The Choice of Elros

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Elrond sat with the moonlight at his back, his hands upon his knees and his eyes upon the floor. Beside him, he heard the soft rustle of fabric as Galadriel took her seat at his side. Celeborn remained standing at his wife's shoulder. Elrond could feel his heart hammering within him as he waited for their words to fall.

"Elrond," Galadriel spoke first, and her voice, gentle as a mother's, and softened with disappointment, melted Elrond's heart more than any angry words could have. "What need had you, to make Andreth cry?"

He drew in a breath. "I did not wish to make her cry," he muttered to his hands. "Only to make her think. A love between her and Elros can only lead to tragedy. She must known that."

"Tragedy, Elrond?" now it was Celeborn who spoke; his resonant voice filled the silent emptiness of the sleeping house, though it remained soft and low. "Were the unions of your own ancestors tragic?"

Elrond swallowed hard, studying the backs of his hands. "Elros' path does not lead to mortality."

"You do not know that." Galadriel's voice sent a tremor through Elrond, soothing him and shaking him in the same moment. "Only he can know the will of the All Father in that matter."

"If the All Father's design is that Elros elect mortality," Celeborn added, "yet for your sake, Elros does not take that path, his life will be unfulfilled, and without joy. That, young Elrond, would be the greater tragedy."

"But if Elros chooses mortality for Andreth's sake," Elrond whispered softly, "as Lúthien did for Beren," Elrond gulped hard a thick lump forming in his throat, "then he will- he will die."

He did not look up, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw Galadriel lift her eyes, and trade a silent glance with her husband.

"I do not want to lose my brother," he said, daring now to lift his eyes, though they were swimming in wetness.

He blinked fiercely, struggling to keep the tears from spilling over the rims of his eyes.

"Elrond," Galadriel soothed, and her hand reached out, grasping his.

He lowered his face again, and lifted his free hand, angrily brushing his wrist across his cheek where a tear had fallen.

"We will not tell you not to feel as you do," Galadriel breathed. "For your feelings are your own, and Elros is all you have left on these shores. But we would have you try to remember what I told you when first young Andreth came here, when you and I sat here, and watched her and Elros as they were riding."

Elrond furrowed his brow, struggling to remember her words. "You told me that all that was to be done, was for Elros to realize what the All Father wished of him, and for all of us to accept it."

"Yes," she murmured. Her hand squeezed his. "I also told you that you are like a pearl that is still forming. You are still learning and growing, Elrond. As are Elros and Andreth. You are all still very young. Yet you are all destined for greatness." She drew in a soft sigh.

"Surely, you, with your discerning heart, have sensed as much?" Celeborn said.

Elrond crushed his eyes shut, and answered Galadriel's squeeze with gentle pressure from his own fingers.

"I have," he admitted, still unwilling to look up. "Andreth will be a great lady one day. I have sensed it. I also have seen- there is something within her that is yearning toward my brother, and something in him that is yearning toward her." He drew in a ragged sigh. "I wish it were not, and I cannot promise that I will do nothing." He looked up, his jaw tight. "But I will try, my lady, my lord, to trust the will of the All Father."

Beside him, Galadriel offered him the faintest of smiles, and behind her, as he lifted his eyes to her silver haired lord, Celeborn gave him a faint nod of approval.

Elrond drew in a breath and gently squeezed Galadriel's hand as he repeated, "I will try."

...oOo...

The sea, rippling in dappled shades of deep blue and purple, shimmered beneath the light of the full moon that rode high overhead. It was even more beautiful than Andreth had imagined it would be.

But perhaps the beauty of it was only enhanced by the beauty of her companion, in the crook of whose arm, her small hand rested.

They walked side by side along the shore, the cool water lapping at her bare toes, and dampening the hem of her gown. Save for the whisper of the surf, and a soft clatter as of water upon stone, stillness rested comfortably between them, for there was no need for words right now.

To her left, the water extended to the horizon where it met the dark sky in a thin line of purple. And to her right, beside Elros, a slope of a sandy hill, tufts of sparse grass dotting it, rose up steeply toward the bluff above their heads. Further ahead, the slope gave way to a sheer wall of stone, some lengths higher than Elros' head, and around this, Andreth wanted to go, to see what was beyond it. She had wanted thus, ever since her coming, and was eager to see what secrets lay beyond that jutting naith of rock.

Their steps were slow, however, and while Andreth's curiosity yearned toward the unknown stretch of beach that bent around that sheer wall of stone, she was still content to stroll unhurried by Elros' side.

It gave her time to mull over the thoughts that Elrond's words had put into her mind.

Was she indeed falling in love with this noble elven man beside her? She could not say, but perhaps, Andreth mused, lowering her eyes to the water that rolled over her bare feet, and soaked the hem of her gown, she was not allowing herself to admit so, to protect them both from the truth that Elrond had so boldly stated.

Letting her mind cast back over the months and weeks since she had first met Elros, Andreth had felt a mingle of longing and fear whenever her thoughts dwelt upon him. Perhaps the curious mingling of emotion stemmed from the very reasons of which Elrond had spoken. Elros, if he gave his heart to her, if they wed, would remain alone for the rest of the ages of the world after she died. If she truly desired his happiness, she dared not long for his love.

Andreth's heart gave a painful thud. Mortal that she was, she knew that she too, would only ever truly love one man. Her parents had loved only one another, and her father had never remarried after her mother died. Firiel too, and her husband had only ever loved one another. Like them, she too, had only one heart to give away, and if she gave it to Elros, she would never desire to give it to another. Perhaps, she like Andreth of old, would remain unmarried all her days, secretly loving an elven man she could never have. But such would not be so dreadful a thing. For she would not live forever.

But if her love was indeed returned-

Then why had she come out here, seeking Elros? Was there danger in this? Had she been foolish? Should she have done as Elrond wished and not come down to find his brother?

But the lady Galadriel had bidden her to go, to seek out Elros. She would not have bidden Andreth to do so, if it were not good.

"You may have heard, lady," Elros voice pierced the silence with tender intensity, loosing the painful constrictions of her thoughts, "that to elves, memory can often be very strong, sometimes, even, preserved so perfectly, that to return to a certain memory, is as if returning to the very moment itself."

Andreth lifted her head. She turned, seeing Elros' face beneath the moonlight, looking down at her as he walked beside her, his eyes softened with tenderness. And in that moment, she wished her memory were as an elf's, that she could capture the strong lines and angles of his face and jaw, his eyes shining in the moonlight, the night wind in his hair, and hold it forever in her mind, ever clear as it was now, never fading.

"I have, my lord," she returned in a whisper.

Elros nodded. "Then you will, I hope, understand my gratitude that you would come to me, and walk with me here, for I wish to show you this, and keep always in my mind, the pleasure that I hope now, to see upon your face."

He gestured forward, and Andreth looked to where he pointed.

Without her realizing, as she had been lost in thought, they had reached the point where the beach and the knoll above them, bent sharply. Beside her, the point of rock bent around, and Elros was leading her, now, around the bend.

In a moment, a new scene opened to her view, a stony beach, no longer sandy, extended into the dark distance. But nearer at hand, a swath of trees an arm of the forest that lay beyond Lord Círdan's house, spilled down the steep edges of a sloping knoll, shadowed and silver in the moonlight, reaching to within a hundred paces of the sea before the line of trees abruptly ended. But from between the roots of the last trees, a cheerfully trickling stream emerged, clattering over rocks, and down into the sea.

From with the shadows of the trees, came a louder clatter of water, and peering through what seemed a narrow tunnel through the rising trunks and the silver branches swaying gently in the night wind, Andreth caught a glimpse, in a ring of moonlight, of a small waterfall spilling over a lip of stone that jutted over a rising wall of rock. It clattered upon exposed rock before emptying into an open stone pool, this flowing into the small stream that passed now within paces of Andreth's bare feet.

Though surrounded by trees bathed in cool purple shadows, a silver aura seemed to glow about the water fall and the pool beneath, giving it all an ethereal glow. As if she were gazing upon something she would only see in the Blessed Realm.

"Oh," she breathed, reaching across herself and grasping Elros' arm with her free hand. "Oh, my Lord Elros. This is beautiful."

"It is, is it not?" he returned, his eyes shining. "And look. Beyond the water."

He pointed directly to the waterfall, and peering through the sheets of water, Andreth could see, not a rocky face beyond, but darkness.

"A cave," she murmured. "There is a cave beyond the waterfall."

"Come," he urged, the pleasure in his eyes and bearing almost a palpable thing. He stepped forward a few paces, letting her hands slide from his arm, though he turned back, and offered her his hand. "See inside."

"But my feet are bare, the roots may be rough, and the rocks-,"

"There is a path of flat stones, gentle even to unshod feet," he assured her. And as she followed his pointing finger, Andreth noted, beginning almost at her feet, a path of flat stone leading from where she stood, along the curving wall of the cliff beside her, and into the trees toward the waterfall.

"But if it would give you comfort," Elros continued, "I shall carry you from here."

"I would have you carry me," she said, letting, for the moment, her heart dictate her words, for she knew that she could easily traverse this path so long as her hand remained in his.

A smile, fair as the stars, touched Elros' lips, and in a moment, Andreth felt herself lifted, effortlessly, in the elf lord's strong arms.

The sudden intimacy of the contact between them, set her heart to pounding furiously. Andreth, not knowing what else to do with her own arms, wrapped them around Elros' firm shoulders, achingly conscious of the tension and movement of his sturdy muscles beneath the cloth of his tunic, and the warmth of his strong chest as he started along the stone path toward the cave.

Her face was close to his own, and Andreth dared not meet his eyes, so near, and with his soft expressive mouth so close, choosing, rather, to look over his shoulder at what they had just passed, and up into the leafy canopy as he ducked into the soft, whispering shadows of the trees.

The clatter of water neared, and she felt now, on her skin, the cool touch of the mist. And for a moment, moonlight, unrestrained spilled over her as the trees about the waterfall broke.

After another moment, cool shadows closed over them again, and into her vision, came a translucent sheet of water, through which she could see the trees, and the sea beyond, though mottled through its changing surface. The sound of the falling water changed as well, the echoes suggesting that she was now in an enclosed chamber.

"Here we are," Elros murmured, his voice betraying no strain as he set her, gentle as a cloud, upon the flat floor of the cave, cool against her bare feet, so that she could turn about, and study the interior.

It was dark, but she guessed that Elros could see it better than she. Still, she could make out some few things, a crudely fashioned chair, and a small table.

"Someone lives here?" she wondered, straining to see in the darkness.

"No," Elros said. "But Elrond and I- we have been here before. More than once." She could hear the pleasure in his voice. "Perhaps you and I should return here in the daylight, as well. And you can see it better."

Andreth turned to him. Through the darkness, she could see his face, lit by the faint, mottled moonlight that danced and twisted through the sheet of falling water, certain he could see the same effect upon her own face, and the wonder in her eyes.

"This is the cave where you were found. When you were little."

Even in the near darkness and the changing light, she could see his smile and nod. But then his smile faltered. "Maglor brought us here, and told us to play. He gave us food. Then he went away. I think he knew that other elves were nearby, and meant for them to find us. Good Huan, my pony, whom I have spoken of before was found grazing not far from here. But Maglor and Maehdros, we never saw again."

Through the darkness, she could hear sorrow in his voice. His smile was sad, and his eyes were somber.

How very much she wished to go to him now, to touch his face, and smooth away any sorrow that she could see.

Instead, she stepped back, reached out a hand, and touched the rough wall of the cave, lowering her eyes. "Why have you shown me this?"

Elros's boots whispered as he stepped near to her. Andreth's heart skipped a beat as the warmth of his fingers tentatively brushed her own, not clasping hers, but not releasing them either. "For the same reason that King Gil Galad told you of his slain beloved."

Andreth lifted her eyes. Elros hovered above her, his body so close to her own, that she could feel the warmth of him through the cloth of her gown, though only their fingertips touched.

"You are elf-friend." His free hand lifted, as if it would brush her face, though his fingers did not quite touch her, hovering a fraction above her cheek. "And, more than that, you are Andreth Tindómiel, most beautiful of all the daughters of elves or of men."

"Elros-" she breathed, letting herself lean back against the wall of stone, cool and rough against her back, her eyes uplifted to Elros' as he drew closer.

He leaned nearer, and she could feel his breath, warm and soft against her mouth. Andreth's very soul sang; a song of mingled ecstacy and despair. She long with all that she was, to simply let her eyes fall closed, and let the soft press of his mouth find her own, but even as she wished it, she knew she could not let him, not if she truly cared for him. For she would die one day, and if he loved her, he would be bereft, forever.

"We should return, my lord," Andreth choked, forcing strength into her voice as she moved so that she was no longer between Elros and the wall of the cave. The fingers of her hand, though, still remained within his own, for neither would break that one, tentative contact between them. "It is late, and we must both rise early."

Elros looked crestfallen as he glanced away, the sinews of his jaw growing taut, and his eyes filling with unmistakable disappointment.

"Of course," he said at last, visibly rallying as he turned his gaze back to her. "We both have much to do on the morrow."

He smiled, and while it was warm and sincere, the sadness in his eyes was evident. "Come," his hand tightened gently. "Let us go back to Lord Círdan's house. And to much welcome sleep."


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