LLYFR GALADRIEL -:-:- HIGHWAYS OF THE SUN
The sun shone on the clear waters of the Celebrant as it meandered its way through the southern regions of Lothlorien on its approach to the Tongue, where it merged with the Anduin. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves of the trees and rippled the surface of the water. On the far side of the river the woods came right up to the bank; on this side the first trees stood a little way back, and a lush growth of long grass carpeted the land between the wood and the water. In the grass sat Galadriel, the Lady of the Wood, idly plucking stems and weaving them into corn-dollies of marvellous intricacy and detail.
To the eye of the average Tellurian the scene would have appeared idyllic. Galadriel, however, was aware that in certain subtle respects it was not quite as it should be. The trees were just a little too alike, with something of a touch of CGI about them, and on glancing at the river itself with just the right degree of inattention it bore a faint resemblance to the lower Danube, on the bleak grey reaches of the border between Romania and Bulgaria.
Galadriel turned her head to address the pigeon resting peacefully on her shoulder. "Not long now, I think... what do you see? Your view may be clearer than mine."
"It's fog for me, Gala", replied the bird. "It's such a hive of madness that the Tellurian viewpoint doesn't exactly help much. But it's fog with some vague kind of shape in it... maybe five or ten minutes, if I had to guess."
"And maybe your guess is a good one", said Galadriel. "Let us go to action stations. Ta-da-daa!" She sprang to her feet and flung out her arms dramatically. With the pigeon still on her shoulder she disappeared into the woods, heading upstream. Several more pigeons emerged from the long grass and flew after her.
It wasn't a bad guess, certainly. They did not have long to wait before, peering through the trees, they saw two figures appear in the middle of the grass, each hung around with an assortment of slightly bizarre items and bearing a stylised depiction of a saguaro cactus on one shoulder. The two stood looking around them as if adjusting to their surroundings; one of them took something from a pocket with one hand and prodded at it with the other, whereupon it promptly caught fire and was as promptly launched into the water, leaving its former owner swearing and clutching a singed hand.
The head of a fish emerged from the river and faced in their direction. "Do you mind?" it said in an annoyed tone, and then vanished again.
The two figures looked at each other.
"Did you just...?" said one, after a pause.
"No", they both said in emphatic unison.
"Hey, look at this", said one a little later, picking up something from the grass and showing it to the other. "This" was a neatly-woven construction of concentric polyhedra, made from grass stems, somewhat resembling the sets of concentric carved ivory spheres made by the Chinese. The loose ends from each layer had all been brought into the centre and tied together in an intricate knot inside the innermost shape. They looked at it together for a while, wondering how the maker had managed to achieve that.
"Well, I guess the Elves haven't been screwed", said the other. "Oh look, here's another one."
This one, equally neatly made, was slightly different. The inner shapes were all spheres; only the outermost shape was a polyhedron. The loose ends of this shape emerged one from the centre of each facet and were all connected together in a square knot outside the construction.
"Aren't they neat?" The first figure put out a hand to it, took the square knot between thumb and finger and gave it an inquiring squeeze. Both figures leaped back as the thing instantly transformed into a giant corn-dolly mushroom, which stood there gently swaying on the grass. Galadriel, hidden in the trees, put her hand over her face and gave a stifled snort. Pigeons do not laugh, but their own amusement was equally evident from the gleam of their eyes.
"Now look what you've done", said the one who had picked it up.
"Well how was I supposed to know it'd do that?"
"The trouble with you is, you can't not fuck with things."
"Me? It was you who picked it up..."
They bickered at each other for a minute or two until one of them spotted another set of grass dollies.
"Oh, look at these, they're beautiful!"
They were a group of humanoid figures, both large and small, male and female, made not from whole stems of grass but from the individual fibres of stems, the largest of them no taller than one joint of a finger. They stood on the deck of a corn-dolly ship, its rigging complete to the last detail; most of them were looking more or less forward, apart from one which gave an inexplicably strong impression of looking at nothing at all. The ship sat in a patch of flat-bladed grass which had been laid into a very realistic representation of a bow-wave.
("Galaaaa", crooned the pigeon on Galadriel's shoulder, and nibbled her cheek.
"Shhh", she whispered in reply, putting the tip of her finger to the tip of the pigeon's beak.)
"Look, they've even got faces. Have you got a magnifying glass?"
But neither of them had brought such an instrument, and without one the grass peoples' faces were nearly too small to see, and certainly too small to recognise.
The same could not be said of the tableau of much larger figures a few feet away. One of them, upright, was unmistakably Gandalf. The other, dead, was equally unmistakably a Balrog. Gandalf was standing with his staff held upright in one hand, and one foot on the chest of his fallen foe, in the classic me big hero, me kill big monster pose.
This seemed to puzzle the new arrivals.
"Have you got us in the right time?"
"Sure I did... I'll just make sure... aaaarrggghh!" Another suddenly-burning object flew towards the river. This one, unlike the last, did not touch the surface. Just before it would have done so the tail of a fish emerged from the water and sent it neatly back on a reciprocal trajectory, to clonk the thrower on the head.
"Oooowwwww! What the fuck?"
The other, meanwhile, had seen something else. "Oh noooo..."
The tone of voice was too ominous for this to be an expression of sympathy, and made it clear that such things as bumped heads were no longer valid first priorities even for the sufferer. Understanding the non-verbal content of the utterance, the sufferer looked round.
"Wha...? Oh, shit..."
Four short, stout figures stood in a row, their feet skilfully fashioned from hairy seed-heads. One hand of the one on the end was adorned with a bandage to protect the stump of a missing finger. On the ground at its side lay a fifth figure, emaciated, made entirely from dried brown dead stems, in a pose resembling an ash-cast from the ruins of Pompeii.
The two looked at each other; both spoke at the same time. "What the fuck is going on?"
"Give me your whatd'youcallit, I want to make sure we're in the right place, never mind the right time."
"No way! I'm not having you blow mine up as well and leaving us stuck here!"
"At least we'd know where here is!"
"Not if it blows up we won't!"
"If it blows up we'll be stuck here anyway, better to know where it is we're stuck than be stuck somewhere and not even know where we're stuck..."
"I'd rather not be stuck at all!"
The panicked bickering broke off as they both became aware of a peculiar sound coming from somewhere out of sight up the river. A deep-toned, continuous, droning roar, which was getting steadily louder.
Another sound began to make itself heard over the top, that of music, and singing. The singer's voice was unmistakably Elvish, but the crackly recording of big band music was anything but.
Round the bend of the river a 1930s Broads motor cruiser burst into view, moving at a tearing pace, its engine note a deafening, booming drone. A huge inflatable plastic swan was gaffer-taped onto the bow. At the helm, tall and beautiful, stood Galadriel, in orange beach pyjamas, her hair streaming behind her in the wind. In one hand she held the wheel, in the other she held a microphone, connected to the enormous karaoke machine on the cabin roof from which the music blared:
I want to be a darling, a doodle-um, a duckle-um,
I want to be a darling; all shall love me and despair!
The cruiser swept past in a crescendo of noise and wash, showing the name neatly painted on the stern - ÖÈ"è"Þ?tÖFP - and leaving the gaping strangers staring after it. Then another sound found its way into their ears. Winging downriver in pursuit of the cruiser there appeared a squadron of pigeons, flying in precise formation, a corn-dolly in the shape of a stubby cylinder held in the feet of each bird, their coos synchronised in a martial fanfare.
Daa DAAAA daa daa da da daaa, daa daaa daa daa daa da da daa...
As the cruiser disappeared round the next bend the pigeons released the cylinders they were holding, broke to left and right and disappeared into the trees. The grass cylinders bounced along the surface of the river in a series of splashes and followed the cruiser out of sight. A few seconds later there came a tremendous crash, the roar of the engine abruptly cut out, and the music spluttered to a halt with the fizzling sound of electronics meeting water.
As if moving on strings, the two strangers shambled down the river with the reluctant gait of people who are convinced that they should do something but are just as sure they are not going to like it.
Round the downstream bend the river spread into a wide, shallow pool, with here and there a reed-covered clump of grass and mud breaking the surface of the water. The main channel of the river ran through the centre of the pool, its path marked by a row of stout posts on each side, a gentle fan of ripples spreading from each post where it met the water. Apart from the ripples it was as still as a pond. Of the motor cruiser there was no sign.
One of the strangers fell to the ground like a log, making no attempt to break the fall, and began to headbutt the earth repeatedly. The other dragged a spoon and a bottle of pills from a pocket, crushed as many of the pills into the spoon as would fit, topped it up with river water and started heating it with the flame of a lighter.
High out of sight in a nearby tree sat Galadriel in helpless fits of giggles, red in the face, with tears of mirth running down her cheeks. With one hand she clung to a bough while with the other she attempted to stifle the sounds of her laughter at least to the point where there was some chance the strangers would not hear. The pigeons surrounding her had in humanoid terms every appearance of being on the point of succumbing to similar fits themselves; in pigeon terms they already were.
The chthonic impactor ceased impacting and groggily became aware that the other was now drawing the contents of the spoon up into a syringe. "Stop that! You know what happens when you mainline that stuff!"
"Don't care. Need." Sleeve. Stick. Twist. Vein. Jab. Aaaaaaaahh.
"Great, now I've got to deal with the rest of this insane shit with a partner with the brain of a zombie and a face like Mr Blobby."
The junkie, who did indeed now have a face like Mr Blobby, gazed vacantly up into the branches. "Elf in tree, with birdie."
"Yes, this is Lorien", said the other in the slow, careful voice of one explaining the very very obvious to a very very thick person. "Lorien elves live in trees. They can climb like squirrels. Birds live in trees, too."
"Elf and birdie, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g."
Galadriel, her orange beach pyjamas exchanged for equally gaudy Chinese robes, was now sitting on the root of a bough, her back against the trunk, her feet on the bough and her knees drawn up in front of her. A pigeon perching on her knee had stuck her beak between Galadriel's lips and they were nodding their heads up and down together. The pigeon disengaged; Galadriel turned her head towards the strangers, put out her tongue and blew a raspberry at them.
"Give me that", said the still-more-or-less-coherent one, grabbed the spoon and pills and commenced cooking up a hit, not supposed to be buggered.
After a while the strangers, now both wearing Blobby grins, became aware that Galadriel was standing in front of them, clad once more in her usual simple white.
"'Sup, dudes", she said.
"Oozis?" slurred one to the other.
"Ga-la-dri-el", came the reply in slow, distinct syllables from one of the pigeons. "La-dy - of - the - Gol-den - Wood."
"There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself", quoted another. "Then let him beware!"
"Shhh", she whispered, pinching the bird's beak lightly between thumb and forefinger. Then she turned back to the two strangers. "Listen up, dudes." She snapped her fingers quietly in front of their faces.
"Word from the wise", she said. "These things?" She reached out and lifted two little chrome-plated tubes one from the breast pocket of each stranger. "They do not work on me." The little tubes liquefied in her hands; now she held a shining puddle in the hollow of each palm. She trickled the quicksilver-like liquid back into the strangers' pockets. "Do not misunderstand. I know your intentions are basically good. Do not think that they are not appreciated, for they are." An indefinable change came over her tone. "But no more should you think that that somehow grants you licence to take the piss and falsely believe that you can make me forget about it."
A brief vision flashed before their eyes, a ten-second clip of someone laying hands on Galadriel, forcing her head beneath the surface of her own Mirror, then when she emerged flashing a chromed tube in her face.
"You think that the knowledge you bring from your world defines the reality of mine, that holding such knowledge grants you clearer sight. You think wrongly. The reality of my world was defined by Eru Himself when He instantiated the Music of the Ainur. It is independent of yours. Compared to mine your sight is as that of blind slugs crawling in the ooze on the floors of lightless caves, and had you read with greater care the words of your Professor Tolkien when he writes of me in this time, perhaps I would not need to tell you this."
Galadriel smiled, and winked.
"For three ages of this world have I dwelt upon these hither shores, holding to myself lands of peace and refuge where some at least of my people may find freedom from the evil that ravages the realms about. Lorien is the last such land; once Lorien fades, there will be no more. But while it stands I will permit no evil to touch it. The Vearanniels, the Mary Sues - think you that their poor, thin realities have greater strength than that laid down by Eru Iluvatar? The region of phase space in which their form lies is adjacent to that of my world, not coincident with it. It can take form at all only because I allow it, and the form it takes is not the form they attempt to define, but that which I and my birds make of it. They are fake realities, which I take from their idiot creators and use as a place where it is safe to play, free from any danger of causing any harm to the true reality. Think not that because I play along to the rules of my own game it is the hand of another which is on the tiller. You, too, may arrive only because I allow it, and when you are in my game you will play by my rules or you will play not at all. Those who would think to coerce me, whether with silly flashing tubes or otherwise, do not succeed, and make the attempt at their peril."
She snapped her fingers again.
"Go home", she said gently, laying a hand on each of their shoulders. "I am Galadriel. Have no doubt of that. But this reality is not Arda. It is but a thin, deficient fake. Soon it will cease to exist, and already the one you were chasing is no more. Go home; trouble yourselves not, and have no fear for my world, for in my world the reality set by Eru stands supreme. And take these, which I give to you as mementoes of this visit."
Two of the corn-dolly sculptures appeared in her hands. Her fingers flickered over the giant mushroom and it collapsed back into its original, compact form, which she handed to the one who had inadvertently set it off. "Have a care of it this time", she said with a smile. To the other she gave the tableau of Gandalf in victory pose over the corpse of the Balrog. "Let this be a reminder for you that evils of far greater power than your Sues are yet subject to the dooms set by Iluvatar, and may not prevail against His indisputable will."
Galadriel stood back. "Go home", she said again, softly, and the two strangers vanished.
The trees around changed; almost imperceptibly, they took on detail, losing the slight CGI-like tinge and becoming real beyond doubt. Galadriel, laughing, stretched out her arms and embraced once more her own realm.