Dark Night of the Soul: 5. The House of Elrond

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5. The House of Elrond

"This place is stunning," Giles murmured as he, Buffy, Xander and Willow followed behind Elenya and several of their Elven escorts through the grand hall of what was Elrond's house in Rivendell. Situated upon a dais, a long table dominated the room; its chairs empty, table clear of any crockery. Obviously, they weren't expected - from what Elenya had told them, the Elves were a most hospitable people.

Buffy moved towards one of the windows that overlooked the city. It wasn't really a city; it was more like one of those little Swiss Miss towns of the Alps, almost as though the buildings were a part of the mountains. The Elven builders worked with their surroundings rather than against them - it was much more earthy. And the city itself didn't have a crowded nor rushed feel to it, but was instead peaceful and welcoming.

She sensed someone come up behind her. "If I wasn't here, seeing it with my own eyes, I'd never believe this was part of our past," she murmured. She looked to her left, Xander stepped up beside her, also staring out at the view. "What happened to this, Xander?" She gestured towards the enchanting place outside and all around them. "Do ... do you think our kind destroyed it?"

Xander shrugged. "I don't know, Buff," he honestly replied. He was quiet a few moments as he took in the view and listened to the sounds of the nearby waterfall as it spilled over the high mountainside. "Maybe it's still here in our time, we just don't know where to look." He shifted his gaze over to her, an unusually serious expression on his face. "The people in this time don't think much of us, do they?"

"Well, we're strangers, Xander, I'm sure they -"

"No, I don't mean us personally. Our kind. You've heard the way Elenya talks about herself and her 'people'." He glanced back at the Slayer who spoke with Glorfindel in the Elven tongue. "I get the feeling that humans really screwed things up around here. Or they screwed up and nobody thinks they can make anything of themselves." His head lowered as he turned back to the window. "I know how that is."

"Xander," Buffy started as she took a step closer to him, placing a hand on his arm. "Look at me," she softly ordered. When he didn't she squeezed his arm, lightly, then commanded it again. "Look at me." He did so. "Xander, you're not a screw up and none of us believe that you won't make anything of yourself. You're you, and you work with what you have." Her expression softened. "You've been impressive since we arrived here, Xander."

He shook his head, scoffing a little. "Me? Impressive? Giles had to save me from an Orc while the rest of you had no trouble in defending yourselves. I'm a loser, Buffy. That's all I ever have been, it's all I ever will be and that's how it is." [No wonder you never cared for me the way I wanted you too.] he added in his head as he gazed down at her.

Willow joined Xander and Buffy. "This Elrond is too busy to see us right now," she remarked. She snorted as she watched Glorfindel and the other Elves leave the hall together. "So we have to sit around here and wait. Can you believe this? After all the long traveling we've done."

Buffy's hand dropped from Xander's arm as she looked to her friend. "He runs this whole place, Wills. I'm sure he's got a lot of stuff to do. And he can't just drop everything for a couple of humans who managed to get themselves lost in time." Her eyes were drawn to Willow's hands. Willow used the fingers of one hand to fiddle with the ring, the one she'd found in Bree. "We're lucky he'll even talk to us at all."

"Well, I want to have a few words with this Elf King guy," Xander began, his mood drastically changed from a few moments before.

"Xander." Buffy shook her head, rolled her eyes a little then folded her arms across her chest. "You're not really going to bring up that Christmas thing with him, are you?"

Elenya finished speaking with Glorfindel who'd returned then came over to the three teenagers. "Lord Elrond is momentarily unavailable," she informed them. She noticed Willow roll her eyes but said nothing about it. She looked to Buffy. "His daughter, the Lady Arwen, shall keep us entertained until he is able to speak with us."

"That means you behave," Buffy said in a hushed voice to Xander as Elenya walked away. "Don't go insulting these people, okay? We need their help."

Willow snorted, drawing the attention of both Xander and Buffy. She cocked an eyebrow at them. "What?"

Xander stared at Willow for a second. She'd acted differently since the day they'd fought off the Orcs. She wasn't the same happy-go-lucky Willster that they'd traveled through the Shire with, that was for sure. "Well, I can't wait to see this Arwen chick," he said. "I'm going to give her a piece of my mind! Stinkin' Elves. Ruin my Christmas, will they? When I see her I'm going to just -"

Xander blinked as a haunting vision of beauty and grace entered the great hall. The raven-haired woman was tall and fair of face, her skin was nearly as white as the flowing dress she wore. Upon her head was a circlet made of gold that was also spun into a fine net underneath which her hair was pulled. The lovely Elf, who outwardly didn't appear to be more than her mid-twenties, seemingly floated across the floor towards them.

" - drop to my knees and thank God for sending us here," Xander finished. His eyes were wide. His jaw half-hung open as his gaze followed the woman. "Ay yi yi. I'm glad we took the short cut now." He grunted when somebody elbowed him in the side. "Ow." He saw Buffy, eyes narrowed, looking up at him. "What? I'm just admiring the beauty of Rivendell. Do you mind?"

"Yes," Buffy shortly replied before she knew what she was saying. She gasped lightly, her mouth snapped shut. [Did I just say that? That sounded so juvenile. And why do I care if he's staring at that ...] She looked over to the beautiful Elven woman who spoke with Elenya. [ ... at that very enchanting girl Elf?]

"You have been away from Rivendell too long, Elenya," Arwen said after the introductions of Giles, Xander, Buffy and Willow. She smiled softly at her. "As have I," she admitted. "Only recently did I return."

"Lucky for me," Xander murmured as he gazed stupidly at Arwen. He jerked. "Ow." He placed a hand to his side and looked back down at Buffy. "You know, you might need some therapy for that muscle tic you've got, Buff."

Buffy rolled her eyes a little then looked over to Arwen, who stood there, watching them with mild amusement. "Look, Miss ... Lady ... Princess Arwen, whatever we're supposed to call you, do you, like, have any idea how long your dad's gonna take?" For some reason, it bothered her, how Xander gaped at the Elf.

Giles stepped forward, smiling a little nervously at Elrond's daughter. "I believe what Buffy means to say is that we're quite eager to return to our own time and place. Will your father be detained for a considerable while?" he asked as pleasantly as possible. He would have to remember to speak with Buffy and the others about addressing people in this time, especially the Elves.

"I apologize, Master Giles," Arwen replied, her attention shifting from Buffy to Giles. "I do not know. However, I have been instructed to make you as comfortable as possible." She smiled again. "Perhaps fresh clothing would be in order? And something to satisfy your hunger?"

"Ow!" Xander glared at Buffy, rubbing his ribcage again. "What? What did I do this time? I didn't say a single, friggin' word!"

"Yes, that would be most appreciated," Elenya replied on behalf of the entire group. She glanced over to Buffy and Xander, trying not to laugh. "Thank you," she added as Arwen sent off her entourage to prepare rooms for their guests.

"Can we get baths too?" Willow asked. She wrinkled her nose as she used her shirt to fan herself. "I'm starting to stink so bad that I'm making myself sick." She noticed Arwen sort of staring at her. Then Willow realized it wasn't her that Arwen was looking at. Her ring glimmered in the sunlight that streamed into the grand hall. Quickly, she put her hand behind her back, hiding the ring from the Elf's view.

"All is being made ready," Arwen assured Willow and, smiling, she offered to show them to their rooms. Perhaps her eyes lingered on Willow even as she turned away again.

-

The rooms were lavish, at least by the standards Buffy and the others were used to, and clothes had already been laid out for them - elegant robes in Elf-style for Willow and Buffy, and long tunics and pants for the men.

"This... I can't. This is too much," Buffy said as she held up the bright blue, jewel-encrusted gown.

"Would you come naked, then?" Arwen asked with a half-smile. "Your clothes are worn thin and dirty from your travels. Set them aside and accept the dress as a gift. Friends of Elenya and Mithrandir will never be short of hospitality in the house of my father. Dress and bathe, as you will, and enjoy Rivendell until my father seeks you out."

She bowed to them, then had a quick whispered conversation with Elenya. The two women headed off down one of the many hallways.

Xander admired the dress that Buffy frowned over. It wasn't so awful, in his opinion. He rarely saw Buffy in fancy clothing like that - it was always her school stuff or sweats and tees. [I'd rather see her in nothing -] He cleared his throat, coughing at the same time to get the thought out of his head. "If all Elves are that, uh, friendly, I think I forgive them for the Christmas incident."

Buffy laid the dress down on her bed then looked over her shoulder at him. "Yeah, I'm sure you will," she said, rather pointedly. He'd been salivating over Arwen since he'd laid eyes on her. She caught Xander's gaze for a moment then looked over to Willow, who was toying with her ring. "Why do you keep messing with that thing, Willow?"

"Hmm? Huh?" Willow looked up at the other three. They all watched her, Buffy more curiously than the others. She shrugged then let her hands drop to her sides. "I just think it's pretty. Is that a crime?" She picked up the gray/silver gown, similar to Buffy's, and admired it a moment. "I don't know, Buffy, these dresses are very nice."

Buffy eyed Willow for another moment then said, "Well, we'll see how it is after they're on." She glanced at her friend again and she shook her head. [What's her problem lately?]

"Please do try to behave," Giles said. He had a feeling the manners and grace of the Elves hid no small measure of inner power. It would be best to stay on their good side. Then he absently headed to his room, leaving the three younger guests to their own devices.

"So... bath time?" Xander asked once they were alone. Then "Ow! Kidding!"

-

The dining hall of Rivendell was almost as large as the cafeteria of the late Sunnydale High School. Already, it was nearly filled with Elves and a very few Men with the same regal demeanor as Elenya, and, in one of the seats of honor, an aged Hobbit smoking a wooden pipe.

"Well, this looks like a hip and happenin' party," Xander sarcastically mumbled from behind Buffy and Willow. He pulled and picked at his tunic. He wasn't quite sure the Elves sized him right.

Willow glanced back at Xander, smiling a bit. She noticed that he stared at Buffy a little too long. Part of her felt a tug of jealousy. It wasn't long ago that she and Xander had a fling of their own. Now with Cordelia and Angel out of the way - Xander had old ideas in his head again. And his ideas revolved around a certain Slayer.

"Uh... where?" Buffy asked Elenya in a whisper.

Hearing them, or perhaps reading the question upon her face, the tall and noble Elf at the head of the table rose and gestured to a row of empty seats at his left. "Come, guests, and be seated."

"All right," Xander said rather enthusiastically, scooting over to the empty seat next to Arwen. Before he could reach it, however, a tall, dark-haired and stern-faced Man in a gray tunic came up to the Lady Arwen's side and laid one hand on her shoulder. He cast a look in Xander's direction. "Oh! That's your seat? I'm sorry. How stupid of me. I'll, uh, here, with Buffy between us," Xander stammered as he clumsily sat down at Buffy's left hand. Willow found a seat next to the white-haired Hobbit while Giles and Elenya were further down the table.

"And that's a negative ten on the Suave Scale," Buffy whispered with a laugh.

"Nobody told me she had a 'Hands-off, she's mine,' boyfriend," Xander muttered. "That's that, then," he concluded. His infatuation with the beautiful Lady Arwen had come to an end. Then a chime rang and Elves bearing large platters heaped with food emerged from a curtained-off doorway.

Xander licked his lips and rubbed the palms of his hands together. "All right! Food! And it's not berries. I'm starving." Whatever it was, he didn't care. It smelled good and looked better. His mouth watered in anticipation.

Elrond, for it was clear he was the Elf who had first spoken, uttered a chant-sounding phrase in Elvish, then smiled and invited all present to eat and drink in peace and joy.

The food was superb, the wine was even better, and the company was best of all, and soon all five travelers found the sores and strains of their journey melting away. Only with considerable effort could one feel ill at ease in the Last Homely House, especially during the glorious feasts.

Although shy at first, considering the company they were in, Buffy and the others soon found themselves opening up. They listened more than they talked, which was no surprise considering the wealth of lore and memory contained within the walls of Rivendell. But it was impossible to conceal the entirety of their tale. They told the other guests a little of their homeland, passing over the matter of it being in the future, and were hard-pressed to fend off all the many questions.

Giles answered the most, and soon he was the focus of all the attention. The Elves and Men listened raptly, as did the Hobbit when he wasn't nodding off to sleep, and when Giles concluded, the Man, who was called Aragorn, lifted his glass.

"May it be," the Man, who was called Aragorn, intoned. "Lands still free of the Shadow."

"Perhaps," Elrond said. He looked doubtful. "The Enemy may hold by whispers what force of arms fails him, as he once ruled over lost Númenor. But it may be that you are right," he declared. "A great distance separates this land and ours, and the way of things may be different there."

The talk turned to lighter matters as the main course was consumed and dessert served.

Willow ate little, for her appetite had not recovered from the long journey. She stared at her plate and goblet, and idly ran one finger over her ring.

"It's a lovely little bit."

Willow jumped and jerked her ring hand back, then relaxed when she realized it was just the Hobbit. She forced a smile. "Thank you." [Some people should mind their own friggin' business,] she bitterly thought.

"Elf-work, isn't it?" the Hobbit asked her with a knowing look. "Oh. Bilbo Baggins, at your service," he hastily added.

"Baggins? Are you related to Frodo?" Willow asked him, slipping the hand with the ring onto her lap.

"Oh, you know Frodo? Marvelous young Hobbit. I do wonder how he's faring," Bilbo said. "The Elves get news from time to time, but of course it's not the same as seeing him. I don't imagine I shall unless he finds his way here one day. He may. He's rather fond of Elves. But who wouldn't be?" he asked Willow.

She shrugged. "They're nice," Willow said after a second or two.

"Oh, that's just scratching the surface! There's so much more. The things they've seen, it's more than I can bear sometimes." Bilbo smiled again. "Can I see your ring again? It was quite lovely. I had a ring like it once. A real Ring of Power right out of the old stories. Found it in a dragon's lair, you know! Quite an adventure for a Hobbit. But that's such a long story."

"Really?" Willow asked. [A Ring of Power?] she thought.

"Oh, yes! A marvelous thing, but it's gone now, at any rate," Bilbo said, an odd, grim look on his face. "Although I would so like to see it again."

"This is just an ordinary old ring," Willow explained. She was ready to ask Bilbo more about his old Ring, but an Elf sitting on the other side of Bilbo suddenly drew his attention. Willow let out a few deep breaths and rubbed her ring under the table to reassure herself it was still there.

The rest of the dinner passed swiftly and guests began drifting away without any prompting from Elrond. Elenya left with a backwards glance at Giles, but Buffy and the others stayed, sensing it was not yet their time. When only they and the others in the seats of honors remained, Elrond rose once more. Glorfindel, Arwen and Aragorn listened attentively, but kept their eyes on Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles.

"I think we should hold long council later," the Elf Lord said. "There may be some way in which I can help you. But I must search my memory. When the bell rings on the eighth hour, I will seek you out. Until then, your time is your own. Go and rest, or walk these halls, and we shall see what I can uncover." He nodded his head and the last remaining guests rose up and took their leave.

Buffy slouched in her chair as Arwen, accompanied by Aragorn, were the last to leave the hall. "I hope they think of something," she murmured. "I don't want to have traveled all of this way for nothing." She slid further down in her seat, frowning.

"We haven't much choice in the matter," Giles said as he pushed back his own chair again and stood. He looked at each of the teenagers. "And because we don't, I'll take Lord Elrond's advice and have a look around." His gaze traveled the length of the room then fell on them once more. "At the very least, the trip here will not have been a waste."

"I guess it's just us, the three musketeers," Xander commented once Giles left the hall. He turned in his seat then focused on Willow who was still a couple chairs away from him and Buffy. "Hey, Will, you alive down there?" The corner of his mouth quirked when he saw she fiddled with her ring.

"What?" Willow's head jerked up, and she looked at Buffy and Xander in surprise. She ceased in toying with the ring and forced a smile at her friends. She was curious about how powerful her new ring was. The urge to tinker with a few other spells she was unsuccessful with back home was almost unbearable. "What is it?" She noticed the room was empty save for the three of them. "Where did everyone go?"

"Elrond had to put his Elf thinking cap on," Buffy answered. She rested an elbow on the table then propped her head up on her hand. "Everyone else wandered off to do whatever it is they do around here." She glanced over at Xander then looked back to Willow. "I have to admit, I'm more than a little interested in checking this place out. What about you guys?"

"Nothing much else to do," Xander replied with a slight shrug. He blinked a few times when he realized he'd been staring at Buffy. She was so radiant in her dazzling Elven gown - the shade of royal blue was lovely on her. The jeweled hair ornament she wore twinkled underneath the light in the hall. He never remembered a time when Buffy Summers was so beautiful to him. Quickly, he averted his eyes when she looked at him.

Buffy's eyebrow arched a little. Had Xander been staring at her? Actually, if he had, she didn't much mind. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind, she felt a tug of guilt. Had she cared about Angel at all? She was so okay with Xander's staring at her, and her weird feelings about Xander's brief interest in Lady Arwen. So many things to deal with at once, it was nuts. Why were their lives so difficult all the time?

Willow faked a yawn, stretching her hands over her head. "Actually, I wanted to go back to my room and take a little nap. It's been, you know, so long since we've had real beds with real sheets and real pillows." She offered a slightly devious smile at her two friends. "Besides, I don't want to be in the way." Pushing her chair back, she excused herself and headed out of the hall.

-

Back in her room, Willow checked around just to make sure she was alone. That Arwen had been awfully interested in her ring, and she wouldn't put it past these Elves to spy on people. Especially people with something they wanted. Convinced she was by herself, she sat down on the bed. Her face twisted up in a frown when she tried to slip the ring off.

"What the heck?" she muttered. She pulled on it, but it was tight on her finger. Finally, she had to use her tongue to wet her skin and it slowly but surely slid off. "Ow." She flexed the fingers on her right hand then looked at the ring.

An eyebrow arched. If she didn't know better, she could've sworn it had become smaller. Using her fingernails, she picked out the knot in the shred of rag and removed it from her ring. Willow turned the ring over in her hands, examining it carefully. Yes, it did appear to have shrunk. Odd. She slipped it back onto her finger with little trouble. It was still loose but fit a little more snug in place.

She let out a breath then took a few moments to decide what spell she wanted to play with. When she decided on one, she brought up her hand, concentrating on a brush that sat on a vanity table far across the room. Her eyes narrowed a bit as she whispered the words to the spell. Slowly, the brush lifted up from the table and floated a few inches in the air.

"It's working," she murmured, her face brightened with a smile. For a few minutes, she manipulated the brush about the room. She'd been toying with this particular spell before, using a pencil, but her concentration was never constant. The ring on her finger glowed dimly, she noted, as she drew the brush over to her.

She snatched the brush out of the air, placed it on the bed, then she swiveled around and uttered the words to another spell. The wicks in the candles of the candelabra on the other side of her room erupted into flames. Clasping her hands together, she laughed, giddy with excitement. It didn't take any effort or real concentration on her part to make her spells successful. It was so easy now.

Bringing her ring hand in front of her, she stared at her palm as she murmured the words to another spell. "Goddess Hecate, work thy will ..." The rest of the spell was completed in another language. Willow's eyes went wide; the little sparking ball of energy now floating in her palm mesmerized her.

She lifted her arm, her concentration on making the energy ball do what she willed. The ball hovered about a foot in front of her face as she slowly removed her right hand from underneath it. Hands positioned on either side of the ball now, she shifted her gaze to the open window. The blue energy crackled faster, brighter as Willow's eyes narrowed on it.

"Havab du!" she yelled using both hands to essentially push the ball away from her and out of the window. Once outside, it exploded into a bright flash of light then trails of sparks rained down harmlessly. They vanished in seconds, before any of the inhabitants of Rivendell could spot them.

"Very cool," she said, a smile returning to her face. Her gaze flicked back to the ring. "With this, I'll be able to change Amy back into a human being when we get home. I'll be an even more powerful witch than she is, too. She'll be jealous, I bet."

-

Near to the dining hall, there was a little gallery of sorts that housed some of the lesser, but still ancient and powerful, heirlooms of the Elves. Armor and blades that had been borne in ages past, and the still-bright banners carried aloft on the very slopes of Mount Doom, but also graceful jewelry, necklaces and tiaras and rings of silver and gold, which had adorned the fairest of the Elves. There were statues there, too, of the lords and ladies of the Elves who had passed West over the Sea or perished before their time - Celebrian, beloved mother of Arwen, and Luthien, who had chosen mortality out of the deepest love, and Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor and the valiant Captain of the Last Alliance.

Giles stared up at the statues and wished he could read the tales inscribed there in Elf runes. He could speak a little - a very little - Sindarin, but the written language of the Elves had been lost long ago, even to the Council. The Watcher sighed a little. Knowing the truth about the dawn of humanity was hard. He wished he could embrace the Council's myths once more - it would be more comforting to remain ignorant of all this beauty, lost forever.

Then he stared hard at one statue in an especial place of honor. Giles squinted and studied the face of the statue, then turned when he heard a whisper of movement off to his side.

It was Elenya. She was also staring at the statue, a look of reverence on her face.

"Elros, Elrond's brother, and a king in his own right. My people are descended from him," she said to Giles.

"Your people? But isn't he an Elf? I thought - "

"He was born of the union of Man and Elf," Elenya explained. "Like Elrond. Elros chose mortality and died like all Men. But from him came the Royal House of Númenor and then of Arnor and Gondor. Aragorn and all the other Men here are of his blood."

"And you?"

Elenya nodded. "Very distantly, though. I have as much Bree-blood in me as Numenorean," she admitted with a whisper and a grin. "Little is left of the royal blood, at any rate. Enough to defeat the Enemy, that's my hope." She smiled faintly. "I hold with Aragorn, even if he thinks you are lost only in distance and not in years. Your presence here is still a sign that Man endures even if we should fail. No matter that you have forgotten us and our great struggle."

"I'm sorry," was all Giles could say.

"You shouldn't be," Elenya said quickly. "It does not matter what deeds were carried out and then forgotten, so long as they were carried out. But..." She smiled again. "This is not the place to speak of such grim things. Rivendell is a sanctuary, a place of rest. Come, I shall show you more of its wonders." Smiling, she took Giles by the hand and led him out onto one of the many walkways overlooking the river.

-

"It's awfully quiet here," Buffy commented as she and Xander continued to stroll along one of the walkways. Even under the star and moonlight, the Elven city was quite a spectacle to behold. For a moment, Buffy wondered what it might be like to just stay where they were. Forget about going back to the future, back to the place filled with so many bad memories, she'd never have to deal with it again. She would be free of it - the duty of Slayer.

Stopping, she placed her hands on the railing then gazed out at the waterfall. Her eyes closed as she drew in a deep breath. The smells of clean air, fresh water and a million types of flora and fauna filled her nose. Slowly, she exhaled, her eyes opening at the same time. No stress to be found in this paradise. Yes, she could call this place 'home', couldn't she?

"Yeah, too quiet," Xander murmured in reply as he stood next to her, placing his own hands on the railing. He shrugged his shoulders then pulled at the tunic. "It's not Sunnydale, that's for sure." He grumbled under his breath. "I think I need to see the local tailor. This thing isn't fitting me right."

Buffy slid her gaze over to him, smiling a little as he tugged at the tunic. "You're just not used to it," she said. "It's not exactly jeans and flannels. It looks pretty good on you, actually." She cleared her throat, quickly then averted her gaze. "Well, you know. Better than what you had on."

"Oh, I don't know. The rugged manly look suited me." He gave up pulling on the tunic then looked down at her. She still had her back to him. "You look good, Buff." He gave her another once over. "Real good."

Buffy's lips pressed together. She heard that tone in Xander's voice. She knew that tone - what she'd been suspecting about him was real. Her hand tightened around the railing. "Uh, yeah," she said, slowly. "Thanks." [Should I say something? Would it do any good? I'm ... I'm just not ready for anything again. And he's ... he's Xander.]

[I need to tell her. She doesn't know how I've felt all of this time.] Xander watched her closely. She wouldn't look at him now and that made him feel rather self-conscious. Stepping closer, he spoke softly to her. "Buffy, I think I should say something to you -" He paused, waiting for any kind of reaction from her. Nothing. "I couldn't say it before because of, well, there were a lot of factors involved."

[Don't say it. Don't say it.] she frantically thought as her eyes darted around. She let out of quiet breath, and tried to keep herself calm. [Don't say it, Xander. Just don't say what I think you're going to. Don't make this any more complicated than it already is.]

"Factors like ... like Angel," he finished. He paused again. Still no reaction from her. "Are you listening to me?"

She swallowed hard then nodded. "Yes, I am."

"Then I know you'll hear this, it's something I've been wanting to say to you since you came to Sunnydale," he continued. "Before Angel was ever in the picture, before Cordelia, before Willow, before all of it, I've always thought that ... that we might -" Without realizing it, his hand rested on her bare shoulder. " - we might be a pretty good thing."

"Xander -" She tried to shrug his hand off of her shoulder but he gripped it.

"Look, Buffy, I know you're still hurting over Dead - Angel," he quickly interrupted. His gaze dropped for a moment then lifted again. "I'm not asking for anything from you. You don't have to say anything to me; I just wanted to let you know how I felt. Before it was too late." His grip loosened though his hand remained on her shoulder. "In case something happened to one of us."

Buffy closed her eyes, squeezing them shut. [Why did he have to say it?] She bit her lower lip, her insides squirming about as she tried to think of a way to respond to what he'd told her. Half of her did still hurt from her break up with Angel, however another part was eased by Xander's admission. In the weeks since arriving in this strange land, she'd seen sides of him she'd seen before, but in a different light.

"Xander, I don't know what to say to that," she replied, her voice soft, as her eyes opened. "I'm ... I'm not sure how I feel about it. Everything's so ... so confusing lately. This is the first night I haven't been tied up in knots since we arrived in the past, then you tell me this and ... and ..." She trailed off. She didn't know how to put her feelings into words.

"Buffy, I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I don't want you to feel cornered." He used both hands to turn the Slayer so she faced him. "I know you're in a lot of pain right now. And we're far from home and we have no idea if we'll ever get back -" He stopped when she looked at him for the first time. He lifted an eyebrow when he noticed the expression on her face. "You don't think we're going to find a way home, do you?"

She stared back at him; her first impulse was to say 'no'. They'd come so far already and people kept passing the buck. First Gandalf, now these Elves in Rivendell would likely do the same. Plus, they had a lot of ugly Orcs and evil human beings mad at them for God knew what reasons. Throw the Slayer nightmares - nightmares that steadily grew in intensity with each day - onto that and it was a pretty nigh hopeless situation from where Buffy stood.

As she began to answer, the bells clanged, drawing Xander and Buffy's attention away from the matter at hand. She looked back up at him. "That Elrond guy must've remembered something," she quietly commented. This discussion was far from over, she knew. More than likely, Xander would want to pursue it. It would have to be dealt with soon, too.

Xander's hands slipped away from Buffy's shoulders. "Let's hope it's good news, like 'I know a way to get you back where you belong'."

"Yeah. Where we belong," she agreed. An awkward moment passed then she gathered up the dress in her hands, turned and headed back for the main hall. Her face flushed as she quickly walked away. She prayed that Elrond knew of a way to get them home. The sooner they were out of the past, the sooner she could get back to her own routine.

-

The bell echoed throughout the halls of Rivendell. Buffy and Xander, Giles and Elenya, and Willow all made their way to the dining hall, where Elrond and Arwen waited.

"Come, I have word that will cheer you," Elrond said, then he ascended a staircase none had noticed before. Arwen followed close behind, her gown trailing in her wake as she rose up the marble steps. At the very top of the long winding stairs, there was a small chamber with no walls save for a dozen slender pillars and a roof of glass. Far below, the lights of Rivendell twinkled and the river gleamed in the moonlight. There was a curtain of stars above, bright and thick like nothing the four from Sunnydale had ever seen.

In the center of the chamber, there was an ivory pedestal upon which was a silk pillow of the deepest blue, but nothing rested upon the pillow.

Both Elves stood and looked to the West in silence, their faces pale and their expressions wistful. Then, after a long moment, Elrond smiled gravely at the five Men while his daughter stepped back.

"I confess your troubles are unlike any I have ever known," Elrond began. "Never in all my long life have I met or heard of one lost in the river of time. Neither has Glorfindel, or any of the others who dwell under my protection, from my beloved children down to Bilbo the Hobbit. It is a mystery."

"So you can't help us?" Willow asked.

"I did not say that," Elrond gently corrected. "None here know any lore that can help you find a way home. But..." He turned now to the east. "Beyond the mountains, many leagues south and east of here dwell my wife's kindred. Among them is the Lady Galadriel. Few live who are older or wiser than she. And ..." He looked to his daughter.

"Long did I dwell in the forest garden of Lothlorien," Arwen said. "Songs are sung there that are forgotten in all other lands, even Rivendell. And the memory of my grandmother Galadriel is deep and clear. Few things have passed in the past three ages that she does not know of. Much of what she knows she has shared with me." As she spoke, a dreamy look came over the Elf-maiden's face and her voice became slower and fainter.

"Living the memories," Elenya explained in a whisper to Giles as Arwen continued.

"There have been many visitors to Lothlorien in all that time; some seeking aid. Those with worthy hearts were never denied at least rest and protection before being sent on his way again. But there was once a traveler in need, one whom not even all of Galadriel's art and wisdom could help. She spoke of it only once, and then in passing."

Arwen's voice became even softer. "There was a man, half-mad and desperate, who crossed the borders of Lothlorien, in the days when Sauron was still a shadow of the past. Pity stayed our blades and we gave him shelter until his madness faded. Or so we thought until he told his tale. The man, who gave his name as Darius of Londinium, knew nothing of Middle-Earth. Like you, he sought a way home."

"And?" Xander prompted after a few seconds.

"And that is all of the tale I was told. Galadriel never finished it and other, more pressing matters occupied our minds soon thereafter. That was the year of Bilbo's great quest. But there is no grave for Darius of Londinium under any of the trees of Lothlorien. It may be that my grandmother was able to send him on his way. If you seek a return to your home, your path must run through Lothlorien." Arwen sighed and stepped back again.

"How far away is Lothlorien?"

"Hundreds of leagues," Elrond replied. "You must cross the mountains, no short journey in its own right, and then travel south along the River Anduin for many weeks until you reach the golden trees of Galadriel's realm. If you set out now, you may yet reach it before winter comes. Or you may remain here until spring and brighter days. But my heart tells me that you should depart soon if you hope to find success in the end," he said, looking at each of them in turn. "The road will be perilous and you may stay here, as well. The choice is yours."

"There's no choice. No offense, I really like Rivendell but this isn't home," Buffy said. "I'll go anywhere I have to so we can get back to Sunnydale. Even Mordor. And the sooner the better."

"Speak not that name!" Elrond said a bit harshly. For a moment a chill seemed to enter the room, then it passed. "But does Buffy speak for you all?"

"She's right. We can't find our way back if we stay here," Giles said.

Xander nodded in agreement. "I'm with her, no matter what."

"Me too. I wanna get - get back home," Willow quickly said.

"I go with Giles," Elenya said, coming up to his side. "And to keep the promise I made to Frodo Baggins."

Elrond nodded and did not mention the fact that Elenya's promise had only gone as far as Bree. Her reasons were clear enough. "So be it. I will offer what help I can. Clothing and food and weapons you shall have, and maps to guide you on the way. I will send messages ahead to Galadriel such as I can in these days, and you may find her awaiting you when you arrive."

"You are too generous, Lord Elrond," Elenya said, knowing that few guests were treated so well in these dark times.

The Elf shook his head. "Nay. I only pray my little gifts will see you to the end. The night grows old," he said. Indeed, the Moon had risen, reached its peak and begun to set in the while they had been talking atop the high tower. "Go and rest. Tomorrow, be at ease and make ready for the travels to come. When the next morning comes, all will be ready for your departure."

-

All too soon, the appointed morning came. Their horses were waiting, rested and ready, and joined by one more to carry their gear - both new and old. As promised, Elrond provided each member of the group with a new blade, except Elenya who kept her trusty Dwarf sword, as well as clothing well-suited for travel and many days worth of rations.

Many folk came out to see Buffy and her companions off - Arwen and Aragorn, Glorfindel and a score of other Elves, Bilbo and, of course, Elrond himself.

Buffy, feeling much more comfortable decked out in traveling attire, swung the quiver of arrows down from her shoulder while one of the Elves packed and secured the saddle on her horse. She pulled out one of the arrows, her brow furrowed as she examined the arrowhead - it resembled a piece of solid black glass.

"Um, what's this?" she asked as she turned to the Elf as he finished with the horse. She nodded towards the arrowhead. "That doesn't look like any arrowhead I've ever seen, pal. Are you guys trying to gyp us or something?"

"Gyp?" repeated the Elf, confused by the terribly strange speech of the young woman. He looked to Elenya, almost desperate for help.

"What is it?" Giles asked as he joined the Slayer.

"Look at this, Giles," she said, shoving the arrowhead up in his face. "These Elves are giving us crappy weaponry. Does that look like a decent arrowhead to you?"

"You'll find these are preferable, Buffy," Elenya commented as she came up to them. She gestured to the Elf, letting him know she would handle Buffy's troubles. Her attention shifted back to the arrow in Buffy's hand. "The black glass is incredibly sharp. The cuts are clean and smooth, very superior to various arrowheads used by others in this land. Orc and troll hides are easily pierced by it." She smiled a little. "You are not being ... gypped, was it?"

Giles peered at the arrowhead over his glasses then ran his thumb over the flat side. "This arrowhead is fashioned from obsidian," he murmured then looked over to Elenya. "Other ancient peoples used this very substance to make arrowheads - it's fascinating."

The Elf Buffy had spoken came to one side of Elenya, watching the younger Slayer accept the arrow back from the Watcher. "Such a weapon is deadly in the hands of someone untrained," he said, mostly to Elenya.

Buffy picked up the bow, slung the quiver back over her shoulder then looked at him. "I think I can handle it," she replied a little flatly. "There are just some weapons you don't need a whole lot of training for. It's like an automatic camera - point and shoot. No big."

Xander leaned towards Willow, never taking his eyes off the scene before them. "Ten bucks on Buffy - she could take him," he said in a low voice.

"Are you certain you will be safe?" the Elf asked Elenya, not even bothering to keep his voice down so Buffy couldn't hear him.

Buffy drew one of the arrows, placed the butt against the string of the bow as she whirled around then threw back the string and let the arrow fly. It sailed a good distance, sticking neatly into a knothole in one of the trees - it was quite a shot. She slid her gaze over to the Elf, a smirk of "I told you so" on her face; she lowered the bow.

"What do you think? Think we'll be safe, guys?" she asked, glancing back to Giles, Willow and Xander. She enjoyed that look of surprise that the Elf barely managed to hide from her. He didn't expect that, it was a satisfying moment for her, too.

Xander shook his head, chuckling lightly. Willow turned away to make sure her horse was prepared for the long journey ahead of them. And Giles just offered an apologetic look in Elenya's and the Elf's direction.

Buffy made her way to her own horse as Elrond stepped forward to officially bid farewells to the brief guests of Rivendell. And impart a little information.

"Follow the old road north, ever higher, and by the end of the day you will come upon the High Pass. Keep to it and soon you will reach the height of the mountains," he said. Given directions were often more trustworthy than a map. "It is two days, three if the weather is harsh, and then you will begin to descend once more upon the eastern slopes. From there, continue on eastward until you see the Great River before you. Then go south, always keeping the River at your shoulder, and before two weeks pass you will see the realm of Galadriel ahead. Beyond that, I cannot see what road you will take."

"Travel carefully," Aragorn said. "The wilderness east of the Mountains grows more dangerous every year. There are Orcs there, and wolves. And remember those who attacked you near Bree. I do not think they were mere brigands," he cautioned, looking up at Elenya, who nodded and glanced to the east, knowing what her lord meant.

"Give greetings to my grandmother from me," Arwen said. "But do not tarry too long in Lothlorien. My heart tells me that haste is your friend. Go with the protection of the West upon you."

"Watch out for Trolls!" Bilbo called out as the five riders passed under the arched eastern gate. "Be careful!"

With many backwards glances, Buffy and her friends rode north along the ancient road until finally Rivendell vanished behind them. Their time there had been brief, but it felt like months, especially when the sun set and they made camp amidst the rocks.

"I will take the first watch tonight," Elenya said after supper. "We are still close to Rivendell, so I think you can sleep without fear of Orcs."

"Great. I'm more worried about the bugs and rocks and wind chill factor," Xander grumbled as he tried to find a clear spot to lie out his bedroll.

"A tale might make the time go swifter, or sleep come sooner at least," Elenya suggested. She turned to Buffy. "Tell me again about the Master," she asked. The story of Acathla interested her more, but there was a hidden grief there of which Buffy was reluctant to speak.

"Okay. It all started near the end of my sophomore year. I'd just moved to Sunnydale from Los Angeles." She rolled her eyes. "You think this is bad? Talk about your culture shock!"

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Net Girl and Sibyl

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/24/02

Original Post: 08/05/02

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