Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lord of the Rings belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Author's Warning: major AU. Absolutely non-canon. Seriously, I am not kidding.
When she was nineteen, on a cold, winter morning, Buttercup followed her feet all the way to the very edge of the Bindbale Woods, and then on into the Dim Hills.
The country here was not much like the Shire. The trees were black and listless to her green-spoiled eyes, and the earth dark and cold. The weather changed drastically the farther north she went, and her thick, gray cloak did not quite manage to keep out the wind.
Buttercup had come prepared. She wore her winter dress, newly made of good, dark green wool, and her leather shirt. On her feet were a pair of good Dwarf-boots, bought in Buckland, and on a belt she wore over the leather shirt were her sling, a pouch of stones, a cloth bag of fifteen arrows, and a long hunting knife with a bird mark in the hilt. Over a shoulder she had slung a bag with some bread and cheese, as well as a rolled up blanket, in case she had to stay out of doors, and beside it her bow.
By the time she was creeping under the trees of the Hills, dusk had fallen. She was just thinking about turning back, of the hot supper Bilbo was no doubt sitting down to, worrying about where she was despite the fact that she'd told him not to expect her back that night, when she heard a noise that she had never heard before in her life.
It was so strange to her ears that Buttercup stopped, crouching behind a root, listening closely. When it sounded again, drifting on the wind from the west, she moved toward it, drawn by a curiosity that overwhelmed her caution, which was weak enough ordinarily.
Nearly half a mile from where she'd heard the noise, she stopped beside a large, many-branched tree. She heard shouting, low and hoarse, the thump of arrows into meat, the howl of wolves, and the clash of steel on steel. She heard guttural, panting breaths, and snarling that put her in the mind of rabid dogs.
A hot tightness spread through her stomach, through her legs. Her muscles seemed to thrum with tension. Without consciously thinking about it, she took the hem of her gown and pulled it up to tuck into her belt, leaving her leather breeches, such as the huntsmen of Brandy Hall wore, and her boots in sight below the cloak. She took the bow from her back, picked an arrow to nock to the string, drew the hood as far down over her face as she could while still being able to see, and moved silently forward.
They were moving through the trees, three figures, one dragging the other and the third lagging behind, a bow in his hands. They were trying to move quietly, but the one carrying the second, unconscious figure was forced to make too much noise, and to her ears they would have done as well to blow horns to announce their coming. The third was obviously trying to cover their retreat, frantically glancing back every third or so step. They were all three cloaked, hooded but for the insensible one, his dark-haired head lolling, and wore the leathers of woodsmen.
They were Men.
Buttercup could hear what was following them. She heard the growls of wolves, the slavering of jaws and the clink of metal. She heard guttural noises, shrieks and howls that she couldn't put to any animal she knew, and the thrashing as of creatures who beat against the woodland rather than through it. She smelled wolf spoor, the fur and blood, and another, rank stench that made her want to gag.
Turning, she ran parallel to the direction the Men were going, easily overtook and outdistanced them. Then, picking a likely-looking spot, she crouched down into a sort of bowl and overhang created by the roots of three trees, directly in their path, and there she waited.
The Men came into sight not seconds later, the one dragging the second collapsing to the ground, spent, breathing harshly and clutching at the black-fletched arrow in his leg. The third, still looking over his shoulder, stopped behind his companions, his fingers tightening resolutely around the haft of his bow, quiver empty and the last arrow at the string.
They whispered together, inaudible. Buttercup raised her bow, picked a target.
The pursuers broke from between the trees like black shapes out of a nightmare. Their huge, hulking forms, their lustful howls, their matted, black hair, their misshapen faces—Buttercup had never seen their kind before, but the name came into her mind as naturally and instinctively as if it had been whispered into her ear every night of her life.
With them were huge wolves, ghostly in the dark, with slavering jaws and cruel yellow eyes. Some came straining at the ends of chains or ropes, snapping madly, but others were loose, and loped far ahead of the Orcs toward the Men, snarling their hunger, teeth glistening in the light of the rising Moon.
The first arrow took the lead wolf in the throat. A spurt of blood, a thrash of legs, and the beast fell, tumbling over its own flailing paws. The second took the wolf after it, the third the wolf after that, and then the fourth found its way into the eye of an Orc, which went down shrieking even as the arrowhead sank into its brain.
Four arrows, and then the Orcs and wolves slowed together, hesitating, stopping in their mad rush, and the Man's arrow sank half-deep into a second Orc's breast, bringing it stumbling. They bayed and snarled, and came again, and six more arrows found their marks before they took ten more steps, dropping the last two wolves and four more Orcs.
Six Orcs left, but these were wavering, heads craning as they tried to see what was killing them. The Men were staring around, eyes wide, their blades in their hands. Buttercup loosed three more arrows, shooting down three more Orcs as they stood confused, but missed on the fourth and only got its leg. Then the remaining two, the one with the arrow still in its flesh, shrieked with fright and turned, but her fifth arrow found the back of the unharmed creature's neck, and it was only the wounded one that stumbled off, howling with alarm, as she was bringing up her sling.
For a moment there was silence. Buttercup felt the blood hammering in her veins, felt her breath coming even and calm. Her head felt strangely empty, as quiet as the forest was now, but the hand that held the sling was shaking.
One of the Men called out softly into the dark, “Le suilon,”
and Buttercup shook her head, coming back to herself. She slipped the stone she'd been reaching for back into the pouch, and tried to stop her hand from shaking.
She heard a groan, and looked out to see the one Man crouching over the unconscious one, even as the third stood looking back and forth. In the distance, Buttercup's ears picked up the grunts and snarls of Orcs, and the noise of bodies through the trees. It's a nest,
whispered a voice in her head, but she ignored it. The Men weren't moving, and she thought that perhaps they hadn't heard it yet.
Now she hesitated. Buttercup had never shown herself to Men before, had never come this close to them, but if she didn't do something, they would all three die, and she was out of arrows. They wouldn't be able to move far with that wounded one, either.
Swallowing, her mouth and throat parched, Buttercup pulled at her hood and crept out of her hiding place.
They saw her almost immediately, their blades flickering up only to hang in the air before lowering again. Their eyes were wide as they watched her pick herself up off the grass, and she tried to picture in her mind what exactly they were seeing.
Buttercup gestured with her hand, first at the wounded Man and then up with her palm open, an unmistakable Pick him up.
The Men looked at each other, the two who were still on their feet, and then a long howl drifted through the leaves and came to their ears, and that seemed enough to convince them of how desperate they were. The wounded one got their unconscious fellow by the feet, the whole one his head, and when Buttercup turned and slipped back into the trees, they followed.
The wind had come up, and the night was getting blacker, colder. Buttercup smelled frost on the air. The Man being carried moaned, and the sound seemed to carry for miles.
She led them mercilessly, setting a pace that had the one with the arrow in his leg panting after only a few moments. When she slowed again, holding up a hand for them to stop, his leg wouldn't hold him, and he buckled and cracked his knee on a stone as he went down but did not make a noise.
She crept forward, keeping one ear to the north and west. The land here was thicker with forest, closer to the borders of the Bindbale, and the trees followed clumps of tors and ridges, forming here and there barriers of branches or roots that had to be climbed over or under.
Under two particular trees, big and thick and craggy, Buttercup crawled up to the opening of a small hollow, almost a cave, created by the dead one, long felled and white with death, across the base of the living. She peered in, listening and sniffing as well as she could for any hint of a bear inside, but couldn't hear or smell anything but rotted leaves, old bones, and older bear spoor, and neither could she see any fresh scratches in the bark from either fangs or claws.
The Men were a tight fit. They barely managed to squeeze their way in through the branches, stripping off their cloaks and packs and holding their breaths, and getting the unconscious one in was even more difficult. Still, they managed, teeth gritted and sweat streaking their faces as they tried not to make too much noise or leave too many signs of their movements.
Buttercup kept lookout, frowning as she heard the tumult of the chase coming closer and closer. Her hands worked busily at the dead branches scattered over the ground, and with a handful she scattered the dirt where the Men had passed through, wiping away a faint scuff mark there, a footprint here. Then, she passed as quietly and carefully as she could through the same opening in the branches that the Men had worked their way through, and pulled the branches she'd collected after her, to block up the entrance.
The space under the two trees was close and dark, with just enough room for all three Men, the one prostrate, and her crouching at the opening. They were watching her, the Big People, their faces pale in the near gloom, and she put a finger to her lips for silence, her hood in her eyes.
Into the silence, into the breathless quiet, there came a sound as of snuffling, of low, deep growling. She heard the first wolves come creeping out of the trees, their paws creaking in the thick floor of tangled roots and trees. She heard the grumblings of Orcs, the heavy breathing and the careless tramp of their feet.
The Sun had long set. It was now completely dark, and through the cracks in the branches, Buttercup saw the glints of yellow eyes. She saw the shapes that stumped through the trees barely ten feet away, heads turning here and there, and the gray, paler forms that glided along the ground, noses to the dirt. She could smell the stench of wolf and Orc as if they were walking over her.
Buttercup held her breath. There's too much bear smell in here,
she told herself, mouth dry. Wolves won't go near bears. Not even these.
A wolf's ears twitched. Its head turned, and it stared in the direction of their small hiding place, two narrow points of yellow light in the black woods. But then, even as it began to take the first, cautious step, the Orc holding its rope snarled and, for no reason at all that Buttercup could see, kicked the wolf viciously in the ribs. The beast yelped, snarled, snapped, and then was dragged away, forgetting whatever had caught its attention as the Orc struck at it with the flat of its ugly blade.
They trudged back into the trees, toward the north, Orcs and wolves alike snarling at each other. Buttercup watched them go, still holding her breath, and only when she'd finally lost sight of them, only when she could no longer hear the crush of their feet, the bark or growl of their throats, or smell their stink, did she let all the air she'd been keeping in her chest ease out in a long sigh.
She turned. The Men's eyes were almost all she could see of them, it was so dark. She could hear them breathing, slower, steadier.
“Little one,” said one of them quietly, the older one, the one who had been shot in the leg, “you have saved our lives.”
Buttercup flushed. Without replying, she edged closer to the Man who had spoken, and gestured at his leg.
“A small thing,” he whispered, shaking his head.
“I expect you know who we are,” he went on, “though we had thought that the folk of the Shire had long put out of their minds the Rangers who guarded them. Now tell us your name, so that we might know who we owe our lives to this night.”
Buttercup stayed silent. She was listening again, to a noise that she thought she'd heard but was uncertain of.
“Pray tell us,” said the younger Man now, and she saw that he was quite young, even in Mannish terms. “Our chieftain will want to know.”
There it was again. The footfall, stealthy and measured, but still a footfall. Buttercup peeked out again, through the branches drawn up against the hole, and saw the tall, furtive shapes moving through the trees, huge bows at the nock.
She shoved out the branches, intentionally making noise, and saw at least ten arrows come up, pointed at her. They lowered somewhat when she climbed out, pulling herself up by the bark and the bole, and then Buttercup stood, cloak still close and hood drawn low, waving to the Men in the woods.
They still hesitated, and she doubted they would have come if one of the Men in the hiding place with her hadn't stuck his head out, his blade in hand. Then the bows were lowered or pointed elsewhere, and five stayed behind to keep watch while five came forward, exclaiming softly when the older Man also crawled out.
Buttercup waited until the first of the newcomers had taken the younger Man's hand, clasping his shoulder, and then she slipped back behind the tree she stood against, hopping down from the largest branch to a lower one. A low utterance followed her, a louder call from the young Man who had begged her name, but by then she was already three trees away and sneaking as quietly as a hobbit could sneak, which was more quietly than even these Rangers could conceive, and though they looked for her, though she could hear them trying to follow her tail for nearly half an hour afterward, they didn't find her.
Buttercup went home. She marched all the night, sometimes breaking into a ground-eating lope, and by the gray dawn light saw Bag End down the hill from her, a window glowing warm fire-yellow from the kitchen. Then she stopped to rest, sitting down right there in the grass, pulling the hood from her hair, and she felt the strange, hot thrum of her blood recede back into the distance, back into the dusty and unused corners of her head.
Glossary of Sindarin Terms (Theoretically)le suilon
| I greet you