A Midsummer Night's
Chapter 2: Past and Present
Elrohir walked slowly towards the stables, pondering the visions
Elladan had seen. The things his brother described always
seemed so vivid and real, Elrohir could almost imagine he had seen them
himself – though he was thankful he had not. He did not envy
Elladan this burden of visions, dreams and nightmares.
It was one of the few true differences between them, for Elrohir had
never suffered from the ability to foresee events as Elladan did.
While grateful that he did not share this scourge, he did wish he could
ease Elladan’s frustration, and alleviate the torment of seeing events
he was powerless to change.
It was not all doom and gloom, of course. He recalled the
first time Elladan had experienced a premonition. It had been a
few days before their tenth begetting day, and they had been playing in
a stream, watching the play of light in the droplets of water as they
splashed and dodged each other happily.
Elrohir kicked a great wave of water
at Elladan, and hooted with laughter when his brother did not move out
of the way quickly enough. Much to his glee, it soaked him
from head to toe. Far from being annoyed, or seeking retribution,
Elladan blinked and shook his head, then turned to him with a startled
grin. “Daerada and daernana are coming!” he
exclaimed. “I just saw them!”
“Where?” Elrohir cried
excitedly, spinning around to look. “Nana never said!” He
began to splash out of the stream to find and greet his grandparents.
“They’re on their way here,
now! I saw them travelling!”
Elrohir looked back towards the
house, then up at the side of the valley, where glimpses of the steep
path could be seen between the trees, then all around. All was
quiet. “Where?” he questioned. “There’s no-one there,
El! What do you mean, you saw them? Where?”
“They’re not here yet!” Elladan
retorted. “They’re still on the way. I saw them though,
riding through Eregion.”
With one foot on the bank, and the
other still in the water, Elrohir stopped and stared at him
incredulously. “Don’t be daft, El! Eregion? How could
you possibly see them there? It’s days away!”
Elladan flushed, and looked
puzzled. “I know that,” he said defensively. “But I
still saw them! I know I did!” He scowled mutinously at his
Elrohir was on the verge of making a
stinging retort when he realised that Elladan was beginning to look
upset. He swallowed his response and tried again, changing
tactics. “Well,” he began placatingly. “It
would be nice if they did come. I know I’d love to see them
again; it’s been ages. Perhaps you were thinking about
that, wishing they were here, and looking forward to it?”
“Are you saying I imagined it?”
Elladan cried, full of indignation. “I didn’t! I saw
them!” He looked around at the empty paths, and
frowned. “I know I did,” he added quietly. He turned
his back on Elrohir and stalked back to the house.
With a sigh, Elrohir followed,
worried and wondering what was the matter with his brother. He
was certain that Elladan would not lie about something like this, but
it was equally clear that he could not possibly have seen their
grandparents. So what was wrong?
They both avoided the subject for the
next few days, and Elladan appeared quiet and rather withdrawn.
Then, the afternoon before their begetting day, Celebrían called
them both down to her. “I have a surprise for you,” she announced
with a smile. “Daernana and daerada are coming to see us – just
in time for your celebration! I did not say anything before; I
wanted it to be a surprise. Are you ready? They will be
Elrohir gazed at her,
astounded. Elladan shot him a triumphant look. “I told you
they were coming!” he gloated gleefully. “I saw them!”
Elrohir sighed. He had always felt rather guilty for not having
believed his brother that first time – although Elladan, full of joy at
having been proved right, had been quite insufferable for the next few
days. However, since then he had always trusted Elladan’s
visions. The things he foresaw would come true –
eventually. The problem was that neither of them knew when or how
events would be proved accurate.
This latest premonition was typical. It seemed likely that it
would occur soon – in all probability – and that someone would be
injured. When it would happen was unclear, but it seemed likely
to be within the next few days. Precisely what would happen was
uncertain. The lanterns were a possibility, but the weather in
recent days had been stormy, and lightning could also be a
factor. Who would be injured was unknown. Elrohir was
uneasily aware, though, that many of Elladan’s visions focused on him –
but the thought of being trapped in a burning building was not one he
wanted to pursue. He could only hope that they could act on
Elladan’s warning to take precautions and prevent tragedy.
He reached the yard, and paused to look at the stables with fresh
eyes. There was great potential for a fire here. The
walls were built of wooden planks, and the roof was of thatched
straw. Piles of hay and straw were stacked in the yard, leaning
against the walls. There had been no rain for weeks, and the
whole place was tinder dry. A second’s carelessness with a spark
or a lantern, and the entire structure would erupt into an inferno.
He crossed the yard, and pushed open the heavy door. He was not
sure if Aradan would be working that night, but one of the grooms was
always on duty, sleeping in a bed of hay within earshot of the horses
they cared for. He had done it himself in the past – usually as
punishment for some misdemeanour, until his father realised that for
him, working with horses was no punishment at all.
Tonight he was in luck, and would not have to disturb anyone from their
rest. A glow of light came from one of the stalls, and a voice
murmured gently and reassuringly. As the door closed behind
Elrohir with a creak and a bang, the voice broke off to call,
“Who is it?”
Aradan appeared from the stall, and stared at him unwelcomingly.
“I suppose you came to check on Hithil. She is fine; there is no
need to make sure. Although she is a few days early, there
are no problems. She is nervous, though – I think the thunder
unsettled her. There is no need to check up on me, though.
I can manage.” He turned back to Hithil, patting her neck
“She is foaling?” Elrohir asked sharply. “Now?” He
joined Aradan in the stall with Hithil, stroking her flanks and talking
to her softly. As he edged past Aradan – who did not move aside
to let him pass – his foot came within an inch of a lantern placed on
the floor, next to deep straw. Elrohir bent to retrieve it,
hanging it on the hook provided. “Be careful with the lanterns,”
he said mildly. “The risk of fire is too great.”
Aradan said nothing, but snorted slightly as he bent to Hithil
again. His whole manner changed as he tended to her.
“Good girl; steady now. Be calm – there is nothing to
fear.” His voice was calm and soothing, and Hithil quietened
under his touch.
“I am glad you were here with her,” Elrohir said softly.
“There is no-one better.”
Aradan glanced at him warily, as if suspecting some sort of
sarcasm. Then he shrugged. “I often think I prefer
horses to people,” he admitted. “I understand them better.
They do not find fault or complain. They simply accept.
They accept me.” He turned back to Hithil, patting her neck.
Elrohir placed his hands on her sides, extending his awareness to
assess both Hithil and the foal. Lifting her tail a little, he
smiled at the sight of the tips of two small hooves, just
visible. “All is well,” he told Aradan. “He is
impatient to arrive, I think.”
“The foal is a colt.”
“You know that already?” Aradan smiled when Elrohir nodded.
“Ah, of course – you are the only healer I know who troubles to look
after the beasts as well. Have you decided on a name for him yet?”
“No, not yet. I will wait to see what he looks like.”
Elrohir returned his attention to Hithil as she shifted restlessly
between them, then turned and slowly sagged downward to lie on her
side. She snorted slightly and turned to look backwards as if
puzzled by events. As Aradan crouched by her head, still
murmuring softly, Elrohir knelt behind her, stroking her flank.
At one point it appeared the foal was not making any progress, so
Elrohir stripped off his tunic and carefully slid his hand and arm into
Hithil. He could feel the colt’s forelegs and his soft nose, then
his broad shoulders, but there did not seem to be any further
obstructions. Drawing back, he rubbed her flanks and belly,
massaging gently and soothing her. Sensing all was ready, he held
the colt’s forelegs and very gently pulled on them as Hithil strained
With a rush of fluid the colt slid out to rest on the bed of
straw. Hithil gave a final snort and lifted her head to look
proudly at her offspring. He was a rich chestnut with a dark mane
and tail, and an uneven patch of white on his face.
“He takes after his father,” Aradan commented. “Gaeroch has
that same patch of white.”
They watched as Hithil and the colt lay together for a few moments,
both recovering their strength. Then, with a snort and a heave,
Hithil struggled to her feet and nuzzled at her foal, smelling
him. She licked at his face, then nudged him, urging him to his
feet. With a lurch, the foal wobbled up, first onto two legs,
then four. He stood, wavering, then took an unsteady step
forward, then another, until he was pressed close against his
mother. She moved slightly, and the miracle that Elrohir and
Aradan were both waiting for occurred. The colt found a teat and
began to feed.
Elrohir watched the colt suckling contentedly, his tiny tail wriggling
with bliss. No matter how many times he saw it, he would never
stop wondering at the marvel – that such a young creature, only moments
old, could already stand and walk. The little one butted his head
imperiously at Hithil, demanding more milk, and she turned her head to
watch this impatient newcomer with wonder.
Aradan edged past Hithil, and joined Elrohir in the centre aisle of the
stable. He looked back at the pair and smiled. “They
will be fine now – we can leave them to get to know one another.”
He glanced at Elrohir. “Thank you for your help tonight. I
can finish here, if you like. Goodnight.”
Rather feeling that he had been dismissed, Elrohir went back
outside. In the stable yard, he drew a pail of water from the
trough and rinsed off the blood and grime before pulling his tunic back
on. He rubbed at the back of his neck. He had all but
forgotten the reason behind his visit to the stable, and Elladan’s
premonition. Now that the immediacy of the colt’s birth had
passed, he felt unaccountably tense and on edge.
Despite the fact that he had not a shred of Elladan’s foresight, he had
a nagging sense that something
was about to happen. He glanced back at the stable, now
mostly in darkness, just as Aradan appeared in the doorway.
A faint light flickered behind him.
“Aradan! Did you put the lanterns out?”
“I left one burning. Why?”
“Hithil will not need it. Would you go back and put it
Aradan shot him an exasperated look, but turned and went back in,
muttering something under his breath. The light died, and Aradan
reappeared. “Happy now?”
Elrohir was about to nod, but found himself shaking his head.
There was still something wrong. He realised he must be
sensing Elladan’s tension and unease, which meant that his twin was
still deeply troubled about what he had seen.
“What, then? What now?”
Elrohir shrugged. “I cannot tell. Something.
Are you sure Hithil and the colt are all right?”
“Yes! Look, do you want to …”
Aradan broke off; his words lost in a deafening clap of thunder as a
jagged streak of lightning split the sky. It struck a tall tree
overhanging the edge of the stable yard, which burst into flame.
Elrohir felt a chill run through him. His ears rang, and he felt
as if the whole dark world was turning upside down. It was clear
now what Elladan had foreseen – and it had been nothing whatsoever to
do with the lanterns. This was something that no-one, however
vigilant, could have prevented. The fire could only spread,
though, and his knowledge of what was going to happen made the scene
all the more terrifying.
Aradan began to run. “I will get help – we need to stop that
before the other trees go up!”
“No, wait!” Elrohir caught at his arm. “Look!”
As he spoke, a blazing branch broke away from the tree. They
watched in horror as it fell onto stacked bales of hay piled at one
side of the stable. The hay ignited instantly, flames
licking at the wooden walls of the stable.
“There is no time! We have to get the horses out first!”
Elrohir pushed Aradan towards the trough. “Water! Get
yourself wet!” he shouted. Seizing a bucket, he dipped it
into the water trough, then poured it over himself, drenching his hair
and clothes. Snatching up a filthy strip of rag, he plunged it
into the water as well, before cutting it with his dagger and thrusting
half at Aradan. “Ready?”
With a nod, Aradan turned and ran back to the stable. The
commotion had already drawn two of the other grooms who lived
nearby. Elrohir turned to them. “Get help. Get this
fire out. And if Elladan comes down – keep him back. There
is no need for both of us to be in there. Stop him.”
Without waiting for any response, he tied the soaked rag around his
mouth and nose, quaking inwardly. This was the stuff of
nightmares – quite literally, for he had had a horror of fire and
burning since a particularly vivid dream of Glorfindel and the Balrog
long, long ago. The scene filled him with fear, yet he
could not stand back while the horses were trapped – neither could he
send another in his stead.
Taking a deep breath, Elrohir followed Aradan and plunged into the
Author’s Note: Many
thanks to Jastaelf for betaing this chapter for me – I know nothing
about horses or foaling!