'He might have got out the side,' the Master gasped. 'He was moving back as the loft fell.'
Merimac slapped his arm, called to Merimas, Celandine, and Berilac who were nearest, and ran around the side of the building. Great flames could be seen shooting up from the near side of the roof.
Saradoc felt a hand on his arm, turned to see Ossilan. 'I'm all right,' he told the healer. 'See to the injured.' He indicated the hobbits whose burning clothes had been smothered in blankets and snow, and his nephew who sagged between two cousins. Two more held Estella, standing rigid, staring into the flames.
In his mind, Saradoc followed his brother to the side of the building, pulled open the door, ducked under the smoke to search for a green-cloaked figure. How long would it take to find him? Or how long would it take for the flames to bring down the rest of the loft on son and searchers?
Minutes stretched uncounted. A great shower of sparks went up as the rest of the roof fell in, hungry flames licked at the sky, and Saradoc slumped and closed his eyes. Had he doomed four more in a fruitless quest to find his son?
He heard Estella give a cry, and opened his eyes to see four blackened figures carrying something between them. He stepped forward to see them, hands clutching the edges of the cloak wrapped around his son. They staggered and lowered him to the frozen stones.
Estella broke from those who held her, running to fall upon Merry. Saradoc was close behind. Merry looked up at him, gasping, 'Get her away.'
Saradoc did not understand. Merry, anguished, tried again, 'Don't let her see... get her away...'
Saradoc suddenly remembered a conversation long ago. I remember everything I see. Most of the time it is a blessing. I can close my eyes, and see Frodo as if he were standing here before me.
He took her arm. 'Come, lass. Come away. He's right.'
'You're hurting him, staying. You'll help him more if you'll go in. Find the Mistress, tell her what's happened.'
She turned back to Merry, who was whispering, 'Please, love, please go...'
Covering her face, she allowed herself to be led away.
Merimac and the other rescuers were doubled over, coughing violently, trying desperately to take in air. The healer stepped forward, motioning able-bodied hobbits to help them towards the Hall, and others to take up Merry's cloak and carry him in.
In the great room, the tables that had held plates and cups and platters of food now held burned or gasping hobbits. Mistresses and lasses in their bright festival gowns were cutting away clothing, dressing burns, offering drinks, gently sponging soot from firefighters' faces.
Cardoc sought out the Master. 'We're managing to keep it from spreading to the other buildings,' he said.
'How many have we lost?'
'Animals, it's hard to say. Some ran off into the night. Some were definitely still in the stables when the roof fell in. Hobbits? None killed outright. I don't know how many we'll lose to burns or breathing smoke.'
Saradoc nodded. Some of the badly injured might linger for days or weeks. He watched the healer unwrap Merry's cloak from around him and start to cut away his shirt. His son's arms had taken the brunt of the damage when he threw them up to protect himself against the flaming boards from the falling loft.
Ossilan poured pitcherfuls of water over Merry's arms, then smeared honey over the raw and blistered burns, finally dressing them with pads folded from torn sheets.
Saradoc heard him ask, 'How's the pain?' Merry shook his head, jaw clamped. The healer took a small bag of oiled silk from his pocket, took up a glass of brandy, shook a few grains from the bag into the glass, and held it to Merry's lips.
He met Saradoc's gaze, said, 'At least his cousin tested it for him. We know it will give him some ease, and it probably won't kill him.' Small comfort. Ossilan had been dosing the other badly burned with the powder from the bag, and much of the moaning around the great room had died away as the potion took effect.
'Right then,' Ossilan said. 'We've got to get these lads into beds, keep them warm, keep them drinking. They're losing fluids from their burns, we've got to make sure they drink enough that they don't die of dehydration.'
'How bad?' Saradoc asked.
The healer shook his head. 'I cannot save them all. We'll lose at least two to their burns. Mayhap three. And I don't know yet about the ones who breathed the smoke.'
He followed Saradoc's eyes to Pippin, slumped on a bench with Diamond and her mother bending over him. 'Aye,' he said. 'He took a lungful. And he doesn't have the lungs to manage it well. We'll put him in bed and see how he fares. Not much I can do for those that breathed smoke, just hope their airways don't close off from the swelling, hope they heal fast enough to keep breathing.' He met Saradoc's gaze. 'Still, he took in less than one or two others.' His gaze intensified. 'Your brother, being one.'
'Aye. He's already been taken off to his bed. I won't give you false hope, Master. It could go either way for him.'
'And what of my son?'
'He's not as badly burned as some. I hold out hope for him, if we can keep the wounds clean, and he didn't take in too much smoke. He told me he crawled along the floor after the first part of the roof fell in, smoke wasn't as thick there. It may have saved him.'
With infinite care, the injured hobbits were carried off to their beds, where anxious relatives set themselves to watch. The healer did not sleep that first night, nor much of the next day, ceaselessly making the rounds of his patients.
Two of the hobbits, one a stable lad and another visiting from Stock, died before the dawn.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.