The Maids of Mithlond: From the Sea to the Wood - Chapter Five
"What brings you here, Legolas?"
"The same thing that brings you."
Shedheniel sighed. He always had an answer for her questions, whether they made sense to her or no.
"Isn't the Moon lovely tonight?" she said, turning her eyes to the perfect pearl in a sea of stars.
"Yes, very lovely," said Legolas, but his gaze never strayed from her. The orchestra struck up a new tune and Shedheniel changed her humming to go along with it.
"Well, Moonface-" Legolas started.
"Yes, Moonface. Might I have this dance?"
"Certainly," said Shedheniel, taking his hand.
* * *
Nildarien climbed the steps that up to the courtyard. She passed the balcony and stopped; she immediately recognized the couple dancing in the starlight.
[I]"I just can't understand what my pure-hearted sister sees in Legolas,"[/I] she thought, and walked on.
* * *
They stopped dancing and Shedheniel gazed off into the distance. Legolas longed to take her in his arms, but he knew not what this gesture would mean to her, nor if she loved him as he did her. Shedheniel gasped and stepped back right into his arms, which would have pleased him, had she not also gasped, "Oh Elbereth! Not again! Legolas, the dragon!"
"It's headed for Laketown!"
Suddenly, a high pitched shriek rang out. If Shedheniel had seemed pale before, now she was sheet white.
"That was Nildarien!" she cried, and took off. After a moment of hesitation, Legolas followed.
* * *
Nildarien's breath caught in her throat as the hideous creature burst from the summit of the mountain. She tried to fight the terror that threatened to take her mind, but she couldn't.
White claimed her vision and the roaring began again. Then, black overtook white, and with it came pain. Indescribable pain, as if being burned, and then cut deep with blades of cruel iron that chilled your heart while your body burned. She knew she hit the ground when she fell, but it didn't seem so. She screamed in agony and the pain doubled as she did. Whips of flame and shards of ice beat her without mercy. Then, fire was destroyed, but all was blackened in its last effort. The pain mounted; there was a dull searing feeling across her hands, and she sank into nothingness.
Shedheniel found her sister in the courtyard. With one swift look from Nildarien to Legolas, she shook her head and scooped her sister into her own arms.
"Shedheniel, I'll carry her," Legolas offered, but Shedheniel shook her head again.
"You need not suffer yourself to carry her," she said softly and took off towards her room, with Legolas following.
After a bit, Shedheniels sprint slowed to a jog and then nearly to a walk.
"She may be thin, but she's not easy to carry," Shedheniel thought.
She stopped halfway to her room to catch her breath.
"Let me carry her now!" Legolas argued.
"Fine... have it your way," Shedheniel sighed, and put Nildarien in his arms.
They picked up speed and made it to Shedheniel's room. She used her spare key to get into Nildarien's adjoining room. Legolas set Nildarien on the bed and Shedheniel went to the window.
"Oh, no. Oh, no..." she whispered as the enraged dragon breathed fire and smoke over Laketown. Legolas stood next to her and watched with a sad expression.
"Could you go find Telden? Something tells me she'll wake faster with him here."
Legolas, despite the worry, smiled for a moment.
"The matchmaker returns!" he said.
"And the matchmaker wishes to thank you for putting aside your quarrel for the moment and helping," Shedheniel whispered back. Then, she stood on her toes (for Shedheniel was about four inches shorter than Legolas) and pressed her lips against his cheek.
Legolas put his hand over his cheek and smiled. He then excused himself to go find Telden. Shedheniel sat down next to Nildarien's bed and rested her head on the side. After a bit, she fell asleep.
* * *
Shedheniel awoke to find both Legolas and Telden in the room. Legolas was looking out the window again, but Telden stood near the bed, his attention focused on Nildarien.
"How long have you been here?" Shedheniel asked.
Legolas turned away from the window.
"About a half hour. We thought it best not to wake you."
Shedheniel stood and looked down at her sister, who stirred slightly. Just then, there was a deafening roar. Legolas spun back to the window.
"There is a great smoke over the lake," he said. Shedheniel gasped. Nildarien's eyes sprang open and she sat bolt upright.
"It's dead," she whispered.
It was a moment before they fully understood what she meant; Telden caught it first.
"You're sure?" he said.
Nildarien looked at him and all traces of fear and pain left her face. She nodded, and Telden appeared astonished.
"How in the name of Aulë..." he began, but fell silent.
"Come with me, Telden," said Legolas. "My father must know of this."
He crossed the room and opened the door, then glanced back at Telden who was gazing at Nildarien with an expression of deep concern. Legolas called to him and he turned and away and followed.
Shedheniel sat down next to Nildarien.
"I don't understand," she said quietly. "What happened to you?"
Nildarien glanced out the window at the smoke that covered the starry sky.
"I don't know," she said.
* * *
The news of the demise of the dragon Smaug circulated at an alarming rate, and soon many began to whisper of the now unguarded treasure. There was rumor that the king was thinking of marching a large host to the Lonely Mountain. Then, this rumor became fact, and the king's thought became an order.
The host was to leave in a day, and Nildarien had her heart set on going. Shedheniel attempted to dissuade her, but she learned that more archers were needed and gave up.
The day came and the time for departure drew near. Nildarien made her way to the stable to saddle Rahar. She slipped a light bridle over his head, then lifted the saddle, thought twice, and put it down again.
"You can go without it this time," she said, rubbing his nose. Rahar jerked his head up and snorted. Nildarien turned to see what had startled him and smiled. She was glad to see Telden, but was a little confused; instead of his usual of green and brown, he was clad in raiment of dark blue and grey.
"As you'll be riding off soon, I thought I should give you this now," he said, handing her the knife he had brought.
Nildarien's eyes widened as she took it. It was long and slender, the perfect style and length for her. The hilt was silver and the sheath was an ivory-like material. She gaped at Telden speechlessly and he smiled.
"Put it on," he said.
Nildarien strapped the sheath to her belt over her left hip and drew the knife. It was light and fit easily in her hand. She twirled it once before resheathing it.
"You like it?"
"Yes, thank you. But, where did you get it?" Nildarien asked.
"I made it," Telden replied.
"You-you [I]made[/I]..." Nildarien trailed off. Now she knew what had been in that package she'd seen him carrying.
"Forgive me," she said. "but I did not know that Silvan elves practiced the art of metalwork such as this."
Telden laughed softly.
"They don't," he said.
This caught Nildarien off guard. What could he mean by that? She looked at Telden quizzically and he sighed.
"That's another reason I sought you out," he said. "I have to tell you."
"Tell me what?" Nildarien asked.
"The truth. I will try to explain as simply as I can," said Telden. "You must have noticed that I bear very little resemblance to the other elves here."
"Umm... yes, I did notice that."
"And there is a reason: I am not one of them."
At once, countless questions surfaced in Nildarien's mind, but she kept silent. Telden looked at her intently, his expression serious.
"I am not a Silvan elf, Nildarien," he continued. "I am of the Noldor."
Upon hearing this, one question dominated the others Nildarien had been thinking of.
"Then, did you see..." she began, but Telden cut her off.
"No," he said. "I never saw the Blessed Realm, for my parents were Exiles."
Nildarien knew only a little of the mournful history of the rebellious Noldor, and she was always willing to learn more.
"I still do not completely understand," she said.
"I was born in the beginning of the Second Age," said Telden. "When Eregion was founded by the remainder of my kindred, I was sent there as an apprentice. Years later, I received word that my parents had returned West."
Telden paused for a moment and sighed.
"All that many have heard of Eregion is dark and ill-favored," he continued. "But it was not always that way. Many fair things were wrought there before the shadow came, and-" he stopped and shook his head.
"No, I will not speak of it. You have heard all that you need to know."
"One more thing, how did you come to be here?" she asked.
"You will find the answer to that strange," he said.
"I would still like to know."
"While fighting in the war, I became friends with Legolas, though he is much younger than I am. When the war was over, he bade me to visit. I did so, and have not left."
"Does everyone know about you?" Nildarien asked.
"Oh no, only Legolas and the king. And now you."
Telden leaned back against the stable door. He seemed to be thinking about something sad.
He looked up at Nildarien.
"Why didn't you ever leave?"
"I guess I just never wanted to," he said. "I nearly did, though. I had made plans to leave in the autumn of this year, but as you see, I didn't go through with them."
Nildarien smiled slightly.
"I'm glad you didn't," she said.
Telden stepped close to her.
"So am I," he whispered.
"And what prompted you to stay?" Nildarien murmured. She felt Telden's hand on hers and glanced downward...
"NILDARIEN!" Shedheniel's voice rang out from nearby.
Telden backed away quickly and left the stable, just as Shedheniel came flying around the corner.
"Oh, Telden, Legolas was looking for you," she said as she passed him and he nodded in response.
Shedheniel gave Nildarien a suspicious look.
"So, what did I just run in on, I wonder," she said jokingly.
Nildarien seemed not to hear her.
"Shedheniel, I have just learned to most astonishing thing," she said.
* * *
Nildarien sighed as she watched her sister fidgeting. She too was riding bareback. Tarva seemed to be impatient as well.
"Something wrong, Shedheniel?" she asked cheerfully.
"We're going to slow."
"We're going to slow, Nildarien. I would kill to be at the head of this troop if I could just canter. Right Tarva?"
The black mare nickered in approval. Nildarien laughed and opened her mouth to reply. The reply never came, because she turned and saw Legolas riding up.
"What was that about killing someone? My dear Shedheniel, I can hardly believe you are capable of losing your temper," he laughed.
"Shedheniel's heart skipped a beat.
"[I]'My dear Shedheniel'?" she thought. "Am I dear to him?[/I]"
* * *
The host reached Dale by the end of the day. The Lakemen were in a terrible situation, so they offered their assistance, and in a matter of days several houses had been built.
Ambassadors were sent to the Lonely Mountain, from both the Elves and the Lakemen, with claims to part of the treasure. They returned discouraged.
Weeks passed and winter was coming on, but still they waited. Nothing at all happened; not until the night Nildarien and Shedheniel were on watch. It was a cold night and very dreary. Shedheniel was sitting with her back against the tree that her sister was perched in.
"Ai! This wind is cold!" Nildarien yelped. "I'm coming down. It's your turn up anyhow."
She placed Gwindor on the branch above her head and dropped to the ground noiselessly.
"I'm [I]not[/I] going up," said Shedheniel. "I'm cold enough down here without the wind biting me."
Nildarien shushed her sister and both listened. They heard quiet footfalls from near the stream. Then, the sound stopped and they hear a splash. The lanterns of the other scouts shone through the gloom, and Nildarien and Shedheniel jogged towards them. They saw the others grab something small.
"Oh! Look Nildarien!" Shedheniel giggled when they reached the others. "It's a hobbit!"
"Then that was the mysterious creature," Nildarien declared. Both sisters followed the other scouts back to the camp. The moment they arrived, the poor hobbit was overwhelmed with questions.
"Aren't you with the dwarves?"
"Who are you?"
"[I]What[/I] are you?"
Shedheniel was angered by their pestering.
"It's a hobbit!" she and Nildarien shouted in unison, and the camp fell silent. One lone voice called out: "What's a hobbit?"
"That is!" said Shedheniel, pointing at the creature.
The twins knew hobbits by sight, having lived in Mithlond, which was near the hobbits' own country. As the hobbit, whose name was Bilbo Baggins, requested he was taken directly to Bard, Chief of the Lakemen, and Thranduil.
Shedheniel hovered outside the tent curiously and Nildarien came and scolded her. At that moment, the hobbit marched out of the tent and off to the mountain. An old man in a dark cloak followed him into the night. Nildarien watched them fade into the darkness. Something strange was going on.
"Shedheniel, why would a hobbit travel so far from the Shire?" she asked.
"How would I know?" said Shedheniel, slightly annoyed with Nildarien for scolding her.
"There were thirteen dwarves, including the one that was captured earlier," Nildarien continued. "There was no hobbit at the questioning, but he's here now-"
"I've seen a number of creatures in my travels, but a hobbit is one I've never seen."
Nildarien fell silent; Telden had come up behind her and she hadn't noticed.
"Well, now you have seen one," she said.
"Yes, and forgive me if I have interrupted your thoughts," Telden said.
"You did not interrupt them," Nildarien said with a smile. "I was just wondering why he was so far from his home. And why he wasn't at the questioning if he's... with the dwarves..." she trailed off and looked at Shedheniel.
"Do you think-"
Shedheniel's eyes widened as she understood what her sister was getting at.
"But-but how?" she stammered. "Hobbits can hide well, but not [I]that[/I] well!"
Telden glanced confusedly from one sister to the other.
"I believe this needs some explaining," he said.
Nildarien sighed and told him about her incident of running into what was apparently nothing. When she finished, an odd look, that might have been fear, flashed in his eyes.
"You may be on to something, Nildarien," said Shedheniel.
"Yes, you might," said Telden thoughtfully, and he beckoned the sisters closer.
"Speak to no one of this," he whispered. "It may prove more dangerous than you know."
He turned and jogged off into the fog. The sisters looked at each other.
"He's a very mysterious character," said Shedheniel. "I wonder if all Noldor are like that."
"Mysterious..." she crooned wistfully.
* * *
Shedheniel hardly slept that night. The word `mysterious' described her life. She wanted to know what Mr. Baggins, the hobbit, had said. She wanted to know who the old man in the cloak was. She wanted to know why Bard and Thranduil seemed so excited. She wanted to know what Telden meant by `It may prove more dangerous than you know'. Shedheniel sighed, changed quickly, threw on the cloak she had made for herself, and slipped quietly out of the tent, so that Nildarien didn't wake. She spotted the troop going up to the mountain and followed quietly behind. When they turned a corner, she fell in quickly behind the last scout. At one time, Legolas, who was with his father, turned and saw her, but he said nothing.
Shedheniel followed as one of the troop to a large wall in front of the main gate into the mountain. Thranduil and Bard called for the King-under-the-Mountain, and out onto the wall came all thirteen dwarves with the hobbit tagging along behind. The dwarf who was obviously the most important came forward and yelled down at the group of elves and men that the treasure rightfully belonged to dwarves alone and that they would never get any part of it. Shedheniel shook her head sadly; she did not understand the dwarves love for gold. Then, Bard said something that the dwarf, whose name was Thorin, did not expect. The grey cloaked man that Shedheniel had seen last night opened the casket he bore, revealing the most beautiful stone Shedheniel had ever seen. It was nearly the size of her two hands put together and it gleamed as though it took in light and shot it out again with a greater brilliance. She gasped, but no one heard, for Thorin had cried out in rage.
*"We give you your own for our own!" Bard called.
*"How did you come by that?" Thorin roared back.
*"I gave it to them!" a little voice squeaked, and the frightened hobbit's face appeared above the large wall.
*"You!" Thorin bellowed. *"You undersized... burglar!"
He seized the terrified Mr. Baggins and made to throw him over the wall. Just then, the cloaked man stepped forward.
*"Stay! Here is Gandalf. If you don't like my burglar please don't damage him!" he yelled in a powerful voice.
Shedheniel clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a scream. She had heard much of Gandalf, but had never seen him. He spoke to Thorin, who seemed to have calmed down somewhat, and the group began to descend the mountain, taking Mr. Baggins with them. Shedheniel slipped in behind, feeling cold, tired, and confused.
* * *
("Starred" lines, marked with *, are taken from the texts of Tolkien's works)