Several hours later that same night, Telden was camped with the Dúnedain and at the moment he slept. But his sleep was troubled, as it most often was, by painful dreams and tonight was no exception.
He stood in a garden with the diamond stars wheeling above. He felt a light touch on his shoulder and he turned and saw Nildarien. She smiled at him and ran, laughing, to an arbor.
“Come, Telden!” she called, her voice ringing clear in the night. “Come and catch me!”
Then she leapt away and he went after her. Long he chased her through the garden, but never could he catch her. Sometimes she would pause for a brief moment and allow his fingers to brush against her hair before she ran on. Then, at long last, she stopped altogether, but as he took her hand, everything changed…
He felt cold wind biting his face and heard the sound of pounding hooves. High doors loomed before him and images began to flash by so quickly he could only just recognize them. Gil-galad… Galadriel… Círdan… and then, in one nightmarish glimpse, the Eye-
Telden jerked awake and sat bolt upright. He buried his suddenly spinning head in his shaky hands, breathing hard and trying without much success to untangle his knotted emotions. He eventually settled on a familiar ire.
“And am I yet again your plaything, Mandos?” he muttered angrily. “Are not my half-healed and still bleeding wounds enough on their own without blending?”
Telden knew he would not get answers to these questions, but the anger and the pain were so similar…
His memories had been troubling him more often of late, brining dark dreams and a seemingly endless cycle of anger, pain, and
self-rejection. Perhaps it was because he’d gone back to every place that haunted him. Or maybe it was because…
Telden glanced at the ring on his right hand and ran a thumb over the silver brooch at his throat.
“Or maybe its because I’ve accepted who and what I really am…” he thought. Telden shook his head; he would not sleep again tonight. He never did after such dreams. Instead, he stood up and wandered to the edge of the camp where he found Elladan on watch.
“I’ll take you place if you wish,” he said. “I’ll not sleep tonight.”
“A kind offer, but I’ve only just been waked,” said Elladan. “Yet I would be glad of your company, for watching is lonely work.”
So Telden stayed and watched with the younger elf, and they spoke of many things. After awhile, though, Telden’s thoughts began to wander on their shadowed paths and he fell silent. Elladan must have noticed this, for he said:
“Wherefore are you so close-tongued, friend?”
Telden sighed and was surprised to feel his eyes sting with tears he refused to let fall. He had not cried for many, many years; not since the death of a dear friend.
“I am often so,” he said. “And so I call myself Dînfaroth, the Silent Hunter, for I pursue what I cannot catch, though I have hunted it long.”
“And what is it you search for?” Elladan asked.
“She who is the Sun in my eyes and the jewel of my heart,” Telden said with a slight, sad smile. “More fair and precious to me than all I have wrought. And that is a saying indeed from one whose kindred loves ever the work of their own hands.”
“What do you mean by saying you `hunt’ this lady? Do you mean that try for her love and cannot earn it?”
“No, Elladan. I mean search in the literal sense, though I am still uncertain if I truly have her love. I do indeed search for her, knowing not where she is. She stayed long in Rivendell, I know, and went from thence to Lothlórien. Where she is now, I do not know. I have not seen her for many long years that pass slow in her absence.”
“All you speak is melancholy,” said Elladan, shaking his head. “Say things more cheerful of her. What of her figure and manner? Of them you say naught. And you have yet to reveal her name.”
“You ask many questions,” Telden laughed. “Yet you will be answered. Her name is Nildarien Illisel, though by me she is called Anarwen. Her hair is like leaves in the Golden Wood and her eyes- her eyes are emeralds filled with a spirited light. She is a strong lady, and willful, with a temper that leaps quicker than the arrow from the string.”
“I know who you speak of,” Elladan said. “I saw her often whenever I was home. A very saddened woman she is, lesser in laughter and more in tears than her sister.”
“I have heard this and other of her from the folk of Rivendell,” said Telden. “And I wonder at it, for only twice before have I seen her cry.”
The two spoke together a little longer before Elladan retired, leaving Telden to watch alone.
“Alone,” he thought bitterly. “Perhaps I am doomed to be so.”
* * *
At about the same time Telden dreamt of his love, Legolas stood at the edge of Fangorn Forest, thinking of his. He sighed as he peered into the forest. In his heart, as well as his mind, he knew there was little hope left for Merry and Pippin. They had most likely been slain with the orcs and then their bodies burned beyond recognition. Even if they had escaped they would have fled into the woods, which was unwise. There was something wrong with this forest. There was a fury there that made his ears throb and his hair prickle.
Legolas shook his head. More than anything he missed Shedheniel’s ability to see the brighter side of things. What would she say right now? Legolas could almost hear her speaking: “Well, if the men of Rohan never saw them they must be in the woods. I’ll bet they ran off in the fight’s mayhem. Some forest dweller may have taken them in for now. Don’t worry. I know we’ll find them eventually.” she’d say with a smile.
Legolas grinned slightly, his mind on the happier times in Lothlórien. He should have told her. He should have told her he loved her. Now he might not see her again in a long time, possibly forever. Suppose she fell in love while he was away. Suppose she got hurt or killed. She would never know and he would be left to grieve and regret never telling her.
Legolas turned to where Aragorn and Gimli were sitting near the fire.
“Someone is coming,” he said, staring into the distance. Aragorn put his ear to the ground and Gimli stood.
“He is a short warrior. He wears a cloak with a hood so I cannot see his face. He is coming swiftly,” Aragorn added, sitting up. “What shall we do?”
“Perhaps it is one of the riders,” said Gimli.
“Nay, it is not one of the riders, friend Gimli. He does not wear mail as they wore, and he carries no spear.”
“Let us then see what he wants,” Aragorn said, though his hand went to the hilt of his sword and his eyes shifted to the horses. “He could be a thief.”
They stood in a group, weapons within their reach, and waited. The rider slowed his horse to a stop and dismounted, though he held onto the horse’s saddle.
“Who are you and what business do you have here?” asked Aragorn.
Shedheniel smiled slightly beneath her hood.
“This is not the first time today I have been asked that question, Lord Aragorn.”
The three companions stirred.
“How is it you know his name?” Gimli asked, suspicion apparent in his voice. His axe was out and ready in his grip.
“I know you as well, Gimli son of Glóin. And you also, Legolas.”
“Yet you speak my name so informally,”
Legolas, who had been strangely quiet, replied.
“I spoke it as you would speak mine.”
“Then speak yours now!” Gimli growled, raising his axe threateningly.
“Calm yourself, Master Dwarf! I mean you no harm. Strike me down if you will, but then you will be at the mercy of those in your company who do not wish me dead.”
Gimli had no answer for this invitation, so Shedheniel continued.
“Watch! I will set down my weapons.” She bent and set down her sword, bow, and quiver. Dizziness overwhelmed her for a moment as she stood again, making her stumble.
“A bow of Lórien!” Legolas cried, picking up her bow to compare with his larger one. His eyes widened in awe as he looked up at Shedheniel. Shaky hands dropped the bow.
“Come now, Cúmaenien. Why do you hide? Take off your hood and show us your pretty face.”
His companions stared at him in shock. Before Shedheniel could say anything, he was twirling her about. Shedheniel’s hood fell back revealing her face and long golden braid.
“What are you doing here?” Legolas asked, a worried look clouding over his face. “And where is Nildarien?”
Shedheniel’s head never stopped spinning after Legolas set her down. She put a hand on her forehead.
“I-in Lothlórien, I think,” she replied.
“Are you feeling well?” Aragorn asked, stepping closer.
“I-I think…I…” Everything was getting dark. Legolas grabbed Shedheniel as she collapsed and hoisted her into his arms.
“How did you know…?” she murmured before everything went black.
Legolas set Shedheniel down away from the fire. Then he went to sit with Aragorn and Gimli.
“What is that you called her? Is that your name for her?” Aragorn wondered. Legolas smiled slightly.
“Nay, it is not my name for her. It is her title: Cúmaenien.”
“It suits her well, I believe, though I have never seen her shoot moving targets or enemies. Where did she earn such a title?”
“From my father. I remember it well. Those were happy times.”
“Perhaps thinking of happier memories will lighten our hearts. Come, Legolas. Tell us how you two met,” said Gimli.
* * *
…It was a dark, chill morning. Great gusts of wind made Shedheniel’s hair scatter about and sped the ship in the distance away from the shore. Shedheniel raised one hand in a good bye gesture that no one saw. The passengers kept their eyes ahead, thinking only of what lay before them. One lone gull cried in the distance.
“Why didn’t they take us with them?” thought Shedheniel. She dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. Presently, she heard the clip-clop of hooves nearby.
The brown-eyed twin spun and gasped. Nildarien stood near the beginning of the dock holding two horses by the reins.
“Oh, Nildarien! Tell me there for us!” cried Shedheniel, racing down the dock to her sister. Her sorrows were temporarily forgotten.
“They’re for us,” Nildarien laughed. “A parting gift from Mother and Father. I’ll let you choose first.”
“You take the stallion, Nildarien. He’s nearly as fiery in color as you are in temper. What will you call him?”
“His name is Rahar. What about the mare? What is her name?”
Shedheniel stroked the midnight horse’s coat.
“Is Tarva a good name for you?” she cooed. The mare nuzzled the elf with her nose.
“I think that’s a `yes’!” said Nildarien. “Are you ready to go?”
Shedheniel sighed and turned to face the water again. She was overcome with a strange reluctance to leave.
“Are you sure we should make for Mirkwood?”
Nildarien shook her head.
“We’ve already been through this, Shedheniel. We don’t know the way to Rivendell, so it’s our only choice. Besides, we’ve already sent them word of our coming.”
“Still, the way is very dangerous. Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Cheer up, Shedheniel. We’ll be fine as long as we keep together. You’re all I have left…”
Shedheniel sat up with a jolt. She wiped her suddenly streaming eyes with the back of her hand and struggled to stand. She stumbled over to where Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas were speaking in low voices.
“And then-” Legolas was saying. Shedheniel finished for him.
“-I fell right out of the tree and was terribly lucky you were there to catch me.”
The trio jumped and Shedheniel giggled slightly.
“Why are you talking about Rivendell?” she asked.
“Aragorn and Gimli wished to know how we met.”
Shedheniel went and picked up her pack off the ground.
“We did not meet in Rivendell. You haven’t been telling them all the foolish things I’ve done, have you?” She opened her pack, rousing Bandir. The squirrel shot up her arm and seated himself on her shoulder.
“Ai! Bandir, you’re going to eat all my food! You’ve nearly finished the fruit and half of the cakes!” The dark-eyed elf met three pairs of shocked eyes. “This is Bandir,” she said with a smile, dropping her all-too-light pack on the ground.
“What are you doing here, Shedheniel?” Aragorn asked and Shedheniel frowned.
“I never should have come at all,” she muttered, ignoring the stinging in her eyes. “I never even told Nildarien I was leaving.”
“But why are you here?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know… the night you left, Galadriel came and spoke to me. She told me I would not stay in the wood long and too follow my heart. My heart went with you-” (She glanced sidelong at Legolas) “-so I followed.”
“Why did you follow us?” Gimli wondered aloud.
“What use would I be to Sam and Frodo now, Master Gimli? Besides, I have other things to attend to in this place.”
“Why do you not wonder where Boromir is, Moonface?” -Shedheniel blushed a deep crimson- “He did not go to Minas Tirith,” Legolas sighed.
“I know all to well of Boromir’s fate,” Shedheniel replied. Her expression was blank as she stared into the fire. “I can’t shut my eyes without seeing what happened. It was my fault…” One solitary tear slid down her cheek. There was an uncomfortable silence. Shedheniel scratched the tear away, leaving a red mark on her face and wandered away from the fire. There she stood, unmoving, and gazed out onto the plains.
Legolas glanced at his companions who wore the same worried, puzzled expression he did. He hesitated before going to Shedheniel and wrapping his arms around her.
“I’m certain it was not your fault.”
“It was fair close enough for it to seem so,” Shedheniel replied miserably. Legolas’ grip on her tightened and she tried to keep her heart from shattering, if it hadn’t already. He was only comforting her. The gesture meant nothing besides his concern for her. She’d come all this way, partially to tell him she loved him. Why shouldn’t she tell him now? Shedheniel opened her mouth to speak. Her heart was screaming “Tell him! Tell him!” but the only sound that came out of her mouth was a hoarse croaking.
“Hush, Moonface. Don’t tell me what happened. I don’t wish to know.”
Shedheniel cleared her throat.
“I told him I’d find them; find Merry and Pippin. I haven’t even managed that.”
“We haven’t even managed that, Shedheniel.”
“Oh, but we will find them, I just know we will. I’ll bet everything I own that they’re in the forest,” she mused, leaning her head back to look into his face. Legolas had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. He had imagined her saying just that earlier.
Shedheniel bit her lip thoughtfully, and then asked the question Legolas had been waiting for.
“How did you know it was me?”
He smiled. “Have you not looked at your bow?”
“What do you mean? Of course I’ve looked at it!” was the reply. Legolas tugged Shedheniel back to where Gimli and Aragorn were sitting patiently. He grabbed Shedheniel’s bow and tossed it to her.
“I see nothing…” she said as she ran a finger down the front.
“Look at the other side.”
Shedheniel turned the bow in her hand and yelped as if she’d been burned. Carved in flowing elvish on the inside of the bow was one word: Cúmaenien. The bow slipped from her hands.
“No. I didn’t tell her.”
“Oh, Ai!” cried Shedheniel, shaking her head. “Elbereth! Gilthoniel! Am I ever confused!”
In a sudden spontaneous moment everyone began to laugh, but it soon died down. Shedheniel was still smiling in spite of herself when she felt a pang of worry and realization in her heart. That was Legolas, and he was thoroughly worried about something. At the moment though, he, Gimli, and Aragorn seemed to be silently exchanging words. Legolas frowned and turned to Shedheniel.
“Could I-uh-speak to you for a moment?”
“Of course,” Shedheniel replied solemnly.
“Certainly,” Shedheniel said as she tried to ignore the fact that she was blushing.
Legolas took her hand and led her a little ways into the woods. They could still see the campfire, but it seemed distant.
“Is something wrong?” she asked when they stopped walking. Legolas shook his head.
“No. It’s just that-well…there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you…and-well-I-” he stopped as if deciding something, then took her other hand. He bent and pressed his lips gently against hers.
“Shedheniel, I’m in love with you,” said Legolas, looking down and dropping her hands. Shedheniel was speechless. The kiss was nothing compared to this shocking declaration.
Legolas turned away and as he did, a wave of pain swept over Shedheniel. The steady aching magnified in her heart was the pain in his and hers together; a pain that was hard enough to bear on her own.
Then the tears came; Shedheniel had known they would. They poured down her face in a deluge. She reached out and clasped Legolas’ hand.
“…Shedheniel?” he turned to face her and she fell into his arms. She didn’t sob or shake. She just let the tears trickle down her face.
“I-I think I just felt your heart break,” Shedheniel murmured. Then she buried her face in his shoulder and clutched his shirt. Legolas pulled her close and held her.
“Oh, Shedheniel. I’m so sorry. I forgot you can feel what I feel…I’m so sorry. I can’t bear to go on knowing you’re in pain because of me…” he was silent a moment. “But it’s not possible for me to stop loving you,” he whispered in her ear. Shedheniel sniffed and hesitated before brushing her lips against his.
“It’s not possible for me, either,” she managed to squeak. Legolas shook his head.
“I’m in love with you too, Legolas.”
He surveyed her face.
“You’re not joking are you?”
“Why would I joke about something so serious?”
Legolas looked down a moment, then drew her to him and kissed her. Shedheniel felt her knees weaken and she slipped her arms around Legolas’ neck. She would otherwise fall down.
They broke their kiss and Shedheniel lay her head on his chest. Legolas seemed content just holding her and said nothing for awhile.
After a long moment of silence, he smiled and said, “Ah! I’ve just remembered something.”
He reached into his pocket and handed Shedheniel her handkerchief.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, reluctant to let go of him.
“You dropped it in Rivendell,” he paused. “We should go back, love.”
Shedheniel blushed deeply and locked her knees to assure herself that they wouldn’t buckle. Legolas took her hand again and they walked back out of the woods together.
“Ai!” Aragorn jumped up when the came into sight. “We were starting to worry.”
“What happened? Did your discussion go well?” Gimli asked eagerly. Legolas sighed and Shedheniel turned a shade of scarlet so dark that she resembled a plum.
“Well?” Gimli said, grinning.
“I’m courting her!” Legolas blurted out. “If that’s alright with you?” he asked in a lower voice as he looked at Shedheniel. She nodded happily.
“I thought you accepted no suitors,” Aragorn remarked, his eyes laughing.
“No suitors save the one I love,” Shedheniel mumbled, her face resuming the violet shade it had been a moment ago. The group drew watches and settled down to sleep.
“Watches!” Shedheniel had exclaimed. “I can finally sleep!”
Although the others awakened later due to the appearance of an old man and departure of the horses, Shedheniel slept untroubled by anything save fell dreams which she had forgotten by morning.