The Choice of Elros

Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Elrond's steps were slow and steady as he walked along the edge of the garden of Círdan's house, appreciating the relaxing scent of the flowers and herbs. Beyond the side of the house where he walked, the red sun had fallen below the horizon, and where he was, the cool shadows were growing deeper. Near his path, not far from the yellowing pumpkin that swelled within the tangle of its leaves and vines, he noted a strawberry plant, a fat, ripe berry peeking red through the green of the leaves. One of the last of the season, for the days were getting cooler. He smiled, stooped, and plucked it. He bit into the soft juicy fruit, appreciating the sweetness as he swallowed. It would probably be several months before he tasted a strawberry again.

A gentle wind sprung up then, brushing through his hair, and with it, as if upon the wind itself, came the soft, melancholy notes of a flute.

Elrond stopped, and stood in stillness, appreciating the wordless song, wishing he could recognize it. But it was a tune he had never heard before. It was peaceful, but somewhat sad. And instinctively, he wished to find the maker of it, and give her comfort. For somehow, he knew the song's creator was a woman.

Moving along the side of the house, he rounded the corner to the side that faced the sea, and stopped, still as a tree. The sun was gone, but the clouds above were blazing with flames of red and orange. And seated alone upon the veranda, on the seat where she often sat to study or to think, was the fair mortal, Andreth.

She held a flute to her lips, her fingers moving delicately over the holes as her song came forth. Her hair, which seemed to glow, as his brother often said, like gold and copper beneath the light of the setting sun, hung loose about her shoulders, locks catching in the faint wind. The folds of her light, cream colored dress fluttered in the gentle wind in such a way that Elrond understood, reluctantly, why Elros would find the girl so distracting. And also, why Hathel, the stonecutter, was so smitten. Elrond heaved a frustrated sigh. If only she would let herself fall in love with the poor pining mortal, then Elros' difficulties would come to an end. He would see his destined path clearly, and at last decide upon the immortal life that Elrond knew was his brother's destiny, even if Elros did not see it yet himself. If the mortal maiden would only stop being so fickle-

Elrond dropped his eyes, sensing that his thoughts were taking a negative turn. Why did he so often think unkindly of such a gentle maiden? It was not as if she were trying to seduce Elros. She was so good and virtuous. Elrond saw it- but it was that very goodness that Elros saw as well, and which Elrond wished he would not. At least not in the way he seemed to, when his eyes would fall upon her whenever she was near him, and soften as they did, whether her own eyes met his or not. Elros had said nothing to Elrond of any growing feelings for the mortal maiden, but the way he looked at her was certainly not the look of a mere friend. Elrond was certain of that. That would change though, certainly, when she finally gave her heart to Hathel, and a betrothal was announced. Elros would come to his senses then.

Elros did not shirk his duty to Círdan and the building of Mithlond, and he did not seem morose, nor did he complain that Hathel had taken a duty which he had wanted, but Elrond could see sense the wistfulness in his gaze now and then while he and the mortal maiden were riding together on the plain between the house and the distant trees or when she sat at dinner, or at the window gazing out, in the library with her head bent over a book. Or when she danced upon the veranda with the ladies who taught her their graceful steps. Even amongst fair elven ladies, Elros' eyes would follow only her. When Elros spoke to her, Elrond had never seen or heard of anything that would suggest that more than a contented friendship existed between the elven lord and the mortal maid. Except for what he saw in his brother's eyes when he looked at Andreth. There, there was something more. Something hidden, and unspoke, but still present.

Elros, Elrond was certain, did not see the maiden in the sisterly way that he did. Elrond was certain of that. That would change though, certainly, when she finally gave her heart to Hathel. Her betrothal would hurt his brother, to be sure. But he was strong, and would recover. And centuries from now, wed safely to a fair, elven bride, he would look back upon his fleeting infatuation with the mortal maiden, and chuckle at the memory.

Drawing in a breath, Elrond closed his eyes, and let the gentle music of Andreth's flute flow over him. She was a kindly maiden. In all truth, he considered her a friend now, and it was not fair of him to be impatient with her, or blame her for his brother's troubles. Aside from being beautiful, which she could not help, she had done nothing to encourage Elros. She strived hard to learn all that was given her, especially the lessons Elrond taught her himself, and her efforts were paying off. She was quicker now in her lessons with him, and knew volumes more about healing herbs and their properties than he had guessed she would at the beginning of her stay. She even knew how to use what he was teaching her. For she had assisted him once, in setting an old mortal man's broken leg when the old man had fallen from the scaffolding at the rising light house.

The moment she had arrived with a satchel of herbs and bandages, only minutes after he had called for her, Andreth had known what to do. What herbs to give the poor injured mortal for his pain, and how best to comfort him. She had held the old man's hand, speaking to him gently and soothingly as Elrond had set and bound the leg, and she had stayed at the man's side as he was carried carefully back to his own house.

Even now, every day, she went to see the man to check on how he was healing and would report back to Elrond on his progress. In truth, she did so much for the man, that there was little Elrond had to do, himself.

Perhaps she was a born healer. One, who could clearly use music to heal a troubled heart as well as any herb. She could sing as well, like a bird, Elros had told him, though Elrond had never heard her voice.

Where she sat now beneath the sunset on the veranda, Andreth's eyes were fixed ahead of her, looking out over the water, and she did not seen Elrond yet where he stood still and motionless as a tree just at the corner of the house and below the level of the veranda. If her voice was half as fair as the music coming from her flute, he could well believe she sang as well as Elros claimed. He stayed where he was, appreciating the wordless song, until, of a sudden the door to the inner house opened.

Andreth's music stopped abruptly.

Elrond felt himself stiffen, imagining his brother coming out, and readied himself to stride up onto the veranda, and join the two. But though the elf was indeed dark of hair, it wasn't Elros. And he wasn't alone. Elrond heaved a breath, and stayed where he was.

Andreth rose hastily to her feet at the appearance of King Gil Galad, and his lighter-haired companions, the Lord Celeborn, and Lady Galadriel. But the dark haired elf smiled, and held out a hand, bidding the maiden to sit.

"Forgive us interrupting you," the high king said. "Please sit. And continue your song."

"We heard it from within," Galadriel added kindly, "and wished to hear it better."

Swallowing, Andreth did as Gil Galad bid her, and resumed her seat. But not yet her song.

Celeborn and Galadriel moved to the far corner of the veranda, out of Elrond's line of sight, but Gil Galad remained standing near the mortal maiden.

"You- liked my music, your highness?" she asked.

Gil Galad nodded. "You have become very skilled with your instrument. You have dwelt here, how long, young one?"

"Three months."

Gil Galad's smile warmed. "Yes. Three months. One would think you had been playing the flute since your birth."

Andreth smiled at his praise. "Aelin is a good teacher, and very skilled with the flute."

"She is," Gil Galad agreed warmly before his smile faltered. "So was her sister."

Elrond drew in a deep breath into his lungs as Andreth's brow furrowed. She would not know the meaning of Gil Galad's fallen smile, or of the words he had spoken. Few did, aside from his nearest kin, and closest friends. And few would ever know the reason why Gil Galad, though high king of the Noldor, would never wed. At least not on these shores.

"Aelin's sister?" Andreth wondered. "She has never spoken of a sister before."

"She wouldn't," Gil Galad agreed, and moved to the railing nearest to where Elrond stood, and leaned against it. "Unless pressed. And forgive her of it. It is more difficult for her, in some ways, to speak of her sister, than it is to speak of her husband."

"She said he fell during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears."

"Yes, I was only a boy then. I remember her sorrow."

"You knew Aelin then?"

"I know many of the elves who live in Círdan's house, and their stories, both happy and sorrowful." Gil Galad looked at the maiden seated upon the bench. "And yes, I knew Lady Aelin. And her sister."

"What was her name?" Andreth's voice was soft now, almost as soft as the wind that brushed a lock of hair in front of her face. With a finger, she drew it back, and smoothed it behind her rounded ear.

"Indilwen," he breathed, and Elrond from where he stood, could see the eyes of the high king grow distant and deepen with memories.

Elrond's own eyes dampened with memories at the name. Indilwen. His faint memories floated to the surface of his mind. Her dark hair, and dark eyes that seemed to spark like stars. She had been kind to him.

When the fighting had started, she had been frightened. Even as young as he had been, he had seen that well enough, but still, she had taken up a sword, and a shield like a man. The last thing he remembered of her, was that she had handed him a small knife, and told him and Elros to look after each other. Then she had gone away.

Elrond had always wondered in the back of his mind, which of his foster fathers, who had been so kind to him and his brother, even as they gently picked up the little boys with arms covered in blood, had killed her. Maglor or Maedhros? Perhaps it was best he not know.

"You loved her," the mortal maiden whispered, and Elrond came back to the present, hearing the compassion thick within Andreth's gentle voice.

"I did," Gil Galad murmured, turning to look at the maiden. "In truth, I still do. Your music reminded me of her."

Andreth drew in a breath. Her eyes studied the face of the high king. Her expression was smooth, though her eyes had grown moist with sympathy. "She died," she surmised in a soft voice.

Gil Galad nodded without speaking at first, before he opened his mouth. "She was slain at the Mouths of Sirion during the Third Kinslaying."

Silence fell.

Another, whose love had been slain in such a manner, might curse Maedhros and Maglor to the furthest reaches of the abyss, or rail upon their corrupted quest for the Silmarilli, their foolish insistence on following a twisted oath which had surely damned them far more than breaking it would have. But Gil Galad said nothing more. For such, Elrond thought gratefully, was not the high king's way. Gil Galad's soul walked different paths.

At long last, Andreth's voice broke the silence. "I am sorry for you."

Gil Galad nodded. "I wish I had told her how I felt. I never did." He drew in a breath. "I will, one day. When I meet her again in the halls of Mandos. For I know in my blood, that I will not return to the Blessed Realm on the deck of a ship. I wish I had told her I loved her while we both dwelt on these shores."

Andreth drew in another breath. "Your highness, this is clearly a thing of great personal sorrow for you. Why have you told me these things?" she asked softly.

Elrond pursed his lips thoughtfully, wishing also to hear the answer. Why had he? Gil Galad shared this story with few but those he trusted most. And this tale, Elrond was certain, had never fallen on mortal ears before this day.

"I do not know," Gil Galad said frankly. "Only that I feel it is right in telling you. I trust you, Lady Andreth, mortal that you are. You are kindly, and intelligent, and- you are elf-friend."

Andreth dropped her eyes, a look of wonder and humility coming over her countenance. "I do not deserve to be called so. I have done nothing great, your highness."

"My lady, you need not have songs sung of you, to be great." Gil Galad's words were soft, but strong, and his smile was both fatherly and sad. "You are kind, and gentle, and uassuming. You strive hard, no matter the difficulty, to learn all that is asked of you. And you truly care for your friends. Though you live now as richly as a princess, your thoughts have not left your friends from whence you came. I have often observed you writing letters, I suppose to your friend Firiel, ofwhom you have spoken before," Andreth nodded, "and I see brightness in your face when a letter comes to you. You are not her friend because you gain any riches from your friendship with her. You are her friend simply because you care for her."

Gil Galad drew in a breath. "Do not mistake my words, young one. You are a great lady. And it is more than the house from which you have descended. I felt it at our first meeting. I do not doubt but that Lord Círdan felt it as well, and that is why he has taken you as his ward. There is something- truly royal in you. And you have a great part to play in the building of this world."

"So said Lord Elros, once," she returned, her eyes down, her voice softening before she fell silent. And after a moment, she lifted the instrument to her lips, and began again to play. The same song she had played moments before, soft and sweet, and achingly melancholy as the high king listened and turned away, his eyes seeking the horizon for something even his elven eyes could not see.

A faint movement at the top of his vision caused Elrond to lift his eyes, wondering what it was before his jaw grew taut, and his heart tightened. Elros. He had not seen him before this moment. His brother sat on his own balcony, cross legged and peering through the twining bars of his railing. How long had he been watching Andreth playing her music? Far longer than Elrond had, he guessed.

Elrond frowned, a stiffening determination clenching his heart. He drew a fierce breath into his chest, and in silence, he turned away.

...oOo...

Elros sat upon the balcony of his room, cross legged, and peering through the gilded bars at Andreth where she sat upon the bench upon the veranda, alone now that Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel had departed, and King Gil Galad had bowed his farewell and returned inside Círdan's house.

The last note of a song she had been playing, quavered and echoed away in the air before falling silent. Her flute lowered to her lap, and she gazed out, contemplating the sea that rippled beneath the fading light of the dying sunset.

He had told himself that he had come out onto his balcony to enjoy her music as the others had. But now that the music had faded, and the others were gone, leaving Andreth alone again, he had to admit to himself that he remained to enjoy the fair vision of the music's creator, far more lovely, he thought, than the music she had made.

In the soft, creamy white dress she wore, one he had seen on her often, and which was one of his favorites, the fabric clinging gracefully to the delicate edges of her shoulders, Andreth looked like a young bird. A white sea bird that could, at any moment, rise up, and like, his own mother, sail away into the sunset.

As if to confirm his fear, the maiden rose to her feet, tucked the flute into her belt, and glided forward to the edge of the railing to rest her hands, still gazing into the west almost as wistfully as Gil Galad had.

Elros felt himself start. He did not want her to go. He wanted her to stay as she was, where she was, so that he could continue watching her, adoring her.

What was she thinking of, her eyes so somber and soft as she studied the horizon? Beneath the white fabric of her gown, her young breasts rose and fell with each breath as if some secret thought troubled her mind that could not find release. What was that secret thought? Was she, imagining what lay beyond that horizon, or was she thinking of- someone? Hathel? he wondered morosely.

She turned, her attention drawn by someone who had just come onto the veranda. From her face, he could discern traces of wetness on her cheeks. His heart twisted as gentle Lord Cirdan joined her, their voices too soft for him to hear. Despite her smile to the silver-haired shipwright, Elros knew she'd been crying.

Elros drew in a sigh. He would never know why if he remained here, admiring her from afar as if she were a lifeless statue.

He should go down to her, sit beside her upon the veranda and speak to her, as he had not done for some time. Perhaps as they had, when they sat side by side against the wall of Firiel's hut, and spoke of things that mattered to them. Or better yet, he could ask her to walk with him down to the shore.

Determination gripped his heart, and Elros clenched his jaw as he rose to his feet, turned and strode through his room toward his door.

...oOo...

Andreth sat alone in the quiet of the evening, studying the play of light fading slowly against the underbellies of the clouds. She held her flute in her hands, the music silent now as she sat in the stillness. She felt as if somewhere, someone's eyes were upon her and that she was not entirely alone. But the eyes, whosever they were, were not unfriendly, and she did not wish to look away from the sunset, or take her thoughts from the words that had passed between herself and the high king of the Noldor.

Elf friend, he had called her. It was humbling and thrilling all at once, and she was glad for this time to reflect upon it as she watched Eärendil sailing on a sea of cloud.

What could he see from his high place, so far up in that great expanse? Had he seen what his sons had made of themselves? What they were still making of themselves? Was he proud of them?

You should be, she whispered softly to the star as she studied the tiny spot of gleaming light. For there is much about them for which you should rightly be proud.

Today was her rest day, the one day in seven that she did not need to follow her rigorous trail of lessons, and she was glad for the time to sit and think, or to wander where she would through Círdan's house, or down through Mithlond. She welcomed these days, sometimes spending all day in Círdan's library, or in one of the vast libraries down in the city, sometimes staying all day reading, or simply gazing out a window, pondering, and only stopping when her own needs reminded her she'd been there too long.

Now, with her music silent, and the peace of the evening beginning to settle, one thought fluttered in her mind, and Andreth caught on it, pondering it. To this day, she did not know who had left the flowers outside of her bedroom door the first night of her stay, or the book she had left on the seat on the veranda the next night, the letter she had written to Firiel, still tucked safely within its pages. Who had it been? Something in her heart told her that whoever had left the flowers, had been thoughtful enough to leave the book as well. And that same whisper suggested that her benefactor had been Elros. But would she ever know? Perhaps not, for though she felt that she and the young elven lord had become good friends over the last few months, he seemed content to speak to her but little.

He always spoke to her kindly whenever he did, and always seemed pleased to see her. But even during her riding lessons, his words were usually few, and if he ever touched her, it was only her hand, and briefly. His eyes were always gentle and soft, but so were the eyes of Hathel. But it was only Elros, behind whose silent gaze she wished would be something more.

She looked forward to her times of sleep, for in her dreams, the vision she imagined Elros to be, would hold her hand, and walk with her upon the shore of the strange and beautiful dream land where she always found herself. The vision in her dreams rarely spoke, and never touched more than her hand, though when morning drew near, and she felt herself beginning to waken, he would lift her hand, and press a kiss into her palm. Often she would wake, still feeling the press of his lips against her skin.

Why did she have such dreams? And why were they so very real? Was it a message from the Valar? Or was it merely a result of being here, a guest in Círdan's house, and her encounters with the dream form of Elros just a construct of her own girlish longings?

The dark was coming on, and Eärendil twinkled brightly in the evening sky over a purpling sea. But the beauty of the scene before her blurred and faded as wetness filled her eyes.

Elros, she murmured beneath her breath. What is this- sweetness that I feel for you? That seems to grow on me day by day? Am I a fool to feel as I do? Do I even have the right to long for the affections of one of your fair, flawless race? Of you?

"Lady Andreth."

She turned, drying her eyes hastily as Cirdan stepped out of the house onto the veranda, and offered her fatherly smile as he drew near.

"Lord Cirdan," she greeted, offering him a curtsy as he joined her at the railing.

He smiled, and offered her a graceful nod of his head.

"It has been a fair day," he said with a sigh. "Made more fair by your beautiful music."

Andreth blushed at this, and lowered her eyes. "Which I have learned only because of your generosity, and the kindness of others."

Cirdan smiled. "Ah, but you have, yourself, learned so quickly and so well. That is not something that I, or anyone, could take to our credit."

She smiled again.

"Do not your tutors say as much?" Cirdan smiled, his eyes glinting with a humorous light. "Among them Master Hathel, and- young Lord Elros?"

Cirdan watched her face carefully as Andreth dropped her eyes, warmth rising to her face as his last words.

"They have both said so," she confessed. "And they are both themselves very skilled. Hathel is wonderfully skillful with a bow, my lord. And Elros-" She paused, recalling the image of Elros, tall and magnificent beneath the sunlight as he rode upon his stallion, his dark hair catching in the wind.

"Hathel is skilled indeed. After all, his father taught him," Cirdan said, heaving a deep sigh.

Andreth bit her lip softly returning her gaze and thoughts to Cirdan. "Is it true then?" she asked quietly. "His father fell in the war?"

Cirdan nodded slowly. "Indeed."

"I asked him this once, but he did not answer me."

The silver-haired elf met her eyes, his expression almost apologetic. "Such does not surprise me. There are few he has entrusted with such sorrowful truth. Young Hathel wished to fight as well, but his father forbade him. He feels he could have saved his father had he been there."

Andreth's lips parted slightly. "How did you learn this?"

"He told me," Cirdan returned simply.

Andreth nodded thoughtfully. "He was willing to fight." She looked into the gentle eyes of the ancient elf. "Why have you told me?"

Cirdan grew thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. "I cannot say for certain," he said after a moment. "Only that I feel it is something you should know. You and- Elros should know."

Her breath caught slightly at the name that sounded so fair to her ears. "Elros-" she breathed.

"Andreth?"

The voice, spoken from the path that led down to the stony path, Andreth choked on a gasp in her throat and looked up, quickly blinking the wetness away, and finding herself gazing into Hathel's eyes. Where had he come from?

The young man clad in tunic and breeches, stood at the base of the steps, one hand upon the railing, and one foot upon the bottommost step. His chest rose and fell, and his face was flushed as if he had been hurrying.

Several steps behind him, near the corner of the veranda, her eye caught sight of Elrond. He stood back, with an expression that reminded her of a father watching his child take his first tottering steps. The two men, she surmised, had been walking together, until Hathel had drawn ahead.

Cirdan smiled and rose gracefully to his feet. "I take my leave of you, my lady," he said. Then he bowed his head to the newcomers. "Master Hathel," he greeted. "My young Elrond."

And with that, the silver-haired shipwright glided with quiet elven grace back inside.

"Master Hathel," she greeted politely, her smiling widening as her eyes fixed upon the dark haired elven lord a few steps behind the mortal. "Lord Elrond," Andreth called, rising to her feet, lifting a hand in greeting. The young elf lord, noting her greeting, drew forward, his steps restrained as if he did not wish to draw too near.

"I have seen Master Gondien today," she said. "He grows better each day."

"I am glad to hear it," he said, then his smile grew teasing as he added, "And you, my friend, grow more fair each day. Does she not, Hathel?"

"Indeed," Hathel agreed, climbing the steps, a boyish grin finding its way to his his lips. "You are well, Andreth?"

Andreth's smile faltered as her eyes darted from Hathel to Elrond and back.

"Well enough, thank you, Master Hathel," she returned, pressing her lips into a smile as the young mortal moved to join her where she stood.

Elrond, though he drew nearer, did not join them.

"You have heard, I'm certain, of the Harvest Festival that is coming in a week's time?" Hathel asked now, a faint nervousness in his eyes now, though she could see he struggled to hide it.

Andreth did not answer for a moment, wondering why he would ask. Of course she had heard of it. Aelin and the other women servants had been speaking of the Harvest Festival for a month now, and Andreth was looking forward to it. A weeklong celebration it would be, filled with days of contests and storytelling, and nights of feasting and dancing. And it would give her a welcome weeklong reprieve from her studies.

"I have," she returned, hesitant. "I am looking forward to it."

"Good," he said, and swallowed stiffly as he drew a step closer to her, and reached out, taking up one of her hands. "I was hoping, perhaps, if you would accompany me to-"

At that moment, the door to the inner hall of the house opened, and Andreth's gaze flew to a figure who stopped frozen, in the doorway. As always, at the sight of Elros, her heart in the same moment, leapt in pleasure, and shrank back in uncertainty.

Andreth drew a step back from Hathel, and the young stone cutter dropped her hand.

"My lord, Elros," he greeted coolly.

The muscles of Elros jaw visibly contracted beneath the skin as he and Hathel eyed each other.

"Master Hathel." He nodded, drawing in a ragged breath, and visibly composing himself as he turned to Andreth. "My lady." He bowed his head toward her.

"Forgive me, Lady Andreth," he continued, his voice quavering beneath the forced stiffness of his tone. "I did not know you had a companion. I did not mean to interrupt."

He turned away.

"Elros wait-," Andreth called.

At her voice, Elros paused.

"My lord, Elros," she pleaded. "Did you- wish something of me?"

At the softness of her voice he half turned, his tipped ear and the side of his face visible. The sinews of his jaw contracted rhythmically beneath his skin. Beside her, she sensed Hathel stiffen slightly, and shift his weight.

"I-," The sinews of his jaw tensed and relaxed. A deep breath swelled Elros' chest and he released it.

But he did not have the chance to answer her, for behind Hathel, Elrond leapt up the steps.

"Elros," he greeted, his tone jovial. "I am glad to see you. There is something I have been meaning to speak of with you, little brother."

Elrond clapped an arm on Elros' shoulder, and moved to turn him around, to guide him back into the house.

Andreth dropped her eyes.

"No," Elros protested. "I wished to ask something of Lady Andreth first." Andreth's eyes lifted as Elros pulled his arm away from his brother and turned to look at Andreth.

"Andreth," he blurted, resisting even as Elrond clapped his arm more firmly, and tugged with greater insistence.

Her eyes flew up again and found Elros' gaze, sea grey and achingly soft. A deep breath swelled in his chest.

"I wished to ask if you would like to walk with me down by the sea before the last of the light fades," Elros said, his gentle grey eyes filled with pleading.

Andreth's lips parted in a silent gasp. Her very hope, childish though it was, was Elros' wish as well. Her heart clenched with such delight, yet with such fear in the same moment that tears threatened again to squeeze out of her eyes.

"Elros." Elrond's voice was no longer jovial, and was instead sternly insistent as his arm gripped his brother's shoulder. "Hathel is Andreth's guest. It would not be seemly to take her away while they are together."

"No," Elros shot back, turning on his brother now, sparks flying from his eyes and Elrond fell back a step at the fire in his brother's eyes. Even Andreth flinched, though his ire was not directed toward her. "Hathel is here, because of your bidding him. Therefore, he is your guest. Am I right, Elrond?"

Elrond's jaw tightened now, and his brow furrowed, but as he turned and traded a glance with Hathel, Andreth could see a silent admission in his gaze.

"He did bid me to come," Hathel admitted, his voice hardening, "but I came to see, and to speak with Lady Andreth."

"And I too wish to speak to her," Elros said, turning his flaming eyes upon the young mortal. "Do you have a greater right than I?"

"My lords, please," Andreth cut in, her eyes moving back and forth between the two men whose eyes glared daggers now at one another. Within her, her heart felt like lead.

Biting her lip, Andreth turned toward Elrond.

"My lord, Elrond, forgive me. I fear that I have fallen victim to one of the maladies that afflict my race." She put her hand to her mouth. "I am not feeling well. Tell Aelin that I have gone to bed."

Andreth hurried away from Hathel and between Elros and Elrond without looking at either of them as she moved into the house, starting for the stairs that led up to her own chambers.

"Andreth," Elrond's voice said, heavy with concern, as his feet darted up behind her, "if you are not feeling well, permit me to see you safely to your rooms."

Elrond appeared at her side, his arm offered to her.

"Elrond," she said, turning to him, and reaching a hand out to grasp his arm, "you should stay here, to keep Elros and Hathel from- each other."

"I do not think my brother or Lord Hathel will do anything foolish," Elrond said, offering her a reluctant grin.

"You bid Hathel come here, this evening?" she asked softly.

Elrond sighed. "Yes," he confessed.

"Why?"

Elrond drew in a deep breath. "Because, Andreth, I want what is best for everyone." A strong, though gentle hand rested upon her shoulder, and she looked up. "For everyone, Andreth."

His eyes, like his brother's were gentle and sea grey, and studying them, Andreth realized that he truly did mean well. But also, that he was wrong. He did not realize it, but he was terribly wrong. She swallowed thickly.

"Come," he urged, offering his arm again, and a weak smile.

Without protest, Andreth took it, grateful for his strength, now that her own seemed to have faded.

As Elrond guided her away, she turned and looked back, meeting Elros' eyes where he stood, watching her through the open doorway.

Their gazes held for a moment, his gentle grey eyes heavy and sad before his gaze fell from hers, and he looked away.


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