Where is Father?"
"I am here." Elrond had come down to greet his son. Now he stood on the terrace stairs watching the child curiously. He recognized immediately she was of his family.
"Hello." He stepped to the horse where the child still clung silently. "I am Elrond. I believe I am your grandfather." She contemplated him carefully from her perch.
"I am Úan." She held out her hand and Elrond gravely took it. She leaned over and pushed back the great lord's hair. A smile lit the urchin's face and she launched herself into his arms.
* * * * *
"Undomiel, I like that." The little girl was sitting in the garden with her aunt, listening to the rush of water falling, and reliving the savory lunch she had just consumed. Her uncle and her grandfather had gone off somewhere and she and Arwen were trying to find a new name for her, since her grandfather had commanded she might not again be called Úan. The little girl had loved him immediately and knew she would do anything he asked so she was working mightily to find a new name.
"Uncle calls me Gala; perhaps I could be Galadriel?" Arwen smiled.
"That might be confusing; that is your great grandmother's name."
"Does she live here too?"
"No, she lives far to the south in a beautiful, golden wood; we shall visit her one day and she will be delighted with you." The girl was beginning to believe that maybe that could be true; everyone she had met so far here had been delighted with her.
At that moment, there was a clatter of horses' hooves on the rocky path and two horsemen clattered into the courtyard. It was Elladan and Aragorn, returning from the eastern patrol.
Aragorn leapt down from his horse and strode to his love. He kissed Arwen and looked down at the child at her side. He was instantly bewitched by the little girl's beauty, her golden hair floating around her like a mantle of spun sunlight; her eyes gazing up at him were Arwen's. He dropped on one knee before the girl and looked up questioningly at his beloved. Had they somehow produced this exquisite child and she had kept her from him?
"Anariel," he breathed, from deep in his poet's soul; she was as golden as the sun.
"You must be my uncle, Lord Aragorn." The child broke the spell.
"Uncle?" Aragorn blurted out, startled. At that moment, Elrohir seemed to materialize like an angry wight and strode past them, nodding to Aragorn. Aragorn rose quickly and turned, half drawing his sword. From his brother's movement and look, Aragorn was sure a band of orcs lay behind him. He watched bemused as Elrohir grasped Elladan by the shoulder, lifted him from his feet, and dragged him into the stable. Alarmed by the horrified look on Arwen's face, Aragorn sprinted after them.
As he entered, Elladan was on the floor, shaking his head from a blow, and Elrohir towered over him.
"What ails you, brother?" Elladan asked dazed, spitting blood into the straw.
"She got one meal a day---if she did not cross the orc who was her grandfather!" Elrohir shouted. "He cuffed her regularly! When she was given to me, she was filthy and bruised and only allowed scraps!" Elladan tried to rise and Elrohir hit him again. "She was about to be sold to go south as a whore! And they named her Úan!" Aragorn could not make sense of Elrohir's tirade.
"Are you orc-poisoned? What madness are you spouting?" Elladan asked, angrily rising. The full force of Elrohir's kick knocked him to the ground again. Aragorn began a mad dance with the irate Elrohir, trying to push him away from the coughing Elladan. Finally, Elrohir stopped struggling and leaned against him, dejected.
"How could you allow your daughter to be treated that way?" The pain in his voice caused Aragorn to cringe. "How could you allow my niece to be treated that way?" He straightened and strode out of the stable.
Aragorn helped a silent Elladan to his feet and out to the fountain. He began to wash away the blood from his brother's face.
"The child is yours?"
"The little girl with Arwen." Elladan suddenly grew pale.
"No—she said---I've sent her money—the girl—" Elladan babbled incoherently, refusing to look at Aragorn. He sat silent for a long moment and then he began to tell the story.
"Dalenda, do you remember her? The blond from Fornost!" Aragorn nodded, remembering the young woman, younger than he was in years but old beyond him in other ways, nearly crawling into his lap the first time they had met. He was aware that Elladan spent many cold nights with her when they were in Fornost; but that had been twenty-five years ago. "When you went south, I spent much time in Fornost, riding with Halbarad. We-we developed an understanding, Dalenda and I. Nine years ago, she came to me and said she was bearing a child, mine. She and her parents wanted the babe, if it was provided for. I saw no reason why they shouldn't have it. I've been sending an allowance."
"You could have brought Dalenda here. Ada would have taken her to his heart." Elladan looked at Aragorn to see if he was sincere or insane. His little brother for being a former commander of Gondor and the chieftain of the Dúnedain was still naïve to many ways of the world.
"It was never like that. There was no attachment between the woman and me."
"But when you learned you had a daughter?"
"It did not matter, son or daughter. Her mother wanted the babe and the gold I would provide for its care. So when I was informed of its birth, I began sending messengers with provision for the child."
"You've never seen the girl? Never wanted to see your daughter?' Aragorn appalled, felt the same anger rising in his blood as he had seen in Elrohir. He rose in disgust and left his brother sitting on the side of the fountain in the stable yard.
Later, the family sat in the gallery, the girl on her grandfather's knee and he contemplating her gravely as she told him of her afternoon with her aunt.
"I believe I have a new name as you commanded, sir," she announced. "It is Anariel; Uncle Aragorn gave it to me." She leaned her head against her grandfather's and whispered. "Arwen says I must call him uncle also. He too is your son." Elrond nodded that was true.
"Anariel it shall be; of the line of Galadriel and the beautiful Undomiel," Elrond announced; she giggled. The lord of Imladris looked up and his eyes became shadowed. "Arwen, could you take Anariel and show her—her room; Erestor will help." Elladan had just come into the gallery. Elrohir's blows had blackened an eye and split his lip. Aragorn and Elrohir shifted in their seats; their emotions were not as carefully shaded as Elrond's. After hearing the full tale, Aragorn had decided he had stopped Elrohir too soon in the punishment of their brother. The elf-lord rose and looked at his son.
"My granddaughter has existed for nine years and I was unaware of her. She has no learning, has been badly mistreated, and was led to believe she is a monster and unwanted." He walked to his son and grasped his arm tight enough to make the hardened warrior squirm in pain. "She does not even know her father. You give me reason to doubt you were raised in this household!" Elladan fled from the contempt brimming in his father's voice.
Late afternoon sun slanted through the gallery. Elladan, already in pain from Elrohir's beating, was now being buffeted by Aragorn's calm logic. He looked up into his brother's cool gaze and gave free rein to his emotions.
"You and Elrohir and Father just cannot understand! You love beyond reason, all three of you! And Arwen too! I have never felt that way. I find comfort with women both elven and human. I enjoy their company but I have never desired to mate for life, to pledge myself to one forever! I did not inherit that from my fore bearers as you all did. I saw what pain such love caused my father and Elrohir. I see how the threat of separation from my sister twists your soul!"
Aragorn crossed his arms and looked at Elladan. There was no sympathy in the Dúnadan's eyes. "I am not suggesting you wed Dalenda. I spoke of your responsibility to your daughter."
"I thought she was cared for," Elladan countered sullenly.
"You never thought to see for yourself! How can one with your agelessness, your wisdom, be so uncaring?"
Elladan looked chagrinned. "I truly am sorry for her suffering. Truly!
"Aragorn waited, the slanting sun through the stained glass cast long, colorful patterns on the stone floor of the gallery. "She believes you hate her. It was what she was told. Have you noticed she avoids you?"
Elladan looked up, appalled. "Hate her? Nay!" He was silent for a moment. "Though I suppose I do dislike her existence. I wish this had not happened. I wish she had not been born!" he said angrily, his voice louder than he intended.
Anariel, playing innocently in the patterns of color in the corridor outside heard her father's words. For a moment, it mattered, and deep hurt welled up inside her. For just a bit, she had let her guard down with these beautiful strangers who seemed to like her. She bit her lip before the tears started and decided she could not stay here. They had all been so kind, too kind really, except for that one. It had really been too pleasant, she decided, sniffing, too comfortable for one such as she: a monster and so named. For a moment, she wished she could write her thanks to them; her grandfather said he would teach her but she could not stay now to learn. She must leave.
Anariel knew she was skilled. She knew about the care of goats and chickens. Someone would need help and in exchange for a place and a bit of food, she would tend their livestock. All she must do was follow the path over the bridges and out of the valley. The Great Road: her uncle had told her about it. She would go east to some town or farmstead. Someone would need a sturdy girl like her, so she stole out the door and unnoticed, trotted off down the path.
To the child, who had ridden up it on the back of the tall stallion, the trek downhill to the river seemed long. She trotted along on the verge of the path, pausing occasionally to listen for pursuit. There was none and it would be dark soon. She decided there would be none; they probably were relieved to see her gone. She did wish she had taken her cloak. The air was cold and she could see her breath in the air. Finally, she heard the burbling of the water over rocks ahead.
As the girl emerged from the trees, she saw a boy playing in the waters along the shore, tossing rocks and talking to his bay horse that stood nearby. The bay was her undoing because he snorted and raised his head when he saw her. The boy turned swiftly, his hand on his dagger. He was tall and thin; the wind ruffled the waves of his dark hair and his dark fringed grey eyes studied her curiously.
"Hello," he said. For a moment, the boy thought he had come upon a child of the Valar, her hair a golden cloud in the sunlight. The girl broke the spell as she stooped for a rock and held it menacingly, ready to hurl at the youth's head.
"Why are you here?" they both queried at once. "I asked you first!" was the chorused response. The girl stared at him belligerently and the boy smiled. Catching up his rein, he led the bay to her.
"I'm Quillion and I'm on my way to my odhron*'s home. I've been with the Rangers. The two escorting me left me here. They said I could go on on my own; I'd be safe from here. They didn't know you'd be lurking about in the woods waiting to pounce!"
"Odhron?" Anariel silently cursed her ignorance. "What's that?"
"My parent---guardian, really. He's not really my father, but I think of him that way. My parents are both dead." Dead parents…Anariel decided that was an interesting thought. She drew herself to her full height.
"I am Úan and I am running away. I am escaping." Quillion looked bewildered.
"Escaping? From whom? Were you kidnapped by bandits? Orcs? Are they near by?" He paled a bit and tugged at the sword buckled to his saddle.
"Nay, not orcs or bandits," Uán pointed up the trail. "They could come at any time!" Quillion was even more confused.
"Why ever would you want to escape from Lord El---" Uán stamped.
"I am going off to be a goatherd."
Quillion laughed outright. "You are too fine a lady to be named Úan or to be a goatherd!"
"Do you doubt I can?" The sprite looked ready to let fly her rock. Quillion held up his hands in supplication.
"Nay, you seem able to do most anything you attempt. It's just that you…" Quillion knew something was not as it seemed and his training at the hands of the gallant Commander of Gondor came into play. "…are too beautiful to be found in a goat pen."
"Beautiful?" the girl breathed. The boy did not seem to be teasing her.
"Have you not seen yourself?" He led her to a quiet pool and showed her the reflection in the water as he saw it. Suddenly, she saw her resemblance to the handsome Elven family. She reached out to touch the girl in the water and realized the boy stood beside her, smiling.
"I am like them---like you---fine," she said almost regretfully. "You're right. I cannot be a goatherd." The child seemed crestfallen she couldn't spend her live covered in goat dung.
"Come, it's near dinnertime," he said gently. "Running away hungry is never a good idea." He took her hand. "You ride; I'll lead." She looked doubtfully at the horse.
"I've only ridden one horse before---Helluin." The youth looked on the girl with new admiration.
"If you have ridden Helluin, Feather will be no match for you! Come!" He helped her mount the docile bay. Quillion was amazed the girl who had seemed so fearsome was quaking with fear. Talking endlessly to calm her, he led them up the track and across the bridges over the waterfall into Imladris.
They entered a bustling courtyard. Arwen was giving hurried instructions and folding the girl's cloak over Aragorn's saddle as he and Elrohir tightening the girths on their mounts. All motion stopped abruptly as they noticed the pair's arrival.
"Quillion! You found her!" Aragorn caught his foster son in a strong embrace. The boy, ever wanting to please the one he loved most in the world, was delighted he had, although unknowingly, done such a wonderful thing. Elrohir swung Anariel down from the saddle, held her tightly, and gently admonished her not to wander away again.
At that moment Elladan appeared, accompanied by his father, both dressed for woodland tracking. He stopped abruptly when he saw his daughter and the happy group around her, and turned on his heel back into the house. Inside, he leaned against the newel of the stairs, weak with relief that she had been found.
* * * * *
As winter touch Imladris, Anariel quickly decided she was wanted by most of these adults, and she found a companion in Quillion. He became her champion and was found at her side when he was not training with Aragorn or Elrohir. Arwen petted her and became a surrogate mother, replacing the wayward one the girl had only seen occasionally, dressing her in finery and teaching her how to be a lady. Elrond, by far her favorite, could deny her nothing when she twined her arms around his neck. He came to find the girl was brilliant and soon she was rambling on in Sindarin and he was teaching her mathematics and sciences.
Only her father's affection eluded Anariel who quickly realized he wouldn't acknowledge her at family gatherings, speaking as if she was not present. She never saw the grey eyes watching her covertly or the pain of longing within them whenever she caught Aragorn's hand or rested against a doting Elrohir.
One day, she sat in the gallery with Aragorn. He was reading the great tales of ancient times and noble doings, and the girl mused beside him, drawing pictures in her mind. Pausing in the story, he looked up and noticed her watching him closely.
"You are like my mother," the girl stated.
Startled, Aragorn asked: "How is that?"
"You are a man," she paused, "but you are different than the people of Bree. You are Dúnedain…a Ranger. My other grandfather said they are evil." She suddenly stopped as if she had said too much and feared a cuffing for it.
"Yes, I am Dúnedain. The Rangers protect the lands and sometimes perhaps we seem mysterious." Anariel got up and wandered to the mural. She traced the figure of Elendil. When she spoke again, her voice echoed oddly in the gallery.
"You are like him." She looked back at Aragorn with a faraway gaze. "I see all that will come to pass. You will defeat that Evil One." Her eyes were half-closed and Aragorn recognized the power of foresight in the child. She definitely was one of the family. Then she was simply Anariel, the child, again, and skipping back to him, she climbed into her uncle's lap so that he might finish the story.
* * * * *
Elladan was singing in the deserted Hall of Fire. The song was mournful to match the solemnity of his soul. These days, he sought out what solitude he might. The entire family held him in contempt for his seeming lack of paternal caring and he felt it best to avoid the lot of them. His father spoke only to lecture him on his folly, Arwen had too much to say to him, and his best friends, Aragorn and his brother, looked on him in disgust and spoke not at all. Even Erestor, ever silent on family matters, sniffed at him in disdain.
He heard a noise behind him and when he turned, the girl stood in the doorway. Her eyes were huge and dark, and she looked as if she had been caught committing some crime.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, gruffer than he intended. The child crouched and flung up an arm as if to ward off a blow. "Child, what is wrong?" he asked more kindly, disgusted by her reaction to him, disgusted that his actions had caused it.
"I-I am sorry, my lord. I heard s-singing. It was so beautiful, I stopped to listen. I-I did not know it was you. I beg pardon. Please, may I go?"
"If you so choose," he said, half-hoping she would stay. Like a startled deer in a woodland thicket, Anariel fled in fear. Elladan looked after her, grief at his daughter's terror of him stark on his face, and he buried his head in his hands. Anyone passing by looking in would have believed they glimpsed Elladan in deep thought, composing a new ballad. In reality, he prayed to the Valar to show him a way to make this slim, blond sprite who was his daughter loathe him less.
Úan: (Sind.) monster Odhron: (Sind.) guardian