The Lady of Light watched the two Periannath as they returned to Frodo’s two kinsmen and Estel and the rest of the Fellowship, her placid expression masking the turmoil within. She had again thought to test them, particularly the Ringbearer, although she’d already been warned that the gardener would not willingly be parted from his master. What she’d learned had been enlightening. What she’d been offered had been--terrifying.
Long indeed had she contemplated what might happen if the One Ring should come within her reach. Considering what she had accomplished with Nenya, the chances offered her by the greater power inherent in Sauron’s weapon were thrilling to contemplate.
She paused, realizing how in her own thought she’d just called It. Yes, that was what It was--a weapon, a fell weapon which would burn the very hand which sought to wield It. She’d trembled in Its presence, for she’d been bred, after all, for the manipulation of Power; she’d sacrificed herself and much of her life in the pursuit of it, in fact. Now, that raw Power had been brought before her, offered to her freely--and she’d turned it down, even as a part of her so desired It.
She had passed the test, and perhaps might at the last be allowed to return back to Aman. It had been so very long, after all, since she’d left there for the mortal lands, seeking the freedom to find and wield power the Valar would have discouraged had she remained in the land of her birth. She’d used the folly of her own kin as an excuse to leave, defying those who had cherished her since her very conception, in whose Light she had once delighted.
She’d seen much here--had seen mighty realms of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and evil creatures raised and thrown down afterwards; had seen examples of great wisdom and greater folly; had seen grasping and sacrifice; had watched with awe as a small ship crewed by a desperate Peredhel had sailed Westward, only to be seen again so long afterward, not on the Sea returning, but launched instead upon the Seas of Night, the focus of so much envy and strife and pointless vengeance and death and longing bound upon the brow of one who could not return ever again to those who’d watched with mingled grief and hope for the success of his mission.
She’d seen Morgoth vanquished, and had trembled before the presence of the Valar who’d joined with those who’d opposed him, accepted her sentence as right and proper, considering how much defiance she’d shown.
And now--now it was not the great, shining hand of one of the Valar who had offered her salvation and pardon; but a small, slight one with bitten nails and a scar on the knuckle which had offered her a small thing of greater weight than he had yet realized, eager to be done with It, preferring the idea of her holding and wielding It to the thought of Morgoth’s servant possibly recovering It, trusting in her wisdom. A knife edge, had she described the dangers facing the eight who remained in the Fellowship? How much finer had been the path beneath her own feet as she had stood looking down on It, the chain still through Its circle, lying in that palm?
And yet, when the choice was finally offered, the choice between her final redemption and her eternal separation from all she had ever loved and wanted, in the end she’d found the choice simple. If she’d accepted It--that would have been the end. She would not have remained Galadriel--in the end she would have become the very thing she most hated, the image she’d cast on the Valar who’d warned her leaving Aman would mean her exile--the consuming power that seeks utter control of others. In the end she would simply have become the enemy she’d ever stood against, and she’d refused It.
She'd exiled herself, leaving with the Noldor to come to Middle Earth. Although she'd not taken part in the internecine war among her kindred, yet she'd deliberately turned from the will of the Valar, choosing to enter the mortal lands in search of the fame, glory, and power which in Aman was counted for little. She'd wished for her wisdom and cleverness to be seen and honored, for her power to be held in awe. Well, her ambitions had been fulfilled--and to what purpose?
When Celebrimbor had gifted Nenya to her, she'd accepted it as her due; and there was no question she had used it well. And yet--what had she wrought? Had she built a land unique within the world? Nay--she had instead reproduced in the mortal lands a reflection of the immortal lands she'd left of her own free will! That, reflecting on the glory and peace of Lothlorien, was what she now realized. In her body and her conscious mind she'd sought to distance herself from the land of her birth; in the core of her heart, however, she'd in the end identified herself the more strongly to the land she'd held no hope of returning to for three Ages of Middle Earth.
"You are troubled, Lady of my heart?" asked Celeborn as he joined her at the top of the steps to her private garden, standing behind her, guarding her back as he'd ever done.
"I am yet in shock, beloved Lord," she responded, her eyes still fixed on the entrance to the pavilion where the members of the Fellowship were housed.
"He looked into the Mirror?"
"Yes--both he and his servant Samwise did so."
Celeborn was himself amazed. "That one looked also? I expected his master to do so, for it is in his nature to seek to know. But the gardener?"
Galadriel gave a mirthless laugh. "My husband, do not discount him. A gardener he may be, and he may indeed see himself as but a servant; but that belies his full nature." She turned to look into his ageless, so well beloved eyes. "After all, my love, I, too, have been little more than a gardener since we returned here; and what is a true lord in the end save for the servant of all who think of him as their ruler?"
"And whom does he rule?"
"In time...." She didn't bother to finish the statement. "If Sauron is indeed cast down, the wisdom he has garnered from his teachers and from his beloved master will augment that which is native to him, and will be shared with many."
Both turned to look back at the pavilion once more. "Estel has grown much since he last entered our borders," Celeborn finally murmured.
"Is there any hope that the Cormacolindor will win through?"
"There is always hope, Celeborn."
"What have you seen, there in the Mirror and in your dreams?"
She sighed deeply. "Destruction; fire taking all of the Golden Wood; the Misty Mountains falling upon the Vale of Imladris; dragons waking again in the North and sweeping out of it to fall upon the fastnesses of Erebor, the Iron Hills, the Misty Mountains; trolls cutting swaths through Fangorn; the Eldest in the Old Forest at last realizing the rest of the world cannot be held at bay and giving in to despair; evil Men destroying the lands of the Periannath; the halls of Thranduil invaded at last from Dol Guldur while between Saruman and Sauron Rohan and Gondor are wiped from the memory of Middle Earth; the Ringbearer lying in despair in an orc tower, beaten, bloody, and dying; Aragorn cut off from all others in the midst of the field of battle, in the end overwhelmed.
"But I have seen also the thin sliver of Light which would negate all the rest of the images, a Light so overwhelming that, given the chance to enter, it will cleanse away all of the dark images I've seen--all save that of the Perian Frodo Baggins lying, beaten, bloody, and dying, in the orc tower. That image is a constant. Through that one instant both the dark and the Light might enter."
Celeborn took a deep breath and held it. Rarely did his wife and Lady speak so clearly of the foresight granted to her by mirror and vision. And the thought of that small being lying broken in the hands of the least servants of the Enemy made him greatly angry.
“And is there nothing that can be done for the Ringbearer?”
She shook her head. “If there is, I cannot see it.”
Finally he asked, “Will you tell him?”
Again she turned to search his eyes. “Would you wish to know such a thing? Would you have me give him not but reason to despair now when he’s but a third of the way through with his quest?”
“If he lies dying in an orc tower, how is it the Light may enter?”
She sighed and shook her head, turning back to the sight of the pavilion. He sat now crosslegged just inside the entrance to the pavilion, his slender, pale form erect and at ease--save that his right hand rubbed at his left shoulder where he’d been wounded. Someone to his left spoke to him and he turned that way, and for a moment they could see his silhouette, quick, discerning, intelligent, remarkably beautiful for one of any race as he listened and then answered, and they saw a moment of laughter shared--but only a moment before his expression was withdrawn once more; then the conversation apparently moved to another and he turned toward someone further within the pavilion and once again they saw only the back of his dark head.
“They leave tomorrow?”
“They must--the time for it has come at last. Any earlier and they would have been caught in the open at a time when they were most vulnerable; any later, and the Nazgul will find them before they are come to Parth Galen.”
“They must come to Amon Hen?”
“Yes--it is needful, although why it must be is hidden from me.”
She felt as well as heard the sigh he gave, knew he shook his head with pity and acceptance. “I would do all I can for all of them, particularly for him and Estel.”
“I will prepare gifts for them,” she said.
After another moment of silence he asked, very softly, “Will you give to Estel the Elessar stone as part of his gift?”
“It was for this it was left with me. Hope he may have been named and as such he may have served all these years; but if he is to prevail his own must be bolstered. Also he will have much need of the strength it will add to his own great will in the days ahead; and it has been foretold he will himself be called by its name. How, if he bears it not?”
“She has indeed bound herself to him.”
“Yes, as you well know.”
“I will go and ready what I can. The sheath is finished.”
“Good. The Sword Reforged is in need of it, and it will further hearten him.”
“The boats are also readied.”
She nodded. A moment he stood, his right hand on her shoulder, before he turned away and went up to the talan where their hall stood. She remained a bit longer, watching the small, erect form sitting within the pavilion before she finally turned and went down the steps again to her hidden garden.
The Periannath had not noticed the niche that was in reality the entrance to her work space, a room cut back into the stone of the wall of her garden where she prepared her seeds, where she would sit in meditation when the rains swept over the Golden Wood, to which she gathered herbs and in which she prepared them. Now there lay on her workbench a glass phial and its ground glass stopper and a roll of silver wire; also there rested a small casket she’d not opened more than a handful of times since her granddaughter’s last visit.
She looked at the small bottle. This must be prepared just after nightfall. A child of Eärendil she sensed Frodo Baggins was--or at least in spirit. Certainly he held within himself the Light of Stars, as did Aragorn. He would need to have to hand a light to his feet, for the way he must go was so dark. With the Mariner’s willingness she would capture some of his Light within the phial to help bolster the Pherian’s own hope for as long as he could hope to bear it. She grieved only she could do no more for him.
The blade he carried had been wrought by her own people and had once been gifted to Turin himself; how it had come to Frodo Baggins she knew not and was reluctant to inquire. Under his shirt he wore a corslet of mithril from Erebor from the days before the coming of the dragon; and the sword belt he wore was of the same workmanship. A commission Elrond had given the armorers of the Lonely Mountain once to prepare such a corslet for a young mortal prince who would bear with him the hopes for Middle Earth. All, including Elrond himself, had expected that corslet would be worn by the heir of Isildur himself while yet a child; but although the work had been completed the dragon had come ere the thing could be forwarded to Imladris to be held against the day the child was born. In the end the child Estel had never needed such a thing; now it was worn by Frodo Baggins and had already served to save his life. Had this indeed been truly intended for him rather than Aragorn?
Already, she sensed, the evil Men who threatened the Shire had begun entering that land, and before they were through they would wreak much damage. For Samwise Gamgee, she realized, was needed a gift of promise for renewal--but what? Then she realized what it must be, and she smiled, looking again at the small casket with her initial on it in which she had been gifted the Elessar stone. Aragorn would not need the box, for he would wear the stone openly. She would fill it, therefore, with earth from her own garden and charge it for renewal.... Her smile broadened.
She opened the casket for the last time and took out the Elessar brooch, pinned it to her gown, took the now empty casket out into the garden. In one area the soil was accessible, and by that place she knelt, laying her hand upon it, invoking Yavanna ere she dug her hand into the earth and lifted it to fill the box.
The last time she scooped up more soil she realized she’d brought a pebble as well, and she stopped to remove it--then realized this was no stone but instead a nut from one of the mallorn trees. Almost she retained it, then shook her head. No, let it come to him. Once she left Middle Earth Lothlorien would begin to fail; the mallorns she’d brought to be in the mortal lands would become subject to the maladies that plagued the normal trees of Middle Earth and would eventually die as well. This might well be the last shadow of the Undying Lands left here in Ennor. Carefully she poked a long finger into the earth with which she’d filled the casket and hid the nut in the center of all; then she finished filling it. She brought the casket out and laid it on the rim of her Mirror; brought out the phial and its stopper and laid them there as well.
Sunset came, and she watched for the rising of Eärendil’s bark. Once the light of the star fell on her Mirror she breathed a prayer invoking the Mariner as she had Yavanna earlier, then plunged the bottle into the basin of the Mirror, allowing the water to fill it. She carefully stoppered it.
Now was the time to charge these two gifts, and she readied herself to call upon the power of her ring--then stopped. No, it was not the power of Nenya that was needed this night. After all, of what good would the might of one of the great rings of Power be for one who carried that which was crafted to perceive and control and corrupt what was done with the rings gifted to Men, Dwarves, and Elves? No, if she used Nenya it was likely that the Enemy’s Ring carried in such close proximity to the gifts would only counter what she did this night, corrupt it as well.
A spark of green from her breast caught her attention, a spark she’d once been accustomed to seeing there before she’d given that brooch to her daughter when she went to her own marriage. How strange that it should have come back to rest one last time on her own bosom before it went to the one mortal who would wear and utilize it.
Once again the Lady of Light smiled. No, not the power of the ring on her finger would she use; the time to rely on such power was over. No, not raw power, but strength of renewal was needed for both these gifts; and it was the power of the Elessar she invoked instead of Nenya as she bound the Light of Eärendil into the phial, as she charged the grains of soil in the small wooden box with the G rune on it to aid in renewing the Shire.
And, when after their guests retired one last time to their pavilion to rest before resuming their way in the coming day she stood looking down on the full array of gifts prepared for them--cloaks and brooches, enamelled silver belts for Boromir and the two younger Periannath, bow for Legolas, sheath for Aragorn, Phial, and casket of soil, as well as the three Elven boats and their paddles, the coils of hythlain rope, and packets of lembas wafers, it was on the Elessar she called as she blessed the lot. Tomorrow she might again be forced to rely on Nenya until the last came, and either the Ring was destroyed or it was once again restored to Sauron’s hand; but for tonight it was not on raw power she would rely, but on the strength of renewal.
Manwë and the Lady Elbereth, far away in the fastnesses of Aman, watched as the Lady Galadriel passed her final unwitting test with satisfaction. Yes, their errant and willful daughter would now return to them; and full worthy had she shown herself at the last.
And as the light of Eärendil fell on the sleeping form of the Ringbearer through the open entrance to the pavilion, that sliver of Light Galadriel had foreseen slipped gently into place, blessing him and preparing him to win through past the ordeal in the orc tower. Lord and Lady looked down on him with compassion and love, and gently they gifted him to Ulmo for his relief when the time came.
Aragorn, sitting vigil to one side of the pavilion’s entrance, saw the light fall on the one he already considered his small brother, and smiled through the tears of pity for him that threatened to spill over. “Oh, Frodo, It calls me to ease you of Its burden, and I know that now I cannot. Please forgive me for not doing so.”