Aragorn, in his sleep, was facing his worst fears. “Halbarad,” he screamed, as he watched his closest friend fall off his horse, hit in the face by an orc-arrow. A ring of orcs and wargs closed in on the fallen Dunadan. Aragorn leaped off his horse to the ground and ran desperately to defend his friend. Was Halbarad dead or alive? Aragorn did not know. The orcs were closing in on him, their ghastly faces leering in triumph… he raised his sword to fight them. It was knocked out of his hand and they roared with hideous laughter. Aragorn stood facing them with no weapon now. He could see the snarling mouths of the wargs coming closer and closer…

Hearing Aragorn scream in his sleep, Elladan and Elrohir rushed to his room. They found Elrond at the door. He too had heard his son’s terrified scream…

Elladan and Elrohir saw all Aragon’s fears of a violent death written on his face. Moved by his brother’s look of terror, Elrohir unthinkingly called out to him,

“Don’t be afraid, Estel. Fight them! Fight them!”

In response to his cry, Aragorn, in his dream, sprang up and began to viciously attack an orc who had tried to push him down onto the ground.

Just as Elrohir had cried out to Aragorn to fight back, Elrond had gently pushed his son down onto his bed, trying to calm him down, get him to relax. Feeling his father’s hand on his arm, Aragorn sprang up to viciously attack the “orc” who had had the audacity to push him down.

Elrohir watched in shock as his tall, muscular brother rained blow after vicious blow on Elrond, imagining him to be an orc. Would his father be able to stand up to his powerful young son? Elladan and Elrohir rushed to Elrond’s side, but found to their surprise that he did not need their help. With a skill born of long practice, he blocked Aragorn’s blows – swept them aside and aimed not a single retaliatory blow back at his son.

Aragorn’s face worked in frustration…this orc was amazingly strong, amazingly skilful. Where had this filthy orc learned such phenomenal skill? Aragorn had never encountered anything like this before. But he fought harder, harder…he would break this orc. Break him down. Aragorn reached down in his mind for a way to spur himself on. Something in the way the orc was fighting reminded him of his father… here was his answer, here was a way to psyche himself up to battle the orc with greater fury… all he had to do was to imagine that the orc was Elrond.

“Take that,” he screamed, bringing the orc down to the ground. The orc struggled to free himself from Aragorn’s grip and almost succeeded, but Aragorn was too strong for him. “You filthy creature, you remind me of my father…” Aragorn involuntarily relaxed his hold on the orc, who seized his advantage and fought back to his feet. Aragorn dealt him a blow that sent him falling to the ground with a violent crash. The force of the blow jolted him into awareness. Aragorn woke up.

He looked around his room, understandably confused. He did not at first see Elrond, who had fallen to the floor, and Elladan, who was helping his father up. He saw only Elrohir, who looked white and shaken. “I did what you said,” he said, simply. “I fought him back. I was afraid at first, but then I got over it.” A movement behind him caught Aragorn’s eye. Aragorn turned and stared, and it gradually dawned on him that he had been wrestling with Elrond himself.

His cheeks burned with humiliation. His chest started pounding and he began to breathe fast. He had no words to say. He had called his father a filthy creature, rained punches on him, hurled insults at him and finally knocked him down. “If you make a mistake, or if you do something wrong, you can explain or apologise,” thought Aragorn. “But what if you do something unspeakable…”

With a gesture, Elrond asked Elladan and Elrohir to leave the room. They nodded and left silently.

As he looked at Aragorn, who was staring miserably down at his feet, Elrond’s eyes smiled in amusement. He resisted the temptation to give his son a hug. “Not yet… I must make friends with him again first.” Life was never dull with this particular son around the house, thought Elrond, as he waited patiently for Aragorn to start talking to him. When he realised that Aragorn was not about to do so, Elrond cut gently into his thoughts with his quiet voice.

“Don’t think about it too much,” he said. “Try to sleep now, child.”

Aragorn allowed himself to be led to his bed. Elrond fluffed up his pillows for him and tucked a warm blanket around him. “Goodnight, Estel,” he said, and left the room.

Looking at the door that Elrond had just shut, Aragorn wondered why he felt so good all of a sudden. For his father had hardly said or done anything at all.

Outside Aragorn’s door stood two powerful elf-lords. Their grey eyes, hard as granite, were tense, watchful. Elrond gave them a reassuring look.

“You look as if I’ve just come back from a battle,” he smiled, “when in fact it was only a child having a nightmare.”

Their stern expressions did not relax.

“He looked at you with such hatred in his eyes…”

“He could have hurt you, father…”

Elrond smiled again. “Let it go,” he said. “After all, Estel would never intentionally do anything to hurt me.”

Elladan and Elrohir nodded in agreement and visibly relaxed. They walked with Elrond to his room. Elrond took off his cloak and shoes and sat down before the fire on a simple wooden stool. Without his formal robes on, Elrond looked young, sitting there in his plain tunic and breeches, the firelight bathing his face with a warm glow. Elladan and Elrohir had always thought that their father looked his best when he dressed plainest, and today was no exception. As he bathed his wounds now with some medicinal herb, Elrond looked like their younger brother. Like his sons, he was tall and slim, but his frame was smaller, more delicate. He worked on his bruises with a frown of concentration, the firelight bathing his long limbs in a bronze glow. Elladan took the cloth from his hands and began to clean the wounds himself, with a gentle hand. Elrohir bounced around them helpfully, getting them everything they needed – water, soft cloth, fragrant herbs. Once Elrond’s wounds had been tended to, the two brothers converged around their father, drawn by the pull of his magnetic presence.

For it was not just the way he looked that made Elrond seem so young. It was also his attitude. Elrond had an amazingly relaxed attitude to life and a wide tolerance of human eccentricity. He was not a cantankerous old man, full of his own importance, trying to impose his authority on everyone in sight. He was a friend who was easy to talk to. He never moralised. When you spoke to him, you felt instinctively that no dark secret that you revealed to him would ever be ridiculed or criticised.

Elladan sat beside his father, his soft tunic brushing against Elrond’s arm. Elrohir stood behind his father, absent-mindedly massaging his shoulders. Elladan and Elrohir. They were separate entities with personalities of their own. And yet there were times when Elrond felt as if they were a part of himself.

There was a hesitant knock at the door. Elrohir went to open it. Aragorn stood in the doorway, looking apologetic and unsure of himself. Elrond’s warm smile reassured him a little, but he had hoped to find Elrond alone. Something in the way his father had looked at him had finally persuaded Aragorn to talk to Elrond. But here were Elladan and Elrohir in the room, looking as if they’d been here for hours, and worse still, looking as if they would continue to be here for hours. Aragorn smiled the strained smile of one who knows that he intrudes.

“I just came to see how father was… well, goodnight.”

He turned and walked back to his room. Going in, he was disgusted to find it in a mess. He picked up the pillows and blankets from the floor and threw them onto his bed with unnecessary vehemence. Finally, he flung himself on the bed too.

Aragorn spent a few miserable minutes trying to get himself into a comfortable position, and then gave it up. How he hated Rivendell. Well, he’d met Elrond and told him that his help was not required in the battle ahead. So there was no reason for him to stay on. He’d leave Rivendell tomorrow.