"Ai, dear Valar, why do you torment me like this? She looks as beautiful asleep as awake-"
Andreth opened her eyes at the softly murmured voice where she lay upon the soft grass in her dreamscape, fixing first upon the stars above her before she lowered her gaze to her dream prince, the form of Elros, where he settled down cross legged on the grass a few paces away, and smiled at her.
He chuckled. "Forgive me, dream maiden. It is difficult to tell- Just as the mortal maid whose image you take, I supposed you sleep with your eyes closed. So intriguing-" his voice softened, "so lovely a thing- But you are awake."
"But I am asleep. I am always asleep here," she said with a smile. Her dream of Elros grinned.
"Because of course, it is your dream," he chuckled, plucking a blade of grass and studying it before putting the end in his mouth, and chewing thoughtfully.
Andreth drew in a sigh, and sat up, the cloth of her gown rustling as she did. Her dream prince watched her rise, his gaze warm.
"I am glad to see you here," he murmured, easing close enough to reach out and touch her hand. His fingers were warm against hers, and Andreth smiled. He leaned nearer as if he wished to draw closer to her, though he did not. "I left very quickly this morning. I did not have the chance to say farewell to Andreth herself."
He drew in a breath that swelled in his chest. "Though I do not know what I would say to her, now that I know my heart. I am new to love. I do not know how-"
He swallowed fiercely, and fell silent. Andreth dropped her eyes, blushing at his words.
"But I do know what my choice must be, now," he said, and his jaw tightened with determination as he lifted his eyes to the sky. "What the will of the All Father is for me. Has always been."
At these words, Andreth lifted her head again, fixing her eyes upon her dream prince.
"Your- choice?" she asked. "You speak of the choice you have been given- between mortality and immortality?"
"Yes," he murmured.
"You have spoken of this before," she said, feeling her breath coming more slowly. "In these dreams."
"I have," he said again, still with his eyes fixed upon the sky. "But not until yesterday did I realize the path for which I was destined. And I am glad that I know. I would not wish to choose immortality now, when it would part me from you," he heaved a ragged breath, "-from Andreth Tindómiel."
"Oh," she murmured, realizing that he was right. He had spoken of his choice before, now that she realized it, but she had not understood what he was speaking of, thinking it was only the nonsense of her dreams. But now that Elrond had told her of the choice of the Peredhil, the former words of this dream prince made sense. How could she have known of it before, enough to dream of it?
A quiver moved through her, and she turned half away from her dream of Elros, glancing askance to look at him. His eyes were still fixed upon the sky, though his hand still clasped her own, warm and strong.
"Elros?" she asked, and he lowered his eyes to her and smiled.
"What is it?" he murmured.
"Tell-," her word caught in her throat and she turned back fully to face him, feeling suddenly earnest. "Tell me something that I- that Andreth could not know. Something you know, but that I- that she does not."
"Oh," he brightened, and squeezed her fingers. He leaned nearer in an attitude as of one wishing to share a secret he feared overheard.
Andreth's heart throbbed painfully even as a smile touched her lips, for the two of them were alone in this vast, open, land of dreams.
But the playful aspect on his face softened into a somber, almost worshipful expression as his eyes drank in her face.
"I am having a gift made for her," he murmured. "The necklace you are wearing-"
His eyes lowered to the gleaming necklace that hung around her neck, the smooth white pearl resting against the soft flesh above the scooped neck of her gown. Elros lifted a hand, and touched a finger to the pearl. Andreth could feel the impress of the pearl beneath his fingertip, the warmth of his hand, but his finger did not itself touch her skin. Andreth shivered deliciously, and Elros' breath visibly quickened, clearly affected as well by the nearness of her soft flesh.
"I am having a jewelsmith in Mithlond fashion it for her, into a necklace that looks just as that one does," he murmured, slowly withdrawing his hand, and lifting his eyes to hers. "And I mean to give it to her the moment I return. Before the Harvest Festival is over, I hope."
Andreth swallowed stiffly. Slowly, she withdrew her hand from his, and turned away, fixing her eyes away over the dream ocean and to the distant eastern horizon.
"What is wrong?" he murmured, the grass whispering as he eased nearer.
She could feel his warm breath against the back of her shoulder. How very much she wished to lean back, to feel his warm, solid chest against her back, his hands, gentle yet powerful also, cupping her shoulders, running tenderly along her arms, his lips whispering the soft secrets of lovers into her ear-
"I don't know," she returned. "There may be nothing wrong-"
Andreth swallowed back a thick tightening of emotion in her throat, before she turned to him again, seeking his soft grey eyes in the cool blue shadows surrounding them.
"Elros," she pleaded, lifting a hand, and reaching out, wishing to touch his face. So very much she longed to press her hand to his jaw, to feel the warm, firm skin, to trace the lines of his face, to run her fingers gently up to the peaked tip of his ear, before losing them in his dark hair. To lean into him, to feel the strength of his arms wrap about her, and pull her to him, to feel his perfect, sculpted lips claim her own as she lay back with him against the soft grass-
Andreth did not move, nor did Elros, his eyes fixed upon hers, soft, and warm, and filled with undisguised longing.
"You have never tried to kissed me here," she breathed.
To this, Elros seemed to come to himself again, and he shook himself, easing back a space, and gently drawing back his hand. "And I shall never kiss you, fair though you are, dream maiden," he said, looking away. "I will save myself for the true Andreth. And if she does not love me, then I will never-"
"Then you will heal, in time, and find another woman, an elf maiden to love," she said quickly, dropping her hand to grip his where it rested upon the grass between them.
Elros' eyes turned back to her, his gaze soft as he shook his head. "I do not want any other," he breathed, gently squeezing her hand. "Only Andreth. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever known, or will ever know. Her heart is kind, and her mind is quick and wise. Her soul is as pure as the stars, and as beautiful as her outward form. When I look upon her, I see beauty and nobility, and I know in my heart that she has a magnificent part to play in the Great Song of Eru. I yearn for her to want me as I want her. I long for her to be the mother of my children. I care not that she is mortal. Indeed, I would not wish for her to be an elf maid, for her mortality is part of her very essence, and makes her all the more precious in my eyes. I know, even now, that I will never see another woman, elven or mortal, as I see my beautiful Tindómiel, fairest of all the daughters of Eru Ilúvatar."
"Elros, stop," she pleaded. "Your words are- too beautiful. Do not speak that way-"
"What way would you have me speak?" he pleaded, furrowing his brow. "My heart is hers! With all that I am, with all that I ever will be, I love Andreth! I will never want another."
Andreth fell silent, and she dropped her eyes to their joined hands.
"I-" she sighed at last, lifting her eyes to his. "I hope you are wrong." She lowered her voice. "I hope I am wrong."
"I do not," he said softly.
The two sat in silence for a long moment before he gently squeezed her hand, and said, "Come. No doubt this is all because my heart is so raw and so open. I think we both need a reason to smile. Walk with me along the shore."
He rose to his feet, and turned to her, galantly offering her his hand. "Please," he pleaded. "You cannot know how badly I need to see your smile."
At this, Andreth did manage a smile, and she lifted her hand, placing it in his, and let him draw her gently to her feet.
"This is the stone," Hathel said, his hand giving an expansive sweep to the walls of the granite cliff that curved about their small group as if they stood within an amphitheatre. "I think it is of the right color and quality, and I believe there is enough here, to finish the north light house."
"Hmm," Círdan murmured in an agreeable tone. He stepped forward to the rock face near at hand, and touched his fingers to the stone, running his thumb over the grey surface, testing the feel of the granite.
Morning sounds echoed through the woods around their group where Elros stood back, silent beside the heads of the horses, a short distance from Sigil and Lang, as Círdan and Hathel continued speaking. He knew very little about the quality of one kind of stone over another, but Círdan seemed pleased by this tall curving wall of exposed granite.
"Looks like a load of work we're gonna do," Sigil muttered softly, his eyes uplifted.
"Hrm," Lang muttered in agreement. "Pity my cousin Lhûg never come. He said he would get here 'bout the same time I did. 'Bout three months ago. Never arrived. Strong as an ox, Lhûg was." Lang chuckled darkly. "Maybe better he didn't come. He wouldn't like this city, will all its elves. Hates elves more'n anything, them and their high ways. Drives 'im crazy. Not that I could blame 'im. I'm 'bout crazy myself. City filled with beautiful women, but no brothel to speak of-"
"Lang!" Hathel shouted before Elros could even turn to look at Lang. In the amphitheatre of stone, the young mortal's voice echoed like the summons of a Vala, and the swarthy mortal jerked and straightened, his eyes going suddenly wide.
"Whot?" Lang demanded, his eyes narrowing darkly now that his initial fear was passed.
"Watch your tongue!" Hathel shot back.
"'Er whot?" Lang demanded.
"Or you can go now, with only half your pay, never to show your face in the Grey Havens again," Hathel shot back. "Though that should be little sacrifice to you, if you hate it, and its inhabitants so badly. I'll not tolerate any disrespectful talk as long as you're under my employ."
Lang scowled at the young mortal, who could not have been less than ten years his junior, but said nothing. Sigil's mouth formed a small circle, and the sandy haired mortal side stepped away from Lang, nearer to Elros.
Elros turned and met Sigil's eyes, and the sandy haired mortal shrugged and grinned weakly, apologetically. But as Elros met Lang's eyes beyond Sigil's shoulder, the swarthy mortal only scowled darkly, his thick fists clenched at his sides. There was no apology in his face. Lang rolled his thick shoulders as if preparing for a fight, and glared at Elros.
Had he not spoken so, Elros would not have thought the mortal's glaring eyes worth the challenge, and would have looked away. But now, Elros continued to meet the scowling mortal's eyes with an even gaze.
Lang narrowed his eyes, and lifted one corner of his thick mouth in a half snarl. And then, Elros realized why the mortal caused such a nervous stirring within him. It was not only his rough ways. It was also in his- his eyes.
Elros' mind flashed back to months before, to the day he had first encountered Andreth, when he had darted into the clearing and saw the unthinkable, and had reacted, tearing the maiden's attacker off of her, and flinging him across the clearing. Before he had drawn his knife and attacked, the man had snarled, just as Lang did now.
Elros had met the eyes of the man only for a brief moment before his sword sank into the mortal's neck. But he remembered the eyes. They were just like Lang's.
He broke Lang's gaze at last, and shot a glanced toward Círdan, who met his eyes with a steady gaze almost as if he guessed what the young elf was thinking.
Elros studied the elven lord's gaze. Círdan, Gil Galad, Oropher and a few others knew of what had passed that day, what had nearly happened to Andreth, and what Elros had been forced to do, to defend her honor. The identity of her attacker had been a mystery. He was a complete stranger. He had never been in the city, nor was he from any of the settlements of mortals. None knew who he was. None, it had once seemed, would ever know. But-
Elros turned back to Lang who had dropped his eyes, and was glaring now, at the ground.
"Were you close to your cousin, Master Lang?"
Lang's eyes jerked up, and narrowed.
"Whot? Why d'you want to know, elf?" Spittle flew from his mouth at the last word.
"The cousin you spoke of. Lhûg. Were you close?"
Lang's eyes narrowed further. "Why?" he drawled slowly.
Elros drew in a deep breath. Rough as this man was, he was the man's kindred, and deserved to know.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Círdan striding nearer. By his posture, he could tell the shipwright was concerned. He turned back to Lang.
"There is something you must know about your cousin."