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

Dawn. The Sun, barely peeking over the edge of the world, shot dim, red-gold shafts of light into the still dark sky.
Nildarien stood motionless on the rippling plains of Rohan, her long, slender fingers twined in Alambil's ebony mane. A slow smile spread across her face.
She could both see and feel Fangorn. It stretched out several miles away, and a great anger seethed from it. Shedheniel was there at the edge of the wood, as were Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn. They would be gone in two or three hours at least, so Nildarien would have to hurry. Since she wished not to be seen, she would have to leave Alambil.
She swiftly removed her sword from the saddle and strapped it to her belt next to her knife. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of silver in the faint light. Fixing her eyes on it, she saw it was a huge, gleaming horse, lunging with long strides of its powerful legs. She recognized him immediately. It was Gandalf's horse, Shadowfax.
"Look," Nildarien said to Alambil. "You're going to have to leave me for awhile. Go and run with Shadowfax. Come only when I call you."
Alambil looked at her reproachfully, then turned his head and nipped best he could at his saddle.
"No, I'm sorry," Nildarien told him. "I would take it off if I had somewhere to put it, but I don't. Besides, you won't be away but for a couple of hours."
Alambil nudged Nildarien's cheek affectionately before he bounded away, neighing a greeting to Shadowfax, who gave a ringing reply.
Nildarien turned towards Fangorn, and took off at a run.
Nearly a half-hour later, she stood at the border of Fangorn. The intense rage it held enticed her curiosity, and she slipped over the threshold. In an instant she heard a chorus of welcomes from the trees. They were ancient and wise beyond her comprehension.
She wandered a little ways in for some time. The trees around her whispered secrets long forgotten in her mind, making her feel drowsy. She pulled herself up into the largest tree she could find, which was at the edge of a clearing. She took off her sword and knife and curled up in the oddly bowl-shaped center. After several minutes, she fell into a sleep haunted by the gentle voices of trees.
* * *
The feeling of someone approaching woke Nildarien hardly an hour later. It was very hot, so she unclasped her cloak and then crept out on a limb to see who was there. As she peered down into the clearing, a wicked grin cracked across her face; time to play a little prank.
Perched carefully on the limb, Nildarien watched her quarry. Legolas was constantly looking around and over his shoulder as if aware of her presence, but he probably was. Being enemies had given the both of them an uncanny ability to know when the other was nearby.
Time passed almost lazily, but at last he was perfectly positioned right below the tree, and Nildarien seized her chance. She swung back, her knees hooked over the limb, and whisked his long knife from its sheath at his quiver. All this was done quicker than blinking and then she swung back up. But she had forgotten the chain Legolas had given her was longer than the other had been and it slipped over her head as she swung up and fell to the ground. Nildarien bit back a gasp as Legolas bent and picked it up.
"I know you're here, Nildarien!" he called, eyes fixed on the trees. "Show yourself."
When he received no answer, he left the clearing, hefting the pendant in one hand. Unbeknownst to him, Nildarien, having gathered her cloak and weapons, followed silently in the treetops. She laughed to herself when she saw the campsite.
"This couldn't be more perfect," she thought.
"Legolas, where were you?" Nildarien heard her sister ask. "I was-is something wrong?"
Legolas opened his hand, revealing what he held, and Shedheniel gasped.
"She's here," he said and at that moment Nildarien, nestled in the tree above, flung Legolas' knife down among the foursome. It buried itself hilt-deep in the ground between Aragorn and Gimli, who gave a loud yell of surprise.
"Marauders from the wood!" the dwarf cried in extreme distress.
"Silence, Gimli," Aragorn said, kneeling and pulling the knife from the ground. "This is no thief's knife. It belongs to Legolas, unless I am much mistaken."
"That you are not," said Legolas. "But Shedheniel, you said you never told her. How did she follow?"
"I should have known," Shedheniel sighed. "But I honestly I didn't think she would."
Nildarien vaulted herself out of the tree and landed in front of her sister, hands on her hips.
"Well, did you honestly think I'd let you run off and keep all the adventure to yourself?" she laughed.
"You could never know how many times I wished you were with me," Shedheniel said, hugging her.
"I would have come after you sooner, but-"
"Never mind that," Shedheniel cut in. "You're here now and that's all that matters."
Nildarien grinned and turned to Legolas with her hand outstretched and cleared her throat pointedly. He dropped the pendant into her hand and she threw it around her neck with a presumptuous "Thank you."
"Why are you here, Nildarien?" Legolas asked, while Shedheniel looked from one to the other bemusedly.
"I came after Shedheniel," Nildarien said, her tone and expression stating that this should have been obvious. "I followed her trail-which turned into yours-near straight from Lothlórien to here. And there is no need to tell me what passed at Parth Galen, Aragorn," she added, seeing he was about to speak. "It was easy enough to piece together."
There was a moment's silence and them all at once, Shedheniel called out:
"Aha! I see it now! You two aren't arguing!"
Legolas and Nildarien glanced at each other as if they themselves had just realized this, and then grinned.
"We've mended the quarrel, love," Legolas said, giving Shedheniel a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Ai!" Nildarien yelped, jumping back and pointing at the two of them. "You finally did it! It's about time! Took you long enough!"
Legolas and Shedheniel gaped at Nildarien.
"Y-you mean...you knew?!" Shedheniel stammered.
"Knew!? Sweet lady of the stars, of course I knew!" Nildarien shrieked. "I've known for years that you were head over heels for each other!"
"For years? H-how?" Shedheniel asked shakily.
Nildarien gripped her hair and growled in aggravation.
"For starters, it was so painstakingly obvious! To everyone but you it seems! You couldn't have possibly been more blatant!" she cried. "Even if both of you hadn't told me I would have known!"
"I never told you that!" Legolas protested.
"Yes you did!" Nildarien insisted. "Twice! Well-once was inadvertently, and you didn't know I was listening, but the other I do believe was meant for me specifically."
When Legolas continued to look puzzled, Nildarien reached into her pocket. She pulled out a small paper and brandished it in his direction, apparent laughter in her green eyes.
"Hmmm, Let's see..." she mused. "There's actually several hints here. First off: I would that I could get along with you, for her sake... and-yes, here it is: ...and to me for the love she knows nothing of... Sound familiar?"
"I should have known you'd bring that up," Legolas sighed. Nildarien pressed the note into Shedheniel's hand with a smile.
Though she smiled, Shedheniel felt the ever-present sadness in her sister's heart deepening. Then, she realized that without meaning to, she had twisted the knife in an old wound.
"Nildarien, come with me," she said, dragging her bewildered sister behind her into the woods.
"Alright. Tell me. What's wrong?" she asked when they were out of earshot of the others.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine," Nildarien assured her, but the look in her eyes said otherwise.
"You're upset about something-"
"Shouldn't you know by now that I'm always upset about something?" Nildarien cut in harshly.
"Now you can't even lie about it," Shedheniel remarked timidly. "I know what's bothering you Nildarien. I can feel it. It's me and Legolas, isn't it?"
Nildarien hung her head, Shedheniel thought to hide tears, but when she spoke her voice was steady.
"It's not that I'm not happy for you," she said softly. "I am. I just...I feel more alone now than ever. Seeing you together...I-I miss him even more."
"Nildarien, I'm so sorry. I never meant to-"
"No. Don't apologize for what you aren't at fault for. You know how it's been for me; I've described it often enough. What's a little more pain? Just another blow and another wound to bear. It is nothing."
Nildarien glanced up and then jumped back in surprise as a little, brown fur ball hopped out of the hood of Shedheniel's cloak and settled on her shoulder.
"Ummm...Shedheniel, why have you got a squirrel on your shoulder?" she asked, eyeing the chittering creature curiously.
"Oh! This is Bandir," Shedheniel explained, obviously relieved by the change of subject. "I can't believe he didn't come out earlier, as he is rather suspicious at times."
"Shedheniel, this could pose a problem."
"How?"
A loud screech from above heralded the arrival of such a problem. Nildarien's red-tailed hawk, Tirian, swooped down, talons stretched toward Bandir who squealed quite loudly and disappeared into Shedheniel's hood. Seeing his prey was gone, he alighted on Nildarien's arm.
"No!" she told him firmly, tapping his beak with a finger. "You do not eat Bandir! He's a friend, not a meal! Understand?"
Tirian bobbed his head, looking at the frightened Bandir who had sneaked out of Shedheniel's hood and was now curled very close to her neck. He gave a soft screech and nipped Nildarien's ear as if to say, "Alright, then. I won't eat that squirrel."
"I'm heading back now," Nildarien said and Shedheniel nodded.
"They'll want to start looking for Merry and Pippin soon," she told her.
"Why? They're perfectly alright were they are."
"And how would you know where they are?" Shedheniel asked skeptically.
"The same way I knew where you were," Nildarien answered. "The only thing is, we can't exactly go there, so I might as well not say anything about it."
Shedheniel didn't answer, but rather shook her head, a look of exasperation in her eyes. The sisters trudged back to the campsite and began the search for Merry and Pippin with the others.
It did not take long to find traces of the hobbits, and as they searched Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn told Nildarien of their nighttime visitor and mysterious disappearance of the horses.
After awhile, the baffling hobbit-chase led them to a large, stone staircase.
*"Let us go up and look about us!" said Legolas. "I still feel my breath short. I should like to taste a freer air for a while."
The group began to ascend the stairs. Aragorn came last, scouring the steps for hobbit tracks.
Shedheniel took time now to observe her sister and exchanger her tales. She did not let on that she was worried on Nildarien's behalf, for she looked oddly distressed. Shedheniel had caught her a few times, standing stock still and seemingly conversing with the trees, and she had been about to point this out when she remembered that no one besides Telden, herself, and Imilin she suspected, knew of Nildarien's mysterious power.
Suddenly, Legolas cried, "Look!" and shunted her out of her thoughts.
*"Look at what?" said Gimli.
*"There in the trees."
*"Where? I have not elf-eyes."
*"Hush! Speak more softly! Look!" said Legolas, pointing. "Down in the wood, back in the way we have just come. It is he. Cannot you see him, passing from tree to tree?"
*"I see, I see now!" hissed Gimli. "Look, Aragorn! Did I not warn you? There is the old man. All in dirty grey rags: that is why I could not see him at first."
Shedheniel rushed over, her worries seeming suddenly unimportant.
"Where? Is it the man you saw last night?" she asked.
"Yes, yes! Look here! Do you see him now?" Gimli replied, but Shedheniel did not answer. She felt as if some sort of candle in her heart had been snuffed only to reignite with a grander power and light. And suddenly she knew. Turning quickly she met Nildarien's eyes. There was no doubt in them: It was Gandalf.
It seemed to Nildarien that the trees had gone into some sort of hysterics due to the wizard's presence. There were so many voices all speaking at once and so loudly that it made blood pound in her ears until she couldn't hear a word her companions were saying. From the corner of her eye, she saw Legolas bend his bow, though he did not nock the arrow he held.
Nildarien shook, begging the trees to be silent. At first they did not heed her, but she was firm with them, and they began to quiet down. Her hearing returned and she opened her eyes, though she did not remember shutting them.
The old man was standing just below the rock wall that they were all standing on. He looked up at them.
*"Well met, indeed, my friends," he said softly. "I wish to speak to you. Will you come down or shall I come up?" He started to climb before they gave an answer.
Shedheniel lay a hand on Legolas' forearm in a gesture saying, "Don't shoot him," despite Gimli's pleas for him to do so.
*"Did I not say that I wished to speak to you?" said Gandalf. "Put away that bow, Master Elf!"
Legolas dropped both bow and arrow. Gimli started and them stood still as the old wizard commanded him to let his axe alone. The old man clambered onto the stone wall.
*"Well met I say again!" He gazed at them from beneath his hood. "And what may you be doing in these parts? An Elf, a Man, a Dwarf, and two lady warriors, all clad in elvish fashion. No doubt there is a tale worth hearing behind it all. Such things are not often seen here."
Her eyes never leaving the old man, Nildarien reached out and tugged her sister's arm.
"You don't think they will really try to harm him, do you?" she asked.
"I don't know, but Gimli seems quite bent on that idea," Shedheniel answered. "Perhaps we should tell them it's Gandalf."
"No. He will reveal that in his own time, I believe," Nildarien said. "Besides, I have a feeling they won't really be able to hurt him now."
Shedheniel opened her mouth to reply, but never got the chance. A loud yell erupted from behind them and they turned to see Gimli leaping at Gandalf and waving his axe.
*"Saruman! Speak!" he railed. "Tell us where you have hidden our friends! Speak or I will make a dint in your hat that even a wizard will find hard to deal with!"
The old man leapt up out of the reach of the Dwarf's axe and threw off his grey cloak. Beneath he was all in shining white. The others dropped their weapons and Legolas' arrow flew in a wide arc.
*"Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" he cried.
Shock was so prominent on their faces that it was all Nildarien could do to keep from laughing.
"I'll be back in a moment," she whispered to Shedheniel. "Don't come look for me."
"Wait! Where-" Shedheniel began, but Nildarien backed away, putting a finger to her lips, and melted into the background.

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