It took Buffy only a few seconds to figure out where she was. The room was small, the bed was not all that uncomfortable and sunlight filtered in through slots building into the columned, tiered wall.
Too bad the room had ‘hospital’ written all over it.
Pushing off the thin sheet, she found herself dressed in a simple white shift and sighed, wondering what man had undressed her this time. There were very few to trust with the job, especially since she’d been mind tripping... again.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and planted them on the floor. A split second later, she yelped, drawing her knees up to her chest. The floor was not as warm as the rest of the room.
The sound had echoed through the room and out into the main area. She heard footsteps approach rapidly and glanced up under a curtain of blonde hair just as a tall, gallantly blonde figure appeared in the doorway.
Glorfindel looked as stoic and Elf-like as he usually did, with no trace of emotion on his face, save a slight sparkle in his eye. Was it of relief? Or was it something else. Buffy felt her heart leap at the sight of the Elf lord and quickly looked down, wrapping her small arms around her knees. “The floor is cold,” she said, her lips twisting into a pout.
For a moment, Glorfindel didn’t react as though he had heard her. Instead, his eyes scanned every inch of her, as though trying to decide for himself if she was real. “You have fared well,” he finally said in that calm tone of his.
“I slept good,” Buffy replied nonchalantly as she wrapped the thin blanket around her shoulders. “I feel well rested.”
His eyes dropped down to her chest and he took a step into the room. “I must check your injury.”
Buffy’s confidence faltered as she looked down. There was a bandage underneath the thin material of her shift. “Right.” She swung her legs back and lay down, settling on the bed as Glorfindel approached her. She saw the light in his eyes again and bit her lip, trying to focus on the sunlight as it sparkled on the far wall. His hands gently unclasped the shift, revealing the ugly white bandage wrapped around her chest. He unwrapped it with skilled hands and examined it, even as Buffy tried to ignore the slight ache.
“This wound heals still,” Glorfindel said after a moment of awkward silence. He grabbed a clean towel and began to clean it as Buffy lay there, feeling helpless for the moment.
“I think I remember what happened,” she muttered.
Glorfindel met her gaze. “The First stabbed you with a poisoned blade. It would appear its intent was to not let you survive the battle of Gondor.”
Buffy felt a slight flutter in her chest. Who else hadn’t survived? “Can you fill me in on what happened?” she asked, hearing a note of panic in her tone. “Did--Did...”
“Your brother lives.” Glorfindel set down the towel and began re-wrapping the wound. “He left the morning, marching to Mordor.”
“He what?” Buffy gasped, pushing Glorfindel’s hand away and sitting up quickly. Too quickly. The blood rushed into her head and she quickly reached out to grab the bed before she collapsed back on it. Now was not the time to appear weak. Even now, she felt her strength, her determination and all of her worries return. Her brother was going to get himself killed. The First knew exactly who he was and the First would not stop until he was dead.
Glorfindel’s face had a trace amount of amusement as he gently pushed Buffy back down, despite her protests. “I must re-wrap this wound,” he told her. “If you wish to continue your tantrum when I am finished, you may.”
Buffy stifled the urge to stick her tongue out at him. “What else happened?”
Glorfindel continued his work. “Their plan was to divert Sauron’s eye to give Frodo and Sam a chance to reach Mount Doom. I do not believe their intent was to die.”
“Good to know.” Buffy pressed her hand over her eyes. “How long have I been out?”
There was a different light in his eyes now. “You have been unconscious for days.” His tone was gentler now and Buffy slowly lowered her hand to look up at him. His hands worked to re-clasp her shift and he offered her a hand to sit up once more. Buffy took it and pushed herself upwards.
“Aww,” she said softly. “You were worried about me?”
“I was not the only one,” Glorfindel replied as he turned, taking up a pitcher and pouring water into a glass. “Your brother did not leave your side until he was called to lead the men.”
Buffy sighed as she took the glass he handed her and sipped at the water. It was cold and refreshing and seemed to give her added strength. “I didn’t know Elves could worry,” she teased.
His eyes turned and met hers and the light laughter bubbling in her chest died. There was something in those clear, fair eyes that seemed to seize her chest. She blinked uncertainly for a moment, even as his gaze dropped. “Glorfindel,” she began, uncertain how to continue.
“The battle was won,” he continued as he set the pitcher back. She saw the rigid lines of his back as he straightened. “The First has departed for Mordor. I have no doubt it will destroy our forces to achieve its goal.”
“The only thing is, Sauron and the First have different goals,” Buffy replied as she sipped at the water again. “Sauron wants the ring back and the First wants the heirs of Gondor dead.”
“Perhaps that is the key to defeating them both,” Glorfindel replied.
“Yes.” Buffy looked down at herself before recalling the purpose of waking up. “Glorfindel, I have to get there and help them.”
Were it anyone else, she would have been dismissed immediately. Aragorn would have berated her and demanded she stop trying to get herself killed. She had a feeling that any royal of Rohan would have treated her the same way. But she saw that light in Glorfindel’s eyes again and realized it was the grim truth of what was to come. If Elves could sigh, he would have in that moment.
“Then it must be done,” he finally said after a moment. “I will inform the steward that you are awake and are prepared to leave the city.”
“Steward?” Buffy murmured, her mind racing to place the rank title with an actual face. “Faramir?”
“He lives still, but only to hope to return Minas Tirith to your hands,” Glorfindel informed her. His lips twitched at the look of abject horror on Buffy’s face. “Clearly he must learn to know you better.”
“Maybe I should talk to him myself.” Buffy swung her legs around and planted her feet firmly on the tile, trying to bite back the shock of the cold seeping through her bare feet. She suddenly felt exposed in all the thin white fabric and looked back up again. “And maybe you could point me in the direction of a shower? I need to clean myself up first.”~ \ ~ / ~
Faramir was resting comfortably in his office when he heard footsteps approach and the loud rap on the door. He glanced up, surprise showing in his eyes as a woman stood in the doorway, bathed in sunlight. “Want some company?” the voice inquired cheerfully.
Faramir jumped to his feet, ideas of comfort and sleep vacating his mind immediately at the sight of the heiress of Gondor. Her hair was damp and fell in wet waves over her shoulders. She wore a green dress that was obviously borrowed as it did not fit her correctly. “Yes, of course.” He waved her in and gestured to a seat. She stepped past him and took it, drawing back skirts that seemed to make her diminutive form even smaller. He paused at his desk, his eyes on the scepter he inherited at the time of his father’s death. He noticed that she was looking at the rod as well before she shook her head.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t take that.” She pointed at the scepter even as he lifted it from its cradle, almost lovingly, a birthright of generations. “It belongs to you.”
“It belongs to you now,” Faramir replied as he held it up so she could see. “From my father before me and his father before him and for the generations of ancestors all awaiting this very moment.”
“That moment hasn’t come yet,” Buffy replied evenly. Faramir looked up at her and she read the disappointment on his face. “Besides, that belongs to my brother, not to me.”
“With your defense of this city, this belongs to you,” he assured her.
“I almost died defending this city,” she said quietly.
“And many have.” He set the scepter back on its cradle and took a seat behind the desk. “If you did not come for this, what did you come for?”
“I wanted to tell you I’m leaving Minas Tirith,” Buffy replied. For the first time since she had arrived with Gandalf and Pippin, she was ready to go. Both were off to fight the good battle at the gates of Mordor and she knew she had to follow. She had unfinished business to see to. “My place is in battle.”
Faramir clasped his hands together and leaned forward, frowning. “You wish to return to battle so soon after your nearly died--”
Faramir let out a long, slow breath. “You are within your rights to leave your city, but--”
“Then I’m going to go.” Buffy stood up again, dropping the heavy skirts. “I just thought I should tell you before I disappeared.”
Faramir also rose and nodded. “Before you leave, there is one item I must return to your hands.” Next to the scepter was a dusty old book. He lifted it up and offered it to her. “This belongs to you.”
Buffy recognized the cover almost immediately, though she hadn’t been able to read any of the symbols inside. As she turned the heavy front cover, her eyes widened. What had once been indecipherable symbols now made sense to her. She looked up at Faramir, eyes wide in shock.
“This was yours once and now is returned to its proper owner.” He smiled then, looking years younger and rather dashing. “My duty is now done.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said sincerely, cradling the book in her arms. When she saw Faramir looking over her shoulder, she half-turned to see Éowyn standing in the doorway. “Éowyn?” she asked, her voice clear with shock.
“Elia!” Éowyn responded in kind, before a delighted grin broke out across her face. “You live!”
Buffy felt her heart rise in her throat as Éowyn swept into the office and hugged her tightly. Buffy hugged her with one arm as she cradled the book with the other. Words could not describe the feeling of seeing the shield-maiden of Rohan alive and well. Éowyn looked wonderful as she drew back, one arm still in a sling, but her eyes sparkled. Then, her gaze turned to Faramir.
Faramir looked like a deer caught in headlights, a dazed expression on his face as he stared avidly at the lady of Rohan. And why shouldn’t he, Buffy thought, amused, glancing back at Éowyn. The woman seemed to radiate both strength and warmth. A single hand reached out to touch her own. “We must speak when you are able!”
Buffy felt some trepidation return as she quickly replied, “I don’t think that’s--”
“She is leaving the city.”
Both women turned to look back at Faramir. He was still looking at Éowyn, but the dazed look had given away to something else. Was it concern?
“You are leaving?” Éowyn replied, her tone soft. “So soon?”
“I need to catch up to the others,” Buffy replied. “I need to finish what I started.”
Éowyn looked at her with those large, clear eyes and began shaking her head. Buffy slipped a reassuring hand on the other woman’s shoulder and looked back at Faramir. “Take care of each other.”
With that, she left the office.
She realized she wasn’t alone about four paces away. Éowyn had followed her out, her eyes still wide. Faramir caught up to her, placing a hand on the woman’s shoulder even as Éowyn turned beleaguered eyes to him. “She rides to her death, as I have foreseen.”
“Perhaps,” Faramir responded. “Perhaps not. As Glorfindel has said, the girl has an extraordinary will to live.”
Éowyn looked back at him. “She is no mere girl.” Her eyes held a hint of pride as she saw the slayer’s shadow depart from the far walls. “She is the shield-arm of the White Tower now.”
She looked back, aware of how close he was standing. Faramir seemed to realize it and dropped his hand from her arm and stepped back, giving her a hasty smile before returning to his office and shutting the door. Éowyn watched him leave, her hand subconsciously touching the skin that was still warm from his touch.~ \ ~ / ~
It was deep into the night when Glorfindel returned to her hospital room. Buffy was sitting up, surrounded by candlelight, the book propped up against her knees. A half-eaten plate of food sat next to her and occasionally she would swipe from the plate as she idly turned pages.
“You should be resting,” were the first words out of his mouth.
Buffy looked up at him, eyebrows lifting in surprise as she loudly turned a page.
“Faramir has given you the book,” Glorfindel realized.
“Yes, he gave my book back to me.” Buffy looked down at the symbols, her mind translating them for her. The language was old, but not too old for Anariel’s soul to remember then. She could even see herself dipping a quill into ink before putting it onto the page. Sixty years. That was how long ago this book - this journal - had been written. Sixty years.
She turned the page again.
Glorfindel took another step into the room as Buffy finally lowered the book. “It was you all along, wasn’t it?” she asked him softly. When he looked at her, she caught the look in his eyes again. His lips showed amusement. His face was unreadable. But his eyes... they remembered.
“I do not know--”
“But you do.” Her words were final, sharp. Her eyes followed him as he took up the pitcher to fill two glasses this time and took the one he offered her. “There was a time I could read you like a book. You were always looking after me, always planning my future. You gave me a life away from Elrond and Rivendell, a life I could respect. You didn’t lock me in a cage. You set me free.”
His gaze was level as he met hers. “I gave you what you needed.”
Buffy’s eyes dropped to the book. “It’s all here. Every memory. Every wound. Every word.” She looked up again, knowing full well her eyes were filled with emotion. “You loved me.”
“As I yet do.”
Buffy felt her eyes dampen and she found herself struggling with some unknown emotion. The book on her knees felt like lead as she shifted it aside, sliding it back onto the bed. “Why didn’t you tell me it was you?” she whispered.
“You needed to discover the truth on your own.”
“I know the truth,” Buffy continued, fighting to keep her voice steady. “You saved me.”
All amusement had left Glorfindel’s face. “I would do so again just to see you smile.”
Buffy slowly pushed herself to the edge of the bed and stood on shaking legs. “I never knew it was you, all along. And when you left, I....”
“I know.” Glorfindel replaced the pitcher and took a moment to savor his water. Buffy felt the slightest shame at the memory of it all. Her eyes fell onto the open page.
“No one could ever replace you, no matter how hard Belewen tried,” Buffy murmured. “And she tried.”
Glorfindel lowered the glass and set it back on the table. Buffy watched as he moved towards her, her body tensing predictably. “You need rest,” he said, his tone almost gentle. “If you are leaving early...”
“I am. And I have a funny feeling I’m not going alone.”
“I will not let you from my sight,” Glorfindel replied, the corner of his mouth quirking up wryly. “Under pain of death from Aragorn.” He leveled a look at her. “And for reasons of my own.”
Buffy felt the sudden need to reach out to him, to assure him that nothing would happen to her. She knew that now. If she could survive near-death by the First, she could survive anything. Alone. With someone. With him
. She could do it all. But she also knew it was late and the ride to Mordor would be long and she had to hurry to get there in time. She was going to need her strength in the days to come.
She backed away towards her bed, collecting up her plate and closing the book to tuck back onto the table. Glorfindel watched her from a safe distance.
As she reached back to remove her dress, she slowly turned to look back at him. What she would have once done without thinking, she suddenly felt her cheeks turn pink. “Um... I’d like to change, so if you could....”
She caught his knowing look as he slipped away and she untied the long ties and eased the dress from her body. There were aches in places she didn’t know existed, but they would be easy to overlook. Slayer training was such a bonus. She just wished it would kick in a little faster.
She paused as she reached for a clean shift and set it down, taking only an extra moment to unwrap her chest and gaze at the thin, angry red line for herself. She had been beaten down by Orcs, had damaged the nerves in her legs, been nearly crushed by Uruk-Hai and stabbed in the heart by the First. If she could survive that, she could survive anything. Her fingers traced the scar; in the back of her mind, she could almost hear the maniacal laughter following her from the dream. Almost.
She carefully sealed the wrappings and slid the shift over her head, smoothing the thin fabric as she set the dress over the table. She paused to run her fingers through her hair and work it into something that didn’t look like a rat’s nest and turned towards her bed. She was just drawing up the covers when Glorfindel returned.
He drew up a stool and set it near her bed as she turned towards him. He went around the room, blowing out the lamps until the only light was the faint glow from the hallway outside. He sat down and reached out to stroke her hair as she hugged herself, already half-asleep.
It was warm and quite comfortable, but there was something ever soothing about his motions, the gentleness of them. The last thing she saw before her eyes could not longer hold themselves open was the soft curve of his lips into a smile. No amusement. No grimness. Just tenderness.
For now, it was what she needed.~ \ ~ / ~
It was deep in the night; with the red glow from the mountains and the aura of pure evil surrounding them, Aragorn was fairly certain he would find no rest in the barren wilderness between the Black Gates and the river.
It was the third day since they had left Minas Tirith. He had sent mounted scouts ahead towards the crossroads, not knowing what to expect. They were covered heavily on the eastward flank, the men walking what little level ground there was before it stretched up into the dark mountains. There was both fear and superstition and not one man crossed over onto the black rock. The tops of the mountains were shrouded in smoke and mist and it bore heavily on Aragorn’s heart as he gazed ever upwards.
They marched peacefully; not one of the hoards of Mordor sought to battle them. This only meant that a great trap awaited them at the Black Gates. The closer they got, the heavier the foreboding was. The fair skies disappeared under a cloud of grey fog and Aragorn felt the sinister chill of evening come.
It was their far western flank that had the first taste of battle. When word came that they had driven a force of men and Orcs back into the mountains, Aragorn knew that this was just a diversionary tactic. “They want us to know they are weak,” he said grimly to Gandalf. The old wizard nodded.
“It would seem then that they would follow us, to determine our own strengths.”
Aragorn couldn’t argue with this logic. As a Captain, it was what he would have done.
Legolas had his eyes on the foggy sky, his keen Elf senses stretching beyond the layer of gloom. “The Nazgúl are restless,” he finally murmured. “They follow us.”
Aragorn felt his jaw set grimly. “They are no threat to us now.”
“As of yet, no,” Legolas replied. “But they will be summoned to attack.”
Aragorn knew that they couldn’t withstand the Nazgúl. There were few that were able to stave off their cries. But the dread they brought with their presence would not so easily be shaken off.
But this was their plan and he would hold to it, no matter the cost.
“We must press on,” he said grimly, looking at the Captains and lords behind him. He saw the glance exchanged between Imrahil and Éomer, both princes of their own kingdoms. Even Gimli was calm and silent behind Legolas, his eyes on the mountains. He said little as they drove north and Aragorn expected nothing else.We do this for Frodo
, Aragorn told himself firmly. He would not send such great men (and otherwise) into the jaws of death without purpose. Their last hope was the ring-bearer.~ \ ~ / ~
Subtle dawn awakened Buffy far before the sun had risen enough to cast light into her tiny room. She blinked away what remained of her dreams and sat up. Taking a shallow breath, she tested her heart’s ability to beat and felt the strong organ beneath her fingertips. It would take a while to fully heal, if ever, but she felt as good as ever.
Glorfindel had disappeared at first light. She got to her feet and pulled on a robe, walking out into the gardens. She spotted the tall Elf and felt something loosen in her chest. But now was not the time to dwell on these things. She took up her book and slipped away.
When she found a quiet place, she settled down, breathing deeply. Her ribs ached only a little and she felt her strength return, breath by breath. Planting her hands on her knees, she closed her eyes. It was time to call upon her own beast within. It was time to call on the slayer. A thirst for vengeance and one final battle with her own corporeal twin bearing pure evil was enough to satisfy the blood call. But this was her choice now. She was choosing to become the slayer.
One last time.
Her eyes slowly opened as the thought passed through her mind. It seemed right. After all she had put her body through, to beat one last worthy foe and to give her life to the Halls of Mandos. One final battle. One final time. It wasn't her choice, but it seemed poetic. Be the slayer, one last time. Call upon the slayer for one last battle.
Éowyn had seen her disappear through the pillars, the morning sunlight illuminating her slender frame before she disappeared from sight. She watched from the doorway as the young woman set her book down, sat and closed her eyes.
A moment later, Buffy was looking at her. Hazel eyes shone with unshed tears and the emotion behind them nearly took Éowyn’s breath away.
“You will care for your family?” she asked softly.
“I always will,” Éowyn assured her. A hundred questions danced on her tongue, but she swallowed them away. She saw the peaceful expression on Buffy’s face and took another step into the room. “Will you care for yours?”
Buffy bit her lip as she looked down at her hands. They were shaking as she held her knees. “Always,” she whispered, locking eyes with Éowyn.
The other woman looked somber as she crossed the distance between them and knelt before her. Buffy had closed her eyes again and her back straightened. Her facial expression relaxed until she could have almost been sleeping, sitting up. There was no anguish there. There was no fear. There was only peace.
Éowyn envied her in that moment.
She quietly got up and retreated out the doorway, nearly running into Glorfindel. She hastily muttered her apologies and ducked away. The sunlight was fading now, disappearing into high clouds stretching from the mountains. She felt her breath catch in her throat.
The worst battle yet was to come and she was standing in a well-guarded city, both protected and safe. It just didn’t feel
right. But she, too, had almost died. So, too, had her cousin. It didn’t seem fair now that one would just leave the city so soon after nearly succumbing to death. It just wasn’t right.~ \ ~ / ~
Coming to the deserts that stretched towards the Emyn Muil, Aragorn knew he had a choice. He could force all the men in his party to continue on towards the Morannon. Or he could take in the pity in their faces, the deep seeds of fear. These were men who bore honor on their sleeves, yet would run at the first sight of an orc.
He knew the time to part ways had come. These were men that could not bear to die in battle. They were men that had lost their brothers, their fathers, their sons. They were young and old, trim and stocky, and Aragorn knew that they did not have the hearts to face such a dire battle. They had stood behind him as he took up Arwen’s standard once more. He looked upon the standard with pride. Without wind, it hung dramatically, but the seven stars gave him hope.
Death was not their fate. Not today.
“Go,” he finally bade them. “Go back to the south. But do not go without honor. There is one task that is yours and yours alone.” He drew in another solemn breath. Could he ask these men to fight one more battle?
The answer was simple: yes. To defend their homes. To defend their lands, their families, their way of life, their own destinies. That alone he would ask them to fight.
“Move southwest until you come to Cair Andros. If the island is in enemy hands, re-take it. Hold it to the last in defense of Gondor and Rohan.”
Some of the men broke ranks, looking south. A sliver of silvery sky remained, but the rest had fallen to darkness. There was hope now in their murmurs. There was the heartbreaking goodbyes as fathers and sons and brothers shook hands and whispered words of comfort as men began walking south.
“Go now, my brothers,” Aragorn muttered. “Go now and find your honor.”~ \ ~ / ~
Buffy emerged from her meditation feeling as though she was sleepwalking. She got to her feet, collected her journal and looked around. It was midday now and the air was cool as she left her room. She dropped her things off in her room and made her way back into the gardens, hugging her robe to herself.
She looked out over the city. Parts of it had been obliterated in battle. The gate was gone. The fields were filled with burned-out hulks of catapults and firing towers and so many dead Orcs and men. Down there, she had been close to meeting her end. A swift black blade to the heart had been the First’s attempt to kill her. She turned away.
Spotting Glorfindel, she said, “I would like to leave at first light tomorrow. We have more than enough ground to cover to catch up to Aragorn.”
Glorfindel nodded in agreement and didn’t reply. She didn’t want to disturb his meditation or whatever else it was the Elves did on the eve of battle. She’d spent enough time with Elves and she couldn’t remember what they did before battles.
Glorfindel was an Elf that had seen great battles in the First Age. Someday she would have to ask him about that.
Until then, she had to pack her things. She had a battle to get to.~ \ ~ / ~
It was an early dawn as she mounted a horse. The horse moved uneasily beneath her feet and she missed her own horse, the one she had had what seemed like a hundred years ago. Had it only been mere months since she had set foot on Arda once more?
It seemed like so much longer.
Glorfindel appeared, handing her the scythe. She took that weapon and every other weapon her gave her, securing them on the horse. He took none for himself as he mounted before her. The horse seemed to settle down at this arrangement and took a few prancing steps forward.
Casting a look over her shoulder, Buffy saw the glorious Minas Tirith. Her work in the city was done. Maybe someday she would see it again. The city that breathed with pride, a city that could be hers to dwell within. It was a bittersweet thought she may see through to fruition, but she felt complete knowing there was a chance to walk amongst the hallowed tiers again. Every hope for her future depended on victory.
She tightened her hold on the Elf. Glorfindel took that as the indication that she wanted to go.
And onwards they went.~ \ ~ / ~
Author's Note: Wow!! Long time, no story. We're on the home stretch. Just a few more of these and this little story will be complete. Artwork by the lovely Chrysanne