The Maids of Mithlond: End of an Age - Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Nildarien's elation seemed unending. She just couldn't seem to smile or laugh enough and Telden was the same.
Nildarien had been rather shocked at her lover's tale of his wanderings. The man had been everywhere. She'd also been surprised at the number of languages he could speak: both Quenya and Sindarin, Dwarvish, Common, Adûnaic, Rohirric, and even a bit of the Black Tongue, though he wouldn't say where he'd picked it up.
Naturally, all Nildarien felt like doing was spend time with Telden. They still had much to talk about despite that they had spent nearly the entire ride from Helm's Deep to Dunharrow doing just that.
But however much she wanted to, Nildarien could not idle away her time; she had a task to do-and wasn't sure how to do it.
"Why so quiet, love?" Telden's voice cut into her thoughts. "You've hardly spoken since we arrived."
Nildarien looked up with a frown. "I haven't?" Thinking back she realized he was right; she'd said very little when they'd come to Dunharrow, and nothing at all during supper. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just there's something...of great consequence on my mind and it's demanding my attention."
"I see," Telden said. "Then I'll let you think. I'm going out for a walk. Goodnight."
He kissed her cheek and left.
Nildarien sighed and stared back down at the table, hoping desperately for some vague idea to hit her.
* * *
Telden slipped out of the pavilion into the night, letting the darkness fold around him like it had so many times before. On silent feet he made his way to the paddock and vaulted over the fence. Not a very wise thing to do, perhaps, but Telden had never been all that cautious. Besides, he was good with horses.
Luckily, the one he wanted was at the edge of the grouping. It watched him with faint curiosity, no doubt wondering what he was up to.
Telden came closer, but the young stallion, Hárelir if he was remembering correctly, didn't shy. Very softly, so softly that it was barely audible, he whispered a phrase in Adûnaic, the dead tongue of Númenor. Hárelir's ears flicked forward and he snorted.
"Yes," Telden whispered again, this time in Rohirric. "You know those words." He came forward until his face was inches from the horse's, and gently lay his forehead against his with closed eyes. "You're one of hers; one of Finariel's. I can always tell..."
Telden backed away, feeling suddenly very raw inside. Before he could stop it, a memory slipped past his mental barricade; one of the worst...
...She looked so fragile lying there; as if she were made of glass and the slightest rough movement might break her. He didn't want that to happen, but it was. She was dying and they all knew it. Deep down he was confused; being an Elf, he knew nothing of the death of mortals.
His world had narrowed and she was all he saw. Her grip on his hand was weak and her breath came in ragged gasps as she struggled to speak.
"Promise me, Telden," she whispered. "Promise you will do what we could not. Raise our banner again."
Telden felt the tears behind his eyes and when he spoke his voice was hoarse from holding them back. "I promise, Roa," he said and pressed her hand against his face. It was so cold; so very cold...
Suddenly, she shuddered and fear rose in his throat. He didn't want her to leave him; he needed her. Then she looked at him and smiled; a sad smile that was still tinged with joy.
"Don't be afraid," she murmured. "I am going home. Goodbye."
And even as he called her, his restrained tears flowing freely, her eyes closed for the last time, forever. And somewhere in the back of his mind, he whispered to himself "This is your fault."-
Grief, guilt, and hatred tore at him without remorse. Nothing was clear; he couldn't remember where he had been, where he was, or even
who he was-
Everything was blurred, spinning, obscured by a red haze. He was a tool for his rage; powerless to control himself but not really wanting to, taking a sadistic, savage pleasure in the destruction he caused-
Blood. There was blood-

With a visible jolt, Telden slammed his mental barriers on that memory. He did not want to think of that; not ever. But Roalin...he couldn't help but think of her. He was in Rohan after all, a country whose people owed their livelihood to her. He was certain of that; the Rohan horses were far too intelligent to not have come from the strands she and her family had brought from Numenor. Some like Hárelir, and many years ago, Nildarien's old mount Rahar, reminded him strongly of her. Their bright red-copper coloration was so similar to the color her hair had been and exactly the same as the coat of her favorite mare. A reminiscent smile crossed his face as he thought of her in a happier day, laughing at the antics of a new colt who hadn't quite yet mastered the use of his legs.
Telden sighed and bowed his head. Poor Roalin; she had died so young, her short mortal life cut shorter by that cursed illness.
Without really realizing it, he began to sing and a low, quiet voice the verses he'd written so long ago but never spoken:
"I ngemme vlaib dammol trî geven,
I rochaned vrui ar ann,
Onech nin aerlinn dhaer dan, mellen.
Onech lin i `Lîr-edh-Roch.

Dan hi ú-laston `emp nammol,
Ú rochaned vrui ar ann,
Ah hi gwannech, mellen,
Edlennen nin i `Lîr-edh-Roch.*
He ended abruptly as he realized what he'd done. He hadn't sung anything since...he couldn't remember, but it had been a long time. He used to take such joy from it. And others had enjoyed hearing him; he'd been all but forced to sing at many revels.
"Perhaps I will sing for Nildarien sometime," he thought, perching himself on the fence. "She might like that."
He was staring thoughtfully up at the stars when he suddenly felt severely lightheaded. Knowing what was about to happen, he tumbled off the fence, landing outside of the paddock, and gritted his teeth as the pain hit him.
Telden was accustomed to these headaches by now, having endured them for several thousand years. Still, they were the most torturous things, and every time he wished he would simply black out from the pain like he had the first time.
After several minutes the feeling that his skull was being split had passed, thought it left his head pounding and him feeling more than a little dizzy. Rather than risk trying to find his lodging in this condition, he sat at the base of a fencepost for a while, thinking.
"I brought this on myself."
How many of the others were thinking that? All of them, of course.
"I wonder if this ever happens to Elrond, or Galadriel, or Gandalf?" he thought. "Probably not. Lucky, aren't they?"
He sighed; no, they weren't really lucky. They had to keep the Three.
"It must be worse for them, then," he mused. "Or different. I don't know how they handle it; all that power..." He shuddered at the thought.
Telden had never agreed with his master, Celebrimbor, on account of the Three. He'd warned him a hundred times over not to make them so powerful, but he hadn't listened.
"That's what makes their bearers so great, I suppose; that they can keep a tight rein on their charges. I know I could never do that."
Telden shuddered again. He'd merely transported the Three to their hiding places. He had never once tried to use them, and that alone had put a severe mental strain on him.
It was strange sometimes, knowing the Three were safe because of him. He'd never really gotten used to the idea, thought it seemed to interest Galadriel for some reason.
Telden sighed and got up. His head was still throbbing, but at least the world no longer seemed to be spinning. He walked back into camp and knew instantly that he'd misjudged himself as the firelight sent lances of pain through his already sore head. It didn't help his rather unstable temper at all.
After a few inquiries, he was directed to a fairly large tent where he was told he would be sleeping. Without a word to his helper, he tore back the flap and stormed in.
The only occupant was Legolas, who started at his friend's sudden arrival. Telden simply looked around then collapsed onto the nearest cot with a loud sigh, covering his face to block out the light. He hated light right now.
"Something wrong, Telden?" Legolas asked.
"Headache," he mumbled.
"What from?" Legolas inquired, sounding suspicious. "You haven't-"
"Don't be ridiculous," Telden growled. "It's nothing of the sort. I simply have a headache."
"Whatever you say. Now what's really bothering you?"
"Would you like me to hurt you?" Telden snarled, his tone vicious, but never moving from his place.
"You won't," Legolas shrugged.
"I've tried to before."
"True, but you were stopped."
Telden sat up, wincing as the light hit his eyes. "But there's no one here to stop me now."
"You still won't."
"Why not?"
"Don't answer that." He fell back, covering his face again.
"Fine. Now what is wrong with you?"
Telden swore. "For the love of Eru, Legolas! If you value you life, be quiet!"
Legolas rolled his eyes and surrendered with a shake of his head. He would get nothing out of Telden while he was in this mood.
"I'm sorry," Telden said suddenly. "I have no right to act like this. What did you ask me?"
"There's clearly something on your mind. What?"
Telden sighed; maybe it would do him some good to get this off his chest.
"I'm a smith, Legolas," he said at last. "That fact, and another, ties me to this war. You asked me once if I'd ever worked with the one who called himself Annatar and I told you I had, but only once. Do you know what I made during that one time I worked with him?"
"I made one of the Nine, Legolas. Do you know what that means for me?"
"For one, it makes me partially responsible for this war. For another, it means that I, and many others of my kind, are linked to the One Ring itself-by blood and soul."
"What do you mean `by blood and soul'?" Legolas asked, sure he wouldn't like the answer.
"The making of a greater Ring requires much from the maker," Telden said, sounding as though he were reciting a lesson. "There is both a physical and a mental component." He paused and sat up, looking at Legolas. "It was by no means an enjoyable process," he said. "It hurt terribly. The physical component was blood, as you probably guessed, and drawing it really didn't hurt that badly. It was the mental component that was so hard to endure. I...I can't describe it; there are no words for that kind of suffering."
There was a silence before he continued.
"And sometimes Sauron decides to remind us fools that he has some power over us," he said. "That is why I get these headaches. The connection has proved to have its uses, though. I can feel the Rings which is how I knew the One had been found all those years ago-and its why we were never caught by a Nazgûl, in case you had ever wondered."
"I had," Legolas said with a slight grin. "Though it still would have been easier for you to tell me why we couldn't have stopped at that village instead of turning cryptic on me."
Telden laughed a little. "True, but I thought you might panic; after all, you were only a boy, and a seemingly sheltered one at that!"
Legolas sighed in exasperation. "I'll never hear the end of this!" Then, "Are you alright?" he asked as Telden suddenly leapt to his feet.
" mean, yes...I think," Telden said, a rather strained look on his face. "There's something...never mind; I-I'm going back out."
He turned and very quickly exited the tent, leaving Legolas in a state of utter bewilderment.
* * *
"What have I gotten myself into?" Nildarien thought for about the hundredth time that night as she followed Éowyn away from the main pavilion. It wasn't that she didn't know what she had to do; Galadriel had been very clear about it: make sure Éowyn gets what she wants. Apparently, it was very important. The only problem was that Nildarien hadn't the foggiest notion of what she wanted.
She stopped suddenly as she heard Éowyn hail Aragorn. She listened in silence, waiting in the shadows and praying for an answer.
*"Lord," she heard Éowyn say. "If you must go, then let me ride in your following. For I am weary of skulking in the hills, and wish to face peril and battle."
*"Your duty is with your people," Aragorn told her.
And then it made sense; Éowyn looked to follow the warrior's path but was hindered on all sides.
"Hmm. I know what that's like," Nildarien thought.
She waited until Éowyn had gone several steps past her before she left her hiding place and called her back.
The young woman turned and looked at her sadly. "Did you hear all that I said?" she asked.
Nildarien nodded. "I did."
"Do you think it foolish that I desire armor and a sword in my fist in stead of skirts and a needle to ply?"
Nildarien lifted and eyebrow and motioned to what she wore. "I would be a hypocrite if I did."
"Why do you ride to war?" Éowyn asked suddenly. "Have you some purpose?"
"None, save to oppose Sauron," Nildarien said truthfully.
"Aye, that is the cause of many. But you are as much a woman as I, for all that you are an Elf. Why does the Lord Aragorn not forbid you ride as well?"
Nildarien smiled. "He has no power over me, though respect him as my captain and future king, I do. I am his elder and some time his teacher and I will go where so ere please whether I have his consent or no."
"I am not so blind that I cannot see your meaning," Éowyn said with a rather sly smile. "You tell me to openly defy him."
"Not entirely," Nildarien said and changed her approach, playing on the faint mystery that surrounded the Elven race to give a slight prophetic feel to her words. "I cannot say why, but I think it is essential-most essential-that you ride to war. My advice is this: if you wish to be a warrior in Aragorn's following, entreat him once more. And if he refuse, then do what you will. It is entirely your decision."
"You advise me to rebel against his word?" Éowyn asked, but her tone suggested she already understood.
Nildarien gave her a devilish grin. "A rebel counsels rebellion," she said and disappeared into the darkness, not fully knowing what she had set in motion.
* * *
Shedheniel hit the ground with a thud, her head searing with a headache that nearly split her skull. On the floor she writhed until the pain dulled. What had she seen?
"Shedheniel!" Nildarien rushed in to find her twin on the ground, chilled to the bone.
"It's nothing, nothing. Just a headache." Shedheniel waved her away and stood on shaking legs. "I'm-uh-going for a walk," she said, rushing from the tent before her sister could stop her. She may have felt his pain, but this was the first time she'd seen...
Telden, outside again, looked up to see Shedheniel sprinting toward him. Her brow glowed with a cold sweat and her face was pale beneath the moonlight.
"Shedheniel, what-" he began but she cut him off.
"What mad sickness ails you, brother?" she asked, rubbing her forehead. "What ails you?"
Telden gaped at her. "How could you possibly know?" Then, as if she'd answered his question (though she hadn't) he smiled. "And what magnificent power do you wield, O' lady of the moonlight?"
Now it was Shedheniel's turn to be shocked.
"I-I feel other people's pain, but I..." she trailed off. It wasn't possible, was it? She'd never done it before. But it must have triggered something major...She'd seen his memories.
"Who is Roa?"
"You saw my memory, too?!"
"I guess. I've never done it before." Shedheniel looked at her feet with a sigh.
"Come," Telden motioned towards the stable. "We both have some explaining to do."
* * *
Shedheniel had no more that opened her mouth when Telden cut her off.
"I claim the first question," he declared.
Still a bit shaken by her experience, Shedheniel blurted out the first thing that came to her mind, "What? Why?"
Telden actually laughed. "Because I've got years on you, of course. The law of seniority, youngling!"
Shedheniel blinked, surprised, then smiled. "Very well," she said. "The scant total of my years bows to the great sum of yours. Ask."
Telden's entire mood seemed to change in a heartbeat and the look he gave her made her feel distinctly on edge.
"How did you see my memory?" he asked.
"I...don't know," Shedheniel said uneasily. "It's-I've never done it before." She paused, thinking of how best to word what she had to say. "I have this ability, like Nildarien's but different, to feel the pain of others. Most of the time it's emotional, but sometimes it's physical. I guess you emotions were so closely tied to that memory that I sort of...picked it up, too."
"How much did you see?"
"The red-haired woman died," Shedheniel said, trying to sort out the steady flow of emotion she was receiving. "And then it was all very confused until-"
"Until you saw the blood," Telden cut in. Shedheniel could only nod; she really did not like what she was receiving from him. She couldn't place what it was, but it frightened her.
"Who-who was Roa?" she asked finally.
"If you think she was my lover then you're very wrong," Telden said. "I know it may have seemed that way, but that's not what she was to me."
Shedheniel mentally sighed in relief. Though she'd thought the prospect unlikely, she hadn't dismissed the idea. Such situations were extremely rare, but still possible.
"Roa-Roalin was her full name-was a mortal, a Numenorean," Telden said, leaning on the door of an empty stall and staring blankly at the floor. "She and her three sisters lived near the mouth of what is now the river Isen. They were there well before the rest of the Numenoreans because of their father-I never met him. Roa told me he'd vanished two years after settling, but they kept with the family trade. They worked with horses: breeding, selling, gentling, but never breaking. They viewed that as cruelty.
Roalin was the oldest, twenty-five, I think. She was a strong, but still beautiful, woman with violently red hair- they were all of them redheads, except for one. She was quiet and kind, the most selfless mortal I've ever met. And she had an extraordinary gift with horses. She could take an angry stallion straight from the plains and have him under saddle and rider in an hour. She told me that she understood her horses far better than she did other people."
Telden paused only to shift his position and continued.
"When Roa first became ill, I didn't think much of it. No one did, not even her. And then one day-I remember it like this morning. She'd been coughing badly all day, but this time she couldn't stop. I asked her if she was all right; she told me not to worry. And then she just...crumbled. I caught her and there was blood at the corner of her mouth. After that, we tried everything, but by then it was too late. Despite all we did, she just kept getting weaker, frailer until..." He stopped and his next words were in a whisper. "She had to go home."
Shedheniel had no reply. The sorrow and pain were intense; she wanted to comfort him, but for the first time she wasn't sure how. Then, before she'd even thought a word, she sensed a new emotion rapidly smothering the sadness: guilt.
Curious, she tried to "read" it; trace it back to the reason-and she found it.
Telden blamed himself for Roalin's death.
Shedheniel came closer and placed a hand on his shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, Telden," she said softly.
The older Elf looked at her sharply, almost angrily. "What do you know of fault?" he snapped and Shedheniel backed up, frightened. He came toward her. "Nothing! Nothing!" He didn't sound like himself. "You don't know-you can't know!"
The guilt he projected was almost enough to make Shedheniel sick. And what was this other feeling? It was strange and frightening and it made her skin crawl.
"You can't know what it's like," Telden said, quieter, but the voice was still not his own. "How could you understand?"
He was close to her now, and the look in his eyes would have made an Orc fall to its knees and weep-and Shedheniel was possessed of a heart far gentler than that. She cried for him and she cried for herself; she was afraid of him.
He reached out to touch her and Shedheniel fought a strong urge to recoil.
"You can't understand this," Telden said, lifting her chin as though she were a child. "You're too- you're so-" Suddenly, he grabbed hold of her hands and turned them over several times. A short laugh escaped him. "They're clean," he said and dropped them. "I can't do this-you won't-you can't understand-no one can..."
He turned away from her, leaning against the wall, one hand pressed to his forehead. Shedheniel wiped the tears off her face and came closer, despite her fear.
"No," she heard him whisper. "I won't-I can't. I don't want her scorn as well."
Shedheniel stepped back.
"What does he mean?" she thought. "Does he mean my scorn? Why would I?"
"I'm sorry, Shedheniel," Telden said, sounding like himself again. He turned back around. "I-" He stopped and Shedheniel realized he wasn't looking at her. His gaze was fixed on a point behind her and he looked half afraid and half sorrowful. He closed his eyes and whispered something too quiet for Shedheniel to hear before he brushed past her and vanished into the dark.
Shedheniel suddenly felt a distinct sensation that she was being watched. She spun around and jumped.
Standing just outside of the stable, her face obscured by shadows, was a young woman. Shedheniel knew it had to be Éowyn. Had she heard the entire conversation?
But just as she thought this, the woman stepped into the moonlight and with a brief look over her shoulder, she was gone.
Shedheniel started then stood unmoving for a moment, caught in a struggle between worry, fear, and confusion; confusion won.
What in all of Arda had just happened? Why had Telden suddenly gone so...strange? What was it that he couldn't do? The questions just kept accumulating.
Finally, after at least five minutes, Shedheniel left the stable with much more to think about then when she'd entered. She felt strangely obligated now to solve this mystery that was her sister's lover. She was worried about him, as well, for unless she was very wrong, which she doubted, Telden had far worse memories than the one that she'd seen; that was all she could be sure of.
That, and that the woman she'd seen at the stable had most definitely not been Éowyn.

*Translation-Lament for Roalin:
The hoofbeats drumming through the earth,
The neighing loud and long,
You gave me that great hymn, my dear.
You gave me the Horse's Song.

Yet now I hear no drumming hooves,
No neighing loud and long,
For now that you are gone, my dear,
I've lost the Horse's Song.

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