They were ready to leave. The good-byes had been said and everyone was packed. Legolas was adding the last few things to his saddle bag when he noticed-Shedheniel was limping. Curious, for her knew she had received few wounds, he asked Merry and Pippin about it, but they assured him she looked fine. He finally approached Nildarien on the subject.
“So you’ve noticed it, too?” she sighed.
“Only just. Do you think she was wounded and did not tell us?” Legolas asked.
“I do not know…”
“Don’t know what? Is something the matter?” Both Elves jumped as the object of their conversation came towards them.
“It’s just-” Legolas faltered for a moment. Finally, with renewed courage, he asked, “Shedheniel, are you feeling well?”
“I feel…tired. Something tugs at my heartstrings, though I know not what,” she murmured. Then, realizing she’d worried them she added, “I’ll feel better soon,” she flashed them a winning smile.
“Alright, just tell us if you don’t feel well,” Nildarien said with raised eyebrows.
“After what just happened with you, I’ll be sure to,” her sister replied.
The final preparations were completed, and the group left Isengard behind them.
* * *
Legolas was growing annoyed. Nildarien and Shedheniel had been whispering together for almost an hour now, and occasionally one of them would glance back at him. He was on the verge of riding up and demanding to know what they were talking about when the split and pulled their horses up beside his. Nildarien seemed nervous.
“Umm…Legolas,” she began, twisting the reins in her hands. “I…ah…want to…explain something, so-so don’t interrupt me even though you’ll probably think I’ve gone mad…” She trailed off as Shedheniel gave her a meaningful look. She took a deep breath. “I have this…ability, call it a gift if you like, to converse with the earth and growing things. I know it sounds far-fetched and ridiculous, but it’s true. It started when Shedheniel and I left Mithlond. Of course, I didn’t know hardly anything about it then. I don’t know if you remember-”
“The dragon!” Legolas exclaimed and Nildarien nodded. “You had those odd dizzy spells…you’re saying they were because of this…ability?”
“Yes. Anyway, it’s gotten stronger since then. A great deal stronger. Especially since-since I took on Caradhras-“
“That mountain really and seriously did not like the Fellowship, Legolas,” Nildarien said very softly. “It would have killed you all.”
Legolas shook his head, thunderstruck. “Well, keep explaining. You’re obviously not finished yet,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” Nildarien said. “It seems that because of that…encounter I have an even deeper connection. I can sense people through the earth, and can often find someone if I know what to look for. Sometimes though, a presence will connect with something. For example, you. Your presence corresponds with diamonds. I thought Shedheniel was gold, but she’s not connecting with it anymore.”
“So I’m diamonds? Why?” Legolas asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet,” Nildarien said. She paused for a moment, then, “Do you believe me?”
“Yes. Yes, I do,” Legolas said. “That last bit, about sensing people, it sounds rather like something Aragorn did when we were trailing the Uruk-hai.”
Nildarien grinned. “And who do you think taught him that?”
“I’m glad you took this so calmly,” Nildarien said. “I was worried you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I wish you could set them straight about it,” Shedheniel sighed, jerking her head in the direction of the Riders. “You as much as look at them and they nearly fall off their horses for fear!”
“It doesn’t bother me much,” Nildarien shrugged. “I don’t think they really liked me to begin with. Truthfully, I think they’re angry with me.”
“What could they be-why do you keep doing that?” Shedheniel asked as Nildarien shook her head again.
“There’s something sort of tickling the inside of my head,” she complained. “Like I can’t-wait, now it’s gone.”
Nildarien didn’t prove very conversational after that, and the ride continued in silence.
* * *
Nildarien slept fitfully, plagued by inside-out and backwards dreams that made no sense; nothing but flashes of random images.
She woke suddenly, noticing that the anomalous tingling was back, accompanied by an insistent tugging feeling. To her horror, she found her head turning against her will, pulled by some invisible force…
The world around her disintegrated and she heard a voice, a man’s voice, screaming wrathful curses. In a flared vision, she saw someone and then his image was engulfed by flames…
“I’ve seen this before!” she thought faintly as she realized the screaming was no longer in her head.
Nildarien sprang to her feet and joined to group huddled not far from the camp. She could see nothing, but heard Pippin talking very quickly and he sounded terrified.
Nildarien backed up; that horrible feeling was so much stronger here. She followed it with her mind until she found the source. It was very odd; like a stone, and not like a stone. Its shape was spherical and the surface was polished smooth, but she could not identify the substance it was made of. There was an “otherworldly” feel to it and it was very, very old.
She looked up as Shedheniel came by.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Pippin looked in the Orthanc-stone,” Shedheniel told her gravely. “It was sheer luck he didn’t say much.”
Nildarien hardly heard the end of the statement. “The-the Orthanc-stone?” she stammered. “A palantír?” The picture of the man and the flames came to her mind and understanding dawned. “Of course! It all makes sense now!”
She grabbed Shedheniel and pulled her away from the group.
“Do you remember those funny dreams I used to have?” she asked. “Before we left Mithlond?”
“Yes! The ones with the yelling and the fire and a man you’d never seen,” Shedheniel answered. “I thought they had stopped.”
“They did, but tonight they came back. And I know why,” Nildarien said. “It’s the palantír. I know it is. There’s one near Mithlond, remember? Father mentioned it once.”
“But-but how can you be sure?”
“I know who he is now, the man I’d never seen,” Nildarien said softly. “And I never will see him because he was killed long, long ago: it was Fëanor.”
Shedheniel gasped. “Fëanor! That would make perfect sense. He made the palantíri according to legend. But are you sure it was him?”
“Yes,” Nildarien nodded. “He wore the emblem and his image always disappears in flames like every chronicle claims his body did after he died.”
“Amazing,” Shedheniel murmured. “So, what does a palantír feel like to you?”
“It feels like-” Nildarien froze her words as a shadow fell over them. The sky blackened, covered by the wings of the Nazgûl steed, and many of the Riders screamed in terror. Then, as soon as it had come, it was gone.
“Sweet lady of the stars!” Nildarien gasped. “Where in Middle-earth did they get those beasts? Blessed Yavanna, they were frightening enough on horses!”
Shedheniel merely nodded; she was getting thoroughly sick of those…things.
“Ai! Ladies!” Legolas called from the other side of the camp. “To horse! We ride `til the dawn!”
* * *
They had been riding for about two hours when Shedheniel noticed Nildarien continually glancing over her shoulder. When asked about this, she simply replied that it was nothing.
To tell the truth, Nildarien was feeling very unnerved. There was someone, or something, behind them, and she knew it. She felt it.
“I can’t take this anymore,” she thought hotly and wrenched Alambil out of line. She spurred him to the head of the column and pulled him in next to Aragorn.
“We’re being followed,” she told him bluntly. Aragorn looked over his shoulder.
“I see no one,” he said.
“Neither do I, Aragorn,” Nildarien said. “And my eyes are sharper than yours. Nevertheless, we are being followed. I feel it.”
“How far behind?”
Nildarien frowned. “Not far, and moving fast.”
Aragorn nodded and she dropped back into her original position.
“What was all that about?” Legolas asked.
“We’re being followed,” Nildarien answered. As expected, Legolas looked behind him.
“I know you can’t see anything, but trust me,” she said before he could speak. “We are being followed.”
It was hardly fifteen minutes later that she heard a Rider speaking to Théoden:
*”My lord, there are horsemen behind us,” he said. “As we crossed the fords, I thought I heard them. Now we are sure. The are overtaking us, riding hard.”
Nildarien was ready when the order for halt came. She sat patiently atop Alambil as the mysterious horsemen drew nearer.
Suddenly, something landed hard on her shoulder and again she silently praised the leather insets she had sewn there.
“Tirian!” she whispered happily, stroking the hawk with her opposite hand. “What are you doing here? I told you to go back to Rivendell.”
Tirian nipped her ear and settled himself into a comfortable position, leaving Nildarien free to watch the exchange taking place.
These folk were of no danger to them; that she had already known. Apparently, they were some of Aragorn’s kin, the Rangers of the North. Théoden was pleased by their arrival, and the quickly continued their journey.
As she rode, Nildarien became aware of a strange presence in the back of her mind. It was new to her, but not entirely. There was something about it that triggered and elusive memory. She spent the remainder of the ride chasing it, and she was still chasing it when the company made camp at Helm’s Deep. But try as she might, she could not catch it and was still pursuing it as she slipped into sleep.
* * *
“By the Lady, I do not know what to do with you! Why must you engage in this unseemly behavior? Going about in breeches, starting fights in the street-”
“He knocked me first!” Nildarien protested.
“You even admit to it!” Illis gasped, sounding scandalized.
Nildarien gaped at her mother. Did she really think she was foolish enough to deny the brawling when the evidence was all over her? Her hair was all in tangles, a bruise was forming below her left eye, her clothes were torn and dirty, and here her mother was thinking she would attempt to lie her way out of punishment.
“I am most displeased with you, Nildarien,” Illis chided.
“What was I supposed to do?” Nildarien asked angrily. “He knocked me down! Was I supposed to stand up and let him knock me down again?”
“It would have been seemly! It is not proper for a lady to fight back if some swain be coarse enough to hit her!”
That was it. Nildarien was not standing this any longer. She’d fought this yoke long enough; it was high time she threw it off.
“That’s all very well, but what if I don’t want to be a lady?” she said, glaring at her mother.
“You heard me, Mother. I do not want to be a lady,” Nildarien repeated coolly.
Illis stared blankly for a moment.
“Well, then what do you want?” she asked.
With a firm and steady defiance, Nildarien answered, “I want to be a warrior.”
There was a silence in which mother stared at daughter and daughter stared right back.
“A-a warrior?” Illis stammered. “But that is not possible! You can’t be!”
“Can’t I?” Nildarien countered, unmoved.
“No! You cannot! There is no such thing as a lady-warrior!”
“That is a lie,” Nildarien whispered. “I have searched the chronicles, I have asked Father, and I have spoken with the fighters in the town. All have mentioned the lady-warriors. You cannot stop me, Mother. I will be one of them…”
…The Sun was low in the sky, throwing long shadows to the eaves of the forest-
“No! No please! Not this dream again!” Nildarien thought frantically. “I can’t bear it! Please stop!” But the dream didn’t stop. She knew it wouldn’t. It never did. It was one that had come to her almost ever night for nearly eighty years. Almost every night, she relived the day she left Mirkwood-
She felt so like a frightened child, but in his arms she was safe. He held her more like a friend than a lover, and it hurt. But that was all he thought he was to her; a good friend.
She picked her head up to look at him and whispered, “I have to go now. Goodbye.”
Telden never breathed a word, but he was still speaking to her. He looked at her with those deep grey eyes so full of sadness, pleading with her, screaming, “I love you, I need you, don’t leave!”
Then she pressed her lips against his cheek and as she took her first step back, it began.
It started with an aching pull and, as she drew further away, it became a terrible ripping, shredding feeling. She looked at Telden, the raw agony on his face telling her he felt it, too.
She dropped his hand and the final thread snapped-
Nildarien woke with a jolt, restraining tears by the most tenuous of holds. Where had that first dream come from? She hadn’t thought about that confrontation in years. But the second dream…
“I’ve got to get away from here,” she thought, standing and wandering quickly away from her sleeping comrades. It was very early yet; the sky was still rather dark.
As Nildarien wound her way through the camp, she paused at her sister’s feet and looked down. She sight she saw clawed at her wounded heart.
Shedheniel and Legolas lay side by side, fingers unconsciously intertwined. A single tear slid down her cheek and fell near their hands. She turned sharply and half ran from the camp.
But the moment Nildarien had turned her back, a small, pale green seedling pushed up from he place where her tear had fallen. Slowly, it began to wind itself around the lovers’ hands.
Half blinded by unshed tears, Nildarien found her way to a more secretive, quieter area of the Helm’s Deep fortress. At last assured that she was alone, she gave in and let her tears fall.
She was so caught up in her emotions that she didn’t heed the gentle throbbing warmth in her forehead that signaled the approach of a friend.
“I would give everything to see him again,” she whispered to herself. “Everything.”
“You needn’t give anything,” said a warm voice from behind her.
Nildarien could have sworn her heart stopped. She drew a deep, shuddering breath and turned, hardly daring to hope…
* * * * * *
~Here ends Book Three: In Pursuit of Love
of The Maids of Mithlond.
Book Four: End of an Age, continues the
tale of Shedheniel and Nildarien
concerning the War of the Ring.~