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8: Growing Apart
‘Adrahil lived another turn of the seasons,’ Mithrellas said distantly. ‘His end – frightened me. He had been so strong, so commanding, so powerful.’ She smiled ruefully. ‘So like his son. Yet in those last few months he became like an infant again: needing comfort and the care of a mother. He fought to live: unlike the Lady Heledh, Adrahil was unwilling to accept death. I looked at Imrazor and imagined how I would cope if I saw him struggling for every breath or weeping because the sun shone in his eyes – and I did not know if I could endure it.’
‘It is hard,’ Imrahil agreed. ‘My wife’s mother lived beyond her time and it was terrible to watch. But I do not believe that Imrazor failed in his old age?’
Mithrellas shrugged. ‘Histories would not tell of that, would they?’ she remarked. ‘Years pass so quickly,’ she said regretfully. ‘In the Golden Wood, the turn of the seasons is barely marked – there is a tranquillity that disregards time. It is that, I think, that I seek in following the Lady across the sea.’ She looked at Imrahil’s children with a sorrow that touched him, knowing as he did the echo of loss he felt as they had turned from children to adults with such speed. ‘I tried,’ she continued, ‘after Adrahil’s death, to savour every minute – to lay down memories that would sustain me in centuries to come. Pictures of Gilmith dancing barefoot in the autumn mists with drops like diamonds in her hair. Galador’s serious face as he competed at archery – and his delight when he won. Imrazor – always Imrazor. Sober in council, bold in the hunt, armour gleaming at the head of his troops, laughing with his children, loving, demanding, a presence such that he left an emptiness behind him. He said I watched him too much – that I did not sleep, only to spend the night hours looking at him, but I knew our time was short. How could I not want to have him while I could?’
‘I do not know,’ Imrahil reflected, ‘whether it is better to know your time is limited, and learn to live with its ending, or to have disaster strike you in the middle of your happiness.’ He smiled sadly at Lothiriel. ‘My wife died unexpectedly at our daughter’s birth,’ he said, ‘and, for a while, I did not know how I would cope. My older sister took hold – and finally insisted, as only sisters can, that I lay my grief aside and think more of my children and my duty than of myself.’
‘Sisters are demanding creatures,’ Amrothos nodded, ‘even when they are younger than you. And they will never take no for an answer.’
Mithrellas laughed. ‘I think Galador would have agreed with you,’ she said.
‘Tell her, Naneth,’ Galador insisted. ‘She is old enough to make some pretence of being a lady.’
Gilmith’s eyes sparked sharp needles. ‘Just because you admire girls who flutter their eyelashes at you and tell you that you are wonderful does not mean I have to be like them!’ she snapped. ‘I do not intend to spend my life trapped inside the walls of some boring castle, while my husband is off doing exciting things.’
‘You will be lucky if you ever persuade some poor fool to marry you,’ Galador retaliated. ‘He would have to be deaf to put up with your spiteful tongue.’
‘What,’ asked Mithrellas, ‘has made you two fight this time?’
‘I found her in the valley,’ Galador told his mother indignantly, ‘on her own, unchaperoned, barefoot, in a dress little more modest than a shift and scrambling round in the trees like a squirrel!’
‘And which of those things annoys you the most?’ Mithrellas enquired with interest.
Galador stopped and drew a breath. ‘Gilmith needs to fit in with the rules, Naneth,’ he said insistently. Everybody knows you are an elf and that things are different for you – but Gilmith is a Lady of Belfalas. She owes it to our House to behave properly.’
‘She is a child still,’ Mithrellas pointed out.
Gilmith drew a deep breath to object to the description, but realised in time that her age might, for once, be an advantage.
Her mother’s eyes twinkled. ‘I do not think that she needs to comply with Doriel’s standards of ladylike behaviour yet.’
Galador flushed. ‘It is not just Doriel,’ he said rebelliously. ‘Other people agree that Gilmith is too wild.’
As Gilmith opened her mouth to demand that he let her know who was criticising her, her mother took her hand. ‘We will discuss the matter,’ she said firmly, ‘and you will support your sister when others speak of her. Your friends will take their attitude from you.’
‘Doriel only likes him because Father is Prince of Belfalas,’ Gilmith muttered as her brother left. ‘She does not like elves – she says they are creepy. Her mother would not let Curánwen treat her and said it was a good thing when she left. I hope Father refuses to let Galador marry Doriel.’
‘Your brother is only twenty five,’ Mithrellas said. ‘That is too young for him to marry.’ She looked at her daughter seriously. ‘He does have a point, Gilmith. You are permitted far more freedom than is granted to most girls of your age and rank, because your father knows how hard I find it to endure confinement in stone walls – but, if you abuse what he offers, he will take it away.’
Gilmith dropped her head to hide her scowl.
‘I think you will have to resign yourself, as I have, to the presence of attendants,’ her mother said with some sympathy, ‘whom you will not attempt to escape.’ She watched her daughter with amusement. ‘And possibly suitable clothing in public. I will concede on the valley and the trees.’
‘You have responsibilities as your father’s daughter,’ Mithrellas continued, Nimrodel’s beautiful face in her mind. ‘You need to fulfil them – playtime is a reward, not a right. I will not have you turn into a Doriel – the sort of maiden who expects the world to worship at her feet and give in to her every wish.’
For some time Mithrellas had paid more attention to the expressions on the faces of the lords and ladies of Belfalas rather than their words. She had always been glad of the distance they had kept from her, but it was a different thing to consider that they might hold themselves aloof from her children, whose Númenorean blood was, in their minds, polluted by their association with the Elves.
Imrazor, when she had told him her worries, had laughed and told her that they were fools, who would dance to his tune, but she had been concerned enough to persuade Gilmith to adopt a more conventional appearance, at least in public, and to cultivate a few friends among the maidens who could serve as her companions as she learned the skills that would suit her to the life she would live.
Galador had, Mithrellas had been pleased to learn, rapidly lost interest in the vapidly pretty Doriel, and his desire to grow closer to other young ladies of Dol Amroth had been discouraged by his obligation to spend many long months serving his King in the field. He became an experienced soldier, growing slowly into his father’s role as captain of Belfalas’s troops, so that, in time, Imrazor had been able to spend most of his time at home directing the affairs of his princedom.
Her son had, however, returned from one of his extended trips to the heart of King Eärnil’s power somewhat distracted and Mithrellas had caught him looking at her doubtfully, as if he was not altogether willing to broach some subject which he thought might distress her.
She had finally pinned him down in the family garden overlooking the sea as he leaned on the wide wall gazing down at the bobbing shapes of the swans on the bright water.
‘Who is she?’ she asked simply.
Galador turned and smiled, his eyes gleaming with silver lights. ‘I am that obvious?’ he asked.
‘To me you are,’ she answered. ‘I do not know if your father has noticed.’ She hesitated. ‘Will he approve of her?’
‘He will,’ Galador said with conviction. ‘She is kin to Grandmother’s brother’s wife. She is beautiful and kind and intelligent.’
Mithrellas nodded slowly. ‘You must talk to your father,’ she said, ‘before you ask her to wed you. You have your duty to think of as well as your love.’
She had wept when her son married his Iúliel, even though his face had been bright with anticipation. It had reminded her too clearly of her own bridal, and how Imrazor had changed since that day. Then, too, she had felt it as a loosening of her ties to this city by the sea – the day of which Adrahil had warned her grew ever closer. Galador needed her no longer. Gilmith was grown and soon she would seek her own home. Mithrellas looked at Imrazor, her eyes tracing the signs of age affecting him as he approached his century.
He had embraced her after the bridegroom’s kin had escorted Galador to join his wife and they had returned to their own rooms. ‘When I say you have not changed from the day we met,’ he whispered in her ear, ‘you know that I speak the truth.’ He caressed her flowing dark hair and held her close. ‘You, I know,’ he jested, ‘cannot say the same, for I would not expect you to lie to me.’
‘What I love in you is the same as it always was,’ she told him, feeling the bones beneath his stiffly embroidered tunic. ‘You do not eat enough,’ she said, kissing him gently.
He deepened the kiss with an enthusiasm that had not changed at all. ‘I am afraid, my love,’ he said regretfully, ‘that I am just growing old.’ He took her face between his hands and raised her chin so that their eyes met. ‘There will come a time, I know,’ he told her seriously, ‘when you will no longer be able to stay – I am aware of it, I expect it, but I hope it is not yet, for I do not wish to have to live without you and I am selfish enough to ask you to remain with me as long as you can.’
She ran her fingers through his waves of frost-streaked dark hair. ‘I do not want to leave,’ she said simply, ‘but I know that I cannot remain. I am accepted because of you, my love. But my time will come, even if it is not death that will take me. Few men now are familiar with elves and there are ever more who are made uncomfortable by me – they will hold me against my children and grandchildren. If I am gone they will forget the reality and only remember a story.’
Imrazor swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed. ‘You are a feather floating on the wind,’ he said, ‘but I will hold you while I can.’
‘Our love is the wind on which I ride,’ she said simply. ‘And it bears me still.’
Mithrellas had known within a few short years that Imrazor and his son were contemplating a suitable marriage for Gilmith. Neither wished to push her into an arrangement that would make her unhappy – but the marriage of a daughter was too important a matter to her House to leave her choice entirely unguided. Eärnil’s unfortunate death provided an opportunity to take Gilmith to Minas Tirith for the coronation of his son, and many discussions on alliances of different kinds took place there in the quiet moments between the formalities associated with accession to power.
He was packaged up and returned with the party from Belfalas, the young lordling whom all had agreed was most suitable – and only the look of happiness in Gilmith’s eyes had been able to persuade Mithrellas to stifle her objections. She came to like Rochirion and even concluded that he would make her daughter happy – but he would take her away and that was a pain she could not be expected to like.
After Gilmith had departed in a flurry of excitement and good wishes, the only happening that had brightened Mithrellas’s mood had been the arrival of her granddaughter: a joy that had stood out against the dark worries that haunted Gondor.
Mithrellas held the child, her fingers curled around her grandmother’s thumb, and marvelled at her tiny perfection. ‘It is hard to believe that you were this small so short a time ago,’ she told Galador.
He smiled with all the pride of a new father. ‘It seems long enough ago to me,’ he said. ‘What do you think, Father?’
‘I think you have a fine daughter,’ Imrazor said softly. ‘She has her grandmother’s eyes.’
‘She is a promise,’ Mithrellas sighed, dropping a gentle kiss on her soft dark hair. ‘A promise for the future. Life will go on: Gondor will endure.’
Imrazor and his son exchanged glances over her head. The situation, with the Nazgul haunting Minas Morgul – a tower no longer dedicated to the moon, but to dark sorcery – was becoming desperate, and the threat to the last great realm of men deepened with every season. Eärnur was a brave king, and a worthy son to his father, but how long he could hold against the present danger, none knew.
Mithrellas felt their doubt. ‘Gondor will endure,’ she repeated. ‘Changed, it is true, but it will be here – and a long line of Princes of Belfalas and Lords of Dol Amroth will rule here. I have little foresight, I am pleased to say, but I have seen it in true dreams.’
Galador smiled the sort of smile that humours a beloved mother. ‘I am glad of it,’ he said.
Her husband, more aware of her talents, slipped his arm round her waist and leaned into her shoulder; attempting to reassure her, for he knew that neither of them would be present to see that future. He had no expectation of it – and no desire, either, for he was content with his mortality, resenting only the division it would bring, but he knew that she would spend eternity in want of reunions that could never happen.
The baby opened her mouth, seeking the only comfort of interest to the new-born and issued a squawk of command. ‘She needs her mother,’ Mithrellas decided with a final brush of her fingers across the soft cheek, before surrendering the child to her son.
They spent more time in Adrahil’s castle after the child was born. Imrazor began to surrender some of his responsibilities to his son, as his father had done, leaving Galador to be the Lord of Dol Amroth. The quiet forests south of Ethring suited their mood better. When Eärnur had ridden with his small band of knights to meet his death against the Nazgul and the last King of Gondor had been lost, Mithrellas had only been able to feel grateful that neither her son nor Gilmith’s husband had been among them, but the gloom of ill-fate hung over Belfalas nonetheless. This loss, depriving Gondor of its ruler, boded badly for the rule of Men. Only the resilience and obstinacy of the Stewards held the country together in the absence of an heir to the throne, as they accepted the duty to rule in the king’s stead.
‘My time draws close,’ Mithrellas said sombrely to Imrazor as they rested in the hidden glade where they had so frequently taken their pleasure in their early days. ‘I feel it in the air,’ she sighed. ‘I sense it in the water. A long change is coming.’ She looked at the man whose love had held her in these alien lands throughout his count of years. When had he become old, she wondered? When she looked in his eyes, he was unchanged. The eager boy, the lover, the soldier, the father, the statesman – they were all there, trapped now in a body that walked where it had run, that rested where it had yearned to act.
He looked at her with acceptance. A parting that had filled him with dread a few short years before had become inevitable. ‘Do not leave without warning,’ he requested. ‘I would not be left to grieve, not knowing that you are safe.’
She drew close to him and put her head on his shoulder, wrapping her strong arms round his waist. ‘We will make our farewells,’ she promised. She hesitated. ‘I do not believe that we will summon our children for them,’ she said. ‘It should be as if I have died. They can mourn me better then.’
They had wept together, holding each other as if to push back time. ‘I will not sail,’ she said finally, her voice low with despair. ‘I will not seek the sanctuary of the Blessed Realm while the Dark threatens. I do not know if there will ever be any role for me, or if I am played out, but I will stay. I will return to the Golden Wood.’
‘Apart or together,’ Imrazor murmured, tears stinging his eyes, ‘you are in my heart.’
‘You will never be forgotten,’ she said. ‘You will live always in memory.’
Mithrellas looked dry-eyed at the restless sea.
‘I see why you envy Queen Undomiel the choice of Luthien,’ Imrahil said finally. ‘Imrazor lived some score of years after you left him – but then he found peace. You, I think, have never moved beyond your parting.’
‘I wondered,’ Erchirion said thoughtfully, ‘why you had stayed. You had nearly sailed before, when Nimrodel sought the sea. The legends say that you took ship – you disappeared overnight, but that you headed to the Undying Lands. Is that why you are willing to go now? The Dark Lord is defeated and the Elves are all sailing west?’
Mithrellas shrugged. ‘There are those who will remain,’ she said. ‘Lord Celeborn will not go yet. The Elrondionnath will stay while their sister lives. And there are many Wood Elves who do not hear the call of the sea and may never choose to go.’
‘It seems to me,’ Lothiriel said with a deep sigh, ‘that the romance of love between an Elf and a Man is not what it seems to be in the lays sung by minstrels.’
‘Romance is illusion,’ the beautiful elf said practically, ‘whether between Elf and Man or in any other combination. One must live with the reality. Nimrodel showed me that it is necessary to look beyond self-gratification. Love is in giving of yourself in hope and trust, open-handedly, and the ending of my love for Imrazor was implicit in its beginning. I remained of my kindred – one of the Firstborn. No message came from the Valar to offer Imrazor passage to the West and I believe he would not have accepted the chance had it come. The time had come to pay for our years of happiness.’
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