Indis, Findis, and Galadriel were silent as they neared the beech-lined border of Lórien, each dwelling in her own thoughts. They dismounted several yards before the first stand of trees, removed their horses’ reins, and allowed the animals graze at will. The gardens’ perimeter was marked by a natural fence of dense shrubbery, which ran between the tall, graceful beeches. From the north, east, and south, river stone-paved paths led into the gardens; the three entered from the east.
In addition to the peaceful solace of the gardens, they sought advice, for none of them knew how to reach Nienna’s halls, further to the west. Few elves ever made the journey to the Vala’s sorrowful house; those that did rarely discussed the particulars of their visits.
As they passed from the bright daylight of the surrounding plain to the filtered, dappled light under the trees’ canopy, the three encountered the fragrant air of Lórien. Countless songbirds had their nests in the thick outer hedges, and their chirpings sang of life and renewal. As they walked deeper into the garden realm the birdsong grew more distant, and they heard instead the tender hush of green, living things.
Jewel-toned butterflies, even more beautiful than the beloved paper toys of Findis’s youth, flitted from leaf to flower. Before her chosen exile in the East, Galadriel had dwelled for a time in Lórien, under the tutelage of Irmo and Estë, and the Maiar who worked with them. Findis had visited the gardens several times in the course of her solitary explorations of Aman, as had Indis, before her marriage to Finwë. The gardens were eternal and, from a distance, seemed to endure unaltered by time. But all three elves discovered that the gardens had changed considerably. Where a lily-strewn pool had been situated before the destruction of the Two Trees, Indis and Galadriel were surprised to find a glade filled with lilacs. Findis noted that the path they followed, which she had taken on her last visit, perhaps a thousand years earlier, no longer skirted a small rise that was crowned with a grove of peach trees, but instead climbed the hillock so that travelers passed among the fragrantly blooming trees. Countless changes had been wrought, so that Lórien was at once both familiar and new.
After the path descended from the peach grove it split, with one branch wending southward, while the other continued to the west. Galadriel turned to Findis, “Aunt, I believe you were here most recently. Which way will lead us to the heart of Lórien, where we are most likely to find its Lord and his servants?”
Findis hesitated, and instead a low rich voice answered from behind them. “I see that, as ever, Altáriel seeks the straightest path to her goal. In all of the time you spent here, and with me in Doriath, have you never learned that an indirect way can yield much good?”
“Melian!” cried Galadriel, turning swiftly with a joyful face. She rushed forward to embrace her old teacher. Findis and Indis watched the reunion with obvious pleasure.
Melian stepped back a bit and pressed a kiss to Galadriel’s forehead. “Dearest child, my heart is greatly gladdened to see you. Although I think I cannot call you “child” anymore, can I? From my visits with Vairë I have learned of your feats in Middle Earth, and I must tell you how pleased and proud I was to see you rise to meet each new challenge. You have done well, Altáriel, and you deserve the rest and peace you will find here in Lórien. For myself, and on behalf of the Lord of Lórien, I bid you welcome.
“And you are also welcome, Indis, Queen of the Noldor, and Findis of the Noldor and Vanyar,” Melian continued warmly. “As Altáriel has deemed it best to take the swiftest path to the heart of Lórien, may I suggest following the southward path, to the left?”
“It is well that you’ve met us now, Lady,” replied Findis with a smile. “For my instinct was to take the path to the right!”
“That too would have brought you to your destination,” Melian assured her. “But the southern branch quickly turns westward, while the western branch wanders for a stretch between many small pools.”
“Lórien is much changed since I was last here,” Indis observed.
“That is the way of growing things,” Melian replied.
They walked in silence for some moments, and then Galadriel turned to Melian, “It is true that change is inevitable where there is life,” she agreed, “and yet, in Doriath I observed that you kept time and the changes of the outer world at bay, such that your realm was protected from disruption and discord. With Doriath in mind, I did all that I could to shield my realm and people from the changes wrought by time.”
“Ah, Altáriel,” sighed Melian. “You perhaps did not remain long enough in Doriath to notice the changes that inevitably occurred. I admit that I sought to slow the effects of time, to control where and how change occurred, but I never sought to prevent it from happening at all.
She continued, “I think that the changes brought by the passage of time are especially difficult for the Eldar, who endure despite time but are inextricably tied to a single, physical manifestation. It is not just living things that change with time – rocks and waters change as well. A mountain might be slowly worn away so that its once-mighty, impenetrable rock is eventually transformed into the grains of sand on a beach. My husband found the changes brought by time, some slow and subtle, others swift and unmistakable, to be especially hard to bear. Unless one can surrender oneself to inevitable change, tolerating it in one’s surroundings can be difficult.
“A place can become tied to memories which, good or bad, constitute our sense of self, the past which gives us meaning in the present,” Findis observed. “It is hard to see physical changes brought to the markers of our memories.”
“Yes, that is the challenge that life in the unsheltered natural world presents,” Melian agreed. “Although I understood why the Valar decided to bring the Eldar to Aman, my understanding of the purpose of Arda and its needs led me to seek to make it easier for some of the Eldar to remain in Middle Earth, to live with natural change and transformation without falling prey to Melkor, or to quiet alienation from their surroundings. I’m not sure how well I succeeded, for even my own husband, wise and beloved though he was, could not abide some of the changes that the world thrust upon him.”
“Do you refer to Lúthien’s marriage to a Man?” asked Indis.
“Yes. The loss of our daughter to the mortality of Men remains beyond Thingol’s comprehension or acceptance. Especially since at least one Man has been allowed to reside in Aman, and to partake of the long life of the Eldar. I fear that Thingol may never be reconciled to Lúthien’s choice.”
“I cannot claim to have known Lúthien well,” Galadriel allowed, “but it seems to me that she was never at odds with change, even before she met her husband.”
“No, indeed she was not,” Melian agreed. “I wonder if perhaps she learned too well the lesson I sought to teach her father and our folk. Lúthien knew our history well, and loved her kin and their ways, but she was always alert for something new, for change and movement. Thingol could not understand why she chafed at his attempts to keep her safe and out of harm’s way. I would not say that our daughter was reckless, but she did not hold security and familiarity in the same high regard that her father did.”
“Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that she would fall in love with a Man,” Galadriel mused. “My own husband knew Lúthien much better than I did, and he did not see her marriage to Beren as a perverse act of defiance against her father, although that view was commonly held among the folk of Doriath.”
“And your own granddaughter, also my kin, has made the same choice, has she not?” Melian observed.
“Indeed, and Celeborn perceives that Arwen’s reasons for choosing the mortal path were similar to Lúthien’s. An attraction to the freedom Men have from the constraints of time, their choices unfettered by long memory and the fear of having to live with regret. The possibility of wondrous change, even if that possibility is realized imperfectly, if at all.”
“Yes. And where is Celeborn now?” Melian asked.
“He remains in Middle Earth. To see what new changes take place now that Sauron’s shadow has been banished forever. To help with the transition to a new era of rule by Men. To say goodbye to the remaining places that mark his own memories. His farewell to the lands of the East will be more painful than mine were, as they were his true home.”
“I mourn for his loss, and for the sadness that necessarily accompanies your separation, temporary though it is,” said Melian. “But I confess that it pleases me to see that Celeborn has such care for the land of his birth and those who dwell within it, Elven or not. That is what I had hoped for long ago when I wed with Thingol.”
“Yes, Lady, your people learned your lessons well, I think” said Galadriel. “Many of them will not ever come to partake of the solace of the Undying Lands, but will remain in Middle Earth, one way or another, until the end of time.”
“It is good, though, that you have come to be healed,” Melian answered. “A time for rejoicing, surely, and your kin have come with you.”
“Actually, my aunt and I accompany my grandmother on her journey,” Galadriel replied. “Although even if she were not seeking Nienna’s halls, I would have come here soon enough by myself, I think.”
“You seek Nienna, Indis?” Melian asked, turning to look at Indis, who walked with Findis a few feet behind Melian and Galadriel.
“Yes, Lady,” Indis replied. “I find that my own heart, and more importantly my family, are in need of healing from events long past.”
“Indeed,” Melian nodded. “In truth I am surprised that you have not journeyed to Lórien before this.”
Indis looked uneasy. “This place is quite possibly the most beautiful in all of Aman, yet I confess that for the last three ages I have avoided any thought of it.”
Melian’s brows raised in surprise. “Why ever would you feel the need to avoid these gardens?” she asked.
“Lady, I believe that you are acquainted with the circumstances through which I came to wed Finwë who, before he married me, had a wife who was called Míriel Serindë.”
“I am familiar with the tale,” Melian acknowledged.
“Not long before my lord Finwë was slain by Melkor, I discovered that, in fact, our marriage had doomed Míriel to remain in Námo’s halls,” Indis explained.
“That contradicts my understanding of the matter,” Melian frowned. “For I was told that Míriel herself chose to remain unhoused.”
“That is so, but before he left Tirion, Finwë confessed to me that her reason for doing so was her discernment of his wish to wed me.”
Melian stopped in the path, a grave expression on her face. “That is ill news indeed, Indis. And you were ignorant of this when you wed Finwë?”
“Yes, and throughout all of the time that we dwelled together as husband and wife.”
“I see.” Melian’s gaze grew distant for a moment, before her eyes lifted to meet Indis’s, “it is unfortunate that your husband kept this knowledge from you.”
“Yes, although once we were married, I’m not sure what difference it really would have made,” Indis sighed. “I have many unanswered questions, about myself and my husband, and it is for that reason that I seek Nienna’s advice.
“That is wise,” Melian agreed. She looped her arm through Indis’s, and the two of them proceeded on the path, followed by Findis and Galadriel. “But tell me, Indis, why should you have avoided Lórien until now?”
Indis pursed her lips. “It is cowardly, I admit, but I did not wish to be near the place where Míriel’s body rests. I feel a shadow of guilt lies over me, too.”
“I can well imagine that you would feel guilt towards Míriel, even if you did not know that your marriage to Finwë sealed her fate. But since she was reunited with her body shortly after the Sun first rose in the sky, I do not understand why you never sought healing for your woes here in Lórien.”
“What?!?” Indis gasped, stopping short. Findis and Galadriel wore similar expressions of shock.
Melian drew back in dismayed surprise. “Excuse me, Indis, but can it be that you do not know that Míriel Serindë came to regret her choice to remain in Mandos? And although he could not undo his ties to each of you, ties that could not be allowed if all three of you lived, Finwë had it in his power to allow his first wife to return to life, by remaining unhoused himself within Námo’s halls. Were you never informed of his decision?”
Indis could not speak, but the grief and shock on her face were unmistakable, as were the tears that streamed down her face.
“Forgive me, Indis, for raising this without more care. I would never have imagined that you did not know!” Melian took Indis’s hands in her own and gazed into her tear-filled eyes.
After several moments, Indis slowly shook her head. “I did not know. Who would have told me? I did not seek for news of my husband from Mandos. I believed that I knew all too well why he had not returned to life.”
“Nevertheless, I should think that someone could have informed you that your husband had permanently exiled himself from the living!” Melian exclaimed.
More silence passed, and then Melian suggested that they continue towards the heart of the garden realm. With her arm looped again through Indis’s arm, Melian led them along the path.
After a few minutes, Galadriel asked quietly, “Where, then, is Míriel Serindë now?”