The Gift of Death, Part 3
It took two days to travel from Dimrill Dale, where they exited the mines, to Lorien. Dagnir hardly said a single world to the others, only replying when spoken to, and slept apart from them at night. She seemed very familiar with the area, and seemed to cheer up the closer they came to the forest. Aragorn, for one, was pleased that the haunted expression in her eyes was all but faded when they stepped into the embrace of the massive mellyrn trees.
There was a tense moment as Sam and Frodo fell behind because of their injuries—Frodo’s from the Nazgûl, when he crossed the Ford of Bruinen, and Sam had received a graze from an orcish sword in Moria. Aragorn treated both of them, and declared they would stay for the night and henceforth take a slower pace.
They came at last the next day to the Nimrodel, said to ease the aches and pains of travel, and took a rest. Legolas became quite animated for perhaps the first time on their journey, singing part of a song about the elleth for whom the river was named and telling what tales he knew of the Galadhrim, or Tree-people, who lived in Lothlórien.
For her part, Dagnir said nothing, and her face was expressionless, but still Aragorn could sense how very amused she was by their blind speculation about the residents of the Golden Wood. “You know more than you are telling, Dagnir,” he accused mildly.
The corner of her mouth twitched in amusement. “Yep,” she agreed, leaning back against the trunk of a nearby tree.
“And you will not share with us this knowledge?” Boromir asked. He was somewhat grumpy this day, for he was no more happy to enter this forest than he had been to take the Moria pass.
Now she smiled outright. “Nope.” Then she turned to Frodo in a completely unsubtle attempt to change the subject. “How are you feeling?”
After they were rested once more, they continued on their way deeper into the woods, and Gimli decided to put a bit of a scare in the halflings. “Stay close, young Hobbits,” he told them. “They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods. An elf-witch of terrible power. All who look upon her fall under her spell, and are never seen again.”
The Hobbits trembled at the idea, and Dagnir frowned. “Gimli, your mouth is open, and sound is coming from it. This is never good.”
Ignoring her, he continued blithely, “Well, here's one dwarf she won't ensnare so easily. I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox.” His mouth opened to spout another boast, but a nocked bow appeared mere inches from his face and he shut it with an audible click. Around the Fellowship were several Elvin archers, all pointing similarly nocked bows at them.
“The dwarf breathes so loud, we could have shot him in the dark,” drawled a cool voice, and an elf taller than the rest, and with an unmistakable air of authority, stepped forward.
“Haldir o Lórien. Henion aníron, boe ammen i dulu lîn. Boe ammen veriad lîn,” Aragorn greeted him. (Haldir of Lórien. We desire your help. We need your protection). He noted that Dagnir was smiling brightly at the elf, who was returning it with a slow smirk of his own.
“Returned so soon, have you, Dagnir?” he asked, his voice low. “Was there something here you found you could not do without?”
Dagnir pushed aside the arrow-tip in her face with a finger and sauntered— sauntered! Aragorn thought, amazed— up to him. “Yep,” she replied. “Now that’s I’m teamed up with Stinky, Horny, and Stubbly back there—“ she jerked a thumb at the men of the Fellowship—“I’m running out of that groovy soap I got here last time.”
Haldir arched an impossibly elegant brow. “Indeed,” was all he said.
“These woods are perilous,” Gimli grumbled, unhappy with being called ‘Stinky’. “We should go back.”
”You have entered the realm of the Lady of the Wood,” Haldir replied, sliding his silver gaze from Dagnir to survey each of them in turn. “You cannot go back.” He spoke a word up into a tree, and a rope-ladder was dropped down. “You, elf-kin, and you, Halfling,” he addressed Legolas and Frodo, “come you up, for we must have words.”
Frodo clambered after Legolas’ easy ascent, and Sam after him, for they would not be separated even once, and Dagnir followed behind them. Up in the talan, or tree-platform, she surprised Legolas and the Hobbits greatly by greeting both the other elves who stood there with hugs and warm words.
“My brothers, Rúmil and Orophin, do not know much Westron,” Haldir explained when the others did not speak. “We have not seen Halflings for many a year, nor even Men in these dark days, but since you come with another Elf and the Dagnir we are willing to befriend you. How many do you number?”
“We were nine, but are now eight,” Legolas replied.
Haldir’s grey gaze flicked over Dagnir, who quirked the corner of her mouth back at him. “And Dagnir is not one of your number?” he asked, voice taking on a silken note that was infinitely more dangerous than his more official one.
“Nine were we who left Imladris as the Fellowship,” Legolas told him. “Dagnir,” he nodded with formal respectfulness in her direction, “was not counted among us at that point. Elrond was quite clear that we nine were chosen to balance the nine Ringraiths. And,” he continued, this time meeting her eyes with his own, “She has proven unforthcoming about her past, and Elrond was reluctant to allow her in the Council.” He ignored her muttered slandering of the Lord of Rivendell, for he did not know what a “sexist” was. “Aragorn alone will vouch for her, and I have not navigated my native Mirkwood for the years of my life by trusting blindly on the meagre word of others.”
Dagnir surprised them all then by laughing. “Oh, come on,” she said, eyes bright. “Admit it, you just didn’t like it when I told you I’d kill you and take the ring to Mordor myself if you turned back.”
Legolas nodded with great dignity as the other elves and the Hobbits looked on. “That is true as well,” he agreed. “Tis rarely a good idea to threaten the lives of those you are allied with.”
Dagnir waved away his objection. “I wasn’t threatening, I was promising. Just because the rest of you were gonna wuss out doesn’t mean I was going to let the whole mission go to pot.” She sent a fond glance at Frodo. “Even if it was just gonna be Shorty, here, and myself. I—“
“Yes, yes,” Legolas said, his voice a touch sour. “You do what needs to be done. I believe you have mentioned that before.”
“That’s right,” Dagnir told him, arms crossed over her chest as she frowned at him. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“No, I do not,” he replied with dignity, his calmness a counterpoint to her rising ire. “Only with your method of expressing it.”
“Oh, I should seeth in silence until I explode into the world’s biggest snarkfest, just like you?” she demanded. “Yeah, because that looks like it’s really working for you.”
Haldir, who had been watching them with an expression of absolute amusement on his fair face, raised a hand and silenced them. “So there are now eight of the Fellowship, and Dagnir?”
Legolas stared a moment longer at Dagnir, who was now resolutely ignoring him, before turning back to the march-warden. “Yes. Four Hobbits, myself, and two Men.”
“And the eighth?”
Haldir raised a brow at that. “Dwarves are not allowed in the Golden Wood.”
Frodo and Sam protested then, declaring Gimli stout-hearted and loyal, and Dagnir raised her voice to praise the son of Glóin as well. Haldir looked to Legolas, who nodded his reluctant agreement, and relented.
“If you will all swear to him, and he will go blindfolded, then he may pass.”
“You and your blindfolds,” Dagnir muttered. Haldir fixed a gaze on her that inexplicably caused her to blush to the top of her ears, and she stood hastily. “I’ll just… go and explain the sitch to Strider,” she said quickly.
Haldir nodded. “Send up the other Hobbits, for they shall pass the night in this talan with us. You, Legolas, and Dagnir shall both answer for the Men and the Dwarf.”
On the ground once more, Dagnir and Legolas exchanged a sour look before she went to usher Pippin and Merry up the rope ladder to join their kin and the elves, and he spoke with the Men and Gimli.
“She is a… close friend of their captain,” he told them. “He bears little love for Dwarves, Gimli, so keep you quiet lest you make him anxious. We shall stay in this talan here,” Legolas motioned overhead, “and continue in the morning.”
A package thudded to the ground at his feet just as Dagnir joined their little group. She picked it up and waved in the direction of the other talan. “Thanks, Hal!” she called to the treetop.
“Do not call me that,” came the reply, annoyance clear in spite of the faint volume. Dagnir only grinned and motioned for her companions to precede her up the ladder.
“Who will take the first watch?” Boromir asked, dropping his shield with a sigh of relief and reaching for the food Dagnir extracted from the package Haldir had thrown to her.
“I will keep watch all this night, for I need no sleep,” Legolas offered.
“Yay,” Dagnir said, dumping the majority of her gear to the floor and wiggling her way between where Aragorn and Boromir sat side by side. “Snuggle up, boys,” she directed, resting her head against Aragorn’s shoulder. “It’s chilly.” She pulled her blanket up to her chin and promptly fell asleep as Boromir looked in exasperation over her head at the other Man.
“I am not accustomed to… snuggling,” the warrior said with a frown.
“Best grow accustomed, then, “ Aragorn replied in his mild way, chewing on his mouthful of lembas before washing it down with cold water from a flask. He tugged half of Dagnir’s blanket over himself before tossing half of his over her. “For it does not seem there is any choice, unless you wish to freeze in this tree tonight?” Boromir most certainly did not, and after finishing his meal shifted closer to the small woman, even draping part of his blanket over her. Gimli sat close on his far side and was soon serenading them with his usual snuffly snoring.
Legolas sat as well and busied himself in repairing his arrows and making new ones, elven ears ever alert in the near-total darkness, and so it was no surprise to him hours later when he heard the faint hissing of another elf in the first talan: “Yrch!”
He reached out to shake his companions awake but found that Dagnir’s eyes were already open, and she silently shook her head ‘no’. “Wait,” she breathed. Slowly, slowly, the moment of danger passed as the orcs travelled beyind them, none the wiser of their presence above.
“There is something else out there,” Legolas said softly, and she nodded.
“It’s been following us for a while,” Dagnir agreed, “since before Moria, at least.”
“Do we dare to kill it? I would not make a noise and alert the orcs.”
Dagnir waited a moment, listening and thinking. “No,” she said at last. “Haldir knows it’s there, and hasn’t done anything. I say we follow his lead.” Legolas nodded in turn. “I’ll take a watch,” she offered then. “You look cold.”
He quirked a pale brow at her; even dressed only in his leggings, silk undertunic, and suede overtunic the winter wind did not bite as deeply into his elven flesh as it did that of Men. “And take you from your warm nest?” he inquired, smiling faintly. “I would not do such a thing.”
Dagnir surveyed him a moment, and evidently was satisfied with his subtle overture of truce, for she nodded and curled more tightly against Aragorn’s side. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“You are most welcome, Dagnir,” he replied, but she was already asleep.
The remainder of the night was uneventful, and all awoke the next morning feeling greatly refreshed. There was some difficulty crossing the Silverlode until two ropes were employed to assist the less nimble-footed of them over its rushing waters, and then came what Dagnir referred to as “tension with a capital ten” when it came time to blindfold Gimli.
As anyone might expect, he didn’t take happily to the idea and the discussion soon degenerated to the point where he pulled his axe from his belt and Haldir and Orophin drew their bows, aiming arrows between his bushy eyebrows.
“A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!” Legolas muttered, frowning when Dagnir elbowed him in the side as she pushed past him.
“You’re not helping!” she hissed at him as she placed herself between the two factions. “Haldir, quit being rude. Gimli, stop being so stubborn and just deal with it, cuz it’s not gonna change.”
“We shall all be blindfolded,” Aragorn declared, “even Legolas.” When that elf protested, he added, “A plague on the stiff necks of Elves.” That shut Legolas up rather quickly, and he settled for glowering as Dagnir held out her hand to Haldir, who placed a few strips of white cloth in it.
She sauntered forward and wrapped the linen around Legolas’ head. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “Will you not be bound so also?”
“Nah,” Dagnir replied. “There’s no point. Lived here for over fifteen years, after all.” Then she spun him around, laughing when he teetered a little, and saying something about pinning the trail on the donkey (whatever that might mean) and gave him a light push forward. “There ya go, Greenleaf.”
They walked many miles that day, Haldir telling them about his beloved Lothlórien, and though it felt strange and vulnerable to sleep, blindfolded yet, on the ground, there was no aura of danger as there had been the night before. Gentle hands woke Legolas the next morning, and even had he not smelled her soap he would have known they belonged to Dagnir when she muttered, “You all look like head-wound victims.”
Finally they came to a halt, and were joined by another group of Elves who relayed tidings to Haldir. He allowed them to remove their blindfolds, and all drew in a breath at the sight before them: Cerin Amroth, heart of all elf-kin in Middle-Earth. The Fellowship gazed around them in amazement with the exception of Aragorn, who looked with familiar fondness upon the green hill and double-circle of glorious trees.
It was only when Haldir stepped closer to Dagnir and inquired softly as to her wellness that the others took note of her; she knelt on the ground, still as a statue, and stared at the centre of the tree-circle. “Even after seventeen years, it’s a shock,” she murmured, and Haldir came to stand beside her, placing a hand comfortingly on her narrow shoulder.
Frodo blinked. “What happened to you seventeen years ago?” he asked, oddly serious all of a sudden, and the elves around them fell silent at his intensity. “Please, tell me!”
Dagnir turned to him then, and with a face that seemed full of weariness and pain, murmured, “That’s when I came to Middle-Earth.”
Frodo blinked huge blue eyes. “Came to Middle-Earth?” he ventured. “You were in Valinor?”
She laughed then, a short and sharp sound that echoed in the trees like a chilling wind in the midst of summer. “Um, no,” she said flatly. “Where I came from was pretty much the anti-Valinor.” She stared at the patch of soft green grass at the tree-ring’s centre, and took a deep breath, as if for courage. “Seventeen years ago I died to save the world, and ended up here.”
“You… died?” Aragorn asked hesitantly. “And yet live? The only other I have heard to do this is Glorfindel. Were you returned from Mandos’ palace as he did?”
Dagnir shook her head ‘no’, grinning suddenly at Haldir, and the miasma of gloom dissipated as suddenly as it had come. “I died there, and woke up here to find this big jerk looming over me, yapping in some foreign language.”
The elf merely shook his head in exasperation and asked Frodo, “Why is seventeen years important to you, Halfling?”
“Seventeen years ago, I was given the Ring,” Frodo replied with a faint tremor in his voice, and Dagnir went very still.
“Is that so?” she asked, a thread of steel running through her voice, and she stood. Brushing off her knees, she said, “That’s… not so coincidental, is it?” Her face was grim, grimmer even than it had been in Moria when Gandalf had died. “I’m going to run ahead, I want to talk to Galadriel as soon as possible.”
And Haldir didn’t even have time to nod before she took off at a brisk job, seeming not at all burdened by the many pounds of weaponry and gear she carried on her back.
daro = stop
yrch = orcs