11. Chapter Eleven
Laeriel smiled as she placed one of the freshly roasted fish on a plate for Strider. He had been busy cleaning the stag while she prepared their lunch. The extra movement had strained her shoulder, but it was good to be up, and not feel dizzy and disoriented. She crossed the stone floor and stood above where he was working.
"I brought you some food. I hope you're hungry."
Strider looked up at her and smiled. "I'm starving. But I am nearly finished here. I want to take care of this, and wash up before I eat. Can you keep it warm for me?"
Laeriel nodded. He had been working steadily since they returned and the stag was completely cut up. All he had to do was place it over the fire to cook it. The meat would keep nearly a week or two after it was dried. He had also cut sinew for bow strings and even some to replenish his medical pouch.
Laeriel moved her shoulder gently at that thought, surprised by how much movement she had in it. Thanks to Strider and his quick thinking, she thought. If he hadn't sewn the tears closed, she might not have the movement in it at all. She owed him much.
Laeriel returned to the fire, setting the plate close to the edge, keeping his lunch warm. She hazard a glance back at him, and frowned. He had just winced, rolling his shoulders as he finished his task. Silently, she headed to his side. Without a word, she picked up the raw meat and returned to the fire, draping the strips over the rack they had quickly built. He had done too much. She was quite capable of helping with the tasks he set before himself.
Laeriel returned to where he worked, retrieving more of the venison. As she headed back to the fire, she smiled. She could feel his eyes on her.
Strider smiled to himself, watching Laeriel move about the cave. She was an amazing woman. Most women he knew would be a bed, moaning to whoever would listen that they were injured. Most men he knew as well. But not Laeriel. She was determined to pull her weight. And now more so than before since he had found out her secret.
Strider could see it in the way she moved that she was beginning to tire, but not once had he heard her complain. With a newfound respect for her, he returned to his task. That fish smelled delicious and all he wanted was to clean up so he could partake of her cooking.
He heard her mutter a curse and turned to see her place her finger in her mouth, the pink of her lips surrounding her finger. He could tell she was sucking on it and suddenly without warning, his body responded to the view.
Groaning, Strider turned away, his thoughts filled with visions of her. He could not get the memory of the gentle swell of her breast, the creamy whiteness of her skin against his hand, out of his head. Why had he not realized she was all woman before? So he could prepare himself for the onslaught of feelings?
Laeriel watched under hooded eyes as Strider stripped off his shirt and dipped it into the falling water at the mouth of the cave. She watched in fascination as he dragged it across his shoulders, down his chest and finally over the taut ripples of his abdomen. A shiver ran along her spine and she turned her eyes from him. It would do her no good to indulge in her fantasy of him.
She jumped, her head raising quickly, her eyes meeting his. A crimson blush spread slowly across her features, and the smile she tried to place upon her lips refused to obey.
"Are you okay? I did not mean to startle you," he said, crouching next to her.
"I am fine. I did not hear you coming. Are you hungry now?" she asked, staring at him.
Remembering the way she had looked only moments before, her finger in her mouth, her eyes closed as she sucked on it, the words would not form and Strider could only nod his head.
Laeriel reached for his plate and held it out to him. When he took it, their fingers touched and a ripple of desire went through her. Hastily, she pulled her hand away, not at all surprised that her fingers shook.
"Are you okay? I did not hurt you, did I?" Strider asked, taking a piece of the fish and raising it to his lips.
Laeriel watched as his mouth surrounded his fingers, a slight moan escaping her. "Ah . . . No. I am fine. Why?"
"I saw you a few moments ago. You burnt your finger. I did not want to add to the pain."
She swallowed deeply as he took another bite, his tongue slipping from between his lips to chase away a drop of the juice that threatened to dribble down his chin.
"I . . . it is fine. Just a small burn," she whispered.
"Let me see," he said, setting his plate down on the floor of the cave. He reached for her hand, taking it in his, his fingers gently caressing the digits. "It is more than a small burn, Laeriel," he chided.
Laeriel pulled her hand from his, her heart hammering loudly in her chest. She was sure he could hear it. She knew he could feel her trembling. "I said I was fine."
Strider frowned. "You said you would try to be more obedient. Now, give me your hand."
When she hesitated, he leveled a look at her that she had only seen from one other person in her whole life. Her Father. Slowly, she held out her hand and pleaded with her body to calm itself as his hand curled around hers.
"Now, let me see. Ah, yes. I have the perfect remedy for this," he said to himself.
He reached behind him and found his medical pouch. After digging into it, he pulled out a piece of a plant, about three inches in length, and pale green in color. He placed the end of it in his mouth and bit down, spitting the tip into the fire. Turing back to her, he placed the now oozing tip of the plant against her finger, squeezing the tip of the plant gently.
"What is that?" Laeriel asked, watching as the plant released a small amount of a clear, sticky substance.
"It will help with the sting. Lord Elrond taught me its use. There. All better," he said, tossing the piece of plant onto his bedroll.
Laeriel looked at her finger in amazement. It really did not hurt any more. When she looked back up at him, she smiled. "Thank you," she said softly.
Strider brought her hand to his lips, gently placing a kiss on the inside of her palm. "You are welcome, my lady."
Laeriel shuddered. The feel of his lips on her skin drove her mad. Closing her eyes, she imagined his lips moving further along her arm, caressing the soft skin of her inner arm with his mouth.
"Did you make love to her that night, Estel?" Arwen asked, her eyes focused on her folded hands.
Estel glanced up at her, his words caught in his throat.
"It's alright, Estel. I do understand. We were not betrothed as yet. You had no idea what my answer to you would even be. She must have been very beautiful, your Laeriel. And strong and brave."
Estel took Arwen's hands in his, bringing them to his lips. "She was. She was unlike any other woman I had ever known, with the exception of you."
"It is obvious that you loved her."
"I did. It took me a while to realize it. I never wanted to betray you, Arwen."
"You didn't my love," she said, tears in her eyes. "I just need to know now, Estel. Did you make love to her?"
Aragorn looked at Arwen, shock in his eyes. He never expected her to come right out and ask such a question. "It is best we do not discuss this anymore tonight. It is late. And it is a long story, Arwen."
"Estel…please. I really need to know about this part of your life. I love you and I know you are here with me now, but there is a part of you that has always been hidden from me. This Laeriel is a part of that."
"I cannot, Arwen. I do not want to hurt you," he said, rising to his feet and moving to the far side of the glade.
Arwen stood, following him. Gently she placed a hand on his shoulder, laying her head against his back. "Please, Estel. I know you do not understand the motive behind my asking, but I must know the truth about you and this woman. I must know."
Estel sighed. Perhaps it was for the best that they no longer held any secrets. "We should go inside. It is late and you are cold," he said turning to take her in his arms.
"Come inside and I will tell you all."
Silently, they moved inside, each dreading the remaining telling of the story in their own way.
Estel led Arwen to their chambers. When she was settled upon the chaise, he laid wood in the fireplace, starting a cheery fire to take the chill from the cold room. Too bad it did not warm the chill that fell over his heart. He did not want to relive the time he spent with Laeriel. Especially with Arwen. That was a part of his life that he had kept from her. To protect her, he had thought. But in reality, it was to protect himself. He still loved Laeriel.
"You are stalling, my love," she whispered from the chaise.
Aragorn turned to look at her, smiling softly. "I know. I do not want to hurt you with the telling of this story."
"Estel…it hurts more, not knowing the truth."
He hung his head, staring into the flames that licked the edges of the wood pieces. He had to tell her the truth, even if it was painful for the both of them. She would only wonder if he did not. If she knew the truth, then she could rest her doubts, once and for all.
"I did not make love to Laeriel that night, Arwen."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.