Aragorn heard a gentle knock on the door and got up wearily to open it. “Come in, El-er…” In the dim light of the fading fire, he could not make out which of them it was. The tall elf smiled and Aragorn knew him at once. There was a subtle difference in their smiles that he had come to recognise.
“I heard a crash and a yell – are you all right?”
Aragorn tried to smile.
“I’m all right. I…er…fell off the bed.” He sat down, feeling weak. “Had such a strange dream…”
Elladan knelt before Aragorn’s fire, trying to revive it. Hearing another crash of thunder outside, Aragorn grinned suddenly.
“I could hear the rain in my dream, Elladan,” he said, “and was racking my brains, trying to figure out why I could not see it! Thought I’d gone mad!”
Elladan laughed. He stood up, looking at the fire that now blazed cheerily in the hearth. “I suppose we’re all slightly insane in one way or another…come, Estel, warm yourself up.”
Aragorn moved over to the fire. His shivering soon stopped, but his head still throbbed with pain.
“When did you come, Elladan? I thought that you and Elrohir had ridden south on an errand. I looked for you when I rode in yestereve.”
Elladan warmed his hands thoughtfully before the fire.
“You’re right, Estel, we left before you got here, but…” he looked at Aragorn. “I’m not sure how to explain it…I suddenly had an odd feeling that you were in deep distress, and so we came back. But happily, you are here and you are safe. I’m glad I was wrong.”
He smiled and turned to leave. “Goodnight, Estel.”
Alone in his room again, Aragorn restlessly paced the floor. He had elaborately constructed for himself the personality of a grim Ranger, hard as a rock, unaffected by trifling human emotions. Out in the wild lands, he had acted out the part so convincingly that he had persuaded himself that it was true. He was strong as steel, he had told himself, and no one could break him. Not even Elrond. He had suppressed his feelings, tied them in chains… and yet this night he had seen them in his dreams, wandering free.
Why, he wondered angrily, did he not walk in his own dreams with dignity. Why did he walk through his dreams like an idiot, oozing self-pity from every pore.
He suspected that the idiot was his true self, limping in deranged misery through his dreams, crying for a perfect, unconditional love that existed nowhere. Aragorn glared at the reflection in his mirror with undisguised revulsion, passed a hand through his sweaty hair and said to it, “You disgust me.”
Elrond had asked the snivelling idiot in the mirror to become King of Gondor and Arnor. What did he mean? If you tell a ragged tramp that you see him as a king, is it cruel mockery or is it exaggerated, overblown, meaningless praise?
Elrond’s regard was the base, the foundation upon which Aragorn’s judgement of himself was built. But now that he did not understand how Elrond regarded him, he hardly knew what to think of himself. Aragorn’s mind recoiled in nauseous horror at the idea of the slavering idiot in the mirror donning the winged crown of Gondor. How could anyone seriously suggest it? He did not know.
Aragorn walked back to his bed. He lay back on his pillows and looked out of the window. The storm had passed and the stars were beginning to come out. The unseen moon painted the outlines of the clouds that hid it with silver fire. Far away, Aragorn could hear the sound of elven fingers gently plucking at harp strings.
He recognised the music. He remembered sitting at Elladan’s side, looking up at the rosy hued evening sky as Elladan had composed this tune, humming softly to himself and playing snatches of music on his silver harp. Aragorn had asked him what it meant and Elladan had looked up into the sky. For in his music were all the colours of the sunset, the shapes of the clouds and the dark profile of the mountain curving down into the valley and rising up again on the far side of the river that glimmered like a ribbon of liquid pearl far below.
Aragorn listened as the unknown musician played the tune he loved, wondering if it was Elladan himself who drew the haunting melody from his instrument. He fell into a peaceful sleep.