A/N: My first Lord of the Rings fanfiction. This is the first part of a continuing post-LOTR series named "The Meribor Chronicles". They don't have to be read in order, but as I write more of them, I might reference other stories. It will include both book and movie verse. I hope you enjoy it, and please review!

I'm also going to use this opportunity to let anyone who is reading "Searching For Tigress" that I will update very soon and I am really sorry for not writing in so long. Rest assured, Chapter 9 is on its way!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything except my OCs. :(

Year One: Hide and Seek

FO 26

There was a man of many names hurrying down the hallway, his boot heels clicking on the white marble floor.

To his people, he was King Elessar Telcontar, ruler of the Reunited Kingdom.

To the men of Bree, he was Strider or Longshanks.

To his family, he was Estel. To his friends, Aragorn.

To his daughter, he was Ada.

He had been known as Thorongil, Evinyatar, Wingfoot, and the Dúnadan. He had fought against Ringwraiths and orcs and goblins and Uruk-hai alike; he had seen much of the evil in the world. He had brought peace and prosperity to a decaying realm. He was a friend of elves and dwarves, and he was hailed as a hero by many of his people. Yet the one thing he did not have the courage to stand up against was the ire of his wife.

That was the reason why he had decided to brave the dangerous territory of his cook. The last time he had dared to enter the kitchen after a long and tiring day, the cook had thought his arrival meant that she was to be fired. He had spent nearly an hour trying to calm the hysteric woman down, meaning he was late arriving at his quarters. By the time he had gotten there, Arwen had thrust his screaming daughter into his arms and gone to take a bath.

It had been difficult to decide whose anger he would rather face: the cook's or Arwen's. In the end Aragorn had chosen the cook's, mainly because the day was drawing to a close and he was becoming desperate. He had been watching his sixteen-month old daughter while Arwen took a well-deserved break — while neither of the new parents had been getting much sleep as their daughter was teething, Arwen was the one who normally stayed up with her. Aragorn had even cleared his entire schedule by asking Faramir to deal with issues of lesser import. However, a messenger had turned up with news of thirteen deaths due to flooding in the lower valleys and Aragorn had taken his eyes off of his daughter for mere minutes while he issued new orders. When he had finished, Meribor had been missing.

He knew that his daughter had not gotten far; there was no way out of the palace and guards stood at almost every door. Still, he could not ignore the gnawing pit of worry in his stomach. Which was how Aragorn came to be crawling on all fours, softly calling his daughter's name as he quickly ducked his head inside one of his cook's unused cabinets. He found nothing, save for cobwebs, dust, and mouse droppings.

With a sigh, he rocked back onto his heels — only to be startled when he bumped into something hard and strangely familiar. Without turning around, Aragorn said, "I am having a horrible day and would greatly appreciate it if you found another part of Middle-earth to occupy."

"The king speaks!" gasped a voice.

"That he deigns to acknowledge our presence at all is a miracle," agreed another.

"Perhaps he does not know who we are. Mae govannen, your Highness. My name is Elladan — "

" — and I am Elrohir."

Aragorn growled and spun around, hands reaching for his brothers' necks, only to grasp thin air. In front of him, two identical elves grabbed their sides as they laughed. Mirth twinkled in their grey eyes. "Be careful, Elrohir," the elder twin gasped. "You will surely anger our extremely royal brother."

"He does not look very royal now," commented the younger.

"No," said Elladan with distaste. "He is too dusty. Are you trying to relive your ranger days? If so, we are at your service."

Summoning his dignity, Aragorn threw an annoyed look at his brothers as he walked over to the cook's washroom. "I have no time for you or your games."

Elrohir's eyes lit up. "A game! I did not know that we were playing a game."

"Neither did I. What is it called?"

"Go away," Aragorn said.

"I have never heard of that game. What are the rules?" questioned Elladan.

"It is quite simple. The two of you" — here Aragorn jabbed his fingers at the twins — "exit through that door and leave me to find my daughter in peace."

In that moment, Aragorn wished he had not said anything, for his brothers dissolved into laughter once again. Although he found his brothers' presence comforting, he was tired and angry; he tried to pass by them only to have his sleeve caught by Elrohir. He gave up and waited there until the twin sons of Elrond regained some semblance of sanity — at the very least, they could walk in a straight line. "You lost your daughter?" asked Elrohir.

Deciding to end his torment, Aragorn nodded quickly and said, "Let me go so I can find her before Arwen takes my head off."

"I wish you had not said that. It makes me want to keep you here," said Elladan wistfully.

"On the other hand, that might not be such a bad idea," Aragorn mused.

Suddenly very nervous, the twins exchanged glances behind their brother's back. Aragorn's smug smile was completely unbeknownst to them as Elrohir asked: "Why is that?"

"I could simply claim that you stole Meribor and hid her somewhere. Arwen would have no reason to doubt me." Aragorn felt the grip on his sleeve loosen and he gingerly slid free.

"I have found that you are more conniving since becoming king," complained Elladan.

"Nay, he has always been like that. Surely you remember how our beloved brother could convince Ada to let him accompany us on our hunting trips?"

"That ability wore off," Aragorn said, a small smile playing about his lips at the memory.

"Yes, it did. When Ada realized that you could injure yourself by simply walking," Elladan replied.

The three brothers exited the kitchen as Aragorn commented, "As of late, no injuries have befallen me from walking."

"Yet," replied Elrohir drily. "Were you not searching for Meribor?"

Aragorn nodded. "Care to help?"

The twins exchanged a glance before Elladan said, "Since the alternative seems to be facing our dear sister's wrath, we graciously extend our assistance."

"We should check the cellar first," Elrohir declared.

Aragorn's eyebrow quirked upward in a way reminiscent of Lord Elrond; it was strange, Elrohir thought with a pang of sadness, to see the expression on a face so similar to Arathorn's. "Why would that be?" queried Aragorn.

"You always hid in the cellar when you did something naughty," said Elrohir wisely.

"And Meribor is your daughter, after all," Elladan added.

"Meribor is a little over year old! Besides, the cellar is locked and my cook has the key."

"We will think of something," said Elladan.

"But a child — " The king broke off, shaking his head wearily. "I see you will not believe me; let us go."

The three brothers — what a trio they made — turned a corner as they angled their path towards the cellar. In an odd twist of fate, the cellar was farther away from the kitchen than one might have thought and so Aragorn had to endure his staff trailing after him, plying him with questions about his requirements. Elladan and Elrohir managed to hide their amusement as Aragorn fended off the over-eager maids, messengers, and young guards.

"Estel, I seem to recall you saying that no one in their right mind would follow you if you became king," commented Elrohir.

Aragorn's snort was hardly kingly. "I was right; the two of you are with me," he said.

"I am completely sound of mind," announced Elrohir with a dramatic flourish of his hand. "Perhaps you have driven your subjects mad."

"I would not be surprised if that were the case. Valar knows what being acquainted with you has done to Erestor and the rest of the elves of Imladris, let alone these poor people."

As the elf spoke, a maid passed by. Overhearing Elladan's words, she gave him a defensive and angry look before continuing on her way. Aragorn followed her progress down the hall, watching as the maid began conversing quietly with another member of the staff. After a few moments of talk, she pointed directly at Elladan.

"Careful, muindor nîn," laughed Aragorn. "It seems you have made an enemy."

Elladan scowled and said pointedly, "Meribor?"

Aragorn demurred and the brothers walked in silence for a time, finally stopping at a large, grand wooden door. "Ah, yes. Here we are." Aragorn cast a questioning look at the twins. "You two suggested the cellar. Do you have a plan for getting in?"

"Getting in?" queried Elrohir.

"It is a door and there is a lock," Aragorn said slowly, as if explaining something to a small child. "As I told you, the cook has the key."

"The answer is simple!" Elladan declared. "We shall break the door down."

"No we shall not," said the king sharply. "I brought you here to help me find Meribor, not to destroy my home. As I tried to tell you, a babe could not enter here."

"To the attic, then," insisted Elrohir.

Aragorn said, "The 'attic', as you so eloquently put it, is also locked."

Elladan and Elrohir frowned and Aragorn leaned wearily against a pillar, rubbing his eyes. He was not excited to return to his quarters without his daughter, but he had roamed the halls for many an hour in search of her. Arwen would give him a proper tongue-lashing before going out to find Meribor herself. Perhaps his wife would have better luck; after all, she would have no qualms about sending the palace into an uproar while Aragorn had tried to conduct his search secretly to avoid waking Arwen.

"I am going to bed," said he simply.

"That is an excellent idea. We were thinking about turning in ourselves." Elladan grabbed his twin's arm and tried to pull them both in a direction away from Aragorn's quarters, only to be caught by the collar.

"You are not escaping tonight; I do not intend on facing Arwen's anger alone. Will you come with me willingly, or must I fetch my guards?"

Resigned to their fate, the twins were on their brother's heels as they headed toward the Evenstar.

Outside of the royal quarters, Aragorn paused and attempted to draw courage from the thought that surely Arwen would not hurt him too much. Nay, he was sure that he would escape with sore ears and a headache, but hopefully nothing major.

The door flung open as Aragorn prepared to enter and he found himself in the midst of a passionate kiss with his wife. Behind him, Elladan and Elrohir shifted uncomfortably — they were still unaccustomed to the couple's public displays of affection. Aragorn smiled against Arwen's lips, deepening the kiss until they had to break away. With her arms still around her husband's neck, Arwen finally noticed the twins and said, "It is a surprise and pleasure to see you, my brothers."

The twins did not say anything, although Elladan offered up a weak smile.

Aragorn opened his mouth, ready to break the news to the fair elven queen, just as Arwen turned her attention back to her husband. "Meleth nîn, I cannot thank you enough."

"Really?" asked Aragorn faintly.

Arwen laughed. "Do not be so modest, Estel. How did you manage to get Meribor to sleep so quickly?"

Aragorn exchanged a confused look with Elladan and Elrohir before following Arwen into the royal quarters. The lights were dimmed and the window was open, offering a cool breeze and a beautiful view of Minas Tirith. Aragorn paused to stare out at his city; he then let his wife lead him across the darkened room toward their bed.

Meribor lay peacefully on the comfortable blankets. Her thick black hair fanned around her head like a crown, and though her eyes were closed, Aragorn knew they were the same color as his. She was still in her clothing — a little red dress that had been tailored specifically for her and reminded Aragorn of his own mother. Like Gilraen, even in sleep the young princess exuded a natural grace and confidence.

Aragorn swallowed the wave of emotions he felt and he swept his young daughter into his arms, cradling her gently. He had been frightened by her disappearance; he had not realized how much until he saw that she was safe and sound. Arwen smiled and leaned against Aragorn's shoulder, pushing their daughter's hair away from her face with long, nimble fingers. Elladan and Elrohir hung back, feeling like intruders.

Aragorn picked up on their quietness and gently placed Meribor into Elrohir's arms. "You should hold her."

"She is so little — what if she breaks?" croaked the terrified-looking twin.

"She will not break," Arwen said primly. "Honestly, Elrohir, you took care of my husband when he was a child. Surely you know how to hold a baby."

"Aye, but never one so young!"

Arwen glared at her brother. "She will not break."

Elrohir opened and closed his mouth like a fish before wisely deciding not to answer. He awkwardly juggled the tiny girl in his hands. Once they were both comfortable, the elf smiled down at the princess. "Hello, little one."

Ada - father

Mae govannen - well met

muindor nîn - my (dear) brother

Meleth nîn - my love