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-Vilya-

 

 

By: Cassia and Siobhan

 

 


  

Three Rings for the Elven Kings under the sky...

 

___________________________________________________________

~*PART ONE*~

 

 

The sun peeked lazily between the clouds, casting its dappled rays down upon the surface of the pond, making the tops of the waves and ripples glisten as if crusted with diamonds.  Normally the little pond would have been still and flat, but at the moment the natural serenity of the location was being happily disrupted by the laughing beings who were enjoying the coolness of the water on this muggy spring day. 

 

It had rained almost non-stop for the past two and a half weeks and although it was cloudy today, the small bit of sunny respite was a welcome distraction. The lake was three times its normal size because of the unusually high rainfall, but that only added to the fun for those who partook of its charms.

 

Legolas sat on the grassy bank, reclining on one elbow, the other arm resting on his bent knee and a smile on his face as he watched the three brothers in the pond romp like children.  The day was hot and the prince’s light blue tunic hung open, wafting slightly in the faint, infrequent breeze.

 

Aragorn and Elrohir had ganged up on Elladan and were trying to dunk him under the water; however, they had to catch him first.  When they finally cornered the elder twin near the bank where Legolas sat watching them it was Aragorn who ended up getting dunked, and a great deal of splashing ensued as the three brothers thrashed and threw water at one another with mirthful abandon. 

 

Laughing so hard he could barely move, Legolas tried to scoot back, out of the way of the flying water that was now wetting him as well. 

 

“Mercy!  Mind what you’re doing!” he called out merrily to the heedless occupants of the pond.  “There’s going to be more water out of the lake than in it when you’re done!”

 

Wrapping one arm loosely around the light bandage that wound its way around his ribs, the elf prince tried to stop laughing, but the brothers were too much fun to watch and he could not help himself, so he ignored the dull ache in his side.  His ribs and leg had all but healed from his unfortunate encounter with Taradin’s men not too long ago and even the injury to his arm from his fight with Hebrilith, the rouge elf that Taradin’s people had in fact mistaken him for, was almost little more than a memory.  However, the wound in his side, where the dark elf had stabbed the prince when they fought over Aragorn’s life, had been much more grievous, and healed more slowly.  It was mending well, but still ached sometimes when he laughed.  However, at the moment, Legolas did not particularly care.

 

Aragorn’s head popped up, out of the water and he laughed at Legolas’ words.  The young ranger too, was nearly healed of all the ills his encounter with the dark elf had caused and only a mending scar remained where Hebrilith had put a knife blade through his shoulder.  Eventually that too, would disappear, for as a tribute to the blood of westernesse that flowed through the Dùnadan’s veins, Aragorn healed somewhat swifter than most mortals, if not quite so swift as the elves.  Nonetheless, although Aragorn did not note it, his elder brothers were careful in their play with him so they did not stress his healing shoulder.  Both Aragorn and Legolas’ wounds were at that stage where they were nearly well, but still fragile enough to be reopened if enough force was applied.

 

Aragorn shook the water out of his dark, wavy hair, wiping his eyes and turning away from the wave of water that Elrohir sent in his direction.  The young man retaliated before turning a flashing, devilish grin towards his laughing friend on the bank.  “Oh you think this is funny do you?”

 

Aragorn swam over with mischief in his eye.  The pond was deep and the drop from the bank none too gradual, thus he was able get right up near Legolas and still be in at least four to five feet of water. 

 

“You know Legolas, you look a little warm, don’t you want to come in?”  The young man pulled himself up out of the water and onto the rock ledge above that overlooked the pond, next to where Legolas was sitting on the grass.

 

Legolas laughed and shook his head, brushing the beading water droplets that the brothers’ romp had left him scattered with off the front of his loose, short-sleeved tunic.  “I don’t think so.  You make swimming look like a dangerous pastime!” he chuckled, pushing Aragorn’s hands lightly away from him. 

 

“I don’t know...” Aragorn shook his head, his bright, silver eyes twinkling.  “Elladan, Elrohir, what do you think?  Don’t you think he looks a little too hot?”

 

Shouts to the affirmative answered as the brothers started to swim over.

 

“Oh no you don’t!” Legolas grinned, playfully shoving Aragorn back towards the water when the young man reached for him.  “I’m not dressed for it today!”

 

Aragorn lost his balance a little when Legolas pushed him and slid on the stones, made slippery by the water that he had brought up with him.  The young ranger half-slid back towards the water, but didn’t go in, instead his hand slid out from under him and he clipped his chin on the rock when his head came down.  He didn’t straighten up right away and Legolas moved forward quickly to check on him.

 

“Aragorn, are you all-”

 

Quick as lightning, Aragorn grabbed his friend’s arm and rolled off the edge, falling down into the water with a splash and pulling Legolas with him. 

 

Caught completely by surprise, Legolas came up spluttering and coughing, shaking the water out of his hair and eyes.  Aragorn was laughing so hard he was nearly falling over in the water.  A quick, indignant shove from Legolas turned ‘almost’ into the real thing and Aragorn took a quick trip under the surface once more, only to come up laughing harder than ever.

 

Legolas glared at his friend, but Aragorn’s mirth was infectious and a smile ruined the golden-haired elf’s irritated persona.  “You,” Legolas said threateningly, but with a glimmer in his eyes.  “Are going to regret that!”

 

The prince lunged at his human friend, spraying water at him and Aragorn only just jumped back in time to escape, turning and striking out for the middle of the pond as fast as he could, both of them hindered by their own laughter.

 

“Uh oh, look out little brother!  You’ve done it now!” Elrohir shouted after them.

 

“Dunk him Legolas!  He’s got it coming!” Elladan called out with a grin.

 

“Hey!  I heard that!” Aragorn shot back from a distance away.  Just about then Legolas caught up with him and tackled the young ranger, easily forcing the human’s head under the water.  Aragorn in turn pulled the prince under with him and they both came up moments later laughing and spluttering.

 

“The water’s deep, don’t drown out there!” Elladan teased. 

 

“Yes, we wouldn’t want to have to save you two young ones *again*!” Elrohir added cheekily. 

 

“Who are you calling *young*?” Legolas shot back with mock indignity.

 

“Hm, we ought to teach them a lesson Legolas, don’t you think?” Aragorn egged mischievously. 

 

“Definitely,” Legolas replied with a nod and a wide grin as the two-some began swimming towards the unsuspecting twins.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

“Well I hope you’re happy,” Legolas shook his head with a wry grin as he kicked aside his soppy, useless shoes and stripped off his dripping tunic. 

 

“Very,” Aragorn assured with an unrepentant grin, toweling his hair off with one end of his own, dry shirt before sliding it back on. 

 

A soft cry of dismay made them both turn and look to where Elrohir and Elladan were getting dressed nearby. 

 

Elrohir was patting his bare chest in alarm and Elladan shook his head.  “He lost his chain.  Silly oaf wore it swimming and now it’s come off somewhere,” Elladan explained to Aragorn and Legolas as they came over.  Elladan’s sympathetic look belied his tough words.  He knew what that necklace meant to his brother.  He would have been incredibly crushed to lose his own.

 

Aragorn bit his lip.  He knew the chains that Elladan referred to had been given to the twins by their mother, now long gone across the sea.  The brothers wore them almost constantly. 

 

“We’ll find it,” the young ranger assured quickly.  “I’m sure you had it on almost just before we got out, it has to be near shore here somewhere,” he said optimistically.

 

They were about to wade back into the water and search, when Legolas’ voice stopped them.  “There it is, I see it.”  The prince was standing on the rock outcropping Aragorn had pulled him off of earlier and looking down into the water with his incredibly keen eyes. 

 

Aragorn could only see a flashing twinkle about two yards offshore, and it was difficult to distinguish it from the natural sparkle of the sun on the water, but Legolas saw clearly the fine golden chain lying on the mossy rocks under the transparent surface of the pond.

 

Elladan and Elrohir could not see it from where they stood and came over to join the other elf. 

 

Legolas hopped lightly off the rocks and down into the water again.  “I’ll get it,” he offered, already wading out towards the spot.  Retrieving the chain he made his way back.  Tossing the lost article back up to its grateful owner, Legolas grabbed the edge of the stone ledge and started to pull himself up. 

 

Suddenly the earth under them trembled slightly, as if someone had shaken it.  Aragorn and the twins stumbled a little to keep their balance.  Elladan grabbed Aragorn’s arm to keep him from falling.

 

Half in the water, half out, the jar caught Legolas at a bad moment.  As he gripped the rock tighter, compensating for the motion, his injured side, not pleased with how much stress he had placed upon it in the past several hours cramped suddenly and Legolas’ arms gave out under the influence of the unexpected spasm. 

 

His hands sliding out from under him, Legolas’ chest and midsection came down hard upon the rocks, the edge catching him directly across his healing wound.  A sharp stab of pain knifed through the prince and he fell back into the water.

 

Distracted by the tremor, Aragorn and the twins didn’t see what had happened. 

 

It was a good thing the water was shallower near the bank and Legolas was able to get his feet under himself pretty quickly, because the pain in his side was sharp and he would not have been able to swim had the water been any deeper. 

 

“What was that?” Elrohir shook his head, looking around as he clasped the golden chain back around his neck once more.

 

Elladan shrugged.  “I don’t know.  But it’s past now.”

 

“Legolas, are you all right?” Aragorn called down after a few moments, noting that the elf did not come out of the water immediately.  The young ranger was not really concerned because he did not know yet what had happened. 

 

“Fine,” Legolas stretched the truth slightly.  “Give me a hand up.”

 

The prince reached up and Aragorn grasped his hand, helping to pull him up out of the water and onto the bank.  Legolas scrambled up, but did not rise at once.  Instead he leaned sideways on the sun-warmed rock and held his side, trying to catch his breath.

 

“Legolas, you’re not all right, what happened?” Elrohir’s face became immediately serious.

 

Legolas shrugged them off and rose quickly.  “Got caught by the rock edge a little when I fell back in.  ‘Tis nothing.”

 

Aragorn pulled Legolas’ arm away from his side and grimaced in alarm.  The soaked bandage around the elf’s ribs had a creeping red stain sprouting on it directly over his healing wound and the water dripping down the prince’s side below had acquired a frightening crimson tint.

 

Aragorn had the now useless bandage unwrapped in a matter of moments.  He bit his lip at what he saw.

 

“Legolas, the stitches have burst,” Elladan said quietly as he picked up his still dry tunic and helped Aragorn press it against the prince’s bleeding side, tying off the re-opened wound.

 

“I don’t believe the damage goes very deep,” the dark-haired elf shook his head.  “For you are mostly mended.  Likely it is a surface tear only, but we should get it cleaned and re-dressed as soon as possible all the same.  I fear father’s going to have to put the stitches back in place.”

 

Legolas groaned in protest, but the hot poker buried in his side bid him listen to the other elf.  “All right then, but don’t fuss over it.  Estel, stop, leave it alone, I’ll be fine.”

 

Aragorn stopped checking the bandage at Legolas’ request, but when he straightened up his face held worried guilt.  “Legolas I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pulled you in there, I wasn’t thinking...”

 

Legolas cuffed the young human upside the head lightly.  “Stop.  This is not your fault.  I should have been more careful.”

 

“Blame it on the tremor my friends, that bit of ground shaking did no one any good,” Elladan shook his head, lightening everyone’s mood again as they turned homeward.

 

“Now there’s a good story, we must remember that, it was the earthquake’s fault!” Elrohir said cheerfully, offering Legolas an arm if he needed support, but Legolas politely refused, he could manage quite fine on his own.

 

“As if father would believe that,” Aragorn rolled his eyes.  “That wasn’t even a proper earthquake.”

 

“How would you know?” Elrohir elbowed his human brother.  “There hasn’t been an earthquake in these parts in... well, longer than I can remember.”  That of course, was quite long.  “Besides, it *was* its fault or Legolas wouldn’t have fallen.”

 

Aragorn shrugged, but he still felt responsible for having dragged his friend into the water in the first place.

 

“There was an earthquake in Mirkwood a long, long time ago, or so I am told,” Legolas mused, since the subject had come up.  “I was too little to remember it, but they say that one of the lesser halls collapsed under the strain and it did a good deal of damage to the houses outside the palace.  They say it was a small one, although I do not know how they could with nothing to compare it against.”

 

“I wonder what a really big one would feel like?” Elrohir pondered.  “It’s somewhat eerie to feel the earth moving on its own under your feet like that.  It’s not natural.”

 

“Well let’s hope you never find out!” Elladan laughed and shook his head.  “Honestly, the things you wonder about Elrohir...”

 

 

___________________________________________________________

~*PART TWO*~

 

 

 

“And what happened *this* time?” Elrond asked with a long-suffering look as he examined Legolas, sparing a glance upward at his three sons who were wet, partially dressed and dripping on the carpet.

 

“I slipped on the pond...” Legolas started to explain.

 

“There was an earthquake...” Elrohir said at nearly the same moment.

 

“It was my fault,” Aragorn put in quietly.

 

“No, it wasn’t,” Elladan shook his head.  All four had spoken at more or less the same time.

 

Elrond raised his hands for peace.  “Why do I even bother?  Never mind.  I don’t want to know.  Elladan, get me the cleansing herbs and water.  Elrohir, mix up a sleeping draught, unless Legolas would prefer I put the stitches back in while he is awake?”

 

Legolas gave his head a small, quick shake.  He had made the mistake of doing that last time, against Elrond’s council. 

 

“I didn’t think so,” the elder elf continued with a small bit of amusement.  “Estel, bring me the needle and thread.” 

 

Aragorn and the twins were themselves skilled at the art of healing, trained under Elrond’s hand, but Elrond was still the final authority on the subject and had the greatest ability. 

 

“If you boys aren’t careful, you’re going to make the prince regret being our guest,” Elrond murmured as he bent to his work. 

 

“Oh don’t worry, they were just as much trouble in my home,” Legolas jested, having to grit his teeth around the pain as Elrond bathed the re-opened cut.

 

“Legolas!” Aragorn said with the desired amount of indignity and Legolas laughed, wincing as he did.

 

“All right, peace now you two,” the elder elf interjected with authority.  “Let me at least patch you up before you kill one another again.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas was still asleep and resting comfortably.  Aragorn, Elrohir and Elladan had gone to their rooms to change and Aragorn had emerged first.  He wandered down to the stables and stood in the doorway, his arms resting on the half-gate, watching the horses within without really seeing them.

 

He knew Elrond was there before the elder elf laid a gentle hand on the young man’s shoulder from behind. 

 

“You’re brooding Estel,” Elrond said quietly, joining him by the door.  “What troubles you?”

 

Aragorn sighed.  It was no good denying it.  Elrond knew him far too well and could always see right through him. 

 

“It was my fault,” Aragorn said quietly.  “You know, you’re right, ever since I met him, Legolas *has* been getting hurt and it always seems to be because of me.”  Aragorn balled his fists and then released them.  “I try to do things right, but it as you have told me a hundred times, I am too impulsive, too reckless... I hurt the people I care about through thoughtlessness... I don’t want to, but I do.”

 

Elrond watched the boy with serious eyes.  Simply telling the young ranger that Legolas’ injuries were not his fault would do little good, the elven lord was sure that his sons had already tried that tact.  Besides, Aragorn’s problem seemed to go deeper than that. 

 

“Walk with me Estel,” he invited and together they wandered towards the gardens.  For a long while they walked in silence through the trees until they reached an area where there was a stone seat carved out of the rock and many stone arches and spring-houses dotted the green grass.  Pausing under the shade of one of these, Elrond regarded his young, human son.  Above them, they could hear the gurgling rush of the Bruinen river, flowing on its way along the top of the cliff far above their heads to the right.  The river was considerably swollen from the recent rainfall, but it was Elrond’s river and always bent itself to his will, thus, flooding was infrequent, despite the influx of the melting mountain snow and soggy weather.

 

“Aragorn, listen to me,” the elven lord said presently, and Aragorn knew he was serious because he was calling him by his right name.  “I may seem harsh to you sometimes when I speak, but it is not what is in my heart.  I would that I could shield you forever from the evil in this world, but such is not your path, nor mine.  You will face much darkness and danger in your life Estel, more than perhaps even I can imagine.  To survive what I fear you shall one day have to face you must learn many things, not the least of which is caution and restraint.  But you are young Estel, do not judge yourself by those around you here, because as dear as we love you, our races are apart and our years vastly different.  I say the things I do only because I worry about you Estel, for that is something my father’s heart cannot help.  Yet I am also very proud of you my son, you have the makings of a great man inside you.  I just want to see that man have a chance to live to reach maturity,” the elf’s dark eyes twinkled slightly at that last.

 

Aragorn met his foster-father’s eyes, still uncertain.  “But I-” he would never get the chance to finish, for at that moment the earth rumbled beneath their feet.  It was like what had happened earlier by the pond, only a hundred times more intense. 

 

The ground beneath their feet literally jerked sideways as if some giant had grabbed the carpet of grass and stone beneath them and yanked it sideways.  Just as quickly it seemed to jerk back the other way, leaving elf and man stumbling for balance as the earth shook madly.

 

Aragorn was half thrown into Elrond’s arms before stumbling back and catching hold of the edge of the archway behind him for balance. 

 

At that moment there was a great cracking and snapping sound above them as the groan of moving stone and the snap of breaking wood was added to the chaos of the moment. 

 

A huge oak tree, growing at a sharp angle from the steep ravine wall on their right, seemed to groan as its roots were shaken free of the earth.  It toppled down and sideways, landing atop the already swaying archway that Elrond and Aragorn stood beneath.  Hundreds of pounds of ancient stone and falling tree descended upon the two beings without a moment’s warning.  Elrond was in the clear, but Aragorn was directly under the path of the falling tree.

 

“Estel!” Elrond’s voice was nearly drowned by the noise around them.  Aragorn looked up in time to see the huge capstone of the arch crashing straight down upon him.  He barely even had time to take in the death that was rushing towards him before he felt his foster-father’s strong arms grab him and fling him to the earth.  Elrond grabbed the young human by the shoulders, propelling him out from under the arch as far as he could in the split-instant that they had.  The two beings fell to the heaving earth, with Elrond landing protectively on top of the young ranger’s back.  A half an instant later the arch, the stones and the tree crashed down on them.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

~*PART THREE*~

 

 

Aragorn opened his eyes slowly, not sure when he had closed them.  He had no way of knowing if he had blacked out for a moment or an hour, but the earth was now still and the air silent except for the nervous twitter of the agitated birds.  The insects all seemed to be quiet, as if hiding in terror from the fury of the earth.

 

Aragorn ached everywhere and his healing shoulder, twisted slightly underneath him, was throbbing.  He could barely breathe and felt as if he were trapped under something, something heavy.  Everything came back to him in a rush as he lifted his head enough to see the broken and twisted tree branches all around and the shattered chunks of stone that had once been the archway littering the ground.

 

“Father?” he called, trying to make sense of the jumbled images that his mind held of those last few moments.  “Elrond?”  Silence.

 

Dark hair was falling in the Dùnadan’s eyes and clinging to fresh blood on the side of his face.  It was odd, because Aragorn didn’t hurt there.  The young ranger brushed it aside, only to freeze in horror as his fingers touched it.  It was not his hair.  It was not his blood.  The dark sienna tresses were almost the right color, but there was too much brown and not enough wave in them, besides the fact that they were much too long...

 

“Father!” Aragorn said in alarm as he realized that half the weight pressing against his back was soft, not hard and jagged as the tree and stones should have been.  Urgently wriggling free and turning over, Aragorn saw a sight that would haunt his nightmares for years to come. 

 

Lord Elrond lay partially hidden beneath the rubble of the fallen archway.  The trunk of the tree had missed him only by inches, but some of the thick branches pressed down crushingly against his chest and shoulders.  Broken stones lay about him, some still resting on his unmoving body.  The elf lord’s long brown hair lay in tangled waves about his face.  The entire right side of his head was covered in blood and his long black eyelashes were closed.

 

A swill of sheer horror and fear ran through Aragorn’s battered body as he threw himself down on his knees beside the elf that he had come to claim as father.  “Lord Elrond... father... no.  Oh please no...” he murmured breathlessly, fearing to find the master of Rivendell already dead. 

 

For several desperate moments all effort to find any sign of life in the motionless elf proved in vain until finally Aragorn felt a tiny brush of air move by Elrond’s pale lips and found a weak, thready pulse.  The elf was alive... but barely.

 

Aragorn heaved aside the stones, but he could not budge the tree.  As gently as he could, he dragged Elrond free of its crushing weight, trying to avoid doing more damage than good.  Once the elf lord was free, Aragorn checked him over again, his mind racing.  He could probably carry Elrond back to the house if he had to, but he was unsure if it was wise to move him in such a brusque manner.  He would have to go get help... but after they got him to the house, then what?  Elrond was the healer, but they could not take him to himself. 

 

Aragorn squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, gripping Elrond’s still hand tightly.  “You should not have done this,” he whispered softly, his voice filled with anguish.  Aragorn knew it should be him lying there right now, not Elrond.  But the elder elf had put himself in harms way to save his young, human son and Aragorn didn’t know how he was going to live with it if... if he... but he couldn’t even think the word.  Died. 

 

The Dùnadan was just about to go for help, when it came to them.  Several elves had heard him calling earlier and came upon them out of the woods.  With their help Aragorn was able to get Elrond back to the house as quickly and as safely as possible.

 

Elladan and Elrohir met them as they entered the house.  The main house itself was amazingly unaffected, except that many things had fallen off their shelves, all the candle-stands were over-turned and the floor was littered with things that had broken when they fell.  But the main structure was intact.  That was more than could be said of some of the outlying buildings, which had fallen down on themselves completely.

 

Everyone looked shaken, but when the twins saw their father their faces went pale.  “Father!” they cried, rushing forward and gazing down at him in horror.

 

“By the Valar, what did you *do* Estel?  What happened?” Elrohir didn’t mean the words the way they sounded, but he was too shocked and horrified to pay much attention to what he was saying, or how it was taken. 

 

“Father?  Father!” Elladan stood beside them as they laid the elf lord in his large bed, holding his father’s hand and calling out to him.  But the younger elf could find no response on any level and that alarmed him greatly.

 

“I-I...” Aragorn was still somewhat dazed.  He moved automatically over Elrond’s body, trying to be useful, trying to help, but his hands were trembling.  “The earthquake... a tree fell, fell on the archway... he-he pushed me down.  I – he – m-my fault, I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry!” he couldn’t bear to look up and meet his brothers’ eyes, his guilt was crushing down on him too heavily.  Hadn’t he just been concerned that he was causing those he cared for to be hurt?  And now Elrond lay at deaths door because of him.  Because Elrond had been trying to help him with his stupid problems.  Because the elf lord had had to think of his adopted son’s safety before his own...  Aragorn’s thoughts condemned him unmercifully.

 

“Stop, Estel, move aside,” Elladan pulled Aragorn firmly away from their father’s bedside.  “Go, compose yourself, have someone look you over, make sure you aren’t hurt.  Elrohir and I have to see to father.” 

 

“No, I want to help, I-” Aragorn protested.

 

“Estel do as I say!” Elladan snapped harshly, his voice made gruff by the alarm and heart-sickening fear that was coursing through him over his father’s wellbeing.  The elf knew that his skills, though great, were no match for his father’s and yet now the burden of saving the man they loved most in the world had fallen upon his and Elrohir’s shoulders.  Thoughts of failure tormented him and left him with very little time to ponder his younger brother’s feelings as he gave Aragorn a quick push towards the door.  “You’re in no shape to help anyone and you’re only going to hurt him worse.  Now go and let us work to save him if we still can!”

 

Aragorn nodded slightly, blinking hard to keep his burning eyes clear.  He stumbled to the doorway, watching for a moment as Elladan and Elrohir worked quickly over their father’s motionless body.  Several other elves that the twins had sent for to assist them arrived and brushed past the dazed, reeling, heart-sick human lingering in the doorway. 

 

Tearing himself away from the dreadful scene, Aragorn made his way numbly over to a chair in the hallway and sank down into it, burying his face in his hands. 

 

It was there that Legolas found him.  “The earthquake woke me,” the elf prince said, his soft voice making the young man in the chair jerk.  “I thought I was still dreaming!  I suppose Elrohir got to feel what a real one was like now... Estel?” Legolas’ voice went from being light and inquiring to concerned.

 

Aragorn brought his head up quickly, scrubbing at his face, his eyes were red-rimmed and his face pale.

 

“Aragorn what happened, are you hurt?” Legolas dropped down to his knee by his friend’s chair, taking in his distressed appearance and the dust-covered, torn state of his clothing. 

 

Aragorn couldn’t speak, so he just shook his head and waved his hand numbly towards his father’s room.  “Elrond...” his hoarse voice cracked slightly.

 

Legolas’ face reflected both confusion and apprehension, but he rose and went into the room, since he seemed to be able to get no clear information from his dazed friend in the hall.

 

When he came out again the prince’s face was grave and sorrowful.  He pulled a chair up next to Aragorn’s and sat on it backward, facing his friend.  He didn’t say anything, but took the young ranger’s hand and squeezed it tightly. 

 

They were both still sitting thus when Elladan and Elrohir finally exited their father’s room what seemed a very long time later.  The twins looked exhausted and drained, having poured every last ounce of energy, effort and power that they possessed into their father’s injured body.

 

Aragorn and Legolas both looked up.  Aragorn rose, his gaze searching his brothers’ faces.  He caught Elladan’s eyes, but the eldest twin just turned and walked away, his heart too heavy and his own sense of inadequacy too great to deal with anyone else at the moment.  Aragorn took the gesture as rejection because of what he had caused and took a deep breath to still the maelstrom of emotions swirling inside, threatening to pull him under.  He turned fearful eyes towards Elrohir; frightened of the news they carried.

 

Legolas stood as well.  “Is he...?” he bridged the silence that the brothers seemed unable or unwilling to break. 

 

“No,” Elrohir shook his head, running his hand wearily over his face.  “And yes...” the elf pinched the bridge of his nose wearily, trying to drive back the pounding headache and his own pulsing sorrow.  He sighed.  “The cuts and bruises to his body were not hard to deal with, although several ribs have been broken, they did not rupture anything I think.  The head wound however, that has done much damage, I don’t know how much.  His body lives yet, but... he does not respond.  It as if his spirit has already fled, leaving only the body breathing... but not for long.  And if he should wake... he may not be the same.  His spirit may never return from its wandering.  Elladan and I tried everything in our power.”  Elrohir dropped his head, pressing exhausted palms to his eyes, trying to hold his grief in check.  He could not.  “We could not call him back.  Elladan says... It is likely that father is... is going to die.” 

 

Aragorn felt light headed and dizzy.  He stumbled backward and almost fell, but he kept his feet.  Next to Elrond, the twins were some of the best Elven healers there were, if they failed, what hope was there?  He pressed his eyes shut, but Elrohir’s words bounced painfully around in his head overlaid by his own all-encompassing grief.  “Going to die, going to die, going to die...” 

 

Aragorn pressed his hands to his eyes, then his ears, but nothing stilled the voices in his head that told him Elrond was going to die and it would be his fault.  His brothers would never look at him again, and he could not bear to see the hidden accusation in their eyes, the pain that he, a mortal doomed to someday die, had stolen from them that which was imperishable. 

 

Turning away, Aragorn fled down the stairs not far away, desperate to flee the pain that he could not escape and wanting only to be alone.

 

“Aragorn!  Estel!” Legolas and Elrohir called after him, but if he heard he did not respond. 

 

Elrohir was so drained that he leaned against the wall for support.  Legolas regarded him with concern, ready to offer help, but the dark haired elf waved it off.  “Please, go after Estel, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.  I’ve got to find Elladan.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

An hour later Legolas returned empty handed.  Here and there various elves were busy cleaning up the mess that the earthquake had created, but a dark cloud seemed to hang over the house. 

 

Elladan and Elrohir knew the instant they saw the Mirkwood elf that something was wrong. 

 

“It’s Aragorn.  I can’t find him anywhere.  He’s gone,” Legolas shook his head, frustrated that he hadn’t been able to track his friend at all.

 

“Oh no,” Elladan shook his head.  “When Aragorn wants to disappear, he can disappear.  We’ve got to find him.”

 

“But why would he?” Elrohir shook his head.  He didn’t understand why Aragorn would run out on them at a time like this. 

 

“He feels responsible for what happened to father Elrohir!  He was dazed and grief-stricken and I didn’t help matters,” Elladan sighed, realizing now how their words earlier must have come across to the young man.  “We’ve got to find him.”

 

Just then a messenger ran up, panting and clearly frightened.  “My lords!” he addressed the twins in a breathless hurry.  “The river!  The river!”

 

“What?  What about the river?” Elrohir waited for the elf to calm down. 

 

“The earthquake has disrupted its course!  A great rockslide in the gully below the falls has created a natural dam of incredible magnitude!  The water cannot escape and is backing up rapidly behind it!  The lands to the west have been totally cut off from it’s flow and...”

 

“And when it has backed up far enough it will rush down into this valley, washing away everything in its path and Rivendell will be little more than a new lake,” Elladan finished grimly, quickly grasping the consequences of the situation.

 

The fact that the river was already swollen from incessant rain and melting snow higher up in the mountains only made a bad situation worse.

 

“Can the blockage be moved?” Legolas asked in alarm. 

 

“’Tis doubtful,” the messenger shook his head.  “If all that water crashing into it and pushing against it cannot loose it, I doubt that anything we could do would avail much.”

 

“We’re going to have to get groups together to begin constructing dikes in the most likely places for the river to jump its banks...” Elladan said quickly, his mind spinning as he tried to plan for the unthinkable. 

 

“I’ll have some of the people start filling sandbags right away, but it will take time for the scouts to find the best places to put them to use,” Elrohir concurred.  With Elrond out of commission, they knew that they were in charge and neither took that responsibility lightly.

 

“Do not your people already have a plan in case of floods?” Legolas turned to the twins, surprised that they seemed to have no clear idea of what exactly they needed to do.  “Surely, I would have thought living below the river like this...”

 

The twins exchanged looks.  Legolas did not know.  Very few people did.  *Very* few.  “The river... has never been a problem before.  Not when father was here,” Elrohir said quietly, and left it at that.  He could say no more.

 

Legolas did not completely understand, but he comprehended enough to know that somehow Lord Elrond had been able to control the river so that it was a worry to no one, even when it normally might have been. But with him lingering on death’s door... what did that mean now?

 

“Come,” Elladan headed for the door swiftly.  “Let us go see the damage for ourselves.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Legolas, Elladan, Elrohir and a small company of elves made their way quickly up the path out of the ravine.  When they reached the stone bridge over the Bruinen at the top of the path, they found that the rushing water was already almost up to the bottom of the bridge because of how swollen the river was.  Following the rushing, foaming water downstream, they came to the falls and from there they could look down into the gully below and see the terrible thing that they had heard about.

 

The water was indeed trapped and the lake at the bottom of the falls had already grown to a considerable depth.  Hardly a trickle of water escaped on the other side and the once-full streambed was empty and dry. 

 

“Wait!” Legolas caught sight of something and bid the others halt a moment.   Going forward he looked at the fresh signs in the dirt.  Someone had been here not very long ago.  Of course, the elf that had brought them word had been, but these tracks told a different story.  The earthquake had made the whole area somewhat unstable and a great deal of the cliff had fallen away into the waterfall below.  Yet it had happened quite recently, with in the past hour at least.  The frightening thing was that it looked as if someone had been standing on the edge when it went and tried to stop their fall, without success. 

 

Elladan, reading the signs just as clearly as Legolas, gave a small, strangled cry as he bent down to retrieve an object that lay partially hidden in the dirt near where the tracks disappeared.  Holding the object up so the others could see, he showed them that it was the brooch off the neck of the tunic that Aragorn had been wearing only a few hours ago.  Elladan and Elrohir recognized it immediately. 

 

“It’s Estel’s...” Elrohir said with difficulty, touching the nearly identical brooch that was at that moment fastened to one side of his cape.  “Elladan and I had them matching, and when Estel was little...”

 

“I gave him mine,” Elladan finished his twin’s sentence. 

 

Legolas’ face paled.  “He’s down there somewhere... in that.”  His keen gaze swept the bottom of the gully, far, far below them, but all he could see was water and above the quickly rising waterline, broken trees from the rockslide that had dammed the river.

 

“Or under it,” one of the other elves remarked softly. 

 

“No!” Legolas almost snapped.  “He’s all right, we’ve just got to find him.”  He had to believe that.  The other option was not possible.

 

Elladan and Elrohir nodded grimly.  Everything they had lost or could lose today was staggering.  Their father, their little brother and very probably their home as well when the water got high enough.  It was too much grief to pack into the span of a single day.

 

Suddenly the earth shook and each and every elf looked at one another with fear on their faces, wondering if they were in for a repeat of the catastrophe that had rocked their world only earlier that day.

 

This tremor was not so bad however, being merely an aftershock of the massive quake that had come before.  When all had stilled, the elves looked at one another in alarm.  How would the already weakened structures have held up under the strain?  Was there more tragedy awaiting them back in the gorge? 

 

“Rivendell,” one of the elves breathed. 

 

“Father!” Elladan and Elrohir looked at one another.  They had to get back.  They had to be sure that no further harm had come to their father and they had an obligation to the other elves that had always looked to Elrond’s house for direction and guidance.

 

Looking back over the edge of the falls, the twins seemed torn.  The elves of Rivendell needed them, their father needed them, Estel needed them...

 

Legolas gripped their shoulders tightly, one in each hand.  He could see their struggle.  “Return to your people, they need you to prepare for whatever is to come.  Lord Elrond needs you, he needs your care if there is to be any hope.  I’ll find Estel.  I swear, I will bring him home to you.”

 

The brothers nodded slowly.  They hated to lay their brother’s fate in the hands of anyone but themselves, however, if it had to be someone else, Legolas was the best choice they could have had; they knew how close he and Aragorn had become.

 

“Very well then,” Elladan nodded slowly.  “I pray heaven you find him and lessen the sorry burden of this day.” 

 

The other elves returned with the twins, for Rivendell was going to need everyone in her if she were going to survive, and Legolas made his way alone down the nearly sheer, slippery face of the gully that the waterfall dropped into. 

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Aragorn tried to move but he couldn’t.  A huge tree across his stomach held him pinned firmly to the earth.  The bolder beside him had saved him from being crushed to death by catching the weight of the fallen trunk just before it would have killed him, but now he was quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 

The rising water, roaring down from the falls above lapped at the heels of his boots and Aragorn knew that if he did not get free before the water got too much higher, he was going to drown.

 

He struggled with the timber trapping him, but to no avail.  His trapped ribs screamed and his breath was short.  He had to lay still for a few moments to clear the spots from his vision.  If he had ever had a worse day in his life, he couldn’t think of it at the moment.

 

Just then the heavens opened and it began to rain again.  Aragorn closed his eyes and took several deep breaths.  At least he hadn’t asked how this could get any worse.  He had learned not to do that a long time ago.  Life usually had a way of proving that no matter how bad something looked, it could *always* get worse. 

 

The water was creeping up towards his ankles now.  The fallen tree shifted in the damp earth, settling more heavily upon the human trapped beneath and making Aragorn gasp in pain.

 

Suddenly he heard a low growl behind him that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.  Turning his neck as far as he could, Aragorn became aware of dark shadows in the trees not too far away.  Dark shadows with glowing eyes.  Wolves.  Or Wargs.  Either one was bad news. 

 

Trapped in this doomed gully, and not yet realizing their danger, the animals were unsettled by the strange events occurring to the earth around them and this was, at least for the moment, to Aragorn’s advantage, because they hesitated to approach the strange, struggling creature under the log.  But the young ranger knew that that hesitancy would not last long.

 

The water had reached his calves now and Aragorn realized he was faced with three distinctly unpleasant possibilities.  Either he would drown, the tree would shift far enough to crush him, or the wolves would get to him first. 

 

‘See?’  He moaned sarcastically to himself, almost despairing at his situation.  Things could always get worse.

 

 

___________________________________________________________

~*PART FOUR*~

 

 

Two quarters of the way down, the overcast skies broke open with a peal of thunder and it began to rain again.  The falling rain pelted Legolas and turned the already damp, loose earth he was attempting to traverse into a slippery mud-slick.  Pretty soon he was slithering as much as he was climbing and the rain was only getting heavier. 

 

“Just what we needed more of,” Legolas muttered under his breath, keeping his elbow pressed in tight to his side, where his new stitches were beginning to sting and smart.  His hands and feet slipped and slid in the crumbling, sliding mud and more than once he lost his hold, only to slither feet-downward on his stomach for several breathless moments until he was able to catch hold of some root or protrusion that was buried deep enough to hold in the rain-swelled earth.  Soaked and covered in mud, the elf prince swore fluently in dwarvish, because his own tongue was too fair and simply did not lend itself to express the kind of feelings he had right now. 

 

When he finally reached the bottom, Legolas was compelled to let himself drop into the rising water below and wade ashore from there, but it hardly mattered, since he was already wet to the bone from the rain.  In a matter of hours there would be no shoreline at all down here as the relentlessly flowing river continued to fill it up like water in a basin.

 

“Aragorn!” he called, trying to make his voice heard above the rolling peals of thunder.  “Estel!  Are you down here?  Aragorn!”

 

There was no answer but the lightning that split the sky at irregular intervals. 

 

“ARAGORN!!” Legolas shouted into the wind, battling his way against the blowing gale, lifting his arm before his eyes to keep the worst of the wind and water out.  Squinting to see through the driving rain, Legolas slogged through the sodden earth of the shoreline, searching for any sign of his friend. 

 

Ahead, a fallen tree blocked Legolas’ path and the elf leaped lightly up onto it for what he hoped was a better view of the area.  A sharp groan from beneath him caught Legolas by surprise and nearly made him lose his balance.  Hopping down quickly, Legolas’ eyes widened as he struggled to make out Aragorn’s prostrate shape under the log.  The water had risen up almost to the young ranger’s midsection and Aragorn’s top half was so coated in the mud he was half-sunken into that the elf might never have seen him in this storm, keen eyes or no, if he had not literally stumbled right on top of him.

 

“Aragorn!” Legolas knelt quickly in the mud by the young ranger’s head, wiping the earth-coated hair from his friend’s brow. 

 

Aragorn shot a worried glance over the prince’s shoulder.  He had not the breath to make himself heard over the roar of the storm, but he pointed urgently, mouthing the words: “Look out!”

 

Legolas glanced behind him and whirled just in time to meet the rush of one of the wolves who had finally decided that these two looked like tasty prey. 

 

Legolas pulled the knives off his back quickly, because this was no kind of weather for archery.  A few quick thrusts took care of the first beast, and just in time because the second one had already charged.  Legolas caught it mid-rush, with a quick, well-aimed strike, but the momentum of the creature made him loose his footing in the slippery, treacherous mud and when the third pounced he rolled over only just in time to catch it before it could get its fangs into him.  The wolf’s claws tore at the shoulder of his tunic before he got his blade up, into the creature’s belly and threw the beast off. 

 

The other wolves retreated and Legolas re-sheathed his knives warily, on the alert in case any of them should come back for more.  But these were wolves, not wargs, so they had been much easier to deal with than their larger, fiercer, more cunningly evil relatives. 

 

The water level had now risen up to Aragorn’s chest. 

 

“Time to get you out of here my friend,” Legolas said as he attempted to pull Aragorn free.  But the ranger was trapped tight.  Legolas pulled harder and his friend grimaced in pain.  This wasn’t working. 

 

Dropping down, Legolas quickly burrowed under the ranger’s back with his hands, forcing a deeper channel in the wet earth.  Eventually some of the pressure eased off of Aragorn’s lungs as his body sank down into the depression that Legolas was creating and the elf swiftly pulled him free before the tree had a chance to settle down any further. 

 

The rising water had reached up to almost cover the fallen tree.  In a few moments it would cover the place where Aragorn’s head had been just an instant before.  They had escaped not a moment too soon. 

 

Legolas supported Aragorn as the ranger caught his breath, holding his aching, bruised chest and gasping for breath as the rain and wind sought to steal it away from him once more. 

 

“Thanks!” Aragorn shouted above the storm once he had enough breath back in his lungs to do so.  Legolas was soaked and plastered with mud and wolf blood, but right now he was the most beautiful sight Aragorn could have hoped for.  “Thanks for always coming after me.”

 

Legolas grinned despite it all.  “You’re welcome, but let’s not make a habit of this, all right?  Come on, let’s get out of here before this whole place turns into the newest lake in the area!”

 

Aragorn nodded his hearty concurrence. 

 

Going back the way Legolas had come down, towards Rivendell, was impossible.  The rain had rendered any attempt to climb up the steep, slippery slope utterly hopeless. 

 

“We’ll have to climb out the western side, where the earthquake made the new dam,” Aragorn assessed their options quickly.  Legolas nodded, in agreement.

 

The rain was beginning to slack to a normal speed and the wind had died down some, making conversation easier as they began the long and difficult assent out of the gorge. 

 

“What happened?” Legolas asked as they climbed.  “We found your brooch on top of the cliff.  Your brothers were very worried!”

 

At the mention of his brothers, Aragorn’s eyes clouded with pain and he looked away, climbing in silence for several moments.

 

“I was looking at the falls.  The ledge I was standing on crumbled.  I was carried down with it, but landed in the water so I wasn’t much hurt.  Unfortunately, I came ashore only to be greeted with another tremor of some kind, which knocked that tree down,” Aragorn gave the quick version.

 

Legolas glanced sideways at his friend as he scrambled up a slippery outcropping, avoiding the sharp bits of broken wood that covered the newly made slope.  “I was looking for you after you took off.  I couldn’t find you.”

 

Aragorn kept his eyes on the path in front of him.  “I know.”

 

Silence.  The rain was lightening, the worst of its fury spent, but it was still a force to reckon with. 

 

“You didn’t want me to find you, did you?” Legolas observed quietly. 

 

“No,” Aragorn admitted, hauling himself up to the next ledge. 

 

Legolas started to follow, but his injured side hitched slightly and he winced, dropping back to the ledge below. 

 

Aragorn saw that and leaned over the ledge, offering his hand to the elf, concern knotting his brow.

 

Legolas accepted the help and scrambled up.  They both took a moment’s breather before continuing on.  The top was almost within their reach. 

 

“Are you all right?” Aragorn asked and of course, Legolas nodded off-handedly.

 

“Are you sorry?” Legolas queried and Aragorn raised an eyebrow.

 

“That I found you,” the elf prince clarified.

 

Aragorn grinned ruefully.  “Considering that if you hadn’t, I would right now be either wolf-bait or fish-bait... I guess not.”

 

Legolas chuckled. 

 

The two friends finally made their way out of the ravine and into the rolling lands beyond.  The rain showed no signs of abating and night was coming on fast.  There was no use trying to get back to Rivendell in the dark, so the two mud-soaked travelers turned towards the town of Strayton, which was not far distant.  Legolas glanced sideways at the quiet young man beside him.  He was not sure that Aragorn *wanted* to go back to Rivendell yet, so this was just as well.  He knew that Aragorn needed to talk, needed to sort out whatever was going on inside him, but that would have to wait.  Right now both of them were soaked and sore and completely worn out.  Strayton itself proved to be too far for them to make before the sun went down, plunging the world into a cold, wet, moonless darkness. 

 

They were only a mile or so outside town, but Aragorn was ready to drop and Legolas had to admit that he could rest a little.  Especially as the throbbing stitch in his side kept getting worse the longer he pushed it. 

 

The two friends found a warm, dry barn not far from the path they were following and let themselves inside.  Climbing up into the loft, they collapsed on the hay.  Aragorn was asleep almost as soon as he lay down.  Legolas had intended to stay up and keep watch, but his own exhausted body, strong though it was, succumbed to its need for rest.  His eyes slowly drooped until they were half-lidded and glazed, proving that he too, was deep in elven sleep while the rain drummed against the roof-boards above them.

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

Darkness had fallen and outside the rain continued to pelt the windows.  The lights in the great halls burned low as Elladan and Elrohir stood a silent vigil over their father’s motionless body.  His condition seemed to be deteriorating.  There was no way he could be moved to a safer location, even though the twins knew that if the river jumped its course they would all be swept away.  Still, they would not leave their father’s side. 

 

In the darkness, many of the elves toiled long into the night with the barriers they were creating between themselves and the rising river.  They might hold for now... but when the gully finally filled up... there would be nothing to stop the flood.  All they were doing was buying themselves a little more time.

 

Elrohir gripped his father’s still hand tightly.  His thumb brushed lightly over the graceful ring upon Elrond’s finger.  A secret to everyone, and invisible to most, it was not something that Elrond had deemed necessary to conceal from his sons.  They knew of it, and the great danger there would be should anyone else come into that knowledge.

 

Elladan brushed stray strands of long, dark hair from his father’s brow.  It was foreign to see the elf lord lying so, with his eyes closed, rather than half-lidded in elvish sleep.  Elladan was reminded of a midnight conversation he had had with his father on a similar subject when their human brother Estel was just a wee child.  The eldest twin smiled sadly.  Placing one hand on either side of Elrond’s unresponsive face, Elladan let his head sink down until his forehead rested against his father’s.

 

After several long moments it was Elrohir who broke the silence. 

 

“Elladan... the other elves are doing all they can at the levies, but soon it will be no use.  Unless the river is checked and the floodwaters brought down...”

 

Elladan nodded once.  He knew.  Their home was in danger of being washed away before their eyes and there seemed to be nothing they could do.  Already, scores of elves were busily disgorging the house and grounds of its priceless treasures and historical artifacts.  Much of Rivendell was like a giant, living museum, and to lose all that history would be devastating.  Yet the twins could bring themselves to care very little for the things here, when their father lay so near to death.

 

Elrond alone had the power to stop this catastrophe... but the elven lord was far from their reach, and they knew not if he would ever return to them.

 

“Do you think...” Elrohir ventured hesitantly, reverently letting his fingers rest on Vilya, the ring of air, still on Elrond’s hand.  “Do you think he’d want us...” he wasn’t comfortable with the idea he was suggesting and found it hard to say.  “Want us to use...”

 

“Nay,” Elladan’s head snapped up abruptly.  “I would not chance that, not even to save the home I love.  We know not whether we would have the strength or the wisdom to wield it correctly.  And if we erred... if because of us its location became revealed to the enemy... we would bring down destruction on the heads of everyone here.”

 

Both brothers shuddered silently at the horrible thought of what would happen if Sauron were to discover that one of the three elven rings lay hidden in Imladris.

 

“You are right,” Elrohir nodded slowly.  “It is far too dangerous.  But then... what *are* we going to do?”

 

Elladan looked down at their unconscious father and wished he had an answer to that question.

 

Elrohir sighed.  He hadn’t expected a reply.  “Do you think that Legolas found Estel?” he whispered quietly, gazing out at the rain lashing the darkened windowpanes.

 

“I wish I knew,” Elladan closed his eyes and took his head in his hands.  “I wish I knew.”

 

 

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

 

By sunrise the rain had finally abated and the morning dawned, shrouded in fog.  Aragorn woke first and for a moment he didn’t know where he was.  Then he saw Legolas sleeping near at hand and remembered yesterday’s events.  Rising stiffly out of the hay he stretched to loosen sore, bruised muscles. 

 

A few moments later the young ranger realized that Legolas was also awake now and watching him quietly from his place in the hay.  It was a slightly disconcerting thing about elves, that they could go from sleeping to waking and you wouldn’t know the difference.  Aragorn however, could tell by looking at their eyes when an elf was asleep or not, although his brothers had tried to fool him often enough when he was younger.

 

“Good morning,” Legolas said presently, sitting up somewhat stiffly himself and combing the hay out of his long hair with his fingers.  The rain they had walked in last night had washed the worst of the mud out of their hair and off their skin, but their clothes were still mud-stained and disheveled from their adventures yesterday.

 

“Is it?  I hadn’t noticed,” Aragorn moaned slightly.  He felt like he was hung-over, but he knew he wasn’t.  It was emotional and physical fall-out from what he had been through yesterday.

 

“You know Strider, you seem determined to ruin most of my wardrobe,” the elf remarked dryly as he smoothed his damp, torn clothing, attempting to lighten his friend’s gloomy mood.  “Just because *you* like to dress like a mendicant...”

 

Aragorn smiled slightly and rolled his eyes, absently flinging a handful of straw in the prince’s direction.  But the pain behind his eyes remained.  “Prissy elves,” he muttered good-naturedly. 

 

“Filthy human,” Legolas shot back with a chuckle, glad for anything that made Aragorn smile. 

 

The barn door below opened and the two friends froze, exchanging guilty looks. 

 

“Hey, is someone in here?” a voice from below demanded.  “You’d better get down here double quick or you’ll catch it hot when I get my hands on you!”

 

Aragorn dropped down first, with Legolas following a little slower.  He was greeted with the visage of a beefy looking farmer with a pitchfork leveled with his chest. 

 

“Ay now, what you doing in my loft beggar?  This is private property, see?  Griff!  Kob!  Nory!  Get in here!”

 

Aragorn raised his hands in a placating gesture.  “We took shelter from the rain last night, that’s all.  We’re leaving.  I promise you we did no harm.”

 

The farmer remained suspicious.  “Not so fast mister!  It’s all very easy to say, but if you touched me chickens...”

 

Legolas rolled his eyes, coming up to stand behind his friend.  “Your chickens were the *last* thing on our minds, I assure you.”

 

The farmer’s face registered surprise as his gaze locked on Legolas, his eyes narrowing.  “Hey now... you’re one of them elves, ain’t you?”

 

Legolas wasn’t sure whether he should validate that statement or not... but the answer was obvious. 

 

Four or five farm hands appeared in the doorway behind their boss.

 

“All right you two, I don’t know what you’re up to, but you’re staying right here until I get the Warden from Strayton up here, see?” the farmer threatened, brandishing his pitchfork for emphasis. 

 

The ranger and the elf prince exchanged glances and sighed.  Being taken for some kind of chicken-thieves was somehow the ironically perfect compliment to their already rotten situation.  

 

The last thing they wanted was trouble, and since they were innocent, they had nothing to fear, so they submitted peacefully and let Farmer Biles take them into his ‘custody’ until one of his hands could come back with the Warden Nash.  It wasn’t actually such a bad thing, since Mrs. Biles was just about as friendly and mother-henish as her husband was suspicious and wary.  Much to her husband’s frustration, she insisted on making sure that their two detainees had a proper breakfast while they waited for the warden.  She declared in a motherly fashion that whatever they were they must be hungry and the ‘young one with the dark hair and old eyes’ could use some fattening up at any rate! 

 

The food was good, but Legolas found their situation slightly disturbing because he could feel everyone’s eyes on him nearly the whole time.  Several of the farm hands seemed to actually go out of their way to take the long way around the table he and Aragorn were seated at just so they wouldn’t have to come too close to the elf.  He was sorely tempted to look at one of them and say “boo!” just to see if they would jump, but he supposed he wouldn’t be improving his and Aragorn’s situation any.  It was obvious that these people had never seen an elf this close before.  It was odd really, if one thought of it.  These people lived so close to Rivendell, and yet had almost nothing to do with the elves who dwelt there. 

 

Legolas shook his head.  The elder and the younger races had become estranged with time and simple folk like these farmers were almost frightened to have an elf like himself in their midst.  Of course, it did not help matters that the only experience any of the people around here had recently had with any member of the firstborn’s race had been with Hebrilith, a dark elf bent on destroying every human he came across. 

 

They had just finished eating when the Warden arrived and they were herded outside. 

 

Aragorn’s brows furrowed when he saw that not only the warden, but nearly a dozen other men had come as well.  Surely two alleged chicken-thieves didn’t warrant this much attention.  The instant he saw them he had a bad feeling that he couldn’t explain.

 

Legolas must have felt the same for the elf prince tensed slightly beside him, shifting almost imperceptibly into a ready position.

 

“Here they are, I caught them red-handed in my barn!” Biles blustered proudly to the Warden as the man approached. 

 

The Warden, a tall man with dark hair and eyes, nodded absently, as if only half listening to the farmer.  “Your boy said one of them was an elf.”  He scanned the faces of the two beings before him, his gaze quickly coming to rest on Legolas.  The prince did not like the man’s tone of voice, nor the fact that his race seemed to matter.

 

“We weren’t trying to steal anything,” Aragorn said quickly, not sure what the Warden had meant by his statement and wanting to take their attention away from Legolas.  “I tried to explain that to the good farmer here.  We only took shelter from the rain in his barn, we-”

 

“You two are from Rivendell?” Warden Nash cut Aragorn off somewhat brusquely. 

 

“Yes...” the young ranger nodded slowly, not sure what that had to do with anything. 

 

“I thought as much,” the Warden’s face hardened.  “It figures you’d be a bunch of thieves too.”

 

“And what exactly do you mean by that?” Aragorn demanded, containing his outrage at the uncalled for slur to his home.  His hand drifted somewhat automatically to his hip, but Farmer Biles had of course, demanded that he and Legolas surrender their weapons when he took them inside his house.  There hadn’t been any reason to object too greatly then.  Now Aragorn was beginning to wonder how wise their decision to comply had been.

 

Warden Nash did not miss the move and his face darkened further. “Don’t take us for a bunch of country fools!  The land may be wet now, but you know what will happen to us when Summer comes now!  Did you lordly folk think you owned the whole river to do with it what you please?!”

 

Aragorn was so confused that he just stared at the man, not sure what to say to something so ridiculously nonsensical and unexpected.

 

“Wait, you go on too fast,” Legolas shook his head, just as confused as his friend.  “What exactly are you accusing us of doing?  Stealing the river?”  He almost laughed at the absurdity of the thought, especially after what they had been through yesterday, but the dark look on the Warden’s face and that of the other men present suddenly told the two friends that that was exactly what they were being blamed for.

 

“Everyone knows that Rivendell holds the Bruinen under some kind of spell.  Now you high-and-mighty elves have dammed it up, but did you think about the people downstream?  What will happen to our lands, our crops, our cattle?!” Warden Nash was obviously very angry.  “Not only that, but your dam-building caused such a great disturbance that we felt it all the way out here!  It knocked down houses,” his glare intensified.  “It killed people.” 

 

At a gesture from the Warden, several of his men moved towards Aragorn and Legolas.  “Bind them.”

 

“You can’t be serious,” Legolas shook his head as he and Aragorn backed slowly away from the men advancing towards them.  “You can’t blame the elves for the earthquake!”

 

“Go see for yourself the damage it caused in Rivendell!” Aragorn added indignantly.  Shocked that these people could actually believe that this terrible state of events was their fault.  “You’re not the only ones who lost yesterday!”  A stab of pain ran through him as he thought of Elrond.

 

The Warden’s men had them completely surrounded and they couldn’t back up much farther without bumping into more of them.  The friends were unarmed and this situation was quickly degrading into something potentially dangerous.  Of course, Legolas and Aragorn knew that they could probably take the whole lot if they had to... but not without some bloodshed, and that was not something they wanted unless it was obviously coming down to a choice between these men or their lives.  These were neighbors after all, not orcs or agents of darkness.  Just villagers who had gotten some mighty confused notions into their heads.  Spilling their blood would do nothing but make matters worse and the last thing they wanted was to start some kind of blood-feud between Strayton and Rivendell.  That had come close enough as it was over the whole Hebrilith situation not too long ago. 

 

“I’m going to take you two in one way or another.  If you’re gonna try to run, you’d better make your move,” the Warden said with quiet menace.  He and his men had all drawn their weapons. 

 

Aragorn realized that the man wanted them to try something.  These people were angry and frightened by events that were out of their control and wanted an excuse to start something.  Taking a deep breath, the young man slowly stood down, raising his hands in surrender.  He glanced at Legolas and saw that the elf had come to the same conclusion.  For now it was best to cooperate and hope that justice hadn’t gone too badly awry out here yet.

 

With a heavy amount of apprehension, Aragorn and Legolas allowed themselves to be bound and placed under arrest.

 

“You’re making a mistake,” Aragorn pointed out quietly as the ropes around his wrists were pulled tight enough to cut off circulation.  “Think about it for a moment, why would Rivendell dam the river?  It now threatens to flood their valley and destroy them all!  Where is the sense in that?”

 

“Shut up!” Warden Nash snapped coldly.  “We don’t need your lies.  Maybe your own plans have backfired on you, but that doesn’t change what you’ve done to the rest of us.”

 

Aragorn held his frustration in check.  There was obviously no talking with this man.

 

“Where are you taking us?” Legolas wanted to know as they started to move the prisoners out. 

 

“Back to Strayton.  You two have a lot to answer for,” was the unwelcome reply.

 

 

 


 

TBC