Storm Front - Chapter 21
It was the uncomfortable sensation of breathlessness that awoke Analyn. For a moment, she could not figure out why the air above her was so thick, or why it had suddenly become difficult to breathe. Then, the horrible truth sank into her, and she sprang from her bed with a scream.
"Fire!!" she screamed, to which her husband instantly awoke. "Boric, the inn is on fire!!"
"Wake everyone up!" Boric shouted back, quickly throwing a tunic over his shoulders and heading out into the hallway. A wave of thick smoke appeared as he opened the door. "Hurry! Get the children first!"
Analyn covered her mouth with a cloth and ran as fast as she could towards the nursery. She could already hear the babies crying. Reaching the door, she threw it open and ran inside. To her surprise, Eldarion was already awake, and had Tinúviel in his arms. Eomala, likewise, was carrying her tiny brother.
"Follow me, children!" Analyn cried, coughing deeply in the smoke-filled air. "And keep your heads down."
Analyn led them down the hallway, to the other end of the inn. There were three exits: the main door, the kitchen, and one at the end of this hallway that led out into a small garden. There was less smoke down this way as well, and Analyn reached the door just as, from a small flight of stairs to her left, appeared Lady Eowyn, Lord Faramir, and the Elf Legolas.
"Through here!" Analyn said, pushing the door open and feeling a cold wind flow in.
Once outside, Analyn turned to see where the flames were concentrated. To her absolute horror, the main parlor appeared to be completely consumed, the fire already having burned through the roof itself. There were a few people rushing about, throwing water on the towering flames, and shouting at those still within to get out. Two of them quickly turned and approached, and Analyn recognized them as royal guards.
"What is going on in there?" she demanded of one of them. The other one appeared very breathless, and seemed unable to speak.
"The fire has taken the entire front part of the inn," the guard gasped. "Boric and our captain have gone to get the King and Queen. The rest of us barely got out before the main stairway collapsed."
"Aragorn and Arwen are still inside?!" Legolas shouted angrily.
"My husband will get them, my lord," Analyn replied quickly, for the Elf appeared to have every intention of going back inside. "They will be safe with him."
Analyn turned to glance at the children. Lord Faramir had his son in his arms, while Lady Eowyn held Tinúviel. Both babies were crying hysterically. Eomala was gripping her mother's skirt, and Eldarion stood restlessly next to Legolas. There was great fear in his eyes, but he alone of the children was not crying.
"Your parents will be with us any moment, Prince Eldarion," Analyn said, feeling that Eldarion needed more comforting than Eomala, who had both her parents standing with her. "You were so very brave in there. You saved your little sister."
Eldarion, however, was not paying attention. Like Legolas, his eyes were fixed on the second floor of the inn, and on the fire, which was rapidly growing despite the efforts of the people below, and despite the cold and drizzling rain that was beginning to fall.
* * * * * *
Maida pulled Atego to an abrupt halt, feeling Gimli bump against her as she did so. Faye had also slowed, for she too had seen what Maida could. A deep red glow was spreading in the skies ahead, and the distinct crackling of a large fire was becoming quite clear.
"What is that?" Maida asked, though she could guess perfectly well what it was.
"The inn," Gimli replied gruffly. "It's the inn!" He grunted in astonishment. "Well, when I asked for a roaring fire, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
Bill whinnied loudly, tossing his head. Faye checked him and glanced around.
"Come on," she said. "There may be people in trouble."
* * * * * *
Aragorn and Arwen had awoken at the sounds of shouting and screaming. Both were out of bed in an instant, and were dressed and running out into the corridor moments later. Aragorn could hear the sounds of people running to the exits somewhere in the smoke-filled darkness around them, but he had no thought of getting himself out. His heart, as did Arwen's, pounded in fear for their children.
However, the hallway towards the main staircase and parlor was choked in smoke and flames. Arwen cried out as she desperately looked for a way to get downstairs, to get to the nursery. Aragorn grabbed her and pulled her away from the fire.
"Not that way!" he shouted.
"My King!" came a voice, and Aragorn turned to see Boric running towards him, the captain of the guards not far behind. "There's another way out! Follow us!"
"Not without the children!" Aragorn replied.
"My wife has them!" Boric shouted back. "They're safe!"
Reassured, Aragorn put his arms around Arwen and began to follow Boric back down the corridor. But just as they passed the door to their room, a loud sickening crash echoed behind them. Aragorn turned just in time to see a large rafter fall into the corridor, sending a wall of fire billowing in their direction. Arwen screamed and dragged him into the room, and in the passing of the blaze, Boric and the captain were lost to sight. But after a moment, they could hear their voices shouting for them. Aragorn, however, could not make out what they were saying over the roar of the flames.
"The stairs, Aragorn!" Arwen cried, pointing towards the servant's stairwell.
"Captain, get yourself and Boric out!" Aragorn shouted as loudly as he could. "Arwen and I will get out through the kitchen! Make sure the children are safe!!"
He heard a dim reply which sounded like an assent, so Aragorn turned, gripping Arwen's arm tightly, and headed towards the servant's stairwell.
* * * * * *
Analyn rushed towards her husband when she saw him stumble out the garden exit, the captain right behind him. However, she paled when she realized they were alone.
"Where are they?" Legolas demanded of the captain.
"They couldn't follow us. They were trapped by the fire," the captain replied, gasping. "But I heard King Elessar say that they were going to head out through the kitchen."
"The kitchen?!" Analyn squealed.
All eyes turned her. Analyn stared at her husband, who appeared grim.
"What is wrong with the kitchen?" Legolas asked, malice in his voice.
"That door is locked," Boric replied. "And I left the keys in our bedchamber."
For a long moment, there was horrified silence. Then, Legolas turned and sprinted off towards the kitchen door. It did not take long for the rest to follow. The Elf reached the door first, pressing his ear against the wood.
"I can hear them!" he yelled. "Aragorn! Arwen!"
Analyn grabbed Eldarion, who had started running towards the door. The boy shouted and struggled, but by sheer will and terror, she managed to hold on to him.
"No, my Prince!" she cried, using every ounce of strength she possessed to lift him into her arms.
Meanwhile, Boric, Faramir, Legolas, and the captain had been trying to break the door open. But the wood was a solid inch, and the lock very strong steel. Despite all their efforts, the door remained firm. And the fire was drawing closer by the moment.
"We need an axe," Boric yelled after the twelfth failed attempt. He stepped back and looked around, a desperate expression on his face. "Dwarf! Dwarf! Over here! We need your axe!"
Analyn turned. Sure enough, a red-haired Dwarf was standing nearby, carrying four buckets of water towards the blaze. He immediately put the buckets down and headed towards them. To Analyn's surprise, Legolas rushed forward to meet him.
"Gimli!" he shouted. "Aragorn and Arwen are trapped behind that door!"
"What?!" the Dwarf shouted, clearly stunned. He broke into a run, unsheathing his axe as he raced for the door. "Get out of my way!"
The Dwarf began attacking the door with a furious abandon, sending shards of wood flying everywhere. Analyn, still completely bewildered at the Dwarf's sudden arrival, did not notice the figures approaching until Eldarion gave a shout.
"Faye! Faye!" he shouted. "Faye, my Ada and Naneth are trapped in there!"
Before Analyn could fully study the new arrivals, one, a woman with long dark hair and very pale skin, pushed past her and charged for the door. At the very last minute, Gimli saw her coming and leapt out of the way. The woman slammed her body against the door with the full force of her run, and to Analyn's amazement, half of the lock--weakened by Gimli's barrage of axe swings--snapped free of the door. Eldarion had crawled into the arms of the other woman, a blonde-haired she-Elf, during Faye's attempt on the door. But Analyn had ceased to notice. She was still staring at Faye, who had a terrible grimace on her face. Perhaps the fiery haze was tricking her eyes. . .but did that woman have fangs?
"Arwen!" Faye shrieked. "Arwen, stand back! I'm coming!"
* * * * * *
The fire was blazing barely yards away from where Arwen and Aragorn stood, watching as the door slowly began to give way. She could hear shouting, but nothing was discernible. Her lungs were screaming for clean air. Her knees buckled, and Aragorn grabbed her.
"Stay awake!" he yelled, though his voice was weak with equal lack of air.
But Arwen's attention had been diverted, for the hem of her skirt had caught fire. She screamed, feeling the heat sear her leg. Aragorn twisted around and began stomping on her skirt, trying to extinguish the fire. However, the floor had been weakened by the onslaught of flame, and to Arwen's horror, Aragorn's foot smashed through the wooden floorboards. He tugged backwards, but his foot was trapped.
"Estel!" Arwen shrieked, ignoring her own pain and trying desperately to help him free his foot.
It was then that a second, louder crash sounded. Arwen turned and saw that the door had finally been broken open. However, the person she saw standing in the doorway was the last one she had expected.
"Faye!" she screamed.
"Arwen, hang on!" Faye called back, kicking aside bits of flaming debris and limping swiftly towards her.
Arwen was absolutely amazed to see Faye there, and had no idea where she had come from. Faye studied the situation for a moment, then grasped her shoulders.
"Go!" she shouted, pushing her towards the doorway, where a crowd of people stood waiting.
"No!" Arwen protested. "I won't leave Aragorn!"
"I'll get him!!" Faye screamed back, her voice a snarl. "Go!!"
Faye shoved her towards the door, and Arwen, too weak and disoriented to fight back, stumbled forward into the arms of someone she could not recognize. Still, she forced herself to turn and focus her gaze on Faye, who was on her knees at Aragorn's side and prying the wood clear of his foot. Finally, after several moments of struggle, Aragorn was free. Faye stood and draped one of his arms around her shoulders, and started dragging him forward.
It was then that Arwen noticed, for the first time, the two small barrels sitting just within the line of flames. Two words painted upon their sides stood out. . .`oil' and `flammable'.
"Faye!" Arwen screamed. "Faye, the oil barrels!"
But at that moment, the ceiling inside the doorway fell in, and a volley of flaming wood and debris fell between them. Arwen felt herself being dragged backwards, but did not notice who had hold of her. Nor did she feel it when water was dumped across her skirts. The fire was rapidly beginning to fill the doorway, but she could still see Aragorn and Faye.
"Jump, Aragorn!" she heard Faye shout, and saw her plant her hand on the small of his back. "Jump!"
Aragorn did jump, though most of his momentum was provided by Faye, who practically threw him out the door. He collided with Arwen and her rescuers, and sent them all sprawling backwards. Some of his clothes had kindled, but they were instantly doused.
"Faye, get out of there!" came a shriek that Arwen dimly recognized to be Maida.
Aragorn struggled to his feet, limping slightly as he moved back towards the door.
"Bring water!" he shouted. "Clear a path for Faye."
Arwen had been overcome by a fit of fierce coughing, and so could not make out who had rushed forward to throw water on the blaze within the door. There were strong hands on her shoulders, both large and small, and her hand soon found her son. As soon as she turned to him, Eldarion threw his arms around her neck and began sobbing into her shoulder. Arwen held him, deeply relieved he was safe. Eowyn approached moments later, Tinúviel in her arms.
"Analyn said Eldarion helped save her," she said, smiling.
"My brave son," Arwen whispered, hugging him more tightly.
Suddenly, shouts sounded from the door, and Arwen turned to see Boric and Aragorn gesturing and calling for Faye. Arwen quickly stumbled to her feet, releasing her son and running to join her husband.
"She's trapped!" Aragorn said the instant she arrived at his side. "Debris fell on her."
Her heart thundering with panic, Arwen pushed the men aside and forced herself inside. Through the dense smoke and fire, she could make out Faye. Her dear, beloved friend was trapped underneath several large beams of wood that had fallen from the rapidly weakening ceiling. Her fingers clawed at the floor in front of her as she struggled to pull free. The fire between them had built up again, creating a barrier Arwen had no hope of crossing. Arwen frantically searched for a way through the flames.
"Get more water!" she screamed over her shoulder. She turned back. "Faye! Faye, come on! Get yourself out!"
Faye's eyes, almost glowing in the light of the fire, turned to meet Arwen as her voice reached her. There was an expression of deep sorrow on her face. For a single moment, the smoke seemed to part just enough for Arwen to clearly see her.
"I am sorry," Faye said, and Arwen could just barely make out her voice. "Forgive me for my anger. I understand now."
It was then that a tremendous explosion--the oil barrels, forgotten until that moment, had finally ignited--sent flames and debris flying in all directions. Arwen was flung backwards, but though she felt the searing heat on every inch of exposed skin, by sheer luck she was not burned. However, there was now fire in every part of the kitchen, and she could no longer see Faye.
"Faye!!" she screamed.
For several long seconds, nothing happened. Then, there was a dull crash, and a figure emerged in the heart of the blaze. It was Faye, but to Arwen's sickening horror, she too was on fire. Flames rippled up her back and arms, and her burning hair framed her scarred face. Their eyes met once more, and Arwen saw the tortured acceptance in her beloved guardian's eyes.
"No!!" Arwen shrieked, but it was too late. Throwing back her head, Faye unleashed a terrible scream that echoed clearly over the roar of the inferno.
For a second, Faye was frozen there, her arms raised above her and her face twisted in agony. Then, the flames leapt up around her, and she was consumed.
All thought vanished from Arwen's mind. She barely felt it when Boric and Aragorn grabbed her and dragged her back outside to safety. The cracking, trembling groan that echoed seconds later as the once handsome building finally collapsed was dull in her ears. Fire jumped into the heavens, and people slowly began to retreat, knowing they had lost the fight.
Arwen dimly felt herself coughing, and knew she was suffering from the smoke she had inhaled, but her focus was shattered. She collapsed into Aragorn's arms, her body trembling in the face of the sickening reality.
"She's gone," she whispered hoarsely. "Faye is gone."