The Gift of Death, Part 10
Once they came within eyesight of the city of Edoras, nestled against a foothill of the mountains of the South, Gandalf explained how Théoden was under the control of Saruman. “Be careful of what you say,” he warned. “Do not look for welcome here.”
They rode into the city, and Buffy was taken aback by how gloomy and barren the place was. All were dressed in black and stared with open hostility at the newcomers.
“You’d find more cheer in a graveyard,” Gimli muttered from behind Legolas, and Buffy knew from experience how correct he was.
She peeked over Aragorn’s shoulder at the hall atop the hill, and saw a woman standing on the flat landing, pale gown and hair streaming behind her in the wind. As she watched, the woman turned and fled in a whirl of skirts into the building.
They dismounted and climbed slowly up the steep stairs to the landing, where they were met by a guard who refused to let them pass with their weapons “By order of Grima Wormtongue”. Buffy smirked as she saw Legolas couldn’t resist giving his daggers a little fancy twirl as he handed them over. She cheerfully dumped her sword and various knives she produced from the hidden spots all over her body.
“It does not bother you to enter this place, weaponless?” Gimli asked her, giving his beloved axe a last mournful glance before entering the hall.
“Gimli, I am a weapon,” Buffy reminded him. “One of these days, I gotta show you what I can do with my bare hands.”
“I would like to see this, too,” Legolas murmured behind her, and somehow she thought he didn’t exactly mean fighting… she tore her thoughts away from that course when Gandalf pretended to be a doddering old fart so as to not give up his staff, and into the hall they all progressed.
They were followed closely by very hostile-looking men, and Dawn edged closer to Boromir, who wrapped a protective arm around her waist. A pasty-pale, utterly hideous man—Buffy assumed he was the Grima Wormtongue mentioned by the guard-- crouched beside a throne at the end of the hall. In the throne was slumped a disreputable heap of robes, and only when it moved did she realize that the heap was actually a person.
“Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear,” Grima said nastily. “Láthspell I name him. Ill news is an ill guest.”
”Be silent!” Gandalf roared, raising his staff. “Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm!”.
“I told you to take the wizard’s staff,” Grima hissed at the doorman, and the hostile guards rushed toward the Fellowship.
“Looks like you guys get your demonstration earlier than I thought,” Buffy quipped, and punched one chap so hard he flew back twenty feet. Flying up, she landed a solid kick to another man’s chest, smashing him into a wall, and at the same time grabbed the heads of two others and knocked them together with a very painful-sounding thud.
Looking around, she saw Boromir fending five men off while trying to keep Dawn behind him, and Buffy took a running leap up a pillar, using it to spring up and somersault backward in the air, coming down directly beside Boromir.
“How did you do that?” he demanding, landing a right-hook on the jaw of one of his attackers, dropping him like a rock.
“I’m full of surprises,” Buffy replied, and sent a spinning-kick into the head of another fellow, who lurched into his neighbour and sent them both tumbling to the floor.
“Let me hit at least one of them!” Dawn wailed from behind Boromir.
“Here, sweet, I saved one for you,” he said fondly, stepping aside, and she beamed at him before slugging the last one in the stomach, then crashing her knee into his chin when he bent over in pain. With a shriek of pain, the man fell over, not able to decide whether he should clutch his belly or his face. “Well done, sweet,” Boromir commented, impressed.
“You’re so good to me, honey,” Dawn told him, with a kiss of gratitude. Buffy made a face.
“You two are weird,” she grumbled, ambling over to where Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn were dusting off their hands after finishing off their attackers.
Gandalf once more raised his staff. “Théoden, son of Thengel, too long have you sat in the shadows.” He gestured with his hand. “Harken to me! I release you from this spell.”
“Hey, the nasty guy is trying to get away!” Dawn whispered, pointing to where Grima was unobtrusively creeping off to the side, and Gimli shot over to him with impressive speed, pinning him to the floor with his boot on the worm’s throat.
Saruman jeered at Gandalf from Théoden’s body, and the lovely woman they’d seen at their arrival ran forward with a cry. Only Aragorn’s swift arm around her waist held her back.
“Rohan is mine!” Saruman bellowed from Théoden’s mouth, and Gandalf strode forward to smite the elderly king with his staff. Théoden slumped back into his chair with a moan, and Éowyn wrenched free of Aragorn’s grasp to go to him. Tenderly, she lifted his head from his chest and gasped to see his face transform to that of a much younger and more aware man. The dingy hall filled with light as the evil was dispelled.
“I know your face,” the king said, his voice rough, as he looked at the woman. “Éowyn ? Éowyn !” She burst into happy tears and buried her face against his arm. “Dark have been my dreams of late,” Théoden told them, staring down at his trembling hands.
“Your fingers would remember their old strength better if they grasped your sword,” Gandalf said kindly, and the door-guard rushed forward with the king’s sword laying reverently across his arms.
Théoden picked it up, gazing at the gleaming metal and gems, and Grima whimpered in fear, struggling to get out from under Gimli’s boot. Slowly, deliberately, Théoden turned to face his onetime advisor. With an impressive lurch, Grima pushed Gimli away and leapt to his feet, running for the door.
With a shout of rage, Théoden dashed after him, the Fellowship in pursuit. Outside, Buffy saw that Grima had tripped over his own feet and tumbled down the steps. Théoden followed, murder in his eye, but Aragorn put a placating hand on the king’s arm.
“Let him go, my lord,” he urged. “Enough blood has been spilled on his behalf.”
Grima took advantage of Théoden’s hesitation to jump up and shove through the crowd, grabbing the first horse he could and riding hell-for-leather out of Edoras. Théoden slowly sheathed his sword as someone in the crowd shouted, “Hail, King-king!”
Soon, everyone was shouting it, and Buffy found herself kneeling between Aragorn and Gimli as Boromir tugged Dawn down beside him. Théoden smiled, and then turned to Éowyn . “Where is Théodred? Where is my son?”
~ * ~
“Poor Théoden,” Dawn said to Buffy, dunking her head under the surface of the water to rinse out the soap. “Poor Éowyn .”
They were in a large room, each in a big wooden tub filled with steaming water, and the scent of honeysuckle filled the air.
“Hm,” Buffy said noncommittally, slouching lower into the silky water. Her heart ached for Théoden, but as for Éowyn —she wasn’t sure what to think. She was fiercely loyal to her uncle and kingdom, that was true, but… Buffy had seen the looks the woman had given Aragorn, hungry looks. It made her uneasy.
“Are you done yet?” Dawn asked, snapping her out of her reverie, and she looked up to see Dawn had gotten out, dried off, and dressed while Buffy was woolgathering. “You’re gonna get all pruney.” She grinned, and started brushing her hair dry. “Although I bet Legolas wouldn’t mind, even if you were a big ol’ prune.”
Buffy glared at her sister, and stood up, reaching for a drying cloth. “I happen to know that’s the only dress you have,” she said calmly, toweling her skin dry. “Wouldn’t it be a shame if I pushed you into the tub and you had nothing clean to wear tonight, and instead of feasting with the rest of us, you had to stay in your room and sulk?”
Dawn smirked. “Wouldn’t bother me any,” she retorted, the motion of her arms smooth as she drew the brush through her long chestnut hair. “I’ll just get Boromir to keep me company. Hm, what could the two of us do in a bedroom together, while everyone else in the city is eating and dancing the night away?”
Buffy glared harder and tugged on a filmy white chemise, then a gown of silky-soft golden-brown wool. “I told you. No talking about the sex near me, I’m squeamish.” She shook her damp hair out. “Think I should lop some of it off? I only kept the last foot or so because it was still blonde.”
Dawn bit her lip, thinking. “Yeah, I think so. It’ll look healthier, and be easier to care for.”
One of the serving women stepped forward with a wicked-looking pair of shears, and with a few snips, the blond strands fell to the floor.
“Hm, lighter!” Buffy said, twirling. Her hair now only came to just below her hips, a wavy gleaming mass the colour of dark honey. “It’ll take less time to dry, too. Yay me!”
Dawn laughed. “C’mere, let me brush it dry so we can eat sometime this year.”
Entering Meduseld a half-hour later, Buffy and Dawn were both struck suddenly shy. The hall was huge, and filled with hundreds of people, of whom they only knew five. Dawn’s hand crept into Buffy’s, and she squeezed it back with what she hoped was reassurance.
“Do you even see them?” Dawn asked, impatient to see Boromir again, and eat.
“How would I know?” Buffy answered grumpily. “You’re the tall one, look around.”
Dawn rose up on tiptoes and craned her neck. “I think I see Legolas’ hair. Oh! And Gimli’s beard.”
Buffy laughed, and let her sister tug her down the aisle. “Thank God for landmarks, huh?”
The men of the Fellowship stood when the women reached the table.
“Visions of loveliness,” Gimli said gruffly, kissing their hands, while Aragorn and Gandalf smiled and nodded politely. Legolas murmured a compliment as he bowed over Dawn’s hand, and said nothing to Buffy, but it wasn’t necessary—the frank appreciation in his crystalline eyes brought a rosy blush to her cheeks.
Boromir’s eyes, however, were only for Dawn. “You are an angel,” he said breathlessly. “Come, sit by me.”
Buffy took the seat Legolas indicated beside him, and beamed a smile at her scrubbed and laundered compatriots. Even Gimli’s beard looked freshly combed and braided. “I am very, very proud of you all,” she announced. “Did you use the soap I gave you?”
Aragorn coughed. “Um, no. We were able to obtain something less… feminine.”
Buffy laughed, and leaned close to Legolas to sniff him, then jolted in shock. He smelled like heaven and hell all rolled into one, like rain and trees and cinnamon and leather and… “Oh, my God,” she moaned, and leaned closer, sniffing harder. “What is that?”
“Buffy, you’re gonna make yourself hyperventilate,” Dawn warned, staring at her sister. “What are you doing?”
“Dawn, you’ve got to smell him!” Buffy said, her pupils dilated. “Do the rest of you smell like this?” She leaned toward Gandalf on her other side, but he leaned away, a look of apprehension on his face.
Dawn moved as if to smell Legolas, but Boromir wrapped his arm firmly around her waist. “I don’t think that is necessary,” he said repressively. “You may sniff me.” Dawn happily indulged.
Buffy turned back to Legolas, and saw the elf ‘s cheeks held a very pretty, faint blush of pink as he stared at the tabletop. “It’s just you,” she said as she realized, and he nodded shortly. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“It is nothing,” he said tightly. “I am not embarrassed.”
She frowned in confusion. “Then why are you blushing?”
He turned to face her, and her mouth dropped open to see his eyes blazing with desire. “To know you are scenting me like a bitch in heat is very arousing,” he murmured in her ear, so quietly only she could hear him. “Now sit quietly unless you want me to carry you from the hall and take you in the corridor, against the wall.”
Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat, and wondered if lust could actually catch her on fire. The image of him pressing her into the stone wall, his lean body moving sinuously against hers, his eyes burning into hers as his heavenly scent swirled around them, rose in her mind and for a crazed moment she almost grabbed him and yanked him to that corridor herself.
But then the food arrived, and her stomach growled, and Aragorn coughed loudly to get her attention, and the haze of yearning faded to a level she could at least function over. Mechanically she lifted her fork and knife, exquisitely aware of the elf to her left. Oh, she moaned in her head, his leg against mine is so warm… and he smells soooo good…
“Dagnir,” Aragorn addressed her.
“I’m not turned on!” she lied blatantly, dropping her utensils with a clatter to the plate, and then blushed violently as Dawn collapsed against Boromir, laughing hysterically. She looked frantically around the table and saw the men were watching her in puzzlement, with the exception of Legolas, who had a tiny, knowing smile playing on his lips. “I mean, yes?” Thank God they don’t understand Earth slang, she thought.
“We ride tomorrow for Helms Deep, a fortress. We have reason to believe an army of Uruk-hai and orcs advances upon it. I know you will join us, but…” He looked pointedly at Dawn, who was once again peaking quietly with Boromir at the other end of the table. “Your sister’s battle skills are not adequate. I fear for her safety.”
Buffy nodded. She’d been worrying about the same thing. “I know. Is there somewhere she can go, where she’d be safe?”
“Éowyn will be bringing the people of Edoras to Dunharrow,” Gandalf suggested. “It is not far from here, and should be quite secure.”
“I’ll talk to her after we eat,” Buffy agreed. “Thanks for thinking of her, Aragorn.”
He inclined his head to her, and she was struck with how regal the motion was. “You really are a king, aren’t you,” she asked admiringly, but her smile faded when she saw the droop of his shoulders. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” she recited, and smiled at the appreciation in his eyes at the elegance of the expression.
“Uneasy, indeed,” he agreed with a lopsided grin. “There are days I long to be just Strider the ranger, once more, but there is no escape from destiny.”
“Don’t I know it,” Buffy grumbled. “You at least get a crown and a throne and people to call you ‘your majesty’. All I ever get is attempts on my life and a lame nickname.”
“When I am crowned, I will make you a knight of the realm and give you a fine title,” Aragorn told her with a smile. “All shall behold you with respect and love, and there will be much groveling and bending of knee to you.”
“It’s good to be friends with the king!” Buffy said, and raised her goblet to him. “To Aragorn, son of Arathorn!” There was cheering, and much drinking deeply of the good Edoras wine.
“To Théoden, king of Rohan!” exclaimed a clear voice, and Buffy looked to see Éowyn standing beside her uncle, her goblet lifted high. “To the memory of Théodred!” More cheering, and more drinking.
“Whew, no more for me,” Buffy said, her hands pressed to her flushed, hot cheeks. “I’ll barely be able to stagger to bed as it is.” Legolas didn’t say a word, didn’t even look her way, but yet she still felt… something, a current of awareness, run from him to her. She concentrated on breathing, and kept eating, no longer hungry but needing something to distract her from him.
Finally, blessedly, the meal was over and the tables were cleared away. “Time for dancing!” someone cried.
“Dancing?” Buffy felt her stomach knot with dread.
“Dancing!” Gimli exclaimed, a wide smile splitting his beard, and Dawn clapped happily when the music began.
“I don’t know what to do!” she said to Boromir, eyes glowing. “Will you teach me?”
“Anything you want to know,” he promised fervently as the music was struck up and she tugged him onto the floor.
“You do not like dancing?” Aragorn asked Buffy teasingly. “Do not tell me that you will sit on the side, while even Gandalf makes merry.” And sure enough, Gandalf had taken the hand of a pretty matron and was leading her through the intricate steps of the dance.
“I’m just not that good at formal dancing like this. Really more of a freestyle dancer,” Buffy said nervously. It was true—she could never remember all the steps, the motions, where she was supposed to go. It was much easier back in the Bronze, where she could just fling her arms over her head and wiggle as she pleased to the music. Here, there were rules and responsibilities, and people were depending on her to do exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time… “Too much stress,” she said finally.
Aragorn just grinned at her and allowed Éowyn to pull him into the dance, leaving Buffy standing with Legolas. Gimli had deserted them at first opportunity and was skipping with great enthusiasm beside Dawn, who laughed uproariously at the dwarf’s antics while Boromir watched, smiling, from the side. Buffy felt anxious, alone with the elf for the first time since he had kissed her in Fangorn. The attraction she’d felt for him from the beginning had begun to blossom into something she wasn’t sure she was ready for, but which she strongly suspected she would be helpless to resist or fend off.
“She is happy here,” Legolas said quietly, drawing her attention outward again.
“Yes,” Buffy replied, relieved to be on neutral conversational ground. “I was worried about that. I thought maybe I should leave her in Lórien until this was all over with the Ring. I know she doesn’t much like him, but Haldir would protect her—“
“Yes, let us speak of Haldir,” he interrupted smoothly, and Buffy got a sinking feeling in her stomach. Uh-oh, she thought, here it comes.