Hey, Maethril Aranel here. I've gotten good feedback for my other stories and hope that readers enjoy this one as well!

Disclaimer: The point of a disclaimer is for a person to openly state that they do not own Lord of the Rings. But the real question is: Why do so few people know the year in which the cream separator was invented?


Chapter 1: The Tears of Time

2952 T.A.

The man on the ground trembled with cold and fear as falling rain collected in deep puddles about his knees. The thick coat had been ripped from his back, and the rest of his clothes were in tatters that revealed gashes and bruises, leaving him with nothing but the freezing wind and merciless storm. His hands were bound so tight that the tips of his fingers were numb and blue.

Before him stood all the other members of his company...his former friends. As the man looked up, a flash of steel was reflected in his deep brown eyes. The sword was coarse, without elegance or grace, and as he looked up at the length of the blade he could already feel its touch of ice that was already so evident in the eyes that looked his way.

"You betrayed us, Táridil," said Finhîr, one of the Rangers standing near the back. He stepped forward with a voice that was low and bitter, and his expression was one of suppressed rage. "What did you think you could accomplish by killing him? Who promised you a reward?"

Táridil shook in sobs, shaking his head, but the denial was worthless, for he was indeed a traitor. He turned his wrists viciously against the ropes...but no escape would get him away from the guilt that would linger until his death. And his death did not seem incredibly far off. Táridil knew that he rested on death's doorstep.

"Answer me!"

The traitor turned away, determined not to look Finhîr in the eyes as he spoke. "I told you before," he said quietly with a quaking voice. "I don't know who he was. He was hooded and mysterious, and offered me...he offered me riches, among many other desirable things, along with power...Finhîr, my brother, try to understand, I needed a life beyond that which I had..."

Finhîr's eyes narrowed. "And his price was for you to murder your leader and friend? To end his life to gain useless riches?"

He was shaken by tears and said nothing more. Finhîr moved to kick him but was withheld, and Táridil managed a small nod.

Gaerrond, the Ranger beside Finhîr, stepped forward. "There is only one penalty for betrayal and attempted murder among us."

The Rangers all turned expectantly and silently to the man holding the sword. He had said nothing this entire time, but Táridil had shrunk beneath the stare of green eyes that peered up from beneath a cover of dark, wet hair. The man's grip on the sword was tense. He raised it and gently set the blade against Táridil's neck.

"Guth enín goth," he said quietly. "I am sorry it had to end this way."

"Please," pleaded Táridil. "I...my friend, my brother, for all the times I have been good to you..."

"Guth enín goth...death to the enemy, Táridil. You have heard me say it in battle. You are my friend no more. By your own choices have you become my enemy, and thus, it is death that I give to you, as you meant to give to me." And so the man raised his sword. "Goodbye, Táridil."

With those final words, the desperate search for hope in Táridil's eyes extinguished, and he closed them. The steel sliced the air, and with a single stroke, Táridil's head fell to the ground in a pool of blood. His body followed, and the puddles of rain water turned a deep red.

The executioner turned away and let the stained sword fall from his hands. It landed on the ground with a dull thud. Quietly, he began to walk away, and Finhîr laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Strider..."

You know nothing, Finhîr, thought Strider. "I must be alone." His friend nodded and let him go.

Strider walked off into the quiet night, until he could see the peaks of the White Mountains, hazy and distant shapes that could barely be made out in the rain.

Gondor, he thought. Minas Tirith. My people, my city, and yet a place I have never truly known.

How many more will suffer at my hand?

So many had already. Emotionally, physically, he had caused pain as Estel, Strider, Aragorn...his name did not matter; his name was destruction. And his name may have been the reason Táridil's briber had wanted him dead. Curse his true identity. Could he not have remained Estel forever, fosterling of Rivendell? Why had fortune sought to reveal to him a name that rang hollow through the night?

Sometimes, with so many changing names, with so many lives, Strider wondered who he really was. Maybe his enemies knew better than him. Now, there seemed to be so many 'maybes'.

My name is only a name. It doesn't matter...and who I am doesn't matter either. I am Strider now. A wildling, an exile, unknown to the civilized world.

Strider let himself drop to the ground in an open field where a few trees grew, trees that later became more dense and led into a forest that began but some yards away. He leaned against one wet tree trunk and felt the rain beating down against his neck. It ran down his shoulders, turning the dirt beneath to mud that encrusted his boots. Was he crying? It was hard to tell. The raindrops were his tears, falling from the very heavens that had so sealed his fate, and each tear was a tear for lost hope. Was Strider becoming some sort of monster? It seemed so, for his friend had become his foe at the mere insinuation of coin. He brought only death.

There is no hope. Estel...you knew nothing, Brannon Elrond, you did not know how much despair I would cause when you gave me that name.

"Who am I?" His whisper was to no one and was lost in the roar of thunder and a flash of lightning. The sky was growing darker, and as the gray clouds began to complete devour it, he gave up asking, and let his mind wallow in uncertain despair of a man with no identity. If he did not know who he was, how could he lead others? They knew only the superficial cover of the warrior and Ranger. It seemed that this was his fate, his doom...to remain forever a nameless exile.

The past year had been so full of change. While the current year was still young, that which preceded it had been that in which he had been told who he was. The shards of Narsil, the taste of the name 'Aragorn' on his lips, it had all been so strange, and at that moment the burden of the past and future had laid itself upon the man then known as Estel's heart. And then, then, the fateful day that had torn that heart apart with the torment of love...

flashback

Estel looked over the fair flowers in the woods of Imladris, at times lightly brushing the dew from them with his fingertips as he pondered darker things. In his mind, he could still hear Elrond's voice, and could feel the touch of pieces of a broken sword blade.

Aragorn, son of Arathorn? Is that who I am? Was Arathorn my father, the only heir of Numenor?

It seemed so hard to believe...so impossible.

The world was quiet. Estel sat against a marble pillar, and let a song come forth from his lips—a lament, slow and beautiful and haunting. It was of a beautiful Elven maid, the fair Tinúviel, and he had heard it many times in the past.

At that moment a strange light seemed to come from the yonder shadows of the fair trees. Estel stood, the song dying and watched as it grew brighter, approaching...

And suddenly, there she stood.

An elf fairer than any his eyes had ever beheld stood there, with long, flowing dark hair and a circlet of silver and sapphire resting upon her brow. Her garb was a dress of pure white that flowed behind her regally. Her eyes were of glistening silver, her lips supple and red as rubies, and her complexion fair and pure,

Estel felt his heart catch, and his eyes went wide when he saw her. The image of Tinúviel had been so prominent in his mind...yet even in his wildest dreams he could not have conceived such beauty.

"Tinúviel?"

She turned at the sound of his voice, and her eyes came to rest upon him. Then she smiled. Estel could not help smiling back...that smile was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen. In his mind he chided himself for sounding like such a simpleton. This was no Tinúviel; this was some other wonder that he had crossed paths with.

"You mistake me for another," she said in the Elven tongue, walking towards him. Her footsteps were so light against the ground that they made not even the slightest sound and blades of grass barely had to bend to accommodate her light steps. "I am not Tinúviel, of whom so many songs have been sung and tales told. She was great; while I must say that no such honor of greatness suits me. I am simply one of many."

Estel shook his head and replied to her in her own dialect. "You need not be Tinúviel...your beauty far surpasses that which she could have held, and of you will come much greater things."

The elf gave another shy smile, and came to a stop before him. She reached up and touched his rough cheek, her expression one of curiosity. "Who are you?" she asked in a voice that was little more than a whisper.

"Which side of me should I reveal?"

"Whichever is closest to your heart."

Estel found his eyes going downcast. "I am called Estel. I was fostered here since my childhood, by Lord Elrond. He has recently told me my true name." Why was he telling her these things? This beautiful creature was a complete stranger, but yet he felt as though he had known and loved her for years.

There was questioning in her eyes. "What name has he given you?"

"The name I was born with...I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir to the throne of Gondor..." his voice trailed off and he sighed deeply.

She merely smiled at him. "Well, Aragorn, I name you Elfstone, for you speak the language of our kin and were so raised among us."

"I tell you both my names, then, and receive no such honor in return?"

The elf took a step back, and Estel looked upon her fully...if possible, she seemed more of an angel even than when he had first laid eyes on her. "I am Arwen, called Undómiel, the Evenstar of my people." Arwen's fingers went to a silver pendant that hung about her graceful white neck.

Estel stepped forward and took both her hands in his own. "Then, Arwen Undómiel, Evenstar of Imladris, my names no longer hold meaning. I am forever yours and nothing more." Gently, he raised her hands to his lips and kissed them.

Arwen puts her arms about his neck. "And I am forever yours, Aragorn, the Elfstone."

And they kissed beneath the sunlit boughs, amidst blossoming flowers, and time and shadows seemed to fade...

end flashback

The memory ended, and Strider found himself again looking out at the rain. Remembering the most wonderful moment of his life had brought only more grief. He and Arwen could never be, for that could only result in death...and to bring about her death would be a sin he would never be able to forgive himself of. The tale of Beren and Lúthien was such. Naturally, that tale had ended in tragedy, and Strider knew that his life of sorrows would probably result in tragedy as well. Now he was forcing that misfortune on his beloved Arwen.

I should have known that even love would bring me nothing but tears. I bring nothing to those I love but death.

It was after pledging his love at Arwen that he had gone into the wild, become a ranger. An exile. He had learned great tracking skills, yet found himself growing no close bond to the others...not like he had had with the Elves at Rivendell. They would never truly be his brothers, not like Elladan and Elrohir had been. But he had needed to leave. His place was not among the Elves. But then where was his place? Was there anywhere that Aragorn, son of Arathorn, could truly belong?

The heir to the throne of kings belongs only in Gondor. Among men, ruling the world of men, restoring it to the glory it once held.

No. He did not want that power.

Strider stood then, for he heard the other men approaching. Yet it seemed that his heart remained where he had been before, sinking in the mud. His whole life was sinking. Had he ever even had a life, or was it all just an illusion?

Yes. I did once. As a child, I lived. I lived in happy and blessed ignorance. But now I am no child...and I know not if I shall ever live again.

As the other Rangers arrived, Strider nodded to them silently. Finhîr handed him his sword and he sheathed it. The blade had been washed clean by the showers of the sky. The Rangers began to go forth to the darkness of a nearby forest...and with a heavy heart, Strider led them.

Yet from afar, soundlessly hiding in the high branches of a tree, someone was watching. His bright eyes peered through the gloom. The mysterious stranger watched with keen sight as the Rangers made their way into the depths of the small woods, and ran his finger along the length of an arrow. His golden hair was damp from the rain and clung to his fair face, but it did not bother him. He pushed a lock behind one of his pointed ears.

And there, concealed in the darkness, the elf watched and waited with curiosity growing in his mind.


Guth enín goth: Death to the enemy

Hope you enjoyed it! Please review! Many people will guess who the elf is. At least my wheezy will.