A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Jay of Lasgalen

Chapter 3: The Future Foreseen

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As Elladan left the house, he wished fleetingly that his father was present.  Elrond could, if he wished it, influence the weather in the valley of Imladris – though he rarely interfered with nature’s whims.  Rain – heavy, prolonged, drenching rain – would be most welcome now.   Torrential rain, soaking the forest and undergrowth, saturating the buildings and barns and roofs.  But his parents and Arwen were away on an extended visit to Lothlorien, and would be unaware of the impending crisis.  He just hoped that there would be an Imladris for them to return to.

He had barely set foot on the path when the night was vividly lit by a blinding flash of lightning.  Brighter than daylight, brighter than the sun, it ripped the sky apart.  It struck somewhere near the stables – as he had known it would – but he could not see where.  The noise was deafening, ringing in his ears and swallowing all other sound, and in the immediate aftermath of the flash he could still see the outline of the jagged flare, even with his eyes closed.

Flames erupted from the trees, spreading rapidly.  As he raced along the path that led to the stables, Elladan searched his memory for every fragment of the vision he could recall.  It was difficult, for although the central scene of the blazing stable was imprinted vividly on his mind, the peripheral details were vague.  Who had been there? How many horses?  More importantly, who had not been there? 

As he grew closer he could see that both the trees and the stables were burning.  He stopped at the edge of the yard for a moment, taking in the scene before him.  It was even worse than that which he had foreseen.  The walls were already well alight, and stacked bales of hay at one side of the stable blazed furiously.   Flames licked at the thatched roof and leapt high into the air, lighting the area with an eerie red glow.

A few of the stable-hands passed buckets of water from one to another in a desperate attempt to quell the flames.  Another tried to catch the horses which had been released.  The beasts ran madly around the yard, initially too panicked to be calmed.  He saw Hithil, her eyes rolling with fear, and at her side a new-born foal.  It now seemed clear to him why Elrohir had been delayed, but where was he now?

Desperately he searched the yard for some glimpse of his brother among the elves dashing here and there.  More and more were arriving with every moment, drawn by the commotion.  Despite the apparent chaos there was an underlying order to the frantic activity.  The most experienced grooms sought to catch and calm the horses, while anyone who could wield a broom beat at the burning undergrowth with grim determination.  Others threw pail after pail of water at the stable, concentrating on the doorway, keeping the entrance free of flames so that those inside – elves and beasts – could flee.

There was no sign of Elrohir.  Despite his fears, Elladan was not rash enough to rush blindly into the blazing stable without being absolutely certain – not that there was any doubt in his mind – that his foolhardy brother was in there.  It would be the ultimate irony if he himself became trapped while Elrohir was safe and well; and it would not be the first time that he had misinterpreted a vision.  He would never forgive himself if Elrohir was injured while saving him.  In desperation he caught one of the grooms as he rushed past, seizing him by the arm and pulling him around so that they were face to face.  “Elrohir!”  he shouted.  “Where is he?”

The groom shook his head wildly.  “I have not seen him!  Please, my lord – help me catch these horses!”

He and Elladan both dodged to one side as a horse careened past them, and Elladan released him abruptly.  Turning to another of the stable-hands, he repeated his question.  “Have you seen Elrohir?”

The stable-hand did not answer, but his eyes flicked towards the stable.  Elladan shook him.  “Tell me!  Did he go in there?  Is there anyone else?  Who?”

Reluctantly, the groom nodded.  “Elrohir and Aradan.  They went to get the horses out.  But –”  Elladan released him, and turned towards the stable.  Behind him, the elf called vainly, “But Elrohir told me to stop you!”

Even in the midst of his ever-increasing alarm, Elladan found himself smiling at that.  It was unfair of Elrohir to issue such an impossible order to the unfortunate stable-hand.

Before he could take a single step, Elladan found that he too was seized from behind, his arms held firmly.  He spun around to confront his assailant, to find himself facing Glorfindel.

He shook him off angrily.  “Leave me!   The stable – I have to reach Elrohir!”  He moved toward the stables again, furious at the delay.

Glorfindel seized him roughly, pulling him back.  “Stop this, Elladan!  You will not go in there – I forbid it!”

Elladan stared at him in disbelief.  Did Glorfindel really imagine that he could stop him?  “Elrohir is in there!”  he snarled.

“I know!  And what do you think you can do?”  He stepped aside as another of the horses, wild-eyed and flecked with foam, erupted from the stable and nearly trampled them both.  “Elrohir knows what he is doing,”  Glorfindel continued.  “He needs to release the horses and send them out – the poor beasts will be too panicked to know which way to go.”   He released his tight grip on Elladan, but did not back down.  “Think, Elladan!   Elrohir and Aradan are the best for this task – you are needed out here.  There are not enough of us to prevent this spreading.  If the fire reaches the house …”

Elladan nodded reluctantly.  He understood only too well.  After weeks of fine, dry weather, the woods and trees were tinder-dry.  The trees in leaf would be slow to burn, but fire would spread through the undergrowth rapidly.  From Glorfindel’s view, it was only too clear – their priority was to slow the fire’s progress and stop it before it was too late.

“But the roof,”  he protested.  “It will collapse!”

“No doubt,”  Glorfindel answered calmly.   “There is little we can do now to save the stable itself.  But by then Elrohir and Aradan and the horses should be well clear.”

“No!  Glorfindel, I saw this – the roof will collapse, and Elrohir is in there!”  He drew a deep breath, aware of his incipient panic.  “I saw the fire, earlier this evening,”  he explained more calmly.  “I saw the roof fall in.  And I saw someone trapped.”

Glorfindel looked at him sharply.  “I see.   Elrohir?”

Elladan shrugged.  “I could not tell,”  he confessed miserably.  “Someone.   But it does not matter who it was!”  he added sharply.

Glorfindel glanced towards the stable briefly.  “Then we must act quickly.   First we must prevent this spreading, then we must ensure that Elrohir and everyone else is safe.”  He turned a haunted gaze on Elladan.  “Trust me – I do not want either of you to die enveloped in flame!”

Elladan flinched at this brutal reminder.  Glorfindel sighed in exasperation and pushed him away.  “Move, Elladan!”

Recovering his wits, Elladan again stopped one of the stable-hands who was leading a skittish pair of horses away from the noise and confusion in the yard.  “Imlach, how many horses were in there?”  he asked urgently.

“Twelve – thirteen with the new little one.  They came out first.  All the others were in the pasture down by the river.”  The groom held the headstalls tightly as one of the horses jerked his head upwards.  “Shh.   Do not fret – we will soon be away from here,”  he soothed.  “Aradan and your brother are doing their best,”  he added to Elladan, “but now we need to get all of the horses out of the way.  They are a danger to themselves and us like this!”

Elladan looked around the yard, counting swiftly.  Hithil stood in one corner,  the new foal hiding behind her.  Four more had been caught and stood trembling with fear, balking at the idea of moving past the stable to safety.  Two others were still running loose, defying all attempts to catch them.

There must be only three horses left in the stable, but it meant that Elrohir would still have his hands full.  He moved to where he could look through the doorway into the stable itself.  Amongst the smoke, flames and heat-shimmer he could see two figures guiding horses towards the door.  He breathed a sigh of relief.   Elrohir was clearly still safe – or as safe as he could be in the circumstances – and would soon have rescued the last remaining horse.

He returned his attention to the yard.  The loose horses still had to be dealt with, but those already captured would need to be led to safety without delay.  Who was available?  Most of the elves present were engaged in fighting the fire.   By the path at the edge of the yard he saw a gaggle of young girls, clad only in nightgowns.  They were wide-eyed, wanting to help but unsure what they could do.  He beckoned to them, and they ran to join him.  “I want you to go with Imlach here.  Take the horses we already have, and lead them down to the fields by the river.  Can you do that?”

They nodded earnestly.  “Yes, my lord,”  one agreed.

“Good.  When that is done, come back for the others.”   He did not wait to see them go, but approached one of the two horses still circling the yard.  Moving quietly to its side, he began talking softly to it, soothing and calming the panicked beast.  Gradually it slowed, then stopped, allowing him to slip a halter over its head.

Glorfindel joined him again, coughing.  “We need more water!”  he gasped.  “It is taking too long to carry water from the stream, and the water trough is too slow to refill.”  He pointed to the slope above the yard.  “The pool up there …”

“Yes!  If we can breach the bank, and divert the water this way – if we dampen the undergrowth enough, it will be easier to stop the fire spreading.”

Glorfindel nodded.  “I already have a team working on it.”  He looked at the sky, the stars hidden by dark, towering thunderclouds.  “I wish it would rain.  Your father could make it rain.”  He glanced at Elladan.   “I suppose you and Elrohir …”

Elladan shook his head regretfully.  “No.  He uses Vilya.  El and I have no mastery over the ring.”

“Ah, well.  I will do what I can.”  Glorfindel turned away, then glanced over his shoulder.  “And tell Elrohir to hurry.”

Elladan passed the horse he had managed to calm to Edrahil, one of Elrohir’s novice warriors.   There was now only one horse still running free, and one still in the stable.  All the others had been caught, and most moved to the safety and calm of the river pasture.  He cast an anxious look back at the stable.  There was still no sign of Elrohir, and the stable roof was now well alight.  Surely it would not be long before his fears became reality.  Raising his voice, he called across the bedlam. “El!  Hurry up – there is not much time!”

A muffled shout reached him through the shouts and roaring flames.   “I know!”

Realising he had to be content with that, Elladan turned to the last horse, Dúath, who was proving the hardest to catch.  He kept backing out of reach, circling the yard, still too panicked to be calmed.  It was difficult to get too close to him, for he was too terrified to know friend from foe, and at times would rear up, lashing out with his hooves, causing those attempting to catch him to leap back out of range.  In the end Elladan threw caution to the winds, and stepped close, seizing Dúath’s mane.   He whispered tender reassurances, and slowly Dúath calmed as he heard the familiar voice.   “Hush, now.  Hush.  I know you are frightened of the fire.  It is dangerous, yes it is.  It burns, it kills.  But you are safe now.”

At last he stood quietly, and Elladan stroked the soft nose gently, patting his neck and still murmuring gently. But even as Elladan turned to call Edrahil, there was another loud clap of thunder, and the horse reared high again with a shrill whinny.  Tearing himself free of Elladan’s grasp and shouldering him aside roughly, he lashed out again.  Elladan, caught off balance, fell hard on his back, and lay winded, staring up at Dúath as his forelegs beat the air.  As the plunging hooves came down again, Edrahil darted forward and grabbed at Elladan’s arm, dragging him away and hauling him to his feet.

More hands tried to seize the horse, but Dúath, driven beyond fear by the noise of the storm, evaded them all easily, then turned and galloped back into the burning stable, seeking the only familiar place in all this madness.

Elladan swore, furious at himself for releasing his grip, at Dúath for his blind panic, and at the grooms for not trying harder.   There was no time for this.   Throwing another fearful look at the blazing roof, he froze, seeing the scene in his visions unfold in front of him.   Smoke billowed across the yard, stinging his eyes and catching painfully in his chest, and a wave of heat blasted him.  A wall of flame shot up, engulfing the roof completely, and he took an involuntary step back from the blistering heat.

“El!”  he shouted desperately. “Get out of there, now!  It is too late!  Elrohir!”

He never heard if there was any reply, for at that moment, with a great whoosh of flame and a splintering, snapping, crack of wood, the supporting beams finally gave way.   The roof collapsed inward with a creak and a groan,  and the flames leapt high, engulfing the doorway and obliterating all hope of escape for those within.

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