Nildarien left her room and closed the door with an unhappy sigh.
“Enjoying yourself?” said a voice. Nildarien whipped around and scowled at Legolas.
“No. You’re here,” she snapped. “What do you want?”
“To ask why you and Shedheniel turned down the invitation to come. Or rather, why you turned it down for her,” said Legolas.
“Because, if Shedheniel and I were to go nothing would be accomplished, and everyone’s life would be endangered by our quarrels,” said Nildarien truthfully.
“So you took it upon your heartless self to decide for her?”
Nildarien was already in a rather irate mood, and the mention of an old insult did not much improve it.
“Heartless you call me again!” she yelled. “Must I dull your tongue with my palm as I did before?”
“You say this to me?” Legolas retorted and he too was yelling. “It is you that needs it!”
“You would cut your hand were you to try!” Nildarien said with a bitter laugh.
“I can well believe that! What, do you sharpen your wit on a poisoned knife each morning?”
“And each night as well, though I am not alone in the practice!”
Legolas paused and shook his head.
“I called Telden mad for loving you,” he said more quietly. He seemed to have reached the point he had really wanted to discuss with her. “He changed after you left, but it would destroy him to learn your true nature.”
“And what nature is that?” Nildarien hissed. Legolas looked positively furious now, but furious must have been an understatement. He seized Nildarien by the arms and clenched his hands tight enough to leave a mark.
“I think you know, you faithless wench!” he snarled, and flung her away into wall.
Nildarien felt herself go pale with disbelief. She tried to speak and found she had no breath to do so.
“Though I hate you, I never thought you competent of such cruelty,” Legolas continued. “This is going to be like death for Telden when he finds out. He exiled himself for you, and this is how you repay him? He deserves better than the likes of a wanton such as you!”
With this, Nildarien found her voice.
“No! It’s a lie!” she shrieked. “Have you no sense? It’s all a lie!”
“Why should I believe you?” Legolas shouted. “I have no reason to!”
His eyes fell on the hawk pendant around Nildarien’s neck and he recognized it immediately. He grabbed it and gave a quick, hard pull, braking the chain with a snap. Nildarien gasped, completely shocked.
“Why do you still wear this?” Legolas snarled at her. “He is nothing to you now.”
If Nildarien had been angry before, it was nothing compared with what she was now. Rage such as she had never known was coursing through her like fire, and it consumed her reason.
She moved to strike Legolas, but this time he was not caught off guard. He grabbed hold of her wrist, but Nildarien went for his throat with her free hand. He blocked it with his arm and Nildarien drove her knee into his stomach, weakening him, and shoved him against the wall. She pinned him there, struggling to control her rage.
“I swear,” she hissed through her teeth. “I swear if I didn’t know about my sister, I would kill you. If you ever speak false of me again you will be very sorry.”
Nildarien twisted the pendant out of Legolas’s hand, and flung him to the ground.
“Now get out,” she commanded, her voice shaking. Legolas stood, but did not move.
“I said get out!” Nildarien screamed, blood pounding in her ears.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Shedheniel shrieked as she came sprinting over.
Nildarien and Legolas both made a move to strike each other, but both blows hit Shedheniel, who went flying into the wall. She crumpled to the ground.
“Don’t come near me,” Shedheniel managed to murmur. She grabbed the wall and pulled herself up shakily.
“Do you have any idea what you are doing?” she cried bitterly. There was a fire blazing in her eyes that neither Legolas nor Nildarien had ever seen before, but somehow it was not angry. The look in her eyes was sad with such intensity it nearly made Nildarien cry.
“You’re killing me,” Shedheniel said softly. “You are ripping my heart in half and tearing me to shreds and soon I’ll go all to pieces and there’ll be nothing left.” Shedheniel’s eyes were nearly overflowing with tears she refused to shed.
“Stop this quarrel now, or it will be the death of me. I heard most of what was said here. All of it was untrue. All of it.”
Shedheniel shakily began to walk towards them.
“Nildarien, if you try to kill Legolas, you must kill me first. Legolas, if you try to kill Nildarien, you will have to kill me first.”
With one sweeping kick, Shedheniel knocked both Legolas and Nildarien’s feet out from under them.
“I could win if I fought both of you at the same time like that,” she remarked with and annoyed tone.
“I go now to tend the bruises people I love have given me,” said Shedheniel as she stalked off, limping slightly. Legolas and Nildarien sat in total shocked silence; Shedheniel had never done anything like that before. Legolas spoke first.
“It was all a lie?” he asked.
“Yes, all of it,” Nildarien told him. “I thought you had more sense than to believe such an incredulous story. You know such a thing is not possible, and if it were, I would not do it.”
“You’re right,” Legolas admitted sadly. “I do know, but I was rather annoyed with you when I heard and I believed it.”
There was a short silence, in which both of them seemed to be thinking of what exactly to say.
“But, Nildarien, I want you to understand,” Legolas said. “Telden is my friend, and I did not want to see him hurt again. He is already alone.”
“And am I so different?” Nildarien asked. “I may not have been through as much as he has, but I have been through a fair bit in a very short time.”
“You are not entirely alone.”
“No, perhaps not, but at times it seems so,” Nildarien said. “I understand your reasoning, Legolas. We needn’t discuss this further.”
Nildarien stood and sighed unhappily.
“I should go see Shedheniel,” she said. “And so should you. We both owe her an apology.”
Nildarien turned to leave, but paused for a moment and said:
“And Legolas, Telden is not as alone as you might think.”
* * *
Nildarien came into Shedheniel’s room awhile later and found her sister tending to her injuries. The room smelled strongly of different herbs, and Nildarien did not doubt that she had been dressing her bruises and cuts for some time. Her twin’s left eye was red and swollen and her lip had been split.
“Which blow was mine?” Nildarien asked quietly as Shedheniel pressed a wet cloth to her eye.
“Your slapping skills haven’t dulled any since you tried them on Legolas,” she remarked with a rueful look in her good eye. “Your blow caught my face. Legolas’s hit my stomach and I have a bruise there, and also on my back where I hit the wall.”
Nildarien looked down.
“Will you ever forgive me?” she wondered aloud.
“Forgiveness can be easily given and easily taken. I do not understand it,” Shedheniel murmured softly to herself.
“Who spoke that? It is a fine quote.”
“I did, Nildarien. To Legolas the last time you had a similar fight. Of course I can forgive you, sister. I could forgive Orcs for their cruelty if they gave me a reason.”
“I do not doubt that!” Nildarien laughed and told Shedheniel what had been said after she’d left the enemies together. This in turn made Shedheniel so happy, she broke into a huge smile that was shortly followed by, “Ow!” as her newly healed lip split and bled again. Nildarien sighed.
The two sisters walked silently down to dinner, their minds on the journey ahead.
“Oh dear!” said Amriel when she caught sight of Shedheniel that night. “What happened?”
Both Nildarien and Legolas hung their heads.
“Oh, you know me,” said Shedheniel, her eyes twinkling. “I took a rather nasty spill down one of the longer flights of stairs and my knee bruised my eye. It will heal in due time.”
“Ah, yes! I’d almost forgotten you were the picture of gracefulness! I should be more careful on the stairs from now on. Fare well on your journey,” Amriel laughed and skipped away to speak with others.
* * *
Shedheniel crept silently down a dark hallway the next morning. She was dressed in her old travel clothes that she hadn’t worn since she left Mirkwood.
She bent at a door and slipped a sealed envelope into the room. Unbeknownst to her, her favorite handkerchief slipped out of the pocket she’d kept it in since Legolas had returned it. Shedheniel stood and left the hall in a hurry. She and Nildarien had been gone a few hours when the note was found.
Legolas carefully tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter. It was written in Shedheniel’s messy script and words were smeared where her tears had fallen.
By the time you read this, Nildarien and I will be gone. This was intended because I can never find the right words to say goodbye to you. It grieves me to be off and away again, and I assure you, my thoughts are with you. I ask you to be careful on your own journey and to look after the hobbits. And also keep a watchful eye on the man of Gondor, Boromir, for I trust him not. Nildarien and I will remain in Lothlórien for awhile. If your road leads you there, then it will be a most joyful meeting. Remember, hope is always with you, you have only to find it. I miss you always.
My hopes, thoughts, prayers, wishes, and love,
Legolas folded the letter and put it in the pocket over his heart. As he began to leave, he saw Shedheniel’s handkerchief on the floor and picked it up. He put it in his pocket with the letter.
It was quite some time before he saw Shedheniel again.
* * *
“I-I’ll take the first watch tonight, Nildarien.”
“As you wish. Wake me in a few hours, then,” said a yawning Nildarien as she cast herself on the ground.
Shedheniel sat silently watching the stars for awhile, but she soon gave in to her own pain and began to cry relentlessly. But this was not her usual crying, which was loud and noisy. This was a silent weeping with shaking shoulders. This was crying from heartbreak.
Shedheniel reached for her handkerchief, but her hand found none. Instead, it touched something cold and hard and she drew it out. It appeared to be a plain silver broach for a cloak. A note was fastened to it. The slip of paper was small and read:
Next it shall be my turn to visit. I bid you take this token until I do.
“It must have been in my handkerchief the whole time!” she thought. “And now I’ve gone and lost it.”
Shedheniel kept watch for the remainder of the night.
When Nildarien questioned her about her red eyes the next morning, Shedheniel said she was tired, having forgotten to wake her for her own turn to watch. Nildarien knew her twin was lying and she said naught of it, for she understood what Shedheniel was going through.
* * *
A few days later in the evening, Shedheniel gave a sudden cry.
“Is something the matter?” Nildarien asked and Shedheniel put a hand to her forehead.
“They’ve just left.”
“The Company,” said Shedheniel. “They’ve just left Rivendell. Can’t you feel their worry?”
“No. Can you?”
“Yes. Though Legolas feels more pain than worry, and Aragorn is frightened and tense. Pippin is terrified. Are you certain you can’t feel it?”
“Yes, I’m quite certain. I think we should stop for tonight. I’ll take the watch. Get some sleep, Shedheniel. You need it.”
* * *
Even though the Sun had crept over the rim of the world, Nildarien hesitated to wake her sister. She was worried about her. That comment had been so odd, but Shedheniel wasn’t all that had Nildarien worried. There was a horribly familiar sense of dread hanging over her, and the worst part of it was, she couldn’t pinpoint the source. She sighed and woke Shedheniel.
“We’re starting on the pass today,” she told her.
“That should be enjoyable,” Shedheniel mumbled groggily.
An hour or so later, the sisters were trudging slowly up the snowy slope of Caradhras. Suddenly, Nildarien, who was leading, flung out her arm and it caught Shedheniel in the chest.
“Ow! What did you do that for?”
“Stop,” Nildarien said in a deathly whisper. “There is great anger here. It hates many.”
She stepped forward and a bank of snow to their right broke away and tumbled down the slope.
“No, no, no. That won’t do at all,” Nildarien said, stepping back. She put one hand on Alambil’s back, just in case, and closed her eyes. She had tried this many times before, listening to the earth as well as speaking.
She stood there for some time, and Shedheniel had begun to wonder what was going on, when Nildarien lurched forward and fell to her knees, gasping and coughing. Shedheniel knelt next to her and attempted to calm her.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I-I was listening,” her wide-eyed twin gasped. “The things I heard…they were terrible. But the worst thing I did not hear. I felt it. I don’t know what it was, but it was terrifying.”
Nildarien looked down and brushed away the snow in a small area until she could see the ground.
“Ummm…what are you doing?” said Shedheniel, bewildered.
“I’m going to find out what that was,” Nildarien said. “If I’m touching the stone, it might be easier.”
Nildarien placed her left hand on the stone and immediately drew back with a cry of pain: a bleeding welt ran across her palm. Shedheniel went for her pack, and quickly bandaged her sister’s hand.
“I hope to Elbereth the Company will not pass this way,” said Nildarien. “Something is not right here.”
* * *
Two days later, when the sisters were camped in the pass, Nildarien woke with a scream.
“Honestly, Nildarien!” Shedheniel exclaimed. “You’ve been so jumpy since we started the pass. What is going on?”
Nildarien looked at her sister with tears in her eyes.
“It’s pleading with me,” she said. “It’s crying out to me for help because it knows I understand.”
“Then, can’t you help?”
“No!” Nildarien cried, and her tears began to fall silently. “I can’t. I just don’t know how. There have been ages of suffering here, and its horrible because I-” She stopped, and for the first time, Shedheniel saw a trace of madness in Nildarien’s usually calm gaze. But it would not be the last time.
“I can feel the pain, Shedheniel,” Nildarien continued, her voice shaky. “I hurt all over as if I’ve been scorched. My head pounds and this cut on my hand burns. But my dreams…my dreams are filled with anguish. I long to help, but I don’t know how. I have not the skill.”
Nildarien began to shiver and Shedheniel wrapped a blanket around her and sat close.
“This is driving me mad,” the miserable elf growled. “Hold onto my hand, Shedheniel. I’m trying again.”
“No, I won’t let you,” Shedheniel protested. “Please, Nildarien. I’m afraid it will kill you.”
“Not knowing is killing me,” Nildarien argued. She grabbed onto Shedheniel’s hand and closed her eyes. At once, a wave of pain hit her, and tore her from reality. She heard nothing save the mountain’s voice, begging for her aid. Through all this, Nildarien could sense something; a sort of elusive darkness in the very heart of the mountain. She bent her mind on it, and immediately knew it was a mistake. A sharp stab of red-hot pain ripped through her body, and there was a lashing feeling across her right hand. With a jerk, she pulled her mind away and opened her eyes. Nildarien looked down and groaned. The snow near her right hand was stained scarlet.
“Never do that again,” said Shedheniel as she wrapped her twin’s hand. “You frightened me out of my mind. Did you realize that you were mumbling to yourself?”
“No,” said Nildarien, flexing her hands. “I was rather occupied. This is so strange; both of my hands torn, and in the same way. I still don’t know what the presence is, but there’s certainly nothing good about it.”
“Don’t try to find it again, Nildarien,” Shedheniel begged. “You said yourself every time the pain worsens, and look at what just happened.”
“Don’t worry. I will not listen again until we are far away from here.”
“What will happen if the Company does pass this way?” Shedheniel asked worriedly.
Nildarien hung her head.
“I know not,” she said. “But I fear the worst.”
* * *