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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

 

Chapter Text

___________________________________________________________
~*PART FIVE*~

 

The little procession had picked up quite a following by the time they made it into the heart of town. Half of Strayton seemed to have turned out and there was not a single friendly face in the crowd.

Aragorn and Legolas exchanged worried glances. They were feeling worse and worse about this by the minute.

“We’ve fallen into a hornet’s nest this time my friend,” Legolas murmured to Aragorn as they were pushed and jostled through the growing throng. Aragorn had to agree.

Out of the corner of his eye Legolas thought he caught sight of someone... someone who seemed familiar. An elderly man with a long grey beard, whose calm, piercing eyes looked out of place amidst the near riotous throng. The prince could not be sure however, and when he looked back a second time the face was gone, lost in the crowd.

They reached a small, stout building that was half sunk into the ground and were ushered inside. The building turned out to be the town’s prison.

They were pushed down the stairs that led to the prison and Aragorn stumbled. A hard shove made him lose his balance and he fell down the stairway, the fall doing nothing good for his sore body. One of their guards kicked him in the ribs to get him up.

Legolas did not take that very kindly and shouldered the guard sideways before he could kick Aragorn again. “That is completely uncalled for,” the elf’s voice was icy.

The guards laughed. “Listen to pretty-boy! You can’t order us around elf!” Just to prove their point one of them aimed another kick at Aragorn, who was in the process of rising.

Calmly, Legolas shoulder-checked the fellow again, despite the warning look from Aragorn. The guard stumbled, missing his mark.

The man’s face grew stormy. “You know, for having ears like that, you don’t hear so well, do you?” he taunted the elf, playing with Legolas’ pointed ears. Several of the others thought that looked fun and joined in. Under any other circumstances, Aragorn would have found the incredibly annoyed, long-suffering look on his friend’s face humorous, but not at the moment. The guards were teasing the elf unmercifully, tugging at his ears and slapping him, lightly at first, then not so lightly, playing with their prisoner and making fun of his fair features.

Aragorn was surprised that Legolas was dealing with this as well as he was. He remembered a time when the elf prince would not have quietly suffered the touch of any man, much less the kind of handling that these men were giving him. Indeed, there was a time these men would have died for touching the prince like this. Legolas shook his head, pulling disdainfully away from his tormentors.

Suddenly one of them socked the defenseless elf roughly in the stomach. Legolas doubled over, sharp pain from his side lancing through his awareness and almost making him stumble. The fist came down again and Legolas hissed softly between his teeth as it knocked the air out of his lungs.

“Enough,” Warden Nash stopped things before they had a chance to get really ugly. “Lock them up.”

Aragorn and Legolas were half dragged half shoved into the small cell. Their hands were cut free and the door slammed shut behind them. There was one small, barred window set high up on the far wall of the cellar-like prison, almost ground level with the earth outside. The wall of the jail that faced inward, into the rest of the building, was made of floor-to-ceiling bars with a heavy door. From the look of the people on the other side of those bars, this was probably the safest place for them to be at the moment.

Legolas was still holding his healing side and trying to catch his breath, but he sat down on the floor quickly so that Aragorn wouldn’t notice and worry about him.

Aragorn also took a seat and the two friends sat calmly with their backs against opposite walls, gazing out impassively at the guards and villagers crammed into the small building. When the people outside finally found that they could get no rise out of the prisoners, they slowly disbanded, muttering angry words.

Finally just the Warden and a few of his men were left.

“What exactly do you intend to do with us?” Aragorn asked quietly. True, he may not have wanted to go back to Rivendell and face his brothers, but being thrown into jail was not an alternative he would have chosen. “Prosecute us for river-theft?”

“For crimes against the people of Strayton,” the man answered, obviously un-amused. “And you won’t find that a laughing matter, believe me. But don’t worry, you’ll get a hearing first, for what it’s worth.”

Neither Aragorn nor Legolas had a high opinion of how much good that would do them.

“You can’t really think to hold us responsible for an earthquake can you?” the young Ranger shook his head. This whole situation was ludicrous. It might have been funny if it hadn’t been so potentially dangerous.

“Well,” the Warden replied casually as the two friends’ confiscated weapons, which had been brought along, were hung on the wall by the door. “There’s always Farmer Biles’ charge,” he replied with a small, unsettling grin. “And around here, we hang chicken thieves. Enjoy your stay gentlemen.”

Legolas glanced at Aragorn after the Warden left and the guards settled down to their pastimes. “Pleasant sort of man. You know, I’m building such fond memories of these people...” he remarked soft enough so that only Aragorn would hear him, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Aragorn shook his head and ran his hand over his face. “How do we always end up in these situations?”

“Do you really want an answer to that?” Legolas inquired with a raised eyebrow.

“No,” Aragorn shook his head and rested his arms across the tops of his bent knees, pulling them up almost to his chin. “Are you all right?”

Legolas nodded, checking his side. “It’s tender, but I don’t believe it will tear again unless I get too near anymore ponds...” he grinned slightly.

“No,” Aragorn returned the small grin, but his eyes remained serious. “That’s not what I meant. Are *you* all right?... with this?” he gestured around them slightly. The young ranger feared that the men’s mistreatment and their present imprisonment might have triggered some of Legolas’ painful memories from his past. That was ground that he had learned to tread very lightly upon since coming to know the Prince.

Legolas caught the drift of his friend’s worry, but just smiled softly. At one time, their present situation would have been incredibly difficult for the prince to endure... but not now. The elf realized that he was truly free of the past at last and in the midst of everything that was going on, it was an unexpected bright spot to realize that.

“Well if you mean am I all right with us possibly getting hanged for stealing some farmer’s scrawny chickens that we never even saw...” Legolas remarked with a wry grin, “What do you think?”

Aragorn almost laughed and kicked his friend’s boot lightly. Even though Legolas hadn’t answered him, he had. And Aragorn liked the change he saw.

Suddenly the hard stone floor trembled beneath them and they both looked up sharply. Another aftershock! Aragorn pressed himself tightly against the wall and Legolas jumped into a crouch as the walls around them shook. Dust fell from the ceiling and the bars rattled and creaked as the structure groaned.

The guards panicked and dashed up the stairs, getting out as quick as they could.

Aragorn and Legolas had no such option. They were trapped.

 

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

 

Elladan raced quickly up the stairs. “Anyone in here? This structure is unstable and in the path of the flood waters, everyone needs to get out!” he shouted the warning that had become almost automatic by now.

On the far west side of the gorge that Rivendell was set into there were a number of houses and structures left over from an ancient town whose roots had never taken. Most of the structures were abandoned, but wandering hunters, nomadic tribes and the destitute often haunted the deserted buildings. Many of the crumbling structures had already been taken down by the earthquake, and those that remained were highly unstable.

Elladan, Elrohir and three other elves were combing through the ghost town as quickly as they could, hoping to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Already they had found three or four unfortunates who had not understood their danger.

This building was at least three levels high and shaped like a giant U. Elladan raced down the dark, damp hallways of the second floor. “The river is rising, this whole area is being evacuated, if there’s anyone in here, you must get out!” he called the warning.

The gully below the falls was nearly filled. The river was jumping its banks in half a dozen places and already two of the levies they had worked so hard to build had been washed away. It was beginning to look like there was very little they could do but try to get everyone out.

Without warning, the earth heaved in the grip of the sudden aftershock.

Elladan stumbled to one side, catching himself against one of the stone walls. Dust filled the air and the floor suddenly tilted sideways under his feet...

Outside, Elrohir had just hurried a hunter and his son out of one of the nearby shacks when the tremor sent everyone racing out of the buildings as quickly as possible.

Four elves were in the clearing. Elrohir looked around for his brother as the buildings around them shook unsteadily. “Moranuen, where’s Elladan?”

Moranuen pointed at the large building in the center of the vacant town. “I saw him go in-”

With a shrieking groan the building they were looking at suddenly toppled sideways, collapsing on itself with a horrific shriek.

“...there,” the elf finished in breathless horror.

“No... Elladan!” Elrohir shouted his brother’s name, running towards the still settling debris.

Moranuen and the other two elves grabbed Elrohir, holding him back and keeping him from rushing into danger as one of the building’s remaining walls tumbled down with a crash.

Elrohir struggled with them as the wreckage settled, his cry echoing against the wooded hills. “ELLADAN!!”

 

___________________________________________________________
~*PART SIX*~

 

The walls of the prison shook, loosing a cloud of dust down upon Aragorn and Legolas. For a few heart-stopping moments the two captives thought the prison was about to become their tomb, but fortunately for them, the sturdy little building held.

Unfortunately so did the bars of their prison, although they were quick to check them.

When it became clear that the building was not in danger of collapse, the guards finally made their way cautiously back down. They glowered darkly at the ranger and the elf inside as if they were personally responsible for all this trouble.

“Rest up while you can,” the guards threatened ominously. “Tomorrow will be a different story.”

 

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

 

It was cold. That was all he could think. Something evil rose from the darkness and brushed past him, beckoning him to follow it. He was loath to obey it but his mind unquestioningly relented and he found himself turning to follow its path with his eyes. Aragorn shivered uncontrollably in his sleep, he hadn’t been here in a long time. This demon hadn’t haunted his sleep for years. He thought the memories were past but his mind flashed the image for him without his consent tormenting his unconscious thoughts.

He watched as his father, his human father, was speared by that creature – again.

But this time the dream didn’t stop there, this time it continued. Normally he would have been able to wake himself, to stop it. but he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, he wasn’t sure he was breathing and panic swept through him as the nightmare continued on. The evil monster turned and smiled cruelly at him and then glanced beyond him. Aragorn twisted in his dream fighting the invisible bonds that held him still until he could see who the demon was glaring at.

Elrond!

His elven father stood under the archway near the courtyard at Rivendell. Aragorn tried to call to him, to warn him, to stop the monster as it approached the elf. But Elrond simply smiled at the ranger unaware.

In his dreams he saw the evil creature grow, expand, until it stood over the archway, over Rivendell and with one sweep of its hand, it flattened the arch and crushed Elrond beneath it. This time Aragorn did find his voice and he couldn’t stop himself from screaming.

“NO!” The heart wrenching cry woke Legolas from a dead sleep. He jumped to a crouched position and looked wildly around them. There was no one near. Again the single word broke the stillness, quieter this time and begging.

“No…” Aragorn was moving slightly, fighting himself, fighting the dreams and the images his mind was forcing him to live through. “Father.” Tears rolled down his cheeks and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead as he gasped for air between sobs.

Legolas swiftly moved next to the ranger and touched the man gently, “Estel.” Aragorn did not respond, “Estel, wake up.” The elf switch to the grey tongue and repeated himself.

“No.”

“Estel, you are dreaming, wake up.” Legolas shook the man lightly this time trying to break the hold the nightmare had on his friend.

Aragorn gasped and sat up quickly, knocking the elf’s hands away from him. He looked about him in the darkness, frantically trying to remember where he was, why the broken arch wasn’t nearby, where his father’s body was. “Where?”

“You are safe.” Legolas moved back near the man and spoke softly, “We are still here, in Strayton, in the prison.”

The ranger jumped slightly and looked at the elf curiously as though seeing him for the first time. He breathed in deeply and let the air out slowly as he worked at calming himself. Legolas sat down next to him and waited the human out before questioning him again.

When Aragorn’s breathing had settled enough the elf quietly spoke, “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” The answer was soft and curt. Legolas could tell whatever had happened to his friend had been painful and the fact that he had allowed the elf to know was a bit of an embarrassment.

“I used to have nightmares for a very long time. But it’s been centuries now since the last one. I still remember how they felt, and how helpless I was in the midst of them.” Legolas looked at the stone floor as he spoke allowing the confession to open the human to talking.

“I haven’t had them for years.” Aragorn wouldn’t look his friend in the eyes but glanced out at the window set high in the brick wall. “I thought that one was gone.”

The silence grew between them.

“Care to talk about it?”

“No.” Aragorn glanced at his hands, his fingers twisting the edges of his cloak repeatedly as he thought through the images in his mind, “And yes.”

Legolas leaned back against the wall and waited. When his friend spoke again his voice was low but the elf picked up every word. What the human was telling the prince, he hadn’t told even his own family.

“When I was dropped off at Rivendell, I was very young; too young to remember much of my life. Rivendell has always been my home and Elrond…” Aragorn’s voice dropped off as he collected himself, shutting his eyes against the memories so fresh from the dream, “Elrond has always been the only father I have ever known. But there was this dream, nightmare really. A monster, a hideous evil thing, I always thought it was a demon. Every night for a long time it came and I watched as it killed my human father. Every night...” He stopped and glanced at Legolas searching out the elf’s eyes in the darkness.

The elf prince nodded in understanding, urging the man to continue.

“And always I would wake up and Elladan or Elrohir or my father would be there, my father Elrond.” He corrected himself, swallowing hard as he continued, “I never told them what was in my dreams, I guess they always somehow knew. And I haven’t had that dream in years.” Aragorn glanced away from the elf seated next to him, “But tonight it was different. Tonight I couldn’t wake up, I couldn’t stop it. And tonight after it had killed my human father I watched it kill Elrond. I couldn’t make it stop. It crushed him under the archway just like...”

His voice trailed off, unable to continue.

Legolas moved closer and wrapped his arm around the shaking shoulders, “Estel, he’s not dead.”

The ranger’s head jerked up and he pierced the elf with angry, haunted eyes, “Legolas, don’t give me that false hope. You know as well as I do, what condition Elrond is in. If he wakes up, *if* then there still is almost no hope that he will ever truly return to us. And the reason he is in that shape is because he saved me. He should have let me die and saved himself.”
“Don’t speak such things. You know he would not have allowed that to happen.”

“But I am going to die anyway and he wouldn’t have. I am mortal he is not!” Aragorn tried to pull away from his friend but the elf would have nothing of it. He kneeled in front of the man and pressed him back against the wall pinning him there with his hands on the human’s shoulders.

“Now you listen to me.” His eyes locked on the silver ones huge and glistening, the tracks of the tears he had shed were bright in the starlight, “Elrond did what any father would do and for you to punish yourself for his sacrifice is selfish and ungrateful.” Legolas softened his words and his gaze as he continued, “But I don’t fault you for it, for I have felt that same condemnation sweep through me. Your father is not dead yet Estel. Do not give up on him so easily young human, we have not exhausted all our resources.”

The elf smiled down at the serious face watching him.

“I’m sorry.” Aragorn whispered brokenly, “You’re right.”

Legolas pulled the man forward and wrapped his arms around him. “It will work out Estel. You will see.” He quietly replied, whispering the words into the man’s ear.

The ranger nodded against him and slowly pulled away quietly agreeing, “Thanks.” He wiped his eyes on his overcoat and watched as the elf sat back down next to him. “Thanks for waking me up too.”

Legolas smiled softly and started to reply as a keening howl pierced the night echoed by a dozen voices in the darkness. The elf leapt to his feet, jumping easily to the high window he grasped the bars and pulled himself up so he could see out.

The town was still but the forest was even more quiet, quieter than it should have been and as he watched the darkness on the edge of the city, he could see the grey shadows slip in and out of the trees.

Letting go the bars, he dropped lightly back down next to Aragorn, “Wargs.”

The ranger looked at the elf in confusion, “Why would the wargs be here? Certainly they wouldn’t attack the town? They never come this close to the outposts, they have always stayed to the forests and run farther north.”

Legolas eyed the open window as sounds of the beasts advance drifted down to them. The wargs had begun attacking the domesticated animals and the ensuing chaos was rousing the sleeping town.

“The wargs hunt the riverbeds. They follow the game that gathers there in the early mornings and evenings. But with the Brunien stopped at the riverhead the game will move farther south now searching out new places with fresh water. The deer are leaving Rivendell, Aragorn and moving off. It is worse than what we feared. Without their source of food the wargs have grown more bold and their packs have merged, they will follow the herds eventually but the animals in the town will provide the meat that they need now and so will the townspeople if we do not stop them.”

The tumult outside had grown and odd shadows and light flickered through the basement prison window as the people tried to drive the beasts back into the night. Huge bonfires had been lit in the center of the town and torches were passed among the townsfolk as they battled to save their livestock and themselves from the hungry wargs.

Overhead the two prisoners could hear the jailer and their guards as the men were woken from their sleep.

Aragorn ran to the heavily barred door and pounded on it calling up to them, “Let us out! Let us help you!”

But if the men heard their prisoner they paid him no attention. Legolas leapt back up to the small window and peered out. He saw the three men run into town, weapons ready. They hadn’t even looked back. The upstairs door to the prison slowly banged shut, the prisoners forgotten.

Legolas pushed away from the bars and landed lightly in the room walking up behind the ranger and stopping the man’s frenzied attempt to get their captors attention.

He touched the ranger lightly on the shoulder, “Estel they are gone. They did not hear you.”

The man turned angry eyes on the elf, “Or they did not want to.”

Legolas nodded slightly agreeing, “Either way they have left to help the villagers.”

Aragorn paced back into the middle of the room, anger and helplessness warring inside of him. The sounds of the warg attack filtered down to them, seeming to intensify the emotions in his heart.

“Help me up, I want to see.” Aragorn motioned to the high window. Legolas locked his fingers together and allowed the ranger to press his foot down onto the elf’s hands as he helped boost his friend up to the prison bars. The human grabbed the cold steel grating and stared out at the fighting.

“What do you see?” Legolas questioned.

“The wargs are after the people just as you said.” He watched as a farmer was run down by one of the beasts before any help could be given. The man didn’t stand a chance and Aragorn shut his eyes at the sight wishing he could block the dying man’s screams from his ears as well. “Let me down, they are slaughtering them. I wish to see no more. We are stuck in here and cannot even help!” Legolas started to comply when the ranger gripped the bars tightly and pressed his face against the restraints. “Wait! Wait,” he called down to the elf who lent his support once more.

“What is it?”

“It’s Taradin and Garith.” Aragorn focused on the hunter who was directing his men, shouting orders at them, sending them into the frenzy with torches and weapons. “Taradin!” He called the man’s name repeatedly.

Taradin was weary. It had just been one thing after another lately. A man couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anymore. And now to top it off the wargs had grown bold and were attacking the townfolk, a perfect way to end a hard day. He kept encouraging his men sending them out arming them with the small cache of weapons he kept handy.

Garith stepped next to him and tugged on his tunic, his attention thrown out into the night, he didn’t see when the tall hunter turned in frustration towards him.

“What is it Garith? I haven’t got time right now.”

The boy was unperturbed at the man’s slight annoyance, “Do you hear that?” He stared towards the prison a few hundred yards away on the edge of the town, “Someone is calling your name.” He turned and looked up at the man for the first time but Taradin had just caught the slight sound of Aragorn’s voice. He passed the torch in his hand to Garith and pushed the boy into the space he had just occupied, close to the fire, near the weapons and out of harms way.

“You stay here Garith,” He warned the boy as he drew his sword and walked cautiously towards the dark building, “If the men need any weapons or torches you give them to them. But you stay here, you got it?” He glanced back over his shoulder at the youth.

Garith’s eyes were huge as he nodded his understanding. “Be safe.” He whispered back. Taradin gave him a huge smile and headed back out towards the outskirts, “Aren’t I always boy?” he teased the young man, “Safety is my middle name.”

“Yeah right.” But Garith had no time to protest as another hunter came running back towards the bonfire, his vest in shreds and blood freely flowing from a wound to his arm.

Taradin advanced on the prison, leery of the darkness here on the edge of town.

“Taradin over here!” Aragorn called to the man.

The hunter crept near the building and crouched down near the small window that sat inches above the ground. He peered into the darkness barely able to make out the face by the flickering light of the bonfire. “Strider is that you?”

“Yes! They put us in prison yesterday. Let us out so we can help you.”

“Is Legolas with you also?”

Aragorn started to answer but a dark shadow to the hunters right caught his attention, “Taradin behind you!”

The hunter whirled on his boot heels as the warg threw itself at the man, pinning him against the side of the building. His sword had been knocked away from him and he grabbed the huge beast’s head with his hands, burying his fists in the creature’s thick coat and holding the snapping jaw inches from his face. He felt his boots sliding on the slick wet grass, he couldn’t let the warg get on top of him or he would not be able to hold the creature off.

Garith had watched the whole scene horrified, he couldn’t lose the older man and his fear overrode the command to stay near the fire. Screaming Taradin’s name he ran to the hunter’s aide.

Aragorn pressed himself hard against the window and reached his arm out between the metal bars, straining to touch the tip of Taradin’s sword. “No!”

“Strider what is it!? What’s happening!” Legolas demanded with concern.

Aragorn glanced down at the elf, his face a mask of horror, “A warg has Taradin.”

“What!?” The feelings of helplessness were beginning to make the elf angry.

But the ranger didn’t respond. Looking back up he saw a young boy running towards the prison and recognized the red head. “Garith!! Garith get inside and let us out!! QUICK! We can help!”

“Do as they say boy!” Taradin yelled at the young man. Pulling his knees up to his chest he kicked the creature hard on its underbelly giving him a moment to collect himself but as he reached for his sword the warg pounced between him and the weapon backing the man slowly towards the forest.

Garith skidded to a stop as the warg cut him off from the man. “Taradin!”

“Do it Garith, do it now! Free the ranger and the elf hurry!”

Loathe to the leave the man, the boy hesitated for the fraction of a second his eyes helplessly searching out those of the ranger’s. “Quickly Garith, so we can save Taradin.”

The calm sureness in the man’s voice spurred the youth on and he let himself into the prison, tearing down the flight of stairs to the basement cells.

Aragorn pushed himself off from the wall and Legolas let him fall easily to the floor. “Legolas the warg is pressing Taradin back into the forest and he has no weapons.”

The elf’s eyes were narrowed and hard and he nodded once in understanding. They heard the sounds of the locking bar being lifted and as soon Garith moved it out of position Legolas pushed the door open and bounded up the steps. His bow and quiver were hung on the wall near the door just as their captors had left them the day before and he grabbed his daggers from the table below, running out the building and around the corner.

Taradin stood in the middle of a circle of three wargs. The creatures lunged at him, snarling and growling. He fought them back with a tree branch he had secured, placing a well-earned kick to the face of the one that had just jumped towards him. But the lunge was a decoy and as the man had turned to face the advancing warg another behind him jumped on the hunter’s back and bore him to the ground.

Legolas fired two arrows in rapid succession at the dark creatures, neatly killing the one on the man’s back and spearing through another. The last warg turned towards the elf. Its teeth bared, muzzle dripping with saliva, hungering for the meal it could smell in the prone man and angry at the interruption. The creature lowered itself bunching its’ legs under it and ready to spring as the elf released a second volley at the dark monster, the arrows driving straight into the thick skull and dropping the warg to the ground.

Taradin slowly got his hands under him and pressed himself up. Aragorn gained the edge of the building with Garith on his heels. The ranger picked up the hunters sword and walked over to Legolas who was kicking the dead wargs away from the man and retrieving his arrows.

Garith dropped next to Taradin and helped the older man to his knees.

“I told you to stay by the fire.” The hunter rasped breathlessly at the youth.

“Yeah well you told me you’d be safe.” The young man’s eyes were huge and Aragorn could tell the boy was on the verge of tears.

“You did good Garith.” He and Legolas helped Taradin stand. The elf quickly looked over the worst of the hunter’s wounds and nodded to the ranger.

“You’ll be alright. Can you walk?” Aragorn glanced back into town, “We have to get these people to the center of town with the livestock in the middle.”

Taradin nodded, “We can do that. They’ll listen to me. What about the wargs how do we stop them?”

“We can use fire.” Aragorn spoke quietly, “If we set the brush on fire it will drive them out.”

“If we do that we risk setting the forests on fire as well.” Legolas looked at him and shook his head.

“We are out of options.”

“It would seem that you are.” A deep melodious voice caught them unaware and they turned as one to stare behind them into the dark. A horse slowly appeared out of the night its rider unrecognizable but for the hat on his old grey head and the slump of his eternity old shoulders.

“Mithrandir!” the elf’s face brightened as the elderly man came into view. He had *thought* that was the face he had seen in town earlier.

“Gandalf?” Aragorn stepped forward, “what brings you here?”

“Oh this and that. An errand if you must know.” The old eyes crinkled in merriment as he gazed on the young human.

Legolas stepped up behind Aragorn and whispered in his ear, “This was other the resource that I was thinking of.” The ranger turned and gazed at his friend open mouthed, of course, why hadn’t he thought of that?

“What?” Gandalf glanced between the two friends, his eyes sparkling as he listened to them talk about him.

“Nothing Mithrandir.” Legolas spoke respectfully, “We can discuss it later but we have another problem more pressing at the moment.”

The old wizard glanced beyond them back into the town, “So I see.” He stated simply, dismounting his steed he began to lead the horse towards the chaos filled streets. “You have wargs.” It was an extreme understatement.

“Can you help us?” Aragorn had gathered Garith and Taradin and hurried them after the elf and the wizard.

The tall pointed hat bobbed on the older man’s head as he nodded, “I believe I can.” He glanced back smiling at the humans that trailed them.

“Does he always talk like that?” Garith glanced at Aragorn.

“Garith!” Taradin hissed at the boy in reprimand.

“No, it’s all right,” Aragorn laughed at the man’s response, leaning back around to look at the young human he answered, “And yes he does. You get used to it after awhile.”

“I heard that, Dùnadan.” Gandalf grumbled, “Now why don’t you go make yourself useful and collect all the townspeople and their livestock in the city square while I set up a few things here.” He glanced at Legolas, “Run along now, and keep an eye on them, I am sure they will need your help.” He barely repressed a smile as he glanced at the elf that walked with him.

Legolas simply nodded and ran off after the ranger while the wizard went unhurriedly about his business.

When Aragorn made his way back to Gandalf, the older man was seated on a small stack of crates, idly smoking a long pipe. The ranger recognized the smell as the curious weed they smoked in the tavern here in Strayton but the thought was fleeting as he gazed at the dark shapes drifting through the trees just beyond the perimeter of the town. The wargs eyes turned red as they caught and reflected the firelight making them appear even more malevolent. Gandalf seemed undisturbed by their nearness but the ranger was more than wary.

“We are ready Gandalf. The remaining townfolk and their livestock are just up the street, gathered in the square.”

Gandalf turned slowly towards the human a slight frown on his weathered face, “How many did not make it?”

“Six in all. There are several wounded and they have lost four horses, we don’t know how many cattle are missing yet.”

The wizard nodded slowly and motioned back up the road, “Back with you then. Keep the people there and they will be safe.”

Aragorn turned and looked back towards the city, noticing that Legolas had followed him partway out. The sharp elven ears had picked up the warning and he nodded in understanding as he turned and ran back to pass on the information.

When Aragorn jogged up next to Legolas he found the townspeople huddled around a huge bonfire, their animals restrained in a corral close by. The armed men stood on the perimeter of the circle, surrounding the rest of the people. Taradin broke away from a small knot of hunters and approached the ranger and the elf.

“What’s going on?”

“Gandalf will take care of the wargs. Our job is to keep the people and animals calm.” Aragorn commented quickly to the man before turning his attention back to Legolas.

“That’s it?” the hunter interrupted.

“That is it.” Legolas nodded in agreement.

Further conversation was thwarted as a half dozen firebrands streaked straight up into the night sky. The trails of brilliantly light particles lit up the surrounding forests clothed in the dark of night. All around the village were scores of eyes and grey shapes, pacing back and forth waiting for some unseen sign to attack.

Several of the people ducked and there were whispers and soft cries of alarm from the center of the group. The horses and livestock shied towards the inner fence threatening to break it down with their pressing weight.

“Calm the animals!” Legolas cried out to those nearest the coral. “Keep them settled down. Have no fear Mithrandir knows what he is doing.”

The men eyed the sky nervously and Aragorn knowingly covered his ears, Legolas following suit. The firebrands exploded high above the town blossoming into huge umbrellas of arrow tipped streaks of light that plummeted back towards the earth at breakneck speed heading straight for the center of the village. The arrows of light raced through the air superheating it and creating a shrieking sound as they veered off feet above the townspeople’s heads and shot into the woods driving the wargs away from the city and past the outlying areas. The cries of the driven animals could be heard as they receded into the predawn dark.

The light display left auras of brilliance dancing in Aragorn’s eyes as he turned a lopsided grin on the elf. The villagers cheered, helping others to stand to their feet who were cowering from the overwhelming display of light. Taradin looked accusingly at the two friends, “And did you know what this wizard had in mind?”

“One never does.” Legolas answered, smiling at the image of the older man making his way into town, his pipe tucked in his mouth and a smile on his weathered lips.

“Well,” the wizard remarked, mostly to himself. “It would seem that my little fireworks serve more purpose than simply amusing the Hobbits every now and again.”

Gandalf walked up on the grouping of the townsfolk and addressed them, "There now, is everyone all right?" His voice cheerful and deep.

But the smile on the wizard’s face was quickly replaced by a scowl as he watched the Warden push to the front of the crowd, ordering his men to take the elf and the ranger back into custody.

Before Legolas could react he was grabbed from behind, his arms roughly pulled behind his back and painfully pinned there. Legolas resisted slightly and was cuffed roughly across the back of the head for it, making him stumble forward slightly, still held by the grip of the jailers. Legolas submitted as much as he did because he knew these people were operating under false impressions and he was doing his best to avoid an incident, but they were pushing it. Pushing it hard. The look on the elf prince’s face was nothing short of sheer frustration and Aragorn knew there was little time before the whole situation got out of hand again.

 

___________________________________________________________
~*PART SEVEN*~

 

They came for Aragorn next, but Taradin stepped near the ranger and brushed the Warden's man aside, roughly shoving the slight jailer out of the way. "See here, these two saved me and Garith. There's no reason to treat them this way! They are friends."

"They come from that elf palace and they's the ones responsible for damming up the river!" The Warden countered.

Taradin shoved Aragorn behind him, away from the townfolk. Even angry as they were, none of the villagers really wanted to cross Taradin, or try to take the ranger from him by force. He and his men were widely known in this area. The young human clumsily stumbled back against Gandalf who had been watching the odd confrontation quietly until now.

The old man caught the ranger and righted him, holding the human by his arms until he got his feet under him once more.

"What is this talk of you damming the River?" The wizard asked Aragorn, his eyes narrowed and intent.

The ranger was torn, he needed Gandalf’s help, but looking over his shoulder he spotted Legolas surrounded by the Warden's men and was loath to leave the prince with the humans. The elf's gaze was hard and he was tensed. He was not going to peacefully take much more of their handling. The whole situation was about to get out of control once more and Aragorn would not allow his friend to suffer at the hands of these men.

“Estel, talk to me.” Gandalf redirected the young human’s attention. “What is this they speak of?”

“The ground shaking,” Aragorn blurted out, “the earth’s trembling created a dam that is blocking the river. The men in the town think the elves used ‘magic’ to do this and they are blaming us.” He tried to move back towards Legolas but the wizened old man held him still, his arms incredibly strong for one with so many years behind him.

“Gandalf!” The ranger was at his wits end as the shouting around the fair being who was held captive not far away escalated, “They have threatened to kill us because they think we stole the river!” Aragorn glanced back at Legolas. The elves eyes were fixed on the ranger and the wizard.

“Preposterous!” The word rang through the city square, silencing the arguing. Gandalf gently moved the ranger out of his way, cautioning the young human to stay and stalked towards the Warden.

“You have no say here old man.” The warden barked at the wizard. Tempers were high and Warden Nash had been pressed by the townfolk to fix the river or find someone who could.

“I would watch my tongue if I were you.” Legolas countered, his voice was dark and hard.

The comment earned him a backhanded slap across the face, “No one was talking to you elf.” The man who had bound him growled.

Legolas slowly straightened up and glared at the short man, his eyes finally drifting back to light on Aragorn who was being gently restrained by Taradin. The hunter did not want the young man taken by the townsfolk again.

“See here, there will be none of that. You will release that elf immediately.” Gandalf straightened up to his full height and glared down at the warden, “It is easy to see that you are only looking to place blame. No person in their right mind could accuse another of stealing a river.”

The warden shuffled nervously under the wizard’s glare. “Well Farmer Biles caught them stealin’ chickens in his barn this morning. Chicken thieving warrants death here in these parts.”

Gandalf appraised the burly man in front of him for the span of a few seconds before glancing at the elf prince and breaking out laughing. His deep hearty laughter boomed through the small square and the mirth in the tone set off those around to quietly joining in.

“Chickens?” He glanced at Legolas, “Are times so bad in Mirkwood that Thranduil’s heir is reduced to stealing chickens?”

Legolas rolled his eyes, his face breaking into a smile despite the situation as he stared into the wizard’s mirthful blue eyes. “Nay, Mithrandir it is not so. Chickens? We merely took shelter from the storm. Strider had been trapped by the ground tremors and we could not make Rivendell by nightfall. This is the truth Grey One.”

The old grey head bobbed in understanding. “Release that elf now lest you bring down the wrath of the King of Mirkwood on your foolish heads. I dare say all the good Farmer’s chickens are safe and these two young ones had no part in stealing the river.” He leaned forward emphasizing his words.

For a moment Warden Nash hesitated and looked as if he would like to argue, but Gandalf's intense gaze almost seemed to wither the younger man on the spot and presently the warden dropped his gaze, acquiescing to the wizard's will.

Taradin allowed Aragorn to join his friend as the Warden cut the bonds on the elf’s wrists and pushed the prince forward. The ranger caught Legolas as he tripped forward and pulled the elf behind him, backing them both away from the jailers and nearer Taradin. He turned and looked the elf over, inspecting Legolas’ wrists. But the prince brushed him off. “I am fine Strider.”

“Now as to the matter of the river being *stolen* as you have so creatively stated. That was no elf or man’s doing. There is not a magic among either the elves in Rivendell nor the Rangers that could steal an entire river.” Gandalf glanced at the people gathered around them. The morning light was just beginning to streak the sky pink on the horizon. “Go home good townfolk and rest. You’ve had a busy night. The river will be returned to you,” He turned and walked back towards the two friends, “One way or another, if I am correct.” Gandalf’s gaze landed on Aragorn and he motioned with his head for the two to follow him as he walked back towards the outskirts of town.

The ranger and the elf left the hunter’s side after exchanging a quick thanks, and ran to catch up with the wizard as he ambled slowly back the way he had come, ignoring the people who now were dispersing quietly behind him. Taradin watched them go but did not follow. He felt they were safe with the wizard, and also that they wanted to be alone with him.

The older man lit up his pipe once more and slowly walked in the company of the two youths, enjoying the silence for a spell. At length he spoke.

“What is this that the townspeople have accused you of? River stealing?” He glanced out of the corner of his eye at the young human.

Aragorn looked to the path beneath them, not meeting the wizard’s eyes, “The river has been dammed high up near the falls. The shaking of the earth has done this and not us.”

“Hmm...” The old man nodded his head, slowly drawing in a deep breath and blowing out a perfect smoke ring. “And Elrond? Has he done nothing about this? The river still obeys him does it not?”

Aragorn stopped walking and moved away from them looking off into the surrounding woods.

Gandalf turned towards the elf who was watching the young human with worried eyes. Pursing his lips the wizard pressed the elf prince, “Tell me Legolas, what has happened that Elrond no longer controls the river?”

“It’s my fault!” The rangers words ripped from him brokenly and he turned back towards his two companions angrily, “And do not say it isn’t.” He pointed at the elf. “If it weren’t for me my father would be fine, the river would be restored and the townfolk would not have another reason to hate elves.”

He glared at the wizard and the elf before dropping his gaze back to the dirt path they walked on and quietly continuing, “My father is dying Gandalf and no one can save him. We have not the skills and he alone has the wisdom to use Vilya. There is not a one under the house that would try, not even my brothers, I am sure of this.”

Legolas gasped softly as he heard the name mentioned of the powerful ring. He had heard of them of course, the three rings of the elves. But none knew where they lay hidden. This was a perilous secret indeed. Gandalf smiled at the elf, “That is not common knowledge young prince and you would do well to forget you heard it.”

“Let him know. What does it matter now?” Aragorn glanced up at Legolas despondently, “Elrond will not live and the power will pass. We will destroy the ring before it can be taken.”

Gandalf raised an eyebrow and glanced between the two friends. He doubted that Aragorn knew much about what he spoke, for a ring of power was not so easily un-made, but the ranger was young yet, and obviously full of grief and guilt.

“I have tried talking with him. Do you see what I have to deal Mithrandir?” The elf shook his head and returned the even gaze.

Aragorn glanced up at his friend confused. Legolas simply smiled back and continued, “This is the other resource I was speaking of. *Young human*, do you think your father is the only one on middle earth to know the healing arts? Mithrandir has been practicing such since before you or I was born.”

Gandalf laughed aloud as the ranger turned huge eyes on him.

“How old *are* you?” The ranger asked in bewilderment before he could stop himself. He had met the wizard once or twice before in his father’s house when he was quite a bit younger, and had come to know him a little, but as a child he had never stopped to consider that Gandalf might be older than just an old man, even though Aragorn knew him to be a wizard.

“Heir of Isuldur, shame on your head. Have you no manners?” The wizard tried to feign a look of disdain but the laughter in his eyes was unconcealable.

The human stuttered, trying to apologize but was waved off by the wizard, “Never mind you.” He laughed. “Yes I am old, older than your father and older than this youngster here.” He pointed his thumb at the elf by his side, provoking a laugh from the prince. "Even if I have not spent all my years here on Middle Earth." As usual his words were a riddle, but his younger companions did not attempt to decipher them.

“However I sense something more to all this,” Gandalf became suddenly somber and moved off the path, seating himself on a large rock and looking up into the dark silver eyes of the man, “Something more bothers you young human. Tell me what it is.”

Aragorn hadn’t told anyone his true feelings and yet he found himself at ease talking to the wizened old man who was almost a stranger; something about his eyes and the tone of his voice.

“It is my fault.” He stated simply.

“What is your fault?” Gandalf pressed him. Legolas quietly seated himself next to the wizard and listened.

“Everything.” Aragorn looked about them for a minute, thinking through his life.

“It was my fault when Elrohir broke his arm. I dared him back to fight a warg with no weapons. I was the one that surprised Elladan when they were hunting and caused him to shoot himself in the foot. It was my fault that Sarcaulien was killed. Had I not been there he would not have died. Neither him nor his brother, for Sarcayul would have never hunted me down and been near Hebrilith in the first place. I get in the way. I get hurt more easily and more often and...,” He lifted a hand and pointed at Legolas, “and I have even almost gotten the prince killed more than once! Sometimes I even wonder if it wasn’t my fault that my human father died. I lived he did not. Why can’t I stop people from getting hurt? Why? I know that I am not fast enough, not sharp enough, I am not wise enough.” He ticked off all the self-incriminating, condemning thoughts in his head, laying them out for inspection. “I am constantly reminded of how short my life span will be and how careful I must be and I am not!”

He stopped his tirade and stared sorrowfully at the old man, the kindness in Gandalf’s eyes almost causing him to choke on the next words he spoke, “And it is my fault that my father is now dying and Rivendell and all in this valley are in danger. He pushed me out of the way instead of moving himself. If I had not been so sullen that morning we would not have been walking near the arches by the gardens. He would have been in the house, safe, when the ground shook and everything fell apart, but because of me he was not.” The ranger stopped himself and stared hard at the wizard.

Gandalf pressed his lips together, thinking hard and staring at the young human, “My that is quite a list you have accumulated against yourself. You have been busy. Well the best thing we can do with you is to put you out of your misery.”

“Mithrandir!” Legolas laughed at the wizard and gently nudged the older man.

“What?!” The grey headed man turned toward the elf laughing, “You heard the boy, he’s a hazard.”

“He is not.” Legolas chuckled at the jest defending his friend. He stood from his seat and reached out to touch his friend’s arm redirecting the ranger’s gaze.

“No perhaps not.” Gandalf smiled at the human and bid him sit next to him on the large rock. The old wizard gazed into the sad eyes of the man and he touched the ranger’s face with his weatherworn hand. “Youth often learns from error. And you my dear boy are young still.”

The older man rested his hands in his lap and glanced at the elf, “But he is a human who has also been raised by elves, elves who in all rights are more resilient, faster and fairer than he. And they do excel at letting those around them know such. Don’t tell me no young prince.” Gandalf smiled as Legolas started to protest. “Its no wonder the boy has a hard time dealing with the tragedies around him. You’ve grown up imperfect Estel, as all humans do, in a nearly perfect world.” Gandalf chewed on the end of his pipe absently, “T’would be enough to drive any human to insanity.” He murmured good-naturedly glancing once more at Legolas.

“But...”

“No buts.” Gandalf cut Aragorn’s protest off, “This is life my boy. People die, even elves. Lives are cut short. Friends are hurt and when the earth trembles, rivers are cut off at their source and things fall apart, sometimes landing on the people we love. And the secret is,” his voice lowered conspiratorially, “no one is to blame. Things just happen sometimes. It is the course of life and it is not your fault. There are forces at work here that are larger than us all. Do not doubt yourself and do not question the love of a father that would sacrifice all to save you. You have more value than you realize I think. It is the bane of all men to sell themselves far too short of their intrinsic originality.”

Dark silver eyes searched the old blue ones for any hint of distruth but found none. Slowly the human nodded and smiled.

“There now! See?” Gandalf rocked backwards, smiling slightly, pleased with himself as though they had just fixed all the errs of the world. Slowly the wizard stood to his feet and continued to walk down the path out of Strayton that would lead them back to Rivendell.

“Your father would say the same thing young human. And speaking of him, if Elrond yet lives then why don’t we go see if we can't call him back from that place where he is resting. I have a feeling that Rivendell needs him, not to mention his youngest son.” He smiled down fondly at the ranger.

They walked for sometime in quiet, Aragorn was thinking over all the things that Gandalf had said and Legolas allowed him the time to himself though he was dying to ask the ranger a question. Finally he could stand it no longer and with a smile he could not contain he turned towards Aragorn.

"Strider please," his soft voice broke the morning stillness, "Tell me something."

"Of course."

"*How* did you get Elladan to shoot himself in the foot?"

Gandalf burst out laughing, "Thank you Legolas, I wondered that very thing myself."

Aragorn shook his head and started to laugh at the memory, reliving the episode.

The old wizard reached a hand out to the ranger and patted his shoulder, his worn face crinkled with mirth at the tale, "Enjoy theses times my boy, stability and seriousness will come to you soon enough."

 

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

 

The trio reached Rivendell by mid-morning. For sometime they had paced the Bruinen, noticing that the dry streambed had been slowly filling and gaining the edges of its’ banks. The torrents of water that filled it were dark and muddy and carried trees and debris with it on its’ mad rush to join the Mitheithel river before ending in the sea. Storm clouds threatened to break open on the travelers at any moment, adding their deluge to the swollen waterway, their distant rumbling an ominous warning that only increased the urgency of the travelers. Aragorn hoped Gandalf could help in time.

When they reached Elrond’s dwelling, Aragorn preceded his guests into the house, opening the huge, ornate doors and allowing them entrance.

The interior of the house was oddly quiet and dark, and a thrill of fear coursed through Aragorn as he wondered at the possibilities of what that might mean.

Movement to his left caught the ranger’s attention and he turned as Celboril exited a room at the end of the darkened hallway and cautiously approached them.

“Estel? Is that you?”

“Celboril! What has happened? Where is everyone?” Aragorn looked about them questioning the servant.

“Estel! We feared for you safety. Thank Illuvatar you are in one piece.”

“Celboril, where?”

The relieved smile slipped from the servant’s face as he glanced around them. “Those that haven’t left for the higher ground went out to the lower lying areas to warn the vagabonds and the travelers that use the forgotten towns near the valley’s floor.” The elven servant glanced back down the hallway to the lighted door at the far end, “Your father is still here. I have been keeping watch over him.”

Gandalf separated himself from the small group and headed down the passageway. Aragorn watched him go.

“Has there been any change? Has he woken?” The human implored.

Celboril simply dropped his eyes and shook his head.

A moment of uneasy silence fell on the three as Aragorn shifted his glance away from them, staring into the dark recesses of Rivendell.

“Strider.” Legolas voice brought the human out of his thoughts, “Let us go see if we can be of help to Mithrandir.”

Aragorn nodded and touched Celboril’s shoulder, “Is there any food and water in the house?” When the servant nodded he continued, “Will you please bring some so that Gandalf may eat if he has want to?”

The elf nodded once and walked swiftly off to the kitchen area.

With a deep sigh Aragorn turned back to Legolas. The elf prince was already heading down the hall in search of Gandalf but the ranger found himself hesitant to join them.

Legolas stopped in the doorway and watched as the old wizard went about his business, humming softly to himself. The elf stepped back into the darkened hallway, his eyes seeking his friends. He smiled at the worried human and waved him down. “Aragorn, come see. It will be well now that Mithrandir is here.”

The human couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his face as he joined his friend. He stopped in the doorway, surprised at what he found. The old wizard had already started several small pots of athelas to boiling, their sweet wholesome fragrance filling the room and bringing cheer to the hearts of the weary travelers. Gandalf had unwrapped the soiled bandage from around the elf lord’s head and was gently going about cleaning the deep cut Elrond had taken when he was crushed by the archway.

Stopping his administrations he looked at his old friend for a few moments. “Now just where have you gone to? And without me? What I have told you about that?” The old wizard spoke softly to the unconscious elf, laughing softly as he recalled some joke they had held between them. Reaching out a weathered wrinkled hand he covered the elf’s forehead with his palm and closed his eyes. The two friends watched it all in silence.

In a few moments the older man opened his eyes and sighed, his eyes holding the slightest hint of sorrow. “Well, we’ll find you there too.” He muttered to Elrond as much as to himself.

“Gandalf?” Aragorn questioned from the hallway.

“Oh come in! Come in!” The wizard waved them in, “don’t stand out there in the doorway. Your father will be fine young Estel.” Gandalf graced the man with a warm smile before turning his back on them and mixing an odd assortment of condiments together in a small bowl he had procured.

Aragorn glanced at Legolas who only shrugged and pushed the ranger inside, seating himself in a large chair where he would be out of the way but had a clearer view of the room.

“What is that?” Aragorn tried to peer around Gandalf’s shoulder but the wizard moved just enough so that the human couldn’t quite get a good look.

“Trying to discover my secrets now are we?” He turned around still slowly stirring the contents of the bowl, “Healing potions older than your father here that’s what it is. Now out of way my human, I have quite enough help with myself thank you.” He smiled to take the sting out of the reprimand and motioned with his head to the other side of the bed.

Legolas laughed softly at the gentle rebuke, garnering him a glare from the ranger as Aragorn moved around the bed and gently took his father’s hand in his own.

Gandalf took the thick ointment he had created and lathered it generously on the wound to Elrond’s head. The remaining portions he rubbed into the bruises and wounds that covered the elf’s upper body.

“Would you be so kind as to rebind that cut on your fathers head Estel? There is clean bandaging behind me in my satchel.” Gandalf instructed the ranger.

Legolas stood from his seat and fetched the bandaging, handing it across the bed to Aragorn.

Carefully, the man raised Elrond’s head and began to wrap the clean cloth around the deep gash, tucking the end off in the bandage itself and gently laying the elf’s head back on the pillow. Helping Gandalf see to his father’s wounds was good for the human’s heart and the stress in his features slowly began to fade as the athelas did its work, affecting also those that were administering to the wounded elf.

Aragorn looked up and caught Gandalf smiling at him, “Good work Estel. Although I expect nothing less from a son of Elrond’s.” He chuckled at his own words.

Any response was cut off as the doors to the house banged loudly open and someone ran in, calling for Celboril. Legolas and Aragorn skidded into the hallway and found Moranuen frantically calling for help. He caught sight of the two and pelted up the passage.

Aragorn caught him, stopping his forward motion and held him while the elf tried to regain his breath.

“It fell...” he gasped through his ragged breathing, “He was in it. Couldn’t get to him...we need help.”

“Who? What? What happened Mora?” Aragorn leaned down and tried to look into the elf’s eyes. He was doubled over, panting hard from his run up the vale. The panic in his friend’s voice scared the ranger.

“We’ve no time.” Moranuen responded breathlessly, “It’s ready to come down any minute. You’ve got to come help.”

Gandalf moved from the bedside and stood in the doorway, “Slow down young elf. There is help to be had. Tell us plainly what has happened.” His deep voice settled the elf’s panic and he finally stood slowly up having eased his breathing somewhat.

Moranuen locked eyes with Aragorn and the gaze the elf laid on him caused fear to shoot through his heart.

“Aragorn, Elladan and Elrohir were clearing out the abandoned buildings near the base of the gorge.”

“Yes we know that.” Legolas encouraged the elf when he stopped talking.

“There was another tremor. The buildings there are not as stable as they are here at Rivendell.”

“Mora, what?” Aragorn grabbed the elf by his arms, forcing his friend to look him in the eyes, “What happened?”

“Elladan.” Moranuen spoke the elf’s name, cringing when he saw the fear pass through his human friend’s eyes. “He was trapped in one of the buildings when it fell. We cannot reach him, we have been trying all night. Elrohir finally sent me back for what help I could find. And the dam we erected by the falls...it's near the breaking point. We haven’t much time or we will lose him.”

___________________________________________________________
~*PART EIGHT*~

 

Celboril walked up on the small grouping, a tray of cheeses and fruits in his hands. The look on Aragorn’s face froze him in his tracks.

“What is it?” The servant asked cautiously not at all sure that he even wanted to know.

Legolas quietly answered him as he relieved the elf of the tray of food, taking it back and placing it near Gandalf’s things.

Aragorn looked to the older man, his eyes full of questions begging for help and answers.

Gandalf nodded, “You need to go then, all of you. See if you can't help them and free your brother.”

When the ranger didn’t move, the older man tipped his head in question and eyed the younger, “What is it Estel?”

Aragorn’s eyes were fastened on the elf behind the wizard, still unconscious on the bed. He spoke softly afraid of his own words, “I can't leave him. And what if...what if Elladan is...” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

Gandalf stepped in front of the boy and blocked his view of Elrond. “Now you listen to me young one,” redirecting the ranger’s eyes to himself, “I will stay here with your father and he will have the best of care.” The wizard smiled gently into the dark worried eyes that watched him, “You go and see to your brother and I will send you help.” He laughed as the human quirked an eyebrow up in question. “Don’t worry, you’ll know it, when you see it. Just see to it that you accept it when it is offered.”

“I don’t under...”

Gandalf pushed the young man out of the bedroom door, motioning for the other elves to leave as well, “You will, you will. Now quickly, be off with you all and bring that brother of yours back to me. I have plenty of athelas in my bag this day.” He smiled and walked back into Elrond’s room, heading for the veranda and sweeping the window doors open, talking to himself the whole way, “Plenty of other things too, like that pipe of mine. Where *did* I set that thing down now?” The wizard cast his eyes to the grey skies and began to speak to them.

Legolas grabbed Aragorn’s sleeve and hauled the ranger after them as they ran out of the house and down the valley path, following Moranuen back to the abandoned villages.

“What did he mean Legolas?” Aragorn asked as he ran next to his friend.

“It’s hard to know with Mithrandir. We’ll just keep our eyes open and hope we recognize this help of his when we see it.”

The severity of the situation was overwhelming when they reached the collapsed building. The water had reached the top of the gully it was backed up into. There was no falls anymore, only a deep, deep pond, that the Bruinen flowed ceaselessly into, and it was about to overflow. The dam the elves had put up against the water that wanted to rush down into their valley and destroy was beginning to crumble; the water it contained ran in ever-increasing rivulets over its’ brim, drawing dirty streams through the dirt and mud near the pile of debris that the elves were working in. In a very short time this place was going to be the swift flowing course of a new river.

Moranuen called to Elrohir. The elf turned at the sound of his name, heaving a boulder from the debris and wearily dropping it onto a pile out of the way. His face was dirty and tear stained and his hands were bloodied and torn from the frantic work of digging his brother out. Long strands of dark hair hung in his eyes, having worked their way free from the catch at the nape of his neck, and he brushed them away with the back of his hand smearing blood across his forehead.

"Estel?" His voice was rough from calling all night to Elladan. He walked wearily towards his adopted brother. "Estel?"

"Elrohir," Aragorn quickly closed the gap between them and pulled his brother against him. "I'm so sorry I wasn’t here sooner."

"I thought I'd lost you too." the elf spoke softly. The past twenty-four hours had held more grief and stress than he could bear.

"You have lost no one." Aragorn pushed his brother back and tipped the elf's chin so he was forced to stare into the ranger's eyes.

"Father..." Elrohir couldn’t finish the sentence and his eyes, full of sorrow and bleary from lack of sleep, begged the human not to force him to.

"No. No, Gandalf is with father right now and he will be just fine. Gandalf promised," Aragorn assured his older brother.

"This is true?" The silver eyes glanced between Aragorn and the other elves that accompanied him.

"It is. I was there." Legolas smiled gently at the elf. "We have come to help dig out your brother and Mithrandir will see to his recovery as well."

"Gandalf even promised to send help." Aragorn added, trying to encourage his overly weary brother. The elves behind him had slowed in their work as they listened to the news from Rivendell.

"Elladan stopped calling to me after midnight." Elrohir walked dejectedly back to the pile of rumble. "I have not been able to hear him since." He raised his hand and indicated the area where the elves seemed to be concentrating most of their effort, "He is in here, in this area. I just can't get to him."

Aragorn squeezed his brother's shoulder gently, "We will. We'll find him."

They all set about removing the stones and broken timbers that blocked them from accessing the trapped elf. The smaller pieces had been cleared away and they had worked inward fairly well until they were stopped by a large slab of stone that lay at an angle, jutting out away from them and pinning the rubble beneath it. To clear the area behind it would take far longer than the time they had left and it was impossible to dig under it.

By this time the water running over the lip of the dam had increased from tiny rivulets to small streams turning the dirt under their feet to mud.

"We need to lift it!" Legolas called to Aragorn as he rounded the rubble after inspecting the backside of the collapsed building, "There is no way around it, we don’t have time."

"How?"

"We need leverage, fetch some of those timbers from the pile of debris. We will use them to try to raise the stone." Legolas glanced behind the elves to the pile of rubble that had been removed.

“It will never work.” Celboril commented wearily.

“It must.” Aragorn shot back, his words harsher than he meant them to be.

The elves ran back to the pile of refuse they had moved and drug some of the longer beams to the front of the rock slab. Placing the ends in the mud under the block they pressed down lifting the chunk of wall a few inches.

"Again!" Legolas called, groaning as he strained against the weight of the rubble.

Without warning a shadow passed across the dim sun thrusting them into momentary semi-darkness. In a second it was gone. Aragorn cast his eyes skyward, dreading what it could mean.

A dark shape hurtled from the sided of the rift plummeting towards them a cry torn from its throat pierced the valley with its’ shrieking call.

Legolas glanced up. Recognition dawning as the shape took form and swept back up into the sky only meters above their heads. "It is Mithrandir's help!” he cried, “It is Gwaihir!" A smile lit his face as the huge eagle circled once overhead and lighted down behind them, neatly folding its wings against its broad back.

Sharp black eyes watched them and the bird tipped its head curiously as it took in the situation. “Mithrandir called and said you needed assistance”, its voice was soft and deep, like a thrumming in the chest, “I have come to help.” Gwaihir hopped forward curiously, quickly taking in the severity of their predicament. Aragorn took a step back and Legolas reached out to keep him from falling, laughing at his friend’s surprise.

The elf walked forward and formally bowed, “Gwaihir, it is good to see you again. We would welcome your help.” He turned back to Aragorn and introduced the great eagle, “This is Gwaihir, he and his kind live high in the Encircling Mountains." The eagle stretched its neck out towards the ranger eyeing him with keen intelligent eyes. "However it has been many years since we had the pleasure of their visits."

Gwaihir loosed a cry of acknowledgement unfolding powerful wings. “How may I help you now?”

He had seen enough to know what they were attempting to do and had realized they would never accomplish it alone.

Emboldened by Legolas’ familiarity with the eagle, Elrohir stepped forward and bowed his head, “Gwaihir, I am Elrohir, son of Elrond, my brother Elladan, is trapped beneath the collapsed building. I believe he is under that slab buried in the debris, can you help us move it?”

“It would be my honor son of Elrond.” The eagle inclined its head slightly.

With one downward sweep of his wings Gwaihir vaulted skyward and landed on top of the block slab they were trying to move. His lethally taloned claws dug into the stone as though it were clay and he called out to them to take up their positions once more, he would try to lift the stone and shift it to the side as they levered it up.

Legolas ran back to the piece of wood he had been using as a lever encouraging the others to do the same. As soon as the elves and the human were in place, Gwaihir loosed a piercing shriek and began beating the air with his wings, straining to draw the rock up and out of place.

Dirt and mud sprayed the elves working around the perimeter as the wind from Gwaihir's attempts stirred the area where they were standing, pelting them with drops of water and small twigs.

The footing was treacherous now that the grounds were slick with the water from the overflowing dam. It was all Aragorn could do to keep upright and maintain his position as they slowly shifted the stone slab to their left.

Legolas however was not so lucky. A small bit of rock struck the elf in the eye, causing him to lose his balance as his hands flew to his face to relieve the biting sting caused by the foreign object. His ankle twisted under the sudden shift in weight and he slipped beneath the slab that was being slowly levered away. Rubble on the opposite side of the obstruction moved as the weight of the block was slid out of place and the elf's leg was trapped, pressed viciously into the mud.

Legolas winced and gave a small cry, but no one could hear him above the wind kicked up by the beating of the eagle’s massive wings and the grating rumble of the moving slab. The elf panicked slightly and tried to pull himself out, only adding to his injuries. He frantically twisted onto his stomach and attempted to crawl away from the moving stones that had trapped him and were still falling about his pinned leg.

Aragorn saw what had happened. “Legolas!” He saw the panic in the elf's eyes and the pain that crossed his face as he tried to pull himself free. Making sure Celboril had a good grip on the beam they were plying he ran to the fallen elf.

"Lie still." He commanded, pressing the elf further onto his belly as the ranger threw himself onto the ground next to his friend. He moved his hands against Legolas' leg to where the stones had fallen onto him, his fingers gently probing for any way to release the elf's leg. No one else had noticed what had happened yet. Aragorn shouted for them to halt, but no one heard.

The stone slab grated oddly as Gwaihir moved it farther to the left. With the help of the elves, it was nearly out of their path and they would be free to resume digging for Elladan. Aragorn realized with a start that the angle of the rock and the path it was moving on would crush Legolas in moments if he didn’t free the elf.

"Stop! Stop!" The human called to the eagle straining above them, shouting as loud as he could, desperately hoping that the bird heard him over the noise of the moving rocks. Thankfully, the great eagle did. "Gwaihir, Legolas is trapped. Hold the slab still for a moment while I free him or it will crush his leg."

The eagle loosed a shriek and stopped dragging the stone away instead hovering with it suspended over the downed building, pulling the weight of the block upward with him.

Moranuen and Elrohir laid down on the other side of Legolas while Celboril rounded the stone slab and crept underneath it into the tiny crawl space provided as Gwaihir held the block up. Working quickly together, they were able to dig Legolas out. Aragorn eased the elf onto his back and slipped his hands under the prince’s arms pulling him safely away from the slab.

The elves immediately ran back to their work and eased the stone wall far enough out of the way to continue their search. When the great eagle released its hold on the large piece of rubble it tumbled off the pile and splattered onto the muddy ground, driving the refuse beneath it deeper into the mud.

Aragorn knelt by Legolas, trying to see the extent of the damage that had been done to him. His frantic attempts to free himself had created a nasty gash that ran the length of his calf but other than the cut there was no outward damage. He gently helped Legolas into a standing position, but the elf collapsed back to the ground when he tried to put weight on his injured leg.

A shout rose from the elves working on the pile of debris and Aragorn ran back to Elrohir's side, leaving Celboril to watch over Legolas.

Gwaihir had forced his head into a small opening they had uncovered, breaking up through the rubble with his strong beak. “In there.” He instructed and turned to the elves, stepping lightly out of the way.

Aragorn was on his hands and knees before the eagle had cleared the crawl space, forcing his way into the tiny enclave. The stones and timbers had fallen in such a way that a small pocket had formed as the building had collapsed. There was scarcely any light in the dank hole as Aragorn crawled in, his body blocking most of it. Water dripped down through cracks in the rocks around him and he felt blindly in front of him calling quietly to Elladan.

His fingers brushed into something soft and he froze dreading what he would find. Slowly he fingered the softness and realized in an instant that it was his brother's hair. "I have found him!" he shouted back at the others his voice muffled by the rock, "Elrohir! Legolas! He is here!!" Elladan was pinned face down, his body covered with pieces of the fallen building. Shakily, Aragorn reached forward and moved his fingers across the elf's face down towards his neck, pressing under his chin, hoping against hope that he would feel a pulse.

With a sigh Aragorn dropped his head down until it touched the wounded elf's, "Oh Elladan, you live. Thank Iluvitar, I can’t lose you."

Working quickly, the ranger passed the small stones and broken beams that held his brother pinned back out the tiny passage that he had entered. On the outside, Elrohir was frantically working with the others to enlarge the entrance.

Within moments Elladan was freed, his body pulled from the wreckage of the collapsed building. Tears of relief ran down Elrohir's face as Aragorn and Moranuen quickly worked over the unconscious elf. Elladan had sustained a nasty head wound from the collapse of the building and his left leg and arm were both obviously broken. What injury he sustained beyond that was hard to tell, his face was bruised and he was covered in dirt and mud.

Gwaihir had watched in silence until now. He had been told what to do in the event they had found anyone still alive and with a short, sharp cry he jumped forward pressing his way into the ring of elves.

“The elf lives?” He asked curiously.

“Yes.” Aragorn glanced up at the eagle as Gwaihir edged in closer his black eyes focused on the ranger as he tapped the unconscious elf's chest gently with his beak.

"Then let me take him back to Mithrandir. He awaits him in Rivendell.”

“I don’t understand." Aragorn watched the eagle intently.

Legolas limped forward with the help of Celboril, "Gwaihir can easily take Elladan back to Mithrandir for us. His weight will be nothing for the great eagle."

Aragorn nodded, "Very well. But wait one moment." The human quickly shrugged out of his overcoat and glanced at Moranuen. Understanding what the ranger intended, the elf gently moved Elrohir out of the way and helped the man carefully wrap Elladan in the cloak. They tied the sleeves off across Elladan's chest, securing his broken arm in place and moved away from the elf, motioning the others to follow suit.

When the elves had moved out of the way Gwaihir spread his wings full. “Then I will inform Mithrandir to expect you all within the hour.” He called to them as with one downward sweep of his powerful wings he jumped off the ground and gently but firmly wrapped his talons around Elladan's body and bore the elf away toward Rivendell.

They watched the eagle go until the tips of the trees hid him from their sight.

"We need to leave." Legolas broke the silence, speaking quietly, "The water has gained its edges and we are in danger here at its base." He swallowed against the pain shooting up his leg as their attention was turned on him once more.

Aragorn stepped next to him and wrapped his arm around Legolas waist and helped him stand, allowing the elf to lean most of his weight against him, "He is right, we must go."

In unspoken agreement they all began to move quickly out of the area away from the crumbling dam. Celboril walked on the other side of Legolas, his arm wrapped around the prince’s shoulder, lending his support, as they swiftly climbed the ridge back up to Rivendell.

When they reached the steps of the palace, Legolas was worn through and through. His leg throbbed and he feared the damage was much worse than he had originally thought.

Gandalf met the ragged group at the door and ushered them quickly in, directing one to one room and another to the guest quarters to clean up, placing them throughout the large house. Elrohir would not rest nor allow his wounds to be tended until he had seen Elladan with his own eyes and knew that his brother would live. So he was led into a guest room where Elladan was resting, now awake. The elder twin had been cleaned up and Gandalf had bound his wounds and splinted his broken arm and fractured leg. A small pot of athelas bubbled cheerfully in the corner. Elladan broke into a wide smile despite the bruises and cuts to his face when he saw his twin.

Elrohir reached out shakily to his brother but the old wizard caught the elf’s dirty, bleeding hand in his own.

"You'll not touch my patient with hands like that." He laughed lightly, dragging the protesting elf over to the wash basin and gently submerging Elrohir's hands in the warm water. The elf hissed and tensed as the heated water touched off pain in his injured hands. His palms were lacerated and the skin on his fingertips had been torn away in his frantic attempts to free Elladan.

Aragorn walked into the room in time to see Gandalf forcefully press Elrohir's hands under the water. "It will hurt less if you would work with me young elf." The older man intoned, his strength far greater than his years belied as he gently washed the dirt from Elrohir's bruised hands.

“I can help.” Elladan offered, trying to sit up in bed, but the splints made him clumsy and he was still slightly dizzy from the wound to his head. He tried to right himself but fell towards the small stand next to his bed. Gandalf leaned quickly over to steady the elf, brushing against an ancient Numorean vase that decorated the low tabletop. Elrohir jerked his hands out of the water and rushed to Elladan’s side trying to avert an accident. He bumped into the wizard in his haste, causing Gandalf to step closer to the bedside. Elladan, insisting that he needed no help tried to lay back down on his own but the fast move of sitting up had caused him to nearly black out and he reached out with his splinted arm accidentally knocking Gandalf’s hand back against the vase. The jar tipped and spun on its base, unbalanced by the shift in its weight. Gandalf’s attempts to save it were unsuccessful and it fell to the floor and shattered.

“Now see what you did? Just lie still, things will be fine.” Elrohir chided his twin as he eased Elladan back down onto the bed, laying the elf’s splinted arm across his chest.

“I did that? I think not brother.” Elladan looked over the edge of the bed at the mess on the floor, “That was definitely your doing. I had things under control.”

“Under control. Right.” Elrohir rolled his eyes and pushed Elladan back against the pillows.

Gandalf watched incredulously between the two as they bickered amongst themselves. Even after a trip to death’s door they could find the strength to give one another a hard time.

“Just wait till father finds out you’ve broken his vase.” Elrohir continued as he tucked Elladan back in, moving his fingers stiffly over the sheets.

“Me!?”

“Enough!” Gandalf’s booming voice silenced the argument. He frowned at the two elves, kicking the shards out of the way under the bed, “You’d never know from your arguing that you almost died under a pile of rubble or that you nearly scraped your fingers to the bone to save his hide. It’s a vase. It can be replaced. Now stop it at once.” He grabbed Elrohir gently by the wrists and led him back towards the wash basin, “My patience with you both has grown very thin indeed.” The old wizard growled under his breath as he began to clean the elf’s hands once more.

Aragorn stood in the doorway, unnoticed by the room’s occupants, shaking his head and smiling. Some things would never change. He watched as Elrohir winced and drew his breath in sharply from the pain as Gandalf cleansed his wounds. Finally he entered and approached the wizard offering his help.

"Here, let me help." Aragorn pressed up against the counter on the other side of his brother and carefully took one of the elf’s bloodied hands in his one. He glanced over to the bed where Elladan rested before laying a questioning gaze on Gandalf. The eldest twin had not acknowledged his younger brother’s presence.

The elderly man caught the look and smiled warmly, "Your brother will be just fine. He needs to rest now, that is all. He has a nasty cut to that head of his and he has suffered a broken arm as well as a nearly broken leg but he will recover and be right back to normal before you know it."

Elrohir tensed as the two worked on his wounds. As gentle as they were he had not realized until just now that his hands really were hurting. The adrenaline and fear had sustained him through the night and only now that they were wearing off did he realize that he had indeed hurt himself quite badly. He started to tremble slightly as reality and weariness stole over him. Aragorn noted the shift and tried to distract his brother.

"Thanks a lot Gandalf, as normal as he was before? That’s not saying much. Are you telling me with all your expertise you couldn’t improve on him just a little?"

A soft snort of disgust could be heard from the bed where Elladan lay lightly dozing and the old wizard frowned at the human in mock indignation, "Are you questioning my abilities boy?"

The easy banter worked and Elrohir laughed lightly as the two talked back and forth, relaxing slightly as his hands were removed from the now muddy water and gently lathed in ointment before being wrapped. A cot was brought in for him and set up near Elladan’s bed.

Aragorn paused by Elladan’s side, his fingertips lightly brushing his eldest brother’s good hand. Elladan was sliding back towards unconsciousness, but his eyes fixed on Aragorn for a moment. Aragorn smiled gently. “You look like a building fell on you,” he teased softly, giving the elf’s fingers a light squeeze.

Elladan didn’t smile this time. Pain that had little to do with his injuries flittered briefly across his face. Weakly pulling his hand away from Aragorn’s he dropped his gaze and looked away. He was overjoyed that his little brother was all right, but he could not forget that his thoughtless words had helped propel Aragorn into danger in the first place. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t know what and didn’t feel that he could meet Estel’s eyes after letting him down so badly when he had needed an elder brother’s love, not their irritation. Blackness was pulling enticingly at the elf again. Before he could find the words he wanted, it claimed him once more and the older twin fell back to senseless sleep, wearied from his injuries and his guilt.

Aragorn swallowed the hard lump in his throat and blinked rapidly several times. The elf’s actions made him think that Elladan was still angry with him and his brother’s rejection stung like a slap in the face. Aragorn couldn’t blame Elladan for not wanting to look at him after everything he’d managed to mess up these past few days, but it still hurt more than the young ranger wanted to admit.

Putting his own feelings aside, the human crossed around the bed to where Elrohir was leaning against the wall with glassy eyes as if he had forgotten how to move, or were simply too weary to do so.

Aragorn gently eased Elrohir down on to the cot that had been brought in and the elf was asleep before his head touched the pillow, exhausted from the long and terrifying night of trying to free his twin.

The ranger covered his brother with a blanket and stood in the doorway for a few minutes, watching the twins sleep. Gandalf stood behind him, smiling to himself. He laid an old, weather worn hand on the young shoulder and turned the human away from the room walking him down the hallway.

"Let us go see to Legolas before he decides that he is just fine." The wizard teased lightly steering Aragorn into his own room where the elf prince had been taken.

The ranger laughed, knowing full well from previous experiences what a horrible patient his friend made.

Legolas had been helped out of his muddy clothing and was wearing one of Aragorn's long tunics and an old pair of the ranger’s breeches. The cut to his leg had been quickly bandaged but a red stain on the dark pants indicated that the gash was bleeding again.

Unaware that he had visitors, the prince was trying to get up from the bed unaided. He braced himself against the edge of the mattresses and limped slowly towards the water pitcher, where it sat on a table against the far wall. He was unsteady on his feet and his injured leg buckled under him. With a cry the elf stumbled forward but Aragorn rushed into the room and caught the prince, easing him down to the carpeted floor before he could fall.

“Just what did you think you were doing?” Aragorn moved around in front of the elf and crouched down to glare into the fiery silver eyes.

Legolas frowned at his friend. He was tired, thirsty and incredibly irritated with himself over the fact that his body was betraying his weakness.

Opening his mouth to retort, the elf was interrupted as Gandalf slowly paced into the room, “Do not say that you are just fine, young prince.” His blue eyes twinkled merrily as the ranger glanced up at him. “Up with you now and back into that bed.” Gandalf glared at the two of them to stave off any argument.

“Legolas, if you need anything you have only to ask. I am just down the hall I would have heard you.” Aragorn spoke quietly to his friend as he helped the elf stand gingerly to his feet. “It looks you reopened that cut. Come on.” He steered the prince back to the bed, steadying the elf against the side of mattresses as he jerked the sheets back.

Legolas eased himself onto the tall mattress and reluctantly laid back down. Aragorn helped him as best he could, gently settling the elf’s wounded leg on top of the thick comforter.

“Don’t do that again.” Aragorn cautioned, leaning over his friend and smiling. “I need you to be well my friend.”

A small smile touched the elf’s lips as he relaxed on the soft bed. “I hate being wounded when you need so much help. It’s really not that bad.”

“The help he needs young one, is for everyone in this house to do their part and right now that means for you to get well.” Gandalf brushed the ranger aside, smiling at the human out of the corner of his eyes.

Legolas rolled his eyes as Aragorn laughed at him. “He’s right. Everyone left in this house is wounded.” The ranger commented sarcastically, looking down at his own cut and bruised hands.

The elf winced and softly groaned as Gandalf moved his hands gently down the prince’s leg, feeling for broken bones. Aragorn watched the wizard anxiously.

Gandalf straightened slowly and stared hard at the elf, “Well you will live.”

“Really?” Legolas countered his light observations sarcastically, causing Aragorn to snicker.

Gandalf frowned at the elf, which only garnered the old wizard a mischievous smile. “I do think I have had quite enough of ill tempered patients to last me my entire lifetime.” He turned towards the ranger and shooed him out the door, “That cut on your friend’s leg must be dealt with and I do not need you hovering around. Go do something useful with yourself. Things are quite under control here.” He smiled as he pushed the young human out the door and turned back towards his patient. “Now as for you, young elf...” his deep voice was cut off as the door was shut behind the ranger.

Aragorn stood in the hallway for a moment listening to the easy banter of the old wizard and the light laughter of his friend. Legolas would be fine, Gandalf would see to it. He glanced at his hands; they had begun to sting from the cuts and tears that lacerated them. For the most part his hands were clean, having become so while he was seeing to Elrohir, but the fact remained that they needed ointment and bandaging. He walked slowly down to the small refreshing room off the hallway and seated himself inside near the sink trying one-handedly to see to his own injuries.

Moranuen walked silently down the hall and spied the ranger trying to bind his own hands. He pushed the door wider open and entered the small room.

“What are you doing?” Kneeling on the carpet the elf took the bandages away from the young human and set them aside, carefully inspecting Aragorn’s hands, “Now see here, you can’t think to do this by yourself. Why didn’t you ask for help?”

Aragorn looked up from his hands to the elf who began gently rubbing a soothing ointment into the palm of the ranger’s left hand, a nasty gouge marred the soft skin. “Actually I thought everyone was wounded or resting.” The human answered softly.

Moranuen smiled, “Well not everyone. I have been keeping a watch on that dam.” He turned the man’s hand over and carefully rubbed the ointment across the tops of his fingers. “It doesn’t look good Estel. It’s amazing it’s still standing now. Give it a couple of hours more and it will not be able to hold any longer. And if the skies drop their rain as they are threatening to, then it may be sooner yet.”

Aragorn nodded silently and watched while Moranuen wrapped his palms in bandages, leaving his fingers free to move. “Well we still have a bit of time before we are forced to leave. Let us pray it is enough. But someone should go into Strayton and warn the townsfolk, they’ll need time to prepare in case it’s not.”

Moranuen looked up into the dark silver eyes watching him and nodded, “I will go then, you are needed here. I will inform the people so no one is lost.”

“Thank you Mora.” Aragorn gazed at the elf, knowing how hard it would be for the warrior to return to the town and the people who had received him so poorly earlier in the year. A thought occurred to the ranger and he instructed his friend further, “Take one of the horses and ride to Taradin’s. He is the hunter that was caught sneaking into Rivendell some time ago. Do you remember him?” When Moranuen nodded Aragorn continued. “He lives on the outskirts, past the jailhouse. Do not stop or talk to anyone else. Taradin will listen to you and he will let no harm befall you. Tell him I have sent you.”

“I will do this.” The elf touched the humans knee, “It will be all right Estel.”

“Thank you Mora. I knew I could count on you.” Aragorn looked back to his bandaged hands, they felt better now and he worse. The tiredness shown in his eyes when he glanced back towards his friend as the elf stood.

“Estel, go rest. You look ready to fall over.”

“Thank you for the help also.” He held up his hands and smiled, “I will go rest, but I have one more room to visit before I do.” He eased past the elf and walked slowly up the hallway, the weight of the household bearing his shoulders down.

At the end of the hall he stopped and glanced into the room, gazing at the chamber’s sole occupant. Moranuen watched him, hearing the human’s heavy sigh as he slowly entered the bedroom.

________________________________________

 

TBC

Chapter Text

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~*PART NINE*~

 

Elrond still lay, looking like he had when Aragorn had left his side earlier that morning. He carefully grabbed an empty chair and drug it over to the bedside, collapsing into it heavily.

Aragorn leaned forward and laid his head down on his arms, resting on the bed that held his father. He was weary in more ways than he could recount. His heart ached from all the stress and worry of the past few days and his body was sore from all the abuse and labors of clearing out Rivendell and its’ residents.

The house was now empty save for his brothers and his father. Legolas had refused to leave and Gandalf had made it known that he would stay on also. Celboril had remained behind to see to the family’s needs. The sounds of the ever rising river could be heard rushing through the canyon – it was only a matter of time.

And still Elrond had not woken.

Aragorn heard the doors of Rivendell shut softly when Moranuen left, heading into Strayton to warn the people of the danger the river presented and to help them prepare. He hoped the elf would find his way easily to Taradin whom he knew would see to his friend’s safety.

But Elrond still slept. And this troubled him the most.

Legolas limped slowly down the hall, keeping as silent as possible. Now that all the preparations had been seen to and all the wounded cared for, he knew exactly where he would find the ranger – in his father’s room. He watched quietly as Aragorn pulled a chair nearer the bed, and rested his head lightly next to his father’s chest, his mind completely worn, and for the moment, empty of all thoughts.

“I thought I might find you here.” The soft whisper could have been a shout for the reaction it garnered from the human.

Aragorn jumped and turned his face towards the door. Legolas stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame for support, a slight smile on his lips. “Has he woken?”

“What are you doing up? Come in here and sit.” Aragorn started to rise but the elf raised his hand, stopping the human as he limped forward and carefully lowered himself into a chair.

“Gandalf said it was only a sprain.” Legolas explained quickly, seeing the worry in his friend’s eyes.

“And did he say you could be up?”

“Do you think I would be if he had said otherwise?”

“Yes.”

Legolas rolled his eyes and looked at the sleeping form of Elrond. “How is he?”

“Changing the subject are we?” Aragorn smiled at his friend. He laughed as the elf graced him with a humorless grimace. “Fine. Subject changed.” The ranger chuckled slightly as he lowered his head back on to the bed and gazed at his friend. “He is the same, he has not woken.”

“I am sorry.”

Aragorn sighed and closed his eyes. It was enough to just rest here for now, in the moment that he had. If things did not improve they would be forced to leave and Rivendell would be lost and perhaps so her master as well.

The sounds of slight movement caused the man to open his eyes. Legolas stopped, caught in the act of trying to sneak out of the room.

“Please stay.” Aragorn’s eyes locked on the blue ones and the elf relented.

“Of course. I thought you might want to be alone, that was all.”

A soft chuckle accompanied the human’s smile as he watched the prince reseat himself. “No, I merely wanted to be away from Elladan and Elrhoir. Sometimes they can drive me to insanity, bickering about whose fault it was that that Numorean vase was broken in the guest room. It was such an ugly thing. I don’t even know why my father kept it.” He laughed slightly, “You’d think they had forgotten that Elladan had nearly died.” He was quiet for a few minutes and when Aragorn spoke again his voice was soft but the elf could still hear him, “I wanted to be here with him for a bit with no one else around.” Realizing how that sounded he smiled and amended the statement, “except for you that is.”

Legolas nodded in understanding. There were no words, and he offered no useless platitudes, his presence was simply enough and he understood.

“I know it’s not my fault. But in a way I still feel responsible. Those are feelings I will have to deal with over time. We always had a different relationship than he had with my brothers.” Aragorn smiled as he thought back to times long past. “He always remembered that I wasn’t elven, and never would be, and he always treated me thus. As though I really was an adult when I turned twenty.”

Legolas laughed quietly at the reference to the long standing joke he and the other elves had had with the ranger, ever referring to him as a child and hardly an adult.

Aragorn’s eyes drifted closed and did not open. Legolas contented himself with dozing in the comfortable chair. The day had been very long and he was more weary from his injuries than he cared to admit.

 

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

 

Consciousness was slow to returning and he half wondered why it was anyway until he felt the soft touch again. Opening heavy eyelids, Aragorn glanced at Legolas sleeping soundly in the chair at the foot of Elrond’s bed. A frown creased his forehead as his mind tried to grasp the source of the touch that had wakened him. Again he felt it, fingers gently touching the back of his head and combing slowly through his hair, catching slightly in the tangled locks. Carefully he turned his head and as he did so Elrond’s fingers fell lightly against his cheek.

Glazed blue eyes were watching him and a small smile pulled at the edges of Elrond’s lips as he stared at his youngest son.

Aragorn caught his father’s hand in his own, drawing it towards him as he leaned closer to the elf.

“Father? You’re awake.”

The older elf tried to speak but the words wouldn’t quite form on his lips. The human leaning over him shushed him gently, “No, shh...don’t talk its all right. Its just good to see awake that’s all.”

Having none of being quieted by his son, Elrond frowned up at the boy and tried again, “Estel, you...are well?” The words were rough and soft and he smiled as he spoke them, relief shining in his eyes.

Aragorn closed his eyes, nodding his head in answer before he spoke, “Yes. Yes I am. Because of you.”

“Good.”

The human shook his head in denial, “You should not have...”

His protests were cut off as the elderly elf pressed his fingers to the boy’s lips. “All that matters is that you are well my son.” Elrond sighed deeply as his body began protesting, his consciousness taking in the fact that he was indeed hurting and hurting badly.

The soft conversation had wakened Legolas and he stood quietly to his feet ready to help if needed.

Elrond’s eyes slowly glanced towards the young elf standing at the foot of his bed and he smiled. “And you are in one piece. I am surprised.”

The softly spoken joke caused the prince to laugh. “Yes my lord, for once I am.” Legolas looked to Aragorn who was watching his friend. The elf caught the human’s attempt to brush away the tears that fell from his eyes. Looking for a way to give them a moment of privacy he excused himself from the room, “Shall I go find Mithrandir for you?”

“Yes, please.” Aragorn nodded. “Tell him to hurry.”

“There is no hurry. I am not going anywhere.” Elrond countered quietly from his bed, but the elf was already moving stiffly from the room, seeking out the old wizard.

“He limps.” Elrond gazed hard at the human now seated on the bed next to him, “What have you two been doing?”

“What haven’t we been doing would seem to be the better question father.” Aragorn laughed as he answered.

A deep voice interrupted their privacy, “That is the correct question indeed!” Gandalf entered the room and moved to the opposite side of the bed, staring down at the elf lord, “These two are quite a handful. I don’t know how you keep track of them without going mad. I suppose it takes the younger generation such as yourself to keep the likes of these in line.” The lines around his eyes crinkled as he laughed.

“Younger generation?” Elrond raised one graceful eyebrow and stared up into the face of his longtime friend. It was a joke between them because Elrond could track his age on Middle Earth to a longer time than Mithrandir had been present, while none could count the years of Gandalf's existence before he had been sent hither and it was not a topic the wizard was prone to discuss plainly.

Gandalf tipped his head to the side and raised a hand, staving off the argument, “Don’t start that with me, I have already had to lecture these two on the relevance of age and wisdom.” He sobered quickly as he bent down closer to Elrond, “It is good to see you awake old friend. You gave us quite a scare.”

The elf lord smiled back at the wrinkled time worn face that leaned over him, “Is everyone all right?”

Gandalf straightened up and looked out the window behind Aragorn, “Well we’ll get to that in a minute. For now there are a few other pressing matters that need our attention.”

“And that would be?” Elrond tried to move into a sitting position but was stopped by Aragorn who pressed him gently back down.

“Nothing you can't take care of while you *lie* in bed.” The young human admonished him, glancing at Gandalf for support.

Ignoring the elf’s attempt to move the wizard glanced back down at Elrond and continued, “That river of yours has a mind of its own. And when her master is not about she can be quite unruly.”

“Has the Bruinen jumped its banks?”

“It is worse than that my lord.” Legolas spoke softly from the corner where he had reseated himself.

Aragorn picked up the telling and continued, “When the earth shook, the river was dammed at the falls. There were heavy rains and the water pooled in the gorge where it was contained until it overflowed. Now it is rising by the moment and both the dams we have raised against it and the one formed by the earthquake are ready to give way. When it does it will destroy Rivendell and the surrounding areas. We had no way to stop it.” He glanced worriedly at his father, unsure if the elf had the strength to deal with the situation.

Elrond glanced at Gandalf, gauging the seriousness and validity of what had been said. He did not doubt his son but he also realized what they were asking of him and the resulting ramifications could be more than simply a swollen river.

The old wizard nodded slowly in response. There was nothing more to say.

Brushing his son gently aside, Elrond pressed himself up in his bed, leaning back against the ornately carved wooden headboard. He closed his eyes and thought things through, seeking the best path, listening to his heart and weighing all the possibilities. Unconsciously his fingers sought the ring on his left hand – Vilya, Ring of Air.

“Very well. Let us stop this before it goes any further.” The elf lord glanced at Gandalf.

“Then I will watch and make sure that you are not noticed.” The wizard replied cryptically. However, Elrond understood perfectly and nodded his thanks.

Looking out the large picture window on his left, the elf lord began to speak in the high tongue, calling to the winds, calling to the very air and summoning it to him. He spoke to the river, quieting its mad rush through the gorge. The angry swollen waters began to slow and the edges of the waterway began to recede slowly, falling back over into itself and easing to a level below its banks.

The wind howled through the gorge, screaming down the canyon as it race on its way to the riverhead and the dam that the earthquake had created.

As the force of the air hit the unnatural boundary, it blew the rocks and fallen trees out of the path of the river, destroying the dam, unbinding the Bruinen and freeing her falls once more.

Had anyone been near the riverhead at that moment they would have been surprised to see that the water held back by the rocks and trees did not instantly fall to the floor of the rift as one might have expected. The air itself became the barrier that held the choked water at bay. Like invisible hands, the winds themselves solidified around the lake and held the water firmly allowing the falls to refill slowly and the river to recede gradually until it just barely crested its banks, lapping at the edges of the forests and towns that it passed through, meting out the water a bit at a time until the Bruinen flowed smoothly once more. The river placid and content again, now that Elrond was back.

Aragorn watched spellbound as his father spoke to the air and it obeyed him. Subconsciously he grabbed onto the edge of the bed as the howling winds swirled around the house, causing the timbers of Rivendell to creak and sway with the power of the unseen force as it gathered outside around them. Gandalf was equally engaged but what the wizard was up to only Elrond would ever know and he never spoke of it. The older man was concentrating so deeply that he was not aware of what went on around them, his eyes closed tightly shut as he kept focused on his task.

Legolas’ eyes widened and his mouth parted in awe as he saw Vilya light up from within. The ring glowed and tiny sparks of light seemed to swirl in a tight spiral around the jewel, coalescing into the interior of the sapphire gem. Within moments the ring dimmed and for all outward appearances seemed to actually fade on the finger of the elf who wore it, becoming almost unseen to the untrained eye.

Aragorn looked up at his friend who had observed everything in spellbound silence and smiled. He knew that Legolas was able to see Vilya even now, even hidden as it was – for none who ever witnessed the powers of the rings could do so and remain unchanged.

Elrond redirected his gaze at the two friends, glancing between them, knowing their thoughts. He smiled at the utter look of awe on the young elf’s face but quickly turned his attention to the older man who stood next to him.

“Mithrandir?” He whispered the wizard’s name afraid to break into his concentration.

Slowly the elderly man relaxed and opened his eyes, gazing at the elf lord for a few silent moments before speaking. “It is safe. We were not observed.”

“Thank you my friend.” Elrond let himself sink back a little further, exhausted and far weaker than he wanted to admit. Wielding that kind of power in his current condition had been no small task.

Gandalf merely nodded and slowly seated himself with a sigh, worn out from his mysterious vigil. Glancing at the two youths he scowled and leaned forward emphasizing his words, “Mark you now, neither of you witnessed that. Do you understand me?”

“Yes Mithrandir.” Legolas whispered as Aragorn nodded his head in compliance.

Satisfied, the wizard leaned back and relaxed fully into the large seat. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his pipe and went about lighting it. “I think that requires a nice long rest.” He smiled pulling in the sweet smoke of the weed and breathing it back out again. “Yes, that should just about do it.”

Elrohir ran into the bedroom breathlessly, grabbing the doorframe to stop himself. “Did you see...?” His words were cut short as he took in the sight of his father sitting upright in bed.

“Father!” The elf ran to the side of the bed and threw himself down next to him wrapping his arms around Elrond’s neck.

Aragorn quietly moved aside to give them a moment.

“It is well Elrohir.” Elrond gently pushed the youngest twin back so he could look into the dark eyes watching his every move, “And you also look as though you have fared well.”

“But...” Elrohir touched his father hand, brushing the now invisible ring in silent question.

“Do not worry young elf. No one noticed and your valley has been saved.” Gandalf spoke up from the seat he occupied watching the whole exchange with a smile on his weatherworn face. When Elrohir turned to him, he raised his pipe to the window and motioned towards the falls, “Go see for yourself. The Bruinen has found her place once more since her master is awake now.”

“How long have you been up?” Elrohir asked.

“Not long.”

“Long enough.” Gandalf growled, standing to his feet, “Now be out with you all. I need to look after my patient.” He shooed them out the door, pressing Aragorn out last, “Go! Go! Who can get anything done with the three of you underfoot? Out with you now.”

When he had finally secured the door he turned with a laugh and glanced back at the elderly elf. Elrond was spent. What energy he did have was fading fast and the aches in his body were beginning to vie for attention.

“You look older than I do.” Gandalf laughed at his joke and walked back to the bedside, seating himself next to his old friend. “That was close you know.”

Elrond nodded, “Too close.”

“Yes.” Gandalf glanced out the window, “The darkness grows stronger by the day my friend and it is not so easily held back any longer.”

“Was it noticed?”

“No. Not this time. But I would advise against that again.” Gandalf closed his eyes, “Things are changing.”

“Things are always changing Mithrandir.”

The old wizard opened one eye and leveled his gaze at the elf. He snorted at the comment and pressed his head back against the chair, “Yes but it’s different now and you know it too.”

There was no doubting that the darkness that had been held at bay for so many centuries was moving again. The elf lord knew it, had known it for sometime.

“It is as I have long feared, since you brought the news that the eye had regathered itself in Dol Guldor. Too long did we tarry before driving it from Mirkwood I fear, giving him time to escape...” the elf lord sighed as if willing the dark thoughts away. Now was not the time to ponder the shortcomings of the White Council. “Thank you for coming old friend. How has everything else fared?” Elrond questioned, changing the subject and eager to hear of the happenings that had occurred, since he had obviously been absent for some time.

Gandalf eyed him casually, “Well your Numorean vase is broken. It was my fault but your twins had such fun arguing amongst themselves about who broke it that I never told them.” He laughed at the memory. “I can get you a new one if you like.”

The elf lord laughed, “Please no. I always hated that thing. It was given to me as a gift from the royal family when they took refuge here. But honestly I think they just wanted to get rid of it, it was truly awful.”

“Yes indeed.” Gandalf laughed with the elf, “But your sons are a handful. How do you maintain your sanity?”

“You may have them if you like.” The elf raised an eyebrow, teasing the wizard.

“What and deprive you of joy in your old age, never!”

“Then borrow them please. I could use a bit of peace around here from time to time. There is a never a dull moment under these rafters unless Estel is taken ill or recovering from their latest exploit.” Elrond chuckled as he thought of his sons.

“Yes...Estel.” Gandalf looked down in thought.

“What is it?” Elrond leaned forward, “Did something happen to him?”

“Happen?” The old wizard chewed on the end of his pipe thoughtfully, “Yes and no.”

“Speak plainly wizard.” Sometimes Gandalf’s way of talking irritated the elf.

“Well the boy has grown up amongst elves.” When Elrond nodded impatiently Gandalf continued, “Imperfectly too, just like any human would I might add.” He let his words hang in the air, idly smoking his pipe and gazing out the window at the far side of Rivendell’s gorge.

Elrond spoke quietly at length “I see. I suppose I should talk to him.”

“Hmm...I suppose you should.” The wizard commented quietly around the end of his pipe.

Elrond glanced at the older man darkly, “Wonderful help you are.”

“Of course, that’s why I am here.” He smiled brightly at the elf lord, his eternally blue eyes sparkling.

The old friend’s conversation was cut short as a soft rapping on the door interrupted.

“Yes! What is it?!” Gandalf boomed at the intruder while smiling at elf lord, thoroughly enjoying himself.

The door creaked open and Aragorn pushed his upper body through. “May I come in for a moment?”

“Of course Estel.” Elrond answered quickly, motioning the boy in.

Gandalf stood from his chair and walked around the far side of the bed, “I’ll be in here concocting a sleep potion in case any one should need me.” He mumbled to the occupants of the room as he disappeared into the refreshing room through an adjoining door.

“We are getting ready to go into town and call back the servants and the others who left when the flooding started. I just wanted to make sure you were all right before we went.” Aragorn looked from the door Gandalf had disappeared behind back to his father. He gently touched the bandage that wrapped the elderly elf’s head. “Did Gandalf say you are all right?”

“Yes Estel. I will be fine. You and I need to talk.”

“Talking is what got you hurt in the first place.” Aragorn sat on the side of the bed and looked down at the sheets beneath his hands.

“Is that what you think?” Elrond watched the boy for several long seconds as the human thought through all the emotions and feelings in his heart and mind. “Estel?” The dark silver eyes looked up and locked onto his own. “Is that what you think?” He questioned again.

“Not only I think so. Elladan and Elrohir do as well.” Aragorn broke the eye contact and looked over his shoulder out the window, “And they are right. If you had been in the house when the earth shook you would not have been hurt. Elladan was very angry with me. I think... I think he's still avoiding me.”

“I think you misunderstand your brother, my son.” Elrond touched the side of the human’s face, forcing Aragorn to look him in the eyes once more, “Your eldest brother is forever worrying over you. You don’t need a mother, you have Elladan.” He laughed as the ranger smiled and nodded, “Ever since you were little Elladan took it upon himself to be your protector. I think he believes he is Rivendell’s protector as well, including my own. When things happen outside his ability to stop them or protect the ones he loves, he often responds in what seems to be anger. And it is, but it is not directed at you, it is directed at himself. You just took the brunt of it because you happened to be near.”

Aragorn did not respond he just watched his father, quietly listening. Gandalf had reappeared in the doorway but did not speak. He leaned against the frame and observed the elf and the human.

“I remember a time when you got very sick when you were little. You had gone to play in the rain and no one noticed. No one noticed until dinnertime in fact. When we finally found you, you were already sick and you had a high fever and I couldn’t get it to break. Your brother Elladan was very angry. And he seemed to be very angry with me, for letting you play outside when it was storming.” Elrond smiled at Aragorn as he recounted the story, “When I approached him later about it, he apologized and confessed that in truth he was very angry with himself and blamed himself for not watching you more carefully.”

“He blamed himself?” Aragorn asked in disbelief, “But it wasn’t his fault.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Gandalf moved from where he had been standing, a steaming mug of tea in his hands. He held the cup out and Aragorn took it, handing it to Elrond. “Just as your father’s accident wasn’t your fault. Seems that you are not the only one who blames himself for others miseries.”

The old wizard sat again in the chair and picked up his pipe, refilling it and smiling contentedly to himself as he lit it once more.

“It’s true Estel. You have all grown up with the weight of a world on your shoulders, you more than your brothers.” Elrond sipped the tea before speaking, smiling softly, “I think the only one of you who never quite realized the burden that we bear is Elrohir. He always had more of carefree spirit than the rest of you.”

Elrond turned to Gandalf and questioned him, “Is this what I think it is?” He held up the mug for inspection, glancing at its contents suspiciously.

“Yes it is. Now drink it all.” Gandalf pursed his lips and frowned at the elf feigning indignation, “You need to rest.”

“As if haven’t rested enough.” The elf lord muttered, taking another sip of the sleeping draught.

“I see where your sons get their stubbornness.” Gandalf glared at the two of them.

The glare of the wizard set Estel to laughing. He smiled at them both, “Thank you. Both of you.” He ended the thanks with a slight bow to the older man. “Now I probably should leave you and let you rest. Legolas and Elrohir are waiting for me. We need to rescue Mora, I sent him into town.”

“Alone!?” Elrond became instantly worried.

“I sent him to Taradin.” The ranger replied with a laugh, “He’ll be more than safe in the hunter’s company.”

“Off with you then!” Gandalf growled at the young human, “We’ll be fine here without you.”

Estel smiled and stood from the bed. Leaning back down he gently kissed his father’s forehead, “I’m glad you are all right.” He whispered.

Elrond smiled back at him and watched as the human opened the door to the room. Legolas stood from his seat out in the hallway. Before he could leave, the elf lord called his son back, “Estel?”

Aragorn stopped midstep and turned back.

“I am very proud of you my son.”

The smile that lit the boy’s face was reflected in the ancient eyes of his father and the wizard. “Thank you.” He whispered and bowed slightly before closing the door behind him.

Gandalf had been just about to speak with Elrond when the door popped open again, “Excuse me Gandalf,” It was Estel who had interrupted yet again, “Elladan is wondering if you could come and give him more of those herbs? The pain has returned with a vengance I fear.”

“What happened to Elladan?” Elrond questioned immediately, realizing that it was unusual that his eldest had not been in to see him already.

“Drink your tea.” Gandalf looked at Estel and Legolas out of the corner of his eye and shooed them out with a slight motion of his hand.

Legolas laughed as Estel shut the door quickly, “We will be back as soon as we may!”

 

___________________________________________________________
~*PART TEN*~

 

“I brought lunch,” Aragorn said with a small smile, nodding towards the tray in his hands as he let himself into his brother’s room. He battled his own hesitancy as Elladan looked up. The elf had barely spoken to his human brother since he had ordered the young ranger out of their father’s room several days before.

Aragorn tried to believe what Elrond had told him, that Elladan had not reacted to him out of anger or blame towards himself, but rather, anger and helplessness at their situation. However, the fact that the elf still seemed to be holding himself distant from his little brother did not encourage the young ranger.

“That is well,” Elladan smiled ruefully, with a touch of frustration. “Since they see fit to keep me like a prisoner in this bed!”

“You’re as bad as father,” Aragorn shook his head as he set the food tray down on a table by Elladan’s bed and drew a chair over for himself. “Elves really do make miserable patients you know,” he joked.

Elladan just shrugged and sat up stiffly, not meeting his brother’s eyes. Usually such a taunt would have warranted a snappy come-back from the elf, but Elladan said nothing and Aragorn resisted the urge to bite his lip. He didn’t like what had come between them.

They ate in virtual silence. Aragorn made attempts at conversation, but Elladan said very little. Finally the young ranger couldn’t take it anymore.

“Elladan, I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry!” Aragorn looked down at his hands, giving up any attempt to continue eating when he felt so sick inside. “I’m sorry that father got hurt because of me, I’m sorry I ran away and got into more trouble instead of staying to help... I can’t make it better by saying that, I know, but please... stop avoiding me. Yell at me if you wish, tell me I was in the wrong, I won’t disagree, but please... Stop looking at me as if I were a stranger to you.”

Elladan looked up at his brother, completely startled by the outburst, before quickly dropping his eyes again. “Estel, I don’t blame you for what happened!” the elf shook his head incredulously.

“Then why do you refuse to look at me?” Aragorn asked quietly.

Elladan looked up again quickly. His dark eyes sad. “Because I drove you away when you were hurting and needed help Estel. I didn’t mean to, but I hurt you badly enough that you ran away and nearly got killed because of it!” The elf’s gaze clouded with guilt. “When we found your brooch on top of the cliff and it became clear what had happened... I knew it would be my fault if we lost you Estel. And I couldn’t even go looking for you...”

“But it wasn’t your fault,” Aragorn shook his head. “I control my own actions, even the stupid ones, not you.”

Elladan was unconvinced. “So you think, but if I had not acted as I did-”

“Elladan, don’t blame yourself for everything that happens to me,” Aragorn blurted in frustration, cutting his brother off. It was ironic for him to be on the other side of that particular argument. “I’m your brother, not your child.”

“You don’t understand Estel,” Elladan said flatly, looking away again.

Aragorn resisted the urge to sigh. They were getting nowhere. The ranger started to rise, but the elf’s voice stopped him.

“I remember when you were just a baby Estel. When we rode out that day, years ago, we didn’t expect trouble... but your father ended up dead,” Elladan said quietly.

Aragorn’s brows furrowed and he sat back down, grasping the shift in topic. This was news to him. Obviously, he knew that Elladan was speaking of Arathorn, his human father.

“Yes, Estel,” the elf nodded at the ranger’s surprised look. “Elrohir and I were there that day. We were right there and there wasn’t a thing we could do to stop what happened... or maybe there was and we did not do it... I shall never know. Arathorn died in my arms. Then we came back to find the camp gutted and smoking, and you the only living thing in the middle of all that carnage... I vowed then that I would not let you die the way your father did. I would protect you better than I did him.” Elladan did not look up to meet his adopted brother’s gaze. “And that was even before I knew you, before you grew to be a brother to me...” he did not continue.

Aragorn was silent for several moments as he pondered this new information. Little had ever been spoken of his coming to Rivendell and he remembered no time before he had lived here, other than his old nightmares. Those were the only place that he ever recalled seeing his human father’s face, although he had no way of knowing whether it was an accurate picture or not. He had always supposed that perhaps he saw his father die, but he knew now that it was not so, yet in some way, he had known what had happened. However, realizing that he had apparently witnessed the sack and slaying when the camp was destroyed helped Aragorn understand the terrors that had haunted his childhood dreams, horrors that his innocent mind could not understand then.

In light of the revelation, he also began to understand some of Elladan's occasional over-protectiveness of him. Elrond was right. Elladan was a protector. But the time was drawing near when he would be able to protect Aragorn no longer and they both knew it... still it was hard for Elladan to let go of the charge he had taken upon himself.

These thoughts passed unspoken between them and slowly the tension seemed to start easing out of the room.

“I don't make your job any easier, do I?” Aragorn grinned gently, breaking the silence after a few moments.

Elladan actually smiled softly in response, shaking his head wryly. “Nay little brother, assuredly you do not!”

“I don’t know...” Aragorn cocked his head to one side, taking in the bandages the elf was wearing. “I’m not the one who got stuck under a hundred tons of fallen building...”

Elladan rolled his eyes. “No, just under falling trees in flooding valley’s with hunting wolves about!”

Aragorn laughed, “What?! Who told you? I swore Legolas to secrecy.”

“I weaseled it out of him.” A laughing voice from the doorway interrupted them. Aragorn turned to see Elrohir leaning against the door frame. “Is this a private party?” He questioned with a mischievous grin.

“Elrohir you brat!” Aragorn shook his head, Elrohir’s smile was infectious and he motioned his brother in, “You weaseled it out of Legolas or you wrestled it out of him?”

Elrohir sat on the edge of the bed and started eating food off of Elladan’s plate.

“Beat it out of me is more like it.” Legolas answered for the twin before he could speak. He stepped into the room and stood just inside, egging on the conversation and teasing Elrohir.

“Oh please you exaggerate.” Elrohir rolled his eyes, popping a piece of fruit in his mouth.

“Care to see the bruises?” Legolas raised his eyebrows in mock indignation, and started to roll up his sleeves.

“What!?” Aragorn glared at Elrohir and stood to his feet moving towards Legolas who could contain his laughter no longer.

“No Strider,” He held up his hands to fend off the ranger, “I am only teasing.” The elf glanced at Elrohir, “I did tell your brother.” He confessed sheepishly, “He kept asking me and well...it is actually awfully funny. I mean I never would have found you if I hadn’t stepped right on you like that.” Legolas shrugged and his glance was an apology in itself.

Aragorn shook his head and glared at the twins, “You have been around my brothers too long.”

With a light laugh Legolas agreed, “That in all likelihood is very true.” The elf leaned around the ranger smiling at the twins quickly before redirecting his attention to Aragorn, “However the reason I came to find you is that Mithrandir would like to speak with you before he leaves.”

“Of course.” Aragorn walked past Elrohir and smacked the elf lightly upside the head, eliciting a burst of laughter from the twins. He had just reached the threshold when Elladan called him back.

“Estel?”

Aragorn turned questioningly.

“Thank you.” Elladan smiled warmly at his younger brother, “And thank you for rescuing me too.” He added, knowing that the human would understand full well what he meant.

Aragorn smiled openly at the dark haired elf and nodded in welcome. He leaned back into the room his look turning mischievous as he added, “Elrohir there had the hard part. I just pulled you out.”

 

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

 

Aragorn found Gandalf in one of Rivendell’s exterior hallways gazing at a fresco that had been painted onto the palace wall many years ago. The picture depicted a battle scene; a human warrior was pressed back by an armored demon, his sword shattered on the creatures breastplate. Behind the painting on the opposite side of the walkway was a statue of an elf holding the pieces of the same broken sword on a stone tray draped with velvet.

Quietly the ranger approached the old wizard and stood silently just behind his right shoulder gazing at the scene so artistically displayed on the wall.

“Interesting painting wouldn’t you agree?” Gandalf murmured.

Aragorn did not answer right away, the picture was more than just a finely wrought representation for the ranger, it was history, his own history and it was still too new for him to know exactly how he felt about it.

Gandalf glanced at the human out of the corner of his eye, carefully watching the young ranger’s responses. Aragorn’s eyes were narrowed and it looked like sorrow that creased his brow. The old wizard breathed in deeply on his pipe, pulling the sweet smoke of the Shire weed into his lungs. He held it there savoring it for a moment before releasing his breath, blowing the smoke out slowly so that it lingered in the air and obscured the painting, concealing it for a heartbeat before the gentle winds of Rivendell swept it away.

“The future is just like that.” Gandalf spoke quietly, “Shrouded and kept from sight.”

The ranger’s attention was fully on the older being and he waited a spell to see if the wizard would continue to speak. When he did not Aragorn spoke into the silence, deftly changing the subject, “You wished to see me Gandalf?”

The older man started slightly as though he hadn’t noticed the youth and turned to fully look at the ranger, “Hmm...”, he nodded his eyes narrowed as he stared into the dark silver ones that easily held his gaze, “that I did. Walk with me.” Raising his pipe to indicate the direction he wished to go, Gandalf walked off.

Yet Aragorn tarried just the fraction of a second longer, watching as the last of the smoke was cleared from the painting and he beheld it again. Tearing his eyes away from it he glanced quickly at the broken sword before following the wizard down the hallway.

The slight inattention was not lost on Gandalf and he waited while the young man caught up to him, allowing Aragorn to fall into step with him before he spoke again.

“Elrond has told me that he has informed you of your lineage.”

“Yes.” Aragorn kept his eyes straight forward but the muscles in his jaw tightened imperceptibly, “Such as it is.”

Gandalf looked squarely at the ranger, “You should speak with more respect of your ancestors.”

Aragorn halted and turned towards the wizard, “I respect my forefathers, I am honored to be of their race, if for no other reason than it is akin in some distant way to the house of Lord Elrond, but... you know the legacy of my ancestors! What could have been done and was not. What honor is there in that?” Fire danced in his eyes and his words were sharp.

With a sigh, the grey haired man looked down collecting his thoughts, “You don’t yet know the full story Estel. Only pieces.” He used the young man’s elven name trying to calm him, “There will come a time when you are told. But you should know now that your ancestors, even your human father, were all great men. They just at times made unwise choices. It happens.” Gandalf shrugged and began to walk again, trailing the ranger as Aragorn thought through the older man’s words. Indeed Elrond had told him that the men of his family were good men, he had known them all throughout his lifetime. The truth was, Aragorn was proud of his birthright, but perhaps a little fearful of himself. If so many good men had fallen, how would he fair when tested?

When Aragorn did not answer him, Gandalf questioned him further, “Do you understand the things I have told you?”

The ranger nodded silently his eyes cast to the pavement beneath their feet as it sloped down, terminating in the garden that ran alongside the house towards the front gateway.

Gandalf continued, there was so much the boy needed to know, now was not the time for full disclosure but there were things that the wizard knew that even Elrond was not privy to just yet. He stopped mid-stride and turned towards the human, fixing Aragorn with a kind, warm gaze.

“Estel, be young.” Placing his hands on the ranger’s shoulder he gave the youth a gentle shake, smiling into the eyes that reflected a soul older than it should have been. “Enjoy your youth. Your destiny will find you soon enough of it’s own accord. And until such time and at such as it does, remember that you have friends in this life to help you who do not care that you are imperfect or slow or young. Such is the gift of men. And I, young Aragorn, son of Arathorn, would be honored if you would consider me one of them. Anytime you should begin to doubt yourself, you just come and talk to me.” He tapped his chest with his long pipe and leaning forward, fixed the human with a smiling gaze. “The narrow path is not so hard to cling to when one is not walking it entirely alone.”

Aragorn stood in shocked amazement, his mouth dropped open slightly as he tried to think of how to answer the offer of such a gift. He would have thought that Gandalf had much better things to do with his time than bother with him.

“So shocked!” Gandalf laughed deeply, humored by the young man’s response.

“Forgive me Gandalf, of course. Yes. I mean please. I should like to call you my friend.” Aragorn stumbled for words smiling back at the elderly man, “I will definitely be taking you up on that offer.” He gripped the wizard’s arms with his hands.

“Good! Good!” Gandalf turned the ranger towards the courtyard and began to slowly amble forward, draping his arm across the human’s shoulders and pulling the boy closer to him, “But there is one thing you must promise me.” He gave the youth a conspiratorial glance.

“Anything. You have only to ask.” Aragorn turned quickly turned serious.

“You must teach me how it is that you are so adept at throwing these elves off all the time. First you get Elladan to shoot himself in the foot and I heard the tale of how you were able to sneak up on your father and push him into that pond you so love to frequent.” By this time Aragorn was laughing out loud, “Why there is not another being around other than another elf that I have ever heard of who can sneak up on them and surprise them like you do and consistently so!”

“It would be my pleasure Mithrandir.” The ranger answered, using the wizard’s elven name, “I excel at that. In fact if you had been raised with Elladan and Elrohir you would have learned quickly too. It’s the only way to survive in this house!”

By the time they stepped into the courtyard through the west gate, they were both laughing helplessly as Aragorn recounted many of the mishaps that he had played the protagonist in.

Legolas was waiting for them inside the entryway. He held the bridle of a high-spirited steed, his face breaking into a huge smile as the two walked towards him.

With a sigh Gandalf caught his breath, wiping away the tears that the laughter had brought to his eyes with the over larger sleeve of his robe.

Elrond stood in the doorway to Rivendell, his arms crossed and his hands thrust into the sleeves his over tunic. He smiled at his youngest son; the human had a way of bringing joy into every aspect of life that he touched.

Turning to the elf lord, Gandalf removed his hat and bowed formally, “My old friend it is time for me to take my leave of you yet again.”

“May the winds bring you quickly back. You are ever welcome here Mithrandir and I am indebted to you.” Elrond bowed to the old wizard his eyes bright.

Turning back to the ranger he inclined his head, “Estel, you remember my offer.”

“I will Gandalf, I promise.” The ranger held out his hand to the older man but the wizard brushed it aside pulling Aragorn into a warm embrace.

“See that you do.” He whispered in Aragorn’s ear.

“Legolas!” The wizard called to the elven prince as the human stepped out of the hug, “Watch this one. He’ll get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.”

“Ah Mithrandir,” Legolas’ cast sad eyes on the wizard, “I am afraid it is too late all ready, the Dunadan has corrupted me and all within this fair house. There is no hope for us any longer.”

The answer caused the wizard to break into laughter, his face crinkling with a thousand laugh lines, mirth the very color of his eyes, “Well then make sure he doesn’t get you arrested again and stay away from the chickens. I’d hate to have to tell your father where I found you.”

“You wouldn’t?!” Legolas choked biting back the laughter.

“Oh wouldn’t I now?” Gandalf teased darkly.

“Mithrandir we have prepared a horse for your journey and there are bags of food and herbs for your travels as you may have need of them.” Elrond interrupted the teasing unable to stifle his own smile.

“Ah, and for that I thank you.” The old wizard walked toward the horse and easily untied the bundles behind the saddle. “But I have a ride already.” He cast his eyes skyward.

As if on cue a dark arrow fell from the heights, freefalling into the valley directly over Rivendell. Feet above the courtyard arch, Gwaihir unfolded his massive wings and back beat the air stopping his forward flight and gracefully landing atop the stone archway.

Legolas pulled the horse in close to him, keeping a tight grip on its’ bridle as the animal shied sideways, skitterish from the presence of the great eagle.

Gwaihir inclined his head toward Elrond, “It is good to see the Lord Elrond up and whole, as well as Thranduil’s son.” The eagle speared them both with its keen gaze. “How fares your oldest?”

“He is well and I thank you for your assistance great one, with his rescue. Rivendell is in your debt.” Elrond bowed to the eagle.

“It was my honor firstborn.” Gwaihir waited until Legolas had passed the stallion off to a waiting servant before jumping down into the courtyard.

Gandalf turned to his friends and winked at them, a lopsided grin on his old face, “Gwaihir has been gracious enough to drop me off at my next...” He stalled looking for the right words, “my next destination shall we say, on his way home.”

“I am not even going to ask.” Aragorn rolled his eyes at the cryptic explanation.

“It’s just as well.” Mumbled the old wizard as he walked towards the great bird and climbed onto his back. “I will come again soon. Take care of each other.” He called to them as Legolas and Aragorn stepped back, joining Elrond on the steps of the house.

Gandalf was waving at them all even as the eagle leapt skyward its’ powerful wings barely brushing the stone walk as it pressed the air underneath itself and vaulted into the sky.

“He is different is he not?” Aragorn asked quietly as he watched Gwaihir bear away the family friend.

Elrond turned back towards the house, “In all my years I have never met the likes of anyone quite like Mithrandir.”

“Do you ever get used to the way he talks?” The young human questioned, following the two elves into the main room.

“Never!” Both Legolas and Elrond answered in unison, causing all three of them to break into laughter.

The leaves in the courtyard swept in a tight circle as the winds streamed down the valley carrying on their slight breezes the far off cry of an eagle calling through the rift on its way out, following the Bruinen as far as it ran.

 

The End
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