Chapter Thirty-two: Destiny Calling
Miriel made the conscious choice to enter the woods where she had because she knew it would make it much more difficult for her friends to follow. Sure, Aragorn was a master tracker, but if she were to stay on the road, it would have made it much easier for the others to spot her. Not to mention the fact that the road curved to the southeast due to the rocky hills to the north, which would have added many more miles to her trip.
The route she had chosen would eliminate a good twenty to twenty-five miles from her trek. However, the road before her was still a long one. She was somewhat familiar with this area, the key word being ‘somewhat’, and she still had to find that lone, mammoth flat hill that was located somewhere deep in the forest. She knew that she needed to venture due east for the most part. If Miriel had had to guess, she’d have said that she had nearly fifty to sixty miles to go, in troll country, no less.
As she ran, zigzagging around trees, heading deeper and deeper into the woods, she wondered how long it would be before her friends noticed that she had gone. There was no doubt in her mind that they’d search for her once they discovered her absence. That’s who they were – good people. That’s why it was crucial for Miriel to get as far ahead of them as possible. She hoped that as the afternoon waned, the looming darkness could be used to her advantage. There was no way that Aragorn and the others would attempt to follow her trail at night. They’d be forced to wait until daybreak. Therefore, there would be no sleep tonight for the young Slayer.
Continuing to race through the woods, Miriel thought of how much better prepared she was this time around compared to last. She was older, maybe a bit wiser, and more skilled. She wasn’t starving. Thanks to Elrohir, who had placed a packet of lembas into everyone’s pack in case they became separated, she had enough food to last several days. True, it wasn’t hardy fare, but it would do, under the circumstances. Her water supply (she carried two water skins) would most certainly last until she reached the House of Horrors. If she survived, she could replenish them at the well on the farm…
Nearly twenty minutes had passed when Halbarad shouted, “Are you dry yet, Miriel? Have you dressed?”
When there was no response, the Watcher glanced over his shoulder. “Damn it!” he cried, leaping to his feet. “She’s gone!”
His fellow Rangers jumped to their feet, their eyes searching the walled enclosure for any sign of the Slayer.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Elladan yelled, “Miriel! Miriel!”
There was no answer.
“Do you think she was taken?” queried Gúron, his eyes lingering on the area by the willow tree across the small lake where the Slayer had been earlier.
“I don’t know,” answered Halbarad gravely. “We need to get over there and see if there’s any sign of a struggle.” He dropped to his knees, quickly shoving his things back into his pack.
The others followed suit, cramming the clean garments they had set out back in their bags.
Within thirty seconds, the Rangers had gathered their belongings and were sprinting to the other side of the lake. When they neared the vicinity of the willow tree, Aragorn motioned for the others to stop. He tossed his bag to the ground. “Stay here whilst I search the ground for sign.”
The Ranger Chieftain inspected the area from the willow to the path between the hills. “Miriel has not been abducted but has left on her own accord,” he concluded, after rejoining the others. “Why would she leave like this?” he asked Halbarad. “She seemed to be looking forward to going back to Rivendell.”
“I don’t know,” replied the Watcher, the sinking feeling in his stomach growing.
“We’re wasting time,” said Elladan, grabbing Aragorn’s bag from the ground and handing it back to the Ranger Chieftain. “She has no more than a fifteen to twenty minute lead. If we hurry, we can catch up with her.”
The eldest son of Elrond quickly set off down the pathway. Aragorn swiftly ran to his side. “Let me watch the trail, Elladan.”
Aragorn led the way, with the others following closely behind. When they reached the road, they could see their tracks from earlier, coming from the west. To the east, there was only one set of tracks - Miriel’s.
The Ranger Chieftain inspected the tracks closely. “You can see that only the balls of her feet disturbed the dirt and her strides are longer than normal,” he observed, pointing to her footprints. “She ran swiftly as the wind.”
“Then so must we,” declared Elladan, immediately following the trail toward the bridge.
When they passed over the bridge, they could see her tracks turn north, leaving the road and disappearing into the woods.
“Elladan!” shouted Aragorn, grabbing the Elf by the arm. “We cannot go heedlessly into the forest.”
“Why would she go in there?” queried Gúron. “That place is filled with trolls, and haunted by the Orcs from Goblin-town.”
“I’m going, Estel,” said Elladan sternly.
“Let us assess the situation before we react,” insisted the Ranger Chieftain.
“There is nothing to assess,” barked the eldest son of Elrond. “We cannot allow Miriel to roam these woods alone.”
“Listen, Brother,” chimed in Elrohir, “We need to determine why Miriel has run into these woods. We need to have a better understanding so that we know what lies ahead of us.”
“There is no time,” protested Elladan. “Does your memory fail you, Elrohir? Do you not remember the first time we came this way with Miriel? Do you not remember her fearful glances at these woods, the change in her behavior?” The Elf shifted his gaze from his twin to the forest.
“You think she’s been summoned by someone?” queried a disheartened Halbarad.
Elladan faced the Watcher. “Or has been challenged.”
“Then wouldn’t she go south, to Mordor?” interjected Gúron.
“That is if Sauron is behind this. Of that, we are still uncertain,” said Aragorn.
“We’re wasting time,” proclaimed an irritated Elladan once again. “Whatever has befallen Miriel, I will not have her face it alone. I want to be at her side. She needs me… us.” He then cupped his mouth again, shouting, “Miriel! Miriel!”
Elrohir pulled one of his brother’s hands from his mouth. “Have you lost all sense of reason?” he demanded. “For centuries, a great evil has lain hidden in this forest, do not summon it to come forth with dusk soon approaching.”
“What a comforting thought,” mumbled Gúron under his breath.
“And is it your will, Elrohir, to leave Miriel alone in such a place, unaided by any?” Elladan’s face and tone revealed both his pain and concern.
“No, that is not my will,” answered Elrohir softly, shaking his head.
“Then we cannot delay any longer,” Elladan said firmly.
“Please, let me lead the way,” said Aragorn.
The eldest son of Elrond nodded, as the Ranger Chieftain led the way into the woods. Elrohir paused for a moment or two, studying his brother with bewildered eyes. With a shake of his head, he took off after the others…
Nearly thirty minutes after having entered the forest, Miriel heard the faint sound of her name being called. They know
, she thought. They know that I’ve gone and are following. I must run faster.
Miriel increased her speed. She cursed the hills she was forced to climb, and hoped beyond hope that they would prove to be an obstacle for the others.But they’re Rangers
, she thought. They’re used to this type of terrain. Not to mention that Elladan and Elrohir have exceptional hearing and seeing abilities.
That seemed to light a fire in Miriel, causing her to run even faster. Though the back of her calves burned as she climbed each hill, the feeling eased up when she was able to run down the slope on the other side. Never the less, racing through the woods seemed to be a challenge. She knew what the Rangers looked for when tracking someone and she found it extremely difficult to avoid stepping on twigs, or breaking branches that stuck out in her way. Speed was more important right now and Miriel wasn’t afforded the time to cover her tracks.
Sweat poured from every pore on her body, drenching her shirt, in particular. Her only consolation was that, at least it was clean sweat. A drink would have been nice, but with the others so close behind, she’d have to wait until the forest grew dark before risking a sip or two.
Maybe an hour or so later, the cramping in her sides forced Miriel to slow down to a jog. As the pain increased intensity, she cursed the spring season. If only it were winter, the sun would be sinking about now. Instead, she had to deal with a couple more hours of daylight, in the woods anyway.
It seemed like it took forever for the light in the forest to diminish. Miriel knew that her friends would soon halt for the night, unable to track her in the darkness. The time was fast approaching when she’d be able to put many miles between her and them.
When darkness had covered the area, the Slayer felt it was safe to take a break. She sat on top of a hill. Leaning against a stone protuberance, she looked up at the night sky. A blanket of stars shone above. The air felt cool and crisp, especially against the dampness of her skin. She shuddered from the sudden chill. She took a deep drink from her water skin, finally able to quench her thirst after having deprived herself for hours.
Miriel then dug her cloak out of her bag. The vile stench that emitted from the garment caused her to cram it back into her pack. Instead, she found a sweater, surprised that Hal had packed a winter item in springtime. Nevertheless, she was grateful to have it. She pulled off her wet shirt and quickly slipped the sweater over her head. It smelled so good, so clean. And it was warm. Miriel then searched her bag for her packet of lembas. She could use a bite before setting off again. When she found the leaf-wrapped package, she broke off a piece of the elvish way-bread and popped it into her mouth. She chewed slowly, savoring the flavor and waiting for its magical properties to kick in. A few minutes later, the Slayer gathered her things and began the decent down the hillside. She would continue her march for several hours yet…
“We have to stop,” Aragorn said when the woods had gotten too dark for the Rangers to continue.
“But we haven’t found Miriel yet,” argued Elladan. “She cannot be much further ahead.”
“We cannot track her in the darkness, Elladan,” explained Aragorn. “We’ll start again at first light.”
While the others sat on the ground, resting, the eldest son of Elrond remained standing, staring to the east.
“Come now, Elladan,” said his twin. “Sit and rest a while.”
“I fear for her safety, Brother,” said Elladan softly.
“Well, I for one, fear for our safety,” spoke up Gúron. “I hope the trolls are wandering far from here.”
“Do not speak of trolls, Gúron,” chastised Halbarad.
“That is no easy thing you ask of me,” replied the golden-haired Ranger. He fixed his eyes on the Watcher. “Have you no clue as to why Dagnir came this way? Do you remember anything from past conversations that would help us?”
“I wish I did,” answered a grim Halbarad. “I do not know where she is going or why?” The Watcher shifted his gaze from Elrohir to Elladan. “Do you not know? Miriel has always been close to you two. Has she ever confided in you about these woods?”
“No,” replied Elrohir. “We have noticed, as Elladan mentioned earlier, that she seemed wary of this forest when we were traveling to Imladris. Other than that, we know nothing.”
“Something drove her into these woods,” said Elladan, still staring into the darkness. “What or who it is, I cannot rightly say.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “My heart tells me she’s in danger.” The eldest son of Elrond then turned, facing the group. “I feel that it’s vital that we continue our trek. Miriel will not stop. I know that. I feel
it. She will expand the lead she already has on us.”
“Elladan, it is foolhardy to attempt to follow in the dark,” said an empathetic Aragorn. “We all want to find Miriel and we’ll begin again once we can see her trail clearly. Whatever drove her into these parts, let us hope that it’s the will of the Valar, and that they are protecting her. Come, sit and rest while we can. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Elladan knew that Aragorn was right. They had no other choice but to wait until morning. He hoped that if they got an early start, they’d be able to catch up with Miriel by tomorrow afternoon. Surely, she would have to rest at some point. Even Slayers need to sleep…
Miriel had no idea how long she had walked. The lembas had kept her going thus far, but now, she was tired and in need of rest. While she hadn’t heard any trolls or other evil critters all night, she didn’t want to risk sleeping on the ground. As she trudged along, she kept her eyes peeled for a suitable tree to sleep in; just like she had the last time she had been alone in these woods.
When Miriel came across a suitable looking oak with forked limbs jutting out from its trunk about twelve feet above the ground, she decided that that would do. Unlike last time, she had no rope to tie herself to the boughs. She’d have to wedge herself between the branches, and hope she wouldn’t fall whilst she slept.
Despite the discomfort of her tree bed, Miriel was tired enough that she fell asleep rather quickly. She was happy to see Buffy waiting for her once she entered the dreamscape…
“So, you’ve actually done it,” said her mentor, standing at the base of the tree. “I’ve gotta admit, I’m surprised that you’ve manage to evade the others so far. Isn’t Aragorn a master tracker?”
“Yes,” Miriel answered with a nod. “And I fear that he and the others will gain on me tomorrow. Night has proved to be my friend and day shall prove to be my enemy.”
“Well, maybe if we scope things out, we can find a path that’ll make it harder for them to follow your tracks,” suggested Buffy. As she spoke, the night turned to day, illuminating the landscape. “We need a better view,” she continued, surveying the area carefully. “Come on, follow me.”
Miriel leapt out of the tree and followed Buffy, who was heading toward a nearby treeless hill.
“But Buffy,” said the younger Slayer, “Even from atop the hill we won’t be able to see anything. It’s not high enough.”
When they had reached the hilltop, Buffy looked around. With so many trees, she could not make out any pathways or shortcuts that would prove helpful to her protégé. “You’re right,” said a frustrated Buffy. “We can’t see a damn thing. We’re not high enough.”
“I told you.” Miriel felt that her leaving her friends was now pointless. Sometime tomorrow, they’d catch up to her and she’d never be able to exact her revenge on the old hag that had tormented her so. “This whole thing was such a waste of time and energy,” she griped.
Buffy remained perfectly still, pondering this latest predicament. She stared out at the trees, when, suddenly, she exclaimed, “Fuck me!”
Miriel spun around toward her mentor, shocked by her unexpected outburst.
Laughing, Buffy continued, “Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” She walked up to Miriel and linked arms with the younger Slayer. “Sometimes, I can be so
“What are you talking - ” Miriel finished her question with a yelp, clinging to Buffy as they both lifted off the ground.
“We’re in a dream
, Miriel,” said an amused Buffy. “Forget walking. We can fly! Or at least coast over the land and get a bird’s-eye view of things.”
The younger Slayer’s heart pounded with excitement. It took her a few moments to relax, but once she had, how could she not enjoy seeing things from this perspective?
“Which way should we go?” asked Buffy, as they hovered some distance above the treetops.
“I think we need to head toward the mountains.”
The two Slayers then glided east. “Look!” said Buffy, pointing below. “If you go that way, you’ll cross a lot of rocks, making it harder for the others to track you.”
Sure enough, a stone floor about two miles square lay just beyond the next hill. The forest encircled the rocky surface due to a lack of soil for the trees’ root systems. Weeds and wild grasses grew from some of the cracks on the floor, but for the most part, the area was plant free.
They continued to float on an easterly course until Miriel spotted the huge, flat-topped hill that she had scaled the year before. “There it is!” she exclaimed, pointing to the enormous mound. They had reached the southernmost point of the hill, which was about thirty miles from where Miriel currently lay sleeping. “We’ll need to go north,” added Miriel, her heart once again pounding wildly in her chest.
Since Buffy was the one that controlled their flight pattern, she followed Miriel’s suggestion and they began to glide north, parallel to the massive flat mound.
“Can we go a bit lower?”
“Of course,” answered Buffy.
They then slowly descended from the sky as a flock of birds approached, coming from the north. The birds looked at Buffy and Miriel with interest.
“I hope those aren’t spies,” remarked Buffy, eyeing the birds suspiciously. “Didn’t Bregolas mention something about birds being spies of the enemy?”
“Yes, but those are songbirds. Swallows, I think,” replied Miriel. “I don’t think they would obey the commands of the enemy.”
“Let’s hope not.”
The birds passed them by, flying southeast. Buffy and Miriel didn’t give them another thought. Instead, they focused their attention on the area below.
After they had passed the enormous hill, the woods again began to dominate the landscape.. Somewhere below was the path that Miriel had taken, accompanied by the villains, Valandil and Dúilin. O’ how she regretted trusting them as she had. That had proved a cruel lesson learned the hard way, but she was not now as trusting as she once had been.
Traveling in this region once again filled Miriel with mixed emotions. She felt anxious, excited, and fearful all at the same time. Not to mention that she still felt a bit of uncertainty about whether or not she had made the right choice by taking the battle to the witch. Would she actually defeat her or would she meet her untimely demise as all Slayers eventually do? She was only seventeen after all.
“Do you think I’m making a mistake?” she asked, speaking softly to her mentor.
Buffy shifted her eyes to her protégé. She could see that Miriel’s expression was riddled with doubt. “No,” answered the elder Slayer without hesitation. “We’re Slayers, and it’s our destiny to slay creatures that regular people can’t. Like this witch. Don’t second guess yourself.” She took Miriel’s hand in hers, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Her protégé’s palm already with slick with sweat. “You’re gonna kick that bitch’s ass!”
Miriel feigned a smile. She wished she could feel as confident as Buffy apparently did.
“Remember what happened to you there. Use that. Muster all that anger and pain, and use it against her.”
The younger Slayer nodded. Once again, like countless times before, the memories of her past torments flashed in her mind. Her eyes glazed over; her mouth became dry. Unbeknownst to her, she had balled her fists, including the one that still clutched Buffy’s hand.“Ow!”
squealed the elder Slayer, wringing her hand free. She glared at Miriel, but could see that she was obviously somewhere else. “Hey! Miriel! Come back to me!” she ordered, snapping her fingers in front of the girl’s face.
Miriel then blinked her eyes several time. “Huh? What?”
“You okay?” asked Buffy, worried that the witch was somehow weaving a new spell from afar.
“I’m mustering my anger,” replied Miriel.
“Yeah,” said her mentor, rubbing her hand. “I felt it.”
“Sorry,” apologized the younger Slayer.
“It’s alright. Just direct it at the enemy, not me.”
The two Slayers fell quiet, surveying the landscape below.
Not long afterwards, they came to the lush fields of pastureland. The stone farmhouse stood on the knoll at the end of the fenced lane. Swirls of grayish smoke rose from three chimneys within the home. However, there had been some obvious changes. Up near the front fence line there stood a small structure that had been erected into a hillside. Buffy called it a “guard house”. On the old foundation of the barn that Miriel had burned down was a crudely built wood and stone structure. Plumes of grey smoke swirled from a couple of metal flues that stuck out from the roof.
There was no doubt in Miriel’s mind that the old hag had taken up residency at this homestead. However, she was surprised that there appeared to be no fortifications protecting the place from the likes of her. Perhaps the witch did not feel threatened by the Slayer, or anyone else for that matter.
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Buffy, pointing toward the barn-like building. About two dozen Orcs were exiting the domicile, scrambling toward the farmhouse, as if summoned.
Seeing that terrified Miriel. “We’ve got to get out of here. We need to find cover,” she cried out.
“Why?” asked a puzzled Buffy.
“Because I think that witch knows we’re here. Hurry, Buffy! Get us out of here!”
The younger Slayer kept her horror-filled eyes locked on the Orcs, who, trying to avoid the sunlight, entered the confines of the farmhouse only moments later.
The two Slayers quickly spun around in mid-air, and began a rapid descent toward the eaves of the forest. “We can hide in the trees,” suggested Buffy, suddenly finding herself overwhelmed with a deep sense of dread.
Miriel glanced over her shoulder, expecting to see the witch barreling out of the front door at any moment. Paying more attention to the farmhouse than Buffy’s piloting, the younger Slayer was jolted back to her senses when she felt tree branches scraping against her face. Grimacing and wincing from the pain, she grabbed hold of the tree to which Buffy had steered them.
“Oh, God! I’m sorry,” said Buffy, cringing as she looked at the cuts on Miriel’s cheek. She cursed her inability to have safely guided them onto the tree limb of a birch that sat at the forest’s edge. Buffy’s nurturing instincts kicked in. She reached out to inspect her protégé’s cheek.
“I’m fine,” insisted Miriel, pushing Buffy’s hand away. She seated herself on the branch, watching the farmhouse intently.
The elder Slayer followed suit. “Do you think she really saw us?” she asked, her face a mask of worry. “I mean, we are
in a dream.”
Miriel slowly turned her head so that she faced her mentor. “Have you already forgotten what happened to me mere days ago? That bitch was able to torment me from afar. And I hope you haven’t forgotten that the Dark Lord paid us a visit when we were in Sunnydale. That took place in our dream.” Miriel licked her dry lips. “She knows. I know she knows.” She then turned her gaze back to the house.
Buffy kept her eyes fixed on Miriel. When she saw her protégé’s body tense, her eyes widen and her jaw drop, she followed her gaze.
A company of Orcs had stormed out of the farmhouse and were running up the lane toward the two Slayers.
“Oh, shit!” Buffy cried into her hand, muffling the sound. “Wake up, Miriel! Wake up!”
Miriel awoke from her slumber in a near panic, and, doing so, she tumbled out of the tree in which she had been sleeping, hitting the ground hard. She moaned, having had the wind knocked out of her. She blinked away the stars that filled her vision until she saw the dark, starless sky looming above.
“She knows,” she uttered when she caught her breath. “The old bitch knows.” She couldn’t help but think that she had lost the element of surprise on which she had counted. Finding herself wide-awake, she clambered to her feet, brushing away the leaves that still clung to her hair and backside. Having no idea what the time was, she decided to follow through on her mission despite the darkness and the fact that she now believed that the old hag was expecting her. Once the pain had abated some, she climbed back into the tree, grabbed her bags that remained wedged between the tree limbs, and resumed her journey.
Even though her visibility was nil, Miriel knew the general direction in which she needed to go. Her dream had revealed that she was only thirty miles or so away. Much closer than she had originally thought. Based on that, and by leaving under the cover of darkness, she felt that she would arrive at the old homestead sometime that night.
At this hour, all was silent, except for her booted feet crunching on the dry leaves that littered the forest floor. She hoped that she’d be able to cross the stone floor before daylight, making it that much harder for the Rangers to follow her trail.
As Miriel tramped through the woods, she was a bit surprised that her thoughts turned to her family in Minas Tirith. Well, mostly just Faramir and Boromir. O’ how she missed them and wished she could see them again. In a way, she longed for those days, of frivolity where she didn’t have a care in the world and her most important decisions were concerned with what clothing she would wear on any given day. How life had changed!
Thinking of her brothers, and also of Imrahil and her kinfolk at Dol Amroth, brought tears to her eyes. Miriel was beginning to wonder if she would die in her upcoming battle with the witch. Why else would she be thinking of her loved ones like she was? A teardrop escaped from the corner of her eye. She felt the warmth of it running down her face, dripping off her chin.
“Am I a fool?” she whispered.No!
exclaimed the “good” voice in her mind. You are fulfilling your destiny. You will have no peace until you slay this demon.
Miriel stopped before climbing the second hill. She plopped down on the ground and dug through her bag for her package of lembas. She took a bite of the elvish way-bread, hoping it would give her some much needed strength. She washed it down with a swig of water and then resumed her trek.
The lembas proved helpful, renewing, not only Miriel’s strength, but also her resolution to see this thing through to the bitter end. When she happened to cross the rock floor of the forest before dawn, she was convinced that her battle with the old hag was fated to be.
On and on she marched until the grey light of morning greeted her a few hours later. She stopped to rest for a while in a little clearing in the woods. Plopping down on the ground, Miriel heard the cries of some birds flying above. Turning her gaze upward, she saw a flock of what she presumed to be swallows, (just as she had in her dream), flying on a southwesterly course.
Her gaze then shifted to the Misty Mountains looming in the background over the treetops. Immediately, thoughts of Bregolas entered her mind. Maybe that was due to the fact that the only time she had ever crossed that mountain pass was with her dear friend, or, perhaps it was because Buffy had mentioned the warrior in last night’s dream. Whatever the reason, she found herself reflecting on times past.
She couldn’t help but wonder what Bregolas would think of her now. He had been her teacher when it came to the art of warfare. Surely, he’d be pleased to see the progress she had made over the past year. Though she had felt somewhat solemn all morning, a smile came to her face when she recalled those days when they used to practice together in his small cottage in the White City. She even chuckled remembering that day when Boromir had come barging in on them and, jumping to the wrong conclusion, assumed that Bregolas had stolen her virtue.
Unfortunately, thinking about her stolen virtue made her think of Denethor, the one truly responsible for the stealing of her virginity. Miriel had become pretty good at blocking out those traumatic nocturnal visits from her father, but, from time to time, they crept back into her mind no matter how hard she tried to forget them.
She still clearly remembered the first time Denethor had come to her bedchamber, intent on committing that unfathomable act against her. No, he wasn’t like Dúilin and his gang of thugs who had drugged her and tied her down so that they could have their way with her. Denethor was worse. He was blood kin, her father. And he used words, twisted and diabolical in nature, to manipulate her into submission.
“You killed my wife,” he had said. “And in doing so, it is your sacred duty to take her place, to see to it that my needs are met.”
A cold chill swept over Miriel causing her to shudder uncontrollably. For an instant, she smelled her father’s sour breath and felt his inappropriate touch. Her stomach became queasy. Tears filled her eyes, as she buried her face in her hands. Rocking back and forth, she cried, “Block it out!” over and over until the images blurred with tears. She curled up on the ground, weeping like a wounded animal.
She was confused as to why that particular memory had come rushing to the surface. When Miriel was able to regain her composure, she attributed the episode to the witch. That fiend was taunting her from afar, bringing up past memories in an attempt to weaken her opponent.
She then heard Buffy say in a faraway voice, “Muster all that anger and pain, and use it against her.”
Hearing Buffy’s words had an immediate effect on the young Slayer. She took a deep breath, dried her eyes, and pulled herself back to her feet. At that moment, the first rays of sunlight shone down from over the peaks of the Misty Mountains. Miriel closed her eyes and took several more deep, cleansing breaths in hopes of pulling herself together. It was of the utmost importance that she remain strong and show no weakness.
Feeling much better, she gathered her things and continued on. She was getting tired of the old hag and her mind games, and for the love Eru, she was determined to put an end to them tonight…
At Elladan’s insistence, the Rangers started out under the grey light of morning. With Aragorn at the forefront, he was able to easily follow the path Miriel had taken. Though old, dry leaves littered the forest floor, new plant life had sprung up in many places. The Ranger Chieftain could clearly see the damage done to the young shoots, which had been bent and bruised by the Slayer’s footfalls. It appeared that Miriel had avoided the densest parts of the forest, sticking to game trails for they were far easier to travel upon, especially when one had need for haste.
By midday, they reached the area where the forest gave way to the flat, rocky floor that Miriel had crossed before daybreak. The Rangers lost much time scouring the flat stone for any indications as to where the Slayer had headed next.
“It seems that Miriel has used this place to her advantage,” said Aragorn solemnly. “For the life of me, I cannot think of a reason why she would want to evade us.”
“I told you, she has been summoned by some great evil,” declared Elladan with conviction.
“That is only a guess, Brother,” chimed in Elrohir.
“If you’re correct, we could prove useful to the Slayer. She need not fight alone,” added the Ranger Chieftain.
Halbarad snickered. “Miriel is as stubborn as they come! I don’t doubt what Elladan says. Whatever is going on, Miriel feels that she must do this alone.”
“That’s what I fear the most,” uttered Elladan. “Is she truly ready to face some powerful enemy alone? After all that has happened… ” The Elf Lord paused, before adding, “I cannot help but think she is walking into a trap.” A sense of urgency returned to his voice, “We must find which way she went, before it’s too late.”
Aragorn scanned their surroundings. “Since time is of the essence, we should not stay in one group. I suggest that each one of us begins searching different areas that border this outcropping. Miriel had to have crossed here at some point. Search the surrounding vegetation with a keen eye. Give a shout if you find any signs of the grasses having been trod upon.” Aragorn then sent each Ranger to a different point along the stone floor, having them search the ground in a clock-wise pattern, in hopes of covering more area in less time.
Halbarad and Gúron were assigned to areas closest to the outcrop, while the others had to walk across the large expanse of stone to reach their designated sites. The sons of Elrond and Aragorn hadn’t even crossed the rock floor when they heard the unexpected calls of birds flying high overhead. Shifting their gaze upward, they were forced to use their hands to shield their eyes from the midday sun as they watched the birds circling above. Gradually, the flock began to descend from the sky, continuing to fly in that same looping formation.
Due to their acute eyesight, Elladan and Elrohir were the first to recognize the birds as swallows. They, along with the rest of their companions, remained frozen, staring at the birds as they began to land in the surrounding trees. Upon landing, each swallow lifted its voice in song, until the entire area was a chorus of their merry melody.
“This means something,” muttered Elrohir to himself. He was perplexed by the birds’ unusual behavior.
“Oi!” shouted Gúron. “What’s with the birds?”
Aragorn gestured to the others to remain quiet. Uneasiness began to gnaw at him, resulting in his hand instinctively grasping the hilt of his sword. He then motioned for his fellow Rangers to regroup. As the swallows continued to sing loudly, the men gathered near the center of the rock outcrop.
Huddled together, Aragorn softly said, “These birds are watching us. I suspect that they’re calling to their master.”
“But swallows are not typically used by the enemy,” mentioned Elrohir.
“Yet it is said that he has the power to use all beasts for nefarious purposes,” countered the Ranger Chieftain.
“Do you think that the enemy is attempting to waylay us?” asked Halbarad gravely.
Before any could answer, Elladan interjected, “Then we have all the more reason for haste!”
“Why do you have this compelling need to protect the Slayer?” queried Gúron, somewhat resentfully.
Elladan narrowed his eyes at the golden-haired Ranger. “She’s still a young girl, out there, all alone.”
Gúron let out a derisive snort. Shaking his head in disbelief, he argued, “That young girl is quite capable of taking care of herself. Whoever crosses her path will rue the day! Surely, you have not forgotten the castration of that Thornberry fellow. Makes my loins hurt just to think about it.”
Elladan’s grey eyes flashed with anger. He took a threatening step forward, entering the golden-haired Dúnadan’s personal space. Gúron was not intimidated by the Elf. Aragorn and Elrohir sprang between the two, each holding one of the men back.
“What do you have against her?” the Elf Lord asked heatedly. “You seem to take great pleasure in making snide remarks about Miriel!”
“This is neither the time nor the place for this,” admonished Aragorn in an attempt to diffuse the impending argument before it could escalate into a physical altercation.
“Let it go, Brother,” counseled Elrohir, pulling his brother out of the ring of men.
Despite Aragorn’s plea, Elladan and Gúron continued to quarrel, each shouting over the other, drowning out each other’s comments. Due to that unfortunate incident, no one noticed the rustling green leaves on the southeastern eaves of the forest. Only a moment later, an old man, cloaked in grey, with a tall, blue, pointed hat on his head, stepped into the clearing and stopped. Leaning on his staff, which he clutched with both hands, he watched the men in silence for several long seconds.
“I’m surprised that a group of Rangers would make such a racket! Are you trying to alert all of Goblin-town with your antics?” shouted the old man, as he began to cross the stone floor at an amazingly fast pace.
All the men were startled that someone had come upon them, catching them off guard. However, there was a sense of relief when they saw that it was not the enemy.
“Gandalf,” uttered Aragorn. He felt somewhat ashamed that he had not detected the wizard’s presence prior to his speaking.
Before they knew it, Gandalf had reached the Rangers. Beneath his bushy eyebrows, his piercing blue eyes scrutinized each man.
“I take it you’ve sent the swallows then,” commented Elrohir.
“Actually, they were sent by my friend Radagast to aid me in my search.” He briefly turned his back to the men, raised his arm in the air, and uttered an elvish phrase. A second later, the flapping of wings filled the clearing, and the swallows took off, heading north. Gandalf then fixed his gaze on Halbarad. “Where is your Slayer?” he asked.
“Um, er,” began a hesitant Halbarad. “She took off.”
“She’s in trouble, isn’t she, Gandalf?” asked Elladan, his face etched with worry.
“She’s the Slayer. And I daresay from what I hear, she has a way of finding trouble,” grumbled the Wizard.
“Sounds like you’ve been to Bree,” remarked Aragorn, rather dismally.
“Yes! There’s no doubt in my mind that Miriel has revealed herself to the enemy.” He directed his attention back to Halbarad, the one truly responsible for the Slayer. “How could you have let her do something like that? Such tomfoolery has exposed – ”
“ – Tomfoolery?! How can you say such a thing? Miriel saved that girl from a brutal rapist! She did the world a favor, if you ask me!” Surprisingly, it was Gúron that had interrupted the wizard, coming to Miriel’s defense.
Glaring at the golden-haired Ranger, Gandalf brusquely snapped back with “No one asked you!”
Elladan, on the other hand, showed his appreciation to Gúron by nodding approvingly and offering his friend a quick smile. “We cannot undo what has already been done,” stated the eldest son of Elrond. “We know she’s in danger, that some evil has summoned her. Is that why you’re here, Mithrandir?”
“It is,” answered the Wizard, his calm and sensible demeanor returning. “A shadow has come upon me, where Miriel is concerned. I’ll have you know – I knew she was destined to become a Slayer years before it happened,” he said, going slightly off topic. Gandalf shifted his gaze to the mountain peaks to their east. “A dark force has haunted the Misty Mountains for some time. And I do not have the time and resources to contest the might of Sauron and his numerous allies.”
“Mostly Orcs and trolls inhabit this region of Eriador,” said Hal, thinking that those creatures were no serious threat to the Slayer.
Gandalf turned his attention back to the Rangers, particularly the Watcher. “There is greater evil in this world than Orcs and Trolls, Halbarad,” he replied solemnly.
“What evil is it that you speak of?” asked Aragorn.
“I cannot say with certainty,” the Wizard answered with a heavy sigh. “But I fear that its power is greater than that of the Slayer, and that Miriel will fall at the hands of this foe.”
“Then we must find her!” insisted Elladan. “We have wasted too much precious time here. We need to find her trail.”
Gandalf raised a bushy eyebrow at the Elf Lord, but Elladan took off to resume searching his appointed area around the stone floor. As he left, he advised the others to do the same.
The Rangers, now with the aid of the Wizard, renewed their search for Miriel’s tracks..
Nearly twenty minutes had passed when Elrohir shouted, “I’ve found it! Over here!” He waved for the others to join him at the northeastern side of the outcropping.
Once they had all reached him, Aragorn crouched down beside the grass that Miriel had stomped upon. “Well done, Elrohir,” he said, running his hand over the patch of ground that had been disturbed. He then carefully pulled several blades from the earth, held them to his nose, and smelled the area of the grass that had been damaged. “It has been a long while since Miriel passed this way. The blades have lost nearly all their scent,” he concluded, rising to his feet.
“Lead the way, Estel,” said Elladan, eager to find the Slayer before it was too late…
Miriel hid herself amidst the leafy branches of an elm tree that overlooked the House of Horrors farm. She had made good time, arriving just before nightfall, and felt that the cover of darkness would once again prove advantageous. As she waited, she scoped out the fields that she’d have no other choice but to cross. From what she could gather, the lush grass (seemingly early for this time of year) looked to be about knee-high based on the location of the crisscross patterns of the wooden fence. Miriel thought that she’d need to belly-crawl across the pastures to avoid being seen by the enemy.
The little “guard house” looked empty. At least, from what Miriel could see. There were no signs of life, other than some cattle grazing in the fields. There also had to be chickens somewhere on the property. On occasion she could hear a rooster crowing, but it sounded way off, perhaps behind the stone farmhouse. Miriel was a bit taken aback that there were any farm animals at all, when one considers who resides there now. But, she supposed that even evil creatures needed food to survive, and, despite calling the old hag a witch, she did appear to be human.
Before total darkness engulfed the region, Miriel carefully climbed down from the tree. She squatted, peering from behind the bole of the elm, watching and waiting. Lights came on in the main house, the glow muted by the curtains that covered the windows.
A noise then drew her attention away from the main house to the barn-like structure. The door had been flung open, and Orcs marched from the building, armed with spears, swords and bows. She heard the gruff, commanding voice of one, the leader perhaps, but whatever orders he was giving were unintelligible to the Slayer from this distance.
Eager to see how many Orcs she would have to contend with, Miriel slowly rose to her feet, her joints popping as she stretched her legs. The sound seemed frightfully loud to her mortal ears and she hoped that the enemy had not heard the cracking sounds even though they were a quarter mile or so away. She held her breath for a few moments, listening intently. Fortunately, nary an Orc seemed to detect her presence, and Miriel sighed with relief.
A shroud of darkness fell over the area before she could determine the Orcs’ total numbers. Given the size of the “barn”, their numbers couldn’t be too great. Even if there were some that resided in the farmhouse, she figured she could take them on, one by one. However, if the goblins managed to unite into one unit, she’d be in trouble, particularly with those wielding bows. With no shield at her disposal, the possibility of being hit by a flying projectile was all too real.
It was in the hands of fate. Stealth would play a big part, and that was where she had the advantage. Orcs were not of the stealthy kind. Even now, as they stomped to their appointed posts, the ground seemed to groan beneath their heavy booted feet.It’s now or never
, Miriel thought. She got on all fours and began to crawl toward the fence. She hoped to climb through the “X” part of the fence before any goblins had a chance to reach this area of the farm. However, climbing through the crisscross pattern proved to be awkward and challenging. Somehow, the sword on her right hip became lodged in the junction of two posts, causing her to become hung up in the lower part of the “X”. As she struggled to free herself, the hilt of her weapon jabbed painfully into her ribs. Grimacing, Miriel bit her bottom lip in an attempt to prevent herself from uttering a sound. She then thrust herself forward, breaking the poles that formed the “X” in the process. The loud cracking sound rang out amid the darkness.
“Fuck,” the Slayer murmured, knowing that that sound was loud enough to be heard. As she dove into the tall grass, she pulled her dragger from the sheath clasped to her leg. She had crawled a few feet beyond the fence line when she heard the heavy footfalls of an approaching Orc. With her heart racing, Miriel was going to venture a quick peek to see exactly where the goblin was, but when she smelled the rank odor emitting from the creature, she knew he was too close and lay down on her belly.
She could hear the Orc sniffing. Miriel’s heart felt as if it had plummeted to the bottom of her stomach. She couldn’t help but think that the goblin could smell the scented soap from her recent bath. Regardless, she’d have to take him out. In those long seconds that passed, she wondered how on earth she could kill the lone beast without his alerting his brethren.
From the corner of her eye, she watched the Orc pass her by, heading straight to the fence. She got on her knees, turning so that she faced the back of her foe. As she leapt to her feet, she raked her blade across the tendons at the back of his left knee. The goblin dropped to his knees, as Miriel cut off the shrill yelp that escaped his lips for the briefest of seconds. Having used such force to clamp her hand over his mouth, they both fell backward, hitting the turf with a dull thud.
As her adversary twisted and turned in her grip, she used her legs like a vise, pinning his flailing limbs in place. She sank her blade deeply into the fleshy part of his neck and sliced his throat open. The warmth of her enemy’s blood flowed from the incision, saturating her below. Miriel did not move until the Orc remained motionless. She then flung him aside, revolted by the fact that a vile stench now emanated from her.
There was no doubt in Miriel’s mind that the goblin’s sharp cry had alerted others. And sure enough, a couple of Orcs were walking up the lane calling out to their comrade.
“Oi! Urkhûr! What’re you doing, you witless layabout?” shouted one.
Having no idea what possessed her to do so, the Slayer responded by mimicking an orkish grunt.
The Orc that had called out then looked to his companion, saying, “Go see what that dung-head’s up to? If he’s sleeping on the job again, give him a swift kick to the head. If that don’t wake him - kill ‘em. He ain’t no use to us anyway.” That goblin then continued up the lane, cursing under his breath as he headed to the “guard house”.
The other Orc, following the instructions of the one that seemed to have a higher rank than he, approached the fence that ran alongside the lane. “Damn you, Urkhûr,” the goblin snarled, as he struggled to climb through the fence while holding his spear the wrong way.
If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Miriel would’ve been amused by the stupidity of the Orc. But, she didn’t have time to dawdle. She needed to think of something fast that wouldn’t attract the attention of numerous goblins at once. O’ how she wished she had a bow. Right now, she would have a clear shot at either Orc.
She could throw her dagger, she supposed, but she was loath to do that. With her eyes locked on the goblin by the fence, she reached over, frisking the corpse of Urkhûr in hopes that he had carried a knife of some sort. As luck would have it, she felt some type of handheld weapon strapped to his belt. The problem was that it was stuck beneath the Orc’s body and Miriel couldn’t reach it from where she lay. She needed to get to the other side of the corpse.
The Orc by the fence was halfway through the “X” of poles, deciding to come through backwards instead of forwards. She could hear the door of the “guard house” click closed and knew that now was her chance. She quickly rolled on and over the body of the goblin, tugging the handle of the weapon until it came free. She rejoiced in the fact that she now held a throwing axe.
She shifted her gaze back to the Orc with the spear, seeing that he was nearly all the way through. Sitting on the back of her legs, she rolled the handle of the throwing axe in her hand, getting the feel for it while aiming for the back of the goblin’s neck. She then flung the small axe, watching as it sailed through the air, embedding in the base of her target’s skull. The Orc slumped dead on the fence, having never made a sound.
With the night young and so many villains about, Miriel decided that she needed to make a perimeter sweep prior to entering the main house. She had to take out as many of the Orcs as she could. Chances are it would take her hours to do so. But she was in no hurry. She had waited a long time for this moment and didn’t want to blow it. By eliminating as many Orcs as she could, it would lessen the chances of them forming a unit, attacking her all at once. She wanted to battle the hag one on one, not twenty on one.
Hunching back down amidst the grass, Miriel looked for the next place she needed to go. About thirty feet away to the east was a decent sized shade tree. She thought that if she could reach said tree, and climb it, maybe she could see where the next Orc was. Clutching her dagger tightly in her hand, she counted to three before running with her back bent to lessen the chance of being spotted.
Once she had successfully reached the tree, she pressed her body against the bole, waiting, listening, and steadying her breathing. As she stood there, she eyed the limbs above, looking for the one that offered the best concealment from her foes. She peeked around the trunk, making sure that no goblins had seen her. The last thing she wanted was to be caught unawares.
The Slayer then jumped up and grabbed hold of the straightest branch she could reach. She swung her legs back and forth before flipping her body up onto the top of the limb. The leaves on the branch rustled noisily. Since the air was still, that was not a good thing. Needless to say, the sound attracted the attention of a goblin that had been patrolling a short distance away.
Miriel had to think of something fast. There was no way she could fight from her current position unless she were to drop on top of her foe, and that would require precise timing. Needing to act quickly, she decided on something she wasn’t sure would work. She locked her knees tightly around the branch, so that she could hang upside down. Keeping her body balled tightly, her swords jutted out on either side of her body like petrified wings. For this stunt to work, she’d need to use the proper weapon. She placed her dagger between her teeth, as she slowly pulled out Bregolas’ sword from its sheath. She then fixed her eyes on the approaching Orc, hoping that this would work as she envisioned.
As the goblin came closer, and with his sword at the ready, he picked up the scent of one of his kindred. He assumed that one of his brethren had decided to hide in the tree to ambush the Slayer. He thought that was an excellent strategic move on his cohort’s part and wished he had thought of it first.
He was about two yards away when he asked with a low hiss, “Any sign of the girl?”
There came no response.
“Oi! I’m talking to you,” he said, stepping even closer to the tree.
When he was three feet away, Miriel unrolled her body, and swung her sword with all her might, hewing the Orc’s head from his body. His head flew several feet away while his body collapsed to the ground. Miriel was ecstatic that it had worked.
She then pulled herself up, sitting upright on the branch. She pulled the dagger from her clenched teeth and held it in her left hand, as she wiped the Orc’s blood from the blade of her sword on the leg of her breeches. She re-sheathed Bregolas’ weapon, resuming her watch.
Having a few minutes to survey the area, Miriel was able to make out the Orcs’ patrolling pattern. Stationed every two hundred feet along the internal perimeter of the fence line were two goblins. As one walked a hundred feet in one direction, the other did the same in the opposite direction. Once they had covered their designated hundred foot strip, they would turn and walk back to their starting point, passing each other by in the center so that the other Orc now covered the area from which his partner had just come.
As soon as Miriel realized this pattern, she was able to better prepare a plan of attack. She realized it would only be a matter of time before the cohort of the goblin she had killed, discovered that he was missing, so the Slayer slipped off the branch, landing on the ground. Once again, the leaves noisily rustled as she did so. She then crouched beside the corpse, searching his body for anything that could be of use. Unfortunately, he had nothing on him other than his sword - no throwing axe, knife, bow, nothing.
Miriel grumbled in discontent. A bow. What she would give for a bow! Though not a favorite weapon of hers, right now it would be the most effective weapon she could possess. How many Orcs would she have to kill before she found one?
She could see that dead goblin’s partner had reached the point where he had turned around and was coming back. Miriel grabbed the dead Orc by the shoulders and dragged him to the trunk of the tree. She propped his headless body against the bole, wishing now that she had the head. After having heard how that one Orc, Urkhûr had slept on job, she thought she’d make it look like this one had too. But she needed the head to make it look realistic.
Fighting against time, Miriel lay flat, crawling towards the area in which the head had landed. She had gone a few feet when her outstretched hand touched a pile of dry cow manure. Her hand quickly darted away from the offensive pile, that is, until it occurred to her that a pile of poop could easily double as an Orc head. She placed her dagger between her teeth, as she needed both hands to scoop up the cow excrement. Unfortunately, the feces was wet on the bottom. Cringing, and forcing herself not to gag, she hastily crawled back to the corpse, and placed the dung where the Orc’s head should have been. She then hid on the other side of the tree, waiting for the other goblin she knew would come.
Sickened by the feces clinging to her hands, she hurriedly tried to wipe them on the legs of her breeches. The odor was ghastly, but at least it masked the scent of her floral bath soap. This time, she decided to use her own sword instead of Bregolas’. Before withdrawing the weapon from it scabbard, she slid her dagger back into the sheath strapped to her leg. With her weapon in hand, she waited. She would have to rely on her hearing instead of her eyesight so as to not give away her position.
Shortly thereafter, she heard the Orc approach. “What’re doing there, Skraluk?” he said in a low, gravelly voice. “This ain’t the time to rest.” The Slayer found it somewhat surprising that the goblin spoke with an air of urgency in his voice. She wasn’t used to hearing any of them speak that way.
When she sensed that the enemy was within striking distance, she leapt out from behind the tree. Catching the goblin off guard, she saw both his eyes and mouth widening. Before he could alert his fellow Orcs, Miriel’s sword swished through the air, cleaving off his head. She had used such force that her blade became embedded in the bole of the tree.
“Shit,” she breathed, struggling to dislodge her weapon without damaging it. As soon as she had wiggled the blade free, she inspected the sword and noticed three notches along the blade. She cursed again. She placed the weapon back in its sheath, needing both hands to quickly search the Orc.
“What’s this?” she whispered excitedly. Beside his slouched body lay a long bow. Though she would’ve preferred a short bow, Miriel thought that she would make use of this weapon until she came across something more desirable. With a bow, she could at least strike the enemy from afar. And she knew, undoubtedly, that the success of her stealthy slaying campaign couldn’t last much longer. The odds were likely against her.
She slid the quiver of arrows from the dead goblin’s shoulder, and pulled out two of the flying projectiles to keep on hand. As she slid the quiver over her own shoulder, she hoped that she’d be able to kill the Orcs in pairs, if at all possible.
Wanting to move east along the perimeter, Miriel eyed a hill several yards away. Grabbing the bow, she hunkered down and ran toward it as fast as she could. When she reached the base, she lay flat on her belly, waiting and listening to see if any had witnessed her mad dash. When it seemed clear that she hadn’t been spotted by the enemy, she slowly crawled around the southern side of the hill.
On the eastern side lay a small herd of cattle. That was an obstacle she hadn’t counted on. She didn’t feel confident that she’d be able to get by them without riling them up. She leaned against the hillside, debating her course of action.
She could hear Aragorn’s words of advice echoing in her mind, “Assess, then react.” That was easier said than done. If only she could communicate with cows. Smelling too much like an Orc, she figured that the creatures would view her as a threat, especially the sole bull. His horns looked painfully large, and she didn’t like the idea of becoming impaled by them. She snickered, strangely amused by the notion of meeting her demise from a bull attempting to protect his many “love interests”. She could picture Halbarad writing that in his Watcher’s Diary for later generations to read. What an embarrassing legacy that would be!
Her only other option was to go back to the west, striking the “guard house” next. But that would require her to climb through the fence again, and that was something she was reluctant to do. She turned her attention back to the cattle, wondering if she could somehow skirt around them without spooking the herd. Ideally, she wanted to slay those Orcs patrolling the fence line, gradually working her way towards the hag’s inner sanctum where the bulk of the guards had been stationed.
The Slayer decided to go for it. If the cows got spooked, well then, she’d just have to go with the flow. With the bow clutched in one hand, and the two arrows in the other, she started to crawl to the next tree, which looked to be about sixty feet away.
She hadn’t gotten far when several of the cows raised their heads, their ears sticking upright, having heard her crawling through the grass. Only a few seconds later, one of them mooed loudly, and the whole group began to scramble to their feet, eager to escape what they perceived to be an approaching predator.
It then occurred to Miriel that the cows would offer her excellent cover, and if she ran amongst them, she could reach the cluster of trees about three hundred feet away. Before the cows began their stampede, she got to her feet. Keeping her back hunched, she ran into the herd, which began to run in various directions. She stuck close to a cow that was running in her desired direction.
Of course, this stampede drew the attention of many nearby Orcs. She could hear shouting, and several rushed into the field to investigate the cause of the commotion.
“Back to your posts! Back to your posts!” a lone goblin commanded loudly over the din. “This could be a diversion! Back to your posts!”
Miriel continued to run beside that same cow, her heart pounding madly in her chest. So close. O’ so close
, she thought, as she neared the cluster of shade trees.
Miriel didn’t see the feathered shaft until the last moment. The bolt struck the cow she had been running with on the side of her neck, bringing the beast down. The Slayer skidded to the ground. Rolling onto her belly, she turned in the direction from which the arrow had come. As the Orc reached for another arrow, Miriel armed her bow, keeping it parallel to the ground. Pulling back on the string, she released her dart, which sailed through the air, striking the goblin in the throat.
Fortunately, the cows had created such a ruckus on the field that no one noticed the Orc the Slayer had shot down.
Now was the prefect time to make a beeline to the trees. As she scrambled to her feet, she heard a loud, blood-curdling shriek coming from the north. She turned, dropping to her knees, with her weapon armed and ready. She was amazed to see the bull running madly around the pasture, shaking his head wildly. Dangling from one of his horns was an Orc, whose agonizing howls pierced the night. The enemy had attempted to shoot the bull down, and many arrows stuck out from its hide, but consumed with madness, the beast continued its stampede.
Taking advantage of this most unexpected but excellent diversion, Miriel rose to her feet and bolted to the patch of woods. Once she was safely concealed amid the trees, she was able to take advantage of the pandemonium on the field. She was able to shoot down six Orcs that had been posted along the eastern fence line, which she now followed, slinking north toward the heart of the farm.
As she came across those goblins she had killed with the bow, she searched their corpses for anything that could be of use. She had acquired two more throwing axes, and, as luck would have it, a short bow. Before tossing aside the long bow, she cut the strings with her dagger, rendering the weapon useless. She then gleefully took its shorter counterpart, finding it more manageable under these current conditions. She crammed what arrows the dead Orc had on him into the quiver strung over her shoulder.
The hours slowly passed by as she methodically worked her way around the homestead. She had successfully taken out the Orcs on the entire eastern and northern fronts. Sticking to the immediate areas behind the buildings, she ignored searching the large expanse of cropland that stretched out behind the main house, thinking that it would take too much time.
She attributed some of her success to the small rocks she had collected, using them as a means of drawing out the enemy. Not one to normally abuse animals, she considered her campaign of such great importance that she had chucked a couple of stones at some chickens roosting in a tree. This, of course, sent them into a frenzy, thus forcing the enemy to investigate. The Orcs never saw her. Hiding in some bushes, she was able to shoot them down, lessening the enemies’ numbers dramatically.
Maybe Miriel should’ve stormed the main house after having killed those that guarded it, but she didn’t. Instead, she worked her way along the western side of the fence, back to her original starting point. Once she had taken out the goblin in the “guard house”, she focused her attention on the main home.
By the time she began to move furtively along the fence row back toward the house, she could hear two roosters’ dueling crows. She then knew that the night was waning and that it was nearing dawn. Any Orcs that had not been slain would become weakened with the arrival of day. As far as she knew, no Uruks dwelled in this vicinity. This was Orc and troll country, for the most part.
When Miriel reached the yard, she paused, thinking of her next move. Should she storm the house through the front door, or should she walk around the home, trying to peek in the windows to see how many villains awaited her inside?
She decided on the latter. Seeing that the coast was clear, she hastened to the front of the house. She pressed her face against the nearest window, but with the curtains drawn, it was damn near impossible to see anything inside. Miriel concluded that it was pointless to try to peer in the windows. She had no other choice but to enter the abode of the witch. Thinking that the enemy would expect her to enter through the front door, she elected to enter through the kitchen, located at the back of the house.
She crept along the front of the house, rounded the corner and proceeded along the western wall. Miriel was amazed that she remembered which room lay beyond each curtained window. When she reached the dining room, she could see that the tall window that Beorn had smashed through the year before had been replaced. Of course, thinking of her shape-shifting savior brought many unpleasant memories to mind. For some unknown reason, she placed a trembling hand against the cool glass pane. Images of her past torments that had taken place within those walls flashed in her mind, giving her the strength and courage to see this fight through.
She withdrew her hand from the glass. Reaching down, she grasped the handle of her dagger and pulled it from its protective covering. The bow would no longer be of any use.. From here on out, it would be hand-to-hand combat with whomever she encountered. She cut the string of the bow before leaning it against the stone wall. She then slid the quiver off her shoulder and set it on the ground. Shifting the dagger to her dominant hand, she continued to slink along the wall until she reached the northwest corner of the structure.
She peeked around the corner, just to make sure that she wasn’t going to be blindsided by some armed Orc, lying in wait. Seeing nothing, she inched forward, listening intently. The only sound she heard was the incessant crowing of the two roosters. Miriel stopped when she reached the door that led to the kitchen.This is it
, she thought. Her heart began to beat frantically in her chest; her mouth went dry. After having spent the entire night slaying Orc after Orc, she was beginning to lose her nerve. She didn’t want to die, especially alone. She was suddenly consumed by an overwhelming (and unexplainable) sense of fear. In her mind’s eye, she could see these dark and morbid images of herself, being slowly and savagely tortured at the hands of the witch. The scar above her breast began to throb dully. Before she even realized it, she had backed several feet away from the house.
Then, as suddenly as they had come, those feelings and images vanished. Miriel blinked her eyes several times. The tears that had formed trickled down her cheeks. Her left hand awkwardly clutched her chest. It took her a minute or two to conclude that the witch had cast some type of spell on her. That would explain her swift mood changes. That enraged her. There was no doubt that the old hag would continue to torment her until one of them was dead. She had had enough.
She stormed back toward the house, determined once again to see this through. She grabbed hold of the knob, turning it, as she swung the door open. With her dagger clutched tightly in her hand, she rushed inside.
To her amazement, two women were in the kitchen, and by the looks of it, preparing breakfast. All three females were startled. Not one moved for the briefest of moments. The last thing Miriel expected to see were mortal women in the witch’s service. This was the first time that she had been uncertain of how to react. Questions rushed through her mind. Were these women evil? Or, were they under some sort of spell? The last thing Miriel wanted to do was to slay an innocent. She was unsure of what to think of these women. The middle-aged looking one, by the stove wore a metal collar around her neck while the other, who appeared much younger, had none. Miriel had little time to solve this riddle.
The woman by the stove scrutinized the intruder. Never before had she seen a woman girded with not one sword, but two. In the candlelight, she could clearly see the black Orc blood caked on this woman’s neck and hands. The mistress of the house had referred to her nemesis as “Dagnir”, so she had only assumed that it was a man. To now see that the one responsible for all the mayhem throughout the night was not just a woman, but a young girl, filled the servant with wonder and amazement.
The other woman cracking the eggs had remained frozen for mere seconds before letting the egg fall from her hand; it splattered onto the floor. Spinning around, she was desperate to warn her mistress that Dagnir had arrived, but she was only able to take one step before the older woman darted to the doorway, swinging her frying pan. A loud clang rang out, as the cooking utensil collided with the back of the younger woman’s head. She dropped to the floor, out cold.
Miriel was not expecting that, at all.
The older woman turned, facing the Slayer. “This one’s a traitor,” she revealed softly, glaring at the unconscious woman with utter contempt. She then shifted her gaze back to the Slayer, her expression softening. “She’s waiting for you,” she whispered urgently. “Upstairs. Go left. First door on the right.”
The woman then stepped back against the wall, as Miriel crossed the kitchen. When she reached the older woman, her accomplice grasped her arm, stopping her. “You’ve been sent by the Blessed Ones. I know you have.
For the love of all that’s good - kill that she-devil.”
Miriel nodded. She sidestepped the unconscious woman sprawled in the corridor, making her way down the hall. From behind, she could hear the other woman dragging the knocked out woman back into the kitchen. Miriel approached each doorway cautiously, peeking into the room before walking pass it. As she went by the dining room, which looked neat and orderly, she saw a brief image of herself, seated at the table with “mother” and her “sons.” That’s where it had all begun, with the drugged food that Miriel had all too eagerly eaten.
Of course, being in the House of Horrors again brought all those horrific memories rushing to her mind. Even now, as she approached the front parlor, the stench of death filled her nostrils. The interior of the house was alit with many lamps and candles, illuminating nearly every nook and cranny.
She peered into the front parlor. All the furnishings were neatly arranged, the room immaculate. Nothing, thus far, would indicate that an evil witch dwelled within these walls. Everything looked “normal” and clean. Nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at you. Not a painting, tapestry - nothing. Even vases full of freshly cut flowers sat on several tables throughout the lower level of the house.
At the bottom of the stairs, opposite the parlor, Miriel did a quick visual inspection of what was once the lady of the house’s quilting room. It was there where Beorn had died. She could picture his cold, wet body stretched out before the fireplace, a dagger protruding from his chest. He had saved her. No, he died
saving her. There’s a big difference between the two.
Once she had determined the room was clear, she slowly made her way upstairs. The hand that clutched her dagger had become slick with sweat. With her eyes fixed on her path, she hurriedly wiped her palm dry on the leg of her breeches before firmly clenching her weapon.
The house was quiet. Even the woman in the kitchen made no noise.
As she climbed the steps, she found the numerous flashbacks of her imprisonment quite unsettling. However, every time she found her nerve wavering, she heard Buffy’s voice, saying, “Muster all that anger and pain, and use it against her.”
She was right. After what that old hag had done to her, the fear and pain she had inflicted, Miriel wanted nothing more than to return the favor.
When she reached the top of the stairs, the floor board creaked beneath her feet. She paused for a moment, holding her breath, listening for any sounds. She then took a deep breath, knowing that she’d be confronting the witch in only a matter of seconds. She proceeded down the hallway. The door to the room in which the old hag was, was slightly ajar. A soft glow spilled out from the opening. Miriel pressed her hand against the door, pushing it open.
The sole light came from the blazing logs in the fireplace. The room was very warm. Standing by the curtained window with her arms folded across her chest was the witch. Her yellow cat-like eyes glowed eerily within the dimness of the room.
“You’re braver than we thought,” she said, a crooked, sinister grin coming to her wrinkly face.
“I’ve killed your Orcs,” declared Miriel, wanting to let the old hag know that she had grown stronger since their last encounter.
“That is no big loss,” the woman answered, her smile wavering for a second. “There are more where they came from.”
Not wanting to allow this witch time to cast a spell on her unknowingly, Miriel said, “Now, it’s your turn.” As she lunged across the room, a thick plume of smoke billowed out of the fireplace forming into a mass. Before she could reach the witch, the smoky form seized her, literally lifting her off the floor. The thick haze choked her with its toxic fumes, squeezing what air remained in her lungs.
“Do you honestly think a mere child can defeat me?” she snarled. “I am older than this world. I have powers you know not.”
Miriel desperately tried to wrestle free from the grasp of the smoky phantom. The fumes that had engulfed her, kept her arms pinned to her side. The only parts of her body she could move were her legs and head. But, since this thing was non-corporeal, head-butting and kicking at it had no effect on it whatsoever. How was she supposed to fight this mystical smoke monster?
She could feel herself losing consciousness. Her eyes went from the witch to the bed, the very same bed to which she had been tethered the year before. Perhaps it was the poisonous fumes, or some spell conjured by the hag, but Miriel saw her naked self tied to the bed, being raped by brother after brother. Was this what had transpired while she was unconscious? Hopelessness began to consume her. She felt defeated.
Then, she heard Buffy’s voice, demanding, “Use it! Use your anger against her!”
Perhaps Buffy Summers was more magical than she knew, for when Miriel heard her voice, a seething rage swept over the young Slayer. She didn’t know what or how it happened, but at that moment, she was able to fling her arms out to her sides. The smoky form released its hold on her. Seemingly recoiling in fear, it backed away from Miriel. The Slayer then felt her feet hit the floor. Her knees buckled as she coughed, trying to suck in some air. She found herself in a crouching position with one knee resting on the floor. She then looked up at the old hag. Miriel’s narrowed eyes burned with an intensity that frightened the witch, who was stunned that the Slayer had managed to overcome her smoke monster.
Time was of the essence and Miriel had to act now if she were to survive. It seemed that she and the witch had reached that same conclusion at the same time. While the Slayer pounced, the old hag came darting out of the corner. Miriel had sprung at her with such force, that, as she plunged her dagger into the witch’s chest, the momentum propelled her forward, sending herself and the witch crashing through the curtained window into the grey light of morning.
As they plummeted to the ground, the Slayer kept one hand on the handle of her weapon while the other gripped the back of the neck of her opponent. There was no way she was going to allow this bitch to escape her again. The cool, fresh air invigorated Miriel. In those brief moments, she sucked in all she could. The old woman’s body then collided with the ground, knocking the wind out of her. Though her right hand continued to grip the hilt of the dagger, Miriel’s body crashed on top of the witch’s, the handle ramming painfully into her ribs.
The old hag moaned and groaned beneath her, as Miriel locked her legs around the bony ones of the witch. “Die, bitch!” she growled. She twisted the blade, sinking it deeper into her enemy’s chest, eager to extinguish the life from her adversary.
However, to the Slayer’s amazement, she watched as the witch’s incisors grew into fangs.She’s a vampire
, she thought. That’s why a dagger to the chest hadn’t been deadly. She thought back to the time when she and Buffy had fought vampires at The Bronze in the dreamscape long ago. Fire, beheading, and stake through the heart were the only means of slaying those evil creatures. There was no fire available so she could eliminate that option.
Beheading seemed her only viable option. I’ll cut the bitch’s head off
, she thought, using her weight to keep her squirming enemy subdued. As she went to pull the blade from the witch’s chest, it snapped from the handle.
“Shit!” she exclaimed, holding the useless handle in her hand. She tossed it aside. She thought of using her sword, but trying to hold the vampire down while pulling out a nearly five foot blade from its sheath would be problematic.
She then heard several voices loudly calling out, “Miriel!”
She cast a quick glance toward the sound, only to see her friends, now accompanied by Gandalf, running down the lane toward the western side of the house where she and the witch were. She had a sinking feeling in her heart that the Wizard was there to see to the witch’s demise. There was no way Miriel was going to allow anyone else to finish this fight.
Miriel’s eyes scanned the immediate area, looking for something that she could use to stake the vampire hag. Jagged pieces of splintered wood from the window frame littered the ground, but, unfortunately, they were out of reach. Her friends were getting closer and the Slayer knew she had to act fast.
The witch, having recognized Gandalf’s voice, grew fearful. The blade in her chest was painful and had weakened her considerably, but she knew that if she did not find a way to escape, it would be the end of her. The Slayer seemed preoccupied, and the hag felt that now was the time to make her move. She twisted her body, flinging her left hip upward, knocking Miriel off. She needed to make a run for it. The woods. If she could reach the woods, she could eventually make her way to Goblin-town where she could recuperate in safety. She was able to roll onto all fours and crawl a few feet before she felt the weight of that despicable girl on her back.
“I don’t think so, bitch,” Miriel hissed in her ear. Thanks to the witch’s attempt to escape, Miriel was now able to grab one of the jagged pieces of the window frame. While the Slayer had dreamed of the day when she was in this position to exact her revenge on the old hag by torturing her slowly and painfully, time was running out. She’d have to be satisfied with her death alone. “Only one of us is going to walk away from here, and it’s definitely not going to be you.”
Miriel then lifted her wooden weapon. As she plunged it down, determined to stake the heart through the vampire’s back, she heard Gandalf shouting, “Miriel! No!”
Too late. The wood broke through the skin and pierced her enemy’s organs including her heart. The witch’s body did not turn to dust like the vampires in Sunnydale had. Instead, her muscles and skin shriveled up before Miriel’s very eyes. She leapt off the body. As she watched the hag die, she felt as if this invisible weight had lifted from her shoulders, a burden she had been carrying for some time now. She cried tears of relief, tears of joy.
By the time her friends arrived at her side, what was left of the witch resembled a mummy. Elladan pulled Miriel into his arms, holding her tightly while she reassured him that she was not injured.
Gandalf crouched beside the corpse before turning it over. He placed his hand on the shrunken forehead, studying the hideous skeletal face for several long seconds. His eyes then widened, not only with recognition of who this formidable foe was, but also in amazement that the Slayer had been able to kill her single-handedly. “Do you know who this is?” he asked, shifting his blue eyes to the Slayer.
“A witch who deserved to die,” Miriel answered between sniffles.
“My dear girl, this is no witch,” said Gandalf in astonishment. “This is Thuringwethil, the mother of all vampires.”