"Let yourself be as one with your mount, my lady," the voice of Elros called out to her as Andreth sat astride Maidh's back, and rubbed her hands against the mannish riding breeches Aelin had bidden her to wear. The gentle wind here was cool against her bare neck, for Aelin had twined her hair back into a single braided rope. But still Andreth could feel the sticky sweat on her skin beneath the tunic she wore.
The hooves of Elros' stallion, Nórui, pounded the soft, grassy earth of the wide plain from behind her, slowing to a stop at her side.
She could see him out of the corner of her eye, clad in riding breeches, boots, and tunic of grey and blue. His hair, unlike her own, was loose but for a pair of braids behind his ears, and the sun caught in his hair as the gentle wind blew it back from his sturdy shoulders. His own eyes were on her face, and seemed to fix upon the single white flower that Aelin had tucked into her hair above her ear, although she could not say for certain, for she dared not look up at him.
She had been following his instructions for the greater part of the morning, or trying to, yet aside from a few rudimentary skills that children could easily learn, she felt no more skilled now, than when she had first clambered onto the white mare's back, almost mounting the poor horse backward, before she realized her mistake, lowered herself back to the ground, and changed her feet in the stirrup, her face blazing all the while.
Before today, the few times she had ridden a horse, had always been behind someone else. She had never, of herself, been the one in command. And so Lord Elros had had to begin his instruction with the most simple of lessons. The first few skills she had picked up easily enough, but now, for the last several minutes, he had been trying to teach her how to trot with her horse, keeping herself even in the saddle. Yet she could not learn how to hold herself steady, and even now, her teeth felt terribly jarred from the horse's jogging which she could not roll with as easily as Elros seemed to, on his copper stallion. She was weary and frustrated, not at her mount, nor at her teacher, but at herself. Worse, her heart felt discouraged. Lord Círdan, she feared, had made a terrible mistake. She was no one special, no wise or graceful lady. She could not even learn the simplest of skills. Elros, she was certain, was not pleased with her, either. He would not show it, high, lofty elf that he was, but surely he felt in his heart a growing distain for her, and her clumsy mortal ways.
"Be patient with yourself, my lady," he said, now at her elbow, as if he sensed her thoughts. "Remember, this is your first day. The skill may not be there at first, but it will come as long as you strive for it. I promise."
Swallowing thickly, she looked up into his eyes, and found a faint smile upon his face, a gentle, encouraging smile.
"Will it?" she asked, struggling to keep the frustration out of her voice, for his sake.
Elros smiled and nodded, reaching down to pat Nórui's shapely neck. He leaned forward, neaerer to Andreth's and she could not help but manage a faint smile at the warmth in his sea grey eyes. "I promise," he said again.
She dropped her eyes to Maidh's creamy mane, and asked, "But truly my lord, did you ever yourself, nearly mount a horse backward?"
Elros' smile grew into a lopsided grin at this. "In truth, my lady? I fear the answer is yes."
Her eyes shot up once again, astonished at his answer, for elves never made such mistakes. From all that she saw, the elder race fairly glided through all that they did, barely touching the earth. In all that they did, even with the most simple of tasks, there was always a grace that seemed inherent in their very blood. Even when she had found him milking the goat Lavaniel the day after he had saved her, there was a flow to his movements, that seemed as natural as the flow of a gentle stream, but which she knew she could never possess herself.
"You jest my lord," she said, giving a faint laugh.
"Indeed, I do not," he returned with a shake of his head. "I was but a lad, perhaps only about this high." He held his hand against his arm, indicating his once smaller stature. "Maglor brought me a pony, just the size for a boy my-,"
Elros suddenly paused, and his eyes shot to Andreth's as if he had suddenly realized the infraction he had committed.
Andreth dropped her eyes at the change upon his face, a mingling of sorrow and apology at his unwitting mention of one of the seven sons of Fëanor. The name of Maglor did not cause her as much discomfort as it might an elf, but still, she shivered a little to hear it. Silmarilli; rash, impetuous oaths; bloody kinslayings; and terrible, unfathomable tragedy... They all swirled in her mind like a tragic whirlpool, one in which she herself was not caught, and the true depth she could not fathom, though it was frightening enough, knowing she could not fathom it.
"My lord?" she said, and reached out as if to touch his arm, though she pulled her hand back quickly as Elros looked up. She saw the conflicting emotions in his eyes, and realized he felt more deeply the tragedy of the Fëanorians than she, and perhaps many other elves. He had known and cared for two of them, their mercy having spared his life, and Elrond's, though many elves dear to them had not been fortunate enough to garner the same mercy.
"My lady?" he choked.
"Tell me-," she stammered, lifting her eyes again to his, "of the pony?"
Elros' eyes softened at this, and took on a grateful look. "He was a plucky little thing," he said, a tentative grin tugging his mouth upward. "Dirty white, and as loyal as a hound. Maglor said he'd found him wandering alone, without herd or master, hounded by wolves. He took pity on the poor beast, and brought him to me. I could not contain my joy when I realized he was for me, and straightaway I went to mount him, putting my right foot in the stirrup as you did, but unlike you, I did not realize my mistake in time. For in my enthusiasm, I swung clear to his back."
Andreth smiled at the image in her head of a dark haired little elfling, fully mounted backward on a horse.
"But that is not all," Elros continued, and his eyes brightened at the memory. "The moment I was mounted, he leapt away, me backward in the saddle as I wailed for someone to help me."
Elros chuckled, and Andreth found herself laughing softly as well, a hand lifted to her mouth as she envisioned what he was describing.
Elros continued. "Elrond was racing behind me, waving his arms, shouting, and laughing as well, with-,"
He paused again, his eyes sobering.
"Please continue my lord," she pleaded, biting her lip, her eyes fixed hopefully upon his face.
"With Maglor, and Maedhros coming behind him," Elros said softly. "Maedhros reached me first. I was terrified, and even with the pony stopped, he had to pry me from the saddle." His smile twitched. "It was days before I could approach Huan again, that is the name I gave my pony, and several more days before I would dare to ride him. But he forgave me, and I him, and we became good friends."
"And what became of him?"
Elros looked at her, and smiled sadly. "As with all mortal beings, good Huan grew old and died."
Andreth lowered her eyes and nodded, her smile fading. "Of course. I should have known. I forgot it would have been so long ago. I am sorry."
"Do not be," Elros said with a ragged sigh. "I am sorry-," he said with a sigh, "if the mention of- my foster fathers troubled you. There are many who do not wish to hear of them at all."
"I was not troubled much," she said, with a shake of her head. "I know of Maedhros and Maglor and their brothers, and their deeds. But only through stories. I know they caused much death and pain, yet you and Lord Elrond are both living witnesses that Maglor and Maedhros were capable of good, as well. And you have pleasant memories of them, which says something. I cannot say that I would not wish great punishment on their souls had I witnessed the kinslayings, or if any that I loved had been slain by them. But I do not think they were as those who take pleasure from causing pain. As it is, I cannot condemn or excuse them, for only Eru Ilúvatar knows them perfectly."
A thoughtful smile touched Elros' lips at this, and he looked fully into Andreth's eyes, holding her gaze, and with her eyes fully upon his own, she could see his eyes clearly as they slid to the flower in her hair, linger a moment, then slide back to meet her own eyes. "Your words are kind, my lady. And wise. Thank you."
Andreth smiled, and dropped her eyes, warming with the pleasure of Elros' thanks. Her heart took courage now, despite her weariness of earlier moments.
"What must I do, my lord, to ride Maidh with more grace?" she asked, too shy, for the moment to look up and meet his gaze.
To this, Elros cleared his throat. "Yes," he said, as if shaking himself from some distraction, and coming to himself again. "Put your weight in the stirrups, and not so much the saddle. Trust Maidh as I do Nórui. Let yourself flow with the movement of the horse. Like this."
He urged Nórui forward into a gentle trot, and rode forward for some distance before circling around. Andreth watched him as he rode, feeling her heartbeat quicken as she studied the grace with which the young elf lord rode, his dark hair and braids catching in the faint wind. His tall, solid form, and the strong chisled lines of his throat, his jaw, and face, shining beneath the sun, and especially the warmth of his sea grey eyes held her gaze more than the technique of his riding. Andreth's face warmed as he drew near once again, an encouraging smile upon his lips.
"Try that," he urged, and Andreth gulped. "Let your knees relax." She nodded, and reached down, giving Maidh a gentle pat before she drew in a breath and gently nudged the white mare with her heels, urging her forward.
At her bidding, Maidh broke into a trot, and as Elros bid her, Andreth strove to put more weight into the stirrups, letting the rise and fall of her knees absorb more of the movement of the horse's legs. Letting herself flow with the movement of the mare, the ride did seem much less jarring than before.
"Wonderful!" Elros exclaimed at her side, and Andreth reined in, turning Maidh's head, to more easily to see Elros' ecstatic expression as he galloped near. "You did well!" he praised, drawing his stallion to a stop at her side.
"Did I?" she pleaded, her heart singing at the praise on his face and in his voice. "I had feared at first that-,"
"But you pressed on, despite that fear!" Elros cut in, beaming.
She searched his face anxiously. "But, my lord, I still have so much to learn."
"Yes," he agreed, "but do not let yourself become discouraged, even when things grow difficult. No one, not even Lord Círdan himself, began life knowing all there is to know. We all learn and grow with effort, and-,"
Elros stopped speaking, and a thoughtful smile drew up the corners of his mouth. "My lady, do you know where pearls come from?"
Andreth's lips parted at the sudden change in his words, but she nodded tentatively. She had seen a few pearls in her life, and had marveled at their creamy, rainbow sheen, thinking them beautiful; especially the lovely pearl in the silver circlet Aelin had fastened into her hair the night before. "From the sea, yes? From- within the shells of oysters?"
Elros grinned and nodded. "Do you how they form?"
Andreth dropped her eyes to Maidh's flowing mane, feeling suddenly foolish, for she felt she should know the answer. "No. I fear what learning I have had, my lord, has been lore and stories of Elves and Men. I know little of animals, or herbs, or-"
"Then I will tell you." Elros was reaching into a small pouch on his belt as he spoke. "Now and then, a grain of sand makes its way into an oyster's protective shell, and to the sensitive body of the oyster." He held something in his fist now, which Andreth could not see. "The rough sand grain pains the oyster, and so it begins to lay a smooth, protective coat around the grain, so that it does not trouble the oyster any more. Over time, these once small, rough grains of sand become this."
Now, Elros opened his fist. Something gleamed within the center of his palm and Andreth leaned forward, her eyes widening as he held out his palm for her inspection.
A bright, gleaming pearl rested in his hand, smooth and symmetrical; full and round at one end, while the end tapered to a nearly perfect point, giving the lovely pearl the distinctive shape of a raindrop.
"Oh, it's beautiful," she breathed, longing to touch it, though she did not. "Where- who- who gave it to you?"
A fleeting sensation of disappointment twisted her heart at the thought that some lovely, flawless elf maiden had gifted it to him. A sweetheart of his, that she had not known about before.
"Lord Círdan gave it to me, a few days ago, when I first arrived here. He had just found it washed up upon the sand, only minutes before I went down to the shore below his house, to see him." Elros' smile softened as at a pleasant memory. "And he said that it came into his mind, that it was for me. To help me-," he swallowed, and his brow furrowed as if he struggled for words. "Discover myself," he continued. "To know my destiny. It came, Lord Círdan said, from Lord Ulmo himself."
"The Vala of all water," Andreth murmured, feeling again suddenly small and unimportant, remembering who Elros was, and her own insignificance. Why did she dare to let her blood warm at the sight of him? She was weak, flawed and insignificant- and mortal. He was as fair and strong, as bright and eternal as a star.
"You, my lady, are like this pearl."
The gentle tone of Elros' voice cut into her somber thoughts, and sent a wave of warmth rushing through her body.
"You may think yourself flawed, and insignificant now," Elros said, his words eerily echoing her own thoughts as his gentle grey eyes studied hers. "Yet you are even now, as wise and good as you are lovely, my lady. And you have a great destiny before you. I cannot say what it is, and I am not certain if Lord Círdan himself knows. But I am certain that he senses something about you, my lady. It is more than who your fathers were. Something tells him that greatness is in you." The warm in his eyes deepened. "And I feel the same whisperings myself, my lady."
Elros smiled, and edged Nórui nearer to Andreth's mount. He reached out, and grasped her elbow, gently squeezing, before his fingers slid down her forearm, and over her palm before gently linking through her own fingers. "The Valar know you, and they know your heart. Be patient with yourself, Andreth."
Andreth's heart flipped a little at the pressure of Elros' fingers against her own, as well as the soft sound of her own name upon his lips.
"I will try, Elros," she said, her voice soft. Her eyes fell to their linked fingers as her memory darted back to her dream of the night before, when she and the dream vision of Elros had held hands just like this on a grassy hill between a silent, starlit sky, and a bright moonwashed sea.
"We should return now," Elros said without meeting her eyes, his tone faintly troubled. He dropped her hand and slipped the small pearl back into the pouch on his belt. He turned back toward Círdan's house where it stood high upon the bluff some distance from where they sat upon their mounts. "You have more lessons, and I have duties of my own to see to as well."
"Oh, yes," Andreth agreed with a sigh, lifting the hand he had held, and gripping Maidh's reins with it. "But you will also begin teaching me the use of certain- weapons?"
"Yes, but later today. Toward evening." Elros nodded, still not looking at her. "Come. Let's go back."
Elros urged Nórui into a trot, and Andreth watched him ride away for a moment, the distance between them increasing, before she too urged Maidh into a trot, supporting her weight in the stirrups as he had taught her, and quickly caught up to him.
As she reached his side, Elros glanced over to her, and their eyes met. His sea grey eyes grew warm as her gaze found his, and he gave her a fleeting smile before he pulled his gaze away again.
Elrond sat upon the seat beneath the wide window that faced east and north, out over the wide meadow beyond Círdan's stables, before the distant trees of the forest. Behind him, near the archway that turned down the hall that led to several rooms, including the rooms where the mortal maiden was staying, two maid servants stood at the balcony that encircled the main hall of Círdan's house. Their voices were hushed as they talked, and Elrond payed no attention to them, his gaze focused upon the pair of riders he could see in the distance upon the grassy meadow.
He had spent the morning down in the city, helping Círdan and his workers with the rising lighthouse, but now he was back, waiting for his brother to return with Andreth. For he meant to begin his own lessons with her, and hoped today, to show her various healing herbs.
The corners of his mouth felt heavy, as did his stomach as he watched his brother and the mortal maiden riding toward the house side by side. He could not hear their words, but he could see the brightness in the maiden's eyes, and the tenderness in his brother's as Elros reached out and touched the maiden's arm, letting his fingers slide down her forearm, and grip her fingers for a moment before releasing her hand. Though the gentle touch did not last long, the heaviness in Elrond's heart remained.
"You look as if the weight of all the world rested upon your shoulders, my young lord."
Elrond turned with a forced smile, and rose to his feet as his friend Galadriel glided near. "My lady," he greeted.
She offered a small smile to the two maid servants, and they curtsied, and scurried away.
"May I sit with you?"
"Of course, my lady," Elrond said with a nod of his head, waiting with his hands at his sides as the golden haired lady sat gracefully beneath the wide window, the skirts of her white gown gathered about her, before he sat as well.
Galadriel did not speak at first as she lay a slender arm upon the sill of the window and gazed out, her eyes fixing upon what he guessed were the distant figures of his brother and the mortal maiden. A faint sigh escaped her, but her expression remained unreadable.
"You are enjoying the Havens, my lady?" Elrond asked, his eyes fixed intently upon her face. She had come to him for some purpose. Of that, he was certain.
"I am," she said quietly. "My kinsman King Gil-Galad and my lord are busying themselves aiding Lord Círdan and his men, down beside the shore as are our friends Oropher and his son. For myself, I have been finding enough to occupy my own time. Their are friends enough here, and books enough to keep me occupied for many days. And the sweet scent of the ocean is enchanting."
Her smile was small, but genuine, and Elrond felt the tension in his face and muscles easing slowly. The lady Galadriel had a way about her, that could always put him at ease, and Elrond was grateful for that gift of hers, now. He sensed in her a concern for him for which he was grateful, a tenderness that recalled to him his faint memories of his own mother.
"But I have not come to sit with you to speak of myself, young Elrond." Her eyes remained focused out the window on the approaching pair of horses. "Tell me," she said, "why you are troubled."
Her gentle yet direct question clenched Elrond's heart, and he looked away, leaning back against the edge of the window. "I fear for my brother, my lady."
Elrond drew in a breath. "You know of the choice that has been given to us."
Galadriel met his eyes, her face neither smiling nor frowning, though her eyes were gentle and encouraging. "Yes."
"I knew what I was to chose the moment that it was given to us. But he did not. His heart is still uncertain. And I do not wish for him to grow distracted, and to choose- poorly."
Now Galadriel did smile, a faint, compassionate smile. "You were always his protector, Elrond. Even when you were a little child, you would have willingly died to protect Elros, had the sons of Fëanor not stayed their wrath and taken pity on you."
Elrond looked away and nodded.
"But my young friend," she said, "as much as you wish to, you cannot protect him now. Not from the choice he is to make. That is his alone. You cannot make it for him."
"But I do not want him to- grow distracted and to make a wrong-" Elrond sighed.
"Have you ever known your brother to act rashly?"
Elrond shook his head, unable, for the moment, to speak.
Galadriel leaned toward him a fraction, her eyes fixing upon his. "Elrond, Elros must make his own path. Do not fear that he will choose a course contrary to the will of the Valar simply because a fair mortal maiden has crossed your paths." Elrond pursed his lips, feelilng his face growing flushed, for her shaft had struck home.
"His best choice," Galadriel continued, "whatever it is, for I cannot say, was ordained by the will of the All Father, and cannot be altered. You, my dear young friend, can no more change it than you can change the course of the stars in the heavens. All that is to be done, is for Elros to come to an understanding for himself, of what his own best course must be, and for both of you, for all who care about you, to accept it."
Elrond swallowed stiffly, and looked away out the window.
His brother and the maiden Andreth had arrived in the yard, and were dismounting their horses. Their eyes did not meet one another's, but this did not comfort Elrond.
"My dear Elrond," Galadriel murmured, and he looked again at the fair elven lady. She smiled again as their eyes met. "You are young and learning still, like a pearl still forming. But your heart is good, and I am glad to know you." She rose to her feet, and Elrond rose as well in deference.
A sigh escaped her, and for a fleeting moment she looked sad. "I have not yet been blessed with children, but were I ever to bear a son, I would be honored if he was half as good, and kind as you, my young friend."
Elrond nodded his head toward her, partly in thanks, partly to hide the gleaming wetness that formed in his eyes.
"Thank you, my lady," he said, and Galadriel returned his words with a nod of her head before she turned and glided away, turning down the hallway toward her own chambers, and leaving Elrond alone to ponder over her words.
"I may not be able to change his ordained course," he said beneath his breath once the lady had disappeared, "but I may perhaps help him remember what it truely is."
And with a fist of resolve tightening around his heart, he turned and strode toward the stairs that would lead him down to the main hall, and to his brother. And to Andreth, the gentle and kind, yet mortal, maiden.