The Maids of Mithlond: Shadows Rising - Chapter Three
"You haven't got far to go, either," Imilin said jokingly.
Nildarien wound up her scarf and threw it at Imilin, who squealed and ducked.
"Thank you so much," Nildarien said, feigning annoyance. "But really, if something doesn't happen soon, I'll-"
A lightning bolt snapped across the inky sky and rain began to fall in torrents.
"Well, that's something," Imilin said matter-of-factly.
"That's not what I meant."
* * *
Shedheniel ran after Tirian for some time, looking about. Why she followed the hawk and what she was looking for was unknown to her. Or so she thought.
Shedheniel had the bridge in sight when two riders in black came out of the trees near the bridge and charged at her. She cried out and dove to the ground as one slashed at her from atop his horse. Shedheniel scrambled to her feet and sprinted to the bridge. She ran about a quarter of its length and turned to face her attackers.
"Better to fight them on my own turf," Shedheniel reasoned. "They can't fight me on their horses here." Then, something else occurred to her. "There are only two. Two are missing, and I have an awful feeling that I know where they are."
Sure enough, the other two wraiths were on the opposite end of the bridge.
She was trapped.
The Nazgûl that had already confronted her were on the edge nearest to her now.
"I walked right into their trap! This could not get any worse!" she growled aloud.
There was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder to announce the coming of a storm.
Shedheniel placed herself sideways on the bridge, her sword glowing and flickering red in the light of her torch.
"What use would swords be against these creatures?" she wondered as they came ever closer.
Then, almost as if a cloud in the sky had burst, I began to pour. It was a wonder that her torch hadn't gone out earlier, and it would be a miracle if it could last through the rain.
Desperately, Shedheniel hurled her torch at her attackers. The ones nearest her caught fire and leapt back, but the others ran at her. She barely had time to move before they struck.
A quick duck saved her, but the blow meant for her neck bit into her shoulder instead. Shedheniel locked swords with one of the creatures and sidekicked the other, sending it flying back off the bridge.
The remaining wraith hissed, cut Shedheniel across the stomach, and fled, leaving her wounded in the pouring rain.
Glorfindel found her on the bridge sometime later.
"You treated that wound well for someone who is in much pain," he said as he examined the makeshift bandage she had wound about her stomach.
"I've had some practice," said Shedheniel bitterly. She scribbled something on a piece of paper and folded it. Putting her hands to her mouth, she called Tirian.
"Here," she said, putting the slip of paper in his beak. "Take this to Nildarien."
Tirian squeezed her shoulder with his talons and flew off into the night.
* * *
Nildarien trudged down the hall, ringing water out of her long hair. For some crazy reason she had run out on Imilin's balcony and let the rain pound over her. Now she needed to dry off.
On the way to her room, Nildarien passed a group of elves whispering together. As she passed, some turned and hissed at her.
"Oh, hush up!" she snapped and they went back to their whisperings, throwing her dark looks. Nildarien shook her head and entered her room. The first thing she saw was Tirian, looking very wet and not at all pleased about it. She took the paper from him and unfolded it. It was in Shedheniel's hand and must have been quickly written:
I'm coming back.
* * *
Shedheniel had already made up her mind when she told Glorfindel she was going back to Rivendell. With her wounds she would not be of much help and made an easy target.
"I am sorry I did not come to your aid sooner," he had said. "But I shall be fine alone. Go and rest and if I have not returned by the time you are well, seek me out for I would be glad of your help."
Shedheniel had agreed to this and set out. The journey back would be shorter now that she wasn't looking for someone, but since the attack her chills had become worse. Still, she felt awful leaving Glorfindel to fend for himself.
Shedheniel clucked to Narúel and rode off towards Rivendell. She could hardly wait to be back.
* * *
"Shedheniel, you amaze me sometimes," Nildarien said happily.
"But I walked right into their trap," Shedheniel mumbled.
"And then you got yourself out again, so you should be proud of yourself."
"I suppose so," she said. "I wasn't gone long at all, so nothing could have really happened here, could it?"
"No, nothing," Nildarien sighed. "Nothing at all. It's been too quiet and calm for me. I wish something would just happen."
She tossed a flower into the stream and watched it float away, little suspecting that her wish would soon be granted.
* * *
"What is it now, Shedheniel?" Nildarien asked as her effervescent sister ran up.
"You'll never guess who's just arrived!"
"Who?" Nildarien asked, unexcited. Her twin sister clutched her arm.
"Come along, I'll show you!"
"Wait a moment, Shedhen-" Nildarien protested too late and Shedheniel went off at a run, pulling her behind.
"Just wait until you see!" was the reply.
Now they were running down a narrow corridor. Shedheniel turned a sharp corner and-WHAM!
Nildarien yelled and let go of her twin's hand as the brown-eyed elf toppled onto an unsuspecting stranger.
Through the golden veil of hair over her face, Shedheniel could see a pair of clear blue eyes. She had run right into the object of her excitement.
"It looks like we've found our mystery new comer," she mumbled as Nildarien heaved her off the stranger.
"Honestly now! Who in Middle-earth could make you so excited over their arriva-oh. Legolas, what a pleasant surprise," the emerald-eyed elf said with a scowl.
"Oh. Hello, Nildarien," said Legolas grudgingly. "Where's your sister?"
He hadn't recognized her! No, her hair was still covering her face.
Shedheniel rose to her knees and pulled the gold curtain out away from her face.
"Oh, Moonface, that was you was it?" Legolas said, now sounding more pleasant.
"I'm sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it," he said, standing and helping her up. Nildarien stood on Shedheniel's other side, refusing to look at Legolas. Shedheniel grinned.
"You brought this on yourself, Nildarien," she said. "You wanted something to happen."
"This is not what I had in mind," Nildarien replied, sounding annoyed.
"And what did you have in mind?" Legolas asked her unexpectedly. Nildarien whipped her head around and glared at him.
"Why does that interest you?" she snapped. "You're not concerned for my happiness."
"You're right. I'm not."
"Obviously," Nildarien hissed and stalked away. Shedheniel crossed her arms and looked at Legolas.
"Can you please try to be pleasant? You don't know what she's been through lately."
Legolas sighed as though he'd rather do anything than be pleasant to his long time enemy.
"Alright," he said. "But only because it pleases you."
* * *
"I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life!" said Imilin. "But who is it that irritates you so?"
"That's what makes it worse," Nildarien sighed. "He just so happens to be the object of Shedheniel's affection and she of his. But I only know that because of a conversation I once overheard."
"And why were you listening?" Imilin asked. Nildarien gave her a look.
"Because he was talking to someone I had a personal interest in. What would you have done?"
"I would have listened, of course," Imilin replied. "Still, this seems like nothing more that general dislike. Perhaps you can-"
"No," Nildarien cut in. "It's not that simple. This goes deep-very deep. I'll never forget what he said and he'll never forget what I did."
"Umm... what did you do?" Imilin asked nervously.
"I slapped him," Nildarien said with a casual shrug.
"Yes. There was a welt across his face for nearly a week, and there still is one in his pride."
Imilin shook her head.
"But surely what he said wasn't worth that?" she asked.
"Would you like being called a heartless witch? And unable to be loved? It was just too much," said Nildarien, shaking her head.
"That would be rather immoral," Imilin agreed. "But have you told Shedheniel that your enemy has eyes for her?"
"Of course not!" Nildarien said, grinning. "And neither will you! She'll have to find out on her own."
* * *
The next few days held little excitement save for the few battles of wit and sharpness of tongue between Legolas and Nildarien. Shedheniel always managed to stop the enemies before any lasting harm could be done, but there were already deep wounds that could not be healed.
Several days later, Gandalf arrived. Nildarien listened to everything he had to say, and became a good deal less snappish; even toward Legolas. Whatever Gandalf had said to Nildarien had obviously worried her, as she told Shedheniel three days later.
"Things are so terrible," she said, running her fingers through her hair. "Gildor told me things were amiss in the wild, and Gandalf's news isn't much better. It worries me, Shedheniel."
"It worries me, too," said Shedheniel. "And it's the strangest thing, but all day I've felt as though something of importance is going to happen. It's a rather foreboding feeling."
"Is that so? Because I've felt the same way. Or rather, I've been thinking about that."
Shedheniel looked puzzled.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"This is going to sound so odd," Nildarien said. "This afternoon I was walking out near the edge of the valley and it was filled with fear and apprehension of misfortune."
"Nildarien, you know I don't understand things like that," Shedheniel sighed.
During their many years in Rivendell, the sisters had used the vast collection of scrolls and books to find out all they could about Nildarien's uncanny gift. They found their guess to be true: the mountains did have a language, but it extended to all the earth, and some accounts had hinted that it also was included by trees. However, they had also found that Nildarien was not the first to hear it, but was undoubtedly closer tied to it than any other had been. Why this was so, remained a mystery.
Nildarien leaned on the balcony railing, gazing off into the night. Shedheniel, seated on a bench next to her, hummed to herself absent-mindedly. Just then, an elf neither sister knew approached them quickly.
"You're wanted in the hall," he said. "And swiftly. Aragorn and the halflings are here."
Nildarien and Shedheniel glanced at each other worriedly and followed the stranger inside.
* * *
The hall was filled with many grim faces. Glorfindel was there, and he came to greet them.
"Why is everyone so glum?" Shedheniel asked quietly.
"Frodo, one of the hobbits, is deathly ill. He was stabbed by a wicked blade. Elrond is tending to him," Glorfindel told her.
"Do you think I'll be allowed to see him? Do you think Elrond will let me watch?"
"I know not, but you may go ask if you wish."
Shedheniel slipped off and came back to the hall moments later. She wore a grim, frightened expression, but would speak to none of what she had seen. Shedheniel was, however, allowed to attend the other three hobbits.
She left Nildarien to converse with others in the hall and followed another elf she didn't know to a room near Frodo's.
The stranger left her and Shedheniel knocked on the door and opened it.
"Am I disrupting anything?" she asked as she quietly stepped in.
* * *
As soon as Shedheniel left, Nildarien sought out Imilin, who was looking uncharacteristically serious.
"Oh, I don't like this," the dark-headed elf whimpered.
"It's horrible," Nildarien agreed. "I knew something bad was going to happen today, and so did Shedheniel, but we never expected anything like this."
"What are we coming to?" Imilin wailed suddenly. "I can't stand just... standing around like this! I want to do something to help!"
"I don't see how we can," Nildarien said glumly as a most unwelcome voice spoke from behind her:
"The only way you could be a help to anyone would be to stay away from them."
"I did not ask for your opinion, Legolas," Nildarien retorted coolly. "And if I did, it couldn't mean much."
Before Legolas could respond, Nildarien marched away with Imilin to find out if they could assist the situation.
* * *
Shedheniel cleaned and bandaged the hobbits' minor wounds with great care. They all appeared to be different ages, and had identified themselves as Merry Brandybuck, Pippin Took, and Sam Gamgee. They all looked grim and worried.
"Don't cry, Master Gamgee," Shedheniel cooed to Sam, who was near tears. "Lord Elrond is an astounding healer. Why don't you come to the hall and gather what information you can. I'll take you there is you wish it. I believe Aragorn is already there."
"Aragorn?" Pippin and Sam wondered together.
"Strider," Merry interjected. "Aragorn is Strider."
"Strider?" said Shedheniel, wrinkling her nose. "That's not a name of his that I have heard. Well, come with me and you shall speak to him."
The hobbits kept close to Shedheniel as she led them to the hall, but as soon as they reached it, they disappeared into the crowd.
* * *
The East balcony had always been one of Nildarien's favorites. Though many considered the East a cursed way, the Misty Mountains towered there, and the sight of them had always calmed her. Calming was exactly what Nildarien needed, having just come from the library where she'd been involved in a rather nasty altercation with Legolas.
When Nildarien reached the balcony, she found someone already there: one of the hobbits, looking very sad and forlorn. He was sitting on a bench, swinging his feet, and frowning as though he'd never smile again. Nildarien sat down next to him.
"You're Sam, aren't you?" she asked.
"Yes, lady, I am," he answered glumly.
Nildarien studied him curiously for a moment; he seemed vaguely familiar.
"I'm sorry, but for some strange reason, I think I've seen you before," she said.
"Well, I've been here nearly four days," Sam remarked matter-of-factly and Nildarien laughed.
"No, no!" she said. "I meant I think I saw you before you came to Rivendell, but never mind. It will come to me eventually."
All this must have confused poor Sam terribly, but he didn't seem to care.
"Why are you so happy when everything is so wrong?" he asked.
Nildarien sighed and her smile faded.
"I only seem happy," she said. "But I haven't been truly happy for years. Still, when times are dark, a laugh brightens all."
"I take it you're right, lady," said Sam. "And I suppose I should get some rest now, seeing as that's what Gandalf sent me away to do."
"Indeed, you should," Nildarien said, standing. "If what I've been hearing is true, you've hardly slept or eaten for days."
Sam looked abashed at this and Nildarien shook her head.
"A hobbit who won't eat: a sure sign that things are amiss in the world!" she smiled. "Now go! Rest and eat! You're acting most un-hobbit-like and it's quite disturbing."
Sam shuffled off, and Nildarien noted that he looked very slightly more cheerful.
* * *
"Oh dear! The feast is about to start, isn't it? I need to change clothes!" Shedheniel yelped suddenly.
"There's at least an hour left before the feast. Why do you need to change?" Legolas asked.
"Just because I'm a warrior doesn't mean I don't care about my appearance. I'll see you at the feast, Legolas!" Shedheniel called as she ran off.
The moment she got to her room, she began to furiously pull the pins from her hair, sending the neat, braided bun cascading down her shoulders. Shedheniel gently unbraided the hair that hadn't unwound on its own and ran a comb through it. Her hair was naturally straight, but being constantly braided gave it a kinky look.
Hair still flying free, Shedheniel filed through her clothes until she found her favorite blue dress. Why was she dressing up? Well, she was sitting at the High table because of her fight with the Nazgûl, but maybe that wasn't the reason.
Shedheniel rushed to the feast and made it just in time. She quickly seated herself next to two dwarves. Legolas came and sat next to her, but he said naught and gazed about as if looking for someone.
"Who are you looking for?" Shedheniel ventured to ask after awhile. Legolas glanced at her for a moment and then looked away.
"My-" he started, then turned his eyes to her again. "Ai! Shedheniel, it's you! I did not recognize you for a moment. Your eyes gave you away." He shook his head and gazed at her in awe. "You look so-"
"Stop," said Shedheniel, holding up her hand. "You mustn't tease me. I know I look like a fool."
"That isn't what I was about to say."
Shedheniel was silent for awhile, listening to the different discussions around her. She caught a bit of conversation near her and gasped. Getting out of her seat, Shedheniel tapped the old dwarf near her on the shoulder.
"Shedheniel Illisel at your service," she said with a bow. The dwarf bowed low and answered:
"Glóin at yours and your family's."
"Why do you bow?" asked the younger dwarf at his side.
"I bow because I am not accustomed to such garments. I am a warrior, but if it will please you, I will curtsy," Shedheniel sighed. She grabbed the ends of her dress and dipped into a wobble curtsy. Legolas grabbed her elbow to steady her, chuckling softly to himself.
"Well, Master Glóin," Shedheniel began. "I couldn't help but overhear your most recent conversation." She flicked her eyes towards Frodo momentarily and continued. "If you were part of Master Bilbo's company then you were....well... held captive in Mirkwood for awhile. I was living there then and perhaps you could tell me how you escaped?"
"Shedheniel! That's what this is about? You talked of nothing else for weeks!" Legolas laughed. Glóin smiled.
Shedheniel listened intently as the old dwarf explained their escape in the wine barrels.
"An ingenious plan!" she laughed. "But it had its problems. The old fool! How did he escape?"
"Grabbed onto a barrel I suppose," the dwarf answered. At that moment, Elrond rose from his seat, his daughter Arwen beside him, and entered the Hall of Fire. The rest of the guests followed in pairs.
Shedheniel found herself walking next to Pippin. Legolas ended up walking next to, of all the merry folk in the room, Nildarien. Shedheniel noted this immediately, and shot a warning glance at the both of them, ending any verbal battle before it began.
Nildarien and Legolas stood as far apart as they could, and glared daggers at each other until they were in the hall.
Nildarien went to find Imilin, and Legolas found his way to where Shedheniel was speaking to Glorfindel.
Glorfindel went off to speak to others and Shedheniel noticed Legolas giving him a suspicious look.
"Something wrong, Legolas?" she asked, trying to read his features. "Are-are you jealous of Glorfindel?"
"Jealous? Why would I be jealous of him?" Legolas asked with a start.
"You need not be. I don't know him very well," said Shedheniel. For awhile, she and Legolas spoke of happier times and places, but soon Shedheniel grew tired and went to bed. The council would be held the next day.
* * *
Shedheniel sat on the branch of a tree, humming softly to herself in the morning light. The crisp autumn air was sweet and the Sun was shining brightly.
"Shedheniel! Shedheniel!" the call echoed through the valley; it was Legolas. Shedheniel grinned. Time to play a little trick.
"Over here!" she called back, projecting her voice. It echoed so it was nearly impossible to tell where she was. Shedheniel had used this trick countless times on Nildarien until her sister realized she only ever sat in one tree.
"Where?" Legolas called again.
"Keep walking forward!" Shedheniel sang loudly. Now he was right beneath the tree. Making sure her feet were hooked under the branch, Shedheniel swung backward.
Legolas jumped back in surprise and she laughed.
"You called?" she said with a flourish.
"The Council is about to start. You're coming aren't you?" asked Legolas. He smiled at Shedheniel. She looked so ridiculous hanging upside down, her golden hair floating like waves in the breeze.
"Of course I'm coming. I wouldn't miss it for the-" Shedheniel stopped. She was losing her footing.
"What's wrong?" Legolas asked. Shedheniel didn't answer. She was too busy trying to regain hold of the tree. In a desperate attempt not to fall, she tried to swing back up. Instead she lost all footing and fell. Shedheniel closed her eyes and braced herself, expecting to feel the hard ground. Instead, strong arms caught her before she hit the earth. Slowly, Shedheniel opened her eyes.
"You didn't think I'd let you fall, did you?" said Legolas, cradling her in his arms.
"Well...I..." Shedheniel stammered. She knew she was blushing.
"That's what I thought!" said Legolas. The bell for the Council rang. "We need to go."
"You might want to put me down first, Legolas!" Shedheniel laughed.
Now it was his turn to blush.
"Oh! Yes, good idea."
He set her down and they ran at top speed towards the Council.