A Place of Future Dreams

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'A Place of Future Dreams'

 

A.N. : Seneschal:
1. the steward or major-domo of a medieval great house.
2. chiefly historical, a governor or other administrative or judicial officer.

Part One

 

Elrohir struggled to his feet and stood swaying in the gloom, his mind curiously light and empty. He had no idea where he was or why, and neither question seemed relevant. Something had hurt him, attacked him with a blow to the head, and he needed to escape before it came back.

He gave the large metal box in the middle of the floor a puzzled look as he passed it. He had an idea it had fallen from one of the nearby shelves but the details were strangely unclear. Behind him, the lantern he had dropped at the time of the accident lay forgotten; the line of fire that sputtered towards the recently stacked boxes went unnoticed. He was almost at the door when flame met powder and a wall of sound swallowed the world. A blast of searing air lifted him off his feet and hurled him violently against the wall.

In the moments that he lay dazed on the floor, shock and the earlier blow to his head combined to roll back the years of maturity, and his mind slid to childhood with all its attendant tales and terrors. Struggling to his knees, Elrohir looked around wildly. He was under attack - a being of fire… whirling whips of light… flames leaping amidst a roar akin to thunder.

A Balrog, he thought in dawning horror. It must surely be a Balrog

~*~*~*~*~

The fire roared, flames licking along the cliffside above the storerooms, spreading rapidly towards the living quarters near the kitchen. Accompanying it was a display of fireworks the like of which Imladris had never before seen, a confusion of colours and shapes that exploded in a noisy, continuous stream high above the House.

Erestor’s office was on the other side of the Last Homely House, and by the time he arrived on the scene Caedion had already taken charge. The former warrior had stationed himself near the storeroom’s entrance, and was busy shouting orders and assigning duties. Amidst screams and cries and the crackle of flames, a bucket line was in the process of being set up, while beaters with wet sacks were already hard at work on the outskirts of the fire.

Erestor came to a halt, briefly mesmerized by the raw, elemental power that roared and spat like a sentient being. Shaking off fascination, he began to fasten his hair up on top of his head and roll back his sleeves, his mind racing as he tried to think what else, if anything, needed to be done. He was about to arm himself with a sack when an idea wrapped in memory struck him.

“Go and find Níngabel and Cyllon,” he instructed a young Elf hovering nearby, naming two Sindarin with a strong affinity for fire. “Ask them if there is some way they can halt the flames.”

‘No use in Elves having so-called ‘magic’ if they aren’t prepared to use it.’ Isildur’s words, the sneer intact a thousand years on, returned to him. Hot-headed, long dead Isildur, who would have made a weapon of anything he could get his hand around. Erestor had never liked Elendil’s sons but this about ‘magic’ was a point he had been willing to concede.

Spotting the seneschal about to join the beaters, Caedion yelled, “Not there, we have enough hands for this. Inside. Join Berianir’s group. Make sure no one is trapped.”

Waving acknowledgement, Erestor wet a rag and, wrapping it about his head, did as bidden. Making his way inside through clouds of smoke and ash, he looked around, taking a moment to orient himself. The air was searing hot, his eyes stung and teared. In minutes the loose ends of his hair began to crackle and disintegrate. The area to the left of the entrance was for storage and was currently engulfed in flames, whilst the rooms to the right were residential. Stunned at the damage that had occurred in such a short time, he turned right.

Dodging falling masonry and explosions of sparks, he soon caught sight of a small party of Elves up ahead, but an instinct drew him off instead to explore one of the many side passages. Half blinded by smoke, he quickly realised it was both safer and wiser to operate in a group. He was about to turn back and look for Berianir when, beneath the fire’s fury, he heard faint sounds similar to the mewling of a kitten followed by very un-catlike coughing.

Moving carefully, he tracked the cries to a doorway on the far side of a barrier of flames. His mouth quirked in an ironic smile as he realised that, typical of his luck, there was no one else close enough to lend a hand - he would have to deal with this alone. He studied the line of fire for a moment, estimating its speed, then took a deep breath and leapt through a gap in the flames, hastening to push open the door.

At first he thought he had been mistaken, the room empty and the risk unnecessary. Then through the billowing smoke he saw the figure of an elleth lying curled in terror on the floor against the far wall, apparently in denial of the horror beyond her door. The inner rooms were carved out of the cliffside, the lack of windows making them the least desirable of the House’s accommodation. It also meant that, for her, there was no escape except through the flames.

Erestor hurried to her, bending to grasp her arm and shake her hard. He was a naturally kind person, but there was a time and a place for everything, and no room for gentleness when flames were almost literally licking at the door.

“Get up!” he snapped. “Come on, girl. I’ll help you, but I’m not carrying you.”

The girl moaned softly and, putting her hands over her face, began to cry. Erestor sighed. Wars were easier, he thought. Warriors knew what they were meant to be doing and did it. Usually. He knelt and pulled her into a seated position, trying to ignore the increased crackling just beyond the doorway. Placing an arm around her back and the other under her knees he lifted her, staggering slightly under her weight before finding his balance.

“Hold onto me. Close your eyes. And try to keep still.”

The flames had grown higher in the short time he had been in the room, and the heat was intense. For a minute, half deafened by the noise, he leaned against the wall and contemplated the fiery barrier between them and open air. Then, taking a deep breath and holding it, he bent his head and ran. The flames caught at his sleeve and at the trailing ends of the girl’s dress. She began screaming, but by then they were already clear.

Her cries had attracted attention, and they were joined almost immediately by rescuers. Willing hands helped extinguish the tongues of fire flickering along his sleeve and her dress, then they were led outside to safety.

~*~*~*~*~

Elrohir had no memory of accidents and storerooms, no explanation for the inferno behind him other than the one that had first sprang to mind - a Balrog. Defenseless against an enemy before which most Elves would have quailed and fled, and intent on naught beyond the need to escape, he stumbled unseen down the path behind the stables and into the trees. Hide. He had to find some place to hide.

~*~*~*~*~

Erestor sat on a crate sipping a cup of elderberry wine someone had pressed into his hand. Currently he was watching Níngabel and Cyllon, seated on the grass a safe distance from the conflagration. Eyes remote, faces calm, they seemed oblivious to their surroundings. Erestor had no idea what they were doing, but the heart of the blaze had begun to subside shortly after their arrival; buckets of water and wet sacks were proving sufficient to the remaining task.

At his suggestion an informal headcount was underway which, he hoped, would confirm the lack of fatalities. Not only had the people of this valley become his own and dear to him, but he also felt there was something especially distressing about Elves losing their lives as the result of natural forces. The Firstborn were meant to be at one with the elements, able to adapt to their many moods.

Except for fire. Fire turned dreams to ashes, ended Ages…

“You’re quite the hero, they say.”

Glorfindel had not so much as a hair out of place, although Erestor had seen him beating out flames along the route to the kitchen. The reborn Elf almost always managed to look impeccable, and Erestor privately wondered if personal neatness had been a rule in Gondolin, a place known for improbable laws governing all manner of civil behaviour. Either that or it was simply one of those unlikely personal quirks.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” he responded coolly, looking up at the tall Elf with the golden hair, so conspicuous in a community tending to darker shades.

He and Glorfindel had developed a relatively uncomplicated friendship. Occasionally they flirted, often they bandied words; right now Erestor was in no mood for either. He had spent what had felt like an eternity searching through burning rooms, all, thankfully, unoccupied. The smoke had left him with a headache, and the thought of all that would need to be done over the next few days made him tired. The idea that it would have been nice if there had been someone specifically worried for him was one that he had ruthlessly stamped on. He loathed self-pity.

He was also less than comfortable dealing with praise, and changed the subject firmly. “Do you know if anyone’s missing? Caedion seemed to think not...”

Glorfindel was a friendly, easy-going tease, but he also knew when to stop. It was one of the reasons Erestor, who normally kept the world at a polite distance, had slowly allowed him into the small circle of people he regarded as friends. Now the reborn Elf hunkered down beside the crate, shaking his head.

“All the kitchen staff seem accounted for. As well it happened during the day, though. After dark could have been… very different.” Glorfindel had seen fire at night. He reached a hand to Erestor's winecup as he spoke and drank deeply before returning it with a dramatic shudder. "Phuh, what is this? It's awful! How can you drink it?" Meeting Erestor's eyes he added seriously, “Teasing aside, I’m told you could have been trapped in there. It was work well done.”

Erestor nodded brief thanks then grinned. “The wine? Elderberry, I think – disgusting, isn’t it? But it’s wet. Not really worried about the taste. Though I notice that didn’t stop you from downing almost half. And you’re right, if this had happened tonight, there would have been deaths.”

They sat together and shared the wine in companionable silence, which was finally broken when a fountain of green stars exploded high above the House, the first such display for some time.

“I meant to ask,” Glorfindel said, gesturing. “Any idea where the fireworks came from?”

Erestor nodded briefly, watching the spray of colour die away. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how they got here. Elrond had ordered them stored well away from the House in case of just such an accident.”

Glorfindel raised an eyebrow and was about to ask further when Elladan joined them, his face tense with worry. He was dressed with more formality than usual in response to his role as temporary Lord of the Valley, and the hem of his elegant blue robe was soot-blackened and damp. After a brief greeting, he hesitated then asked in careful tones, “Has either of you seen my brother?”

Some tiny undercurrent in his voice alerted Erestor. “No, not this afternoon.” He glanced at Glorfindel, who also shook his head.

“Not a sight of him, no” the warrior confirmed.

Elladan looked around, biting his lip. This was the first time he had been left officially in charge of Imladris in his father’s absence, and the feigned air of confidence which he had been bringing to his role as Elrond’s substitute seemed to have completely deserted him.

“Is something wrong, Elladan?” Erestor asked mildly. Deciding on a casual approach, he handed the cup back to Glorfindel and set to tidying his hair, letting it down from the knot on top of his head.

“No... that is… I’m not sure.” Elrond’s son, inheritor of his grandfather Celeborn’s tall, slender frame and his father’s colouring, was staring at the section of the House where the greatest damage had occurred. “They’ve checked in there, right?” he asked. “In the storerooms? To make sure they were empty.”

“I was in there myself,” Glorfindel assured him. “As far as we could go, anyway. It’s a mess – debris everywhere. That was – quite an explosion.”

He sounded impressed. Fireworks were new to him, and thus far his only experience of them had been during times of celebration. He had been unaware till now of the damage a large scale detonation could cause.

“Elladan, is there something you would like to tell me?” Erestor asked uneasily, rising as he spoke. He knew the face of guilt when he saw it. “Is there some reason why Elrohir might have been inside there? Is that why you were asking if we had seen him?”

“Elrohir? I was right then. Something seemed badly amiss with him.”

Gildor Inglorion had moved up behind them with a hunter’s stealth but, as always, his appearance turned heads. Plainly dressed after the manner of the wandering companies, his only ornament was an intricately-worked silver broach that clasped his grey cloak across one shoulder. Lean and muscular, his auburn hair hung in a straight, shining fall to his waist and his eyes were the sharp green of a feral cat.

As ever, his presence was unheralded. He would appear in Imladris, stay for a week or a month, and then fade back into the wild once more. He might bring twenty of his companions along, he might arrive alone. What was most often remarked upon was the way these visits had increased in the years since Erestor had left the wandering companies to settle in the hidden valley.

Now, his eyes alive with curiosity, he turned to Elladan. “I saw your brother on my way down to the bridge,” he explained. “He told me to flee – It was upon us. He appeared not to know me, but… well, he seemed unhurt and I saw smoke rising from the House - I thought I might be needed here. I tried to make him come with me, but he ran off into the forest. I should have… Sparrow, what in Arda happened to your hair?”

Erestor, whose face had lit at the sight of an old and dear friend, suddenly became conscious of his appearance. Besides the damage to his clothing, a glance down at the normally glossy black curls he was attempting to braid revealed ash and badly singed ends. He held up a lock and pulled a rueful face. “Nothing serious, it’ll wash. A trim wouldn’t hurt either.” He pushed the offending hair back behind his ears, giving up attempts to tidy it. “You say he seemed not to know you? What do you mean?”

Gildor shook his head, his green eyes on the still-smouldering building. “He seemed to be running away from something or someone… And he sounded confused, incoherent.”

Elladan touched Erestor's arm lightly but insistently. “Can I speak to you – privately?” he asked urgently, his voice low.

Erestor's left eyebrow twitched. He suspected he knew what was coming. In Elrond’s absence Elladan might nominally be lord of Imladris, but there was no confusion as to who was in charge should anything go seriously wrong. Then it became wholly and completely the seneschal’s responsibility.

“Nice of you to visit,” Glorfindel was saying to Gildor, his voice dry and expressionless. “Care to get your hands dirty? There is actual work to be done here.”

Erestor, moving to one side with Elladan, hoped Glorfindel was simply making an effort to distract the Wanderer. For reasons that eluded him, the two Elves shared a mutual antipathy and missed few opportunities to bait one another. Erestor assumed they were simply too dissimilar to get along.

“Well?” he asked the young Half-elf bluntly.

Elladan, his eyes anywhere but on Erestor's face, said, “We thought it would be a nice surprise if we could greet my parents when they returned with a little… style. Arwen wanted fireworks… We thought it would be impossible, but she said there was a supply in one of the huts down the valley and we thought…. Well, I brought them up to the House this morning, Rohir was meant to store them somewhere safe…”

“That seems to have gone a little awry,” Erestor said, nodding with a calm he was far from feeling. “Well, at least we know he’s not trapped somewhere in the House. It’s probable he was stunned by the blast. You would know if there was something seriously the matter, wouldn’t you?”

The Half-elf nodded slowly. He and Elrohir had a connection of sorts, a sense of one another’s wellness that crossed the miles. Most people dismissed it, but his father took the link seriously, as did Erestor who had seen stranger things during his time with the Company of the Bear. Now Elladan said carefully, “I know he’s conscious, otherwise I would have been in there moving rubble myself. But… something is not… right…?”

Erestor took a slow, deep breath, held it and then exhaled. Elrond’s life had been one, long catalogue of almost unimaginable loss, and he could not even begin to imagine having to tell him that harm had befallen one of his children.

“Elrohir’s alive, that’s the main thing,” he said evenly. “The only way to find out why he ran from Gildor, whom you have both known all your lives, is to find him.” He glanced at the sky as he spoke. The clouds that had overhung the valley all day had darkened and thickened. Rain threatened before sunset. “We need to do so before the weather turns,” he added.

Elladan nodded. “I just need a few minutes to change…”

“No,” Erestor told him firmly. “You have to stay here, Dan. Your father would not have left while people were hurt and the fire still smouldered. Neither can you.”

Glorfindel appeared to have heard at least part of the conversation. He now offered his opinion, which carried the added weight of his rank. “If there was no one else to look for your brother it would be understandable, but as it is… I can go with Erestor. You need to remain here.”

The reborn Elf had shared an unusual Beltane celebration with Elrohir the previous year. While this had not led to the more intimate relationship that the young Half-elf might secretly have liked, friendship had grown between them and Glorfindel was noticeably protective towards Elrond’s younger and more accident-prone son. That he should choose to be involved in the search was hardly unexpected. What happened next, was.

Gildor, who had been listening to the exchange with a thoughtful look, quirked an eyebrow in the direction of the blonde warrior. “I’m afraid I have to concur with that, son of my friend,” he told Elladan. “As we seldom agree, that must mean he’s right. And I will go along as well,” he added, smiling blandly at Glorfindel. “After all, it was I who saw him last.”

On cue, Erestor’s head started to throb.

 

~*~*~*~*~

Part 2

~*~*~*~*~