Buffy was awash in pain, feeling as if she were engulfed in flames. Very dimly she heard the crack of the whip, feel its talons claw down her back, skin ripping away, and blood falling forward like a dark waterfall. The wood of the stocks rubbed her wrists raw as she struggled, and tiny splinters drove themselves into her skin. The world floated and spun. Black dots flickered over her vision before swelling until all she saw was darkness.
Unconsciousness was a welcome distraction.
Buffy dreamed in tones of red with shadowed figures dispersed throughout her dreamscape. Sometimes she would shake awake, but then sleep would take her again. She had trouble discerning reality from fiction, and when heard footsteps approaching her in the darkness, Buffy thought that perhaps Námo had finally claimed her. After all, she was not truly immortal – age may not touch her but murder surely could.
The man gently touched her back, but Buffy whimpered as the pain flared again.
“Please,” Buffy barely managed to whimper. “Please let me see Finrod one more time before you take me.”
Soft humming met her ears and Buffy felt some sort of lotion spread against her wounded back. It cooled her skin initially, releasing a tiny sigh of comfort, but soon her skin tickled and then prickled, as the itching sensation intensified. She heard the man singing softly in Quenya, but her ability to concentrate was fading.Sleep little sparrow. Sleep and fly away, far from here…
Buffy drifted back to sleep to the sound of the most beautiful voice she had ever heard and the gentlest hands working to heal the ripped flesh of her back.
Buffy awoke from her post in the stocks with the worst headache. Night had come; and it was still early in the night judging by the position of the moon. Staring across at the harbor, she noted that the fleet was gone.“You’ll lay out in the sun like meat on a hook, drying out, and when I return in a month, I will cut your dead flesh and feed it to the crows.”
Buffy shivered at the memory of Nunorzin’s soft deadly tone and the smell of his rancid breath against her cheek.
She let out a sob that seemed to rip from her dry throat. No tears came. She was all out of tears.Tatharwen
, Buffy thought in anguish.
Guilt and anger rolled over her. She let Tatharwen down…the poor girl never should have been killed. Buffy should not have lost control…
And what? Let Nunorzin continue to assault her?
. Buffy could not have stomached that.
…But she could have survived it. And then Tatharwen would still be alive…
They were close, so close to freedom. Well, they all still were, but not Tatharwen. No, not Tatharwen…
A seagull’s song rang out across the beach. Buffy frowned when she did not see any birds…
Boudicaial approached; Buffy knew the older woman’s tall stature and womanly form, silhouetted by the moon and shadows of night. Buffy’s head dropped in the stocks; she knew she had let them all down.
Boudicaial moved silently in a circle around Buffy, carefully inspecting her. The slave woman examined Buffy’s bare back with soft fingers, and Buffy winced – but then she realized…the wounds…they did not hurt as they once did.
“You are healed,” Boudicaial breathed. She walked in front of Buffy and gently lifted her chin. “What magic do you possess, child?”
Buffy frowned, because she was sure that her slayer healing would not have worked this quickly…
Something, a shadowed memory that felt more like a dream, tickled her mind, but Buffy could not remember just now.
“I have less than I thought,” Buffy answered truthfully. Her tongue felt like sandpaper and her voice was rough from the abuse it took earlier. She did not think she screamed so much, but perhaps she had.
“Here.” Boudicaial lifted a cup of cool water to Buffy’s lips. She sipped just a little, enjoying the feel of the wetness against her lips, her tongue, her throat.
“I’m sorry. I screwed it all up.”
Boudicaial’s expression softened. She gestured towards the harbor. Three large shadows floated in the dark waters. “Kenzah and the others are preparing the ships now.” A grim smile deepened the wrinkles along her face. “We are still leaving.”
Buffy stared in shock. “But I thought…” She coughed and Boudicaial gave her more water. “I thought that with what happened earlier…”
Buffy could not finish this thought. The words murder, violation, molestation, assault, torture
slammed into her mind dangerously and she felt herself become numb.
Boudicaial’s eyes glittered and she stared at Buffy for a moment before replying. “Your words have taken root, Buffy. Tatharwen’s murder and your injuries have only enflamed our people. Tatharwen…her murder makes the older ones remember our children. We have planned for this. We shall do this.” She pulled out a key and began unlocking the stocks that bound Buffy.
Something wet shined on the key. Buffy gave it a closer look, and her eyes widened as she realized it was blood. “The guards are dead?” Now that she thought about it, there had been a couple of guards surrounding her earlier…
“My son took care of them.” Boudicaial smiled and pocketed the key again. Buffy stood up, wincing as a dull pain began to throb along her back and reverberate throughout her body. She moaned softly.
“It is a blessed thing that you are even alive, child. Come, my son will carry you to the ships.” Boudicaial raised her arm and one of Boudicaial’s sons – the strong, tall one that had been in the fields before with her – approached.
“No.” Buffy doubled over and pressed her palms against her knees. “Just give me a moment,” she rasped.
The pain…it was lessening. Very carefully Buffy touched her back, feeling nothing but skin that was slightly rough, covered with scabs where deep lashes had once been.
The memory of a song infiltrated her mind, but Buffy shook it off. She needed to concentrate.
“I’m helping,” Buffy stated. She stood up straight and nodded to them both. “I’ll go help Kenzah, like we planned.”
Boudicaial and her son were clearly shocked, but they did not say anything to stop her. Buffy’s legs were stiff but she held her head up high, locked away the pain that she did still feel, and walked towards the ships. She would not fail anyone else today.
Buffy helped Kenzah and a few other of the male slaves take food onto the remaining ships. By the time she arrived they were almost finished – and very surprised, albeit happy, to see her walking around.
Their cover story was that the Captain of the Corsairs had ordered the ships to be packed because he wanted back-up to be ready during the war with Gondor. If the guards did not believe the story, then the slaves were to quietly dispose of them…permanently.
At first Buffy wasn’t looking for death, but she decided she would rather it be the deaths of their oppressors than the slaves. But now? They could all die for all she cared.
Some people had argued to depart during the night but the rest of them realized that inexperienced sailors sailing at night was bad news bears, so the plan was set for the morning at dawn’s break.
Or at least, it was…
Five guards found a group of them just a couple hours before daybreak, including Buffy and Kenzah. Apparently the excuses Kenzah gave them in Umbarian, which was a mix of the old Gondorian language and Haradian, was no good. Swords got raised, shouts went out, and they began to fight. Buffy was able to hold her own; with each passing hour the doorknob-sized bump on her head hurt less and her back healed more. Pretty soon all the guards were taken care of in a short amount of time.
But not before one of them rang the alarm bell.
“Damn,” Buffy hissed.
The docks featured a large bell tower. Rung once, it signaled the fleet was leaving. Rung twice, the fleet had returned. Rung three times, there was an enemy afoot.
And rung four times, their rebel group had decided, would mean the slaves needed to take the weapons hidden outside their quarters and fight.
Buffy ran towards the bell tower, throwing her enemy off, and rang the bells four times. By the end of it the world spun and her ears hurt, but she managed to climb down the tower anyway.
Kenzah began issuing directions to everyone and Buffy knew that he would help get them organized. As for Buffy, she began running towards the homes of the higher-up men within the city. They would be the most important to take out, just in case they had a way to send a message by raven or eagle.
She found the men running outside their homes, wearing pajamas and raising their swords.
Buffy was a blur of movement as she moved from one Corsair to the next. There were enough of the men that it was almost a challenge, and Buffy found herself deflecting several hits with the sword and dagger she taken from one of the ship guards. They shouted at her in their foreign tongue, their voices booming and echoing off of the stone houses. Buffy did them the mercy of quick deaths, but that was all the mercy she would show.
She saw Nunorzin’s face on each Corsair she killed, and felt more satisfaction than she would have ever suspected in seeing each one of them die.
Running through the city, Buffy saw more Corsairs coming out of their homes and the slaves taking arms against them. Some of the slaves looked afraid and Buffy climbed to the top of a house. She caught the attention of the slaves; some gasped while others stared soundlessly, so surprised to see her still alive after her treatment today, much less waving weapons and climbing on top of roofs.
“Fight, fight, fight! Fight into the dying night! With dawn comes your freedom!” Buffy shouted, her voice cracking from the effort.
An arrow whizzed by her ear and Buffy grimaced at the older Corsair below. With a flick of a wrist and a second later, her dagger was in his neck.
Buffy ordered some of the slaves with weapons to begin taking the children and others who couldn’t fight to the ships, and to prepare for departure. Meanwhile, she and the rest would fight off their shackles with cold, pointed steel.
The battle ended sooner than she had thought – and had taken longer than she had hoped. Almost all of the battle-hardened Corsairs had left with the fleet so the fight had been easier than they had anticipate. Buffy had all the Corsairs – even the women and children – forced into the slave quarters, which could be locked from the outside. She knew that the locks would not last for long, however, due to the shoddy workmanship of the buildings, but that was fine. Buffy just wanted them to be out of the way so they couldn’t hurt anyone else or sound any more alarms before they got a head start out of this terrible place.
They did triple-checks over the next three hours to make sure everyone was okay and on the boat. Not everyone was okay, sadly. There had been causalities.Like Tatharwen.
Buffy sighed. She unconsciously tightened the belt buckle – she had stolen a man’s tunic, pants, and belt from one of the households – and stared out at the sea. Her last set of clothes had been covered with blood and Buffy knew they would begin to smell soon.
Everyone was asking her questions and advice. Buffy forced herself to shake off the terrible feelings from this afternoon. She didn’t have time to deal with…what happened. Later. Right now people were counting on her.
They ran up the sails and began to head out of the harbor. Buffy’s ship was first and Kenzah was with her. Narandiel led another ship and Boudicaial captained another, which especially made sense due to not only her station in the community but her previous ship experience.
Buffy stared at the orange and yellow waters, considering the beauty of the morning sun and wondering why it couldn’t make her feel better.
They sailed for several hours with no interruptions. But then one of the women up in the mast shouted out an alarm.
“Ships on the north east horizon!”
“Ships?” Buffy whispered. “No. How?”
“I do not know.” Kenzah shook his head and gave her a worried look. “We should turn south.”
“No,” Buffy shook her head. “I’ve traveled there. There’s nothing but desert or grasslands, and little food. That place would bring 300 people to a very slow death.”
“And we should fight the Corsairs?” Kenzah snorted and shook his head. “You are truly mad, elf maiden.”
Buffy laughed a little. No matter how many times she swore she wasn’t an elf, no one believed her. And after the battle this morning, especially after the beating she took less than a day before? Buffy moved quicker than anything they had ever seen. No one thought she was human anymore.
“Then we’ll outrace them.” Buffy gave the younger man a stern look. “Turn us farther west. If I remember correctly, the maps I once saw showed the tides traveling north once one got out father west. It prevents,” Buffy clarified, “ships from traveling all the way west.” She thought of those stories, how the Valar made it so no one from Middle-Earth could sail West to Valinor, unless it was from a ship aboard the Grey Havens.
“Ah, yes. Perhaps that will work.” Kenzah began shouting to the crew. Messengers then relayed the news to the other ships.
Buffy just stood at the bow as the ship shifted westward. Clearly the other ships had spotted them as well – she watched as they turned westward in pursuit. There weren’t too many, however. Only five. Buffy wondered where the rest of the ships were.
“Adjust the sails! Pick up the western breeze!” Kenzah shouted to the former slaves who manned the deck. There was a flurry of activity as the worked to make the demands.
“Gendrir!” Buffy called as she spotted one of the men. Gendrir had done exceptionally well tonight in the battle and Buffy had to remember to give him a better thank you later on. “Bring up the weapons from below! If we get boarded, I want us to get ready for a battle!”
“Yes, my lady!”
Her lips twisted into a smile. She was not
a lady, but the others were convinced she was an elf. It was easier just to accept it and move on.
Buffy gripped the rough leather-bound handle of her sword and watched the other ships. They were quick, much quicker than she would have liked, and Buffy chalked it up to their skill practiced over years of sailing. She ran her thumb nervously over Finrod’s ring, feeling the emerald eyes of the twin snakes.
“When Beren came to me and asked me to fulfill the oath I gave his father, I would have obliged no matter the circumstances. But to hear that it was true love and a union of our races, my heart was softened and I was determined to aid them – and I would do it again, regardless of my death at Sauron’s hands. And now I fully understand what Beren experienced, for I too have fallen in love with a woman not of my race.”
Warmth and love settled over Buffy, strengthening her. She thought of her dream with her mom and Celebrían. They had provided the strength that she needed to push the slave rebellion. Now, over the open seas once again, Buffy could only think of Finrod. Perhaps the tides had taken them to different destinations…he had to still be out there…and perhaps she would find him again soon.
Her gaze found the ships once again. She noted that they were gaining speed but Buffy’s resolve settled over her. Her mothers – both foster and birth – had been correct. It was Buffy’s duty to save people. No matter what, she would get her fellow rebels out of here safely…even if she had to kill every Corsair to do so.
Several hours passed and with each hour, the Corsairs gained speed.
“Ready the crew for battle,” Buffy told Gendrir. “I’m pretty awful judging with time and distance, but a messenger from Boudicaial said we have perhaps two hours before their arrows would be in firing range.”
“Yes, my lady.” Gendrir left after a quick nod. He was so proper that Buffy couldn’t help but wonder what he did before being captured by the Corsairs. She wondered about all of them – and hoped she could help bring some normalcy to their lives. Hopefully someday soon they could return to their old lives.
The bell over Boudicaial’s ship, located in the rear of their formation, began to sound.
“Crap! They’re close enough already?” Buffy shouted to Kenzah.
His brown eyes squinted as he examined the sight behind them. “I do not think…”
“Buffy! Buffy!” a younger child, a girl around twelve, ran towards her. She was one of Boudicaial’s many grand-daughters, and Buffy was surprised to see the girl leave her grandmother’s ship. However, she was acrobatic and athletic, and likely could swing from one ship to the next with little complication.
“Yes? What is it?” Buffy asked.
“Grandmother says those ships are not Corsair ships. She says they’re from Gondor!”
“Gondor?” Buffy’s look turned quizzical. “How? Unless the Corsairs stole it…”
“Grandmother says they have the Gondor flag raised and their style is much different.”
“It could be a trick…” Oh, but Buffy hoped it was not. It would be nice to have allies. Even if their five ships with her three could probably not face off the Corsair fleet, at least their chances were better. From what she had learned, Gondor was the big kingdom in Middle Earth, just crawling with humans, and they were a good people.
Buffy ran back to the other end of the ship, staring into the distance. Yes, she could see it now. The ships were different in design. Dimly, she saw a black flag with white images on it…from this distance Buffy could not discern the shapes, though.
“Kenzah, tell Boudicaial and Narandiel to pull ahead, and to flank us. Turn us around and we’ll take lead. Let’s chance the ships,” Buffy ordered.
“Are you…” Kenzah trailed off without finishing his thought. He looked guilty.
“No, no, question me. It’s always good to question authority,” Buffy grinned.
“Are you sure about this move?”
“Nope,” Buffy answered truthfully. “But they’ll catch up eventually anyways. At least this way is more offensive if we need to be.” Buffy grinned again.
Kenzah made the orders and Buffy made for the bow of her ship. Constantly her eyes scanned the five ships. She saw lots of men wearing black, which wasn’t helpful because the pirates wore black as well. Soon she found herself fiddling with her silver star pendent, praying to Nienna to keep them all safe.
As Buffy’s ship approached the lead ship from Gondor, her ring hand warmed. She inspected it curiously, realizing the warmth emanated from the ring. Buffy pressed her palm to her cheek, hoping against hope…but no, that was a crazy person’s hope…
Buffy had the white flag raised to show their defeat; Boudicaial had been the one to realize that if these were Gondorian ships then they would take their ships to be pirates and might just kill them before listening. Now she waited as the lead boat pulled alongside them. A young man with a regal bearing gave them a cool look that quickly melted into surprise once he saw Buffy – she supposed the pirates usually did not have women on board. His brown hair was scraggly and framed his face, adding to the rather pirate-ish look of his own plus he had brown scraggly beard as well.
Dude totally needed a barber.
“I am Thorongil, in service to Gondor and Rohan, and we are hunting pirates…but you do not appear to be a pirate, my lady.” He spoke the Common Tongue but Buffy could understand him well enough, especially after the practice over the last few weeks.
Buffy burst into laughter. The poor man did not even know what to do with her! “No, I am not,” she agreed. “I’m Buffy, and you’ve found yourself a bunch of refugees.”
Thorongil’s eyebrows raised. “Indeed? Buffy? Then my friend…” He looked behind him and Buffy just stared in confusion.
From behind one of the wood panels, an elf walked into view. Taller than any man, his golden hair shone under the sun, and his pale skin practically glowed. He wore the garb of a mortal man, unlike the finery she was used to seeing in Valinor, in dark leggings and a tunic, sewn from coarse fabric. Twisted into braids, his golden hair was kept out of his face, allowing his eyes to look beyond his ship and into her face.
“Buffy.” His voice fell softly upon her ears. Without another thought Buffy dropped her sword and walked to the edge of the ship.
“Finrod. You’re…alive…?” Buffy’s voice broke and she began to shake from the adrenaline that shot into her system at seeing him.
Finrod ran forward, paying no mind to the mortals, and displayed all his elven power when he leapt between their boats and landed soundlessly aboard her ship.
“Buffy.” Her name came out as a caress, and Buffy’s heart leapt.
“Finrod.” She rushed into his arms, holding him tight. Her hands ran over the planes of his back, his chest, his face, his hair. Buffy was terribly afraid that he was nothing more than a dream.
“Titta wendë. I thought you were lost to me,” Finrod whispered. He pulled her tighter against him.
Buffy laughed, but it came out more like a sob. “I’m not a little maiden,” she argued for old-time’s sake in a breaking voice.
“You are my maiden.” Finrod pulled back just a little to look her in the eyes. His knuckles ran down her cheekbone, causing Buffy to shiver. “You are my beautiful, strong, warrior maiden.” He kissed her brow.
“Stealing from pirates?” Finrod asked in a light voice, or rather it was an attempt because his voice had a strain to it. Nonetheless, his eyebrow waggled in amusement.
The word pirates
made Buffy remember what had really happened in Finrod’s absence. A phantom touch of a hand on her thigh…
Buffy buried her face into Finrod’s chest. “Something like that,” she whispered. Buffy wrapped her arms around Finrod and breathed in his scent, reveling in the feel of him.
“I’m here now, Buffy. I’m here,” Finrod murmured, as if he could sense her unease.
Buffy just held on to him. Just for a while, however brief it may be, Buffy wanted to forget about the rest of the world.
Unsure of when the next update will be. Until then, happy holidays!
PS: I don't have a chance to reply to reviews right now because have little internet time since I'm traveling, but I WILL respond as soon as I can! Thank you :)