The Maids of Mithlond: In Pursuit of Love - Chapter Five

Chapter Five

Nildarien woke ere the Sun was up, feeling strangely energetic for the hour. She rose and stretched, turning her face to the still dark sky. She wandered out to the edge of camp and stood staring across the plains with a small smile on her lips.
"Rohan is such a very beautiful land," Nildarien thought. "It's a pity that it must come to dark times."
She felt a gentle, throbbing pressure in her forehead and sensed someone behind her.
"Good morning to you, Legolas," she said without turning.
"How did you know it was me?" he asked, coming to stand beside her.
"I'm a difficult person to sneak up on. I just know sometimes," Nildarien said. She stared hard at Legolas for a moment. The presence she felt for him reminded her of something...was it diamonds? No, that was ridiculous.
"You've been so cheerful lately," Legolas said after a moment. "Why all the sudden happiness?"
"I don't know," Nildarien said with a bright grin. "Would you rather I attempt to throttle you?"
"No!" Legolas laughed. "No, your mood is fine just as it is. It's just strange seeing you so lighthearted."
"Of course, you only ever knew one side of me, but you will meet the other. Starting now: try me."
"Try you?" Legolas wondered, puzzled. "Try you wha-"
Nildarien drew her knife and held it before her, grinning ear to ear.
"Oh. Try you that," Legolas finished, and then he grinned, too. "Challenge accepted."
He pulled out his own knife and held it blade to blade with hers.
"Friendly combat. Name the terms."
"Two blades," Nildarien said. "Singles start, doubles acquired at will. No contact."
Legolas nodded and struck the first blow.
Things went simply for the first few minutes, and the two began a casual conversation. Gradually though, the pace of their strikes began to increase, but not quickly enough for Legolas.
"Saving your skill for the Orcs, Nildarien?" he teased, aiming a higher blow. Nildarien drew her second knife and caught his blade in a cross-lock.
"It's been quite a few years since I had a decent skirmish with an Orc," she said. "But you will do for now."
Soon, both elves were fighting two-handed and they lapsed into silence as the maneuvers became more complicated.
The East was tingeing a soft red and the stars were fading when Shedheniel approached them, but neither fighter noticed her; their moves had become lightening quick and demanded full concentration.
Shedheniel hovered nearby nervously for a moment, but as the former enemies showed no sign that they were truly trying to harm each other, she settled down to watch. She was joined shortly by Aragorn.
"How long have they been at this?" he asked quietly,
"Quite some time, I believe," Shedheniel told him. "They were at this pace when I arrived."
They watched silently, and Aragorn appeared to be listening for something.
"Do you hear that?" he asked suddenly.
Shedheniel pricked up her ears, listening intently.
"Yes, I think so," she said.
"Has Nildarien's knife always...rang like that?" Aragorn wondered. Shedheniel listened again and watched closely. Yes, she was sure of it now. Her sister's knife had a definite, almost musical ring when struck.
"I never noticed it before," she said. "Telden made that knife for her, so she never used it much. She preferred to practice and teach with any of her others."
It was now fully dawn and horns sounded to wake the host.
As if in silent agreement, Legolas and Nildarien froze mid-strike and sheathed their weapons. Both were breathing hard, but smiling contentedly.
"You are fair better than I thought," Legolas admitted as he shook Nildarien's hand. Nildarien gasped and slapped and hand over her heart in feigned shock.
"A compliment from you!" she cried. "The world must have turned itself over in the night!" Then she laughed and went to see Shedheniel.
"I never thought I'd see you and Legolas get along so well," Shedheniel remarked happily as they headed back into camp. "Have you really sorted things out?"
"I believe so," Nildarien said. "At any rate, we won't be attempting to rip each other to shreds anymore."
The entire host was ready remarkably quick, and in an hour they had set out again. It was rather warm and a strange dampness in the air foreboded storm.
Though her mood outwardly remained light, Nildarien had begun, once more, to puzzle over her mysterious power. How had she gotten it? Why did she have it? How had she learned the earth-tongue? Had she always known it? She'd heard that Telerin Elves knew the language of the sea; perhaps this was something similar. She remembered the tree near Parth Galen telling her the Earth Queen had given her a gift. Nildarien just couldn't comprehend that for some reason. And just today, she'd discovered a new aspect of her power, where the presences of friends seemed to identify with different substances in the earth. So far, Legolas was diamonds, and Shedheniel was continually putting her in mind of gold. As of yet, Nildarien could see no connection between the person and the substance. It was all strange and confusing. Perhaps she would never really understand.
The host rode on all through the day. It had grown steadily warmer and by afternoon, dark clouds were gathering in the sky.
Shedheniel glanced at her sister who rode beside her. She was very quiet and her head was bowed in thought. Shedheniel reached out and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Nildarien? Are you alright?"
Nildarien's head snapped up as if she'd been jolted awake.
"Someone's coming," she said, and at that moment they came to a halt. Men at the front of the host had spotted a rider coming towards them. In moments he reached them and he bore ill news from the Fords of Isen. Nildarien and Shedheniel urged their horses forward a bit to the front of the company and heard Théoden speak.
*"Give this man a fresh horse! Let us ride to the help of Erkenbrand!"
Not a moment later, Gandalf, who had ridden a ways ahead, came back crying:
*"Ride, Théoden! Ride to Helm's Deep! Go not to the Fords of Isen and do not tarry on the plain! I must leave you for awhile. Shadowfax must bear me now on a swift errand." He turned to the soldiers. *"Keep well the Lord of the Mark, `til I return," he said. "Await me at Helm's Gate! Farewell!"
And then he was gone.
The host wheeled around and headed in the entire opposite direction, riding hard. Night soon cloaked the sky, and scouts reported a great army was marching towards Helm's Deep.
The night grew ever darker as the host climbed steadily out of the valley. Once on level ground, Nildarien paused and looked back. Innumerable torches dotted the vale.
"The Riders say that this Helm's Deep has never been taken," she thought. "I have a feeling that statement is about to be put to malicious test."
Nildarien turned away and urged Alambil forward as the host neared the Dike.
All the while behind them came the massive army of Isengard.
* * *
Shedheniel sighed, exasperated. She wasn't sure what was worse: waiting for an attack, or being attacked.
She was sitting on a parapet of the wall with Legolas and Nildarien on either side of her.
Legolas was speaking to Gimli, who stood below leaning on the wall, and Nildarien had grown very quiet. Shedheniel assumed it was because they were nearing the mountains.
Now Shedheniel was silently waiting, waiting, waiting, as time passed slowly. She could see their enemy's torches blazing as the advanced.
Suddenly yells and battle cries sounded
from the Dike, startling Shedheniel and sending her toppling off the parapet. She landed next to Gimli. The noise had been the rearguard of the Westfolders retreating to the Gate. Time passed and the air grew thick and heavy. Dark clouds filled the sky, sending shivers down Shedheniel's spine. She remembered well what had happened the last time she fought during a thunderstorm.
Lightening snapped the sky and cut the clouds, loosing a torrent of rain and with it came a torrent of arrows. There was a moment of silence, and then the enemy below charged with loud, fierce yells.
"This will be an archers fight. At least for now," Nildarien thought as she watched Shedheniel bend her bow. She sank down to the base of the parapet and waited, drumming her fingers wrapped around her sword hilt.
* * *
Shedheniel frowned, her elven ears picking up the sound of rams crashing against the gate. Apparently Gimli heard it, too, for he ran across the wall towards the outer steps. Shedheniel followed after him, drawing her sword as she ran. Battle cries sounded from nearby, and Shedheniel sprang out a door and into the fray, where Aragorn and Éomer were already at work. All those holding rams had dropped them to do battle. The Orc-archers aimed wild shots at them before fleeing.
Éomer and Aragorn lingered near the gates for a moment and Shedheniel hovered nearby, reluctant to leave them.
The men turned to go when a group of Orcs that had lain among to fallen rushed at them.
Two grabbed Éomer by the heels and one sprang at Shedheniel, knocking her down. She heard Gimli give a loud shout:
"Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai mênu!!"
He sliced off two of the Orcs' heads. The others ran.
Aragorn and Éomer-luckily unharmed, thanks to Gimli-rushed to help Shedheniel who was caught beneath an Orc.
Together they managed to move it and Shedheniel emerged from beneath the carcass, her face very pale.
The Orc had taken her by surprise and she'd barely bent her bow before it was on her. Its bloodstained knife had cut the fabric beneath her arm, just inches from her heart.
The group of friends rushed through the Gate, barred it, and thanked Gimli again, before returning to the wall.
* * *
Sitting with her back to the parapet, Nildarien watched as Legolas shot repeatedly down at the assailing Orcs. He would soon be out of arrows.
"Twenty!" he cried triumphantly as he released his last and dropped down next to Nildarien.
"Twenty what?" she asked.
"Orcs," he said. "Gimli and I are holding a competition of who can slay the most. Would you like to join in?"
Nildarien wrinkled her nose.
"I don't count what I kill," she said and Legolas shrugged. Nildarien glanced up and saw Shedheniel and Gimli coming towards them.
*"Two!" the Dwarf said proudly and she rolled her eyes. Legolas immediately withdrew to speak with Shedheniel and search for arrows.
"Archery in the dead of night. Ridiculous!" Gimli growled. "In the dark you want a good, solid weapon that stays firm in your hand. If those Orcs would come up here and show me their cowardly faces, they'd take my meaning!"
Suddenly, as if in answer to Gimli's challenge, hundreds of ladders crashed up against the Deeping Wall. In less than the blink of an eye, Nildarien was on her feet, sword ready in her grasp. In the gleam of the faint moonlight and lightening she saw flowing Tengwar letters etched along the blade, making her wonder for a moment where it had really come from.
An Orc clambered over the ladder in front of her only to fall headless at her feet. At least six more sprang up at her, only to meet the fate of the first before she had a chance to catch her breath. There was the raucous sound of metal scraping stone as grappling hooks were flung over the wall. Orcs were swarming everywhere and as fast as they were slain, more leaped up.
Nildarien blocked another attack and cut down what felt like the hundredth Orc. The blade of her sword was stained black. She glanced up at the sky. The torrential rain had long since ended and the full moon was bright against an ebony sky.
Her moment of observation caught up with her. An Orc slammed Nildarien in the stomach, knocking her to the ground and the sword out of her hand. The force of the Orc's charge and the impact of hitting the hard stone drove the breath out of her, and she was momentarily paralyzed. The Orc moved in for a killing blow, and-
Fell dead with and arrow in its throat.
Nildarien whipped her head around and saw Legolas give her a brief nod. Not half a second later when she turned back around there were two Orcs towering over her. Quick flicks of her wrists brought throwing knives to her hands and she spiraled them to their marks.
Nildarien rolled to the left just as yet another Orc slashed down at her. Her hand found her sword hilt and she impaled the Orc as it leaped at her. She kicked the body off her sword, scrambled to her feet, and charged back into the battle.
* * *
The sky above began to clear and the silvery moon sank low in its depths. The enemy's numbers did not seem to lessen, though three desperate charges were made and the warriors grew weary.
Suddenly chaos broke in the Deep behind. Orcs had come stealthily through the culvert and waited until all were fighting on the wall. Now they were out and fighting the guards near the horses.
Gimli leapt off the wall, his battle cry echoing in the Deep, and Shedheniel followed him. She stood beside Gimli and hacked off an Orc's head.
A sudden flood of Orcs separated her from the Dwarf and threw her off balance.
Two Orcs took their chance then and one seized her sword as the other aimed a blow at her head. This Shedheniel ducked and then aimed a spinning kick into the Orc's gut. It lashed out at her and Shedheniel seized its arm. Not about to be attacked weaponless, she yanked its sword from its hand and cut it down. The other slashed at her back, but she dodged it.
"That would be mine," she chirped as she twisted her own sword from its grip and, using the other, beheaded it.
Finally, the Orcs gave way and fled and Shedheniel found Gimli.
*"Twenty-one!" he sang. "Now my count passes Master Legolas again."
Shedheniel sighed. "Must you make it a competition?"
"Why not? There is honor and glory in battle, Lady."
"I do not count my valor by taking lives, but by saving them."
Gimli was called away and Shedheniel made her way up to the wall, where she showed Legolas the sword she had taken from the Orc. It did not seem to be made by that cruel race.
"I do not know how they came by such a blade, for this is of Elven make," Legolas said, furrowing his brow and Shedheniel wished fervently for the dawn.
* * *
Nildarien was very grateful for the brief pause in the assault and she took the time to check on the others.
*"It has been knife work up here," she heard Legolas say as she approached.
"As it should be," she said shortly, cleaning the blade of her sword.
"I would think you could be civil, considering you owe me," Legolas said with just a slight hint of a laugh.
"I was being perfectly civil and I already know I am in your debt. You don't have to remind me. Of all people, it had to be you," Nildarien said, shaking her head.
"You can repay me whenever you see fit," Legolas told her. "But I have a feeling you're more than likely to get a chance tonight."
"You two aren't arguing again, are you?" Shedheniel broke in suddenly.
"No!" was the simultaneous reply.
"Well, then what are you doing?" she asked.
"Being civil!" they cried together again.
If they hadn't been in the middle of a battle, they would have been collapsed on the ground in tears of laughter. As it was, they simply smiled.
Their brief happiness faded quickly as the sounds of fighting increased.
"How much longer can the men of Rohan hold out?" Shedheniel asked worriedly.
"I would give them two hours at the most," Legolas replied, equally concerned.
"Madness, that's what this is," Nildarien said. "Plain and simple."
Shedheniel opened her mouth to reply, but she was cut off by a sudden raucous blaring of trumpets. There was a noise like a thunderclap and tongues of fire and smoke licked the sky.
The trio ducked as boulders and stones hurled through the air. A wide hole had been blasted in the Deeping Wall, and Orcs and Wild men were pouring through.
Nildarien was soon fighting harder than she ever had before, and she didn't even notice when she threw her knife. She had drawn it and spiraled it to a mark without thinking, and she just now missed it.
"A foolish move," she thought angrily as she gorged an Orc through the stomach. "I'm not going to get it back now."
The enemy onslaught drove the defenses further and further back; they had to retreat.
Nildarien darted up the stairs to the Hornburg, and looked back when she reached the door. She saw Aragorn trip as he ran and Orcs reached out to grab him. Legolas, who was perched at the top of the stair, felled one with his last arrow, but the rest came on. Nildarien furrowed her brow and sent a thought to the mountain above.
"Strike them."
Almost at once, a boulder crashed into the Orcs as if it had been thrown. The doors banged shut.
Nildarien leaned against a wall and closed her eyes, feeling suddenly very tired. She opened her eyes and swept them once through the room, then again.
Shedheniel was no where to be seen.
She straightened and went in search of Legolas. Evidently, he'd had the same idea.
They met up in the middle of the room and instantly asked the same question:
"Where's Shedheniel?"
They stared at each other, dumbstruck.
"I thought she was with you!" they both cried.
"Me? Why would she be with me?" Nildarien inquired a familiar edge to her voice. "You're her lover!"
"You're her sister!" Legolas retorted just as hotly.
"You think I don't know that?!" Nildarien snarled and turned her back on Legolas. She felt quickly through the area and sighed in relief as she turned around.
"She's fine, Legolas," she said, all trace of her temper gone.
"How do you know that?"
"Just trust me."
"Nildarien," Legolas said after a moment. "I wanted to tell you we're even now." Nildarien looked at him bemusedly and he held out her knife.
"An Orc was about to slit my throat when he fell dead with this in his back," he told her. "I knew it was yours and I figured you'd be wanting it."
Nildarien's hand shook slightly as she took her knife. Slowly, she ran a finger down the blade, the look on her face betraying her emotions.
For the first time, Legolas felt sorry for her. Though she seemed so strong, he could tell she was balancing on the precarious edge of a mental collapse. The look in her eyes was the look of someone who feels lost and alone despite that they are surrounded by friends. Legolas had seen this look on someone before, and had made the mistake of letting them be. And by the time he'd intervened, that someone had come dangerously close to suicide. He had no intention of letting Nildarien come to that.
"Nildarien, is anything wrong?" he asked concernedly. She started at the sound of his voice and sheathed her knife.
"What isn't wrong?" she said glumly. "The world is full of wrong." She walked to a corner and sat down, hugging her knees to her chest. Legolas, his suspicions confirmed, sat down beside her.
"What is wrong with me?" she wondered aloud.
"Nothing is wrong with you, Nildarien," Legolas said gently.
"Oh, yes there is. I haven't been right for so long. So long..." she murmured. Nildarien looked at him suddenly.
"Have you ever been heartbroken?" she asked.
"Yes, in a way," said Legolas.
"Well, take that feeling and imagine it worse," said Nildarien. "Imagine that instead of a clean break it's a tear, a rip. And then imagine that half of your heart is wrenched away in one moment, and the other half bleeds and cannot knit together because something is always tugging at what's left. Imagine that and you'll know what I've felt every hour of every day for the past seventy-seven years."
Legolas was at a loss for words. At last, he fully understood her reaction to his accusations in Rivendell. Those rumors must have been tearing her already mangled soul to shreds. If he'd known all this then, he never would have accused her, in spite of their feud. There had to be something he could do to at least dull her torment. Over all the other sounds in the room, he heard Nildarien singing softly to herself.
"When the night gathers her heavenly dreams
And dances the Moon from the sky,
When the stars blaze a trail of gold
For the morning Sun to ride,
I will be there to see,
And I want you there with me...
"
Her voice faltered and she buried her face in her arms. Legolas shook his head; this was getting worse.
"The poor thing," he thought. "Her spirit is sick and the only remedy is Eru knows where."
Of course, Telden was that remedy. Nildarien would not be right until he was with her, and Legolas knew his wayward friend was in a similar state. He'd never seen anyone look as hopeless and broken as Telden had. Until now.
"Sometimes I wonder what happened the night I left," Nildarien said suddenly. "I wonder what he said."
"I could tell you-if you wish," Legolas offered.
"Will you?" Nildarien asked, her eyes pleading.
"Very well," Legolas sighed, letting his thoughts travel back to that night so long ago. "I did not see him until very late that night, and when I did, I hardly knew him. He looked...lost, not himself, and I think he was in too much pain to shed tears by then. He told me he was leaving and when I asked why, he looked at me with a cast of unbearable suffering in his eyes.
`There is nothing here for me,' he said. `I've lost the one thing I thought I could hold on to. I don't understand. I've lost so much already; I thought I wouldn't feel this anymore. But it's worse. So much worse. It feels like-like a part of me is gone. If I just had another chance... I-I need her. I realize that now. It's rather funny, isn't it? When you think about it. You never realize how much something really means to you until it gets ripped away. But-but why does this hurt so much? I just want her back.'
And that was the last I saw of him. He was gone by morning."
Nildarien winced and a bitter tear slid down her cheek. She gave a small sob and hid her face again.
"I'm sorry. I should not have told you."
Nildarien looked up, her face stained with tears.
"I have no one to blame but myself," she whispered hoarsely. "Just to think I caused all that. I caused him all that pain. Why would he want me after that?"
Then she broke down completely, weeping openly. Legolas hesitated before wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders.
"No, no, little sister," he said soothingly. "Don't think like that. You did not hurt him; he hurt himself. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but deep down, Telden is a very angry man. He's had a hard life. If anything, you helped him. You brought him out of the darkness of his own mind. I think that's why he called you Anarwen. You brought light to a world that had long been dark."
Nildarien had calmed herself a good deal by now and was beginning to really hear him.
"How could I have helped him?" she asked. "And what do you mean he had a hard life?"
"I do not feel I have the right to tell you about his past, but I will say that when he first came to Mirkwood he had deep wounds in his heart. He tried to forget everything that had caused them, thinking that way they would heal. And to all appearance, they did, but it was only on the surface, and underneath they remained unsettled. It was you who opened those wounds. Though I don't know how, you made him remember, and, I won't lie, it nearly drove him mad. But it was the best thing for him. Anyone who knew him well enough could see he was healing the right way. That knife he made you was the first of its style he'd done in only he knows how long, and none had seen him in his Noldorin colors since the days of the Last Alliance. I won't deny that when you left it cut him the core and he suffered much pain, but it helped him more than you know."
"How?"
"Pain can heal, little sister. It very often does."
"Thank you, Legolas," Nildarien said with a weak smile. "You don't know how much I needed to hear that. I've been feeling so alone lately, what with you and Shedheniel finally together. I managed to hide it, but it was so strong tonight...if you hadn't said what you did, I'm afraid I might have slit my throat by morning."
"And you mustn't do that," Legolas said firmly. "Listen to me, Nildarien: if there's ever a time you need to talk, or you again entertain the thought of taking your life, I want you to come to me. We'll work it through together. You're not alone, little sister. I'll always be here."
Nildarien felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her back. She threw her arms around her former enemy, unable to express her gratitude with words.
"Legolas, why do you keep calling me `little sister'?" she inquired after a moment.
"Because that's what you are to me now, Nildarien," Legolas said sincerely. "My little sister. I will be your brother, if you let me."
He held up his hand, palm facing Nildarien, and slowly she placed her palm to his. Their fingers locked and they made a silent vow.

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