Author’s Note: This is now officially a sequel to The Gift of Death, starring Haldir and… someone else. Buffy and the rest will their their grand appearances eventually, never fear. For now, there’s just lots of Haldir-y goodness.
Many, many thanks to www.kemet.org, from which I got much of the info about Ancient Egypt. Please forgive my irreverence. Ankh udja seneb.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but an ’89 Cadillac Eldorado with a broken tape deck, and you’re welcome to it. Please. It’s just taking up room in my driveway.
Without, Part 1
You could get anything in New York City.
Anything you wanted, any time of the day or night, and if you were a decent haggler, you might even get it at a reasonable price, too. There were always risks, though—more often than not, what you were getting “fell off the back of a truck” rather than came to you through more reputable channels. But if you want it badly enough, methods don’t really matter, do they?
Not if you want it badly enough.
Some people had the most curious fetishes. Many were of a sexual nature, of course, humanity being the perverse and perverted creature it is. You’ve only to visit Christopher Street over in the Village to see that first-hand. Others were more about wealth, and the power it brings—the possessors of those fetishes spent their time downtown. Yet more were about social image and appearance, and the power brought by them—Uptown and Garment District folk, respectively.
Then there were the real freaks, like Corinne. Her fetish was so weird you could hardly pronounce it. Yes, you could get anything in the Big Apple, and thank God for it, too, she thought as she pushed open the shop door. The tarnished brass bell hanging from a bracket over the filthy glass door clanged in the silence of the establishment, jarring her already-frazzled nerves.
Blinking at the change from brilliant sunlight outside to dim, dingy, and dusty within, Corinne scanned the store. It seemed to have been there a very long time, with its ancient, scarred flooring and age-blackened wooden counter at the opposite side of the shop. Upon it a primitive-looking cash register squatted beside a mountain of what appeared, at first glance, to be rather priceless medieval illuminations.
Corinne spotted an old leather chair to one side. On it was a box heaped with Etruscan potsherds, and she gingerly placed it on the floor (once she’d located a space free of rusting Crusader swords and hillocks of pilgrimage badges) before perching on the edge of it, eagerly waiting for someone to heed the call of the door-bell and come attend their latest customer.
Finally someone appeared, his arrival heralded first by his uneven footsteps and second by his grouchy muttering.
“How in the ruddy HELL am I supposed to get anything DONE when there’s always someone BOTHERING me?” The old man’s English voice rose and fell in tone and pitch like waves rolling on the ocean, and Corinne leapt to her feet, ignoring her slight lurch of seasickness.
“Hello,” she began in what she thought of as her ‘professional’ voice. “I’m Corinne Williams. Professor Ives from NYU called ahead and told you I would be coming?”
The old man peered suspicious over the wire rims of his spectacles. “Professor IVES, hm?” He turned his back on her and pulled open a card-file drawer behind him, rifling speedily through its contents with a frown of deep concentration (and disgruntlement) until finding what he sought. Holding the card aloft, he read aloud. “The CARTOUCHE of Weshem-IB.” Facing her, he peered closely at Corinne. “Are you QUITE sure you’re PREPARED to work with a TALISMAN such as this one?”
She wasn’t sure sure, but she was mostly sure, and gave him a confident nod of her head. “I am.”
He snorted skeptically, but nonetheless stumped over to the massive apothecary shelving that covered one entire wall. “Do you HAVE the proper INCANTATION?” he called to her over his shoulder while he propped a battered wooden ladder in the proper place and began to climb.
“Professor Ives says I don’t need it,” Corinne replied, frowning at his rusty and rather evil-sounding laughter. “I’m not planning on using it, only studying it.”
“Ives is a fool,” the old man informed her. “If I didn’t think so before, I know it now.” He began muttering again. “Sending one of his STUDENTS to my shop, and for a thing of such POWER… the man is a DISGRACE… she probably wants it to meet her TRUE LOVE, scandalous, simply SCANDALOUS…”
Corinne felt a righteous anger fill her. “Excuse me,” she snapped. “Standing right here, you know. Standing right exactly here, and hearing everything you say.”
The old man located the drawer he wanted and pulled open the little drawer before delving his hand within. His face was supremely disinterested in her tirade as he removed something gleaming, pocketing it somewhere in his baggy brown cardigan before commencing the ponderous descent down the ladder.
Once on the ground again, he pushed the ladder to one side (uncaring when it jostled into a mountain of Peloponnesian spear-heads, causing them to cascade with a crash over the floor) and retreated behind his old cash register. “Then what do you WANT it for?” he asked snidely. “Do you THINK you’re the first young WOMAN I’ve seen in here? They all COME for the same thing.”
Corinne frowned in confusion. “They all come here for the Weshem-ib?” She looked at the object in his age-spotted hand; it was a long, flat, slender column of deep, gleaming gold; along with the familiar Egyptian glyphs engraved on it was a prominent, deeply-carved two-headed lion. Aker, she thought in recognition.
He shot her a sour look over his spectacles as he rang up the sale on the cash register. “No, idiot girl. They come for WHATEVER it is they think will COMPLETE them. The Weshem-IB is how they FIND it.” He eyed her keenly. “For you, it’ll be true LOVE. Mark my words.”
Corinne drew herself up haughtily. “I am definitely not here for that,” she informed him, as if the word tasted bad. ”I want the cartouche because I’m a student of socio-anthropology, and my dissertation is on ancient Egyptian mysticism. I’m not going to actually use it, just study it. It will be the focal point of my thesis.” She finished up this little speech with a proud little nod, satisfied she’d put him in his place. She did so hate to be misunderstood.
He couldn’t possibly have been less impressed. “I’ll expect it back in my SHOP within a year,” he told her calmly, holding up a small, jewel-encrusted dagger, and held out his hand for his payment. Professor Ives had told her about the terms of purchase. Mere money suffice—for an artifact of this age and meaning, nothing short of blood would do. Let no one say I’m not committed to my studies, she thought, and placed her own hand in his.
His skin was dry and papery, like a snake’s, and she couldn’t repress a shudder at his touch. With practiced and efficient motions he brought the dagger to her wrist. There was a flash like fire streaking across her skin, and then searing agony as the old man nearly severed her hand from her arm. Blood spilled over the cartouche and ran in rivulets over the scarred counter until it began to pool on the floor, and spots began to dance in Corinne’s vision. She struggled to free herself, but his grip on her arm was inexorable. She swayed on her feet, and just as she thought she could not stand any longer, he gestured with the dagger a second time.
In an instant, the pain was gone, and she glanced down to see that the gaping wound in her wrist was completely healed, as if it had never been there at all. There was no mark whatsoever. That was amazing in itself, but Corinne didn’t have time to goggle over it because the cartouche had begun soaking up her blood. And not just the blood on the counter, either; any that had spilled over the side and onto the floor was now flowing, against the laws of physics and rules of gravity, in an uphill vermilion stream as if magnetized toward the intricately worked piece of gold.
I didn’t think gold could do that, she thought dazedly, and wondered if the floor were as comfortable as it looked. She dearly wanted to lay down on it, and rest her hot face against its cool surface.
Finally, all the blood had been absorbed into the cartouche. There was nothing to indicate that anything unusual had just taken place, except for the faint throbbing in Corinne’s brain, a reminder of the pain and blood loss. “Why will you expect it back in a year?” she asked at last, recalling his last comment.
“It always RETURNS after it’s been used.” He seemed to think of something then, something that greatly cheered him, because he smiled. It was very unnerving. “Of course, those who USE it don’t always return, but the CARTOUCHE always does…”
Corinne felt a frisson of unease scamper down her spine. Perhaps she ought to study it more before using it? Yes, that would be best. “I told you already, I’m not going to use it.” He was really beginning to get on her nerves, but now she was curious. “How long has it been returning to you?”
He wrapped the cartouche in a length of creamy linen, smirking all the while. The effect was just as unnerving as his smile had been. “About 1300 years now,” he informed her, then laughed at her expression. “Idiot girl. Do you honestly THINK that magic is only a superstition, SOMETHING for dried-up scholars to study a few millennia AFTER its heyday?”
That’s exactly what Corinne had thought. This is insane, she told herself. There’s no way this old guy is that old, and there’s no way this thing— she looked down at the brown paper-wrapped packet in her hand— can magically return.
The old man was watching her, great knowledge and understanding in his eyes. “You’ll LEARN the truth,” he told her, and made a shooing motion with his hands. “You’ll see WHAT I mean.” And he turned to go back from whence he’d come, muttering once more. “They never listen, the YOUNG people. Always thinking they’re right, that they KNOW everything. Well, this one’s got quite the surprise in STORE for her, quite a surprise indeed. She’ll LEARN, oh yes, she’ll learn.”
Feeling seasick once more, Corinne clutched her precious bundle tightly and fled back into the bright June sunlight.
One week later
Corinne lurched into her tiny dorm room after her night out with the girls. It was an occasional thing they’d done for the past three years, a haphazard socializing since they had no time in their busy lives for the distraction of boyfriends.
They’d been discussing their various dissertations, totally absorbed with their studies—and then the door of the SoHo tavern had opened, and a couple entered. It was raining outside, and they were breathless from running to escape getting wet. The man held a folded newspaper over the woman’s head, and when she turned her laughing face up to his, he leant down to give her a kiss. It was a private moment, an intimate moment, and when she’d seen the woman’s lashes flutter closed in pleasure Corinne had felt a pang of… something. A sense of longing.
A low hum caught her attention then, and she glanced down into her pocketbook on the floor to see a strange glow emanating from it. Picking up the bag, she shoved aside her wallet and cosmetics pouch to see the cartouche lying at the bottom of its depths. It was glowing softly with a reddish light, and seemed to be vibrating gently.
I left this in my dorm, she thought, confused. But then the fifth round of drinks arrived, with much noisy welcome by her companions, and she gladly raised her drink to her lips as her friends smiled.
She’d been a little subdued the remainder of the evening, and only too happy to go home. Once inside, however, she remembered the cartouche and rifled through her pocketbook for it. “Where the hell is it?” she grumbled, and losing patience just overturned the bag on her bed. A warm glow beckoned her, and she pushed the usual female detritus out of the way to reveal it in all its ethereal glory.
Weird, she thought, and reaching for it. The moment she picked it up, the glow became brighter and brighter until her schnapps-soaked brain protested and she closed her eyes against the fierce glare. Then she felt herself falling, but before she could do anything like flail or scream she’d landed with a thud right on her ass.
“In truth, I worry about our brother, Orophin,” Rúmil said as he lounged against the base of the mallorn which housed their talan, idly sharpening the blade of one of his daggers. “He is even more out of sorts than usual.”
Orophin glanced up from his task of fletching arrows and arched a slender golden brow. “How can you tell?” he asked dryly.
Rúmil grinned briefly, then sobered. ‘He has become even more withdrawn than usual, Oro. When was the last time he actually volunteered to patrol the eastern marches by the Anduin?”
The other elf nodded in comprehension. “Think you it has aught to do with your betrothal?” For Rúmil was newly affianced, just a month now.
“Our brother Haldir?” Rúmil snorted skeptically before falling about laughing.
“Is there another that Naneth and Ada failed to tell us about?” Orophin asked mildly. “It is not that funny.”
“Indeed it is, Oro,” Rúmil insisted, gasping. “Stern, dour Haldir pining with jealousy that I have found a lady-love, and he has not?” He wiped a tear of mirth from his eye. “Indeed, the idea is ludicrous.”
”I could not agree more,” said a stern, dour voice from the trees behind them, and Haldir himself stepped from them to survey his younger brothers with a combination of amusement and exasperation. “If I feel aught about your betrothal, Rúmil, it is pity for your future wife, having to endure such a silly creature such as yourself.”
Rúmil frowned at Haldir, then frowned at Orophin, who’d begun laughing. “ ’M Not a silly creature,” he mumbled with a pout.
“Of course you are, melui-nîn,” said a feminine voice, and an elleth glided into the clearing, making straight for the youngest elf. She was rather perfectly average for female elf, with the exception of the deep love glowing on her face. As she approached Rúmil, it was as if there were no other living beings on Middle-Earth, save her and him. Tatharë she was called, and had come a year before from Mirkwood as a sort of diplomat between the two elven realms. In spite of her innate seriousness, it had not taken long for Rúmil to fall in love with her. Longer she had needed to return his feelings, but now that she did, there was no doubting her devotion to him. “But that is why I adore you so.”
Rúmil brightened and wrapped his arms around her, pressing a kiss to her honey-gold hair. “Then I shall be silly with pride,” he announced, and Tatharë bestowed upon him one of her tiny, mysterious smiles before turning to Haldir.
“Glad we are of your safe return,” she said by way of welcome. “Will you join us for luncheon?”
Haldir had wanted only to dart to his talan, get a new supply of clean clothing and fresh food and dart back to his post, but seeing the expressions on all their faces he was slightly guilty. They had missed him, his brothers, and as they looked at him expectantly he felt his resolve crumble. “Yes,” he found himself saying. “I will join you.”
Still, he was relieved when the meal was over and he could snatch up his supplies and leave once more. He had been feeling restless lately, and could scarcely bear to be in Caras Galadhon. It was too enclosed, and there were too many elves about, crowding him. He travelled quickly from the city to his post, reaching it within a single day.
From his watch-flet on the banks of the mighty Anduin, on the easternmost border of the Lórien woods, he could stare across at the plains of Rhovanion and the southwestern tip of Mirkwood, now called East Lórien since the War of the Ring, and part of the realm of Celeborn and Galadriel. If he squinted, he could make out the dark silhouette of Dol Guldor in the distance. He would see these places, and he would feel a craving to explore them.
Sometimes the impulse became such that only his centuries of discipline and duty kept him at his post. Whence came this restlessness? He did not think, as Orophin did, that it had anything to do with Rúmil finding love. No, Haldir had given up on that possibility. It might be the fate of his youngest brother, and he doubted not that Orophin too would find a mate in his own time, but for himself…
Haldir had long ago resigned himself to a life alone. He was Guardian of Lórien, destined to be its protector to his dying day. He would not be accompanying his people to the Undying Lands, and that meant a definite reduction in the pool of young lovelies willing to bind their lives and souls with him, for none wanted to remain behind when all others had departed.
Legolas had once told him that there were elleths who would be willing to stay here in Arda with him, but… Haldir sighed. He had seen the passion Legolas had with his wife, Haldir’s own former lover, Dagnir—the Slayer. Or Buffy, as she was known to her closer friends. He had seen that love, and wanted one like it for his own. He would not settle for just any elleth, who wanted him simply because he was a march-warden, or the Guardian, or Celeborn’s lieutenant.
He wanted an elleth to love him because he was Haldir.
He leaned his head back against the smooth bark of the mallorn and for a moment remembered Tatharë’s face shining up at Rúmil, and felt a pang of—something. Not jealousy, exactly, but something definitely tainted his joy at his brother’s good fortune. A sense of longing…
No sooner had he completed the thought then there was a flash of light and a crash of noise. He might have thought he’d been struck by lightning, except it was a particularly fine day with no sign of storm in the clear, cloudless sky. All was as it should be, perfectly normal.
So why was there a human female sitting on the floor of his watch-flet, dressed oddly and staring up at him in unadulterated horror?
melui-nîn = my sweet one