"Marvelous, Lady Andreth!" Aelin praised as the last notes of Andreth's flute flitted away into the air and faded, followed by the sound of appreciative applause from Aelin, and the other ladies gathered about her on the grass at the steps up to the veranda.
"Indeed," Galadriel agreed, offering the young mortal a gentle smile as most of the other ladies rose from the grass, and filed back up the steps and into the house, chatting merrily as they went. "You skill has become equal to that of your tutor."
"In truth," Aelin chuckled, "she may have surpassed me."
"Dear Aelin," Galadriel chided. "None could surpass you, save, perhaps, your sister, Indilwen."
Aelin's smile trembled and faded a little. "My lady," she protested softly.
"Aelin, do not fear to speak of your sister, for her memory is sweet," Galadriel said. "And you will see her again, one day."
Andreth immediately dropped her eyes, remember what King Gil Galad said yesterday on the veranda, and knowing of whom Aelin spoke.
Galadriel, in silence, reached out and pressed Aelin's arm.
"I must go prepare the noon meal," Aelin said, the faintest tremor in her voice.
Andreth lifted her eyes, and smiled. Her friend offered her a brave grin, and turning away, climbing the steps after the other ladies, leaving Andreth and Galadriel alone upon the grass.
"You know why Aelin was troubled by my mention of Indilwen," Galadriel murmured softly, turning her eyes to meet the gaze of the young mortal.
"Yes, my lady," Andreth returned. "His highness, King Gil Galad told me of her yesterday when you and your lord and his highness came out to hear me play."
Galadriel nodded. "Aelin rarely speaks of her younger sister. She still feels much anger because of the kinslayings."
"No doubt I would as well, were I in her place," Andreth said sypathetically.
"It is because of the kinslayings that Aelin no longer plays the harp. She could, once."
"Because of the kinslayings?" Andreth asked. "Because of- Maglor?
Galadriel met Andreth's eyes. "Yes," she said. "Because of him."
Andreth swallowed. "I can feel, vaguely, then, why she would not wish to play it, or teach me. I would learn, though, if I could, so that I can sing as I play. I cannot sing, when I am playing the flute."
A gentle laugh escaped Galadriel's lips at this, the merry light returned to her eyes, and Andreth smiled in return.
"I have never heard you sing," Galadriel said, gripping Andreth's hand. "Will you sing me something?"
Andreth ducked her head, grinning, though she complied with the lady's request, and lifted her voice, uttering a few wordless notes that echoed the song she had only recently played on the flute.
"Marvelous," Galadriel praised as the short notes came to an end. "You sound like- the stars, could their voices be heard."
"Thank you," Andreth blushed. "Firiel always told me I sang well, but I thought it was only her duty to say so, being my guardian. But then shortly after I met him, Elros told me that I sang like an elven maid. And then I thought perhaps-,"
She stopped speaking, feeling heat rushing to her cheeks at the thought of the young elf lord.
"And young Elros is right," Galadriel observed. Andreth lifted her eyes to meet those of the wise elven lady, and Galadriel smiled gently. "There are many thing about which he is right."
"And there are many things about which Elrond is right," Andreth observed.
Galadriel inclined her head in silence. "Elrond is a wise and goodly youth," she agreed. "One whom I would gladly claim as my son. Gentle, and as kind as summer. For his heart is that of a healer. But he can be fierce as well, and protective of his own, for he is also a warrior. When he says what he does to you about elves and mortals, and the sundering of our kindreds, he does not wish to hurt you so much as he wishes, as he sees it, to protect Elros."
"I know," Andreth sighed, and turned to look out over the vast expanse of water, blue and vast, to the horizon. "And he need not fear for Elros' sake, for I have decided to give him no reason to worry."
With her eyes to the water, Andreth heard Galadriel's soft step draw near, and felt a gentle hand upon her shoulder.
"I loved my brother Aegnor," Galadriel murmured. "I still do. For he was kind and brave, and good. And he sacrificed more than I can comprehend for what he believed in. And now, he will never leave Mandos, for his beloved is gone from the circles of the world."
A stiff lump formed in Andreth's throat at the tone in the lady's voice.
"And you look so very like her, in face and form. Only your hair is different. Indeed, now as I think of it, it reminds me of the color of my brother's hair, as if you could be their daughter."
"Would that I were," Andreth choked, her eyes still fixed upon the water. "For then I would be Peredhel, as Elros is. But I am only mortal."
"I loved my brother," Galadriel said again, though her voice was stronger now that it was before, "but I think he was wrong."
Andreth's brows twitched. "My lady?"
She turned toward Galadriel. The elven lady now was also looking out over the water, and in her eyes, there was a flicker of fire.
"He should have wed her," Galadriel whispered. "Despite the war, despite the danger, despite the gulf between our races, he should have wed her, and shared what short years of happiness he could with her." Galadriel's voice quavered as she finished, "He should have given her children."
She turned now to Andreth, and the fire faded from her eyes replaced with a look of deepest compassion. "Do you love Elros?" she asked.
Andreth turned away, her eyes fixed upon the horizon. "Nothing has been declared between us," she answered, misery thick in her voice. "And I would have it remain that way. I would have him be free to choose his destined path without his choice clouded by his feelings for a mortal maiden."
"Then you know of the choice of Elros, and of Elrond?"
Andreth nodded, and swallowed at the thickness in her throat. "Even if his feelings for me have become strong, he can still recover, and find another, an elf maiden to love. I know that for elves, love can be strong and enduring, but it is not a chain binding your wills."
Galadriel breathed in again, and her hand came to rest upon Andreth's shoulder squeezing gently as the two woman gazed in silence over the sea.
"You are right. True love is never a chain. It is always a choice, whether one is an elf, or a mortal. But what of yourself?" Galadriel asked gently. "You have free will, as do all the children of the All Father. You say that elven love is strong and enduring, suggesting that perhaps mortal love often is not. Yet could you, mortal though you are, withdraw your love from him, and seek another?"
Andreth's heart twisted within her, and she crushed her eyes shut. "I do not want anyone else," she admitted at last. She swallowed fiercely. "But I would not have Elros know that. I would sooner remain unwed and childless, than to be the cause of ages of lonliness and sorrow for him. Or-" Andreth shivered at her next words, "to be the cause of his death!"
"Do not think you are saving him by not telling him your feelings," Galadriel murmured, her voice soft with infinite gentleness. "While it is true that love is a choice, there is a very real bond twined between the hearts of those who love one another. If he loved you, but you did not return his love, he would one day, if he chose, find the strength to heal, and to find another. But if you love him in return, even if Elros is not aware of the love you bear for him, your hearts are already bound."
Andreth bit her lip. "I thought the strongest bond between elves was when-" her words faltered, and she blushed.
There is a bond that is formed when bodies are joined," Galadriel agreed gently, guessing rightly at what the maiden's modesty would not allow her to speak. "And according to our laws, such an act, when both are willing, cements a man and woman as husband and wife. But Andreth, such a bond is not the strongest bond between elves, or indeed of any of the children of the All Father. The bond of hröar is as nothing compared to the glorious, and joyful bond of fëar. That bond formed between two hearts that share love! You know the story of Eöl and Aredhel. Their bodies were bound. They even had a son. And yet you know what became of them. And you know of your namesake and my brother. They never shared a bed; never gave life to any children. Yet their love is as eternal as the stars."
A soft sigh escaped Galadriel. "The bond of sincere love between the souls of a man and woman, of any race, is stronger than adamant and shared love alone, is enough to join hearts one to the other forever. It does not need the joining of bodies to be fixed and unbreakable. Though-" Galadriel flushed faintly and smiled, almost shyly. "Though the joining of bodies is a most wonderful way to crown the bond between two souls, Andreth."
Once again Galadriel's hand gave Andreth's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"What if Elros loves you already?" Galadriel asked. "What if he too does not want to be free?"
Andreth drew in a breath, blinking swiftly, her eyes fixed upon the westermost point her eyes could reach, where the sea met the sky. Why did she wish, so much, to know what was beyond that horizon?
"There is a choice before Elros Peredhel," Galadriel murmured. "Either mortality, or immortality. What would become of him, do you think, if his choice is immortality, yet his heart belongs to a mortal maid? Would you have him remain alone forever, without even the memory of a life with his beloved to sustain him through the ages? Without children to comfort him?"
Andreth looked now at Galadriel and swallowed, unable to speak.
"And what if Elros' choice is mortality?" Galadriel pressed gently. "If it is the will of the All Father, that he take that path? Would you not desire to share it with him?"
"Mortality is not his path," Andreth said simply.
Gently, Galadriel put her hands on both the maiden's shoulders and turned Andreth to her. The mortal maiden lifted her gaze to study the elven lady's piercing blue eyes.
"Neither you nor Elrond, can know that, young Andreth. No one can, but the All Father, and Elros himself. We cannot know, until Elros himself declares his choice."
Andreth dropped her eyes. "I hear truth in your words, my lady," she murmured. "But I heard truth in Elrond's words as well."
Andreth drew in a ragged breath. "Perhaps it would be best if I went home. Back to Firiel."
"Dear Andreth," Galadriel breathed, and a moment later, Andreth's head was against the lady's shoulder, and Galadriel's arms were around her, holding her as Firiel had often done when she had been hurt or troubled by something.
"Do not think that by making some great and noble sacrifice that you are saving the one you love," the gentle elven lady murmured against her hair. "I think my brother hoped that by leaving, he would free the heart of your namesake, and she would find a mortal man to love. But she never did. Her heart was bound to his, and she died loving him, as he died loving her. They love each other, still. Yet they will be parted until the world is remade. I would not have that be your fate, or Elros'."
"I have much to think on," Andreth murmured.
"I do not doubt but that your thoughts are roiling, now," Galadriel murmured sympathetically, releasing the maiden's shoulders, and offering her a brave smile.
"Perhaps a walk alone along the shore will do me good."
"Of course," Galadriel said. "I will tell Aelin to have your noon meal waiting when you return."
Andreth smile sadly, and turned away. She moved to the stone steps that dropped down to the sand, the steps she had taken with Elros just the night before, and glanced back, once.
Galadriel stood, looking after her, her hands clasped before her, her eyes worried, but gentle, like a mother's eyes.
Andreth lifted a hand in farewell, and turned back, dropping alone down the steps toward the sand.
As Elros had promised, the stone path was smooth and gentle to her bare feet as Andreth moved along it, her flute in one hand, her soft slippers in her other, the hem of her gown damp from the surf that had washed her bare feet. Beneath the sunlight, the cave Elros had shown her, did not look so eathereal and otherworldly through the trees now, though it still looked splendid and mysterious where it sat in the shadows beyond the sparkling sheet of the waterfall. Especially after she ducked into the shadows of the trees, the waterfall growing clearer, no longer veiled behind so many trees.
The laughter of the water was welcoming as well, like the call of a friend as she drew near to the pool at the base of the waterfall.
Looking down into its clear depths, she could see a smooth, stony bottom, perhaps waist deep, and she smiled as she imagined a young Elros splashing and playing in it, the trees echoing with his childish laughter as he called for his brother, who waited inside, to come out and try the water.
Her head snapped up, and her smile faded into an expression of wonder as a sound, soft and sweet, but not the music of the waterfall, came wafting out through the mouth of the cave and the clear sheet of water.
Andreth's eyes grew round, recognizing the sweet notes of a harp. Who else in Mithlond knew of this cave? Turning away from the pool, she hurried along the path that edged the wall of rock, and behind the waterfall, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the shadows.
"Forgive me," she called, her eyes still struggling to see, though now she could make out the form of a man, his long hair hanging loose about his shoulders.
The music stopped.
"We are well met, mortal maiden," a deep, even voice called out.
Andreth smiled as the man's features became clear, at last. The man sat upon the rough hewn chair she had seen vaguely in the darkness the night before, and beside him, one arm rested upon the small wooden table. The lines of his face were strong, but gentle, and his eyes were welcoming. His garb, deep blue but for a pattern in the center of his jerkin that seemed to be a bright star over his chest, was of fine cloth, but worn, for the hem of his tunic and the edges of his sleeves were ragged. His dark hair, though, was smooth and it gleamed, falling gracefully about his shoulders as he rose to his feet.
Behind him, the rest of the cave was more visible now in the daylight. It went a fair distance back, the walls and ceiling of ragged rock. But her attention moved quickly back to the elven man.
"I did not know any mortals knew of this cave," he said as their eyes met at last.
He offered her a bow as graceful and courtly as if she were a regal princess. And as she returned his bow with a gracious curtsy, in the manner that Galadriel and Aelin had taught her, she noted the harp he had been playing, where it rested now upon the table beside him. A fine, graceful instrument.
Her fingers itched to touch the strings, to make soft, fair music come from it as the man had been doing only moments before. She studied it with wide, eager eyes before she lifted her eyes to his face again.
"I am Andreth daughter of Beldir of the house of Bëor, I am a ward of Lord Círdan."
The man smiled in recognition of the name and nodded. "The Shipwright. He is well?"
"He showed you this cave, then, I suppose?"
"No, sir, my- my friend, Elros did."
The man took a step forward, his eyes brightening. "Elros? Elros, the second son of Eärendil? Truly?"
"Yes, sir," she returned, somewhat taken aback by the man's sudden eagerness at her mention of Elros' name.
"And his elder brother?"
"Elrond?" she asked. "Yes. I know them both."
"They are well?" the man asked eagerly, stepping forward again.
"Yes, they are, sir. Do you know them?"
"Yes, I-," His smile softened. "Yes, I knew them, once. Long ago."
"And your name, sir?"
"I am-" the elven man faltered. "You may call me- Linnod."
"I am honored to meet you, Master Linnod." Andreth said. Her eyes again fell to his harp. "You play the harp, sir? I heard you playing from outside."
The elven man glanced down at his instrument, and smiled, before glancing to the flute in her hand. "And you play the flute."
"Yes sir, I do. And I would learn to play the harp also, if I could."
To this, the elven man grinned broadly, his eyes dancing. "You wish to learn to play the harp?"
Andreth smiled, for somehow, she knew she could trust him, and had no need to be afraid. "Would you teach me?"
The man's grin faltered. "I- I am a bit of a wanderer. I do not stay in one place long-"
Andreth clasped her hands, and stepped toward him. "Please, Master Linnod, I am a quick learner. Even if you cannot stay in Mithlond long, will you teach me what you can, while you are here? I promise, you will be compensated very generously for your time and skill."
The man looked at the ground, and his free hand tugged nervously at the ragged hem of his other sleeve in a gesture of uncertainty. At last though, he looked up, and smiled.
"I can give you five days," he said. "One, perhaps two hours, each day."
Andreth beamed. "Thank you, sir!" She drew in a deep breath. "Where in Mithlond are you staying? I can come to your house, or you can come to Lord Círdan's house. Do you have kindred here?"
The man's eyes dropped suddenly as if at something she said. "I have no kindred left on these shores," he said softly, almost under his breath. Rallying, he lifted his voice. "It would be easiest to meet here, every day. I do not- I prefer not to be in large cities. The woods and wilderness are more suited to me."
"Very well," Andreth agreed. "Can we begin now?"
The elven man grinned again, and lifted his harp, offering it to her. "Of course, Lady Andreth," he said, and he smiled as she took the weight of the smooth, cool instrument into her own hands.
Elros lay quietly in his bedroll, his fingers laced behind his head, studying the stars above him, and watching the way the campfire cast orange light and mottled dancing shadows off the trees about them.
Andreth, his mind whispered, and her face appeared before his thoughts. Tindómiel- where are you, tonight, and what are you doing? Are you thinking of me at all, fair one? What would you feel in your heart, were you to know that I was thinking of you?
Not far away, Círdan also lay in his own bedroll, his own eyes fixed upon the stars above them.
Beside the flickering fire, Hathel's two companions were talking softly. Hathel himself, sat apart from them, seated upon his own bedroll, though he had not crawled in it, yet.
The swarthy one, the one Hathel had introduced as Lang, and Sigil, the sandy haired one. Sigil seemed a bit foolish and slow, though he seemed to have a good enough heart. Lang, on the other hand, had a streak of meanness that ran through him, showing itself now and then, in his speech and his looks. And, as Elros thought on it, Lang had a look about him that made Elros nervous. Not anything he could contain and define, but something vague that sent a shadow of uncertainty through him. He and Sigil were talking now, and Elros lay quietly, listening.
"How can they sleep that way?" Sigil was muttering. "Don't they get dust in their eyes?"
"Fool," Lang scoffed. "They're not like us. They're like snakes."
"They don't hafta blink?"
"Of course we must blink," Círdan mumbled softly. "Just as you do. We simply do not need to close our eyes to dream. In truth my young friends, whatever you do, we do also. We are not gods, or marble statues. Or- snakes."
Elros grinned as the two men shifted uncomfortably at this.
"Er," Sigil queried nervously, "Everything? Even snore?"
"Sometimes," Círdan murmured.
"He said everything, Sigil. Except falling prey to sickness, or whithering, and dying of old age." These words came from Hathel where he sat. His words sounded weary, and for a moment, Elros felt a stab of pity for the mortal.
"Yes," Círdan conceded sleepily. "Except that. We can be killed in war, or by mischance."
The others fell silent for a while, until Lang and Sigil again started to whisper, and Círdan's breathing deepened to show that he truly was asleep.
"You're not asleep, are you?"
It took a moment for Elros to realize Hathel had addressed him, and he pulled his eyes from the stars to fix them upon the young mortal.
"Not yet," he said.
"You're thinking of- her, aren't you?"
Elros drew in a breath. He did not need to ask Hathel what he meant.
"My thoughts are my own, Master Hathel," he murmured.
"You should not entertain thoughts of her," Hathel muttered. "She belongs with her own race. It would not be seemly for a mortal and an elf to wed."
Elros sighed, wishing Hathel would look away, but the young mortal did not, sitting stiffly upon his bedroll, his eyes fixed unblinking upon Elros, waiting for a reply.
"My ancestors would disagree with you," he answered.
Hathel snorted at this, and looked away.
"She wears my flower almost every day in her hair," the young mortal muttered.
"Your flower?" Elros asked.
Hathel looked back at Elros, his eyes hard at Elros' casual tone. "The day we met, I gave her a flower. One of the silver ones, the ones that glow at night. Almost everyday I have come to teach her of various weapons, she has worn one in her hair for me."
"Tindómiel they are called," Elros said, struggling not to smile at the youth's impertinence. It was more likely that Andreth had worn one of the flowers he had left outside her door after her first night in Círdan's house, rather than the single one Hathel had given her. And she wore the flower for its beauty, not for any man.
Heaving a breath, Elros turned his eyes skyward once again.
"Are you in love with her, Lord Elros?"
Elros' eyes snapped back to Hathel's. "Are you?" he returned.
Hathel narrowed his eyes. "She belongs with her people, my lord," he snapped, his voice low and hard. "She deserves a husband who is of her own race, who will grow old with her, whose hand in her own will not remain strong and unbent as hers whithers and weakens."
"Andreth deserves," Elros sighed, "a husband who will love her, truly."
Hathel swallowed audibly, his jaw taut. "I love Andreth," he said.
"Then," Elros said, fighting the pang in his heart as he spoke his next words, "if she loves you in return, my blessings and good wishes to you both."
He turned his eyes skyward once again, wishing for nothing else but to lose himself in his dreams.
"You didn't answer my question, my lord," Hathel said.
Elros heaved a breath which caught in his chest as it escaped. "And you answered mine," he conceded. "Yes, my lord, Hathel, I love Andreth. Enough, in truth, to do all that I can for her happiness, even if I of myself, cannot share in it."
Hathel did not answer this. A moment later the rustle of cloth told Elros that Hathel was clambering into his own bedroll. The mortal shifted, turning his back to Elros, and then only the soft crackle of the fire echoed in their circle of trees. Sigil began to snore.