The Gift of Death, Part 21
Dawn and Boromir had just woken up and were about to have another go when there came a ferocious pounding on the bedroom door.
“Boromir!” shrieked Pippin’s voice over the pounding. “Dawn! Faramir is wounded! You must come!”
With a bound, Boromir had disentangled himself from Dawn’s limbs and was pulling on his clothes; she merely reached for her gown and pulled it over her head before yanking on her soft boots. He caught her hand in his and pulled her after him as he ran from the room.
“Where is he?” Boromir demanded, raking his fingers through his unruly hair.
“The houses of healing,” Pippin said, then squeaked when the Man caught him up in his arms and began running toward that building.
The city of Minas Tirith was in chaos; its citizens, eyes wide with terror, scurried all over but whether they were running to or from something, Dawn could not tell. A hail of flaming missiles fell upon them, and they flattened themselves against a wall under some eaves for protection, then stomped until their feet were sore to put out the little fires that caught on the wood, the straw, the fabric awnings.
“Tell me… what… happened,” Boromir panted as they ran once more.
“I’m not sure,” Pippin replied, closing his eyes as Boromir narrowly missed barrelling into a large, armour-clad soldier dripping blood from a significant shoulder wound. “The Prince of Dol Amroth bore him back to the gate, and made for the leeches, and they are closeted in a dark room. Denethor refuses to come out.”
“Leeches?” Dawn demanded from behind them, where she laboured hard to keep up with Boromir’s pace. She clutched a hand to her stomach as nausea swelled within her, and knew even without hearing their cries that the Nazgûl had returned. Hazarding a glance skyward, she counted eight of them… where was the ninth?
“Healers,” Pippin explained from his perch on the back of Boromir, because his mount was too busy shouting at the owners of a large, laden cart of supplies that currently blocked their way to move their useless arses or he’d slay them all.
“Honey, calm down,” she admonished him gently, as he was getting very red in the face. “Just go around.”
He turned desperate eyes to her, grateful that she was thinking when he could not, and obediently went around the cart to continue his frantic journey to his brother. Once at the houses of healing, however, he was turned away with no little regret by the guards stationed at the door.
“Denethor, Lord and Steward of Gondor, has forbidden your entrance,” one said apologetically even as he took a firmer grasp on his spear and adjusted his stance to one slightly more threatening. “We cannot let you pass.” Boromir got a certain glint in his eye then, a glint of murder and mayhem, and Dawn hastened to grab his arm and pull him back, murmuring soothing nonsense-words to him.
“Pippin, you go in and stay with Faramir, no matter what!” she commanded the Hobbit. “If anything happens, come get us.” Heartsick, she led her betrothed away to find Gandalf.
They found him in the third circle of the city on yet another of his circuits… he had assumed control of Gondor’s forces in Denethor’s absence, and made it a point to try and keep up the flagging spirits of its people. “But there is too much to do for just one,” he said darkly, his face seeming more lined and aged than ever. He leant heavily on his staff and sighed, then turned to the Prince of Dol Amroth.
“You take the Citadel, and the sixth circle. I shall patrol the fifth, fourth, and third. Boromir,” here he turned to that Man, who was staring hard at the ground, jaw clenched as he pondered this latest betrayal by his father, “You take over the first two. The soldiers are here, and they are your men. You trained them, lead them, ruled them. They know of your father’s folly, and will not fail you now.”
Slightly cheered by being given a task, Boromir nodded briskly and strode off, Dawn at his side, but he was looking straight ahead, mind already whirling with thoughts of what he must do. Her tugging on his arm seemed to startle him, as if he’d forgotten she was there. “Yes, sweet?”
“What can I do?” she asked, eager to be of some assistance, and frowned when he looked about to say something she knew she wouldn’t like. “And let me first inform you, there are two choices here. You can a) tell me how I can help get things ready around here, and I’ll be really happy, or b) you can tell me to go back to the house where it’s safe and wait for you, in which case I’ll slap you so hard your eyeballs switch sockets.” She smiled sweetly at him and waited for his reply.
“Fine,” he grumbled at last, and continued walking, pretending to ignore her as she skipped along beside him, happy to be included. “But if you get hurt, I will tell Dagnir it was your own fault. And she will yell at you, for several weeks at least.”
“I’m willing to take that risk,” Dawn replied happily.
After another quick dash back to the house to put on leggings, a knee-length tunic with slits up the sides to her hips, and sturdier boots, Dawn grabbed her elven pike from where it stood in the corner and ran back to join Boromir at the Great Gate. The shouts and growls of the orcish army had grown in volume, and she knew they were right outside.
“Put this on,” Boromir told her, and handed her a piece of armour. Taking it, she was surprised to realize it was much lighter than it looked.
“What is it?” she asked, struggling to drape it over her shoulders and buckle it into place around her waist.
“Chest-plate of mithril,” he explained. “And my mother’s; she was a shield-maiden of Rohan before she married Denethor. I found it in the armory whilst you changed your clothing.” He nodded in the direction of that building. “Her shield lies there as well, but you cannot use it with a pike.”
Dawn felt tears come to her eyes. “Thank you for trusting me,” she whispered.
He drew her close into his arms for a brief moment. “More than I fear for your life, sweet, I want you to be happy, and I know you would be greatly shamed to sit idly while we others went toward danger. I know because it is how I felt when Denethor banned me from the battlefield earlier this dark day.”
Boromir bent his face to hers then, intending to kiss her, but an immense crashing noise startled them and they sprang apart.
“Holy crap!” Dawn yelled, eyes huge as the Great Gate began to shudder and quake.
“They begin to break it down,” Boromir said grimly. “And we will be here to greet them when they do.”
It wasn’t long before the gate lay in huge splinters on the ground, and the Lord of the Nazgûl rode triumphantly through. The sight that greeted him, however, was not as hospitable as he might have wanted: for there before him stood a young human woman, an exquisitely forged pike held with ease and familiarity as her long, dark hair swirled round her in the wind; the tall and strong elder son of the Steward of Gondor, eyes ablaze with determination as he gripped his sword and shield; and between the two, seated upon a silver-white Meara named Shadowfax, was Mithrandir himself.
“You cannot enter here,” Gandalf informed the Black Captain calmly. But the Nazgûl Lord only laughed at him, and his confidence in his victory sent a chill down Dawn’s spine. There was no face between the neck of his tunic and his crown; how did you fight such an enemy?
“Buffy, where are you?” she whispered. “We need you.”
In the silence that fell, tense and edgy, a rooster crowed. Such a mundane sound, so common it seemed almost obscene, coming as it did in the middle of this extraordinary scene. Oddly, it gave Dawn a bit of hope—roosters had been signalling the coming of morning for time immemorial, and would continue to do so. Come what may, morning would come, and a rooster would crow, and somehow life would go on.
Later, she’d wonder if it were a coincidence, but at the time she was so happy to hear it that it never occurred to her to feel anything but overwhelming relief. No sooner had the rooster’s crow faded into the murky early-morning shadows than a horn sounded in the distance, beyond the walls of Minas Tirith, to the north.
“Great Eru,” Boromir said, face shining with hope and joy. “Rohan has come.”
The emanating evil of the Black Captain seemed to seethe and swell with fury, and without another jeering word he wheeled and flew off.
“Oh, good,” Dawn said fervently. “And the sun is rising, too.” And so it was, the first rays of daybreak creeping over the mountains that loomed to the east. “Can’t say I’m too impressed with his grand entrance. I give it a 7 for style, but 2.5 for actual substance.”
Boromir was climbing onto Timon. “Dawn, will you be with me or Gandalf?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Gandalf,” she replied. “He’ll need my Key-ness.”
The wizard nodded. “I must once more draw on her power to fight the Nazgûl,” he said, and reached out a hand to hoist her behind him. She settled herself and clasped his waist with one arm, stretching out the other toward her betrothed.
“Boromir,” she said, her voice low and urgent. “Whatever happens…”
“Whatever happens, know I love you always,” he replied, stripping off his glove so he could grasp her hand, skin to skin.
Dawn nodded, throat too tight to speak. “I love you,” she mouthed, and then Shadowfax was sprinting away, tearing their hands apart. Her last sight of him was his hungry gaze on her as he spurred Timon to follow, and then she turned resolutely away to face what would come.
The battlefield was a horror, and it was difficult for her to use her pike while remaining seated behind Gandalf—they weren’t weapons designed to be used from horseback. She poked her palm with the tip of her pike, and made a small portal before drawing Gandalf’s attention to it. “Here,” she said. “Enjoy.” Then she hopped down and began to fight in earnest.
It seemed like she fought for hours, but it was probably only one. She couldn’t really tell after a while—the orcs that fell to her pike seemed never-ending, and with the sun gleaming so brightly in her eyes, she couldn’t really see that well. Dawn mumbled yet another ‘thanks’ to Spike for insisting on long hours of practice, for as she continued to fight her movements took on a smoothness, an efficiency—lunge forward and skewer an orc in the throat, tug the pike free and turn as the orc died to skewer another.
Lunge, tug, lunge, tug. It went on and on until her shoulders ached, but she couldn’t let herself stop. She hadn’t seen Boromir since leaving the city, and Gandalf since she dismounted from Shadowfax. Everything was a huge mess, and the piles of stinky orc corpses were truly impressive. She wondered how many of them were dead because of her, and was surprised at how apathetic and, frankly, numb she felt at the question.
Then came the familiar shriek of the Nazgûl, and she could hear Theoden scream for his men to surround him as soldiers fled in terror. Spinning in the king’s direction, hair whipping around, she gaped to see his horse rear up violently and then tumble over backwards, trapping Theoden beneath its bulk.
“Shit,” she muttered then, because the Black Captain was back, and carrying a hella big mace. With him came the debilitating nausea of before, and she swallowed convulsively. “Shit.” Where were all the Rohan soldiers going? Only two remained near their king; a short, slender man and… a Hobbit? Squinting, she gasped to see Merry crawling on his hands and knees.
“Be gone!” the lone soldier commanded, and Dawn’s eyes nearly popped from her head when she recognized the voice: Eowyn. “I will hinder you, if I may.”
The Black Captain laughed then, like he had when he’d entered Minas Tirith. “Hinder me? No man may hinder me!”
Eowyn laughed then, and threw off her helmet, her golden hair streaming down her back in a sunlit torrent. “I am no man.”
A surge of admiration filled Dawn then for Eowyn’s bravery. She had enjoyed her company and appreciated her quiet strength in Edoras and Dunharrow, and liked her even more now. She had seemed somewhat predatory with Aragorn, but Dawn knew what it was like to be stressed out, scared, and then confronted with a really hot guy with loads of manly stubble. She could sympathize with the hormone overload.
I’m probably really being stupid for doing this, she thought even as she did it, but stepped forward to stand by Eowyn’s side. “Neither am I, you big gross old loser.”
Eowyn shot her a disbelieving glance before turning back to their foe. The flying evil-bird-thingy screamed, its funky-smelling spittle flying everywhere, and leapt up to pounce on the women before it. Out of the corner of her eye, Dawn saw Merry begin to crawl his way behind the Nazgûl Lord, and then instinct took over.
The creature’s snapping jaws came just a tad too close for her comfort, and she once more fell into fighting mode. Pulling her pike back as far as she could, Dawn dug in the heels of her boots and flung herself forward, jabbing the weapon at the thing. Its point struck directly in the sinewy flesh of the creature’s throat, and with a garbled, juicy moan of agony it fell like a rock, making her and Eowyn dance backward to avoid being trampled by its corpse.
“Yay me!” Dawn yelled, and pumped a fist into the air. “Who’s your daddy?”
But her triumph was short-lived; the Black Captain disentangled himself from his slain mount and swung at her with his mace. Eowyn tried to hold her shield in front of Dawn, and it deflected the blow a little, but still the shock of the strike sent pain coursing through her as a horrible double-crack of breaking bone and rending shield sounded in the still air, and she fell.
“Shit,’ she said for the third time that morning. “Buffy and Boromir are gonna be so pissed…” The queasiness rose in her again, but she refused to allow herself to puke and propped herself up on the elbow that wasn’t broken to watch what came next.
The Nazgûl Lord turned toward Eowyn, and was just about to smite her with his mace as well when he screamed in pain. Dawn blinked dust from her eyes to see Merry had stabbed him in the leg, and he was staggering just as much from shock as incapacitation. He turned with wrath toward the halfling but before he could take even a step toward Merry, Eowyn was there.
She thrust her sword-point into the empty space beneath his crown, and with a sound like shattering crystal the blade splintered as both he and his killer fell to the ground. Satisfied that they were all three of them safe at last, even though Merry and Eowyn were both unconscious, Dawn grinned happily and allowed herself to pass out.