"Mummy, tell us the story about Nimrodel," Galador demanded.
"Yes, please, Mummy!" Gilmith added her voice to her brother's.
Mithrellas smiled. "You like it that much?"
"Yes!" Galador exclaimed. "Amroth was the greatest king ever."
"Even greater than Thingol?"
"Well…" Galador drew the word out—Thingol was his greatest hero, but he was currently obsessed with Amroth. "I…"
"But it wasn't Amroth who was the hero," Gilmith interrupted. "It was Nimrodel."
"No she wasn't!"
"Yes she was! Wasn't she, Mummy?" Gilmith demanded, turning her great grey eyes on her mother.
"That's for you to decide, dear," Mithrellas said gently. "Now, are you two going to fight, or do you want to listen to the story?"
"The story!" both exclaimed.
"Very well. Nimrodel dwelt beside the falls of the river Nimrodel, to which she gave her name…"
By the time she finished, the children had fallen asleep, and Mithrellas tucked their bed-covers over them, moving to exit the room. But as she walked past the window, she turned as if drawn by some invisible pull.
The window looked out onto the sea; the waves were calm, tonight, and the sea was all that stories told it to be. But it was not for beauty that Mithrellas came.
Nimrodel, Nimrodel, the waves whispered. And there was no answer.
With a choked gasp, Mithrellas turned and fled the room, as she did every night.
"Are the children all right?" Imrazôr asked her later, in their room, as they both got ready for bed.
"Yes, of course," Mithrellas answered absently, winding her hair in a great plait above her head. Imrazôr was a good man. Always busy and absent more than either of them liked, but faithful, and kind. And he would never leave her (but it was she who had failed, long ago, not her lover).
"And you, my love?" He had come up behind her, and now he gently took the pins from her and started setting the plait in place.
My love. She had called her that, before everything went wrong, and another took her away. Mithrellas laid her trembling hands on the table. Even now, she could hear the sea: Nimrodel, Nimrodel, Nimrodel.
"I am fine."
Gilmith and Galador played along the shoreline, dancing in the water and pushing and splashing at each other. Their cries resounded across the beach.
Mithrellas, watching, smiled. But even as she watched, she was conscious of the water: Nimrodel, Nimrodel, Nimrodel, it cried. Nimrodel!
The child's cry shook Mithrellas out of her reverie, and she turned away. "Yes, dear?"
It was Gilmith. "Mummy, is something wrong?"
Mithrellas looked down at her daughter, who was clinging tightly to her skirts, as if afraid that, if she let go, Mithrellas would wash into the sea and dissolve into nothing. "No darling. Everything is fine."
"So strange," a voice said as footsteps approached the alcove where Mithrellas sat, hidden, with a scroll in her hands. "If it wasn't for the fact that she's Lord Imrazôr's wife, I wager she'd be mistook for…something else."
"She's an Elf," a second voice said. "That would explain the strangeness, wouldn't it?"
"Well…" The first voice was lowered. "I heard she's so…unusual because she lost her lover"—Mithrellas' hands tightened on the scroll—"and Lord Imrazôr took her, well, not by force, but not completely willingly." What? Mithrellas wanted to laugh. It had been her choice. Everything had been her choice. "You remember the Elves we've seen, all gay and bright? She's not like that. They're strange, but they're not…"
"Frightening," the second voice supplied. "Yes, they're fey, and they're not like us, but they don't look through you like she does."
"That gives me the creeps. They say…" But the voices, which had been fading off, could not now be heard even by Mithrellas' Elven ears.
The scroll slipped from her grasp, and from the windows the voice wafted: Nimrodel, Nimrodel, Nimrodel!
In a low, fierce voice, Mithrellas whispered to herself, "I am fine."
"Lord Imrazôr," the nobleman—Mithrellas had never bothered to remember his name—murmured, making a low obeisance. Mithrellas received a slightly less respectful bow. "Lady Mithrellas."
"Ancalimon. Your proposal is sound, but there are several aspects…" Imrazôr began to discuss some matter with the other man. Beside him, Mithrellas fidgeted. The audience of nobles' disapproving glances pricked her more than she cared to admit. The proceeding, too, bored her, a cause of much guilt; Imrazôr needed a wife who could be his equal and partner in affairs of state, not an Elf who knew nothing of mortal politics.
And, through it all, even though there were no seaward-facing windows here, the cry: Nimrodel, Nimrodel!
"Mithrellas?" Imrazôr had turned to her and now placed a hand on her elbow. "Is something wrong?"
"No, Imrazôr." She gave him a strained smile. "I am fine."
After their lovemaking, Mithrellas lay beneath the sheets and listened to her husband's heavy breathing.
It was not that she hated him; she loved him, in her own way. But she could not give him what he needed: a Lady, a partner to share his life with. Mithrellas was not of his people. She could not love them as he did.
Slowly, she slipped out of bed and covered herself with a robe. It was, Mithrellas thought, fitting that, having failed in the forests, having failed to protect the one she loved, she would fail in all other things.
The moon was bright on the waves as Mithrellas looked out the window. From the waves came the whisper: Nimrodel, Nimrodel.
And Mithrellas knew the blood thrumming through her heart echoed the same name.
Mithrellas was walking past the children's nursery when she heard Gilmith's voice. "…Because Mummy's sad all the time, Inzil."
"And why is that?" Inzilbeth, the nurse, asked.
"I'm not sure, Inzil, but I think it's us. We make her sad." This was Galador butting in, and Mithrellas' heart clenched as she heard him speak.
"Now, now." The nurse's voice was kindly. "Your mother's had a hard life, but I promise you're the light of her life. She loves you very much."
"Of course she does!" Gilmith flashed. "But we make her said anyway."
This was the point at which Mithrellas should have marched in, embraced her children, reaffirmed her love for them, assured them of the joy they brought her. Instead, she swallowed, and walked away, and thought, Nimrodel.
Mithrellas was sitting on the sand. It was night.
She had been upset by some remark which she could not remember, and had crept to the shore for comfort. Now she listened to the sea: Nimrodel, Nimrodel.
"Oh, Amroth," Mithrellas whispered. "Everything would be so much easier if I could blame you for stealing Nimrodel away. But—you only loved her, as I did. As I do. How could that be your fault?"
The only answer she was given was the familiar cry: Nimrodel, Nimrodel.
Then, from the woods: Mithrellas.
The woods, again: Mithrellas, Mithrellas.
She knew that voice. Without further thought, Mithrellas ran into the trees.
It was five days later, and Mithrellas came to the end of the paths she knew. From here, if she moved forward, she could not turn back.
She knew what she was supposed to do, should do. But she could not, for the trees cried Mithrellas and her heart sang in reply. Whispering a quick apology to her children and Imrazôr, Mithrellas moved forward. Nimrodel, wait for me. I am coming!
She found Nimrodel singing by a waterfall. A poor waterfall, nothing next to the glory of the falls of Nimrodel, but still beautiful in its own way. The sun shone on her black hair, catching the fine spray of droplets that clung to it and crowning her with fire. Her brown hands moved in time with the rhythm.
Mithrellas was loathe to interrupt her, but Nimrodel turned with a word upon her lips: "Amroth?"
"No, Nimrodel," Mithrellas whispered.
Nimrodel tried, again, and now Mithrellas saw there was something dreadfully lost in her gaze, something broken inside her. Shards of who she had once been, to match Mithrellas' loss of herself. "Mithrellas?"
They were flying into each other's arms. And, through tears and laughter, Nimrodel whispered, "I thought everyone left. I called for Amroth, but he could not come. The waters told me his is dead. So I called for you"
Her voice was dreadfully fragile. Mithrellas' heart ached for this shell of the person Nimrodel had once been, but, despite that grief, the overwhelming joy of finding her once-lover filled her, and she saw that joy reflected in Nimrodel's eyes. "And I came, Nimrodel. I will never leave you again."
Then, Mithrellas brought her mouth to Nimrodel's, and they kissed.