The Choice of Elros

Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Andreth's heart felt as if it had turned into ice as her eyes stared at the elven man, whom moments before, she would have sworn was one who could never harm anyone, his gentle eyes and fatherly smile incapable of belonging to a man who could commit the unspeakable kinslayings that he had.

But his name had fallen from his own lips, Maglor, son of Fëanor.

Before her stood one of those who had slain his kindred at Alqualondë, at Doriath, at the Mouths of Sirion. She staggered back a space, feeling upon her shoulders the sudden weight of all the innocents this man had slain.

"Maglor," she muttered in a voice that was hardly her own. He nodded, still with the eyes, the face of the one whom she had come to know as Linnod, but now with an expression of deepest grieving.

How had she not seen? His harp, his voice- the very jewel emblazoned upon his worn and ragged jerkin-

"I am- sorry," he choked. His words fell from his lips, weighted. Andreth realized he was not merely speaking to her of his deception, but of all he had done, of all the blood he had spilt, knowing as he spoke the words, that he could never make recompence for his deeds.

He turned to Aelin. "So very sorry."

"Your words cannot bring back the dead, Fëanorion," Aelin snarled.

Andreth again became conscious that she still stood between the elven woman and the minstrel. But she did not move.

"I know." Maglor crushed his eyes shut. Wetness spilled from beneath his eyelids, streaming down his cheeks. "But I wish that they could."

Aelin's breast rose and fell with her increasing fury. "You can't, Fëanorion! Those you killed will never walk these shores again!" She swallowed hard, and edged a step nearer. "You spilled rivers of innocent blood! And for what?" She gestured her free hand at his chest. "A shining bauble! How is such a thing worth more than a life?" She choked on a sob, "Than my sister's life?" She sneered at him, her own eyes filled with tears. "You are a murderer."

Aelin's foot kicked something on the ground in front of her that vibrated, and Andreth's eyes dropped to Maglor's harp, where it lay upon the ground where it had fallen from his helpless hands.

Snatching it up from the ground, Aelin studied it for a moment, before she slashed the knife through several of the strings that snapped with sharp, painful twangs before casting it aside where it fell, and lay still, its severed strings splayed in several directions like a slain creature its intestines spilled over the ground. Andreth stared at it in dismay. The beautiful harp!

As if her deed had struck him a physical blow, Maglor sagged back against the rough bark of the tree, his legs almost buckling beneath him. Only the solid bark of the tree kept him from crumpling to the ground.

"That is nothing," Aelin spat, "compared to what you did!"

Standing between the two adversaries, Andreth felt numb. Aelin's words, she knew, were all true. Before her crumpled like one thoroughly defeated, was a man who had slain uncounted numbers of his own kindred in pursuit of the gleaming jewels his father had wrought. His mission had been futile and unjust, his oath foolish. And yet- this same elf had spared Elros and Elrond, and he had been so kind to her, his eyes lighting with pleasure he could not have feigned as she played the songs he had taught her. His friendship, she had thought, had seemed so sincere.

"And where are they now, your precious silmarilli?" Aelin demanded. "The remaining two that you stole away from Eönwë himself? Where are they now? Where is Maedhros?"

"They burned our hands," Maglor choked. He held out his right hand, palm outward, to show a round reddened scar upon his palm that Andreth had failed to notice before. "For our sins, we could not hold them. Russandol could not take the pain, nor part with the jewel, and so with it, he threw himself into a crack in the earth, and perished."

"What of you, Maglor?" Andreth whispered, studying the last living son of Fëanor with a numb heart.

"Mine, I threw into the sea," he said in a cracking voice. "As far out as my strength could hurl it." His moist eyes grew distant for a moment. "It hung in the evening sky like a star- before it fell, and disappeared beneath the waves."

"And you still live," Aelin growled.

"If you can call it that." Maglor sighed raggedly. "My heart still beats."

"I will still it soon," Aelin insisted, drawing a step forward. "Andreth, step away from him."

The mortal maiden looked up, meeting the fierce eyes of her gentle friend.

"No, Aelin," she murmured. "Killing him will not bring your sister back. It will only-"

"Get out of my way, Andreth." Aelin snarled. "I put venom on the blade, and one scratch will send him into long and painful agonies before he dies. You are mortal, and would die all the faster."

Still, the mortal maiden stood her ground. "No, Aelin."

Snarling like a wild cat, Aelin lunged forward at this, one arm striking Andreth hard in the shoulder, and knocking her to the side. Andreth stumbled and fell to the leaf strewn ground, her shoulder throbbing. She leapt up quickly and spun.

Aelin's left forearm was thrust against Maglor's throat, pinning him up against the trunk of the tree, the blade still clutched in her hand, and though his strength surely outmatched her own, Maglor did not struggle. His eyes gleamed with wetness, as he met Aelin's furious gaze unflinching.

Aelin was sobbing now, the blade in her hand pressed against the elven man's cheek. "My father was slain by werewolves helping Finrod and the mortal Beren, and my mother died of grief. My husband fell in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, leaving me heartbroken, and childless. My sister was all I had left on these shores. She was so beautiful, and so kind and good. And you took her from me!"

Andreth wanted to leap forward, and snatch Aelin's arm to pull the knife away, but instead she stood frozen, not daring to move. Andreth could see the indent of his skin beneath the blade. The slightest movement would cut the skin, and send death coursing through his veins.

"I am guilty of all that you say," Maglor confessed, choking on his own emotion. "And with all that I am, I would that I could bring her back. But I cannot."

"I should kill you now," Aelin snarled.

"No, Aelin, please," Andreth pleaded, stepping nearer. "Don't do this. Killing him this way will only put blood on your hands. Let him go. For your own sake, Aelin. Please. Is it not enough that he can never return to the Blessed Realm for his deeds? He is no more a danger to anyone here. He will kill no more. I have seen it in his eyes."

"So he wishes you to believe," Aelin snarled softly. She turned back to Maglor, her jaw trembling, and tears falling from her eyes. "Why should I show mercy to you, when you did not show mercy to my sister?"

The thunder of a horse's hooves cut through any answer Maglor would have given.

"Aelin, no!" Elrond's voice was a sharp pleading cry, which caused Aelin to jerk her head in the direction of the sound.

Her knife withdrew from Maglor's face, and at this, Andreth, without conscious thought, threw herself forward, grasping Aelin's wrist with one hand, while she struggled to snatch the hilt of the knife away with her other.

Aelin reacted, unthinking, and wrenched the knife back. The blade slipped from Andreth's grasp, slicing across her palm, leaving a line of white hot pain behind, and eliciting a sharp cry of surprise and pain from Andreth's lips.

But this burning pain did not stay in her palm, rather it flashed like a flame, up into her arm as if the whole of that limb was suddenly consuming in an invisible inferno.

A wild shriek tore from Andreth's lips now as she crumpled to the ground in agony, clutching the wrist of her slashed palm.

"No!" The anguished wail came now from Aelin, who, staggered back, a look of horror upon her face. Aelin threw the blade away from her, and dropped to her knees, her eyes wild with guilt and despair.

Every muscle in Andreth's body seemed to contract in agony, and Andreth found herself barely able to breath.

Two faces appeared above her, and through the haze of her pain, she recognized Elrond, and Linnod, no, Maglor.

"There was venom on the blade," Maglor choked.

"What kind?" Elrond shouted. "Aelin, what kind?"

"Tree viper venom," Aelin choked.

Elrond looked toward Aelin in disbelief. "Where did you get it?"

"A vial in your apothocary."

To this, Elrond uttered a soft curse.

"I must get her back to Círdan's house, now!" he said, and his arms scooped beneath Andreth, picking her up from the ground.

Pain crackled through her body at the movement, and Andreth crushed her teeth together, writhing in Elrond's arms.

"Elros!" she cried, the name tearing from her lips. In her pain, she was hardly conscious of what she was saying. "Where is Elros?"

"He's coming," Elrond said to her, turning away. "Stay with me, Andreth, and you will see him soon."

In the corner of her eye, she saw Maidh, the white mare, her coat glimmering in the forest gloam.

"No, Eärendilion," Maglor snapped, and a strong arm jerked Elrond to a halt. "She is mortal, and the poison will work faster in her. Her wound must be treated, now, or she will die! At best, she will lose her hand, or her arm!"

"You have herbs here to draw out the poison?"

"I have Athelas."

"Athelas is extinct!" Elrond barked back. "It grew only in Beleriand and was all lost when Beleriand was sunken."

"I have dried leaves and seeds with me, boy!" Maglor barked. " It is the swiftest and strongest herb to draw out the poison. It is her only chance! Stop arguing, and get her inside!"

Without further argument, Elrond followed the last son of Fëanor through the mossy doorway into the small hollowed chamber within the tree, the flickering light of the small lamp passing above her face in a blur as Elrond moved to lay her down upon the bedroll.

There was movement in the room. Maglor jerked one of the bags from the wall, and plunged his hand inside. "See?" he insisted, drawing out a handful of crumpled leaves.

Elrond gasped, and seized upon these in an instant, crumpling them in his palm as he turned and dropped to his knees at Andreth's side. He spat furiously into his cupped palm, pressing his free thumb into the leaves, mixing them in with his spittle.

"Open her hand for me," he ordered, "we must press this into the wound." The minstrel obeyed, seizing the wrist of Andreth's burning arm, and forcing the fingers open.

The movement caused new pain to rake along her arm, and Andreth could not keep back a choking wail of pain.

"Dear Valar," Maglor muttered in a sickened voice as he forced her fingers open. Andreth turned her head to look though she dreaded what she would see.

A gash knifed across her palm, long but surprisingly shallow for the agony it sent through her. It bled little, but outward from the long cut, ugly purplish veins slashed raggedly away, up into her fingers, and down her forearm, disappearing into her sleeve like streaks of wicked lightening. Elrond pressed a hand hard against the flesh of her forearm near her elbow and pressed upward toward her palm. The pain of his hand's weight elicited another choking wail of pain, but Elrond did not ease the pressure of his hand. As his hand neared her wrist, an ooze of blood, laced through with streaks of black escaped the gash on her palm. Elrond hastily brushed this away with his thumb before pressing the mass of dampened leaves into the open wound.

The moment the poultice of leaves touched her gash, the firey pain in her arm began to ease, the burning agony drawing back down her arm toward her slashed palm where Elrond pressed the crushed leaves even deeper into the wound. Even as she watched, the purple slashes up her fingers and her forearm began to ease and fade. Feeling returned to her fingers, and Andreth twitched them experiementally.

"I've killed her, haven't I?" a broken voice choked in the doorway, and Aelin's pale face appeared. The elven woman sagged against the side of the opening. Her countenance was so stricken, that Andreth wanted nothing more than to rush to her friend and comfort her. But her body felt drained and heavy despite the fading pain.

"No, Aelin," Elrond said in a weary voice as he looked over his shoulder, "she will not die. This athelas is drawing out the poison even as I speak."

"Oh," Aelin's voice was small. Her eyes roved reluctantly to Maglor. "Had Fëanorion not had the herb-"

"He had it," Elrond cut in forcefully. "I will not think of what would have happened had he not."

Aelin fell silent and dropped her eyes.

"Aelin," Elrond said now, his voice grown gentler.

"My lord?" Aelin choked in a voice that was barely her own.

"Ride Maidh back to the house of Lord Círdan. Find my bag of healing herbs and wrappings. Knot it to Maidh's saddle, then send her back here. She will find the way easily enough on her own, now. Then seek out the Lady Galadriel and tell her what has happened. She is waiting for news of us all."

Maglor stirred and opened his mouth as if he wished to speak, but then he fell silent, and said nothing.

Aelin spoke in a soft voice. "The lady sent you?"

"She worried about you." Elrond nodded. "She feared you might do something-" He looked over his shoulder at Aelin, then at Maglor, "that you could not undo."

Aelin said nothing to this. She looked down, then turned and left the doorway, the dark curtain of moss falling back in its place with a soft swishing sound.

A moment later, the sound of hooves against the ground thumped away, and faded.

"Andreth?" Elrond asked, touching a gentle hand to Andreth's cheek and studying her face. He smiled when he noted her open eyes.

"Elrond," she said through a voice that felt as if she had swallowed cotton. "I will not die?"

"No," he said. "You will live, my friend." His eyes grew wet. "You will see Elros again."

"I will not lose my hand?"

"No," Elrond said, his smile quivering as he swallowed stiffly. "But if you had, Elros would- love you all the same."

"But if she had died, he would have lost her, entirely." These words came from Maglor. He sat back now a few lengths away, kneeling, his hands upon his knees, his eyes down. The bag of dried athelas leaves, he had looped over his shoulder

"Elrond, this is the Linnod I spoke of," she murmured, her eyes uplifted to Elrond. "We are friends."

"And for that friendship, she nearly died," Maglor muttered. "For a liar, and a murderer."

Andreth turned her head to look up at Maglor. He met her eyes, unsmiling, then he rose, turned, and strode out the door.

"I know he is Maglor," Andreth whispered painfully once he had gone.

Elrond looked over his shoulder toward the doorway where Maglor had disappeared. "I will return in a moment. Leave the poultice where it is on your hand."

Andreth nodded, and managed a faint, weary smile.

Elrond returned her smile, then scrambled to his feet, turned, and brushed out the door after Maglor.

...oOo...

Elrond saw Maglor sitting near the edge of the small stream, his harp cradled in his lap, its broken strings trailing away. The pouch of athelas leaves still hung crosswise over his shoulder.

Maglor looked no different than he did so many years ago, though he did not seem as tall. Elrond smiled briefly, recalling how tall and daunting the two sons of Fëanor had been when he had been small. Now, he guessed, he was taller than his once foster father by a half a hand's span.

He drew in a deep breath as he strode up behind the miserable elf, and lowered himself to the ground beside him.

"I know someone who can restring that, Otorno," he said, using the pet name he and Elros had adopted for both Maglor and his brother after they had overcome their fear of the two.

Maglor looked down at the gurgling brook. "My harp can be restrung," he said. "But the dead cannot be so easily returned."

Elrond said nothing to this, but he sighed, and reached out, clapping a hand upon Maglor's shoulder in the manner Maglor had often done to comfort him or his brother in the days when they were small, before he had left them where they could be found by other elves.

"How did you know where to find us, Seldo titta?" Maglor asked.

"Andreth told me she had been meeting someone who was teaching her to play the harp," Elrond said. "When the Lady Galadriel sent me word about her concern for Aelin, how she had followed Andreth who was looking for you, I took a guess. I remembered this old hollow tree, and wondered that this might be where you would be staying when you were not teaching Andreth in the cave."

Maglor smiled weakly. "You have grown as clever and wise as I had hoped, Seldo titta. Círdan has been good to you? And Gil Galad?"

"Yes, Otorno," Elrond said. He turned to look at Maglor's face, but the other elf had yet to look at him directly.

"And you have become a magnificent healer," Maglor said. "You saved the maiden's life."

"You had the athelas."

"You knew how to use it more effectively than I ever could."

Elrond fell silent. It was strange and surreal to be sitting here, talking with Maglor as if they were old friends wishing to renew an acquaintance that had only suffered the parting of a few years. So much had changed. He had been a child when he had seen Maglor last. Now he was a man.

"The lady Andreth has greatness in her," Maglor said quietly, his eyes still gazing straight ahead. "I have sensed it."

"As have I, and many others," Elrond agreed. "Lord Círdan not the least of them. She is descended of the house of Bëor, and I can see the nobility in her. She has many noble qualities, in truth."

"Noble qualities that- your brother too has noted?"

Elrond turned, and at last Maglor's eyes met his own. The were somber and glistened with wetness. "I know their feelings for one another, but nothing has been spoken between them. She would have it remain that way, and I must admit, that I am of a mind to agree with her."

"Why do your feelings bend that way?"

"We have been given the choice of our ancestor, Lúthien," Elrond said. "And if, for his love for a mortal maid, he chooses the path of the Second Born, Elros would one day die. I do not want that."

"It is difficult to lose a brother," Maglor said, his voice soft. "I know such pain far too well."

Elrond drew in a ragged breath. "You do," he agreed.

Maglor offered Elrond a tearful smile. "Maedhros is dead, Elrond," he said.

The words, oddly, did not surprise him, but the weight of them still fell into the pit of his stomach like a heavy stone.

"But I heard you and he won the last two Sillmarilli from Eönwë."

Maglor shook his head. "He could have had us slain; he let us take them. But they burnt our hands." He showed Elrond the scar upon his palm, and Elrond gulped fiercely as his once foster father recounted the tail of their winning, and then losing the two Silmarils, of Maedhros' fiery death, and his own choice to fling his long sought prize far out to sea.

"I am cursed now," Maglor continued. "I fear I will never return to the Blessed Realm, nor see the face of she whom I love, until the ending of the world. If even then."

"But your kindness to us must count for something, Otorno. And your kindness to Andreth, whom your foresight has saved. Such could not be forgotten by the Valar."

Maglor muttered. "What are three lives saved or spared compared to so many thousands taken?"

"I do not know," Elrond admitted. "I am not the All Father. But your mercy mattered to us, and your wisdom in saving the leaves of the athelas matter to Andreth, and to those of us who care for her."

"Speaking of the maiden Andreth, you should go to her, and see how she fares."

"I should," Elrond agreed, and with a deep sigh, he rose to his feet.

"Seldo titta," Maglor said, scrambling to his feet behind Elrond.

Elrond turned.

Maglor swallowed, meeting his eyes. So long ago, Maglor had seemed as tall as a mountain. Now, Elrond could clearly see, he was indeed a little shorter than Elrond himself. So long ago he towered above him and Elros, a bloodied blade in his hand that lowered, its tip touching the stones at his feet then fell to the ground.

"It is good to see you," Maglor said, his voice softened. "I have missed you and your brother more than words can say."

"And we have missed you, Otorno," he said. Then, impulsively, he strode back, and threw his arms around Maglor.

The other elf stiffened for a moment, as if he had not expected the embrace. But then his stiffness eased, and his own arms went around Elrond. The two men held each other for a long moment before Maglor clasped Elrond's shoulders, and pushed him back.

"You should see to your fair charge," he said. "For both her sake, and for Elros'. I suspect there is already a bond between them, even if they have not spoken of it."

Elrond glanced back at the wide knot that led into the tree where Andreth rested. Perhaps, he admitted. But if it could be undone-

"You will restring my harp?"

"I give you my word, Otorno," he promised, turning back.

"Good," Maglor said. "Bring it back here when it is ready, and I will come to retrieve it."

Elrond took the proffered harp from Maglor's hands, then turned back to the hollow tree.

He had taken less than five paces toward the entrance to the hollow in the tree, when he sensed a change behind him, and turned.

Maglor was suddenly gone. Like a breath of wind. And though he looked up the stream and down, and through the shadows of the woods as far as he could see, Elrond could see no sign of the last surviving son of Fëanor.

...oOo...

Elros flinched, rubbing the aching palm of his right hand with the thumb of his left. It had been throbbing since early evening, and he did not know why. But the inexplicable pain in his hand did not occupy the greater part of his thoughts where he sat on his bedroll, and studied the flames of the fire.

For across from him, Lang sat, also on his bedroll, his chin on his fists, seeming to study the flames of the fire as he was, though Elros noted his eyes flick often to him, and simmer with undisguised malice. Some small comfort, was that to his right and left, as if deliberately flanking him, Círdan and Hathel had set up their own bedrolls.

Sigil, simple, yet good-hearted, was already asleep in his own bedroll, oblivious to the tension all the others felt.

"My friends," Círdan said at last, the first sound, aside from the flicker of the flames, that any of them had heard in several minutes, "I propose that tonight, we trade in taking watch. It would be wise, after all, to have warning if some wild beast were to come upon our camp in the middle of the night."

"I will take the first watch," Lang agreed gruffly.

"Indeed not," Círdan countered. "I would not hear of it, Master Lang. I shall take the first."

"Why not me?" Lang growled.

Hathel shifted where he sat. "Elves suffer less from loss of sleep than we do," he volunteered. 'In truth, Master Lang, they could go for days," he shot a fleeting glance to Círdan and Elros as he said this, and Elros caught the ghost of a smile as he continued, "they could, if need be, go for weeks without sleep."

Lang's eyes widened at this, and he swayed where he sat, as if the very thought exhausted him. At last, he shook his head, and clambered into his own bedroll with a grunt of frustration and turned his back to the fire.

Círdan sighed, and leaned back against a tree. "Go ahead and sleep, my young friends," he said to Elros and Hathel. "I know you are both weary."

"I can sit up with you," Elros offered as Hathel, without protest, snuggled down into his own bedroll.

"No," Círdan said, and offered the youthful elf a generous smile. "Go ahead and rest. No doubt it is a great boon to you."

The tone of his last words gave Elros pause, and he looked over to the silver-haired shipwright, meeting his eyes.

"Do not worry for me, Elros," Círdan assured him. "Let your thoughts go, and sleep. All will be well. It will not be much longer until we are again in Mithlond, in the company of those we care for, and who care for us."

Círdan's words were soothing, like a father's voice, and Elros lay down, snuggling beneath the folds of his bedroll. He settled upon his back, studying the stars in the sky above him, already dimming in his vision with the coming of sleep.

"Andreth," he breathed to himself, the word little more than a breath of air past his lips, before the stars of the waking world faded, and passed from his view.

...oOo...

Elros drew in a breath of the sweet ocean air as the sea of his dreamscape came into view.

How real this all seemed, always, he marveled once again as he turned, casting his eyes about for the fair dream maiden he always met here.

A smile came to his face as he saw her, clad in a gown of deep blue, seated upon a grassy hillock some distance down the beach. She did not seem to be aware of him, and her back was half turned to him, her head bent.

Elros grinned to himself and started in a trot toward her. She seemed to be studying something in her hand. But she held nothing, from what he could see.

"I cannot let him see this," she was whispering to herself. "If he is real, he will guess-,"

"What will I guess?" he called out, and at his cheerful voice, the dream maiden turned with a start, and lunged to her feet.

"My lord," she gasped.

Her right hand, she balled into a fist, and pressed it close to her stomach as if concealing something within it.

Elros' brows furrowed. "What are you hiding, fair one?" he teased, taking a step forward, and reaching out a hand as if he meant to take her by the wrist and look at what she held.

"Nothing," she insisted, backing up a step, her eyes growing wide.

Elros fell back a step. He had no wish to frighten her, even if she was only a creation of his mind.

"Are you- hurt, my lady?" he breathed, taking another step forward.

"No, my lord," she blurted. She smiled, though it was fleeting and forced. "How could I be hurt, when I dwell only in your thoughts?"

Elros let his eyes fall to the sand at his feet before his gaze rose again, fixing upon her eyes, then falling to the pearl necklace that rested against her smooth flesh. Her soft breathing had quickened. She was hiding- something.

"Please, fair one," he pleaded, holding his hand out again. "Do you not trust me?"

The dream maiden who bore Andreth's face and voice and form studied his eyes pleadingly. "I trust you more than any man that draws breath, Elros," she breathed. "But-,"

"Then I beg you, show me your hand. Even here, it pains me to think that you may be hurt, and that I can do nothing."

Now, as he reached forward, he did grasp her wrist.

"Elros, please!" she begged, falling back a step. But her foot, stepping backward, met the rising slope of the small hill, and she tumbled to the grass. His hand upon her wrist, Elros stumbled with her, and in a moment, before his awareness even caught up with himself, Elros lay with the greater part of his weight pressing down upon the dream maiden where she lay upon the slope of the small hill, her hair splayed luxuriously about her head, and the softness of her young, slender body evident even through the fabric of their clothing. He felt a warm stirring of desire in spite of himself and wondered abashedly, if she noticed it. Beneath his chest, he could feel the sudden wild throbbing of her heart, and her eyes, mere inches from his own, were wide and pleading as he looked into them.

"Andreth?" he heard himself breath softly, his own heart beginning to thunder now as well. "Forgive me. I did not intend-"

"Please, let me go," she pleaded, begging now.

Obedient, Elros scrambled off of her, and sat up, shaking his head to clear it. He released her wrist, no longer caring whether he saw what was in her hand or not, and turned away from her, resting his arms upon his knees.

"Your eyes," he whispered, his words spoken more to himself than the maiden who sat up behind him, the cloth of her gown rustling in the stillness of the dream land. "They are Andreth's eyes. In every detail. I saw-" he swallowed. "I saw her soul in your eyes."

He began to turn to her. "How is it poss-"

Elros stopped. For the dream maiden had disappeared. Only the impress of the grass where they had lain together for that fleeting moment remained to tell him that she had ever been there.

...oOo...

Andreth woke in her bed, her eyes flying open, blurred for a moment before they focused upon the gossamer canopy above her head dim in the shadows of night. Her cheeks were wet, and she realized she had been crying in her sleep. Silently, she guessed, for the figure seated beside her bed, silver and slender in the darkness, a single candle at her shoulder, seemed not to have been disturbed.

"My lady," she said, hearing the tears in her voice now as she spoke.

Galadriel looked up from her book, now suddenly attentive.

"Andreth," she breathed, setting her book down, and leaning over the bed to touch the maiden's shoulder. "Did I disturb you? Elrond said someone should sit up with you until your wound is healed."

Andreth lifted her arm from beneath the coverlet and studied the bandage wrapped around her palm and wrist.

A dull throb did manifest itself now as she thought about it, but it was barely apparent.

"Take a little water," Galadriel urged, and rose to her feet. She took up a slender pitcher upon the small table at her side, and carefully filled a silver cup.

"Drink a little, if you can," she said, offering the cup to Andreth. "There are herbs for the pain if you wish."

"My hand does not hurt so badly," she murmured, though she did reach across to grasp the cup with her left hand.

"Something pains your heart," Galadriel observed as Andreth drank.

Andreth sighed, and let Galadriel take the emptied cup.

"Yes," she said.

"What is it?" Galadriel asked. "You have endured much today, and it could be many things, or a combination of them all."

"I suppose," Andreth said with a sigh, grateful for something to keep her from falling to sleep again, "that it is many things. And one thing you would not guess."

"I am listening," Galadriel said, settling herself in her chair, and turning to face the mortal maiden where she lay.

"I am sad for Aelin," she began, and Galadriel's eyes softened as she nodded. "And for Maglor- for everyone hurt by the quest for the Silmarilli that he and his kindred set out upon. I cannot fathom his grief. Nor can I fathom Aelin's. She was so angry. Yet I do not think she could have brought herself to truly hurt him. I know she did not mean to hurt me."

"She did not," Galadriel sighed, "and she is even now, awake in her own room, pacing, and crying, and striving to commune with the Valar. Perhaps your mishap, as terrible as it was, will help her overcome her hatred for Maglor and his kin." Galadriel gave a somber sigh, "For her own sake, more than for his. For I know for myself, that hate twists the heart of the one who feels it more than it hurts the one who is hated."

Andreth nodded, and said nothing. She felt weariness weighting her eyelids, and sat up, cradling her injured hand in her left hand.

"I sense you are not finished sharing all your heart," Galadriel said. "What was the one thing paining you that I may not guess?"

"I have been dreaming," Andreth said with a sigh. "About Elros."

"That is not so unusual," Galadriel said with a teasing smile. "I often dreamed about my lord Celeborn before we were wed." Galadriel blushed like a smitten maiden. "Sometimes I still do."

"But were they so vivid, it was like you were awake?"

She sighed, and looked into Galadriel's eyes. "Did you ever- share any dreams with him?"

To this question Galadriel grew sober. "Are your dreams as you describe? Do you think Elros shares them with you?"

"I don't know," Andreth murmured. "But I will when he returns."

She studied Galadriel's sober eyes. "In a dream not long ago, he told me he would bring me a gift when he returns. A necklace just like one I wear in my dream, made of mithril, with a fair pearl hanging from it."

"If it is true," Galadriel breathed, "such dreams could only be a gift of the Valar, for some- high, wonderful purpose."

A hopeful smile touched Galadriel's lips. "And if it is true, what do you intend to do?"

Andreth sighed and dropped her eyes to her bandaged hand. "Do not censure me for this," she prefaced. Galadriel's smile faded.

"If it is true," Andreth sighed, "I intend to leave. To return to Firiel, and never come back. I know you and I have spoken of this before, but I want him to be free. To be able to love an elf maiden one day. I love him, and I do not want Elros to die."


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