Title: The Man-Maiden
Theme: Adolescent Angst
Elements: Harmful experimentation
Author's Notes: Honestly? I'm not very well-versed in all the technicalities of the Tolkien universe, so I may have made a mistake or two somewhere in there. I just really, really wanted to write some Gandalf/Galadriel) ALso, English is not my first language, so there's also that. The Quenya names are taken from here - I take it, Quenya doesn't have gender?
Summary: Young Galadriel has had a bad experience and needs some talk therapy. Luckily, Gandalf is there to help her. Gandalf/Galadriel, Galadriel/OFC1, Galadriel/OFC2.
Word Count: 2,022
Nerwen is reclined on her bed. It is hard for her to breath, let alone do much else. She probably does have something to do, but she cannot remember what it is, nor does she have any desire to concern herself with anything. Blankly she stares at her hair that covers her like a sheet and falls to the ground. The hair is a part of her, yet it doesn't feel like it is. It truly is beautiful - even Nerwen can see that - and it's exactly why she feels this disparity between its beauty and the awkwardness of her body. The Man-Maiden, her mother named her. She was right, as usual. There is a great power trapped inside Nerwen, she feels it, yet it doesn't find the release and will never find it as long as she remains an apprentice, an adolescent, a nothing whom nobody sees or hears. And the way it seems to her now, it will be an eternity.
Her strength - or is it her impotency? - is stifling her. She longs to be out there, to do things, to make decisions, to be with men. It is springtime - why wouldn't she want to be with men? Yet here, in her chamber, there are no men - just her handmaiden. And should Nerwen leave her bedchamber, she would have to brave dozens of women, again - her mentors, for one, her mothers and her advisers, for another. And then there is the one of whom she absolutely, unequivocally must not think.
So Nerwen starts doing exactly that. She thinks and thinks and thinks until she cannot think anymore. Then she turns around and starts looking at her handmaiden, Nimpi, to find solace. Nimpi can take being stared at for minutes, if not half an hour, by men and women alike - she doesn't really understand much. She is a couple of years older than Nerwen, almost a grown woman, yet her mind is that of a small child. In Nerwen's world, where wisdom is valued above everything, the poor girl has to remain reduced to a servant. She is fortunate - her lot cannot be compared to that of a servant of Men or other races. At any rate, this is what Nerwen says to herself if she finds herself staring too long.
She admires Nimpi mindlessly, as she would a piece of jewellery or a sunset, taking in the play of light in her dark hair, the web of blue veins on her neck and hands, the movement of cloth of which her dress is made. Nimpi sits in her corner, humming to herself and playing with her doll. She raises her head to meet Nerwen's eyes and smiles slowly, insecure. She misunderstands the look Nerwen is giving her and thinks that the young lady wishes to speak.
"I saw a funny man," Nimpi says.
Nerwen sighs with exasperation, but still decides to answer: "Did you, now? Where?"
"In the courtyard. A jester, he was. A conjurer. He played with fire. A very pretty sight, my lady."
"Fire, you say? How did he look? What was he like?"
"Like any elf... A young man, my lady. I can take you to look the next time he comes."
"Will there be the next time?"
"Of course, my lady. He was very joyful, very happy to be here. Of course, he will come."
"Then I'll go. Thank you, Nimpi."
Nerwen observed the jester from the far corner of the courtyard, where the shadows from the trees concealed her, keeping her distance from the ladies of the palace that had formed a circles around him. She had put on a clock and concealed her face with a hood. Nerwen was known for her arrogance, so no one gave this much attention. It was assumed that she was simply too proud to let others see her. Nimpi, on the other hand, was a lot more lively than ever. She danced with the jester, attracting more attention that the most beautiful fire ornaments painted in the air. He, for his part, was smiling most sincerely and quoting poetry to her. When the jester was done with his performance, he bowed to Nimpi ceremoniously and took his leave. Nimpi was grinning from ear to ear - a rare occurrence - and didn't notice the looks of pity the splendid women were giving her.
Nimpi was so excited that she did not even notice that Lady Nerwen was missing. Nerwen loved her solitude and her studies - she was almost certainly busy with either or both somewhere and did not like to be interrupted, as Nimpi had learned the hard way.
The jester may have felt at home with the element of fire, yet when moving from one place to another he resembled water the most, looking for hidden cracks, finding his way through the tiniest openings. The hidden pathway through which he came and went had apparently been forgotten even by the eldest inhabitants of the castle and overgrown with vines and moss, yet he had somehow - miraculously, one could say - learnt of it. This had only confirmed Galadriel's suspicions as she was following him, barely keeping her pace.
The jester also knew the forest well, it seemed, for he was finding his way in its darkness as if it were day, even though the foliage was so thick and the trees were so many the night was almost pitch black. Nerwen's elven eyes had been serving her well for some time, but suddenly there came a moment when she stopped seeing anything. And just as she understood it, she also understood that she had stopped hearing the jester's footsteps, as well.
"You needn't exert yourself, my lady," he said. "You must be exhausted after all this running. If you let me take your hand, I shall lead you to my home and you'll have some much-needed rest." There was laughter in his voice, but it wasn't of the cruel sort.
Nerwen stood silent, unsure of how to act.
"Still no answer? I know you're capable of violence, but there's no need to resort to it. If I wished to harm you, I have had plenty of chance, believe me. You should have picked a coat of dark blue, for one. The better to blend in the twilight."
"I do not wish to fight you," Nerwen spoke through gritted teeth.
"I certainly hope so."
After a silence, Nerwen reached out and said: "Take my hand, then."
So he did exactly that and they walked together to a shelter the jester had apparently made himself in a small cave not far from the spot where they have spoken. He laid his simple, tattered cloak on the ground for Nerwen to sit upon, built a fire and set it aflame with a spoken spell.
"So, it is true, then," Nerwen said. "You are an Istari."
"Yes, it is true," the jester said. "I am flattered to speak with someone so young and so intelligent." He looked, indeed, like any other elf.
"This magic you do," Nerwen spoke further, " is very rare. It seems a senseless waste."
"Then we see things differently. I, for one, fail to see how making people happy can be a waste."
"Is that all you have come here for? To amuse the servants and palace women?"
"More or less," he shrugged. "I travel. You may find this complaint laughable, but it does get tiresome in the celestial palace. One wants to break away, to see more of the world. At least, I do."
"I understand," Nerwen answered.
"I should think you do. Young maidens such as you do not have much freedom, I imagine."
Nerwen didn't answered. Now that her new acquaintance had taken off his cloak, she could see a dagger at his side.
"That is a fine blade you have," she pointed out.
"That it is, thank you. A work of the best masters."
"Could I buy it from you, then?"
"I don't know. Have you brought money?"
"I have other things to trade." Suddenly she was being torn with two opposite desires - one, to degrade herself so low as to trade herself for a weapon to commit a crime she may not even have enough courage for. The other, to have a real Istari for a lover - who else could brag about it, after all?
The jester narrowed his bright eyes, looking at her. His face remained surprisingly calm.
"Do you, now?" he asked quietly. "And could I inquire why a maiden so noble should resort to such sad measures?"
"Why is that of any concern to you?"
"That is, indeed, of no concern to me. But I have an inkling that you might need to tell me about your desire to have this dagger more than you need the dagger itself."
A moment of silence again.
"Yes," Nerwen whispered, at last. "Yes, I do."
And tell him she did.
It was Mirwa, her favourite mentor. Mirwa was beautiful, but not in the same way Nimpi was. Mirwa could not be stared at (she was almost a noble, after all), that would be improper, even for a girl - so, of course, Nerwen often lost herself in thought only to found herself staring at her mentor, which the latter nevertheless graciously allowed.
Mirwa also was far better at speaking than Nimpi, and far better at listening, too. She understood - oh, how she understood Nerwen, this ungainly Man-Maiden, confined inside the walls of the palace and doomed to only dream of greatness!
So they drew closer and closer, and closer, still. At night, as they lay side by side, exhausted and spent, Nerwen would speak of the time when she at last would become a reigning queen and make Mirwa her first and most treasured adviser. And then they would swear they would never take a husband in their lives.
Or, at least, Nerwen would.
One day, she was brought to another mentoring lady and told that lady Mirwa was marrying someplace far away and would leave in a month or two. Lessons didn't go well at all for Nerwen that day.
As she stormed into Mirwa's quarters, Mirwa looked at her student pointedly and asked for her name. After being struck across her beautiful face, the older woman lost her temper and informed Nerwen of her general unworthiness and her great luck that someone even deigned to speak, let alone much else, with her, the Man-Maiden, the disproportionate being of undetermined sex.
Nerwen had nothing to confront her with. Nothing at all. She had no rights to this woman, of that Mirwa indeed was right.
And so Nerwen finished her story. The jester asked softly:
"Well? Have I been right?"
"Do you still wish to do this?"
"No. Yes. Yes, but now I at least don't feel quite as much pain for not doing this."
"Good. I wouldn't like to see a creature as bright and strong as you perish for a cause this small. It seems a senseless waste." He cleared his throat. "And I believe, if I bring you back at the palace walls right now, you will still have time enough to sneak in without causing much damage. Take revenge by living your life. It is far more rewarding."
Nerwen just looked at him. He looked back and suddenly said, smiling: "I should like to meet you again, my lady. Later. When we both become older. I promise I will do everything in my power to fulfill that wish."
Nerwen still didn't answer. "You do not believe me? What would you have me swear on, then?"
"Nothing," she answered. "It doesn't matter. Now I know that you will break your promise all the same."
"Then I should very much like to prove you wrong."
As he was leading her back through the darkness in silence, Nerwen whispered: "You know my name, of course?"
"Of course, Lady Nerwen."
"But I do not know yours."
"Call me Olorin."
"Thank you, Olorin."