When they finally arrived at the guard post, it was early evening. They had agreed they would make camp in the flets that night, after taking advantage of the remaining daylight to explore the Nimrodel, and hopefully satisfying Kalî’s unusual quest.
They dropped off their sacks and skins, as well as the cloaks they’d taken to carrying in the humid afternoon. Haldir brought Kalî to a small clearing beneath a vacant flet, and excused himself to check in with the wardens on duty.
Kalî sat down against the tree and sighed to herself, “What are you doing here, Mîth?”
Of all the ways she considered the day would go, this scenario had never occurred to her. She was so cocksure she could get through Lórien undetected she never considered encountering elves, let alone accepting help from them. She certainly never dreamed that, were she ever to meet one, that they would be as kind and generous as Haldir.
She’d always been told that the elves were proud, self-righteous, and cruel, knowing only hatred, greed, and war. Her marchwarden was nothing like that. He was wise and funny, dutiful and honest. And so very, very pretty.
She covered her face with her hands and groaned. This just wouldn’t do. She had only spent the better part of an afternoon with this person, how could she have come to be so smitten? She’d never allowed herself such a luxury, and had never found it difficult to keep people at arm’s length before. It had always proved easier for her in the end.
She did not like staying in one place for too long. With the Corsairs it was never a problem. They never stayed in port long enough to become involved with the common folk, and she had long established that she would rotate throughout the fleet, never staying on one ship for more than a few years at a time.
Hostir had come into her world very much the same way he left it, a hateful old man, but Hostith she had known from just a boy. Before her eyes he had grown into a man, then into an old man while his children grew tall and grey themselves.
It horrified her.
She had little experience in aging. Death and disease? Absolutely. With the Corsairs men died all the time, either at the end of a blade, or succumbing to fever or starvation. But to see someone just wither away, was entirely foreign and distressing to her. She never wanted to see it again.
Kali had heard about the immortal lives of the Eldar and, now that she was here with them, with Haldir, she was starting to wonder if she would be willing to stay, if they would even welcome a Númenórean refugee into their greatest of cities?
She groaned, and tapped her head against the tree. This was not something she needed to be thinking about right now. Haldir would be back soon, and what would happen when she finally reached the Nimrodel? What would she find there? Why had Hostith sent her here?
Haldir returned and escorted Kalî the rest of the way to the Nimrodel. In a small clearing beside the river, Haldir explained that this was the place where the Lady Nimrodel had lived. Her residence long since fallen to time and disrepair. Kalî approached the clearing, her brow furrowed. She looked around pensively and Haldir let her explore while he continued to tell her about the river. How it too was called Nimrodel, and about the poetry and songs that surrounded the legend of the lady.
When he finished, there remained an uneasy silence while she searched the grounds. Eventually, Kalî sat down on a large tree root that hung over the smoothly rippling water, looking confused and dejected.
“So, who was Nimrodel, then?” she asked softly, taking in everything. Haldir watched her diligently, as she looked sadly into the water, reaching in and letting the current run through her fingers.
“It is a sad tale, híril nín. Nimrodel was the beloved of the King of Lórien. When she fled the Golden Wood, her betrothed set out after her. They traveled to the south, in search of a ship.” As he spoke Kalî sat back and looked at him, her eyes calculating. “Their party was separated. The king reached their destination alone, and perished at sea while he waited for his love to arrive. Nimrodel found herself wandering the White Mountains for a time, before she finally reached the harbour, and found herself alone.”
Kalî blinked, confused, “Then what happened?”
Haldir sighed, “We do not know. That is where our knowledge ends. Nimrodel was lost to time and Lord Celeborn took his brother the king’s place here in Lothlórien.”
She turned her eyes back to the water, silent. He took a deep breath and approached her, kneeling beside her as she curled her legs beneath her and stared vacantly into the river.
“Kalî,” his voice was low, “why are you here?” He kept his head down, but watched her through his lashes. She tensed, and dug her fingers into the moss of the root she sat upon. She turned her head towards him, but not her eyes.
“I was a slave. From the time I can remember until I was grown, I was a slave in the house of a man named Hostir.” She spoke softly, her voice almost lost over the babbling of the river below. He looked up in alarm at her words, but was silent as she continued.
“When Hostir died, I was left to his son Hostith. I had grown with him, and while we were not equals, he was like a brother to me. Hostith was an unhappy child, and a heavy-hearted man. He was always afraid, always suspicious, always sad. The relief he felt when his father passed was great, but it did not ease whatever burden he carried.” She drew a breath and rubbed her nose softly with the back of her hand. “As he lay dying he called me to him. He was distressed, begging my forgiveness, for what I still don’t know, but I gave it to him all the same. He took my hand and held it so tightly that it hurt, and he said, ‘Nimrodel.'” She shook her head, “I didn’t know what he was talking about and I told him as much, but he was in so much pain, he could say no more.
That was all he had said. That one word and I don’t know what he meant.” A single tear fell despite her unblinking eyes, her voice wavered angrily, “He died that night. He died, and I was taken by Corsairs soon after.”
Haldir was aware that he was holding his breath, so transfixed by Kalî and her words that he did not dare move for fear of shattering their reality. Finally, she turned her eyes to him, red rimmed but piercing blue. She clenched her teeth, “I do not know why I am here.”
Haldir considered her then, what she had said and what he knew about her, and he thought about the things that he didn’t know. A thought stirred, he pinched hard at the bridge of his nose as he pondered the implications of it. His mind now racing with a thousand questions that all screamed at once to be asked and he drew a careful, even breath as he struggled to quiet them.
He finally spoke with a cautious calm, “Kalî, where were you born?”
She frowned, confused by the question, “In Edhellond.”
He closed his eyes and nodded, “Do you know how old you are?”
The neutrality of his tone was unnerving, but it was clear to Kalî that he was trying very hard to keep control of how he delivered these, seemingly random, questions.
She closed her eyes and tried to think, “I’m not sure… Do you know the Line of Dol Amroth?”
Haldir nodded, he had learned of the princes of Gondor during his stay in Minas Tirith.
“I was about 20 when Galador was born, so… 800 give or take?”
She watched him with a growing sense of unease as he nodded slowly and sagely at her answer.
He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. This was the question that had been haunting him since he met her, and now he had to know.
He took another deep breath, “I am going to ask you one more question, Kalî and, it might be a very stupid one, but please humor me this.” He fixed his gaze on her again.
“You are an elf, Kali. Do you not know that?” he said softly.
He could barely breath as he watched her, her eyes wide and brow knit, staring at him. She turned her head away and looked back out onto the water, the sun fading far beyond the trees as it set. She closed her eyes and hung her head.
“There are no elves in Belfalas.” She whispered, as much to him as to herself, but the conviction fell flat.
She knew she had outlived every shipmate and captain she’d ever had, but they had rarely died from age, which made it easier to forget that she never seemed to. She never got sick, she healed faster, and she could survive on little to no food or water for weeks longer than her boys. And even though the men of Númenór once lived well past 300, that was no excuse for her long life…
She took a shuddering breath and her face crumpled miserably, unable to find the words to answer him, but Haldir did not actually need her to.
“I told you Nimrodel disappeared after reaching the harbor,” he said softly, “what I did not say was that that harbor was the elf haven of Edhellond. And that Dol Amroth is so named for the elven king of Lórien who died there… 784 years ago.”
She looked back at him, her face a host of grievous emotions. He rose to his knees and reached hesitantly for her, gently cupping her face in his hand, “I think you ought to accompany me back to Caras Galadon, Kalî. I believe Lord Celeborn will be most eager to speak with you.”
Mîth ….. girl child