The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 22

Chapter 22

The evening sun fell at a slant through the windows of the room where Andreth sat before her loom, her fingers moving carefully over the threads where the tapestry of Elrond's dream maiden was slowly coming to life. The girl's face seemed so lifelike and real, and Andreth felt amazed that she was indeed its creator. How she was doing it, she could not say, unless it were her own explanation that she simply looked at the bare white threads, and put onto them the image that she saw in her mind. And the picture Elrond had shown her, of the fair maiden, whose hair he had said was silver, had burned itself into her thoughts.

Images rarely did this in her mind, but now, somehow, the picture was still there, amazingly clear, and here she was, as afternoon fell slowly toward evening, busily making the image of Elrond's dream maiden come slowly to life before it left her thoughts.

She felt something of a kinship with the face taking shape upon the cloth, though she could not say why. She did not know who the girl was, nor even did Elrond. He had said he had seen her in his dreams. Perhaps she was not even a real person.

But then again, Andreth wondered to herself as she recalled the words between herself and her dream of Elros, perhaps the maiden was real.

It was impossible, Andreth knew, to dream of something before she had truly learned it in the waking world. And her dream of Elros had been speaking from the beginning of her dreams of him, of his choice between mortality and immortality. He almost always spoke as if the dream were his, not hers. And why would a creation of her own thoughts do such things?

Andreth swallowed stiffly at a swell of emotion as she remembered also the sweet confessions of love that her dream prince had spoken well before Elrond had admitted that his brother had confided his feelings to him. Why, after all Elrond had said to convince her that she should never seek after his brother, had he admitted his brother's feelings to her? A confession that he must have known could only hurt her, now? Had he thought, somehow, that such words would be welcome? How could they be, now that she knew what would happen to Elros if she became his wife? Either he would succumb to a death he did not need to face, or he would remain alone for the rest of the ages of the world after she died. Andreth wanted neither for him.

But surely it was not too late for Elros. Perhaps his feelings for her were only fleeting, and he could recover. Would, certainly, if he thought her feelings were not returned. Then Elros could heal, and find another one day. Especially if he did not know of her own feelings.

And, of course, after all this worry, if the man in her dreams was only a figment of her own thoughts and not Elros himself, then he would not return with such a necklace as he had promised he would in her dreams, and did not feel such abiding, undying adoration for her as he had so often boldly claimed in the star washed dreamland where she always found him.

Wishing to take her thoughts off of all that troubled her, Andreth glanced down at the harp that sat half hidden behind the threads on her loom, peeking at her like a shy child. But this turn of thought only sent a shaft of guilt through her as she thought of Linnod.

She had not intended to leave with the harp this morning, but she had felt so distressed at Linnod's question about her feelings for Elros that she had not thought to set the harp down.

Linnod had little else but this harp. Was he suffering without it? Surely he knew she would return with it the next day, but still, she guessed now that she might have stolen something far more valuable to her new friend than she imagined.

Andreth sighed as she tamped into place a strand of blue thread that nearly finished the elven maiden's blue eyes, and sat back, gazing into the fair girl's face.

"Well, sister," she murmured to the motionless face upon the cloth. "What should I do? Return it to him now, or wait until our meeting on the morrow?"

The unfinished tapestry spoke not at all, and Andreth turned, glancing about the room, hoping no one saw her speaking to herself.

"It would do little harm, surely, to return it now, or at least try," she reasoned with the silent, lovely face. "If he is not in the cave, he might be nearby, enough to hear my voice if I call, and if he is not anywhere that I can find, then I will know I have tried, and will simply return it tomorrow, with my apologies."

With a sigh, she glanced toward the window, studying the golden light as it spilled through. It was still some time before the evening meal. She could take the harp back to the cave in the hopes that she might find Linnod, and then return before supper.

Setting her shuttle down, Andreth rose, and picked up the harp.

Passing out of the door of the weaving room, she met Aelin coming toward her, a tray bearing a silver pitcher and two cups in her hands.

"My lady," Aelin greeted, her smile faltering when she saw the harp Andreth held.

"Greetings, Aelin," she said with a smile.

"I was coming to see if you wanted refreshment," Aelin said, her voice somewhat fallen.

"I am well enough for now, but thank you. I will be back soon," Andreth said, moving past the elven woman, but Aelin turned and followed her, her eyes grown guarded.

"Where are you going?" Aelin asked.

Her voice sounded much like Elrond's had that morning, when she had told him of Linnod.

Andreth stopped and turned back. "Down to the shore to return this to a friend who has been teaching me to play it these last few days. I misplaced my thoughts, and left with it this morning when I should not have."

"Does she live always down at the seashore, that you would know to go there to return it to her?"

Andreth drew in a breath, bracing for the worry she knew she would see in Aelin's eyes, as she had in Elrond's when she told him who her teacher was.

"My friend is not- a woman. He is a man, an elven man, whose name is Linnod-" She paused. "He is very kind, and honorable, Aelin," she hurriedly spouted when she saw her friend's eyes grow steely, and her expression harden. "He has taught me to play the harp, and to sing as I play- He is very skillful."

"Indeed," Aelin returned, her voice cold, and her expression taut as steel. Aelin's face had not relaxed at Andreth's assuring words, rather she had only grown more stiff with each word the mortal maiden spoke.

In all the months she had known her, Andreth had never known Aelin's usually gentle countenance to look like this.

"What does he look like?" Aelin's words had darkened.

Andreth paused as a glimmer of uncertain fear touched her heart. "Aelin-" she began.

Aelin, seeming to realize her hardness, let her expression ease a little, but she asked again, "Is his hair light? Dark?"

"His hair is dark," Andreth said. "Do you know him?"

Aelin shook her head, her expression grown unreadable. "I know no one named Linnod."

The elven woman drew in and released a breath. She managed a smile, though it seemed stiff. "Forgive me, Andreth, you may go. But return soon. The evening meal is nearly ready."

"I will," Andreth said, and with a grateful smile, turned and hurried to the door that led out to the veranda, and down the stone steps toward the sandy shore of the sea.

She did not see as she went, Aelin's expression harden again, her eyes sparking with cold fire as she set down her silver tray on a small side table, and turn away, her frame stiff with determination, and her feet swift.

...oOo...

Elros' eyes gaze straight ahead as the small group of weary elves and mortals moved slowly along the road that would lead them back again toward Mithlond.

A few rods ahead of where he rode slowly on Nórui's back, the wagon where Lang and Sigil sat, pulled by the patient work horses no longer clattered emptily along as it had on their journey to the new quarry, but bumped and grinded over the road, moving slowly laden as it was, with their load of cut stone. They had cut enough stone in their few days at the quarry that they were returning earlier than they had expected, and Elros was weary but pleased, for now they would return in time for the greater part of the Festival, and, he hoped, he could spend time with Andreth during the festivities.

Mithlond was visible now in the distance, the rising towers blue against the far horizon, and Elros could see the glittering waters of the Lhûn.

Andreth is there, he thought to himself, as a welcome warmth stirred within him. My fair Tindómiel. He drew in a sigh, imagining the light in her face at his return, the soft touch of her hand as he grasped it in his own. Mayhap the fair mortal maiden would be so pleased at his return, that she would throw her arms about his shoulders and embrace him. The warmth within him flickered into a flame as he imagined the soft feel of her body against his own, his arms circling about her slender waist to pull her more firmly to himself. In all the months he had known her, Elros had never embraced Andreth, keeping the contact between them to a touch of the hand, or a glance of an eye, ever within the bounds of propriety. But he could imagine how holding her in his arms would feel. It would be absolute ecstacy to hold her, to feel her soft, warm body against his own. If even for a brief moment.

But would she welcome it, herself? he wondered, recalling her rebuff when he had tried to kiss her in the waterfall cave near the shore. What are her feelings for me?

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hathel's eyes upon him, and he turned his head, meeting the mortal's gaze.

Hathel now looked full at Elros, his gaze almost challenging as if he guessed at the thoughts that had been simmering in Elros' mind just now.

"What is it, Master Hathel?" Elros asked.

"Nothing, my lord." Hathel's words held a faint bite to them, and Elros caught Círdan's eye where the silver-haired shipwright rode, on Hathel's other side. The ancient elf said nothing, though he offered Elros an encouraging glance.

"Only that-" Hathel swallowed stiffly, and turned his eyes to look toward the wagon that ground slowly along the road ahead of them.

Elros followed his gaze to see the shadowed eyes of Lang looking back at him. The swarthy mortal's lips were tight behind the scruff of his beard, and his eyes were cold.

"With all respect due to you, my lord," Hathel continued, his voice lower now, "I think you were a fool to tell him about his cousin, Lhûg."

"I had little other choice," Elros returned, hearing a faint defensiveness in his tone. Who was this young upstart, to call him a fool? Elros had lived more years than this- this infant's grandfather! "My knowing the fate of his kinsman and not telling him, would have been ignoble."

"Even so," Hathel began stiffly but Elros cut him off again.

"And if Lang is one to avenge a kinsman who was not wronged so much as he wronged another," Elros continued, "why permit him into Mithlond at all?"

Hathel's eyes narrowed. "He seemed a strong, able worker. I did not know-"

"Hathel, Elros, please," Círdan's voice gently cut into their soft, though heated debate, easing the tightness of Elros' heart. "What I think Hathel is saying, Elros, is that you would do well to watch yourself around Lang, from now on. He of himself, has committed no crime as yet. So far as we know, aside from his crass, and foolish talk. It was his kinsman who did that, and he is dead. But there is a shadow in Lang that gives me unease and which has darkened these last days since you told him of his cousin's fate, and what you were forced to do, to save our goodly friend, Andreth."

Elros met Hathel's eyes, and then Círdan's where the ancient elf rode on Hathel's left side.

"But you were right to tell him, for Lang needed to know," Círdan said softly. "Do with that knowledge what he would."

"It is true then?" Hathel asked in a softened voice that cracked faintly. "Andreth was nearly-"

"Nearly robbed of her virtue, yes," Círdan said with a sad sigh. "And thank the All Father, and the Valar, Elros heard her screams and stopped her attacker in time."

Silence fell as Hathel lowered his eyes, pondering this. "I am glad you were there, Lord Elros." Hathel's voice had fallen to a reverent whisper. "For Andreth's sake."

Elros looked up, meeting the mortal's eyes, and realized that they were unguarded, and free of enmity.

"You would have done the same, had you been in my place, Master Hathel," he said.

To this, Hathel offered him a weak and fleeting half smile before it fell away. The young mortal turned away and fixed his eyes ahead. "But I wasn't," he muttered softly to himself. "And you were."

Elros said nothing to this as he too looked forward, meeting Lang's darkened gaze. Círdan was right. There seemed a shadow behind the swarthy mortal's eyes, a dark brooding shadow that simmered and swirled like a bridled storm. Lang narrowed his eyes when Elros did not break his gaze, and turned forward. But Elros still recalled the coldness in his eyes, and knew he would do well to remember it.

...oOo...

"Aelin, where are you going?"

Aelin looked up sharply to see Galadriel studying her with a kindly, though curious gaze, then looked down at the small knife sheath she had just belted around her waist. It did look strangely out of place on her, but she looked up again, meeting the wise eyes of the golden haired lady.

She drew in a breath. "I am going to follow Andreth," she said simply. "She says she is going to return the harp she brought home this morning to her friend. She should not have gotten far by now, and I could still follow her from a distance without being seen." Aelin lifted her chin, her eyes sparking. "And did you know this friend whose harp she has, is a man, my lady? A dark-haired elven man she says who can both sing and play the harp with great skill?"

Galadriel sighed, and placed a gentle hand upon Aelin's shoulder. "That does not mean that he is Maglor, Aelin."

"But if he is," Aelin said, touching a hand to the hilt of the small knife she now carried at her hip. She did not finish her words, and instead backed away from Galadriel, turned, and hurried away, darting out the door onto the veranda where the sunlight of the late afternoon fell.

Galadriel watched her go, making no attempt to follow after her. Instead, the golden haired lady turned, and glided with swift steps in the opposite direction. Her fair brow furrowed, and her eyes filled with worry.

...oOo...

"Linnod?"

Andreth's voice echoed in the empty cave as she paused at the entrance, the waterfall clattering ceaselessly beside her.

Pursing her lips, she turned, and retreated down the path a pace, glancing about herself.

"Linnod!" she called again, hearing her voice bounce back to her from the cliff face, and the trees about her.

He had to be somewhere nearby. Clutching his harp close to herself, Andreth scrambled up the cliff at a place where the rocks jutted out, and tree roots scrabbled down the rocks, giving her easy foot and handholds, and clambered up the steep slope until it reached level place where she was able to stand upright, and glance around. The stream that poured over the waterfall meandered away into the thickness of the trees before her, further into deeper shadow, and to her right, she could see late afternoon sunlight and the open plain where upon a high rising bluff, she could see Círdan's house.

"Linnod!" she called again, turning her face back to the forest toward the deeper shadows, her voice echoing far and away into the trees. No voice that she could hear, called back to her, but Andreth drew in a breath, picked up the hem of her skirt, and started following the stream. If she could not find him, she could find her way back easily, so long as she stayed with the stream.

"Linnod!" she cried again, holding his arm protectively against herself with both arms as she moved deeper into the shadows. staying always beside the clattering stream that was serving now as her guide.

Above her head, the canopy was thickening, blocking out the sunlight, and the trees about her were growing thicker, their roots more gnarled, their trunks thrusting higher than their brothers nearer to the edges of the forest.

The undergrowth was less dense here, and the shadows were more thick. Less light pierced the canopy here, she realized, and no undergrowth could grow here, in this place of constant twilight.

"Linnod! Where are you?" she cried again. "I have returned with your harp. I am sorry I took it with me. I did not mean to!"

Her voice echoed away through the trees that stood like the pillars of some great vast hall.

Andreth drew in a sigh, and shrank closer to the clattering stream, her only familiar companion. She hugged the harp close, and turned, looking over her shoulder. Far and away, she could see faint hints of light, that let her know the edge of the forest was near. And the stream was every close at hand.

Andreth squinted, wondering what it was she had seen ducking behind a tree. A faint shadow, or perhaps nothing at all. Her heart quickened.

Linnod was not here. Perhaps it would be best to turn around before her mind played any more tricks on her.

"You did not need to come looking for me, my friend," Linnod's welcoming, familiar voice chided, and Andreth spun again, grinning as the dark haired elf stepped from behind the wide trunk of a fat tree, and bowed graciously to her. "But it is good to see you in any case."

Andreth grinned and took in the welcome sight of him. She returned his courtly gesture with a graceful curtsy of her own. This was the first time, she realized, that she had seen him outside of Elros' cave. He seemed taller here in the woods than she had first thought, the star, or jewel emblazoned upon his chest seeming to gather what little light there was, and illuminate the forest around them.

"I meant to return your harp, Master Linnod." She held out the instrument to him, and with a grin, he came forward, eagerly to claim it. "I should not have left so hurriedly."

"I should not have pressed you with questions that I had not place to ask," he said, taking the instrument into his hands, cradling the instrument as if it were a lost child, only just returned to its worried father.

Andreth sighed a breath, grateful for the elven man's care in withholding Elros' name for the moment.

"I missed you, old friend," he murmured to the instrument, plucking a few strings, and sending forth a sweet refrain.

He looked up at Andreth. "Athough you did not need to do so. I knew I would see you again, tomorrow. I did not fear for this dear friend. I knew it was in good hands."

Andreth shrugged, pleased with the gratitude in his eyes. "I must admit, my lord, Linnod, I came not merely to return your harp, but because I was also curious. I wanted to see where you dwelt when you are not teaching me."

Linnod smiled. "Then come," he said congenially. "I will show you."

He gestured with his hand, and Andreth followed him around to the far side of the fat tree.

Following any other man like this, mortal or elf, deeper into an already dark forest would be a foolish thing, Andreth acknowledged to herself. But Linnod, she knew, was honorable, and she could trust him. She had known it from her first meeting simply by the kindness she had seen in his eyes. Such kindness could never be feined, not by the most skillful charlatan.

"Here is were I dwell, at least for now," he said gesturing to what seemed a large knot in the tree, the size of a man, overhung with thick moss. But as he drew the moss aside, Andreth realized the tree was hollow on the inside, and the knot opened into a small room.

Upon one side, a bedroll lay unrolled upon the earthen floor, and in the middle of the hollowed chamber a small gracefully fashioned lamp hung from the woody ceiling, putting forth a single, humble flame. upon the wall hanging from jutting bits of wood, hung various packs and pouches which she guessed contained his personal effects, clothing, and food, perhaps.

"Astounding," Andreth breathed. "When I was small, my guardian Firiel permitted me to built a treehouse in the branches of one of the trees on her land. She even let me sleep there now and then, when the weather was warm enough to permit it. I thought it was such an adventure to sleep in a tree. But you truly sleep in a tree! I have never done so."

Linnod began to chuckle at this, but then a moment later, his smile fell, and he tipped his head, as if suddenly listening for something.

He glanced behind her, and around himself, a faint expression of uncertainty in his eyes. "Did anyone come with you? Any elves?"

"No," Andreth said, her smile fading as well as she remembered the shadow she had thought she had seen behind her in the trees. "I came alone. Though I spoke to Elrond of you-"

His brow furrowed at this.

"Andreth, get away from him!"

Andreth turned suddenly, her eyes going wide at the sight of Aelin.

Her friend, breathing swiftly, her eyes flaming with anger, stepped from behind a nearby tree, clutching a small dagger in one hand.

"This is not your quarrel," Aelin choked, "and I don't want you hurt."

"Aelin!" Andreth cried, startled as she moved to step between the elven woman and Linnod. "This is Linnod. I promise you, he is a friend. He wasn't going to hurt me!"

Aelin scoffed at this. "Of course he wasn't going to hurt you! You have no silmaril! But were you to be holding one in your hand at this moment, all vows of friendship would be forgotten, and if you did not surrender it to him, he would cut your hand off at the wrist, simply to take the cursed jewel from you!"

"Aelin!" Andreth protested, her eyes flying between her friend, and Linnod. Aelin held herself as if she meant to lunge at Linnod any moment, and only Andreth's presence was keeping her from doing so.

Despite her obvious desire to attack him, Linnod stood unmoving against the trunk of the tree, his arms at his sides, his head half bent, his eyes downcast as if in defeat, or shame. At the corner of one eye, Andreth saw a tear. He had dropped his harp, and it lay forlorn between where Andreth stood, and Aelin. But Andreth did not dare to bend to retrieve it for fear that Aelin would attack Linnod then.

"And his name," Aelin spat, "is not Linnod!"

"What-" Andreth choked, fury and frustration mingling with the confusion already roiling in her heart, "If his name is not Linnod, then what is it, Aelin?"

"Ask him yourself, Andreth," Aelin snapped. "If all the innocent blood he has shed, does not choke his throat!"

Andreth turned toward the elven man, her brow furrowing. "Linnod?" she questioned in a voice that had grown small.

"Forgive me for my deception, my lady Andreth," he choked, his voice thick with sorrow. "I had feared if I told you my true name, that you would not wish to visit me. And I have truly enjoyed your company and friendship these few days, and teaching you the skills I cherish so very much."

From where she stood, Aelin made a thick scoffing sound in her throat.

Andreth for the moment, ignored the elven woman. "Please my friend, what is your name, if not Linnod?" Andreth pleaded.

At this, the single tear in the elven man's eye escaped, and trailed a silver line down his cheek.

A ragged breath filled his lungs. "My name," he murmured, "is Maglor, son of Fëanor."


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