Author’s Notes: A longer chapter, this has over 3k words… usually I try to keep it between 2250 and 2750. Tell me if this seems too lengthy?
Every time I type the word ‘commodore’ I keep hearing Lionel Ritchie singing ‘Three Times a Lady’, and it makes me giggle. “And I luuuuuurve yooooooouuuuuu…”
If any of y’all are interested in what the hell I’m talking about when I mention the various bits of a ship, go here: http://home1.gte.net/ikvamar/navlinks/shipview.htm. That’s where I got all the names. It’s got diagrams.
Reading is good. Reviewing is better. Constructive criticism is best. And don’t you care enough to give the very best?
The Gift of Death, Part 18
Morning dawned, and there was no sun, and Legolas seemed to grow ever more despondent until even Buffy was starting to feel bad for him.
“It is not just you that troubles him,” Haldir assured her. “Nor even the lack of sunlight.” The severe expression on his face said that he was not overly sad that his fellow elf suffered; in Haldir’s opinion, any elf who gave up on a fine love without even trying was not worth the lembas he ate.
That wasn’t much of an explanation, Buffy thought, and said as much.
“It’s the gulls,” her friend elaborated. “They sing of the sea, and I do not know of an elf besides myself who can resist their call.”
“You do not feel their pull?” asked Elrohir (at least, Buffy thought it was Elrohir). “How is that possible?”
Haldir shrugged elegantly. “I did not become march-warden and Guardian of the Golden Wood simply because I was had naught else to do,” he replied with a smirk. “Lorien gave me life, it strengthens me, and provides for me. I can do naught else but protect it, until the last time I draw breath. I have no desire to leave it, ever.”
He looked to the north then, toward where his home lay across the mountains and plains. “Even now, I can hear it call to me like the gulls to any other elf… I am incomplete when I am not there, and the waiting to be back pains me like a physical wound.”
Buffy stared at him in fascination. This was a side of Haldir she’d never seen—he must miss his home a lot if it made him forget his usual silent reserve and start blabbing about his private thoughts. She was also more than a little jealous, though she was loathe to admit it—she’d never really had a home, not Los Angeles, certainly not Sunnydale. Caras Galadhon was the closest she’d ever come to really liking a place, and even then, it was still foreign. It welcomed her, but was not her home.
A shout from ahead caught her attention, and she faced forward to see yet another group offering themselves for battle. This would make the third bunch of men from the tiny villages they passed: a dozen from one, two dozen from another… This set seemed to barely contain ten men, and they were only armed with the most rudimentary weapons, like pitchforks and clubs, yet the light of battle was in their eyes. They were willing to die for what they believed in, and that made them formidable warriors, to Buffy’s way of thinking. Passion would triumph over cold skill any day.
Behind them, the Shadow Host was still following. The elves were immune to them, the humans unnerved but bearing up well. Poor Gimli, however, was completely freaked out and Buffy tried as best she could to comfort him. She’d coaxed him into telling her more than anyone ever wanted to know about Dwarven metalworking techniques, but it seemed to take his mind off things, so she just kept nodding and smiling as he yapped on.
Then the scout Aragorn had sent ahead came back. “Not two leagues ahead,” he began, breathless from his exertions. “The entire fleet of Umbar, each with black sails unfurled.”
“Pirates?” Buffy piped up, interested, but everyone frowned at her, and she slumped back to pout. Legolas and the twins, however, seemed enchanted by the idea of huge ships, no matter that they flew the Jolly Roger. Already, she could see their noses twitching, trying so hard to smell the salt air that they strongly resembled rabbits.
“Pirates,” Gimli grumbled from his perch behind her on the horse. “Demons, dead people coming back to life, trees that talk, Uruk-hai, girls jumping through portals, ghostly specters, and now pirates. I wonder what I have done to so offend the great Eru that he would punish me so.”
“Tis but your axe-skill and loyalty that have brought you to this sad end, sir dwarf,” Aragorn told him with a faint grin. “Were you lazy, or talentless, or cowardly, you could be home right now in your mountain, feasting on haunches of beef and as much ale as you could hold without floating away.”
Gimli heaved a great sigh, his breath gusting over the back of Buffy’s neck. “It has ever been my downfall,” he said modestly, and she rolled her eyes. God, she was bored. What she wouldn’t give for a Gameboy, or even a book, thus proving the depth of her desperation… there was nothing to look at, here in the plains of Lebennin. Everything was blackened and trampled, and very depressing in general.
As they drew closer to the Anduin, which Aragorn called the Great River, the scent of the sea became more pungent and Legolas began to look positively feverish, his eyes glowing eagerly for his first glimpse of the ships. “I see them,” he said at long last, gaze fixed due east, and the twins snapped their heads around.
“Yes,” agreed Elladan (Buffy thought). “At least fifty strong, both large and small.” He turned to Aragorn. “What mischief have you in your pocket, that we will be able to defeat them?”
And Aragorn just grinned at his foster-brother. “Doubt me not, Elrohir,” was all he said, and Buffy frowned that she’d once again wrongly identified the twin.
“Do not grimace so,” Haldir whispered beside her. “He too only guesses which is which. It was mere luck that he was right this time.”
“And how is it that you know which is which?” she asked him archly.
He only raised a brow. “I am an elf,” he replied, as if that explained everything.
“Oh, yeah,” said Buffy. “I had actually forgotten for 10 seconds. Thanks for reminding me, Hal.”
He glowered. “Do not call me that, Buffy,” he snapped.
“Would you prefer I call you Oscar?” she asked sweetly, and somehow Haldir managed to frown even deeper.
“I would not,” he said with dignity, and spurred his horse a smidgen further ahead, nose in the air, Buffy’s laughter following him.
When they arrived finally at the Anduin it was still black as pitch and only the small pools of light thrown by the torches illuminated their surroundings. Buffy was intensely glad of her Slayer-vision, and knew the elves were equally thrilled to have their special sight as well.
“What do you see?” Aragorn asked, his voice low in her ear as they dismounted and stood to survey what would become a field of battle.
She squinted a little. “I see a huge bunch of boats tied up at rickety docks, probably all loaded with nasty, unwashed Corsairs,” she replied. “Wouldn’t seem to rate high in the ‘fun places to hang out in Middle-Earth’ guidebook.” She squinted harder. “They can see us too, thanks to the torches.”
Aragorn immediately motioned for them to be doused, but she waved her hand. “Naw, don’t bother. They know we’re here, and they’re laughing at us.”
“Laughing?” queried Elrohir (she was positive it was him, this time). “Why would they laugh at us?”
“Perhaps because we are a force a quarter their size, and consist mostly of peasants armed with farm implements, Elladan?” Haldir replied testily. Buffy swore under her breath—wrong twin, again. She was thisclose to making them wear signs around their necks. Elladan narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to reply in kind.
“Enough,” Aragorn admonished mildly. “Let us first slay our foes, before we begin slaying each other.”
“Good plan,” Buffy agreed. “Listen, Strider, I have an idea.” She pulled him away from the others, not wanting them to hear in case her brilliant idea actually sucked. “I was thinking, there’s no way we can win this if we have to go on the offensive against all of them, but if we can somehow make some of them leave the boats, we can ambush them and take them down easily.”
He was still listening, stroking his stubbly chin in consideration. “We can plant small groups around the docks, and attack when they disbark.” She nodded. “And I think I know a way to make them do just that.”
With that, he went to the front of their group and began to shout. “Now come! By the Black Stone, I call you!” It took Buffy a second to figure out he was summoning the ghosts. The living pulled away, as far as they could, while the dead swarmed around their king. Aragorn was doing a fair job of pretending he wasn’t thoroughly unnerved by the presence of so many shades completely surrounding him. “Drive them away!” he commanded them, and there wasn’t the slightest tremor in his voice. “Cast them into the sea!”
And the Shadow Host left them, all turned resolutely toward their quarry. The faint laughing Buffy and the elves could hear in the distance began to fade as the ghosts approached the ships, Aragorn’s forces following behind, until the only sound was the slapping of waves upon the rickety docks and stony shore. For a long, endless moment, there was silence.
And then all hell broke loose.
As the first specters reached the docks and began climbing aboard, shrieks of fright became screams of horror, and the pirates began to flee any way they could—running back away from the pursuing ghosts, they ran back and forth on the decks until they were cornered, and then jumped into the swirling black depths below.
Those who managed to leave the ships, or swim to shore, were met by an angry mob of peasants wielding their pitchforks with great ire. Aragorn motioned for Buffy, Gimli, and the elves to hold back. “This is their fight,” he said. “It is their land that has been ravished, their people who have been abused. Let them have their vengeance.”
Once their foes had been dispersed, however, and it was time to take control of the fleet, they made the unpleasant realization that it had only been the slaves and common seamen who’d fled their ships—the hardened sailors and officers had not been much phased by the confrontation of a company of ghosts, and had merely laughed them away.
“We need those ships,” Aragorn muttered. “We cannot allow them to remain in the control of Sauron.”
“Then let’s go get them,” Buffy replied grimly, adjusting her grip on the sword she held in one hand, and the axe she held in the other. “Split up, put at least one elf and one Ranger in each raiding party.”
Aragorn nodded, liking her plan. Buffy felt the air move behind her, and knew instinctively that Haldir had stepped to her side. “Legolas, Gimli, with me,” he told those two. “Halbarad, with Elladan…” he continued pairing them off until there was a small company for each of the largest ships. “And we go!”
As one, they advanced upon their respective targets. Buffy gazed up at the rigging with speculation, making Haldir quite nervous.
“What are you going to do?” he asked with great apprehension as she tucked the handle of the axe in her belt and sheathed her sword.
“She flies through the air with the greatest of ease,” she sang, very off-key, and bounced a little on the swaybacked gangplank, at the end of which were massed a sizeable group of Corsairs all waiting to begin the bloodshed. She began to bounce harder and then suddenly launched herself with a mighty leap trampoline-style, sailing up and reaching out to grab a dangling rope. “The daring young chick on the flying trapeze,” she finished, then, “Dammit.”
She was just a bit too high, and there was no time to climb lower, as the Corsairs had attacked the others. Tying the rope around her ankle, she pulled out her axe and let herself drop to hang upside-down. “Now we’re cooking with gas!” she exclaimed happily, and lopped off her first head.
“Dagnir!” Haldir shouted. “Idiot girl!” He dismembered one, then two enemies, trying to push his way through the mass of fighting bodies to her. “The rope is slipping!”
And so it was. Buffy could feel it loosen even as she swung the axe at a particularly ugly sailor. This is not of the good, she thought, trying to gauge exactly how far she was from the deck (about twenty feet) and if she would be able to land on someone soft and squishy (doubtful). Then the rope gave up its last bit of grip around her ankle, and Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, resigning herself to bruises on her backside, splinters, and quite possibly the mother of all concussions.
She felt nothing around her for a brief, thrilling moment, and then a hard arm grabbed her round the waist and pulled her tight to an all-too-familiar body. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring right into the brilliant blue gaze of Legolas. He was holding onto a rope from the next ship over, and had obviously swung from it to save her.
His face was absolutely extraordinary-looking, even more so than usual, because it held none of the typical expressions. Buffy was used to Neutral!Legolas, Amused!Legolas, Angry!Legolas, even Aroused!Legolas from that lone clinch they’d had in Edoras prior to the battle at Helm’s Deep. But this was a Legolas she had never encountered, and not only was she hard-put to recognize it, she could hardly believe it.
Because this was Legolas-in-love, and he was staring at her like he wanted nothing more than kiss her for a few centuries.
“Way to go, Tarzan,” she said, forcing some cheer into her voice. “You saved me.”
“I will always save you, Dagnir,” he told her seriously, as if they weren’t dangling thirty feet above the ground by his arm, and she hadn’t called him some strange name that was not his own. “I will always come for you. Even if you do not want me to.” He looked down then, as if embarrassed, or ashamed. “I will never turn from you again.”
Before Buffy could reply to this astonishing statement, however, Haldir’s none-too-dulcet tones sounded from below. “If it is not too much of an imposition,” he yelled up at them, and cut down a huge bald guy clad only in ragged trousers and a peg leg, “Do you think you might resolve your problems at a later date?” Another chap, sporting a quite unfortunate set of blackened teeth, met the edge of the march-warden’s blade and crumpled with a cry of pain. “Perhaps when we are not in the midst of a pitched battle?” His last words were heavily laced with sarcasm and a total lack of patience.
“An excellent idea, Guardian,” shouted Aragorn from his ship, where he was clashing swords with its captain. “Couldn’t agree more. Your assistance would not be amiss here, Legolas.”
Familiar laughter could be heard from the opposite end of Aragorn’s ship. “No, do not worry yourselves,” Gimli called to them, masterful arcs of his axe taking out entire clusters of men at a time. “If it means you two will cease making cow-eyes at each other, I will gladly fight by myself to the death.”
Buffy felt herself blushing, and looked away from Legolas, only to find that he had buried his face against her hair. “Forgive me,” he whispered, kissing her ear, then pulled back to meet her eyes. “Forgive me?”
“I—I’ll have to think about it,” she replied uncertainly. Not the best of times to really have a good ponder about her love life, after all.
He nodded solemnly. “Perhaps this will assist you in your decision,” he murmured, and lowered his mouth to hers.
Oh, this was heaven, she thought dreamily as the sounds of the battle below faded into nothingness. All that existed were what she could feel and smell: her body tight to his, silken hair spilling over her hands around his neck, his satin lips and velvet tongue caressing her mouth while that amazing scent of his swirled around them, wrapped them in a private cocoon…
“Dagnir!” cried someone from below, and something bounced off her ass with a solid thunk to land with an even more solid thunk to the deck below.
Frowning, she pulled away and squinted down. “I’m gonna ask you this once, and then I’m gonna get testy,” she hollered, her hands coming away from Legolas to grab the rope. “Did you just throw a peg leg at me?” she demanded of Haldir, starting to climb down. “Did you?” Once she had both feet on the deck, she swung on the end of Legolas’ rope to slingshot him back to Aragorn’s ship.
“Would I do that?” he asked with a smirk, and disarmed his opponent with an almost casual flick of his wrist.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “In a heartbeat, you would.”
Haldir turned away, nose lifted to the stratosphere. “Hmpf.”
“It was me,” confessed Elrohir (she was sure it was him! He was wearing that green tunic that he’d had on when Gimli had called him Elrohir!) from behind her, and shot an arrow over her shoulder to take out a short, fat Corsair running at them with murder in his beady little eyes. “We have subdued our ship, and Elrohir stands on the bow, ready to command it.” He pointed two ships over, and Buffy saw his twin as described, foot resting majestically on the base of the bowsprit while the wind blew his hair back in a most dramatic way.
“So you’re Elladan, then?” she asked grumpily, and swiped her axe idly at a gangly sailor wearing an eye patch, then watching him fall. The elf only nodded serenely at her, and she scowled. “Gonna make one of your dye your hair purple, or something,” she said, turning to engage another foe before realizing that eye-patch-guy had been the last.
“To me!” Aragorn bellowed from his ship. As the largest, it not only had the greatest number of sailors on it, but the best and most experienced fighters, and the commodore of the fleet as well. The Ranger was currently engaging that man in combat, and as he’d been fighting for a while already and the commodore was relatively fresh, Aragorn wasn’t doing so well.
Elladan eyed the ropes above, as if considering Legolas’ preferred method of travel, but Haldir grabbed the dark elf’s arm and yanked him along toward the gangplank. “Dagnir?” the march-warden prompted when he saw her studying the ropes as well. “Do not even think it.”
“Not gonna use the ropes,” she protested, looking a little like a sulky child who’d gotten caught being naughty. He nodded and continued to drag Elladan behind him, and so did not see Buffy take a running leap across the deck, jump into a handstand, and spring herself across the expanse of water to land, with only a split-second’s wobble, precisely in the centre of the fo’c’sle beside Gimli.
“Two axes are better than one, lass,” the dwarf said, his grin gleaming through his beard, and together they cleared the foredeck. “Thanks to you, I have over double the number of kills as that elf,” Gimli informed her happily, nodding toward the crow’s nest of the mizzenmast, where Legolas sat calmly picking off sailors with his bow. Sensing their gaze upon him, he gifted them with a glorious smile, and resumed his archery.
“To me!” Aragorn roared again, sounding distinctly cross this time, and Buffy and Gimli made their way to the very rear of the ship where the Ranger was still battling the commodore. With the three of them combining their talents, the swarthy man soon fell to them.
“And then there was none!” Buffy said in triumph, pushing a sweaty hank of hair off her face. God, what she wouldn’t give for a bath… even the murky water below was looking kind of enticing.
“Do not consider it, Dagnir,” Aragorn told her, and for a moment she was tempted to jump right in just to tease him, but there was a deep weariness on his face that stopped her. He was leaning heavily on his sword, its point on the deck, and gazing around him at his remaining men (and woman). “What are our losses?”
“One elf injured, Halbarad and another Ranger killed, a score of peasants dead,” Haldir informed him promptly, his face dispassionate, proving again why he was the most trusted warrior of elfdom.
“And the enemy?” Aragorn inquired.
“Decimated,” Haldir replied, this time with a slow smile of satisfaction, proving again why he was the most deadly warrior of elfdom. “The fleet is ours.”
Aragorn found a smile within himself, as well. “Excellent.” He looked around at the similarly exhausted faces surrounding him. “We shall rest now until morning, though I know not how we shall know it is the start of day. One elf, one Ranger, and a handful of Men on each ship, if you please; I do not want any of the Corsairs finding their courage and thinking to regain what they have lost.”
The crowd dispersed gratefully, speaking in low voices that held none of the disheartened, dampened spirits they had prior to the battle. It would seem that it had not only served to gain them a mighty fleet of ships, but also to dispel the pessimism of the infantry and strengthen their faith not only in their leader, but in themselves.
“A masterful conflict, Estel,” one of the twins told his foster-brother (Buffy decided to give up on figuring out which was which). “Elrond would indeed be proud of you.”
“Screw Elrond,” Buffy said with a grin. “What would Arwen think?” And she laughed at the sight of their mighty leader and future monarch blushing furiously under his stubble.
“Enough teasing of the king,” chastised Legolas teasingly, and his gentle smile was all for her. She lifted uncertain eyes to him. “Will you walk with me? For I would talk with you, if you will come.”
Painfully aware of Aragorn, Haldir, and Gimli watching them, she ducked her head. “I—not tonight,” she told his boots. “And maybe not tomorrow.” She looked up. “I need more time.”
“As much as you need, I will give you,” he promised, and lifted her hand to his lips. She tried to pull away, as she was very dirty and sweaty, but he would not let her escape, and the warm brush of his mouth on her fingers almost made her shriek and fling her arms around him.
I’m the Slayer, she chanted over and over to herself as he looked up over her hand, silvery lashes lowered over eyes the colour of the midday sky. The Slayer is strong, the Slayer does not cave in just because a gorgeous elf is.. oh, God, he’s running his tongue over my wrist…
“That, surely, is quite enough, do you not agree?” Gimli asked mildly as he watched them.
“Let us hope,” Haldir grumped from behind him. “For I feel my dinner wanting to revisit me, and would keep it where it presently resides.”
With a last smile at Buffy, Legolas loped down the gangplank to meet up with a Ranger, with whom he would preside over a ship and small bunch of peasants on one of the smaller ships.
“Gimli,” Buffy began shakily, “Did I just imagine this whole night?” She passed a hand over her forehead. “I had another weird sleep hallucination thingy, didn’t I?”
He only smirked at her, and Haldir wrapped his arm her shoulder. “Let us return to our own ship, Dagnir.” Looking over at the next ship, he saw Legolas glaring daggers at him, and smiled widely at that elf.
“Will you be my first mate, Hal?” she asked with a playful grin, aware of who watched and thought perhaps seeing her flirt outrageously with someone else might be very good for him.
And Haldir obviously thought it a terrific plan as well, because waggled his golden eyebrows at her energetically. “If it will make Legolas grind his teeth like he is doing, I will be anything you like, Dagnir.”
“Please do not tell me you will keep us awake into the early hours of the morning, like you did for poor Dawn back in Caras Galadhon,” groaned Gimli. “I, for one, would like a decent night’s sleep without having to endure Legolas pouting when we awake.”