Chapter Thirty-three: Butting Heads
“What do you know about vampires?” queried Miriel, furrowing her brows upon hearing the Wizard’s use of the word.
“Not much,” he replied. “What little I do know came from the Eldar that departed these shores after the destruction of Angband at the end of the First Age.”
“It had been said that Thuringwethil perished in that great battle,” added Elrohir.
“So we presumed,” replied Gandalf.
“Then all the more extraordinary this feat truly is,” said Elladan, looking at Miriel, beaming with pride. “Not only did Miriel destroy the Maia responsible for much sorrow in this world but also the mother of all vampires.” His smile widened. “Well done, Miriel. Well done.”
“That’s my Slayer,” chimed in Halbarad.
Though this was a triumphant moment for the young Slayer, she still had many questions for Gandalf. She wiped the dampness from her face with the sleeve of her shirt. Rising to her feet, she asked, “Why did you want me to stop?”
“Stop?” repeated the baffled Wizard.
“When you were running up, you said, and I quote, ‘Miriel! No!’ Why? Why would you say such a thing whilst I faced off against an adversary of such great power?” Miriel placed her hands on her hips, looking down at the Wizard who remained squatted beside the corpse of Thuringwethil.
Gandalf fixed his gaze on the daughter of Denethor. If he was not mistaken (and he deemed he wasn’t!), he got the impression that the Slayer was not too pleased with him at the moment. Gandalf used his staff to help pull himself back to his feet. “Well,” he began hesitantly, wanting to choose his words carefully. “You had Thuringwethil subdued. Perhaps if you had spared her life, we could’ve gained some information on the enemy.”
“Spare her life?” said Miriel incredulously.
“It is well-known that she was once Sauron’s most trusted messenger, but not many know that she was also his paramour,” said Gandalf.
The Rangers glanced at the shrunken form of Thuringwethil and cringed at the thought.
“I don’t care who she was. She deserved worse than death. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to torture the bitch before killing her. As far as I’m concerned, I did the world a favor,” replied a sneering Miriel.
Gandalf’s bristly brows darted upward. “Has it become that easy for you to take a life?”
“I’m the Slayer,” Miriel shot back. “Not the Coddler. You should know that, Mithrandir, for it was you that set me on my path. What did you expect me to do, give her a spanking and send her on her way?”
“Sometimes, one needs to show mercy,” he said calmly.
Miriel’s jaw dropped upon hearing that. Perhaps the combination of lack of sleep and having battled Orcs throughout that night had finally begun to take its toll on her. She seemed to say what was on her mind, without thinking. How else could one explain her accusatory tone toward a Wizard of Gandalf’s caliber?
“Mercy?” she repeated with such disdain that the Rangers, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire, found themselves taking a step away from her and Mithrandir. The Slayer’s narrowed eyes were ablaze with anger. “Is that what you have shown Sauron?” she hissed between gritted teeth. “It’s been over three thousand years since you were sent to Middle-earth to hinder the Dark Lord. And what have you achieved in all that time? His power only grows - ‘cause what? You showed mercy?” Miriel snickered. “Maybe that’s why the Valar chose to imbue a woman
with slaying skills because Wizards and Elves spend too much time over-thinking things instead of getting the job done.”
This was not the reunion Gandalf had expected to have with young Miriel. He found her comments to be hurtful and unfounded. He had not been idle all these many years. Who was it that had infiltrated Dol Guldur and discovered that the Necromancer was Sauron - he had! Who had helped drive Sauron from that realm? He had! Who was the one to discover that the Ring of Power had been found again? He was. And it had been he that had ordered the Rangers to keep a protective eye on the Shire so that Sauron could not find out that his Ring had been found. But Gandalf did not say his thoughts aloud. He knew that the young Slayer was unaware of these things. Instead, he said, “I see much of your father in you, Miriel.”
That enraged Miriel even more. “Speak not that name in front of me again, or you shall find yourself in the same position as she.” She nudged her head toward the corpse of Thuringwethil. The Slayer then turned and stomped away, leaving her stunned friends behind.
The men immediately grouped together, talking in hushed voices. Needless to say, they were shocked by Miriel’s behavior. As she rounded the corner of the house, she made out the words, “possessed” and “bewitched” from her companions.
Exhaustion had finally set in, and with each step Miriel took, it felt to her as if her feet had turned into lead blocks. She glanced at the dead Orcs she passed on her way to the eastern side of the farmhouse. By her count, she had killed thirty-seven. Not too bad, all things considered
, she thought.
When she reached the large oak where she had buried Beorn, she dropped to her knees. The small flowers that had grown over his grave had been beaten down by the Orcs’ booted feet. She caressed the grass, softly saying, “It’s over, my friend. The last one is dead.”
Unbeknownst to her, Halbarad had followed. Miriel was either too tired to notice, or just didn’t care.
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?” he asked, his worrisome eyes watching her intently.
“Yes,” she said softly.
“It was Thuringwethil that imprisoned you, was it not?”
“She… she hurt you,” he said, choking back his tears.
“She among others,” Miriel whispered. Her eyes remained locked on Beorn’s grave, her hand still tenderly stroking the blades of grass. “He died saving me,” she uttered. Then, turning toward her Watcher, she said, “I didn’t mean to be so cross to Mithrandir. Will you let him know?”
Halbarad nodded, unable to speak without shedding tears. He now realized that this place had done irreparable harm to poor Miriel.
“I’m so tired, Hal,” she said, lying down on the grass beside Beorn’s grave. “I need to rest. There are a couple of women in the house. I do not think they’re evil. You and the others tend to them. It’s been a long night and I must sleep.” Miriel closed her eyes and, before she heard Halbarad’s footfalls fade completely away, she had fallen fast asleep…
Of course, an elated Buffy was waiting for Miriel once she entered the dreamscape. “I’m so
proud of you,” said the elder Slayer, pulling her protégé into a tight, congratulatory embrace. “You’ve kicked some major ass, and slain a demigod to boot.”
Miriel lacked the enthusiasm of her mentor. She pulled out of the embrace, offering Buffy a weak smile in reply.
“Oh, come on, Miriel,” continued a bubbly Buffy. “Don’t be all depression-girl.”
“I’m… I’m not. I’m just tired,” she answered, looking down at Beorn’s grave.
“You’re coming down off your adrenaline rush is all. That’s to be expected. You’ll be as good as new after a good night’s sleep.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Of course I am.” Buffy studied her protégé for a long moment. “We need to celebrate,” she announced.
“I’m not in a celebratory mood.”
The elder Slayer grabbed Miriel by the arm and forced her to face her. “What’s wrong?” Buffy looked deeply into her protégé’s eyes. “Oh, God. Don’t tell me you’re regretting what you said to that Dumbledore wannabe.”
“What?” queried a baffled Miriel.
“The Wizard guy. Gandoff or whatever his name is. You were in the right, you know. Look how easy it was for you to take out that crazy old bat!”
“You helped,” said Miriel. “If it hadn’t been for you… ”
“No,” interjected Buffy with a shake of her head. “You deserve all the credit. Not me.” The elder Slayer then said, “Shake it off! We’re in a dream, Miriel. You don’t have to be so tired if you don’t want to.” She then scanned the scenery. “Let’s get out of here. I think I know somewhere we can go that’ll lift your spirits.”
With that, Buffy linked her arm with her protégé and they vanished from the farm only to reappear on the coast of Dol Amroth a second later.
They stood on the sandy shore, drinking in the beauty of that region in springtime. The sound of the surf was like music to their ears. Miriel drank in the salty air, finding it as invigorating as the lembas way bread of the Elves. She shifted her gaze to the magnificent castle of her Uncle Imrahil perched majestically atop the cliff, its white walls gleaming in the morning sunlight. Gulls cried overhead as they soared across the waters in search of their morning meal.
“I can tell that I made the right choice,” said Buffy, savoring the seaside as much as her protégé.
“You most certainly did,” agreed the young Slayer, grinning broadly. “I needed this.”
Miriel felt her exhaustion melt away. She knew her surroundings played a big part in that. She loved being here, even if only in a dream. Her escapades with Buffy always seemed so very real despite the fact that they only took place in her mind.
Buffy, feeling rather playful, wanted to do a mock interview with her protégé. She briefly explained that heroes in the twenty-first century are sometimes interviewed on television for the whole world to see. Pretending that her fist was a microphone, she shoved it beneath Miriel’s mouth, saying, “All our viewers in the dream world wanna know: how does it feel, Miriel, daughter of Gondor, to have slain the mother of all vampires?”
The younger Slayer went along with her mentor, replying, “It feels fantastic.”
“For those of you nestled in your beds,” Buffy said, turning to the make-believe camera in front of the ocean, “you can now sleep more peacefully knowing that a great menace has been taken out of action, thanks to this impressive young Slayer here.” She then turned her attention back to Miriel. “Having now made history, what’s next on your plate?”
“A well deserved holiday,” laughed the younger Slayer.
“Ah, it sounds to me as if you intend to return to Rivendell.”
“I hope so,” she responded.
“And how do you think Glorfindel, one of your teachers in the craft of weaponry, and possible love interest, will feel when he hears about your victory over the Maia?”
“Um, happy, I think.”
“Happy?” Buffy chuckled. “Surely, his reaction will be more than that. It is a fact that the mighty Elf-lord died while fighting a Balrog long ago. Isn’t it true that a Balrog is also one of the Maia race?”
“Well, yes,” answered Miriel, unsure where Buffy was going with her line of questioning.
“And isn’t it also a fact that Lúthien, whom both Elves and mortals hold in high esteem, was unable to totally defeat this Thuringwethil character?”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.” Miriel could now see that Buffy was using historical figures in ages past to show how significant her victory over Thuringwethil actually was. The younger Slayer draped an arm around Buffy’s shoulders and turned toward the invisible camera. “I would also like to add that this woman beside me, Buffy Summers, played a pivotal role in all this. Not only did she act as my mentor, but more importantly, my friend, and taught me all there is to know about vampires. This triumphant moment would not have happened without her.” Miriel looked directly at Buffy as she spoke that last sentence. “I mean it,” she added, her eyes welling with tears.
“A modest Slayer we have here, folks. This is definitely a girl that’s gonna make it into the history books.” Buffy then turned her gaze back toward the make believe camera. “Until the next Big Bad is defeated, this is Buffy Summers, reporting for Snooze TV, signing off.”
Miriel laughed, shaking her head. “You are the strangest person I’ve ever met.”
“I take that as a compliment,” Buffy chortled. “Shall we?” She motioned toward a pavilion that had materialized on the beach. Beneath the structure were two cushioned loungers and a feast befitting of any returning warrior after such a great battle.
The two Slayers strolled over to the pavilion and stretched out on the comfy chairs. They then ate and drank to their hearts’ content, taking about the exploits of the night before…
Miriel had only slept an hour and a half when Elladan came to awaken her. “Time to get up, Miriel,” he cooed, gently shaking her from her slumber.
Blinking her eyes open to the orangey glow of morning, she yawned, stretching her weary limbs.
“Did you have a nice rest?” he asked, crouched beside her.
Miriel rubbed the sleep from her eyes, as she sat up. “Yes, though I wish I could’ve slept longer.”
“We’ve freed all the prisoners. You’ve saved many lives here today,” he informed her with a smile.
“Many lives?” she repeated, wrinkling her face in confusion.
“Indeed,” began Elladan. His tone became more serious, the smile having faded from his face. “Thuringwethil had imprisoned over a dozen people in the cellar. The horrors they had been subjected to were… ” he stopped mid-sentence, shuddering at the atrocities about which he and the others had learned from the survivors. “Let us not talk of that just now.”
“Is… is Mithrandir wroth with me?” she asked hesitantly. “I didn’t mean to snap at him the way I did. The words just… just blurted out of me. I didn’t mean it.”
“We call that battle fatigue,” he said, offering a reassuring smile. “You’ve done well here, Miriel. We’ve counted twenty-two dead Orcs!”
“Thirty-seven,” she corrected.
The Elf’s eyes widened. Nodding, he added, “Quite impressive, for anyone.” He stood, offering Miriel his hand. She took it and he heaved her to her feet. She then turned, looking down upon Beorn’s grave. Elladan followed her gaze. “Hal said he died saving you,” he said softly. “Who was he? Did you know his name?”
Images of Beorn rescuing her flashed in her mind. “His name was Beorn. He was a shape-shifter.”
“Beorn,” repeated the Elf Lord.
Miriel glanced at Elladan and could see by his expression that he recognized the name. “Did you know him?” she asked.
“Not really. I’ve seen him on occasion, though usually in bear form.”
Miriel’s eyes shifted back to the grave. “He was a decent and honorable man. His son, as well. I’ve wanted to go see Grimbeorn for the longest time, to tell him what happened to his father.” She glanced at Elladan. “But fate never lead me back over the mountains,” she added, shrugging her shoulders.
“Perhaps fate will one day change that. One never knows,” he replied with a wink.
“Oh, is that something you see?” she asked lightheartedly. “I know how you Elves are, with the foresight and all.”
“Hmm, I may have to dwell on that a bit. You know how we Elves like to ‘over-think’ everything,” retorted Elladan with an impish glint in his eyes.
Miriel smiled. “Yeah, about that… ” She bit her lip. She wasn’t sure how to address the snide remark she had made earlier. After a brief pause, she blurted out, “Battle fatigue. I attribute everything I said to that.”
“You’re forgiven then,” he laughed, linking his arm with hers. “If you’re up for it, there are some people that would very much like to speak with you.”
“As long as I’m not in trouble.”
“Well, we still haven’t dealt with your running off at the lake,” he said, steering her toward the back of the house. “You gave us a terrible fright!”
“Oh, yeah,” she slowly drawled. “Sorry about that.”
“I’m going to assume that Thuringwethil had summoned you in some way,” he said, watching Miriel out of the corner of his eye. “In the end, things turned out alright, but I hope if anything remotely like that happens in the future, you’ll tell us so that we can help. We’re Rangers, Miriel. We look out for one another. Things could’ve gone badly for you if we hadn’t followed.”
“I handled things alright on my own.”
Elladan halted and faced the Slayer. “Were you aware that a band of Orcs were on their way here?”
Miriel stared blankly at the Elf. No, she hadn’t been aware of that.
“We came upon them during the night, and killed every last one. What do you think would’ve happened if we hadn’t been there at that precise moment? Their numbers were too great for you to take out by yourself, even with your skill in combat.”
Miriel averted her gaze, looking over Elladan’s shoulder at the fields that stretched out behind the farmhouse. Her skin began to prickle all over, a result of the sudden surge of guilt that washed over her. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks, her body temperature rising. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead. She wanted to apologize, but the words wouldn’t come out. Or, perhaps, if she tried to speak, she’d break down. It had been a long night and her nap hadn’t invigorated her as well as she would’ve liked.
Elladan cupped her cheeks, gently turning her head so that she had to meet his gaze. His deep grey eyes were riddled with sorrow and doubt. “Do you not trust me?”
“Of course I do,” she replied, her voice cracking as she spoke.
“Then do not keep these things from me again. If anything had happened to you…” His words faltered. He took a deep breath, adding, “I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
“I apologize for leaving the way I did, but this was my fight,” she countered. “You have no idea what she had done to me.” She could feel her eyes beginning to water again.
me,” he insisted. “I’m your friend. You can confide in me about anything.”
Miriel shook her head. “Some things are too painful to discuss.”
“Sometimes when you talk of these things, you can find healing. The pain becomes less.”
“Maybe, but I’m not ready to,” she said weakly, rubbing her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt before any tears could escape.
“Whenever you are, I am here for you. Anytime.”
“I know,” she answered.
Elladan then pulled her into an embrace, holding her tightly. He buried his face in her hair, deeply inhaling her scent. Wrinkling his nose at the repulsive odor, he pulled away, asking, “Why do you smell of dung?”
Miriel couldn’t help but laugh, which, she needed at that moment. “You don’t want to know.”
His timing had been perfect, for the intensity of their conversation had been defused, and the mood had been lightened immensely. As they ambled back toward the house, Elladan attempted to guess how Miriel had come to smell like feces, each guess more preposterous than the previous one, but none of them correct.
When they had reached the back of the house, there were five men seated on the ground, basking in the warm rays of the sun. They were so thin, obviously, half-starved. Their torn and shabby garments looked two sizes too big. They were in a terrible state.
As soon as they noticed Elladan and Miriel, they started to clamber to their feet.
“No, no,” said Elladan. “There is no need. Sit, my good men.”
“We’ve sat overly long, lord,” answered one, speaking on behalf of the group. His eyes then swiftly darted to Miriel. “Is this her? Is this the mighty warrior you’ve spoken of?” There was an air of incredulity to his voice, as his eyes steadily looked her over.
“Yes,” he replied. After a brief internal debate about whether or not to reveal the Slayer’s true name, he added, “This is Miriel.”
“But, but she’s just a girl,” he replied in astonishment.
“Never underestimate the abilities of a woman,” answered Elladan with a smile. “Miriel here is stronger than she looks, and possesses skills greater than most men.”
Keeping his eyes locked on Miriel, the spokesman limped forward. As he neared, the Slayer caught a whiff of the stench emanating from him. It was rather putrid, making her own odor seem like wildflowers in comparison. However, what caught her eye when he was but a few paces away were the multiple bite marks on his neck. She stepped forward, wanting to inspect the wounds more closely.
As she reached out to touch his neck, the man recoiled.
“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly pulling her hand away.
“No, miss. I am,” he apologized, his cheeks turning pink beneath the layer of filth on his skin. “I’m afraid that I’ve come to fear women.”
“You need not fear Miriel,” chimed in Elladan.
Miriel decided that it was best to keep her hands to herself, but that didn’t stop her from scrutinizing the bite marks. “She fed on you,” she said, cocking her head to the side. “She kept you alive so that she could drink your blood.”
The man’s sunken eyes widened. “Yes, yes she did.” He glanced at Elladan before fixing his gaze back on the Slayer. “They say that she was a vampire, and that you killed her, and all her goblin servants.”
“Yes,” she answered with a nod.
“Glory be,” he said, dropping to his knees. He then wrapped his arms around Miriel’s legs, clinging to her. She looked at Elladan, her discomfort obvious. “I do not know how to thank you,” he cried. “You have saved us all from a fate worse than death!”
“I am duty-bound to protect those subjugated by the likes of Thuringwethil,” revealed the Slayer.
“Duty-bound?” the man sniveled between sobs, looking up at Miriel in wonder.
“I am called Dagnir for a reason,” she answered with a small smile.
“You are indeed a truly great warrior, greater than any I’ve ever seen or heard tales of.”
Miriel couldn’t help but chuckle. “Then you are not learned in the lore of this world, for there are many, many people greater than I.”
“And now you shall be accounted amongst them,” declared Elladan proudly. “You have rightly earned your place amongst the most esteemed that have ever walked this earth, whether Man or Elf. Very few have received such an honor.”
The Slayer did not think she was in the same league as those that she had come to admire. Although, it was a pleasant thought to think that she could be accounted amongst the greatest of the greatest in Middle-earth. She couldn’t help but wonder if tales of her adventures would live on in lore. She relished that thought briefly until it occurred to her that a Slayer’s accomplishments (however great or small) are generally not known to the public. Her greatest victory to date would only live on in the Watchers’ Diaries. She even suspected that the Rangers would keep her triumphs secret, for they themselves were a secretive bunch.
“Now if you don’t mind,” Elladan went on, prying the man off Miriel’s legs, “I believe Miriel is in need of some food and drink after a long night of battle.”
“Of course, of course,” the man replied, scuttling backwards on his knees.
Elladan grasped Miriel’s arm and led her to the kitchen door. The other men seated on the ground offered words of thanks as she passed them by. Once inside the kitchen, Miriel noticed the young woman that had been clobbered on the head with a frying pan sitting in the corner with her arms wrapped tightly about herself, rocking back and forth. Her eyes were hazy and she mumbled incoherently under her breath.
The older woman that had wielded said frying pan entered the room when she heard the door snap close. Her eyes went from Miriel to the woman in the corner. Scowling, she shook her head. “She’s been in that state since she came to,” she remarked. “We can’t get a word out of her - traitorous wench!” she barked.
Miriel couldn’t help but feel pity for the young woman. She looked at the angry woman, who grumbled a few choice words about the traitor under her breath.
“Do not hold her to blame for her betrayal,” the Slayer began. “Thuringwethil was extremely powerful and fear can drive us to do things we normally wouldn’t.”
“But, miss - ” the exasperated old woman started to say in protest.
Miriel cut off her sentence. “Let it go. It’s over. Find it in your heart to forgive her. She was not herself.” A part of the Slayer had no idea why she would say such a thing. She was no fan of traitors. Perhaps it was seeing the younger woman in that state, a state that Miriel had been in herself on several occasions, that aroused feelings of empathy toward her, traitor or not.
The older woman wasn’t about to argue with the girl that had wreaked such devastation upon Thuringwethil and her minions. The last thing she wanted was to get on Miriel’s bad side. She immediately scurried over to the kitchen sink. She then turned, offering the Slayer a warm, soapy cloth to wash up with. “Why don’t you join the others in the next room and I’ll prepare you some breakfast,” suggested the woman in a motherly sort of way.
Miriel’s eyes shifted to the basket of eggs on the table, their numbers less than when she had first entered the kitchen two hours ago. “Um, er,” she stammered, apprehensive to eat anything in this house. She recalled all too clearly how her last meal eaten in the House of Horrors had been drugged. “I do not trust that this food is safe to eat,” she finally said. “It’s poison.”
“The food is fine,” said Elladan assuredly. “We ate some whilst you slept.”
Despite her friend’s declaration, Miriel remained skeptical.
“If you have doubts, then I will eat some first to show you that the food is fit for consumption.”
The older woman snatched an egg from the basket, holding it at eye level. “It’s intact. How can it be tainted, or poisoned when it’s still in the shell?”
The Slayer’s brows darted upward. “Are you telling me that you believe Thuringwethil was incapable of putting spells on things, including food?” She glanced at the young woman rocking in the corner, then back at the older lady. “You’re foolish if you think she lacked such abilities.”
“Miriel,” began Elladan, “I assure you that the food is fine. Why would you doubt me?”
She couldn’t help but notice that Elladan appeared hurt by her uncertainty. “I don’t doubt you,” she replied. “If you say it’s alright, then it is.” She eyed the egg once again. “Although I have reason to doubt… ” She stopped, shifting her gaze from the egg to Elladan. “This is a house of great evil. There is nothing wholesome about it.”
Even though Thuringwethil was dead, Miriel still hated this place. Trying to keep a brave front, she marched out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Her friends, seated around the table, welcomed her when she entered the room.
“There she is - our hero,” said Halbarad in a jolly voice.
“Have you been drinking?” she asked, her eyes darting to the near empty wine bottle on the table.
“Just a little bit,” he replied, holding his thumb and forefinger nearly pressed together.
She shook her head as she sat in the chair across from her apparently tipsy Watcher.
Gandalf sat at the head of the table, sipping tea. He watched Miriel under his thick bristly brows as she feverishly scrubbed the dried blood from her hands. “Did you get any sleep?” he asked.
“Not as much as I would’ve liked,” she answered, refusing to meet the Wizard’s gaze. She still felt awkward, guilty over her earlier outburst.
Something strange then happened that Miriel found incredibly distressing. Her friends were questioning her about the events that had taken place during the night, but as they spoke, their voices changed. Miriel looked up from her hands and saw the enemy seated at the table. She saw Valandil and Faron, Dúilin and Tauron, and the other “brothers” whose names escaped her. The table was laden with the same fare as when she had first stepped into this house the year before. She blinked several times, hoping that the hallucination or whatever it was would disappear. To her dismay, it did not. She could smell the aroma of the juicy lamb; see the steam rising from the bowl of roasted potatoes. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest. Her breathing changed; she was gasping for air. How could this be happening - Thuringwethil was dead!
She closed her eyes for a moment, praying that things would return to normal. But when she felt someone touch her neck, she instinctively smacked the one that had intruded on her personal space. Her eyes popped open, and just like that – everything reverted back to normal. Elladan stared at her in dismay, his jaw agape. He had been wiping the blood from her neck when she struck him.
Everyone around the table fell quiet, staring at Miriel in stunned disbelief. Disturbed by what had just happened, Miriel bolted from the table and fled outside. She ran passed the men still seated on the grass and into the vast cropland that stretched out behind the house.
Her friends had taken off after her, but only Elladan followed her into the field. Though he called out her name, she continued to run at full speed. But he was an Elf in excellent health and managed to gain on her. When he was near enough, he dove onto her back, sending them both crashing to the ground.
Elladan quickly flipped her over. Her face was wet with tears. “I can’t go back there. I can’t,” she cried.
The Elf slid off her, pulling her into his arms, protectively cradling her. “Everything is alright, Miriel. I’m here. No harm will come to you.” He gently stroked her hair, doing his best to reassure her that the nightmare was over.
“I’m sorry,” she wept, burying her face in his shoulder. “I didn’t mean to hit you. That place is evil.”
“It’s alright,” said Elladan soothingly, though greatly concerned over this latest episode.
A minute or so later, a winded Elrohir reached them. Holding the stitch in his side, he asked, “Is she alright?”
“She’s fine,” replied the elder brother. “Why don’t you go on back, and we’ll rejoin you and the others shortly.”
Miriel jerked her head back when she heard Elladan’s comments. “I’m not going back,” she vowed. “I will not set foot in that house ever again nor will I eat anything that comes from this place. It’s evil. Everything about this place is evil.”
“We don’t have to go back,” said Elladan in agreement.
“In fact,” continued a determined Miriel, scrambling to her feet. “I don’t want to be here any longer. I’ve seen enough of this place.”
“We can go,” agreed Elladan, as he too rose to his feet.
As they made their back toward the house, Miriel was quick to add, “I am not insane. Thuringwethil may be dead but her wickedness lingers on.”
“I do not doubt you,” Elladan said, wishing that the Slayer would tell him what had happened to her during her imprisonment here. While he and the others had drawn their own conclusions, he thought that it would help Miriel if she talked about it. However, he had already attempted that earlier, and he wasn’t about to jeopardize their friendship by pressing her further.
When they reached the yard, where their friends and former prisoners were gathered, Miriel stepped up to Gandalf and said, “Burn it down, Mithrandir. Burn it to the ground.”
“This is too fine of a place to burn down.”
It was not the Wizard that answered, but one of the former prisoners.
Miriel’s eyes darted to the man that had spoken. “This is a place of evil. It has seeped into the walls, into the grounds. Only pain and sorrow can be found here.”
The haggard-looking man approached Miriel, anger seething from his very essence. Pointing a long, trembling finger at the corpse of Thuringwethil, he said, with great disdain, “That woman killed my wife, my children. I was forced to watch them die, helplessly. I will take this farm as my own to compensate for my losses.”
Miriel understood the man’s pain behind his rage, but still felt that it was foolish for anyone to dwell in this place. “It’s folly to stay here,” she replied in a gentler tone. “Orcs know of this place and chances are, so does the Dark Lord himself!” She couldn’t help but add, “How can you defend yourself from the likes of them when you were so easily taken captive before?”
“Miriel!” barked Gandalf. “Enough!” The Slayer might have been talking in a gentler tone, but the Wizard felt the sting of her words, nonetheless. He was of the opinion that the poor man had suffered enough.
Once again, her temper flared. “What?!” she exclaimed. “Do you think I’m lying, that I do not speak the truth?” Shaking her head in disbelief, she shifted her gaze from Mithrandir to the former prisoner. “Do as you wish, but I forewarn you, only torment and death will come to those that dwell here. It’s a place of evil. I would think you would’ve realized that by now.” She then stormed off, toward the remains of Thuringwethil.
When she reached the shriveled body of the old hag, she couldn’t help but notice that even the flies avoided that accursed corpse. Miriel had decided that, not only would she behead Thuringwethil, but also burn her body, in hopes of eliminating any chance that Sauron could bring back to life the mother of all vampires.
She pulled her sword from its sheath. As she lifted the blade, someone came up from behind, grabbing her forearm, stopping her. Somewhat surprised by the strength of the fingers, she turned, only to see Gandalf standing there, looking reproachfully at her.
“Now you would defile the remains of a Maia,” chided the old Wizard.
“Why do you care?”
“She’s dead, Miriel. There’s no way that she can come back.”
She snickered at the absurdity of his comments. “That’s where you’re wrong. I’m not taking that chance.” She then swung her blade. It sliced through Thuringwethil’s neck like a knife through butter.
Gandalf sighed heavily.
Miriel began to wipe her blade clean on the grass, wondering why Mithrandir’s presence seemed to annoy her so. Many notions came to mind. Even though she had felt guilty over her earlier remarks to the Wizard about his inability to thwart Sauron, she couldn’t shake those thoughts from her mind. Perhaps it was the ease in which she had slain Thuringwethil that was partly to blame. After having been on the receiving end of the mother of all vampire’s torment, it had taken Miriel less than a year to settle the score with the old hag. Here she was, lying dead at the Slayer’s feet. A Maia!
Miriel had single-handedly killed a Maia, something that no mortal had ever accomplished before - at least, none that she could recall from her studies on the lore of Middle-earth. Even Glorfindel, the most valiant Elf to ever walk in this world, (in her opinion), had fallen to his death whilst battling a Balrog, a creature of Maia race.
She couldn’t help but think that the Valar had erred when they chose Gandalf to aid the peoples of Middle-earth against the might of Sauron. He had had millennia to accomplish his goal, but, still, little had been done. Was it wrong for her to have such thoughts? It seemed to her that the Wizard feared any type of confrontation with his kindred, especially those consumed with darkness. For the love of Eru, he hadn’t wanted her to slay Thuringwethil! And his reasoning behind it was utterly absurd. There was no doubt in Miriel’s mind that the witch would never have revealed Sauron’s plots against the inhabitants of Middle-earth. And let’s face it, knowing Gandalf as she had, he would never have inflicted the necessary pain on Thuringwethil in order to get her to talk. It was a farce! All of it. She was beginning to see his true colors, that he was nothing more than a coward. She was ready to put her theory to the test.
She slid her blade back into its sheath. She then faced the Wizard and said, “I don’t know what feelings you had for this wretched creature - and I don’t want to know
. But if you’re truly fighting against evil in this world, if you intend on carrying out your orders from those in the West, then you need to be the one to burn her, to burn her until her body turns to ash.”
Gandalf pursed his lips together, locking eyes with the young Slayer. He tried to pierce her mind with his intense blue eyes, but she had already shielded her mind against him. O’ how she was so much like her father! He shifted his gaze to the decapitated corpse of Thuringwethil, unsure why he seemed so determined - dare he say it? - to protect her. Perhaps it was because she was of his kindred, of the Maia race, or, maybe the teachings of Nienna had been engrained in him to the point where he was overly merciful. That’s what the Wizard tried to convince himself of. If truth be told, he feared Sauron. What would Morgoth’s greatest disciple do if he found out that Gandalf had burned the body of his beloved to ash? He shuddered at the mere thought.
Miriel’s eyes remained fixed on the Wizard, studying him intently. A small smile crept upon her face. “You’re afraid,” she snickered. “Why so afraid, Mithrandir? She’s dead. You said so yourself. Or, is it that you would bring her back if you could?”
Gandalf’s head snapped up, his blue eyes bearing into her. “You have become quite haughty, daughter of Denethor!” he shot back. “And you should be afraid. I attribute your ignorance in these matters to your youth. You do not know of which you speak.”
“I’m the Slayer. I know of these things.”
“You didn’t even know that she was a vampire.”
“No?” Miriel replied with a cackle. She shifted her gaze to the corpse. “If that’s so, why in the world would I have chosen to pierce her heart with a piece of wood?” Her eyes swept back to the Wizard. “I’m not ignorant in these matters. I figured it out, on my own
. I did what needed to be done. Can you say the same?”
Mithrandir struggled to keep his temper in check. He couldn’t understand what possessed Miriel to lash out at him, to provoke him as she was doing. Once again, he attributed her behavior to her youth and her first major victory in battle. “You know nothing
of what has transpired outside the walls of Minas Tirith,” he responded coolly, “nor do you know what deeds I’ve accomplished in the many years that I’ve been here. It would do you well, Miriel, to curtail your arrogance. It’s quite unbecoming.”
The Slayer recognized Gandalf’s verbal jab as a form of retaliation for her comments. However, she wasn’t angered by them, merely amused. “Enlighten me, O’ great Wizard,” she said, waving her hand animatedly. “What great deeds of valor have you done? How have you saved the peoples of Middle-earth from great peril?”
Gandalf placed his staff before him, leaning on it. He answered, “It was I that infiltrated Dol Guldur and discovered that Sauron was indeed the Necromancer. Aided by the Elves, we drove him from Mirkwood.”
Miriel waited patiently for the Wizard to say more. When he didn’t, she laughed. “That’s it?! Your greatest achievement was to drive Sauron from his fortress in the north to his in the south?!” she queried incredulously. “Well, I must thank you for that, my lord. In your infinite wisdom, you sent the enemy to our doorstep, where my people are dying contesting his might.” She clapped her hands. “Bravo! Well done, Mithrandir.” Her mocked enthusiasm abated. Frowning, she added, “To know that you think so little of us, that we mere mortals are disposable, says a lot about your character. I’m now beginning see that my father’s enmity for you is well placed. He is wiser than I thought.”
At this point, Halbarad rushed to Miriel’s side, chiding her for speaking to Gandalf in such a manner. “He’s a wizard,” he whispered anxiously in her ear, “capable of doing things you know not. Do not speak ill of him.”
The Slayer was undaunted. She didn’t care what Mithrandir was. “I’m not afraid of him,” she said with a sneer. She then steered the topic of conversation back to the deceased Maia, lying at their feet. “If you fear burning her,” she declared, pointing a finger at Thuringwethil’s body, “then I’ll do it myself.”
As Miriel turned, Gandalf’s long fingers gripped her arm like a vice, painfully digging into her flesh, and keeping her in place. He was not wroth, but saddened by the Slayer’s transformation from a merry young woman to a hardhearted warrior. “Tell me, Miriel. What happened to that jovial girl I used to know?”
Without missing a beat, she replied, “She’s dead.” She then pulled her arm free and started walking to the back of the farmhouse.
Gandalf called out after her. “Heed my counsel, Miriel, daughter of Denethor. If you do not change that attitude of yours, it will lead you to an early demise.”
“I’m the Slayer,” she shouted back. “I’m destined for an early demise.”
Halbarad stood there with his jaw agape, stunned by everything that had just happened. He then desperately tried to apologize on behalf of his Charge. “She’s overly tired, Gandalf. Hasn’t had much sleep. She knows not what she’s saying.”
“Stop making excuses for her, Halbarad,” barked the Wizard. “She’s too much like her father, I deem.” He watched as the Slayer rounded the corner of the house before turning his attention to Halbarad. “It looks like Miriel’s defeat of Thuringwethil has brought on a case of inflated ego,” he said woefully. “That’s to be expected for one so young,” he added under his breath. He glanced at the Maia’s remains before shifting his gaze back to the Watcher. “My heart tells me that Sauron will soon learn that Miriel was responsible for Thuringwethil’s death. Be careful. Remain vigilant. There will be repercussions.”
Halbarad solemnly bowed his head. He had been so elated at Miriel’s feat that he had not considered the consequences. Gandalf’s declaration had a sobering effect on him. The Wizard placed a comforting hand on the Watcher’s shoulder. Halbarad looked up at Mithrandir, his heart aching for his Slayer.
“There will be much celebrating in the days to come,” Gandalf went on. “And rightly so. Miriel has done a great thing. What troubles me, Halbarad, is that her thoughts will turn to the Dark Lord himself, that she will think of challenging him. Thuringwethil did not possess powers as great as her lover. Miriel may have killed her along with a dozen or two Orcs in wilder-land, but going after the likes of Sauron in the depths of Mordor is a wholly different matter. I do not foresee that going well for Miriel. Her stubbornness will lead to foolhardiness. Keep a wary eye on her.” He gave Halbarad’s shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “We’ll be setting off shortly. I need not remind you - ”
“ - I know,” interjected the Watcher with a curt nod of his head. “What of her?” he asked, motioning toward the remains of Thuringwethil.
Gandalf cast a last glance at the corpse of the Maia. “You heard Miriel. She’ll deal with it.” He then left the Watcher alone beside the headless body. He summoned Aragorn and the two spoke quietly about different matters.
In the meantime, Miriel had requested some oil from her lady co-conspirator. Refusing to step inside the house, she waited by the back steps.
Gúron and the twins rapidly approached her. They, along with the men seated outside, couldn’t help but having overheard Miriel’s antagonizing conversation with Gandalf. “What were you thinking?” asked the confounded, golden-haired Dúnadan. “You know Mithrandir can turn you into a toad if he so chooses.” He shook his head. “I’m unsure whether you’re very brave or very foolish to speak to him that way.”
“It was foolish,” voiced Elrohir.
“Was there a need for such a verbal attack?” queried Elladan, his tone full of disappointment. “Mithrandir only wants to help.”
“I only speak the truth as I see it,” she remarked.
“That’s not true,” said Elrohir in disagreement. “You have no idea what Mithrandir has faced over these many years, what he’s accomplished.”
“I don’t care what he’s done,” replied Miriel heatedly. “I look at what he’s failed
to do.” She looked from man to man. “What’s wrong with you all? Have you already forgotten his first words to me when you came running down the lane? Gandalf said, ‘No.’ He didn’t want me to kill Thuringwethil. He didn’t want her to die. He’s blinded to the truth.”
Elladan was about to interject his opinion but the Slayer quickly continued.
“No one is looking at the facts here. Let me give you something to think about. Thuringwethil is a vampire. The mother of all vampires in fact. There’s only three ways to kill a vampire.” She counted them off on her fingers. “Stake through the heart, beheading and fire. I deem that Thuringwethil survived the War of Wrath because no one knew how
to kill her. You can stab her in the heart with a metal blade and she’ll survive. It wouldn’t kill her. I know. I tried it.
“If you overheard my conversation with Mithrandir, then you all heard him say that he discovered that Sauron was the Necromancer. Need I remind you what necromancy is? Do you really know what a vampire is? Can you not put the two together? If Thuringwethil isn’t burned to ash, he can bring her back! Sauron will bring her back.”
“But… but she has no head,” said a perplexed Gúron. “Surely, Sauron cannot revive her without a head.”
“He’s the master of sorcery. I believe he’s capable of doing it. Look at the Nazgûls. They were mortal men once. We cannot underestimate the Dark Lord’s powers. My gut tells me that the mother of all vampires must die by all three means or else she can come back. Maybe I’m the only one that can see that, that I have some innate knowledge of that because I’m the Slayer.”
At that precise moment, the woman came out of the house, carrying a container of oil and a tinderbox. Miriel took the items from the lady and announced to her friends, “Thuringwethil will burn. I’ll see to that.” She then marched off, leaving the others behind.
“My, she’s a determined young lady,” remarked the older woman.
Elladan smiled. “Not only is she courageous and fair, but she’s clever as well,” murmured the Elf, watching as Miriel rounded the corner. He then took off after her.
Gúron nudged Elrohir’s arm. “Does Elladan have feelings for Miriel?” he asked in surprise.
“Finally catching on, eh?” replied Elrohir with a snort. Slapping the Ranger on the back, he added, “Shall we go watch the bonfire?” The younger son of Elrond then followed the same path as his brother.
Gúron stood there for a moment, processing it all.
“An Elf in love with a mortal,” said the woman standing behind him. “We do live in strange times.” She then turned and went back into the house.
“Strange indeed,” mumbled the golden-haired Dúnadan as he too went to watch the burning of Thuringwethil.
The mother of all vampires’ body was already ablaze when Gúron arrived. Miriel, Halbarad and the sons of Elrond sat on the grass watching the roaring fire. Gandalf and Aragorn were still huddled together, talking, several yards away.
Gúron joined the Rangers, watching as the flames consumed the remains of the Maia. “Do you think he knows?” he asked, staring at the fire. “Do you think Sauron knows about Thuringwethil’s death?” He then shifted his gaze to Miriel, awaiting her answer.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“If he truly loved her, he knows,” answered Elladan softly. “One always knows when their mate is in trouble.”
“I wouldn’t know,” said Miriel.
The Slayer’s comment made it painfully clear that she was oblivious to Elladan’s affection for her.
No one said much after that. Each, pondering his or her own thoughts, watched as the Maia’s remains burned. When the heat caused Miriel to become drowsy, she leaned her head against Elladan’s shoulder, flittering between the two states of consciousness. Buffy was still in a celebratory mood, which contrasted greatly with the vibe of the Rangers.
Elladan took it upon himself to fulfill the Slayer’s wishes, dousing Thuringwethil’s body with more oil when needed. It would end up taking several hours before the process was complete.
About thirty minutes after the fire had been started, Gandalf and Aragorn approached the others. “I think it’s time for us to head off,” announced the Wizard.
Miriel lifted her head when she heard that. “But, she’s not ash yet. We cannot leave until then.”
“I never said you were coming with us,” retorted Gandalf. “Aragorn and I are leaving together.”
“What?” cried out the Slayer in dismay, scrambling to her feet. She ran up to Aragorn. “Don’t go,” she said pleadingly, her heart heavy at the prospect of his leaving.
“I must,” he answered in his typical grim-faced fashion. “I have an urgent errand that cannot wait any longer.”
“You mean to say that Mithrandir has asked you to do this errand,” she said, correcting his statement. “No doubt it must be perilous if he asked you.” She shot a dirty look at the Wizard. “I see that he once again is willing to risk a mortal life instead of his own.”
Gandalf didn’t reply.
“It’s not like that,” said Aragorn in Mithrandir’s defense. “He requires the skills of a tracker, and who better than me?” He offered her a small smile.
“Maybe we can be of some help,” she said, looking hopefully at the Ranger Chieftain.
Aragorn shook his head. “It's a long road before me and too many people will hinder the hunt. I leave you in good hands,” he added, glancing at his fellow Rangers.
“We’ll take care of her,” said Halbarad, now on his feet.
“I think Miriel is very capable of taking care of herself,” said Aragorn proudly. He softly cupped her cheeks with his callused palms. “You’ve come a long way since our first meeting on Amon Sûl. You’ve proven yourself in battle many times over. It was an honor to fight by your side, Dagnir.”
Miriel could feel the tears forming in her eyes. “Why are you talking to me as if we’ll never see each other again?” The Slayer felt as if her heart was breaking into many pieces. Aragorn had become like family, and they only recently had been reunited after several months’ separation. She loathed his parting.
“I did not mean for it to sound that way,” he said, trying to reassuring the Slayer. “My path lies beyond the Misty Mountains and who knows when we’ll see each other again?”
Miriel glanced at the mountains east of where they stood. Thoughts of Grimbeorn entered her mind. If Aragorn was to take that road, he would surely run into the Men of the Vales. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for her to send word to their lord about the death of his father since Miriel believed she’d never find her way there again. That thought was fleeting, as it would require Miriel to tell of her ordeal, and she wasn’t ready to do that.
She took a deep breath, stifling her tears. She knew there was nothing she could say or do to convince Aragorn to stay. Perhaps this errand would help lead him one step closer to the throne of Gondor. “We’ll see each other again. I know
it,” she said with a smile. “You take care of yourself and if you happen upon the Men in Vales, tell them… tell them that Fíriel sends her greetings.”
Aragorn laughed upon hearing that. “You’ve gone by many aliases, I take it.”
Gandalf was restless and eager to depart. Once everyone had said their good-byes, the Rangers sat back down and watched Aragorn and Mithrandir make their way up the lane until they disappeared from sight.
They resumed their watch on the fire, as the hours slowly ticked by. Every now and again (when the Slayer found herself wide-awake), she would use her notched sword to beat the bones of Thuringwethil into smaller fragments. By midday, there wasn’t much left of the Maia. Miriel asked the former prisoners to bury the charred remains in different parts of the property after they were cool enough to handle. She felt confident that Thuringwethil would no longer be a threat to the peoples of Middle-earth.
As she and the others began their own trek, marching up the drive, Miriel was forced to accept a certain truth. She had always felt that once she had killed the witch, her nightmare would end. Though she had made Thuringwethil pay with her life, the torments she had endured whilst imprisoned in the House of Horrors would continue to haunt her to the end of her days…