*Disclaimer: All characters and places in this story are the creation and property of J.R.R. Tolkien, and I am merely fascinated enough by them to borrow them and try to put them back unharmed, for the most part, when I'm done.

*Authors Note: This is an alternate first meeting of Aragorn and Arwen. I'm aware that Tolkien deals with Aragorn and Arwen's first meeting. However, before I discovered the Appendix to the trilogy, this idea took hold of me, and wouldn't let go. That said, I've kept it as true to canon as I could, but I wanted a better explanation of just how Arwen comes to love Aragorn so completely. This was my first LOTR fiction, though I've written several since, and this is actually a revision of some of the mistakes and finer points of LOTR canon I missed early on, and feel the need to correct before I continue with this story as they have been bothering me. I'll be reposting the revised chapters and then continuing the tale.

Chapter One: In The House of The Father

Darkness had moved into the woods, a soft creeping, a low whispering, a slow dying of the light. Long had he walked these woods, indeed all the woods of Middle Earth, and never had creatures that once only gazed curiously taken flight so quickly at the nearly imperceptible fall of his footsteps. The deer had fled from the riversides and the birds' song was muted, as if by some evil will. Even the sunlight no longer pierced the canopy of trees above, no longer fell about his cloaked shoulders. He walked onward in shadow.

His sword, of late, had been cleared of its sheath often, and against stronger enemies of the people of Middle Earth, of the people who could not defend themselves and so fell under his protection. When he left the wilderness, which had not been often in recent years, there were murmurs of bad tidings, of the awakening of things which had long slept. Things all hoped would sleep on forever. A struggle had begun in secret, but he knew that soon enough it would come to a fight on all fronts and that no corner of the world would be left unscathed. He knew it to be so because those far older, and far wiser, than he had long ago told him it would come to this. What was perhaps more, he knew it because it was in his destiny. These times were his as much as the breadth of his shoulders or the length of his stride, passed to him through the blood of his fathers before him. The weak blood of his fathers, that had failed all the world.

The changing of the world would soon be upon them all, and in the last days a great coldness had spread across his heart.

Seeking counsel, and fearing the counsel that he might be given, he journeyed the familiar steps to the home of the elves, and the place of his childhood.

Rivendell.

Over the last hill he climbed and was rewarded with his first sight of the House of Elrond in many years, the only place where he lay his sword aside. The sun was bowing behind distant cliffs, as if in humble deference to this place of light.

Something seemed wrong. The edges of the leaves that trembled on the massive oaks and maples, leaves of gold and crimson, caught the dying rays of day and held onto them fiercely, as if flaming at all their edges. Red light spread over Rivendell, and unease drew the skin at the back of his neck tightly in warning and apprehension. All was not well in his place of peace.

Joy of homecoming pushed aside, he quickened his pace and crossed the arched stone bride into the land of elves and though no one stopped his coming, he felt many hidden eyes, suspicious, and in some cases unwelcoming, upon him. He hesitated for just a moment, breaking his long stride. It was a feeling he'd never met here.

Then, in his heart, he heard Elrond's voice, brisk and edged with something he'd never, in all his thirty years, heard there. Fear.

"Walk easy, Aragorn, but swiftly. You have long been gone but the arrows will never fall about your shoulders from this place," said the timeless voice that seemed to cascade down from the waterfalls, though its source was instead forever his own mind. He had always loved Elrond as a father. "Come, Estel, for I have need of you as never before."

Within the gate of Rivendell, the elves moved with quick strides absent of the fluid, unhurried grace that was characteristic of their race, and their fair faces were drawn, their lyrical voices clipped and anxious. They watched him move with recognition, but no welcome, and instead, the graveness seemed to darken their eyes further when they fell upon him, as if he carried bad tidings.

He made haste toward the house of Elrond.

There he found Elrond, standing amidst many elves, all warriors from the look of their bows and the finely-made knives hanging ready at their hips. Many were of the house of Elrond, elves he had ridden with before. They all whirled when he entered unannounced, uninvited but by the voice of Lord Elrond speaking within him.

An elf he had not met, with a speed that called lightning to mind, drew an arrow taut against his bowstring and from above it, his eyes flashed, then darkened as they fixed on their target. He had not the look of a soldier, but of an assassin, dangerous and nearly mad with fury.

"Leash your arrow, Legolas, and your temper," Elrond firmly began in the tongue of his people, then looked toward Aragorn with relief. "He is welcome."

With regret, the younger elf lowered his weapon but not his angry gaze. He was unlike Elrond and his kind, with their midnight hair and misty eyes. This one was full daylight, possessed of the gold hair of a rider of Rohan and dark warrior eyes. He stood at the commanding height of Elrond, but was more slender, harder somehow. Younger than most in the room, though Aragorn guessed he'd likely lived an age or two.

"You have invited this young Ranger into your home? This man who walks the woods of all and allies himself with none? In these times you trust a stranger in your house? He is barely a man at all, but a boy!"

"He is not so young as he seems, Legolas." Elrond turned to Aragorn, and spoke in the common language. "And Legolas is not so impolite as he seems. His worry gives free rein to his tongue."

"Many years have I dwelled in these lands with no sight of you. I wonder who is the stranger, Master Elf?" Aragorn murmured easily enough, surprising the elf called Legolas by speaking in Elvish, and doing so with a grace that no mortal man had ever accomplished in his hearing.

"You have been too long in the house of your father, King of the distant Woodland realm, Prince Legolas, and not often enough ventured abroad. This is the Ranger called Strider, a man reared on my lands and a man who has shed blood protecting Middle-Earth against its enemies. If he chooses, he may reveal his true name to you, but I name him friend and more now than even in his childhood, I name him Estel, for hope. He is needed in this hour and has come hither for many days."

Elrond had spoken quietly, but Aragorn heard the fear in his voice, again, felt it creep far into his very bones.

Aragorn quickly forgot the elf prince and turned to Elrond. "I will save my words of greeting for another time. What has happened?"

"The Daughter of Rivendell is believed to have been taken by dark men and orcs at the will of Mordor," a warrior of Rivendell told him impatiently, and when Aragorn shifted his gaze back to Elrond, disbelief and confusion lowering his brow, he nodded.

Immediately, Aragorn understood the perceptible panic in Lord Elrond's voice. His wife had been taken by dark ones long ago, and now his daughter had fallen into dangerous and harming hands.

"Mordor?" Aragorn asked after a moment of stunned disbelief. "Has he the power already to capture your daughter then? In your own lands? Has it begun? So soon?"

"The seeds have been sown again, but the shadow is only just beginning to spread." Elrond sighed. "My daughter was coming to Rivendell from the house of her mother's people and the care of Lady Galadriel, her mother's mother, where she has dwelled for long years. Longer years than even you have walked this earth, Estel, but she feels the changes in the world, even as you have felt them, and knows that her destiny awaits her here, in her father's house. She is willful and often restless, my daughter, and she rode ahead of her escort as her journey ended, in her haste to see me. Her horse was found slain not far from the protected boundaries of my lands. Arwen was gone when they came upon the dead animal, and there were no tracks to be found. It was as if she had vanished, they said."

"No tracks? A dark day this is indeed if orcs can now move as if by magic, with no sign of how they come and go! There must have been some hint of their direction!"

One of the escort of the Lady Arwen stepped forward. "I am Neldir from Lorien. I was one of the Lady's escorts. Nay, there were no tracks. For a time we thought perhaps the Lady of Rivendell had run into the forest and escaped, but alas, she was not found."

"If there were no tracks, how do you know it was the orcs of Mordor who took her?"

Elrond answered. "I heard the voice of Galadriel, Lady of Lorien, at the hour of your arrival. She has seen that it is so. The Enemy has awakened as if from long sleep, and he is calling for the One Ring. It has not yet answered him, but the hour grows near."

Aragorn felt the blood rushing from his face, saw the answering graveness in Elrond's eyes as he continued speaking. "The minions of Sauron are growing and searching, and he believes that the elves know of the ring because of our long alliance with your kind. He believes it is hidden in Rivendell or Lorien. He is not yet strong enough to come for it, or to send a force against the Elves. Instead he will now try to use my daughter, to gain secrets, and to have it brought to him."

Elrond bowed his head, but Legolas spoke firmly, head high. "They will get no satisfaction from Lady Arwen! She will not let herself be used to such ends!"

"No indeed," Elrond whispered, his head still lowered, and Aragorn saw the thousands of years of his life creep upon him, until he looked old and bent. "No, my daughter has the makings of an Elvish warrior. She is full of courage and heart, but I would rather have her meek in this hour. She will take her own life rather than let the Dark Lord use her against me."

Legolas made a sound of grief and fury. "The Dark Lord will never get the chance to bring harm to your daughter! Let us ride for her now! For the Evenstar!"

The other warriors in the room gave a fierce battle cry in the name of the Lady Arwen and made ready to ride.

Aragorn and Elrond alone were silent, and in a moment, elf spoke to man, almost as if he'd forgotten the others in his council. "Galadriel has told me that you have some role in the hunt for Arwen, some part yet unclear to her. She put a darkness on your heart days ago, even as Arwen left her house, to draw you back to me. Something in my own heart both rejoices at your arrival and yet warns me that there is a beginning here which I will not wish to see ended. But I ask for your service now, for no feet know better the soil of Middle-Earth, the dark or the light places, and never was there a better hunter than the Ranger known as Strider."

"And your sons? What of Elladan and Elrohir?" Aragorn asked, looking for the two elves that were brothers to him. "Have they begun the hunt for their sister already?"

"They are far from home, for we have had reports of orcs at our borders for long months, and they have been hunting them. I would imagine they ride now for home with grim fear shadowing their hearts, but we cannot wait for them."

"Of course not," Aragorn murmured and lowered his brow. He looked toward the doorway as if hoping the twins would appear. He would have liked to have his brothers, elves who had taught him how to hunt and track and fight from the time he was a mere lad, with him in this time when his skills were to be tested, and when his failure might mean the loss of something more precious than he could fully understand as of yet.

But looking at the fierce and fearful faces of the elves in the room, he knew that indeed the Lady of Rivendell was treasured among all who were present.

As if reading his thoughts, Elrond placed a hand on Aragorn's shoulder, and it carried the weight of urgency and of faith, and he turned slowly to look into the great Lord's eyes and tried to draw strength from them. "You must now hunt these orcs and wild men as you have never hunted before. The dark lands will forever dim the light of Evenstar. My daughter must not pass into Mordor, Estel. She must not!"

"Then she will not pass into Mordor! I will give you my word and give it to you under the name to which I was born, the name that bears responsibility for the dark days that begin to unfurl. I, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, will bring her back with me, or I will not return from this quest. Never have I met the Lady Arwen, but by my life, I will protect her." Aragorn dropped to one knee before Elrond, the hilt of his sword in his hand as he took his oath.

The blonde elf from the Woodland realm stepped forward. "There have been whisperings about you for all the years since your birth, Elessar! Heir to the throne of Gondor, indeed! We shall ride together then, young Ranger!" Legolas cried and when Aragorn rose at Elrond's bidding, he thought he saw something like approval in the fair elf's sharp eyes.

That approval was quickly overthrown by new anger as Aragorn shook his head, and told Legolas, "I shall ride alone as always I have. I will set a course toward the Dead Marshes, and head them off before the Black Gates. Follow me as you will, but I will go faster by myself."

"No man may outride an elf!" Legolas cried. "Not even a King of Men!"

"This one may," Elrond corrected. "It is the only thought which gives me hope, Legolas. Go then, Aragorn, and we will follow as well as we may!"

And so it was that Aragorn left Rivendell, ere the sun had slipped much lower than when he came to the gates. With the determined elf prince not far behind, Aragorn's steed charged into the falling darkness, as if the whips of Sauron cracked at his heels.

At last, the last fiery shimmer fell from the leaves and gave over to the night.

*

To be continued…

Note regarding "elf-speak": In a previous version of this story, someone asked me if my version of the elves are telepathic. The answer is, well, not precisely, because telepathy is too much of "this world" for that to be a fitting term. I will use this ability of the elves to communicate without physically speaking many times in this story, and I draw the justification to do so from The Return of the King, in the chapter titled "Many Partings" where Tolkien writes this of the elves sitting around the fireside:

"for they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind, and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro."

Now, I know Aragorn isn't an elf, but I choose to think of it in a way that the elves, if they desired, could communicate with others outside of their race in this manner if they so desired. And Aragorn, having been reared by the elves and being so close to Elrond, would seemingly be open to this kind of communication, though I wouldn't think he can throw the thoughts himself…As a justification of this sort of thing, I think of the way Frodo hears Galadriel's voice in his head as he enters Lothlorien with the ring.

* If you would leave a little review if you have any comment, the author will laugh gleefully when she opens her inbox!