StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Fic) A Fading Crown

For the first time in at least a year, I've written fic! (Well technically I wrote part of it a while ago, but i've brushed it up for posting now, since it relates to the section of the Chibi History of Middle-earth I just posted.)

It's the end of the Third Age, and the elves of Lórien assemble for their final assault on Dol Guldur. As she prepares for battle, Galadriel remembers the first time she saw conflict, some 7,000 years previously.

Title: A Fading Crown
Fandom: Lord of the Rings/Silmarillion
Characters: Galadriel, her handmaidens Hestil and Lagoreth (OCs); in flashback: Fëanor, Maedhros.
Rating: 12 (violence, references to blood and killing)
Wordcount: 4430

A Fading Crown

"When the Shadow passed, Celeborn came forth and led the host of Lórien over Anduin in many boats. They took Dol Guldur, and Galadriel threw down its walls and laid bare its pits."
-The Tale of Years, entry for March 3019 (in part)

"Breathe in, please, my lady".

Galadriel took a deep breath, and held it as her handmaiden fastened the buckles of her armour. When Hestil gave her the signal, she breathed out again, and twisted to and fro to ensure her movements would not be restricted. It had been a long time since she wore battle-gear – which was partly why she'd asked Hestil to assist her instead of donning it herself. But the thick brown leather fitted her as closely as a husk wraps a grain, and the memories came back clearly.

She'd always preferred lighter armour, back in the days when she'd been allowed to fight her own battles. Before she'd been reduced to sending out others to die for her, since the bearer of Nenya was "too important" to be risked. Speed and grace, not brute force, were the hallmarks of her fighting style. She'd generally worn leather, reinforced at the crucial points by metal plates. The armour she was wearing now wasn't her own – unlike metal, leather could not last undecayed for centuries even in Lothlórien. Lagoreth had found this for her in the armouries. She'd brought several sets to ensure one at least would be a suitable size, knowing that her mistress was taller than the average woman; and Galadriel had mixed and matched the pieces until she found the ideal fit.

Hestil lamented the magpie appearance this gave her Lady; and the plain, unadorned nature of the metal plates and fastenings distressed her. She'd made her feelings clear – though naturally in the most respectful terms – that the Mistress of the Golden Wood ought to go into battle clad in engraved mithril and gold, or with her armour dyed in matching shades of green, or even better, purest white. Not plain steel and brown leather like a common march-warden! Galadriel had let her vent her feelings, knowing they were rooted in loyalty and love. Besides, for all her clearly-expressed dislike of the armour, Hestil did not let that slow her down for a moment as she briskly and efficiently assisted her mistress to put it on.

Finally, Galadriel did remark, in the most gentle tones of reproof, that white was a most unsuitable colour for armour that would actually be worn into battle, rather than just a parade. Hestil had gone very quiet very suddenly, and Galadriel could tell it wasn't because of the rebuke. Her handmaiden had never been in combat herself as far as Galadriel knew, but she'd seen the wounded soldiers in the aftermath. She knew what that was like.

Galadriel knew too. Suddenly, with the clarity of Elven memory, she saw blood dripping off her hand, dyeing the sleeve of her armour dark red. Shouts and screams and the clangour of metal echoed all around her, and there was a body at her feet. Her sword was stained with blood. Blood pooled on the white marble flagstones beneath the body, beneath that dead flesh that seconds ago had been a living, breathing being. She shuddered, and wiped futilely at her hands, and only smeared the blood further over herself...

"My lady? My lady, what's wrong? Is the armour too tight?"

"No. No, it's fine." Galadriel shook her head to clear the memory. Perhaps accompanying her husband to this battle would not be the wisest course of action after all?

No, she would not let fear stop her from doing her duty. She sat down on a chair, started pulling on her boots as behind her, Hestil began to fasten up her hair so it would not get in the way during combat. Let the sharpness of her memories be soothed by the practicalities of preparation.

It was at that moment that Lagoreth burst in with her customary loud enthusiasm.

"I've found it!" she cried. "Look! I found it! Uh, sorry. I mean, I found it, my lady."

Behind her, Galadriel heard Hestil click her tongue in exasperation. Her two chief maids – one Sylvan, the other Sinda – were very different in personality. Lagoreth's abundant energy complemented Hestil's painstaking attention to detail, and both of them were devoted to her in their own ways. Most of the time they got along together well enough – but sometimes, Galadriel would have to (metaphorically) drag them apart like two spitting wildcats. She hoped this wouldn’t be one of those times.

Fortunately, Lagoreth was too interested in her discovery to care about the pained expression which, Galadriel knew without having to look, was on Hestil's face. She held out the long, thin item she was holding in triumph. "Your sword, my lady!"

Galadriel remembered it. She remembered holding it up before her, in the guard position she'd been taught in more peaceful days, as the blade glowed red in the flickering light of the torches. She was tired, and cold, and hurt in a dozen places, but bore no wound that was serious enough to slow her down. Not yet. She stood in a stone archway, hearing cries and whimpers and groans from the darkness behind her. In front of her was the enemy. She would not let them pass. Not while her hand was strong enough to wield this sword.

The Lady of Lothlórien, still seated as Hestil braided up her hair, reached out a hand and accepted her sword from Lagoreth. "Thank you. Where was it?"

"Buried in the deepest storeroom of Caras Galadhon! Well almost. It was with the things you brought from Imladris when you first came here, my lady. I don't think the box had ever been opened."

"No, it wouldn't have been." The sword was in a scabbard of thin black metal, a small cluster of white gems midway down its length in the shape of an eight-pointed star. Hestil, standing behind her and presumably looking over her shoulder, made a surprised noise.

"The star of the House of Fëanor? Was the sword a gift, then, my lady? From Celebrimbor of Eregion, perhaps?"

Galadriel smiled wryly. "No. It's older than that. A lot older."

She took hold of the sword's hilt and pulled the blade a centimetre or two out of the scabbard. It slid out easily, and the steel glittered like cold ice in the candlelight, as bright and free of rust as the day it was made. She knew without having to check that the edge would be just as sharp. This sword was made by an expert craftsman, after all.

There were small symbols inlaid in the metal at the top of the blade: tengwar letters, rather than the runes that were normally used for inscriptions. Lagoreth, proud of her rediscovery of the sword, came closer to look at them: but it was Hestil who first pronounced them out loud.

"'CFF'? My Quenya is a little rusty, I'm afraid, my lady, and I struggle if they leave the vowel-marks out. I'm not quite sure..."
She was interrupted by a loud, excited squeal from Lagoreth.

"Fëanor made that sword? Fëanor himself? And I held it in my hands?"

Hestil made an exasperated sound, the sound that is usually accompanied by a roll of the eyes; but any further comment from her was forestalled when Galadriel said calmly, "Yes, that's right. It was a gift from my uncle. Curufinwë Fëanáro Finwion, that was the mark he put on the things he crafted."

Now it was Galadriel's turn to let a note of asperity into her voice, though she stopped short of rolling her eyes. "At least, he did that in the early days. Later on, he decided that the works of his hands were so distinctive and special, nobody would need to see his mark to realise he made them."

The milling, struggling crowds were driven to and fro like waves on the beach as the tide of battle raged around her. Galadriel kept to her post in the archway, and now there were bodies around her feet. More bodies, and her sword no longer gleamed beneath the torches; it was dull and coated in blood that looked almost black in the dim light. But then the crowd parted, and she saw him. The battle was bringing him in her direction; whether by chance or according to some purpose of his own, she did not know. A few of the defenders tried to intercept him, but he slew them with casual ruthlessness, barely pausing in his stride.

As he advanced from one pool of torchlight to the next across the quay, he seemed almost to flash in and out of existence, now here, now gone, only the trail of bodies behind him marking his path. His face was set and grim, but his eyes blazed with hot fire. He reached her post of defence, and his sword lashed out to cut her down, as it had cut down all others who dared to stand between him and his goal. But not this time. Galadriel's own sword rose in defence, and his initial blow was parried away with a clash like thunder.

Lagoreth was still excited. "Have you really had that sword ever since the Elder Days, my lady? It looks strange, thinner than a normal sword, but I bet it's really strong if Fëanor made it! Did you fight in many battles? Did you kill Balrogs and dragons with it?

Galadriel had never killed another living thing. Unlike her cousin Aredhel, she'd never even been hunting. But like all the Noldor in those days, she learned the art of sword-fighting, as an exercise for body and mind if nothing else. She never thought she'd have to use it. Never thought she'd be running through the darkened, torchlit streets of a pale city, screams and moans of pain echoing all around her, filled with controlled fear, excitement and above all, fierce burning anger.
Then a scream, close by, very close. She ran around a corner and saw an Elf lying on the cobbles, his life bleeding out in hot red spurts onto the stone. His killer stood over him, a dripping sword in his hand. And the woman who'd screamed backed away from him, terror and grief and anger warring in her eyes, a feeble wooden baton in her hands her only weapon of defence.

Galadriel didn't hesitate. She'd been trained by the finest masters in Tirion, and in that moment her training took over and guided her hands without conscious thought. Light on her feet, silent, she moved into position, her arm came back, she stepped forward in one smooth flowing motion. The point of her sword, driven by all the weight of her body behind it, entered the assailant's chest from the rear, between the fifth and sixth ribs. It pierced his heart, and burst out from his breastbone. Then in the same quick motion she stepped back, pulling her sword free and bringing it up to a guard position.

The whole movement had taken a few heartbeats, no more.

He collapsed to the ground. The woman she'd rescued looked at the face of her saviour in utter horror, screamed again, and fled into the darkness.

Galadriel was shaking now. The blood ran down from the sword onto her hand, and she rubbed at it so it smeared all over. She looked at the body on the floor. She knelt down, grabbed at its shoulder, rolled it over. She stared at the upturned face. There was a look of surprise engraved on the frozen features. She recognised him. His name was... it was... she didn’t know it. But she knew him. He was one of the grooms at her grandfather's stables in Tirion; he'd taken her horse once when she'd paid a visit, and she'd asked him to look at the right foreleg shoe, it might be coming loose. He'd gone north with Finwë when the King followed his son into exile.

And now he was dead. His blood dripped down Galadriel's sword and stained her hands red.

Galadriel stood suddenly, in her peaceful home in Lothlórien, the ancient sword in her hands looking as clean as the day it was made. Behind her, Hestil begged, "My lady, please!" and Galadriel waited impatiently while her handmaiden finished adjusting her braids to perfection. Then she strode away to the centre of the room, the sheathed sword held in both hands. She was angry, with the remembered anger of that hideous bloodstained night. It filled her as sharply now as it had burned inside her then, as she ran through the streets of Alqualondë as the Noldor sacked the city.

She knew that fighting while angry was seductive, yet ultimately foolish. The rage gave you strength, focus, determination; but it also blinded you, sucked out your strength in futile gestures of hatred, led you to commit unforgivable acts. She'd learned that through long centuries of mastering herself, of learning serenity. She hadn't known it then.

Galadriel ran, leaving the body of the Elf she'd killed as a black stain on the white stone ground. She burned with anger; anger at herself, anger at the man who'd died; anger at everyone who'd made this situation come to pass.

Anger at the Valar, who'd tried to keep her people locked in this prison while the wide world lay open to them, out of jealousy and fear and selfishness. Anger at the way they'd let Morgoth, their enemy, go free and turn on them all, and destroy the Light.

Anger at the Teleri, who'd refused to join her people in their just rebellion against tyranny, and who'd then doubled their betrayal by refusing even to let the Noldor use their ships to sail back to Middle-earth.

And above all anger at Fëanor, who in his blind arrogance had decided to take what he was not offered freely — and worse still, to botch the taking so badly.

Yes, that was the real cause of her anger. In all honesty she couldn't fault Fëanor for stealing the ships; she might have suggested the same plan herself, if she'd been asked. But she would have done it more carefully and subtly
or so she told herself.  Fëanor was too impatient, too sublimely confident of his own strength and irresistible power. He'd decided to just take the ships, and kill anyone who tried to stop him.

Of course the Teleri had fought back, and the fighting had spiralled out of control as Elf killed Elf, and battle-rage filled their minds with crimson mist, and the armies ran out of control through the town, slaughtering each other.

Somewhere deep in her heart, Galadriel blamed herself for all of it. If it had been she who led the Noldor, instead of her uncle, she might easily have made the same decision he did. And seeing now the result of that decision, the fire and the blood, she hated herself for the self-knowledge.

The ancient sword flashed out of the scabbard. Galadriel let the black metal fall to the wooden floor of the talan with a clatter as she brought the blade up to first-guard position, holding it in a two-handed grip. She held the blade motionless, forcing herself into calmness, focussing on her breathing.

She pivoted lightly around on her feet, establishing situational awareness. Both Hestil and Lagoreth were standing well back against the woven living branches of the platform's rear wall, watching her with respectful and interested eyes. Galadriel nodded to them.

Then she brought the sword around in a series of manoeuvres. A cut left and low, turn, parry high and centre. Feint left, feint right, then a slicing cut across. Reverse the sword and a lightning slash back in the opposite direction. Spin. Parry. Then step forward in a lunge.

A single mallorn leaf was speared on the end of her sword, broken free from the tree. Galadriel brought her sword back to rest, plucked off the leaf in her left hand and held it out. Both her maids clapped, and Hestil took the leaf.

"Excellent moves, my lady. You're still an expert sword fighter."

But Galadriel shook her head. "Running through a series of practice moves doesn't prove much. In a real battle, your opponent doesn’t always cooperate by doing what you expect him to."

She'd parried the blow from Fëanor's sword, but the impact had shaken her;  the muscles in her arm felt bruised. He'd made a surprised noise nonetheless; the Teleri had only hunting bows and makeshift weapons, but his slash had been parried by a sword as good as his own. Still, he didn't hesitate; his blade lashed out in a flurry of blows, feints, and thrusts that would have quickly been the death of any normal foe.

But Galadriel had been trained by the swordmasters of the House of Finwë; the same expert teachers who had instructed Fëanor in the art of combat. She parried, dodged or deflected every blow. She'd wanted to fight defensively - her aim was to stop this madness, end the killing, not slay her own kinsmen. But as she fought, the red rage mounted inside her; and when next she knocked Fëanor's blade aside she did not return to guard, but lunged forward in a sudden riposte that almost - almost - sliced his throat in two in the gap between helmet and neckguard. Only a frantic stumble backwards saved his life, and there was a nick on his skin that welled with red blood.

Fëanor recovered his balance too fast for her to follow up on her advantage, but now he looked at her with new respect in his eyes. Then those eyes widened, and he sprang aside in a prodigious leap. Galadriel backed cautiously into the archway she was defending, the archway that separated the docks from the civilian quarters of the town. She wasn't sure what he was planning. But when he returned, he was carrying a torch in his left hand, plucked from a cresset on the side of the dock. In its light, he saw Galadriel clearly for the first time, and he recognised her.

He bowed ironically. "My lady. It's good to see you've put the sword I gave you to good use."

"A better use than you've found for your own, my lord king."

"'King'? You admit me to be my father's heir, yet you draw your blade against me? Are you a traitor now to kin and king? A hireling of the Valar, slave to their will?"

"No-one's slave; I fight in defence of my mother's kin cruelly attacked. Why, Fëanáro? Would you kill even your own people, if they stood in your way? Are even your own sons safe now from your all-consuming rage?"

His response was cold laughter. "All are safe, if they do not seek to hinder me. But if they do... 'No love, no law, no league of hell, shall him defend from vengeance fell'. The choice is theirs, not mine."

"You speak the words of Melkor. The choice to do good or evil is always your own."

Feanor's eyes blazed hot with anger at the mention of the hated name... and then, for the briefest of moments something else entered them. A look of... of grief? Haunted and lost? He muttered, so low that Galadriel's ears could barely catch it, "I have no choice now."

But then the moment passed, and his eyes showed only anger again, and he raised his sword. Galadriel prepared herself to defend once more, but she was tiring now, and he was larger and stronger than her...

"Will you need anything more from us tonight, my lady?"

The voice interrupted Galadriel's reverie, and she realised she'd been standing motionless for far too long, She shook her head impatiently; at herself, not at her maids. She made herself smile at them then, so they'd know the difference.

"Thank you, I don't think so. We'll be departing when the moon sets, though; could you make sure there's a flask of wine and a packet of waybread set out? For Lord Celeborn as well as for myself, I'll take it to him. Is my husband still in his study?"

"I'm not sure, my lady. Would you like me to check?"

Galadriel nodded, and Lagoreth left - not through the door as a normal person would, but through the window. She leaped two metres to the sleek grey bough of the mallorn-tree, then jumped up to catch a higher branch and pull herself up, disappearing behind the curtain of leaves. Galadriel sighed in mixed amusement and despair.  It almost certainly was a faster way to reach Celeborn's quarters than taking the path around, but hardly the most dignified.

For a moment, the Lady of Lothlórien wondered what her maids would do if she took that route herself to visit her husband. Hestil would probably drop dead of sheer shock and embarrassment. Lagoreth might be pleased - but she might also feel her pride challenged. She was a Sylvan Elf, and they all took it as a mark of honour that they were more agile in the trees than their landbound Sindar and Noldor compatriots.

Galadriel had heard that the Sylvans sometimes staged races from one end of Lórien to the other, the race forfeit if foot ever touched solid ground. She wondered how much scandal it would cause if the Mistress of the Golden Wood competed in their race - and would it be greater if she won, or if she lost?

Smiling at her secret thought, she thanked Hestil for her help and dismissed her for the night. Lagoreth returned a few minutes later, with the news that Lord Celeborn was down at the riverbank, making a last inspection of the assembling boats.  Galadriel thanked her too - swallowing the temptation to challenge her to a treetop race – and bade her goodnight.
Now alone, she walked over to the window and gazed out into the night. The stars comforted her, as they always did, shining clean and untouched in the velvet black sky. She had chosen not to sleep that night, but rest her mind in dreams.

Fëanor never struck his blow. A clear voice sounded behind him, calling "Father! Father!", and Fëanor turned towards the approaching young warrior. Galadriel could have struck a blow at his unguarded back then, perhaps; but she held her hand. She was certain he'd known she would, and the idea irritated her.

Her brother Finrod had once joked to her that it was lucky the sons of Fëanor had such differently coloured hair, or they'd be indistinguishable.  In this case, the newcomer's auburn hair - normally flowing free, but now tied back in a ponytail for the fight - was a big clue. His impossibly good looks were another. (Not that Elves believed in marrying first cousins, so Galadriel's appreciation was of course entirely aesthetic).

Maedhros gave a concise report to his father – it seemed the majority of the ships had been secured – then looked over to her in surprise.

"Oh, hi, Nerwen. What are you doing here?" He usually used her mother-name, perhaps because he and most of his brothers did the same with their own.

"She's fighting us, apparently" replied his father, with dry wit. Maedhros gave a double take, stared with new eyes at her blood-stained sword.

Galadriel's reply was icy. "Your people were slaughtering indiscriminately. Anyone with honour would have defended the innocent."

"No, that's not right! We came for the ships, we didn't attack the town!" Maedhros was troubled but his father overrode him.
"We attacked the people who tried to stop us. We swore to show no mercy to those who stand in our way. And now we have what we came for, you say?"

"Yes, father. The ships are ready to cast off as soon as we're all on board."

"Then let us go on board." Fëanor raised his sword to Galadriel in an ironic salute. "Can we offer you passage on our ships, my lady, or do you prefer to remain here as a slave of the Valar?"

"I would prefer to travel in the company of my father and brothers, thank you very much. Their camp probably does not smell so much of blood."

"Blood is a smell we'll all have to get used to before this war is over. But, as you wish. You may tag along in our wake if you prefer."

She stood on the docks and watched the white ships sail, one by one, out through the arch of living rock at the harbour mouth. The wind had been rising, and white foam burst over the side of the quay even here in the sheltered port. It smelled of salt and tears, and the surging of the waves and sucking of the undertow moaned and sighed as if the sea itself were crying.

Galadriel blinked, her mind returning from the dream-paths. Lórien lay quiet beneath her, most of her people conserving their strength ready for tomorrow's battle. A few lamps flickered, like fallen stars caught amidst the trees. In the West, the crescent moon was slipping down behind the looming bulk of the Hithaeglir.

She wondered if it was also shining on the crystal-dusted streets of Tirion. Perhaps her father was looking at the same moon. The thought comforted her.

The packet of food and drink had appeared on the table in her room while she'd been resting; no doubt arranged by the ever-efficient Hestil. Galadriel stowed it safely in a pouch, then re-sheathed her sword and fixed it securely to her baldric.

Tomorrow would, if fortune favoured her, be the last battle she'd ever have to fight. She stepped out of the door of her chambers with calm, serene confidence, ready to face it.

Tags: fic, lotr, tolkien. silmarillion
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.