The Gift of Death, Part 8
Dawn tried to fling herself across Buffy’s body, but Boromir pulled her into his arms and rocked her, gently stroking her tangled hair and murmuring nonsense words to her in an effort to comfort her..
“What sorcery is this?” Gimli demanded. His face beneath the ichor-caked beard was filled with apprehension.
“I do not know,” Aragorn replied grimly, “but we must get back to the shore, where it is safer.”
“The Uruk-Hai have taken the little ones,” Boromir said over Dawn’s head, regretting tempering his voice.
Aragorn nodded. “And Frodo has left to take the ring to Mordor.”
Legolas started in surprise, then peered off toward the lake. “Sam is with him. Hurry, we must follow.” But Aragorn made no effort to move. “You mean not to follow them?”
“Frodo’s fate in no longer in our hands,” the Ranger replied, scrubbing his hand over his unshaven cheek.
“Then it has all been in vain!” Gimli exclaimed, eyes wide. “The Fellowship has failed!”
“Not if we hold true to each other,” Aragorn disagreed, trying to infuse his voice with as much strength and inspiration as possible. “We will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death. Not while we have strength left. Leave all that can be spared behind. We travel light. Let's hunt some Orc!”
Gimli smiled then, a lethal smile. “Yesss,” he said slowly. Legolas merely nodded.
They bandaged Boromir’s wounded shoulder as best they could, and Legolas tenderly removed the fatal arrow from Buffy’s unmoving chest. He clapped his hand over the gaping hole, as if to staunch any blood that might emerge, but to his shock found that the hole was not only not oozing blood, but…
“It closes,” he breathed, and called to the others. “Her wound. It closes!” And as they huddled around, they watched the pulpy mess knit into a raw-looking scar. “Elbereth!” the elf murmured. “How can this be?” He glanced at Dawn. “Have you seen the like before, in your world?”
“This is completely unprecedented,” Dawn said, amazed. “I’m absolutely flummoxed.” She grinned suddenly. “Buffy always keeps her promises.”
“She died to save you,” Boromir said quietly. “That is a noble sacrifice.”
Dawn glanced at him shyly, then decided to study her shoes. “She died for you too, Boromir.”
He frowned. “Why? She does not know or care for me.”
“She doesn’t,” Dawn muttered, still looking away. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas suddenly found other places to be, the elf hoisting Buffy’s limp body into his arms while the other two went to strip down their supplies.
Boromir studied her downcast face. “What are you saying, Lady?” He stepped closer to her. “What are you saying, Dawn?”
She looked up at him, eyes filled with tears. “Buffy died to save you, because she knew I… would miss you.”
He gazed at her for a long moment, and then lifted her chin with his good hand. “You honour me, Dawn.” His fingers caressed the smooth curve of her cheek. “And I wish I were worthy of your affection. But—“ he dropped his hand from her face. “I am not.”
Boromir turned from her and stared into the distance, a muscle leaping in his jaw as he clenched his cheek in an effort to control his raging emotions. “I am weak, Dawn. The Ring called to me from the very beginning, and I heeded that call. I nearly betrayed the Ringbearer.”
“You’re not weak,” Dawn contradicted softly, resting her hand in the middle of his back. “You were just tempted. We all have been, at one point or another.” She came around to face him. “You said no, when it counted. You’re stronger than someone who’s never been tempted—you were able to walk away from it.”
He stared into her eyes with something like desperation, and his hand came to rest lightly on her shoulder. “You do not fault me for my weakness?”
She shook her head. “I admire you for your strength, Boromir.”
His hand moved from her shoulder to curl around the back of her neck, and he slowly drew her toward him. “You honour me, Lady,” he said again, and kissed her. Carefully, she wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into him, ignoring the bite of his armour into her chest. When he pulled back, she smiled brilliantly at him.
“And now, I think we had best join our companions before they leave us here,” he suggested. “The elf looked particularly violent, did you notice?”
“Yeah,” Dawn said with a smirk, following his lead back to the riverside. “He’s all worked up about Buffy.”
Boromir quirked an eyebrow. “Do you think so? I had not believed him capable of the finer emotion of love.”
“Oh, everyone’s capable of it,” Dawn told him breezily as they arrived at the lakeshore. “Some just have to work harder at it than others.”
“Of what do you speak?” Aragorn asked, strapping a bundle on his back.
“Of luuuurve,” Dawn said, drawing the word out.
“I do not think monsters are capable of love,” Gimli said. He was assisting Legolas in making a travois for Buffy, who had been duly cleaned up and propped in a corner. If not for the lack of breathing, she would have merely looked asleep.
“Well, I know at least four demons who are capable of love,” Dawn told them as she crouched down beside her sister, brushing a stray strand of hair from Buffy’s face, and grinning when they stared. “Angel and Spike were both in love with Buffy, and Clem and Lorne are just lovable guys in general— they love everyone.”
“Dagnir once mentioned she had known true love,” Gimli mentioned. “Was he one of these demons?”
Dawn nodded sadly. “That was Angel.”
“She had to kill him,” Legolas said quietly, his head bent over the twigs he wove into a sling between two sturdy branches.
“He turned really evil, and she had to stab him and push him into a portal to a hell realm. It nearly killed her. She was never the same, after.” She took a deep breath. “But that’s over and done with now. Angel’s been gone for years, and Buffy’s here now. And it looks like she’s hooked up with Haldir.”
Legolas narrowed his eyes at the mention of the march-warden, and Dawn grinned triumphantly at Boromir behind the elf’s back. “We should go now,” Legolas snapped, and carefully placed Buffy on the finished travois. “I will pull her first.”
They had walked for hours and the sun was beginning to set when a cheery voice piped up. “This is really the right way to travel. Mush, doggies! Mush!” Gimli promptly dropped the travois (it was his turn to pull) and burst into tears. Legolas clapped the dwarf on the shoulder and shot him a relieved grin. Aragorn and Boromir just exchanged looks of extreme relief.
Dawn dropped to her knees beside her sister and yanked her into a fierce hug. “Took you long enough!” she scolded, sniffling.
“Glad are we, Dagnir, of your speedy recovery from death,” Aragorn told her, eyes twinkling in his tired face.
“Me too!” Buffy said, pushing Dawn gently away. “So, was I the only dead one?” She frowned when she didn’t see any Hobbits. “Where are the others?”
“Merry and Pippin were taken by the Uruk-Hai that killed you,” Dawn explained.
“What happened to Frodo and Sam?”
“They have gone to Mordor,” Aragorn said heavily, avoiding her stare.
Buffy stared at him, eyes nearly popping out of her head. “You let them go? Alone?” She looked around at the others. “Is everyone here very stoned?”
“Frodo had reason to believe that we would not able to resist the lure of the ring,” Legolas said quietly. His voice held no censure, but Boromir suddenly found a distant rock very fascinating, and gazed intently upon it. “He would trust no one but himself.”
Buffy fumed for a few minutes but decided to simply accept what she couldn’t change anyway. “I see we’ve pared down to the bare essentials,” she said eventually, seeing that their only supplies consisted of what they could carry on their backs. Her eyes narrowed. “You didn’t leave my soap behind, did you?”
“That’s right, Buf,” Dawn said with a patented Little Sister Eye Roll™. “Your priorities are definitely in order. Not. Now get your butt outta that… thing… and let’s get moving.”
“Fine,” Buffy grumbled, and made to hoist herself up, only to find a slim, strong hand under her elbow. “Thanks,” she said breathlessly to Legolas, who nodded calmly and went to walk beside Aragorn.
“You’ve got it bad,” Dawn whispered in her ear.
“You should talk,” Buffy whispered back, looking pointedly at where her sister was holding hands with Boromir. “How long was I actually dead before you two hooked up?” Dawn had the grace to blush, but said nothing. “Ten minutes?” Buffy teased. “Fifteen?” She peered at Boromir, who was staring once more at the fascinating rock. “Hmph. Good to know how much you missed me.”
She wiggled a little under her pack and trudged after the others. Dawn and Boromir were paired up, and Legolas was deep in discussion with Aragorn over something, so she stepped up to Gimli. “Looks like we’re hiking buddies for this leg of the trip, huh, Gimli?” she asked, glancing at him when he didn’t respond. “You ok?”
He looked up at her, tears in his deep-set eyes. ”Never have I seen anything like that, lass,” he told Buffy. “For a person so grievously wounded to return to life… I am not ashamed to say that I am both honoured to have witnessed it, and terrified of the power that must be a part of you, to make such a thing possible.”
“It’s those wacky Valar,” Buffy replied lightly. “They made me indestructible. I’ve died a few dozen times since I came to Middle-Earth.” She glared darkly at the sky. “When will you give me my gift, you bastards?” she shouted, and waved a fist ineffectually. She lowered it when she noticed the others staring at her. “The Valar and I have this love-hate thing going on,” she explained weakly. “They love to torment me, and I hate them.”
Aragorn dropped flat to the ground suddenly. Dawn was just about to become alarmed when Legolas held up his hand for silence. “Their pace quickens,” the Ranger said. “They must have caught our scent. Hurry!”
And he leapt to his feet and began to run. The others quickly followed him, Gimli grumbling about how dwarves were much better at short sprints than cross-country running. They ran for what seemed like weeks, but was actually only hours, before Aragorn screeched to a halt and picked something up from the ground. “Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall,” he said pensively, holding up a cloak-pin like the one they had all received in Caras Galadhon.
“They met yet be alive,” murmured Legolas, hope plain on his face.
“Less than a day ahead of us, come!” Aragorn said encouragingly, and set off again. Obediently the others trotted after him, relieved when after another hour he stopped at the crest of a hill and surveyed the landscape below. “Rohan. Home of the horse-lords. There is something strange at work here. Some evil gives speed to these creatures, sets its will against us.”
Legolas took a few steps ahead, peering out at the horizon.
“Legolas, what do your Elf eyes see?”
“The Uruks turn northwest,” Legolas replied, his gaze seeing as the others could not. “They are taking the Hobbits to Isengard, running as if the very whips of their masters were behind them.”
“That’s a cool trick,” Buffy commented to Dawn. “Gotta have him teach me that.” He turned and smiled at her, a smile so pure she felt faint for a moment. “Elves are dangerous,” she muttered, carefully looking anywhere but at him, and knowing he was watching her.
When they pitched camp that night, Buffy glared at her sister’s lingering with Boromir across the fire until, heaving a huge sigh, Dawn left the Man and lay down beside Buffy.
“You do realize that I’m not fifteen any longer, right, Buf?” she asked. “I mean, I’m thirty-one years old. I was married for three years. I’m no shrinking virgin.”
Buffy blinked. “Dawn, that is so totally irrelevant!” she shouted, uncaring if the men could hear her. “If I’m not getting any, neither are you!” She burrowed deeper under her blanket. “Besides, some things are just not meant to be overheard, and your sister getting jiggy with some buff guy while you’re shivering all alone in a skimpy blanket is one of them. Now snuggle up, I’m cold.”
The next morning, Buffy woke to find Aragorn and Legolas already up and dressed.
“The red sun rises,” Legolas said as Buffy joined them. “Blood has been spilled this night.”
“How are you feeling?” Aragorn asked her.
“Terrific,” she replied cheerfully. “Whenever I die, I feel super after I come back. My whole body is brand-new again, and any injuries I’ve had since the last time I died are totally repaired.” She smiled at his expression of concern. “I actually don’t mind the dying so much, it’s… peaceful.” She shrugged. “Not like it’s going to change any time soon, so I might as well enjoy the process, hm?”
She turned away to wake Dawn, but was aware of Legolas continuing to watch her. They began walking again, and this time Gimli was in front with Aragorn. Dawn was, of course, attached at Boromir’s hip, so Buffy found herself paired with Legolas.
“You demanded earlier that the Valar give you your gift,” he said by way of initiating conversation. “What did you mean by that?”
She sighed and pushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s a very long, complex, and boring tale,” she warned. “Are you ready for it?”
“I am an elf, I will live thousands of years. I believe I can withstand a few hours of storytelling.” He smiled at her, and she found herself speaking almost against her will.
“Well, it all started with the first Slayer…” she began.
Hours later, her throat sore from talking, Buffy wrapped up her tale. “I got it completely wrong. Died for nothing, got sent here for nothing. Death is my gift, but not one I’m supposed to give away. One I have to receive, and only from the Valar themselves.” Again she glared skywards. “So now I get to wait, and fight, and die a thousand times, and wait some more until they decide I’m done.” She glanced at the silent elf. “How’s that for a crappy present?”
“Long life is not the burden you think it is, Dagnir,” he said, and she marveled at the sound of her name on his lips. His beautifully shaped, soft-looking pink lips… mmm. Focus, Buffy! she scolded herself. Pay attention to what the yummy elf is saying! “I am over two thousand years old, and I have yet to become tired of living.”
Buffy tilted her head to one side, thinking. “Maybe because you’re raised that way. Knowing you’ll live forever changes how you look at things. I think it makes you see how things move in currents, in cycles. When things get bad, you know to have faith that they’ll pass, and get better eventually.”
“But humans… our lifespans are too short to be able to wait out the bad times. We don’t have a sense of patience, like elves do. We know we’re going to die, that our time here is much too short, and we spaz out accordingly.” She flashed a grin at him and held her arms out to display herself. “Behold the mess that comes of being raised a human, but having an elven lifespan.”
All too soon, her smile faded. “I just don’t see the point of living forever. Especially…” She stopped, bit her lip as she stared down at the ground. Even after so many years, so many partings, she’d always been able to go on because she’d known that somewhere in the universe, Angel was still alive. So to speak.
“Especially what?” Legolas prodded gently.
“Especially now that Angel is dead. I mean, I’m glad that Dawn is here, but she won’t live forever, either. When she’s gone, what will I have after that?” She looked up at him, her eyes glimmering. “I’m thinking maybe it was a big mistake to have her come here, to Arda… I had gotten used to being alone, and now I’m not alone anymore. When Dawn is dead, I’ll be alone again, and it will be so hard to accept that once more…” A rogue tear fell, rolled down her smudged cheek. “What point is there to a life alone? To a life without any love?”
Legolas caught the tear on his fingertip and studied the drop of moisture for a moment. “There is no point to life without love,” he agreed, and slowly licked the tear from his finger, staring deeply into her eyes the whole time. “But you must find love, for it is there. You must reach out and grasp it with greedy hands. You must tame it, and make it yours. It will not wait while you dally, nor will it force its way into your heart and mind.” His smile at her was like the sun cresting the horizon, and she found herself smiling back.
“Horses,” Aragorn hissed, interrupting them, and motioned for all to hide behind a boulder. A large group of horsemen crested the hill, banners flying, and the ranger stepped out of hiding to address them. “Riders of Rohan, what news from the Mark?” The others emerged as well, only to find themselves swiftly surrounded by spears pointing at their faces.
“What business do an Elf, a Dwarf, two men, and…” the leader stared in shock at Dawn and Buffy, “two women have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly!”
Aragorn soothingly introduced them all. “We are friends of Rohan and of Theoden, your king.”
The man pulled off his helm with a sigh, revealing a ruggedly handsome face and long golden spill of hair, and said he was Eomer, nephew to the king. “Theoden no longer recognizes friend from foe.”
“We track a party of Uruk-hai westward across the plain,” Aragorn explained. “They’ve taken two of our friends captive.”
“The Uruks are destroyed,” Eomer told him. “We slaughtered them during the night, and left none alive. We piled the carcasses and burned them.” He motioned over his shoulder to where a column of smoke rose to the sky. “I am sorry.”
Dawn pressed her face against Boromir’s shoulder, and his hand came up to stroke her hair. Gimli bowed his head in sorrow, and Legolas placed his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder in grief.
“No,” Buffy whispered. “Unless we see their bodies ourselves, they’re not dead.”
Eomer stared at her a moment. “Look for your friends. But do not trust to hope.” He sighed then, a gusty and weary sound. ‘It has forsaken these lands.” He whistled and called, “Hasufel! Arod! Timon!” Three horses obediently trotted over. “May these horses bear you to greater fortune than their former masters. Farewell.”
They piled with grim determination onto their new horses: Gimli behind Legolas, Dawn snug in the circle of Boromir’s arms, and Buffy behind Aragorn. She exchanged a look of exasperation with Gimli—it sucked to have to ride pillion. At the pile of charred orcs, they leapt down and began sifting through the debris. Gimli soon found something, and with a sob said, “It’s one of their wee belts…”
Aragorn walked a few paces away, thrusting his hands into his hair as if he would tear it out by its roots. Buffy went after him and was about to touch his shoulder when he slowly lowered his arms again, attention caught.
“A Hobbit lay here,” he said, wonder in his voice, and a terrible, faint hope. “And the other. They crawled, their hands bound.” He began to run along the tracks, his voice speeding up. “Their bonds were cut.” He held up a ragged piece of rope. ”They ran over here, and were followed. The tracks lead away from the battle…” he broke off, staring at the trees in the distance. “Into Fangorn Forest.”