Chapter 2: Heroes and Demons
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Spike was off the back of the horse and racing towards the pile of burning bodies before Aragorn had even drawn their mount to a halt. The scent of charred, burning flesh assaulted his nostrils, the stench so great it nearly overwhelmed his sensitive nose. He raced in a circle around the pile, desperately trying to distinguish the Slayer’s scent from that of the other demons.
Praying that she wasn’t buried somewhere in the stack of bodies.
Intent on the mass of demon remains, he neither saw nor cared what the others were doing. Hysteria was welling within him the longer his gaze remained locked on severed arms and legs piled haphazardly one atop the other. Inside his demon was howling in outrage, the petite blonde having been viewed as his mate.
He wanted to search out the Rohirrim that had done this – taken his girl from him – cut out their hearts as surely as his own unbeating muscle had been torn from his chest. Even knowing, that logically, the soldiers had been fighting at night and had probably not seen either the Slayer or the hobbits scrambling about. Hell, even under ideal conditions, the heat of battle would make it difficult to stay their hand. Bloodlust was a terrible thing, consuming the mind to the exclusion of all else. That the small band of soldiers were doing it in retribution – nay, defiance – of their overlord, just compounded the problem.
Falling to his knees, the vampire threw back his head and let loose with a mournful wail. The wind carried his grief, echoing the tortured sound over and over until it finally faded in strength. His shoulders shook quietly, his head now bowed, unable to look at the charred heap.
The adrenaline and sheer determination he’d hoarded since the Slayer and the others had been taken left him in a rush, and he fell wearily back on his haunches.
‘’m so sorry, luv.’
He stayed like that for what seemed like hours, oblivious to the continued scouting conducted by both his brother and the elf – Gimli quiet at their heels, unwilling to remain with the distraught Ranger.
“Kriger, come here,” Legolas called out. “Aragorn has found something.”
It took awhile for the words to penetrate the fog, and when they finally did, he unashamedly lifted his tear-streaked face to take in the understanding gaze of the elf.
“She’s not in there,” he told the vampire quietly. “There are tracks…three sets of them… fleeing into Fangorn Forest.”
“We must hurry, Kriger.” He didn’t mention the voices he could hear, blowing on the wind. Angry voices. Whispering their rage. With the hope of the blonde girl being alive now rekindled, the elf knew there wasn’t a place his friend would not go to look for her.
The four had fanned out after venturing deeper into the forest, Spike taking the lead the moment the Slayer’s scent hit his nostrils. He would have run ahead, but the overgrowth made it all but impossible. Instead, he settled for a brisk walking, sometimes jogging when a path was visible. All around angry whispers set his fangs on edge; Spike knew something was out there, but could not distinguish the source of the enraged mutterings.
A short distance away, Legolas and Aragorn stood motionless. The elf was looking to his left, eyeing the hidden shadows warily.
“What is it? What do you see?” the Ranger whispered in elvish.
“The White Wizard approaches…” Legolas responded in kind, his low voice barely distinguishable to the other.
Aragorn let out a soft whistle, alerting his brother to the impending danger. His hand slowly drew his blade soundlessly from its sheath while the elf simultaneously nocked an arrow in his bow. The dwarf, seeing the others’ moves, tightened his grip upon his axe, ready to back them up if the need arose.
“Do not let him speak,” Aragorn told the others quietly. “He will put a spell on us. We must be quick.”
The Ranger suddenly rushed forward, his sword bent on cleaving the evil sorcerer in two. His brother had heard his warning call and launched himself at the white figure at the same time, only from a different angle, while Legolas let loose his arrow.
The bright light was blinding in its intensity, and the four were unable to see anything but that as their attack was easily deflected by the wizard. In mid launch, Spike was flung against a tree, pinned there by an invisible force. The arrow easily deflected by the wave of the sorcerer’s staff. Aragorn’s sword grew to a flaming red, and he cried out at the pain from the heat, dropping it to the ground when it became too much.
“You are tracking the footsteps of two hobbits and a girl,” a gravely voice intoned.
“Where are they?” Spike growled from his braced position against the tree trunk.
“They passed this way some time ago. They met someone they did not expect…” The white figure paused for a moment, his eyes scanning those of each remaining member of the Fellowship. “Does that comfort you?”
“Who are you?” Aragorn demanded. “Show yourself!”
Gandalf released the vampire from his hold and allowed him to fall to his feet as he stepped forward and out of the shadows.
“It cannot be…” Aragorn whispered, sinking to his knees. “You fell.”
The wizard spoke of his time in Moria. About his battle with the Balrog. How, upon finally defeating the fiery beast, he’d drifted for a time among the stars before being brought back to life.
“I’ve been sent back, until my task is done,” he finally told them.
“Gandalf?” Spike whispered, drawing alongside his brother.
“Gandalf? Yes. That was what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. That was my name.”
“Er…” the vampire began, not understanding their wizard friend’s amnesia.
“I am Gandalf the White. I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide. Come.”
The four retrieved their weapons and belongings and followed Gandalf out of the forest.
“One stage of your journey is over, another begins. War has come to Rohan. We must run to Edoras with all speed,” he told them.
“But what about Buffy? And the wee lads?” Spike asked, not liking the idea of her being out there alone without protection.
“Our friend, the Ent, will see to the three. Keep them safe—”
“But…” Spike stopped at the edge of the forest, ready to leave them there and track his Slayer.
“Kriger, your place is by Aragorn’s side. Your being here has a purpose that is only now being realized. Buffy knew the risks involved at joining the Fellowship and she has her own reason for being.” Gandalf stepped up to the vampire, laying a hand on his shoulder.
Spike wanted to deny it. It had been hard enough to let Frodo break from the group with nothing more than another hobbit to guard his back. Now his friend wanted him to let go the girl. He didn’t think he could. His head even began to shake in the negative, eyes wide with panic as he fought against what had been foretold long before he was thrust upon Middle Earth.
“Faith, my brother. Time will out…” Aragorn walked away to retrieve their two mounts.
Gandalf looked at the lost Ranger, who stood there waging a silent battle with himself. He finally turned away, letting out a shrill whistle that echoed across the plains.
“That is one of the Mearas, unless my eyes are cheated by some spell,” Legolas murmured in awe of the white stallion galloping towards them.
“Shadowfax,” the wizard confirmed. “He is the lord of all horses…and has been my friend through many dangers.”
The stallion drew to a ground-jarring halt, kicking up dirt on the feet of those who stood before him. He snorted, tossing his head about, then stood proudly before Gandalf. The wizard murmured appreciatively, running an affectionate hand along the horse’s nose.
“Kriger,” Gandalf called out. “Come say hello to Shelerof’s sire.”
“Edoras, and the Golden Hall of Meduseld,” Gandalf announcing, drawing his horse to a halt outside the fortress nestled upon the low-lying hills. Legolas and Aragorn did the same. In the distance lay the snow-capped White Mountains, the natural border between Rohan and Gondor.
They sat there for a moment, staring up at the barren-looking stronghold the Theoden King was currently residing within. It was quiet; the sounds that normally marked the hustle and bustle of a thriving community, absent. Disgusted, the wizard kicked his mount, urging them forward.
Inside the fortress, they slowly led their mounts up the hill towards the King’s hall. Men, women, and children stood around, garbed in black, their faces somber and showing a lack of good cheer upon the arrival of allies.
“You’ll find more cheer in a graveyard,” Gimli commented.
“Place reeks of death,” Spike replied.
They relinquished their horses to the stable master and climbed the steps leading to Theoden’s hall. Spike bit back a smirk as the wizened old man gave Shadowfax a wide birth, allowing the stallion to seek his own stall.
As the five went to open the doors and gain entry into the hall, they opened abruptly, and a man, the king’s first in command, halted their progress.
“I cannot allow you before my Theoden king so armed, Gandalf Greyhame. By order of… Grima Wormtongue.” Hama just barely refrained from sneering the man’s name.
Spike snorted and began removing his sword, bow, and dagger – all easily visible on his person – before he moved on to the next round. After another half dozen items were passed over, the vampire stopped. The remainder he’d keep hidden, knowing that the king’s man was probably unaware of their existence. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli followed in a like fashion, divesting themselves of their weaponry, until four men were burdened under the weight of steel and wood.
Gandalf was set to walk in when he was stopped by the man.
“Your staff…” Hama gestured to the tall wooden pole.
“Hmm… Oh! You would not part an old man from his walking stick?”
The guard nodded reluctantly and waved the group inside.
“The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Theoden King.” The wizard’s voice boomed throughout the room causing conversations to cease and eyes to turn toward the newcomers warily.
From his advisor’s seat next to the king, Grima leaned over and spoke quietly in the elderly king’s ear. “He is not welcome.”
“Why should I welcome you, Gandalf the Grey.” The king’s voice was rough from disuse, and from the wizard’s possession of his mind.
“A just question, my liege,” Grima confirmed, his voice low. With all eyes now on him and confident in the power he possessed, Grima stood and in a booming voice declared, “Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear. Lathspell I name you. Ill news is an ill guest.”
“Be silent!” Gandalf’s voice was heavy with disgust as Saruman’s spy dared approach him. “Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a witless worm.”
Grima backed away, frightened, only now seeing the staff held in the wizard’s hand. He looked around frantically at the guards, shouting, “His staff. I told you to take his staff.”
A few of the soldiers that stood sentry about the room rushed forward; Spike, Aragorn, and Legolas easily disarmed them, allowing Gandalf to move closer to the Theoden King. Gimli stopped the evil sorcerer’s spy from leaving the hall.
“Theoden! Son of Thengel! Too long have you sat in the shadows.” The wizard walked further into the room until he stood at the bottom step to the raised platform where the Theoden King sat. “Hearken to me. I release you…” Gandalf closed his eyes, raising his hand to draw out the poison that was Saruman. “…from this spell.”
The possessed Theoden began to laugh, sinister-like, as the power of the evil wizard controlled him. “You have no power here… Gandalf the Grey,” the man intoned.
Without speaking, Gandalf threw off his cloak, revealing his white garb. Power flooded through his body, the force of which drove the Theoden King against the back of his chair. “I will draw you, Saruman, like poison is drawn from a wound.” The wizard brought forth his staff, driving the man back into the chair again.
Saruman hissed, trying not to succumb to the other’s magic. “If I go, Theoden dies.”
Spike sensed the girl before she tried to cross his and Aragorn’s path, desperate to reach the Theoden King. He easily snagged the girl’s arm, giving her a quiet command to wait.
Together, the two watched as the two white wizards did battle to free the man.
“You did not kill me,” Gandalf yelled. “You will not kill him.” He slowly climbed the steps until he stood just before the King, lowering his staff close to the man’s head.
“Rohan is mine!” Saruman hissed.
The King lunged for Gandalf, and the wizard struck him upon the head with his staff – driving out the evil sorcerer.
Willow watched with some worry as her master went skidding across the black floor. She rushed to his side, kneeling down to help him to his feet.
“Master, what is it?” she asked.
“Gandalf…” he croaked, then lay silent.
Gandalf stood heaving after the battle of wills with Saruman. Spike, seeing that the wizard had won, urged the girl forward to her King.
Eowyn caught her uncle before he could fall from his perch, helping to resettle him back in his seat. She – like the others that stood gaping about the hall – watched as the cloudiness left the man’s eyes; the wrinkles disappeared, and his long, aged white hair returned to his former glory, a shorter, blonder hue.
“I know your face,” the Theoden king whispered. “Eowyn…. Eowyn.”
The girl smiled up at her King, pleased at his return, tears of gratitude flooding her eyes.
Theoden looked up in confusion to see the wizard standing there. “Gandalf?”
“Breathe the free air again, my friend.”
“Dark have been my dreams of late.” He glanced around his hall, then down at his own hands. He clenched and unclenched his sword hand, seemingly refamiliarizing himself with his own body.
“Your fingers would remember their own strength better if they grasped your sword,” the wizard told him.
By some unspoken command, the King’s man, Hama, stepped forward, bearing his liege’s sword. Theoden looked at the steel being presented him; his hand reached out shakily, then firmly grasped its hilt. He drew it from its scabbard, holding it high for all to see.
“Helm’s Deep!” Spike grumbled. “They flee to the mountains when they should stand and fight. Who will defend them if not their king? Bah!”
“He is only doing what he thinks is best for his people,” Aragorn murmured in elvish. “Helm’s Deep has saved them in the past.”
“Kriger is right. There is no way out of that ravine. Theoden is walking into a trap. He thinks he is leading them to safety. What they will get is a massacre. Theoden has a strong will, but I fear for him. I fear for the survival of Rohan and its people. He will need you before the end, Aragorn. The defenses have to hold.”
“The defenses will hold,” Spike vowed.
Gandalf smiled at the Ranger, then gained Shadowfax’s back. “Three hundred lives of men I've walked this earth and now I have no time. With luck my search will not be in vain. Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.”
“Go!” Aragorn told him.
The wizard kicked his mount and cantered out of the stables and away from Edoras.
Willow curled her lip at Saruman’s spy. That her master even gave credence to what the man spoke grated her nerves. Why would the Theoden King allow the man to live upon discovering his treachery? No, she knew his being here was a trap, and would bide her time waiting to out the fool.
“Theoden will not stay at Edoras,” Grima was saying. “It's vulnerable. He knows this. He will expect an attack on the city. They will flee to Helm's Deep. The great fortress of Rohan. It is a dangerous road to take through the mountains. They will be slow. They will have women and children with them.”
Saruman smiled, pleased with the information. After his besting at the hands of Gandalf, he was eager to redeem himself. Fear of Sauron made him hasty in his judgment. He strode through the tower, his young protégé and the other in step behind him.
Down in the caverns below Orthanc, he found Sharku – the commander of his troops.
“Send out your Warg Riders. Have them meet Theoden’s followers before they reach Helm’s Deep.”
“It will be as you say…”
“She knew why you did it,” Spike told his brother as they walked along the path towards Helm Deep. Aragorn had that distant look in his eyes, indicative of thoughts of the elven girl. “Personally, I think you’re stupid.”
“Was speaking as a father, not as the Elven King. He worries for her. His experience with Isildur has colored his judgment. He feels he cannot afford to hope.”
Aragorn sighed. “It matters naught. She flees with her people to the Undying Land.”
“If you say so…” Spike rode off, leaving his brother to ponder his words. Legolas had taken point earlier, but he had not Spike’s senses, and right now, his demon was screaming a warning.
Just then, the elf disappeared from his perch and out of sight, having grabbed his bow from its resting place upon his back. Spike kicked his horse into a gallop, wishing it was Sherelof he was riding, rather than the slower stock horse of the Theoden King. He crested the rise to see Legolas slit the demon’s throat.
“A scout,” he growled and took off for higher ground.
Spike whistled a warning to Aragorn then galloped ahead, drawing his mount to a halt next to the elf. From where both stood, it was easy to spot the Warg Riders as they crested a distant hill. Spike jumped from his horse; it was easier to shoot long range when standing on your own feet.
“Aim for the beasts,” he told the elf. Beside him, Legolas nodded and let loose his arrow.
The two managed to bring down about a half dozen of the Wargs before Theoden and the others came thundering over the rise. Legolas raced to Gimli and easily mounted the horse the dwarf struggled to ride as it galloped past. Spike didn’t bother looking for his own, knowing it had sped off upon seeing the beasts charging down upon them. Instead, he used his vampiric speed to keep pace with the men charging to meet the enemy.
The two forces came together with a loud crash. War cries and snarls rent the air. Spears and arrows flew through the sky, taking down four-legged beasts at will.
Spike kept his eye on the pack, making sure none got through and made after the women and children running hell-bent for Helm’s Deep. He felt a Warg bearing down on him and turned just in time to swing up behind the Orc before he could be run over. He easily dispatched the demon steering the beast, though on second thought figured it wasn’t such a bright idea. Without the guiding hand of the Orc, the Warg raced straight ahead and towards the cliff that loomed in the distance. He rolled his eyes at the thing’s stupidity and lack of self-preservation and made to jump from its back.
Only he couldn’t.
His arm was stuck in the leather strapped to the Warg’s back, and he ended up being dragged along the ground until the beast ran off the edge.
Spike finally managed to free himself from the Warg as they dangled in the air from their forward momentum, before gravity took over and plummeted them to the watery depths below. He didn’t hear the keening wail of the beast in its headlong descent. No, his thoughts were consumed with Buffy. And another fall…
The one he’d taken for her.
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