Nildarien gave a sigh of relief when she saw Shedheniel and Legolas sprinting towards her.
“Sorry- we’re- late,” Shedheniel managed to gasp.
“Finally,” Nildarien sighed. “Where have you been?” She glanced at Legolas with a look that might have been suspicion, but Shedheniel missed it. Legolas scowled at her and pushed past the sisters into the council room.
“It’s a good thing you got here when you did,” Nildarien said to her sister. “I might not have been able to stand their gaping and muttering for much longer.”
Shedheniel glanced over her shoulder and saw a small group, all of which were glaring at them and whispering.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What could we possibly have done now?” Nildarien shrugged and entered the council room.
There were all sorts of people present: Glóin the Dwarf and his son, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo and old Master Bilbo, and, of course, many Elves. There was also a stern-looking, well-dressed Southern man, who Elrond introduced as Boromir.
“I’m not sure that I like him very much,” Shedheniel whispered to Nildarien, who frowned.
“It’s not like Shedheniel to say that,” she thought.
All introductions were completed, and the council began.
All listened as the history of the Ring was told in full, passing from Elrond, to Bilbo, and lastly to Frodo. After this, others stood and told their tales. Legolas spoke of the escape of Gollum, and according to Gandalf, Saruman the White was now a traitor. When all was said, a single question was raised: what was to be done with the One Ring?
Elrond’s chief counselor suggested hiding it with some mysterious man, while Glorfindel argued it should be sent over the Sea. Boromir even proposed using the Ring against Sauron, but this was met with utter rejection. Finally, after what seemed like hours of debate, a decision was reached. The Ring must be destroyed. Frodo was appointed as the Ringbearer and Sam, who had snuck into the council, was to go with him. Then, at long last, the council was dismissed.
As people began to leave, Nildarien made her way over to where Bilbo was sitting. Something had been nagging at her since he’d spoken and she needed to set it straight.
“Excuse me, Master Bilbo,” she said. “But I was wondering; when you were in Mirkwood in the Elvenking’s palace, did anyone ever find you out, do you think?”
“Well, now that you mention it,” said the elderly hobbit. “Someone did. Or rather, two someones. I was in a narrow hall when two young ladies came dashing around the corner. One of them ran right into me somehow and bowled me over. Gave me quite a shock.”
“I hope you were not injured when I bowled you over,” Nildarien said.
“Oh, no! I was just-” Bilbo stopped short. “What? That was you?” he shouted. “Bless me, how extraordinary! And I’m very sorry about that. You took quite a fall if I remember correctly.”
“I was perfectly alright, and you needn’t apologize!” Nildarien laughed. “You were invisible at the time, and therefore blameless.”
“We guessed it was you, though,” said Shedheniel, who had just come over. “When you showed up at the camp and claimed you were with the Dwarves, we had our suspicions.”
Suddenly, something surfaced in Nildarien’s mind:
“This may prove more dangerous than you know!”
“Nildarien, what’s wrong?” Shedheniel asked, noting her sister’s expression.
“He was right, Shedheniel,” Nildarien said dazedly. “Telden was right. Remember? `This may prove more dangerous than you know,’? He knew about the Ring, even then. Or he at least guessed.”
“But how?” Shedheniel gasped. “How could he have known?”
“He was there. He remembers everything. He told me that he remembered when Sauron ensnared the Jewel Smiths, and… and he was one of them!”
Shedheniel could see that her sister was most likely headed for another bout of tears, so with a quick apology to Bilbo, she steered her out of the council room. The sound of jeering as they left reminded her of the mystery they had yet to solve.
* * *
After Nildarien’s breakdown, Shedheniel went to see Master Bilbo again. She opened the door to his room just as Gandalf strode out. She stood by the door and listened for awhile.
*”How long do you think I shall have here?” said Frodo to Bilbo.
*”Oh, I don’t know. I can’t count days in Rivendell,” said Bilbo. “But quite long, I should think. We can have many a good talk. What about helping me with my book and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?”
*”Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant,” said Frodo.
*”Oh, that won’t do!” said Bilbo. “Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”
*”It will do well if it ever comes to that,” said Frodo.
*”Ah,” said Sam. “And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
“I think it’s a marvelous ending,” said Shedheniel from the door.
“Do you like it just as an ending?” asked Bilbo. “Or do you like it because there is a certain someone with whom you’d like to settle down?”
Shedheniel blushed. “It is often said that I read others too easily, but I think I am to easily read myself. Ah, Master Bilbo, you seem to have your head stuck in the larger, more tragic love affairs of Rivendell.-If you can even call mine such,” she added softly.
Bilbo chuckled. “Perhaps, perhaps. I have an interest in these things you know.”
“I always found it hard to believe that you’re a bachelor,” said Shedheniel. “But maybe that’s just as well or Frodo would never have inherited your ring.”
“Will you be coming with Mister Frodo and me?” asked Sam.
“I don’t know,” said Shedheniel. “I’ve seen about as much of the Ringwraiths as I want, but perhaps that is where my road leads.”
“Oh, yes!” said Bilbo. “I’d quite forgotten that you were a warrior. You certainly don’t look it, Shedheniel.”
With that, Bilbo launched into an account of the Battle of Five Armies, helped reluctantly by Shedheniel. They talked of the journey ahead and what they might encounter. But no one, not even Shedheniel, could have foreseen or imagined the course she would soon be taking.
* * *
Shedheniel hadn’t noticed until then the sudden increase of jests and teasing about her sister and herself. Though, for some odd reason, the jests were different. Nildarien’s teasing came mainly from the lady elves in Rivendell, along with some of the younger boys, and Shedheniel’s torment was often from the men. Most of the time, Shedheniel could detect a hint of jealousy in the words of those who ridiculed her, but never in the words aimed at Nildarien. They were harsher and more disapproving. The sisters pondered over this for quite sometime. Shedheniel, however, would be the first to decipher the harsh words given to her. But she, unlike her sister, would use them to her advantage. The odd situation began a few days after the council.
Shedheniel had just come in from the valley, where she had been working on her knifing skills with Nildarien. She found Legolas seated in an armchair, deep in conversation with Aragorn about Gollum.
“Hullo, Shedheniel,” said Legolas merrily, looking up at her. “You know Aragorn, don’t you?”
Shedheniel smiled and seated herself on the arm of the chair. “Yes, I believe we’ve met.”
Aragorn looked hard at her for a moment.
“You were at the council,” he said. “Why?”
“Because she is an amazing warrior who fears not the Nazgûl,” said Legolas.
“Legolas!” cried Shedheniel. “How can you say that? I’m a warrior, yes, but I most certainly fear the Ringwraiths! I was very lucky indeed to get away with the wounds I gained in that battle!”
Aragorn looked at her with awe. “You were the partner Glorfindel spoke of then. Astounding!”
The sons of Elrond came over soon after, drawing Aragorn away and leaving Shedheniel and Legolas to themselves.
An Elf bustled by, bumping into Shedheniel and knocking her off her seat on the arm of the chair Legolas was in- and into his lap.
Shedheniel let out a barely audible squeak as she fell backwards. It was soon followed by the sound of laughter.
“Legolas!” a group of elves called. “Are you courting Shedheniel? You needn’t bother; she’ll not have you, nor any other who’s tried to woo her!”
“Do you envy him, my merry elves?” Shedheniel asked with a smile that did not match the annoyed look in her eyes. She whipped her head around and winked at Legolas, who looked at her bemusedly.
“Play along,” she whispered, as she switched Nildarien’s ring to her left hand.
“I certainly hope you’re not jealous,” Shedheniel said, a real smile on her lips this time. “You know Legolas and I are getting married don’t you?”
The group of elves gaped at them, and Legolas, in his surprise, stood up, dumping Shedheniel on to the floor.
Shedheniel found it hard to keep a straight face as Legolas helped her up.
“We really are getting married,” she confirmed, holding up her left hand and showing them her ring. Legolas swept her off her feet, having fully recovered from his shock.
“Come, my love,” he said. “Let us leave this group and find some place more quiet.”
Then, he carried her out of the Hall and to her room, where he dumped her on the bed.
Blue eyes met brown and they burst into fits of laughter.
“I had no idea you were going to do that,” Legolas told her. Shedheniel laughed again, holding her stomach.
“Even the Moon has a dark side, Legolas. She just never shows it,” she answered, twisting Nildarien’s ring back onto her right hand.
“Were they speaking the truth? Have you really turned away all of you suitors?”
“Yes,” said Shedheniel sadly, and all laughter left her eyes.
“I didn’t love them.”
“Who do you love?”
“You,” thought Shedheniel, but she didn’t say it. “I-I don’t know,” she stuttered finally. Tears formed in her eyes and she turned away.
“You don’t know?” Legolas sighed.
“No,” she said, holding back tears. “I don’t.”
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!
“Shedheniel? Are you here?” Nildarien called from outside the door.
“Come in!” Shedheniel called back. Legolas stood. He had a sad look in his eyes. As if there was something he wanted to tell her but couldn’t. Shedheniel felt the same way.
Nildarien opened the door and Legolas brushed past, apparently not in the mood to anger her.
Once he was out of sight, Shedheniel broke down and told her sister what had happened. Nildarien comforted her twin, and secretly wondered if she should tell her what Legolas had revealed in that fateful conversation long ago.
* * *
Imilin glanced nervously at Nildarien, wavering between two odds. Nildarien’s most recent bout of melancholy had left her wondering if she should reveal the fact that Telden was her brother. It was highly probable that this would greatly upset Nildarien, but still, she had to know sometime and now was as good a time as any. Imilin nodded and took a deep breath.
“Nildarien, there’s something I have to tell you,” she said shakily.
“Why doesn’t that sound good?” said Nildarien suspiciously.
“I wanted to tell you. I was going to, but you were so upset that I just couldn’t. Please don’t be-“
“This has something to do with Telden, doesn’t it?” Nildarien cut in.
“Yes, it does,” Imilin sighed. “You see, Telden is my older brother.”
Whatever Nildarien had been expecting to hear, it wasn’t that.
“What?!” she gasped. “You mean- but he- he never told me he had a sister!”
“He thought he didn’t,” said Imilin, smiling a little. “It’s all rather confusing. After Telden left home for Eregion, our parents decided to return West. They waited until they thought I was old enough to fend for myself and then they sent word to Telden, saying that he was to fetch me when he finished his apprenticeship, but somehow he received false information that said I had gone with my parents. When I heard that Eregion had fallen, I feared he was dead. I learned eventually that he was alive, but no one knew where he was. It was many long years until I found him just several months ago.”
“Imilin, you should have told me that straight away,” said Nildarien. “It is good to know that he is not as alone as he thought he was.”
Just then, a fair-headed girl with light blue eyes who could not have been more that ninety approached them, somewhat cautiously.
“Greetings, Lady Nildarien,” she said, dipping into a perfect curtsy. “My name is Amriel, and I wish I had better things to tell you of.”
Nildarien and Imilin looked at the young girl quizzically.
“What do you mean?” Nildarien asked. Amriel glanced around quickly to make sure no one was near, then she sat down next to Nildarien.
“People have been saying very horrible things about you. I’ve not the slightest idea of how the mere notion of something so ridiculous came into their heads, but it has been said that you are `untrue’ and `a mistress to many’ to put it as they did.”
Nildarien gasped and Imilin stood up in shock.
“How in the name of all you care to name did such a wicked idea spark in someone’s quite obviously fevered mind?!” Imilin exclaimed, struggling to keep her voice under control. “Such a thing is ludicrous, not to mention impossible! Don’t they know anything? I would have thought this common knowledge-“
“Imilin, please! Calm yourself,” Nildarien said. “It’s true that such an idea is impossible, but save your tirade for later. I do not need it at the present time.”
Imilin scoffed and Nildarien turned back to Amriel.
“Why do they say such things about me?” she asked. “And why are you telling me?”
“I know not why they create such lies, but I am telling you because I know they are just that. But I’ll get in dreadful trouble if anyone finds out I’ve told you. I’m not supposed to speak to you at all,” said Amriel with a little smile.
“Thank you very much, Amriel,” Nildarien said, and she meant it. “I would like you to help me get rid of these tales, for I believe they will not go easily.”
“I most certainly will help you,” said Amriel, and she darted away.
“If-I-ever find out who thought this up, they will most certainly wish they hadn’t!” Imilin growled.
* * *
Over the next two months, Nildarien, Imilin, and Shedheniel worked to erase the various and increasingly absurd stories. This proved very difficult, but, with a little inside help from Amriel, they managed to disprove most of the tales, and by the time the scouts returned, very few believed them at all.
One day, several weeks into December, Nildarien was summoned to one of the smaller council rooms. When she opened the door she seemed to have arrived in the middle of a debate; everyone was speaking at once and at someone on the opposite side of the room. Nildarien closed the door rather loudly and everyone stopped talking.
“You sent for me, Lord Elrond?” she said stepping forward.
“Yes,” he said. “As you may have heard, a company is to be sent with the Ring. The number of the company will be nine, and, as of now, seven of these places are filled.”
“And who holds those places?” Nildarien asked.
“Other than Frodo and Sam,” Elrond continued. “There will be Gimli for the Dwarves, Aragorn and Boromir for the Men, Legolas for the Elves, and Gandalf. Two places remain open. I ask you and your sister to take them.”
Nildarien needed no time to think this over. She knew her answer straight away.
“Lord Elrond, I am afraid I must decline for both Shedheniel and myself. I do not wish you to mistake my decision for cowardice, so I shall be frank: the situation between Legolas and myself borders on hatred. I would not endanger the quest with our quarrels.” She paused for a moment and glanced at Merry and Pippin, who were looking hopeful. She winked at them and continued.
“But if I may offer advice, send Merry and Pippin. They seem to be jumping at the bit to be allowed along.”
“Very well,” Elrond sighed. Both young hobbits cheered and Pippin hugged Nildarien around the legs (for that was as high as he could reach) so tight that she nearly lost balance.
“However,” Elrond said. “Nildarien, you and Shedheniel may still be of assistance: You will travel to Lothlórien and take word of the Company to the Galadhrim. Make ready, you depart in two days time.”
Nildarien bowed and left to alert Shedheniel.
* * *
Legolas walked quietly down the rows of trees, frowning despite the agreeable weather. He was still rather annoyed by Nildarien’s decision. Not that her absence would bother him any, but still, it was done and the sisters were leaving the next day.
An assembly whish seemed to be contrived mostly of younger elves was huddled between the trees. As he passed, Legolas caught a snatch of their conversation:
“What? She’s off again you say?”
“Where to this time, I wonder.”
“Away over the mountains. She’s delivering a message.”
“A message? Honestly, Amriel, use what wit you have! That’s just a story and I care not what you say about Nildarien.”
This sparked Legolas’s interest.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “But I could not help but over hear. You mentioned a Nildarien I believe?”
“Ah! You know her do you?” asked the boy who had spoken before and Legolas scowled.
“Unfortunately I do,” he said. “There is a considerable amount of disagreement between us.”
“Oh. Well since she is not in your favor, you probably already know about it,” said the boy.
“Know about what?” Legolas asked warily.
“About her of course,” the boy said in an undertone. He motioned for Legolas to come nearer and whispered everything he knew about it. At first, Legolas was shocked and skeptical, but anger swiftly replaced both.
“I see,” he said when the boy had finished. “I shall have to confront her with this.”
“Be careful,” said a girl. “She has a wild temper.”
“I am all to well aware of that,” Legolas said and strode off to find his enemy, who, according to this boy, was in quite a bit of trouble.