The Sweary Nuclear Pigeons present...


To France



Nerdanel, still soft with sleep, padded barefoot about the kitchen in the early morning light, collating the requisites for a pot of tea. She filled the kettle at the tap, not noticing that the handle turned more smoothly than usual and without its customary squeak. She placed the full kettle back on the counter top, and reached for the cord to plug it in. She stopped. The cord was missing. She cast about the counter top seeking it; no, it definitely was not there, unless it was behind the breadbin, which didn't seem likely... no, not there either. Most odd.

"Galadriel?" she called, her voice loud in the quiet cottage.

"I am in the bathroom", that lady replied. "What is it?"

"I cannot find the cord for the kettle." Nerdanel looked about the kitchen again, then added: "Nor can I find the socket to plug it in to."

"That is quite remarkable, and also extremely strange", came the voice from upstairs.

Nerdanel snorted. "Nevertheless, it is true. And if you do not give me a more helpful answer, I shall not be able to make the tea."

"Oh... use a pot on the stove", said Galadriel. "I will be down in a minute."

A clattering of pans; a gush of water; the clunk of a pot on the stove-top; a muttered expletive. Nerdanel raised her voice again. "The stove is cold, Galadriel."

"It cannot be cold", said Galadriel. "It has fuel to last ten thousand years."

"In that case, we have overslept", said Nerdanel.

"Perhaps we have", said Galadriel, her tone becoming more serious. Rushing water sounded, then Galadriel's feet on the stairs; she entered the kitchen, examined the stove, then adjusted a handle on the side of it. "The control rods were fully inserted", she explained. "And..." - checking the neutron flux reading, and holding a hand above the hotplate - "...they have been so for a few days at least; it is warming up already. Now, this kettle..."

Nerdanel had been right. The kettle cord was nowhere to be found; the socket had likewise vanished, with not even a mark on the wall to show where it had been. Indeed, the kettle itself lacked a connector, and a glance inside revealed no element beneath the shimmer of the now-warming water. Galadriel looked more thoroughly around the kitchen. The missing cord and socket were not the only changes. The chairs still stood around the table, but the wobbly seats of turd-coloured plastic were now of smoothly-carved, satin-finished wood; the table was surfaced not with formica, but a substance resembling marble, warm rather than cold to the touch. The pressed steel fluorescent fitting on the ceiling was now a cradle of delicate silver filigree, connected by pipes to the stove and holding a bowl of clear liquid, now beginning to glow with a gentle rippling light. The boards of the ceiling itself were not of thin pine, but of solid oak, so accurately fitted that only the change in the grain pattern revealed the joins. Outside the window, Galadriel saw the same familiar view, but with a sky of a more perfect blue, grass of a more vital green, sheep of a pure and spotless white; the path leading to the cottage was paved not with slab concrete, but with precisely-shaped blocks of stone; the galvanised steel gate was now a gate of cedar, as neatly made as the ceiling boards.

"Nerdanel, you are still more than half asleep", said Galadriel with half a smile, her eyes sparkling. "Have you not looked out of the window?"

Nerdanel did so; and as she gazed upon the scene her face took on a strange expression, a compound of joy and puzzlement. "We are... home?" she said, hesitantly. "But... still in this house? And the light is not the light of Laurelin, but of the gravitational-confinement hydrogen fusor of Tellus. If indeed we are home, still I do not think that the world looks more than half as it should look, half asleep though I may be."

"And half right", smiled Galadriel. "The house is similar indeed, but it is not the same house. Rather, it is the house which I constructed in imitation - did I not say it grows on you? - in Aman itself. And only birdie and I, and now you, know of the connection. There can be no doubt: our efforts have met with success. Nerdanel, we are home!" She seized the other's hands, and they began a dance of joy around the kitchen; then, finding the kitchen too small to contain their delight, they ran outside and danced barefoot on the dewy grass.

"Oh, this is wonderful", sighed Nerdanel at last, taking deep breaths of the cool, clean air. "Of a certainty we are back in our own world. The air and the grass alone are enough. But still, what of the light? I see now that it is not quite the light of the Tellurian fusor, but it is not quite that of Laurelin as I knew her, either."

Galadriel did not immediately reply, but cast herself full length upon the ground as if embracing the world; then rolled over and gazed into the blue dome of the sky.

"It is the Valar", she said presently. "They have taken the final fruit of Laurelin, and the last flower of Telperion, and they are causing them to grow large as mountains; and when they are grown they will be set in the heavens to light the world, beyond the reach of Morgoth. Yet it is strange that they have grown already so bright, when at the time of our departure they had not even begun. Something is still somewhat amiss; for though indeed we have returned in the same instant that we left, the instant is not the same."

"So did we succeed, or did we not?" Nerdanel asked. "If you can answer me without contradicting yourself."

Galadriel stood up and brushed herself clear of bits of damp grass. "If we had not succeeded, and yet still returned, we would have returned to a dead world", she said. "But we have not yet had our tea, and that kettle will boil dry if it is not attended to." (And indeed the frantic whistling of the kettle in the kitchen had been trying to make itself known to the distracted Elves for some minutes.) "So let us break our fast and consider the matter over tea."

Side by side the two Elves descended a grassy slope into the valley of a chattering stream. On the far bank the land rose again to the skyline in a patchwork of trees, bracken and furze. Along the hither bank ran a road, wriggling through the space where the slope shallowed as it neared the stream. Reaching the foot of the slope, Galadriel turned onto the road and led the way up the valley. As they went, the stream pressed ever closer to the right, narrowing further and further the space left for the road, which eventually, feeling itself too confined, leapt the stream on a little stone bridge and continued along the level space now opening up on the other side. A small triangle of grass remained before the main declivity and the bank finally merged.

"Oh", said Nerdanel, looking around. "Ah."

"And, indeed, ding", said Galadriel. "For we have arrived at precisely the right time. Come on", and taking Nerdanel's hand she strode briskly over the bridge.

On an instant, the light went out. The bright blue of the sky dimmed in a moment to an inky twilight. The warmth of day was cut off, and Nerdanel gave a shiver in the sudden cool. Above her, she saw not the golden wisps of clouds lit from beneath by the waxing fruit of Laurelin, but the stars of Varda spread over the velvet sky in a sparkling scatter of brilliant dust.

Whooossh - thump; a fearful impact on Galadriel's shoulder. "Ah, ladies, you are precisely on time. Please alter your course ninety degrees to starboard, and hold that course, inert, at not less than one point five metres per second..."

Galadriel plucked the pigeon from her shoulder and held her cupped in both hands, regarding her at close range, nose to beak. "You, birdie", she said, "are a pillock."

"Keli's coronation, back to front", said the pigeon. "Or, well, like, sort of, anyway."

"This anomaly will dlop at dawn", said Galadriel.

"Bikkit", said the pigeon. "Wanna Mr Pootle."

Galadriel rolled her eyes. "(Big tall golden-haired unwrinkled smiling elf is here)", she said, somehow managing to enunciate brackets.

"How can you be so sure?" warbled the pigeon.

"What goes round must come round", replied Galadriel. "What must rise must fall..."

"I see the victims of circumstance convicted without a crime", said the pigeon, at which Galadriel burst out laughing and called her a rude name.

"I did not realise it had been such a strain on you", said Nerdanel in tones of mock commiseration. "I am sorry. But at least you held your mind together for long enough to complete the task."

"Why should I be tarred with the epithet looney merely because I have a pet pigeon?" was Galadriel's reply. "I've 'eard tell that Lord Manwë Sulimo has a pet eagle called Thorondor; you wouldn't call 'im a looney."

"Galadriel", said Nerdanel, "can you be serious for long enough to answer just one question?"

"I don't know, can I? How long will it take?" said Galadriel.

Nerdanel batted her round the back of the head. "What - just - happened?"

"Do you not know?" said Galadriel. "Consideration of the uncertainty principle will show that if anything is compressed to the point which in quantum terms brings it close to vanishing inside its own event horizon and then allowed to expand back to its original size, it cannot under any circumstances, no matter how well controlled, be an isentropic process. However, consideration of the magnitude of the energies involved will show that even for a small mass the departure from isentropy, although some local effects may be observed, must overall be insignificantly small if the result is not to be catastrophic, and the percentage threshold for significance drops rapidly as the mass increases. That is all. The mere possibility of concern is proof of the lack of need of it."

"Oh, well", said Nerdanel, "it is no wonder then that I was puzzled. It did not occur to me to seek a solution in such a humdrum sphere as simple physics."

"And now we must concern ourselves with some even simpler physics", said Galadriel. "That of the dynamic stability of inverted pendulums in the context of their use for locomotion. It is a long way back to Tirion, and a long walk without the motorcycle."

"Tirion?" said Nerdanel. "What business have we there? Certainly I have none."

"Nor I, save with my ship", Galadriel answered.

There was little wind, and the ship slipped softly through the dark, still water of the long pool at the head of the estuary, ghosting seaward so slowly as to be barely moving, with only the faintest trickling sound of water under the forefoot. But Galadriel had no urgent destination in mind; she was satisfied simply to be back aboard and moving. The pigeon had taken up her preferred position on top of the mast, acting as lookout, not that there was much to look out for in this long reach. The two Elves sat below in the main cabin, amid the fading smell of the meal they had just consumed, in the soft golden light of one of Galadriel's insta-Silmarils which hung from a beam in a basket of silver threads. Galadriel lay back at ease against the cushioned back of the bench that ran along the inside of the hull, her feet up on another seat opposite, her legs crossed at the ankles, her hands behind her head and the suggestion of a peaceful smile on her face. Nerdanel sat with her head resting on one hand and her elbow on the table, her other hand poking desultorily with an apple stalk at a fragment of uneaten mashed potato on her plate. So gentle was the ship's motion that the tea in their mugs on the cabin table was not discernibly less still than it would have been on land.

Galadriel allowed her head to flop onto her shoulder so as to face Nerdanel. "Consider this", she said, for no apparent reason.

"And what would this be?" replied Nerdanel.

"An entity", said Galadriel. "A sentient entity. An entity of malevolent nature, and powerful; but not unrestrictedly so, by any means."

"I am considering a sentient malevolent entity", said Nerdanel. "It is not very nice."

"To better characterise not unrestrictedly: the entity may be effectively rendered inactive for an arbitrary period by means of conventional fetters or prisons, which while they must of course be strong and well-made, do not present any peculiar difficulties of construction. In combat with an adversary of comparable power, it will not have the victory unless assisted by powerful supporting fighters. In single combat with an Elf skilled in the requisite arts, while it will not be destroyed, it may be rendered unconscious, or it may be crippled for life. In none of these cases is there any damage or injury save to the combatants themselves."

"So although it is strong, it is nevertheless also basically a big pussy", said Nerdanel, the last two words in English.

Galadriel spluttered with the giggles. "Yes, the Tellurian idiom is quite apt."

"So, what of this big pussy, then?" Nerdanel asked.

"Does it, to you, seem reasonable, in the light of those limits, that the process of capturing this entity and fettering it for permanent imprisonment should require a vast and mighty army to fight a terrible and destructive battle, and give rise to collateral damage on the level of the complete destruction of a mass of land thousands of miles to a side? By which I mean not merely simple desertification, but its total demolition and the ocean taking its place."

"It seems completely ridiculous", Nerdanel declared. "It seems that all that is needed is for an Elf to render it unconscious and then it can be fettered before it wakes up."

"My thought is similar", said Galadriel. "Yet it..."

"But it does not sound entirely implausible", Nerdanel interrupted. "Rather, it sounds Tellurian. Indeed there was much discussion of such a thing on their internet. Their nation of America saw a need to kill two people it considered enemies. It was, naturally, a task for assassins, of which they had many and highly skilled, but instead they attacked with a vast and mighty army, destroyed two entire nations, and set them to decades of war. And still, in the end, failed, and had to send assassins to succeed. For the Americans to do as you postulate is easy to imagine; and all the more since the Americans imagine it also; some of their tales of imagination that we used in our... little experiment... told of Americans destroying entire worlds to slay one single enemy."

"Ye-e-es", said Galadriel. "Tellurian... oh! Oh, dear..." - she hid her face in her hands and allowed herself a brief outburst of slightly horrified laughter. "I think, Nerdanel, that you may just possibly have very nearly hit the nail on the head. Or one of them, at least."

"Oh, well, that is not so bad", said Nerdanel, "considering that I cannot even see the thing." She laid down the apple stalk, and adjusted her knife and fork on the plate to reflect the gleam of light at a particular angle onto the potato. The tiny shadows moved, flowed, and came together to suggest the rippled surface of a sea, across which was sailing a small Elvish schooner with a pigeon at the masthead.

"Oh, that is lovely", said Galadriel, as Nerdanel sat back. "Almost it seems as if it is moving."

In fact, it was; looking at the lamp, suspended from the beam, Galadriel saw that it was swinging just a fraction, and the sound of water against the hull was just a little more audible. Galadriel rose, poked her head out of the companionway and stood there awhile, her face turned to the wind.

"The wind is rising," she said, ducking back into the cabin, "and we are approaching the Eels. We shall have a blow in due course, and I think it would be wise to reef."

She took a handle from a hook to the side of the hatch, looped the lanyard over her wrist and climbed out on deck. She spun the wheel and brought the ship head to wind. A mass of clouds was forming in the west; the rising wind sent streaks of blacker darkness racing across the black sky, hiding the stars, and drew her hair out in a golden trail as she went forward to drop the anchor into the shallow water. The ship fell back on the chain as she walked to the foot of the mainmast. She slackened the downhaul, unfastened all but one turn of the halyard from its cleat, fitted the handle into the gooseneck and began to wind, paying out the halyard with the other hand as she watched the canvas shrink. Satisfied, she belayed the halyard, tightened the downhaul again, and moved to the foremast to repeat the operation. As she looked skyward she noted that the pigeon was not perched atop either mast.

"Oh you silly bird", she murmured to herself with a slight smile and a shake of the head.

The foresail reefed, she lowered the jib entirely, bundling up the heavy canvas and securing it with tyers, then did the same with the staysail, hoisting in its place a storm staysail which lay ready at the foot of another stay. Making all fast, she raised the anchor once more, set the staysail aback to throw the ship's head off the wind, adjusted the sheets as the vessel came round, and returned to the helm, just as Nerdanel emerged from the companionway bearing two more cups of tea.

"Thank you", she said as Nerdanel passed her the tea. "But really, you should have watched, to learn how to handle the sails yourself. What would you do if a wave washed me overboard?"

"I would look at the wave patterns and estimate the probability of them interfering to produce a resultant wave moving in the reverse direction and washing you back on board again", said Nerdanel composedly. "And then I would watch it happen, and if I had only just woken up I might comment that you had been extremely lucky, which you would deny, and then I would probably make some tea."

Galadriel laughed. "You are glad to be back, that I can tell", she said.

"Well, it is home", said Nerdanel. "That at least remains, though all else be lost."

Galadriel reached out and took her hand. "Yes", she said quietly, looking at nothing. "You do have that."

Her musings were interrupted by the approaching whir of wings; the pigeon reappeared out of the dark sky and crashed onto Galadriel's shoulder without bothering to decelerate. She stuck her beak into Galadriel's ear and let loose a string of obscenities in plaintive and querulous tones.

"I know, birdie", said Galadriel, raising a hand to tickle the pigeon under the crop.

"Can't tell you anything, can I", said the pigeon.

"No", agreed Galadriel.

"Nobody has told me", Nerdanel pointed out. "What are you two anticipating now?"

"We are approaching the Eels", Galadriel said, and began hauling in the mainsheet.

"That is not what I meant, and you know it", Nerdanel complained.

But Galadriel was dealing with the ship. She flashed Nerdanel a smile as she belayed the mainsheet. "They have decided to add the final straw with unseemly haste", she said. "It matters less than birdie thinks it does", and went forward to deal with the foresail.

Nerdanel was about to reply when a crash sounded from below; the remains of their meal, disturbed by the increasing motion, were sliding from side to side of the table and threatening to jump the fiddles. Nerdanel turned, and descended into the cabin to forestall their escape.

Ahead of the ship, on either side, the low hills on either side of the estuary continued on seawards, a pair of undulating banks sloping into the sea in silhouette against the stars and scudding clouds. But where the hills carried on, the water did not. A darker line showed above the dark waves, a mass reaching from the northern shore to the southern, barring the straight route to sea.

Galadriel was at the helm, watching the southern shore as the wind continued to rise. There was a hissing sound and a sprinkling of spray lifted itself over the stern and flew past her into the cabin, drawing an "oi" from Nerdanel.

A distant peak on the southern skyline moved into the frame between two hummocks close at hand. Galadriel put the helm over in a smoothly decisive sweep. A pair of thumps sounded through the ship as the booms swung across and brought up against the restraint of their shortened sheets. The ship heeled the other way, and the motion became more urgent. There was another thump, from below, followed by a decidedly inelegant remark.

"I am sorry", called Galadriel from on deck, "but there is more than that yet to come. I advise you to close the hatch and hang on to something. Do not worry about the dishes; if they go, they go."

More there was. The dark folds of the hills spun around them as Galadriel brought the ship right round and headed close-hauled into the wind. Already the wind had raised a short, steep chop in the shallow water, and the waves burst against the starboard bow in a shrapnel of spray.

They were entering the Eels, the anguilliform labyrinth of channels linking the broad pool of the estuary with the long parallel lough at whose far end lay the exit to the sea. The coastal mountain range supplied quantities of scree and shingle to the ocean, and the endless waves sweeping into the bay had piled it in a long bar, blocking the mouths both of the estuary itself and of the riverless lough alongside. But the flow of the river would not be denied, and the pent-up waters finding a low point in the land to the south had gouged deeply into the orogenic debris of the coastline as they cascaded in scouring torrents into the lough. The lough itself also being blocked, the waters had then broken the shorter but similar passage of the Elvers through to the next valley yet, by which they finally reached the sea.

Changes of wind and weather sent seiches rolling up and down pool and lough, and the changes in level drove powerful currents back and forth through the Eels, flowing first one way and then the other. The currents were dangerous in themselves, and as the currents moved, so moved the shoals and channels too. Thus it was that few vessels came here to harbour, and set course instead for Alqualondë some leagues to the north-east: few captains would dare the passage of the Eels in any vessel larger than a fishing smack.

Galadriel put the helm over and the sails went briefly slack as the ship came about. For a moment the ship hung poised, then with a thump the sails filled again and the ship laid into the new course. She held that course for no more than half a minute before tacking back again. Twice more the ship leapt from side to side of the narrow channel, dancing from wave-top to wave-top. Then abruptly the motion eased as Galadriel bore away and turned into the next reach.

"Is that it?" called Nerdanel from below. "Can we hear the B-side?"

"Hang on while I turn the record over", Galadriel replied.

For a few minutes the twists of the ship's course maintained a more or less downwind trend with the wind somewhere on the starboard quarter. Then the channel began to widen. The low hills on shore drew away and Galadriel turned toward the wind as they sped out into the lough.

Passing through the Eels the proximity of the shore had afforded some degree of shelter. Here there was none. The wind screamed down the gentle slopes of the north-western shore and on down the length of the lough, tearing curtains of spray from the tops of the waves. By the entrance to the Eels it had blown free for miles and had fully recovered any force of which the land had sapped it, but the waves were beginning to feel the encroachment of the shallowing bed of the lough and piling up in their effort to escape it.

The ship seemed to pirouette and Nerdanel's knees sagged momentarily under her increased weight as the ship accelerated skyward on a rising wave. Then her stomach came into her mouth as the wave passed on and left the ship in free fall, a void beneath the keel.

WHAM. The ship slammed into the bottom of the trough with an appalling crash and Nerdanel felt the blow of the shock wave passing through her feet and coming out of her eyeballs. For a moment it seemed that the ship had come to a complete halt. Then the forward motion began again and on its heels came once more the heaviness of the rising wave and the sudden release. WHAM. A wall of water burst over the bow, and on both sides of the cabin the view through the portholes disappeared behind a swirling torrent.

Nerdanel opened the companion door a crack and cautiously peered out. "Are you sure this is safe, Galadriel? I did not think it was supposed to be a submarine."

"It is perfectly safe", said Galadriel with a laugh. "This is not a cygniform, designed only for coastal work and dependent on being able to run for harbour should the weather turn, but a true blue-water vessel, although the water is not very blue at the moment." WHAM. Nerdanel dodged rapidly inside before a lump of not-blue water could go down her neck. The decks drained, she poked her head out again and Galadriel continued: "The ship is built for this sort of thing - built to survive unscathed storms far more violent than this will be."

"And it will not sink?" WHAM. "...Or smash itself to pieces, doing that?"

"No harm would follow even after years of this", said Galadriel. "You are not used to it, that is all. But it will not be long before you become so."

Nerdanel pulled a face, expressive of an extremity of doubt. Then she looked at Galadriel, standing tall at the helm with her eyes alight and her hair a golden banner in the wind. "You are enjoying this, aren't you", she said accusingly.

WHAM. When Nerdanel looked out once more Galadriel was smiling happily in reply... and still seemingly no more than a little damp. Then, in a moment, her expression changed. "Go below, Nerdanel, and stay there", she said, very quietly.

There was no gainsaying the force in those quiet words. Nerdanel had vanished and closed the hatch behind her almost before she was aware she had moved.

"And now we have the special repeat performance for those who did not attend the main event", muttered Galadriel to herself. "Very thoughtful. A consideration which I can very well do without, thank you very much."

On a peak beyond the head of the lough a figure stood huge in awesome majesty against the sky. Below, the little ship rushed towards it with undiminished speed. The figure looked down at the ship, and the very howl of the storm faded, not silenced but merely a murmur in the great trumpet blast that echoed from the hills.

"My ears", muttered Galadriel with a grimace. The trumpet blast vanished abruptly. It did not fade, but simply decohered, and became itself no more than an insignificant entropic fluctuation in the tremendous entropy flux of the storm.

The figure adopted a declamatory attitude, and appeared to be speaking. But in the pose there was yet some indefinable shade of irresolution, a hint of the touch of some nagging subconscious suspicion that his voice was in fact not being heard, and that this was quite natural and he was a fool to expect otherwise.

But the voice of the Lady guiding her ship through the storm came to him as if borne on a shaft of silence, as clearly and as calmly as if they had both been standing in the same quiet room, and this too was quite natural and only to be expected.

"You have nothing to say to me", came the calm, clear voice. "I depart freely of my own accord, innocent of the evil which has driven forth my kin. Nor will I count myself driven forth by the same want of justice. And never again shall I set foot upon these shores now strange to me. I go to seek such home as I may find; mayhap in some place afar the homeliness of which these lands are now bereft may yet linger a little while. The message you bring has no meaning for me, and I will not have the memory of my departure marred by those unjust words."

Whether it was a tear on Galadriel's cheek or a drop of sea foam was impossible to say.

"But I have something to say to you, and say it I will, for no one else will. And hear it you will, heed it as you may, for then I will have done all that may become me and none may say I shrank from the test."

Tall and beautiful, proud and defiant, Galadriel stood with her head high and spoke the truths no other would dare.

"Freely the Elves were invited here, and freely came, trusting in the promise that here the evil of Melkor would not be allowed to reach them. It is not the fault of the Elves that their protectors failed in their trust, and allowed Melkor to freely spread his evil in their midst. It was not the Elves who, knowing more surely than all others that Melkor lies, nevertheless allowed themselves to be deceived by those lies into freeing him to spread them also among those with less power to resist. It was not the Elves who, having broken their own promise, failed also to ensure that Melkor was not breaking his. It was not the Elves who so organised their chain of command that subordinates felt compelled to hold their tongues rather than appear to question their superiors' judgement, so the dictated strategy of wishful thinking could not be challenged until it collapsed of its own failings.

And it was not the Elves who, after that inevitable collapse, thought to lay the blame and the shame of it on the very victims who had already borne the great part of the suffering, or to withdraw into a skulking denial of their own complicity bolstered by the transference of dooming those victims to suffer still more. I do not condone the idiotic mission upon which so many of my kin have embarked; it needs no doom pronounced upon it, for it stands self-doomed from the moment of its inception by its own inherent futility, a snare of inescapable sorrow and disaster baited by a false and phantasmal hope. Still less do I condone the unrepentant malice with which others have set out - and again, it is not the Elves who brush the distinction aside and treat all motives as like to the worst. But futile though the attempt may be, those who have set out with restorative intent may yet claim one sure virtue, which none may deny them: to admit to failure, to repent of it, and to seek to repair what can be repaired of the loss, is to follow a path of honour. And by way of corollary, to calumniate them as a propaganda screen behind which to seek to evade the responsibility of having loosed the evil upon them is to follow a path of disgrace.

And this too I say to you: evade it you will not. For faithless is it also, faithless to the trust laid upon you by Ilúvatar himself, to hide behind walls across the sea, looking ever aside and leaving the remainder of Arda to destruction and decay. What of the Elves living still in all innocence on the far shores, or of the innocent Elves yet unborn? In your denial you have not merely allowed, but hastened, the spread of the evil beyond even your power to cleanse it. Already its hyphae have laid the stain of their infection beyond your reach. Banish you Melkor to the Void, still the rot will remain and through your own agency continue its work of decay. Lands will fall, at your command; and last of all shall fall your own, and yourselves with it."

She paused a moment, as if to allow time for the wind itself to realise the import of her speech.

"I am Galadriel."

Sound itself seemed to have fled from the lash of Galadriel's words. Still the waves crashed and heaved, but they crashed in silence. The wind whistled in the rigging in an inaudible scream. Clouds blotted out the sky like black felt, consuming the starlight. Galadriel's ship rushed onwards through the storm and dark as if warmth and light had departed from all save this single bubble of life arrowing through the vast chaotic void. The tumbling stillness of the moment stretched out like a white hot wire. At the origin stood Galadriel, tall, still and straight, steady and clear in unassailable brightness, trailing the golden stream of her hair, her slim hands steady on the helm as she held the ship to the course, held the ship, held the course, held the sea beneath and the wind above, held the world and showed it bounded and herself unbound.

The moment extended in unbearable tension, and then it passed.

"Time to go", said Galadriel to herself, and put the helm over. The motion of the ship smoothed and straightened as the wind swung to the quarter and the ship shot along the swimming current into the mouth of the Elvers. Somewhere off the starboard bow sounded the rapid roar of overfalls. Spray flew off the sheets racing through the blocks, and the thump of the booms jerked them taut as Galadriel executed a smooth and swift gybe. The ship seemed to dance momentarily and sharp waves hurled themselves aboard from all sides. Then with startling suddenness the motion smoothed out into a slower and more regular swooping undulation as the ship swept clear of the far end of the short channel and headed downwind towards open water and out into the waiting sea.

Galadriel stayed unmoving at the helm while the ship drew away from the land and the sea bed sank beneath the keel, releasing the constrained waves of the shallow inshore waters to the freedom of the ocean depths. Then her eyes lighted on her cup of tea, still undrunk and amazingly still full. Indeed, the level in the mug seemed to have risen rather than dropped. It had: the tea was now no more than a vague brown cloudiness in a mug of cold salty water. Galadriel pulled a face, chucked the mixture overboard and opened the companionway door.

"Any more of this left?" she asked as she descended into the cabin, flourishing the empty mug.

But, for once, there was not. There was only Nerdanel, rising slowly to her feet in the corner with a nervous and shaken expression upon her face.

"Galadriel", she said. "What, the fuck, did you just do?"

Galadriel laid her mug aside, allowed the tautness to pass from her limbs, and the restraint from the tears she had yet withheld. "Oh, Nerdanel, I am so sorry..."

She stretched out one arm, touched her fingertips lightly to Nerdanel's shoulder. Then, of a sudden, they were in each other's arms, and Galadriel, on Nerdanel's shoulder, openly wept.

Gradually Nerdanel's tremulousness left her as she returned Galadriel's embrace, tentatively at first, then with tightness and fervour. Whatever had happened, she knew that now it was past. Moisture crept over her own eyelids and down her cheeks.

"I was so frightened", she whispered almost inaudibly.

Galadriel caressed her shoulder blade in silent reply.

And some considerable while later, the two Elves, each still with an arm around the other, nestled together on the seat, their still-damp cheeks touching and a fresh pot of tea before them on the table.

"Will you tell me?" murmured Nerdanel eventually, looking at Galadriel with bright eyes and a small smile.

Galadriel drew her to nestle a fraction closer and sighed with a gentle smile of her own. "Tellus", she said. "Indeed, not Tellus alone, but it is basically Tellurian factors that we have to thank."

She took a drink of her tea. "It was very rare that Tolkien's writings erred so far as to be just plain silly", she said. "But it did happen, and our concern is with an instance that he failed to spot from first to last, and so is now firmly fixed in the mass of unquestioning Tellurian minds. Simply, he would have it that the host of the Noldor, passing up the barren coastline outside the mountains, are travelling continuously for something like fifteen Tellurian years, plus or minus five or so."

"Eh?" said Nerdanel. "What host? Who does he think is doing that?"

"The host", said Galadriel. "Everyone."

Nerdanel snorted. "That's just daft", she said. "What's happened to their legs? And what are they supposed to eat? Rocks? Supplies ferried to them by ship?"

"Not even that", said Galadriel. "The ships - the handful of ships, now, that I allowed them to retain - merely shadow them just offshore all the way. They carry no supplies beyond what they set out with."

"Good grief", said Nerdanel. "Did you not say that Tolkien had been a soldier, in an enormous army, and understood the matter of supplies?"

"Indeed he had", Galadriel replied. "He understood it well. And it was over supplies that his war was won and lost. Unfortunately, that only makes the confusion that our world is given to resolve so much the worse."

"Fine, so far so hoopy", said Nerdanel into her tea. "Or not, as the case may be. But we are not part of that host."

"Ah, well", said Galadriel, reaching for the teapot to pour them both refills. "Tolkien wrote disparate things concerning me. They are all over the place, for some reason. And to cut a long story short, nearly all Tellurians who express a preference would opine that the calamity Tolkien records as eventuating somewhere along that journey bore upon me also, whether I was there or not."

"For some reason", repeated Nerdanel. "Yeah, right. I cannot even begin to imagine what that could possibly be. So. With a few assumptions that look reasonable enough... that calamity is associated with a strong indeterminacy, because the silly timescale throws all points defined in the period into superposition with the period as a whole, preserving sequence at the most. But it also interacts with an attractor due to the opining Tellurians, which becomes more significant in consequence of the indeterminacy. Then, overall, there still remain undecayed potential fluctuations resulting from the attack of the fat hairy sheepshagger, acting as a general randomising influence. And all this goes to raise the probability of something trying to drop a bucket of shit on your head."

Galadriel smiled. "That is about the size of it", she said. "Had we not been diverted perhaps we would have been able to depart in time to be out of reach... though it was never much of a hope. And had I been alone it would not have mattered so much. But..." She kissed Nerdanel's cheek and drew her close. "Oh, Nerdanel, my love."

"Galadriel..." said Nerdanel slowly. Then, of a sudden, she caught her breath; her arms flew around Galadriel and she returned her embrace fiercely. "Oh! Oh, Galadriel... Oh, my dear one. Oh, my love..." Her tears flowed again, but now they were tears of astonished joy.

It was a long time indeed before she noticed the pigeon. She was swaying slightly with the motion of the ship as she stood atop one leg on the table, the other leg tucked out of sight beneath her feathers and her head on one side, regarding them as she had clearly been regarding them for some while.

"Ey oop", said the pigeon. She rummaged underneath her wing, and seemingly out of her feathers produced a shiny piece of metal attached to a brightly coloured ribbon. She walked deliberately across the table and carefully poked the pin of the ribbon through a loose fold of Nerdanel's dress. Ceremoniously she delivered Nerdanel two pecks, one to one side of the ribbon and one to the other. "There you go", she said.

Nerdanel made a frog face as she read the inscription on the medal upside down. I AM A GENIUS. "You cheeky wee shitehawk", she said with a laugh.

"I told you", said the pigeon. "I told you what she's like. She is my Gala", she hopped onto Galadriel's shoulder and stuck her beak in her ear, "and she is fucking perfect."

All Arda may have been sunk in gloom, but in the little ship, a speck swimming across the vast seas, there was yet enough joy for worlds.

Ah, nothing ever goes smoothly... And even now they did not learn. For how could they, with not even themselves to teach them? Though if you have read Tolkien, you know this already... and the manifestations of their ignorance are for a later tale. - Galadriel x

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