Nildarien sighed; it was cool and dark here, under the ancient boughs. She seemed drawn to the wood, and wandered further in with slow, dream-like steps as if some other power controlled her. In the distance, she heard strange, deep sound; strains of a slow, melodic speech.
The trees began to murmur again, but they were angry this time. Very angry. Nildarien pressed one ear against the rough bark of an elm and listened. There was rage, yes, and much of it, but the tree did not bowl her over with it as mountains had a tendency to do. Instead, it wove a tale of long, slow suffering for Fangorn Wood.
Nildarien slid to the ground and sat with her back to the tree trunk, gazing up at the leaves and branches. Sleep tugged at her eyelids and she tried in vain to fend it off. She slipped into an uneasy sleep clouded by dreams of tortured cries.
* * *
She woke shortly after with a loud, “Ouch!” as little needle-like pains jabbed her ear. Tiny claws scratched at her face and, with much chittering and chirruping, Bandir leaped from her shoulder to her knee. He sat there chattering angrily, until Nildarien scrambled to her feet. She felt her ear. It wasn’t bleeding, but it hurt all the same.
“You little imp!” she scolded. “Shedheniel sent you, didn’t she?”
Nildarien knelt down and let Bandir scramble up her arm to perch on her shoulder.
“I suppose I should get back now,” she said, glancing at the sky. “But I can’t have been gone for too long.”
Nildarien started back for the clearing and it wasn’t long at all before she heard familiar voices. She came out from the trees just as Aragorn finished speaking.
“Where were you?” Shedheniel asked her in an undertone. “You’ve been gone half-an-hour.”
“Have I?” Nildarien exclaimed as Bandir leapt back to Shedheniel, who looked at her and frowned.
“Nildarien, you didn’t leave to cry, did you?” she inquired.
“Why do you ask?”
“There are tears on your face.”
Nildarien reached up and touched her cheek. Sure enough, it was wet with tears.
“I didn’t notice,” she said meekly. “But no, that’s not why I left.”
Nildarien sat down next to Shedheniel and turned her attention to the conversation around her.
*”I have stayed already too long. Time is short,” Gandalf was saying. “But if there were a year to spend, I would not tell you all.”
*”Then tell us what you will and as time allows,” Gimli replied eagerly. “Come Gandalf, and tell us how you fared with the Balrog!”
Nildarien drew a sharp, hissing breath and clenched her hands into fists. The thought of that creature was still a frightening one. She shuddered at the memory of the suffering she had felt, how ever briefly. She gritted her teeth and listened to Gandalf tell of the fire demon and it’s final defeat. He told them also that he had passed through Lothlórien, and that Galadriel had messages for them.
*”To Aragorn I was bidden say this:
Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar,
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee,
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.
To Legolas she sent this word:
Legolas Greenleaf, long under tree
In joy thou hast lived; Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of a gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
Gandalf fell silent.
*”Then she sent me no message?” said Gimli, and he and Legolas began to bicker.
*”What is that?” Gandalf opened his eyes. “Yes, I think I can guess what her words mean. Your pardon, Gimli! I was pondering the messages once again. But indeed she sent words to you, neither dark nor sad. `To Gimli, son of Glóin,’ she said. `Give his Lady’s greeting. Lockbearer, wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee, but have a care to lay thine axe to the right tree!'”
Gimli jumped up and began to dance about, singing in his own strange tongue.
“Ah!” said Gandalf. “I believe I nearly forgot. Two messages I have left, if I can find those that they belong to.” He glanced at the twins.
“To a Nildarien Illisel if she has found her sister:
Your eyes have gone dark, for your heart has been ripped,
And true love it seems through your fingers has slipped.
Yet hearken now, sun-lady, hear what I say:
Look for your love in the Company Grey.
“And to a Shedheniel Illisel, if she has found her heart:
Though three riddles you have heard of late
Whether answered or no t’will not change their fate,
Though first to answer them you shall be.
Turn now your thoughts to your past and the Sea.
Shedheniel’s face blanched slightly.
“W-well, mine is easy enough to decipher,” she muttered.
Nildarien said nothing, but rose and followed the others, a pained, thoughtful expression on her face. None spoke until they reached the end of Fangorn. The horses were no where to be seen.
*”They have not returned,” Legolas sighed. “It will be a weary walk.”
*”I will not walk. Time presses,” Gandalf replied, and whistled loudly three times.
Nildarien felt the ground tremble with the pounding of the hooves of horses, and presently she saw them, far across the plain. Soon, Shadowfax, who was far ahead of the others, slowed his gait, and halted gracefully before them.
Not long after, the other horses reached them and stood stock still, listening, as Gandalf spoke to them.
“This is Hárelir,” Shedheniel told Nildarien, taking the reins of the fiery stallion. “Doesn’t he look like Rahar?”
“Yes, very much,” Nildarien smiled. “I wonder if they could be related.”
“It seems we have one horse too few,” Aragorn said. “Nildarien will have to ride with Shedheniel.”
“Nay, Aragorn, I will not,” Nildarien replied with a grin. “Alambil did not come at Gandalf’s call. My steeds have a tendency to be particular.”
She put her hands to her mouth and gave a high, wavering call. A moment later, Alambil stood with the horses of Rohan. Shedheniel grinned and patted Alambil’s nose. Perhaps she should have come on horseback too. She missed Naruel now. Nildarien mounted and the group began their journey north. As they rode the sun began to set and great heaps of smoke could be seen in the distance.
*”What may that be?” Legolas asked.
*”Battle and war!” said Gandalf. “Ride on!”
And ride they did, for a long, weary while. At last, they stopped for a short time to rest, and all, save Gandalf, slept. It seemed only moments later that they were waked and riding again. It was still night when they began and they had ridden for many hours and gone many miles when the sun finally peeked over the horizon. When Gandalf called out,” Look!” they came to a halt and the sisters finally got a chance to speak to each other.
“How do you fare, Nildarien?” Shedheniel asked.
“Not so well,” Nildarien said. “I had many dreams last night, strange and frightening. Others very sad.”
“What were they about?”
Nildarien bowed her head and didn’t look up when she spoke.
“I dreamt of Mother and Father,” she said, her voice wavering. The others began to move on again, and she tapped Alambil with her heels. He took up a nice, easy pace.
“Do you remember how Mother used to scold us about climbing in our good dresses?” Nildarien said with a reminiscent smile. “And struggled to teach us to be proper ladies? What a hopeless cause it was!”
“Yes!” Shedheniel laughed. “She’s have quite a fit if she saw us now.”
“Father would be proud, though,” Nildarien replied. “He always said we’d sooner be warriors that well-tempered, graceful maidens.”
“He had you in mind for well tempered and me in mind for graceful, I’m sure,” Shedheniel said with a smile. “But look, we’ve reached the gates.”
Nildarien nodded and bit her lip. Wasn’t there something missing from that dream? She felt as if she’d left something out.
Shedheniel sensed her sister’s uneasiness and she felt the same way. What were they forgetting?
Gandalf, Aragorn, and the guards exchanged words in a tongue neither sister understood, and then switched to the Common Tongue. One of the guards left with a message of their arrival a few minutes later. He returned after awhile and bade them to follow him. The guard also warned them to leave their weapons with the doorwardens. He soon left them and one of the doorwardens came forth.
“I am the Doorwarden of Theoden. Háma is my name. Here I must bid you lay aside your weapons before you enter.”
Legolas gave the doorwarden his knife, bow, and quiver. After much hesitation all besides Gandalf and Shedheniel had given up their weapons.
“Must we lay aside everything?” Shedheniel asked once she set down her sword, her bow, and her quiver. Hama nodded and the dark-eyes elf gave an angry sigh. “This may take a moment.” She confesses, sitting. She pulled one long knife out of her right boot (her own), and then another (Nildarien’s). She pulled a small throwing knife out of her belt and two others from her left boot. The lady-warrior retrieved one more small knife from the sleeve of her shirt before frowning and walking to the others. She looked back to the doorwarden.
“Yes. You must leave everything.”
Much to everyone’s surprise, Shedheniel pulled off her boot and sourly dumped out two more knives: One was hers. The other was Nildarien’s.
“Were you expecting all of Mordor to chase you, dear one?” asked Legolas with a joking smile.
“Hmph!” said Shedheniel, “I wanted to be prepared for anything.”
“Or perhaps you wanted to be ready to face my wrath when I realized most of those knives are mine. I have a good mind to throttle you, and I would if I wasn’t so sure you could defeat me weaponless.” Nildarien laughed.
Háma gave the sisters a funny look, which they returned with simultaneous grins.
Finally, the group was permitted to enter. It was dark and smoky inside the hall. At the far end was a low dais. In a great chair upon it sat a very old man, and a tall woman in white stood behind him. On the steps of the dais was a small, cowering man with a sickly look about him.
Gandalf hailed the king but the old man spoke harshly in return. The man on the steps spoke as well in a cold, hissing voice and stared up at them. Nildarien looked straight at him and a sudden dull pain pounded against her brow. She reached out and clutched Shedheniel’s arm.
“Are you alright?” Shedheniel whispered.
“I—-I think so,” Nildarien whispered back, “But I don’t like that thing on the steps.”
“Neither does Gandalf by the look of it.”
The argument between the `thing’ called Gríma Wormtongue and Gandalf went back and forth. Finally Gandalf said:
*”Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me? Do you ask for help?” He pointed his staff towards a high window and the dark sky became clear. *”Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark, for better help you will not find. Yet
council I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”
Gandalf, Théoden, the lady in white, and the others went to the door.
*”Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!” said Theoden. “The time for fear is past.”
Èowyn nodded and left. As everyone else went outside, Shedheniel hesitated. She turned and followed Éowyn and Nildarien followed closely after.
“Umm…excuse me?” Shedheniel called. “But are you Éowyn, sister of Éomer?”
Éowyn stopped and turned to face the sisters.
“Aye, I am Éomer’s sister. And who are you? It is a strange day to see women who are companions to Gandalf the Grey.”
“I am Shedheniel and this is my sister Nildarien. We lived in Rivendell before we began our quest.”
“Are–are you warriors? She-elf warriors?”
“Yes.” Shedheniel replied. “Which is why I wanted to speak with you. Your brother told me you were a shield maiden.”
“Yes. A shield maiden.” Éowyn said glumly.” I am skilled in the arts of battle, yet they do not allow me to fight.”
“Well,” said Nildarien, “I think it is due time for us to seek out our companions.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” Éowyn said with a smile. Then she turned and left. Shedheniel and Nildarien found their way back to the door.
*”Then even the defeat of Rohan will be glorious in song.” Aragorn was saying as the twins slipped outside.
“And where have you two been?” asked Legolas as he slipped an arm around Shedheniel’s waist. “Not making mischief, I hope.”
“No, not making mischief, making friends.” Shedheniel corrected.
“Yes, and since when are we mischief-makers, Legolas?” Nildarien asked with raised eyebrows.
The elf-lord never had time to answer because Théoden said:
*”Now my guests, come! Come and take such refreshment as haste allows.”
And everyone followed the old king back into the hall.
* * *
After a swift and silent meal, servants brought mail and other armor to the hall and those there began to ready for battle. Both Nildarien and Shedheniel took mail coats, but neither accepted helmet or shield.
Nildarien had retrieved her weapons from the doorwardens (as well as reclaimed several knives from Shedheniel) and she was checking them over when Éomer approached.
“And so I meet you again, Kementiriel,” he said. “And I now have the good sense not to challenge you. It is a comfort to know you ride with us, for Orcs will be loath to meet you in battle.”
“I thank you for such praise,” Nildarien said with a polite nod. “Yet I am sure however many Orcs find death on my blade, twice as many will find it on Shedheniel’s arrows, for she is better with a bow than I with a sword-if that describes for you her skill.”
Shedheniel, who stood nearby, spun around to chastise her sister and Éomer gave a cry of surprise.
“How alike you two are!”
“Of course,” said Shedheniel. “Nildarien and I are twins.”
“Nildarien?” Éomer wondered. “Whom do you mean?”
“I mean her,” said Shedheniel, gesturing to her sister who was collapsed on a bench in a fit of laughter.
“Her? But her name is not Nildarien.”
“What do you mean it’s not? Of course it is!” Shedheniel cried. “Would I not know my own sister?”
“Forgive me, Éomer!” Nildarien managed to gasp amid her laughter. “I fear I have greatly bewildered you. My name truly is Nildarien. Kementirielis my title.”
Éomer simply gaped at them for a moment, and then shook his head.
“Elves are strange folk,” he mumbled and wandered away.
“Where did you get that title, Nildarien?” Shedheniel asked. “I have never heard it before.”
“From Lady Galadriel,” Nildarien answered. “On the day I left to follow you.”
“I didn’t know you’d met Éomer.”
“Yes, I’ve met him,” she said. “He didn’t like me too much at first. In fact, he disliked me so much that he gave me a chance to try this sword.”
Shedheniel laughed; her sister was in an unusually good mood. And she was uncertain how, but Nildarien’s laughs and smiles seemed almost…forced? Shedheniel just shook her head and dismissed the thought as runaway imagination.
Soon, everything was ready, and they went down into the courtyard where the host was gathered. It wasn’t long before the rhythm of hooves pounded across the plain.
* * *
The host rode on until night came. For five long hours they had gone at full speed, but over half of their journey still lay before them.
As the rode, Shedheniel had found herself recalling old memories and had come to one conclusion: love is blind. That was the only explanation. She had walled herself in with her own sorrows and despairs. If she hadn’t been so selfish she would have noticed that Legolas had never treated her as a friend, but as a lover. When she cried, he had held her. He had promised to take care of her! He had always loved her, but she’d been too blind to see it.
“Well that’s typical of me,” she thought as they stopped to make camp. “I only ever truly cause trouble.”
Nildarien was still in a rather cheerful mood and had begun a heated debate about different blades and techniques with Gimli. Shedheniel smiled; Nildarien deserved a little happiness, especially during times like these, and she was not going to ruin it for her.
She wandered to the edge of camp, still reflecting and blaming herself for her own troubles as well as Legolas’. She was so deep in her pondering that she nearly jumped out of her skin when someone caught her from behind.
“Why are you wandering by yourself? I’ve been searching all over for you,” asked a familiar voice.
Shedheniel breathed a sigh of relief.
“Legolas! You frightened me to death,” She turned around to face him.
“Why are you out here by yourself?”
“I was thinking…” Shedheniel murmured. “Do you think it was my fault we never realized we were in love?”
Legolas stared at her in disbelief.
“Of course not! Maybe we were both a little blind, but the fault is equal between us. Besides, I cannot blame you for my own cowardice.”
“Are you-” Shedheniel began, but Legolas finished for her.
“-Certain? Yes. Quite. But it doesn’t matter now anyway. We know and nothing can change that,” he said soothingly, pulling her closer to him.
“I’m frightened,” Shedheniel whispered, gripping his shirt. “If something were to happen to you, to Nildarien…or Gimli or Aragorn…I don’t know what I’d do. There’s no turning back now. The wars are beginning and I cannot see what fate is before us.”
“Perhaps it is better left unknown and unsaid.” Legolas tightened his grip around her. “Don’t worry. Things will turn out as they should. I promised to take care of you, and I hold to that promise.”
“I was just thinking about that.”
“Were you? I’m glad to see you smiling again. If you were to lose your cheerfulness I think the world might end,” Legolas teased gently. After a moment of thought he added, “And then where would we be?”
Shedheniel’s grin widened. “Together.”
Legolas bent and kissed her gently before they returned back to camp. Nildarien and Gimli had finished their debate long since, and wanted to know where the lovers had been.
Legolas and Shedheniel rolled their eyes and briefed their friends on the conversation, conveniently forgetting the kiss, before everyone headed to bed. They would ride hard the next day.