Aragorn shifted his gaze from the blank sheet of paper in front of him to the window. Rays of dazzling white sunlight streamed into his room in straight lines, lighting up tiny particles of dust in the air, turning them into flecks of gold. The sky outside was a fresh, pale blue that he knew would brighten into a vivid azure later in the day. Aragorn shouldered his pack. It was time to leave now. He was to walk up into the pine forests today, to gather herbs with Elladan and Elrohir.
He sighed. It was going to be a hard day today, keeping up with his athletic elvish brothers. The term `herb gathering’ had originally conjured up in his mind pictures of gentle elf-maidens daintily gathering herbs in beautiful gardens. But he now knew from experience that `herb gathering’ with his brothers was likely to involve long, painfully breathless walks, dizzying scrambles up cliff faces, daring rope-walks across deep ravines and other such incredible feats. The only reason why he ever joined them on such expeditions was that he loved their company.
His face lit up with genuine pleasure when he found them waiting for him in the garden. Elladan and Elrohir looked exactly alike, even thought exactly alike. And yet there was a subtle difference between them, somewhat akin to the difference between a smile and a grin. Elladan’s smile was warm, quiet, kindly. Elrohir’s grin was merry, vital. Which did he prefer? He loved them both.
They set off at once. Walking between the two brothers was like walking in between a grasshopper and a ladybird. Elrohir walked with an energetic bounce in his step and Elladan’s walk was deceptively languid. And yet, they somehow managed to keep perfect pace with each other. It was Aragorn who struggled to keep pace with them, as weeks (or was it months?) of disturbed, sleepless nights had taken their toll on him. He wondered what he himself looked like, walking in between them. Like a drunk, perhaps. He wasn’t feeling very fit at the moment. To be honest, he was, in fact, feeling rather ill. Aragorn imagined himself exaggeratedly stumbling and staggering along in between Elladan and Elrohir, adding a touch of slapstick comedy to the already humorous contrast in their styles of walking.
They finally stopped to admire the view from their road, which had led them high above the valley. Aragorn looked down at the soft green fields of Rivendell below, nestled in between the craggy mountains. He normally enjoyed the view, but today, as he looked down, he felt an unpleasant sense of giddiness, nausea.
Leading the life of a Ranger, Aragorn had got used to punishing himself physically. That was why he had set out on this little expedition with his brothers despite the fact that he was not fit enough for it, ignoring the warning signals that his body had given him. But now, every muscle in his body was telling him clearly that it had just about had enough. Aragorn realised at last that he could go no further. As he looked down at the steep slope that fell away beneath his feet, a wave of nausea overcame him. Muttering something about “looking for herbs,” Aragorn disappeared into the forest for a space and reappeared some minutes later, looking pale and shaky. He sat down beside Elladan and Elrohir, wondering what to do next.
Feeling as ill as he did, the sensible thing to do would be to go home immediately, leaving Elladan and Elrohir to go on up the hill… but he didn’t want to do that. It was when he was ill that he felt he needed his brothers’ company the most. As a child, on the rare occasions when they were home, he had followed them around ceaselessly, never letting them out of his sight. He was still doing that, even now.
Elrohir gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. “Rest for a while and we’ll take you home,” he said. Aragorn was rather ashamed of the ridiculous sense of relief that flooded through him when he heard Elrohir’s words. “Grow up,” he said sternly to a mental image of his old friend in the mirror – the snivelling idiot. “Are you a four-year-old or a two-year-old to cling to your brothers when you feel ill. Let’s see some independence here!” The snivelling idiot grinned back at him out of an imaginary mirror. As long as he got what he wanted, he didn’t care what names Aragorn called him. He, the snivelling idiot, grinned smugly at Aragorn, secure in the knowledge that Elladan and Elrohir were going to accompany him back to Rivendell. Aragorn gave him another glare and hid his face in his hands. He felt rotten. Totally completely undeniably rotten.
Elladan and Elrohir looked at each other, communicating without saying a word in the manner of their elders – their father, Elrond, and their grandparents, the Lady Galadriel and the Lord Celeborn – who possessed the skill of reading another’s thoughts simply by looking into their eyes.
“He’s crying. I can feel it,” said Elrohir wordlessly to Elladan. Aragorn was at that moment feeling rather proud of the fact that he was managing to weep without sound or movement, so his brothers wouldn’t know it.
“Think I’ll take him in my arms and comfort him, as if he were still a child,” continued Elrohir, silently.
Elladan shook his head with a grin. “Don’t. You’d be violating some Mannish code of masculine conduct…” he communicated, through his expressive grey eyes.
Elrohir looked surprised, “But last night, after we got back, when you went up to his room and found him crying in his sleep, you took him in your arms and spoke to him for so long, ” he communicated silently.
“He was asleep and when he awoke, he thought he’d been dreaming. And so I got away with it!”
“So you’d be in serious trouble with him if he found out…”
“Yes, I would!”
“I’ll tell him!”
“No, don’t… please don’t!”
Elladan and Elrohir laughed silently into each other’s eyes.
“Shall we take him home now?”
“Let’s take him to our field first and let him rest a bit before we walk down again.”
The brothers nodded to each other and then began to speak aloud. Elrohir placed a gentle hand on Aragorn’s back. “Better now, Estel?” Aragorn could not yet trust himself to speak. He nodded, stood up and shouldered his pack, assuming as normal an expression as he could. He gave the snivelling idiot another mental glare. “Any more snivelling from you about the pain and I’ll…I’ll…” The snivelling idiot got the message and retired, vanquished.
Aragorn strode forward bravely with Elladan and Elrohir. They soon came to a little path that branched off to the left, leading up into the mountains. It was almost hidden in the dense undergrowth of the pine forest.
“Now that we’re here, let’s have a look at our field,” said Elladan. The tall elves began to walk up the little path and Aragorn followed, feeling rather hurt. It was not nice for people to casually wander about, admiring their favourite scenic spots, when there were other people with them who could only just barely muster up the strength to get home…
But when they got there, he had to admit that it was a beautiful place. This was the place to which Elladan and Elrohir came to rest and recuperate after hard-fought battles. They also came to this peaceful place when they had a serious problem that they needed to think about. As the elves busied themselves with making a fire, Aragorn sat down on the velvety grass and looked about him. Around him, the grass was flecked with gold, shimmering in the sunshine, but on the far side, it was shadowed by a mountain that towered up into the sky behind the tall pines that fringed the field. To his right, the ground fell away into a green valley. Aragorn could hear the gentle gurgle of a stream or brook far below.
As he watched his brothers, his mind filled with questions. Elrohir came over to Aragorn as Elladan began to heat up some water over the fire. He sat down, ruffling Aragorn’s hair affectionately as he did so. “What are you thinking of, Estel?” Aragorn shrugged. “You wouldn’t want to know,” he said.
But suddenly, he didn’t know why, he began to pour out all his questions to Elrohir. “Why,” he asked, “why am I being punished by my own father… I’d do anything to make Arwen happy, anything in the world… why was I born a man and not an elf… why must I ask the one I love to… to…” Aragorn could not bring himself to say the word “die.” But the thought of what that word meant overwhelmed him.
“… he is a good father to her, protecting her from it, but…” Aragorn buried his face, which was white with pain, in his hands, as his voice faltered. “El… Elrohir, he is my father, too. If he does not stand up for me, who will? I feel now as if I have no father any more… there is a big empty space inside me that he used to fill…”
He looked at his brother, who was thousands of years old, for the answers to his questions. Elrohir looked at him with gentle grey eyes. “Estel, when you are as old as I am and have seen the many sorrows of the world… and you see a child you love discovering the harshness of the world for the first time, you burn to protect and comfort him…”
Aragorn knew that to Elrohir he was still a child, although he considered himself to be an adult. “You know, Estel,” continued Elrohir, “Elladan and I know what it is to carry a deep sorrow in your heart at all times. Sometimes, the pain fades into the back of your mind and you hardly notice it, but sometimes it grows and grows and starts to hit you in the face until you cannot take it any more…”
Aragorn nodded. “It’s true…I hardly think about it at all, but now that I’ve come home, I feel as if my father is no longer here to welcome me. I miss his support so much…I want it back…”
Elrohir sighed. “Why don’t you talk to him, Estel? I’ve seen it so many times – you come home, you spend your whole time here avoiding him, and then you leave.” Elrohir smiled suddenly at Aragorn’s rather shamefaced look. “It’s all right, Estel. I’d probably avoid him too, if I thought the way you did, but it’s just that… well, you might be grieving for the loss of something you haven’t lost. If you spoke to him, you’d know for sure…”
“And if I spoke to him,” thought Aragorn to himself, “I might also find out for sure that he can’t stand the sight of me.” That, in fact, was the reason why he was avoiding Elrond. It was better to suspect that his father hated him than to know it for sure.
By the fire, Elladan was rummaging in his pack for some elusive herb that he could not find. Elrohir rose and went to help him. Aragorn rolled up his tattered green cloak, to use as a pillow. He flung himself down on the grass and hid his face within the folds of his cloak.
With his eyes closed, his other senses were sharpened. He could hear the distant gurgle of a brook in the valley below, and the contented drone of an insect, now louder, now softer, as it circled round and round, looking for wildflowers in the grass. He could hear the gentle swish of the wind in the trees and the soft voices of Elladan and Elrohir talking almost inaudibly to each other. They had steeped some fragrant herbs in the boiling water and Aragorn soon began to smell the fresh, invigorating scent of he-knew-not-what. Aragorn began to listen attentively to the elvish words being spoken by his brothers.
” Have you written any more of it?”
” Yes, I’d like you to hear it and tell me what you think…”
Aragorn heard someone pulling something out of his pack, and the crackle of parchment being unfolded.
“I’ll explain first… I was thinking of the old story of the music of the Ainur. I thought the music would have sounded beautiful to them as they played it, but when they stopped playing, they would have thought that it was over, it was gone…”
The speaker paused and the other apparently nodded.
“But it was not gone. It had been heard and remembered, and it was transformed into something real and beautiful. Iluvatar created the world out of the music of the Ainur…”
He paused again and then went on. “There are so many thoughts and dreams that we have that disappear, that lose themselves in nothingness. But perhaps there might be someone who listens and remembers them and maybe one day we’ll be able to see them real… actually touch and feel them…”
“I understand. Read it to me now, Elrohir…”
The parchment crackled again as Elrohir began to read out what he had written.
“All that we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good shall exist;
Not its semblance, but itself…
The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to the One by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once: we shall hear it by-and-by.”*
Aragorn listened in rapt attention. All his dreams – could it be possible that someone had heard them and would one day make them real for him? He wanted to hear the poem once again…
But they were talking to each other once more… “What are you going to call it?” “I’ll give it the name of the person I wrote it for…” Aragorn was all ears now. Did Elrohir have a secret elven love for whom he had written those beautiful words? If so, he would hear her name now! Aragorn grinned to himself within the folds of his cloak.
Elladan said something almost inaudibly and Elrohir replied in an equally soft voice.
“C’mon, c’mon talk a little louder! Help out an eavesdropper a bit,” called out Aragorn from within his cloak. They chuckled. “Eavesdroppers should take what they get and ask for no more!” Aragorn sat up with a grin and held out his hand for the poem. Elrohir handed it to him. Aragorn took it and settled down comfortably to read it, but found himself staring at the title instead.
“What’s the title got to do with these beautiful words you’ve written,” he asked at last. Elrohir smiled. “The poem talks about not losing hope, and so I have called it `Hope’,” he said. Aragorn nodded. The title was indeed the word “hope.” Elrohir had, however, written the word in the high-elven tongue, in which it was “Estel,” Aragorn’s own name.
Aragorn was speechless. It had not been a mere coincidence that Elrohir’s poem had seemed to speak to him so meaningfully. Those words had been written especially for him. Aragorn blew his nose rather loudly into his handkerchief. At his brothers’ suggestion, he snuggled back into his cloak to rest a little longer. It enveloped his face in a comforting softness.
He felt much more relaxed now. What a relief it was to have spoken to Elrohir about his father, instead of carrying the hurt secretly around inside him. Aragorn was beginning to feel a lot better now. Perhaps it was the fragrance of the herbs that Elladan had steeped in boiling water on the fire. Perhaps it was the comforting presence of his brothers nearby. Or maybe, the message of hope that Elrohir’s poem had given him. Whatever it was, the gnawing pain in his heart had for some reason truly begun to heal at last, and the tears that he wept into his cloak (without sound or movement), were tears of relief.
Elladan and Elrohir smiled as they sat down beside him and began to talk again, silently, with no words spoken.
“It’s odd, where I see a child crying into his cloak, father sees a king of Gondor and Arnor. Were it not for his great wisdom, I’d be tempted to say that the whole idea was ridiculous… what do you think, Elladan?”
Elladan smiled his warm smile. “I don’t know – there’s something about him. He’s so perceptive, so concerned about the problems of people other than himself. Even in his sleep, Elrohir, he got me talking about things that… well, I’ve never talked about mother to anyone but you until now, but last night I found myself telling him all about it…”
Elrohir nodded thoughtfully. “It is a special gift, to be able to listen to people with respect and understanding… in a king, such a gift would be of greater value than mere skill in arms.”
Elladan agreed. “Yes. The trouble is, Estel thinks that a king ought to be tough and unemotional, striding around like a huge masculine colossus, strong as a rock. He thinks that his greatest weakness is his capacity to feel, to be moved, to cry… but I think that’s his greatest strength. Elrohir, if this child became king, his great power of understanding would be used to protect his people. Even now, I see him give everything he has to protect thankless idiots who scorn him, treat him with suspicion, call him `Strider’…”
Elrohir looked at Aragorn, his grey eyes smiling. “I understand,” he said. “I understand now why he should be king.”
Aragorn could not hear what they were saying, but in some intangible way, he could feel their affection. He felt inexplicably drawn to them, and soon emerged from his cloak. As the three of them walked back down to Rivendell, this intangible feeling grew stronger and stronger, although they did not say much to one another.
But never in his wildest dreams could Aragorn have imagined the reason why his brothers thought he’d make a great king. It was because he was, to use his own term, a snivelling idiot.
* Elrohir’s poem is a quotation from Robert Browning’s “Abt Vogler,” from the collection “Dramatis Personae,” first published in 1864.