The wheels of the wagon pulled by two thick shouldered horses clattered over the paving stones of the street behind him where Hathel's two mortal companions rode, as Elros trotted at Círdan's side. He was thankful for the wise elf's presence. The hooves of Hathel's own mount clopped over the paving stones a few lengths behind his own, and he could feel the eyes of the young mortal burning into his back.
This journey was going to be thoroughly miserable, he mourned. If he made it through at all without a knife in his back.
"Young Master Hathel has his faults, my friend," Círdan's voice sounded beside him, as if the wise shipwright could sense his thoughts, "but he is not without honor."
Elros glanced over toward the bearded elf, and Círdan smiled. "Even toward his rival for a lovely maid whose honey colored hair shines like russet and gold in the sunlight."
Elros dropped his eyes to Nórui's flowing mane, feeling his face darkening. "You know, then?" he muttered.
"Come now Elros," Círdan said, easing Celegben closer. "You know me well enough to know that there is little that I miss. Also, I did not intrude, but I was well aware of what you and Elrond spoke about."
Elros studied the kindly eyes of the bearded elf. "And do you approve?"
"Whyever would I not?" Círdan asked.
"Andreth is mortal."
Círdan inclined his head in silent consent to this.
"Elrond doesn't approve."
"Elrond is your brother. You are all that he has left on these shores, and he does not want to be parted from you."
"Nor do I wish to be parted from him. But neither do I wish to be parted from Andreth. I do not now wish to choose an immortal life, knowing that after she died, I would linger for ages in a world where she is not." Elros drew a deep breath into his chest. "I do not know how she feels toward me, but for my part, I am in love with her, my lord."
Círdan's smile of approval warmed his soul, and Elros continued. "But if- if I choose mortality, it would be not be just for Andreth. For I feel in my heart, that there is more at stake than the favors of a lady. The choices of Elrond and me will impact the world for centuries. Ages, even."
Círdan nodded. "Like ripples upon a pond," he said softly.
"For the sake of generations unborn," Elros murmured, "I must make the right choice."
For a moment, all that echoed in the sleepy streets were the clop of their horses hooves, and the clatter of the wagon's wheels. Elros could feel the eyes of young Hathel still upon his back, glowering with displeasure.
No doubt the young mortal wondered what the two elven men were talking about, and perhaps, rightly guessed.
"Tell me," Círdan queried gently, "that pearl I found on the shore. The pearl that was meant for you. Is it helping at all?"
Elros touched a hand to a small pouch on his belt, lifted the flap and felt inside for the small gem. He lifted it out, and the tapering pearl glowed in the early morning twilight.
"It isn't a magic talisman, or luck bringer," Elros said, studying the creamy sheen of its surface. "It is a pearl, nothing more or less."
Círdan lifted his brows. "That pearl has been without a setting far too long. You should amend that."
The silver-haired elf nodded ahead of them toward a small shop that stood not far from the open gate that was drawing steadily nearer. A small sign hanging over the door proclaimed it to be the shop of a jeweler.
"You should have it set into something. It could be ready for you by the time you return."
Elros looked over at Círdan, and the shipwright nodded again.
"Hold a moment," the ancient elf called over his shoulder, reigning in Celegben. Elros followed suit, and after a momentary glance back at Hathel, who was indeed glaring at him, slid smoothly off his stallion's mount.
"What is the delay?" Hathel demanded.
One of Hathel's companions, a swarthy bearded man with thick arms leaned toward his companion, a sandy haired man with a scruffy beard, and muttered, "The elf's probly got to go make water, or somethin'."
"Nwah," the sandy haired man whispered back. "Elves never hafta make water."
"Oh, I assure you, we do, on occasion," Círdan said, turning Celegben's head about, and smiling casually at the mortals.
The sandy haired man on the wagon seat blushed furiously beneath the scruff of his beard and dropped his eyes while his swarthy companion elbowed him, and muttered "Dolt," beneath his breath. Hathel rolled his eyes. Elros struggled to hide a grin as he turned and started for the shop door.
The rap upon the wood sounded amplified in the quiet of the morning, and stung his knuckles. But he was rewarded a moment later, by a stirring within.
The creaking door opened, revealing a young dark haired elf, clad in a thick leather apron, his long hair tide back behind his head.
The initial disinterest in the youth's eyes brightened into sudden recognition. "My lords! Círdan, Elro- er,"
"Elros," Elros assured the youth.
"Lord Elros," the young elf said, before turning his head halfway, and calling over his shoulder, "Adar?"
From behind the youth came an older elf also dark haired, and clad in a thick leather apron like his son. His face was both surprised and pleased. "I am Mirion, my lord, can I be of service to you?"
"I would like this pearl made into a- a necklace, if you please," Elros said, holding out the pearl. "For a lady."
"Ah," the jewelsmith said, his eyes shining in appreciation as he took the pearl in his hands. "It would be a pleasure to adorn such a rare pearl as this! And I can assure you, your lady will be most pleased with our work. What metal had you in mind, my lord? Gold? Silver?"
"Mithril, if you have any."
The jewelsmith started at this, glanced over Elros' shoulder at Círdan, and back. "I do, barely, but my lord, mithril can be hard to come by."
"I can promise you will be well compensated."
The jewelsmith drew in a breath, and managed a smile. "Very well, is there a certain- look you wish this necklace to have?"
Elros nodded, recalling the way the pearl, hanging from its bright silver chain, looked against the dream maiden's fair bosom. How much fairer would it look, about the true Andreth's shapely neck. "Have you a piece of parchment?"
"Of course, my lord, come in," the jewelsmith and his son stepped back, admitting Elros into the chamber. a table sat in the center of the room.
"Here, my lord," the youth said, turning away and picking up a piece of crackling parchment from a side table, and a well of ink, a feather dipped in it.
"I wish it to look like this," Elros said, spreading the parchment on the center table, and moving the quill quickly over the parchment, bringing to life the necklace he had seen so many times about the slender neck of the dream maiden. "A simple woven chain, and a delicate coil here, wrapped around the pearl itself, binding the pearl to the chain."
He looked up at the jewelsmith. "Can you do that, sir?"
The elven man grinned. "If you can draw it, my lord, I can make it."
"Can you have it ready in time for the Harvest Festival?"
"Of a certainty," the elven man said.
"It may be a few days into the Festival that we will return."
"It will be waiting for you, my lord."
Elros smiled. "Thank you."
With that, he turned, and strode out the door, swinging easily onto Nórui's back in the cool morning air.
Glancing over at Círdan, he grinned at the ancient shipwright's smile of approval. But out of the corner of his eye, he caught Hathel's expression, and turned, meeting the mortal stonemason's eyes.
The young mortal did not glare at him, but his eyes were not welcoming either, telling Elros more than words, the young mortal's displeasure, contained though it was.
Elros heaved a sigh, and turned his eyes forward, urging Nórui on again.
Indeed, this would be a long, and arduous journey. But then, as he thought of the pearl he had left behind in the jewelsmith's keeping, he would see Andreth again when he returned. And he would have a gift for her.
And this thought brought a smile to his face.
The small room, just off the garden north of Círdan's house held the same, musty, familiar scent she had grown used to, and which gave her a measure of comfort as Andreth paused in the doorway, barely lifting her eyes toward Elrond who sat at the far end of the long table laden with various herbs, and one small bubbling pot over a tiny flame near his hand that sent a bitter sweet aroma into the air.
His eyes were not on the little pot however, but upon a tablet in his hand upon which was a sheet of parchment. In his right hand, he held a feather quill, and from the strokes and lines he drew upon the parchment, she guessed he was not making notes, but rather drawing something.
At another time, she might have moved near him, and asked him what he was doing, but now, she dared not. He had warned her not to go with Elros, and she had not heeded him, listening instead, to her own heart, and Galadriel's words. And because she had gone to him, so much had become wonderfully, tragically clear. How much had Elros told his brother this morning? Had her rebuff of him been enough to save him from losing his heart to a mortal? It had not been enough to save her from losing her own heart to an elf. Of course, Andreth thought, as she stood poised in the doorway, studying Elrond out of the corner of her eye, her heart had already succumbed to Elros long before she had walked with him beside the moonlit sea. It was only last night she realized it. How much would Elrond know or guess of all this, just by looking at her?
Pursing her lips, Andreth drew up a stool, and settled herself at the far end of the table, picking up a stone pestle where it rested in its stone bowl, and picked up a handful of dried leaves beside her. She sprinkled them down in the bowl's curved basin, and began to crush them with the pestle.
"You are early, my friend."
Elrond's voice, echoing in the otherwise silent room, caused her to start, and Andreth jerked her head up, her heart flying in her throat as she met Elrond's eyes at the far end of the table.
His eyes were not unkind, and courage stirred in her heart.
"Elros is gone," she replied, wishing her voice did not shake so. "And I cannot ride on my own anyway, because Maidh and the other horses have been let out to pasture."
Beside the dried leaves, sat a small pile of small bags of loosely woven cloth, and a small ladel. Taking up one of the small bags in the other hand, Andreth carefully scooped a spoonful of the crushed leaves into the small bag.
She continued, "So I thought I would use the time to prepare some soothing tea, for Master Gondien, for when I go to see how he is today."
Elrond drew in a breath as if he would say something, but then paused and let it out, seeming to change his mind.
"You are very kind, Andreth," he said, though his voice was low. "I do not doubt but that your visits cheer him greatly, and speed his recovery."
"Thank you," she said softly, dropping her eyes again to her work.
Silence again settled like a blanket over the room before Elrond stirred once more.
Heaving a breath, Elrond pushed himself back from the table, blew the small flame away from under his bubbling little pot, and moved around the table toward Andreth. She watched him coming, quiet and still where she sat, the scrape of the stool's legs on the floor loud in the quiet as he moved a stool to sit beside her.
"I want to show you something," he urged, and Andreth dropped her eyes to the parchment he had been sketching. "Look."
A lovely elf maiden with light hair and shining eyes, gazed soulfully out at her from the surface of the paper.
"I've never attempted to draw her, before."
"She's beautiful," Andreth replied, touching a finger reverently to the parchment. The maiden was so skillfully drawn, so full of life, that even drawn with black ink, it seemed almost as if she would step off the parchment. "Who is she?"
"I don't know," he sighed. "I've only ever seen her in my dreams. And from a distance."
"If you added color, her hair would be-"
"Like Lord Círdan, or Lord Celeborn."
Elrond nodded. "And her eyes, blue."
"Are elven dreams this vivid?"
"Sometimes," he said. "Not always."
Andreth nodded, silent, the words sending a rush of heat to her cheeks as she thought of her own dreams since coming to Círdan's house.
"My brother asked me to give you a message."
She swallowed at his mention of Elros, and turned to look into Elrond's face. How much could Elrond see in her eyes?
"What was it?"
"He wished me to tell you that he will return soon." Elrond drew in a sigh. "I promised him I would tell you."
Andreth dropped her eyes, feeling her cheeks flushing wildly.
"Andreth." His voice had softened, and she lifted her eyes again.
"I am sorry I made you cry last night," he said, his mouth an even line, though his eyes were penitent.
She studied his eyes, grey like his brother's, and nodded her forgiveness.
"What you said is true," she admitted wearily. "Though I do not think anyone could say what the fate of our children would be. Perhaps they would be immortal, as you are." She drew in a ragged sigh. "In any case, I would never wish to cause Elros ages of sorrow."
"I know you wouldn't," he murmured. "Thank you for refusing to kiss him."
Andreth felt herself flushing furiously, and she dropped her eyes, letting her hands go limp upon the tabletop. "He told you?"
She sensed Elrond nod beside her.
"It was what had to be done." she murmured.
Elrond's eyes seemed to burn into her for a long moment, silently assessing her, before he spoke again. "But you wanted him to kiss you, didn't you?"
She found herself unable to look up into his eyes for a long moment, before she drew in a ragged breath. "Last night you asked me something, to which I did not then know the answer."
She lifted her face. "I know it, now."
Elrond's gaze was weighted as his eyes met hers as if he guessed what she was about to say.
"I am in love with your brother," she murmured.
Elrond flinched faintly, though his eyes did not break from hers.
"I did not mean to lose my heart to him, but-,"
She dropped her face, pressing her fingertips to her brow, "Oh Valar, help me," she breathed. "Elrond, he is so wonderful, and kind and unfeigned, and so- beautiful. Something in me yearns to cleave to him. To- forgive me for saying this- to give myself to him. I want to be his wife, Elrond. Yet because of the very love that I feel, I know I cannot ask of him something that will bring him sorrow for ages! I cannot myself become immortal!"
"Andreth," Elrond murmured, and in his tone, she heard both pity and reproach. "Only grief can come of this."
"I know," she pleaded into her hands.
"Elros is all I have left," he continued. "I do not want to watch him suffer through ages alone, nor do I want to lose him to death."
"Death?" She lifted her eyes. She drew in a ragged breath and brushed her hands against her cheeks. "The war is over. What do you mean?"
Elrond drew and released a deep breath, studying her eyes long. "Elros and I are Peredhil."
She bit her lip. "Yes. You have the blood of mortals in you. Through your forefathers, Tuor and Beren."
Elrond nodded. "Last night, I spoke of what would happen if you wed my brother, and he continued the immortal life to which he was born."
Andreth nodded, her breath arrested in her throat.
"I did not tell you of the choice given us, not long ago. After the War of Wrath came to its end."
Andreth choked on a soft breath. "Ch-choice?"
"The Lord Eönwë himself gave it to us."
Andreth looked down, feeling small. "The great herald of Manwë, his son, some say."
"We were given the power to choose between the two kindreds, to which one we would align ourselves. I knew, immediately, in my mind and heart, which choice I was to make, and I will remain one of the Elder Kin. But Elros-"
Elrond's voice trailed off. Andreth's heart constricted within her.
"What of Elros?" she breathed.
"He did not know which to choose. Eönwë bid him decide before six months passed, and Elros vowed that he would know by then. The time is nearly up, and then he will be called upon to state his choice. If Elros knows you love him, and if he has given his heart to you-"
Elrond fell silent, and Andreth continued in a whisper, "Then he will choose the life of the Second Born."
Elrond nodded, his eyes somber. Reaching out, he pressed his hand against Andreth's forearm, his eyes seeking hers.
His fingers were heavy, and trembled, and his eyes were wet with pleading. "My brother will choose a mortal life, Andreth. To be with you. For your love, my lady, he will die."