Marta asked for a story about the "spiritual themes of Tolkien's world. I don't mean like Christian symbolism, but rather what form spirituality and organized religion would take in the various cultures of Valinor/Middle-earth. So I would like to request an interaction between Celeborn and Galadriel on a spiritual theme."
This request was at once the opportunity to explore something new and to also discuss an area of Tolkien's mythology that is one of my favorites as a researcher. This is the first full-length story I've written about Celeborn and Galadriel, so the chance to develop characters for people who still feel rather awe-inspiring to me (on account of LotR) was a lot of fun, as well as a challenge. The opportunity to write a story about a spiritual theme was familiar and welcome: I have several unfinished research projects dealing with eschatology. "The Ghost in the Garden" considers one oft-ignored aspect of Elven afterlife as Tolkien saw it: the possibility of spirits lingering to "haunt" a particular place that they loved in life (HoMe 10, "Laws and Customs among the Eldar").
In this tale, Galadriel is frightened by something she discovers in Doriath. In an attempt to understand her experience, she is led to consider the irreconcilable differences between the Sindar and the Noldor.
This story is rated for Teens on SWG on account of containing adult themes (i.e., discussions of death, afterlife, and ghosts) and for some heterosexual content.
It was a humid night in the midst of the midsummer celebration, and the air was heavy and thick. Green-scented mist rose from the ground and tangled amid the leaves of the glade, muting and blurring the twilit forest until even the noisy, amorous cries of the summer insects were hushed. There was a peal of laughter, and the mist from whence it came seemed to churn and grow thicker, taking shape and growing solid: a maiden, perhaps? Turning amid the trees, careful feet crushing nary a flower or twig, she was clad all in white, her hair golden but seemingly touched by the silver mist that swathed her. Just as quickly, the mist closed tight around her again.
But the laughter came again, louder this time, almost a shriek. With a rattle of wings, a flock of unseen birds took flight from the branches. It was a windless night, but the mist poured closer, seeking the sound of the laughter the way a hornet seeks the reek of flowers.
And the maiden plunged into the clearing, laughing so hard that she was doubled over by it, pursued by her silver-haired lover who caught her easily now and claimed her laughter with a kiss on the mouth.
Galadriel awoke. Her head was muzzy with aftereffects of too much wine; her mouth was sour from it. Where am I? came the brief, disoriented thought. The stars were too bright and the scent of greenery too thick. I am far from Menegroth, she thought. Of that, I am certain. She attempted to sit up but found herself pinned to the ground by a weight across her waist. Momentary panic surged through her, and she struggled against the weight before realization struck, and she laughed silently at herself.
Celeborn! she thought. They were in the forest, having chased one another here from the midsummer festival in Melian's gardens. Wriggling onto her back, she could see him lying beside her, sodden with inebriated sleep, breathing deeply and heavily, his breath hot against her naked skin. Wait …
Her hands flew to her breasts, which were bare. Celeborn, of course, had wanted to marry right away, but his king and kinsman Elu Thingol was being obstinate about it. Galadriel was a Noldo, he had said, and the Noldor were fundamentally different than the Sindar, and he had advised (meaning, Galadriel had thought wryly at the time, demanded) that Celeborn wait five years. At the close of those five years, if still he was certain, then Thingol would give his blessing.
Two of those five years had passed. Thingol would never forgive Celeborn if--
Galadriel's hands traveled down her body, finding a ripple of ribs (also bare) and Celeborn's arm around her waist, and beneath that, yards of silk skirt tangled around her legs. She sank back into the leaves. Blood pounded through her body still, but taking deep, relieved breaths of the cool night air, soon even that slowed. Her hands were making a quick inspection of her body. Nothing more had happened than had happened before, although she could tell without even having to look that the silk gown given to her by the Queen was ruined. No mind. It could have been much worse, she said to the guilty voice that worried her about mistreated gifts and a mortifying lack of gratitude. I will have it mended, and she will never know.
Startled into sobriety and wakefulness, she wondered if that was what Thingol had meant when he'd spoken of the fundamental differences between Sindar and Noldor. Doubtlessly, he saw the Noldor--who had reached the Blessed Realm where he had failed--as ungrateful for abandoning the gifts they'd been given by the Valar. Her face burned in the dark. He'd wished for what she and her people had forsaken. What some of her people had been so willing to escape that they had killed for the chance. The thought occurred to her that in three years in Doriath, she'd not once heard of an Elf voluntarily passing the Girdle of Melian. No, Thingol's people had tasted death and pain and torment at Melkor's hands; Thingol's people were grateful for the protection that they'd been given. Her fingers toyed with the soiled, ruined gown. They weren't the sorts to toss back a gift that had been given. Not like the Noldor.
She turned to watch Celeborn sleeping. How she loved him!--but on a sudden, she was filled with doubt. Perhaps Thingol was right. Perhaps their differences were too great to bridge, and he'd be best without her. She squeezed her eyes shut at the despair of imagining him on the arm of another, even a Sindarin lady more deserving of his love. She squeezed her eyes shut until she felt herself gently falling and knew that she was sinking into dreams.
Something touched her arm.
She jerked awake with a gasp. That something was not Celeborn; that something had the sort of touch that didn't impart cold so much as steal warmth; that something, she knew without even seeking it, was not human.
Celeborn slept soundly still beside her. The forest had gone completely silent; the stars looked sharp enough to cut her hand if she trailed it across the sky. Heart pounding, she waited. It was a dream. She thought of her Uncle Nolofinwë and how he banished illogic with ease of crossing an item from a list. We are alone, and we are in a protected realm. All that that could be--
But it touched her again.
This time, it stroked her hair as light as though with fingertips alone, but the cold--she held her body stiff and forced herself not to shudder--the cold sapped all of the heat from the summer air. From her flesh. The thing made a sound: a tiny warbling mewl like something small and wounded, and she could not hold back the shivers this time, least of all when it reached her ear and bumped the tip of it with fingers that were certainly solid, certainly real--though burningly cold--and certainly not the sort of thing that could be banished by so bland a construct as logic, even by Nolofinwë.
Fear knotted her gut and squeezed her heart, but in the midst of all of that arose a resentment. How dare this thing touch me like this? How dare it make me afraid? She could feel it toying with the ends of one of her curls, pulling it straight and letting it snap back into a ringlet again. Mustering the same foolish bravery it had once taken to leap from high places and land in cold, dark water in Aman, she imagined summoning every last bit of courage from the tips of her fingers and toes and letting it collect and burn and seethe in a bright ball in the center of her chest. Her body clenched, her eyes squeezed shut, her hands knotted themselves into fists, and--
She jerked upright and whirled to face the thing that dared to caress her as she seemingly slept, as though it had a right.
It was an Elf: that was her first panicked thought. An Elf--a male Elf--made of mist, of mist congealed and swirling like silver blood, with silver hair borne aloft upon the mist in absence of the wind, and its eyes--its eyes were the only part of it not made of mist. Nay, they were black and empty as the shadows that collected thick beneath the trees, unblinking, yet seeing. Despite every bit of logic that spoke against it, Galadriel knew that the thing saw her as clearly as she saw it.
Her lips fell open to question it--what are you?--but her throat was paralyzed, and she could only stare.
It felt like hours but by the pounding of her heart, Galadriel knew that it was less than a dozen heartbeats before the thing--the mist-Elf--began to melt back into the haze that wrapped the bases of the trees. Its hair caught and blurred, tendrils unraveled and made non-descript; its shapely torso sagged into a gray clump; its fingers spread and grew webbed and then became indistinct from the haze around it. A delicate leaf-shaped ear was smudged into the rest of the mist, and its nose collapsed, and soon, there were only two burning black eyes remaining. Then the mist rushed to fill them and they, too, were gone.
Too late, Galadriel stretched out her hand and cried in a thin voice, "Wait!" but it was gone.
Behind her, Celeborn stirred and sat up. Her hair was pushed aside and a kiss was pressed to the nape of her neck. "My love, what disturbs you? The ghosts in the garden?" He laughed low, and strong arms cradled her and lowered her back to their bed of leaves and grasses. Kisses moved across her face, her lips, down her body. A hand cupping her breast felt her racing heart, and not knowing the reason, the kisses grew more adamant yet. She watched him: her Celeborn, her beloved, with his silver hair and his fine, strong features. But for the heat of his touch, he might have been the Elf in the mist.
A fortnight later, Galadriel paced in front of Thingol's closed council chamber. Restless fingers twisted the stem of a morning glory that Celeborn had given her just a few hours earlier until the lingering green life within it had leaked onto her fingers. Her skirts swirled around her legs as she paced; her shoes chocked adamantly against the hewn stone floors. Stop it, stop it, she chided herself. Two ladies passed at the end of the corridor, absorbed in quiet conversation. Both paused to look at her. She forced her restless legs to stop roving and leaned against the wall between two tapestries. You look a fool!
Since the incident with the mist-Elf two weeks prior, Galadriel had wanted with every bit of her being to speak of it to Celeborn. When she was alone, the conversation they might have about it was constructed with ease in her thoughts. You know that I am a logical woman, she might begin. She imagined his face struggling to look earnest and attentive when, really, both had the tendency to become uncharacteristically silly or impassioned in the presence of the other, especially Celeborn, the younger. What is it, dearest? he would say. She would explain it, calmly and rationally. He would believe her, though he'd be just as shocked as she. Most importantly, he'd help her to find the answer.
And that was where the breakdown occurred. What she had seen was neither rational nor wont to be discussed with calmness. Half of the time, she doubted that she'd even seen it, no matter the image of it pressed indelibly into her memory. The other half of the time, she thought that she was going mad, as her Uncle Fëanáro had done. What is next? Now that I see what is not there, will I see connections and betrayals where there are none either? Will I start ranting about conspiracies with the complexity of one thousand tangled strings? Will I start a war in my fervor to prove my sanity?
She was pacing again, without having realized that her feet had begun moving.
One dozen times, she'd begun the conversation with Celeborn about the thing she'd seen in the forest that night. One dozen times, she'd become convinced of the unwisdom of this and had distracted him with kisses instead, or listened while he talked of politics, or told him silly half-true tales from her life in Valinor. One dozen times … but no longer. Today, she would speak of it to him.
From within Thingol's chamber came a murmur of voices, growing louder and stronger. The council was over for the day. Galadriel sank into the shadows and watched as the King and Queen emerged with their lords and servants in tow. Celeborn hovered eagerly at the periphery, bright-eyed and silent. He had only begun being included in the councils this past year, and he was the youngest present and wasn't often invited to speak. Thingol was intoning something about guard rotations; all looked bored except Celeborn. Someone added something dull, just to get his voice into the conversation, Galadriel suspected, to claim influence over the King. Celeborn's nostrils flared slightly; he'd noticed it too.
The King and Queen and their retinue began to move down the hall. If any of them noticed Galadriel, then they said nothing. Celeborn caught her eye. A tiny smile twitched on his lips, and he raised a finger at his hip: One minute, give me just one minute, and I am yours. Melian was speaking now in a voice that was at once gentle yet filled with the authority of ages. She was lending her support to Thingol's idea. None would disagree with her; the council was disbanded, and all slowly drifted down the hall, talking now of supper and the arrival of good wine from Círdan's settlement on the coast.
Celeborn broke free entirely. Without waiting for them to round the corner at the end of the hall, he caught Galadriel in his arms and kissed her mouth. "Hey, there," he said. "I didn't expect to see you here." As she deliberated for the thirteenth time the best way to start the conversation--and for the thirteenth time, considered kissing him hard and claiming unabated passion the sole reason for her presence--he fumbled for her hand and came up with the morning glory he'd given her earlier. Its stem was crushed and broken, twisted and worried. Concern flashed in his gray eyes. "My love? Is something the matter?"
Just as when she'd faced the mist-Elf, her mouth hung open yet her throat refused to allow any sound to come forth. Do not speak of this, fool. He will think you mad! The "fundamental difference" between a Sinda and a Noldo, indeed, is that the latter is prone to becoming fey. To imagining things: delusions of persecution, Elves made of mist--
"Yes. Let us walk." That was her voice; that was her hand, catching his arm and leading him down the hallway in the opposite direction from the others. It was too late to go back now. She took a deep and shuddering breath. She forced herself not to walk too quickly. "The other night in the forest, I--" She hesitated. His eyes gleamed with worry, but she imagined that once he heard what she'd "seen," then that worry would make way for something far more dreadful: disbelief. Scorn. "I saw an Elf," she blurted out, "in the mist."
"What Elf?" he asked. "Did you know him?"
"No, you misunderstand me. He was made of the mist itself. He touched me, awakened me. His hands"--she shivered at the memory--"his hands were so cold. When I turned to face him, to confront him, he was made of the mist, but his eyes were black, and empty. And then … he was gone."
Celeborn chuckled, and Galadriel's stomach plunged with the same sickening feeling as falling unexpectedly when one thought solid earth beneath one's feet. He thinks me mad! I will be a subject at his next council with the King. I will--
"Ah, Uirvoron, the tricky rogue!" he said and chuckled again. "You are golden-haired. He thought you were his beloved, Colleth."
Galadriel felt frustration well, and her fist crushed the morning glory. "Celeborn, you don't understand what I am saying, this Elf was made--"
"Of mist, yes. Or, that is how he appears. But he is not so dreadful. He is just a fëa who has left behind his hröa. He must have been startling, though, and I apologize, for I should have warned you of his presence in that part of the forest. He had not been seen in some time, though, and in truth, I forgot. I am sorry."
Celeborn ambled on for two steps before realizing that Galadriel's hand had slid from his arm, and he walked alone. He turned back to face her. "My--"
"Are you mad?" Those words she had so dreaded to hear, how they tumbled with such ease from her lips! He flinched, but barely--his study with Thingol was garnering results--and she felt her face flush with anger and shame. So like a Noldo! Speaking before she thinks. Thingol was right about me. Only two years into love and--
"I am not mad." His voice was measured and soft. "Did you not have them, in your land?"
Nervous laughter burbled past her lips. "Have what? Elves made of mist that go about touching strange maidens and--no. No, we decidedly did not."
"No, my love, I mean not Uirvoron necessarily. I mean fëar forsaken."
"No, Celeborn," she said stiffly. "Fëar go to the halls of Mandos. They do not occupy the mists!"
"But they may," he said. He proffered his hand. "Walk with me?"
She took his hand because she knew not what else to do. Her thoughts tossed and whirled like fallen leaves upset by the wind. In Valinor, she'd been taught all that she'd needed to know about the nature of hröar, fëar, death, and the afterlife … or so she'd thought. It had been simple and orderly when her father had explained it to her as a little girl, when she'd asked why butterflies died. When she'd asked if she would die, or him, or Amil, or Findaráto, or any number of her loved ones. Fëa, hröa: one needs the other to survive. Should they become sundered, should the hröa die--her father speaking so delicately then, and Galadriel fighting the tears that wanted to spring to her eyes at the thought of her father being like the butterflies--the fëa went into the keeping of Námo, and a new body was made for it. Before that night, she hadn't liked Námo much, with his slippery green eyes and face like carved from stone. But afterward, she bore a grudging admiration for him, he who kept them immortal in totality, spirit and body. And afterward, her courage grew, and she flourished to follow. No longer did she fear high places or whipping storms or the tumultuous sea, not when she knew that there was never truly an ending. For the butterflies, yes. But not for her.
For a long while, she and Celeborn walked, and neither said anything. They passed through the gates of Menegroth. The guards nodded at Celeborn, who was inching his way toward respectability, and smiled at Galadriel, who usually could manage a smile back but today could not. She lowered her gaze so they would not think her impolite. Hand in hand with Celeborn, they came to one of Melian's many gardens and strolled among the roses and the fountains.
"I--I just do not understand." Her voice startled her. Celeborn looked less alarmed at her outburst. "Fëar go to Námo in Mandos. It is the way of things!"
"Not necessarily," he replied gently. "Some ignore the call and stay in the place where they lived, where they loved. That was Uirvoron. When Thingol first became separated from his people on the Great Journey, many wandered this forest, seeking him, refusing to journey onward without him, for they loved him. Uirvoron and his wife, Colleth the golden, were among those who forsook the light of Valinor out of love for their king, and long they wandered in grief of his loss, and so great was the grief of Colleth--who had ever served him--that she became parted from Uirvoron, and she too, became lost.
"Thingol, of course, was found, but Colleth remained missing, and Uirvoron suffered without her but never gave up hope. Though never much of an athlete, he trained hard and joined the border patrol, thinking he would receive first word of her there, should she be found. All others believed she was dead but Uirvoron--he hoped. He hoped against all logic and evidence; he hoped because she was all that held his fëa to his hröa, and like any living creature, he did not wish to die.
"But while patrolling the border one night, his party encountered a band of thralls sent by the Dark One. To what purpose, none know. But among them was Colleth." There, he paused. His gaze slid over Galadriel's face, as though memorizing her features. As though he imagined that she was Colleth. "She was terribly … harmed. She was barely recognizable. But he knew her.
"But she no longer knew him. Only after she put a blade through two of his friends did he know that redemption was not hers to have in life, and he killed her to save the lives of the others.
"But with her death--and the truth--went his will to live, and he died of grief that year, wasted in sadness and starvation. Here, he has stayed since. It is said that he waits, for the fates of the thralls of Melkor have not yet been decided. It is said that he waits for Colleth in this place where they briefly knew happiness, where he loved her and loved his King, and in pursuit of one, lost the other. It was he who you saw in the mists."
The paused before a reflecting pool bound with rosebushes of every color. Beneath the surface of the water, silver fish flashed and played. Galadriel dipped her fingertips into the water--still cold from winter--and disturbed the perfect reflection. Ripples spread and grew smooth again.
"It seems evil," she said at last, "to refuse the summons of Námo."
Celeborn sat on the edge of the pond and inclined his face to hers. "Why would you say that, if it is his wish?"
"Because I question what would make one reject the light of Valinor and the Valar in favor of … what? Playing tag in the mist with strange, golden-haired maidens? Or why one would forsake the chance to live again, to run and sing … and love? What would make one choose eternal death?"
Celeborn smiled and took her hand. His thumbs traced the golden rings that she wore; his fingers caressed palms cozened by books and quills, never having known the weight of haft and hilt. "It may be," he said, and his eyes were bright in the way of a child eager to share a treasure; his eyes were nearly as bright as those who had come over the sea, "that not all who live on this side of the sea have forgotten that, once, all the world was of equal loveliness. That all the world was of equal light. It may be that we wish to live in this world--our world--even if it means that we must die in this world as well. That life restored behind a fence is not superior to enduring death in a place and among people one has loved." He turned her hand and kissed her palm, long eyelashes fluttering shut and lying as dark smudges on his cheeks. In her heart, he puzzled her. Disappointed her. Frightened her, for again she had reason to fear: that he might die and choose not her road, and they would be sundered forever. In her heart, she wondered at the wisdom of a marriage between Sinda and Noldo. But her fingers curled and found his cheek; her palm lifted his chin. Her lips met his, and she felt him smile. No, she thought. This is right.