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A Creature of Fire  by daw the minstrel

Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter for me.

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8. Caught in the Ruins

A chunk of stone grazed the left side of Legolas’s head and slammed into his shoulder. Pain blossomed in both his shoulder and his ear, and he cried out once and then instinctively threw up his hands to protect his head as the continued shower of rocks drove him to his knees. Dirt filled the sparse air, clogging his nose and throat and making him close his eyes against its sting. Despite the pain in his left ear, he could hear the roar of the dragon directly overhead and then a loud bang and the noise of more stones crashing on top of those around him. He had a quick, dazed vision of the dragon whipping its tail into buildings, just as the debris in front of him shifted and pushed him hard enough that his head banged against the wall of the house behind him.

The clamor of bells penetrated the din, and for a confused second, he thought they were warning him that the dragon was wheeling for another attack, but suddenly it dawned on him that he could hear the bells because the noise of the dragon’s passage was diminishing. The shower of rocks had slowed and now stopped, although dust still filled the air and darkness blanketed him completely. And as the noise faded a little, he could hear a child shrieking in terror beyond the rocks that walled him in from the left.

“Legolas! Legolas!”

Irritably, he wondered what Beliond wanted. Surely he must know that Legolas had an unexpected situation to deal with. And besides, Beliond’s shouts were probably upsetting the screaming child even further. Suddenly, Legolas’s head cleared. Tuilinn! he thought in panic, and then his mind skipped to his last glimpse of Sinnarn and everyone else in the patrol too, and he began frantically shoving at the stones in front of him, realizing only belatedly that he was moaning. He had to get free and find out what had happened. He was in command.  His warriors depended on him, and Tuilinn could be in danger.

“Legolas, answer me!”

At least Beliond was still alive, Legolas thought with grim humor. He opened his mouth to respond to Beliond’s urgent shout but found dirt stopping his tongue. He spat and then gave a call that even he knew was probably too feeble to be heard over the wails of the child. Beliond made a loud, heartfelt comment on Sauron’s anatomy. Legolas pictured Vanduil blinking and hoped that the child had been too absorbed in his own woes to hear. He did not want to have to explain to the child’s parents where he had learned the phrase, assuming, of course, that the child still had parents.

His hand unexpectedly slid past the end of a stone, painfully barking his wrist but finding empty space. He groped around its edges. It was probably too narrow for him to go through wearing his pack and quiver, and the space was too confined for him to remove them. He pushed his bow through the opening and then tugged at one of the rocks, trying to widen the space so he could follow. The stones overhead rustled ominously, and he froze. Then, cautiously, he tugged again and began wriggling through the opening, gasping and then clenching his teeth against the pain in his left shoulder as he did so.

The stones shifted again, and with his shoulder adding its screams to the child’s, he heaved himself quickly forward, emerging into a larger space just as the stones under which he had sheltered collapsed with a loud rumble. Once again, he flung his arms over his head to protect it from the smaller stones raining down upon him.

“Legolas!” Beliond sounded almost as hysterical as the child.

“I am here,” he managed to call, even as he lifted his head and frantically scanned for signs of Tuilinn. He knew he had neared the spot where he had shoved her, thinking she would be safe.

“Thank the Valar. Are you hurt?”

“Not much.” Legolas continued to look around him, crawling forward as he did so. The last rockfall had left an opening about ten feet above him, and light now filtered down through the dust laden air.

“What does that mean?” Beliond’s voice was rough with anger, and Legolas recognized it for the sign of affection that it was, but it evidently frightened the child, for his cries grew louder. “Vanduil!” Beliond’s voice was slightly muffled as if he had turned away. “Take him. And then look out and see if you can spot Sinnarn and Nithron. We are going to need help getting them out of there.” The child’s sobs faded a little, and then Beliond’s voice grew clear again. “What about Galelas and the maiden?”

“I do not see them yet.” Legolas heard the slight quiver in his own voice but was too frantic to care.

Then he saw it, and his heart stopped. A slender hand emerged from under a pile of stones. He dove toward her, struggling for breath against the dusty air and the band that had suddenly been drawn tight around his chest. “Tuilinn,” he half sobbed, scrabbling at the stones across her face. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he heaved a stone away and at last saw her.

She lay as if asleep, but he knew at once that she was not. Her face was serene and unbruised, but the back of her head was crushed, and her blood had poured out and soaked the ground beneath her. She was not there. He could no longer feel her presence.

The world swam in and out of focus, and for a long moment, he was not sure where he was. He was here, staring at Tuilinn’s body, and he was questing somewhere else, seeking her.

“Legolas, did you find Tuilinn?” Beliond was talking to him again from somewhere far away, but Legolas ignored him. He put out a finger and touched Tuilinn’s face. “Legolas,” called Beliond again, “what about Galelas?”

As if Beliond’s question had conjured the sound, Legolas heard someone give a low groan. He turned his head incuriously toward the sound and saw a spread of dark hair not three feet away. One of Galelas’s legs was caught under a large square stone, and as the dust drained from the air, his upper body had become visible. He was bleeding from a cut in one temple, but he was also beginning to regain consciousness.

“Legolas, I am talking to you! Answer me!” Beliond’s voice was sharp, and Legolas responded with the obedience that he had learned was best when Beliond had neared the end of his patience.

“Galelas is here,” he said, hearing the dreaminess in his own voice. “Tuilinn is dead.”

There was a second’s silence. “I am sorry, Legolas.” After a pause, Beliond asked in a gentler voice, “Is Galelas all right?”

Knowing he had to answer Beliond or face repeated questions, Legolas looked at Galelas. “He is hurt.” For a long moment, he stared at Galelas, knowing that he should do something to help him, but feeling as if he might be too far away now to do it. Then Galelas moaned again, and suddenly Legolas found himself tearing his hand away from Tuilinn’s face and moving toward the trapped warrior.

As Legolas approached, Galelas turned his head toward him, but his eyes were glazed with pain, and Legolas was not certain that Galelas really registered his presence. He turned his attention to Galelas’s leg. Bracing both hands under the stone’s edge, he tired to heave it away, but his shoulder protested and after two more tries he had to admit to himself that he was not going to be able to remove the stone. He sat back on his heels, rubbing absently at his left shoulder and allowing his eyes to go once more to the pale form of Tuilinn.

“Is it broken?” Galelas croaked, and with an effort, Legolas brought his gaze back to Galelas.

“I do not know.” He crept toward Galelas’s head, as pity stabbed its way through the fog in which he seemed to be floating. “Are you thirsty?” he asked, reaching for his water skin. He propped up Galelas’s head so that he could drink and then took a long swallow himself, suddenly conscious of how dry his own dusty throat was.

He looked at Galelas, automatically trying to assess his condition. Galelas was pale and his eyes kept sliding in and out of focus, so Legolas strongly suspected that he might be less than completely present. His gaze settled on the cut on Galelas’s temple. “We should clean that cut,” he said and sluiced water over it. Galelas flinched away, but Legolas caught his head and held it until he was satisfied that all of the grit was out of the wound. He retrieved bandaging from the small bag of healing supplies at his belt and wrapped it around Galelas’s head. The air was still full of so much dirt that he did not dare to leave the cut uncovered.

As he tucked the bag of supplies away again, he heard Beliond shout again. “Legolas! Can you move away from the stones on this side? We are going to try to dig you out.” To Legolas’s relief, he could hear Sinnarn’s voice murmuring to someone on the other side of the stones, and blessedly, the child had stopped crying.

He eyed the pile of stones dividing him from Beliond. Galelas was already well away from it, and Legolas could slide into a small space near Galelas’s head. But Tuilinn’s body was not far from the stones that needed to be moved. She is dead, he told himself savagely. She cannot feel anything. But he could not bear it. He crawled to her, reaching behind him to pull his rolled up blanket loose from the top of his pack. Choking from the pain in his throat and chest, he shook it out as best he could and smoothed it over her exposed face, shoulders, and arm. Only by an effort of will was he able to move away from her again, and even then, he stopped, pulled the blanket away from her face, and bent to kiss her brow. Then he covered her and went to take his place near Galelas.

“We are ready,” he called to Beliond, his voice a little unsteady. “But Beliond,” he hesitated and then went on. “Tuilinn is close to the stones.”

There was a second of silence. He heard the swift, low murmur of Sinnarn’s and Beliond’s voices on the other side of the rock wall. Then Beliond said, “We will be as careful as we can.”

At once, Legolas heard the sound of a stone being carefully wrenched away. This will be slow, he thought. They will not want to cause another cave in. He let his head drop back against the wall behind him. Perhaps I am dreaming badly, he thought, and then his eyes went to Tuilinn and his heart twisted in despair. And again, he felt himself starting to drift as his mind reached desperately out to search for her.

Galelas turned his head. “What is happening? Where are we?”

Legolas pulled himself from his stupor. “The dragon knocked down the second story of the house we were near. Beliond and the others are digging us out.”

Galelas frowned. “I thought the stones fell on you, not me,” he said vaguely. “Eilian was afraid for you.” He gave a short, unpleasant laugh. “He would rush to your aid if he thought you had stubbed your toe.”

Legolas blinked and slowly came far enough to attention to conclude that Galelas must be talking about the patrol the two of them had been part of years ago, when a dragon had indeed knocked stones down on Legolas. Eilian had been their captain, and he had, of course, been worried about Legolas. Or rather, it had seemed like a matter of course to Legolas, but it apparently still rankled in the mind of Galelas.

“You know how families are,” Legolas said a little defensively. He did not see why he should have to apologize for having his brother’s affection.

“Oh, yes,” Galelas said bitterly. “I know how they are.” He frowned at Legolas. “Is Eilian here yet?”

“No. We are in Dale, Galelas, not the north.” And again, for a moment, he hoped he might be dreaming. This whole conversation sounded like one in a dream.

Galelas turned his head from side to side. “My family is not here either. Why should they be? After all, Tinár is safe.”

Even though he already knew that Galelas’s parents doted on his older brother, Legolas could not help taking a quick, shocked breath. He was at a loss for what to say. Finally, he ventured, “I have served with both of you, Galelas, and as a warrior, you are worth ten of Tinár.”

It was the simple truth, but it seemed to startle Galelas, who snorted incredulously. “How nice to know you think so,” he said sarcastically.

Legolas bristled a little. “I do think so, and what is more, so do Eilian and Ithilden. Tinár has trouble even following orders. Why do you think he is in Ithilden’s office as a messenger?”

Galelas frowned in apparent concentration. “Eilian and Ithilden think I am a better warrior than Tinár?”

“Yes. What is more, Eilian thinks you are a better person than Tinár,” Legolas answered, and it occurred to him that he thought that too. Galelas was difficult to get along with, but he was a thousand times better than Tinár. He did not tell Galelas, though, because he assumed that Galelas would not care what he thought.

Galelas considered Legolas’s answer for a moment but seemed unable to take it in. He turned his head restlessly, and his eyes settled on the covered form of Tuilinn, upon which a few pebbles but no large stones had fallen. “She is dead?” he asked in surprise.

“Yes,” Legolas answered dully. He, too, looked at the still, slender form.

“I am sorry,” Galelas mumbled. He was losing his battle to keep alert, and Legolas was aware of him falling still. He glanced to see that Galelas’s chest was still rising and falling in shallow breaths, and then he let his gaze go back to Tuilinn.

He stared at her, and the sounds of stones being moved faded from his consciousness, and his world narrowed to her. In his mind, he began to play over again scenes of what had been between them and scenes of what he had hoped their life together would be. He saw her playing with the children in the settlement, struggling to keep her curls from her face, turning her face up toward him and drawing near to kiss him, with wonder in her eyes. He saw his father bending to kiss her brow and welcome her to the family. He felt her in his arms, in his bed. He felt her warmth and saw her looking at him with joy in her face and their own child in her arms.

“Legolas.”

He blinked to find Beliond bending over him with his face puckered in anxiety.

“Is this blood all from your ear?” Beliond demanded roughly, touching his shoulder and provoking a spasm of pain that made Legolas flinch away. “What is wrong with your shoulder?”

“A stone fell on it,” Legolas said slowly.

Sinnarn shot him a concerned look from where he and Vanduil crouched next to Galelas. Then he turned back to Vanduil. “Can you lift the stone enough to let me pull him out?” Vanduil nodded, and Sinnarn moved to grasp Galelas under his arms. Vanduil gave a mighty heave, and Sinnarn dragged Galelas out from under the stone. Galelas let out a shout, struggled a little, and then apparently fainted. Sinnarn took a quick look at his leg and then turned to Beliond. “His leg is broken. We have to splint it before we move him.”

“Do it.”

Vanduil was already on his feet searching for lengths of wood that might have fallen from the building.

But Legolas had no more attention to spare for Galelas. He had turned back to stare at where, with tears running freely down his face, Fyndil was pulling rocks away from Tuilinn’s immobile form. I am not weeping, Legolas thought dully. Why is that?

Pain stabbed through his shoulder, and he realized that Beliond was easing the pack off it. “I want to take a look,” Beliond said. “I am guessing it is just bruised, but I want to make sure.” He waited for Legolas to answer, but as far as Legolas was concerned, Beliond could do whatever he liked. Beliond’s mouth tightened, but Legolas ignored him and craned his neck to look around Beliond to where Fyndil was still uncovering Tuilinn. He continued to watch as Beliond unlaced his tunic, checked his shoulder, and then, with painful care, washed and bandaged his torn ear.

“Are you finished, Sinnarn?” Beliond asked in a strained voice. “We need to get out of here. There is no point in staying, and the dragon could be back at any moment.”

“We are done,” Sinnarn said, “but Nithron is not back yet.”

“Go look for him,” Beliond instructed, and Sinnarn got to his feet and slid out through a narrow opening in the rocks.

“I will carry Galelas,” Vanduil put in.

Beliond nodded and turned to Fyndil. “Are you ready?”

Fyndil was wrapping Tuilinn’s body in Legolas’s blanket. “Yes. I will carry her.”

“No!” Legolas broke out, fumbling to his feet. “I will.”

“You will not,” Beliond snapped. “Your shoulder is injured.”

Legolas spun to face him, but before he could protest, Sinnarn and Nithron came back through the opening.

“What happened?” Fyndil asked.

“I gave him into the care of a woman in one of the boats,” Nithron said. They were talking about the child, Legolas realized, the one Tuilinn had had in her arms.

“You found his mother?” Fyndil asked.

“No,” Nithron said in a despairing voice. “No one recognized him or knew who his parents were. But we had to get him out of here. Dale is not safe.”

“We will go now,” Beliond ordered. Before Legolas could escape Beliond’s grip on his arm, Fyndil stooped to pick up Tuilinn’s shrouded body, while Vanduil carefully lifted Galelas. Both of them disappeared through the opening, with Nithron and Sinnarn in their wake.

Legolas stared after them, looking through the space into which Tuilinn had vanished. She was gone, he thought. And suddenly, tears were washing the grit from his eyes and a shuddering sob shook him. And to his surprise, the thought that was uppermost in his mind was, That poor little boy!

Beliond put his arm around Legolas’s shoulders. “Come,” he said gently. “We will go back to the forest.” And he led Legolas out of the ruins.





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