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An Unexpected Meeting  by Bodkin

1:  An Unexpected Meeting

He encountered her in the gardens at that quiet time in the early morning when he came to watch the sunrise turn the wisps of cloud to molten gold.  He stopped, irritated by the presence of one whom he did not know, and determined to speak sharply to those whose task it was to guard his privacy.

But, as she turned her mist-grey eyes to meet his, he knew that no soldier of his guard would have been able to keep her out and he drew a sharp breath.

‘How can I help you, lady?’ he enquired.

‘It has changed,’ she told him, her voice like the song of a flute on the wind.  ‘Only the sea is still the same in its restless crawling across the surface of the world.’

The Prince of Dol Amroth joined her at the angle of the great wall, where to look one way was to see the path of the dawn’s light that headed westwards across the wide ocean, yet to turn slightly was to see the eyries of ancient stone houses dropping down to the harbour and the solid bulk of the castle that dominated the city.

‘Why are you here?’ he asked more softly.

Her eyes, focused on his face, unsteadied him in their intensity, but he met her gaze unflinchingly.

‘I accompanied the Lady of the Wood to the city of stone,’ she said. ‘I came to see the Evenstar embrace her fate in the realms of Men.’  She looked away from the prince to gaze out at the sun-gilded satin of the water.  ‘I twice saw the face of my long-dead love among those there – both as he was when I first met him, and later.’  She glanced back at Prince Imrahil, her eyes studying him and analysing each feature. ‘I envy Arwen Undomiel,’ she said.  ‘I was not given the choice – and I have lived without him now for a thousand years.  I watched my children grow old and knew that they would die, while I remained unchanged.’  She sighed, a long, slow, languorous breath.  ‘It is a mistake to become involved in the lives of mortals,’ she said, the grief in her voice honed by endless mourning. ‘You burn like a flame and draw us with the intensity of your lives, but then you leave us aching over endless centuries for the absence of those who will never be more than a memory.’

‘Would you change it if you could?’ he challenged her.

The gold had faded slowly from the sky, returning to the city the prosaic colours of the day before she answered.

‘No,’ she said.  ‘Though I would have had the Evenstar’s choice – to follow him beyond the circles of the world.’

‘Can elves not die of grief for all their immortality?’ he puzzled.

‘They can,’ she told him wearily, ‘but their fate is not that of men – there would still be no reunion in my death, not until the ending of the world, and perhaps not even then. I would rather live and remember, than die and forget him.’  

A gentle breeze stirred the leaves and she turned again to study the planes and angles of Imrahil’s face before she reached out, caressing his cheek with a touch as gentle as a mother’s blessing. ‘You are like Imrazor,’ she said, ‘but you also resemble our son.’   

‘I look decades too old to be your son,’ he said wryly. ‘You look more as though you should be my daughter.’

‘How many generations have passed since Galador established himself here?’ she enquired.  ‘More than a dozen?’

‘More than twenty, lady,’ her descendant informed her. 

Her head dropped to conceal the tears that started to her eyes.  Her blood, yet not her kind: sons and grandsons, daughters and their children, dark grey-eyed boys and graceful raven-haired girls, growing old and passing from the world while she still mourned for those no more than names in crumbling books.  The tragedy that was the other side of the desperate love of a man and an elf-maid.

‘Do you blame me for returning to the Golden Wood?’ she asked.

‘Lady – what is yesterday to you is no more than legend here,’ he said, spreading his hands.  'I have no need to blame you for anything.  And I think I understand.  One death would have diminished you – how could you endure the constant partings from those whom you loved?  You needed to distance yourself from the fate of men.’  He looked at her: pale and slender, her fall of dark hair like raw silk, a simple gown of soft green clinging to her delicate frame, her eyes shadowed.  He could see Lothiriel in her elegance and in the bend of her head: Amrothos was there in her swift glance and the curve of her smile: Elphir’s eyes were the same colour and pierced through to the heart of those who met them: Erchirion’s intensity echoed hers.  It seemed incredible that her influence on his house should be so clearly apparent after so many years, but it was undeniable.

‘You are as much a founder of our House as Imrazor the Numenorean,’ her distant descendant told her softly. ‘It is because of you both that we have become what we are.  I am honoured that you have chosen to come here at this time.  Your visit will be recorded in the annals of his House.’  He hesitated.  ‘Will you stay long enough to meet those who come after me?’

‘I would like to see them,’ she acknowledged, ‘but I do not know.’  She turned back to the dance of the salt waves.  ‘I will be sailing soon,’ she said absently.  ‘My lady will not long be able to endure the changes that blow across the world – and I will accompany her on her final journey.’

‘The world will be a sadder place without the elves,’ Imrahil murmured, ‘and it grieves me to be among the generation of men who will preside over their departure.’

‘There will be elves on Arda for many years yet,’ she remarked, glancing at him. ‘Those there are who will never depart willingly – but I am not among them.’

‘They say that the lands of the Elvenhome bring healing to all those who abide there,’ the prince mentioned.  ‘Will they not heal your sorrow?’

She smiled wryly.  ‘They cannot reunite me with those whom I wish to see,’ she shrugged.  ‘I will continue to mourn until the world ends.’

‘He must have been a very great man,’ Imrahil said gently, ‘to earn devotion such as yours.  Remember the good times, my lady.  Savour the love and do not wallow in its ending.’

‘Easy for you to say,’ she told him.  ‘In a century or so you will be reunited with the one whose image you hold in your heart.’

‘Waiting is waiting, my lady’ he stated bluntly. ‘A hundred years to me is more than an age would be to you.’ 

He turned slightly as he became aware of a movement behind him.  Amrothos emerged into the bright morning, stretching cat-like and yawning, his eyes fixed on the white swans gathered on the smooth water of the harbour.

‘My son,’ Imrahil spoke.  ‘We have a guest.’

Amrothos looked towards them and bowed, a faint flush of colour staining his cheeks. ‘My apologies, Father.  I thought you had Lothiriel with you.’  He looked at the elf standing beside the prince and smiled.

Imrahil’s eyes narrowed.  He felt sure now of the reason Mithrellas had decided after ten centuries to break her self-imposed isolation from her son’s descendants.  ‘My youngest son,’ he informed her.  ‘Amrothos.’

‘Do not concern yourself,’ she told him, understanding only too well his anxiety. ‘I will not harm him – I only wished to see if he was indeed as like to my love as I thought when I caught a glimpse of him.’

‘You do not intend harm,’ he corrected.  ‘How are you to know the effect you will have on him?  Might he not be dazzled by you without any wish of yours?’

The young prince approached them. ‘Do I know you, my lady?’ he asked.  ‘There is something about you that is very familiar.’

‘Perhaps,’ she said with a slight smile.  ‘I am your - foremost great grandmother.’

Imrahil laughed silently. ‘Well, that should stop him from falling in love with you,’ he murmured.

‘His heart is already given,’ Mithrellas told him with an enigmatic smile that caused him to frown thoughtfully.

‘Mithrellas and Imrazor,’ Amrothos exclaimed, his eyes sparking fire. ‘So it was true.’

‘True, indeed,’ she agreed.  ‘I have come to bid farewell.’  She looked at Imrahil’s son thoughtfully.  ‘It surprises me,’ she remarked, ‘that so much of Imrazor – of me – should remain to be seen.  I would have thought that the distance imposed on Men by time would have blurred the likeness.’

‘Perhaps,’ the Prince agreed, ‘if we were other than the Lords of Gondor.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘It may not seem comprehensible to those who live forever,’ he added, ‘but we are proud to trace our descent from the blood of Westernesse.  The noble families marry most often among their kind – and there are few who are not distantly connected with those whom they wed.  Your blood and Imrazor’s,’ he told her, ‘can be traced in every noble house to a greater or lesser degree – and, at times, it shows.’ 

‘Will you tell us of yourself and the Numenorean?’ Amrothos requested eagerly. ‘And of Galador and the early days of our House?  Who better to tell the story than one who was there as it happened?’

She smiled, and for a moment the stars shone through the rain clouds in her eyes.  ‘If it would interest you,’ she said, ‘I would be glad to burnish faded memory before I depart.  It would ease my heart to know that I am not the only one to hold their remembrance dear.’ 

Imrahil withdrew slightly, looking back to the doorway where, doubtless, a servant was waiting.  Finding one, he spoke quietly, sending for refreshments to be brought and asking that his sons and daughter join him in the garden.  There were tasks allocated to the day, but they could be postponed.  He and his children could spend the time more profitably with one whom they never could have expected to meet. 

He turned back to see his son and Mithrellas standing, framed by the delicate branches of tamarisk, with the clear blue of the sky behind them, and he caught his breath.  They were an image of beauty from his earliest memories, one painted delicately by hands long dead in the frontispiece of an ancient history of his house: elf maid and man standing together.  He had always known it as no more than a story, but here the myth was, given unexpected life before him in the warm brightness of a summer morning in this remarkable world where legend became reality.  



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