The Voice of the Waters by Zdenka

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Written for GenEx 2016.

Galadriel knelt on the mossy bank beside the flowing waters of the Celebrant. There was a bright gleam of light from her hand as Nenya’s jewel caught the sunlight. She drew in a deep breath and let it out again, letting her awareness sink down and expand outward. The borders of Lothlórien held firm; she could sense the delicate, invisible tracery she had woven about the marches of her land, the threads gathered into her hand if she wished it.

She could not help remembering the hours in Melian’s weaving-room when she had first learned those skills, with Lúthien sitting beside her. It was not only weaving with thread that Melian taught them. To hear the Song that echoed softly through Arda, to touch it, at need to bend it gently to one’s own will--So Melian had kept the bounds of Doriath inviolate, for a time.

But Galadriel had another purpose in mind: not only to see within the borders of her own land, but further abroad. She dipped her hand into the cool river water, feeling the gentle strength of the current flowing through her fingers. Aided by Nenya, she sent her thought into the waters.

Perhaps another day she would follow the flowing waters of Celebrant until they reached the Anduin and joined the Great River rushing southward into Gondor. But today she went westward against the current, through Nimrodel’s waters, and then following dark and secret streams beneath the Misty Mountains to the other side. Further yet her thought went, wending with the River Glanduin through the land that was once Eregion, and further north.

She could faintly feel a blue thread of power twining down through the Bruinen; perhaps another day, too, she would reach out in thought to Elrond in Imladris. But today, she wished to know more of Arnor, to see whether the Enemy’s creatures menaced it or sent spies abroad. Northward still and westward her thought went, carried on Nenya’s silver current amid the foaming waters.

And then--she was not alone. Another presence filled the waters wherein she drifted, and suddenly she was caught and held with a great and living strength.

Galadriel instantly drew Nenya’s power to her, pulling on the gleaming silver threads, and prepared to fight for her life and freedom. If need be, she could call upon the power of the land of Lothlórien itself that knew and heeded her. Yet first she extended her senses, seeking to know what it was that held her. She sensed curiosity, but no malice--a power very ancient, older than Sun and Moon, yet young as a morning of spring. This was no creature of Sauron or escaped servant of Morgoth. Galadriel waited then, her own curiosity stirred in turn.

There came a gentle touch against her spirit, and the being’s thoughts formed themselves into words in her mind. “Who are you?”

“Galadriel, of Lothlórien.”

In return, she received an image of sunlight glinting on water, and clustered green leaves rising up beside the river; the brambles of a berry-bush, strong and rooted in the living earth. And a word in the Common Tongue: Goldberry.

“And what is this?” Goldberry touched the current of Nenya’s power, as one would let water run through her fingers. “It is not of the waters, yet it speaks to them and sings with their voice.”

“This power comes from the craft of the Noldor,” Galadriel replied, with private sorrow as she thought of the peril and loss entwined with that craft. She did not choose to speak of Nenya except in the vaguest terms, but Goldberry did not seem offended when Galadriel turned away her thought. Nenya’s power seemed to have no effect on Goldberry, Galadriel realized with a frown. She did not resist it, but seemed rather to ignore it, slipping in and out of it at her will like a small fish through the meshes of a net. “And what are you?” Galadriel asked. “No servant of the Valar, yet no creature of the Enemy, I think.”

“Not of his, not of theirs. I remember the Hunter with his horn, long ago; I remember the Lady of the Trees, who wished to bless my land. I did not deny her, but I did not seek her out. You ask what I am? So the Lord of Waters asked me once, for he did not remember me in his Song. I am no enemy of the Great Powers, but they did not make me. I was here, and I am: the River-woman’s daughter.”

Galadriel was alert now and still more curious, hearing of a power she had no previous knowledge of. “Is this land yours? Do you rule its waters?”

“Rule them?” Goldberry laughed. “Does the rain rule the land, or does the growing grain? Long and long have we dwelt here, I and the Master; and we shall stay, I think, until the Sun and Moon and stars pass away. We are friend to bird and beast, to Men and the hobbit-folk; but we rule none and we are ruled by none. We are.” Behind her words, Galadriel caught glimpses of vast age, Middle-earth under dim stars before the rising of Sun or Moon. No birds sang and no flower bloomed in that darkness, but high tree-like ferns swayed overhead; and there stood deep ancient forests of evergreen where strange creatures roamed, of kinds that had long since vanished from Middle-earth: swift and deadly with tooth and claw, or lumbering heavily with armored hide.

 “You ask me what I am?” Goldberry said again. “I cannot tell you, but perhaps I can show you.”

Galadriel hesitated a moment. “Agreed,” she said, and reached out toward Goldberry. Goldberry reached out in turn, and at once Galadriel felt herself pulled deep, deep beneath the dark waters. Almost she struggled, instinctively trying to win free, but she suppressed the impulse. She would not let go before learning what Goldberry could show her. And then she was carried onward as if on a strong current. Down, and back, while mountains rose and fell and the shape of all the lands was changed; rivers changed their course but still flowed with hidden power, and that same power sang through the land. Goldberry did not possess or wield that power; she was, and that power was her, and another who walked through the fields, and the two of them were one, and they were the land and they were the water, rising from the river to the clouds and falling again as rain, scattered in the violence of storm, soaking the thirsty earth, and she was the earth also, hands uplifted to receive it, and she was the water lilies growing upon the water and the swans that paddled upon its surface and the small birds that sang among the reeds, and the growing grain and the wind that bent it. She came at last to the light again, rising in a rush of bubbles, and sunlight played upon the river’s surface.

“I am,” sang Goldberry again and laughed, and her laughter was the ripple of water.

Galadriel was released at last, dizzy but unharmed. She drew on Nenya’s power to steady herself, and realized that she had not felt the touch of Nenya’s power in all that time. She suspected that Goldberry would care as little for an offer of political alliance or mutual defense as she did for the smith’s arts, but she was all the more intrigued. “Perhaps you can aid me in my purpose,” she said. “I seek to know whether any creatures of the Enemy walk abroad in this land where you dwell.”

Goldberry tugged gently at her thought, seeking to show her something else. Galadriel followed. She was not certain whether what she saw was memory or vision, things past or happening now and seen through Goldberry’s eyes. There was a company of Orcs, marching with their iron-shod boots. As she watched, they came to a flowing stream, lovely with water lilies. Into the water they went, and they rent and trampled on the water lilies as they passed, as Orcs always delighted in fouling anything fair. The water came up to their knees, and then to their waists. And their heavy boots sank in the mud of the riverbed, while the green stems of the water lilies twined around them. Galadriel heard Goldberry’s clear voice singing, softly in the beginning, barely distinguishable from the voice of the river, and then more strongly.

The Orcs only laughed at first in their harsh voices and sought to tear free. But the lily-stems held them, flexible but strong. The Orcs were not laughing now, but angry, though they still did not perceive their danger. And the tough green stems pulled at them, and pulled them down, where their roots were fixed in the river mud. Soon only a few bubbles came up to the river’s surface, where the water lilies floated serenely. The song grew softer and died away.

“You defend your land well,” Galadriel said.

“I do not always see them pass,” Goldberry murmured, “especially in the winter when we are drowsy. But when they come too near, I bar the land and the waters to them; and the Master does likewise. They are bound with pain to their flesh, and they rage at it; I hold them a little and then set them free, to flow away with the waters. Perhaps they will find their own right place; for nothing here gives them joy.”

Galadriel wished to stay longer, but she could feel her weariness growing, and knew she must withdraw for her own safety. “I must go,” she said.

“Go, and come back again!” Goldberry said. “And then you may show me the rivers of your land.”

Galadriel slowly opened her eyes, once more limited to her own body’s senses, and came back to herself, kneeling in the springy moss by the Celebrant. She smiled to herself. It seemed she had found another power worth reckoning with, one who loved her land as strongly as Galadriel did. Galadriel wished to know more of Goldberry and the one she called the Master. She should speak first with Celeborn, and then--Perhaps she should find a time to pay a visit in person to the Withywindle.

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