Title: False Reality

Author: Maranwe

Summary: A new threat walks the lands of Middle-earth, terrorizing the free peoples and haunting the Wilds and the Ettenmoors. Companies and caravans have been attacked, many of the people wiped out. Few have escaped the wrath of these mysterious attackers. News have come to the Rangers--specifically, Aragorn.

Now, the young DĂșnadan plans to find this threat and eliminate it. When he meets someone on the slopes of the Misty Mountains, he must decide if he can trust her. What will happen if he's wrong? What if this threat is not so new as everyone thought? And what if this is only the beginning?

Disclaimer: Aragorn, Elladan, Elrohir, etc., recognizable from the books written by the narrative genius of J. R. R. Tolkien obviously belong to him. References to events from the Mellon Chronicles series by Cassia and Siobhan belong to them and are used with their gracious permission. I don't own any of the above, nor do I think I do, thus this paragraph, so don't sue. The ones I do own, you won't recognize. For better or worse, the plot is also mine.

Rating: PG-13. (If I'm wrong, do tell, but I don't think I do anything that bad to them.)

Spoilers: Um, a couple for the Mellon Chronicles stories; First Meeting, Priceless Treasure, Return, I think. Actually, if you want to be on the safe side and understand the references, you should just read all of them. If you haven't already, 'tis your loss.

Feedback: Mmhm. Always good to know if anybody actually reads what took so very long to write. Constructive criticism is welcome. Reviews that say "It sucked" will be stared at blankly then fed to my rottwieller.

Leave a review (preferred) or e-mail (welcome) me at yamoriami@yahoo.com.

Note: To make my life easier, Gilrean has been dead for a long time. Elrond is pretty much Aragorn's father with Elladan and Elrohir being his brothers--my take on Tolkien's history presentation of the child being "raised in the house of Elrond." You've been informed.

Also, my elvish is just that. I have yet to find an elvish dictionary that satisfies my desire for precision and easy accessibility, and until I do my insertions will forgo accuracy in favor of effect. As such, many of the words lack accents or whatever you call those dots, etc. I don't have the patience to go back and put them in after wrestling with this for so long, don't always know where they go, don't know how to put them in, among other problems. I'll fix what doesn't seem hard. So, please forgive my laziness in this regard.

Additional Note: I'll be posting about once a week. Seems like a long time? Review and tell me. I can be persuaded to post sooner, I just don't think anyone will read this, so why not take my time? *glances around slowly* So, like I said; if you don't agree, tell me, and if enough of you speak up, I'll up my posting schedule.

This is the one and only time I am going to go through this spiel. Remember it. Now.

Read, enjoy, and be heard. (i.e. Review!)

P.S. If you don't like the first chapter, hang on for the second If you don't like that one either, you likely won't like the rest of the story. If you're not sure, stay on and see where it takes you. You might just be surprised. *g*

P. P. S. This hasn't been beta'd. That means all mistakes are mine. *winces* If this chapter is anything like the ones I had my brother review, there will likely be quite a few, but I tried to go back and fix them. Any spelling errors are the fault of a bad spell-checker because I did run this through spell-check. Now that I'm pretty sure I covered everything. . . . On with the story!


Chapter 1

Quiet Time in Rivendell

The sun shone high above the valley that held Imladris in its midst. Fall was fast approaching and the temperature was dropping, the leaves preparing for their descent to cover to the ground in a soft bed. Most of the flowers now littered the walkways creating a brilliant tapestry to walk through. Birds sang quietly, their melodic notes floating through the air and mixing with the occasional song sung by an Elf who was wandering among the trees. However, elves weren't the only residents of Imladris, and one of those residents found himself looking over the side of the Stone Bridge over the Bruinen up from the falls.

The young man gazed into the ever flowing depths beneath him and wondered what life would be like if the river just stopped. He had heard people compare rivers to life and he was in something of a philosophical mood. Sometimes he felt he was being swept along on a path he could not control, moving at a speed much faster than he would have wished, and other times seemed to crawl until he wished for something to happen to speed it up. He was swept into situations he could swear were way beyond him, and swept into obstacles or taken around dangers--albeit not very often--as if on a whim from something he did not understand. The Valar, he supposed. But how were such decisions made? He decided he would probably never know.

He glanced up as a group of elves passed across the bridge, smiling at him warmly as they did so. He returned the smile before moving back to gaze at the water. Answers he sought seemed to swirl in the fast moving depths before being pulled away by the current and flushed over the side, out of reach. He let them go. He had enough to trouble over without adding to it by clinging to questions he would not be able to answer just yet. They would wait.

Tired of the view, he passed over the bridge heading for his father's house--his adopted father's house. Lord Elrond had taken the young human into his home years ago with the passing of his parents into the Halls of Mandos because of the weight of his heritage for he was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and heir to the throne of Gondor. It was a burden he did not feel capable of bearing, and a power he did not want, a responsibility he did not want. He followed the path towards the house, then veered aside at the top of the small set of stairs leading to the level of the plain. Near the edge of the valley wall he could see the stables and forge in the distance. They blended in quite well with their surroundings, balancing the necessary while still respecting nature; quite beautiful, in Aragorn's opinion.

He walked on, heading for the small forest of trees to the northeast of the elven Lord's home. His thoughts turned lazily as if stirred by a warm breeze, content to malinger on matters of little importance and swirl past onto others of more importance or less with no concern, taking his time and enjoying the peace.

The young Ranger smiled slightly as he heard the sound of more elves moving amongst the trees. He thought he recognized their voices and was not disappointed when, a few minutes later, two identical elves appeared from the covering foliage.

Elladan and Elrohir smiled at the human who appeared before them. "Enjoying the trees, Estel?" Elladan asked.

"Yes," he told his brother.

Elrohir frowned at him. "Your eyes look far away," he commented. "What are you looking at?"

That dragged a smile out of the young man. He was well used to elven perception after having lived with it for so long, and it no longer disturbed him when someone would walk up to him and inquire into the very depths of his thoughts that he believed well hidden, sometimes even from himself. "Thinking about everything and nothing, just enjoying the peace. It seems to slip away more every year."

A shadow passed over the twin's fair features, gone before the human could identify it. "Yes, evil is stirring again. It grows stronger all the time," Elladan agreed. Aragorn watched the two with serious dark eyes. He had suspected as much but had not had much time to dwell on it. Many events had conspired to keep him occupied.

"Moving closer to Imladris?" he asked when neither continued.

A slight frown worked its way across the twin faces, though both stayed silent, their eyes going unfocused and distant. A matching frown pulled at the corner of his mouth as he wondered what troubled his brothers so much. "Nay, not yet," Elrohir finally spoke. "Not yet, but soon, I think. Evil always seeks to smother light. It may not be long, or it may be awhile yet."

A smile quirked the Ranger's lips. It was just like the elves to cover all areas, both acknowledging and denying. He remembered well the admonition not to go to the elves for counsel as they would tell you both no and yes. He shook his head as he continued on his way.

Elladan saw the smile. "What's so funny, Estel?" he demanded, raising an eyebrow imperiously.

The young man laughed. "You wouldn't understand," he evaded, knowing such an answer would bother the two brothers terribly. He had known them long enough to know they would never let such an answer stand. He waited.

And was not disappointed. "Wouldn't understand what?" Elrohir demanded. "We understand plenty about humans." The elf was glaring at him fiercely, the look only betrayed by the slight sparkle of humor in his eyes. The younger twin had always enjoyed teasing his human brother. Aragorn had always had a quick mind.

"Nay, I would not trouble you so with needless information concerning us pathetic men. We are far beneath the notice of such noble and impressive beings such as yourselves," Aragorn informed the elves demurely, his tone as serious as he could make it while speaking thusly.

Elladan and Elrohir laughed. "The generosity of men is clearly underrated, young one. You, indeed, have a silver tongue."

"But I would have gold," he countered, generating more laughter from the two elves.

"You are too much, Estel!" Elladan declared, wiping at his eyes. "We know you better than that!" Aragorn laughed also. "But come, what troubles you so to seek the shelter of the trees?"

Aragorn sighed, sobering immediately. He had not really given the matter much thought, and had simply wandered here for a change of scenery. He supposed, however, that somewhere deep inside, he had come here, even unknowingly, for peace. He had always found the quiet stillness of the trees of Imladris soothing. Even now, much of his anxiety, even that which he had not been aware of, was flowing away. He closed his eyes before returning his attention to the pair that watched him closely. "I suppose I am troubled, and sought the serenity that is so easy to find here, in the quiet."

"What troubles you?" Elrohir asked quietly.

He did not answer immediately, but he knew. He knew without a shadow of doubt that what was troubling him now was the same thing that had been troubling since he had come to know of his heritage, his true heritage, though the thoughts took different form. Finally he said, "I worry about the future, Elrohir. What if I am not good enough? Not strong enough?" He glanced at the two beside him with cloudy eyes. "What if the weakness of my ancestors proves too great, and my folly brings destruction to Middle-earth?"

Elladan placed his hand on the human's shoulder, hoping to comfort him. "You do not give yourself enough credit, my brother. Have a little faith in yourself, in your strength." A slight smile tugged at his lips. "However, I know well the stubborn ways of men, and you will just have to wait for the time when you can prove this to yourself. The time will come. You do not need to seek it."

"Live, brother," Elrohir seconded. "Just live, and you will see the day when you can look back on this day and wonder that you ever had cause to worry."

A sad smile tugged at the heir's lips. "I doubt it, Elrohir, but your confidence eases my heart. I would that the words prove true, for I could not bear the consequences if I should fail."

Silence followed, but the two elves knew by now that nothing they could say would convince nor comfort the young man any more than he was comforted now. Instead of trying, Elladan offered, "Enjoy the trees, Estel, and try not to brood too hard. Father would frown terribly if he knew about this."

"Yes," Elrohir agreed mischievously, "but if you agree to turn your thoughts to lighter matters, we will refrain from mentioning this incident to him."

Aragorn laughed, his heart lightening at his brothers's words. "Indeed you are gracious. I would not wish to bring Lord Elrond's displeasure down upon my head! It would be a grievous blow indeed." He smiled. "Fear not, my friends, I will not dwell upon this long, but I fear I cannot stay here much longer. My heart longs to stay but also to go, and the latter is winning as the shadows grow. I cannot stay here when others may have need of me."

"We understand," Elladan offered with a smile. "But come back for dinner. Father would have you here this night, at least. You've been gone a long time, and we have missed you."

"I'll return shortly. Thank you."

The two smiled and made their way easily through the trees, heading back the way Aragorn had come. The Ranger watched them sadly, knowing that his brothers hated to see the pain in his eyes whenever he considered his heritage. It was a dark path he walked, destined to get darker. He was not sure it was a path he could walk without falling into darkness himself. For the sake of Middle-earth, though, he hoped the faith of his friends were not in vain. So much rested on his shoulders. Too much.

Frowning, he started walking again. He would hold true to his word and leave this vein of thought behind, turning his mind instead to other, lighter matters. His thoughts turned briefly to Arwen, but the beautiful maiden was also beyond his reach, and for all the joy she brought him, thinking of her and knowing it would be years yet before he could gain his hearts desire brought him only more pain. Smiling wryly, and positive there had to be some matter that did not bode evil thoughts, he started singing softly in elvish, a light tune full of the joy of the woods and the stars and rivers. Nature, at least, was not evil, and he contented his heart with thoughts of the beauty surrounding Middle-earth that had not yet been touched by despair and suffered his thoughts to stray no further than the moment, which was beautiful and full of peace.

It would not be long, he knew, before this peace would be far behind him and he would be longing for another moment like this that was not to be had.

A smile pulled at the corners of his lips as he took in the scene he had walked in on. Most of the night's occupants were already present and accounted for, but few of them were seated. Elladan and Elrohir were rolling on the floor, wrestling, though he could not tell what they were trying for. A group of other elves, whose names did not immediately come to mind, were tossing what looked like an apple back and forth. Even as he watched, a blonde haired elf from the group leaned too far back and crashed to the floor. Glorfindel seemed to be having a rather heated argument with Tirian, both standing close together, eyes blazing.

At the head of the table sat Lord Elrond, expression indescribable but trying for a neutral he was not quite managing, calmly eating his meal. One of the servants walked up and refilled his glass of wine. The elf lord took a drink almost immediately, his gaze finally resting on the human standing just inside the open doorway, watching the proceedings with amusement. He raised an eyebrow.

Aragorn shook his head and stepped further into the room, trying not to draw the attention of the rest of the room's occupants. This un-elf-like show was too amusing to bring to a halt so soon. Indicating how distracted the group was, the Ranger made it to his adopted father's side without interrupting the events.

"What's going on?" he murmured, taking a seat next to the elder elf.

Elrond took another sip of wine, his gaze surveying the chaos around him. "I'm not entirely sure," he admitted finally, as regal as ever. "This started. . . . Actually, I have no idea how it started, but I think it may have involved Elladan. It's been nearly twenty minutes and all have yet to come up for breath." The wine glass made another trip to the Elf Lord's mouth and Aragorn thought he detected a twitch as the fair being fought a smile. "Perhaps we will learn more soon."

Aragorn smiled and picked up his utensils as a plate was placed before him by one of the servants. Absently, he nodded his thanks, his eyes still focused on the mayhem before him, which, to all appearances, only seemed to be increasing.

Celebrim, an elder elf of much the same stature of Glorfindel, entered and was promptly pegged in the head with a flying apple. Laughter erupted around him and the one who was responsible turned red and tried to hide. Celebrim smiled slowly. "Perhaps I missed the message announcing this meal to be one of unusual circumstances which would allow manners to be put aside."

This grabbed the attention of all the rough-housers in the hall, and silence fell. The apple throwers glanced quickly at each other. "Yes. That was it."

"Good," Celebrim declared, bending down to retrieve the apple. He studied it intently for a moment and the others watched him surreptitiously. He began walking to his seat and Tirian turned his attention back to Glorfindel. A smile crossed the elf's face and he cocked the apple and let fly.

The object hit the other on the back of his head, and Tirian turned to the other with a glower. He said nothing, simply approached the table at which Aragorn and Elrond sat observing these events. His hand touched upon an object he could not see. "Good evening, Celebrim. I was hoping we'd have the chance to talk." A pleasant smile touched his lips and Celebrim shifted slightly.

"Of course."

A glob of something suddenly shot through the air, sailing for Celebrim's upturned face. The elf dodged at the last minute and the projectile smacked into yet another elf, who blinked at the silence he was presented with. Aragorn covered his mouth with his hand, desperately trying to stem the hysterical laughter that wished to pour forth at the childish display being put forth by millennia old elves. He had never seen anything like it before in his life.

Before long, an all out food fight had begun among the assembled elves with the two seated at the table calmly dodging anything that came their way--mostly. A bit of pie landed in Aragorn's lap and he brushed it off quietly, still watching the proceedings carefully. Elladan and Elrohir were right in the middle of this one, flinging most of the food between the two of them.

Eventually, the rest of the elves realized it would be wise to gang up on the brothers instead of fighting among themselves and began concentrating their fire on the twins. An untouched pie was picked up by Glorfindel, and Aragorn watched as it sailed through the air and stuck Elladan square in the face. The shock froze Elrohir and another one caught him openmouthed.

This was too much. Long pent up laughter finally erupted from Aragorn at the state of his brothers's dress: dis-shelved, rumpled, filthy. One could hardly recognize them for High Elves. It mattered little to him that the only sound in the great hall was the sound of his laughter, especially as he could not stop. He slowly slid down in his seat as his laughter stole his air away and made his head feel light. He gasped trying to gain more air, only to dissolve into laughter once again by glancing at Elladan and Elrohir, who had cleared some of the cream away from their eyes so they could see.

Beside him, Elrond was trying to maintain a straight, stern face--trying and failing. "Now that most of the food is on the floor, walls, or ceiling, would any of you care to sit down and actually eat it?"

The wry question prompted a snort of laughter from the human and he slid to the ground, helpless in the face of his amusement.

"I suppose you think this is funny?" Elladan inquired imperiously, raising an eyebrow at the human sprawled on the floor. Secretly, he was pleased to see the young man laughing. It had been too long since he had truly let go and enjoyed himself. His only wish was that the event had truly been planned so he could take the credit.

The Ranger shook his head, laughter stealing any words he might have said, though at the moment his mind was not really capable of forming the thoughts in the first place.

Elrond smiled at the human. "Estel? Perhaps you'd care to re-seat yourself and join us, as we are going to be finishing our diner in a calm and respectable manner."

The others watched, bemused, as the young man struggled to pull himself up into his chair in spite of his giggles and the limited control he had over his own limbs, made weak by his mirth. Taking pity on the young one, Glorfindel stepped forward and offered his assistance, finally maneuvering the young one to his seat. By this time, the rest of the elves were seated and more food was brought out.

"I trust this will not end up on the floor as well," Elrond admonished, nearly laughing himself as the human's laughter increased in intensity. It was a good thing Aragorn had already eaten. It was likely to be a feat he would be unable to accomplish for quite some time. The young man leaned forward and buried his head in his arms and attempted to breath deeply--which only succeeded in making him snort and sent him into fresh gales of laughter. Elrond gestured for the rest of the company to begin eating.

Several minutes later, the laughter seemed to be coming to an end. Aragorn sat up and wiped at his eyes, a wide smile still graced his features, making him look younger and less troubled than he had in years. The Ranger could not remember the last time he had laughed so much, though he thought it might have been at least thirty years. He had a suspicion that it would have been one of the last times he, Legolas, Elladan, and Elrohir were together with some down time to make mischief at either his home or Legolas'. Those had been the days, even if many of them were spent in Rivendell recovering from one injury or another. His smile widened.

"What are you thinking about, Estel?" Elladan wanted to know.

Aragorn glanced up, and smirked. "I was just thinking about the old days."

The twins glanced at each other. "Those days would be beyond your reckoning, human," Elrohir goaded. Scattered snickers answered this.

"You would have me be more specific, then?" the Ranger inquired, raising an eyebrow at his adopted brother.

"Do, please," Elrond spoke up before either could answer. "It should prove interesting, and as tonight has proven a hindrance to serious discussion, we might as well continue the trend."

"All right," Aragorn said as he leaned back and crossed his ankles under the table. "I was thinking back to a time when things were not so calm around here." He glanced at the twins to gauge their reactions. Both were staring at him somewhat warily. They recognized something in his expression, apparently. "Though the specific incident I was thinking of involved me, Legolas, and four horses near Mirkwood."

"When was this?" Glorfindel asked.

A shadow briefly crossed Aragorn's face as he remembered what had come after that . . . the pain, the cold, the dark memories of hallucinations. He smiled wanly, trying not to lose the good cheer he was enjoying in the company of old friends. He swallowed thickly. "A while ago. It doesn't bear remembering." His terse tone apparently alerted the twins, for shadowed recognition also crossed their faces. "Also, the time when Elladan and Elrohir followed Legolas and I to the falls in the middle of the night and fell in--"

"We did not fall in!" Elladan declared hotly.

"We were pushed!" Elrohir seconded.

Aragorn smirked, not bothering to deny that accusation. "Well if you had been watching what you were doing, we wouldn't have been able to come up behind you in the first place."

"If you didn't have such a hopeless reputation with waterfalls, we needn't have gotten so close," Elladan retorted, his eyes glinting playfully, the other elves thoroughly enjoying this thread of conversation.

"How is it my fault you couldn't keep your balance?" the Ranger demanded incredulously.

"It's your fault because you pushed us," cried Elrohir.

"I did not push the both of you."

"So you admit it!" exclaimed Elladan.

"I admit nothing," Aragorn declaimed, looking slightly offended. "I simply could not have possibly pushed both of you."

Elrohir looked at his twin. "He has a point," he pointed out. "Which means, of course, that he had help. Legolas obviously sided with our young brother."

"And both will need to be thanked for their participation," Elladan agreed, a somewhat wicked smile crossing his face.

A look Elrond recognized immediately after years of experience. "Your gratitude will be expressed in a painless matter. I will not have you return them to me to be patched back up. Again." He leveled the twins with a stern glare.

"Of course, Father," Elladan agreed easily. "We would never injure our little brother."

"Sure," Aragorn agreed. "Never. What about that time when you dared me to climb the dark oak?"

"That wasn't our fault!" Elladan denied quickly.

"Or the riding accident when I was eighteen when you spooked Aromir."

Elrohir and Elladan glanced at each other. "There was no way we could have known that would happen."

"Then there was that training incident with the--" Elrohir cleared his throat in warning. Aragorn shut his mouth quickly, realizing immediately what he had been about to tell. They had agreed the Lord of Rivendell would never learn of that incident, and he had nearly blown it. "--platform that collapsed," he continued as if nothing had happened, the revised story coming nearly seamlessly on the heels of the prior one.

"What platform?" Celebrim inquired.

The twins exchanged glances. "Um, the one that used to pass into the river," Elrohir answered quietly.

A sharp glance was thrown at him by Elrond. "What were any of you doing near that platform?"

Neither twin spoke up, and the elf lord's glare was turned on Aragorn. The young man shifted slightly. "Well . . . Elladan said that when he and Elrohir were younger, they used to play on the platform all the time, but that it had become unstable over the years and no one had bothered to fix it. Then Elrohir bet that he could still walk on it, and Elladan said he couldn't. Predictably, this led to the three of us being near the river with Elrohir on the platform. Then Elrohir charged that Elladan couldn't do it, so Elladan got up on the platform. . . . Neither thought I could do it, and I was eager to show them wrong. They didn't want me to do it, as they felt it was too wobbly and weak, but I wouldn't back down, so I climbed up. Everything was fine, at first. Then something happened, exactly what I don't know, but the platform trembled and threw me off balance, which threw the platform off balance and sent us both crashing into the river."

Elladan took over the story then. "Estel hit his head on the way down, and we had to hurry into the river to drag him out before he could drown. He never lost consciousness, but he couldn't swim very well, either. No real harm came of it, Father," he assured the elder Elf. "He was fine after a few minutes. Really."

Elrond glanced between the three he called his sons. There was really nothing he could say to that, since he had not even known of its occurrence at the time, and all three boys stood before him, well by all accounts. He was, however, interested in whatever Aragorn had been going to tell in the first place. He did not think he would learn of it just now, though. Finally, he spoke. "I trust nothing so foolish will occur again."

"Of course, Father," Elladan agreed, actually sounding serious. "Besides, Estel has more sense now."

"We hope," Elrohir muttered.

Aragorn narrowed his eyes. "I heard that," he growled. Elrohir smiled sweetly.

"Peace, all of you," Lord Elrond interrupted before another argument could erupt. "Finish your dinner. There are other matters that must be seen to tonight."

Aragorn laughed quietly. He took another sip of his wine, glad he had stayed this night. Whatever else happened, he was pleased to have the memory of this night to take with him. He stood. "With your permission, my lord," he began formally, "I would retire. I plan on leaving early tomorrow morning, and would like to be well rested for my journey."

Elrond nodded. "Good night, Estel."

"Good night, Ada," he murmured back, as he passed the elder elf. If nothing else ever came of his heritage, he was glad it had brought him to the house of Elrond. He could not have asked for a better family. He was packed and asleep not long after he made it to his rooms, tired in spite of himself, as the peace of his home worked its magic and he fell into a deep and dreamless slumber that healed both his body and his mind.


There it is. Hope you enjoyed. Don't forget to review if you've made it this far. No reason to waste it since you're here, after all. *hopeful grin*