Written for Every Woman Exchange 2017.
Much though Nellas tried, she could not make herself love the Havens of Sirion. She appreciated the people's generosity, in wishing to take in all those who had fled from the fall of Doriath. But she could not sleep easily when enclosed by walls; the streets and quays were thronged with people, and Nellas longed to slip away and escape their gaze. And the Sea itself—flat and overwhelmingly vast, stretching into the distance like a barren plain without a single tree. She took refuge in the nearby groves of Nimbrethil, but even there she was not left in peace; Círdan's mariners came there sometimes for timber, and she grieved when she heard their axes ringing through the wood.
Nellas was walking among the birch trees when she heard a voice call her name. She turned around to see Galadriel. Galadriel had taken an active part in settling the Doriathrim and finding places for them. Nellas had overheard some of Dior's former lords and ladies grumbling that she took too much authority, and that it should be left to Elwing—or those who spoke for her—but Nellas wished only to avoid such disputes.
"Galadriel," Nellas greeted her in return, then wondered if she should have used a title. She was not used to the formalities the Noldor used or even of the court at Menegroth. But Galadriel did not seem offended.
"It seems to me that you are not happy here," Galadriel said without preamble.
"This is not my home," Nellas said. She wished to say more, but her words seemed to stick in her throat.
Galadriel seemed to consider her words as they walked among the trees. "Is there something that would make you feel welcome here? Or do you mean to leave the Havens?"
Nellas had not known she meant to leave, until Galadriel asked the question. The people she knew were here, and yet— "Yes," she answered without hesitation. "I will leave." She immediately felt much lighter with relief. She held no ill-will towards this place or its people, but it was not her place, and it could not be.
"Where will you go?"
Nellas had not thought of it. She was ill at ease, but her restlessness had no direct goal. "They say there is a forest to the east," she said finally. "They call it Taur-im-Duinath. I have seen it from the top of a hill. Perhaps I will go there. Or perhaps to Ossiriand, though I know not if there is now any land not touched by Morgoth."
Galadriel hesitated. "Listen to me, Nellas," she said, choosing her words carefully. "You know that some among the Noldor are foresighted."
Some among the Sindar also, Nellas thought, but said nothing.
"If you will not stay close by," Galadriel continued, "in the Havens of Sirion or on the Isle of Balar, then go farther still! Beyond the Blue Mountains at least. I cannot say why, but I know that you should."
"I have never crossed the Blue Mountains," Nellas said slowly. She knew those who had made the Great Journey, but she herself was born in Doriath.
"I have been speaking with Círdan," Galadriel said, "and with others who know those lands, or once knew them. I will not leave Beleriand until I have seen the war against Morgoth to its end, for good or ill! But I have not forgotten my love of forests. In my dreams, I have seen a golden wood."
"A golden wood?" Nellas echoed.
Galadriel smiled. "If you go there, Nellas," she said, "I think we will meet again someday."
Nellas did not depart right away. She spoke with Círdan, as Galadriel had done, to learn the ways she should go on her journey. He had a vast knowledge of all lands, it seemed; if he had not been there himself, he had spoken with those who had. Something in Galadriel's words of the golden wood had captured her imagination. She hugged the thought of it close, and it gave her courage when she must walk through the crowded streets of the Havens. But when Círdan tried to tell her of the wood itself, Nellas shook her head. "I wish to see it for myself," she said. "I will learn it with my own eyes and hands and feet, and I will hear what the trees speak to me."
Before she left, Nellas sought out her friend Evranin. Nellas went down to the shore to find her, though she did not care for the rush and tumble of the waves. "I am leaving the Havens," Nellas said. "Will you go with me?"
She was not sure if she expected Evranin to agree. They had been close once—Nellas, Evranin, and Nimloth—climbing about in the woods of Doriath. But Evranin had followed Nimloth to Menegroth, and Nellas had kept to her own woods. And there was also the matter of Nimloth's young daughter, now in Evranin's care. Nellas looked over to where Elwing was splashing in a tide pool, fascinated by the scurrying of small crabs and drifting strands of seaweed.
Evranin followed the direction of Nellas's gaze. "Perhaps someday," she said finally. "But not yet."
On an impulse, Nellas went over to Elwing and sat down by her on the rocks. "You like the Sea," she said, uncertain what to say.
"Yes," Elwing said firmly.
"I hope you are happy here," Nellas said gently. Elwing looked away, her shoulders hunched inward. It was too soon, Nellas thought. Too soon to speak of Elwing's parents or Doriath. She sat with them for some time in silence, then embraced Evranin and went on her way.
Nellas also asked a few others she knew, although she was not sure she wished to share this journey and her first sight of the golden wood. But each of them also said "no" or "not yet." They still grieved the loss of Doriath and did not wish to make another journey into the unknown so soon, or they had discovered a love for the Sea that Nellas did not share. Finally, Nellas set off by herself. Either they would come later, or they would not. She breathed more easily once the Havens of Sirion were behind her.
Nellas was used to dwelling alone in the woods for long periods of time, with no other company than the birds and the trees themselves, and travelling by herself did not trouble her. She had no weapons but the knife at her belt, but she needed none. She ate berries and nuts, or dug up roots, or fished from the streams, or caught rabbits with her hands and cooked them over a small fire.
She crossed the Blue Mountains, treading lightly over the snow, and went onward into lands that were unknown to her. And finally, crossing a second range of mountains, she looked down the slopes and could see a great forest with golden leaves. It still took her most of the day to climb down the mountain paths, but she reached the eaves of the wood before sunset.
A clear, swift stream ran near the edge of the wood. Nellas took off her shoes and stood in the water, letting it wash away the dust of the road while she listened to the stream's musical voice. The rustling of the leaves, too, seemed to call to her. Smiling, she leaped onto the other bank—and stopped abruptly. An Elf armed with a bow stood there, an arrow nocked to the string.
"Who are you?" she demanded of Nellas. It took Nellas a moment to understand her speech, but her dialect was not so dissimilar from the Nandor who had lived in Doriath.
"My name is Nellas. I come from Doriath."
"And what do you seek here?"
Nellas hesitated. "Doriath is fading," she said finally. "I am seeking a forest that is alive."
The stranger regarded Nellas for a few moments, then lowered her bow with a decisive gesture and returned her arrow to its quiver. "You are welcome to Lorinand, Nellas of Doriath. I am called Nimrodel."
"I thank you for the welcome," Nellas said.
"Are you alone?" Nimrodel asked.
"Then come with me. You can stay on my flet tonight."
"A wooden platform in the trees. It is the way here." She gave Nellas a hard look, as if daring her to object.
Nellas smiled. "I have slept in trees often," she said. "I will not mind sleeping in a flet."
"If you travel that way," Nimrodel said, pointing eastward, "you will find the largest gathering of our people. I dwell here because this stream is dear to me, and I love solitude."
"I too," Nellas said, thinking of how even the glorious halls of Menegroth had always seemed to cage her in.
Nimrodel's expression softened. "We have no kings or queens here," she said. "You need not ask anyone's leave to choose a tree and live in it, or wander the woods at your own will."
Nellas looked around as Nimrodel led her onward. Even in the dimness under the branches, she saw many kinds of flowers, both familiar and unknown to her. She stopped a moment when she recognized the white blooms of niphredil, and felt both glad and sorrowful, remembering Lúthien.
Nimrodel climbed into her chosen tree without ladder or rope, and Nellas followed her with equal ease. Nimrodel placed a pile of bedding for her on the floor of the flet, and Nellas went to her rest with a lighter heart than in many months.
Nellas awoke in the morning with a cool breeze blowing past her face. She jumped to her feet and went to the edge of the flet. The golden leaves of mallorn tossed gently, their silver trunks stretching downward to the moss below. She could hear the song of birds, and nearby the musical voice of Nimrodel's stream.
"Yes," Nellas said aloud. "Yes, I will stay here in the golden wood."