FIRST KNIGHT BY ASHA DREAMWEAVER
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot.
Summary: BtVS/LotR. Buffy gets sent to Middle Earth to help bring down Sauron. Her duty, like the Istari, is not to confront Sauron directly but to help those fated to face him bring him down. More specifically she's to help the King of Gondor get on his throne. Now, it seems that the Pelennor has been won… But at a cost some might not have been willing to pay…. The Battle is won, but the War is not. Can the people of Middle Earth topple Sauron? And can Frodo and Sam now avoid the chase? Will the ringbearer reach Mount Doom, or will he be cut down before he reaches his goal? And in the aftermath of everything, can anything bloom?
Author's notes: Hi! I'm back! I am SO sorry for the delay! I humbly beg your forgiveness! Real Life has been a pain and though I always intended to get around to finishing this chapter, somehow I never did.
Okay, on another note, the winner of the name vote is Nárelle, pronounced much like its written: - Nar – Elle. And several of you pointed out that because other people have two names, for example, Arwen Undómiel, Legolas Greenleaf, Buffy should have one too. So to this I would just like to say that Aragorn is going to become 'Aragorn Elessar' with Elessar being the official name and Aragorn used amongst friends and family so Buffy will become 'Buffy Nárelle' with Nárelle as the official name. Besides, if she ever marries, she gains her husband's house name anyway.
PS: During my long hiatus, this story won the best crossover (book) pairing category at Round 7 of The Sunnydale Memorial Fanfiction Awards. This came as an extremely pleasant surprise and my heartfelt thanks goes out to all those who voted. I thank you.
PS.3 – We're in the final countdown now. After this chapter, we have approx. four more chapters left. The end is nigh. (Sniffles)
CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN: TO FOLLOW A HEART
We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
- Will Rogers
The Throne Room, The Citadel, Minas Tirith, Gondor, TA 3019, March 18. – Afternoon.
The small group lay sprawled about the room in varying states of exhaustion. Only Gandalf stood, pacing around the room, clutching his newly fixed staff, brows drawn together in concentration. Gimli had claimed the steward's seat, much to Imrahil's indignation, and was contentedly puffing on his pipe, sending billows of smoke at the three Elves grouped in the corner, plainly detesting the foul habit. While Aragorn and Imrahil seemed content to wait on the wizard, frankly Éomer could not take any more of the constant pacing and inaudible mutterings. "Would you please stop doing that?" he said, breaking the silence, "You are giving me a pain to look at you. If you have something to say will you say it before the Elves kill the Dwarf?"
Gandalf swung around to glare at him, "I would not be so casual, son of Éomund," he said warningly, "Trouble chases our heels and you worry over a Dwarf?"
This time it was Gimli's turn to look at the wizard with consternation as smirks broke out on the Elves' faces. "What?!"
"What ails you then?" Éomer said, speaking over Gimli's sputtering, "You brought us here for something, but we are all weary and battlesore. Why this delay?"
Gandalf shared a glance with Aragorn, and then spoke, "Because a most disastrous event happened during the battle," he began, "As you all know by now, all our hopes rest with Frodo. You have seen what might Sauron threw at Gondor, but he is not yet done, nor is the Black Land empty. He will come again and again if he must, until no one is left alive in these lands and then he will sweep west until he has all of Middle Earth under his sway. Frodo and Sam are our only hope to prevent this now. Few tidings have I had of them, and the last from Faramir, who met them in Ithilien. They were making for the pass of Cirith Ungol, despite warnings, with a creature called Gollum in their employ and after their departure, nothing more has been heard from them. Denethor learned of this, and he made a mistake that may prove our undoing. In the grasp of the Witch-king, he told the Morgul Lord that he knew the location of the One Ring. Alas, he died before I could find out how much he had said. The Witch-king is now dead, but we do not know if he managed to get a message through. It is a disastrous business. We know not what Sauron knows and therefore, how can we match his moves? I need not tell you that if Sauron regains the ring, then I think all will be lost. The darkness about us is deepening. I cannot see anything of use. We walk blindly now."
Aragorn stood up and tried to soothe the worried wizard, "If Sauron had the Ring we would know it." He said calmly, "He would not wait to claim it. You know this. He does not have it."
"Yet." Gandalf sighed and leaned on his staff, "But it is only a matter of time. If the Witch-king got even an inkling of his message through, Sauron will close the gates to Mordor and hunt them down."
"Surely he has other things to think about?" Gimli pointed out, puffing away, "We sent his army scurrying back to Mordor."
Gandalf just stared at him, "Sauron may have suffered a defeat, son of Glóin, but he is not near finished. Behind the walls of the Black Land, he regroups and if he finds out where the Ring is, he will hunt Frodo down and take the Ring for his own. And then he will come again, and this time, no spirits will come to our aid."
"The Witch-king is dead. Éomer's lass here killed him," Gimli argued, with a nod in Éomer's direction, "Chances are he does not have any idea where Frodo is. We chased his army out of Gondor and Frodo is alive; why not let Sauron rot for the time being!"
"Because if we're wrong, then it is the end of all," Imrahil said, "Out of all present here, none of you have lived here these past few years. Only Lord Éomer can truly understand the pressures that Sauron has placed upon our lands. We barely survived this time. I do not think we can count on my lord Aragorn to summon another army of ghosts to save us. If Sauron sends forth his armies again, the lands of Men will fall. Minas Tirith's walls are broken, our resources stretched, and our hearts weary. We cannot expect to win again. If Sauron comes, we will fight and fall and what remnants of us survive will be forced to flee even knowing that Sauron will follow until he has conquered all. We all know this to be true."
Gimli was silent at that, but Elladan sighed, "He is right. The Last Alliance's victory was as much luck as skill, and we are a far cry from that army. But your worry is not confined to our chances at battle, my friend. Frodo's fate is out of your hands, Gandalf. You must let him go."
"I cannot help but feel that I have sent him to his death." The wizard sighed.
"It was his choice." Elladan replied, "Frodo's fate is not ours to decide. Our cause is not hopeless yet after all. As loath as I am to agree with a Dwarf, we did have a victory and Sauron will not be best pleased. And thank to my dear brother here, I would say that he is currently fretting over the reappearance of Isildur's Heir more than any enemies within his lands. If we have any measure of luck, if the Witch King did try to get a message to him, he will assume that it is over Aragorn and not the Ring."
"We cannot afford wishful thinking, Elladan," Gandalf answered, "Even if luck is with is and Sauron does not know, thousands of orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom and as of yet, I have no idea what to do about it."
Aragorn pushed himself away from where he leant against the wall, "It is not yet hopeless." He said firmly, "Frodo will do what he must but he needs time and safe passage across the Plains of Gorgoroth. We can give him that."
The twins and Legolas suddenly looked worried and three Elven heads swivelled around to pin the mortal with their eyes. "Dare I even ask how?" Elrohir said dryly.
As Aragorn spoke, Gimli choked on his pipe, Elrohir hung his head, Legolas looked like he was contemplating what to tell Elrond and Éomer and Imrahil were just staring at him, "Draw out Sauron's armies." Aragorn insisted, "Empty his lands. Then we gather our full strength and march on the Black Gate."
"You do realise that you are needed alive, yes?" Legolas said, shaking his head in dismay, "I think Sauron would be more merciful than Buffy if I let you do something… how did she put it?... oh yes, suicidal! And do I really have to mention Lord Elrond's reaction?"
Éomer snapped his gaze away from Aragorn, "We cannot achieve victory though strength of arms." He pointed out, "Sauron would laugh us out of Mordor, not engage us. He has to know how badly his attack damaged us. We have no hope of even surviving if we do this."
"And Adar would gut us himself," Elrohir protested, "Did you by chance hit your head during the battle to contemplate this insane idea?"
Elladan cleared his throat and looked pointedly at his twin, "I told you that dropping him on his head was a bad idea. He grew up with addled wits."
Elrohir glared at him, whilst Legolas perked up, "That does explain so much…" he murmured.
"I am not saying this in jest. Here or there, we are going to have to face Sauron again." Aragorn insisted, "And I for one would rather it be as far away from this city as possible! Also, if it buys Frodo the time he needs to destroy the Ring, then any sacrifice is worth the freedom of Middle Earth. This would be a chance for Frodo, not ourselves. If Sauron's Eye is fixed upon us, it will keep him blind to all else that moves."
"While the diversion plan generally has its merits, it also has a tendency to go dramatically wrong." Legolas pointed out, "You would drain both Gondor and Rohan of most of their warriors. If this fails, they are left vulnerable."
Imrahil nodded, "Yes, but seeing as we have the unfortunate problem of huge gaping rents in our city walls and the utter destruction of the Rammas Echor, Minas Tirith is already vulnerable and from the tales I have heard, Rohan's main fortress is in a similar state of disrepair. We are already vulnerable. Without strong walls, victory is but a dream."
"If we have nowhere to run, then we must go forward." Éomer said, "You have not yet led us astray, Aragorn. If this is the end we must meet, then let us meet it whilst spitting in the Dark Lord's face."
Gimli nodded, "Certainty of death." He said gruffly, but with a certain maniacal cheer, blowing out a great cloud of smoke, "Small chance of success. Sounds like decent sport. What are we waiting for?"
The trio of Elves shared a look, and then nodded too. Gandalf, however, levelled a steady look upon the ranger as he drew him aside, "Sauron will suspect a trap. He will not take the bait."
Aragorn's eyes flashed, "Oh, I think he will." He said darkly, "With the right provocation."
Gandalf's eyebrows drew down until they met, intent eyes searching out Aragorn's purpose and the reasons behind it and seeing far too much for Aragorn to be comfortable, "Do not let your anger blind you, Aragorn," the wizard cautioned softly, "If you wish to taunt him, do it for the right reasons and leave revenge out of it."
Aragorn pulled away from him, his expression saying what he did not, and turning on his heel, he headed away, towards the palantír and towards his destiny.
Darkness, both real and metaphorical, hung over the city like a ragged blanket. Despite the initial jubilation of an unthought-of victory, hearts were heavy. Smoke and dust still hung in the air like a fog, carrying with it the sharp tang of blood, the sweat and grime from the grisly task of helping the injured and collecting the dead, and the echoes of the desperate calls for missing friends and comrades still lingering like ghosts over the battlefield. Though the great mounds of carcasses had been set alight at the far end of the Pelennor, the foul stench of their enemies' seared flesh and charred armour rose up in a gigantic plume of black smoke that stretched out its arm to the battered city. The smell clung to Aragorn's clothes and seemed to settle deep into his very skin.
The very air of the city seethed with tension as the word had spread that the commanders would lead out an army to challenge Mordor. What bravado there had been before the near fatal siege had been leached away by the realisation that Mordor had a near limitless supply of men and orcs, whilst they were struggling to make a stand.
His day had been spent making preparations for what could likely be the last journey this army would ever make, save that to their fathers' halls. He was exhausted and his mind was worn. He longed for rest but his feet carried him ever onward, to the Houses of Healing, and to Buffy.
The long corridors were mercifully empty, so his way was unhindered and unmarked as he reached her door, left open in case of need. He stood in that doorway for a long time; a shadow on the threshold, watching, staring, committing this moment of peace to memory in case it was his last.
He had been a soldier for seven decades past; doomed to wander paths that others had forgotten or had feared to tread. The shadow of Mordor had dogged his footsteps since he was but a babe in his mother's embrace. Always he had been warned of the fate the Enemy would grant him. Tomorrow, after long years of evasion and toil, he would ride out to meet it, to whatever end. The fate of all of Middle Earth rested in the hands of Frodo and Sam now, and he would gladly die if it meant that the two brave hobbits would accomplish their task. Still, however battle-hardened he might be, no man set forth on such a task without something to sustain him. Duty was a harsh and unforgiving mistress and on an eve such as this, he needed a more soothing presence.
As ill and hurt as she was now; she lived, and that was all the knowledge that was necessary to give him the courage to do what must be done.
Faint moonlight spilled in the open window, casting a silvery sheen on everything it touched. Buffy lay asleep, golden hair bleached silver; with skin so pale it seemed translucent.
She looked small, he decided, dwarfed by the large bed.
She looked wrong.
Buffy, his Buffy, was coiled power, mischief waiting to be unleashed, a veritable whirlwind of words, and gestures and energy. For her to be so pale and still was such the complete opposite of everything she was as to be criminal.
But even battered and bruised, paler than the white blankets around her, she was beautiful to his eyes.
He entered the room at last, pulling the door shut behind him. He disregarded the chair, instead perching on the bed, one hand reaching out to play with the soft strands of gold. She stirred softly at his light touch, eyelids fluttering restlessly before sinking back into the depths of slumber. He urged her down, knowing how much she needed to heal even as her movements gave him hope that everything would be all right. He did not need her to wake if he knew that she would be well. No doubt furious beyond all reckonable measures when she came to and realised that the armies had left without her, but he would sleep sounder and rest easier if he knew she was safe behind the walls of Minas Tirith, as war-weary and battered as they were.
Already, she had sacrificed too much for a fight that had never been hers. She had not been born of this world. She could have walked away at any time, left the toils of war behind, and yet she stayed even when all hope seemed to have disappeared. She had paid the price for that faith.
He gently lay a hand over the wound that should have claimed her life, as if his warmth could ease the faint chill that lingered there; a chill that could never be fully erased as long as the One Ring existed and the Nazgûl flew. He remembered a time, long ago, when a Morgul Blade could not have caused such damage to her but the power of the Enemy had grown since then and Buffy's own resistance had waned, until she stood before their poisoned wrath as vulnerable as any creature of Middle Earth.
His eyes were drawn to the ring on her finger, always visible to his eyes now, its great fire dimmed until only the faintest of sparks shone in its depths. It had called her back from the wings of the Shadow, had kept her whole and returned her to the land of the living. Aragorn was no expert on the three Elven Rings but every time he looked at the darkened gem, he felt a frisson of unease shoot down his spine. A price had been paid, he knew, but he had no idea as to what and no time was left to him to find out.
The army of the west rode out tomorrow, with little intention of coming back, and he would play the part of a king. Gandalf had already given him armour etched with the White Tree of Gondor; all the better for the Heir of Elendil to call out Mordor. Tomorrow was the work of war, but tonight was for rest and finding what comfort you could.
"I am leaving tomorrow," Aragorn said, absently toying with her hair, unable to just walk away without saying a word to her and even less able to put his maelstrom of feelings to paper, "We ride for Mordor, to be a distraction for Frodo. We hope that this will empty the Black Lands for him long enough that he can get the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it without the Eye of Sauron falling upon him. The chances are good that we shall not return, though I shall try my best."
He took her small hand in his own, "I do not want to leave you and yet I cannot say that my heart is not lightened by the knowledge that you are here and as safe as you can be at the moment. I can only imagine your fury if you are able to hear this, and the only advice I have to offer is the same that I gave Éowyn once. If all goes ill and by some foul chance of fate, Sauron triumphs, then you shall be one of the few to defend this city and may you defend it long. I love you, meleth. So much so that at times it seems to steal my heart right out of my chest and I can barely breathe. It nearly stopped beating when I found you on the Pelennor… you should have stayed behind the walls! You cannot fight every monster, meleth. No matter what you think, I fell in love with a woman, not a slayer and no one expects you to drive yourself to death taking on these foul creatures." He took a deep breath, "I need you to get well, Buffy and I want you to be happy. If I return, I am going to tell you this over and over again until you believe me; I love you. No matter how many protests you make, no matter how many times you yell at me, I will have no other for my wife. Do not be afraid of me… please… I meant every word I said when we last spoke. Every word. And I will hold to it. You saw our son! We have a future."
He rubbed soothing circles over the back of her hand, smiling softly, "Our child, meleth. He had your eyes... Can you imagine the handful he is likely to be? You do not have to be afraid of the future, Buffy. Holding yourself back is the surest way to cause yourself the pain you dread. Did you think that I was not afraid? I have fought my destiny for decades, scorning the thought of kingship and holding instead to the patrolling of the wilds and the watch of the Dunedáin of the North, and yet it is upon me anyway, and I am not afraid any more. You need to stop running and come back to me, nín hervess. I hope that I will see you again, but save your prayers for Frodo and Sam."
He looked upon her face, still beautiful despite the hollow shadows of fatigue and the darkening sweep of colourful bruises and scratches, and placed a kiss on her forehead before rising. "Sleep well, meleth." he whispered. "Amin mela lle."
She stood in Rath Dínen, under the dead of night. The only light came from the stars above, the moon but a faint sliver in the sky, and everywhere she looked, shadows moved as if they were alive. In a way, she supposed, they were.
She didn't know what she was doing here, couldn't remember where she had been last, though she had the nagging feeling that she should, that it was important. She took a hesitant step forward into the dark, her heavy black skirts rustling as she moved. She turned around in a circle, trying to get her bearings. She had rarely walked the paths of the Silent Street and try as she might, she could not remember the way out. She couldn't even see where she was going. All was dark and still, save for the doorway to her right. It was illuminated by a faint light – she knew not what – that flickered strangely, and it made her skin crawl. She did not want to enter but she did not want to brave the unknown dark either. It seemed to her that she was being watched by silent, unseen enemies. She couldn't remember why that bothered her so much and yet she had no reason to distrust that feeling, so she wavered where she was, unable to go forward or back.
"Your time is over."
She spun around at the sound of his voice. The shadows had parted a bit now and she could see the figure standing in the door, flames clinging to heavily furred robes, casting their flickering light around him with an eerie red glow. Memory came back in a rush of blood and horror, a silent litany of recriminations echoing in her head, and she staggered back a step before regrouping, her hand flying to her abdomen. "Please tell me that I'm not dead and this isn't some kind of special slayer hell?" she said, meeting those maddened eyes squarely but unable to block the flood of images from the moment he ran onto her blade.
"You will be." Denethor promised with a snarl, eyes fixed upon her with unchecked malice.
"Ah, so I'm not dead yet. That's nice. How come I'm not dead again?" Buffy wondered, her voice shaking slightly, "And why are you here tormenting me? And while we're speaking about funky torture methods, maybe you can tell me where the hell I am?
"Murderer!" Denethor spat, taking a step forward, "Fool! You triumph on the field of battle for a day, but against the might of Sauron, you cannot win. The Dark Lord will crush you like vermin underfoot! The race of Men is doomed. There will be no king of Gondor, no puppet for that wizard to use. I am the last ruler of Gondor!"
"Actually, you're really not." Buffy said, "All you are is a figment of my imagination. A very real-looking, creepy figment but definitely in the land of Not Real."
"You were always a murdering whore," Denethor hissed, coming closer, the flames on his robes licking against the stone walls. She could smell the charred flesh now and it nearly made her gag. "Always a spy for that wizard or the Enemy, always treading wherever you were not wanted…"
"You were the one that tried to kill me," Buffy said, backing up across the street, stepping further and further back into the darkness. This could not be real, she told herself, he's dead; I shouldn't be afraid of him. Despite her fervent denials, all she could see was the blood staining her hands and running in rivulets down her dress, the maddened, sightless eyes looking right through her; she could feel the resistance of her sword against his ribcage and hear the desperate wheezing of a man who was drowning in his own blood. She couldn't even look at him and not see herself falling down the wrong path like Faith did. It was one thing to kill someone you hated in self-defence; it was another to feel such unbelievable relief that he was dead. What kind of monster did that make her?
Denethor grinned mockingly at her, coughing up dark blood, "And you are the one that slew me." he taunted, "All so that wizard can put a mere ranger on the throne! Did you really think he would ever be a king, you fool? Sauron will kill him and he will die begging for his pain to end and you will die along side him, screaming for mercy."
Buffy squared her shoulders, "Better die screaming beside him than die like a worm with you." She spat. Denethor snarled and shoved her at her in a blind rage, and she instinctively tried to bring her leg up in a roundhouse, only to get caught up in a tangle of skirts. Taking advantage of her surprise, he shoved her back until she collided painfully with the wall, flames licking along her skin where he touched her. She cried out in pain but somehow couldn't summon the strength to throw him off her as he slammed her head into the cold stone.
She sank down to the ground, head spinning, her dress on fire, Denethor's laughter ringing in her ears and a great eye of fire watching her from the door. It seemed to her that everything was very far away, and that sounds were coming to her through a barrier which muffled them but after a minute, she rallied and tried to rouse herself enough to hear them. You cannot fight every monster, meleth…
She gasped, focusing on the familiar voice as if it was the only thing tethering her to reality. Aragorn was here with her, somewhere; she could feel him. I love you… She looked and looked trying to find him but all she could see around her was fire, burning her alive. Return… You saw our son! Their son? What was he talking about? She struggled to make sense of it before a vivid flash of a dark-haired boy came to her and she felt a desperate need fill her. She had to go back. Back where he was and away from this place. She stumbled to her feet, trying to find her way through the flames. The shadow of Denethor was gone, but all she could see was fire, and that Eye, watching her, waiting for her to fall.
She tried to make her way forward, but the flames pushed against her, forcing her back every time, "I can't!" she yelled at the voice, "I'm afraid! It'll kill me!"
Did you think that I was not afraid?... Stop running… Come back to me…
She forced herself to stop, to think, to stop giving into panic and to try to figure out where the hell she was and what she was doing here. Her memory felt fragmented, incomplete, but the more she focused, the more came back to her and with a cry of rage, she spun around to face the Eye of the Enemy. "You can't scare me anymore." She said, voice quavering, "You might have hurt me but I'm not dead yet and I will never give in to you!"
Give me the ring! The Eye hissed. Where is it?!
"Lost to you forever," Buffy snarled right back, gathering her courage, "No one will ever give it to you. You'll never get it back. Wanna know why? Because you tried to crush this world and you've failed, buddy. Men aren't weak. We're here to stay and we will kick your ass back into whatever pit you climbed out of."
The Ranger cannot save you!
"Well, I think he can." Buffy said, "You have no power over me, so get lost!"
A Ringbearer can never be free! It is mine! They are all mine!
"Only in your deluded head! Now, GET OUT!!!" she screamed, throwing every shred of strength she had into pushing him out. She could hear him shouting at her even as she forced him out of her head.
Never be free… bring ruin…. all die! See what you have wrought!
She came to on her knees in the street, a cold wind chilling her to the core and whipping her hair across her face. Staggering upwards, she clutched to the wall for support, sagging against it in relief. The cries came to her ears then and the wind changed, bringing with it the smell of smoke. Eyes flying open, she saw that she was in a different street and everywhere she looked, people were running, fleeing, screaming as the Minas Tirith burned around their heads. "No…" she whispered, "Not this…"
A man crashed into her, taking them both to the ground in an ungainly heap before he righted himself and hauled Buffy up. "Your Majesty!" he said shortly, "The city is lost! We must get you and the prince out of here?"
She looked at the bloodied man in surprise, "Faramir?" she exclaimed, "What's happened? Where's Aragorn?"
"The King is dead." Faramir replied, scooping up a small boy that was wailing in fear.
"Dead?" Buffy repeated, "How? He can't be dead!"
"He fell on the field, milady. The battle is lost! The city burns! You must go!" Faramir insisted, grabbing her arm and dragging her along as a small ring of guards fell into place around them.
The boy started to cry, "Nana!" he sobbed, reaching for Buffy and she took him instinctively, before staring down at him in surprise as he trustingly snuggled into her arms, clutching the fabric of her dress in one hand.
They ran, Buffy struggling to make sense of this, struggling to make her body turn around and go back, but unable to do so, like she was merely observing herself going through the motions of something already ordained.
They ran until they were cut down, a sharp scimitar biting into her back even as the boy – her son – was killed in front of her, his body thrown at her feet like a broken rag doll. She screamed soundlessly as the darkness took her; this could not be happening! This wasn't real! She had to wake up!
The gardens of the Citadel were small but well-tended, normally commanding spectacular views across the Pelennor and towards the Anduin. Today, they gave a clear view of the destruction and chaos borne of the malice of Sauron, and gave an example of the lengths the Enemy would go to to destroy the Free People of Middle Earth. The great wall of the Rammas Echor lay in rubble. Here and there, solitary pieces of stone stood upright or wobbling. Scattered remnants of siege towers and battering rams mingled with downed Mûmakil, all resting on ground stained a curious mixture of red and black in places, singed in others, with very little clear green grass left unscathed. Great mounds of the enemy dead burned, tens of thousands of them, while further out, small detachments of soldiers destroyed the makeshift bridges in Osgiliath before taking up their watch of the ruined city. The light from the fires flickered against the night sky, but Legolas Greenleaf ignored it in favour of seeking out the comfort of the stars above.
Legolas had left Gimli in the care of some of the more rambunctious of Éomer's men, the Dwarf determined to have his share of ale before the armies set out. That had been some hours ago, and Legolas had sought out solitude to dwell on the cares of his heart. He had pushed them aside to focus on the coming battle but now that there was a lull in the constant state of worry and danger, he could ignore them no longer. All day, his thoughts had been drawn to his homeland and his father, filling with a lingering unease that he could not shake. He could not tell what the matter was and could only hope that his adar was well. He could not bear it if some disaster had befallen his home after he had left on such bad terms with him. Even if by some miracle, all was well and Mirkwood had escaped the might of Dol Guldur, how he could return and tell his father that he had heard the gulls at Pelargir? How could he tell Arwen? She and her brothers had never heard the Sea's call, all three having a greater choice to make. Legolas had seen it take some of his people and while he only felt a small draw to the West now, he could not say it would not escalate. And how could he face his father and prove him right? That in going on this quest, he had doomed himself never to feel at ease under the boughs of his home?
He stood staring sightlessly towards the west, so lost in thought that the fact that he was no longer alone did not even register with him until a hand fell on his shoulder.
Reacting instinctively, he spun; dagger unsheathed and had it hovering over the neck of a startled Elrohir before the other Elf could get away. "Easy, meldiren." the Elf in question admonished, "I would not have you explain to my brother why you have gutted me."
"My apologies, Elrohir," Legolas said, sheathing his weapon, "You startled me."
"Obviously." Elrohir replied dryly, "Was there any particular reason you were so far away or were you just contemplating your next victim?"
"I am not in the mood for jesting this night," Legolas said, "What do you want?"
"That is good, Greenleaf," Elladan said, taking a seat on the stone bench nearby, "For what we want from you is no jesting matter indeed."
Elrohir nodded, crossing his arms and glaring sternly, "What, exactly, are your intentions toward our sister?" he demanded.
"Oh, by the stars! You want to discuss this now?" Legolas exclaimed, eyeing the two Elves in plain disbelief, "We march for Mordor tomorrow, and you want to speak of this now? Even were I in the mood to deal with this now, I would never discuss Arwen with you until I have actually seen her."
"We are her brothers. Her only brothers, I might add." Elrohir said, somewhat menacingly, "Would you rather have this discussion with Lord Elrond, Thranduilion, or perhaps our grandparents?"
"You do not intimidate me, Peredhel;" Legolas returned in kind, "All I will say is that absolutely nothing is settled between us. We have not met since the Fellowship left Rivendell, when Arwen was still publicly betrothed to Aragorn, a fact you well know, and even if you did not, I resent being accused of being careless towards your sister – an elleth of considerable repute who is well aware of her own mind – as if I was some drunken lout from Bree! Whither you will it or no, I am the Prince of Mirkwood and the only peoples to slander my name have been grudge-bearing Dwarves and orcs! I love Arwen Undómiel and if you have something against me for that, you are not the friends I thought you were! Does that satisfy you?!"
The twins were taken aback by this outburst from the usually private prince, who was quite clearly irate and about thirty seconds away from losing his temper and giving them a first hand demonstration of exactly how much of Thranduil's famous temper Legolas had inherited. Sharing an approving glance, they both held their hands up in a placating gesture.
"Peace, Legolas." Elladan said, "We did not mean to impugn your honour or accuse you of any impropriety. We do know you and your character, mellon, and we honestly could not think of a better match for Arwen, but she is our only sister, and thus we had to ask. We did not mean to imply any slur, only whether you have made up your mind as how to approach her."
Legolas glared at them stonily for a long minute before accepting their explanation as sincere and calming down, fists unclenching and the fiery glint in his bright eyes dimming some. "Next time, gwenyn," he said silkily, "I suggest you ask Lord Erestor for some tips on negotiating such an undertaking. If this had been a treaty of any kind, you would have just destroyed it."
"Well, admittedly, we did not intend to rile you." Elrohir explained ruefully, "In our defence, we are so used to chasing off Arwen's suitors that that question tends to come out rather tersely."
Legolas shot the younger one a look that plainly stated that he thought Elrohir was a dunce, before arching an eyebrow at them. "So, since I obviously merit such trust and esteem instead of being relegated to the ranks of your sister's suitors, and you say that you have no intention of insulting me, why did you just repeat the question using gentler words?"
"There is no need to act like your adar in a snit, Greenleaf." Elladan said, "We are only asking you what you are planning to do before our adars, and the Lady Galadriel descend on you with wedding plans, and visions of your happy little elflings. Think on that for a moment."
Legolas did, and promptly blanched. "Oh Eru, they would not. My father would never… no, he would. Lady Galadriel?"
"Loves matchmaking." Elrohir supplied helpfully, "And with naneth in Aman, she would be the one usurping adar's right to plan and plot over the binding of his only daughter and her only granddaughter. I have seen her scheme with ada. It is not something to jest about. It can get very… intense."
"But I have not even spoken to Arwen!" Legolas exclaimed, beginning to pace back and forth, "Her troth with Aragorn was scarcely ended before the Fellowship left… They would not expect us to… oh dear Eru!"
Elladan and Elrohir shared a conspiratorial glance before each wrapping an arm around the newly stricken prince's shoulders, "Come, Greenleaf," Elrohir said, "And let us help you outwit our Elders, because I assure you, that when this war is over, Arwen will be waiting and if you wish to see her before our dear adar swoops in to interrogate you and Thranduil exerts his no doubt fantastic revenge for your little escape attempt, you had better have a plan of attack."
"I thought this was a relationship, not a battle." Legolas protested.
Elladan only laughed, "Oh, my poor, naïve little friend. No matter how much he likes you, do you really think adar is going to pass up any opportunity to torture you after the slight… strain in diplomatic relations with the Dwarves on your last sojourn to our lovely home?"
"That was all your idea!" the Wood-Elf protested indignantly.
"I did not see you objecting at the time." He replied. "So, come on, and let us enlighten you on their plans, and yes, they have plans. Large ones, actually and quite elaborate. You see, it all started a few years ago when they realised that Buffy was partial to Aragorn and they decided that you were quite the suitable ellon for our dear Evenstar and well, from there, things…"
A blinding light blasted through the street then and when it was gone, she was alone and unharmed; no blood anywhere and the sounds of a city in its death throws were gone. Startled, she looked around. She was in what looked to be a sitting room of some kind. It was definitely Minas Tirith, she could tell but what held her attention was the mirror on the far well, and the reflection within it.
It was her; she knew it was her, but different. The figure in the mirror was dressed richly, was slender and short, but her face – Buffy's face – held the weight of many more years upon it and upon close inspection, she could see the faint threads of silver in her golden hair. Cautiously, she drew a hand up to her face and the figure in the mirror followed her movements exactly. Cursing, she took a step back, looking around for danger. Things didn't look particularly bad, but then again, she wasn't in a trusting mood after her previous encounters. Exactly when did she get to wake up anyway? If somebody's little drugging habits were keeping her under, she swore they were going to feel her wrath as soon as she could manage it, and it wouldn't be pretty.
The door swung open and Buffy jumped. "Buffy?" Elladan said softly, coming into the room, "It is time."
"Time?" Buffy repeated dumbly but the Elf only caught hold of her arm and gently tugged her into another room and once there, she forgot everything else.
Aragorn lay on a bed, his face lined and his hair was completely silver. Her feet carried her to him of their own accord until she was at his bedside, one of his hands clutched in both of hers. "Aragorn?" she murmured.
He smiled and tugged one of his hands free, bringing it up to caress her cheek. At his urging, she sat down on the edge of the bed to be closer to him. "It is my time, meleth." He said as Elladan tactfully exited the room, and Buffy, looking at his tired figure, knew exactly what he meant.
"You are not going anywhere, do you hear me?" she said fiercely, "No one is dying today!"
"It is not ours to judge, Buffy." Aragorn said softly, drawing her down to him, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes, "It is the doom of all Men."
"Well, tell them to take it back and shove it!" Buffy insisted, voice wobbling in a must humiliating fashion. "You can't leave…"
They argued back and forth for a while until Buffy could see that her protests were hurting him and she could not bring herself to fight with him any longer. They cried and they laughed and Aragorn saw all those dear to him one last time before he lay back down and taking her hand in his, they said goodbye for the last time. And when he passed, she cried and cried and cried, hearing his final words echoing in her head until the gentle hands of Arwen tugged her away, speaking in a soothing manner and comforting her with words and body. It was like she could not breathe; a thousand times worse than she had ever felt when Angel had left; it felt like she was going to die.
It was only when she truly understood how people could die of a broken heart that the pain faded away, along with the comforting murmur of family and friends and the mourning of Minas Tirith.
Was this a warning or some remnant of Sauron's malice? It certainly was not the first time that she had had dreams of a possible future and nearly every one of them had been a disaster. Still, she could not rid herself of the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, this time it would be worth it. Aragorn's voice seemed to be on constant repeat in her head, - I love you. Could she really justify forcing Aragorn away anymore? The world was a harsh place for warriors, and nothing came with a Happily Ever After guarantee. Maybe it was time to take a leap of faith… but she couldn't exactly say that everything was flowers and puppies.
With Angel, the pain had pierced to the heart, had made it hard to breathe. But however intense their love was, she had been a girl and they had only known each other a couple of years before he walked right out of her life. Now, she was a woman, with a woman's depth of heart, and she had loved Aragorn for decades. If she allowed herself to tip over the edge and give into that love, there would be no going back. Whatever it cost her.
She was honest enough with herself to admit if Aragorn were only a ranger of the north, she would not have hesitated this long. But she could not forget that Aragorn wasn't a lesser man; he was a descendent of Númenor, Isildur's Heir and the soon-to-be King of Gondor. His destiny was to sit on the throne of Men, while hers… well, it had mostly consisted of battling evil, dying young and taking orders from stuffy Watcher guys from England. Yeah, what a match. She was sure that all the Lords and Ladies of Gondor would either die of laughter or have multiple heart attacks at the thought of him being in love with her.
Could she really be a lady of the court? Without causing a few dozen wars? Could she really deal with being penned in just because of Aragorn's station? She tossed out every negative that would come with it and each and every one was being happily struck down by Impractical Buffy, who was busy shouting a litany of 'I love him and he loves me!' with an addition of cooing over the child she had seen. Their child.
Aragorn was gonna be a king. It kinda went without saying that he would need an heir, and if she married him, a baby would definitely be involved. She honestly wasn't sure what she felt about that. Could slayers even get pregnant? What kind of a mommy debated the merits of the crossbow versus the longbow instead of which cartoon was more child-friendly? However, she couldn't deny the thrill she had felt when she had first seen that little boy and known him as hers. Who knew? Maybe this was the chance for a normal life? Well, as much of a normal life as she was likely to get.
What was she going to do?
A/N: So? Opinions please? Fluffy enough? Enjoy it while you can 'cos you know it never lasts with me! Please READ and REVIEW!!!!
Next chapter: Sauron's plans advance… some Éowyn/Faramir interaction… Minas Tirith gets some unexpected guests… and Buffy gets to actually be awake.
Meleth - love
nín hervess – my wife
Amin mela lle – I love you
Adar – father
Meldiren – my friend
Thranduilion – Son of Thranduil
Peredhel – Half-Elf
Elleth – Elf-maiden
Mellon – friend
Gwenyn – twins
Naneth - mother
Aman - also called the Blessed Realm, Valinor or the Undying Lands. Home of the Elves in the West.
Dol Guldur - 'Hill of Sorcery'. A treeless height in the south-west of Mirkwood, a stronghold of the Necromancer before he was revealed as Sauron returned.
Imrahil - Prince of Dol Amroth at the time of the War of the Ring. The line of the Princes of Dol Amroth is said to be of Elvish descent, a foremother being a Silvan Elf and a handmaiden of the Elleth Nimrodel of Lórien. Father of Lothíriel. Denethor's brother-in-law. Uncle to Faramir and Boromir.
Númenor - Land of the Star. Translated 'Westland'. When Elros Half-Elven, Elrond's twin, chose to be of the Race of Men, the Valar granted him an island to rule over. It was prepared by the Valar as a dwelling place for the Edain after the First Age. Elros, granted a longer lifespan because of his Elven heritage, and the rest of the Edain who followed him were long lived as well, became Elros Tar-Minyatur, first King of Númenor.
Osgiliath - Was once the capital of Gondor. But during the War of the Kin-Strife (a rebellion during the time of kings around the 1430's.) it was laid siege to by the rebels and burned to ruins in 1437.
Palantír - one of the seven seeing stones that were scattered throughout Gondor and Arnor during the reign of Elendil. For the last few centuries, they have been considered unsafe to use as it is believed that one of them is in the possession of Sauron.
Pelennor fields - 'Fenced Land'. The 'town lands' of Minas Tirith. Guarded by the wall of Rammas Echor.
Rammas Echor - out-wall. For ten leagues or so it ran, from the mountains' feet and back again, enclosing in its fence the fields of the Pelennor.
Rath Dínen - 'The Silent Street' in Minas Tirith, where the tombs of the dead Kings and Stewards are.
«´¨ Asha D ¨»
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