Andresz, Amak, and Aqua Axver are three brothers (16, 15, and 14 respectively) and are on holiday in the country. They're riding around on horses they've borrowed from the people they're staying with, and, out of curiosity, have crossed a river and gone to the other side. They're riding up a path on the land beside a river (the Axix East), with the river on their left and a row of trees hiding a farm from view on the right. They don't know who owns the land, but that's rather irrelevant to the scene.
The land is owned by Stig and Libby Weck, who have two teenage sons, Zinzan (16) and Ivor (14), along with two daughters who don't feature in the scene. Ludwig von Deutscher (16) is their friend, and is employed by Stig, to hunt and kill pests on the farm. He's a brilliant shot and a very skilled rider. At the start of this scene, the three are finishing a snack.
I think that's about all the background information necessary.
Andresz sat leisurely at the saddle, enjoying the gentle breeze in his hair. He looked around, and then noticed it – the forest had gone deathly silent; no birds chirping, no rodents scampering, no mammals cracking twigs underfoot, nothing at all. Then he noticed the breeze stopped, just like that. It was totally silent, like a tomb. Suddenly a noise reached his ears, and, as soon as he heard it, he knew something was not right.
Something was wrong.
The plate of sandwiches Libby Weck had brought out for the three boys was now empty. With Ivor and Zinny back playing their cards and the three girls hanging around doing who knows what at the other end of the house, Ludwig decided it was time for him to get back to work.
“See you guys later.” he said to his two friends.
“Bye.” said Ivor, intent on his hand – it was obvious he had something good.
“Where you going to hunt now?” asked Zinny.
“Down by the Axix East, near the bridge with Axixon Island. Some of the farmhands are doing land-clearing both north and south of there, and so the animals will probably head straight for the clump of woods around the bridge. Shouldn’t be too hard to knock some pests off.”
“OK, see ya.” said Zinny, and he returned to the game at hand. Ludwig leapt on his horse and raced off, but not too late to hear Ivor beat Zinny’s two pair with a straight. With the sacks long since emptied, and only two rifles attached to the saddle, Quake raced effortlessly through the farmland, only slowing when he approached the narrow line of woodland. With the slowing, Ludwig could more carefully concentrate on the sounds of the forest, to note where the animals were heading.
But then he realised, like Andresz, there were no sounds.
Both Ludwig and the three Axvers heard it at the same time, but Ludwig, from his position in the paddock, was the first to see it – a brilliant wall of fire, sweeping down from the north. He then looked to the south, to see another wall of fire racing up from the south, with the two quickly charging to meet each other.
On the path, the three boys could hear the frantic crackling, and then it appeared, the ravenous tongues of flame devouring tree by tree. It had appeared with no warning, and was now storming towards the boys.
“Back to Axixon Island! Back to the island!” screamed Amak, and the three turned their horses.
And stopped in their tracks.
For, storming straight towards them, was the other fire, and it had already cut access to the bridge.
“Oh no …” breathed Amak in utter terror. “No, no, no … this can’t be happening …”
“Where can we go?” screamed Aqua frantically. “Where? Where?”
“Through the river!” cried Andresz, and he and Turbo charged in. But the base of the river was soft – tremendously soft – making it impossible for Turbo to gain a foothold. He only just managed to stay standing long enough to take the few steps required back to land.
And then they all began to panic – they couldn’t go through the river to the west, they couldn’t go north because of the fire, they couldn’t go south because of the fire, and it was quickly blocking the way to the east.
“Help!” hollered Aqua desperately, as the two arms of fire linked.
Ludwig sat on Quake, staring in terrified awe at the fire. And then, above the crackling, he heard a voice, or, more precisely, three frantic, terrified, voices;
“… help … anyone … trapped … need …”
Ludwig inspected the wall of flame. At first it appeared impenetrable, and then he noticed where it linked it was very narrow, easy to jump through. And so, without a second thought, he urged Quake on, leapt through the fire, weaved through the trees like the seasoned and skilled rider he was, and appeared on the path right beside the Axvers, who could do nothing but stare at him with elated amazement.
Amak opened his mouth to say something, but Ludwig cut him off;
“You’re going to have to jump through the flames, like I did. There’s nothing to it, really –”
“Nothing to it?!” exclaimed Andresz. “It’s a wall of flame!”
“But it’s not very wide.” replied Ludwig. I’ll go first, to show you the path you need to take and where to jump, and you all follow me.”
With that, Ludwig turned Quake towards the flames, dashed past some trees, and leapt through the fire in a gap between two burning trees. He landed back on the other side unharmed, and didn’t even have to yell to the others to make their move – Aqua was already following the path Ludwig had taken. When he disappeared through the flames, Andresz and Turbo raced off, leaving Amak and Hurricane alone and surrounded by flames.
“Alright, Hurricane, this is it.” he whispered gently in the horses ear as Turbo shot into the air and through the flames. “You can do it.” Amak gave Hurricane an urgent tap and the horse didn’t waste a second in charging off. The fire by now had well and truly taken hold, and the heat enveloped Amak. Trees on either side of him burst into flames, but that was of little importance to him – getting through the thin wall of flame between two burning wattles was. He gave Hurricane the foot tap that meant jump, and the horse shot into the air.
It all then happened at once.
The wattle on the right exploded, spewing forth flame in all directions.
A thick, sturdy branch on the left wattle fell away.
And what had been a thin wall of flame was now a thick mass of flame, and Hurricane was headed straight for it. Amak opened his mouth to scream, but before a sound came out, the branch from the left wattle slammed straight into his head, setting his hair on fire, and, worse, throwing him from the saddle. He swung off, falling to his left, and, for a fleeting second, his hair brushed the burning grass. He then felt himself dangling below his horse, one foot caught in its stirrup, and he twisted in midair to look in the direction he was headed.
The wall of flame was barely centimetres in front of him.
And then he plunged in. The searing heat was all around him, smothering him like nothing else on earth. It was what Amak imagined the fires of Hell were like. It was only then that the strangest, and yet most urgent, thought shot into his brain – he was dangling under a horse which was about to come crashing to earth, and he was caught in the stirrup. Amak looked around, and, in a split second, took everything in, realising he had only one option, and a desperate one at that.
‘What do I have to lose?’ he thought, and he swung across, under his horse, and snatched hold of the stirrup on the other side. It wasn’t a second too soon, either, for, just as his grip became firm, Hurricane burst from the flames and came straight to earth. The highly intelligent stallion quickly galloped away from the firestorm and the exploding trees that came with it, and stopped by the others, who were assembled a good hundred metres away. Only when Hurricane came to a stop did Amak let go of the right stirrup, and he flopped onto the soft grass, relieved he was alive.