The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Linnod sat against the wall of the cave, his knees bent close to his chest and his eyes closed as he listened to the soft music Andreth was bringing forth from the harp she was playing where she sat upon the wooden seat near the opposite wall from the elven man. Linnod's elbow rested on one knee, his fist beneath his chin while his other hand moved rhythmically through the air, keeping time with the notes.

In the background, the ceaseless laughter of the waterfall acompanied her music, and though Andreth knew she was nearing the end of her practice with the gentle elf, she did not wish to leave. If she had her will, she would stay here all day, and she would more than simply practice the harp with the kindly Linnod, she would ask him questions.

For though he, like all other elves, appeared young, she could see in his eyes many centuries, and guessed that he was very old. And though something about him told her implicity that she could trust him, still she knew very little about him, and had so many questions. Where was he from? Where did he go when he was not here, teaching her to play the harp? Where were his kindred? Why were his clothes so fine, yet so ragged at the edges? Why was he so willing to play the harp, yet when she asked him what he knew of weapons, he grew reluctant to speak? And why did he insist on taking no payment?

Her many questions swirled in her mind, unable to find release, and with a sigh, Andreth let the music of the harp fall silent, the water fall now the only music that echoed in the little cave.

"One would not know you have only been practicing for five days, young one," Linnod said, opening his eyes. "You were not deceiving me when you said you were a quick learner. That was very good."

Andreth smile at the praise.

"Are you married, my lord?"

"Why do you ask?" Linnod grinned. "Are you proposing, Lady Andreth?"

Andreth stared at him, and at the teasing twinkle in his eyes, before she threw her head back, and laughed merrily.

"Oh bless me, no!" Andreth gasped, barely able to speak the words through her laughter. "I only wondered."

"Good," Linnod said. "Then I shall not fear to break your tender heart, for indeed, I am married."

Andreth met his eyes again, and though he still smiled, the sparkle in his eyes had eased.

"Where is she, then?" Andreth asked. "Is she staying with you in- in Mithlond? And your children? What is her-"

Linnod dropped his eyes, and drew in a deep breath.

The humor was gone from his eyes, and Andreth stilled, realizing that perhaps she had strayed into questions that caused him pain.

"She is- gone away," he said simply. "And we had no children."

Andreth paused. Slain, perhaps, like Aelin's sister, or sailed into the west, seeking the comfort of the Undying Lands. It was not something she should ask about, in either case.

"I am sorry," she murmured.

Linnod looked up, and smiled sadly. "Thank you," he said. "It is probably for the best."

Best that she is gone, or best that they had no children?

Andreth wondered. Though she did not ask any more, sensing it would only cause him more pain.

"Master Linnod," she offered hastily, and his brows lifted at the hopeful tone in her voice. "The Harvest Festival is in two days. Will you be there?"

Linnod's face fell at this. "I do not think so. I do not often stay in one place very long. In truth, I have stayed here far longer than I meant."

"You have stayed this long, just for me," she said.

Linnod nodded. "Though I assure you, it has not been a sacrifice. I have enjoyed teaching you a skill that is dear to me. And I have enjoyed your acquaintance. I have known few of the Second Born, and if others of your people are like you, then I have great hope for your race. I do not doubt but that I will meet more of your kindred as the years pass. I hope they are like you."

"I still have so much to learn-"

"But you have already learned so much, that now, even without a teacher, you will progress. I am confident of that."

Andreth swallowed. "Then you will leave-"

"The day after tomorrow should be our last meeting."

Andreth dropped her eyes.

"You are sad because of my going, my lady?" Linnod's voice sounded sad, but there was also a tone of gratitude in it, as well. Linnod, she guessed, had few friends. Though she could not say why, except for his penchant to dwell alone in the woods, as she guessed he did. It seemed a strange thing, but then Oropher and his son and their people preferred to live in the forests and woods. Perhaps this elven man was as they were.

Andreth sighed. "I do not know you well," she said. "But you seem kind and honorable, and I have come to think of you as a friend. I will miss you when you go."

Linnod swallowed stiffly at this and his eyes gleamed. "I too, have come to see you as a friend, young Andreth," he said. "In truth the first friend I have had in many a year. And to know that you have as friends the half elven brothers who are Elrond and Elros, it is a double blessing. For you know them now as men, while I only-"

Linnod looked out the mouth of the cave, studying with a critical eye, the shadows of sunlight where they fell.

"You must go soon, yes?" he asked, quickly changing his words.

"Yes, for my lessons with Elrond in healing and herbs. Today he is taking me down into Mithlond to look in on a little mortal girl, a child of one of the mortal stone masons. She has one of those maladies that often afflict my race. She was unable to keep food down, and her mother grew anxious. But Elrond has been to see her, and she is doing better now."

Linnod smiled. "I am pleased to know he has come so far. A skillful healer, and a brave warrior. He has done well."

"As has Elros," she murmured.

Linnod's brows lifted, and Andreth felt herself blushing. She had not meant to sound so whistful.

"Elros has gone away for a few days, you said?" Linnod asked softly.

"Yes," she said. "He has gone with Lord Círdan to cut stone from a new quarry."

"Do you miss him?"

Andreth dropped her eyes, hearing more in the question than the words. "He has been gone but a few days, and should be gone but a few days more."

Linnod heaved a breath. "I should not keep you from your lesson with Elrond. But before you go," Linnod held out a hand to stay her as Andreth began to rise, "Play that song one last time, and this time, sing as you play."

Andreth furrowed her brow. "I have not yet tried to sing and play at the same time. I fear I will make mistakes."

"Do not fear to make mistakes," Linnod urged. "Fear, rather, not trying at all, my lady. Let yourself be one with the music, feel the light inside of your heart, and give it voice, with your fingers, and your lips."

Andreth nodded, and drew in a breath, lifting her fingers to the strings. She began to move her fingers over the strings, and as Linnod had instructed, felt for the warmth, the light inside of her that she had felt whenever she had sung before, and opened her mouth, letting it come forth in harmony with the music of her fingers. Her song was wordless but sweet as it wove through the notes from the harp in her hands. And though she did slip here and there on some of the strings as she had feared, still the song was fair and lovely, and gaining confidence, she lifted her voice higher.

For a moment, only silence came from Linnod, until a warm, deep timbre rose from his throat, rising like a warm sun over a distant hill, wordless like her own voice, though it seemed to speak without words, of peace and beauty as it wove in a perfect harmony with her own voice, and the soft notes of the harp.

Andreth looked at him, though she did not cease to sing, and smiled at Linnod whose eyes studied hers with the deep, heartbreaking gratitude of one who had not known joy for many years, and was only now remembering it.

The notes stilled, as did her voice, and his.

In the stillness, Linnod asked a question which trembled painfully in Andreth's heart. "You care for Elros, don't you? As more than a sister would."

Andreth looked away. How was it that so many could see what she struggled so much to hide, and to deny herself? Elrond, Galadriel, and now Linnod, a complete stranger.

"I am mortal, he is elf-kind," she said, without looking at Linnod.

"I know that," Linnod said with gentle air of a patient father. "That is not what I asked. What I wished to know, is do you love him?"

Andreth pursed her lips, without looking at the elven man. "It does not matter, for I cannot have him," she said, and turned away. "I must go now." She slipped out of the cave.

"Andreth," Linnod's voice called from behind her. But she did not look back as she moved past the waterfall and into the daylight without looking back. And Linnod did not follow.

...oOo...

The interior of the house was small, but clean and cheefully furnished with a rough hewn table, and several chairs about it. A small doll's cradle in the corner contained its resting occupant, the doll's stitched face, ever smiling and patient, awaiting the recovery of her caretaker whom Elrond bent over, his large hand gentle as it touched the little mortal girl's head.

The child looked up at him with weary but happy eyes, her yellow hair splayed out about her upon the pillow.

The child's mother, a round faced young woman of a few years older than Andreth herself, hovered nearby, her hands clasped, as she anxiously awaited Elrond's assessment.

"You are looking better, my little Wilwarin," he said to the little girl, his voice warm. "Your color is coming back nicely. Of course, you are always pretty."

"Thank you, Master Elrond," Wilwarin said, her eyes moving past him to Andreth where she stood behind the elf lord.

Andreth smiled, and the little girl returned it, but only tentatively.

"Who are you?" she asked. "I've not seen you here with Master Elrond before."

"This is Lady Andreth," Elrond introduced.

The little girl's brows puckered. "Oh," she said, and a hint of hurt gleamed in her eyes. "Are you his sweetheart?"

Elrond chuckled, as did Andreth and the child's mother. The little mortal was clearly smitten with the elven lord and loathed the idea of any competition for his attention.

"No," Andreth said. "We are only friends. He is teaching me to be a healer, as well. He is a good teacher."

"Master Elrond is good at everything," Wilwarin declared loyally.

"Not everything," Elrond said with a chuckle as he gave the little girl's hand a squeeze. "I don't think I'd look as pretty in a dress as you do."

To this, the child threw back her head, and laughed gleefully. "You don't wear dresses, Master Elrond!" she cried.

"Ah, there it is!" he exclaimed.

Her smile fell. "There is what?"

"Oh," Elrond sighed. "It went away again."

"What went away?" Wilwarin demanded.

"Your smile," Elrond sighed. "You have such a pretty smile. I wish I could see it."

Immediately, Wilwarin grinned broadly.

"There," he said warmly. "There's that pretty smile I know so well."

Elrond squeezed her hand again, and lifted his eyes to meet her mother's.

"You've been feeding her the tea I perscribed, Mistress Nell?"

"Yes, m'lord," the young woman said. "And a bit of warm broth as you said. Today I started feeding her bits of toasted bread."

"And she's kept them all down?"

"Yes, m'lord."

"Good," Elrond rose to his feet with a sigh. "Andreth will give you a bit more tea that will last for a few days. By then, the sickness that took her stomach should be gone, and she will be as good as before."

At his word, Andreth reached down into the pouch that hung over one shoulder, resting against her hip, and withdrew the dried packet of tea that would sooth the little girl's stomach.

"Thank you, my lady, my lord," Nell said, her eyes swimming as she accepted the packet of tea from Andreth. She turned and moved to the table where a leather pouch lay. "I wish that you would-,"

"We need no payment," Elrond said, shaking his head.

Nell sighed, and let the flap of the pouch fall shut. "You will take nothing?"

Elrond grinned back toward the little figure on the bed. "Perhaps one more smile from my little butterfly, and a promise that she will get well," he said, to which Wilwarin grinned in return.

"I will," she promised.

"That is all I need, then," Elrond said. "Good day to you, ladies," he said with a nod of his head, and turned to the door, Andreth following.

She traded a smile with the girl's mother as Nell opened the door for them, and the two stepped out into the light of the day. Several streets below them, the river Lhûn glittered beneath the sunlight.

"I must be to the lighthouse now," Elrond said, nodding toward the far rise of stone where the rising lighthouse stood against the sky, webs of scaffolding surrounding it, and men both mortal and elven moving about.

"Ai, your work is never done, Elrond," Andreth said, sympathetically.

"Neither is yours," Elrond said with a smile.

"Ah, but with Elros and Hathel gone, I have more leisure time. You don't."

"No doubt you use the time for more studying," he said with a grin.

Andreth smiled. "I've been learning to play the harp, Elrond," she said. "From a man named Linnod. He is not from Mithlond. But he says he knows you. Or did, once. His skill with the harp is very good. I've been learning quickly."

Elrond's eyes grew immediately concerned. "I know no one by that name. I never have. Much less one who could play the harp. Where does he give you your lessons?"

He cast his eyes about, as if expecting her to point to some spot in the city.

Andreth sighed. Elrond had suddenly taken on the air of a protective brother, and though his question slightly irritated her, at the same time she felt warmed by his concern. It served to remind her that though he was opposed to her feelings for his brother, he had not ceased to appreciate her as a friend. That thought was comforting.

"At the cave in the arm of the forest that comes down near to the sea. The cave where Maglor and Maedhros left you to be found, when you were young."

"Oh?" Now the worry in Elrond's eyes had grown into an obvious and fierce protectiveness. He turned fully to Andreth now. He reached out with one hand, and clasped her shoulder. "Why doesn't he come to Círdan's house to give you lessons? What sort of man is he? Do you even know? How long have you known him?" One brow raised as his eyes shot out sparks.

"Elrond!" Andreth protested, heaving a sigh. "He has done nothing untoward, and I have known him nearly a week. He is an elf who-"

"So was Eöl," Elrond cut in.

"But he is a good man," Andreth protested. "I can see it in his eyes."

Elrond pursed his lips, clearly unconvinced.

"He says he knows you," Andreth continued. "Come with me tomorrow, and see him for yourself."

Elrond nodded. "I will do that," he said. A grin touched his lips. "But if there is anything about him I do not like, Andreth, do not be surprised if I pitch him head forward through the waterfall."

With that, he offered her a final grin, then turned trotted away in the direction of the unfinished light house.

Andreth chuckled softly, shook her head, then turned her feet in the opposite direction.

...oOo...

"Ah my lady, that is magificent," Aelin cooed, studying the hanging tapestry that reached well above their heads, where it hung now on the wall, illuminated by the bright light of midday as it shone through the windows.

Galadriel smiled at Aelin's praise as she too studied the tapestry, dark blue, but for the bright star in the sky, beneath which stood two elven men, their faces clearly showing them to be the brothers Elrond and Elros.

The two women stood in the weaving room of Círdan's house, a bright, airy chamber filled often with the clatter of a loom, or the happy chatter of women, and music, and the merry sound of tapping feet, or swirling skirts as they danced in the middle of the room if they felt inclined, while one played the flute, and other kept time with a tamborine, without fear of an audience, for men were not allowed in here.

"It is Andreth's work," Galadriel said.

"It is marvelous," Aelin breathed, coming forward to touch a hand to the tapestry. "So lifelike as if they could simply step out of the tapestry."

Galadriel nodded in silent agreement. She wondered if Aelin noted, as she had only now that it was complete, that Elros' image stood a little nearer than his brother's, and looked directly out of the tapestry while Elrond's image, though as fair and detailed as his brother's, did not. Perhaps Andreth had not intended to do it, but now Galadriel could see what she had done. An observant study of the tapestry would reveal that the weaver slightly favored the younger of Eärendil's sons. And from what Galadriel had surmised by her visit with the mortal maiden, Andreth's feelings were greater than even this tapestry hinted.

"Would you like to see her newest work, Aelin?" Galadriel asked. "She only started it a few days ago."

"Please, my lady," her friend urged turning from the tapestry of the elven lords. "Show it to me."

"Oh, it will please you, Aelin," Galadriel promised as she led the younger elven woman toward the loom on which the mortal maiden's new tapestry was taking shape. At the top of the loom, the background had begun, a forest scene of green trees and vines, and the face of a young elven woman with long silver hair was becoming visible.

"Lovely," Aelin commented as she stopped before Andreth's loom and studied the face. "Who is she?"

"I do not know," Galadriel said. "She says it is from a picture that Lord Elrond drew, and showed to her."

Aelin looked from the face of the maiden on the cloth to Galadriel and back again. "My lady, the maiden looks somewhat like you," she observed. "As if she could be kindred. A daughter, perhaps."

"Indeed," Galadriel said thoughtfully, bending her head to the side, and observing the maiden forming upon the cloth. "I suppose you are right. She has my lord's eyes, as well, now that you speak on it. And the color of her hair is as his."

Galadriel's eyes grew soft and thoughtful. And a moment later, she smiled.

"Ah, my lady, what is this?"

Aelin's tone of voice had changed, and Galadriel's smile fell at the distress in her voice.

Half hidden behind the threads of the loom, sat a finely carved harp.

"It is Andreth's," Galadriel said. "She had it in her hands when she returned this morning."

"From where?"

"Down beside the sea," Galadriel returned, keeping her voice soft though Aelin's tone had grown distressed. "She spends her mornings down there now that Lord Elros has gone for a few days."

"And she returned with a harp, my lady?" Aelin said. "Is there a musician's shop down beside the seashore?"

"Aelin, do not distress yourself," Galadriel soothed. "It is only a harp, and no harm has befallen Andreth. She said it was a friend's, and she means to return it, but she had to hurry away with Elrond."

"It looks like- his," Aelin fairly hissed the last word.

Galadriel reached for Aelin's hand, and gently squeezed. "There are many harps, Aelin. It is not likely that it could be Maglor's. Come, my friend. You rarely have time to rest. Let us have some tea together, and talk of pleasant things. Andreth should be home soon."

With an expression of reluctant obedience, Aelin nodded. She followed as Galadriel turned away from the loom, but she glanced back over her shoulder at the harp that sat half hidden behind the weft threads as if it were a naughty child hiding from a scolding.

She dropped her eyes, then turned and followed after Galadriel.

...oOo...

Andreth's eyes stayed down as she walked up the sloping street toward the western gate. Círdan's house rose above the wall at the crest of the hill, a sight that had become almost as dear as Firiel's little hut still was in her thoughts.

She had much to do today, including returning Linnod's harp. She felt silly for having accidentally left with it. She had not meant to, but had felt so distressed from his question about Elros, that she had forgotten to set it down. She hoped he would not be too sorrowful without it, for the few hours he would be parted from it.

Her eyes were down, fixed upon a square of parment in her hand. A letter from Firiel, though written in the hand of Baran, her neighbor, who must have written Firiel's words as she spoke them.

"I am staying, for now, with Baran and his good family," she could almost hear Firiel's voice say, "for his goodwife, Lómë, has fallen ill. I have brought Lavaniel with me, so she is cared for, and have come to help Baran with his three little ones. I miss you, but am so very proud of you. I do not doubt you are learning much, and have become quite a fine lady in Círdan's house. Give good Lord Círdan my greetings, and give my greetings also to Lords Elros and Elrond whom I know I can never repay for what they did for you.

"All my love,"

And here, in a hand like a child's, Firiel had written her own name, "Firiel."

Andreth smiled, and pressed a kiss to the parchment as she walked, but a moment later, her smile fell as running footsteps, sounded from behind, and a man's voice.

"Please, my lady," a man's voice pled. "For the love of all that is good-"

Andreth spun about to see a disheveled man, a young mortal who staggered to a stop, bent nearly double, his trembling arms braced against his knees.

She recognized him vaguely. He was a stonecutter as Hathel was. Sweat stained his tunic, and his chest heaved. His dark hair was plastered against his head, damp with sweat. He had clearly been running for some time.

His eyes fell to the bag about her shoulder, and he staggered forward.

"My lady, please, I beg you, I need your help!"

He caught hold of Andreth's hand, stumbling to one knee as he did.

"What's wrong?" Andreth demanded, her thoughts flying about like leaves in a wild wind. What had happened? Was there some terrible accident at the lighthouse?

She imagined piles of collapsed scaffolding, bodies crushed and buried beneath it- Elrond, Celeborn, Oropher and his son Thranduil, the king Gil Galad, all were there. What had happened to them?

The man sucked in another breath. "My wife was feeling poorly today, so I stayed home with her," the man choked, relieving her of one fear, though his words, filled with anxiety as they were, did not sooth Andreth. "But her pains have started, and the midwife- is across the bay. Lord Elrond is at the lighthouse-" he pointed at the distant, unfinished structure. "I know you are his apprentice. And she needs help now. There is something- something wrong. Please come. Please help. I do not know who else-"

A fire leapt up in Andreth at this.

"Lead the way," she ordered, and as the man scrambled to his feet, and sprinted down the hill, she followed him, her legs flying as swiftly as she could make them run.


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