Author’s Note: y’all might recognize a certain quote during this chapter… I couldn’t help using it, as it’s one of my all-time favourites.
This is the last chapter, folks. I can’t tell you how surprised I am not only at how popular this story has become, but how much I’ve fallen in love with it myself. You’ve all been instrumental in developing and completing it, and if I could hug you all personally, I would. I’ll just have to settle for teasing you with the promise of a sequel in the next few months.
Thank you so much.
The Gift of Death, Chapter 32
At Edoras, Theoden was laid to rest beside his son. Theodred’s grave was still somewhat fresh, with only a few bits of grass growing over it yet, and there was something grotesque about digging another so soon after the first. Eomer and Eowyn clung to each other as their uncle was lowered into the ground, but Merry stood alone, disconsolate, and dropped a fat pouch of pipe-weed on the shroud-wrapped form below.
“As a father to me, you were, Theoden! Farewell!”
Eomer was crowned king of Rohan, and at the feast thereafter he announced Eowyn’s betrothal to Faramir. Eowyn stood tall, every inch the noblewoman and lady she’d seemed that first glimpse Buffy had had of her, but the brittleness that had made Buffy wary was gone, especially when she looked upon her betrothed. Faramir, for his part, couldn’t seem to stop smiling, which was nice to see because he was somewhat of a more serious man than his brother, and given much to introspection.
“Brooders,” Buffy muttered under her breath. She had plenty of experience with brooders; Angel’s King of Pain act had been the classic and definitive example. Denethor’s final actions had marked Faramir deeply, and Boromir had been worried about him. She watched him that day, saw him so happy, and knew that her newest brother would not succumb to his sorrow.
“Gah,” she said to Legolas, who turned from his conversation with Gimli to attend her. “I’m becoming some kind of deeply philosophical wise-woman. I think you elves are a bad influence on me.”
Across the table, Celeborn’s eyes lit up. “Philosophy?” he asked in delight. “I have just finished reading—“ He was cut off by his wife’s gentle hand on his arm.
“Dearest, let us go speak with our granddaughter,” she said in her tranquil voice and bestowed a glorious smile upon him. Celeborn heaved the sigh of the long-married husband and rose, holding out his hand to Galadriel and shooting an exasperated glance around him.
“Don’t worry, Celeborn, some day you’ll find someone else to nerd around with,” Buffy told him cheekily, laughing when he quirked a silver brow and led Galadriel in Arwen’s direction. “Weird,” she said to no one in particular. “Never thought elves could be geeks.”
As it turned out, elves could also have temper tantrums. When it came time to depart for those who would carry on the journey, and for Arwen and Elrond to say goodbye (for she would go no further than Edoras) they had the elven equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out fight. To Buffy’s disappointment, hardly a sound could be heard from the room where father and daughter closeted themselves (elven slobberknockers being very much like regular conversations but with loads more tension), but when it was over they emerged with eyes were bright and hard, and red spots of colour on their fair cheeks.
Their party, minus Faramir now as well, continued on to Helm’s Deep. “It is time for you to fulfill your end of the bargain, elf!” Gimli cried, referring to the promise they had made the first time they had been at that fortress: to show the other what they found beautiful in their native worlds.
Deeper and deeper Gimli led them into the Glittering Caves, and Buffy thought Legolas might crush her hand as the walls grew ever closer around them. “It will be worth it,” Gimli assured his friend, and Legolas gave him a tight smile in return. “Now close your eyes! For I would have this be a surprise to you!”
They did as instructed, and the dwarf took one of their hands in each of his and pulled them after him. Buffy could tell that the air was gradually getting fresher, for which she was very glad, because it was pretty musty down there.
“You may look now,” Gimli said, his gleeful voice echoing, and Buffy opened her eyes to find they were in an immense underground cavern. Far, far above was a jagged hole in the rock, and sunlight poured through to fall in a straight column of butter-yellow to the ground. Motes floated gently like bits of stardust, and wherever the light struck, brilliant colours flashed and sparkled because the entire place was encrusted with…
“Are those diamonds?” she whispered, barely daring to breathe for fear of dispelling what must surely be a dream. She raised a hand and stared at the flashes of cerulean and celadon that darted over her skin.
“Except for the veins of mithril in the walls, aye,” Gimli affirmed, grinning at her disbelieving enchantment with the cavern. Streaks of fuchsia and salmon-pink lay across his broad, bearded face, thrown by the refractions. “Legolas, what think you of this?”
“I—“ Legolas began, but stopped. “It is—“ This time he frowned. “This—“ He was starting to get annoyed now, even as golden and tawny-orange twinkles surrounded him like a halo.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, honey?” Buffy asked solicitously, taking his hand and squeezing it. He nodded. “And wasn’t Gimli right about how nice it would be?” Another nod. “And aren’t you glad he brought us?” A third nod, and she turned to the dwarf. “There you have it, Gimli. You’ve knocked him speechless.”
Gimli crowed in triumph, not even minding when Legolas grouched, “It will be the one and only time, dwarf, so enjoy this brief moment while it will last.” He was very keen to even the score, and didn’t want to wait at all to go to Fangorn but Buffy asked him very nicely indeed, so he agreed to travel north until Galadriel and Celeborn turned eastward to go home. “We shall part from them at Dimrill Stair and head south,” he announced, seeming pleased a course had been set.
That settled, the group went to Isen to see what the Ents had gotten up to in the interim. There, they learned that Treebeard had allowed Saruman and Grima to escape. Gandalf wasn’t glad to hear that, not at all, but manfully (Maia-fully?) bore up. Treebeard gave Ent-draughts to Merry and Pippin, and Buffy was tempted to ask for one herself…
“I could do with being a few inches taller,” she said, looking wistfully at the Hobbits as they drank their bowls of the funky-smelling stuff.
“But if you were, I could not do this,” Legolas told her, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and resting his chin on her head. “And this is my favourite position for us.”
She tilted her head back to look up at him. “It is?” she asked, eyes innocently wide in a way that made everyone around her very suspicious. “I thought your favourite was when I was—“
“Ahem,” Elessar coughed loudly, and they looked over at him. “I am but newly wed, and you will corrupt me with your wicked speech.”
Buffy snorted. “Corrupt? You? You’re like ninety years old. I don’t think so.” He only grinned at her.
That grin was one of the last things they saw of him, for he was going no farther than the Gap of Rohan. “You’ll take care of Dawnie until I get back to Minas Tirith?” Buffy asked, clinging to him.
“She is with her husband, you know,” he replied, his voice mild as he looked fondly down at her. “I daresay he is up to the task himself.”
“I know, I know,” she grumbled back. “It’s just that… well, you know…”
“I trust you above all others, as well, Dagnir,” Elessar murmured. “You have ever been a staunch ally, and fine friend. I am proud to count you as foster-sister.”
Buffy sniffled a little. “You never knighted me, you know.”
“It was apurpose,” he declared. “For now you have another reason to hasten back to the White City.”
The Hobbits were sad to leave him as well, for he had been their companion since leaving Bree so long ago, and they all hugged him until he begged mercy. “We will see each other again, that is my promise as your king,” he told them affectionately.
The diminished party travelled for another week up the western border of the Misty Mountains before a grubby pair of beggars accosted them.
“Hello, Saruman!” Gandalf greeting his fellow Istari amiably. “Where are you going?”
Saruman replied in the Middle-Earth equivalent of “what’s it to you?” and the two were off and running in a war of words. Buffy took the opportunity to dismount and stretch her legs, perhaps find a private bush to take care of a few pressing needs (or at least one in particular). She’d just located a nice, leafy shrub that looked promising when she felt a touch on the back of her leg.
Spinning, she looked down to see the other beggar—the one not arguing with Gandalf—staring pitifully up at her from where he crouched in the dirt. It was that wormy guy Theoden had kicked out of Edoras once Gandalf had restored him. He was filthy, with matted hair and many bruises on his face and neck, and she recoiled at the sight of him. “Don’t touch me, you’re crusty. What do you want?”
“Mercy upon poor old Grima, milady!” the wretch moaned, and hugged her around the knees. “Always beaten and cursed! How I hate Saruman! I wish I could leave him!”
“So leave him,” Buffy retorted, peeling him off. “What are you, some sort of battered wife? This co-dependant thing just isn’t healthy. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it.”
Grima’s wasn’t the only blank look her monologue received, and she just threw up her hands in disgust before rounding the shrub.
“I think not,” Legolas said, off his horse in a flash to grab the scruff of Grima’s neck when he went to follow Buffy. “My wife prefers to be alone for such moments.” He deposited the man none too gently at Saruman’s feet. “If you think to curry some pity from her because she is female, you are destined to disappointment. There is no softness in her heart for such as you.”
Saruman cuffed Grima about the head, and dragged him off in the opposite direction, muttering maledictions the whole way. Buffy was relieved to see them gone when she rounded the shrub once more, and they passed from there into Dunland, and from Dunland to Eregion.
All too soon it was time for the Lórien elves to turn east and cross over the Redhorn Gate. The Hobbits were in a flood of tears at parting from them, and Buffy was all teary as well. Even Gimli was heard to sniffle once or twice before the trees covering the mountain became too thick to see the little group at the foot, watching them.
It took four days to cross through Redhorn Gate and descend at Dimrill. The exit from Moria and Khazad-dûm gaped like a huge, ominous mouth and Buffy shivered to remember what that grim day had been like, thinking Gandalf gone forever. That was before Dawn had come to Middle-Earth as well, and Buffy had expected her life to be just as bleak from that point forward as it had been before.
She woke before everyone else the next morning, sitting in the tall grass and watching the sun rise over the Golden Wood in the distance, but was not surprised when bare feet walked up, and a body sat gracefully at her side.
“How fare you this morn?” Galadriel asked, her voice pitched low so as to not wake anyone. The filmy sleeve of her gown brushed against Buffy’s arm, and a perfume like fresh rain surrounded them.
“Pretty good,” Buffy replied, and lay her head on the elleth’s shoulder. “You?”
“I am well,” replied Galadriel serenely. “My heart is glad to know that all is as it should be; the Ring is destroyed, though the Ringbearer succumbed at the last. Gollum’s greed was his doom, as shall always befall any who revere what they should not.”
“How are you feeling about Arwen?” asked Buffy. “I know Elrond’s panties are in the mother of all wads about her staying here instead of going with him to Valinor.”
“Elrond has lost many in his life; his brother chose the fate of Man, and died many years ago. His wife, my sweet Celebrían, passed to the Undying Lands without him in the last century. Arwen as his only daughter has ever been precious to him, and he sees her decision as a preference of Elessar over her father.” Galadriel sighed. “And I fear that my grandsons will choose mortality, and remain on Middle-Earth, as well.” Buffy gasped in surprise, and the elf-witch continued. “So you see, there is much for him to be displeased about.”
“Must be tough for you too,” Buffy ventured after a few minutes of silence. “Three grandchildren, and none choosing elfdom?”
“I have wondered what we did wrong in raising them, yes,” the other admitted dryly, and Buffy bumped her shoulder against Galadriel’s playfully.
“Well, you’ll be glad to know that I chose immortality, even if I’m not an elf, or half-elf, or related to you in any way.”
“Speaking of relations,” Galadriel commented, glancing sideways at her, “You are happy with Legolas? Haldir was… most vocal when he returned. There was the matter of a misunderstanding, and Legolas’ treatment of you was… how did he put it? ‘Thoroughly shameful for an elf of his years. Would Dagnir not beat me, I would knock that Mirkwood pup senseless!’ Ah, yes, that was it.”
Buffy giggled. “Haldir’s a sweetie. Waaaaaaay too protective, but sweet.”
Another silvery-blue glance was slid in her direction. “And is my march-warden’s heart broken?”
“Hardly,” Buffy snorted. “We’ve never been anything than really good friends who happen to have really good sex. And now that the nookie’s over, he’s practically my big brother.” She paused, thinking. “I seem to have acquired a lot of brothers in the past year… Haldir, Elessar, Boromir, Faramir, Gimli, the Hobbits… no, wait, they’re more like children.”
Warming to her topic, she leant back on her hands and crossed her ankles as she admired the play of tender golden light on the gently swaying grasses. “Celeborn’s the hot but nerdy professor, and Gandalf’s like a batty but stern great-uncle. Elrond reminds me a lot of a principle I had back in high school. Except, way tastier.”
Galadriel smiled, and it vied with the barely risen sun for splendor. “And I, Dagnir? What am I?”
Buffy smiled back. “You’re my best friend.” She sobered at a sudden thought. “I’m gonna miss you like crazy when you leave, you know.”
A tilt of the head brought Galadriel’s hair brushing the ground, pooling like molten gold. “Then you will just have to come with me, will you not?”
Hazel eyes widened in surprise. “I can do that? They’ll let me?”
“Your best friend is in rather good standing with the Valar, Buffy. Anything is possible.” She brought her knees up and rested her chin on them, closing her eyes when the sun finally broke clear of the mellyrn in the distance. “Anything.”