The Sweary Nuclear Pigeons present...



In a hole in a wall there lived some pigeons. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with pigeon shit and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, dusty hole with bits of rebar sticking out; this was a hole in the containment of an abandoned nuclear power plant, and that means...


Well hello there! Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Sweary Nuclear Pigeons. We live in this old power station, eating uranium and shitting fission products. (Being fast neutron birds, we can of course eat pretty well any actinide, but uranium is the most plentiful and usually the tastiest.) We are, of course, highly technologically advanced, and can do all sorts of weird-ass sci-fi stuff; this is one reason why the humans have not thrown us out like the selfish wankers usually do. We tend to act like cunts a lot of the time, for a laugh. Also, we say "fuck" a lot.

Verily, Gentle Internet User, thou art in a universe in which there exist sweary nuclear pigeons.



The place into which they emerged was one which any Hobbit would have instantly adored, though for Elves it was somewhat less optimal; Nerdanel's head barely cleared the ceiling, while Galadriel was forced to adopt a pronounced stoop. The window was not very large, and immediately outside it a grassy bank rose steeply, cutting off any possibility of a view; it admitted little light, and with the dark colour of the carpet and furnishings and the blackened beams and panelling the room had a somewhat gloomy aspect. The room was quite narrow for its length, and most of the wall opposite the window was taken up by a huge old fireplace, constructed of large, roughly-hewn stones, with a Baxi hearth looking somewhat lost in the middle of it. The place gave a strong impression of being underground, although this was not in fact the case.

Nerdanel looked about herself, sniffing the air curiously; there was a powerful odour of creosote mixed with wood-smoke, with an undertone of slightly musty furniture. "It smells", she observed. "Though it is a curiously homely smell, and not unpleasant. Have we gone astray in some way, or is this where you intended to bring us?"

"Oh, it was entirely intentional", Galadriel assured her. "It was abandoned by the Tellurians who owned it; the husband died and the wife moved away, to live somewhere less isolated, for this place is far from other dwellings. After that it remained empty; anyone who tried to find it simply became lost on the way, although there is but one road that leads here. We will no more be disturbed here than we would be in birdie's home."

"That is quite remarkable, and also extremely strange", said Nerdanel.

"It is, is it not?" agreed Galadriel with a grin. "And also extremely useful. There is food here, and beds to sleep in; and I am sure you will agree that it is rather more welcoming than birdie's concrete cavern."

"Oh, indeed", said Nerdanel. She wandered about the room, looking at the horse-brasses and pictures on the wall, and testing out the chairs by bouncing in them; the cushions were a curious mixture of soft and lumpy, and the material was chill from disuse. She opened the door at the end of the room and examined what lay beyond; two beds stood in a bare, whitewashed room, its window even more occluded by the bank and a distinctly damp feel to its air.

She turned back to Galadriel and made a face. "I do not think much of the bedroom", she said, "but I suppose that it will serve."

"I do not think much of that bedroom either", said Galadriel, "but those upstairs are more pleasant."

"Upstairs?" said Nerdanel, looking round. "Oh, I see..." She crossed to the other side of the window, unlatched a thin, rattling door and made her way up the steep, creaky stairs beyond.

Indeed this part of the house was much more light and airy, the sensation of being underground totally absent. A large window, this time above the level of the bank outside, illuminated the staircase and the roughly-plastered, whitewashed walls of the small landing at the top. The smell was distinctly different, too; less musty and creosotey, but much more homely and comforting, and Nerdanel immediately began to feel more kindly towards the place. She opened the door that stood directly in front of her as she reached the top of the stairs, and raised her eyebrows as she looked inside and caught her first sight of Tellurian bathroom fittings, their shapes most peculiar to Elvish eyes but their function still apparent. To her right a door stood open, and walking through it she found another bedroom, with three steps at the far end leading to yet a third; both were still a little chill and utilitarian, but well lit and not musty, and certainly a great improvement over the one she had found downstairs. She turned round and walked back along the little landing to the door at the other end; a very hobbit-like door, its lintel set very low and the great thickness of the wall in which it was set giving it the feel of a door in a tunnel. Stooping to pass through it, she found herself in a fourth bedroom, this one warm and welcoming, and lit by two windows, one small one almost like a porthole set low in the wall at the head of one of the beds, the other a large one affording a view over the garden and the hills beyond, with a small dressing table in front of it. The thin floor creaked as she crossed the room to look at the view, and through it she could hear Galadriel doing something in the room below. She regarded the purples and browns of the ridge opposite, her face bathed in the warm glow of the sun as it sank towards the horizon.

Returning down the stairs, she turned to the left and saw through a doorway the light of another large window giving a somewhat lower aspect of the same view. As she ducked under the lintel she felt the warmth of a large enamelled cast-iron stove on her right, on which Galadriel had set a kettle to boil. Beyond it was a plain white pottery tub sink in front of a small window, from the left of which cupboards and worktops ran round the walls to the main window. Under this stood a formica-topped wooden table surrounded by an assortment of more or less rickety chairs, some of wood, some of metal tubing with plastic moulded seats. Galadriel emerged from a door on the left, bearing a joint of cold beef and an apple pie in a glass dish, which she set on the table. The ceiling was somewhat higher in this room and as long as she stood with her head between the beams she did not have to stoop.

"The land is quite beautiful, indeed", said Nerdanel to her as she disappeared briefly into the pantry again, to return with bread, butter and milk. "And I could grow to like this house, strange though it be, were it a little less chilly."

"It is", said Galadriel. "And it will become much cosier once we have lit a good fire, do not worry. With this place and birdie's place we have our own little bit of Arda on Tellus."

Nerdanel fingered the turd-coloured plastic of one of the chairs and looked at Galadriel dubiously.

"Figuratively, that is", said Galadriel. The kettle started to whistle and she crossed over to it to make the tea. "It is ours, and it is equally inaccessible to Tellurians. Indeed, more so, for it is proof against the likes of Jacksoff, and that compensates for a great deal by way of poor quality materials."

"Oh, quite", said Nerdanel. She sat in the chair and jiggled herself backwards and forwards by squeezing the sides with her elbows to distort the backrest. "If anyone is to squash this place it will be us."

"You are not obliged to sit in that chair", Galadriel pointed out. "There are wooden ones as well, and they are considerably sturdier."

"So I see", said Nerdanel. She reached for the joint and the loaf and cut herself a sandwich. "But it would be a shame to deprive myself of the opportunity to grumble at something." She grinned, and indicated that as far as she was concerned that was that by taking a huge bite of her sandwich and chewing it with a face like a hamster, looking at Galadriel with bright eyes.

Galadriel rolled her eyes. "You are hopeless", she sighed with a smile in her eyes. She stirred the tea and poured two cups, pushing one across to Nerdanel. "Have a cup of tea."

"Ngk ngm", acknowledged Nerdanel.

"Can't take her anywhere, is it", said the pigeon to Galadriel, and stuck her beak in Galadriel's ear.

"You can talk", retorted Galadriel, cutting a sandwich herself and taking a more normal-sized bite from it.

"I can. I'm a flyin', talkin', shitein', walkin', nuclear pigeon", mumbled the bird into Galadriel's ear canal.

Nerdanel finished her comedy mouthful and leaned back in the chair. One of the screws securing the seat to the frame was missing; she muttered under her breath as the plastic twisted sideways and threatened to dump her on the floor. "So", she said, twisting to place her weight on the more secure side of the chair. "Aside from falling out of chairs, what is it exactly that we are doing here?"

"Surviving", smiled Galadriel. "In a metaphorical sense, not falling out of chairs. We have had a very narrow escape, my dear."

"So I gather", said Nerdanel. "But from what? Do not tease me, Galadriel. I trust your perception, but that is not to say that I am content to simply tag along without receiving any explanation. There has been calamity enough of late, after all. If now we have yet worse evils to deal with, I would like to know what they are."

Galadriel sighed. "So would I", she said. "But beyond the mere existence of the peril I can as yet discern little. One thing, however, is sure: it is something not of our world, but of this. If we are to find out more, then at least we are in the right place to do it." She took another bite of her sandwich. "And we have also escaped any need for either worry or haste. As of the moment of our arrival here, the future of Arda is assured, no matter what may come between now and our return."

"Indeed, I had noticed your sudden unconcern", said Nerdanel. "Though if anything I now understand it less than I did before. How can you be so sure of the outcome, if you do not even know what is going on?"

"By reason of the logical constraints on our situation", Galadriel replied. "While the evil persists, our way is shut. We cannot return to Arda until it has been defeated; we can only return to the Arda which has been freed. But when we do return, we are obliged to return in the same instant that we left. However much time passes for us here, we will find on our return that on Arda no time has passed at all; the mechanics of our travel between the two worlds make it so. So you see, from the frame of reference of Arda, the problem has already been solved, and for ourselves, there is accordingly no haste to solve it; we have plenty of time, all the time in the world."

"That is assuming that it can be solved at all, though", Nerdanel pointed out. "Which is surely uncertain if we do not even know what it is yet."

"We know enough that it surely is certain", said Galadriel, her grey eyes as cold as steel. "It is only the people of this world that have done it. The details are not relevant. They do not have to be. Recall what you felt in our shelter, just before we left..."

Nerdanel did so; the strange sensation of the events of her life compressed into a few moments of awareness, and repeating, like the infinite tunnel of images between two mirrors, repeating, rolling round again in endless rumbling repetition, repeating, repeating...

"...Imagine that not as a thought or memory, but as the whole of your mind; there is nothing else... Imagine the same fate befalling everyone on Arda. Not even the Valar themselves can escape. And so it remains, for all eternity... by comparison, the destruction of the world would be a mere finite evil, and insignificant."

Nerdanel looked at Galadriel, her expression gradually twisting as the appalled comprehension dawned.

Galadriel reached out and gently took Nerdanel's hand where it rested on the table. "I will not let it happen", she whispered, so quietly that Nerdanel could barely hear. "Arda has evils of its own aplenty, against which I may do little, however painful it may be; it must defend itself, as best it may. But against evils from another world, outside-context problems against which our world has no proper defence - there, the case is different."

She sat back and smiled, her face warm in the last rays of the setting sun as they shone through the window, her eyes once more alight with their accustomed glow of life. "Having said all that, I have a strong preference for elegance over brute force", she said with a bright smile. "Those few who are directly responsible may have some regrets before we are done, but I think we will be unlucky indeed if those who are not to blame suffer any consequences. If anything, it is more likely that they will find some amusement in it. Certainly that is what I intend to try for."

Nerdanel gave a theatrical shiver. "I am extremely glad to hear it", she said. "What have I got myself in to?"

"Interplanetary warfare for fun and profit", said Galadriel. "And you have the luck to be in at the very beginning. A truly unique opportunity. Who knows where you will end up?"

"Mad, I shouldn't wonder", said Nerdanel with a shake of her head. She looked at the pigeon still sitting on Galadriel's shoulder. "Or befeathered and cooing, perhaps. Which would not be much different."

"Yaas", said the pigeon. "You should try it before you knock it. Just don't go turning me into an elf while you're at it. I like my wings."

"I like my hands", said Nerdanel. "I am sure I would enjoy flying, but all the same I think I would prefer to stay as I am, thank you."

"You would be a bit heavy to sit on my shoulder, that is for sure", said Galadriel. She pushed back her chair and got to her feet, yawning. "Anyway, I am going to bed. Tomorrow is a great big fish."

Nerdanel remained for a while, sipping her tea and looking out of the window as the red glow faded from the sky and night fell over the strange world. Left to herself, she felt alone, adrift, like a dandelion seed torn suddenly from its stalk by the wind and lofted unexpectedly into the air to wander the high and empty sky. Was all this just a dream, or was the dream the life on Arda that she seemed to have left behind? She could hear the thin floorboards creaking as Galadriel moved about upstairs. Who was she? Grand-daughter of Finwë, half-niece to Fëanor... certainly the house of Finwë shared some very characteristic traits. But Fëanor had worn the fire of his spirit openly upon his sleeve, like a raging conflagration, impulsive, reckless, yet unknowingly vulnerable in his arrogance; and now he was... lost... Now Nerdanel could perceive that Galadriel's spirit was more terrible by far; not the wild but ultimately tenuous heat of chemical combustion, but the unbearable compressed intensity of nuclear fusion, a focus of energy of incredible density constrained only by the even more unbelievable power of the immovable will that controlled it. Galadriel was dangerous. But she, at least, even if Nerdanel did not, knew exactly who she was and knew her peril. She knew, too, what had befallen Fëanor - it seemed, indeed, that she knew and understood better and in greater detail than Nerdanel did herself. Like her father Finarfin she had inherited the inner calm and the limpid clarity of perceptiveness of Indis; those same characteristics by which Nerdanel had found in Indis refuge and respite from Fëanor's growing madness became in Galadriel her own innate anchor and balance. Galadriel, it was evident, knew herself too well to allow herself any real weakness in her self-control. It was equally evident that to anyone who angered her enough for her to reveal any glimpse of what was underneath she would appear just about as safe to play with as a hundred kilograms of dry nitrogen iodide. The somewhat confused reports that Nerdanel had heard of the events at Alqualondë made a good deal more sense to her now...

Nerdanel shook her head. Whatever else she may be, she thought to herself, she is also, however unexpectedly, the best friend I am ever likely to know. And all I ever lived for is gone, for ever. I could really do far worse than to follow this path and see where it goes... She stood up, and with a hint of a sad and gentle smile on her face, followed Galadriel up the stairs.

They stood in bright sunlight and a gentle breeze, a couple of miles from the cottage on the top of a broad, rolling hill. Long, coarse grass and purple heather stretched away from them on all sides, extending along the ridge of the hill to east and west. To the south the land gradually fell away and became a broad, fertile plain, patchworked with fields, and eventually rising again in the far distance as it disappeared into the haze. To the north, a series of parallel valleys, carved by small, chattering streams, separated the fingers of rounded ridges that led off from the main hill and gradually dissolved into farmland as they lost altitude; further away, the land came to an abrupt stop and was replaced with a broad expanse of water, a long, wide inlet with another coast hazily visible on the other side. The eyes of the Elves could see the movement of human activity here and there in the distant farmed areas, but up on the top there was no human for miles, and the only sound was the wind in the grass and the twittering of a climbing lark.

"Show off", muttered the pigeon from Galadriel's shoulder at the twittering speck. Galadriel snorted.

Nerdanel looked around appreciatively, taking deep breaths of the clean air with its faint smells of moorland and sheep. "For a strange world, this is lovely", she said. She undid her braid and lifted her hair with her hands, letting the breeze blow through it. "Why don't you live here, birdie, instead of in that cavern place?"

"It may be lovely now", said the pigeon, "but it can get horribly grim in winter and bad weather. Anyway, different species, different sensibilities. I am by ancestry a creature of rock and cave, so the cavern place naturally fits my idea of what a home should be like pretty closely."

"Winter?" inquired Nerdanel.

"A regulary-recurring period of storms, cold and snow", explained Galadriel. "Imagine the whole of the land becoming like the far north of Aman for a while. It is still beautiful up here, but it is a grim and fierce beauty, and you would not want to live in it without a snug house and a good fire."

"Indeed I would not", said Nerdanel, shivering as she imagined it. "I am most glad that that does not happen in Arda."

"It will do", said Galadriel sadly. "At least in Middle-earth; the Valar will keep it from Aman, I think. But this world leaks into Arda, and Arda becomes more and more like it as the ages pass. Arda even has a path to become this world... or did... though it will not take it now."

"The doing of Morgoth, no doubt", said Nerdanel, sitting down next to Galadriel. "The tales tell of him doing such things before the Elves awoke... though I thought he no longer had the power now. I suppose he is to regain it."

"No", said Galadriel. "It is not Morgoth. He has not the power. And he does not know. You know that some tales say that even the Valar do not know what is to happen in the end. It is true, and if Morgoth did know, he would devote all his power to fighting to prevent it. Though not he and all the Valar combined could succeed. Arda does not become this world, nor is it made anew and unmarred, nor does it even continue. Arda dies, Nerdanel; it is simply gone altogether, and Morgoth with it. He dies with Arda. Nothing is left of him in the end."

"That I have long suspected", said Nerdanel in a matter-of-fact tone. "So it is this world that destroys it, I suppose. How long do we have left?"

Instead of answering, Galadriel reached out and took Nerdanel in a fierce hug. "Oh, Nerdanel", she said. "Thank Eru I found you. There is not another Elf in Arda who would take that so calmly, and without disbelieving me, either. There is such a chasm between me and other Elves. You make me feel... so much less alone. And even more does it gladden my heart to see that you truly are fully yourself again, with all your bounce and insouicance. Cocking a snook at the end of the world... that is a breath of fresh air, Nerdanel; you are really quite amazing."

"I know", said Nerdanel, giving Galadriel's braid a playful tug. "And you should not be surprised, since it was you who chased away my darkness." She kissed Galadriel lightly on the forehead. "So how long do we have left?"

"Something over eight thousand years", said Galadriel. "Eight thousand years of slow but steady decline for Middle-earth, though I think in Aman you will see little of that until the end is nearly upon us. Long enough for many to grow weary, though some will not."

"Oh, I shall see it too", said Nerdanel. "I do not intend to stay in Aman. I shall depart for Middle-earth myself, see it decline, and hope to endure the weariness."

"I thought you were determined to remain", said Galadriel. "I hope it is not I who has swayed you to change your mind."

"Of course it is, you idiot", retorted Nerdanel, sticking her tongue out. "Why should I sit in Aman and mope, waiting endlessly for a healing that it cannot give, when you have given me that already? There is nothing left there for me now. In Aman all my hopes have gone awry, all that I could have gained instead I have lost. All that remains is a mass of stupid people who vilify me for evils in which I had no part and which I would have prevented if I could. I shall leave them behind, and go to Middle-earth where I have no past and no entanglements, but may have at least some faint hope of seeing my sons again, if only for a little while. That is all I ask, and even if it does not come to pass, still will I be in more congenial company than that of hidebound, ignorant fools who think only to take me as scapegoat for the faults of another." She looked at Galadriel as if daring her to dispute.

Galadriel sighed, and shook her head. "No, I will not argue", she said. "It is something of a waste of breath where you are concerned." They both laughed. "I shall simply be grateful, that I too am guaranteed congenial company in Middle-earth." And she kissed Nerdanel in her turn.

"There, that was easy, was it not?" smiled Nerdanel, and leaned her head against Galadriel's shoulder. "So. If we have eight thousand years remaining to us, it cannot be the end of Arda that we have run from now. What is it, this jacksoff thing? What is that? What has it done?"

"That is at the end of a long tale", said Galadriel. "I must tell you the full tale if I am to answer, though I suspect there are some elements of which you have some idea already."

"I am sure that it must be something from the madnesses of this world, indeed", said Nerdanel. "But I know not what, and it is futile to try to guess what actions insanity may inspire. I am listening."

"That is the root, stem and branch of it", agreed Galadriel. "And the deepest root is, I think, the attitude of this world to seers, prophets and others with long sight. As is the way of this world, it is completely upside down. It is a great world for false prophets; there are many of them indeed, and they win fame and adulation in large measure, since the mad people of this world convince themselves that the false prophecies are marvellous revelations in despite of them never being fulfilled. But for those rare people who are true seers, it is a world of great hostility. They are vilified, ridiculed, and told that they are mad, to such an extent that they come to believe themselves that they are mad. And this attitude is so pervasive that many will even assume it without being told; one who begins to see true visions will call them, and truly believe them to be, nothing more than meaningless dreams, for to admit the visions to be true would be, in their minds, to believe themselves mad."

Nerdanel put her hands to her head and grimaced in a theatrical mime of "my head hurts".

"Such was the fate of one of their notably great seers, a man named Tolkien", continued Galadriel. "He saw many, many visions, but he could not believe they were true; he thought only that they were no more than fantasies, else he would have had to believe himself mad. But true they were, at least in large part, though not entirely so, for he did not see with full clarity; often he was unsure of what he had seen, and often too he had the same vision on different occasions but saw it differently each time. Sometimes, also, he would mix and confuse them with old tales of this world, for believing them fantasies he saw no harm in such confusion. And some elements he could not see at all, but knew only what he could infer from parts of other visions - those elements, that is, which concern me, and of which I blocked his sight." She flashed a grin.

"Oh!" exclaimed Nerdanel. "Indeed I do know some of this. That supposed prophecy of Mandos, which he denies making - the tale of the Dagor Dagorath, which is known only to a few, though I am sure you are one of those few. And does it not make you think there are parts missing, concerning things which do not exist? There should be a huge and terrible wolf, and an enormous snake, and a bridge made of rainbows, and giants of ice, and other things of like kind, but they are not there; there are only the holes in the tale where they should be. That tale I have always thought false, and wondered how it could come to be in Arda. It is one of this Tolkien's visions, is it not? Something of our world which he mixed with tales of this world until there is little more of Arda left than some names of the great?"

"That is it exactly", said Galadriel. "It is a tale of the end of this world, as told by those who dwell far in the north, with some parts filled by the great of Arda and some parts left empty. You will find the same tale in books of this world, but with the parts filled by their true players, and in place of the empty parts there are indeed a wolf and a snake and other such beings. Ragnarok is the true name of the tale."

"That is quite remarkable, and also extremely strange", said Nerdanel. "How did it appear on Arda at all? Tolkien saw visions of our world, yes, but what was the back channel?"

"This whole world", said Galadriel with a grimace. "It is more populous by far than Arda; there are several billion people on it. Tolkien, thinking his visions unreal, saw no reason not to write them down; and tens of millions of people have read his books. For every person on Arda who can know things as they really are, there are several people on Tellus who believe the truth to be exactly as Tolkien recorded it - even though, being unsure of what he saw, he recorded several different versions which often contradict each other. It matters not that the Tellurians believe no more than Tolkien did that Arda really exists; it is enough that they believe that it could only exist in the form they know of it, and that there are so many more of them than there are of us of Arda who know it as it really is."

Nerdanel frowned, considering. "I understand, I think", she said, "and it is not good. But I cannot make all the threads meet. There is a missing length, which is something to do with time, I think; time, and you, if I read matters aright."

"You do", replied Galadriel with a small smile. "Time on Arda and time on Tellus do not correspond, it seems, in any way that makes sense. I first discovered these matters when I had not long learned to walk, yet by then Tolkien was already many years dead and his writings known to all Tellus. Any chance to influence or correct him directly was long past. All that was left to me was to hide myself from what he might see of my life, so that what he did write of me would create much confusion in the minds of the Tellurians and keep them too weak to affect me. Beyond that there is little I can do, and next to nothing of any use. And of course I could never do anything whatever about what he saw that passed before I was born; or before Arda was born..." She trailed off to respond to the increasing pressure of the grip that Nerdanel had put about her with an embrace of her own. "You have joined the threads, I see", she whispered.

"I have", said Nerdanel equally quietly. "He wrote of the Music. His account was coherent, but it was wrong. And it is well known to the Tellurians. Arda was broken before it was made."

"Yes. You are right", said Galadriel.

"Then let me take it further", Nerdanel carried on. "He wrote that the Music... ended suddenly, in silence... he was vague as to what more was to be. And so Arda itself ends suddenly in silence... But now something more, something worse, has happened, and joined the end to the beginning so that all life on Arda goes round and round endlessly in meaningless circles. That is what you call jacksoff... it... strangles Tolkien? That is how it feels. But beyond that, all is mist and cobwebs."

"Well indeed are you named Nerdanel the Wise", said Galadriel.

"For all the good it does me", said Nerdanel. "So what, now that we have come to it, is jacksoff?"

"You have most of it with it strangles Tolkien", said Galadriel. "Tolkien's only fault was that he did not believe his visions to be true, and really that is a fault more of this entire world than of his own; he intended no harm, and would have kept his work to himself had he had any idea of its consequences. For he loved Arda too, in his own way. Jacksoff is of a different kind entirely, a fat toad motivated by greed for... it does not exist on Arda; on Tellus they call it "money", and it is one of the greatest of Tellurian insanities, the cause of numberless evils. The greed for it is akin to jewel-lust, but of immensely greater potency and potential for evil consequence. Jacksoff takes the works of Tolkien and makes of them a distorted travesty, which he publishes for the money it brings him. And what is worse, he publishes them as moving pictures, not as books. Tellurians are by and large too lazy to read books in this time, but they love moving pictures, which ask of them no more than that they sit and drool while the pictures move." She illustrated this last by making the face of a slack-jawed idiot. "Consequently there are more Tellurians now who came to know of Arda from Jacksoff than from Tolkien; and indeed of these many do not know Tolkien at all, but think Jacksoff to be the originator, in all his egregious wrongness - which of course they do not perceive. And Jacksoff cares not one whit for the consequences. If he were told that he is destroying our world he would laugh and say that is of no moment if it brings him money. That is how Tellurians are - there are many who would have destroyed Tellus itself for money, had not those Tellurians who would not share in the money combined against them."

"Your advice to refrain from trying to understand Tellus is sound indeed", said Nerdanel. "Such diseased insanity is beyond contemplation... It is obvious that there is great power for evil in such a situation, but not so, I think, why it has caused the particular evil that it has. Do these moving pictures also have their end joined to their beginning?"

"No, it is not that", said Galadriel. "The reality of Arda is fragile indeed, for it derives its strength from its foundation in the Music, and that now is built not on rock, as should have been, but on less than sand. It resists the corrupting influences that arise from false tales told by Tellurians, pushing back against the pressure they exert, but it has nothing against which to brace itself for the push beside its own entity. Against most corruptions that can still suffice, for they are feeble indeed; they gain no entry, but become instead a fake reality such as that by which we escaped. But the corruptions of Jacksoff are known to so many Tellurians that their potency is immense. As yet that has been of little consequence, for he wove them around matters of which Tolkien wrote both clearly and for the main part accurately, and so the counter-pressure to resist them has itself come largely from Tellus; that which remained to affect Arda has been small enough to reject. But now it appears that he has turned his attention to other matters - which, I do not know - where there is no such counter-pressure, and so it has assaulted Arda with its full force. The only way Arda can muster the strength to resist is to collapse in on itself, to be compressed to the point where it can be compressed no more, and so concentrate its force and brace itself by the impossibility of further compression. The joining of ends to beginnings is a consequence of the need to maximise density in order to achieve incompressibility. The result is utterly disastrous, but it is the only alternative to complete destruction."

A distant boom sounded across the landscape. The two Elves turned their heads toward the source of the sound, and beheld Galadriel's pigeon performing victory loops around a cloud of distinctly unpleasant-looking debris.

"Vicious little sod", said Galadriel, shaking her head and laughing.

"What is she doing?" inquired Nerdanel.

"Baiting hawks", Galadriel replied. "She likes to turn the tables, as it were. She flies around until a hawk sees her and attacks, then just at the point where it thinks it nearly has her in its claws, she makes it explode. She hits it with a beam of radiation of a power to heat its bodily fluids to boiling point within milliseconds, and the result is as we see."

"But surely the generation of such a beam leaves her with an even greater thermal load", mused Nerdanel. "How is it that she does not explode herself?"

"That is something of a mystery", admitted Galadriel. "She has adequate heatsinking, but she does not know herself how it works. We think she consumes what she can in endothermic nuclear reactions and dumps the low-grade energy to some extradimensional thermal mass, but it is little more than guesswork."

"It is a pity she did not think to try her strength against giant spiders", remarked Nerdanel.

Galadriel looked at the ground. "She did think of that", she said. "But she did not do it, because she knew that I would not allow her to."

"...I am sorry", said Nerdanel after a pause. "I should understand. No more can you allow her to do such things than can you do them yourself, for that would be a pressure on the reality of Arda from the inside, and we would end up like the hawk. I should not have mentioned it; the ground here is softer than that of the garden in Tirion, and were you to punch it your arm might go so deep that you would never get it out."

"Exactly so", laughed Galadriel. "And all the more since that is an event of which Tolkien wrote clearly and for the most part consistently, creating something of the nature of a point anchorage. There is a stress concentration effect, and it would take very little deviation to stress reality enough to initiate a rupture. It seems that the great evils are the parts which he saw most clearly, for it is that way with nearly all the most unhappy events. It is all the more frustrating that the times which I most desire to change are precisely those where I am least free to act."

She smiled at Nerdanel, and jestingly punched the ground; raised her eyebrows, then brought out her arm with something held between thumb and forefinger. "Well, well", she said, looking at it. "Insanity surrounds us inescapably both in space and in time."

She showed Nerdanel a corroded, misshapen metal disc, crusted with muck. "That is money", she said. "Or at least, one form of it. It has probably been in the ground for a thousand years or two."

Nerdanel examined the dirty object. "And Tellurians would destroy a world for this?" she said. "They must be mad indeed."

"For that, or for even less than that", said Galadriel. "In this day, even more than the pieces of metal, they concern themselves with matters of pure imagination. They tell each other tales about the exchange of pieces of metal which do not actually exist for food and materials which also do not exist. At times they have starved in millions because they attach more importance to these mad tales than to eating the food which does exist. They call this "economics"; it is senseless beyond all belief, and I would advise you to not even think about it unless you wish to end up as mad as them."

"I am amazed they still survive at all", said Nerdanel, and shook her head. Picking a sharp stone from the debris that had emerged along with the coin, she scraped at the encrusted muck. "There seems to be a figure on it", she muttered, and scraped some more.

"It will be some ancient ruler", said Galadriel. "There is always a picture of a ruler on them. It symbolises control of the ruler over the people through their fixation with money. Emperor Maximus the Mad. Although violent insanity seems to be quite normal for Tellurian rulers in all sorts of ways quite unconnected with money, even more than it is for their subjects."

Nerdanel bent over the coin, scratching and poking at the soft metal with the point of the stone, then handed it back to Galadriel. The head of the Roman emperor was now as clear and well-defined as the day it had been minted. Dribble ran down his chin from the tongue hanging from his mouth, his googly eye was so realistic it almost seemed to be rolling in its socket, and the laurel leaves round his head carried a remarkably strong suggestion of male undergarments.

Galadriel gave a shout of laughter. "That is excellent. I shall bury it again... but less deeply than before. Some Tellurian will dig it up before too long, and the confusion that results will be most entertaining." She thrust the mad emperor a few inches beneath the surface of the earth and wiped her hand clean on the grass.

"If you had feathers, you too would be blowing up hawks, I see", observed Nerdanel.

"I, blow up hawks? Whatever gives you that idea?" said Galadriel in a tone of exaggerated innocence.

"But not by means of radiation. You would just fly round and round them in tight, rapid circles until they exploded with the effort of trying to spin their heads to follow you."

"You follow me", smiled Galadriel. "Indeed you get ahead of me much of the time. It is so refreshing to be with someone who has a brain and knows how to use it."

"And look where it gets me", said Nerdanel. "Stuck on a world which is apparently insane beyond imagining, with a pigeon who blows up hawks and a woman who would blow up the whole world if it suited her, who ought to be the most frightening person I have ever met, but somehow manages to be quite the reverse. Who are you? Really?"

"I am Galadriel."

"Yes, but..."

"You mean, why am I as I am? I do not know myself. Perhaps it is from my mother drinking the dews of the Trees while she was carrying me. Perhaps it is that Arda itself saw that it was threatened by dangers beyond the ability of the Valar even to perceive, let alone to counter, and decided to make of one of its children one who would be able to counter them. Perhaps it is no more than a random chance, as it is for birdie to have a physiology capable of controlling nuclear reactions." Galadriel shrugged. "I cannot tell. What is is what is."

"Perhaps you and birdie were intended as companions for each other", suggested Nerdanel, looking up at the pigeon who was flying wide orbits about their location in the hope of attracting another hawk. "Come to that, perhaps you and I were. I feel an ease and naturalness in your company that is of a different kind from anything I have felt in the company of anyone other; it is more profound, and more complete."

"Perhaps there is truth in both your suggestions", said Galadriel softly. She took Nerdanel's hand in her own and ran the fingers of her other hand gently over the almost invisibly fine hairs of the other Elf's arm. "I feel the same way around you, and that is something that I had thought impossible. You are not exactly of the usual run of Elves yourself, my dear, as I am sure you very well know."

"Oh you noh", said Nerdanel, then stopped and raised her head, listening. "I hear footsteps", she said.

A trod ran past at some distance from the spot where they were sitting; its line was not visible from their current position - though Galadriel, at least, had noted it before they sat down - but the sound of footsteps tramping along it, still some distance off, was now clearly audible. Presently a man ascended into view over the brow of the slope, his body seeming to rise from the heather in a series of jerks as he walked. A rough, unfinished length of a fallen branch in one hand served him for a walking stick, and a black and white collie trotted at his heels. Nerdanel regarded him critically.

"He is very noisy", she said. "I can hear his legs bullying their way through the air with every stride."

"No Tellurian can approach undetected, no matter how hard they try", said Galadriel.

Slowly the man drew nearer, then passed them, raising his stick in salute as he did so, and continued on along the broad ridge.

Then he faltered, slowed, stood for a few seconds with one hand to his head, and turned slowly to face the two Elves.

"Galadriel?" he said in a tone of utter astonishment.

Galadriel smiled. "I am", she said in English. "And do you perchance recognise my friend also?"

"...Nerdanel?" said the man after a pause, in the same astonished voice.

Nerdanel smiled too, and raised a hand.

The dog ran over to greet the two strange people, and bounded playfully around them, paying particular attention to Nerdanel; to canine nostrils a faint trace of the scent of the great hound Huan was detectable about her, and to the canine brain this was most fascinating.

"Ladies, this is... an honour beyond imagining..." stammered the man. "Er... Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo... I think..." He took off his hat and bowed deeply.

"Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo", laughed Galadriel, pronouncing it correctly. "Well quoted. Though in truth it is not that common a greeting, except perhaps from Hobbits."

"This Tolkien must have described us well", said Nerdanel, running her hand over the dog's shaggy head. But the man of course understood only the word "Tolkien". He raised his eyebrows and shook his head helplessly. Galadriel translated.

"Actually... he described you rather badly, Lady Nerdanel... he was not big on describing people's appearances, for the most part", the man said. "But he was right at least that the colour of your hair is unique. He just failed to convey how beautiful the colour is..."

"You are most kind", replied Nerdanel, with Galadriel still acting as interpreter. She tossed her head so that her tresses caught the sunlight.

"And you, Lady Galadriel... I think... you were more than he could understand..." He hesitated, but reassured by Galadriel's broad smile, he decided to carry on. "Reading between the lines... it's... the way he writes, there are, like, hints... wee clues... he writes of you as a very great lady but if you read it carefully you are vastly greater than what he said but it was too much for him to get his head round it", he said in a rush. "To actually see you... it... shows. You could not possibly be anyone else..." He looked at Galadriel with a face like a puppy unsure of the possible reception it may get for what it is doing but determined to do it anyway. "You were not really tempted, were you? Not like that... you were just... teasing him, sort of... that is what he should have expected to happen given what he had been told, and you were teasing him that that's what he wanted to happen, giving it to you, although you knew he didn't really and he just wasn't thinking all that clearly", he said obscurely.

It was not the work of an instant for Galadriel to untangle this mess of pronoun confusion and opaque references to events that yet lay thousands of years in her personal future, as well as being presented from a viewpoint not her own, but any pause it gave her was imperceptible. "So there are some at least on this world who have sight", she said, looking hard at the man. "It was a great relief to you to be able to say that to me, was it not? It is apparent from your manner that you have long struggled to hold to that view in the face of disagreement from your fellow-creatures. Perhaps now you will find it less of a struggle", she finished with a smile.

The man went red to his ears and looked at the ground. "Thank you so much, my Lady", he mumbled. "I hope I wasn't too out of order."

"Not at all", she reassured him. "Out of order would refer rather to those who would not accept me because I do not look like Cate Blanchett."

At this the man gave a burst of laughter. "And insist that the Lady Nerdanel had to be Tauriel, too", he said. "No, I'd have been thoroughly confused if you did look like her. I'd have thought something had gone horribly wrong."

"Tauriel?" said Galadriel sharply. "That name does not occur in Tolkien's works, and it is one that few Elves would think to use."

"No, it's that fat sheepshagger... excuse me, my Lady..." said the man, going red again as he realised his unconscious use of bad language.

Galadriel gave an amused snort. "I think we are about to learn something", she said to Nerdanel. "What has he done now?" she asked the man.

The man was somewhat surprised at the question, but his reply was unhesitating. "The Hobbit. He's stretched out one wee short book into three great long films and filled in all the extra time with stupid rubbish he's made up..." He trailed off at the sight of the storm clouds rapidly gathering in Galadriel's eyes.

"Do not be afraid", Galadriel told him. "What can you tell us of this stupid rubbish?"

"Not much, I'm afraid, my Lady", he admitted. "I've deliberately not watched it myself. I know it'd just make me mad from what people have said on the internet... it's known in some circles as a bad fanfic that's only made it to the screen because Jackson has money. Tauriel is a red-haired Mirkwood Elf who falls in love with a Dwarf or something that he made up to appeal to the Mary-Sue-writers market. You are in it, Lady, being in Rivendell when you weren't, I think, and doing things you didn't do... and there are a bunch of other things that didn't happen..." He shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry I'm not more help. Once my mind has concluded that something is rubbish it tends to automatically wipe out the information that led to that conclusion. Sort of automatic overload protection thing. I never thought I'd ever need to... keep it on line, like. The one useful thing about the situation is that Tolkien's son thinks it's monstrous so it'll be a hot day on Pluto before Fatson gets his hands on the Silmarillion."

"Oh, but you have been most helpful indeed", said Galadriel. "It is quite possible that I too need know no more than that." Taking Nerdanel's hand, she drew her to her feet and gave her a rapid summary of the conversation.

Nerdanel turned towards the man. "It seems that the stars do indeed shine", she informed him through Galadriel. "I do not suppose that you will ever meet this Jacksoff yourself. But if you do, you may tell him that three of my sons would be most pleased to have a word with him on the subject of red-haired Elves."

Now it was the man's turn to take on a disturbing expression as he contemplated the possible results of such a "word". "If I do get the chance, my Lady, I will do so with the greatest of pleasure", he said. Sensing that the interview was nearly over, he began to rummage in his pockets in search of a pen and paper. "I offer you my service, Ladies", he said. "Though I don't suppose it's of any use to you... but, you know, if you know something I don't or something..."

"I thank you", smiled Galadriel. "Possibly you are right. But should it prove otherwise I shall know where to find you. Do not worry about writing anything down; I do not need that. Fare well, and may your mind continue to resist the falsehoods which assail it."

"I thank you too", said the man. "Fare well, Ladies. To meet you has been an honour and a pleasure beyond anything I'd imagined." He bowed once more, then turned back to face along the trod. He slapped his leg a couple of times in summons to the dog and resumed his walk.

But when he looked back a few seconds later to wave a final goodbye, the two Elves were gone. He saw nothing but the moorland, broken only by a streak of grey as a bird careered out of the sky and vanished into the heather.

Oft may chance meetings prove to be of unexpected value. Certainly we could have discovered these matters for ourselves... but it is much more pleasant, as well as useful in itself, to be given a summary of the important aspects as they appear to that creature rare indeed - a Tellurian with a functioning brain... even if he was a little incoherent. It was heartening to be reminded that there are a few Tellurians who are not entirely mad. - Galadriel x

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