“Oh, for the love of Manwë, yes! I’ve told you I’m fine[/]!”
Shedheniel recoiled, taken aback and slightly hurt by her sister’s sharp words. She’d been irritable and scowling all day, and the weather didn’t seem to be improving her temper. The sky was covered in a thick blanket of low clouds and a white fog was gathering.
Nildarien clenched her teeth and wrapped the reins tight around her shaking hands. She was feeling rather…odd, and had been since they’d started riding that morning. She wavered between tired and alert, dizzy and levelheaded, weak and strong. Adding to her disquieting predicament was a most unpleasant pounding in her head that was steadily growing worse. She felt like she was coming closer and closer to something that she really didn’t want to-
Death. She was surrounded by death. Alambil froze and Nildarien all but tumbled from his back and stumbled to the edge of the highroad.
A wave of anger, pure, unconfined, unsatiable anger swept over her at what she saw. Nan Curunir had become a graveyard; a graveyard for the trees. Fire-blackened stumps were all that remained of the ancient beauties that once towered here. All Elves considered the massacre of trees a heinous crime, but for Nildarien, it was unforgivable.
She felt rage building as her shocked eyes took in the slaughter, and she had to fight down an attack of nausea; this was worse than any battlefield she’d ever seen.
“This. Is. Murder,” she hissed, poisonous ire lacing each word. And then her wrath burst its limits, and she lost all control.
Shedheniel stared wide-eyed, open-mouthed, and terrified. She was not alone in any three aspects, though if some the Riders also qualified as hysteric she couldn’t blame them.
Nildarien resembled some sort of angelic (or demonic) manifestation. Opaque `vines’ of green light had sprung from the ground and wrapped about her, curling tendrils around her fingers and through her hair. She was speaking in something that sounded like Quenya, but Shedheniel wasn’t sure.
Then the quaking began. It was soft at first, barely a tremble, but it swiftly grew to a furious rumble. The horses (and many of their riders) panicked as the earth pitched beneath their feet.
Nildarien was hardly recognizable. Her face was a mask of fierce hatred all meant for one person. Her intentions were clear; she could and would break the earth beneath Orthanc to get at Saruman, and send him into the abyss.
`Hysteria’ was not a strong enough word to describe the situation. The only one who seemed to have any semblance of calm was Gandalf. He appeared shocked, but not frightened, and to be concentrating very hard.
Nildarien had not known she could become this enraged. True, she’d been very angry before, but not like this. This was a killing rage; she wanted vengeance, and she wanted it now. Not much longer and she’d have it-
“Peace, Earth-child!” boomed a powerful voice in her mind. It sliced the wrathful haze and cleared her senses for a moment. What had happened to her? She shouldn’t do this. But Saruman was a murderer. He had to pay. He would pay-
“I said PEACE!” the voice thundered and instantly Nildarien had herself under control.
“Thank you,” the voice said much more gently before she crumpled to the ground.
Shedheniel sprinted the short distance to the side of the road, Legolas following closely, and literally threw herself at her sister. She was curled up on her knees, her face buried in her hands and she was visibly shaking.
“Nildarien! Nildarien, are you alright?” Shedheniel asked frantically. Nildarien uncovered her face and blinked at her.
“Sh-Shedheniel?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “Shedheniel, I didn’t mean to, I swear! But they…they’re all…” She choked and took a deep breath. “I can hardly see for pain,” she groaned. “And I feel strange; hot and cold…” she trailed off, wincing. Shedheniel pressed the back of her hand to her forehead.
“Sweet Elbereth, you’re on fire!” she exclaimed. “I’m getting you some water.” She scrambled to her feet and dashed away.
Nildarien flinched again; her throat was raw and every breath hurt. Searing pains were jolting her head in time with her pulse and distorting her vision.
“I want to die,” she moaned.
“No. No you don’t,” said a voice she dimly recognized as Legolas’. She felt him grasp her hand and hold it tight. “Stay with me, gwathel*,” he whispered. “Stay with me.”
Nildarien nodded weakly and tried to get her ragged breath under control. By the time Shedheniel returned with the water, she was a good deal calmer and no longer shaking. After a long drink and a moments more rest she was feeling a little stronger, but still not quite right. A funny fog that had nothing to do with the weather kept trying to slip over her sight, but she said nothing.
“Help me up,” she demanded, somehow keeping her voice from quavering. Shedheniel and Legolas pulled her to her feet and helped her mount Alambil. The Riders drew back from her, but she didn’t care at all. Let them think what they will.
The company then proceeded on towards Isengard. Nildarien kept her eyes tightly shut for the most of the way. Her head was still pounding as if someone had taken a hammer to her skull, and she was feeling weaker by the minute. Her hearing was oddly muffled and-was she going mad? She swore there were whispers in her head. It was all very dream-like; maybe she was dreaming-no, she still hurt.
Nildarien was completely unaware of anything happening around her until someone gave her a violent (or at least it felt violent) shake and the sound of her name being called cut through the weariness. She was dimly aware of getting off Alambil and following…someone towards…something. The whispers became louder, more defined and she felt herself slipping away.
Shedheniel caught her sister as she stumbled.
“She needs to rest or she’ll never get over this,” she said to herself.
“She can rest inside,” said a small voice. “But I’m afraid it won’t be too comfortable.”
“I don’t thin she cares much about comfort right now, Pippin,” Shedheniel replied to the young hobbit.
That certainly seemed true. Nildarien wasn’t completely unconscious, but she was very weak and soon might be.
The group trouped into the guardhouse and Shedheniel got her weary sister settled in moderate comfort in a corner. She was out the moment her head touched the ground. Shedheniel heaved a sight of mixed relief and worry. She touched Nildarien’s forehead again; it was still hot, and that was strange. This was a fever, something that Elves were very near immune to. Shedheniel sighed again and draped her cloak over her sister before joining her companions for a meal.
* * *
Blue sky…golden sunlight…rippling green meadow…
Nildarien looked around confusedly. If this was a dream, it was the clearest she’d ever had. Every image was sharp and the colors vibrant. It almost felt real.
“Of course, this is not truly a dream, my daughter. It is a vision. Such ones as this are rare, but I have need to speak with you.”
The voice seemed to come from all around. It was a woman’s voice, deep like Lady Galadriel’s, but more resonant.
“Turn about, my daughter, so I may see you.”
Nildarien obeyed and was instantly breathless.
A very tall, angelically beautiful woman stood before her. Her hair was golden like a wheat field and rippled in the gentle wind. The skirt of her exquisite, yet simple, green dress fell to her feet in perfect folds. Her arms were bare and what looked like shining vines were twisted delicately around them. But it was her eyes that were captivating. They were a deep verdant that mirrored Nildarien’s own, but they gleamed with a light that could be called nothing other than holy.
“Do you know me, child?” she asked. “I know you.”
Nildarien suddenly found it hard to speak.
“You-you do?” she stammered, still amazed.
The woman nodded. “I have known you from the moment you came into the world. I have watched you since, and you have done very well.” She paused and regarded Nildarien closely. “Much better than even I expected,” she continued. “I did not know my blessing was so strong.”
“You mean…” Nildarien stopped and could only stare. Now she knew. This woman, speaking to her here in this vision place (where ever it was) was the Vala Yavanna, called Kementari, the Queen of the Earth.
“You gave me this gift?” she asked. “Why?”
Yavanna smiled sadly. “The world of Arda is changing. The Elves are in the wane and the time of the Second Children approaches. The race of Man is, for the most, good-hearted but they forget the growing things. I blessed you knowing that they must be reminded not to take without need and that slaughter for sport must be paid for.”
Nildarien felt a sudden twinge of anger.
“Saruman,” she hissed.
“Yes, Saruman,” the Valië repeated with a dangerous tone in her smooth voice. “Rest assured, my daughter, that he shall receive just comeuppance for his actions.”
Yavanna’s expression softened and a faint smile crept back onto her lips. “It is because of that incident that I wish to speak with you,” she said. “As I have mentioned, I did not expect my blessing to hold so strongly. My daughter, you do not know all that you are capable of. And you must learn control. We cannot have you giving a repeat performance of this afternoon. I have come to teach you that, and all else it is within your power to do.”
And so the teaching began. Nildarien wasn’t sure how long it went on for, nor did she care. What she learned was astounding; she hadn’t known she was capable of so much. And she was assured that the nasty after-effects would be less severe now that she was in control.
“Very good, my daughter,” Yavanna said with a satisfied nod. “You have learned all you need to know.”
“If you do not mind, there is something I would like to ask,” Nildarien said. Yavanna smiled in approval.
“You wonder about your sister?’ she said and Nildarien nodded. “As you are blessed by me, Shedheniel is by Nienna. She feels the hurts of others and can see through their eyes if she so wills it.”
Nildarien was silent for a moment, thinking this over. Yes, it all made sense. Everything was falling into place.
“I suppose it was not coincidence that Shedheniel and I are both so gifted,” she mused, and to her surprise, Yavanna laughed.
“In truth it was,” she said. “Nienna and I both knew there was someone we would have to choose. We did not know you would be sisters, much less twins.” Yavanna’s expression suddenly changed and she looked thoughtful. “But the sword you carry is not coincidence,” she said. “It was made for you, though the maker did not know it. With the aid of my lord, I sent him the words of the inscription. And the name as well.”
Name? Nildarien did not recall seeing any mark of title on the sword. But she was given no chance to ask.
“My daughter, you must go,” Yavanna said. “Though your body rests, while in this vision your mind does not, and it needs to. Farewell, until we meet again.”
The vision place vanished and Nildarien was suddenly spiraling back into dark and familiar dreams.
* * *
Shedheniel fidgeted uneasily as she watched her sister; she was finally beginning to stir and soon might wake.
“Shedheniel?” Legolas called from the door of the guardhouse.
Shedheniel looked up and he beckoned for her to come outside.
“How is she?” he asked.
“She’ll be awake soon I think,” Shedheniel told him. “And when she is we should all let her be for a while.”
“No!” Legolas exclaimed with surprising force. “That is the last thing you should do. Listen to me, Shedheniel! Once she is awake do not take your eyes off her. Keep her in sight at all times. Do-not-leave-her-alone!”
He turned to go, but Shedheniel caught his arm.
“Legolas, do you know something I don’t?”
He looked at her pityingly, as if he wished to tell but couldn’t.
“Just don’t leave her alone,” he repeated and kissed her swiftly before he left.
Shedheniel frowned. There was definitely something he was hiding. Shedheniel sighed and walked back to the guardhouse-where she froze in the doorway.
Nildarien was very much awake, and there was a frightening, mad look in her eyes. She knelt on the ground with her head thrown back and the blade of a knife lying across her throat.
Shedheniel wrenched herself out of the shock and forced her voice to work.
Nildarien’s hands twitched and the knife fell from her grasp, clattering to the floor with a faint bell-like tone. She met her sister’s gaze, the madness in her eyes swiftly fading to a powerful desperation and helplessness.
And that was when Shedheniel realized how alone Nildarien felt; she had lost all hope. A sudden wave of fear and despair hit her, pulling tears to her eyes. Shedheniel collapsed beside her sister and they cried on each other’s shoulders for a long time.
“Why, Nildarien?” Shedheniel asked, wiping her eyes. “Why would you?”
“I-I couldn’t do it anymore,” Nildarien whispered. “All the pain, all the sadness…I couldn’t keep it inside anymore. I just want it to go away, but it won’t.”
Shedheniel hung her head. How could she not have noticed this? Her twin sister had been lost, alone and she had not seen it.
“Nildarien, I’m so sorry. I should have paid more attention.”
But Nildarien shook her head. “No, I…I should have talked to you. But I-I didn’t want you worried about me…you were so happy-I didn’t want to ruin it. You deserve it.”
“I still don’t understand. Was it something I did?”
Nildarien choked and began to cry again. “Shedheniel, I know you didn’t mean to,” she sobbed. “But whenever I see you with Legolas I can’t help but wish. It hurts to see you together.”
Shedheniel bit her lip. It was her fault Nildarien had come to this. She had nearly killed her.
“You see? This is why I didn’t want you to know!” Nildarien cried. “I knew you would do this, blame yourself. I didn’t want to put you through that!”
“So you decided killing yourself was better?” Shedheniel snapped. “Do you realize what that would have done?”
“Shedheniel, please. Please don’t be angry with me or with yourself. It wasn’t your fault. You know that.”
“I know,” Shedheniel said quietly. “But…Nildarien, I just don’t understand. What made you think-“
Nildarien shivered and pulled her knees up to her chest.
“It was…it was everything,” she murmured. “But I felt so lost, so-alone, unneeded. I thought-maybe it wouldn’t matter if-if I died. I thought everyone would be better off without me.”
There. It was out. She hid her face, not wanting to look up again.
“Oh, Nildarien that’s not true,” Shedheniel cooed, wrapping her arms around her distraught sister. “That is not true. Everyone here needs you, me most of all. You’re the only family I have left. I know what it’s like to on my own and I never want to feel that again. You’re not just my sister, you’re my best friend and I never, ever want to lose you.”
Nildarien picked her head up and looked at Shedheniel.
“You won’t,” she said. “You won’t.”
Shedheniel smiled thought there were still tears in her eyes, and hugged her.
“I just feel awful though,” she said. “I should have been there for you and I wasn’t.”
“It’s alright. I wasn’t left entirely without help,” Nildarien told her. “I found a very unexpected shoulder to cry on.”
She laughed a little as understanding dawned on Shedheniel’s face.
“You don’t mean-no, it couldn’t be!” Shedheniel yelped.
“Yes it could and it is,” Nildarien said. “It was Legolas who first noticed I was so…depressed. He gave me comfort when I needed it. And it was so strange; he seemed to know exactly what I was going through and just what the right thing to say. And Shedheniel, we’ve turned things around. A lot. He’s my sworn brother now.”
Shedheniel’s eyes had grown very wide and she seemed torn between shock and elation.
“You-you swore kinship?!” she gasped. Then she squealed and threw her arms around her sister.
“And with the way things are going between you two,” Nildarien said with obvious amusement. “He just might end up my brother by custom.”
“You think so?’ Shedheniel asked, suddenly serious.
“Well…if I let him,” Nildarien said, truly smiling for the first time in days. To herself she whispered, “Which I will.”