Part 3

by Cassia and Siobhan

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    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 harm's 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 Mandos' 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 Mandos’ 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, within 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 his 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 his face, 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 to Elbereth that 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 boulder 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.