Disclaimer:  This story is non-profit and written for purely entertainment purposes.   All recognized places and characters are property of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema.  I own nothing but my name. 

A/N:  I told the Plot Bunny to "Bite me," and the phrase sort of backfired.  ;)   


~ Chapter 1:  Not a Man ~


Three cloaked figures rode swiftly through the summer night, the hooves of their mounts seeming to skim the pebbled trail.  Moonlight dappled the thickly forested hills as they journeyed northward; a lone owl's triumphant hoot fluttered softly over darkened eaves.

The front-most rider was first to halt, tugging gently upon his reins and speaking in low musical tones to his steed.  He raised a slender hand, indicating his companions should follow his lead.

Aragorn reined in his steed and pushed back the hood of his brown cloak.  "What is it, Elladan?"  Though spoken softly, the young man's words nonetheless disturbed the nighttime stillness.

The lead rider turned gracefully in the saddle, but did not remove his hood.  Aragorn still caught the bright flash of his eyes.

"We near the Dúnedain camp," Elrohir answered for his twin, peering curiously into the surrounding forest.  The sons of Elrond had an odd habit of speaking for one another, a practice which confused those who did not know them well.  Aragorn suspected they took secret amusement in the misunderstandings it caused.  Thankfully, he was long accustomed to his foster brothers' mannerisms—no matter how peculiar or aggravating they might be.

The dark-haired youth nodded and made pretense of scouring the shadowed woods.  He was not sure how he ought to react to the news.  One side of him leapt at the prospect of adventure and new beginnings, while the other was nearly terrified.  'Little does it avail me to worry over such things,' he told himself.  'I can do naught but take it in stride.'  The words of Elrond* reverberated painfully in his head: "The years will bring what they will," and were accompanied by an even stronger pain in his heart.  Their parting had been bittersweet, and Arwen…  By the Valar how he missed her.

'Lovesick and downtrodden,' Aragorn thought wryly.  'I shall make a fine first impression upon these Rangers of the North.'  

He started as a comforting hand was placed upon his shoulder.  Though Elrohir's hood hid his face, Aragorn swore he saw the Elf smile.  "Do not fret, Estel."  Elrohir's grip tightened momentarily in reassuring squeeze.  "You will like these Rangers, I think.  They are good Men—strong in body and soul." 

Aragorn nodded, though his heart sank as they drew upon the rustic Dúnedain encampment.  Angular tents, patched and sagging in the middle, were haphazardly placed within the clearing.  Dwindling campfires flickered weakly, and the few men hunched around them spoke in harsh, grating whispers.  The scent of Men, horses, and smoke was nearly overpowering.  It was a drab and weary encampment; Aragorn doubted it appeared much better during the day.

Elladan was first to enter the camp.  He dismounted with cat-like grace and proceeded to converse with several armed and suspicious guardsmen.  What they spoke of Aragorn did not know, for he caught only snatches of Elladan's smooth phrases and the guards' harsh replies.    

At his side, Elrohir suppressed a snicker.  "Our approach caught them unawares," whispered the Elf, amusement evident in his voice.  "They did not hear us, and now believe we are of a suspicious nature."

"I suppose they are not used to Elf-kind," replied Aragorn.

Elrohir cocked his head to one side as though considering the possibility of such a thing.  "Perhaps…"

Aragorn glanced at the other with a raised eyebrow.  However, he was not given chance to ask Elrohir where the rest of his sentence went, as Elladan turned and called to him.  "Come, Estel."  Elladan gestured towards the biggest tent in the encampment, which despite its size was in as sorry shape as the rest.  "We are to speak with the Dúnedain chief Guttarion."     

Aragorn ducked under the heavily oiled tent-flap after Elladan and Elrohir, pausing, as did the twins, to thank the Ranger who held it open.  The Ranger looked positively startled.  Aragorn wondered what would happen should he utter the word "please."

Flint sparked as it was struck, and a small tinder lantern flared to life.  Aragorn blinked repeatedly until his eyes adjusted to the light.  The tent was close and somewhat clammy.  He resisted the urge to shudder, and supposed Elladan and Elrohir found the accommodations even less appealing.

"Welcome to the Wilds," the Dúnedain chief said humorlessly.  His mouth twisted into an odd mockery of a smile; it was an expression he rarely used.  The man was tall and grizzled, with an air of strong will about him.  It was his face that captured Aragorn most—an old puckered scar ran from his cheek down to his jawbone, and there were lines and crags in places Aragorn didn't think possible.  Guttarion was weathered and unkempt, though his pale grey eyes flickered with dangerous intensity.

As if on cue, Elrohir and Elladan simultaneously removed their hoods.  Their synchronism was unsettling, though Guttarion's only indication of surprise was a slight twitch of the eye.  "I've been expecting you," the Dúnedain chief continued, his voice as cold and flat as the very flint he yielded. 

"I apologize for any disturbance we may have caused," said Elladan.  "In our haste, we had forgotten the sleeping customs of Men."

"An understandable oversight," Guttarion replied.  His gaze swept over Aragorn, eyes narrowing as he mentally weighed the young man.  "Much is spoken of your deeds within the company of the sons of Elrond, Aragorn son of Arathorn."

Aragorn held the man's gaze, though shifted in slight discomfort at mention of his lineage.  "My brothers have taught me well, my lord," he softly replied.  Elladan and Elrohir rewarded him with small smiles. 

"Mm."  Guttarion crossed his arms over his chest.  "I do not doubt it.  You are skilled with the blade and already possess valuable combat experience, Heir of Isildur—all this I know.  But," the grating harshness of his voice rubbed Aragorn unpleasantly, "you will need more than that are you to succeed here.  I see before me a soft-spoken youth, fair to look upon and bedecked in Elvish finery." 

Elladan and Elrohir both raised an eyebrow at the comment, but held their tongues.  Aragorn flushed.

"Nay," continued the Dúnedain chief, "you are not yet a Man, son of Arathorn.  Perhaps a warrior, but not a Man."

"Pleasant fellow," Elladan murmured as the trio exited the tent some time later.  "I do not like him."

"Mayhap he is one who grows on you over time," offered Elrohir, ever the optimist.

Aragorn grimaced.  "I do not think I want him growing anywhere near me."

Elladan was of similar opinion.

Aragorn followed the two as they returned to their horses.  It would be harder to bid them farewell than he originally anticipated. 

Elladan wrapped him in strong embrace.  "Keep heart, Estel.  We shall not be parted long."  Pulling back, the Elf fondly ruffled his young foster brother's hair—an act he knew Aragorn loathed yet would find comforting nonetheless. 

Aragorn glowered at the Elf, though the look held no malice.

Elrohir embraced him next.  "Look to our coming in ere the Autumn departs.  We wish to ride with these Rangers of the North."

"To ride with 'Men,'" added Elladan, managing to mimic Guttarion's dire tone perfectly.  Aragorn could not help but laugh.

"Farewell, Estel!" the brothers called in soft unison as they leapt onto their mounts.  Aragorn stood watching the moon-blanched trail long after their departure, until he felt the nighttime chill nip at his very core and his eyes grew leaden in their weariness.      


*The words of Elrond: "The years will bring what they will." –Tolkien, J.R.R.  Appendix A, (v), The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen. 

Next up: ~ Chapter 2: Company ~  E2 (Elrohir and Elladan) run into a certain blonde Elf lord (no, no, not THAT Elf—he's in enough stories as it is… this one's from Rivendell), and When Aragorn Met Halbarad.

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