Thin Ice

for legendland" prompt "winter" and 100_tales prompt "028 winter"

pre-series fic. Even before he knew his destiny, Richard was a hero

They'd been out gathering firewood and it was Michael's idea to take the shortcut across the frozen lake – despite their father telling them this was too dangerous.

Richard was almost to the other side when he heard a sickening crack, and heard his brother yell as he plunged into the icy water. Panic gripped him.

"Michael!" Richard looked around frantically but there was no-one nearby. In the middle of the lake, Michael surfaced, breathless, and grabbed at the edges of the hole.

"Richard," he shouted fearfully. He struggled to haul himself up onto the surface but his hands were wet and slippery and his sodden clothes weighed him down. He hadn't the strength to lift himself up.

"I'm coming!"

"No! Get father!"

Richard hesitated, decided Michael couldn't wait for help. If he went under the ice, he would never be found.

"I'm coming," Richard said again, with determination. He retraced his path slowly, testing the solidity of the ice with each step. Halfway there, he heard another crack and froze, terrified. When the ice held, he continued again, slowly but steadily.

"Hold on, Michael," he called. His brother was shivering, teeth chattering, hands blue with cold.

When Richard got closer, he knelt down, took his bow from his back. He stretched himself out flat over the frozen lake, held out the bow.

"Grab on," he yelled.

"I can't reach!"

Richard said a word that would have earned him a clip around the ear from his father, and edged closer. He didn't want to put undue strain on the ice so close to where it had already given way.

"Try now!"

Michael reached out and one hand clasped the wooden lifeline.

"That's it," Richard said encouragingly, "Both hands!"

Michael's other hand flailed as he sought to grab the bow. Tired and frozen, his reflexes were slow. Richard knew this, knew he had to get him out quickly. But all he could do was wait.

Finally, Michael had both hands around the bow and Richard pulled for all he was worth, teeth gritted with effort. Michael finally got far enough onto the ice to slither forward. Richard heaved a sigh of relief as his brother's feet finally made it to the surface.

"Slowly. Come on." Richard began to edge backwards, still on his belly. The chill was even penetrating his clothes. He kept a grip on the bow so his knees were taking all the strain; they'd be sore and bruised tomorrow. Michael, still clutching the bow followed, weeping in fear and pain.

"We're almost there," Richard said desperately. The snowy grass on the edge of the lake was heavenly to feel as he reached the safety of the bank. He drew himself to safety but couldn't relax until his brother joined him on the bank.

"You saved me," Michael said, shivering.

"You're my brother," Richard said. "How could I not?"

The scolding they got on their return home was tempered by their father's relief - and pride at Richard's reckless bravery.