The Sweary Nuclear Pigeons present...


After Words



The small ship, moving under foresail alone, glided through the still, dark waters of the harbour, passed beneath the arch that spanned the pierheads, then came head to wind outside the two buoys that marked the end of the channel. A figure moved forward from the helm; the mainsail, light but strong as all Elven sails, rose against the sky. The figure moved to the foremast and staysail and jib followed the main aloft. The figure returned aft. The ship fell away on the port tack, and, close-hauled to the gentle southerly breeze, angled out into the open ocean on the first board of the beat down to the mouth of the little river that flowed through the Calacirya past Tirion to sea.

Galadriel stood at the helm of her ship, her golden hair blowing in the breeze, her pigeon perched on her windward shoulder to avoid becoming tangled in it. One hand rested lightly on the tiller, though largely superfluously, for like all Elven ships it would naturally hold its own course and only required a hand on the tiller to change course or go about. The deck rose and fell beneath Galadriel's feet as the ship met the gentle swell. Her Telerin heritage made her a natural sailor, and she loved the sensation of space and freedom that came from being at sea; loved, too, this little ship, built especially for her by her grandfather Olwë when he saw how well she handled his own much larger vessel, and suiting her better than any other.

"Pieces of eight!" yelled the pigeon on her shoulder, her soft, musical tones a strange substitute for the harsh psittacine sound more usually associated with the phrase. Galadriel snorted with laughter.

The breeze, though gentle, was steady, and the little ship made the most of it, skimming across the black water. It was not many hours before Galadriel was picking her way through the shallows and shifting winds of the winding estuary. She dropped anchor in the pool at the head where estuary narrowed to river, and rowed ashore in her dinghy, leaving the pigeon to guard the ship.

Arriving in Tirion, she found the city in a mood which was a strange mixture of agitated and subdued, with some Elves standing in knots discussing animatedly the news, and others going about their business alone, in sombre silence. Suddenly, one in particular, some distance off, caught Galadriel's eye, made conspicuous both by her reddish-brown hair and by her particularly downhearted mien; she noticed Galadriel at the same time, and quickly ducked into an alley.

Galadriel hurried after her, and soon caught her up; she had halted after the first twist of the alley and was huddled against the wall. She leaped like a startled rabbit as Galadriel came into view, and made to run away, but Galadriel called her by name, and she froze, tharn.

Galadriel took her gently by the shoulders and looked deep into her clouded eyes, searching for the spark of resilient life and toughness that she knew had to be there somewhere under the confusion and fear.

"Nerdanel", she said softly, finding it. "Nerdanel, come back", and the spark began to grow, the lapine look fading as the elf's mind returned.

Galadriel folded her into an embrace and held her close, feeling her heartbeat slow, then the pressure of arms as Nerdanel returned the embrace, her face buried in Galadriel's shoulder. It was some time before they loosened their hold; Nerdanel's eyes were damp with tears, but bright, alive, hers once more; the beginnings of a smile hovered about her lips as she looked at Galadriel, who returned the smile in full measure.

"I thank you indeed, Galadriel", she said. "That is the first act of kindness anyone has shown to me for a long time indeed, or so it seems to me... and I... it shames me to admit it, but of you I expected it least of all."

"It shames you not at all", replied Galadriel, "rather, it is to my regret that we have not until now had a chance to meet... it would have been a little unwise, do you not think? But I have heard much report of you from my grandmother, Indis - far more, I suspect, than you have of me. On the strength of that alone would I hold you in high regard. But above that, for far longer have I admired your strength, and it gladdens my heart to see that you still have it. Indeed I will tell you that one of the reasons that I have come here now is to be sure that you had not broken, and you have not."

"You do me too much credit, Galadriel", said Nerdanel. "Have you forgotten already how you found me?"

"I found you still standing, yet you have endured more than anyone here", said Galadriel. "Of a certainty you have not broken. You were not well, but that has passed, has it not? But come, let us find somewhere more comfortable to talk. The gardens just up the hill are more pleasant than this alley, I think."

"They are a favourite of mine", smiled Nerdanel.

Two Elves, deep in conversation, were standing near the entrance as they emerged from the alley. "...chased her down the alley. I would not be in her shoes", they heard the one with his back to them say.

"I am not wearing shoes", said Nerdanel.

The elf swung round, and his eyes opened wide as he saw Nerdanel and Galadriel standing behind him, arm in arm and wearing what may have been the only two smiles in Tirion.

"Guilt by association is a concept valid only where the association is of such a nature as to make it so", said Galadriel. "Only a fool considers it a universal principle, one of indiscriminate applicability. You would not call me a fool, would you?" She winked, and the two resumed their course.

"It would appear that it is you who has had the lucky escape", laughed the elf's companion. "Perhaps now you will believe me."

"With such corroboration, it seems that I must", said the elf. "Though still it makes little sense to me."

His companion rolled her eyes. "Listen", she said quietly through gritted teeth. "There are not a few of us who, as women, know something of the evil of that black-hearted fiend that no man has ever had to face. Now do you understand?"

He did. He hid his face in his hands; he could find nothing to say.

"I really did love him", said Nerdanel.

She was sitting on the grass in a secluded corner of the gardens, one leg drawn up in front of her, the other extended, her bare foot dipping in the water of a small pond, in the middle of which stood a fountain. Next to her, Galadriel lay on the grass in her usual pose, flat on her back, legs crossed at the ankles, one hand behind her head; her other arm was extended towards Nerdanel, their fingers loosely intertwined. A lantern was concealed in the pedestal of the fountain, and its light sprayed out with the water, sending flickering glows across the two elves' faces.

"I know", replied Galadriel.

"And I still do... I still would..."

"If you could find him."

Nerdanel went very still.

"So you do understand", she whispered eventually.

A pressure on her fingers was Galadriel's reply.

"How long have you known?"

"Since I was a very little girl."

"So that tale is true, then."

"A tale is true", said Galadriel. "If it is my mother or my grandmother from whom you heard it, then you heard the true tale."

"It was your grandmother", said Nerdanel. "But there was a part that she did not know."

"Neither does my mother know, yet she was there", said Galadriel. "It is you alone who knows."

"We are not so different, you and I?" said Nerdanel, her tone half statement, half question.

"Indeed, we have our differences, but in many ways we are very alike", smiled Galadriel.

"But your fortune is better than mine."

"In some things, perhaps."

"In love, certainly. You will never share my misfortune there."

"I will never share your fortune, either."

Nerdanel looked at her in enquiry.

Galadriel shrugged. "I can never love as you have done", she said. "For all of us there are choices which we may not take and yet remain true; but choose truly we must, hard though the choice may seem. This I have faced since I was scarce old enough to walk; my path is mine to follow, the rough parts as well as the smooth."

"But your love is deep", said Nerdanel, "and you speak in riddles. There is no coldness in you for those you love..." and she reached out to touch Galadriel's forehead with her fingertips.

Galadriel's hand moved like lightning and caught her gently by the wrist, steering her away.

"Don't, my dear", she said. "You are kind, but it is not safe. If a drop of water touches the ocean, where then is the drop?"

Nerdanel stared at her. "Who are you?" she said.

"I am Galadriel."

Nerdanel looked at her for a long time. "I can see why some people fear you", she said eventually. "...But I do not. I am glad that you are my friend."

Galadriel sat up and hugged Nerdanel tightly. "And I that you are mine", she said. "I would indeed have you accompany me to Middle-earth, did I not know that you would refuse."

"You are still resolved to go, then?"

"I have little choice", said Galadriel. "Alqualondë has shown me that. I know now at first hand what it is to hold myself aloof while Elves are slaughtered in madness, doing nothing for fear that I should only make it worse. It would be more than I could bear to continue to do that through all the strife that is to come. Somehow I must find a way to steer a middle course between inaction and destruction, whereby I may diminish the evil, even if only in minor part, for I know well enough that there will be too little that I can do."

"Those bloody jewels", said Nerdanel. "Though he was lost already before he conceived the idea, it was that which truly marked the end of hope. He pushed me away, shut me out - he would not allow even me to know what he was working on, lest I should betray his secrets." She snorted. "And what secrets... I could scarcely believe it when at last he revealed his work. All that time and effort, all that pride, for so trivial a result... The true wonder is that in all his labours still he never discovered the method so simple that the idea appears even in the random thoughts of little children. I used to make them in the sea-caves at Eärondor when I was a little girl to watch them burst in the dark. Not that he appreciated the information." She raised a hand to her cheek.

"You too?" said Galadriel with half a smile. "I had always assumed everyone who had passed their childhood here would have done that. I never gave it any thought. I was amazed to find how few had done it in actuality."

"Indeed", said Nerdanel sourly. "Yet it seems that even the Valar failed to realise how simple is the true nature of the things, though they at least had not spent years of research on it. But Varda's prophecy that they would be bound to the fate of Arda has already been fulfilled, in that oath of madness which has bound my sons to fate also, and with bonds no less strong..." She gazed sadly at Galadriel. "Galadriel... please do not be offended, but I must ask you..."

"I am not offended", said Galadriel with her own look of sadness. "But I will not give you false hope. You have yourself answered your question; the oath has sealed their doom, and since they named Ilúvatar himself in witness it is He alone who can change it. Even the Valar can do nothing. But I promise you this, that if opportunity does come to me to shield your sons in any way, then for your sake I will not shirk from it. Your sons have been wronged themselves, and though I condemn their recent deeds as you do yourself, it is the oath which I hold responsible."

Now it was Nerdanel's turn to deliver a fierce hug. "I thank you indeed", she said. "I had no right to ask, and you have given more than I hoped."

"A mother has always the right to plead for her sons", said Galadriel. "Think nothing of it."

"Oh, my dear", said Nerdanel, and tightened her embrace.

Then a thought struck her. "Celegorm..."

Galadriel laughed. "That was not me", she said. "I fear I must apologise for my bird. She is cheeky, impulsive, and very, very protective. An old hen, you might say. He made an... improper suggestion, that is all. She took it amiss, and struck before I could restrain her. She did no real harm; she struck him only with fear."

Nerdanel laughed too. "Ah, your bird", she said. "I see now... Where is she, by the way? Now that you mention her, I am surprised that she is not with you."

"I left her to guard my ship", said Galadriel. "Her undiplomatic ways are not, I think, appropriate for this time and place."

"Though useful at others, no doubt", said Nerdanel.

"They spared my mother from an encounter which would have brought her much calumny and anguish", Galadriel agreed.

"Oh?" said Nerdanel, looking slightly taken aback.

"We are not so different, you and I", said Galadriel.

"Ai!" cried Nerdanel, her face twisting in pain. "There were always such tales - even in the beginning... and I denied them all... Even that which I thought real was a sham. Everything... Aaiii..."

She sprang to her feet, and removed the cord that hung about her neck. She held it out in front of her, forming a triangle, her two hands the upper corners, and at the lower corner a ring, its interwoven strands throwing off coppery gleams in the splashes of light from the fountain.

"I have the strength", she said quietly but determinedly, her gaze fixed on the ring. "I have the strength."

For a few seconds nothing happened; then the ring burst into hissing, blue-green flame, burning so rapidly that though it charred through the cord, and fell, it was gone before it hit the ground. It left no ash; it did not even make any smoke. Nothing remained except the after-images of the burning on the two elves' retinas; then these too were gone, and there was nothing at all.

Nerdanel flung away the broken cord and sank back to the ground, her mind feeling as if her head had been removed from the jaws of a vice which she had not known was there, her tears flowing freely now, uninhibited and unconstrained.

Galadriel held the poor elf close, her own eyes damp. "Nerdanel, Nerdanel", she murmured, stroking the other's hair. "You of all people are blameless. Your heart was always pure and true. You did not waver. You endured; you survived. You won. And now you are free, free and still unstained, and never again will you suffer so."

"Free I may be, but still I have lost my sons", lamented Nerdanel. "Even your sight, Galadriel... He has taken them all, sparing not even the twins. They at least would have stayed, but he would not allow it. And Ambarussa will die at his hand; Umbarto I named him, and still I am sure of it."

"I am not sure", said Galadriel after a pause. "One of us must be wrong, and perhaps it is indeed I, but do not weep for that which has not yet come to pass, for nothing is truly certain until it is done. I will not counsel you to hope, but nor will I counsel you to despair."

"From you, at least, such words are not empty, as they so often are", said Nerdanel, trying to smile.

"I do not deal in empty words", smiled Galadriel in return.

"You are very silent, Galadriel", said Nerdanel some hours later.

This was true, though in point of fact Nerdanel could have made the comment with equal validity at any time in the past hour or so. Before that, the two Elves had had a long, if intermittent, conversation, Galadriel gently leading Nerdanel to voice one by one all her wrongs and woes, as each one came to the surface drawing off, discharging and destroying its grey, mucilaginous attendant load of malice and evil. Bit by bit she cleared Nerdanel's mind of its burden of oppression and enabled her to restore the calm and mental freedom in which the damage would be finally healed. She watched the fractures close and vanish as the full flame of vitality returned to the battered mind, crevices and separations vanishing like the coalescence of pools of mercury.

The Elves could grieve long and deeply; indeed for those of gentler nature it was possible for them to enter into grief so deeply that they would never return, but died there. With those in whom the strands of being were denser and more tightly woven, it was essentially the reverse. Grief would not master them; rather, they would master it, subverting its force to strengthen and reinforce their already tough natures. Die they would not; if anything, their vitality would be increased, and they would reveal scant trace of hurt; and should the wrong so combine with their nature as to move them to a purpose, then woe betide any who would hinder their aims.

Tougher than most was Nerdanel, but her strength had been absorbed in the struggle to resist the encroachment of the psychological fungus which had infected her mind. With the fungus gone her resilience reasserted itself; the wrongs she had suffered had no longer the power to hurt, but only to forge and temper her mind to the strength and clarity of a flawless, defect-free, megascale sp3 lattice. Indeed she had been pushed down low, but that very depth, now that Galadriel had freed her from it, drove a similarly rapid recovery, like a ball held deep underwater and then released.

"I am thinking", said Galadriel. "I am trying to discern which paths are open to us, and which are closed; what we may attempt in safety, and what we should not dare."

They were lying side by side on the grass, facing each other, each with one arm reaching loosely to meet the other's hand.

"It seems to me", said Nerdanel, "that there is little that we should not dare, provided that we avoid that which is so foolish that a jellyfish would see the unwisdom in it. You or I, for instance, are not likely to entertain the notion that we could defeat one of the Valar in single combat, nor to consider it a worthwhile effort to murder our kinsmen for the sake of a little extra speed in pursuing a foe who has already attained his stronghold before the last blood has dried."

"Oh, Nerdanel, you know not how close you strike..." Galadriel pulled her close and spoke directly into her ear, in a voice so low that even Nerdanel could barely discern the words. "All the Valar together can do no more than banish Morgoth to the Void. They have not the power to go further. But I would blow out his flame like the flame of a candle, and as little would remain... I would squash Ungoliant like the dried husk of a house spider already long dead. I would restore the Trees with a touch, heal all the hurts he has done to the Elves. But there are dangers worse than Morgoth. The foundations of our world were smashed before I was born, and so I can do not one of these things, because it is not bloody safe." She pulled away a little, and punched the ground in fury, then looked back at Nerdanel with her eyes full of frustrated anger. "I should not even speak of these things... but somehow, to you..."

"You are not safe", said Nerdanel, observing Galadriel as she pulled her forearm out of the ground. She drew Galadriel in close and wrapped her arms around her. In a softer voice she continued, "No, I do not mean that. No words of jest were ever further from the truth. Were anyone else to speak your words I would call them mad indeed, but from your lips somehow I am so certain they are true that I can forgo understanding and be content with acceptance. In your place I think I would do far worse than punch holes in the ground."

"Were I to speak those words to anyone else I would be called mad indeed. Perhaps you understand more than you think", said Galadriel with a smile.

"Perhaps I do. It is quite possible", Nerdanel agreed. "While you have been looking for paths of safety, I have been looking at you. Now that I am once more in my right mind it is quite a remarkable experience. And a most rewarding one; it is clear that one path at least we may safely take. For two such as you and I, I think, the difficulty is not in coming to knowledge, for that, whether latent or instantiated, has been ours for a long time indeed. It is in coming to know that it is ours that we find obstacles to overcome. Do you not agree?" She raised her hand to Galadriel's head and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

"You are like my bird; she loves to preen my hair", Galadriel temporised.

Nerdanel made a pigeon noise. Galadriel giggled. Nerdanel moved her arm further up and reached over the top of Galadriel's head to stroke the other side.



""Well do you know what", said Galadriel, sitting up, but looking down.

"I do indeed", said Nerdanel, "but do you, I wonder? It seems to me that you know less of what than do I; that you will not allow yourself to know what, because you fear something in yourself which is not in fact there. My sight may be far less than yours, but still do I see further than most. Perhaps I do not see the whole, but were there a taint in any part its stain would spread to all, and with certainty can I see that of stain there is no trace."

"But you do not see enough. You know nothing of what I may have to do", said Galadriel. "Choices I will have to make, and the understanding of them will be mine alone, for even to the Valar such knowledge is denied; and faithless indeed may my choices seem when none can know the reasons."

"That much indeed can I see, but it counts for nothing, since you have left out that which is most important of all", Nerdanel replied. "Your choices may bring grief only because you had no others. It will not have been your will that it should be so. That is all that matters; you can never hurt me, come what may, because it is not in you to wish to do so, any more than it is in me to wish hurt on you."

She sat up herself and rested her hands on Galadriel's shoulders. "I am myself again, Galadriel, thanks to you", she said. "My mind is free and clear once more, as it has not been for too many years, and that which had become ever more hidden from me returns now plain and true. My knowledge may not be complete, but I lack not for clarity, and it is clear indeed that were I to gain that missing knowledge it would not change my mind. If one thing in all the world is certain, it is that of all the paths we may take, this one at least is safe." With a deft movement she lifted one hand from Galadriel's shoulder and, this time before Galadriel could stop her, rested her fingertips gently on Galadriel's forehead.

The shock hit her like a near miss from a five-nine, but with entirely the opposite message; it was a shock of peace, of life. A tiny sound escaped her, but her touch remained steady.

"Nerdanel!" gasped Galadriel. But alone of all the minds in Arda, though Galadriel's was vaster by far, these two minds were of like kind, and her friend was unharmed. Slowly Galadriel lifted her own hand, and, wondering, with gentle softness returned the touch.

"Galadriel, love", whispered Nerdanel.

"Nerdanel, love", murmured Galadriel in return.

These two exceptional minds had in truth long known each other; to meet was merely to take the final step on a path upon which, they now found they knew, they had in some wise agreed long ago, without need for thought. Their lips met for the briefest of instants; then their arms slid around each other, not so much in an embrace as in a full cuddle, and for an indefinite time they remained thus.

"And now", said Nerdanel eventually, "you may expand to me upon that mysterious comment of yours concerning phase space, since, try as I might, still I find its parsing eludes me."

"Now, perhaps, but not here", said Galadriel. "But if you would care to accompany me as I go to disappoint Yavanna, our route will take us through somewhere far more suitable."

"I would accompany you purely to discover the meaning of that most peculiar and enigmatic utterance", said Nerdanel. "But it is a long road from here to Yavanna's place of vigil by the Trees."

"For that, too, I have an answer", smiled Galadriel, "so now you have a third enigma to puzzle on." She stood up and extended a hand to Nerdanel. "Come on. I shall introduce you to my bird, and then we shall see what she has found for us."

You see, Gentle Internet User, even I am sometimes taken by surprise. Indeed I had long admired Nerdanel, for without her influence things would have been far worse, and there are few indeed who would have the strength to withstand what she suffered and take so little lasting hurt from it. But the true depth of my feeling for her I feared, and had concealed it even from myself. That she should hold the same feeling in return and so perceive mine I expected not at all... but I am glad indeed that she did. Galadriel x

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