Author’s Note: Éomer was actually at Helm’s Deep; Gandalf went to fetch Erkenbrand, yet another captain of Rohan’s forces. Have corrected the original version of this chapter to bring it more into line with canon.
The Gift of Death, Part 12
The day dragged torturously, and in spite of the coming battle, the combined forces of Rohan and the remnants of the Fellowship were almost relieved when it was over and twilight turned blue the plain stretching out before the Deeping Wall. Night fell finally and hard, and the torches of the approaching army of Uruk-hai came steadily closer. Up on the wall, Gimli and Buffy both strained to see what was happening. She leapt up onto the parapet as she had before, but Boromir neatly plucked her down.
“You make yourself a tempting target, Dagnir,” he told her. “Climb on my back if you need to see that badly, else Dawn will never forgive me.” So she did, propping her elbows on his shoulders as she peered over his head.
Gimli, however, had no such offers, and continued to hop up and down for a glimpse. “What’s happening out there?” he demanded petulantly.
“Shall I describe it to you?” Legolas asked, grinning. “Or shall I fetch you a box?”
Gimli poked the elf in the leg, and laughed while Buffy looked at him with sympathy. “Being short sucks,” she said, and he nodded firmly.
Just then, an older man lost his grip on his nocked arrow and let it fly, where it hit the neck of an Uruk in the front of Saruman’s army. A hush fell over both sides, the very air seeming to still, and Buffy was convinced that time slowed as she watched the Uruk clap a hand to its neck, then sink with agonizing slowness to its knees, finally falling onto its face. For a second that felt like an hour, the Uruk-hai turned to face the Hornburg, and as one, began screaming in rage.
Then they charged.
“So it begins,” Théoden said grimly, and Buffy leapt down from Boromir’s back and grabbed the bow she’d leant against the parapet. On Aragorn’s command, she, Legolas, Haldir, and the other archers fired, and many Uruk-hai fell to the ground. Their fellows merely stepped over them, and continued to advance.
Volley after volley of arrows flew into the masses, and hundreds fell, but were instantly replaced by more behind them. The archers continued to shoot even as ladders were raised, and Uruks started to climb.
“Just keep shooting!” Buffy screamed. “Shoot them off the ladders!” Those who could hear her obeyed, but further down the wall they had dropped their bows and pulled out their blades in preparation for hand-to-hand combat.
Éomer and Aragorn stood side-by-side, identical grim expressions on their handsome faces, and unsheathed their swords.
“Gûthwinë for the Mark!” Éomer cried, holding his sword aloft.
“And Andúril for the Dúnedain!” Aragorn exclaimed, brandishing the reforged blade, and then they charged forward. Gimli was already rushing down the wall, shouting his war-cry of “Khazâd ai mênu!”, eager to dampen his axe with Uruk blood.
“Dammit,” Buffy groaned, and thrust her bow and quiver into the hands of a nearby soldier. “Keep shooting them off the ladders!” she told him, and yanked her sword from the scabbard while dashing after the dwarf.
“Legolas, two already!” Gimli shouted over the noise as he killed another.
“I’m on seventeen!” Legolas replied happily, and loosed two more arrows into the throats of a pair of Uruks about to attack Théoden. “Nineteen!”
“You’re counting?” Buffy asked in amazement, her sword thrusting through an Uruk’s chest. She pulled it out with a gruesome sucking noise and turned to the next, neatly lopping his head off. “You two are unbelievable.”
“You’re just jealous,” Gimli said, taking down his fourth.
“Hah!” Buffy huffed. “Jealous of what? I’ve already taken down twenty-three.”
Gimli was outraged. “I’ll not have an elf and a human outscoring me!” And he made his axe flash impressively as he slashed, taking down three more in quick succession before scrambling up onto a parapet between two ladders and swinging with glee, knocking Uruks off left and right. “Eighteen! Nineteen! Twenty! Twenty-one! Twenty-two!”
Éomer had remained by Théoden, and divided his attention between fighting Orcs and keeping an eye on his surroundings. “What is that there, Aragorn?” he shouted above the din, pointing with Gûthwinë to a small group of Uruk-hai huddled under the causeway. A dozen paces away, Aragorn finished off his adversary and peered in the direction Éomer pointed.
“I do not know,” he said, puzzled. It soon became clear that another of the Orcs held a special kind of torch and was moving with grim purpose toward the clot of Uruks under the causeway, and alarm and foreboding swelled within Aragorn’s stomach. “Legolas!” he shouted, looking left and right for that elf. “Legolas, bring him down!”
Legolas spun and needed only a moment to see what was needed of him; he loosed an arrow immediately into the Uruk’s neck just as he had felled thirty-seven others, but with a strange gleam in his piggy little eyes, the creature lurched to his feet and continued his run toward the culvert. “Kill him!” Aragorn screamed, and Legolas shot again.
But, fired by zeal, the Uruk didn’t seem to even notice the second arrow piercing his throat, and with a final effort, tripped and fell into the culvert. The torch in his outstretched hand just reached whatever it was that the others had been stuffing under the causeway. There was an ominous, pregnant pause and then, an enormous explosion. Rubble and men flew in all directions as a considerable portion of the Deeping Wall was blown away. Théoden stared in shock, unaware that Aragorn was flung back from the force of the explosion and lay limply on the ground, unconscious.
“Brace the gate,” he whispered, then repeated in a shout, “Brace the gate! Hold them! Stand fast!”
Éomer pushed his way through the men and started slapping Aragorn in the face, trying to rouse him, as Boromir ran up.
“You must wake!” Boromir yelled at the ranger, swiping at a smear of black Orc blood that had splattered on his cheek. “I cannot find Dagnir or Gimli!”
Legolas spun around at that. “Where were they last?”
“They jumped down off the wall onto the Uruks who flooded in,” Boromir said bleakly. “Just as I expected. She is truly insane, and he is a dwarf.”
Legolas frowned, pulling out his daggers, and ran to the edge of the wall, almost idly killing two Uruks in his way as he peered into the chaos below. It was a roiling mass of bodies, all struggling against each other… there, was that an axe?
“Forty-one!” howled a voice. “Khazâd! My axe drinks deeply this night!”
Gimli was fine, then. But what of Buffy? He scanned the scene anxiously, and suddenly Buffy flew upwards to stand on the shoulders of one of the Uruks. “Take my sword, will ya?” she demanded, and reached down to twist his head off his shoulders; leaping lightly down again, she grabbed her sword from his grubby hand before it could hit the ground. Then she grabbed the Uruk’s sword for good measure, and set to using both blades against the enemy surrounding her. Legolas grinned and turned back to Aragorn, who was once again on his feet and with Boromir made decent headway against another wave climbing up the ladders.
“Aragorn, Éomer, fall back to the keep!” Théoden told him, and began motioning toward the great doors. “Get your men out of there!”
With the Deeping Wall compromised, there was no way for their small force to keep back the wave of orcs that began to stream forward, pressing forward, reeking of death.
“Pull back to the keep!” Aragorn shouted as Éomer dashed off to round up those on the far side. “Haldir, to the keep!”
Haldir nodded and began telling his elves to fall back. Gimli was reluctant to leave the place of his success, and had to be dragged backwards from the courtyard, struggling and protesting all the way. Haldir hacked at the Uruk-hai as he turned toward the keep entrance, but one sword got past his defense and stabbed his shoulder, making him drop his sword. Crying out in pain, he was barely able to raise his shield to block another thrust.
Buffy’s sensitive ears recognized the sound of her friend’s distress, and she began to shove her way through the retreating men. “Dagnir!” Legolas yelled, reaching out to grab her, but she ignored him and threaded herself nimbly through the masses of fighting bodies. Three steps at a time, she dashed up the stairs to the remains of the wall and with the sword in her right hand lopped off the head of one of the Uruks attacking Haldir, whilst stabbing another through the throat with the second sword.
The last Uruk was advancing on Haldir where he slumped against the parapet, unconscious. “Crap, not again,” Buffy said tiredly, and flung herself in front of the march-warden just in time to take the vicious slice across the belly that had been meant for her friend. Her vision narrowed almost immediately to pinpoints, and with her last moments of awareness she was able to shove a sword into the Uruk’s chest before collapsing against Haldir.
“Dagnir?” he moaned, waking.
“You owe me,” she gasped, and died.
Haldir knew of her immortality, so his expression was not of grief, but of determination. He lurched to his feet and, wrapping his arm around her waist, draped her over his uninjured shoulder before staggering down the steps. Legolas was struggling to make his way to them, but the Rohirrim guards were fighting to shove him inside the keep. At the sight of Buffy slung like a sack of parsnips over her former lover’s shoulder—he emphasized the word former to himself in order to keep his temper—he broke free of them and raced to Haldir.
“She is dead?” Legolas demanded. “Again?” He snatched Buffy from the march-warden, who allowed the guards to yank him inside. Legolas just frowned at them, and they let him walk in under his own power, the tiny woman cradled tenderly in his arms.
They made their way down the corridor toward the great hall of the keep, Haldir clutching his hand over his seeping wound. “What do you mean, again?” he asked breathlessly, “Did she die since last I saw her?”
“Saving Boromir, yes,” Legolas replied shortly. “I do not like how she values herself so little that she squanders herself for others.” They arrived at the hall, and he reluctantly permitted Aragorn to take Buffy and begin to clean her up while Gimli wrung his hands and fluttered uselessly nearby. Unless his elvish ears were mistaken—and he deeply doubted that was possible—the dwarf was muttering, “Oh dear, oh dear” repeatedly, thus lending credence to Legolas’ suspicion that Gimli was slowly turning into a maiden aunt.
Haldir eyed his fellow elf a long moment before slumping to the floor and waving over one of his elf-archers to tend his wound. “I can see you know that she will return from death,” he said slowly, wincing as his armour was removed and his tunic cut away from the injury. “Do you also understand how she has longed for it to claim her? For how long? That it is a goal that lays shining and golden, beckoning to her with all the seductiveness of the One Ring itself?”
Legolas winced at that; as an elf, it was utterly foreign to actually desire death. To pursue it, to treat it as friend instead of foe, was anathema. “We have talked about it, but…” his voice trailed off uncertainly.
“But ever have you failed to understand the depth of her commitment to this gift of hers,” Haldir finished for him, and hissed when a foul-smelling solution was poured over his shoulder to cleanse the wound of dirt. “She sees it as the end of all her woes, all her suffering, and loneliness, and guilt. You do not know all of Dagnir if you do not understand her quest for oblivion, Legolas,” the march-warden said through clenched teeth. “You must learn to embrace even this part of her, or you will drive her away.”
The healer was approaching with another bottle, and Haldir actually blanched. Legolas knelt and placed a fold of his own cloak between Haldir’s teeth, wincing in sympathy when the other elf bit down ferociously against the pain of the caustic liquid poured into the gaping hole in his flesh, causing it to knit instantly, but with immense pain. Haldir jerked and then was still, falling abruptly unconscious.
Legolas carefully moved Haldir to lay on his back on a pallet, arranging his limbs comfortably and even brushing a stray strand of hair from the other elf’s fair forehead. “Your brand of honesty is brutal, Guardian,” he murmured. He stood and took a deep breath, staring over at where Aragorn was finishing up with Buffy, having washed her up a bit and lain her on a pallet of her own. “But if there ever were a time when brutality was needed, this be it.”
Théoden paced in the hall of the keep, his face etched with discouragement. “So much death,” he sighed. “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
Aragorn’s gaze flicked over his companions. Éomer made the rounds of the injured, inquiring after each of them; it was clear he was a fine leader of men. Legolas and Boromir were flanking Buffy’s still-limp form where it lay on a pallet on the floor, and Gimli sharpened his axe with grim determination. Haldir sat across the room, awake once more and almost returned to peak health after the drastic remedy used by his healer, and shooting the odd glance Buffy’s way every once in a while.
As Aragorn watched, a faint glow suffused Buffy’s body, and a barely perceptible motion of her chest made him smile. “There is always hope,” he murmured. Then, louder, “Ride out with me.”
Théoden turned and stared at him in disbelief and growing interest. “What say you?”
“Ride out with me, and meet them,” Aragorn said, stepping forward, his hand out in entreaty. Gimli looked up then, and smiled coldly at the idea of confronting the enemy, instead of sitting there waiting for ruin to come to them.
Théoden’s eyes lit with determination. “For death, and glory.”
How had this man lasted as king so many years? Aragorn wondered. Théoden was as heedlessly passionate and impetuous as a child. He shook his head. “No. For Rohan. For your people.”
“Yes!” Théoden said, pounding his fist into the palm of his other hand. “Yes! The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep one last time!”
“Yes!” bellowed Gimli, caught up in the moment, and ran to the mouthpiece of the massive horn, blowing it with gusto. The sound rumbled and echoed through the keep, making even the walls quiver.
“Now that’s what I call a wake-up call!” Buffy said, propping herself up on one elbow and pushing hair from her face. She looked up at Théoden’s astonished face. “What’s all the hubbub, bub?”
“You are well?” Legolas inquired quietly, helping her to her feet.
“Never better!” she replied, and stood on tiptoes to brush a quick kiss over his face. He didn’t flinch, exactly, but something flickered over his face that made her study him briefly before asking, “How’s Haldir?”
“I am fine,” said that elf from behind her. She turned to him, and he bowed. “I thank you for my life, and wish it had not been at the cost of your own.”
“Don’t mention it,” Buffy demurred with a grin. “My life is pretty damned cheap these days. I’m like a bad penny, you can’t get rid of me.”
“For which we are thankful, Lady,” Théoden said, his eyes still wide. “Can you ride?”
Buffy strapped on her swords. “Oh, yeah,” she said, the light of battle in her eyes. “Let’s kick some hiney.” She glanced at the light streaming in the window, then at Aragorn. “Sunrise on the fifth day,” she reminded him softly. “Think Gandalf will come through?”
He shrugged. “I have to believe so,” he told her. “There is nothing else.”
She nodded, and hugged him. He helped her onto a horse, then mounted his own. Boromir was already seated on Timon, and Gimli clambered onto Arod behind Legolas. Éomer sat, looking as solid as the mountain behind them, on Firefoot, sword already in hand.
Théoden looked around and put on his helm. Satisfied all were ready, he raised his sword. “Let this be the hour when we draw swords together. Fell deeds awake.” He gazed around at those who rode now to almost certain death; a host of men (and woman), in the full flower of their prime. There was no time to think of the certain death that was to be theirs; they had a battle to fight. “Now for wrath! Now for ruin! And a red dawn!” With that, the doors were flung wide and they rode out, weapons flashing in the early morning sunlight. Gimli was having a tough time of it, trying to swing his axe and grip onto Legolas at the same time, so Buffy stuck close to them.
“Gandalf!” she heard Aragorn cry, and looked over to see a white rider on a gleaming silver horse atop the ridge bounding the causeway.
“Erkenbrand is with him!” shouted Théoden.
“To the king!” they heard Erkenbrand call, and the Rohirrim and the White Rider charged down the hill. Surrounded on two sides by mounted warriors, the Uruk-hai’s victory to this point turned, and as more and more of their number fell to the eager blades of Man and Elf (and Dwarf) alike, they began to flee.
“Toward the forest!” Gandalf instructed, and they corralled the retreating Uruks toward the dark and mysterious woods that had somehow appeared overnight. Thinking to escape, the Uruk-hai ran to it eagerly, and soon disappeared into its depths.
“Victory! We have victory!” Théoden yelled, waving his sword joyously over his head, uncaring that black blood showered from it onto the heads of those around him.
Gandalf leaned wearily over the neck of Shadowfax. “Sauron’s wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift,” he intoned. “The battle for Helm’s Deep is over, the battle for Middle-earth is about to begin. All our hopes now lie with two little Hobbits, somewhere in the wilderness.”