Andreth opened her eyes, her gaze focusing on the gossamer canopy above her head, and stretched her arms, lacing her fingers behind her head. Her heart felt light now, and happier, and she was pleasantly surprised that she would feel this way. She had fallen asleep the night before feeling a faint sense of rejection, and loneliness. Firiel was still far away, and Elros- he had simply not come back from talking with his brother. Not in the waking world, at least.
She studied the faintly fluttering gossamer with a sigh. Perhaps her contentment and better spirits had something to do with this marvelous bed. It had been as soft as she had imagined, and she had slept deeply, forgetting her troubles, her dreams sweeter and more real than she had ever had before.
Elros had been in them, Andreth remembered with a smile, walking beside her on a long grassy knoll dotted with flowers. Beside them, a sandy slope dropped down to a stretch of white sand lapped by gentle ocean waves that glimmered beneath a full moon. It had seemed so real, she recalled, remembering every detail of his face, his grey expressive eyes, the strong angle of his jaw, the intriguingly tipped peaks of his ears. The feel of the cool, moist sand beneath her bare feet had been real too, the feel and scent of ocean wind in her hair. And when the dream of Elros had touched her hand, she had felt the sensation of his warm, strong fingers as clearly as if he was truly there.
They had not spoken, but Andreth had been content with the silence between them, and as they had walked, Elros had gathered a cluster of flowers in his other hand, and had offered them to her, white blossoms that glowed silver beneath the moonlight, like the single flower Hathel had given her the night before. The scent of the one flower had been sweet, but the whole cluster of flowers the dream of Elros had put into her hands, had filled the air with a fragrance she would never forget.
Andreth sat up, and studied the morning light filling her room. She put a hand to her shoulder, touching her fingers to the cloth of the long, white nightgown that had been laying across the bed waiting for her, when she returned. Aelin must have thoughtfully set it there for her.
She clambered out of bed, and turned, pulling the bedclothes back in place, smoothing them as neatly as she could, then turned to survey the room. The gown she had worn the night before still lay draped across the chair where she had left it, and the diadem carefully placed upon the seat. Andreth moved to the chair, the cool of the floor comfortable against her bare feet, and picked up the dress, stepped toward the large wardrobe, and drapped it over a clothing hook hanging from a long rod among the other dresses that were now hers. Aelin should not have to do every thing for her.
A deep, long breath filled her lungs as Andreth passed a hand over the hanging dresses, marveling at the softness of the fabric, and the variety of color. All of them lovely, and all of them for her.
Andreth picked up the pearl and silver diadem and turned toward the desk. As she moved toward it she inhaled again, and her smile grew thoughtful. Was it possible for remnants of dreams to linger, even when she was awake? For the scent of the silver flowers from her dream, she realized, seemed to linger in the air about her.
She set the jeweled circlet down and studied the single flower Hathel had given her where she had set it on the desk the night before. Its scent alone could not be strong enough to fill the room as this sweet fragrance was doing.
Her eyes turned now toward the door that led into the hall, and she moved toward it, and touched the latch. Lifting it, she pulled the door open.
A breath of sweetness filled her lungs as her eyes fell to the cluster of flowers at her feet, and her heart jumped. These flowers white and delicate, were so like the flowers in her dream, that a chill, not unpleasant, washed over her skin. Where had they come from? Not Hathel. He had left after giving her the single flower. So- who had left these?
Andreth bent and gathered them up, drinking in their fragrance, and looked up and down the hallway, half expecting to see Elros coming toward her, smiling as she had seen him in her dream.
Elros she did not see, though she did see Aelin just entering the long hallway, a silver tray in her hands, softly clattering with its contents.
Seeing her standing in the doorway, Aelin smiled.
"You are awake, Lady Andreth! I am pleased. You did not come in from the veranda for so long. I am sorry I did not wait up for you."
"I stayed up far later than I should have. Don't be sorry." Andreth said her head as Aelin reached her, and moved aside to let the elven woman pass.
Aelin's brows lifted at the cluster of flowers in her hand as she started across the room to the balcony.
"In Mithlond only one day, and already you have an admirer? Is that why you were so late in returning from the veranda?"
Andreth must have blushed, for Aelin smiled. "I am happy for you. Lord Hathel is a good man for all that I've seen, and a hard worker."
"I like their scent," Andreth said, deciding not to explain the entire truth about where she had obtained the cluster of flowers. "It is not one I could forget."
"They are called Tindómiel," Aelin said, nodding to the white blossoms.
"Star of Morning Twlight," Andreth repeated softly. "It is a beautiful name."
"For a beautiful flower," Aelin agreed with a smile. "The blossoms keep for days, unwilting, even if you pluck them, though they last longer with water. And they are very lovely. More so at night, and they grow brighter as the night deepens. For beneath moonlight and starlight, especially when the morning star is first visible, they gleam. The glow fades only when the sun at last shows her face. I sometimes gather several for myself, both for their beauty, and their sweet fragrance." Aelin's smile quavered a moment, and her eyes shone with brief wetness before she blinked it away. "They are rare, for they grow only here in Mithlond, near the sea."
She had reached the curtained balcony, and with Aelin's hands full, Andreth pulled the curtains aside, and opened the balcony window for her.
Aelin nodded her thanks, and moved through the doorway, setting the tray upon the table on the balcony.
"You have much to do today," Aelin said, "for your lessons will begin this morning. So I thought that perhaps you might enjoy breakfast here alone on the balcony, before the rush of the day begins."
Andreth nodded her thanks even as her throat tightened at the thought of her lessons. In return for living in this unimagined richness, she would be flooded with lessons of all kinds. Yesterday on her journey here with Firiel, she imagined, if Lord Cirdan even agreed to take her, that she would be sequestered away in some vast library for hours at a time, doing nothing more than reading, and reading, and filling her head with all manner of history and facts. But the ancient shipwright had other more varied plans for her, entirely. A pang of doubt pinched her that she might not live up to the kindly elf's expectations. But she did not show her trepidation, and merely took the chair Aelin indicated before the elven woman withdrew, and left her alone.
She drew in a ragged sigh, nervous, and lonely once again for Firiel as she looked over the breakfast tray, plates and mugs covered over with silver lids.
At this time, far away, Firiel was finishing the morning milking, and letting Lavaniel out to graze while she prepared herself a simple breakfast of porridge and milk. How was she? Andreth worried. Did she miss her? Did she need her back? How was Lavaniel? Was the poor creature confused at her absence, or did she barely notice Andreth was gone? Later today, Andreth decided, if she had a moment, she would write a letter to Firiel. Firiel could not read; she had never felt the need to learn. But perhaps she could have a neighbor read it for her. If nothing else, at least she would know that Andreth was thinking of her.
With a sigh, she lifted the lid of her plate, smiling at the slices of peaches and strawberries, and the thick slice of buttered bread before her, steam still rising from its fluffy surface as if the loaf had been pulled from the oven only minutes before. Lifting the lid from the mug, Andreth took a hesitant sip at the oquirre colored liquid, smiling in pleasure as the sweet taste of pears filled her mouth.
Another cup contained only water, and Andreth, instead of drinking it, took up the cluster of flowers and settled them in the cup, for she wanted their sweetness to last as long as it could.
Leaning forward upon an elbow, Andreth closed her eyes and smiled as she lifted the cup of pear juice, and look another long, languid sip. The rigors of her lessons would soon begin, but for now, she was perfectly at ease, and fully content. And she smiled as she let her thoughts go back to the sweetness of her dream of Elros.
Elros' eyes blinked slowly as he rose from his sleep, his gaze coming into focus on the walls of his room, a bright mural of a hunting party pursuing a white stag through a shadowed forest of browns and deep greens.
He drew in a sigh, propping himself up on his elbows, and casting his thoughts back to the dream he had had.
Elrond had often spoken to him of his lifelike dreams, the ones involving the fair silver haired maiden he could see, but could not reach across the distant gulf between them. Elros had often envied his brother, for he had never had such clear, lucid dreams. Not until last night.
For the dream had been so lifelike, that even now in the waking world, it remained in his thoughts, as clear as a memory that had actually happened.
But unlike his brother's dreams, his own had not been inhabited by an elf maiden he had never met, and could not touch; rather the fair dream maiden in his night vision had been Andreth, as real and bright as in life, and standing right at his side. She had carried upon her brow the same diadem with the soft white pearl from dinner the night before, but she had also worn a necklace about her smooth white neck, silver, with a matching pearl hanging beneath the hollow of her throat.
In his dream he had touched her hand, and she had smiled, welcoming the gesture by brushing her fingers shyly against his palm. Her eyes had been bright, and inviting as they had walked side by side along a grassy bluff dotted with silver flowers overlooking a vast sea washed in moonlight.
He knew he had been dreaming as he experienced it, but it had been so real. And as he had walked at her side, studying the light in her eyes, and the smile upon her soft lips, brightening as he picked and handed her a cluster of silver flowers, he had a sudden longing to touch more than her hand. He wanted to lift his hands to her face, to explore the lines of her features with his fingers, to run the tip of his finger over the bewitchingly round curve of her ear. But though the warmth in his blood bid him to do so, and more, he had not. For Elros understood propriety, even if it was a dream. Drawing in a sigh, he laced his fingers behind his head and studied the ceiling, painted in a tangle of branches and leaves to immitate a forest canopy.
Andreth. He had not thought of it before these last few days, before meeting her, but her name was beautiful. Like a song. And her face and form were were likewise beautiful, with hair the color of gold and russet and bronze, spilling unbound about her slender shoulders, and eyes like young leaves. And her soft, expressive mouth. To say nothing of her shapely, young body.
"Andreth," he sighed, now aloud, tasting her name upon his lips. His thoughts had not left the fair mortal since he had turned his back upon her at that little sylvan pool, and he could not tell why, casting silent, wordless prayers to the Valar to help him make sense of all he thought and felt. And as if in answer to his noiseless pleas, she had come yesterday, barely more than a full cycle of the sun from when he had left her. Was her coming itself, somehow, an answer to his quiet prayers? And what of his dream of her last night? It had been so real-
"Elros!" A banging upon his door echoed through the room, throwing cold water over his throughts. Elros thrashed out of bed as Elrond opened the door, and strode through, balancing a silver breakfast tray in one arm.
"Still abed, little brother?" Elrond chuckled though the sound was brief, his eyes studying his brother shirtless, clad in his sleeping breeches, and the unmade bedclothes behind him.
"Did you stay up too late?" Elrond said, setting the tray down upon a small table near his door. "Remember, you promised Lord Círdan you would teach young Mistress Andreth both riding and the use of weapons. And her lessons in horsemanship are to begin this morning, so Lord Círdan says. He expects you to teach her thoroughly, Elros."
"I intend to do so," Elros said, moving to where his brother stood, and picking up a fat strawberry from the plate, and bit into it.
Elrond lifted a brow.
"Do you worry that I will not?"
"I fear you may grow-," Elrond paused, and his eyes grew somber, "distracted, Elros."
Elrond looked down, his jaw growing taut.
"We did not come to Mithlond to tutor mortal- children, Elros," Elrond finally said. "We came to help Lord Círdan."
"And what he wishes," Elros returned, his words carrying a stiffness he did not intend, "is for us to help the Lady Andreth gain in learning."
"But why did you so eagerly volunteer to teach the maid both riding and weaponry? Doing so, will take more time than is prudent from helping Círdan and his workmen down in the city."
"She will benefit from my knowledge." Elros answered, "I am highly skilled in riding, and in the use of many different weapons."
"So am I," Elrond shot back, and Elros took a step back, startled at his brother's vehemence. "But I have not offered so much of my time to tutor a mortal who will be gone from this earth in less than a hundred years, taking all her learning and all your effort with her. Yet the towers and buildings of Mithlond, which we came here to help build, will stand for millennia." Elrond swallowed. "Like us."
Elros drew in a short breath. "The lady Andreth is a living maid. She is not fashioned of cold, lifeless stone. The towers of Mithlond cannot feel gratitude for our efforts, nor give us kindness or friendship."
Elrond's mouth tightened in a frown."And why do you call her a lady? She is a descendant of the House of Bëor to be sure, but she is not nobly born, nor-"
"Lord Círdan himself addresses her as such, and-"
"Yes, but you called her lady, as if she were a noblewoman, from your first meeting."
"She-" Elros sighed, "seems suited to the title. I- do not think I could call her anything else. Her very presence carries with it an air of nobility. Regardless of her birth, she is a lady. To me."
To this, Elrond dropped his face. Elros could see a muscle twitch beneath the flesh of his jaw.
"Elrond," Elros muttered in a softened voice and swallowed hard. "Do you dislike Andreth?"
"I-," Elrond snapped. He looked up, then dropped his eyes again. He studied the floor a long moment in thought, and Elros watched the side of his face, his eye stern and set, his jaw tight. Slowly his brother's expression relaxed and he looked up again, meeting Elros' eyes.
"No," he said at last. "I do not- dislike her. Andreth is a fine, and honorable maiden, and a credit to her race. I merely-,"
Elros' brows as Elrond's eyes filled with sudden wetness.
"I worry about you, Elros." He stepped toward his brother, and took both Elros' shoulders in his hands. "You are all I have left. Mother and Father are gone. Maglor and Maedhros are gone. I have only you."
Elrond swallowed hard and looked away. "Perhaps I worry without need. But I will breath more comfortably when you have finally decided upon your choice that Eönwë gave us." Elrond looked up again, his eyes stern and pleading at once. "See that you choose as you should, Elros. And soon. Do not let distractions draw you away from your destined path."
Elros studied his brothers stern, pleading eyes. At last he spoke. "I promise you, by all that is dear to me, Elrond, I will choose as the All Father wills me."
Elrond relaxed a little. "As the All Father wills. Not as any living being wills, man or woman, elven or- mortal."
Elros looked down, then gave a nod.
"Good," Elrond muttered, his voice soft with relief. His arms fell to his sides. "That is all I ask, little brother."
With her chin in her hands and her eyes gazing away toward the distance where he far home was with Firiel, Andreth did not hear the knock upon her door until it had sounded the second time, and louder.
"Ah, forgive me," she called, "come in!" and a youthful maid servant had entered, hurrying toward the open doors of Andreth's balcony.
The maiden who looked no older than Andreth herself, but was easily ages older, stopped in the balcony doorway with a smile and a fleeting curtsy.
"Lord Elros wishes you to meet him down at the stables at your soonest convenience, Lady Andreth," the girl said, "and that you wear clothing comfortable for riding. Lady Aelin will be coming soon to help you pick something out, if you wish." Then like a shy little bird, the girl turned and scurried away.
Drawing in a tremulous breath, Andreth pushed away from the table, her half eaten meal, and the cluster of white flowers that Aelin had called Tindómiel. Her heart beat quickened as she thought over the girl's message.
Elros wished her to meet him. She knew it was only to begin her instruction, but even so, she felt a flush of warmth darkening her cheeks.
She turned from the table, but then as an afterthought, turned back, plucked up one of the flowers from her water cup, and tucked it into her hair before turning, and going back inside.