“Éomer, I need a fire! Quickly!” Shedheniel cried as she tossed him her tinderbox. She rummaged through the bag attached to her belt and pulled out a small bowl. Into this she emptied the remains of her water and set it near the newly kindled fire.
“This really isn’t necessary,” Gimli grumbled.
Shedheniel mumbled an inaudible reply and stuffed some herbs into her mouth. She chewed and then spit them into the bowl. After adding a few more things to the concoction, she spread the mixture over the large gash in Gimli’s forehead. She took some of the bandages she kept and wrapped them expertly about the wound, while Éomer watched with fascination. Shedheniel secured the bandages and breathed a small sigh of relief.
“I did not know you to be a healer,” Éomer said after a moment. Shedheniel turned to look at him.
“I only know a few remedies and some simple battle healing tricks-Gimli, I told you to lie down!”
The Dwarf rolled his eyes and acquiesced.
“A stubborn folk undoubtedly,” Éomer said in a low voice.
“I know a few Elves that can be just as stubborn,” Shedheniel smiled slightly. She had a large gash in her leg that she continued to ignore and a thin cut across her left shoulder resembling an “X”.
How long had it been since they’d taken refuge in these strange caves? An hour? A day? How could one be sure? Gamling came over to speak to Éomer, and Shedheniel turned to chastise the Dwarf again. She’d heard him stand about five minutes ago.
“Gimli, I-” She stopped as something nearby squeaked loudly.
“What was that?” asked Gimli, and Shedheniel shrugged. Something sped up her arm and came to rest on her shoulder.
“Bandir?” Shedheniel sighed. “What are you doing in here? I thought you were with Hárelir.”
Gimli, who had been fighting silent laughter, began to chuckle.
“Oh, quiet you! Aren’t you supposed to be resting?”
“Calm yourself, youngling,” Gimli said and Shedheniel snorted. “Dwarves are a hardy race and I want to see more of these magnificent caves.”
Shedheniel rolled her eyes. “Dwarves and their caves!” she thought. “After eighty years, I still don’t understand them!”
* * *
“Hold, Alambil,” Nildarien commanded as the grey stallion stamped and shook his head. “We’ll be charging soon enough and then you’ll wish you were standing still.”
Dawn was approaching and Théoden had ordered everyone mount and wait for his signal to charge.
“Your Alambil is an impatient one,” said Legolas, who waited beside her on Arod. “Where did you get him?”
“The Rivendell stables,” Nildarien replied. “He sort of picked me out. I was sitting on the paddock fence when he cantered up behind me and shoved me off, right into a puddle. Imilin was in hysterics; she cried she laughed so hard. And when I looked up, he neighed like he was laughing, kicked up his heels and pranced around like the show-off he is before galloping away.”
Alambil reared suddenly, causing several other horses to shy, and Nildarien swore under her breath.
“Hellfire! Alambil, hold would you?” she growled and pulled the reins tight.
“Is he usually this skittish?” Legolas asked.
“No. It’s the Orcs. He hates them with a passion-but who doesn’t?”
With Alambil calmed, an eerie silence fell. Nildarien felt time was passing much slower than it ought to be; no one moved.
Suddenly, a deep horn sounded, redoubling off the mountains and growing louder with each echo.
Nildarien gripped her sword and loosed Alambil’s reins a little, waiting. Then, with a rousing cry of “Forth Eorlingas!” the doors crashed open and they charged.
Alambil needed no signal. He leapt forward of his own accord, adding his own fierce battle cry to that of his mistress. Nildarien gave him his head and held the reins only for use as a possible anchor if she should lose balance. She was very glad now of the battle training she and her horse had undergone together in Rivendell. A combat-trained steed was always and advantage, but knowing how to move with it was a priceless skill.
The armies of Isengard fled with little resistance as Théoden’s company thundered down the causeway. They halted at the Dike.
Nildarien reined Alambil in, her mouth open in shock at the sight of the vast, dark wood blanketing the Deeping coomb.
“Ai, Gilthoniel!” Legolas exclaimed, pulling Arod up sharp. “What are they?”
Nildarien shook her head, thunderstruck.
“How in the name of Yavanna…” she breathed. “A whole forest just can’t spring up over night!”
Suddenly, just as the Sun peeked over the hills, Gandalf appeared at the top of the vale. Beside him was a tall man with a red shield and behind them came a company of foot soldiers.
The hosts, both on the hills and in the valley, charged the remnant of the enemy. The wild men threw down their weapons and begged for mercy, but the Orcs fled into the strange woods; none of them ever came out.
At long last, the dawn was come and the battle of Helm’s Deep was over.
* * *
Once it was assured that the enemy had truly surrendered, there was a mad rush to find and care for the wounded as well as search for loved ones. Legolas easily found Éomer and Gimli, but Shedheniel was nowhere to be seen. Despite Gimli’s assurances that Shedheniel was fine, Legolas went off searching for her.
Shedheniel, of course, had been tending to the wounded in the caves, which she had grown quite fond of despite her dislike for cold stone and places underground. When she was sure all of the wounded were getting care, she went to look for her friends.
Shedheniel jogged out of the caves and shielded her eyes from the glaring sunlight. How long had she been in there? She blinked and strained her eyes to look about, for she thought she heard her name being called.
Without word or warning, she was being kissed before she even knew what was happening. She didn’t have to open her eyes; she knew very well who is was. They broke their kiss and Shedheniel smiled at her lover.
“Don’t you ever disappear like that again! You nearly frightened me to death!” Legolas frowned. The fear of losing her was still very apparent in his eyes.
“Legolas, I’m here now, so calm yourself!” Shedheniel said loudly, but Legolas kept going.
“What would I have done if-” he stopped as Shedheniel pressed her mouth to his and kissed him again.
“Calm yourself, darling one. I was just as worried as you were. Come, we must find the others,” she cooed, slipping her arms around his neck.
“Yes. We depart now for Isengard.”
* * *
“You see? I told you she was perfectly alright!” Nildarien laughed when Legolas returned with a mildly scathed, but very much alive Shedheniel. “You should listen to me more often.”
“Where did that come from?” Shedheniel wondered, gaping at the strange wood. Then she gasped.
“Nildarien, did you-“
“What?! No!” Nildarien yelped. “I swear I didn’t! I don’t even know what they are!”
Legolas was looking positively bewildered and on the pretense of asking what on earth they were talking about, but he kept silent.
“By the way, have a look at this,” Nildarien said, drawing her sword and holding it lengthwise. They all leaned forward to see the runes that twisted along the blade.
“What does it say?” Shedheniel asked. Nildarien squinted against the glare and read:
“Terith allim dannatha nadi i berthar harnad i cherth Ivann-“ she turned the blade over-“Ethiro `ruith geven.[I]”
She glanced at Shedheniel with wide eyes.
“Well, I can’t see what’s so fascinating if you say it that way,” said Gimli who had just joined them. “Put it so I can understand it.”
“`Justice will fall swift on those who dare to harm the works of Yavanna. Beware the wrath of the Earth.'” Nildarien recited her voice shaky.
“It’s-it’s like it was-” Shedheniel stopped. “-Made for you.”
“Not possible,” Nildarien said, almost dazedly. “This blade is old; far older than we are. It-it’s just coincidence.”
“Too much of a coincidence,” she thought, sliding her hand down the flat of the blade.
“Strange…” she murmured with a frown.
“What’s strange?” Legolas asked.
Nildarien mumbled something about having to check Alambil and wandered away. Shedheniel hesitated before following.
“Nildarien, what was so strange?” she inquired in an undertone. Nildarien still had the sword out and was examining it closely.
“Put your hand on the blade. Do you feel it?” she asked when Shedheniel had lain her hand down.”
“A sort of…tingling.”
Shedheniel thought for a moment.
“No. No, I don’t,” she said, removing her hand. Nildarien slid the sword into its sheath with a sigh.
“I was sure I felt it,” she said. “Like running my fingers over tree bark…you don’t believe me, do you?”
“Of course I do,” Shedheniel assured her. “There is something rather…odd about that sword, and not just the inscription. It’s something else.”
“Well, I’ll have to put my head to it later,” Nildarien sighed. “We’re off to Isengard now.”
Not long after, a small assembly was prepared for the ride to Isengard, and they were now making their way slowly through the wood.
Nildarien rode between Legolas and Shedheniel with her head bowed and her eyes half closed. She was holding a silent conversation with the strange trees and had learned a good deal about them. They were called Huorns, they had come from Fangorn, and they were here for revenge on Orcs. She was practically oblivious to the world around her-until Shedheniel jabbed her in the arm.
“Sweet lady of the stars! Nildarien, are you asleep?” she asked.
“I’m not sleeping,” Nildarien mumbled. “Anything but. Though lately I’ve done so much riding I very well could sleep in the saddle.”
To her left, Gimli, riding double with Legolas, was vehemently describing the caves of Helm’s Deep. Shedheniel giggled and Nildarien stifled laughter. The Riders nearby who were playing inadvertent audience for the Dwarf’s monologue clearly did not comprehend his excitement. The continually glanced from him to a fellow Rider with some of the most comical expressions of confusion the sisters had ever seen.
“Gimli is really doing quite well,” said Shedheniel. “The caves [I[are beautiful. You would like them.”
Nildarien smiled. She, unlike her twin, had no objection to being underground.
By then the trees had begun to thin and in no time at all they were facing open plain again.
Nildarien and Shedheniel rode out from under the trees still conversing and did not notice Legolas had dropped back until he yelled. They wheeled their horses to see him riding back toward the wood. He didn’t get very far before Gandalf called for him to halt, and almost at that same moment, three huge somethings strode out of the forest.
Nildarien gasped when she realized what they were and suddenly she shivered. A grey veil fell over her sight and she felt dizzy. From past experience, she knew it probably wouldn’t end well, and steeled herself for a fall.
Only when the walking trees, for so they seemed to be, had vanished did Shedheniel tear her eyes away from the scene. She realized with a jolt that her sister might have had some strange reaction to them and whipped around to look at her.
Nildarien was bent over in the saddle so far that her forehead rested on Alambil’s neck. She was shaking and from the look of it, caught in a slight dizzy spell. To Shedheniel’s surprise, Aragorn waited on her other side with one hand clasped firmly on her shoulder. Slowly and shakily, Nildarien straightened herself and looked at him. The Two exchanged words that Shedheniel couldn’t hear while she watched in confusion. She hadn’t known her sister to be so well aquatinted with Aragorn; Nildarien had her secrets, she supposed. But how had he reached Nildarien before she fell? There was only one explanation for that: he knew. He had to know. Elsewise, he wouldn’t have guessed she might be affected and wouldn’t have moved to her side.
Aragorn left and, as the company began to move again, Nildarien reined Alambil in beside Hárelir.
“I’m alright,” she said in answer to Shedheniel’s concerned look. “Just took me by surprise is all.”
“Nildarien, you’re going to have to explain this to everyone very soon,” Shedheniel said in an undertone. “Or at least warn them somehow so something, well…big-like what you did with Caradhras-happens they won’t be too alarmed.”
“I know,” Nildarien said. “When the time is right I will.”
Shedheniel opened her mouth to reply, then bit down hard on what she just in time realized would have been a scathing remark.
“That’s exactly what you said when I told you to go discuss things with Telden, sister mine,” she thought. “History repeats itself, and you’ll be in for a good deal of explaining ere long.”
* * *
That night, the host camped near the dry bed of the river Isen. Nildarien slept fitfully. The extreme despair she thought she had under control was merely bottled up inside her and it haunted her dreams.
She pulled herself out of the bizarre dream that had been accosting her subconscious. It was one that had been troubling her lately; there always seemed to be something missing, something she’d forgotten.
Nildarien shook her head and got up to search for the one person she could bother with this and listen to her even if she had to shake him awake.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to do any shaking; Legolas was wide-awake. She found him sitting around the fire with Aragorn and Shedheniel, conversing in low voices. The stopped abruptly when she approached. The look on her face told Legolas everything he needed to know.
“May I speak with you for a moment?” Nildarien asked. Legolas simply stood and followed her into the night, unheeding of the bewildered expressions of Aragorn and Shedheniel.
“Alright, little sister,” Legolas said once he was sure they were out of earshot. “I’m listening.”
It was all he had to say.
“I-I’m falling apart,” Nildarien said, the tremor in her voice betraying the truth of her words. “I just can’t keep together. I feel like such a burden to what everyone is trying to do.”
“You are burden to no one,” Legolas told her firmly.
“I know. It’s just…I…I’m feeling lonely again, and my dreams aren’t helping that in the slightest.” Nildarien paused, but Legolas said nothing.
“They’re horrible dreams,” she continued. “Horrible, tormenting, and sad…sad and rather funny sometimes. About some childhood antic of mine.”
Nildarien smiled faintly; her mood seemed to have lightened a bit already.
“Legolas, I have a question that’s been nagging me lately,” she said with a thoughtful frown. “May I ask?”
“I will answer,” Legolas replied.
“How did you meet Telden?”
Legolas was startled and taken aback; he hadn’t expected her to ask that at all.
“I thought he told you,” he said.
“Oh, well he told me you met during the war,” Nildarien admitted. “But I felt he was lying.”
“He was,” Legolas groaned. “The real story makes him look quite heroic and me…well…it’s rather embarrassing.”
“Oh, really?” Nildarien mused, an amused curiosity on her face. “Tell on.”
“Why do I think I’m going to regret this?” Legolas wondered aloud. “Anyway, I can’t do this-this storytelling thing half as well as Telden can, but here’s the…umm…basics of it.”
He paused at the positively mischievous look on Nildarien’s face; he really would regret this.
“It was before the actual war,” he began. “The year 3433 I think. We’d been having some trouble with Orcs on the Eastern border and somehow I managed to…get myself captured. A small group of Orcs dragged me to…I don’t remember where, but I know it was in a forest because I was tied to a tree. Anyway, one night my captors were contemplating what seemed to be the most painful way to kill me and were plainly not agreeing on it. That was about when one of them simply fell over with a knife in his neck. Of course, that sent them into a brief panic, and they deployed three of their number to search the area; needless to say none of them came back. Of the five Orcs remaining, two more fell victim to projectile blades before there was any face-to-face combat. Then everything became a blur of motion accompanied by Orc shrieks and clanging metal, but before I knew it, the creatures lay dead and Telden stood staring at me with his arms crossed-the way he does when he thinks you’ve done something particularly stupid. He glared at me and said, “Has no one ever taught you not to play with Orcs, boy?” and that was it. Since I had absolutely no idea of where I was much less how to get back to Mirkwood, he offered to aid me and we became friends along the way.”
There was a silence following the narrative, during which Nildarien looked very thoughtful.
“So…he saved your life?” she said. “Why didn’t I hear about it? I would think saving the Prince of Mirkwood would merit some sort of honor.”
“It did merit an honor,” Legolas explained. “A very high one, but he would take none. He wanted the incident kept quiet, which I readily agreed to. In the end it came to his terms.”
Nildarien nodded and looked as if she was about to say something else when her eyes suddenly grew very wide. She spun on her heel and dashed back toward the fire, Legolas following in complete and utter confusion.
Nildarien burst into the circle of firelight, startling Aragorn and causing her sister to jump.
“They’re coming,” she said just as a cry of alarm when up from the scouts. Every man in the camp was instantly on his feet.
Ahead along the riverbank, Nildarien could see a blackness rolling towards them, but while nearly everyone in the camp was somewhat panicking, she stood frozen, listening. The earth trembled beneath her feet and she smiled; there was nothing to fear. She said as much to a terrified soldier nearby and he looked at her as if she’d suddenly grown wings.
Sure enough, the darkness simply slid by and the night became calm again.
“Nildarien, what was that?” Shedheniel asked, still looking very shocked.
“Nothing,” Nildarien yawned, suddenly feeling tired. “I’ll explain in the morning.”
With that she went back to her bedroll and was asleep as soon as she hit the ground.