It turned out to be a good thing that Arwen had told Snaga about her experiences with formality that night, because as soon as the girls were woken by a half-awed, half-terrified young Elven girl, Snaga was subjected to the kind of rules Arwen had told her horror stories about.
“The Lady Galadriel sends her greetings,” the child who woke them stammered, “and requests that you join her for the first meal of the day.”
Arwen got up quickly, went to the closet in their room, and chose a dress. Snaga also got out of bed and, since she had no other dress, reached for the one she had worn into Lorien and tossed carelessly onto the floor last night.
The Elf-girl gasped in horror. “Lady, you can’t wear that before Lady Galadriel!”
“Why not?” Snaga asked. “It’s the only dress I have.”
“It’s – well, it’s – it’s not clean!” the girl finally managed, her expression clearly stating her shock that Snaga would even contemplate wearing a dirty garment.
Arwen, her head the only thing visible over the dressing screen that stood in the corner of the room, caught Snaga’s eyes and winked. Snaga rolled her eyes at her cousin and turned back to the Elf girl. “What should I wear, then?”
“There are dresses in that closet,” the girl whispered faintly, pointing at the closet Arwen had made her selection from.
“Oh,” Snaga said. “I thought those were all Arwen’s.”
“Lady Undomiel is willing to share her gowns with you.” Snaga caught the tiny sigh behind the dressing screen as the Elf girl gave Arwen the honorific she didn’t care for.
“Oh,” Snaga said again. “Well – thank you. I’ll pick one.” She walked over to the closet, opened its door, and stared, completely at a loss for words. The dresses were certainly beautiful, but there were many different styles, and Snaga was sure that there were some styles that would not be acceptable for the morning meal. “I – which dress should I wear?” she asked the girl, who was hovering behind her, waiting for her verdict.
The girl’s eyes widened, but she stepped up to the closet and pulled out a light, floaty white dress. “This would be appropriate,” she said.
“Thank you,” Snaga answered, taking the dress. The Elf girl dropped an elegant curtsy and withdrew.
“What did I tell you?” Arwen said, her voice both amused and resigned.
“Whatever you told me, it wasn’t far off the mark,” Snaga replied, slipping behind the dressing screen as Arwen came from behind it.
But as the week that it would take to get an escort to Rivendell assembled passed, Snaga found herself paying attention to the various types of protocol that she witnessed. Arwen couldn’t understand her otherwise sensible cousin’s sudden curiosity about a subject that left her entirely at squares, but Galadriel only smiled and watched as Snaga accumulated a culture that she should have been born into.
Finally Arwen asked Snaga about her new obsession. “Why are you so interested?” she asked. “You’ll just give yourself a nosebleed trying to understand it all!” Snaga, busy struggling to sew herself a dress, let out a muffled Mordorian curse as she pricked her finger for the hundredth time. Arwen refrained from saying, “See what I mean?”
Snaga looked up, letting the would-be dress fall onto her lap. “Well, I may well give myself a nosebleed, but I have a lifetime of knowledge that I should know, and one week isn’t enough time to catch up on it. Galadriel’s kept me from becoming a freak show here, but your father has less of a connection with me to do that as easily, and I have to help as much as I can. I don’t want to give anyone cause to stare at me like – like I’m a new breed that might be domesticated. I want them to accept me as me, as an Elf, not as what they’ve heard of me.” Her throat was tightening. “You’ve been immersed in this all your life, and even though you hate it, you know what to do in any given situation. I don’t even know how to sew a skirt. I have to know these things if I’m going to stand any chance of fitting in.” She bent her head and picked up the dress again, twisting the fabric in an attempt to find the seam she’d been working on.
Arwen swallowed down the emotions that had suddenly risen in her throat. She looked at Snaga, her face screwed up in concentration as she labored to make the tiny effortless stitches that Elven maidens prided themselves on making, and smiled gently. Sitting down beside her cousin, she picked up the cloth and found the seam. “Here,” she said quietly, handing the section of fabric to Snaga. “And hold the needle like this.” She shaped Snaga’s fingers carefully around it.
Snaga looked up at her, her eyes unusually bright, and smiled tentatively. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Their stay in Lothlorien passed like a summer day – bright and shining, but all too short. Before Snaga knew it, she was packing the things Galadriel had given her and Arwen had lent her into a pack, and then – she hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep, where had the night gone? – she was climbing onto the back of a horse.
A horse. A horse that she had not the faintest clue how to ride.
Arwen glanced her way and couldn’t help smiling at the look she had come to recognize as Snaga trying not to look scared, when she was utterly petrified. She nudged her horse closer to her cousin’s and whispered tips into her ears. Looking grateful, though no less scared, Snaga did her best to do as Arwen told her and sat up straight.
Galadriel was already there on the ground to see them off. Snaga looked at her and felt a rush of emotion for this Elf, who had opened her heart to her and loved her unconditionally. I don’t want to leave,[I/] Snaga thought, clenching her hands in her horse’s mane. I want to stay with you.
She was not at all prepared for what happened then. Galadriel did not move her lips, but her voice, as clear as if she were speaking into Snaga’s ears alone, rang in her head. I know.
Snaga reeled, gripping her horse’s mane so tightly that the poor animal neighed and rose up briefly on its hind legs. What…was…that? she thought, struggling to stay mounted.
Forgive me. Galadriel sounded chagrined and apologetic. I was not thinking. But I do know that you wish to stay here, and I also know that you will never regret leaving here. Please, trust me about this. Snaga had the oddest feeling that if Galadriel were actually speaking aloud to her, she would have smiled. As it was, her voice took on a smile quality as she added, I do, after all, have the benefit of quite a few years on you.
All right, Snaga tried, hesitantly “speaking” in her mind.
Good. You’re catching on. But it is time for me to say goodbye to you all. With a start, Snaga realized that part of Galadriel’s goodbye speech had been delivered while her grandmother was “talking” to her in her head. She shook the head in question vigorously to clear it.
Galadriel approached Arwen then, reaching up to cover her hand. “Namarie, Evenstar,” she said softly, for Arwen’s ears alone. “May your path run smooth before you.” Arwen smiled at Galadriel and replied, “Namarie, greatest of Elven-kind.”
Then it was Snaga’s turn. Galadriel turned to face her and said quietly, “You have made a difficult passage, maiden of the shining hair, and it is not over yet. All the counsel I can give you is to continue as you have done.” Galadriel stepped up onto the mounting block that Snaga had used to get up on her horse and pressed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Namarie, Aglarfin. You go with my blessings.”
Snaga swallowed down the lump in her throat and whispered, “And you with my love, Lady of Lothlorien.” She reached out for her grandmother’s hand and squeezed it harder than she had meant to, but Galadriel understood.
Then she released Snaga’s hand and stepped back. Arwen nudged her horse forward as their escort led the way out of Lothlorien, and Snaga followed. Many would remember that, as the party left the Golden Wood, the Lady Aglarfin sat her seat as well as the Lady Arwen, and even reminded them of Galadriel herself.