by Cassia and Siobhan

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    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 wit's 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 elf's 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 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 ranger's 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 with 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 were 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 Isildur, 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, 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.
    “No butsm” 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 Iluvatar 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 friend's.  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 my way, 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 father's 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.”