Galadriel's Riddle by Kathryn Ramage

That evening, after the two parties had met and set up their camp for the night, Galadriel told her second tale:

"Long ago, before the jewel-smiths of Eregion crafted the great rings, Celebrimbor, chief of the Elven-smiths met with me in the Greenwood, which was greater in those days than it is now, and its greenery covered all the land from the Mountains of Mist to the land that would become the blighted Mordor.

"I said unto Celebrimbor, 'My friend, I am grieved for this Middle-Earth, for the leaves of the trees fall at each year's passing and flowers that I have loved fade and wither. The land I have made my own is filled with decay that no returning spring can repair.'

"'How otherwise can it be for the Eldar, if they remain in Middle-earth?' Celebrimbor replied. "Nothing in this land stays as it was, but changes and at last dies. Is your sadness such, my lady, that you will pass over Sea?'

"'No,' I answered him. 'Angrod is gone; Aegnor is gone, and Felagund. Of Finarfin's children I am the last who remains. My heart is still proud, for in this land I am mightier. If it were in my power, I would make this realm of mine as the Undying Lands, as near as can be made here. I would have trees and grass that do not die, and flowers that do not fade with the year. What has become of the skill of the Eldar, that could do this?"

"'There were once such powers in Middle-Earth,' Celebrimbor said. 'Where is the Elessar of Earendil? Has it passed over Sea?"

"'It is here, in other hands,' I told him. 'But even it is now not what it once was. The power of Elessar fades with time. Where once it healed many, now only one at a time may take benefit from its healing powers, and they do not always heal completely of their wounds. Its color has faded too, from the bright green of spring leaves in sunlight to that of a star. It has not the power to revive this realm, and Enerdhil, who made it, is long gone. Must all fair things in this Middle-Earth fade therefore and perish for ever?'"

"'That is its fate,' said Celebrimbor. 'But it may be stayed.' For Celebrimbor was also in Gondolin long ago, and a friend of Enerdhil. Though his skill in the crafting of gems was no rival to his friend's, he was yet a gemsmith of great renown, for he would one day find fame when he crafted the Three Rings of Power.

"For love of me, though I was fated to love to another--" Here, the Lady cast a sidelong glance at her husband and smiled, "and to ease my sorrow at the fading of this world, Celebrimbor created another gem to match Enerdhil's. This gem he also called Elessar. Some have since claimed that it was greater than the first of that name. Its color was a deeper green, but its light had less strength than the first Elessar at the height of its power, for that first gem had been lit by the fires of the Sun's in its birth. But the light and color of that first Elessar had faded with the Sun, as all things on Middle-Earth fade. Celebrimbor set his Elessar in a brooch of mithril in the semblance of an eagle in flight, its wings outstretched.

"With this second Elessar all things grew fair in the Greenwood, until the coming of the Shadow. The light and power of this second gem also faded with time, until its influence could only be wielded over the living things of Lothlorien. Long afterwards, when Nenya was given me by Celebrimbor, I thought I had no more need of this Elessar, and so gave it to my daughter Celebrian as a gift upon her marriage, so that she might make her new home as green and fair as the home she left behind. When Celebrían went into the West, Elessar for a time came into my keeping again to await the coming of a Man who would bear that same name as the gemstone."

"That's one tale," said Bilbo, surprising the company, for the old hobbit had been listening so quietly that they all thought he was asleep. "But there's another too. Olorin gave the gemstone to the Lady." He began to recite the lines of a poem:

"The golden Lady of the Great Green Wood
Dwelt far from the land of her birth.
Long as she might for news of her home,
She refused to forsake Middle-Earth.

"'I bring tidings of thy kin,' Olorin said.
'Olorin,' spake the Lady, 'I pray, tell them to me.'
But as Olorin spoke, the Lady was grieved,
Rememb'ring those lands far over the Sea.

"'This world is fading,' the Lady sighed.
'Bright flowers die and spring's leaves wither.
Why cannot they remain forever green,
As they do in that fair land hither?'

"'That is their sad fate of all,' Olorin replied.
'Yet that might for a time be delayed.
If Elessar should be returned to you,
Such decay would awhile be stayed.'

"'Elessar!' exclaimed the Lady.
'How can such a thing truly be?
The Stone of Earendil is gone away.
It lies in that land far over the Sea.'

"'It is not so, My Lady. Behold!'
And Olorin brought forth the Elessar.
Green as the Sun upon the trees it was.
A light shone from within like a star.

"'This gift I give to you from the West.
Make your Green Wood a place of fair fame.
But mark this Elessar is not yours to keep,
For there will come a Man of that name...'"

Bilbo stopped there. "It needs a bit of work, I'm afraid," he said apologetically.

Even though the poem was far from Bilbo's best, his friends all applauded. Frodo thought it must be a part of the last poem Bilbo had been writing before his wits had failed him, and marveled that his uncle could remember it so well when so much else had slipped away from him. Galadriel seemed amused at hearing herself made the sad, exiled heroine of a poem written by a hobbit she had never met until a few days ago.

"I thought it was wonderful, Uncle Bilbo," said Pippin. "But who is this Olorin?"

"I am," Gandalf answered the question. "That was my name in the West."

"Too many names," Bilbo said ruefully, and shook his head. "I don't know how you keep track of them all. I've only had the one to call myself all these years, and found it quite sufficient. I always know when I'm being spoken to."

Merry laughed. "Frodo's used other names--Underhill on several occasions."

But Frodo ignored these teasing words, and didn't even bother to blush. He was more interested in Bilbo's poem. If it were Bilbo last work, it must have been adapted from some older story he had read in his researches at the library in Rivendell. The conversation between Olorin and the Lady was very like Galadriel's conversation with Celebrimbor in her own version of the second Elessar's creation, but that might be a conflation of the two tales in their telling and retelling over the years. "Which story is true?" he asked, looking from Gandalf to Galadriel.

"That can't be answered Yes or No," observed Elrond, "if you wish to abide by the rules of your game."

"Yes, of course." Frodo thought for a moment how to reframe his question, then asked Galadriel, "Earendil's Elessar and Aragorn's--the one you gave him--are they actually the same gemstone? Is that the answer to your riddle?"

"No," Galadriel answered. "The tale your uncle tells is not true."

"If I knew the fate of the first Elessar, Frodo, I would have told you when you asked me, before you began this game of riddles," Gandalf pointed out. "I would have told Bilbo long ago."

Frodo acknowledged that he should have realized this, and went on with his questions to Galadriel. "Yesterday, you said that you don't have the original Elessar with you now, my Lady, nor have you kept it at some point in the past. Does someone here with us carry it?"

The lady smiled in that teasing way that Frodo was beginning to find maddening. "Yes."

"Who? Will you tell me the tale of who Earendil left his Elessar to?"

"Yes," promised Galadriel, "tomorrow."
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