Andreth sat at her dressing table, gazing at her reflection in the mirror illuminated with the glow of a single candle.
Despite the lateness of the hour, she had not gone to bed. Nor had she undressed yet, except for her feet, which were bare. Her hair hung loose about her shoulders, about the white gown with the full, flowing sleeves that she liked so well. She had worn it often, fancying that Elros liked the look of it on her.
She was weary, and sleepiness weighted her mind. But she did not want to sleep. As real as her dreams were, here in Círdan's house, she wished not to meet her dream prince. Not now, when Elros, real and alive, was only steps away, and had said, of his own volition, that he wished to walk with her along the sand of the sea shore of the waking world.
Through the drawn curtains of her balcony, silver moonlight spilled through. It was a full moon, she realized, and drew in a breath, imagining the way the water would look, washed beneath silver light as it lapped the white sand.
It must be a beautiful sight.
If so, then what was she doing here, alone, pining for- for what, for whom, she did not wish to think.
Drawing in a breath, she pushed away from her dressing table, and rose to her feet, padding toward her door in her bare feet. She turned the latch, the click of it sounding unnaturally loud in the stillness, and glided out into the empty hall. The only light was moonlight, spilling in through the wide window in the great arched hall beyond the narrow hallway where she found herself. And Andreth padded toward this.
The silver light grew greater as she neared the great open space and the walkway that surrounded it. As her hall emptied upon the walkway that surrounded the main hall of Círdan's house, and silver moonlight spilled over her bare feet, Andreth's eyes lifted, and she saw, seated at the window upon a cushioned bench, a dark haired elf, one knee drawn to his chest the other hanging over the edge of the cushion, his booted toe upon the floor.
Elrond. Her heart fell.
His eyes gazed out into the night, seeming to be transfixed upon the full moon that rode high in the eastern sky, well above the distant treetops. But at her silent appearance, Elrond turned his head, and saw her.
A smile touched his face.
"You are feeling better?" he asked, rising.
Andreth sighed. "I was never sick," she said. "Just sick at heart."
"Oh?" he asked.
Andreth's lips pursed as her heart gave a fierce throb. "And you know why, my friend."
Elrond dropped his eyes, and a look of sincere remorse came to his face. "Yes, I do." He lifted his eyes. "I am truly sorry, Andreth. It did not go as I envisioned it."
"It, meaning, my meeting with Hathel?"
Elrond drew in a long breath that swelled in his chest. "I went down to see him at his home, and he mentioned to me that he hoped he could take you to some of the festivities when the week of the Harvest Festival comes. So I bid him come up and ask you himself." Elrond shrugged. "If Elros had not come when he did-,"
"I am glad Elros came when he did," Andreth cut in. Her heart was pounding savagely now. Such firmness was not in her nature, and as she fixed her eyes upon the eyes of Elrond, one whom she truly thought of as a friend, yet whom she could no longer deny was acting like a fool, her heart felt as if it would burst in fear. Still, on she pressed.
"I am glad he came," she hissed. "Had he not, my answer to Hathel would have been a no. A gentle one, for he is not unkind. But I would have told Hathel that I would be pleased to see him at the festivities, but that I would not promise myself to any one man."
"You should not spurn him so," Elrond murmured. "He is growing, if you have not noticed, to care for you, Andreth."
"You encourage his hopes, Elrond!" she shot back. "I do not!"
Elrond did not speak, though his eyes remained fixed upon her in the silver darkness.
"Elrond," she sighed, wishing she had greater control of her emotions. "I think of you as a friend. I believe you to be good. But wishing to force Hathel and me together- it is wrong. For I tell you this now: I can never love him. I will never love him. Would you have me wed a man I cannot love Elrond?"
"I would not have you wed my brother."
Andreth felt frozen where she stood.
The words had been spoken.
To cover her crippling shock at the bluntly stated words, Andreth attempted to chuckle. "Why would you think I would wed Elros?"
Elrond countered this with another question. "Are you falling in love with him?"
Again, Andreth felt frozen in place, pinned beneath Elrond's fixed gaze. Her mouth felt dry. At last she managed, in a voice that was pitifully weak, but wrenchingly honest, "I don't know."
"Then answer me this," Elrond said, squaring his shoulders, his mouth a stern line. "What would your answer have been to him, had you had the chance to reply when he asked you to walk with him along the shore?"
"I would have answered him yes," she returned evenly, her voice still soft, but less broken than it had been moments before. "I have not yet allowed myself to go down to the sea. I want to very much."
"With him," Elrond added easily. "You want to go down to the shore with him. Only him."
Andreth tore her eyes at last from Elrond's, the truth too glaring to face any more.
"Andreth," Elrond murmured, his voice surprisingly gentle for one whose eyes had been so piercing. He drew a step nearer, though he was still several paces away. "My friend, do you know what would happen, if you gained your heart's desire? If you were the first mortal woman in all the world to win an elven husband?"
Andreth did not speak.
"Then I will tell you," he whispered in the quiet. "You would be happy. Blissfully happy. For a few years. A few decades. And he would be, as well. For you are beautiful, Andreth, and good and wise. But then, inevitably, you would begin to whither. He would remain young, strong, and in the prime of his manhood while you weakened and shrank, like a flower torn from its roots, and left in the sun. And then, Andreth, one day, you would die."
"I know this, Elrond," she choked.
Elrond pressed on. "Then you also know, I am certain, that elves do not love, do not wed but once. Elros I know, is not as Finwë. He will only ever love one woman in his life. The first choice of his heart will also be his last. If you win his love, Andreth, you will curse him to ages of loneliness after you are dead. He will pine for you, ache for you, for the rest of the ages of this world. But you will not be there."
Numbly, Andreth watched a faint whisp of cloud drift over the face of the moon beyond Elrond's shoulder.
"And what of any children that would come to your union, my friend?" he continued, his voice firm, but gentle. "If they were to be mortal, as their mother would be, then, Elros, lingering, would watch his descendants grow old, wither, and die, generation after generation, century after century, like sweet, precious water spilling through his hands.
"I have heard, Andreth, that there is nothing in the world so excruciating as watching your own child die. Would you wish that for him?"
Elrond's form, silhouetted in the light of the window behind him, blurred as tears filled her eyes, and spilled down her cheeks.
Blinking her tear filled eyes, she fixed them upon Elrond. His eyes were at once stern, and compassionate, merciless and gentle. How could anyone be so cruel, and so kind at once?
"Where is Elros?" she asked in a whisper.
Elrond drew in a sigh. "He is still outside. He never came in."
Andreth drew up her shoulders. "Good. Then I will go find him. The moon is full, and there is enough light to see by, if he still wishes to walk with me along the shore."
She turned toward the stairs.
"Have you heard nothing I have said?" Elrond's voice growled at her back. "Would you damn my brother to ages of sorrow?"
Andreth spun back. "There is no danger, Elrond, if he does not love me back," she choked.
"Oh, I think there is much danger," Elrond said, striding several steps toward her. His eyes flashed hard in the dark. "I have seen the way he looks at you, when you are not aware of his eyes upon you. They are not the eyes of a brother for a sister."
Andreth swallowed hard, and pulled her eyes from Elrond's furious glare. "Then I shall seek him out, and do my best to let him know that I am but a friend, and nothing more."
"Do not go to him at all!"
Andreth's eyes shot to Elrond's. Her heart flew into her throat, and fear shivered along her limbs, but still she spoke what her heart bid her. "Stop me, then, Elrond," she growled. "lay hold on me, bind me, and hide me away. For I am going to him, otherwise."
She turned and started toward the stairs, half wondering if Elrond would indeed take her challenge, and take hold of her, physically forcing her to stop.
But only his voice came from behind. "But there is one more thing, Andreth, that I have not said," he said, his voice low, almost hard.
"You will say no more, tonight."
The feminine voice, unexpected and bright in the silver darkness stopped Andreth in her escape, and she turned, her eyes growing round as the Lady Galadriel, and her lord, Celeborn, appeared out of the shadows of the hallway. The pair of them fairly glowing like Valar in the moonlight.
"Elrond," Celeborn's deep, resonant voice echoed in the silence. "Be seated. We wish to speak with you."
From the look of trepidation that cross the young elf lord's face, Andreth surmised that her friend predicted the coming interview would not be of trivial things.
Galadriel's eyes turned now to Andreth, and a softened smile touched her lips. "Go, young one. Find Elros, and walk with him where you will."
Needing no more urging, Andreth turned away, and flew down the stairs, the still, cool air catching in her hair, and at her gown as she went, drying the tears from her cheeks.
The great hall was dark and silent, but for a few candles burning here and there along the wall as she went, hurrying toward the door to the veranda, which, she could see, still stood open, a cool, night breeze brushing through.
A breath filled her lungs as Andreth paused upon the threshold, and gazed out into the night, the Tindómiel that entwined the balustrade gleaming like mithril in the darkness. Beyond the edge of the grassy slope, the sea glimmered beneath the moonlight to the horizon.
Elros was not on the veranda, and she could not see him down upon the grass from where she stood. She moved to the edge of the veranda. Still she could not see him.
Absently, she plucked two of the gleaming flowers, and tucked one into her hair, keeping the other in her hand as she descended the steps, and looked left and right.
Had Elrond directed her wrongly on purpose? She did not think so. He had been angry, but there was no lie in his eyes.
Slowly, she moved over the path, the flattened pebbles of the path kind to her bare feet, until she reached the first stone step, and there she paused, her toes curled over the rim of the stone, her body poised, like a sea bird ready to take flight.
Here, the breeze was a little stronger, catching at her hair and blowing it back behind her, pressing her gown tightly against her body, and trailing her loose sleeves, and the full skirt of her gown behind her.
At Elros' voice, surprisingly near, and filled with wonder, Andreth turned to see him, striding over the grass toward her from around the side of the house, strong and bright and tall beneath the moonlight, beautiful as a young god, the dark braids of his hair blowing back in the night wind.
"My heart sings to see you, Tindómiel, my lady," he called as he drew near, smiling upon her. "You are not a dream? I have not fallen asleep, have I? I thought you had gone to bed."
"No, I am not a dream, nor are you, I hope," she returned as he drew to a stop an arm's length away, her heart beating swift and strong. Had- had Elros just given her an epessë? "But why do you call me by that name, my lord? You know me. And dawn is yet far away."
"In the moonlight, you shine, my lady Andreth, like one of the flowers that so often grace your hair," he breathed.
Andreth ducked her eyes at his tender words, her thoughts darting to the meeting of Beren and Lúthien, Elros' ancestors, and how Beren had called the fair elf maiden Tinúviel at their first meeting. She strove to remember her promise to Elrond that she would be as a friend and nothing more to Elros, but it was proving difficult as she studied the solid silhouette of his form, his broad shoulders and chest, firm beneath the cloth of his tunic, the honed angles of his face and jaw, and the pleasure she saw in his eyes at the sight of her.
"I am sorry I left you, Elros," she murmured, and at the soft, broken tones of her voice, his gaze softened, and he stepped nearer.
"No," Elros soothed, shaking his head. "You were caught between two winds. I was unfair, as was Master Hathel. We both behaved like spoiled boys. You were right to leave us both."
"But I should have graciously sent Hathel away, instead of abandoning you."
"Me?" he asked, a hint of eagerness in his voice. "Had you chosen, you would have taken me?"
"Of course," she breathed. "I-,"
Andreth stopped herself, studying the welcome glow in Elros' eyes. "I would be very pleased to walk along the shore with you, my lord," she murmured.
"And I, with you, my lady," he said, his smile as bright as the stars as he offered her the crook of his elbow, which she willingly took, before he started down the stone steps with her, toward the white sand, and the soft surf that whispered, rolling against the sand in a steady, eternal rhythm