1. Child of Grace
“She killed us.” He could still barely believe that she would have betrayed him so. For a while, all he could do was stare up into the light. His cause was failed, now that nobody would continue the fight against the rule of the humans. His and all other people different from them would perish; there was no doubting it, and the humans would not even realise their loss, living on in a grey world robbed of magic and beauty.
Finally, Nuada sat up from where he had been lying and looked around, frowning. The sun was shining down on the small meadow and the trees around it, some of them with silver bark and golden leaves that reminded him of the ancient homelands of his people. But those lands were wasted, their beauty faded along with his people ages ago.
Was this the next world, then, the Golden Land? The legends his mother had told them as children had spoken of it, but he had long stopped concerning himself with these tales. Other things had become so much more important.
He immediately jumped up and spun around, reaching for his sword in vain. For the first time since he had been a child, it was not at his side.
“You need not be alarmed. There is no danger waiting for you here.”
It was a woman, Nuada realised, clad in white, blond hair spilling over her shoulders, glittering in the sunlight almost like the golden leaves.
“I am Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien, the Golden Wood. You are welcome here, Prince Nuada – I have been informed of your arrival.”
The Golden Wood? Maybe he had misremembered the name – could this indeed be the place from the legends? But Galadriel looked almost like a human woman, albeit more beautiful than Nuada had ever seen one – more beautiful, in fact, than most Elven women he had known. But should there not be only Elves in this place? And where was his sister? She should be here with him.
“I remember dying. Is this the next world? Is that why you know me?”
Galadriel shook her head. “Walk with me. You shall learn all that you need to know.”
“We are here.”
They had been walking in silence for a time that had seemed endless to Nuada. First, they had been surrounded by what appeared like a lonely forest, but finally, as they were nearing a hill, he heard voices from afar, singing, as he realised when they came closer. It was a beautiful sound and reminded Nuada of the time when his mother had still been alive, long before the first war with the humans had been fought. There had been feasts and dances then, with music just like this, echoing through his father’s hall and the forest around it.
They did not follow the sound to its origin, though, but turned away, and finally, they arrived at a hedge enclosing a garden. When they entered, Nuada followed Galadriel down a flight of steps into a small hollow, in the middle of which there was a pedestal of stone holding a silver basin.
“This is the Mirror of Galadriel,” the woman said as she took a silver ewer and filled the basin with water from the clear stream that flowed through the hollow. “Look,” she invited. “You will find your answers there.”
Her words confused him, but by now, a new idea had entered his mind. The possibility that this might indeed be the next world from the legends, combined with Galadriel’s beauty, her confidence, and her gentle but commanding demeanour . . . The humans had their gods to whom they prayed, and while Elves worshipped nobody but the Earth and the Skies, the ancient legends told of powerful beings who guarded the world – and the next one. Could Galadriel be one of them? It would be wise to obey her, then.
Nuada took a deep breath and bowed his head to look into the water.
In the beginning, he only saw the silver ground of the basin, but then, figures appeared in it. They were strangely familiar, and when he looked closer, he recognised that they were Elves, his people, surrounded by their ancient homes, which they had lost to the humans so long ago. For a while, he watched them, before he spotted a figure even more familiar than all the others – himself. It was he fighting alongside his father in battle; he leaving his people after the first war with the Golden Army; he practicing his swordsmanship, alone; he letting the tooth faeries loose on the humans, and . . .
Nuada turned away from the image of his sword embedded in his father’s chest. “That is enough!” His voice was rough, his fists clenched. “Does it please you to remind me of what I did?”
Looking up at Galadriel, he found her watching him with an expression of sadness, and his anger instantly mellowed. It was not she who had done these things.
Galadriel moved her hand over the basin, and the pictures in the water faded away. “This was the past – your past and that of your people. I do not take joy in showing it to you, for your and your family’s deaths are a foreshadowing of their future. Look!”
Once again, images appeared in the basin, showing his people – what was left of them. They were few, hiding in the shadows of a human world, and one by one, they faded until none of them remained.
“Your people will perish.” Galadriel’s soft voice tore him out of the vision. “Your world will be ruled by men, and they will forget that you ever existed.”
Nuada’s hands curled tightly around the edges of the stone pedestal.
“Humans! They are like a plague on the land – they destroy every living thing to build their cities of stone and metal, and their lives are as empty as their hearts! It is they who should perish!”
“They live according to their nature. You cannot blame them for it.”
“So it is right that they should live while we die?” Nuada could not believe that she would tell him the same thing as his father.
“Not right,” she corrected him, “but inevitable. At least in your world.”
He did not understand the meaning of her words, but she seemed to have known he would not, for she pointed down at the silver basin once more, where again, figures formed in the water. When Nuada looked closer, he realised to his surprise that they reminded him of Galadriel. Like her, they looked almost like humans, but with an air about them that betrayed that impression. Some of them were dancing on a small meadow. They were moving gracefully, their long hair shining, skin glowing in the flickering light under the trees. He could hear them sing as well, the same melody he had heard earlier on from the hill, and now more than ever did Nuada feel reminded of his own people. But these were not Elves.
“But they are Elves.” Galadriel waved her hand and the figures disappeared, making him look up at her. “We are Elves – these are my people.”
Had he spoken aloud without intending to?
You did not speak. Her lips were not moving - the voice was inside his mind, but unmistakably hers. I have powers you know not. All Elves in all the worlds are different, and yet, we share the same essence, we are all Elves.
It made no sense to him, and there had been nothing about it in even the legends, as far as he could remember. How could there be Elves that were so different; how could Galadriel claim to be an Elf like him? And what were these other worlds she had spoken of?
“Did you truly believe that your world was the only one? That everything revolved around your small piece of the universe?”
He should have feel angered at her patronising words, but he was too confused and tired to care. By now, Galadriel had moved next to him and gently put her hand on his shoulder. The touch was soothing, and for reasons he did not understand, he felt that at least he could trust her, even if he did not understand anything that was happening to him.
“There are uncounted worlds,” she went on, “and in all of them, there exist Elves, men, and many other people. Some worlds, like yours, are governed by men; in others, it is the Elves who rule. In others yet, it is dwarves or goblins. Only few worlds have the luck of maintaining a balance; the people there live in peace with each other.”
“That is impossible!” Even the idea of living side by side with humans was ridiculous – they would never be content with it.
“It is hard, but not impossible. Here in Middle-earth, we have lived alongside men for a long time. We did not wage war with them, but were allies against many evils. Now the age of the Elves in these lands is almost over and the age of men has come, but it is not their fault that they are how they were created. And still, only a short while ago, they and we fought together against a common enemy, and many of them have not forgotten it, nor will they in times to come. Look into the water one last time.”
Although he did not believe that her words could be true, Nuada did as she had asked. He was still a stranger here, and at her mercy.
Slowly, he could make out what appeared to be a city made of white stone, built against a high mountain. At the top of the city, in front of what seemed to be a large palace on a wide space with a white tree, a crowd of humans had amassed, and at this moment, a man and a woman appeared in the high doorway that led into the palace. Immediately, Nuada noticed that while the man was human, the woman was not. Her hair was black, but other than that, she bore a striking resemblance to Galadriel, from her fine features over the ethereal glow on her skin to the way she moved and held herself. At their appearance, the crowd cheered, and as they walked on, flowers were thrown before their feet.
“This is my granddaughter Arwen, now a queen of men, loved by her people. Soon, she will give birth to my great-grandson.”
The images changed; now Nuada saw the Elven queen hold an infant – she and her king were standing once more before their cheering people. More images emerged, showing the child growing, playing, living among the humans of his city, and finally, his father’s crown being placed upon his head.
“He will be their king one day, both, a man and an Elf. Although we will leave these lands one day, we shall never truly be gone. Part of us will forever live with men, even once we have moved on to the undying lands of our people where no mortal foot will ever tread uninvited.”
At last, the water cleared again. Nuada did not raise his head, however, but kept looking down at the silver basin, not knowing what to think or say. It was all too much to take in, so shortly after his death. Still, his thoughts and feelings were more with the world he had left behind than here, wherever he might be.
“I know what you are thinking.” Galadriel’s hand moved from his shoulder to his back, its comforting weight settling between his shoulder blades. “Why are you here, and why should you care about the Elves in my world when your own people are doomed?”
Mutely, he nodded, eyes still fastened on the still water. If she was indeed an Elf and the future would be as she predicted, he was glad for her people, but it did not change anything for him. The Elves of his world did not have a safe haven as she had described it.
“That is where you are mistaken.”
“How?” Finally, he could make himself look at her. “How does this change the fact that my people will die? Even if there are other Elves and they will survive, even if we are the same in essence, it is not . . .” He had to swallow a lump in his throat; only now did he realise that he had been yelling at her, and to his embarrassment, he felt tears sting in his eyes. Abruptly, he turned away from her and crossed the small hollow to be out of reach, away from her watchful eyes.
Thankfully, she did not follow him, and for a while, he stood stiffly, taking deep breaths to calm himself. In the end, though, the silence was becoming awkward – it was at that moment that her voice resounded in his mind again.
It is not enough, that was what you wanted to say. To know that other Elves will survive is not enough – your own people should be among them.
Nuada turned around to face her. Was there a possibility that something could be done about it? If not, why else would be bring it up? He did not want to believe that it could be only to crush his hopes completely. And there had to be a reason why he was here in her world.
“It is not asking too much,” Galadriel said, crossing the distance between them until she was standing closely before him. “The Valar agree with you on it – they will never let any people perish completely.”
Valar? Nuada frowned – he had heard that word before, a long time ago. Was this not the name of the beings described in the legends, of those to whom he had first believed Galadriel to belong?
“Yes,” Galadriel answered his thoughts. “They are the guardians of this world and all the others, including yours. They safeguard all people, and they make certain that at the end of times, when all the worlds will end, all people will still exist, however small. Though your actions were misguided and caused much suffering, the Valar have decided that your soul is pure. You did not seek to gain glory for yourself, nor did you fight out of simple hatred for men. Your actions were born out of love for your people. Therefore, the Valar chose you out of all of the Elves of your world to grant this gift. Your kind will live on, if you so desire, in your son.”
“My son?” Nuada shook his head in confusion. He had never taken a wife, and while he had been with Elven women before, procreation was reserved for marriage. “I have no son.”
“I know.” Galadriel smiled, then leant in closely. For some seconds, Nuada did not comprehend, and when he did, his intended protest was cut short by the gentle brush of lips against his own.
Centuries had passed since the last time he had been this intimate with a woman, and while his initial instinct was to push her away, he returned the kiss after only a few moments. After so long a time spent fighting, alone but for Wink, it was almost impossible to resist her touch. Nuada wrapped one arm around her slender waist, reaching up with the other hand to run his fingers along the fine black lines he expected to find on her cheek. All he felt was soft smooth skin, however, like with a human woman, and he tensed once more.
It was then that Galadriel pulled away just enough to look at him. Nuada had not realised that while he had been watching her mirror, night had fallen, but now the moonlight was turning her hair into a silver flood, and there was an indefinable expression in her eyes, alien but familiar – something he had never seen in a human.
She truly was an Elf.
He had believed it before, but it was as if only now, he had fully understood.
The smile returned to her face, a smile that spoke of the wisdom of millennia, and it was now that Nuada felt that he could truly accept what she had tried to explain to him.
Galadriel nodded her agreement to his thoughts. “You and I, we are the same.”
Whatever else she might have intended to say was cut short when Nuada drew her close and kissed her again. She complied readily, placing warm, comforting hands on his cheeks as her lips opened. For the longest time, they did nothing but kiss; there was no hurry, and no carnal passion yet, only her gentle closeness and the knowledge that this was right – for himself and his people.
It was Galadriel who finally broke the kiss and began to undress him, proceeding with herself as he stood naked before her. When her white robes fell to the ground, the colour of her skin reminded him once again of a human, but by now Nuada was no longer disturbed by it. Again, they kissed, and after a while, her lips moved away from his, instead trailing kisses along his neck and shoulders. Nuada shivered as her breath ghosted over his skin, and it was at this moment that she pulled him down on the grass with her.
Later, they were lying next to each other, Galadriel’s head resting on his chest, his hand entangled in her silky hair. The moonlight was painting her body and the whole hollow in a pale, soft light, and, looking up into the sky and at the uncounted stars, Nuada felt for the first time since the wars with the humans had begun as though despite all the suffering, there was a greater power, something that would protect him and his people, albeit in ways alien to them.
His son would carry on their heritage – if Galadriel had spoken the truth and was not mistaken. But she had known so much about him, and he had witnessed her powers, which were beyond those of Elves of his kind; he could not believe she might have erred. She seemed to be communicating with the Valar themselves.
Again, she must have read her thoughts, for she raised herself into a sitting position, looking at him.
“You need not worry. The Valar have indeed granted me the knowledge that in this moment, the child’s life is beginning.” She grasped his hand and placed it on her abdomen. “Your son will be safe with me and my people.”
“Will I see him grow up?”
She shook her head, slowly brushing her fingers over the lines on his cheek. “Your fate has been decided. This was but a respite from what lies beyond.”
It was not a surprise – Nuada realised that he had known it even while asking and he found that he could not be angered over it. Some things could not be erased. He nodded, not knowing how to respond. Thanking her for all that she had done seemed too simple and not enough.
“It is honest. It is enough.”
Nuada sighed and closed his eyes; he felt tired all of a sudden, a deep exhaustion that overwhelmed him completely. It was only for a second that he could try to resist, then his thinking became slow and blurred. Vaguely, he felt how Galadriel lifted him into her arms, holding him close to her chest. This was the time of his true death, he realised suddenly, but it did not matter to him. Nothing mattered anymore but the knowledge that he had not fought in vain. He would have a son who would live in safety. His people would never perish.
Farewell, Prince Nuada. I will take great joy in seeing our son grow up. He will know about his father’s fight for his kind.
Warmth engulfed him from all sides, his body became weightless, floating gently like a feather. The last thing he heard was Galadriel’s soft voice in his mind before this world, too, faded away.
This time, there was no pain, no lingering sorrow. For the first time in millennia, Nuada felt peace.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.