Title: The Gift of Death
Disclaimer: I own nothing but an ’89 Caddy Eldorado with a broken tape deck, and you’re welcome to it.
Rating: Who knows what offends people? I gave it an R just to be sure. Not much nooky, though—mostly just violence.
Updates: announced and uploaded here first: groups dot yahoo dot com slash group slash cinnamongrrl, or click on my name up top and you’ll see the link to my yahoo group (CinnamonGrrl’s Fanfiction).
Author’s Note: This is a revamp of the original story; since I didn’t have the books when writing the first half of TGoD, I felt I hadn’t done it proper justice. I look now to rectify that failing.
The Gift of Death, Part One
She looked impossibly tiny as she entered Rivendell; or perhaps it was because the horse was immense. Whatever the reason, many heads turned to watch the progress of the woman as she cantered into the ancient Elvin city, the sun gleaming on the long honey-brown plait hanging down her straight back.
“Who is she?” asked many, but only one knew the answer, and when the woman halted her mount and slid off, he went quickly to her side.
“Strider,” she greeted him. Her voice was unusually accented for Rivendell; indeed, for all of Middle-Earth. “Did I miss anything?” She peeled off battered leather gloves and tucked them into her belt.
“We have not yet started,” he replied, expression curious. “In truth, I am surprised to see you here. Did Gandalf tell you to come?”
“Galadriel,” she replied succinctly, pulling off a thick woolen cloak, and removing a heavy overtunic. Under it she wore a lighter one of green linen.
Strider raised a brow enquiringly, but no more explanation was forthcoming. Finally he said, “Your journey was uneventful?”
She shrugged. “As it ever is.” She peered up at the sky, hazel eyes glinting in the sunlight. “I made good time.”
“From where did you come?”
“Forlond.” She strapped a feedbag to her horse’s head and tied his reins to a hitching post. “They had an ice wraith problem.”
Ah, Strider thought, she had been in the Ered Luin, the ice-covered mountains of the northern realm of Lindon. That explained all the layers of clothing. “How long has it been since we last met?” he asked companionably as they fell into step, entering one of the buildings.
“At least three years, I’d say,” she replied, eyes flicking over her surroundings in a professional way before relaxing and appreciating their beauty. “Time flies when you’re decapitating orcs.”
“And ice wraiths,” Strider grinned, and was pleased to see the corner of her mouth twitch in what could, generously, be called a smile.
“So,” she continued. “Are you gonna tell me what’s the what with this council Elrond has called? Or am I gonna have to wait for everyone else?” He hesitated, and she punched his shoulder playfully. “C’mon, Strider. You know I hate mysteries.”
That’s rich coming from her, he thought—she was almost as enigmatic as an elf. “How is it you do not know about the One Ring?”
Now it was her turn to lift a brow. “I am not from here,” she told him. “You know that.”
“Yes, but never will you tell me where you are from,” he said impatiently, knowing already what she would say. He’d asked her dozens of times in the ten years they’d known each other, after all, and it was always the same.
“From somewhere long ago and far away,” she said by rote, and punched his arm again. “Don’t you get tired of that question? Answer’s not gonna change, you know.”
“I know,” Strider grumbled. “I just keep hoping one time you’ll let something slip.”
She snorted and pushed open a door. “Not likely. Dagnir doesn’t slip.”
Dagnir was the name she was called by those who knew of her. In the Elvin language of Sindarin, it meant “Slayer”. Only a privileged few knew her real name; Strider considered himself fortunate to be amoung their number. He sighed, and followed her into the room. “I know, Buffy.”
Elrond was not happy about having a woman partake of the meeting to discuss the One Ring, not even a Ranger of over a decade’s experience, not even Dagnir herself. It was only because of Galadriel’s recommendation and Strider’s heartfelt assurances of her abilities that Elrond relented, and though she remained silent throughout, he was aware of her sharp observance.
When it came time to choose the members of the Fellowship, he had thought she would stand then, that she would announce her intention to join them. But she merely sat there, one leg crossed casually over the other, foot bouncing idly as she watched.
The Fellowship had to wait over two months while scouts departed and returned and preparations for their journey were made. The time was put to good use, training the Hobbits how to employ their little swords until the halflings collapsed in exhaustion to the ground, begging for mercy.
“Poor babies,” drawled a feminine voice at the end of one such day after Strider had returned from his scouting with the sons of Elrond. It came from behind a tree at the edge of the clearing where stood the Fellowship, and was followed by the figure of the female Ranger. She smirked at Strider, whom the others now knew as Aragorn. “I don’t expect you’re getting too much of a work-out with these guys, Strider.”
The light of combat was in her eyes, he saw, and smiled. “Indeed not, Lady. Might I trouble you for a remedy to that problem?”
Her sword was in her hand before he’d finished speaking. “Thought you’d never ask.” Blades flashing, hair flying, they slashed and parried and blocked and thrust until both were drooping with fatigue. “You’ve gotten better,” Buffy told him, leaning on her sword stuck in the ground as she caught her breath.
“You’ve gotten faster,” he replied, swiping the sweaty hair from his forehead. “And…” he looked at her consideringly. “You haven’t aged.”
She looked nervous, suddenly. “It’s only been three years. I’m very well preserved.”
“No, I mean you haven’t aged at all since I met you. Over ten years ago.” Eyes narrowed, he stalked to her, lifting her chin to peer into her face. When he’d first laid eyes on her, she’d looked to be barely two score in years, with a youthful, unlined face and eyes that were, if not bright, at least not dimmed with age. “Over ten years ago,” he repeated, “and you still look as you did then.” The decade of passed time had not left a mark on her; not a single one.
Dagnir pulled away from him. “I eat right, stay out of the sun. I meditate. Keeps me young.” She glared stonily at him, daring to push harder.
Aragorn sighed and gave up, watching as she strode from the clearing. He did not see her again before the Fellowship departed from Rivendell. Dagnir always removed herself whenever he tried to weasel more information out of her than she was prepared to give.
Three weeks later, the Fellowship halted at the foot of the intimidating Caradhras to stare up at its foreboding, snowy heights.
Legolas stepped closer to Aragorn and spoke, his voice pitched low so only the ranger would hear. “We are being followed. One man, on horseback.”
Aragorn nodded. “Since we left Rivendell.”
The elf’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “You knew? I only detected him after the crebain came to us.” He looked highly affronted that a human—no matter how regal his ancestry—would be able to detect a presence before he, an elf.
Aragorn clapped his hand on Legolas’ shoulder. “Fret not, my friend,” he said with a smile. “I knew not because I could hear her—and it is a her—but because it is exactly the sort of thing she would do.”
The tiny thinning of Legolas’ lips was the only indication of his shock. “Not the ranger with whom you sparred?”
Legolas looked thoughtful. “She did not seem overly trustworthy,” he said at last. “She hides much of her past. Is she a danger to our mission?”
Aragorn surveyed the rest of the Fellowship; not one looked eager to begin the climb. “No,” he said at last. “If there is one being in Middle-Earth beside Bombadil who is impervious to Sauron and the forces of evil, it is she. If she follows, it is as guardian, not predator.”
Legolas nodded, and Aragorn felt a pang of joy that this elf, who had lived thirty times longer than he himself, would trust him so. Perhaps his task of uniting all Men was not so hopeless, after all…
“Let us climb,” he said, hope infusing his voice with a briskness he had not felt since departing Rivendell.
Hours later, after struggling up the mountain, the Fellowship was exhausted and despondent. The last in the party, Merry cried out as he tumbled into a snowdrift. Aragorn turned to help him, only to see a figure swathed in a dark cloak grab the Hobbit by the scruff of the neck and haul him up again. Clutched in the figure’s other hand were the reins to a nondescript brown horse, its head lowered against the wind and blowing snow.
“So, Dagnir, you decide to join us at last?” he called through cupped hands. The wind snatched his words and hurled them away, but she was able to hear him anyway.
“You know me, I’m a sucker for depressing, hopeless missions without any chance of fun,” she called back, her voice incongruously cheery for such a miserable place. “Couldn’t let you have all the unwashed, sleeping-on-the-ground excitement.”
The other Fellows spun as best they could in the deep snow, staring in amazement at their newest companion.
“Who is this?” demanded Gimli, his eyes narrow as he watched Dagnir plop Merry onto the back of her horse (“His name’s Gordo,” she told the Hobbit) and enviously eye the ease with which Legolas was scampering on top of the snow.
“She is Dagnir, the Ranger you met in Rivendell,” Aragorn replied. “She keeps to the north, to Ered Luin and the Bay of Forochel. She was late of Forland, killing an ice wraith that had been terrorizing the countryside.”
The dwarf’s ice-encrusted brows raised. “That is a rough land. The elves that live there are not given to accepting outsiders warmly. Is she one of them?”
“In truth, I do not know,” Aragorn admitted. “She is no elf, but has not aged a day in the years I have known her. If anything, she grows more quick, more agile. She has no surname, and will not talk of her family, nor her past. I asked her once if she came from Rhûn, and she laughed and said her home was much, much farther than that—“
His words were cut off by Frodo’s panicked cry. “The ring! It is gone!”
Immediately they all began to scan the nearby ground for it. “Ah,” said Boromir, plucking a golden chain from the snow with his gloved fingers, letting the ring dangle before his avid face. “It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing...”
Frodo’s eyes were huge in his pale, anxious face as they flicked back and forth between the ring, swaying seductively on its chain, and Boromir.
The look on the Gondorian’s face chilled Aragorn’s blood more than Caradhras’ cruel climate ever could. “Boromir!” he barked. “Give the ring to Frodo!”
Boromir’s glance lingered lovingly on the ring a last moment before he consciously schooled his features to neutrality. “As you wish,” he said carelessly, dropping it into Frodo’s outstretched hand. “I care not.”
Dagnir’s head snapped up at the same time Legolas said, “There is a foul voice on the air.”
“It is Saruman!” exclaimed Gandalf.
“He's trying to bring down the mountain,” Aragorn declared. “Gandalf, we must turn back.”
“No!” Gandalf’s voice was steely with resolve as he raised his staff and intoned a spell. “Losto Caradhras, sedho, hodo, uitho I 'ruith!” (Sleep Caradhras, be still, lie still, hold your wrath)
The only reply he received was an ominous rumbling that preceded the avalanche, burying them all in massive snowdrifts. Legolas and Aragorn were the first to struggle free, and proceeded to dig out the others while Gandalf used a spell to melt the snow covering him.
“Six, seven, eight, nine,” Aragorn counted under his breath. All except… “Dagnir!”
He heard a muffled “Goddamnit!” and could not stifle his grin as he made his way toward the sound. Digging swiftly, he soon uncovered the small woman. Her face was red-- more from anger, he suspected, than from cold— and she had snow all over her.
“It’s even up my nose,” she moaned, scrubbing at her face with a gloved hand. “This isn’t working, Strider. We’ll never get across.”
Reluctantly, the others came to the same realization, and it was a long, slow day as they retraced their steps back down the mountain. Aragorn tried many times to learn why Dagnir had decided to accompany them, but ever was she evading him, saying she had to help a Hobbit or some other transparent excuse.
Back on flat ground once more, a discussion was held to decide how to proceed.
“We have but two choices,” Gandalf said, grey hair hanging limply around his lined face. “To return to Rivendell, or continue to Mordor.”
The Hobbits raised weary eyes in hope at the mention of Rivendell, but the Men’s faces were impassive.
“You guys can go back if you want,” Dagnir said, breaking the silence that had fallen, “but if you do, I’m going to keep going.”
“You will take the ring to Mordor?” Aragorn asked her, grey eyes fixed on her face. She nodded. “And what if Frodo will not relinquish it? What if we nine forbid you to take it?”
“Then I will kill each and every one of you to get the ring.” Dagnir met his gaze evenly, then that of each other them.
“You could not do that,” Gimli blustered, smiling his amusement at the very idea. “Tis ludicrous.”
Dagnir favoured him with what could loosely be termed a smile, but it was neither pretty nor pleasant. “I do what needs to be done,” she informed him calmly. “Not that I’d want to kill you guy, because you all seem pretty cool, but…” Her hazel eyes clouded over, and she seemed lost in a thought before they focused once more. “I do what needs to be done,” she finished. “And I destroy whatever gets in my way.”
Aragorn subdued a shiver; long he’d known her to be a formidable ally and dangerous enemy, but never had her convictions been turned upon him, and he had a moment’s foreboding that he would not be able to defend himself against her. He doubted even Boromir would be able to withstand her, were she to truly apply her talents toward destruction of their party.
“I will not turn back,” Frodo said at last. “Even if it be just Dagnir and I, I will see this quest done.” He was rewarded with a big but all-too-brief smile from her, and Gandalf sighed.
“There is another path we may take,” he allowed, “but it is not a name that will bring any pleasure to your ears; I speak of Moria.” Only Gimli showed any enthusiasm for it. “I have been there, and lived to tell the tale, but would not undertake it again had I the choice.”
“As have I,” Aragorn said, “and I concur. .’Tis not a place I wish to enter a second time.”
“And I don’t want to enter it even once!” exclaimed Pippin.
“I will not go unless all have decided against me,” Boromir stated flatly, looking round at his companions. “What say you all?”
“I do not wish to go through Moria,” Legolas said quietly, and the others turned to confront the Hobbits, who held the decision in their little hands.
There was a long, awkward silence, and then Frodo stammered, “I- I think we should leave the decision to the morrow. I for one cannot vote fairly on a night such as this.” He shuddered and shrunk deeper into his elven cloak. “How the wind howls!”
“That’s not wind,” Dagnir muttered, eyes narrowing to slits as she glanced to Aragorn for confirmation of her suspicions.
He gave it. “The Wargs have come west of the mountains.” Quickly, he ushered the rest to the top of a hill crowned by a ring of trees and boulders, and within the ring lit a fire. Bill the Pony and Gordo the Horse were nervous, and Legolas spoke a few gentle words to them in Sindarin to ease their fright.
A huge wolf-shape slunk through the surrounding trees, and in spite of Gandalf’s impressive warning to go away, it leapt at them. But no sooner had its rear feet left the ground than the twang of a bowstring sounded clearly in the gloom; Legolas had loosed an arrow into the beast’s throat.
At once, the other Wargs retreated, and though Aragorn and Dagnir explored the hill for them, could find none. “Best to get what sleep you might,” he told the Hobbits grimly, and sat on a flat rock, sword still in hand, to wait out the remainder of the night.
Several hours later Dagnir, Boromir, and Gimli dozed lightly as Aragorn and Gandalf sat stiffly awake, keeping stern watch. As if bidden by a conductor, a chorus of wolven cries burst from all sides around them, with a bound, the seven sleepers were awake and on their feet.
The Hobbits were quick to pile wood on the first while the others stood back-to-back and began to fight; Aragorn stabbed one, Boromir sliced the head off another. Gimli hacked at a third with his axe, and Legolas’ arrows took down two at once while Dagnir leapt forward, somersaulted in the air, and landed on the back of a particularly large one. Hooking her arm round its neck as much to maintain her seat as to keep its snarling maw from chewing on her, she grasped its muzzle in her free hand and with a sudden wrench, shattered its neck vertebrae.
Leaping lightly off the Warg’s corpse, she turned to confront the next one but before she could, Gandalf was tossing a fiery brand up into the air and chanting in Sindarin. Right away, the hill was lit with a fire storm, and mid-flight, Legolas’ last arrow was set alight and hurtled, aflame, into the heart of one of the wolf-chieftains.
At this, the rest of their foes skidded to a halt, then turned and bolted away into the lightening shadows of dawn. When day had fully broken, the Fellowship was dismayed, putting it lightly, to learn there was no sign of the defeated Wargs—the only evidence that remained were Legolas’ arrows scattered round the hilltop, every single one undamaged but the one that had caught fire.
Soberly, he collected them and replaced them in his quiver as Gandalf intoned, “No ordinary wolves, they.” He surveyed the hills around them, gaze alighting on the grey cliffs in the distance that revealed themselves with the brightening day. “Come,” Gandalf said. “We make for Moria.”