“Estel, what on Arda have you done to your face?”
Estel sat up in bed sleepily. “I hurt, make it stop!”
“No, don’t touch, hanar dithen.” Elladan grumbled in annoyance as the six-year-old’s hand flew to the red spot on his nose, one of many covering his face like the rings of a target.
“But it itches!”
“Then it’s best you leave it until Adar can look at it,” Elladan said, firmly holding the boy’s hands away from the spot, and lifting Estel from his bed. He saw with dismay through the rumpled sleeping shift that Estel’s chest had the spots as well. “Come along.”
“I’m tired, ‘Dan,” Estel mumbled, and Elladan scooped the boy into his arms to take him to Elrond…
The memory, buried for more than eighty years, returned full force as Aragorn entered the Houses of Healing to visit his heart-son Faramir’s eight-year-old twins, who weren’t twins at all. Merilosse, with her golden hair and grey eyes the image of Eowyn, lay sleeping, but Celebriel - whose dark hair was threaded with silver from birth - was awake, her own grey eyes filled with tears. Her malformed leg ached almost as much as her head, and her brow burned with fever. The red spots he knew from his boyhood afflictions decorated both girls, and he tended the little ones as gently as Master Elrond had once cared for him, spreading a salve over the affected areas.
“There, my brave little Silver-hair,” he murmured. “Mind you keep your hands away from the spots. I know how much it hurts, truly. You need to drink this.” He accepted a fever-reducing brew from a fellow healer, holding the cup to Celebriel’s lips. Obediently she sipped, though she grimaced at the taste. Still, she drank it all down.
Healer Nethril woke Merilosse for her dose, and while she fussed, she didn’t dare to cross Nethril with the King right there. Merilosse yawned. “Tell us a story, Daerada Aragorn.”
“What story would you like, little Rose?” Aragorn asked fondly.
“One about when you were a captain at the Cape,” she decided. “For Uncle Imrahil*.”
Aragorn nodded and began his tale while Faramir’s daughter - and his own - listened raptly. Even Healer Nethril was caught up in the story of pirates driven away from Belfalas, suitably toned down for young ears.
“It was on just such a day as this, under a blue summer sky, with the green and grey waves bearing us to shore that we returned from our mission,” he finished. “I knew then that my time was done, and I must leave once more, for it was not yet time to press the claim of Firiel.”
Celebriel gave a tired nod. “Ada wasn’t born yet, or he’d have let you.”
Aragorn hid a wince. This was of my own making, he reminded himself. All four of us agreed, better for Celebriel to grow up in Ithilien than at court, considering…
“Indeed he was not,” Aragorn agreed, smoothing a gentle hand over Celebriel’s leg as it hung out from below the blankets. He tucked her back in properly. “From Gondor, I rode East, and scouted out the lands of those living under the Shadow to see if allies could be made.”
“Had you made allies in Enemy lands before, my lord?” Nethril asked, surprising herself with her temerity.
“Oh yes,” Aragorn nodded. “I can tell you of my time in Dunland while I lived in Rohan, serving under Thengel King’s command.”
Nethril nodded eagerly, and the stories continued to flow as the girls drifted back off to sleep. The last thing the ‘twins’ heard before sleep claim them was Aragorn singing a song he’d learned in the Elven forges, about the Elven rings - like the Ring of Barahir he wore.
Celebriel followed Merilosse to sleep, and her final thought was of that ring and how pretty it was - the flower was her favourite part. Perhaps when they woke, Daerada Aragorn could tell them more of the story when they were whole and well again.