Lost in thought, Indis sat on the grassy earth, her arms wrapped loosely around her knees, which were drawn up to her chin. Eventually she noticed that the sky was lightening – apparently she and Nienna had been talking throughout the night.
Despite Nienna’s assurance that the way forward would be clear, it was not yet so. Indis still felt the weight of heavy sadness upon her. But as the sky grew brighter, she discovered that, although still sad, ashamed, and uncertain, she no longer felt helpless.
For as long as she could remember, the course of Indis’s life had largely been determined by the choices and actions of others: Ingwë, her older brother, had decided that their people should dwell with the Valar in Aman. She had remained alone for a long time, because her heart was drawn to someone who loved another. Only after Míriel had abandoned him did Finwë turn to Indis.
Fëanáro’s hostile rejection of Indis was a misdirected consequence of his parents’ combined failings. Finwë had deceived her, and his secret brought irreparable damage to the entire family.
And then Melkor had made her a widow, alone again.
All of this was true. Indis had come to accept that Finwë was not entirely as she had once believed him to be, when she’d loved him from afar, and then throughout most of their marriage. Indis had reconciled herself to some hard truths, but she now saw that those truths had been incomplete, and that some of the missing pieces lay within herself rather than in the inscrutable hearts of others.
Obedience, faithfulness, and reflective appreciation for the beauty and tranquility of Aman were enduring traits of her people. Convinced of the wisdom and goodness of the Valar, the Vanyar did not feel a need to seek “deeper” truths, content instead to aid the Valar in their endeavors, and to return their blessings with praise and devotion. While she had always been intrigued by the restless curiosity and creativity of the Noldor, Indis had also seen that their quests for knowledge and power sometimes led them into selfish, futile conflict with those around them and, somewhat perversely, blinded them at times to the larger truths that were embodied by the Valar. But now it occurred to Indis that an unquestioning acceptance of her life and its circumstances had carried a cost as well. For, somehow, she had failed to see that her life was not merely a reflection of others’ choices, but was the product of her own agency. Her life was shaped as much by her own desires as it was by those of others.
It was almost too painful to admit that she herself had had a hand in creating the sorrow that fell upon those she loved the most. “Perhaps Finwë kept his secret for a similar reason,” she mused, for the first time feeling an inkling of sympathy for the decision her husband had made.
Finwë kept his guilty secret to himself for as long as he could, and much grief had come about because of that. However hard it would have been to admit his betrayal of Míriel, the consequences of keeping that secret were surely worse. Indis thought back to the exchange between Findis and Ingoldo in Tirion – while Melkor was unquestionably the dark catalyst for the horrors that had unfolded, it was not by chance that he’d selected the House of Finwë in which to stir unrest.
“What would have happened had Finwë told me the truth?” Indis wondered. Since Finwë’s revelation, Indis had held fast to the belief that, had she known about Míriel’s choice, she would not have married Finwë. “But if he had told me soon after we wed, what would I have done then?” Perhaps it was impossible to know now what she would have done so long ago.
“If nothing else, I know from Finwë’s example that hiding my guilt from others may cause more harm than whatever might come from admitting what happened,” Indis realized. “The truth must be acknowledged, if our family is to ever have any healing.” She raised her head, turning a bit to face Nienna, only to discover that the Vala was no longer where she had been sitting. Indis rose and looked around the glade, but Nienna was nowhere to be seen.
Indis paused. She could return to the fountain, where Findis and Galadriel were waiting, although she did not relish the thought of revealing her shame to her daughter and granddaughter. But both had come with her expressly to lend their support for … what? What had she sought, if not this? It seemed so obvious, now. But it would not be pleasant.
Indis set out on the path that would lead her back to the fountain. Her steps were slow, as her mind was turned inward, considering how best to explain her discoveries to Findis and Galadriel.
She was not aware of how long she’d been walking, when she found herself rounding a corner and emerging on the edge of the fountain’s clearing. Galadriel and Findis were bent over a small, still pool which was fed from the larger pool of Lórien’s fountain. Irmo stood on the other side of the pool, also watching what Galadriel seemed to be showing them in the water.
As Indis approached, Irmo’s head lifted and he smiled in kindly greeting. Galadriel also raised her head, and her eyes met Indis’s eyes. “Grandmother, the night has changed you, I think.”
Findis moved forward to greet Indis with an embrace. Stepping back again, her eyes scanned her mother’s face. “Yes, Galadriel, I believe you are right. Mother, are you well?”
Indis smiled for the first time since entering Lórien. “…Yes, I am well, dearest. The Lady helped me to find the truth I had been seeking, and now that I know it, I am amazed that I did not see it before. I will tell you about it by and by. But first, will you tell me what you are watching in the water?”
Irmo answered, “Your granddaughter was once my finest pupil, and I am pleased to see that she learned the sightful arts well. She has been showing us what lay in the East during her long exile. Some terrible things, but also some things of wonder and hope.”
Findis spoke up, “I had never seen the face of Melian’s daughter, who was accounted as the most beautiful of all the Elves, and now that I have beheld her visage in the water, I must agree that Luthien was the fairest of all our kin! And Galadriel’s own granddaughter, whom we will never know because she, too, has embraced mortality, looks much like her. I feel a sadness that I will never know either of them, but I am glad to have at least caught glimpses of them, for their beauty makes their choices seem all the more noble.” Findis let out a small, wistful sigh.
She brightened quickly, as a mischievous smile lit her face, “And, Mother, we have seen Galadriel’s husband in the water, as well! He appears much as she described him to us; I long to know him, too, and look forward to his coming to Aman. Galadriel, you must show Mother!”
Galadriel returned her aunt’s smile, but looked carefully at Indis. “Grandmother, would you not rather tell us of what you have learned this past night?”
Indis shook her head. “Not yet, my dear. Let us leave it for the time being, as it is still settling in my mind and I am not yet ready to speak of it. Right now I would much rather see what you would show us in Lord Irmo’s pool.”
Irmo himself did not linger at the pool, as he set out in the strong morning light to work with his assistants in various parts of the garden. Estë had already departed for her island retreat in Lórellin, where it was her habit to spend the day dreaming of things past and future, and those that might have been.
Indis and Findis therefore spent several hours alone gazing at the reflections that Galadriel conjured in the still water – they beheld the magnificence of Thingol’s palace in Doriath, and Findárato’s at Nargothrond. They witnessed the strange realm of Aulë’s folk, Khazad-dûm, through which Galadriel had passed with Celebrian when journeying to the garden realm she eventually came to rule.
They beheld for the first time the treeherders beloved by Yavanna, and the faces of Moriquendi elves, who would never journey to Aman. They saw the lively faces of Men and their shy, small Halfing cousins. As was true of all the Eldar who never journeyed out of Aman, Indis and Findis had only met one Man – Idril’s husband, Tuor. They had recently laid eyes on two of the improbably small Hobbits, Frodo and Bilbo, whose hearts and courage far outstripped their size. Now catching sight of the weird, lively world that lay to the East, and the myriad creatures who dwelled within it, Indis and Findis both found themselves curious for the first time about what lay beyond Aman’s protected borders.
Findis smiled at Galadriel. “I confess that I could never comprehend why you sought to leave Aman, to journey to the unknown world of mortal beings, dark with danger. I could not imagine wanting to do so myself! And yet, the things you have shown me make me wonder what life would be like in a place of constant uncertainty. The danger is there, and the inevitable sadness of death and change … but somehow what you have shown us seemed also to carry an … energy, a sense of purpose and promise and … what? Am I imagining these things? For the first time, I find myself wondering if the life of the Eldar here in the Undying Lands could be different than it has always been.”
Galadriel’s eyes grew distant. “When I left these shores, I burned with a strong desire to undertake action as I deemed best, rather than to merely follow the guidance of the rulers of the Eldar, and that of the Valar. I confess that I dared to think that I could do better than they had! I was aware that Grandfather’s rule of the Noldor was imperfect – he did not curb their irreverence toward the Valar as he might have. And, as we have discussed at length, he did a very poor job guiding his eldest son. I sought to find a place where I could exercise my will and judgment in a way that would bring great happiness and peace to those around me.”
Galadriel smiled ruefully. “Of course, I’d failed to appreciate that my own discontent was yet another manifestation of the Noldor’s boundless curiosity and inability to be content with the wisdom bestowed upon them by the Valar. On the one hand, I saw my Vanyar and Teleri kin, each at peace with their existences in Aman, as superior to the Noldor’s endless questing. And yet, I also sought to show the Valar that peace could come from Aman to those beyond, that Morgoth’s darkness did not have to prevail beyond this protected realm. Is it not strange that I did not see a hypocritical contradiction in my views of the Noldor and myself?
“Once I was in Middle Earth, I soon came to see that reconciling the competing needs and interests of people is difficult under the best circumstances. And Middle Earth rarely offered easy solutions! The shadow of Morgoth, and then of his servant, Sauron, made the wild chaos of unconstrained life and death all the more perilous for those who sought to bring the truth and peace of Aman to the East. I did find it challenging, and I often thrilled to the challenge, for I felt that I could do good, by applying what I had learned from Irmo and Estë, from Yavanna, from Father and Mother, and from my grandparents. But it was never easy, and when I departed Middle Earth to return home, my weariness was so heavy that I didn’t feel I could endure there much longer. That is why I left before Celeborn was ready to leave himself.
“The lives of Men and other mortals are necessarily different from the lives of the Elves, and of the Eldar in particular. Men’s short lives and their lack of contact with the Valar – indeed their lack of certainty that the Valar even exist, or if they are beneficent – largely limits their thoughts to immediate concerns. This can often lead to rashness that any but the most foolish of Elves would avoid, but it also can also yield breath-taking bravery and imaginativeness. And, while their lives are immeasurably shorter than that of the Elves, Men are nevertheless tied to the particulars of their existence in Arda, in ways that Elves never truly are. For many years my exile in Middle Earth was irreversible, for the Ban lay upon me and I could not return, bodily, to Aman even if I had wished to. But had I met with death, I could have left unhappy or seemingly impossible circumstances in Middle Earth for Námo’s halls, without surrendering my actual existence in Arda. Men cannot do so, thus while their lives are in many ways more temporary and ephemeral than that of the Elves, they are also required to endure and to find ways to survive, even when hope is faintest. They have a tenacity that I found admirable, even though I often found their ways to be frustratingly unwise.
“And so, Aunt, I can report that life beyond the shores of the Undying Lands is unimaginably difficult, but also very rewarding. I find my strength is gradually returning now that I am home again, and I hope that I have learned much in the course of my journeys in the East. Middle Earth has changed me, forever. Yet it is no longer possible for the Eldar to go there themselves, and those Elves who choose to remain will find themselves dwindling into a marginal twilight as Men assume what is perhaps their rightful place as rulers in Middle Earth. The time of the Elves, of constancy amidst change, is at an end there. As Melian has observed, it was never easy for the Elves to abide even in earlier ages; I deem it will be much more difficult from now on.”
Findis was silent as she digested Galadriel’s explanation. Then, nodding, she remarked, “Yes, but perhaps we may all learn from the lessons that you and others who have dwelled in Middle Earth have gained from your experiences in the unsheltered world.”
“Perhaps,” Galadriel acknowledged. “That remains to be seen, although I would be happy if it came to pass. But I am for now content that I have been able to accomplish some good in Middle Earth, and have returned home with greater knowledge of myself, and the humility that must accompany such self-knowledge. And, apparently, learning the truth about oneself is an unending task!”