by Cassia and Siobhan

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    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 lose 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 ascent 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 complement 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 that 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.