Tasana: Queen of Wargs - Part VII: The End of Peace
They passed through the woods along dark, winding deer trails, illuminated only by the light of the waning moon. The white clad will-o'-the-wisp paused by a pair of statues lining the trail, and the twin basins in the stone elf maidens' hands suddenly flared with firelight. The specter passed through into the hollow below. When Frodo followed it down the rough natural steps, he found Galadriel drawing water from a spring. The only other feature to the round, rocky hollow was a small silver basin in the center.
"Will you look into the mirror, Ring Bearer?" she asked, turning around. Up until now she had given no sign she knew she was being followed. "Or what of you, Samwise Gamgee?"
Frodo turned back toward the steps. Hiding behind the western statue, Sam guiltily stuck his head out into the path, blushing in the firelight. "Well, I really would like to see some elf magic an awful lot, Lady Galadriel... you sure you don't mind?"
"Go right ahead, Master Gamgee," she smiled slightly once more, the expression not quite reaching her eyes. "This term is strange to me, as your people use it to describe both what the wizards and I work and the evils of Sauron, but I believe this would be considered the magic of the elves." She poured water from the spring into the basin and Sam leaned over it, gasping.
"What do you see, Sam?" Frodo asked him.
"The Shire, Mister Frodo! But not all's well there. That Ted Sandyman's cuttin' down trees he shouldn't. Those have shaded the mill lane for ages. I wish I could get at that dangfool Ted; then I'd fell him! There's some devilry at work in the Shire, Mister Frodo, I gotta go home and stop it." Sam looked up from the mirror, saddened and enraged. His family had cared for the trees and gardens of the Shire for generations. To tear them apart wantonly was to tear away his heart. Sam wasn't much for intellectually stimulating conversations, but Frodo had always liked the younger man for his honest heart and sense of decency. It was painful to see him in such distress.
"The mirror shows things that are, things that are, and some things that may yet come to pass. Not all that it shows will happen, Samwise Gamgee, if you stay true to your quest." Galadriel explained. No trace of emotion was present in her voice, but perhaps the lady wasn't the unfeeling witch Gimli had characterized her as. Perhaps.
"You're probably right, as usual, Lady Galadriel. My ol' gaffer used to always tell me `it's the job that's never started that takes the longest to finish.' We'd best get started on this quest again." Sam's smile twitched slightly at the corner of his mouth. Like Boromir, he would not rest as easily until he had seen his home and confirmed its safety with his own eyes.
Galadriel gave him another cool smile in return. "Your grandfather is a wise hobbit, young Master Gamgee." She turned to Frodo. "And what of you, Frodo Baggins? You have never asked to see magic. Do you wish to look into the mirror?"
"Would you have me do this, Lady Galadriel?" He asked tentatively. If the mirror could help him on his quest, it would be worthwhile to see what the future held. Yet it had only brought grief, worry, and second thoughts to Sam.
"No, Frodo. I will not encourage you either way. Sometimes what the mirror shows is useful, other times it is misleading. It is your choice."
Frodo stood quietly for a moment, musing over her words. "I will look into it." He said after he worked up his nerve, quietly forceful as he always was. He bent over the mirror; and the stars reflected in the liquid covered silver blurred and went gray. Out of the darkness Frodo saw the faces of his friends in the company, one by one, appear and then fall away, into the water's hidden depths. He saw the Shire, his homeland, with all its beautiful old trees torn down by orcs. The plain but respectable hobbit holes of Bagshot Row were being ransacked, and the peaceful citizens of the Shire fled in terror before their tormentors.
Frodo saw the friends and neighbors of his youth being hauled through the black gates of Mordor in chains. The Tower on Mount Doom, in the center of Mordor, was a black claw that rent the smoke filled sky. Frodo's gaze traveled up the endless raven columns, past the sharp ebony peaks that stood miles above the dead landscape surrounding it, up to the very top of the tower where a lidless eye of fire looked down malevolently upon the destruction and terror it had caused, pleased with its own vileness and yet unsatisfied with the scale of its wickedness. Already titanic amounts of evil were done in its name, yet the Eye of Sauron would not be sated until the entire world was dominated by its will.
Frodo leaned further over the mirror, perversely attracted by the sight of the eye. The One Ring slipped out from beneath his tunic, as if it longed to return to its maker and one true master. The eye had seen him now, the hobbit realized too late. Harsh Dark Elvish words rang in Frodo's mind, causing him to tremble with fear. The Ring dangled tauntingly over the fiery image of the eye, swinging on its thin metal chain. Smoke rose from the water as the phrases on the edge of Frodo's comprehension took on the form of a rushing, deafening chant. Frodo found himself unable to look away from the eye, powerless to break the Dark Lord's spell. He cried out as something knocked him away from the mirror.
"Mister Frodo! Mister Frodo, are you all right?" Sam clutched his shoulder, shaking his arm.
"I'm fine, Sam." Frodo put a restraining hand on the frightened young hobbit's arm before he threw Frodo's joint out of its socket in his anxiety.
"I know what you saw, Ring Bearer." Galadriel's voice held all the concern of a block of ice. "That is what will happen if your mission fails." Her hands were clasped before her loosely, and Frodo noticed a silver ring inset with diamond on her right hand, and suddenly the hobbit knew what to do with the Ring of Power. Now that Sauron had seen him, it was sheer folly to try to sneak it into the Dark Lord's kingdom. Elrond may not have been able to hide the One Ring, but Galadriel had experience with hiding such things.
"Lady Galadriel, you carry a Ring of Power all ready. You would know how to keep the One Ring safe from Sauron, wouldn't you?" He asked her hopefully. Sam looked amazedly at Galadriel's hand. Obviously the younger hobbit had never noticed her ring, either.
"My ring does not carry the taint of evil that yours does, Frodo Baggins. The three made for the elves were always well hidden, and they were never touched by the Dark Lord's hand. Sauron's blood and spirit were poured into the One Ring. It will not be hidden from its master, as my ring was." She fingered the white stone set in silver upon her right hand, murmuring part of a poem as old as the One Ring, a poem Frodo knew too well:
`Three rings for the elven kings under the sky,
Seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In Mordor where the shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In Mordor where the shadows lie.'
Two of the lines were inscribed in Dark Elvish upon the otherwise plain gold band of the One Ring, visible only under intense heat. Frodo took the chain off his neck and proffered it to Galadriel. "If you ask it of me, I will give you the One Ring."
The icy elven sorceress took a step toward him, a glint of sorely tempted surprise showing in her once emotionless blue eyes. "You offer it to me freely," she said softly. "I do not deny my heart has greatly desired what you would give to me. Yet the evil that was devised long ago works in sundry ways, and will continue whether Sauron himself stands or falls." Suddenly a change came over her face, and the witch appeared to be clad in armor, deadly and radiantly beautiful. "In place of a Dark Lord you would set up a Queen! And I will not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the morning and the night. Radiant as the sun and fair as the snow upon the highest mountain. Dreadful as lightning in the harshest storm and stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me in despair!" Her ring caught the starlight, illuminating her and darkening the surroundings as she stood before the startled hobbits, tall and worshipful, terrifying and beautiful.
She laughed, and the light faded. Galadriel stood before them as she had before, but her plain white robes held no ornamentation, her autumn blonde hair was in disarray, and her blue eyes, no longer dark and terrible to look upon, held a true glimmer of laughter and hope. "And so I pass my test. I cannot take the Ring, Frodo. Lothlorien may be swept away with time, but my people and I will survive in the west, beyond the sea."
"Now we just have to hope we pass ours," Frodo said with humorless mirth, still too shocked by the sorceress's trial by fire to convey true emotion. Sam blinked and gaped helplessly beside him, unsure of how to proceed.
"You will, Frodo Baggins. You are wise and brave, and most importantly you are able to resist the temptations of the Ring." Galadriel smiled, and for once it touched her eyes.
"I still think you oughta take the Ring, Lady Galadriel. You'd give those diggers a real what-for. You'd make those folk pay for their dirty work." Sam said, reassured at the elf's sympathetic smile.
Galadriel shook her head at Sam's comment, and then said with a sad, slightly regretful light in her eyes, "Alas, that is how I would begin, if only I would stop there. Yet it is late, and let us speak no more of the Rings of Power or dream visions tonight."
* * *
The next few days passed peacefully enough, with only Boromir and Tasana's affair to disturb the calm of the Golden Wood. Aragorn had recruited the aid of some of the elf maidens to help keep watch over his sister. Tasana was kept too busy discussing herb-lore, hunting, and learning bits of the elven language to seek out a private place with her lord. Strider could not, of course, keep them totally separated, but he kept a sharp vigilance upon Tasana and Boromir during public interactions.
The steward's heir was looking better rested, was in brighter spirits, and was even more eager from a stolen kiss now that Aragorn was keeping him away from Chev'yahna most of the time, with similar constant activity. Boromir never developed the knightly adoration for Galadriel that Gimli did, but even the lord from Gondor was forced to admit that the sorceress had done her best to help their fellowship by the end of their stay in Lothlorien.
And Galadriel's best was certainly top notch. The company that had entered the Golden Wood as suspicious, grieving individuals who had allied only because extenuating circumstances had forced them to left Lothlorien as close friends united for a common cause. Legolas and Gimli, who had been making poorly veiled derisive remarks concerning one another all the way through Moria had formed an especially close bond, unusual enough considering their vastly different personalities and even more so for the history of their forefathers. They still poked fun at one another, but it was obviously in much lighter spirits than before, when Strider and the rest had thought it only a matter of days before the elf and dwarf went after each other with steel.
This was not to mean that all the problems between group members were solved. Aragorn could not lead the company and maintain his constant vigilance upon his sister. Frodo, although at first glance friendly and companionable with the rest of the group, was even more aloof as he sat thinking by himself at nights, thinking of the images in Galadriel's mirror, her temptation by the Ring, and what these boded for the rest of the group.
Before they started out along the river, heading south, Galadriel met them at the river in a boat carved with swans. She had restocked their bags with lembas: the sweet elven alternative to the dwarves' cram; the latter journey bread Legolas swore could double as a hammer in an emergency. Tasana had become something of a connoisseur of dried foodstuffs from over thirteen winters spent in the wild. She had to agree with the Mirkwood prince after trying a bite of the leaf wrapped elven journey bread that, although not quite as good as fresh meat, the soft lembas tasted sweeter and gave a more potent burst of energy than the over-baked whole grain (and whole chaff, according to the elf,) dwarven cram.
Galadriel also had a gift for each of the travelers. To Sam she gave a box of fertile earth from her gardens and a small seed. Even if his beloved trees of Bagshot Row had been torn down, anything Sam planted in that soil would grow quickly and profusely. The seed was from one of the beautiful golden trees of Lothlorien that never lost their leaves, even in deepest winter. To Strider Galadriel gave a jeweled scabbard, naming his sword and proclaiming its heritage as Narsil, the sword of Isildur.
Tasana shook her head at the slightly gaudy presentation, remarking to Boromir, "That bloody blade's got a higher lineage than I do." With her old unnamed scimitar that she had pulled from the alpha male's wound hanging in its battered leather scabbard at a rude loop in her belt, Tasana was plainly not the type of woman who held with much ornamentation.
"If your lineage was any nobler, my Princess of Gondor, I'd be afraid to court you." He whispered back, wrapping an arm about her shoulders. Boromir was obviously impressed by the total effect of the ancient blade and jeweled scabbard, however, touching the sword at his waist with a hint of the humbling inferiority he suddenly felt when compared with the ranger. Tasana laid her head on his shoulder, comforting his unvoiced fears of incompetence with her simple, but in Boromir's mind august, presence.
Strider himself had been rendered wordless with gratitude; his backwoods origins where such embellishments were not possible were glaringly obvious to his city-bred sister. He was graceful enough to thank his hosts, at least, although in a manner that suggested to Tasana that he was more familiar with these elves than she had first thought. Hadn't Legolas mentioned Strider was courting an elf maid named Arwen, the Mirkwood elf's cousin through her mother's line and his father's both tracing back to - Galadriel? Strider may have grown up in backwoods country, but he had certainly managed to find the most powerful family in the backwoods to become familiar with.
"Is there nothing else you require, Aragorn? For we may not meet again until we reach the path from whence there is no return." Lord Celeborn, Galadriel's husband asked the ranger.
"There is but one treasure I yearn for, Lord Celeborn, and it is not yours to give," Strider gave his sister in Boromir's arms a thoughtful glance, wondering when he would be able to hold his own beloved close again as Boromir did.
"Then perhaps you will accept this gift that was entrusted to my care in the event you should come to the Golden Wood," Galadriel spoke up, handing the Dunedain a small wrapped packet. "I gave it to my daughter, and she to hers, now it has been given to as a token of hope for the future, Estel." Strider smiled at the childhood nickname, Elvish for `hope'. Arwen still called him that. "Take it, and with it the name foretold for you: Elessar, the elf stone who shall return hope to these lands after the Dark Lord is vanquished." Aragorn unwrapped the package to reveal a brooch with a great emerald, centered in the breast of a silver eagle with outstretched wings. He definitely recognized this as a gift from Arwen.
Tasana had to smile at the look upon her brother's face. She put her arm around Boromir as Strider turned to thank his hostess. "For the gifts you have given me I thank you," Aragorn bowed before Galadriel. "O Lady of Lothlorien from whom sprang Arwen Evenstar, what greater praise could a humble Dunedain attempt to give you?"
Next came belts for Pippin and Merry, silver with clasps of gold shaped like the fair flowers that graced the trees of Lothlorien in the spring, the real blooms of such were only beginning to open as the company left. Boromir received a similarly designed golden belt from the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien, along with their blessings. "Forgive me, Lady Galadriel," the Steward's son bent low before her. "I misjudged your purposes when we first entered your domain, but now I see that you and your people have done nothing to warrant my mistrust. You have done all you could to help us."
"Go in peace, Lord Boromir. All is forgiven." Galadriel's smile was reflected in her eyes, but there was a touch of sadness in both. She gave her kinsman Legolas a longbow such as the archers of Lothlorien used: longer, thicker, and suppler than the one he had brought from Mirkwood.
To Frodo Galadriel gave a small glass vial that sparkled in the morning sunlight. "In this phial," she explained mysteriously, "is caught the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
Then the elven lady summoned Tasana forward, handing the healer a small, hollow metal rod decorated with twisting ivy vines in relief. The rod, about the length of Tasana's forearm, tapered to pointed ends with a pinhole in each. "Perhaps your blood is not as high as that of Narsil, Chev'yahna of the Wargs," the witch said with a cryptic grin. "But it may yet give hope to one who had none."
At last, the elven sorceress turned to Gimli. "And what gift would you have in memory of your stay in Lothlorien, my good dwarf?"
"N-n-nothing," Gimli stuttered as he bowed. "I could never forget the beauty of these woodlands, nor that of its lady." Celeborn and Galadriel smiled at the rough-hewn dwarf's attempt at eloquence.
"No one here can ever speak of the dwarves as greedy and ungrateful again!" Celeborn announced with a laugh. "But truly, Gimli, we must give you something for your travels. What would you like?"
"Nothing, Lord Celeborn. Nothing except," Gimli said bashfully, stammering to a pause before continuing quietly at Galadriel's gentle encouragement. "If it's not too much trouble, Lady Galadriel, I would very much like a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the brightest jewels of the mine."
Galadriel smiled and cut off a long lock of her golden hair. "They say dwarves' skill is in their hands instead of their tongues, but Gimli son of Gloin has proved this saying false. Never have I heard so bold and so courteous a request. Of course it shall be fulfilled. Think of this land when you use your gifts," she added for the entire company.
"But of course, O fairest lady of the Golden Wood! For no matter how far I roam, my heart remains here with you." There were tears in Gimli's eyes as Galadriel departed in the swan boat back towards Lothlorien upriver.
Each member of the group also received a light elven cloak, warm enough for deepest winter and cool enough for a hot spring day, which blended into the background. "It will not turn an arrow," Celeborn warned them before he left with his wife, "but it will help you hide when you do not wish to be seen."
The group decided to travel downriver in buoyant, tightly sealed elven boats along a course that lay halfway between Minas Tirth and Mount Doom until they reached the fens south of Lothlorien. They divided their gear into the three rowboats, as so at least one person per boat had prior rowing experience.
Most hobbits had no more love for boats than the four had shown for treetops, yet Merry Brandybuck was quick to point out that "not all hobbits looked upon rivers as wild horses"; Merriadoc had grown up along the Brandywine River. Tasana had never been to the Shire, but from the way the hobbits described it, the Brandywine sounded as if it were almost as rough sailing as a stream of spilt liquor.
Which still gave Merry more boating experience than Tasana. She could swim as well as any youth in the Fourth Gate in Minas Tirth, but the healer had never ridden on such a small boat before.
Gimli, like the hobbits besides Merry, had had little contact with any water deep enough to wet his ankles, and often smelled that way, as the acidic-tongued Prince of Mirkwood would point out in their teasing rounds of gibes. Her nose trained to sensitivity from years of hunting with the Wargs, Chev'yahna had to admit the archer was not far off the mark. Of course, despite claims to the impossibility of such an assertion, Tasana still believed that several weeks out in the wilds were doing little for elven hygiene, either. All arguments of relative cleanliness aside, that left Legolas, Boromir, and Aragorn to lead boat crews.
Gimli and Legolas had become close friends during their stay in Lothlorien; Sam would not be separated from Frodo due to a promise he had made to Gandalf, and it was only natural for Merry to stay together with his younger cousin, so it was necessary for Tasana to ride with the elf and the dwarf to avoid capsizing their boat. It suited Aragorn just fine that Boromir was rowing with Pippin and Merry in front of him instead of the ranger's sister.
Strider trusted Legolas and Gimli with his life, but even so he took the archer aside for a moment only to have the elf double over in laughter. "Chev'yahna has made it very clear that she intends to be Boromir's bride and no one else's. I don't think either Gimli or myself would care to face the combined wrath of all three of you." Legolas explained once he had caught his breath. All in all, the arrangements worked out fairly well.
* * *