Aldariel felt herself, well, not her whole self, flying through space and time, and yet in the same moment, she felt as if she was standing still. Memories of her life flashed by in a random order. Then suddenly the memories ceased and she was heading for a palace, the like of which she had never seen before. Its sheer beauty and size, coupled with mixed feelings of sadness and joy, held her in awe. Without a doubt, Aldariel knew this was Mandos’ dwelling place, in which were his great Halls.
As she stared in wonder, two figures of tall stature, emanating light, came from nowhere to block her path. They gave the impression of being lordly and beautiful, though their forms were kept from her. Aldariel was unable to speak.
“Fair elven maid, we cannot suffer you to pass,” a deep, resonating, and distinctly male voice said.
“For it is not yet your time to leave the Circles of the Earth,” His female companion said, her voice clear and comforting, “You have yet to complete your task, and your life has not yet been truly lived.”
“So we will send you back, Lady of Laurels; Back to Middle Earth,” The male voice continued. Before Aldariel had a chance to think about it, she felt herself going back whence she came.
Behind her, she heard the two voices combined in a glorious harmony calling, “When all seems hopeless, remember you have the blessings of Manwe and Varda!”
As the tent flap flew open, a bright flash of light hit Farand full in the face. He was instantly wide-awake.
“What?” Farand demanded as he shielded his eyes.
“Sir, the elf is gone,” came the voice outside, obviously confident Farand would know which elf he was talking about.
Farand leaped out of bed and hurriedly got dressed, all the while muttering, “Rash, stupid, unprepared…” Then he ran outside. “Sound the horn,” Farand said to his messenger, “We must leave at once.”
The messenger took off at a run. Before long, the once quiet camp had turned into a bustling center of activity. Tents were torn down, supplies packed, and the horses quickly saddled. The wounded had already been sent back to their first camp, and the few dead had already been burned, all except for one. When all was made ready, only two lone tents were left standing.
“Sir,” started Farand’s aide-de-camp. “What of the elves’ belongings, and the…Princess?” Emotions warred on the captain’s face before expediency won through.
“Leave them,” he commanded, “and the three horses. We can’t afford to carry anything we don’t need. Speed is of the essence.” Then the long line of Riders began to move.
Legolas was making good time. Alone, he had reached Mirkwood in half the time, and he had a secret item that was leading him to the stone. He wasn’t about to let anyone get a hold of the last piece of the stone, in case its power could be awakened by anyone, so he had taken Aldariel’s necklace.
When he reached the edge of the forest, he noticed the tiny stone beginning to glow with a white light. As he journeyed on the glow intensified. It was in this way Legolas discovered that the small piece was taking him to the whole. He was about a third of the way up the Western border of the great forest when the stone’s light began to dim. Legolas backtracked about a mile to where he thought the glow seemed brightest, then plunged into the dark, enclosed forest. He felt strangely at home even though he was nowhere near the fair Woodland Realm. Ever as he walked on, the light continued to grow brighter, casting long shadows over the trees.
Aldariel awoke as if from a deep sleep; which, for an elf is odd enough in and of itself. Memory came flooding back and she tentatively touched her side. The wound was completely healed.
Looking about her, Aldariel recognized she was in a tent, but it was not her own. Outside it was eerily silent for a camp. Sliding off the cot, Aldariel located her bow and arrows, and then headed outside. There she stood, frozen in shock. Everyone else was gone.
I can’t have been dead for all that long, she thought to herself. Hearing an indignant neigh, Aldariel noticed three horses tethered near another tent: three very familiar horses and one very familiar tent. She started piecing things together. Everyone must have gotten up and left in a hurry, leaving all they didn’t need behind, including her. In that moment she was very grateful that they hadn’t burned or buried her body. Realizing that something must have happened, Aldariel hurriedly packed her belongings. Running to a nearby stream, she washed her face and filled her canteen. Then she changed into her own, perfectly fitted clothes and let her hair hang free. I won’t be making that particular mistake again, she thought wryly.
She leaped onto Aranor’s back, and then, leading Arpenya and Arahir, Aldariel galloped off, following the Rider’s tracks.
Farand and his men rode hard. They stopped for only a few hours’ sleep each night, for Farand felt a sudden sense of urgency. He continually worried about Layiwen, and ever in the back of his mind pressed a feeling that the wheels of Fate had started turning, and they could not be stopped.
He reached Mirkwood Forest a scarce day ahead of Legolas. Farand stood in awe of the forest’s splendor, and quailed in fear at the terror within the shadows of the trees. He then ground his teeth in frustration, for he had no way of telling where the Cheberacoi was. His Riders were silently watching him, awaiting his decision.
“Let us continue riding north!” Farand called authoritatively. He swung into his saddle once more. As he did so a fell roaring filled the air. A monolithic beast filled the air above the Riders. It was the wyvern. His great wings stirred up dust, choking the men. An overpowering stench followed in his wake, and his tail lashed out at them as he passed. Worst of all, the Company could see the eyes, which burned with hatred, malice, and above all, hunger.
The soldiers started to scatter.
“Hold your positions!” Farand’s voice came clearly over the maelstrom of noise, causing the Company to take heed.
“You fool, do you honestly think you can stand against me?” The dust cleared and all who stood observed a rider upon the wyvern.
Farand drew his sword. “I do not fear you Durndil! Give us back the elven maidens you hold captive, or I will slaughter you!”
Durndil simply laughed his derision. “I don’t think so. I’m going to leave and let my pet devour you, as I have other matters to attend to; but don’t worry, your precious lady and her friend will join you beyond this world.” With a bright flash of light, the prince of shadows was gone, leaving his servant to ravage as he willed.
The wyvern lunged, tearing apart a soldier with teeth and claws. Blood dripping from his gaping jaws, the wyvern started to lunge again, but a shout and a clattering of hooves interrupted him.
All eyes turned to see none other than the Princess Aldariel pounding toward the road toward them, arrow at the ready. All who saw her were held in awe, for it seemed she had beaten death and was now the hand of justice come to chase away the shadows; and at that moment, the sun burst through the clouds a bathed Aldariel in a golden fire; and caused her eyes to blaze with a fierce light.
Leaping off her horse, she released her arrow and it found its mark in the creature’s open jaws, piercing the roof of his mouth. The wyvern cried in agony and indignation, but against the princess he could not stand. He fled in shame, and in his pain he crashed through the trees. The men lifted their bows.
“Peace! Do not fire, for his trail will lead us back to his master’s lair,” Aldariel said, staying their hands. Farand was having a hard time with this sudden turn of events.
“I saw you,” he said shakily, “You were dead.”
Aldariel smiled. “I was, but by the grace of the Valar I have returned.” She mounted Aranor. “But come Captain, we must ride swiftly in the wyvern’s path.” Then her voice seemed to falter as she glanced around. “Where is Legolas?” She inquired.
Farand looked directly at her, “He has gone milady.” Haldir pushed through the crowd, delighted to see her, but sorry to bear such ill news.
“He has gone to do as you asked. He said he would not fail you again,” he said.
“Alone?” Aldariel whispered softly.
“Alone,” Haldir confirmed.
Aldariel sat up tall and straight. “We must move twice as quickly, for time is against us. Wait for me here, I must recover the horses I left at the top of the ridge,” she said, attempting to cover her fears, “And Farand?”
“Yes milady?” He asked.
“Stop calling me `milady.’ I’m just Aldariel.”