I CAPTURE THE SUN
Teaser: Complete. Buffy ends up in Heaven, which happens to be Middle-Earth. But not everything is as heavenly as it seems as she's come in the middle of a war and finds a piece of Heaven worth fighting for.
Rating: T, by the new fanfiction standards.
Revised Summary: Buffy Summers had been given a new life and for thirty years she lived as the powerful, feared leader of a warrior clan of women… and then her friends pulled her out of Heaven. Now she lives in a world she no longer understands surrounded by people who cannot help her. Friendships will be tested and loyalties will be stretched to their limits but she will never rest until she fulfills her last promise and fights in the war she knows has come.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon. The 'Lord of the Rings' book series belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien. The plot is (hopefully) my own.
Timeline: The story is currently set mid-Summer after the Return of the King.
Gratitudes: Thank you, thank you, thank you. You people are amazing readers and reviewers. If you have not reviewed as of yet, I will ask that you just leave a note saying whether or not you enjoyed this story. I would much appreciate it. To those of you who have faithfully followed this story, you have my eternal gratitude. I only wish I could repay it.
Notes: There may be a sequel to this story at some point, but it will be a long time coming. We just buried my father-in-law two weeks ago and spent two weeks away from school in Pennsylvania, no less. Now with two weeks of course work to catch up on, we will likely be very busy through the holidays and next semester looks no less time-consuming. While these stories have been written for ages, it will take quite some time to write something of this length again. Needless to say, I fully intend to write another Lord of the Rings crossover… how could I not use my favorite genre? Thank you for being such dedicated readers.
Part Summary: Buffy makes a pact to ensure her people's safety and also makes the most important decision about her future.
There was a sudden movement in the darkness. Blinking and craning her neck in an attempt to see who was approaching, Daire quickly calmed when she saw her adopted mother. "Buffy," she breathed in relief.
"You did show up," Buffy said nonchalantly, finally reaching the girl's side. "Good… that will make this easier." Taking a deep breath, she began to tell Daire of Siri's final battle. Though they had not been related as sisters, they were still cousins and Buffy could see that Daire took the news of Siri's death hard.
"That is most grievous," she murmured, turning her face to the waning moon and shivering in a sudden gust of wind that followed Buffy's tidings. "Had you not shown up when you had, more would have died."
"You're probably right," Buffy agreed as the two began to walk around the gardens. "But I returned from my deadly imprisonment just in time to watch more of the people I trained to survive die. It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence."
Daire glanced at the smaller woman. "Why did you return? When last I heard, you had disappeared and Siri took your oath to Thranduil in your stead."
"I returned because I had to," Buffy said dryly. "I think the correct question would be… why did you disappear?"
"It's complicated," Buffy said with a dramatic sigh. "It involves magic, friends and a really dark place in my mind I have no intention of returning to."
"But you were there," Daire replied, pausing as she watched Buffy continue on. "Surely you must have felt something about your surroundings."
"Yeah, I felt something," Buffy surmised. "I missed the place… but it's not the same as it used to be. I think I've spent too much time here."
Daire leaned against the rail, turning away from her adoptive mother. "Do you even like it here?"
"Sometimes," the other woman admitted. "And sometimes I wish I was back there. Time hardly passed… everyone looked the same. Everyone remembered me as being someone they could count on. I don't think they expected I was somewhere else. I don't think they expected me to want to be back here. But I had to come… I've spent more time here than I ever spent there… if that makes any sense," she continued sarcastically. "I'm just winding my brain around and around and around…"
"Do not feel guilty," Daire advised her. "You will only succeed in driving yourself mad."
"Yeah," Buffy said softly, remembering the look on Dawn's face – the heartbroken, devastated look that she remembered when she first told Dawn she loved her before diving to her death. "It goes something like that. But enough about the bad… how about the good? Before we left the forest, I was told that you're engaged."
"He lives still?"
"Oh, yeah," Buffy said slowly, feeling something tighten in her stomach. "About that…"
"Oh, tell me not that another one I loved has fallen," Daire moaned, dropping her head into her arms.
Buffy leaned forward and rubbed Daire's back in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "I don't know, honestly. Too many died and I never knew their names." She paused. "I promised myself I would never let that happen. I told myself not to get close. But I was involved, right up to the top of my rather short head. The night that Edrae died… the night your parents died… the night Meira died… so many have gone. So many are lost. I didn't think I would ever get the chance to see anyone I cared for again."
"But you have, have you not?" Daire inquired curiously. Buffy wore such a sad look on her face that she wanted to reach out to her.
"You have no idea how happy I am that you're alive," Buffy replied honestly. "Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without you. Of all the women I've trained over the years… you're the one I'm most proud of. Because, in a way, I've had you the longest." Her lips suddenly curved into a small, fond smile. "Did I ever tell you what your mother told me the night before she died? She told me to look after you as I would my kin. Well, that makes no sense considering I've got no kin. But I watched over you… protected you, guided you, trained you, invented you… created you. I created you into me. What you fight, how you think, how you leap into battle without a second's thought about how you are risking your life to save a world… I can't believe you learned. I never thought I would ever see the day where my knowledge would be passed on like that." Her eyes were strangely misted over as she continued on. "I turned you into the strongest woman I know. I've given you my heart and soul and now… you can use these to do what is necessary to lead them." Reaching down, she grasped a small box and lifted it. "This belonged to your cousin… I felt it best to give it to you."
Daire took the box and opened it, finding a small jewel set on a strand of silver within. "Buffy…"
"I'm not the leader I was, Daire," Buffy continued on as Daire's mouth opened and closed in shock. "I can't lead them the way you can. This is your destiny. You were born to lead these people. You were born for something more than just war and grief and death and destruction. It's time to set aside your sword and pick up your crown. It's waiting for you… in Lake Town, it's waiting for you. It's got your name on it… and it's not going anywhere."
"What about you?" Daire dared to ask.
"For a long time, I thought my destiny was to fight the forces of darkness," she admitted as they continued walking again. "I did the best I could. I trained my own army, fought my own battles... but somewhere along the line, I messed up. I made a mistake. I started to care too much about the things around me instead of my own destiny."
"What destiny is this?"
"I told you the one girl in all the world theory, right?" Buffy asked, frowning. "Well… the same rules still apply. I've got so much potential and I never realized how much I had until I lost it all. When they brought me back to a different prison, I felt trapped and torn. I realized that I could make a difference here. And I will… but not as a leader. What I need to do, I can't do with the people behind me. It should have been just me from the start."
"If it had been you," Daire choked, "you would have suffered at the hands of Sauron utterly! How could you say that? You are the strongest person I know and this goes beyond the realm of the Elves."
"I may have turned into the darkness, or the darkness would have choked on me," Buffy replied with a bittersweet smile. "But still I have to do what is necessary to ensure my people's survival. There are dark things in this world that none have yet seen. I have felt them. I still feel them. My time with my people is over. I have to find myself now."
"What means can you possibly do…" Daire began, but Buffy was smiling.
"Mordor holds many secrets and I feel like I have so much I can do there," Buffy replied gently. "And beyond that… the east beckons. There is a dark force calling out to me and I'm going out there."
"And what of your people?" Daire whispered, her eyes wide with shock for the third time this eve. "Do you seek to abandon them?"
Buffy gave a grim smile as she glanced down. "I will never abandon my people. You took me in and gave me shelter when I needed it the most. And in the end your elders chose me to lead you. I've taught you everything I can and you know everything you need to. Now it's your turn, just as it was Siri's." She held up her hand as Daire opened her mouth to protest. "As for abandoning you… I would never do that. When you needed me the most, I was there. I will always be there, but I can't always protect you. I taught you how to do that on your own. Siri's pride was the reason why she died. It wasn't lack of skill." She leaned forward to grasp Daire's shoulder as the younger woman was suddenly looking crestfallen. "Don't grieve for me. Don't waste your tears. There are plenty to waste."
"What hope is there for a future for our people?" Daire asked fearfully. "What if war comes again?"
Buffy's smile was absolute this time. "I have a plan for that," she assured her daughter plainly. "Don't worry about that. If there's one thing I've learned from dealing with Thranduil, it's the value of an alliance. And there are still a few cards yet to play."
Morning soon came, and with it the air of a new day. Though parts of the city were in utter ruin, there was still the whisper of hope and renewal. After all, these people had seen the marriage of their King Elessar to their Queen Undomiel. Female knights donned in red armor swept through Minas Tirith regally, often pushing the knights of Gondor out of their posts with the promise of time spent with their families. Mauve was no different. The lieutenant stood her ground at the front gates above the demolished doors to the city, her cool gaze sweeping the horizon. A knight of Gondor stood beside her, staring at her incredulously. She had remained at this post all through the night and still showed no signs of exhaustion.
"I have been trained well," she told him coolly as he questioned her intentions. "We once had to run around-the-clock posts."
"That must have been difficult," the knight replied. Though he had once served under Boromir at Osgiliath, they rarely stood their post for an entire day and night. "Your captain must have been a slave-driver."
"You know nothing of her," Mauve replied, a bite to her tone as she gave the knight a sideways glance. "Gondor has had the protection of its army for many years. My captain created hers from the dust, literally. Most of the knights that protected the royal family were slain in battle with the Dark Elves and Orcs from Mordor. So before you open your mouth to speak on bated breath, perhaps you would consider that not all of us have been as privileged to such great leadership as you have."
"My captain fell in battle because the one Ring drove him mad," the knight replied softly.
"My captain is dead," Mauve concluded. "She walks and sleeps and breathes and consumes but inside she needs not take a single breath of air or sleep a single night. It is perhaps this knowledge most of all that drove her to her old ways." A wry smile suddenly formed on her lips. "Had she not done what she did, few would be loyal to her today."
"Absolute loyalty to a woman," the man breathed, unable to comprehend how this could be so. "She must be extraordinary."
"She truly is," Mauve agreed, folding her arms before her. "Even after my brothers were lost in the wars of the past, she showed me that I could have the strength to beat back any army of Mordor. I thought her mad until the time came for us to fight. When we went into that field, everything seemed so clear… to stand and fight as though nothing in this world mattered more."
"She seems so strange," the man mused from beside her. "She carries the loyalty of all, and yet she stands not the height of a horse."
"You know not her strength until you are on the receiving end of her blow," Mauve countered. "Only then would you realize she is invincible." She paused, considering her words.
"Invincible?" the knight asked in a quiet, deadened tone. "Invincible? Surely you do not mean…"
"There was a reason why she was brought to this world," Mauve replied in an amused voice. "Yet she holds no shadow nor bears a single wound despite the darkest murmurs of her heart. Her path lies beyond what we know or what we could possibly fathom. She may no longer lead us, yet she commands the respect of all. Even your King Elessar respects her power. Granted, she may not yet know the extent to her true abilities, but that is a test of what is to come."
"What do you speak of?" the knight asked, looking amazed at the woman's words.
"I speak that she will not live in a world of peace," Mauve sighed. "She was created to thrive in the darkest places where the lights have gone out. She was brought here for a purpose and as she cannot yet leave this world to pass to the next, she must fulfill her true destiny. Only then can she truly be free. Only then will she be utterly whole."
They fell silent as the sun continued to rise, the warm light reflecting from their garments and from their faces. The city came to life behind them and they abandoned watch to speak with the local citizens. It was only when Mauve noticed a cloud of dust rapidly approaching from the distance did she call out, "Look! There are riders ahead!"
"So, there are," the knight replied, his eyes narrowed. He could see a tiny speckle on the horizon, but he knew not what it was. "Your eyesight must be akin to the Elves for I cannot see light nor tail of what is out there."
Again she gave him her superior smile. "As I have said, you did not train with our lady." She paused. "But perhaps there are things you can learn."
They lapsed into silence again; Mauve was watching the dust cloud roam closer as horses with riders atop them came ever nearer to the city. The knight of Gondor, on the other hand, continued to frown at the horizon and glare at Mauve, completely disbelieving of the fact that her sight was superior to his own. He had learned long ago that women could not see as well as the men, yet this one seemed capable of seeing something he could not. This woman who had trained them, the one that had ridden into the city with the Elves, must have skills beyond even Elvish training for her own knights to carry such skill.
He had been looking all over the city for her. Since the night before, he had been looking for her. He wished to speak with her and yet she seemed to be avoiding him. He glanced around the small gardens that Daire told him she had been sitting at the night before. Yet the gardens were dead and dim and the woman he searched for was nowhere in sight. He knew not frustration, but he was starting to feel annoyed. When this woman wanted to hide, she was definitely a master of the craft.
She had arrived at the reception dinner and had dined with her people before disappearing. Sometime during the night, she had spoken with Daire. She had then given orders to the knights that were posted around the city. After that, she had simply vanished. He thought she may have gone to rest, but realized then she needed no sleep. He had checked the room that King Elessar had granted to her and found it to be empty. He had checked every last eatery or gathering place on the level and found no trace of the mysterious woman.
After asking the Elvish guard that had escorted her to alert him the moment they had seen her, he stalked off to the Citadel. He was far from irritated, but the fact she had disappeared meant that she thought she had done something wrong. After the previous night, he kept thinking about how different things now seemed. He saw the world in the same crystal-clear light as normal, but there was something new about his friend. Yes, he had called her his friend now, something he had been reluctant to do in the past because of all the ire she had caused him and his household. He had done his best to welcome her but had desisted in getting too close. And yet she had developed some sort of feelings for him, feelings that he was almost hesitant to return. This was in part why he wished to speak with her. He had to know her intentions before he could even begin to decipher what it was he felt.
The seventh and final tier was as empty as the rest. The Citadel stood stoically before him and the great arch and the new sapling stood behind. He marched forward towards the Citadel. He knew he wouldn't find her within. She seemed to avoid these places as though they were a plague.
Inside stood King Elessar, facing the throne with a puzzled expression on his face. As Legolas approached, the King turned and nodded to his longtime friend. "I am pleased that you found me, my friend," Elessar began, turning to sit on his throne as though testing the seat for something he wasn't expecting. It was then that Legolas noticed a second chair had been placed next to the throne, one he assumed was for Arwen.
"This is a sleepy morning," Legolas said quietly, watching as his friend continued to move the throne chair and seat back and forth. "Should you not have another move these things? It would be a pity if you were trapped beneath one."
Elessar gave him a look that said he was far less than amused. "Have you seen Buffy?" he asked casually, finally resting down in his throne and reaching for a goblet on a nearby table. "She has been looking for you this morn."
Legolas frowned as he glared at the King, though his glance was far from harmful. "She has been looking for me?" he asked incredulously. "I have searched for her since dawn and have yet to see sight or hear word of her. She truly becomes invisible when she wishes it."
Elessar glanced at his friend, frowning himself. "She said that she needed to speak with the rest of her guards that were not at post. She wishes to tell them of her future plans as she will not remain in Gondor, Rohan or the forests to the north." He sighed, staring at the skylights admitting brilliant sunlight in shadowy flashes across his throne room. "She keeps speaking of her journey to the east, but the only journey east is death."
"One who is dead cannot die again," Legolas surmised. He was getting frustrated now… she hadn't told him of these plans the night before when she all but admitted her true feelings to him.
Elessar was watching him carefully as he sipped from his goblet. "She spoke of the necessity to find herself before she could return to a world she feels she is not ready for," he said quietly, setting the goblet aside. He looked uncertain as whether to continue or not, but Legolas' face looked so dire he plunged on. "She cares for you, mellon nín. Do not doubt her intentions."
"I do not yet know of her intentions," Legolas replied calmly. "As I have said, we have not spoken since last night before your gala. I do wish to speak with her ere she leaves."
Elessar frowned again as he gazed seriously at the Woodland Elf. "She intends to leave as soon as she is able. I know not where these plans came from, nor where her intentions truly lie, but I do now that she treads a dangerous path between darkness, despair and destiny. She told me herself that I have found my destiny and nearly died for it. She keeps speaking of her destiny as something only the dead could achieve."
"There is nothing east but death and despair," Legolas replied. "How can she believe that she can go east?"
"Do you really think I'm afraid of the dark?" a feminine voice asked behind him. He turned and spied the small-boned woman as she walked closer to them. Her face was inscrutable, yet her eyes carried a determination Legolas knew all too well. "I stopped being afraid when I was four."
"There is not only darkness to fear," Legolas replied coolly. "There is also a path to the unknown."
"The unknown becomes known when it's explored," she reminded him, her eyebrows rising at his expression. "Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you."
Aragorn wore a knowing smirk as Legolas trudged after the woman back into the cool late-morning air.
"Ah," she said, tipping her face to the sun. "This is something a girl could get used to." Turning, she saw that Legolas wouldn't stop giving her that cool, perceptive look he had patented over his hundreds-of-years lifespan. "What is it?"
"Is it true?" he asked quietly. "Do you mean to leave Gondor and the forests of the north behind to satisfy some whim to travel east?"
She nodded slowly. "You didn't expect me to sit here and do nothing for the rest of my life, did you?" she asked quietly. "I'm hardly a sit-by-the-hearth-and-knit kind of girl."
"But you are hardly a woman to search for more dangerous times than the ones we have already faced!" he exclaimed, surprised by the force of his own voice. "How can you ask this of yourself?"
"I believe the correct question is 'why are you trying to die'," Buffy replied wryly, folding her arms as she stared at the cloudless sky. After a long while, she heaved a great sigh and glanced at him. "I don't know what's out there. I don't know what I'm looking for, but I believe that whatever I know I'm looking for is out there."
"What of your allegiance to my father?" Legolas asked. "What of your people?" He wanted to ask of himself too, but forced his voice to stop where it had.
"Your father will remember me as the person who covered his ass at the end," Buffy replied, an uncharacteristically harsh look on her face as she continued. "As for my people, I have something in mind for them." Her face softened. "As for… well…" She gestured at him lamely. "I don't know what I was thinking. I don't know if I can go through this again, after everything I've been through. After everything I've fought for, I'm not about to be some happy woman waiting at home for her honey to come back. The world doesn't work that way." Her face wore a dark look now. "What I did last night… it was stupid. I did it out of the blue. I hope you're not insulted because I don't think I could…" Her voice trailed off and she forced herself to look away.
"Do not lie to me," he said, reaching for her arm. "Do not tell me you do not feel something."
"I feel something," she replied, glancing over her shoulder up at him. "I just don't know if I can trust it. Now, or ever. Something brought me back to this world and I'm trying awfully hard to believe it wasn't just you."
He was surprised to hear her speak of this, for her trust in men had been shattered within her first year here. "You wish to believe that there is one worthy of your love."
"I never said love," she replied hastily, pulling herself from his grasp. "But I know in the end that I'm the one that ends up alone. There's only supposed to be a single chosen one." She saw the light on his face and felt as though her very essence was shattering as much as she hated to admit it. "I can't…" But she couldn't force herself to say it. Finally, she tried again. "I do feel something for you. It's strong and it's there and it's wild and it makes me feel alive. I feel warm again. I want to hold onto this warmth, so badly… but now is not the time."
"There is more for you here than certain death?"
"I can't die!" she cried, turning away as she pounded her thighs with her small but powerful fists. "Do you have any idea what it is like for me to know that I can't die? Death is something I breathe, dream and live for. The chance of a lifetime is to go out in some blaze of glory and yet… here I am. I'm a dysfunctional model of the what-was and the what-could-be is just as small and stupid and…" She took a deep breath. "Here I go rambling again… I'm sorry. But before I can do anything else, I have to know."
"What must be so important for you to know that you would risk everything you ever stood for?" Legolas asked her quietly.
"I want to feel alive," she whispered. "I feel a fire, but it's frozen. I feel so cold, yet my body is warm to the touch. Everything I thought about myself, everything I took for granted… it's all been ripped away. How can I be a Slayer when everything I am has turned to dust? There's no war here. I'm not a shadow of living death. I'm alive and I have to find out why. Why would someone give me this… this gift and not expect me to find out why I have it?"
"This is truly what you desire?" Legolas asked, watching as she started off again.
"I have to know," she said, turning to look at him. "I asked Galadriel, but she just said in that annoyingly soft voice of hers that even the wisest cannot say. I know I'm not the smartest one here. I may not be the strongest. But I am determined. I have to know," she repeated, seeing the calm, expressionless look on his face. "I just have to."
"I understand," he replied simply. "I truly do."
The look on her face altered to concern as she saw the way his azure eyes lifted away to gaze at the sky. "I want to feel something more for you," she sighed. "But…"
"This is not the time for such matters," Legolas concluded, seeing the look on her face.
"I'm so sorry," she replied. "Maybe there will be a time…"
Legolas glanced up again, watching as two stray gulls took the sky and fluttered overhead. "Each day my soul longs to travel the Sea to the West. My days in this world are numbered."
"I know," she said, her tone cracking for the first time. "But I also know that if I don't find out what I need to, I'll regret it. It would be just the same if I loved you knowing that you wanted to be somewhere else."
His eyes moved from the gulls to her face. It was difficult to read, yet had she said what she had? She smiled at the slightly confused expression on his face before moving towards him. She reached up and pulled his face to hers before she pressed her lips to his in a chaste kiss. After she had pulled back, she smiled. "Thank you," she said, stepping around him and moving away.
Legolas moved his hand to where she had touched him, unaware that her hands could be so heated. "That woman," he muttered softly. He had met many in his time, yet none were quite like her. Time was no stranger to his people, who lived a great while before the call of the west pulled them near. Yet the more he thought about it, the more he realized that losing her again after she had disappeared the first time was not a destiny he had in mind.
"Éomer, my friend, it is good to see you within these halls again."
The King of Rohan had just strolled into the Citadel, his eyes taking in the legendary décor and the grand banners. "It is good to be back here," the King replied solemnly. "I only wished I would return under better circumstances."
"I assume you wish to leave as soon as you are able?" Elessar asked lightly, glancing up from his spot at a table in a small room near the throne room. "I do not blame you for your haste."
"There is much yet to be done," Éomer agreed as he sat at the opposite end of the table.
Elessar had a strange look in his eyes as he regarded the other King somewhat wearily. "I wish I had better tidings, yet I do not…" His voice trailed off delicately as the doors behind the King of Rohan burst open and a single figure strode inside. Éomer turned to glance at the soul interrupting his rather private meeting with the King of Gondor.
"What is this?" Éomer asked in disbelief, spying a woman. She was short in stature and she looked rather, well, elegant wasn't quite the right word. She wore a gown only a woman of highest royal heritage should wear, but that was not what drew his attention to her. Her back was rigid and she held herself with the highest authority. Her clear hazel eyes searched his questioningly, yet she refused to back down, even at the hands of two Kings of men. "Who are you?"
"Sit," Elessar said to the woman quietly, nodding to the third chair at their table. "She asked to speak with you, my brother."
"Is this a trick?" Éomer asked, gazing suspiciously at the young woman.
"This is no trick," the woman said, speaking up at last. She was leaning casually on her arms, gazing thoughtfully at the King of Rohan. "Strider and I go way back before the Ring war even started. You and I, on the other hand…"
"You and I?" Éomer asked, aghast. "This is a wizard's riddle!"
"Met him too," she replied, sounding bored. Rolling her eyes at his rather startled expression, she saw that Elessar was looking amused. "The point is, I'm here on behalf of my people. You probably don't know them, but your history does."
"My… history?" he asked faintly.
"I'm a little rusty about the history part," she continued, her voice losing a bit of its warmth and confidence. "But I believe in your past you had some… nephew person and he… besieged… was it Edoras?" Her voice was now choppy and she sounded slightly confused. "It doesn't matter. What I know is… Fruity… or… Fresca… why aren't you helping?" she asked, glaring at Elessar, who was barely managed to contain his laughter, much less the grin now spreading across his face. "I'm not the native here, buddy."
"You were doing well by yourself," he managed to choke out before he was overcome by fits of laughter. Her glare turned more hostile as she sighed.
"You're so funny," she deadpanned, rolling her eyes as she turned back to Éomer. "The point is, these people that I have… they're yours. Sort of."
Elessar, finally catching his breath, took a deep breath. "She speaks the truth," he said to the skeptical King of Rohan. "Her people were once akin to Freca."
Éomer's face suddenly broke out into a dark look as he glared fearfully at the woman. "What madness is this?" he demanded.
"Whoa, hold on," Buffy snapped back, holding up her hand. "I didn't say 'hey, I'm here to usurp your crown'. I said that the people I led used to be akin to that Dunlander that tried to take the crown from Helm Hammerhead." Had she actually used the word 'usurp'?
"Hammerhand," Elessar said quietly from her right.
"Him, too," Buffy replied, her eyes never leaving Éomer's face. "Look… they didn't really know Freca. He had a brother he sent most of his 'friends' with and they went east. As the generations went on, the same lie was sent down and soon I was stuck in this forest surrounded by these knights crying out to King Théoden." Éomer's face slowly slackened as he realized what she said. "They knew that Freca was out of his mind. That's why they left. But they never stopped believing that they were better than him. I should know. I raised the last two children of that line." She paused. "They took a great risk crossing the Misty Mountains to find their home, only to realize that stunted drunks ran the show. They're not of Dunland. They don't even look like them. Well, aside from the dark hair and those tempers… the point is, they're Rohan… in… ish…" Her tone trailed off helplessly.
"The point she is making is that she believes it would be in both of your great interests if you would consider an alliance with the people of the north," Elessar said, his face serious now.
"You cannot be serious," Éomer whispered, glancing from this beguiling woman to his dearest friend, the King who stood at his side. "To trust those that held the crown and all but murdered Helm!"
"I didn't do anything, and they don't deserve the grudge," Buffy said, her tone cutting through the tension like a knife. "They're good people. They know what their past told them was a lie. They know that Rohan is the crown of these people, not me." She looked slightly ashamed as she continued on. "The last… Prince… asked me to lead them before he died. I've done the best I can, but it's not my turn anymore. I gave the crown to Daire, but should the time come when the north is attacked again, I want her to know that she can count on the men in the south. There is an army numbering about, oh, three thousand or so up there. They know how to fight and I think they're rather good at it."
Éomer had a slightly dazed look upon his face now, and what made matters worse was when the doors opened and two more women stalked in. He gazed at them, his brow furrowed. He had seen these women before. They came into Gondor with bows strapped to their backs in cloaks of a deep blood-red and yet they had seemed like Gondorian women. Now he realized that they were not of the kin of Gondor but of his own blood. His eyes narrowed as both women approached, sweeping off their hoods and nodding in respect to the King of Gondor who, smirking, nodded back.
"I told you not to come," Buffy said through clenched teeth. She was close to losing Éomer's attention span, she knew. Eru knew that his attention span was that of a horse.
"I thought we could be of use," the smaller one said. She looked younger than the taller woman who stood stoically behind the two, her hands locked behind her back. Her eyes gazed forward, yet there was a pride in her face. Éomer frowned; this strange woman had been right – they were both dark of hair and complexion. They certainly looked as though they were from Gondor.
"How do I know you speak the truth?" he asked caustically, quieting the conversation between the two women.
"I guess that's just something you'll have to find out," Buffy said, standing up. "Now, if you'll excuse me—"
"Wait," Daire said, latching her hand onto Buffy's shoulder and forcing the smaller woman to sit. "You question our allegiance to Gondor, do you? Or is this an attack on the one we saw as our guardian and Prince?"
Éomer felt his lips curl into a sneer. This stupid girl was making it all too easy…
"How dare you say these things?"
His sneer fell from his face as he saw the stoic woman glaring at him. She looked older than the other two with lines on her forehead and around her lips. But there was a cold, hard look in her eyes he did not quite trust.
"You know not of the horrors we saw when we returned to the land our history called our home. They laughed at us. They gave us land and welcomed us home, only to betray us openly to Saruman! They killed many of the children, saying that we had no need for such innocence and youth. We were to be soldiers destined to destroy Rohan. I was not of the belief that we would turn on the house of our fathers. Though I am not of noble blood, I believed in it enough to respect that blood. We betrayed Dunland and fled back to the mountains, desperate to find a home at last."
"And you have found one, indeed," Elessar said quietly. "Did the men of Lake Town not welcome you?"
"They did," Buffy affirmed. "But I was hoping that…" She turned to look at Éomer. "I think you know what its like to return home after a long, long war in which you didn't think you'd ever get to see that house again. You would never see your family. Everything you took for granted that you wanted back so much is standing right there, but inside you just feel like nothing will ever be the same." She gestured at Mauve and Daire. "These women did nothing to wrong you. They command the greatest army of the north. We stood aside King Thranduil of the Mirkwood Realm. We fought aside the brothers of Dúnedain."
"We saved her from the Witch King," Elessar nodded.
Glancing at the women and at Elessar's rather knowing smile, he felt as though he were being surrounded on all sides. "What would you have me do?" he growled, meeting this woman's eyes again.
"I just want you to listen," she replied quietly.
"You would do well to listen to her," Daire spoke up. "She is Buffy, the Lady of Shadows of the North. I am Daire… her daughter. This is Mauve, her great lieutenant."
"You are the Lady of Shadow?" Éomer asked, regarding this woman in a new light. "Great power and respect you commanded amongst my Rohirrim."
"Your… huh?" she asked, her brow furrowed.
And yet, the beginning of a great healing process had slowly, yet abruptly, begun.
As Buffy walked through a long throng of women in red cloaks, she heard cries of greeting, yet she didn't really catch them. She lifted her hand to welcome and wave but her mind was already on the journey at hand. After spending hour after hour inside that room with the King of Rohan, her headache was doing a samba against the inside of her skull. She would do just about anything at this moment for an Orc to kill. Daire and Mauve followed behind her, but they knew her well enough to give her space when she was foul in temperament.
She made her way to the stables, where the horse she had ridden south had been prepared for her. Daire followed her inside, looking uncomfortable. "Buffy," she said quietly, closing the stable doors behind her, sealing them inside. "Must you go now? Surely if you were to succeed in the healing between our peoples, it would do you well to attend to Edoras first."
"That's the thing," Buffy said impatiently, bending down to inspect a large number of weapons and other gear that had been added to the simple saddle. "I don't know how much longer I can wait."
Daire reached forward and took Buffy's hand, pulling it away from the saddle. "You have all of the time in the world, my lady. You owe this to your people."
Buffy wanted to spit out that she really owed them nothing, but in a way, it wasn't true. They had taken her in, after all. She would have died or at the very least she would have been turned into Sauron's personal slave. They had saved her from what she could have been and in a way, she was more grateful than she had ever been. But this was important in restoring a tie to Rohan. She knew that if it was the will of Rohan's King, she would have to see it through.
"As far as Edoras," Buffy said dryly as Daire gave a small, triumphant grin. "Then I will go east."
"That is all I ask," Daire replied, beaming. As Buffy straightened, Daire suddenly threw herself at the smaller woman, her arms tightening around the woman she had come to regard as her true mother, as she had not known her own. "My heart goes with you," she whispered as Buffy returned the hug, somewhat hesitantly. "All of our hearts will go with you."
"I know," Buffy whispered, feeling as though a piece of her was breaking away to travel home with these strong, valiant women. "And you know that all of my being and my soul are with you."
"This much is obvious," Daire said, pulling back and dabbing at her watering eyes. "You are the greatest thing that could have happened to us. Whatever luck we hold in receiving your mercy and your training… it has all been such a blessing. If you are to believe even in your darkest hour that you have done nothing, believe that you given us the greatest gift of all."
The road to Edoras was long and Buffy was far from patient. Though she had agreed to go on this journey, it didn't mean she did it willingly. King Éomer and the rest of his knights were perfectly content to leave her be, especially after the first time they'd met. Her women seemed keen to spend the last of their precious time together by her side. King Elessar and his knights were happy to trail off behind them. It seemed a dull journey until they arrived in Rohan, but Buffy knew it would only go from there.
The one who had yet to speak with her barely acknowledged her existence since she had told him she couldn't love him, not the way he deserved. He rode with Elessar, happy to converse with the other Elves of his house. They often had spoken with her when she was in Gondor, but even that seemed a distant yet happy memory. Even though she could not care for him the way she knew he deserved, she felt as though this was the best thing to do. To make him wait for her whenever she emerged was a curse worse than death, and he could still die. Bitter as these thoughts were, they redeemed her resolve to travel east.
Edoras was nothing like Minas Tirith or any other place she knew, really. Humble and rather desolate were they greeted. And yet Buffy kept her resolve. She was doing this to heal hurts and to resolve old wounds that were opened hundreds of years ago. She had to believe her people had a better future, a future they deserved.
The funeral for King Théoden did not last as long as funerals Buffy had been to, especially her mother's. Though it seemed so long ago, it was hard to believe that less than a year ago in the other world her mother had died. And yet each hour that passed brought her closer to a long and very lonely road.
A new dawn brought with it the promise of a journey. There were riders in the valley already preparing for the ride to Isengard. Buffy held closer to the stables, making certain that her horse could bear her as far as Ithilien before she crossed north of Mordor. She was taking the Dead Plain to the east instead of passing through the realm that had once held such a hold over her. It was just a bad idea to go back there. She wasn't ready. Not yet.
She had never seen Daire look so small. Despite the fact she had a good head over her, Buffy looked at her daughter as looking at her through the eyes of time. "You'd better get ready," she said in a voice quite unlike her own. "They'll be leaving soon."
"I could not leave without saying goodbye," the younger woman said hopefully.
Buffy let her hands fall from her saddle as she looked at the women now gathering behind their new leader. "We've been saying goodbye since we met up again," she replied with a slight laugh. "There isn't any more to say that hasn't already been said. You're good women… you'll do great things. And I can't wait to see them when I get back."
"And you will come back," Daire replied. "After all, you must see your grandchildren."
"I am so not ready for grandkids," Buffy grinned as Daire came forward and held her hand out. Buffy clasped her wrist. After a moment, the women began to move away. Mauve lingered a moment to gaze upon the woman she had served from the beginning. They exchanged a warm smile before Mauve finally moved away.
Now alone, Buffy turned and managed to get atop her horse. Had she been anyone but the Slayer, this feat would have been impossible. Once she had steadied herself, she began to move downhill.
Lifting her hand against the rising sun, she found herself gazing at a scene in which time seemed to stop. Many banners rippled in the early morning breeze. People were shouting and calling to one another in different languages. There was friendship there, camaraderie too. It was something she had never found in Sunnydale. It was nothing she had expected to see. Living in this world had opened her eyes to a new reality. She had been so small in her thinking back then… back in Sunnydale… back home…
Closing her eyes, she nudged her steed forward only to realize someone was sitting directly in her path.
"What are you doing here?" she asked Legolas quietly, trying to calm her riled steed. "Aren't you going to miss the journey?"
"You know as well as I that it will take a great time before they start moving," he said calmly, clearly pleased by her irritation. "You mean not to go with them."
"I never wanted to go anywhere," Buffy replied edgily. "I just wanted to get away."
"You will never change, will you?"
"I don't see what that has to do with the fact you're not exactly letting me go," she snapped. He was amused by her loss of control, as he had played her temper for years. "Would you please, please let me pass?"
He slowly moved aside, allowing her steed to finally race past him down the hill.
"Damn it," she hissed under her breath, realizing one thing. She glanced over her shoulder. He was wearing that cross again. "What are you trying to pull?" she shouted back.
"I 'pull' nothing," he replied calmly, easing Arod down beside her. "I am not the one with a temper of a warg."
She would have growled at him had she spoken then. Instead, her eyes glanced fixedly on his chest. "Why are you doing this?"
"The last time you left, you disappeared for years. I never thought to see you alive again and now that I have, I owe it to my father to not let his ally fall in the Far East."
"That's a load of bull and you know it."
She was challenging him. He would not take the bait. "My lady, I only do as any would do in my position."
"And what position is this?" she asked, glaring at him as she folded her arms. Her horse seemed to stand still, as though afraid of her master's temper. Well, anyone except perhaps Daire would be fearful of Buffy's mood at this time.
"You know of what I speak." Through their connected eyes, Buffy felt a strange sensation in her abdomen. Why did he keep bringing up that lapse of judgment?
"What about the gulls?"
"They will wait."
"And your father? You know that once he finds out, he's totally going to kill you."
"He will understand."
"Right. He'll understand over your dead body."
"If it comes to that."
"Why would you sacrifice that for me?"
He gazed into her face, slightly reddened from her anger. He took a moment to consider his words before he spoke again.
"You cannot go alone."
"I always was alone. At least until those stupid people took me in!"
"Had you been alone, you would have joined Sauron. Even you must see this."
"I know," she snapped irritably. "I'm just trying to figure out why you're so happy to jump into the face of death again. In case you forgot, I can't die. You can."
"Then I shall have to seek your protection."
"My… my protection?" That certainly had a different ring to it. "You're a thousand years old and you'd want a woman to protect you?"
"Not just any woman," he said brightly, riding beside her and through the lower gates of the city. "It could be no other woman than you."
"Oh, you're just asking for it!" she shouted at his back as he continued into the valley. "Once your father gets through with you, I might have to take my shot!"
"Then let us make it back in one piece so that he may get such an opportunity," he called back.
"You are so difficult!"
As she rode beside him, they watched as the entire stock of horses and riders in the valley turned west. At last, the two riders stood alone, staring at one another. It was a mark of loyalty that had lasted decades that would even allow him to consider following her. She just figured she could talk him out of it before his puny, pale neck got itself in peril. She had her ways. And if he was anything like his father, he would soon see his own.
Nudging her horse again, she turned east to the reddened sky. Pink stretches of puffy clouds soared over her head and she felt her breath sway away. Yet another beautiful sunrise in a quasi-paradise. "Now," she whispered, leaning down to her steed's ear. "Let's get that horizon."
Both horses took off, cantering across an endless valley towards the infinite horizon. Wherever the journey lay beyond that, she was ready for it.
She had been born for this.