The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Andreth stood at the vine entwined railing that encircled the west facing veranda of Círdan's house, her head bent toward the open book she held in her hand, dutifully striving to remember the various medicinal plants and their uses that Elrond had taught her of, earlier in the day. The sun was sinking low in the sky, and her mind fairly reeled from all she had done since its rising. Below the bluff that dropped away from the veranda where she stood, flecks of fire seemed to dance of the waves of the great bay. Now and again, Andreth found her eyes wandering upward, wishing to drink in the view without a care to her studies, though she caught herself time and again, lowering her face to the book Elrond had bidden her to read.

A folded piece of parchment lay against the opposite page, a letter she had penned for Firiel, and would send off in the morning.

Her hair hung in the same plaited rope, she had worn in the morning, with the single white blossom tucked in above her ear. With her face bent over the book, the rope of her hair trailed forward over her shoulder, hanging nearly to her waist. Her garb, though, she had changed.

She was no longer clad in the boyish breeches and tunic she had worn that morning for her riding lessons, and was instead dressed in a light gown now, sky blue with trailing sleeves, a belt of silver rope loose about her hips.

"Maidenhair," she murmured to herself, touching a fingertip to the small etching of a full leafed fern. "When made into a tea, it improves poor circulation.

"Lady's Mantle," she continued, her finger moving to another etching, of a circular leaf with striated edges, and undulating folds. "used as a poultice to stop bleeding. When taken as a tea, it helps and eases a woman's labor pains."

"Lavender." Her finger stopped on an etching of a slender stem with small flowers blooming along its length. "Its oil is used to heal wounds."

"Peppermint," a masculine voice spoke behind her, and she turned to see Lord Elrond coming toward her, two steaming mugs in his hands. A faint smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, and his eyes were kind. "When made into a tea, it relieves head ache and pain caused by overzealous tutors."

"Oh, Lord Elrond," Andreth chuckled, gratefully taking the mug he offered her, and shutting the book in her hand. She smiled up into the young elven lord's eyes, glad to see him smile in return. "It is not so bad. But thank you."

Her concern that Elros' elder brother was growing to dislike her had been dispelled during his lesson, for he had been as kind and patient as his brother. He had taken her beyond the stables to a garden on the north side of Cirdan's house. A cool, sweet haven of swelling fruits and vegetables, bright flowers and calming fragrance where Elrond introduced her to numerous medicinal herbs, explaining their names and healing properties. He had been exacting in requiring her to learn the names of several important herbs, their appearances and the ailments they treated, yet he had been patient as well, helping her to remember something if she forgot it, and praising her with each success until she could recall to him each herb he had assigned, and its qualities to him, by heart.

Elrond was a kindly elf, lordly and handsome as Elros was, almost the exact image of his brother. But Andreth felt differently in his presence that she did in Elros'. She dropped her eyes at this thought, lifted the cup and took a sip, letting the warmth and the sweet taste fill her soothing her as it did. Both elven lords, she knew were honorable and good, both she knew she could trust with her life. But Elrond seemed- almost fatherly to Andreth. Or perhaps brotherly, since he looked no older than she. But she did not feel so when she thought of Elros, and as his name whispered in her thoughts, the image of him upon his stallion's back galloping over the wide meadow with the wind in his hair, Andreth's heartbeat quickened.

"How have your other studies gone?" Elrond asked, taking a sip from his own mug, and gesturing toward a nearby bench. The same one, Andreth remembered, that she had been sitting in when Hathel had approached her the night before, and given her the small gleaming flower she knew now to be called Tindómiel.

"Very well," she said, nodding her gratitude as she took the bench and sat. Elrond sat beside her, his eyes, companionable and kind, fixed upon her face. "Mistress Aelin is teaching me to play the flute."

"And you are enjoying it?"

Andreth smiled up into Elrond's eyes. "Very much. She is a good teacher. I hope to learn to play the harp as well, one day, but Aelin says she is not as skilful with the harp."

"No doubt you will meet someone soon who will be able to teach you," Elrond said assuringly. "What of your other lessons?"

Andreth grinned. "Both Aelin and a few others of the women servants are teaching me some dances. I felt as clumsy as a cow at first," Elrond grinned at this, "but they were patient with me, and I think I'm learning. And Lady Galadriel herself, is teaching me to weave a tapestry. There is so much to do, so many threads to look after!"

Elrond smiled at her exclamation and drew a sip of his own tea.

"But I think I am learning," Andreth continued. "And with her teaching, I think my finished tapestry will not be too terrible."

"No doubt it will be very fine," he said, his voice warm and assuring. Elrond took another sip. "What will it be?"

"Well," Andreth looked down, hesitant, into her cup. The liquid was dark green. Steam rose invitingly from its surface, and she lifted the mug, taking a long, languid sip. The heat of the sweet tea had cooled somewhat. "I mean to put a star up in the center of a night sky, and below it, I mean to weave the images of-," Andreth felt her face coloring. "You and Lord Elros."

"Indeed?" Elrond breathed, a grin exposing his white, even teeth. "I am flattered. As Elros shall be, I don't doubt, when I tell him." His lips twitched faintly for a moment, and a troubled look seemed to touch his eyes.

"It is truly the least I could do, my lord," she whispered. "You saved me. You and Lord Elros."

Andreth drew in a breath at the memory of only days before, when the stranger had waylaid her in the forest. The cruel eyes of her attacker rose up again in her mind, the bitter taste and feel of his greedy mouth and pawing hands, and the stink and weight of his unwashed body. She remembered also, the flash of Elros' sword, and the burst of bright red blood as it sank into her attacker's neck, the man buckling to the grass of the sylvan clearing, his head half severed.

"If you had not come when you had-,"

A hand lifted and touched her shoulder, squeezing gently, and Andreth felt the frightening memory slip away again at the elf's touch.

"I promise you, maiden, you will never need to fear such men again," he murmured. "Not so long as Elros and I are nearby."

Andreth looked up, meeting Elrond's eyes, and managed a smile. "You are very kind, my lord Elrond," she said, and his eyes softened. "I have not known you long. Less than a week in truth, but I feel I could easily come to see you as a brother."

"And Elros as well?" he asked, his brow furrowing slightly.

Andreth paused, and dropped her eyes to the mug in her hand. The tea was beginning to grow cold.

"My lady?" he asked gently, leaning nearer.

"My lord, Elros?"

The masculine voice, rough, in comparison to Elrond's smoother tones, caused Andreth to jerk, her eyes flying up to see Hathel the stonemason rising up the veranda steps. A smile curved up the corners of his mouth, but Andreth could see a quiet challenge behind his eyes which fixed upon Elrond.

He was not as finely clad as he had been the night before, but still, she could tell he had not come straight from cutting stone, but had made himself presentable before coming here. He wore finely taylored breeches and a tunic and jerkin, and his hair fell about his shoulders like a smooth tawny mane.

He was handsome, Andreth admitted to herself, lowering her eyes.

Over one shoulder, he carried a quiver of arrows, and a long satchel with the ends of two unstrung bows poking out of the top of it.

Behind him, coming around the side of the house, were three of the elves she had met the night before at supper, Gil Galad, the Noldorin king, and Oropher with his son, Thranduil. These three elven men clearly had come straight from laying stone, however, for they wore loose, dust covered tunics. Their breeches too, were dusty, and a streak of dust brushed young Lord Thranduil's cheek.

Gil Galad's silver circlet was gone, and the long hair of all three elven men were tied back behind their heads in long tails.

"No, Master Hathel, I am Elrond, his brother," Elrond said rising to his feet to address Hathel's question, though Andreth remained seated.

"Ah," Hathel said, his tense expression visibly loosening. "My apologies, my lord,"

"Not at all," Elrond assured him, stepping forward and offering the mortal man his hand in greeting, Hathel stepped forward willingly, and the two men clasped forearms. "It is easy to mistake one of us for the other." As the three dusty elves approached, Elrond grinned and lifted his voice. "Even his highness, King Gil Galad often mistakes me for my brother, or him for me."

To this, the dark haired elf laughed, and nodded as he and his companions leaped up the steps. "Indeed," he said, striding near and clapping Hathel companionably upon the back. "And I have known the twin sons of Eärendil for well over sixty years."

To this, Elrond looked over his shoulder, offering Andreth a conspiratorial grin.

"My lady," Gil Galad said now, turning toward Andreth and offering a bow to her. "I and my friends apologize for our unkempt state, but we wished to come see you before the day grew too late."

"You need not apologize," Andreth said, her voice softer now than when she and Elrond had been speaking.

"We have been pondering on what we can do, while you are a ward of our friend, Círdan," Oropher offered now. "You seem a fine maiden, and the house of Bëor was always kind to our people. We feel it a worthy cause to help you with your learning."

"So we have agreed to employ Master Hathel to be your weapons tutor," Thranduil interrupted where he stood a half step behind his father.

Elrond's smile contrasted the sense of disappointment that gripped her heart at these words.

"But Elros was going to tutor me," Andreth said, struggling to keep her voice even.

"Now, Elros will not need to take so much time away from aiding Lord Círdan and the other builders," Elrond said, turning to her. "The orginial purpose for which he and I came to Mithlond."

Andreth shot a glance toward Hathel, who looked at her now with a hopeful, boyish smile, and she struggled to mask her disappointment for his sake.

"My skill is not reserved only to cutting stone, my lady," he offered. "I had hoped today, if you would permit me, to teach you something of archery."

Andreth shot a glance once more at Elrond, who, though only moments before, had been so kind to her, held now in his eyes an insistence that made her nearly cringe.

"I will excuse you to Elros, when he arrives," Elrond said, nodding jovially toward Hathel.

With a ragged sigh, her heart feeling as if it had suddenly turned into a great weight, Andreth set her book on the bench beside her, and rose, nodded to Hathel, and followed after him as he grinned broadly, and started for the steps off the veranda.

...oOo...

The sun was just touching the horizon, shooting bright arrows of red and gold from one horizon to the other. But Elros cared nothing for the beauty of the sunset. His heart felt as if it had grown into a great weight as he sat upon the sloping roof of the stables, his legs pulled up to his chest as he remembered his disappointment earlier that evening when he had strode out onto the veranda washed in red light, casting his eyes left and right, a bow and quiver of arrows clutched in his hands, hoping to see Andreth, only to find his brother seated upon a bench near the wall as if waiting for him.

"Andreth has gone with Hathel. It has been decided that he will be her weapons tutor," Elrond had said, rising to his feet, his cheerful tone adding salt to the wound his words caused.

"But Hathel knows nothing of fighting, or of war," Elros had protested. "He's never been in battle."

"He need not have been," Elrond had chuckled, reaching a hand out as if wishing to sooth his brother's frustration. "It is not as if Andreth is being trained as a warrior. She need only know the simplest of skills. Hathel knows how to hunt, and some skills with blades. That is enough skill to tutor a mortal maiden."

"But Lord Círdan appointed me as her weapons tutor!" Elros had protested, drawing back from Elrond's extended hand.

To this, Elrond's humor had seemed to leave him, and his eyes grew stern. "Only because you volunteered so eagerly to teach her both horsemanship and the use of weapons. You needn't do both, little brother."

The tone of Elrond's pet name for him, often spoken in fun and jest before, struck Elros almost like a physical blow, and he had fallen a step back, hurt and anger clenching into a fist in his heart. With that, Elros had turned and stalked away, fearing any further words that might come out of his own mouth and knowing he would regret them later.

And now, he sat upon the roof of the stable, gazing out over the grassy plain toward the mortal man and maiden, standing close together, the string of the bow in the maiden's hand drawn to her cheek, the shaft of the arrow nocked upon it, trained upon a stuffed straw target some distance away.

Several shafts already peppered the target, all of them well out of the faded red circle in the target's center.

Elros narrowed his eyes, and crushed his teeth together as the mortal man leaned nearer to the maid, his hand rising to touch against the small of her back as he whispered something in her ear, encouragement or instruction perhaps, or, perhaps, a compliment of her obvious beauty, which Hathel could not but notice, unless he were entirely witless and blind.

For Andreth, her hair still drawn back in a braid, looked captivating, bathed in the light of the lowering sun, the gown she had changed into after their ride that morning, complementing the curves of her body in a way that Elros found impossible to ignore. And within her hair, the single bloom of Tindómiel remained that she had worn since that morning.

Oh Valar, was it one of the cluster he had left outside her door, or was it the single flower Hathel had given her last night? It was maddening, not to know! He wished he had asked her that morning when he had seen it in her hair. But would it have been prudent? And what would her answer have been if he had asked? She had not known that it had been he who had left them.

In the distance, Andreth's fingers released the string, and a moment later, her arrow struck just inside the faded red circle, quivering.

A reluctant smile, for her sake, touched Elros' lips, though it faded again at the thought that it should have been he who had taught her that skill. His fallen expression fell further still, and his fists tightened in impotent fury as Hathel's hand trailed up Andreth's spine to her shoulder.

He felt only a little comfort as the maiden looked up at Hathel, then stepped away from him, turning back to look toward Círdan's house as if she sensed watchful eyes upon her and her mortal tutor.

Her face, Elros noted, was wistful. Her mortal eyes could not see him from this distance, but even so, they seemed to find him, and fix upon him.

"Elros. Elros!" a voice, his brother's called from the other side of the stables.

With a sigh, Elros rose to his feet, climbed up and over the ridge pole of the stables, and down to the lip of the roof.

"Here I am," he called to his brother, who stood in the yard before the stables, looking around, perplexed.

Elrond's eyes lifted to the stable roof. His worried expression changed into a dubious grin. "What are you doing up there, little brother?"

His tone had returned to the casual banter Elros was more used to, and Elros found himself grinning back as he stooped, took hold of the edge of the roof, and nimbly swung to the ground.

For a moment he debated whether he should answer truthfully before he said, "Watching Lord Hathel's lesson with the lady Andreth."

Elrond's smile faltered. "And how was it?"

"She is a fast learner, no matter who her teacher is, or how unskilled," Elros answered.

"And Hathel is behaving himself? He is doing nothing untoward?"

Elros released a breath. "Nothing," he returned.

"Good. Then you and I have nothing to worry about. Come," Elrond clapped a hand upon Elros' shoulder. "The servants have supper prepared, and Lord Círdan is awaiting us."

"What of Andreth?"

"I have already told the servants not to expect her until later. They will keep supper for her, and Master Hathel. He will not be forgotten, either."

"Then they will sup together?"

Elrond shrugged and nodded. "Probably. But don't worry about them. The servants will see to their needs. Come."

His heart felt heavy, but Elros only straightened his shoulders and tightened his jaw as he did as his brother bid him, and followed him toward the house.

...oOo...

Andreth sat at her dressing table, clad in the soft white night gown she had slept in the night before. The fabric was soft and thin, and smelled of lilacs. She held a brush in her hand, and had been drawing it through the long locks of her hair. The face that studied her in the mirror, lit by the light of a single candle, did not smile.

Oh, how she wished Elros had gone with her out to the meadow to teach her the art of using a bow. Hathel was enough of a gentle man that she did not despise him, not exactly, but the simple truth remained that he was not Elros. There was something in Elros' presence that drew her to the elf lord. Something that Hathel simply did not have. And as she had listened to Hathel's instructions, she had wished to hear Elros' voice. Her arrows, thanks to the mortal man's instructions all hit the target, but none within the center until the very last.

She had found herself fantasizing that Hathel's hand upon the small of her back had been Elros' hand, that it had been Elros who had trailed his hand up her spine to rest upon her shoulder when her last arrow had finally struck the target. But it had not been Elros' face she had seen when she had turned to look up at him.

She sighed, and propped her chin in her hand to study the eyes of her reflection. She pitied Hathel now. His admiration of her was obvious, for as they had dined together, alone on the veranda as the sun fell beneath the western horizon, he had hardly taken his eyes from her face, talking all the while of small, trivial things, asking her of her home with Firiel, clearly brightening whenever her eyes met his, or when she had answered his queries with more than a few short words. He was a fine man. Of that she was certain. But she knew now, sitting before her dressing table, drawing the brush once again through the long tresses of her hair, that she could never learn to love him as he seemed to hope she would.

Pausing in her brushing, Andreth studied her face again, framed with the unbound tresses of her hair.

"You, my lady, are like this pearl." Elros' voice echoed in her thoughts. "You may think yourself flawed, and insignificant now, yet you are even now, as wise and good as you are lovely, my lady. And you have a great destiny before you."

Even now, Elros' words from that morning warmed her. He saw not only her beauty, but her mind and heart as well. He saw goodness in her, and believed her to be destined for some great future.

Andreth's own future was dark to her. Elros said he could sense her destiny, and had said that Lord Círdan could sense it as well. She, however could not, yet. But of one thing she was certain; Hathel was not meant to be a part of it, however much he now seemed to wish he could be.

Releasing a deep sigh, Andreth set the brush down, returned the flower in her hair to the cup where her other Tindómiel flowers glowed faintly in the night shadows, and rose to her feet.

Her deep soft bed beckoned to her, and she moved to it, drawing back the sheets, and settling in the pillowy softness with a sigh. Her eyes lifted to the canopy above her head, and she studied the soft gossamer fluttering faintly in some gentle current of air in the room as she willed her eyelids to grow heaving, wishing for welcome sleep to come.

...oOo...

Elros stood alone on the empty veranda, where, not long before, Andreth had dined in relative seclusion with Hathel with Elros a silent witness to their meal from the balcony of his room. His throat felt tight; he knew he had not reason to be distressed, but felt torn all the same. About him, the flowers upon the vines of Tindómiel lit the air with a faint light, illuminating the veranda upon which he now stood.

During hiw own dinner with his brother, Lord Círdan and Galadriel and Celeborn, he had hinted, gently of course, to Lord Círdan that he should be reinstated as Andreth's tutor with weapons. But the ancient shipwright had not sided with him, as he had hoped he would, but had instead calmly stated that whomever she chose as her tutors was within her own power, and her choice ought not to be forced upon her, by anyone. Especially him, Círdan had said. If she wished for another beside Master Hathel to tutor her, she could make her will known.

The small table that had been set out by Círdan's servants for the two young mortals to sup, still sat there; doubtless they would clear it away in the morning, and the chair where Hathel had sat across from Andreth, sat half turned away from the table as it had been turned when he had risen to help her from her chair.

Elros studied the chair, finely carved and polished, and he imagined himself seizing hold of it, and reducing the cursed thing to gristmill sized particles. But he shook his head, tearing himself away from the foolish thought, and instead, moved to the chair and dropped upon it, glancing across the table to the empty space that Andreth had once occupied.

Letting his eyes rove over the veranda from this perspective, he noticed something set upon a bench near the wall, mostly in shadow, and difficult, even with his eyes, to see.

It was a book.

Elros rose, for the poor thing seemed forlorn and out of place, forgotten, unintentionally. He moved toward it and stopped. It was a thick tome, its title adverting that it taught of medicinal plants and their uses.

A folded sheet of parchment stuck out from between the pages, and Elros picked up the thick book, letting its pages fall open to the folded piece of parchment. Curious, he took out the paper, and unfolded it, his heart softening at the words written upon it.

Dearest Firiel,

I hope this letter finds you well. Give my greetings to sweet Lavaniel, and any of our near neighbors who ask about me. I am busy, dear friend. So very busy. Far more busy than either of us guessed I would be, for I am not cloistered away in some dusty library with books about me as we, or at least as I imagined, but rather I am doing and learning much. Lord Elros is teaching me the art of horsemanship. Sweet Maidh, the mare whom we befriended, is my mount. This, Firiel will surprise you, but Lord Círdan himself approves of it. Lord Elros also means to begin teaching me the use of varied weapons later this evening. In truth, I look forward to this, for I know he is very skilled. I am also learning many other arts. Lord Elrond, his brother, is teaching me of medicinal herbs, and I am also learning music, dance, and the weaving of tapestries. It is all so much, and perhaps I would not believe I could learn it all, but for something Lord Elros said to me this morning, wise words that even now resound in my heart. He said, dearest Firiel, that I am like a pearl. That I am learning and growing, and that I have some destiny, yet unseen, but great. I want so very much to believe him. And when I look into his eyes, grey as the sea, and as kind as a spring morning, I do believe him.

Think of me, and pray for me. Lord Elros says the Valar are aware of me, but even so, it would not hurt to remind them of me.

All my love, your friend,

Andreth

"Andreth," Elros murmured, reverently folding the paper. The uncertainty in his heart eased into a quiet peace as he closed the book upon the folded paper. Her name upon his tongue tasted sweet, even now, several seconds after he spoke it. He had no reason to be troubled, or angry. Andreth was happy here. That was what mattered. And if Hathel was a good teacher, then so much the better for her.

He drew and released a deep breath, turned toward the door, drew it open, and went inside, suddenly sleepy; ready for his own bed, and welcome rest.

...oOo...

Andreth stood on the crest of a knoll, looking out onto the realistic sea that glimmered and sparkled with astonishing detail, though she knew it was only a dream. Looking down upon herself, she noted the gown she had worn earlier, fitted to the soft curves of her youthful form, the flowing sleeves, and the silver belt loose about her hips. the throat of her gown, clinging to her delicate shoulders, scooped low, revealing a silver necklace with a small pearl hanging from it. And from the feel against her brow, she knew she wore a diadem to match the jewel upon her breast. The diadem was the only adornment she wore in her hair, and the tresses of her hair hung free, catching faintly in the gentle wind.

"You are here, again."

The voice behind her caused her to turn suddenly, her heart leaping at the figure who came toward her over the grass. The dream form of Elros, as real as he had been the night before, clad in tunic, jerkin and breeches of deep blue, and boots as well.

He was as she had seen him in the waking hours, but for a crown upon his own brow, as if he were a king as great, or perhaps greater, than King Gil Galad.

"You are here as well," she said. For though she knew he was only part of her dream, still she wished to speak to him as if he were, in truth, Elros himself. "And you speak."

"As I should," the vision of Elros said with a smile as he drew to a stop before her. "For this is my dream, after all."

Andreth swallowed. A strange thing for a dream vision to say. This was her dream.

"But it is a strange dream. So real. And these shores face eastward. I have never seen eastward facing shores."

"It is not the Blessed Realm?" Andreth asked.

The vision of Elros furrowed his brow, and shook his head. "I do not think so. The Blessed Realm does not look as this land does, so I have heard." He looked away from the shore, and Andreth turned to follow his gaze.

For this first time, she saw further inland, a rising mountain, far in the distance, crested with snow, and gleaming beneath the moonlight.

"This is only a dream land. But it a very beautiful place," the vision continued in Elros' warm voice.

Andreth turned back to him.

"And you, fair vision, are more beautiful than the land in which I find you," the dream of Elros continued, drawing a step nearer. "More beautiful than any dream I have dreampt thus far in my life."

"Am I?" she whispered.

Though it was but a dream, and Elros himself was not speaking to her, still the words warmed her blood.

"Tell me more, my lord," she pleaded.

The vision of Elros smiled. "You are not only beautiful," he said, "but the woman whose form you take, is good as well, and intelligent. And kind and gentle, and true."

The vision of Elros drew a step nearer to her. Near enough now, that he could reach out and touch her if he wished, though his hands remained at his sides. "I would not dare to say this to Andreth herself," he said, his words now almost a whisper. "But while I have met many women in my years, many fair and beautiful women of both races, I have never felt before as I do now. I have never felt-," the vision of Elros blushed beneath the moonlight, and his voice became a soft growl, "desire as I do now."

Andreth felt her own cheeks flushing hotly, and she ducked her eyes, for the eyes of this beautiful vision of Elros were so very real-

"You barely know me," she whispered, wishing painfully that it was truly Elros who spoke, and not a vision created by her own dreams.

"I know," he pleaded. "And I wish to grow to know you better. I would not speak this way to Andreth in the waking world. Not since we have known each other so short a time. Perhaps my path is to be as my brother's, and I should not entertain such feelings for a mortal woman. Perhaps this feeling will pass."

She looked up into the eyes of the vision she wished so much to be Elros.

"But truthfully, I do not wish it to. Perhaps- perhaps, though it will be painful for us both, my path is meant to lead a different way than my brother's."

Andreth blinked and stepped back. Now she knew, as much as she wished to believe otherwise, that this was truly a dream. What he had said, made no sense.

"Please," the vision of Elros pleaded, taking a step after her. "Please do not go away."

"I won't," Andreth said, letting the warm, strong fingers of Elros' beautiful vision find her own, and twine through them. "I wish only to stay here. With you."

"And I, with you," he breathed, his voice grown husky. His fingers tightened. "You seem so real," he murmured, and he lifted a hand, raising it until his fingers hovered just above her cheek as if at any moment his fingertips would caress her face. "I long, so very much, to kiss you."

She felt her face grow warm, and Andreth dropped her eyes.

"But I will not," Elros continued. His hand dropped, and she felt him loosen his fingers, and draw back a space. "For were I ever to kiss Andreth, I would wish it to be in the waking world, on her own soft lips, and not in a dream."

Andreth kept her eyes down, aware of the wild throbbing of her own heart, and of the warmth of lean, warm fingers woven through her own.

"But, my lady," the vision's warm voice sounded faintly uncertain, and Andreth looked up.

"If you will permit me one indulgence-,"

The vision of Elros hesitated, then lifting one of her hands, turning her hand so that her palm was open, her fingers uncurled, he drew it to his lips, and pressed his mouth gently against her open palm.

Andreth felt a shudder of warmth tremble through her, a surge of longing that left her weak, her limbs shivering before he drew back, and looked up at her, almost apologetic.

"I will not do that again, not tonight at least," the vision of Elros vowed drawing a step back, and drawing in a deep breath. "For I enjoyed it-," he paused, and warmth darkened his cheeks, "far too much."

"As did I," she admitted.

"But if you will permit me to hold your hand," he continued, "will you do me the pleasure of walking with me along these fair shores?"

Andreth drew in a sigh, marveling at the sweet taste of the ocean breeze in her lungs. "I would like that, very much, my lord."

"Then come," he urged, turning to move down off the bluff to the sandy shore. "Let us see what marvels this dream land holds."

And with a smile upon her lips, Andreth willingly followed the fair dream of Elros off the grassy bluff, and down the sandy slope toward the white sand and the water that danced and sparkled beneath the light of the moon.


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