“When do you have to leave?” Telden asked as he and Nildarien jogged down the hall.
“Tomorrow evening,” she replied, fumbling with the key to her room on a chain around her waist.
“Telden, could you go find Shedheniel and tell her to come up here? We need to pack.”
He nodded and darted off. Nildarien swept into her room and began gathering things she would need.
Moments later, Shedheniel burst in. Her eyes fell on the pack and jumble of items lying on the bed and she stopped short.
“Nildarien, what are you doing?” she yelped.
“Start packing, Shedheniel. We’re going to Rivendell.”
“But why? How? We haven’t got directions!”
“We do now,” Nildarien said, not looking up from her work. “The last of mother’s relatives are going to the Havens as soon as spring breaks. They want to see us and we need to be there before Mid-winter. We leave tomorrow evening.”
“Does the king know?”
“Yes. I told him right after Gwindor brought me the letter.”
Nildarien pointed to the folded parchment on the table. Shedheniel picked it up and read it.
“I don’t want to go!” she wailed.
“Neither do I, but we can always come back,” Nildarien said calmly. “Now you’d better start packing.”
Shedheniel sighed and left the room.
Nildarien finished packing and set her bag next to her bed, leaving it open in case she needed to add anything later. She leaned on the windowsill and watched the sun set behind the mountains. It was going to be a clear night; one she did not intend to pass indoors. She grabbed her cloak and headed out of the palace.
She wandered under the trees for a while, then lay down under a large beech. The blue of the sky faded to purple and the first stars twinkled to life. Everything was so peaceful, that after several minutes, Nildarien fell asleep.
* * *
Telden was merely passing through the glade, but he saw her; Nildarien lying asleep beneath the star dappled boughs of the tree. Her shorn locks reflected the light of the winter moon, making her seem to glow with an angelic radiance.
Approaching slowly so she wouldn’t wake, he knelt next to her and brushed her hair away from her face.
“Songs proclaim the beauty of Lúthien, but this lady is fairer than any to me,” he thought and his heart ached with the knowledge that he would soon lose her; possibly forever.
Telden then realized how cold it really was and that Nildarien couldn’t stay the whole night outside. He took her key from the chain on which it was clasped and gathered her gently into his arms. He carried her to her room, unlocked the door, and laid her on the bed. As he was returning her key to its chain, Telden noticed her pack lying open on the floor. He took two envelopes from his pocket and tucked them safely inside. He stood and watched Nildarien with an expression that would have broken her heart were she awake.
Telden leaned forward and softly kissed her forehead, then he left; closing the door behind him with a heavy heart.
* * *
Shedheniel hadn’t gone to her room to pack when she ran out of Nildarien’s door. Instead, feeling like running might sooth her emotions for the moment, she sprinted from the palace. She smacked into some unsuspecting stranger in the courtyard, but not wishing to show her weakness, she ran off without apologizing or noting who it was.
For a while she blundered through the woods until she came to the clearing she was looking for.
Shedheniel sprinted up the grassy hill as fast as she could. She didn’t care if she spoiled her nice green dinner dress. She was too caught up in her emotions to care, or to notice that someone had followed her out to the clearing.
Shedheniel stopped at the peak of the hill where it ended. She looked over the edge of the cliff that dropped down many feet to a river below. Shedheniel sighed and closed her eyes. She let the breeze wash over her like a wave. It toyed with her hair and rumpled her dress.
Shedheniel stepped forward and threw out her arms. Some of the rocks beneath her feet were weak and gave way to her weight. Shedheniel screamed and tried to regain her balance. She teetered on the ledge as if between life and death, and death was winning.
Shedheniel was pulled back suddenly and with so much force that it sent her and her rescuer tumbling down the hill. When the painful tumbling stopped, Shedheniel opened her eyes.
“Why do you always show up when I do something foolish, Legolas?” she groaned and noticed she was lying on her back.
“I don’t know. Perhaps I’m lucky,” he replied. He was kneeling over her with a look of intense concern. Shedheniel sat up quickly. Too quickly for Legolas to move, and their lips met. It was purely accident, but the kiss meant something to both of them. They pulled away at the same time in shock and surprise. For a while neither of them spoke.
“Whatever happened,” said Legolas finally, “its not worth throwing your life away.”
“Throwing my life away? Why would I do that? I was falling. I owe you my life,” Shedheniel whispered. She sighed. “I’m going back up to the top.”
“Wait! I’m coming with,” Legolas said.
Shedheniel rolled her eyes.
“I promise you, I’m not trying to kill myself.”
“Then why do you seem so upset?”
Shedheniel felt tears well up in her eyes. She took his hand and jogged to the cliff-side and sat down.
“We’re- we’re leaving, Legolas.”
“Nildarien and I are leaving Mirkwood,” Shedheniel said bitterly. Then she began to cry. Why did this hurt so much? Her heart felt like it was being torn in two. Legolas put his arm around her and Shedheniel cried on his shoulder for a long time.
“I- I’m sorry to bother you with this, Legolas,” she said. “I feel like such a weakling sometimes. I try to be strong like Nildarien or brave like you, but I’m always the first to cry. I feel like a great burden to everyone I love and care about.”
“Shedheniel, you could never be a burden to any one. You have so much faith in this world; in this time. When you are happy, you glow and your happiness spreads to those around you. That is why those who love you, do. You’re wonderful as you are. Never ever change.”
“Thank you, Legolas. This is the reason I- I…” She never finished her sentence. Her head had nodded onto his shoulder. Shedheniel had fallen asleep.
Legolas sighed and noticed that they were still holding hands. He untwined his hand from hers and picked her up in his arms. Then he began to make his way towards the palace.
* * *
Nildarien opened her eyes and was surprised to find herself in her room. How had she gotten there? She distinctly remembered falling asleep in the woods.
Nildarien covered her face, trying to remember the dream she’d been having. It had been such a wonderful dream. Slowly, it came to her…
She was standing on a high, white balcony overlooking a city. She glanced at the sky and her eyes focused on a bright star. Then, it seemed that the star came to her and wrapped its light around her. Safe in its silvery glow, it lifted her up, away from the balcony. A voice whispered in her ear…
The memory began to slip away and Nildarien sighed. It had been a calming dream, but what could it mean? That voice had been so familiar…
A knocking at her door interrupted her thoughts.
“Nildarien! Let me in!” Legolas hissed from outside. He had Shedheniel asleep in his arms and was knocking on Nildarien’s door as quietly as possible.
Nildarien clambered out of bed and opened the door. For a moment, she and Legolas gaped at each other. Nildarien blinked.
“Nightmare,” she remarked and closed the door.
“Let me in, Nildarien!” Legolas growled.
Nildarien sighed and opened the door again.
“What do you want?”
“The spare key to your sister’s room.”
“Just use the side door, it’s unlocked,” said Nildarien. Then she added angrily, “And then get out of my sight! You are the last thing I want to remember about Mirkwood!”
Legolas glared, but didn’t answer. He quickly went into Shedheniel’s room and closed the door.
Legolas set Shedheniel on the bed and covered her with his cloak.
“You said I was brave,” he whispered. “But I’m really just a coward who’s afraid to tell you how I feel.”
He bent and kissed her gently on the lips before leaving her room.
* * *
The sisters’ last day in Mirkwood passed in a melancholy blur, and before they knew it their horses were saddled, their bags were packed and they were standing at the edge of the wood, saying some final good-byes.
Shedheniel hugged Legolas and gave him a kiss on the cheek. As she did this, she pressed something into his hand. It was her handkerchief. It was a silver blue color, and Legolas thought it the color of the Moon.
“Your handkerchief?” he asked.
“It’s my favorite. Take it, for I will come back and claim it again soon.”
“I’m afraid I have nothing for you to remember me by,” Nildarien said, trying not to cry.
Telden smiled a little.
“I need one not, nor do I ask for one. You will always be remembered,” he said.
Nildarien a tear sliding down her cheek and embraced him.
“You mean so much to me,” she whispered tearfully. “It pains me to leave.”
“I understand,” Telden said soothingly.
The Sun was disappearing and the light was fading fast. Nildarien sighed.
“I have to leave now,” she said. “Goodbye.”
Telden remained silent. Nildarien kissed him on the cheek and stepped back slowly, reluctant to let go of his hand. She turned away quickly, biting her lip to hold back tears. She swung up into Rahar’s saddle and turned him to the mountains. Nildarien waited for Shedheniel to mount, and then they galloped off West.
When they vanished from sight, Legolas turned back to the wood, but Telden stood watching the place where they had disappeared.
“Namarië, Anarwen,” he said quietly. “I spoke truth to you when I said that I asked for no token, but I did not name the one I desire most.”
Telden walked away, his thoughts on Nildarien. He collapsed next to a tree and leaned his head against it. Though she had just left, he could think of nothing but Nildarien, and now that she was gone, he was finally going to leave Mirkwood. Telden sighed.
“I have no reason to stay now,” he thought. “Perhaps I’ll go South, I have not been there for many years, and maybe I will find rest.”
But even as he thought this, Telden knew he would find no rest until he saw Nildarien, but he did not see her again for a very long time.
* * *
The sisters reached Rivendell quickly and without much trouble. They received a warm welcome from their mother’s kin and from Lord Elrond, who had heard of their parts in the battle.
Nildarien instantly like the beautiful valley with its gardens and pine forests, which she had a mind to explore as soon as she was settled in.
When she had changed and eaten, she ran up to her room to unpack. She pulled out the green dress that was her favorite of the ones she had worn in Mirkwood, and as she did, two envelopes fell to the floor. Nildarien tossed the dress onto the bed and picked them up; both were addressed to her.
Nildarien sat down on the bed and slit the lighter envelope open. Inside was a letter written in a light, neat script:
I hope this letter finds you safe in the house of Elrond after a pleasant journey. I am writing to you because I could not find the words, or the courage, to tell you before you left. I know you have heard something of this before, but I will now explain it further.
When I first met you, I admired your spirit and eagerness to learn, but it was not until later that the fire of your eyes burned in my heart. What I felt when near you or speaking of you I disregarded at first, but on the night of the tournament I finally realized the extent of my feelings.
You must have guessed by now, but I confess: I love you deeply. I am not myself without you, my sweet lady of the sun. My soul bleeds at your departure and I no longer find peace here. I am leaving soon, to travel the wild as I once did, only now an enchantment is upon me and nothing save the sight of you may lift it.
I know not how you will take this sudden declaration, nor if you return what I feel for you, but I want you to know that I am ever at your service.
Yours to the end of days,
As she read the letter, Nildarien felt tears welling up in her eyes. She put the letter aside and opened the second envelope.
Inside was a beautiful silver pendant in the shape of a hawk, wings spread, with a dark emerald in the center. Beneath it was a note written in the same hand as the letter:
Wear this, and do not forget me.
The tears that had been threatening to fall from Nildarien’s eyes finally spilled over. She flung herself on the bed with the pendant clutched in her hand and cried, heartbroken.
* * *
Nildarien tried her best to be cheerful over the next few days, but a new discovery rose to torment her heart, already riven with regret.
One day, near evening, she retired early to her room. She opened her door and a beam of light met her. She shielded her eyes from the brightness and when she uncovered them, she found that it had been caused by the setting Sun glancing off the silver hilt of her knife. She looked at it and noticed that a small area was not shining. Nildarien picked up the knife and peered closely at the hilt. On it was engraved one word: Anarwen.
Tears blurred Nildarien’s sight and she set the knife down.
“Anarwen, the lady of the sun,” she thought. “Now I understand.”
She walked slowly to the Northeast window and stared out.
“I am sorry Telden,” she whispered. “I did not mean to cast you into the night.”
The last light faded from the world, and with it went the vivacious fire of Nildarien’s eyes.
* * * * * *
Here ends Book One: From the Sea to the Wood, of
The Maids of Mithlond.
Book Two: Shadows Rising, continues the tale of
Shedheniel and Nildarien concerning the rise of Sauron.