The sun sank lower in the sky, casting long shadows across the road below. Nildarien sighed; she would have to return to Gildor and his company soon. She had left them before sunrise with her word that she’d be back before nightfall. But she didn’t have to leave just yet; she still had time.
Nildarien peered through the branches of the tree she was perched in, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She was on a low branch, but could still see for miles. The Shire was a peaceful little land with a peaceful little people to match. The little peoples’ daily antics were rather amusing, but Nildarien had always found hobbits to be comical and her opinion hadn’t changed from the last time she’d seen one.
She stepped out a bit farther, unaware that the branch was bending. It gave way with a loud snap, shunting Nildarien out of the tree and down a small hill to the roadside. She sat up and found herself facing an extremely astonished hobbit. For a moment she wondered why he was staring, but then realized that an elf falling out of a tree and rolling down a hill was not a normal occurrence in the Shire.
The look on the shocked creature’s face was so funny that Nildarien could not help but laugh.
“Good evening, friend!” she said amid her laughter. The hobbit merely gaped at her, which only made Nildarien laugh harder. She scrambled to her feet and darted up the hill into the wood, trying, and failing, to quell her laughter.
* * *
Shedheniel awoke much later to the sound of a door closing.
“Oh,” said Legolas. “You’re finally awake.”
The door opened again and Laurenai slipped in.
“Who’s your friend, Legolas?” Shedheniel asked, faking innocence. Legolas glared at her.
“I’m Laurenai, daughter of Lindorel,” the girl said with a curtsy. Shedheniel’s eyes widened.
“Lindorel has a daughter?! Is she married?” she yelped.
“To my father,” Lindorel replied.
“I should hope so,” Shedheniel told her. Legolas scoffed.
“How long have I been asleep?” Shedheniel asked him.
“Nearly a day and a half.”
“A day and a half! What a fine visit this is becoming.”
Neither Shedheniel nor Legolas noticed Laurenai looking back and forth between them with interest. She cleared her throat to get their attention.
“You two should get married!” she announced loudly. Two flabbergasted elves turned to gape at her.
“Wh-why would you say that?” Shedheniel stammered her face bright crimson.
“I saw it,” Laurenai replied simply.
“Umm… Laurenai, your mother’s calling you,” Legolas muttered.
“Coming, mother!” she cried as she ran out.
Shedheniel was glad to notice Legolas blushing, too.
“How could she- why would-” she started.
“She has a minor form of foresight. She knew about the spider attack and came to meet us, but you were already unconscious.”
“Oh,” said Shedheniel, turning a brighter shade of red.
They were silent for a moment and Legolas sat down at the edge of the bed.
“She must be wrong. Somehow I don’t think I’d be a desirable wife,” Shedheniel mumbled.
“What makes you think that?” Legolas wanted to know.
“Look at me, Legolas! I’m- I’m a warrior! Who would want a woman warrior for a wife?”
“A warrior who didn’t want to have to worry about having to protect his wife?”
Shedheniel sighed and tossed her pillow at Legolas. It hit him in the head.
“I surrender!” she cried, throwing her arms up dramatically and Legolas chuckled.
* * *
“Why doesn’t anything ever work out right for me?” Telden mumbled, pacing his room angrily. He’d come to Rivendell to see Nildarien, only to be told by Glorfindel that both she and her sister were gone. With that, he saw no reason to stay.
“But why not?” he thought, stopping his pacing. “I’ve been travelling for so long, a rest would be welcome. And perhaps she will return.”
So, Telden waited, unaware that he would again be disappointed.
* * *
Alambil pranced impatiently. In his opinion they’d been here long enough and he was ready to go, but his mistress was dawdling.
“I thank you for your companionship, Gildor,” Nildarien said. “I would like to see you some other time, if I ever can. Now that’s enough!”
This last statement was to her horse. He had been nosing at her hair and had just seized her braid in his teeth and given it a hard tug. He looked at Nildarien innocently and snorted. Gildor laughed.
“Go quickly, Nildarien! Lest this trickster try something more serious.”
“He wouldn’t dare,” Nildarien said, swinging into the saddle. “He’ll get the bit if he does.”
Alambil jerked his head up and twitched his ears at this and Nildarien laughed.
“Don’t worry,” she told him. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”
Nildarien had never used a full bridle on any of her horses. She believed it broke their spirit, so she had always used a headstall instead.
“I don’t see why he shouldn’t have one,” Gildor said.
“If you had a piece of metal forced between your teeth, you wouldn’t like it either,” Nildarien said. “It’s really quite uncomfortable.”
“And how would you know that? Have you tried it?”
“Yes, I have.”
Gildor shook his head with a smile.
“Just go already,” he said. “We’ll be at this all day if you don’t. And be wary on the road. There’s been talk of strange happenings and travel is not as safe as it used to be.”
“I will,” Nildarien replied. “Farewell.”
She tapped Alambil with her heels and he leapt out from the trees and down the road, with Tirian soaring overhead.
* * *
Days became weeks, weeks swiftly wore on into months, and in the blink of an eye, Shedheniel’s visit was over and she was saying good-byes with a heavy heart.
“Here this is yours,” Legolas said, handing her the handkerchief she’d given him all those years ago.
“I’ll come back soon,” Shedheniel whispered, desperately trying to hold back tears. “Be careful when you watch that awful creature, Sméagol was it? I think it’s up to something.”
Legolas nodded and Shedheniel squeezed his hand and mounted Narúel.
“I guess this is good-bye,” she sniffed, her voice cracking.
Then Shedheniel rode off into the morning light, giving one last wave before disappearing completely.
* * *
Several weeks later, Shedheniel wandered through the gardens of Rivendell, but her mind, and her heart, were still in Mirkwood. Lost in thought, she turned a corner and immediately felt her jaw drop. She could hardly believe her eyes.
“Telden! What are you doing here?” she gasped.
“Seeing some old friends,” the dark-haired elf replied. At any rate, he was not as shocked at seeing Shedheniel as she was at seeing him.
“How have things been with you?” Shedheniel asked and Telden smiled.
“Things have been well,” he said. “And there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
He turned to the woman standing beside him.
“This is Imilin,” he said. “My sister.”
Shedheniel clapped a hand over her mouth in astonishment and distress. Imilin was a good friend of Nildarien’s.
At seeing Shedheniel’s horrified expression, Imilin had begun to put two and two together. Nildarien had told her the tragically romantic story behind the letter and the pendant, but had concealed the identity of her admirer. Then, her brother had shown up with a similar tale to tell, but no matter how much she questioned him, he, too, had left the other party nameless. But Imilin understood now. Telden was the one missing from Nildarien’s story and she from his. Imilin glanced at Shedheniel worriedly.
“Is it possible?” she asked quietly.
Shedheniel nodded slowly, eyes closed.
“Oh! Poor Nildarien!” Imilin gasped.
Telden spun around to face his sister. He looked angry, but spoke quietly.
“What?” he hissed. “You know Nildarien and you never told me?”
“You never said you were interested,” Imilin snapped back. Telden rounded on Shedheniel.
“Where is she? Do you know?” he asked.
“No,” Shedheniel said timidly. “She did say that she might go visit Mithlond, but-“
Shedheniel stopped short; Telden had just turned and run off. Imilin sighed.
“I worry about him sometimes,” she said. “He never used to lose his temper like that.”
“What’s he going to do?” Shedheniel asked nervously.
“Leave most likely,” Imilin answered.
The two elves found out later that that was exactly what he had done.
* * *
“I wonder if Shedheniel is back yet,” Nildarien thought. She had been travelling all around Eriador since Shedheniel had left for Mirkwood in April, and it was now September. Nildarien hadn’t seen another elf since she’d left Gildor, and she didn’t think any lived near the river Isen, which was her present location.
Alambil stamped nervously and Nildarien patted his neck to reassure him, but truthfully, she too was apprehensive. A fear had been growing on her all day.
Suddenly, Alambil shied away from the edge of the cliff and Nildarien looked down. The sight that met her sharp eyes made her blood run cold.
Riders. Dark riders on black steeds. Steeds with a wicked fire in their eyes.
Despite her terror, Nildarien counted them as they passed: nine. The word echoed in her horror-numbed mind.
“Nine,” she thought. “That number is important, I know it.”
Slowly, she recalled the line of a verse she had heard and read many times:
*“Nine for mortal Men, doomed to die…”
Then it hit her, like a spear in the heart: the Nazgûl.
She wrenched Alambil around and spurred him away towards Rivendell.
* * *
It was evening in the quiet valley of Rivendell, and the elves had gathered for dinner. Shedheniel was seated next to Imilin near the upper end of the hall.
There were crashing and banging noises from outside and a moment later, the doors burst open and Nildarien dashed in, still wearing her riding clothes. She went straight to the head of the table where Elrond sat and skidded to a halt. She leaned on the table gasping for breath.
“Lady Nildarien, what is the meaning of this?” Elrond asked her, apparently confused.
Nildarien looked up and Shedheniel could see pure terror in her bedraggled sister’s emerald eyes. Nildarien drew a deep shuddering breath.
“The- the Nine ride again!” she gasped and a heavy silence descended on the hall. Elrond stood swiftly.
“You have assurance of this?” he asked her.
“I have seen them,” she said. “They crossed the river Isen five days ago.”
“It is so,” Elrond said gravely. “The Shadow is arisen again.”
* * *
Shedheniel and Imilin made Nildarien go to her room and rest, but Shedheniel paced nervously in her own room, Imilin was seated on the bed.
“What are we going to do?” she wailed. “Once Nildarien finds out she missed Telden she’ll get depressed, which will make me depressed, and I’m already depressed and-” Shedheniel choked back tears. “If I can’t be happy, than Nildarien should be. My heart won’t be at rest until she and Telden are reunited.”
Imilin watched sadly as Shedheniel went back to pacing.
“Shedheniel, stop pacing. You’ve made a lovely mark in your rug,” she said gently.
Shedheniel stopped and looked down. Sure enough, there was a worn path beneath her feet.
“Oh,” she sighed and plopped down on the bed. “I feel at fault. If I hadn’t told him I thought Nildarien was in Mithlond, Telden never would have left. I’m just the catalyst of their pain,” Shedheniel sniffed.
“There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself because you are not the cause of their pain,” said Imilin.
“Maybe you are right. The best thing to do right now-and the only thing I can think of- would be to go to Mithlond and drag Telden back.”
“I don’t know if Telden would like that,” Imilin giggled.
“What about Telden?” Nildarien asked, stepping through the door. Imilin sighed and Shedheniel bit her lip.
“Nildarien, she began. “Telden was here just a few weeks ago, but he-he went to Mithlond to look for you and its all my fault!” Shedheniel wailed.
“It’s really not her fault. She told him she thought you were in Mithlond and her ran off,” Imilin yelled through Shedheniel’s apologies.
“Shedheniel!” Nildarien yelled and her sister stopped apologizing. Nildarien’s voice softened.
“It’s alright. I don’t blame you.”
Nildarien sat down between Imilin and Shedheniel.
“I don’t blame you,” she said again. “But you could never know how much it hurts. It’s not only being separated, it’s the fact that I knew. I knew that he loved me, but I-I…I don’t know. I wasn’t sure of myself until-” she broke off, trying to hold back tears.
“Until what?” Imilin prompted.
Nildarien sniffed and continued.
“Until it was too late,” she sobbed. “I still cry at night sometimes. But the pain is ever with me.”
She had barely finished her sentence before she broke down completely. While she had been talking, Nildarien had subconsciously wrapped her hand around the silver hawk. The feel of the metal called up memories which only made her cry harder. Imilin and Shedheniel were at a loss for what to say.
* * *
The days quickly began to slip away and soon the dawn of October drew near.
Shedheniel held back her own pain in order to keep Nildarien’s mind off her broken heart. Imilin, with her unwounded heart and giddy temperament easily befriended Shedheniel and the two helped keep Nildarien in check.
In her free time, Shedheniel practiced her new hand-fighting techniques as well as honed her other skills.
Hand fighting was something new to many races and there were few to go to with questions. Shedheniel only bothered to learn because at one time she had been attacked by a lone orc outside the hidden valley of Rivendell. She’d had to fight it off with her bare hands and that drove her to learn these skills. Now she helped and taught others as well as practiced herself.
Shedheniel was practicing her kicks and strikes one day when Imilin came up.
“Hello, Imilin. Is something the matter?”
“Just more news,” Imilin sighed. “The Ringwraiths are following Aragorn and the hobbits more closely than we thought. Lord Elrond is sending messengers to lead them safely to Rivendell. He wanted to see you.”
“Am I to be a messenger?” Shedheniel inquired and Imilin nodded.
“I believe so.”
Shedheniel bit her lip.
“I would have to fight against the Nazgûl if they came any nearer. I don’t know if I could do that.”
Imilin’s expression was grave and serious; a rare occurrence for the usually content elf.
“You could fight them. I know it,” she said.
“The problem is that I don’t know that. I should go see Lord Elrond. Thank you Imilin,” Shedheniel said and started to leave. She turned again and asked:
“Is Nildarien to be a messenger as well?”
“I don’t know,” was the reply.
* * *
Shedheniel knocked on Nildarien’s door and a moment later her sister called out, “Come in!”
Shedheniel entered and smiled slightly. Nildarien was curled up in the window seat, stroking Tirian who was perched on her arm. She sat down next to her.
“Nildarien, Lord Elrond is sending me out to look for Aragorn and the hobbits,” she said. “You are welcome to come if you wanted.”
Nildarien shook her head silently while Shedheniel watched her sadly.
“This isn’t right,” she thought. “No one should be this unhappy.”
“Alright,” she said. “I have to leave now, but I shouldn’t be gone to long.”
Shedheniel left the room and as soon as the door closed behind her Nildarien smacked herself in the head.
“Why on earth did I say I wouldn’t go?” she wondered out loud. Then she sighed.
“Honestly, be realistic,” she told herself. “You’re in no condition to ward off soul-less fiends at the moment and you know it.”
Nildarien glanced at her hawk, struck by a sudden idea.
“Well, since I’m not going, you can,” she said and Tirian screeched in protest.
“Don’t you give me any of that!” Nildarien scolded. “Someone’s got to look after Shedheniel.”
She stood and launched Tirian out the window. She watched him disappear with a thoughtful frown.
“Alright,” she said to herself. “Time to stop moping around and do something.”
* * *
Shedheniel quickly changed clothes and grabbed her weapons. She slung her quiver over her shoulder, hooked her sword to her belt and slid a long knife into her boot. She went to the stables and led Narúel out to the courtyard where the other messengers were gathered. There were six all together; two for each North, South, and West. Shedheniel sighed. Once again, she was the only woman.
“You are Shedheniel?” a fair-headed elf asked her.
“Yes, I am.”
“Very well,” he answered. “My name is Glorfindel. We are searching the West road.”
Shedheniel nodded to show that she understood and Glorfindel leapt onto the back of his white horse.
“We need to go quickly,” he told her. Shedheniel mounted Narúel and followed Glorfindel out of the valley and onto the East-West road. Unbeknownst to the two elves, a large hawk trailed them from above.
* * *
“Where do you think the remaining Nazgûl are if five follow Aragorn and his companions?” Shedheniel asked nervously. Glorfindel shook his head.
“I know not, but I fear they will come our way and take the Bridge,” he said with a sigh. It had only been two days since they had left Rivendell and Shedheniel had seen no sign, good or ill, of anything unusual.
Hours passed. The sky darkened and night fell.
Shedheniel paced uneasily, fingering the hilt of her sword.
“Why did I ask for first watch? Why?” she thought angrily. “You’re a fool, Shedheniel! You’re terrified of the wraiths and they are stronger at night!”
A sudden chill swept over her and she shuddered. The chills had been coming for days, since the beginning of October in fact. Nearly a month they had bothered her now, but this one was strong.
Suddenly, a large hawk swooped down and alighted on her shoulder.
“Tirian! You gave me a fright,” whispered Shedheniel. The bird nipped her ear gently and flew into a tree nearby.
At that moment, a loud screech sounded in the night. It was shortly followed by another.
Shedheniel grabbed a large stick and lit it in the fire. Glorfindel had been roused by the cries and was looking about, his sword drawn. Shedheniel drew her own sword, switching her torch to her left hand.
Tirian swooped in front of her and screeched softly. Then, he flew off into the night. Shedheniel bit her lip and charged into the dark after him.