Chapter Six – Die Another Day
In the infirmary, Athela directed Elrohir into a side chamber as another healer descended on Aradan. "Sit down," she instructed him imperiously.
Elrohir sat on the bed as indicated. Although he hated having any fuss made of him, his own healer's instincts told him that he needed help, and Athela did not need another awkward patient. He was beginning to feel the toll events had taken on him. The surge of energy that had driven him since the fire started had ebbed away, leaving him drained. He was weary and sore, and ached all over. Breathing was still painful and difficult, and though it had eased a little, his chest still felt as if a weight was pressed on it. His throat was sore and dry, and he craved water – though the way his hands throbbed and burned so unbearably, he doubted he would be able to hold a cup.
Elladan stood behind Athela, watching him grimly. Suddenly his brother turned to the sink and poured a cup of water, then returned to Elrohir's side. "Drink this," he said brusquely. He held the cup with a healer's expertise as Elrohir drank, the water cool and soothing on his parched throat. Before he could thank Elladan, his twin turned away, stiff-backed, to set the cup back beside the basin.
Athela cast Elladan a swift glance as she touched her fingers briefly to Elrohir's throat, nodding to herself. Then she moved her hand to his chest, closing her eyes slightly. Finally she nodded again, and gave a small smile. "You were lucky," she told him. "I expected the damage to be much worse. I do not think you have done any lasting harm. You do realise that the smoke alone could have killed you?"
Elrohir nodded wearily. "I know. I did what I could. I used a strip of wet rag and tied it around my mouth to protect myself from the smoke and flames – but I lost it at some stage," he added vaguely.
"A damp cloth? Well, you showed some sense at least. But it was foolish to risk yourself like that." Athela turned away, taking a small pot from a shelf and gathering phials of herbs and other items.
Elladan took a step closer. "I told you that!" he hissed angrily. "It was too dangerous. Did you even stop to think what you were doing? Of course not – you never do!"
Elrohir stared at him in surprise. He could understand Elladan's concern, but not this anger. He knew that his twin thought he sometimes acted without considering the consequences – but in this case, he had been only too aware of what would happen. Yet how could he have acted any differently?
Too tired to argue, he shook his head and looked away, watching Athela as she added some pungent herbs and oils to the pot. A kettle simmered over a small stove, and she poured water onto the herbs, stirring the mix together before placing the pot over the heat. The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench. Then, carefully lifting the pot off again, she poured the contents into two shallow bowls. Passing one to the healer caring for Aradan, she held the other before Elrohir. "Breathe this," she ordered.
Foul-smelling steam drifted up from the water. Elrohir grimaced, his eyes watering from the fumes, but he breathed in, feeling the vapour penetrate his nose and throat. "Again," Athela said. "You need to breathe more deeply. This will soothe your lungs, and stop your throat swelling."
"Arconia? I know what it does," Elrohir pointed out. He took another deep breath of the steam, then another, feeling his breathing ease a little more each time. "Athela, the horses – someone needs to see to them as well. None of the grooms will know how to treat them."
"You are not going anywhere!" Elladan snapped before Athela could respond. "You need to stay here. Athela, tell him! He might listen to you."
Athela cast them both an amused glance. "I can make up another batch of the arconia, and have it sent down," she agreed, indicating the bowl. "Any one of the grooms will be able to administer it then. You and Aradan are staying here! Now, let me see this." She took Elrohir's hands in hers, carefully avoiding the broken blisters and raw burns. "How did you do this?" she asked.
Elrohir frowned. Although the pain was intense now, he had not been aware of burning his hands, and had only noticed the injuries when he pushed Elladan away.
"He did it saving me," Aradan rasped from the other side of the room. "I was trapped when the roof collapsed. Elrohir pulled one of the roof beams off me. You saved my life – thank you, my lord." For once there was no edge to Aradan's voice, and no sarcasm in the title.
"You were both taking foolish risks!" Athela said acerbically, before Elrohir could respond. "I know you were more worried about the horses – but I am more worried about my patients!"
In a rare moment of solidarity, Elrohir glanced at Aradan and caught his eye as they both tried to hide smiles. "Your pardon, Athela," Elrohir said. "Next time, I will endeavour not to damage myself."
Elladan snorted. "There had better not be a next time!" he snapped predictably.
Athela sighed, but ignored them. She poured cool water over the burns, washing away the last fragments of dirt and burnt straw. Elrohir drew a sudden breath at the sharp pain, but said nothing. He knew that the burns were not particularly serious, and he had certainly had far more severe injuries in the past – but little he had experienced had hurt as much as this. Finally Athela took a pot of sweet-smelling salve, and smeared it onto the burns gently, with a skilled touch as light as thistle down. He tensed, steeling himself not to flinch away at the first excruciating strokes, and concentrated on keeping the pain to himself. If Elladan sensed it too, it would only add to his inexplicable anger.
"Relax," Athela murmured. "It will soon ease." She wrapped loose gauze around his hands, bandaging it lightly, then stepped back. "That is all I can do for now," she said, "but I will need to see you again tomorrow. Keep the bandages dry. You will need help with washing and eating, and with personal needs for a few days. Do you need anything now?"
Elrohir shook his head. "No." All he wanted now was to sleep, and forget the pain of his hands, and his memories of the blazing roof collapsing above him.
"I will do it," Elladan said curtly.
Athela nodded as she gathered up her medicines and bandages. She whispered something to Elladan, then glanced back at Elrohir again with a sudden smile. "Try to sleep," she added as she left.
Slowly the salve began to work, and Elrohir breathed a sigh of relief. As his hands became blessedly numb, he became aware of countless other aches and pains, all minor in comparison, and the stinging on his face and arms where sparks had caught him. He could smell the pungent smoke that still clung to his skin, clothes and hair – but suddenly he was too weary to care any more. Exhaustion caught him, and he leaned back against the wall. "What a night," he mumbled. "We were lucky, though. After what you said, there were times when I feared we would not make it out of that stable."
Elladan regarded him impatiently. "Then why did you –" he broke off, and shook his head, swallowing whatever he was about to say. "It does not matter," he added more gently, reining in his anger. "It can wait until the morning. Athela says that you must stay here tonight, and have someone keep watch, in case your breathing is still affected by the smoke. I said –" he stopped again as Elrohir interrupted.
"You said you would stay? El, when are you going to stop fussing over me?" he asked with a tired grin.
"When you start to listen to me, and start to take care of yourself!" Elladan snapped, losing patience again. He sighed. "El, go to sleep. We will talk tomorrow."
As Elrohir lay down, he felt Elladan pulling his boots off. As sleep descended on him like a fog, he had one thought in mind. In the morning, he would search for the root of Elladan's anger. There was surely more here that mere reaction to the night's events. As he pondered the cause, the fog of sleep thickened, and carried him away.
Once Elrohir was asleep, Elladan moved silently across the room, extinguishing the lamps and candles. Dawn was not far off, and already a faint glimmer of light came from the window. He turned at a slight sound from Elrohir, but his brother still slept – though restlessly, and lines of pain and exhaustion were etched around his eyes. Returning to the bed, he sat at Elrohir's side – watching, as he had promised Athela.
He still felt conflicting, confusing emotions. Although he rejoiced now that he knew his twin was safe, there was still the legacy of the stark fear he had felt as the roof of the stable collapsed. Anger still bubbled in him, too – anger at the insane risk Elrohir had taken, anger at the way he had disregarded his own safety, and ignored Elladan's warnings. Watching Elrohir as he slept though, he was aware of a more uncomfortable emotion, one he was not proud of. He was hurt by Elrohir's lack of trust. Through all the vagaries and uncertainties of the visions, he had been sure of one thing – that Elrohir trusted him and believed him. When he had doubted himself, frustrated by the lack of clarity, Elrohir had always reassured and calmed him. To find now that his twin had ignored his warnings, had not trusted him – it hurt.
He sat, brooding on this new development while outside the sky lightened as the sun rose over the distant mountains. The storm had finally burnt itself out, and the rain had stopped. Crossing to the windows, he pushed them open and stepped out onto the balcony.
Airy breezes; sunlight and starlight; the scent and sight of water and growing things – all these were essential to healing, and every room in the infirmary opened onto the peace and tranquillity of the valley. After the rain, the air smelled of wet leaves and damp earth, but over it all hung the acrid smell of smoke and burnt wood, an evocative reminder of what had happened.
He watched, casting frequent glances behind him, as the sun rose higher. As the shadows of night dissipated, and the valley was flooded with the glory of a new day, Elladan felt his own dark mood lightening, lifting even as the shadows lifted. He smiled. Even though he still needed to talk to Elrohir, today was a day to be thankful for.
In the room behind him, he heard Elrohir stir. He turned, and waited until Elrohir joined him on the balcony. He was barefoot, still grimy and soot-streaked, and ash and straw clung to his hair. "Good morning, little brother," Elladan greeted him. "You look terrible."
Elrohir grinned. "I feel a great deal better than I did last night," he admitted. He raised his face to the sun and took a deep breath of the clear air. "At least I can breathe again." He sat on the low wall, and looked up at Elladan. "Thank the Valar for your vision last night," he commented unexpectedly. "If you had not warned me, Aradan would have been down there alone – and he would never have got Hithil or her foal out. And if not for your warning about the roof, we would have been killed when it collapsed. Do not ever doubt the truth of your visions again. It saved many lives last night."
"What do you mean?" Elladan asked rather sharply. "You did not seem to take much notice! You certainly ignored my warnings," he added bitterly.
"What do you mean?" Elrohir echoed, surprise in his voice. "Thanks to you, I knew full well that the roof would collapse eventually. Although I had no intention of still being there at the time – I rather hoped we would be well clear of the stable by then – I jammed a ladder under the central beam just in case. It worked, El. When the roof fell, the ladder held it up for a few vital moments until we could get out. Your warning saved our lives," he concluded simply.
"Then why …" Elladan sighed. "I know why – I know you. But when I got to the stable, and saw it burning – just as I had foreseen – and then realised that you were in there, despite everything – I thought you had ignored me. That you did not believe me."
"So that is it." Elrohir gazed at him, then nodded to himself. "Is that why you were so angry? But El, what could I do? Stand outside and watch the stable burn – with the horses inside? Order someone else to go in there in my place? El, I could not!"
Elladan nodded. "I know that – now. And I should have realised it before. I thought you were taking a needless risk. I should have known better."
"A needless risk? It was a risk, certainly. I knew the danger we faced. But needless? Never. What else could I do?"
Elladan was silent. He could not expect his twin to have acted any differently – and, if he was honest with himself, he would have done the same.
Athela's arrival spared him from answering. She cast a swift, professional glance at Elrohir, then turned her attention to his hands. She unwound the bandages and inspected the burns carefully. "You seem to be starting to heal," she decided. She prodded at a particularly tender spot. "Does that hurt?"
"Yes!" Elrohir hissed. "You know it does!"
"Good," Athela smiled serenely. "That means there is no serious damage. If you could not feel it, it would indicate far deeper burns. You may well have lost the use of your hands." She applied a little more of the salve, then replaced the bandages. As she turned to leave to tend her next patients, she stopped and turned back to Elrohir. "Ah yes – Edrahil brought a message from the grooms. He says that the horses are uninjured, and that the new foal is feeding well. He said he thought you and Aradan would like to know."
"Thank the Valar!" Elrohir exclaimed fervently. "That is good news indeed. Thank you, Athela!"
She smiled as she stepped closer and gave Elrohir a swift kiss. "And I am glad that you are well. I no longer need you to stay here – but remember, keep the bandages dry!"
Elrohir's eyes followed Athela as she left, and Elladan coughed to attract his attention. "So, little brother – Hithil's foal. I take it that is what delayed you last night? Does he have a name yet?"
Elrohir grinned. "I thought to name him Naurion. It seems fitting, would you agree?" He got to his feet. "I know what Edrahil said, but I want to go and see the horses for myself. Come on – I will take you to meet Naurion!"
"El!" Elladan called after him. "Do you intend to go like that? Have you seen yourself?
Elrohir glanced at himself and frowned. He sniffed, then grimaced again. "I reek of smoke as well," he complained. "I need a bath." He glanced down at his bandaged hands. "El – I suppose – would you …"
Elladan felt himself grinning. "Help you? Yes, of course. Come, little brother. I will help you wash, and then we will greet the newest inhabitant of Imladris."
As he followed Elrohir back indoors, he reflected that perhaps his visions and dreams were not the curse he had always imagined. Sometimes, there was much to be learned from them.
Author's Notes: Naurion means 'Son of Fire'.