It seemed to Shedheniel that the hours were melting together and forming an endless nightmare of worry and self-conflict.
The brown-eyed elf was constantly quarreling with herself, and had been since she’d left Lórien.
What on earth was she doing? What was the use of tailing the Fellowship if she felt she couldn’t confront them? Would they send her back if she did work up enough courage to speak to them? Legolas wouldn’t approve of her following. Boromir wouldn’t approve of her at all.
On the eve of her second night on the river, Shedheniel was fighting the particularly strong urge to turn and retreat to Lothlórien when a strange chittering disturbed her thoughts. She looked about and saw nothing in the thinning forest.
Despite the lack of worry she had for an attack, Shedheniel put a back to a tree and screamed as something ran down her arm. The little brown blur disappeared into her pack of food, and she gave a sigh of relief.
The little squirrel popped its head out of her bag and chittered again.
“Hey! Get out of there!” said Shedheniel, making a move towards it. The squirrel hopped out of her bag and ran into her boat.
“No, no, no! You can’t be in there! That’s my- Hey! Leave my cloak alone- out now!” cried Shedheniel as she chased to ball of fur, which had crawled back into her food bag. It soon emerged with a wafer of lembas stuffed in its mouth.
“Come back here you little thief!” yelled Shedheniel, grabbing at the squirrel. The large piece of lembas proved too much for the squirrel to carry, and it snapped in half. The pesky creature scurried up a tree and onto a branch where it sat chittering angrily at Shedheniel, who was cleaning up the mess it had made.
The elf gave an exasperated sigh and shook her head. She picked up the half of lembas on the ground and took a tentative step toward the squirrel. Holding out the lembas, she set it on a branch.
“I won’t eat it now, so you’d better have it,” she mumbled. After a while she said, “Where’s your family? You didn’t leave them, did you? Or did they leave you? My parents left my sister, and me but then I had to go after the love of my life and I left behind the only family I have left. I miss Nildarien so much. Are you alone too?”
The squirrel was munching the new bit of lembas cheerfully and didn’t seem to care about what she was saying. When Shedheniel began to take out her things, however, it came and tried to sleep on her bedroll.
“You are alone, then. Just like me. Sometimes it feels like my heart is gone, don’t you know? I’ve given too much of it away and the part I’ve kept for myself is crumbled. Is that how you feel? Of course not! What is this madness that had come over me? I’m conversing with a squirrel!”
Shedheniel turned her back on the squirrel, which she now noticed had a white band around its tail, and kept watch throughout the night.
In the morning she readied her things with no further trouble from the meddlesome squirrel, who seemed to have left in the night. Shedheniel hurriedly loaded her things into the boat and stepped inside.
She yelped at once as something furry scampered onto her shoulder. The squirrel hopped off Shedheniel’s shoulder as the elf tried to steady the boat she was still standing up in. It tipped to far left and promptly deposited Shedheniel into the river.
Drenched and angry, the warrior clambered back into her boat amidst the squeaks of her companion.
“Where I am headed is no place for squirrels, but come if you must. We’ll keep each other company. Now I assume you’ll be needing a name…” said Shedheniel thoughtfully. “Hmmm… I think I shall call you Bandir. How’s that?”
The reply came in the form of a cheerful chirping.
“Then it’s settled. Bandir you shall be.”
* * *
With a discontented sigh, Nildarien fastened her cloak around her shoulders and slipped a longknife into her right boot. The other that Telden had made for her was in its usual place over her left hip. (She also would have had a small throwing knife in armsheaths both right and left, but Shedheniel had taken those.) Her hair had, once again, been cropped shorter than was custom for women and fixed in the usual fashion of a male elf; a bit off tradition, but much more practical.
Nildarien had been held back in Lórien for five days before she could finally set out after her sister. Now she was standing at the edge of the wood with Lady Galadriel.
“It is now high time for you to go,” she said. “I have told you much and you understand well what must be set in motion.”
Galadriel paused and placed a sword in Nildarien’s hands. Her expression was solemn.
“Your road will be long, and dark at times,” she continued. “Hold true, Kementiriel and do not succumb to despair.”
Without a word, Nildarien turned away. Not wishing to discard her knife, she attached the sword to Alambil’s saddle and pulled herself up. With no more than a whispered word to Alambil, she rode off along the West bank.
* * *
As the days wore on, they blurred together until Shedheniel lost track of the date. Besides Bandir, Shedheniel hadn’t spoken to anyone for a long time.
The solitude was slowly suffocating her and she truly experienced loneliness for the first time. Nildarien had always been with her, and now that she was not, Shedheniel missed her sorely. It seemed to her that she could almost hear Legolas saying to her what he once had:
“I have not known you as one to seek solitude. Why do you seek it now?”
“I do not seek it,” she said under her breath. “And I never shall. Never.”
After a while, Shedheniel noticed she wasn’t the only one tailing the Fellowship. Gollum was following them much closer than she was, but Shedheniel of course had to worry about Legolas turning around and spotting her.
Shedheniel tried to catch Gollum a few times until she herself was almost caught by Aragorn instead. She no longer needed to bother with Gollum if Aragorn knew of his presence.
What Shedheniel decided was the fifth night of her journey ended in trauma. Having not paid close attention to where she was, Shedheniel didn’t notice her danger until it was too late. It was nearing midnight when she heard a cry.
She’d drifted about so quickly she was in plain sight for all of them!
Accompanying the cry was the sound of rushing water. The Rapids! How could she have forgotten?
In her haste to get away from the rapids and the Fellowship, Shedheniel foolishly brought her boat to the riverbank nearest her: the Eastern shore.
The heart-broken elf realized her almost fatal error when she saw arrows flying from her side of the river.
For hours it seemed Shedheniel sat, unmoving, on the riverbank, the bow given to her by the people of Lórien in her hands. A sudden fear gripped her and a chill washed over her as she looked up.
“Sweet lady of the stars!” Shedheniel yelped, using a phrase Nildarien liked. “What new evil has come to burden my already troubled heart?” she asked as a dark winged thing flew out of the South towards to Western bank. She heard a sharp twang and watched hopefully as the evil thing lurched in the air. Her hope faded into fear as the dark shape came crashing down some ten feet from where she was.
A very furious wraith crawled out from beneath its dead mount and snarled at Shedheniel, who dropped her bow. She quickly drew her sword, her heart in her throat. There was not fire for her here and there was a host of Orcs somewhere nearby.
Shedheniel was drawn into a hideous she hardly remembered later. When it was done, the wraith had fled and Shedheniel paddled, with difficulty, to the Western side of the river.
* * *
Two days later, Shedheniel was forced to carry her boat through the woods and back to the river.
She steered her boat through a large ravine and past the Pillars of the Kings. As the eighth day of her journey ended and Shedheniel docked her boat, she had the worst feeling that something awful was soon to come.
* * *
In the morning Shedheniel sneaked perilously close to the Fellowship’s camp. They could no longer delay their decision of what to do and Shedheniel wanted to hear it.
Frodo wandered off alone to think and make a decision. Shedheniel followed in the treetops to make certain he would be safe. She stiffened angrily when she saw Boromir approaching. He tried to be friendly and caring, but the foolish man gave himself away.
“Very good, Frodo,” Shedheniel thought when he told Boromir the Ring could not be wielded. “If anyone can walk openly into death’s hands and destroy the Ring, it is you.”
Suddenly, Boromir sprang at Frodo, who vanished completely. Shedheniel cursed under her breath in suppressed rage. The stupid man had really tried to take the Ring. What would become of him? Where had Frodo gone?
Shedheniel went back to where the Company was in time to see Merry, Pippin, and Sam run off in another direction. She now spotted Orcs in many places and went off to find the others, no knowing she was about to witness something that would scar her forever.
* * *
For a while, Shedheniel did little more than shoot from the treetops. She was too frightened of being seen to come down. Once she had accounted for everyone, she went around, fighting wherever the battle was thickest and making sure no Orc who learned of her presence lived to tell the tale.
As Shedheniel made her way through the forest, she heard yelling and the loud blowing of a horn somewhere near. She swung lightly to the ground and pulled an arrow from her quiver. Moments later she came to a place that would haunt her nightmares for years to come.
From behind the tree she was standing near, Shedheniel could see Boromir, Merry, and Pippin surrounded by Orcs. Merry and Pippin were slashing mercilessly at their arms and legs. Boromir was also putting up a spectacular fight, Shedheniel noticed rather bitterly. Though she wished him no harm, she couldn’t help but be annoyed at his amazing skills.
Shedheniel quickly shot an Orc archer through the throat as he strung his bow. She killed two more nearing her hiding place behind the trees and a third who had come up from behind her.
She turned back to the main battle just in time to notice and Orc archer aiming his arrow at Boromir. She had to warn him!
“Boromir! Look out! Look out!” she cried, charging into the raging fight. There was an awkward moment as Merry, Pippin, and Boromir all gaped at her; then a sickening thunk.
Boromir looked down in shock to see and arrow buried in his chest.
“No!” Shedheniel screamed as she cleaved the heads off two Orcs. “Merry! Pippin! Go!”
The hobbits wouldn’t abandon their comrade no matter what and went on fighting. Shedheniel was awed by the sight of the man, fatally wounded as he was, rising and slashing at the evil creatures. She went on killing the Orcs, trying to find a way to her friends.
Three more arrows struck Boromir and he collapsed to his knees. He gently plucked an arrow from his chest.
An Orc tried to stab Shedheniel from behind and cut her side open, only to be beheaded in her anger.
The foul creatures, content with having captured Merry and Pippin, fled and Shedheniel ran to Boromir’s aid. He looked at her in shock.
“You really are a warrior,” he said.
“So are you,” Shedheniel sighed as she examined his wounds. She tried very hard not to cry as she said, “Even I can do nothing for you now. These wounds cannot be mended.”
The tears in her eyes overflowed and she began to weep.
“Waste no tears on me, woman!” Boromir growled in a weak voice. “Save Merry and Pippin.”
Shedheniel nodded slowly.
“I forgive you. I’ll find them or die trying.”
She heard voices and the sound of running feet not far off and scampered up the tree Boromir was leaning on. Why hadn’t she warned him soon enough?
It was all her fault!
* * * * *
Here ends Book Two: Shadows Rising,
of The Maids of Mithlond.
Book Three: In Pursuit of Love,
continues the adventures of Shedheniel and Nildarien concerning the Fellowship.