Disclaimer: The Silmarillion is Tolkien's, as are all his canon characters.
The Choice of Elros
Cool wind brushed through the unbound tresses of her long, honey brown hair as Andreth hurried along the forest road, the leaves overhead filtering late afternoon sunlight down onto the wide path before her. The weight of the basket upon her arm hampered her speed, but she thought little of its weight.
Far off in the forest, she could hear the bright, sprightly voices of birds, and her own lips echoed their song. Her heart felt light today, and as she thought of the pleased smile that would touched the thin lips of Firiel at her arrival, her own smile grew. Sweet Firiel, aged and infirm as she was, had been feeling poorly these last days, and the girl hoped that the contents of the basket she carried would bring light to the old woman's eyes. It would serve, only a little, to repay the kind woman for all that she had done for the maiden since she had lost her father in the War of Wrath. Her mother had died years before, giving Andreth life, and without Firiel, she would have been utterly alone.
She looked down at her basket, and lifted a corner of the cloth. A plump loaf of bread, with a small crock of Firiel's favorite berry jam, and three apples that she had traded a bundle of turnips for at the farm of Baran and Lómë, her nearest neighbors. Her smile grew larger.
"Oi, what'er we 'ave here?"
Andreth's smile dropped, and her feet pulled to a sudden stop as her eyes lifted, meeting the level gaze of a man. Ragged, unkempt hair covered his head, and an unshaven beard nearly hid his face. His clothes, ragged and worn, looked as if they had not seen a washer's tub since they had been drawn from the loom. Through his beard, she guessed he was neither old nor young, perhaps the age her own father would be now, if he had not been slain in the War of Wrath, though his eyes were not as kind as she remembered her father's to have been. Indeed, the eyes of this man were cold, and even fierce.
She gulped stiffly. "Good afternoon to you, sir," she said, wishing her voice did not tremble so. He was, after all, a simple traveler as she, merely going in the opposite direction. She moved to pass him, but the man moved to block her path, his arms akimbo, and his eyes fixed coldly upon her.
She drew back a step, struggling to keep the fear from her face.
"I don't think it'd be such a good idea to let you pass," he said. "I think you've got somethin' I 'aven't had in a long time."
The man chuckled, but the laughter was without humor, and his eyes were hard and dark.
"'Ow old 'er you?" he growled.
Andreth gulped fiercely, and stepped back. "Nineteen," she returned.
"Nineteen," he purred. His voice softened, but his expression did not as his eyes roved up and down her slender, young body.
A chill iced down Andreth's spine.
"You're a pretty one," he growled. "Prettier than an elf woman, even." But his words, rough and menacing, did not sound like praise.
Since she had come of age, she had not been ignorant of the glances men often cast her way. With her waist length hair and lithe, womanly form, it was no wonder that men's eyes often followed her. But never before, had any man studied her body in such a brash, calculating manner. She felt stripped to the skin before the man's bold gaze, and shuddered at the sensation.
The day had been warm today, and Andreth had worn a light green dress, the sleeves full and open, and the neck scooped low, clinging to the edges of her slender shoulders. She had felt no need for a cloak, and now, she wished she had brought one.
"Eh," he snarled. "I'm mighty hungry."
Feeling her heart stiffening with fear, Andreth drew back another step, but the man advanced on her making up ground.
"Here," she blurted, extending the basket to him. "You may have all that I carry. Bread, jam and apples. If you are hungry, you need it more than-"
A sharp gasp tore from her lips as the man tore the handle from her hands, flinging it and its contents to the side of the road, where the food spilled out of the cloth, the apples rolling in different directions.
"It ain't food I'm hungry for, girl," he said, and as he sneered, his eyes continuing to study her like a wolf, ready to tear into its helpless prey, a wild chill of terror iced down Andreth's spine.
"Please," she pleaded, hearing now the wild trembling in her voice that she made no effort to mask. "Do not hurt me."
She felt a tear spill from an eye and trail down her cheek, but the man before her only sneered more darkly.
He turned suddenly, glancing over his shoulder down the path that bent away into the trees as if looking for something. Andreth took this as a slim chance of escape, and turned, dashing down the pathway, as swiftly as her trembling feet could take her. But a moment later, she heard the heavy pounding of boots closing rapidly in on her from behind.
A hard grip seized her wrist then, and as he ripped her back, a sharp scream escaped her, though it was immediately cut off as the man snaked an arm, hard and muscled, around her waist, and clamped a filthy-smelling hand over her mouth.
"None o' that now," he snarled against her hair.
For a moment, he pressed his face further into her hair, and inhaled deeply drinking in her scent, then exhaled, his breath hot against her scalp.
"Mmm," he growled low. "Yer all mine now, pretty one, to do with as I please."
Fear surged through her blood, and Andreth struggled, fighting against the man's hold, but his grip was like iron, and he held her tightly against his chest as he lifted her easily, despite her struggles, and carried her off the road into the thick of the forest.
The cold green shadows of the forest enclosed her immediately, and noise grew muffled.
Even if she screamed now, the sound would not carry far.
Despair washed over Andreth. She had heard whispered stories of the horror that she was about to endure, the fierce, piercing pain, and the tearing shame. But it had always been a distant horror story, not fully real, like the frightful, whispered stories of Morgoth, and darkness, fear that was distant, and could never reach her. Had her own father not died to keep such unspeakable evil from finding her?
She continued to fight the man despite his strength, kicking and struggling, but it did little, and the man only laughed as he carried her further into the dark green shadows. For a fleeting moment, she tore her face away from his grip, and released another wild scream that slashed the forest like a knife before his hand snatched her mouth again, his fingernails cutting into her cheek.
"No one c'n hear ya," he snarled into her hair, his breath hot against her scalp. "Don't scream again, 'er I'll cut yer throat!"
He released her mouth then, and backhanded a stinging lash across her face.
Andreth staggered, her cheek burning from the harsh strike. She tried to stumble away again, but the man lunged forward and seized both her wrists in his fists.
"Please," she begged one more time as the man, his lips drawn back from clenched teeth, pulled her around, forcing her to face him. She could feel the tears streaming down her face now. "Let me go."
"I don't think so," the man snarled, and pulled her roughly to him.
Elros sighed as the rhythmic canter of his horse's hooves filled his ears. The forest he and his brother Elrond found themselves traveling through as they neared the welcome havens of Mithlond, did little to ease the comfort of his troubled mind. Perhaps he should not feel this way. The War of Wrath was over, and peace was again within his grasp. Why then, did he feel so troubled and confused? Why was the choice he had been granted not as easy for him as it was for his brother?
"Well," a cheery voice at his right called out, and the clops of Elrond's horse quickened as his elder brother drew even with him. "You seem to be deep in thought."
Elrond grinned. "What are you thinking of, little brother?"
At this, Elros could not help but laugh. He always did, whenever Elrond called him little brother. In truth, Elrond was indeed his senior in both begetting and in birth, but by less than a few minutes for each.
"Nothing," he chuckled. "And everything." His smile faded. "Life, itself, I suppose."
Wordlessly, Elrond reached out, and clapped a hand on his arm, nodding his understanding.
Elros smiled back. In truth, he knew Elrond understood him better than any could. For the two brothers had endured much together.
"Do you remember Mother, and Father?" he asked at last.
"I vaguely remember them," Elros said. " I think I saw father from a distance, though, during the war, aboard Vingilot." He smiled faintly. "The dragons did not know what struck them."
Elrond grinned at this. "And you still see our parents every evening and morning," Elrond reminded him with a grin, to which Elros nodded.
"You remember Maglor, and Maedhros," Elrond said.
Elros heaved a sigh. "They were good men." He paused and shugged. "To us."
He looked over at his brother. "What do you think Eru Ilúvatar thinks of them? What were their fates? Surely their mercy to us must count for something."
Elrond met his brother's gaze. "I have often thought that question myself. But I do not think I know enough to say. The All Father knows the end from the beginning, and sees with eyes that we do not. But of one thing I am certain. If their father-," Elrond's mouth tightened to a fine line. "Fëanor had not required them to take that- that oath," he growled the word, "to regain the Silmarils, they would not have-," Elrond drew in a breath, "done as they did. They were not as those who gain pleasure from causing misery. They did not worship Morgoth in their hearts."
Elros nodded his agreement, then lifted his eyes to the green of the forest that surrounded them. Light filtered down through the trees, and birds flitted here and there, speaking to one another in their bright, cheerful tongue.
"There is more that troubles you, isn't there?" Elrond asked softly, and again Elros glanced at his brother.
"Yes," he returned.
Elros swallowed, and drew in a breath. "Our-" he paused. "Our choice," he said at last.
Elrond's countenance grew somber. He did not need Elros to explain further. The choice they had been given, as Peredhil, as half-elven, the sons of Eärendil and Elwing, to choose between the life of a mortal, and that of an immortal.
"You have not chosen yet?" Elrond asked softly.
"I know you have already," Elros admitted.
"I feel I have much more to give, to both Elves and Men, if I choose the life of the elder kin," Elrond said, to which Elros nodded.
"And I cannot fault you for that. But for me, I feel I cannot choose now. I feel that I have to wait for-" Elros sighed.
Elrond furrowed his brow, the thoughtful, patient look Elros knew so well. "For what?" he asked.
Elros opened his mouth. But his answer was cut off as a sharp scream, distinctly feminine, tore through the air, before it was immediately cut off.
"Wha-" Elrond gasped, as Elros shot a wild eyed look at him, then turned forward, and spurred his horse into a gallop.
Behind him, he could hear the hooves of Elrond's mount pounding after him, and could hear his brother shouting something, though the wind, whipping past his ears, tore the sound away.
Around a sharp bend in the path, Elros pulled his mount to a sudden halt, and rose in the stirrups, his chest heaving as he glanced wildly around. The sound had come from this spot, he was sure.
The moment his eyes found the fallen basket and its contents, another fleeting, though wild scream tore through the trees from the forest to his left, and Elros needed no more urging as he flung himself from the back of his horse, and plunged into the forest.
"Elros, take a care!" He finally heard Elrond behind him, gasping and breathless. "Have your sword ready!"
Elros did not break stride, plunging past branches that scratched his face and arms like scythes but he did heed his brother's warning, and drew his sword from its sheath.
Andreth struggled to wrench away from the foul taste of her attacker's mouth, fighting to release a scream as she crumpled to the ground beneath his weight. Roots and stones dug roughly into her back, gouging deeply for the weight of her attacker upon her.
His hands released her wrists, and she began to claw at him, tearing at his face and hair, but the man did not seem to notice, for his strength outmatched her own, his fingers seizing the neckline of her dress.
Sobs began to wrench in Andreth's lungs as the sound of ripping cloth assaulted her ears.
"Get away from her!"
The strong, masculine cry, feral in its rage, seemed to fall from the sky, as if shouted from the lips of one of the Valar, and the man's weight immediately lifted off of her. It took Andreth a fraction of a moment to realize her attacker had not risen of his own accord. Behind him, a man with long, dark hair gleaming in the filtered forest light, lifted the man off of her, using only one arm, for he clutched a gleaming blade in the other, and flung him across the clearing.
Her attacker fell clumsily, but was on his feet in a moment, a short knife appearing suddenly in his hand as he snarled, uttered a foul curse, and threw himself at her rescuer.
The flash of a sword gleamed in the wane light of the forest, followed by a splash of red, and her attacker fell, his head half severed, to the ground.
A moment later, another man, close in appearance to the first, appeared from the shadows of the trees, stopping short at the sight of the dead man.
"All is well, now, brother," her savior said, before turning to her, his chest still heaving from his fight. He met her eyes for a fleeting moment, but then glanced quickly away, a dark flush coloring his cheeks.
It was then that she noted the peaked tip of his ear. This man, she realized, and his brother as well, who stood beyond him, his own eyes diverted from her, were of the Elder Race. They were elves.
Her rescuer's jaw grew taut, and he spoke, clearly abashed, his eyes still turned from her. "Maiden," he choked. "you have clearly endured a harrowing thing. Is there aught we can do for you?"
Andreth swallowed and looked down at herself, at the skirts of her gown, tangled about her bare thighs, and at the neckline of her dress, torn several jagged inches, exposing the flesh between her young breasts. Her hand lifted, trembling furiously, and caught the edges of her torn bodice, pulling it closed. A sudden weakness seized her then, the realization at how close she had come to being ravished, and she began to sob again, wild wrenching sobs. She rolled over, clambering to her knees, and began to retch violently between sobs, vomiting onto the ground, until nothing was left, though dry heaves continued to clench her belly long after all the contents of her stomach were expelled.
In the midst of her sobs, she became aware of a hand upon her back, gentle, despite its size and obvious strength, and a warm, solid presence kneeling at her side.
"Forgive me," the elven man's gentle voice murmured. "Forgive me for not arriving sooner."
"Forgive you?" she choked. Still clutching her torn bodice with one hand, she turned toward him. The elven man, who had saved her virtue, and likely her life, knelt at her side, a penitent look upon his face. His eyes were gentle, soft and grey, and his face was strong, the lines of his jaw and cheekbones honed as if his face had been carved of marble. His features appeared as if they should be fierce, almost warlike, but they were not. For his eyes softened his features as he studied her tenderly, his gaze filled with concern.
Andreth felt her face growing warm, and dropped her eyes. "At no thought to your own safety, you saved a maiden's virtue. You and your kinsman." She nodded past him toward the other elven man who stood over the dead body, almost as if he were guarding it, daring it to rise again. "I owe you many thanks."
"Did you know him, young one?" her rescuer asked, and Andreth shook her head, looking away as she shuddered.
"A bandit," his brother said, kicking a foot dismissively. "After all we endured, still there are those who follow Morgoth in their hearts."
She could feel another sob rising in her throat, and at her side, her rescuer seemed to sense her need, his hand gently moving to her shoulder.
Andreth looked up again into his eyes, grey as the sea, and just as soothing. It was a strange thing for a man who looked no older than herself, to call her young one. Though, she realized, these two elven men may have already lived for ages. To them, she was only a child.
"Fear no more, maiden," the elven man at her side said, and his voice was gentle, soothing, deep and warm. His was not the voice of one speaking to a child. "You are no longer in danger. It will be our honor to see you safely to your home." And his voice so calmed her, that Andreth, though she had not known him before this moment, let her head fall against his shoulder, still shuddering, though her sobs did not return. His arms went willingly around her, and his hand touched her hair.
"Where is your home?" he murmured, and his breath, soft and warm, brushed her cheek.
"I was born among the few men to take refuge in these lands near Mithlond, before the War of Wrath," she said brushing her tears away. "My mother, Ailë, died giving me life. I live with a friend. Firiel is her name."
"His name was Beldir. He fell in the war." Andreth choked against his shoulder.
"I am sorry," the elven man murmured. "We too, lost our father and mother when we were young."
Andreth drew in a ragged breath. The elf's garments smelled sweet; like deep forests and pine, mingled with the deeper, musky, masculine scent of his own body. Something soft and warm and deep stirred within her, and Andreth longed to bury her face against his sturdy shoulder, to drink him in, forgetting the terror of these last minutes. But it would not be seemly. She did not know him, not even his name. And he was an elf. Loftly, beautiful, and untouchable, like the stars.
A finger, gentle as the touch of a dove's wing, brushed her cheek. "And your name, gentle lady?"
Andreth started at this. He had called her lady, a title reserved only for noble women. "I-" she stammered. "I am Andreth."
"Andreth," the elven man murmured. Her name, upon his tongue, sounded sweet in her ears. "It is a fair name. No doubt you were named for the wise maiden, named Saelind by the elves, who was the daughter of Boromir of the House of Bëor."
"Yes," she lifted her head. "The same. Through my father Beldir I am a descendant of Bregor, her brother. Her kindred, though broken by the Battle of Sudden Flame, were not all lost."
"Then we are well met, lady," he said. "For we are kin to the family of Lord Aegnor, who loved and was loved by your namesake, we being also of the House of Finwë."
"And our grandsire, the father of our mother, was a descendant from the noble house of Bëor," his brother added in a gentle voice from his place beside the fallen robber. "So it appears that we are kin, however distant."
Andreth furrowed her brow at this, her thoughts racing at his words, and suddenly, she felt small, and very much like a child. Chagrined, she eased away from the elven man, and looked down, suddenly too abashed to meet his eyes.
"Ai, my lords," she breathed, shamed beyond words that she had behaved thusly before such great Elven lords. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth, where she could still taste the acrid vomit she had coughed up in front of him. Heat burned in her face. "You speak of Dior Eluchíl. I did not know you were-," She stopped. She could speak no more.
"Ah, indeed. I beg your forgiveness. For I failed to tell you our names," the elven lord said, his voice reassuring as he reached out, and touched her shoulder, his fingers now the only contact between them. "I am Elros Eärendilion, and this is Elrond, my elder brother."
She looked up. The second elven man dipped his head toward her. Elrond's eyes were kind, and sea grey like Elros', but did not carry the same softness that she could see in his younger brother's eyes.
She turned again, meeting Elros' eyes, her cheeks hot.
"The twin sons of Eärendil and of Elwing, the Peredhil," she breathed. "You are the mighty lords who fought so valiantly in the War of Wrath. I did not know. I beg you, forgive me."
"Andreth, daughter of Beldir," Elros said gently, a smile touching his lips, "I assure you, you have done nothing of which you need be forgiven."
He held out a hand in offering. "Come, Lady Andreth," he offered gently. "Will you permit us to see you safely to your home?"
Still clutching her torn bodice, Andreth studied his hand for a long moment. It was a strong, sturdy hand, the fingers and thumb lean and firm, and no doubt had wielded his blade in the War of Wrath as skillfully as he had, here. Yet, as she lifted her own, so small compared to his, and slipped it into his hand, it felt soft, its grip firm and strong, yet gentle.
Elros' smile reached his eyes, as he stood, and helped her, carefully, to her feet.