As the roof fell, a wall of fierce heat blasted Elrohir. Flames leapt up as air rushed in, fanning the blaze even higher. Above his head, the burning thatch fell towards him and he closed his eyes, raising one hand in an impotent defence against the inevitable. Fleeting, chaotic thoughts raced through his mind – anger at the pointlessness of this, and his own stupidity; fear for himself; sorrow for Aradan and the two horses that would die with him; relief that Hithil and her foal were safe; anguish at what this would do to Elladan.
A blazing beam struck him a glancing blow on the shoulder, knocking him to his knees, and he instinctively held his breath against the smothering, suffocating sensation as the roof fell on him, bracing himself for the searing pain to come. His only thoughts now were for his twin. “Forgive me, El,” he thought in despair. “I should have listened to you. You knew this would happen.”
A shower of sparks and burning fragments rained down on him, red hot filaments of straw and thatch that burned his hands and face. Then the falling debris stopped, and slowly he realised that he was still alive. Coughing harshly against the choking smoke, he raised his head cautiously, his eyes stinging and smarting.
He was still alive.
Scrambling to his feet, he looked back. Half the barn was engulfed in flames, the stalls buried beneath the burning wreckage – yet where he stood the fallen roof was still supported precariously by the ladder he had wedged beneath the beams. If it had not been for Elladan’s premonition and warning, he and Aradan would both be dead. It would not hold for long – what was left of the roof sagged at a perilous angle, and the ladder itself was now burning – but for now it was enough.
A groan at his feet brought his attention back to Aradan. He was trapped beneath the spar that had struck Elrohir, and only half conscious. It lay across his shoulders and upper back, pinning him down as he struggled to move. Elrohir seized the blazing beam and heaved it off Aradan, hauling it to one side. Aradan’s tunic was burning, and he beat out the flames with his hands, then dragged him further back to the far end of the stable where Feinloth and Dúath still huddled. The stone floor by the work area had been swept clear of straw and hay, and he kicked the burning debris that had fallen from the roof to one side as he lay Aradan down on the cobbles.
The heat was intense, and Elrohir could feel sweat trickling down his back and beading on his face. Desperately he searched for a way out of this fiery tomb. The wall behind them was of stone, and the blazing remains of the thatch that lay before them was thigh-deep, and quite impassable. On his left, the wall blazed fiercely, backed by the burning bales outside – but on his right, parts of the wooden wall had not yet caught light. If he could break that down, they might still escape.
Overhead, the roof gave an ominous creak, and more debris drifted down. Elrohir flinched, and cast an anxious glance upwards. The ladder was still in place – barely. He ran his eyes over the rack of tools on the wall, and those that lay on the workbench – small tools; knives; equipment for repairing saddles and the like. There was nothing there that he could use. Although he was quite prepared to kick the wall down if necessary, the planks were of stout, seasoned timber, strong and unyielding. But there, propped against the wall was an axe, forgotten and abandoned long ago. It was covered in dust and hung with cobwebs. Why it was there, what use there had been for it in the stable, he had no idea – and nor did he care.
Seizing the axe in both hands, he swung it hard, striking the wood with all his strength. The planks splintered and cracked, then broke apart as he wielded the axe again. Elrohir knew he was no dwarf – their skill and delicacy of touch with an axe astounded him – but strength, not delicacy, would serve him here. He wrenched the axe free, kicking at the lower panels, then swung it again. The wood split apart, opening a small gap in the wall. He bent to the hole, drawing a deep breath of clean, fresh air, and then another. There were shouts outside now, and as he struck with the axe again, one whole panel dislodged and hung drunkenly from a single nail. Hands appeared and tore it free, then someone outside began to attack the remaining panels methodically with a skilled, dwarf-like precision.
As soon as the gap created was large enough, Elrohir helped Aradan to his feet and guided him to the gaping hole in the wall. He was still rather dazed, and leaned on Elrohir as he staggered across the floor, one arm hanging limply at his side. Edrahil stepped through the gap and helped Aradan through. “Elrohir!” he shouted. “Hurry – you must come now!”
Elrohir took a step back, shaking his head. “No!” he managed to say, before another fit of coughing took him. “The horses – I will not leave without them!” After risking so much, and with them all so close to safety, he knew he had to make one last attempt to save Dúath and Feinloth.
Edrahil glared at him, but then shrugged. “Come on then!” he cried with resignation.
“Where –” Elrohir could not continue, wracked by coughing, but Edrahil understood.
“Elladan? Safe outside, being held back by at least a dozen elves, I imagine. I decided that this –” his comprehensive gesture took in the flames, the fallen roof, and the horses – “was preferable to trying to reason with him.” Edrahil turned to Dúath, but the horse suddenly snorted and surged forward towards the hole created. It seemed he had finally realised that the sanctuary of his stable was less of a haven than he had expected. He barged through the gap, smashing more of the panels as he went, and bolted across the yard, scattering elves as he went. And Feinloth – the intractable, obstinate creature who had caused them so much difficulty by her wilful refusal to move – meekly trotted after him, as if she had never had any other intention but to leave.
Even as Elrohir gaped at her in disbelief, Edrahil seized his arm and pulled. “Now it is our turn!” he shouted. “Come on!”
Elrohir nodded, and allowed himself to be pulled towards the opening in the wall unresistingly. Edrahil pushed him out, and Elrohir stumbled forward onto his knees in the yard as someone seized his arms and dragged him further from the stable.
He knelt on the wet cobbles, coughing and gasping, bent double as he heaved in great breaths of air. His eyes watered and stung, his chest ached and burned from the coughing he still could not contain, and he felt dizzy and light-headed. But he was alive. For now, that was all that mattered.
He sagged against someone who knelt beside him, supporting him, and slowly raised his head, blinking as he took in the scene before him. The stable was gone. All that was left was a deep pile of burning straw, wood and thatch, the flames slowly dying now. The only parts left standing were the end wall that formed part of the yard boundary, and the smashed panels he had escaped through. Even as he watched, the last section of the roof – the part he had shored up – fell inward with a creak and a groan, pulling the remains of the side wall with it, and the flames danced briefly again.
Overhead, thunder rumbled again, and at last – far too late –
rain began to fall; heavy drenching rain that soon quenched the last of
Elladan stared in horror as the roof fell. “No!” he howled in anguish. He sank to his knees on the damp, muddy stones as all the nightmarish visions he had foreseen came to horrifying life in front of him. “No,” he pleaded softly and desperately. “Elrohir …”
Shuddering, he bowed his head, dimly aware as Glorfindel and Edrahil flung themselves at him, holding him back. But holding him back from what? There was no point now, nothing that he could do. It was too late.
Glorfindel was shouting something at him, the words blurred and indistinct, drowned out by the roar and crackle of the fire. Elladan stared at him uncomprehendingly, then blinked and turned away. It did not matter – nothing mattered anymore. He had hoped – desperately, foolishly – that Elrohir would be safe. But the fool’s hope had failed.
The flickering flames danced before him, showing fleeting, tempting images, and he stared at them dully, numb and lost. He tried to tear his gaze away – for what use were his visions? They had not saved Elrohir. Yet the flames leapt higher, catching his attention insistently, flaring unevenly until he searched the depths of the blaze for an underlying order. The flames grew and spread, forming a living, flickering backdrop for the new visions that unfolded before him. The images were gone again in an instant, but it was enough.
He scrambled to his feet with a cry, full of renewed hope, and brushed Glorfindel and Edrahil off absent-mindedly. “There!” he shouted, pointing. “Around the side! They are there!”
The cry was echoed by a groom who had been dousing the walls with water in a vain attempt to halt the spread of the flames. “Here!” he called. “I can hear something!”
Elladan raced around the side of the stable, skidding and nearly falling on the slick cobbles. A dull thud sounded as something heavy struck the wooden panels, then another blow came. There was a splintering crack as the wood broke, and a large side panel fell outward, only loosely attached. Elladan grasped it, tearing it free, and bent to peer through the gap. The interior was an inferno of flame, and the air thick with smoke. He could see little, but was able to make out a single figure, and the dim shapes of two horses. “El!” he shouted. “Can you hear me?”
Before he could hear any reply, he was grabbed by the arm and hauled back. One of the foresters pushed in front, brandishing a large, long-handled axe. “Get out of the way!” he snapped, before adding belatedly, “My lord.”
With a skill borne of long practice the forester struck at the panels, opening a large gap. Elladan struggled ineffectually, but he was held fast by Glorfindel and several others. “You are not going in there,” Glorfindel pointed out evenly.
“Let me go!” Elladan hissed furiously. Glorfindel said nothing, but gave him a look that would have quelled the Balrog. Elladan ignored him, still struggling. Edrahil threw them a glance, then darted forward into the flames. As Elladan watched in mute fury, he reappeared with someone draped limply against his side. Fear leaped in him as he saw the semi-conscious figure – and then leaped again as he realised that it was Aradan, not Elrohir. Two of the grooms guided the stable master to safety, but Elladan’s eyes were fixed on the hole in the wall, and the blaze raging behind it. Where was Elrohir? Edrahil disappeared again, and moments later Dúath exploded out of the stable, kicking some of the panels to splinters as he went.
Those in his path leapt aside, and Elladan took the opportunity to shake Glorfindel off. He ran forward, dodging Feinloth who followed Dúath out into the yard. Then, to his utter relief, Edrahil and Elrohir appeared together. Elladan grabbed his brother as he stumbled forward, falling to his knees, and pulled him well away from the blaze.
Weak with overwhelming relief, he held Elrohir as his twin drew shuddering gulps of air, fighting desperately to breathe. He could feel the ache deep in his own chest, and concentrated on breathing slowly and evenly, lending all his strength to Elrohir. As the harsh coughing gradually eased Elrohir leaned against him and gave him a faint grin.
The frantic activity in the yard was slowing now – Dúath and
Feinloth had both been recaptured, and stood, trembling, with the
grooms. The blaze was subsiding – there seemed nothing left to
anyway. The stable had been destroyed; only stones now left
standing. And scant seconds after Elrohir and Edrahil had
the beam supporting the final part of the roof collapsed with a crack,
burying the last refuge under burning thatch.
Rain fell – great heavy drops that splashed into the ash, and hissed on the glowing embers. It sent rivulets of black mud, edged with a fringe of straw dust, trickling across the yard. As Elrohir’s ragged breathing slowed, Elladan helped him to his feet. He held his brother at arm’s length, examining him with his eyes. Elrohir appeared alive, whole, and undamaged – if a little singed. His face was smeared with ash and soot, and his hair tangled with strands of straw. Elladan’s relief transformed into joy, and he hugged Elrohir tightly. The thought of what he had seen, what had so nearly happened, chilled him – how could his twin have acted so rashly? The joy mutated again, and his relief and elation spilled over into anger. He straightened, placing his hands on his brother’s shoulders and pushing him hard against the wall of the stable yard. “Do not ever, ever, do that to me again,” he began fiercely. “Do you never listen? I told you what I saw. You knew what would happen! You could have been killed!” The horror of the moment when he had seen the roof collapse inward, in the full knowledge that Elrohir was inside, would stay with him always.
Elrohir gave a weary grin. “I am sorry, brother. I did listen – and that is what saved us.” He raised his hands in self defence, pushing Elladan away again. He gave a small hiss of pain, and Elladan dropped his hands, seizing Elrohir’s wrists instead. He swore softly. Elrohir’s hands were torn, bloody and burned. The palms were reddened and blistered, and in places the blisters had broken, leaving raw flesh.
“El! What have you done?” he cried in dismay. He pulled Elrohir towards the water trough, and plunged his hands into the water. Constantly replenished by the stream, the water in the trough was clean again, and cool, and Elrohir gasped as it touched his wounds, jerking his hands out of the water.
One of the healers appeared at Elrohir’s side, and she gripped his wrists, holding his hands down in the water. “You need to cool these burns,” she instructed calmly. “You know that as well as I do. Stop behaving like an elfling.”
Elladan stepped back, his concern giving way to amusement. Athela was an old friend, and she would stand no nonsense from his brother. “I am all right,” Elrohir protested weakly. He coughed again. “I just need to catch my breath.”
Athela eyed him without sympathy. “I will be the judge of that.” She sighed. “I fail to see how a supposedly intelligent elf – a healer too, no less – can be so pig-headed and stubborn. You and Aradan are both coming to the infirmary – now. Is that clear? Elladan, tell him,” she ordered.
Elrohir drew breath to argue, coughed again, and capitulated without further protest. Slowly the wet, bedraggled group moved towards Imladris itself, leaving behind the smouldering ruin of the stable.First > Previous > Next