The Gift of Death, Chapter 28
Traveling toward Mordor, the first few days weren’t so bad. Ithilien was beautiful, heavily wooded and very green. Buffy smiled to see the interest with which Legolas surveyed the area.
“This land reminds me much of my home,” he told her happily. “But, no spiders. A marked improvement.”
Boromir was not so thrilled, however. “I do not like leaving Dawn,” he told Buffy. “Glad I am that Faramir and Merry remain behind to tend her.”
“She’s pregnant, Boromir, not dying,” Buffy reminded him, but he would not be swayed from his worry. “You’re not going to be that way when we’re expecting, are you?” she asked Legolas,
“Probably,” he replied, looking uncomfortable with the question. “When that time comes, in the far, very distant future. Many years from now.”
“He seems alarmed at the idea of being a father,” Haldir murmured, not bothering to hide his grin.
“Well, I’m alarmed at the idea of being a mother,” Buffy shot back. “I’m also alarmed at the idea of you being a father.”
Haldir then alarmed everyone with his outburst of hearty laughter. “As that is a highly unlikely occurrence, Dagnir, there is no need to fear.”
She frowned. “Whyzat, Hal?” she asked. “You’re not gay… I’d know.” She turned to Legolas. “Wouldn’t I know?”
“What is ‘gay’, herves-nîn?”
“Likin’ only the boys,” she elaborated with a grin, and Aragorn flashed a smile of his own over his shoulder, obviously eavesdropping on their conversation.
“I am not gay, as you call it,” Haldir replied with a sniff. “And do not call me Hal.”
“I won’t, if you tell me why you don’t think you’ll ever have kids.”
He sighed deeply, giving the impression that he was very beset upon indeed. “I am the Guardian of the Wood, Dagnir, and shall not be joining my kin in Valinor. Ever have I know it, and there are none who wish to share this fate with me.”
“I think it more accurate, mellon, to say that it is you who do not wish to share this fate with others,” Legolas said quietly. “For I know of several who would stay, or follow, whichever you desired.”
“It matters not,” Haldir said repressively, and steered his mount away toward Elladan and Elrohir.
“Now you have upset him,” Gimli teased Buffy from his place behind Legolas. “Wondering aloud if he were gay… Elves do not appreciate such a question. Do Men take kindly to such an inquiry?” he asked Aragorn.
“Do not ask him, he was raised in Rivendell and is more elf than Man himself,” Boromir called from where he was talking with Imrahil, shooting a saucy grin at the future king, who narrowed his eyes in response.
“Nay, Legolas, Men are no happier than elves to field such a question,” Aragorn replied before playfully eyeing Gandalf. “How deal the Maia with matters such as this?”
The wizard just rolled his eyes and said a rude word under his breath before spurring Shadowfax to a trot, leaving them far behind in a matter of seconds.
“Dwarves are never asked the question,” Gimli mentioned. “I do not know why that is.” He seemed oblivious to the obvious reason; that is, because no one wanted to think about gay Dwarves.
“Yeeeah,” Buffy said slowly, repressing a shudder. “And on that note.” She turned to Aragorn. “I’m worried about some of the men, they seem to get more and more scared the farther north we get.”
He nodded. “I have seen that too. Have you noticed the Nazgûl?” For the remaining of the nine kings of legend had been circling overhead for some hours now, never coming close enough for elven arrows to hit but still near enough to bring ‘unhappy belly rumblins’, as Buffy called them, to the stomachs of all assembled.
Late that day they reached the northern limits of Ithilien, and emerged from the trees to the desolate, wide-open space where the Wetwang met the Dead Marshes. “God, it stinks,” Buffy complained, pinching her nose shut.
“The stench is the least of our problems,” Legolas replied, sensitive nostrils quivering in disgust. “Look you yonder.”
Obediently, she turned to see a goodly number of the soldiers having a very bad reaction to the swamp. Some were muttering to themselves, eyes darting in panic all around; others had wrapped their arms tightly around their waists and rocked from side to side. The most affected, however, simply dropped to their knees and wept. And far above, the Nazgûl swooped and swirled, the cawing shrieks of their devil-mounts echoing off the clouds.
“This will not do,” Aragorn said with great sadness, and looked pensive. “I will send them south once more, to Cair Andros, where they might take back that island for Gondor.” He considered a moment. “I will send Boromir to lead them.”
Buffy knew he’d chosen Boromir because going to Cair Andros was safer; she’d have protested, except she kind of agreed. Boromir had more than only Faramir to think about now, more than just Dawn. Best to keep him in one piece, if possible. And so Boromir was sent off with these several hundred men, grumbling and glancing suspiciously at Buffy, who only smiled brightly and waved at him.
The next day was spent in silence, as the growing gloom seemed to press ever closer the more they drew near to Mordor. Finally they reached the end of the Udun valley, and the Black Gates rose before them. With a last deep breath, the Captains of the army progressed, accompanied by heralds, flag-bearers, and trumpeters. The closer they came, the more happy Buffy was to feel Pippin’s arms around her waist as he rode behind her.
The heralds shouted over and over for Sauron to appear, but silence was their only reply. “Getting bored,” Buffy mumbled, and peered skyward to see if she could spot any of the Nazgûl. She jolted in surprise, then, when a rumble of drums began from far behind the gates. No sooner had she gotten used to that sound when another joined it: a harsh, raucous blaring of horns that made her eardrums tingle in pain. With a crash, the door to the gate was flung wide.
“Who’s tall, dark, and fugly?” she asked Aragorn, but he only shook his head absently, not taking his eyes from the black-clad figure as it came forward, spewing insults. Long moments were spent thus, in the staring contest to end all staring contests, and finally the dark ambassador broke the gaze.
“I have things to show you,” the Messenger sneered, recovering from his discomfit and reaching for a bundle held toward him by one of his guard. Slowly, dramatically, he held aloft each item as he unwrapped it. First was Sam Gamgee’s little sword, then a small grey cloak one of them had received in Lórien. Lastly, and most worrying, was the mithril-coat that had saved Frodo’s life in Moria. Behind Buffy, Pippin sobbed in anguish.
“Name the terms that Sauron would have,” Gandalf demanded, his voice carrying clearly in the steamy, smoking air. Sauron was a greedy bugger, it would seem; he wanted to rule everything west of the Anduin, including Mirkwood (Legolas tensed at that) and receive tribute from every land between that Great River and the Misty Mountains (Eomer and Haldir tensed at that).
It was patently ridiculous, and Gandalf lost no time in telling him so, but grabbed the cloak, mail, and sword and thrust them at Pippin. The halfling hugged them close, burying his face in them as he continued to weep. Furious, the Messenger seemed to undergo some sort of wrath-induced seizure before wheeling round and galloping back to the gate. Before he had even cleared it, however, the gates opened and a multitudinous army poured out.
There was little time to prepare; Aragorn took one flank of their forces, and Gandalf the other. “Rohan and Dol Amroth with me!” cried the wizard, brandishing his staff aloft, while Aragorn called, “Gondor, to me!”
Buffy cast a last glance toward Aragorn, silently telling him to be careful even as the Dunedain and Haldir’s elves gathered around her, for it had been decided that she would lead the frontal assault. She cast her gaze on each of her friends in turn.
“Be careful, and watch out for each other,” she shouted to be heard above the din. “Hold tight, Gimli and Pippin. If you fall off the horses, you’re screwed.” Those two nodded their fervent agreement. There was scarcely a moment for her to mouth “I love you” to Legolas one last time before the orcs were upon them.
Buffy flung herself into the fray. She had liked the performance she’d gotten from the big axe during the last battle, and so wielded it again. Pippin was simply too small to accomplish much, so she had to protect him as much as take down the enemy, but she found his presence comforting. And he was handy, too, because he kept shouting, “Watch out!” and “To the right, Dagnir!” just in time to prevent her from taking an arrow or sword-blow.
She fought her way right up to the very gates themselves, and could tell from the avid expression on Pippin’s face that he wanted to take down the Messenger as much as she did. “Let’s—“ she began, eyes glinting with zeal, but before she could continue an extremely big hand reached out from the gate’s door toward her.
Buffy meant to maneuver out of the way, really she did, but one of the Nazgûl lurking overhead dipped perilously close just then and she was overcome with a wave of paralyzing fear and nausea. Only the sound of Pippin’s frightened shouts calling for her to rally helped her retain consciousness. Unfortunately, merely being conscious wasn’t going to help the situation, as she quickly learned when the huge hand was followed out of the gate by an equally immense body. “Hill-troll,” she muttered in disgust.
“Dagnir,” it addressed her in its growly rumble, thinking she’d greeted it. “Supposed to be dead.” Its body odor alone was enough to knock a lesser person out (Pippin was listing seriously to starboard and looking almost as green as the troll’s skin) but it was even uglier than it was smelly, with great tufts of reddish-black hair sprouting from its long, skinny ears and cavernous nostrils.
“I may be dead but I’m still pretty.” She hacked at its wrist as it reached for her once more, but the nausea was really debilitating her, and she was dizzy besides, and where the hell was Legolas? “Which is more than I can say for you.”
Gimli cried out in pain not far away, and Buffy forced her eyes to focus. What she saw when the world stopped spinning didn’t make her feel any better: rivulets of blood were streaming down Gimli’s face and he was swinging his axe wildly in one hand while he used the other to press against the gash in his forehead. Before him on Arod, Legolas was doing his best to repel his own troll, but the creature’s arms were so long that the short weapons were almost ineffective.
Distracted by her concern for them, she didn’t comprehend Pippin’s scream of warning until it was too late and their troll had grabbed her round the middle, hefting her from the saddle so quickly that she dropped her axe. It landed on the troll’s foot and he howled in pain so loudly she thought her eardrums would burst. The troll swung her around like a rag doll, making her dizzier and preventing her from getting a firm grip on its ears as she would have liked, so she could snap its neck. Then the troll slammed her against the gate and everything went dark for a moment.
Blinking to focus, she saw Pippin standing on their horse’s back trying desperately to stab the troll. Buffy decided enough was enough and swung out with her legs as best she could, locking them around the Hobbit and lifting until she could grab him by the scruff of the neck.
“Aim for the eyes,” she told him breathlessly, and thrust him toward the troll’s hideous face, but it was prepared for such a tactic and kept moving its head and blinking. Pippin exhaled impatiently and with a vicious jab, jammed his sword right up the troll’s nose.
The troll’s roars of rage stopped abruptly, and he went stock-still. Then, with a howl that made the very hills around them shake, he dropped Buffy, who dropped Pippin, and staggered back to slam against the gate, yanking desperately to remove the sword from where it was lodged into the cartilage shielding his brain.
Buffy grabbed three things in short order: her axe, Pippin, and their horse’s reins. Then she clambered hastily back into the saddle and spared only one last glance to make sure the troll was, indeed, in the throes of death before wheeling around to help Legolas and Gimli. “Good work, Pippin!” she told him breathlessly.
“But I have lost my sword,” he replied sadly, clutching her tightly around the middle in his fright as a Nazgûl swooped low over them. Buffy wasn’t sure, but she thought that the thing it was riding on might have drooled down the back of her neck.
“We’ll make do without it,” she told him, hewing at the back of Legolas’ troll. “My axe is getting dull,” she complained.
“Severing vertebrae will do that to an axe,” Gimli agreed, using his own more as a blunt force weapon than a chopping tool; after hours of battle, its edge was nearly gone. His head wound had slowed to a trickle and though his face was smeared with blood, the grin he sent her way was cheery enough to make her stop worrying about him.
A scream split the air, thin and high, and sent tendrils of unease skidding down their spines like an icy finger. Buffy looked up to find no fewer than three Nazgûl darting directly toward them, the razor-sharp talons of their mounts extended as if to snatch them up bodily and carry them away.
Before the one pelting toward Buffy could grab her, however, she pulled herself to stand on her saddle and leapt up to grab around the creature’s ankle with one hand while the other brought her axe over and over to slice and cut at its underbelly.
With a shrill caw the beast flapped its mighty wings and rose into the sky; its rider hung over the side to try and reach Buffy with his spiked mace. She jerked to the left, narrowly missing having her cranium perforated. I’m now thirty feet in the air, and he’s gonna hit me eventually, she thought miserably. Thinking fast, she looked down and saw she was almost directly overhead where Legolas and Gimli continued to battle their troll.
Just as the Nazgûl swung at her with enough force to knock her head clean off her shoulders, Buffy took a deep breath and released her hold on the winged one’s leg. There was a moment of stillness, of weightlessness, as she fell and then with a thump she was where she’d expected: sitting squarely on the troll’s shoulders.
It was, needless to say, quite shocked and so barely protested when she started slamming her axe into its face. It recovered quickly, however, and began to reach over its head at the hindrance seated atop it. “Go for the eyes!” she found herself yelling once more as she grabbed hold of a greasy clump of ear-hair to retain her perch. “Or the nose! Anything, just kill it!”
Legolas lunged forward then, and thrust his dagger deeply into the troll’s eye; with a gruesome pop it deflated, spewing thick fluid in all directions. Bellowing in torment, the troll stopped trying to claw Buffy off its back and struck out blindly.
Pippin gave a wordless sob of alarm; Buffy took that to mean the Nazgûl was making yet another pass toward her. This troll was sturdier than the other; Legolas had taken out its other eye as well but still it fought on. “My daggers are too short,” he lamented, and began searching the ground for a discarded longsword.
“Take your time looking, honey,” Buffy shouted with a trace of sarcasm. “I’ll just hang on and— ow, dammit—get beat on, ‘kay?” She clung to its neck, still slapping at it with her dull axe, wondering if she should stop trying to keep from puking and just yack all over it.
The decision was rendered pointless, however, when Legolas came up with a spear and threw it with breathtaking accuracy into the hollowed-out socket of the troll’s eye. It arched its back in a paroxysm of agony, flinging Buffy off at last, before falling over like a felled tree.
“Timber,” she shouted gleefully. Then she bent over and threw up. Gimli took the spear from Legolas and guarded her back while the elf placed himself and his daggers between his wife and the battling orcs surrounding them. Pippin tossed a flask of water over their heads to her when she was finished, and she was very glad to rinse her mouth.
“Better now,” she announced, and pilfered a sword from the corpse of a fallen Rohirrim. “We have to get back on our horses, or we’re toast.” Astride once more, Legolas suggested they make their way back to Aragorn. Slowly, inexorably, they pushed through the teeming masses, and as an unholy shriek heralded the attack of all eight Nazgûl, Buffy was very happy there was nothing left for her to upchuck.
Stuck as they were in the midst of a melée, there was really nothing to be done, and she’d resigned herself to grabbing another Nazgûl ankle when another shriek was heard… and this one brought a sense of not despair, but hope.
“The Eagles are coming!” someone shouted, and the cry was taken up around the battlefield until it was on the lips of everyone. For far above, speeding toward them with incredible velocity, flew an absolute squadron of the biggest damned birds Buffy had ever seen. It didn’t take long for the eagles to drive the Nazgûl away into the dark shadows of Mordor beyond the Black Gate, and as the skies emptied once more the men of Gondor, Rohan, and Dol Amroth took heart. Inspired, hopeful, they pressed forward against their enemy and for the first time since the battle had begun, the tide turned in their favour.
Buffy, Legolas, Gimli, and Pippin spurred their horses into a canter; eager to reach Aragorn, and Legolas had just pointed to where the Man sat astride, his sword flashing silver and white in the gloom, when the ground beneath them gave a mighty heave. Pillars of smoke and shadow shot up into the sky, and the gates crumbled apart with a wrenching whine as metal was rent asunder.
Pippin buried his face in Buffy’s back. She wished there was a back she could bury her own face in, and thought whimpering might well be in order as well, but had to settle for staring wide-eyed at the spontaneous destruction around her.
“The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his quest!” Gandalf cried above the din, and a shout of joy rose from the throats of those assembled. “The realm of Sauron is ended!”
Terrified by this sudden change in plans, the orc-army panicked and broke ranks. They began to flee, and utter confusion reigned. Buffy and the others arrived at Aragorn’s side in time to see Gandalf climb onto one of the eagles and fly away. She climbed off the horse and lifted Pippin to stand beside her; Legolas and Gimli dismounted as well, and she kissed her husband lingeringly before turning to Aragorn and hugging him fiercely.
“He did it,” Aragorn said, eyes gleaming with triumph. “Frodo did it!”
“I doubted it not,” said Legolas.
“Nor I,” Pippin added, very pleased his kinsman was a hero and had saved them all.
“I doubted it plenty,” Gimli said. “But I am glad I was wrong.”
They all turned to Buffy, waiting for her input; but she was staring into the sky where Gandalf had disappeared into the dreary land of Mordor. She realized they were staring at her, and frowned.
“Do I have a really bad concussion, or was that huge bird really talking to Gandalf?”
herves-nîn = my wife