Chapter 18: Mirror Mirror
There really should be a tax imposed on needlessly flashy entrances in Middle Earth — that along with mysteriously uninformative greetings. They could have solved world poverty and hunger overnight.
I stood there in the entrance to the glade, frozen solid as any of the statues dotting the garden, looking vacantly between the mirror podium, the silver jug, and the Lady of the Wood. She still had her hand extended to me in a beckoning gesture. She was smiling that warm but frustrating smile, as if she was amused by some unspoken joke that I wasn’t in on.
“How do you fare now, child?” she asked, letting her hand drop to her side.
I blinked, shaking myself out of my daze and managing to unstick myself from the grass. I was really starting to get tired of people asking me that.
“Better,” I replied instantly, moving towards where she sat. “Fit as a fiddle, even.”
Galadriel watched me closely and the weight of her gaze was something heavy and almost tangible, like standing in the path of a strong but warm breeze. Her expression shifted from curious to faintly concerned as she looked at me.
“Something has caused you worry since we spoke this morning.”
It wasn’t a question, just a statement of what she was obviously seeing. I should have known she’d immediately notice the conflict in my face; perceptive, all-knowing elf lady and all that. I bit my lip, thoughts of the conversation I’d had with the Fellowship earlier returning. I looked sideways down at the grass.
“It’s… it’s nothing. Nothing I can deal with right now anyway,” I answered quietly, wishing that I could hide the hurt still lingering in my voice. I swallowed hard, forcing down the knot out of my throat and returning my gaze firmly back to her again. “You said you were going to answer my questions.”
“I did,” she confirmed, taking a seat and gesturing for me to come and sit beside her on the bench. “I shall answer as many as you have, to the best of my abilities.”
“Well, I’ve got plenty of those,” I smiled back politely, though it felt forced. “So I guess I’ll try and boil them down to the really good ones.”
“I’m sure you will,” she nodded with an amused look. I perched on the cool polished stone next to her, my hands resting in my lap as she continued to watch me with those kind but unnervingly sharp eyes. “What would you ask of me first, child?”
I just sat there for a minute, chewing my lip, and my fingers nervously fiddling with the intricate lace of my dress while I thought. For all the torrents of questions I’d had leading up to this point, now that I was faced with the possibility of real answers, my mind had gone totally blank. So much had happened since I’d been here. Where exactly was I supposed to start?
“First I suppose I should ask,” I began hesitantly, “How much do you really know about me?”
Galadriel paused for a moment to consider the question, her eyes skimming over my features in what I assumed was consideration of how best to answer.
“Enough to know that until two years past, you knew yourself only as Eleanor Lucy Dace, and a human of a merely twenty-two years.”
I supposed I should have been surprised by that, but honestly by this point in the day, I wasn’t sure if much could shock me anymore. The novelty of having a native Middle-Earthling casually drop my human name mid-conversation had kind of worn off when Gandalf did it.
I nodded slowly, still chewing anxiously on my lower lip.
“Then you really know about me? Before I ended up here in Arda, I mean?”
“For the most part.”
“And you know about that how exactly?” I asked, my voice gaining a little more strength as the steady stream of questions I’d been carrying around for months slowly started coming back to me. “The only two people in the world who knew my human name were Gandalf and Lord Elrond, and that was only because I told him.”
I left out the part where Lord Elrond had assumed me unhinged to begin with, and Gandalf just found my paradoxical predicament rather amusing. Galadriel’s small smile twitched at the edges, and I had the oddest feeling like she’d sensed what I’d just been thinking.
“I glimpsed it in your life’s memories and dreams when first you arrived here. While you were being treated,” she explained as if she was talking about a simple maths problem, not the next best thing to a mutant X-Man power.
“You read my mind?” I spluttered out, thoroughly creeped out by the idea of anyone, let along an elf queen, casually rummaging through my head. Then again, I’d spent the past two years with an internalised split personality sharing my mental space. I guess weirder things had happened.
Speaking of Tink, I found it a little odd that, despite everything that had been going on since we’d entered Lothlórien, she’d remained uncharacteristically quiet up until this point — and something was telling me it didn’t have anything to do with our argument when I’d been unconscious.
Galadriel let out a chuckle at the vacant expression that had crept on my face, cutting my silent musing short.
“No, child. The mind is nothing so simple as to be read like a book. The memories, dreams, and nature of a person, however, are not so difficult to glimpse when looked for in the correct place,” she turned her bright blue eyes to my face, very deliberately aiming them directly into my own. I suddenly had the deeply unsettling feeling that she was looking straight through me and right down into my soul. A nervous, twisting sensation crept up my spine and slithered up the back of my neck. Then, just as the shared gaze was in danger of becoming something creepy, her expression softened, and she said: “Your thoughts of late have been of home.”
I edged back on the bench a little. I couldn’t help it. You can’t come out of a staring contest with Lady of Lothlórien without feeling at least a little unnerved by the experience. Trust me.
“Well, yeah,” I shrugged, rubbing my neck to try and mask the shiver that had run up it. I didn’t think I’d fully understood the significance of what she meant when she’d said that. “We’ve all been travelling a long time since we left Rivendell, and…”
“I do not speak of Imladris,” she interrupted me smoothly. “Your home before then.”
My chest tightened and my stomach clenched. I knew immediately what she was talking about, where she was talking about, but I desperately didn’t want to think about it. Not right now. Not when I’d already had my emotions kicked in the teeth once today, but I couldn’t help it. The thoughts of home, my real home, came flooding back even though I tried to stop them — along with the homesickness that always, always, accompanied it.
I sighed, my shoulder slumping a bit as the air left me in a soft rush, my throat tightening.
The name felt weirdly unfamiliar in my mouth, it had been such a long time since I’d said it out loud.
“The strange, towering city of steel and glass where you dwelt before waking here, and the family you left behind, yes,” Galadriel said equally softly. I felt her hand close gently over mine in my lap, her fingers warm and strangely maternal in their touch. They were also pristine and totally unblemished, especially when compared side-by-side to mine. She turned my hand over thoughtfully in hers, examining the array of tiny cuts and half-healed scars I had dotting my fingers and knuckles. “But you also dwell on the memories of your home before that. Of the life you had here on this plane, but have only glimpsed recollections of.”
“You know about those, too?”
“Of course,” she answered gently, reaching up and absently tucking a stray lock of my wispy, dark hair behind my ear. She regarded me with a touch of sadness, as someone might look at a sick child in hospital, and spoke quietly under her breath, more to herself rather than to me. “It was inevitable that some would return eventually, given enough time.”
My stomach sank at the word she used.
“Some of them?”
She didn’t answer me immediately. Instead, her hand trailed from my hair to hover a few inches over my chest, right over where my heart was, the faint, sorrowful expression not leaving her eyes.
“The mind can be made to forget, but the heart always remembers. Joy and pain. Some scars run too deep to ever truly be covered.”
Well, that was delightfully vague, and more than a little perplexing.
Despite the fact that Lady Galadriel had been kind enough to offer me her assistance, and answers, all these mystic, talking-in-riddles shenanigans were really starting to grate on my nerves. I’d begun to feel as if I was talking to a particularly uncooperative psychic rather than a noble elf lady. All we were really missing now were a crystal ball, a tarot deck, and some strong smelling candles.
I glanced down at where she still had a loose grip on my hand, though she’d gone back to watching my face again. I had the distinct feeling she was carefully gauging every one of my reactions with every question I asked. I swallowed, reining in my growing impatience, and met her gaze again.
“If you know about that, then you must know who I really was, how I got here, and why I can’t remember anything?”
She answered me simply, her expression never changing, though her voice did dip into something more serious, taking on an almost warning tone.
I felt a jolt of excitement surge through me, my heartbeat racing. Finally, I finally had a tangible answer within my grasp…
“Can you tell me?” I asked almost inaudibly. Galadriel tilted her head minutely, unblinking in her penetrating stare.
I blinked, stunned. Perhaps I’d misheard her?
I shook my head a bit, and repeated the word in my head half a dozen times to make sure I’d heard her correctly. I had. Shock stole my voice for a long moment, and when I finally managed to speak again, the sound came out strangled and hoarse.
“I may not give you that answer,” she told me plainly, her voice and face suddenly completely neutral.
Confused and angry, a desperate frustration threatened to choke all the air from my lungs as I tried to speak. My jaw and fists clenched so tight they ached, my head shook slowly, and my mouth hung ajar, trying fruitlessly to form something resembling words. Only one made it past my frazzled brain.
“Why?!” I demanded, my voice going up a several octaves with the typhoon of emotions all clamouring for first place within me. I was starting to loose it.
Galadriel didn’t so much as bat an eyelid at my appalled reaction. It seemed as though she’d been expecting me to respond just this way, and her pokerface was lightyears better than Aragorn’s. She just sat there, regal, neutral, and totally unaffected, her expression giving away absolutely nothing.
“I promised to answer as many of your questions as is within my power to answer. This one, I cannot.”
I just stared at her, speechless. Well, almost.
“Let me get this straight. You offered to help me by answering my questions, but only the ones you feel like answering?”
“No,” she replied flatly, as unaffected by my rudeness as a lioness is by a termite crawling over its paw. “I wish to help you in any way that I can, Élanor, but the question of how you came to be in Arda is one I cannot answer for you.”
I resisted the urge to start tearing my hair out. I was teetering on the edge of going mad with frustration. I wanted to say something scathing, but stopped myself, forcing myself to breathe, to calm down and think about what she was saying to me.
Galadriel said she wanted to help me, but she wouldn’t answer this one crucial question. Why? Something about the way she’d said it struck me…
“You won’t tell me,” I started, forcing myself to consider each word before it left my mouth. “Or you can’t tell me?”
“I cannot,” she answered me very clearly, with an emphasis on the word that I felt more than heard. I stared at her, not fully understanding what the answer meant. If she wanted to help, but couldn’t, what exactly was stopping her?
Galadriel levelled her steady gaze at me, sharp crystal blue eyes boring right into mine.
“For this, child, you must ask the correct questions to gain the answers you seek,” she told me simply, and with so little emotion it was almost creepy.
Sweet merciful God, it was like having the most unhelpful fairy godmother in the world. If she started resorting to mysterious limericks or cryptic knock-knock jokes I was going to damn well run to the top of a spiralling tree staircase and throw myself off, but even so, I’d waited two years to get so much as a sneezed clue to my past. Two years of pain every time I thought of my family, my friends, my home.
If I had to play this stupid guessing game to get my answers, fine. I’d play.
‘Come on, Eleanor, think!’ I barked at myself silently like a drill sergeant, ‘Aragorn may have been right, you’re not good at fighting, but you’ve got a damn decent brain. You’re the apprentice to Lord Elrond for sod’s sake! Think!’
I concentrated on my breathing as my mind worked furiously, trying to keep my raging emotions from hijacking logical thought again. It was an exercise Lord Elrond had taught me during my very first month of being his apprentice. It was a routine designed to help me quell frustration and help concentration, although it had rarely worked well enough for me to put to good use. It was worth a shot now, though.
‘One breath in, hold for three seconds, breathe out… One breath in, hold for three seconds, breathe out…’
I repeated this over and over again as my mind frantically chipped away at the problem before me, taking all the bits of information I’d acquired so far and trying to piece them all together.
Galadriel knew about my human life, at least vaguely, from the glimpse she’d taken from my head. She knew about my past here in Arda, but for some reason she couldn’t tell me. She wanted to help me, I believed that, yet something was obviously stopping her…
I realised in a chilling moment that the fact that — for some inexplicable reason — she literally couldn’t give me straight answers about my past was, in itself, a clue. Not a big one, or even a good one, but a clue nonetheless, and I wasn’t exactly swimming in options here.
Hell, it was worth a shot.
“Alright,” I croaked out, then cleared my throat when I realised how dry my breathing exercise had left it. “Let me make sure I understand this right. You can’t give me a straight answer about who I really am. You also can’t give me a straight answer about how or why I left Arda in the first place, or how I ended up back here, but you still want to? Is that right?”
She nodded, long gold hair swaying in the faint breeze of the garden as she watched me.
“Yes,” she told me, the tiniest shadow of an encouraging smile crossing her lips. The message was clear; I was on the right track. The excitement I’d felt earlier returned, stirring in my gut and sending butterflies into my stomach.
“Then, can you tell me why you can’t speak of it to me?”
She nodded again.
“I am bound by a vilissë vérë* on my life, and the lives of all my descendants,” she explained in a low, deadly serious tone that sent a chill up my spine. My eyebrows raised in surprise without my permission.
“A vilissë vérë?” I breathed, well and truly flabbergasted now, “Bound to what?”
The flicker of incomprehensibly deep sadness marred her otherwise seamless featured for a split second, before it was gone again.
“To never speak of, share knowledge of, or directly reveal the nature of your past. Or to disclose in any way the reason why your memories were taken from you,” Galadriel answered me in that deadly serious tone of voice that, I was certain, was going to start boring holes into my psyche before long.
I just sat there in silence for what felt like years, smartly staring at her in shock and awe.
A vilissë vérë, or to its nearest Common speech translation, “a blood oath,” was a tricky and extremely dangerous thing to mess around with. I’d heard of them only in vague reference during my time in Rivendell, before I’d become Lord Elrond’s apprentice, back when I’d been pouring through books in the library to pass the time.
Blood oaths were something that, technically, every race had in one form or another, but for the elves it was an especially serious issue. It was a solemn vow, a promise that supposedly ran deeper than your own blood once you made it, using a tiny piece of your own soul to “seal the deal.” I wasn’t down on all the complicated magic or physical elements that made it all work, but I did know that it was pretty much the most serious kind of oath any elf could possibly make.
This was the kind of oath that joined bond-brothers together in their promise to defend each other in battle. The kind of oath that joined a husband and wife when they swore to remain faithful to each other for the rest of their immortal lives. There weren’t any direct words in any human languages I knew suitable enough to truly translate it — because humans just didn’t have the frame of reference needed to understand how deep a promise like that sank.
It wasn’t the kind of oath you broke. It wasn’t even the kind you considered breaking. Not without inviting some truly horrific consequences on all those involved.
Seriously, just ask Fëanor and his sons.
No wonder she had flat out refused to answer me.
What I did know for certain was that whomever had made Lady Galadriel — the keeper of Nenya, the frigging Lady of the Golden Wood — swear a blood oath on the lives of her children and grandchildren must have been absolutely sodding nuts. No one sane would have done that. No one with half a brain would have even considered it…
Not unless they were truly desperate to keep any and all of that information a dead secret, literally. People only got that desperate and that stupid when they were scared. Really, really scared. Someone out there had been frightened enough of me getting hold of my past to strong-arm the damned queen of Lothlórien into a vilissë vérë.
“Why would anyone…?” I murmured, my head spinning with the overload of sudden information. I shook myself out of the daze firmly, refusing to allow myself to veer off on a tangent this time. Not now that I was so close to figuring this out. I faced Galadriel again, still sitting there as regal and as solemn as any of the statues in her hauntingly quiet garden.
“You can tell me who, right? You can tell me who did this?” I asked in a tiny voice.
She gave me the smallest of nods.
“Well, that’s something,” I exhaled in relief, still a bit frazzled but finally satisfied I was on the right track again. I straightened and pointedly looked the Lady of the Golden Wood dead in the face and spoke quietly: “Then tell me then. Who made you swear to never speak about my past?”
She held my gaze steadily for what seemed like forever, a dozen different emotions slipping over her face like water over stones. Then finally, she answered with three simple words.
“You did, child.”
There are times in life when spluttering the word “what?!” at full volume just doesn’t seem adequate.
This was one of them.
I gaped at Lady Galadriel like a baffled goldfish. I seemed to be doing that a lot today anyway, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t had time to practice. Galadriel just regarded me impassively, waiting patiently for me to gather enough of myself together again to form understandable words, but I could barely get my own thoughts to make sense, let alone get them past my language faculties.
“I… I-I did…” I stammered, the air coming from my throat in jagged little hiccuping breaths, like a child who’s been winded by a sudden shock.
I didn’t even realise my hands were shaking until Galadriel took them both in hers and fed what I could only describe as a feeling of calm to me. It felt like a cool breeze on a hot day, flowing up through my arms and into my chest. I took a shuddered breath, forcing myself back into the breathing exercise I’d used moments before.
It didn’t help, but at least I could breathe again.
“You came to me long ago, and asked of me for one favour,” Galadriel told me very gently, as if her words might shatter me if she spoke too loudly. “Your one request, Élanor, was that all the memories of your past life be locked away forever, even from yourself.”
The memory I’d had when the Balrog roared, just before Gandalf had fallen in the dark of Khazad-dûm came rushing back like the surge of a tidal wave. The dark place, the pain in my chest, the sobs, and the tiny vial in my hand that I’d wanted so badly to smash against the wall.
But instead, I drank it. I drank every last drop.
My mind continued to reel at that information. Wave after wave of theories, questions, and a distinct lack of answers flooded my head, but I couldn’t get any of them to make any kind of sense. I gripped Galadriel’s hands tightly, the feelings swirling through me not relenting no matter how hard I tried to calm myself.
“You’re saying… I did this. To myself?” I croaked, still winded by my own bafflement and shock. “Why?!”
Galadriel gave my hands another tiny squeeze, reassuring me that she was still there, trying to help.
“I cannot give you that answer either, child.”
I wanted to scream.
“God dammit! Why not?!” I exploded, my voice coming back without warning if more high pitched than normal. Galadriel, of course, didn’t so much as blink. She just watched me, perfect and unyielding like a marble statue, with an infuriatingly piteous look on her face.
“Because that was a part of your price. I cannot break the oath I made to keep your secret safe, not even to ease your own confusion.”
I ripped my hands from hers without warning, the feelings overwhelming my system turning into near physical pain. I felt my body curl in on itself, my eyes clenching, and my arms wrapping around my middle as I hunched over on the bench. I felt sick, and I was so close to tears I was sure if I opened my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to stop.
“Why? Why would I do choose to do this? Any of this?” I asked no one in particular, my voice choked by dry sobs I was refusing to let have rule of me. Galadriel didn’t answer me immediately. She clearly understood that right then, the last thing I needed were more riddles and mystical clues. I was in no state to think straight, let alone give a reasonable response.
I think maybe I did end up crying, I can’t really remember. All I do recall is shivering and hiccuping in shallow little breaths, all while Galadriel kept a steadying and comforting hand on the centre of my back, rubbing in gentle circles as a mother would for a crying child. She waited for me to have my moment, allowing me to fully calm down from my moment of collapse without pressure or impatience. When I finally managed to talk again, properly this time, I could only focus on one thing.
“I don’t understand any of this,” I said, and I sounded utterly defeated even to myself. “Why would I willingly do this, any of this, to myself? What possible reason could there be?”
Galadriel looked down at me sadly. She was so tall, and yet she had somehow managed to make what could have been an intimidating frame look shielding and protective rather than imposing. She continued to gently rub her hand against the centre of my back, letting her own serene aura seep into me.
“Memories lost or not, you are still yourself, child,” she explained, meeting my eyes and allowing a tender look of concerned curiosity to slip into them. “Tell me, what reason would you have to take away all the memories of a life you loved?”
“I would never…” I stopped mid reaction and thought about it for a second. Really thought about it.
I’d been so drained of hope and jumped up on sheer outrage at being cheated out of my promised answers that I hadn’t stopped to consider the problem form that angle; that I might have the tools to figure it out without Galadriel just handing them to me. Also, the fact that I now had at least one logical, vaguely sensible train of thought to follow was helping to pull my out-of-control emotion out of the driver’s seat. I was still baffled, angry, confused, and maybe a bit hysterical with frustration, but it was sinking back to a manageable level again.
I clobbered my hysteria politely on the head, shoved her back into the passenger’s seat, and wrenched the steering wheel of my brain back on track.
Assuming Galadriel was right — that I was still the same person I’d been back then underneath all the memory loss and trauma — my decisions now should, logically, reflect the ones I’d made back then. Of course, that was assuming that my memory loss hadn’t affected my personality, altering the axis on which all my decisions hinged, but that was a rabbit hole I couldn’t go down right now, not while I still had my hysteria frantically gibbering just under the surface of my consciousness.
So, assuming I was still the same person I’d been; what reason would I have? What could make me scared enough to deliberately enlist Galadriel’s help with erasing my past?
There was only one thing I possibly could think of…
“I’d only do something like this if… remembering was somehow putting my family, the people I loved, in danger somehow,” I all but whispered in near silence.
Galadriel didn’t nod or so much as blink, but something changed in the lines of her expression that made me think she was agreeing.
“The most deadly of dangers often come to us from those who are closest to us,” she agreed, again not quite giving me a simple yes or no.
“But all that tells me is what might have happened,” I countered, calmer than I’d been, but voice still noticeably frustrated. “Something I knew or remembered from back then was bad enough to merit me giving myself amnesia?”
“A logical conclusion,” Galadriel said in that blank tone she’d adopted earlier, and I realised she was deliberately slipping back into vague answers again. We were drifting back into dangerous waters for her, and no matter how much she might like me or wanted to help, she wouldn’t risk the lives of her children and grandchildren just to give me a straight answer.
I sighed and hung my head, staring down at my hands again. I suddenly felt very, very tired.
“You can’t give me any more answers about this, can you? Not without breaking your oath?”
I knew the answer before I’d even opened my mouth. Galadriel’s ancient eyes fell, the sadness behind them deepening even if her expression didn’t change.
“No,” she confirmed, then paused, her gold eyebrows shifting into something that wasn’t quite a frown. “But perhaps I may steer you towards something else you seek.”
I eyed her curiously.
“And what is it that I seek?”
“Knowledge, but of another kind,” she answered, letting her hand slip from my back as she rose from the bench beside me.
I watched as she glided across the glade to the stone podium, retrieving the silver pitcher and moving over to a small fountain that I hadn’t noticed when I’d arrived. Patiently, she filled the jug to the brim, then carefully carried it back to the podium. Slowly, she tipped it, and a stream of diamond clear water poured from the pitcher and into the basin, the water turning a to a smooth silvery sheen as it hit the surface of the bowl. It was a peculiar sight; a perfectly simple action made unsettling by the significance it implied. The weirder part was that even though the bowl was only about the size of my two arms looped together, the water inside didn’t stop moving or shifting — even after Galadriel had finished pouring every last drop. When she was done, she turned back to me.
“Will you look into the mirror?” she asked simply.
I almost laughed. I remembered the mirror, and what it could show those who looked into it. Past events, present events, and things that could happen. It could show you what you wanted to see, or things that could leave a person scarred for the rest of their lives.
My answer came out a little squeaky, two parts painfully confused to one part excited.
“Was that a serious question?”
Galadriel gave me a blank stare, and I shook my head, folding my arms tightly over my chest again with the sudden feeling of cold pressing in around me. I was completely silent for a moment, barely breathing, staring at the ground in fragmented thought before I looked up again slowly.
“What will I see if I do look?” I asked softly.
“I cannot know,” she answered just as softly. “But whatever you see will change you.”
“So why are you even giving me the option to look?”
“Because it is our choices that are what shape our future, Élanor,” she explained in the patient tone of a parent explaining the concept of gravity to a toddler. She started to walk slowly around the small stone platform until she stood directly opposite me across it, still holding the empty pitcher. “If you choose to look, your future will be shaped by it, for better or worse, but that decision to shape your own path has always been, and will always be, yours. Not mine, nor anyone else's.”
I chewed that over for a moment.
My automatic instinct was to refuse and demand some proper clarification. I’d come here for answers, not games, and so far I’d had got nothing for my trouble except the revelation that I was the one responsible for my current plight. Still, I forced myself to I think about it some more. Looking into the mirror could show me nearly anything, good or bad, beautiful or horrifying — I remembered that much from the stories — and whatever I saw in there, I trusted Galadriel entirely when she said it would change my future — that it would change me.
I half expected Tink to chip in with some wiseass comment about “taking the plunge,” but she remained utterly and completely silent. Somehow that creeped me out even more than the idea of what I might potentially see in the mirror.
Either way, and sensible or not; I’d got too few answers and more than enough puzzling riddles dropped on me for one day. If looking into the mirror would give me some kind of tangible answer, was I willing to risk letting that chance slip away?
No. I’d walked into this of my own choosing. I was in way too deep to chicken out now, even if I’d wanted to.
I rose onto my feet off the bench and moved tentatively over to where Galadriel still watched me, still as one of the garden statues, still holding the empty silver pitcher. I crossed over the grass and right up to the edge of the podium. I had to stand on one of the small edging steps to be able to see down into the basin. My reflection stared back at me — clear and crisp despite the shifting surface of the water.
I looked once more up at Galadriel, my expression questioning. Her blue eyes flicked down to the surface of the mirror, and she gave me the tiniest of nods.
When I looked down into the water again, my reflection was gone.
The surface had started to swirl and shift like the top of a lake in a storm, but not a drop spilled over the side. Colours began to appear like drops of ink falling into a whirlpool, mixing together until they began to form misty silhouettes and vague shapes. I leaned forward instinctively, being careful not to touch the surface of the water. Then suddenly, the water smoothed to a glassy surface, and the torrent of colours swirling beneath congealed into something I recognised.
I found myself looking down into a perfectly clear view of Lord Elrond’s study. He was sat at his desk, having just been interrupted from his writing by a talk, dark haired elf woman. It was easy to see they were speaking in quiet, but tense voices, despite the fact that I could hear no sound through the mirror. I didn’t immediately recognise the elf woman as Arwen until she glided around the desk to her father’s side, taking his hands. She looked exhausted, and worried, but determined. Elrond’s expression instantly changed from righteously displeased to saddened as she took his hands. Arwen said something to him in what I could tell by the look on his face only made him even more anguished, despite the fact it was obviously meant to comfort. She touched a hand to his face and smiled softly. I watched as my mentor pulled his daughter into a tight hug, his eyes heavy with bone-deep sorrow just as the surface of the mirror began to shift again, the vision vanishing.
The inky colours in the water swirled and rippled together again until finally they collected into a completely different scene. It wasn’t Rivendell anymore, but here in Lothlórien, and in present time too. I recognised the white tent shelters of the Fellowship’s forest floor camp, and the silver glow of the elf lamps hanging nearby. The four hobbits were settling down onto their respective sleeping mats for the night, smoking and talking. Sam said something to the group and gestured vaguely off in a direction I couldn’t see. Pippin and Frodo looked uncomfortable and turned away, but Merry answered promptly, with an irate look and a sharp point of his pipe towards the stairs; the one’s I’d retreated up when I’d left them earlier that day. I didn’t have time to wonder what they were all talking about that had gotten them so anxious when the mirror’s surface changed again.
This time it swirled and writhed like waves on a stormy sea before the surface settled again. It still showed Lothlórien, but a different area this time. Gimli sat alone in a part of the camp I didn’t recognise, perched on a tree root. He had that battered looking hip flask of his in one hand and a small pocket knife in the other. He was painstakingly and patiently carving a small, Dwarven rune into the dented metal on the side of the flask. The new marks were fresh and clean beside three much older looking ones that appeared to have been carved into it many years before. I couldn’t see the expression on his face, but something about the dwarf’s usually confident posture gave me the impression that he was weighed down by a heavy sadness, one he didn’t want anyone else to see.
The water rippled again, and this time I found myself looking at yet another part of the camp, somewhere far enough away that I couldn’t see the tents but still recognised the terrain. Boromir sat on a carved wooden bench by a stream, hunched over with his arms resting on his knees. He was speaking quietly to someone who stood nearby, and it was only as the vision cleared that I realised it was Aragorn. The two men seemed enthralled in a deep conversation about something that was making them both very somber. Boromir in particular had something of a growing weariness and grief in his eyes as he spoke. Aragorn said something quietly to him, taking a seat on the bench opposite. Boromir looked up at the ranger after a moment, and I saw a glimmer of hope kindle to life behind the sorrow. He smiled tiredly, and clapped a hand on Aragorn’s shoulder — the gesture holding more meaning than I was sure I understood. Then, once again, the vision disappeared into a torrent of swirling colours before collecting itself a fifth time.
Legolas’ form came into view this time. He was sitting high in one of the gold-leaved mallorn trees, reclined against the trunk with one leg dangling over the edge. He looked perfectly relaxed, as if he wasn’t seated hundreds of feet off the forest floor. He was still dressed in the loose fitting attire I’d seen him in earlier that day, and though he looked less sleep-deprived now, he still had a faintly troubled look in his eyes. He had an arm resting on his bent knee, and was holding something small up to the light to see clearly. I squinted and saw it was an acorn, a tiny one he must have picked up somewhere on the forest floor. A sound must have come from just below, because he suddenly looked down at one of the platforms just a few feet below. I followed his gaze to see Haldir and the unmistakable form of Merileth walking across one of the bridges side by side, and talking quietly. Both of them had the same awkwardly formal postures I’d seen when they’d first spoken by the Looking Pools. They also had identical expressions of masked fondness, making sideways looks at each other when the other wasn’t watching as they walked. Legolas’s face broke into a grin, and I realised after a second that I was grinning too. He turned away from the pair of them, and went back to curiously examining the little acorn still in his hand. The tiny amused smile didn’t leave his face even as the vision disappeared.
The water shimmered and swirled again one last time, its surface flattening into glass and the image beneath it focusing slowly until finally it was as clear as if I was looking through a window.
My breath left me, all of it in one go.
“That’s…” the words caught in my throat as I realised what I was seeing. “That’s me!”
I was looking down through the surface of the mirror at myself. My human self.
My eyes were closed, as if I was asleep. My ash brown hair was lank and thin, though it had been carefully brushed though. I was pale as milk, and I was a lot thinner than I could remember ever being. You could have sliced bread with my cheekbones.
God, was I dead?
No. My chest rose and fell in long, painfully slow breaths. As if I was barely breathing at all. The image fell back slightly away from my human reflection, and I could see I was lying in a bed. An Earth hospital bed. There was an IV in my left arm, and patches on my chest connected to a heart monitor. I couldn't hear anything through the mirror, but I could see the blip of the line on the screen that tracked my heartbeat. It was steady, but faint. Barely there at all.
Then the vision in the mirror showed me something that all but cut my heart from my chest.
My mum. She was there, sitting by my bedside, one of my pale skinny hands clasped in hers, and an open book in the other. She looked exhausted, dark circles under her green eyes, her normally neat clothes rumpled, and her hair mussed as if she’d been awake far too long. She was reading aloud from the book in her hand as she stroked a thumb over the back of my hand.
Something like a shard of ice twisted into my chest as I realised what she was reading to me.
A sob crawled its way up my throat, and I had to cover my mouth to keep it down, forcing myself to keep my eyes open and keep looking. The vision cleared a little more and showed me the rest of the room. There were several bunches of flower sitting on a nightstand nearby, along with a stationary shop’s worth of cards. Above that, I saw a calendar hanging on the wall.
It was April 12th, but the year hadn’t changed.
I felt the blood rush from my head, and I was suddenly barely able to keep standing. Two months? But, I’d been here in Arda for over two years! How had it only been two months since I’d…
“W-what… what is going on?” I choked out.
Then suddenly the vision of my mum looked up as someone else came in. I saw Katie there, dressed in a creased old Star Wars t-shirt and jeans, her messy red hair tied up to hide the fact that it was a few days past needing a wash. She looked just as haggard and tired as my mother did, though she’d managed to force an optimistic little smile into place. She said something softly to mum, who answered with an exhausted response, hanging and shaking her head wearily. Katie came over and patted her gently on the shoulder, taking the book form her hand and pointing towards the door. Mum got to her feet and let my hand go reluctantly, allowing Katie take her place reading at my side while she clearly went to get some much needed sleep.
Something warm slid down my face and fell onto the surface of the mirror, the image of my distraught mother and best friend distorted momentarily by the ripples, but not vanishing. I stared down at it in confused, shocked silence. It wasn’t until I really heard the choking sound of my own voice that I realised I had failed to hold back the tears.
“What happened to me?” my breath came out in jagged little mini sobs, unable to make my lungs work. My chest hurt, the dull pain that had appeared there earlier spreading until it was almost unbearable. Without considering the action at all, I reached a hand down to the surface of the mirror, at the image of Katie sitting there at my side trying and failing to keep her smile.
“Do not touch the water, child!” Galadriel's warning came quiet but firm.
The warning came too late — my fingers had already brushed the surface.
The image beneath the water abruptly vanished in a spiral of dark colour, the silver of the mirror turning black as if ink had spread into it from my fingertips. The water went from lukewarm to icy in the space of a second, the surface hardening and cracking like the top of a frozen lake that couldn’t support its own weight. Then the mirror shattered, splintering into thousands of tiny pieces of black ice that flew outwards in every direction. I shrieked and fell backwards off the stone step and onto the grass, stunned.
I just lay there for a moment, sprawled on my back, my cheeks still wet and my head spinning. One of the piece of ice had caught me just under my left eye, and the shallow cut stung, but I barely noticed.
“I’m alive! I still alive!” I half babbled, half rasped. “On Earth! I’m in a coma, but I’m still alive! How is that even possible?”
I pushed myself up to see Galadriel had calmly set the silver pitcher back beside the basin, not a hair out of place as she walked around the podium towards me. She still had that calm expression on her face, but something in her demeanour told me she was not pleased that I’d disobeyed her instruction to keep my hands off the mirror.
“Of course you still live,” she answered my rambling shortly, with all the patience of a school teacher speaking to a stubbornly trying student. “Your soul is what has shifted between places, child. You are not dead, but without your mind and soul there to guide it, what did you expect your human body to do but sleep?”
“I don’t know what I expected!” I snapped, irritated fury rearing its ugly head through my confusion and the remains of my tears. “But it wasn’t this! None of this is making any kind of sense!”
“Then perhaps it is time you considered what it is you do expect,” she replied with a cool but unmistakably crisp tone, as if that boundless patience was slowly but surely wearing thin. “And perhaps what you expect to happen in the course of your future here.”
My hysteria made an insane little giggling sound, and I decided that I really needed to stop personifying my less helpful emotions.
I bonked her on the head again and forced myself to get a grip, to stop crying, stop gibbering, and think. Nothing Galadriel had said to me so far had been insignificant. Every suggestion had been nudging (and in some cases all but shoving) me towards questions and answers that were right under my nose, if I were only to look. If she’d pointed out my expectations as something important enough to merit consideration, then maybe I should.
I considered it. My expectations of what was going to happen came from my limited memories of the books, but since Moria my recollection of the books had been growing more and more fuzzy and vague — like a song that I hadn’t heard in so long, I could only recall the odd line. I could blame some of that on human error. I’d loved the story of the Fellowship when I’d been a teenager, but I hadn’t read it in years before I’d been dropped into Arda. Most of what I could remember now was cobbled together through hazy memories of key moments, and talking with Bilbo about his adventures. Still, that didn’t account for my forgetting the really major things. Parts of the story that I knew I should have remembered at the time — like the Crebain, the Watcher in the Water, and the Balrog in Khazad-dûm.
Was that what she’d been getting at? Well, there was only one way to find out…
“You know about the books, from my world right? The ones that tell the history of this world as fiction? If you got a look at my human memories, you must know about that,” I asked, getting up off the grass and swiping away the last of the tears from my face. Galadriel regarded me and nodded once.
“Then why have I been forgetting such big parts of it?” I asked bluntly, no energy left to dance around the question. “I can understand forgetting the parts that didn’t really mean much, but I didn’t even realise what the Ring was until I almost picked it up.”
Galadriel paused for a moment before answering, considering her words with a curious, bird-like tilt to her golden head.
“I do not have an objective answer. I can only share my own theory on the matter.”
I shrugged, throwing my hands out to the either side of me.
“It’s better than nothing, which is all I’ve got right now.”
Galadriel nodded curtly with a wry smile, a gesture of concession to my point.
“In my experience, time and events are not set in stone, Élanor. What might have once been deemed to occur can been influenced and changed by the smallest of things. A different word here, a different choice there, or by the mere presence of something,” she fixed me with by far the most unsettling stare I’d received in my life. “Or someone who was not originally intended to be there.”
Well, that would certainly explain why I was having a hard time remembering certain points of the story. When I looked back on them, a lot of things that had happened so far had changed very subtly from my memory of the books. Not dramatically, or even that noticeably — but just enough to slip past when I wasn’t paying close enough attention.
“So, you’re saying I’ve affected the course of this world’s future, just by existing in it? That’s why I’m having trouble remembering when things are going to happen?” I resisted the urge to raise a skeptically questioning eyebrow. Galadriel shook her head, her hair swaying like the branches of a weeping willow.
“Not in the way you imagine, child,” she clarified simply, her gaze drifting from to around the small garden we stood in. “Yes, the future of this ‘story,’ is uncertain and fluid now thanks to your presence in it, but from what I have learned of the future and its path through time, certain events are unavoidable. They sit as islands in a river that runs eternally downhill. You may change the path by which the river flows around them, cutting channels, put up barrier to change its direction. Yet, in the end, the path will always pass around them. You may prepare for them, anticipate their arrival, but they will come, whether you are ready or not.”
“Things like the Ring being found you mean?” I asked in a small, weakened voice. “Like what happened to Gandalf?”
Galadriel didn’t answer, but she didn’t disagree either. She just gave me a sad, weirdly tired smile and placed a hand on my shoulder. She was so tall she hardly had to lift her arm much to reach it. I sighed heavily, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to get a better explanation out of her. Still, bizarre as it was, I was grateful for the help she had offered. I tried to return her smile, but I think it came as more of a grimace.
I was almost out of energy and brain power, and all I wanted to do was sleep, but my curiosity is a strange, sleepless, masochistic creature, and it wouldn’t be silent. Not until I had the most serious of all by question answered, one way or another.
“One last question,” I said quietly.
Galadriel took her hand from my shoulder and smiled down at me.
“Will I ever remember enough to get me home again?”
She pursed her lips in contemplation, and it was a strangely human expression to see on the face of an elf queen.
“Perhaps,” she said gently after a moment, though this time I got the impression she was choosing her words carefully for my benefit, rather than to dance around the bindings of the vilissë vérë. “With no small amount of luck, and if you choose to look for the answers in the right places.”
Vague and non-specific as the reply might have been, it somehow did more to quell my fears than if she had flat out told me everything would be alright. She thought there was a chance, a small chance. It might not be much, but at least I had a hope. Real, honest hope.
It had been a long time since I’d had any of that…
I nodded and looked down, the shadow of a determined smile making its way back onto my lips again.
“In return, may I now ask you one last question?” Galadriel said suddenly, catching me off guard. I looked up and hesitated for a moment, more curious than confused.
“Beyond what you have asked me of, do you recall anything more? Of your life here before?” she asked, eyeing me with an interested twinkle in her gaze. I’d been expecting that question, though admittedly I had been expecting her to ask it much earlier.
“I remembered one thing. A name, well, two actually,” I said back, and a real smile crept onto my face as the memory of the smiling brother whom I couldn’t quite remember came back to me, warming me from the inside out. “Var.”
Galadriel’s face brightened.
“Ah, of course.”
“You knew him?” I asked.
“Not personally, but I knew of him,” she replied thoughtfully, eyeing me meaningfully, “And that he cared for you, his only sister, very dearly.”
I felt my smile brighten, then it turned a little sad as I reached for more memories of him where I knew there were none. I looked down again.
“Yeah, I remember that much at least.”
“And the other?”
My smile faded as the mental image of my brother did too, the recall of that one other name replacing it, repeated over and over again from where it had been written by my subconscious in the sand.
“Rávamë,” I answered softly, with a helpless little rise and fall of my shoulder. “But I have no idea who or what it means.”
Galadriel’s expression didn’t change as she looked down at me, but I could feel the stoney cautious creeping back into her gaze.
“That is the question.”
Yeah, that and about a dozen others that I still didn’t have answers to, but hell, it wasn’t like I had anything to loose by adding one more to the list.
“Can you tell me what it mean?”
I sighed tiredly.
“Didn’t think so.”
Galadriel’s face broke into a wide, amused smile, but it was one that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“It is a name long forgotten, and long unspoken but in old tales and myths,” she told me quietly, almost reverently, as if she was speaking of something that would be dangerous if overheard. “I may not provide you with that answer, child. Not without inviting ruin and strife upon myself and my descendants, but there is one among your company who may, if you choose to ask them.”
That piqued my interest greater than anything else she’d said up till now.
“Really? Who?” I paused, then added with a suspicious frown: “And… why wouldn’t I ask?”
Galadriel glanced over at the basin in which I’d seen myself reflected in my body back on Earth. A little pang of pain shot through my chest, but I ignored it.
“Some tales are best left forgotten,” she replied in a small voice, her face and eyes momentarily seeming much older than before. I gave her a puzzled look, but decided not to push the issue.
“More riddles,” I mumbled, more to myself than to her. I turned away and folded my arms across my chest as I swept my gaze from the mirror around the garden. It seemed colder in the glade than when I’d entered, and I felt a little shivery.
“It’s always better to know the truth,” I heard myself whisper, though I can’t remember giving my voice permission to speak my thoughts aloud. Galadriel’s voice met my ears in a sad little chuckle, and I turned to look up at her again. She was smiling sadly down at me again, though this time it wasn’t pitying.
It was almost proud.
I thought about countering with something witty, but changed my mind. I was starting to feel the extent of my tiredness pressing down on me like someone had attached lead weights to my arms and legs. Galadriel, for her part, seemed to sense my weariness, because when she spoke again it was with a tone of finality.
“If you wish to pursue this, I would consider asking the one of your company who has had the chance to amass the greatest number of tales of old. He may have one that could assist you, if you ask the correct question.”
Yet another riddle. I was beginning to believe the Lady of Lothlórien thrived off them.
I already knew she wouldn’t give me a straight answer, so I didn’t bother to ask. I just nodded, noncommittal — stashing that information away to mull over later.
“Thank you,” I said quietly, suddenly exhausted. Galadriel acknowledged my thanks with a very slight incline of her head.
“That is as much help as I may provide, though I know it is far from what you hoped for,” she said to me. “The choice to pursue your past remains yours, Élanor. I, nor any of my kin, would ever to presume to take that right from you.”
Then she surprised me one last time.
“But I will say this, child. You chose to forget your past for a reason when you came to me for help. You chose to leave that life behind for a reason. Remembering may grant you the answers you seek, but truth is a double edged sword. It cuts both ways, and can leave us vulnerable as well as enlightened,” she spoke almost silently. Her eyes met mine again, and instead of feeling like she was staring into my soul, I got the inescapable feeling that she was giving me a warning behind the words.
I drifted back towards the handmaiden’s quarters later that morning in a zombie-like daze. Rúmil and Orophin were still there at the top of the stairs, the both of them standing watch with their bows at the ready. They looked like they’d barely moved a muscle since Haldir and I had seen them the night before.
Without thinking I slurred out a dazed: “Sorry about your boots,” at Rúmil in Sindarin as I passed. He looked genuinely stunned that I’d said anything to him at all, like a puppy that had just encountered a noise it had never heard before. I didn’t wait around to see if he’d accepted my apology, but I could sense the two brothers exchanging puzzled looks as I stumbled away from them into the gardens. Whether through lack of sleep, or the boat load of information that had been dumped on me in the past few hours, I simply didn’t have enough brainpower left to think straight, let alone walk straight.
I’d gotten halfway across the grounds of that part of the forest before I realised I had absolutely no idea where I was going.
I stopped and peered around, turning in a wonky circle in the middle of a white stone courtyard I didn’t recognise. I’d just looked up to try and see if any of the platforms above looked familiar when something small, blond, and moving at the speed of a low powered Italian moped slammed into my side. I would have fallen straight onto my butt if there hadn’t been a tree in the way. I managed to catch myself on it before I could go tail-over-teakettle.
“I am sorry, my lady!” the miniature, blonde battering ram spluttered in fluent Sindarin before I could react.
I looked down to find the older of Merileth’s two younger brothers sprawled at my feet. He didn’t look much older than ten or eleven, despite the fact that I knew he was much older. He was dressed in a loose tunic, breeches, and soft leather boots, and he had somehow already managed to get mud on them all. He was looking up at me with an expression of childish panic, horrified that he had almost knocked me over, and was clearly expecting to get roasted for it.
I kicked my frazzled brain in the backside until it got its act together.
“It is alright, no harm done,” I replied with a casual shrug, stumbling slightly over my neglected Sindarin. I was honestly more relieved for the fact that he’d chosen to run into my uninjured side. I pulled him up and back onto his feet again, the top of his blond head coming to only just above my shoulder height. He squinted up at me a little and then his big, hazel eyes widened. He’d obviously picked up on my being more comfortable with the Common Tongue because he made the language switch so fast it took me a second to catch up.
“You are the elleth from the other night! The one the Marchwarden brought back from the patrol!” he exclaimed, half excited and half awed. I blinked.
Wow. I felt famous.
“I am. My name’s Eleanor,” I confirmed, feeling the first genuine smile I’d had all night and morning appear on my face. “And you must be Gweredir.”
The young elf boy looked abruptly surprised, curious suspicion creasing the space between his eyebrows.
“You know me?”
“I met your sister yesterday,” I explained, then leaned down and added with a conspiratorial whisper, “She helped me chisel the dried mud out of my hair.”
That made him giggle-snort in a most un-elf like fashion, which set me off giggling, too. He looked embarrassed by his break in character and tried to straighten himself up to his full height. It might have worked, if the top of his curly blond head had made it past my shoulders.
I tried not to smile too hard. Even among the elves, children were still children — still determined to prove they were more grown up than they really were.
Heh, like I could talk.
“May I escort you back to your companions, my lady?” he asked formally, the picture of a perfect, miniature gentleman. My smile widened and I dipped my head in a grateful nod.
“Thank you,” I said, then pointed in the direction I’d been walking before he crashed into me. “But I was actually looking for the handmaiden’s quarters and got a bit lost. Do you think you could show me there, first?”
He beamed up at me, immediately took my hand and started pulling me excitedly off across the grounds.
“Of course! This way!”
* “vilissë vérë” = spirit promise (Sindarin — literal translation)