from the north - BtVS/LotR
You might think, ‘Hey, this is a story, so there’s going to be plot’. There’s not. Sorry.Prompt:
xoxojulia asked for BtVS/LotR, Buffy/Aragorn, They glanced away as if she was the sun, burning too brightly to look at her.
.from the north
She comes to Rivendell every autumn, without fail. She rides through the northern gate just days ahead of the first snow, her horse tired, her pack empty.
She is small and blonde, an abomination among the tall, dark elves of this region, but then she is not an elf. Nor is she human, though. From the age of eight on, Aragorn makes a point of lurking by the gate from the first breath of cold on, waiting for her inevitable arrival.
By the time he turns twenty, she still looks like she did the first time he lay eyes on her.
She comes riding through the northern gate with winter nipping at her heels, armed to the teeth, dressed in men’s garb, dirty, grimy, exhausted. And yet the guards, and anyone else witnessing her arrival, always, always averts their gaze. They glance away as if they are ashamed, or humbled, or scared, as if she is the sun, burning too brightly to look at.
He looks with the eyes of a child, refuses to avert his gaze because he has been taught that is impolite. He looks and finds nothing about her that would blind him. Only a quiet, strange woman that spends her summers haunting the high North alone, slaying creatures of ice and darkness.
Naturally, he does what all children do when they don’t understand something.
He asks for an explanation.
“Adar,” he asks and then waits patiently for Elrond to finish writing and turn his attention to his foster son.
“The woman. The winter woman,” he has no name for her, no other description than that, “Who is she?”
She is the harbinger of winter, the ambassador of ice and snow, the potent of cold winds, to those who know nothing but the obvious of her, those who see her come in with the cold and leave when spring breathes into the other side of the valley.
She is a part of Ada become flesh, a spirit of the wild, a season become solid, become real. Sprite of nature, ghost of winter, a demi-goddess, and those who avert their gazes do so in respect.
She is a warrior of old, an undying hero, the thing of myth. She is the slayer of monsters, the defender of the North, the Queen of swords and blades.
She is the terror of terrors, the hand that brings destruction.
Those who avert their gazes do so in fear.
She is one of the Istari, one of the Valar themselves, sent from above, to protect, to guide. The North is her realm and the beasts and short, stocky menfolk there her subjects.
She helped shape this world and stayed on it when her brethren left it, out of love to the land, to the cold of winter. She rides it still, out of loneliness and she comes to Rivendell once a year for company, for companionship, anything to ease the ache of being the only one of her kind in this world.
Those who avert their gazes do so out of worship.
She is a relic of a different world altogether, a creature born from an earlier world, a remnant of a time long gone. When the time came to build this world, Eru came to her for permission to reshape the world she came from into what it is today.
She is ancient and undying, undead, immortal. She is the goddess of lost time, the guardian of the past.
She speaks tongues unknown to men and elves, remembers marvels and horrors no living creature has ever seen. None, except her.
Those who avert their gazes do so out of fear.
He collects those stories over the stretch of a decade, a new one with each new person he asks, Adar, his teachers, his extended family. Everyone who will hold still long enough gets pestered for their version, their explanation and Aragorn picks and chooses, tries to evaluate.
He tries to find truth in each of those stories, to uncover the core, the one grain of fact.
All he can come up with is the simple and disconcerting realization that even those as old, older than Adar have no idea where she came from and what she is.
He decides, twenty years old and feeling endlessly brave and reckless, to simply ask the one person who undoubtedly remembers the truth.
He decides to ask her.
He finds her sitting in the gardens, rolling an uneaten apple between her hands. The snow is almost thawed away and in a few days, she’ll be gone again. It took most of the winter for him to gather the courage needed to speak to a woman most won’t even look at.
“My lady,” he asks, coming to a halt in front of her. She looks up at him, expectantly and maybe mildly surprised at his daring, but not his presence. She knew he was there. Even Elrond speaks little to her, treating her like a guest and never anything more than that. He, too, prefers to avert his gaze and pretend she is not there. “May I ask you a question?”
She smiles. “That was a question,” she points out, mischievously.
Without wanting to, he finds himself smiling back. “Another one, then.”
She contemplates his request, apple rolling deftly between small hands. Then she nods. “You can try. I might not answer.”
She pats the stone bench she is sitting on, inviting him to take a seat. He does, turning to face her again. “The stories,” he starts, “I have heard many of you, my lady, too many for all of them to be true. I have come to ask… I have come to ask which ones are true, which lies.”
Her smile is replaced by a frown as she puts the apple on the cold bench between them, like a token, or a barrier. “Stories, huh?” she asks, but it does not sound like a question. “Which have you heard?”
He blushes, studies the fruit between them, unwilling to admit that he has been collecting them for well over a decade. But she does not release him from his answer, so eventually he says, “Many, my lady.”
She snorts, unladylike and harsh. He jumps a bit and then blushes even harder. He must look as red as the apple, by now. He feels the sudden urge to explain himself and tells her, “I have watched you return to us many times and always have the people of Rivendell averted their eyes. I do not understand, to this day, why.”
“Ah,” she says, something like recognition on her face. “So you asked for an explanation and got them all.”
“Which stories are true?” she repeats, frowning. She picks the apple up again, playing with it, giving herself time to think, perhaps. “Which of the stories about you are true, Isildur’s Heir?”
He jerks, surprised that she knows of him, knows him
. She looks at him expectantly but this time when he has no answer, she fills the silence, “Are you a fearless warrior? Are you a man strong as an elf? Will you rise to take the throne of Gondor? Will you unite the races? Were you blessed by the Valar? Are you a noble hero?”
“I-“ He has no idea what to say.
She nods. “Stories are just that, Aragorn, Son of Arathorn. Stories. None of them are ever true.”
She puts the apple in his lap, then, and rises, obviously done with this conversation. He sits, gob-smacked, until she is almost gone. Then he finds his voice, calls after her, “Then why do they not look at you?”
She stops, turns, shrugs. “They fear me. But why, I don’t know. I don’t think they do either.”
She looks sad, so sad that all he can do is nod and accept her words.
A week later she leaves with the spring winds and he does, too, to become Strider, a man of the wilds, a wanderer.
He grows up, grows to be a man, grows to be some of the things the stories have long since claimed him to be, and he forgets about the winter lady from the cold North and all her stories.
He is a man, old by the standards of mortalkind, the next time he is in the valley of his childhood at the coming of winter.
It’s been thirty years since he stood at the northern gate to see her return, although, he thinks, with the distance of decades, perhaps this is not her return but her arrival. Perhaps her return happens in spring, when she leaves. There is little for her to return to in Rivendell. To her, it is a place to spend winter, nothing more.
She rides in on the first breath of cold like she has since there has been a gate to ride through, her expression shuttered, tired.
The guards busy themselves with their belts, their knives, their sleeves, anything to look away. A maid passing with a pail of water speeds up her steps, disappears quickly. Anything to avoid having to meet her green gaze.
And Aragorn looks at her, looks for the umpteenth time, trying to find what is so fearsome, so strange, so alien and terrible about this woman and finds absolutely nothing.
Stories are never true.
Perhaps, he thinks, as he steps into her path and sketches a bow, the way to the truth is not to ask other people for stories about a woman whose eyes they have never met. Perhaps the trick is to simply look at her, to look and see
“My lady,” he greets, quietly into the silence that fell with her entrance.
She jumps, obviously surprised and looks at him, wide-eyed. Then she smiles and that, if nothing else, is true.