It took Nildarien several days to get over the shock of what she had done in the mountains, but now they left them far behind. They stood now on the threshold of Mirkwood, and Shedheniel did not like it at all.
“It’s all so- so black,” she said for lack of a better word.
“I know,” said Nildarien. “I don’t like it much either, but it’s like I said before, we haven’t got a choice.”
So, leading their horses slowly and warily they passed into the forest. They did not like to describe that journey, for it was always dark and about five days after entering, their food began to run short. Still they went on having no clear idea of how to get where they wanted to go. But on the tenth day, lost and weary, they were saved by mere chance.
“Why, oh why did we ever leave the path?” wailed Shedheniel.
“You know very well why,” said Nildarien as she snapped branches to make a way. Two nights ago they had left the path to go after the horses who had mysteriously run off. Now they were lost and still, so were the horses.
“Look! A path!” cried Nildarien. They pushed through the branches and stumbled out onto it. So weary were they that they did not notice that the trees were more even and that it was less dark. They began to walk slowly down the path and ahead they saw a gleam of light. They cried out and ran towards it. Then, without warning, they found themselves surrounded with spears and arrows facing them.
“We will not bind you if you come willingly,” said a voice.
To tired to speak or resist, they walked on, their captors holding them at arrow-point.
“What is going on?” Shedheniel said quietly. “These are wood-elves, why are they holding us captive?”
“I’m guessing it’s because they don’t know us. They have a mistrust of strangers. But this is a lucky chance, see, they are taking us to their king,” said Nildarien.
The wood-elves led them through high doors in a cliff side and down tunnels gleaming in the torchlight. They reached two smaller doors and guards opened them. They saw many elves assembled about the hall. On a throne at the far wall sat the king. On his right stood a tall lord very like him.
“Oh, who’s that?” said Shedheniel, obviously interested.
“Shedheniel! This is no time to be flirtatious!” Nildarien snapped.
“Oh! Yes, sorry. What?”
“You keep quiet; I’ll do the talking,” she said.
“Bring forth the captives,” said the king.
Nildarien stepped forward and bowed her head.
“Hail Thranduil, King of Northern Mirkwood,” she said.
“Name yourselves,” said Thranduil commandingly.
“I am Nildarien Illisel and this is my sister Shedheniel. We come from Mithlond.”
“What errand would elves from Mithlond have in my realm?” he said.
“One of some importance, but first I would know this; why did your guards attack us? Word was sent of our coming,” said Nildarien. At this, Thranduil stood.
“Word you may have sent, but none have I received,” he said.
“Then hear now: your guard and honored soldier, Gonthalion, who was our father, has passed into the West along with Illis of Rivendell, our mother.”
A murmur ran through the hall at this.
“Heavy are these tidings,” said Thranduil. “Yet you are kin to my people and are now honored guests here, Maidens of Mithlond. You are weary and will soon be refreshed. Gwivien, Lindorel! Take these maids to desirable chambers and you Galion, alert the kitchens and bring up the best wine. We will feast tonight!”
The assembled elves clapped at this. Presently, two cheery elves approached the sisters, one with red hair and one with brown. The red head introduced herself as Gwivien and the other as Lindorel. The two girls led Nildarien and Shedheniel through a passage off the hall and up several flights of stairs.
“Here are your rooms,” said Gwivien. “I hope they are to your liking.”
They were lovely spacious rooms with windows looking out into the courtyard and a door in the wall that joined them together.
“When you have finished bathing, you can wear these,” said Lindorel as she laid two green dresses on the bed. With that they exited the room, leaving the sisters to themselves.
* * *
An hour or so later, Shedheniel was seated behind Nildarien, pinning her sister’s hair into place. Both were wearing green and were nearly impossible to tell apart except for the eyes and the fact that Nildarien’s braids crossed her forehead, whereas Shedheniel’s met in the back.
“Be sure to enjoy yourself Shedheniel,” said Nildarien. “I will be most disappointed if you do not. Ow!”
One of the pins had jabbed into her head.
“Sorry Nildarien. What makes you think I wouldn’t?”
“Oh, it’s just..”
At that moment, Lindorel entered.
“I was sent to fetch you; the feast is ready.” Nildarien and Shedheniel rose and followed Lindorel down the same stairs and through the same tunnel as before. They entered the hall to a flood of applause. A high table was against the wall facing the main door and two other tables were set against the sidewalls leaving the center open. Lindorel left them, and they proceeded to the high table. Thranduil and the lord at his side stood to greet them. Nildarien and Shedheniel curtsied.
“Welcome to my halls,” said Thranduil. He gestured to his companion. “This is my son, Legolas,” he said.
Legolas bowed and out of the corner of her eye, Nildarien saw Shedheniel turning red. The girls sat on the king’s right with Legolas between them.
“Tell me of your journey,” he said, “for two ladies who have traveled so far must have a tale worth hearing.”
They accounted the journey for him, leaving out the bit about the avalanche as the sisters had agreed to do earlier. Legolas listened intently and asked many questions, especially concerning Gwindor and the horses.
After several hours, he mentioned something that eventually led to a very horrible situation that took many years to sort out.
“You say you lost your horses two days ago?” he asked. Shedheniel nodded. “It was two days ago that our scouts brought horses out of the woods.”
Nildarien looked at her sister.
“Might we see them?” she asked.
“Certainly,” he replied. They stood and followed Legolas through a back door that led to the stables. In a stall near the front of the barn was Tarva. She gave a happy whinny when she saw them, and Shedheniel threw her arms around the mare’s neck. Legolas turned to Nildarien with a doubting look.
“The other is out here,” he said, going to the end of the stable.
“He’s wild and will let no one near him. We had a hard time getting him in.”
He opened the doors and Nildarien’s eyes widened.
“Rahar!” she gasped. He was galloping around the enclosure, bucking and screaming. Nildarien vaulted over the fence and whistled. Rahar paused for a moment then came flying down to meet his mistress. He put his head against her neck and nickered. Nildarien stroked his nose and spoke softly to him.
Legolas watched in astonishment. No one, not even the best horseman in Mirkwood, had been able to calm that horse, and here was a lady, a mere child in comparison to him, controlling it easily.
Nildarien led Rahar out of the enclosure and set him in the empty stall next to Tarva. Shedheniel was no longer there.
“I find it hard to believe that you can control this horse,” said Legolas coldly. At this, Nildarien felt a slight twinge of annoyance.
“You have seen that I can, have you not?” she said rather sharply.
“Indeed, your horse answers well to you, but to whom do you answer? To no one is my guess; you are to haughty for that,” his voice was disdainful. Nildarien faced him, her expression calm.
“Indeed, I am haughty,” she said, “but tell me; do all the lords of Mirkwood speak rudely to their guests or do some of them posses sweeter temperaments than yourself?”
His eyes blazed with anger, but Nildarien smiled.
“Farewell lord of disdain,” she said, and headed back inside.
That night, Shedheniel came into Nildarien’s room by way of the door.
“Nildarien, what do you think of Legolas? Tell me truly.”
“In truth I found him to be arrogant and disagreeable,” she said.
“Oh, Nildarien how can you say such a thing?! But no matter, I found him to be quite amiable. Besides he’s handsome!”
“Well, think what you will, but I do NOT think well on him!”
Time passed and the situation between Legolas and Nildarien did not improve.
She avoided him and he avoided her as much as possible. Actually, their next confrontation did not take place until some time later and, though it was bad, it was not the worst.
* * *
Several weeks after their arrival, Nildarien began to grow curious about styles of fighting. After watching a few competitions, she and Shedheniel longed to learn to fight. Shedheniel wished to learn archery while Nildarien had taken a fancy to knifing. They spoke with the king and he agreed to let them learn.
First, he found them teachers; Nildarien’s teacher was and elf named Telden, and much to Shedheniel’s liking, Legolas agreed to teach her archery.
“How’s that?” said Shedheniel.
“Hmm, your shooting is perfect, but you keep holding the bow wrong,” Legolas said.
“What am I doing wrong?” asked Shedheniel, her brown eyes shining.
“You need to move this hand down..um..here, let me show you,” he said. He put his hands on hers and adjusted her grip. Shedheniel thought her heart might stop. He let go and let her shoot again. Her arrow sliced the other in half. Legolas whistled in approval.
“Much better,” he said. Shedheniel squealed.
“Would you like to be done for today? It’s getting dark,” he said.
“I’ll walk you to your room if you want,” Legolas offered.
“Oh! I’d like that,” Shedheniel said smiling. The two elves headed towards the palace.
* * *
Nildarien whirled around and locked knives with Telden. Using her free hand she unsheathed her other knife and put it at his neck.
“Ai! This is a one blade combat, Nildarien,” Telden said with a smile.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” she said, removing her second knife and returning it to the sheath in her right boot.
“That was good thinking though,” said Telden and Nildarien grinned.
She had been at her lessons for several weeks now, and was learning quickly, for Telden was a wonderful teacher. With his jet-black hair and dark grey eyes, Nildarien thought he looked more like an Exile from the old tales than a Wood-elf, but she had to admit, he was rather attractive.
“Want to try again?” he asked.
“Alright,” Nildarien replied and they began.
Their knives flashed and clanged. This time, Telden fought harder. Slowly, he began to back her toward a tree. Nildarien realized what he had done when her back hit the tree.
Telden knocked her feet out from under her. As he lunged with his knife, Nildarien kicked upward. Telden’s knife flew out of his hand. In one quick movement Nildarien grabbed the knife, spun around and pinned Telden to the tree. Her wrists were crossed in front of his neck and both of her hands held knives. Telden looked shocked. Strands of his dark hair hung in his face and his grey eyes looked into hers.
“I-I never realized how bright your eyes are,” he stammered. Nildarien stepped back quickly and pressed his knife into his hand.
“I think we should stop for today,” she said as she backed out of the clearing.
“I’ve got to find my sister,” she thought.
* * *
“Thanks for walking me,” said Shedheniel. She blinked and the fading light made her eyes sparkle and shine. Legolas reached out and tucked a stray lock of hair behind Shedheniel’s ear.
“You’re very welcome,” he said softly. Shedheniel was thankful for the darkness so Legolas couldn’t see how red she’d turned. The two stood watching each other’s eyes at a loss for words. Legolas opened his mouth to speak.
“Shedheniel!” Nildarien came running up. “Oh. Am I disturbing something?” she asked. Legolas suddenly realized how close he and Shedheniel were standing. He backed up.
“Oh, no, I was just leaving,” he said and turned to go. Shedheniel caught his arm.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. Legolas nodded and walked away. Shedheniel sighed and watched him go.
“Shedheniel, we need to talk.” Nildarien pulled her sister into her room and leaned against the door with her head in her hands.
“Nildarien, what is going on?”
“What about him?” asked Shedheniel.
“Ah! I don’t know!” Nildarien yelled, running her fingers through her hair.
“You like him?” prompted Shedheniel with a smile.
“Oh… I… yes,” Nildarien said, flopping down on the bed next to Shedheniel with her head hanging over the side.
“I have a tale to tell myself you know. You just walked in on a very romantic moment,” sighed Shedheniel shaking her head. She flopped down and let her head hang off the bed too.
“Oh wonderful for you,” said Nildarien, “and sorry about that. I have come to my wise sister for counsel. Help me all knowing one!”
“The `all knowing one’ wishes to know what happened.”
Nildarien sighed. “Long story short, he was teaching me and I pinned him to a tree,”
“Oh!” said Shedheniel.
“Stop it!” said Nildarien, giggling, “he mentioned that my eyes were bright.”
“What do you mean that’s it!?”
“Legolas escorts me up to my room and.. well, so far that was it, but you came and scared him away. He could have kissed me!” Shedheniel realized that she had said too much and her hands flew to her mouth.
“Oh so that’s it is it?” said Nildarien jumping up. Then she burst out laughing.
“What? What’s so funny?” said a bewildered Shedheniel. Nildarien calmed herself enough to say, “We’re hopeless! Completely hopeless!” Shedheniel started to laugh too.
“We are hopeless, aren’t we?” she said.
* * *
Shedheniel tugged her sister’s arm. It was dinnertime and the twins were dressed up and facing each other.
“What is it Shedheniel?”
“Telden keeps looking at you,” she giggled.
Nildarien met his gaze for a moment before turning away, her face crimson.
“Go and talk to him,” Shedheniel urged.
“No… I, I couldn’t.”
Shedheniel was struck with a brilliant idea. Looking around she caught Legolas’s attention. He got up and came over to their table. Nildarien immediately excused herself.
“Gee, Nildarien,” said Shedheniel slyly, “why don’t you go speak to Telden?”
“You did that on purpose!” Nildarien hissed.
“Yes, and someday you’ll thank me.”
Nildarien walked over to another table.
“What do you want?” asked Legolas.
“Oh! I knew if you came over here, she would have to leave. Then she’d go talk to Telden,” Shedheniel said.
“It’s so wonderful to be needed! You encourage me.”
“That’s my job!” Shedheniel laughed.
“No, and speaking of jobs, I think I’m ready to sign up for… something.”
“Sign up for what? Are you expecting a war? Though I must say you’re a good enough archer…ess to try a tournament.”
“You really think so?” asked Shedheniel innocently.
“I know so.”
* * *
Nildarien made her way to where Telden was sitting.
“It’s good to see someone who doesn’t seem to be mocking me,” she said.
“I could not help but notice that you chose to quit your sister’s table upon the arrival of Legolas,” he said, standing up.
“Yes, we are on… er… less then friendly terms.”
“Could you possibly tell me why?”
“Oh, yes, I could. But not here.”
“Would you like to, um, go for a walk?” he asked tentatively.
“Yes, I would, thank you.”
Telden escorted her out of the hall onto a balcony.
“So tell me, what of your enmity with Legolas?”
Nildarien began to talk; more freely than she had to anyone on the matter, even Shedheniel. Telden listened politely and nodded as if he understood. When Nildarien had finished he said,
“Let me see this horse the `lord of disdain’ believes you so unable to handle.” Nildarien led him to Rahar’s stall. He laughed when he saw him.
“Legolas is obviously a poor judge of character! A mount that was any less fiery would not suit you.”
“You do not doubt me then?” she asked.
“What reason do I have to do so?” he said more quietly. Nildarien smiled.
“Then my taunt was correct. Some lords of Mirkwood do posses sweeter temperments.”
Telden reached up and touched one of the braids in Nildarien’s long gold hair. Strains of song and laughter reached them from the hall and the sound seemed to shunt Telden from his thoughts. He quickly withdrew his hand.
“I- I’ll walk you back Nildarien,” he said.
“Ah, y-yes that would be… good.” The two walked slowly back, neither daring to speak.
* * *
Legolas sighed, “My dear Shedheniel, if you get any better you will surpass me in the skills of archery.”
“I doubt that,” she said.
“Even if I pass you in skills, you have more experience than me. I fear that if I am ever needed I will freeze during a battle.”
“Now I am the one who is doubting,” said Legolas.
“And why is that?”
“Battles… battles are terrible, but it’s easier to keep a clear head than you think. You do not need more advice than that,” he said. For a moment he seemed to be dwelling on unpleasant memories.
He blinked. “Yes?”
“You look sad.”
“I am fine, but there is nothing more I can teach you.”
“It thrills me to know I am equal to you in skills, but if you teach me no more I will miss your company,” said Shedheniel. Suddenly, Legolas smiled.
“I can teach you no more in archery, but if a time comes when you are out of arrows you will still need to fight. Might I teach you of swords?”
“Yes, of course,” said Shedheniel.
* * *
Nildarien was exhausted. Her lesson had been extremely trying and she had found it hard to concentrate. But why, she didn’t know, or rather, she thought she didn’t. It was near to evening and she stood leaning on the garden fence watching the sun set beyond the mountains. Suddenly, she heard voices. One of them she recognized immediately as Telden’s, but it took her a moment to realize that he was talking to Legolas. She quickly hid herself behind a hedge and listened.
“You have seemed preoccupied of late, my friend,” said Legolas, “What troubles you?”
“Ah, you ask me what troubles me when the same joyful malady that plagues me rents your own heart,” said Telden.
“Nay, do not protest!” he laughed. “My eyes are sharper than you know, Legolas! I have seen how fondly you look on Shedheniel.”
“You read me too well, Telden! But why can I not do the same? Indeed I suspect to who your heart may be turned, but I fear to confirm my suspicions.”
“That alone proves that you know,” said Telden. “How is it that you can not see past the cold countenance that she portrays at first glance? Behind it there is a lady who does not understand. There is something lingering in the back of her mind and she wishes not to dwell on it. I can see that.”
“Forgive me, but I must ask how this came about,” said Legolas.
“How can you ask? It is everything, but it is mostly her eyes. They are so bright and sharp. They pierced my heart that day,” said Telden.
“I marveled that you could teach so insolent and willful a lady as Nildarien, but I marvel more that you can love her, for she is quite a heartless witch.”
This was too much for Nildarien; her quick temper was tripped. She turned sharply away, causing the hedge to shake. The two elf lords, turning to see what had caused the disturbance, caught a glimpse of gold as Nildarien ran off. Telden started to follow, but Legolas stopped him.
“No,” he said, “I’ll handle this.”
Nildarien flew to her room in a mad rage. She did not stop when she reached it, but began to pace back and forth mumbling angrily to herself. So that was what Legolas thought; that she was willful and insolent, well that didn’t bother her, but heartless!? And a witch!? That was too much. She stopped pacing, her face turned toward the window. She sensed someone standing in her doorway.
“Who’s behind me?” she said, her voice shaking with suppressed anger.
“Who do you think?” said the unwelcome voice of Legolas.
“Oh, good,” she said. She whipped around and… SMACK!! Legolas stumbled back, shocked by her boldness.
“Heartless witches can hate no more than they can love, Legolas. Understand now the hate I bear you!” she hissed, and slammed the door shut. She then collapsed onto her bed and wept.
* * *