Dark Night of the Soul: 8. Meet The (Silvan) Elves

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8. Meet The (Silvan) Elves

They remained in the cave well into the next day, hiding in the dim light of their torches. On Elenya's insistence, they laid the bodies of the fallen Slayer and her comrades down and covered them with what stones they could find. Elenya carved something in Elf-runes above the head of the Slayer and murmured what sounded like a prayer, although the only word Buffy recognized was 'Arien' - Elenya's god, she assumed.

Then, when it was finally clear the Orcs had given up the hunt and moved on, the companions made ready and set out once again.

Elenya emerged first, cautiously checking the area around the cave until she was sure it was safe then the others came out one by one. There was no sign of the Orcs anywhere; a mixed blessing as far as everyone was concerned - where had they gone? Nobody believed they had seen the last sign of them, or their mysterious leader. But they were decidedly unwilling to stay around and wait for the Orcs to return.

They made for Lothlorien at a breakneck pace, stopping only when absolutely necessary and even then only for the shortest of times. Even then, it was many weeks before they awoke one morning and smelled a sweet fragrance in the air.

"We're not far now," Elenya said, a dreamy look on her face as she mounted Aratar. "If we ride swiftly, we may reach the Golden Wood before noon."

Sure enough, long before the sun had reached its zenith, they saw a wall of green and gold on the horizon. All five riders halted for a moment to take in the beauty of the sight. It was like Rivendell writ large, and more - words could not capture even a hint of the magnificence that was Lothlorien even in its twilight. Just seeing the mallorn trees with their crowns of gold eased a little bit of their saddle sores.

Buffy breathed in the lingering scent of elanor flowers in full bloom. "This place can't be real. So much for your 'Earth did not begin as a paradise' junk, huh, Giles?" she asked with a grin.

"Yes, well." Giles cleared his throat. "The Council is not infallible, Buffy."

"Yeah, tell me about it." Buffy shrugged. It was too beautiful a day to worry about those stupid little geeks back in London. "C'mon. I wanna meet the Elves."

Even at a full gallop, it took the better part of an hour before they drew near to the trees. As they did, the feeling of peace and tranquility increased. Later on, Buffy would recall it as like riding right into a dream.

"This place is kinda creepy," Buffy remarked as they horses slowly walked along through the dead quiet woods of Lothlorien. She had the distinct feeling they were being watched - by who or what, she didn't know. The only sound being the hooves of horses crunching twigs and grass didn't ease her any.

Willow gripped her reins tightly, her eyes nervously darting around. The others were creeped out, but she was downright uncomfortable here.

"Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood, you sure are lookin' good, you're everything a big bad wolf could want," Xander softly sang, his voice shaking just a bit as he scanned the trees. "Little Red Riding Hood, I don't think little big girls should ... go walkin' in these spooky old woods alone ..."

Buffy looked over to Xander beside her, smiling, and trying not to laugh aloud. Trust him to lighten the mood.

As they progressed, Xander loosened up a bit, his shoulders relaxed and he sang a little louder. "What big eyes you have ... the kind of eyes that drive wolves mad. So just to see that you don't get chased ... I think I ought to walk with you for a ways. What full lips you have ... they're sure to lure someone bad. So until you get to grandma's place ... I think you ought to walk with me and -"

His singing abruptly ceased and he motioned ahead of them.

Buffy nodded. She saw them.

By now familiar and somehow expected was the line of mounted Elves waiting just beyond a small silver stream. There were a dozen, none of whom were armed, and in the forefront were two tall, exceedingly beautiful Elves, a man and a woman in regal robes. The man had blue robes, but the woman had a long lavender robe and a silver circlet atop her brow. She raised her hand in greeting.

Elenya did likewise as Aratar came to a halt without any prompting from his rider. "Hail, Lady. I beg your leave to enter Lothlorien with my companions."

"You are known to us, Elenya, but your companions are not," the Elf addressed as 'Lady' replied in a musical voice. "Strangers may not enter this land, so let them announce themselves."

Elenya nodded and gestured for the others to do so.

"Buffy Summers of Sunnydale," Buffy stammered, and then tried to curtsy from atop her horse. It seemed the most appropriate response to someone who fairly radiated royalty and grace. In turn, the Lady smiled serenely and bowed her head slightly in Buffy's direction.

"Rupert Giles, milady."

"Xander Harris. Uh, I mean, Alexander Harris. Milady," Xander said, trying hard to keep his jaw from dropping. This Elf woman was just as beautiful as Arwen and looking into her eyes was like staring down a deep well or up into the night sky - there didn't seem to be an end to it. He flushed and turned away after a few seconds.

"Willow Rosenberg," Willow mumbled, avoiding the Elf's piercing gaze and knowing smile - or smirk, as Willow saw it.

"And I am the Lady Galadriel. This is the Lord Celeborn," Galadriel said, inclining her head towards the Elf in the blue robes. "We had word from Rivendell that you were traveling in this direction. It is good that you arrived. Not unharmed, perhaps, but undaunted. But come! You are weary, no doubt. My maidens will show you to a place to rest. Later we shall feast together and share our wisdom about your problems." She beckoned them forward, and then she and Celeborn turned and disappeared into the depths of the forest.

"A place to rest?" Xander whispered, leaning towards Giles as they followed the Elven women on foot. "Where? Nothin' but trees." He sighed when Giles shushed him. "I'm only saying."

Elenya glanced at Buffy, smiling a little when she noticed the enthralled expression on the young Slayer's face. "Such modest accommodations compared to Rivendell," she commented. "Comfortable, nonetheless."

"I don't know about modest," Buffy replied, shaking her head. "If this is modest, you guys raise the bar pretty high." She watched the other inhabitants of the Lothlorien woods and Galadriel's forest city walk by. Some regarded the strangers with curious stares, while others simply went about their business, paying little mind to them.

-

Once the guests were settled into their respective quarters, the four strangers to the land didn't rest. Lothlorien was a place unlike any other they'd visited, like Rivendell at heart but so different on the surface. It demanded attention. Elenya, on the other hand, disappeared, wandering away into the woods outside of the main city. The others were protected here and they no longer required her watchful gaze. Responsibilities weighed heavy on her in recent weeks - she had to clear her mind away from the others, and no better place than in the quiet groves on the banks of the Celebrant.

"They're expecting us to sleep in trees," Xander said as Buffy descended the stairway that led up to the "rooms" they would share. He looked to Giles. "I'm not that keen on heights. Never have been. I can't sleep in a tree. Can't we just ask them to pitch a tent down here on the nice, safe ground?"

"You'll be fine, Xander," Buffy assured him. "Besides, we're just going to sleep up there."

"What if I roll off? What if I sleepwalk?" He grabbed her by the upper arms. "I could fall to my death. Wouldn't that just be the way I'd go? Survive Orcs and weird vampires and Hobbits for what? To fall out of a friggin' tree." He let go of her when he realized he gripped her a little too tightly. "Sorry," he apologized then sighed. "I'm overreacting. I mean, my cousin had a tree house. It's like that. Yeah. Like a tree house - a two hundred foot tall tree house with no real walls."

Buffy only smiled then patted him on the shoulder. "Why don't you go check on Willow?" She looked over her shoulder. The redhead was by herself, away from the rest of them, like she'd been for a long time lately. After the mess near the Misty Mountains, Buffy, Giles and Xander decided against taking the ring from Willow. Mainly because she'd not used her magick so much since then; just a minor fire spell to light the wood for the campfire one evening. She was still uncommonly withdrawn but a little more personable than before. Perhaps whatever it was had passed. That was Buffy's hope, at least.

"Sure, I'll go check on her." Xander headed over to the girl, muttering something under his breath at the same time.

Willow leaned against the tree, her fingers tugging at the ring on her finger. For some reason, she wasn't able to get it off. Not that she necessarily wanted it off, but for the last two weeks, she couldn't remove it from her hand. The grip was almost vise-like, even she felt no pain as a result of her efforts to pry it off.

At any rate, even if Buffy and the others wanted to take it from her, they wouldn't be able to. Yet, Willow gave them no reason to want to try. Since the Misty Mountains, she'd decided to heed the advice of her dream guardians. She would keep her friends close and her enemies closer. Give them nothing to be suspicious about, continue on as though she wasn't onto their game and that would give her the advantage. It'd worked so far - they'd stopped bothering her about the ring.

"Will?"

Willow jerked a little and her hands dropped down to her sides as she casually leaned against the tree. She gazed out at the open forest before her, pretending as though nothing was amiss. "Oh, Xander, hi," she greeted, forcing a smile as he came up beside her. "How are the rooms here? Mints on the pillows?"

"No, not quite," he answered. He folded his arms across his chest. "I'm not so sure about this tree sleeping arrangement deal. These Lothlorien Elves are ultra-creepy, but not in a bad way. They're just ... so different from the ones in Rivendell." He shook his head, sighing. "Beyond the whole 'let's sleep in trees instead of houses' deal, too. Did you get a weird vibe off that Galadriel woman or was that just me?"

She shrugged. In truth, Galadriel scared her. She could sense the Elf Lady had a core of inner power hidden behind her courtly grace. But she wasn't going to admit that to anybody, even Xander. "Yeah, sorta. But I suppose Elves just give off weird vibes like that. We're talking about beings that are millennia old." She looked up to him. "Still - I'm a little wary of them. Remember Frodo telling the stories about the Lothlorien woods and that Elf witch?"

"Well, yeah, but those are just stories, Willow. I don't think she's going to put a spell on us and make us slaves, she's just ... different."

"Yeah," Willow softly said as she let her gaze drop to the ground. She bit her lower lip. Galadriel was already suspicious of her - what was it about her ring that made these Elves so interested in it? Did they know what kind of power it held? Was it a ring of power, like the one Bilbo had then passed on to Frodo? She gazed at her hand, the ring shimmering in the afternoon sunlight that streamed through the trees.

"I'm beginning to wonder if Buffy's not right," Xander said, breaking the silence between them. He let his gaze travel around the woods, he took in the Elves going about their daily duties then he sighed heavily. "Maybe we're never going to get home. Maybe we're going to be doomed to the live out our futures in the past." He paused then met Willow's gaze. "We'll never be who we were again."

She averted her gaze then swallowed. He was right about one thing - they never would be the same. It took this adventure to open her eyes to what sort of people Buffy, Giles and Xander really were; jealous, envious and conniving back-stabbers - a bunch of plotting Judases. The sooner they returned to Sunnydale, the better. She would never have to speak to them again. Ever.

"I'm ... I'm going to take a nap before we see this Galadriel again," she said. Without waiting for his response, Willow hurried along for the stairway that led up to their temporary quarters.

-

Giles strolled along the cut pathways through the woods, his attention on every detail. The longer they remained in Middle-earth, the more adjusted he became to the idea this was all real - the Elves, the land, everything. He drew to a halt when he and Buffy reached a small, gurgling stream. He took in a deep breath, feeling at ease just as he had in Rivendell. The abodes of Elves had the strangest calming effect on human nerves.

"Pretty neat, isn't it?" Buffy remarked as she looked up to Giles while taking a seat on a fallen log. She gazed across the crystal clear stream, wondering if more of this beauty lay on the other side. "These Elves really know how to live. If we get stuck here, I'm definitely investing in some Elven real estate. Maybe something in Rivendell, though, I'm not into all this nature."

Giles sat down on the other end of the log, nodding a little. "It's quite a place," he agreed. "I never imagined it could be so enchanting." He folded his hands together then rested his elbows on his knees, and his expression became more solemn. "Yet it is difficult for me to enjoy it as you do."

She raised an eyebrow. For the last few weeks, Giles had been uncharacteristically quiet. He'd spent a great deal of his time talking to Elenya as well. At first, she'd thought he'd taken a personal interest in the Slayer, which was true enough, but it was much more than that.

"Okay, Giles," she said as she turned towards him. "You've been holding out on us about this place from day one. I want to know what you know. What it is about this past that bothers you so much?"

Giles paused for a moment then let his gaze drop to the ground in front of him. "I wouldn't say it particularly bothers me, Buffy. Though, I must say, adjusting to this drastically different past, so different from what I thought was -" He fell silent, shaking his head. "I'm beginning to question everything. What's real, what isn't?"

She shrugged. "I would too, Giles. If the Council fibbed about the origins of the world, there's no telling what else they've lied about. Elenya's been a Slayer for fifteen years, fighting monsters and creatures I could never take alone. I can't help but think -" She stopped as her thought fully hit her. She blinked and her voice dropped to a quieter tone. " - I can't help but think that the Council of old actually feared the Slayer rather than considered her a weapon."

Giles lifted his head. "What do you mean, feared her? As if the Slayer might become what Faith did?"

"No, that's not really what I mean. Look at how much of a chokehold they had on us, Giles. I almost died because of them and for what?"

"Flaws aside, Buffy, the Council does have noble and honorable intentions. As for Elenya's prolonged survival in this world, I attribute more of that to surroundings than to actual skill."

The Slayer's brow furrowed. "Okay, what's that supposed to mean?"

He sat up straight and turned towards her. "Consider for a moment where we are." He paused to allow her to do so.

She looked around the golden woods then, rather uncertain, said, "Yeah. So?"

"In our own time, no one would believe in such a place. Or in beings such as Elves," Giles explained. He saw a flicker in Buffy's eyes as she began to see where he went with this. "These things are resigned to myths, legends and the like yet, in this time, this place -"

"Everyone believes in it," Buffy finished for him as she wagged a finger at Giles. She nodded a few times as she thought about it. "Yeah, I get what you mean now."

"In 1999, people have accepted this - " He gestured to their surroundings. " - as a flight of fancy. A select few battle evils in our own time because that select few accepts the existence of such things. The Slayer, the Council, Xander, Willow, a few others."

"Okay, so you're saying I'm the better Slayer because not everyone in our time period is kicking vampire and demon ass?" She frowned slightly as she looked away from him. "I don't see how that's possible. It took the both of us to kill one vampire." Her gaze flicked back to him. "Which reminds me - why are all the vampires and stuff in our own time so - so much different than now?"

"A sort of supernatural evolution?" suggested Giles with a shrug. "All beings must adapt to their surroundings with the passage of time in order to survive. Also, despite the conflict of reality and the version of history the Council promotes, I've no doubt that alternate demon dimensions exist. Perhaps some of these creatures simply moved into one of them at some point in the time line."

Buffy sighed. "Yeah. I guess I could buy that." She looked over to Giles and noticed that expression on his face again. "Xander and I have been wondering about something. For not knowing about this past, you seem to know an awful lot about it. The way you reacted way back in the Shire when Gandalf started telling us things. You immediately knew what had happened to us. How?"

Giles removed his glasses, massaged the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger then rested his elbows on his knees once more. "Many years ago, when I first became a Watcher, I stumbled upon a tattered text in the Council vaults," he began. He paused as he went back to the time in his mind, remembering what it was like to be part of the organization before he knew of its darker side. "The Red Book of Westmarch, it was called."

"Red Book of Westmarch? What was in it? Recipes?"

"No." He toyed with his glasses, folding and unfolding them. "It's a collection of fables. No more valid than the Bible or Grimm's Fairy Tales. Er... at least, that's what we believed." He placed his glasses back on then looked over to her. "Very little survived intact - the Red Book is incredibly ancient. And what did survive was of little use to us. General information about this time period - names, dates, places - and no one ever thought any more of it. The Council had their version of history and I suppose it worked for them."

"This was in a book?" She pointed to the ground, indicating she meant all of Middle-Earth. After he nodded, she sat back. "You couldn't tell us this right off? Why all of the secrecy?"

"I had to be certain. Also, a few other things were mentioned." He drew silent once more. Names such as Sauron, Gandalf and the Ring-bearers Frodo and Bilbo Baggins were among the information contained in the text. However, he kept that to himself. She knew enough to get them through this. He looked over to her. "And I wasn't the only one keeping quiet, either."

Buffy shrank a bit, embarrassed. "Look, Giles, like I said - I didn't want to bother you with the dream stuff. We have enough problems as it is. Besides, I think we lost that guy anyway. No way he'd come in here and mess with us." She saw the look on his face then she let out a frustrated breath. "I'm sorry, okay? If I have any other weird dreams, I'll let you know. For the record, I didn't see Elenya speaking up about it either."

"I'm not Elenya's Watcher." He moved closer to the young Slayer, his expression softening. "Promise me, Buffy, that you'll never again keep something as vital as that a secret from me. No matter what the present situation may be."

She nodded a little. "I promise, Giles. I won't keep anything else a secret."

"Good." He gave her a hug that she returned. "We'll get through this if we stick together, Buffy. We're going to get home."

"I hope you're right," Buffy replied, her voice muffled by Giles's shoulder. [God, you don't know how much I hope you're right.]

-

"Willow."

The sound of Frodo's whispering voice drew Willow out of her sleep. Slowly, her eyes drifted open and she found the younger Hobbit crouched down in front of her; he was visibly uneasy. He shook her shoulder once more and said her name a little louder.

"I'm awake," she told him as she sat up. Not really awake, but awake in the dream state she was always in when they would visit her. One hand propped her up and she tilted her head to the side, a frown crossing her face. "What's the matter? You don't look very good, Frodo." Her eyes were drawn in the direction he gazed. That reddish glow was stronger than ever now and was nearly due south of the woods.

She blinked a few times when she finally noticed how dark the Lothlorien woods were. In the real world, it glowed and glimmered like gold - but now, everything had a dark shadow over it. All the dreams were dark like this, but in Lorien, it felt strange - almost as though it was alive and uncomfortable about being there. Never had she feared the shadow in the dreams, it soothed her soul and set her mind at ease.

"Come with me," he said as he took Willow by the hand, gaining her attention once more. "We are watched in these lands, I haven't much time to speak with you." He stood, giving Willow's hand a tug until she, too, rose to her feet. "The Elves of Lothlorien are not friends, Willow. Do not allow yourself to be fooled by them."

Willow nodded slowly as she let Frodo lead her down the stairway and out of the tree. "They're freaky," she commented. "I don't like them. The head Elf lady gives me a serious case of wiggins. When we met her earlier, I ... I felt like she was inside my mind."

They reached the end of the stairs and Willow fell silent as she looked around. The woods were drenched in blackness. No light, no Elves, no one was in the Elven "city" except her and Frodo. She looked down at her free hand. The only illumination in the dark was the glittering of her magick ring.

"She is an Elf-witch. Beware, Willow," Frodo continued as he led her through the woods, away from the dead city. "She will work her spells on your mind, make you believe things that are not true."

Willow looked down at her small guide as she followed him where he led without question. "What do you mean? What sort of things will she say?" She would be prepared for her next encounter with Galadriel - no Elf-witch would fool her; that was certain.

Her hand gripped tightly to Frodo's, she was almost afraid to let go of him. He and Bilbo were the only ones she could trust. The power of the Rings the Hobbits and Willow bore mystically connected them - only one bearer could trust another. They'd not steered her wrong yet, either. If not for them, she wouldn't have seen Buffy, Xander and Giles for their true selves. She owed them for opening her eyes.

"Endless lies," Frodo replied, never taking his eyes off the unseen path ahead of them. "Elves are not as pious as they would have you think. They, too, have their darker side. You mustn't believe a word she tells you, Willow."

Willow stumbled along in the dark behind him, nodding. "Okay, I trust you," she replied. She nearly tripped on a stone. "Where are you taking me, anyway?" She noticed the red light grew brighter as she followed Frodo's lead. She glanced over her shoulder - the Elven city in Lothlorien was no longer visible. Yet, she wasn't scared.

"You haven't any worries," he answered. He kept going, leading her farther away and deeper into the woods. The red glow became brighter and brighter, however. "The more distance we put between us and them, it is all the better."

Soon, they reached a small clearing. The dream Hobbit let go of Willow's hand and turned to face her.

"What are we doing out here?" Willow inquired as she looked around. There was another presence here; it was very distinct. She looked down at her hand when she noticed the piece of finely crafted jewelry glowed. "I didn't mention it the last time I saw you," she started then she looked to him. "The ring - it's stuck on my finger." She held it up so he could see. "Why is that?"

"The more you use it, the more it becomes a part of you. And the stronger our connection grows. Do you not feel it?"

She paused before nodding, and said, "I do, now that you bring it up." Only in her dreams did she feel totally safe and at ease these days. The two Hobbits kept her well informed and provided her with company during the night. Yes, she did feel more linked with them than any other beings in Middle-earth, including her so-called friends.

"You're quite safe." He offered a smile to her. He turned, his smile quickly faded. "I brought you here to show you something." He pointed to the South, drawing her attention to the figures in the field. "You should recognize them, I think."

Willow narrowed her gaze. "It's ... it's us. I mean, Buffy, Giles, Xander and me. What's this about?" When the Hobbit didn't answer her query, she concentrated on the scene playing out before her. The three of them argued with the dream version of Willow - they wanted to take the ring from her. The confrontation was turning for the worse when Willow refused to relinquish her treasure. "I don't understand. Is this the future?"

"Shh." Frodo directed her attention back to the scene. "Take heed."

Willow gasped when Buffy drew her sword and advanced on the dream Willow. "Oh my God," she murmured, her hand flying to her mouth. She shook her head from side to side, her eyes wide in disbelief. This couldn't be the future. Sure, the others were jealous of her, but to go so far as to kill her? She blinked and her hand dropped to her side. "They're ... they're ... they wouldn't." She looked down at Frodo. "Tell me this isn't the future. This won't happen."

"It is only a possible future, Willow," Frodo assured her. He crossed around behind her, never taking his eyes off the girl. "You have the power to change futures. This can happen -" He nodded in the direction of the four figures. "- but you can prevent it. You are able to safeguard yourself against it."

Willow shook her head again, not quite clear where Frodo was going with this. She lowered her gaze to him; she saw that serious expression he wore. "Prevent it? How do I prevent it from happening? Other than giving up the ring, which I won't do, there isn't a way to prevent it." She watched as the Hobbit continued to circle her, almost like an animal would a piece of prey. "You have to tell me what to do."

He settled himself in front of her, stared straight into her eyes for a moment before he replied, "You already know the answer, Willow. You do not need me to tell you what you must do."

Willow gazed down at him as she tried to think of the answer. [What could he mean? There aren't many ways to prevent this from happening. I mean, unless I -] Her eyes grew wider as the reality struck her. Frodo nodded solemnly when Willow flicked her eyes back to him. "You ... you want me to kill them?" she asked almost in a whisper. "I - I don't think I could ... "

She started to back away from him but he grabbed her hand, stopping her. "You must, if you expect to survive," he said. "This isn't of your making, Willow, you are not responsible for the feelings of others, of those who claimed to be friends. You have power which they can only dream of and they will take it from you, kill you for it, you must strike them first."

Willow lowered her gaze to their clasped hands. She felt safe. And as she considered his words, the more she knew Frodo was right. The memory of Giles's threat back at the pass in the Misty Mountains - he was furious enough to kill. She wouldn't put it past him - him and his Ripper reputation. Then Buffy - She could easily go the Faith route, and Xander would follow whatever lead she offered.

Her eyes half closed as she felt a blanket of comforting warmth wrap itself around her. [Yes, Willow, you'll have to protect yourself,] she thought. Her eyes opened fully again and she sighed. Deep inside, it saddened her to think things had deteriorated to this point between them. She was forced to do something that she never believed herself to be capable of because of it.

"I guess you're right," she finally said. Her attention shifted away from him, towards the origin of the red glow in the South. "Are you ever going to tell me what that is, Frodo?" she asked, nodding towards the light. "It's always with us."

"It is the power that binds us," he answered. "That is all you need to know." He turned suddenly and stood completely still as if listening for something. "My time here is done. I must go," he told her as he faced her once more. "Remember - believe nothing the Elf-witch tells you."

She nodded a little. "I won't. I only believe you." She let go of his hand against her will.

As soon as their hands parted, Willow felt her body drawn backwards, back to the city in Lothlorien. The protective force that had enveloped her in the dream remained as she slowly awoke from her sleep. Her eyelids fluttered open and she pushed herself up from the floor, yawning. Evening drew near - the sun had moved quite a bit in the sky since she'd laid down to rest.

Rubbing her eyes with her fingers, she yawned, and she stretched her arms over her head. Frodo's warnings emerged in her conscious mind as she dropped her arms back down. The Elf-witch would lie to her. And the others would kill her, if she didn't do something about them first. She bit her lower lip, frowning. She didn't know if she'd be able to follow through with it, though. Then again, maybe she wouldn't have to. He'd said it was only a possible future.

"Willow?" Buffy softly said as she entered the flet. She was uneasy as she approached her friend. Willow had been muttering in that weird foreign language in her sleep again. Plus, that look in the redhead's eyes didn't comfort her any. "Are you feeling all right?"

Willow stood up quickly. She nodded, and then noted the quiver of arrows Buffy had slung over her shoulder. "Yes. I feel just fine," she replied. She met Buffy's gaze. Flashes of the dream hit her - she saw the dream Buffy draw the sword and advance on the dream version of herself. She blinked rapidly. "I needed some sleep. We've been traveling relentlessly the last few days."

Buffy nodded. "Yeah, we have. Look, I think this big gathering's about to happen with this Elf lady. Giles sent me up to get you." She paused. Willow seemed more jittery than usual. Hopefully these Elves would know what to do so they could get home. Willow's behavior was increasingly erratic and frightening. "So, um, yeah. We should get going, then, okay?"

"Oh, yes, of course. Let's go." Willow gestured for Buffy to go first. As she followed the Slayer down, her eyes burrowed into the back of her head. [I could push her off. It would be easy to say it was an accident, right?] She placed a hand to her temple, blinking a few times as she let the murderous thoughts pass away. [God, what am I thinking? How can I protect myself without killing them?]

[You can't, Willow.]

-

The feast was both more and less regal than that on the last evening in Rivendell. Less in that it was certainly more rustic, or perhaps more humble, than the marble and mosaics of Elrond's house. But more regal, too, in part because of the presence of so many noble Elves, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel chief among them, and in part because of the hallowed ground on which they sat, the very heart of the blessed realm of Lothlorien.

The Elves, though, were discontent. Their faces were grave and they spoke long and grimly in their own language, which only Elenya of all the Men present understood and she only in part. After a time, they realized their guests' confusion and once again spoke in the language of Man.

"Forgive us," Lord Celeborn said. "It has been many years since we have supped with any but other Elves. But there was a shadow over Lothlorien as there has not been in a long age."

"Even so, we should not forsake our guests," the Lady Galadriel added. "They have traveled long roads to reach this land. As for that matter." She rose up, gave her leave to the other Elves, and, beckoning the visitors, departed from the hilltop. They followed her through the forest until they came to a small clearing lit only by the stars.

There, Galadriel stopped and turned to them. "Now, let us speak of that in privacy. I alone of all the Galadhrim know of Darius of Londinium and his strange doom. Long years ago, at least in the reckoning of Men, did he come and go on his way."

"So he was from our time?" Buffy asked.

"I don't imagine he was," Giles said before Galadriel could respond. "Londinium is the ancient Latin name for London. It hasn't been used for some fifteen centuries."

"As I thought. His manners were greatly different from your own, and more akin to those of the Men of this age." She smiled, but sadly. "When he came here, driven by what whim or will I do not know, Darius had little grip on his wits. He ranted and raved for many days, for even all my healing arts were slow to tend his wounds of mind and body. In time, though, he returned from the strange realms of his delirium."

Pausing in her tale, she walked over to the bank of a small stream and stared down at the crystalline waters. "It was here, on this very spot, that he told me and Celeborn, and Arwen our granddaughter, of the voyage that brought him to Middle-Earth. It was long and not relevant to your plight, I think. Suffice to say that strange sorcery carried Darius and his fellows, for many men came with him across the mists of time, from his age to ours."

"What kinda sorcery?" Willow asked then looked down when Galadriel glanced at her.

"I know not. It seems that some things, at least, have grown and not diminished between this time and yours. Magic that only the Powers of Valinor can wield now is commonplace in your world, I think. The ways by which he came here are a mystery to me, as are the ways by which he returned. Or at least, that is my hope. I know not his final fate."

Giles frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"

"When he had recovered well and truly, I sent him from this place. Not mindlessly or cruelly, but to find his way home. For it came to me in a dream that there is but one alone in all of Middle-Earth who could show him the path. The Wizard Pallando, of the same order as Gandalf whom you know, sees farther and clearer than any save the Valar themselves."

"Another Wizard? Great. The last one wasn't really helpful, you know," Xander said, breaking his reluctance to question Galadriel.

"Question not Gandalf. He bears many burdens of which he cannot speak," Galadriel chided gently. "As do I. But in this matter, I can say that the end is in sight. All has come together to bring you to the end, for good or ill. You were brought first to one who knew the truth of what you said, and then, by a long road, to me, who knows where you must now go. And you have one with you who can guide you safely along the last leg of your travels. This is not mere chance." Her eyes seemed to reflect the bright stars above for a moment. "Not all of your allies can be seen. Take comfort in that, and in the strength of your hearts, and none of you will fall when the moment of truth comes."

She lowered her head and smiled again - the light was gone from her eyes. "Now, let us rest. In the morning, I shall set you on the way."

[Great, lotta help she was. Just like Frodo said,] Willow thought as they left the clearing.

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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