The trees of Lothlorien rose high above the young wizard, twisting upward and upward, delicately wrought stairs and dwellings of the wood-elves cunningly made part of the trunks. He stood in awe, looking so far above him that his grey hat slipped from his head. Flustered and overwhelmed, he bent to retrieve it from the mossy floor. He could hear the strains of an elven choir coming from far away through the trees, and realized he had no idea where he was supposed to go.
The journey to the forest city had been long, and the harsh weather had made his trip from Gondor even more difficult. He had gotten himself turned around more than once; the fair city was well-hidden, and almost impossible to find for someone who had never been there before.
Hastily turning at the sound of the melodious voice, the wizard lost his hat again. Cursing under his breath, he stooped again to retrieve it, avoiding eye contact with the tall wood-elf that stood before him.
Haldir smirked at the wizard's blunder. "Welcome, wizard, to Lothlorien, home of the wood-elves. I am Haldir, marchwarden of the forest's northern borders. You have traveled far at our summons."
The wizard did not miss the smugness in the marchwarden's voice. Replacing his hat and straightening his gray robes, he brought himself to his full height and said, "Greetings, Haldir. I am Gandalf, the Grey, summoned here by Lord Celeborn." Uncertainly, he cast a look at the opulent surroundings. "I am not sure where I should go to meet him."
Haldir laughed. "Lord Celeborn is not here. He will return but shortly, I believe. May I show you to your rooms, Mithrandir? You are invited to join us at dinner, as well, once you have…washed up." He looked Gandalf up and down, taking in the ragged, dirty state of his cloak and the straggling strands of his beard.
Flustered once more, Gandalf nodded his consent, and Haldir turned smartly on a well-shod heel. His green cloak swung magnificently behind him, and Gandalf felt terribly underdressed.
The magnificent dinner weighed heavily in his stomach as Gandalf puffed on his long pipe. He looked out of a small balcony onto the heart of the city; dozens of feet in the air, the torches and candles looked like fireflies alighting on the white tree trunks. The beauty of the place was almost incomprehensible. Every surface was carved with perfect craftsmanship, and veins of precious metal filigreed every angle, catching the light of the torches and shining ethereally.
He stood there, puffing his pipe and taking in the beauty beneath him, for what seemed like hours. His business with Celeborn kept his mind occupied, and he ran his fingers absentmindedly over the silver inlay on the balcony. Below, statuesque elves went about their evenings; notes of flute music drifted on the forest breeze. The treetops all but masked the stars, but lights glowed within the branches to create constellations of their own.
He had never been to Lothlorien before, and truth be told, knew little of the wood-elves. The young wizard had traveled far through many parts of Middle Earth, but his knowledge of the elves was mostly confined to the customs of those who lived in Imladris.
Gandalf twisted Narya on his finger, drawing on the ring's strength. The ring's red stone glowed deeply at his touch, and he realized it was not wise to be wearing it in the company of elves. Slipping it off, he placed it carefully in a hidden pocket near his breast. He could still feel the fire of the stone through the wool.
He did not wish to speak to Celeborn of the darkness he feared, let alone on their first meeting.
The lights in the city center below flickered and glowed, casting eerie shadows across the woodwork of the treetrunks. Gandalf desperately wished to feel at peace here, and thought that perhaps, in time, he would.
"You are troubled, wizard."
Damn these elves, I have not the hearing they possess. Again taken by surprise, the wizard pulled away from the balcony and turned to survey his questioner.
She was beautiful, in the most ethereal and exotic way possible; he felt the urge to pinch himself. Her hair flowed in golden rivulets past pointed ears and down to her slender fingertips, held in place by a circlet set with pale blue stones. The stones matched the unnervingly pale color of her eyes, making them only more intense. Her face seemed to glow with an inner light, illuminating and smoothing any sharp edges and giving her a quietly dignified air.
"My-my lady," stumbled Gandalf. "You must be… the lady Galadriel."
She smiled, almost tiredly. "I have foreseen your arrival, Mithrandir. You seek Lord Celeborn; regardless of what has been said, it will be many months unti he arrives back in the wood."
Gandalf felt his shoulders fall. "If I may ask why, my lady…?"
Galadriel looked at him, cocking her head so that her fall of hair brushed gently over her grey velvet sleeve. "It was not Celeborn who desired the company of Gandalf the Grey."
The wizard opened his mouth to question, then crinkled his nose in confusion. "I do not understand, my lady."
The pale eyes widened and the cool marble of her face warmed by a degree. He could see a smile playing at her lips. She took a step towards him, reaching for his hand. He was surprised that hers was strikingly warm; her overall countenance was so cool and calculated that she appeared more statue than elf.
"It is not the lord of the wood who summoned you here, but the lady."
Comprehension dawned in Gandalf's brain, and he blushed. Galadriel's fingers were still entwined with his, and he was suddenly very conscious of the mud undoubtedly trapped under his nails.
Chancing another look at her face, he met the burning blue eyes with sudden confidence. "Any way I can be of service, Lady Galadriel, I will do my best to fulfill."
She released his hands and the playful smile returned to her lips. "I merely wished to meet you, Gandalf, last of the Istari." She gestured to the small settee in the well-appointed sitting room. "Sit with me, Mithrandir."
He did as suggested, sinking into the green velvet upholstery with another silent thanks for elven comforts. Galadriel sat delicately next to him, arranging her skirts as she did.
That night, they spoke for hours, of times past and times to come; though little of their conversation was light, Gandalf left the sitting room in the small hours of the morning with the impression that he had made an important new acquaintance.