"My lord Eönwë," Elros voice, broken, but still powerful and warm, rolled over the arena.
"I choose a mortal life."
Andreth's heart stopped within her at the words, and despair and confusion assailed her. Elrond's hand upon her shoulder tightened, the only indication of any emotion he felt, for he did not speak.
Elros rose to his feet and turned, looking down the steps, his eyes, filled with pain and sorrow fixing upon Andreth, his gaze moving now to Elrond, then back again to Andreth.
Wh- why? Andreth breathed, her lips forming the words, though her voice was too weak to make a sound.
Elros only shook his head, his hand again pressed to the wound upon his chest, wincing as he started down the steps toward her and Elrond.
"Andreth, Elrond-" he began.
But Elros did not get any further, for he stiffened as if in sudden, excruciating pain, and he crumpled to the stone steps, clutching at the wound beneath his shirt.
A wail of agony tore from his lips.
"Elros!" Andreth cried, her voice echoed by Elrond as the two of them sprinted up to Elros, and tumbled to their knees on either side of him.
Hathel still stood in the arena, near the base of the steps, his sword in his hand, looking on with worry and concern in his eyes.
Círdan and the others atop the dais were upon their feet at Eönwë's side, and the arena behind them was a tangle of counfused and alarmed voices. Andreth gave no heed to any of this, all her senses fixed upon Elros. She pressed a hand to his heated, sweat drenched brow.
"Elros!" she pleaded, "look at me!"
Elros' face was twisted now in agony, and another cry of pain escaped his lips as he arched his back in wild pain.
"Tindómiel!" he cried, his voice cracking with agony. His hand groped out, as if he were blind, seeking for something, and Andreth caught it. Elros gripped her hand tightly, and she winced, but did not pull away.
The touch of her hand seemed to sooth, in a measure, his misery, and his convulsions lessened.
Furiously, Elrond tore the bindings of his brother's tunic, not bothering to unlace them, and drew the cloth back from his wound.
Andreth's heart stopped at the sight before her; the sickly purple trailings radiating away from the wound like wicked spider's legs curling up over his shoulder and down his chest.
She and Elrond looked in each other's eyes. "Like my hand!" she choked. "Venom was on the blade, Elrond!"
Andreth hesitated only a fraction of a moment, remembering what Elrond had taught her of venom, and of treating snake bites. Drawing in a sharp breath, she dropped her eyes from Elrond's, bent over Elros' wound, and put her mouth against his flesh, sucking fiercely at the poisoned cut. She tasted the acridness of blood, and the bitterness of something else as they filled her mouth. She fought to ignore Elros' cry of pain as she did, knowing that without athelas, this was his only chance. Andreth raised her head and spat fiercely upon the stone step beside her. Blood, mingle with a black, viscous substance struck the stone before she returned again to the wound and repeated the action.
"Seize that traitorous liar!" Elrond's voice shouted above her, and Andreth paused a moment, straightening, brushing a drop of something wet from the corner of her mouth. Elrond's face, tightened with anger, looked down the steps, fury filling his eyes.
Hathel's eyes now went wide in confusion and fear. The blade dropped from his hand, and hit the sand at his feet.
"He's poisoned my brother!" Elrond shouted.
"He couldn't-" Andreth protested, rising as two of the game keepers leapt forward, and snatched Hathel, their faces taut with anger and forced his arms behind his back.
"Tindómiel!" Elros wailed again, his voice choked, a weeping, pain filled cry.
Andreth dropped again to Elros' side, clutching his hand again, her eyes searching the tortured face of her dear one. His teeth were clenched, his eyes shut, and sweat gleamed on his face, throat and chest.
"I am here, Elros," she said.
"Don't go!" he pleaded.
"I won't," she choked, her voice breaking. "I'll stay. With you. I won't go anywhere."
She returned to her task, sucking fiercely at his wound again, and spitting, how many times, she could not count. The mixture of blood and venom looked on the steps like a puddle of vomit now. But the sickly purple trails, like skeletal fingers clawing over his shoulder and down his torso, did not appear to be decreasing.
"We must get him out of here," Elrond choked. "Somewhere where he can lay upon a bed, and I can treat him-" Elrond threw up his hands in a despair gesture. "If only my medicines were here!- if only-"
He cursed softly. "I would give my right arm for one leaf of athelas!"
He moved to picked up his brother, but Eönwë was there, kneeling at his side. "Let me," he said, and scooped Elros' writhing form up into his arms.
"No," Elros pleaded as his hand fell from Andreth's.
"She's still here," Eönwë promised him as he hefted the wounded elf's weight easily in his arms. "She's here, beside me."
Turning his eyes upon Andreth, the Maia ordered, "Follow me," and dropped down the steps to the sand of the arena.
"I need your help," Eönwë barked at one of the game keepers, and the elven man he addressed snapped to attention. "Show me where I can lay him, where healers can treat him."
"This way, my lord," the elven man said, and turned, darting away toward the nearest entrance.
Elrond siezed Andreth's hand and pulled her after him. She scampered down the stairs at his side, her gaze when she reached the sand, flitting to Hathel who had sunk to his knees, his face written with distress and fear. His arms were behind his back, bound, she did not doubt, for two elven men stood over him, spears now in their hands. As she passed him, he lifted his eyes and met hers, pleading silently, begging her to believe his innocence. His was not the face of one whose heart was truly guilty. And he had promised her he would not hurt Elros. There had been truth in his eyes, then.
Elrond's grip on her hand was insistent, as was her more pressing fear for Elros, and she turned her head forward.
"Aelin!" Elrond called, and in a moment, Andreth's friend was there, her skirts in her fists as she ran at Elrond's side, wetness upon her cheeks, her eyes pleading for direction.
"My lord?" she demanded. "What can I do?"
"I need your help to save Elros."
"Anything my lord," Aelin vowed. "I will do it."
Just outside the walls of the arena, their elven guide nodded Eönwë through the nearest doorway of one of the small buildings at the entrance. The Maia ducked through the doorway. Elrond pulled Andreth after him, Aelin trailing them.
The room was empty save for a shuttered window, a cot in one corner, and a table against the opposite corner laden with various bottles, and trays of dried herbs. Eönwë lay Elros' writhing, moaning form upon the narrow cot.
"Tindómiel!" he cried again, "where are you?" And Andreth was at his side upon her knees beside the small cot.
"Here I am, Elros," she soothed, grasping his groping hand.
"Aelin," Elrond said, as he strode toward the table, and began to search frantically amongst the herbs and bottles, "you must go find some athelas."
"Athelas?" Aelin gasped, her frightened eyes fixed upon Elrond's back. "Where? I do not even know where to look."
Elrond shot a look at Andreth.
"Yes, you do," he said, selecting one bottle from amongst the others, and scrambling to his brother's side.
Uncorking the bottle, he poured the contents directly onto the wound. The liquid hit the raw flesh and bubbled, and Elros arched his back and wailed, his hand fairly crushing Andreth's.
"This will help slow the venom," Elrond said, and Andreth nodded. "But with all that has gone into his veins, only athelas has the power to draw it all out. There is nothing more we can do until we have that herb."
"My lord, do you want me to go seek out- Maglor?" Aelin demanded.
Elrond lifted his head. "He has the only athelas that I know of," he grated.
"I do not know where he is," Aelin answered. "I know where he was, but he is gone now."
"Go to Círdan's house," Elrond gasped. "Within the door, Maglor's harp is waiting upon a side table. Take it, and ride to where we saw Maglor last. Play the harp. I do not doubt but that he will hear the music, and come. Tell him then what has befallen, and I do not doubt but that Maglor will be willing to help, and do all he must to save Elros."
"My lord, you cannot send me!" Aelin protested. She shot a glance to Eönwë who stood beside the door. "Send- him-"
"Aelin!" Elrond cried, his voice a mixture of fury and pleading as he lunged to his feet. "My brother is dying! Without the blood of elves in his veins, he would already be dead! Even now, his fate is uncertain! You are the only other who knows where to find Maglor aside from Andreth and me, and we cannot be spared! For the love of all that is good, put aside your hatred, and help save my brother!"
Aelin's eyes were wide and gleaming, and she staggered back a little, stunned. She sucked in a choking breath as she studied Elrond's pleading eyes. Her eyes flashed to Elros' agonized face gleaming with sweat, and her lips trembled with sympathy.
"I will need a horse," she said at last in a small voice.
"You may use mine," the Maia said, and taking Aelin by the elbow, guided her out the door.
Elros' chest heaved still, his body soaked in sweat, though his cries had faded, and he lay still, each breath a gasp of pain. His hand still clutched Andreth's.
"Forgive me," he choked, his glazed eyes upon the ceiling. "I have crushed your hand."
"No," Andreth said, touching a hand to his sweating face. "It's been held tighter before."
His eyes lowered and met hers through the haze of his pain. Despite his agony, his eyes looked inquisitive. "When?"
"Not long ago, I helped as midwife, when a young woman was birthing her child."
"Oh." A tremulous smile touch his lips. "A woman's grip can be tighter than a man's?"
"When she is bringing a child into the world, yes," Andreth returned, struggling to keep the tears from her voice.
"Indeed." Elros smiled weakly. "You are amazing, Andreth," he breathed.
She smiled and blushed, dropping her eyes.
"You are truly beautiful, you know," he murmured. His hand released hers and lifted, touching her cheek gently. His fingers trembled with the effort.
Andreth's lips quivered at this, and she caught his hand, holding it against her face as she too reached a hand out, smoothing away the sweat that lay against his brow, and his cheek. "So are you," she murmured.
What if Aelin wasn't successful? What if she didn't return in time? Would these be her last moments with him? Andreth struggled with all her might to thrust these frightening questions aside and focus upon her wounded beloved.
Across from her, Elrond rose to his feet and moved to the table, pretending to arrange the herbs and bottles upon it.
Elros' smile trembled. "I wish you meant those words."
"I do," she whispered, and dropped her eyes. "You are wonderfully, gloriously beautiful, Elros."
Elros shook his head. "But you don't love me."
Andreth's heart grew still within her, and a cool wave of gentle urging washed over her, as if an ocean wave washed soothingly over her.
She lifted her eyes, and met his. "Yes, I do," she murmured.
Elros blinked, and shook his head. "I am-" he swallowed. "I am hearing things. You told me, twice, that you didn't-"
"I lied, Elros," she choked, shifting her weight so that she could lean nearer to him.
He blinked again, his expression betraying his uncertainty to the reality of her words. "But you wouldn't- don't you know the agony your denials caused me? How bitterly your words hurt? If you did love me, why would you- Why, Andreth?"
Andreth's chin trembled, and tears spilled now from her eyes.
"I wanted to save you," she choked weakly. "I had thought if you believed that I didn't love you, you would have no reason to choose mortality, and would elect the life of the First Born, as Elrond did. I wanted you to live always, to see your parents again someday, and never be parted from Elrond."
As she had spoken, Elros' hand trembled against her cheek, and his eyes searched hers with ever increasing intensity.
Softly, she finished, "I wanted you to see the Blessed Realm, Elros."
"Oh, Andreth," he said, his words a quivering moan. "My beautiful Tindómiel. The Valar do not will me ever to see Valinor with living eyes. My path is mortality. It must be, for the sake of generations unborn. And to me, it is indeed no great loss. For all the towers and grand halls of Tirion, no matter how they gleam, cannot match the brightness of your eyes." His thumb caressed her lips. "You are my blessed realm, Andreth Tindómiel. My heart is in your hands. I love you, with all that I am. I want no other. I never will."
"Elros," she choked, leaning ever nearer, her hand gently brushing the sweat from his brow. "My dearest one. My heart too, is yours. Forever. I love you. So very deeply. Forgive me for my foolish lies."
The gladness in his eyes gleamed through the pain like the beam of a lighthouse through a haze of dark mist. "You love me?" he breathed.
"With all that I am," Andreth murmured.
To cement her words, she bent over him, her heart thumping furiously within her. Her hair spilled over her shoulders, trailing over his chest and throat, as she hovered over his face and gently, tentatively touched her lips to his. She tasted them shyly, hesitantly, before drawing back.
Their eyes met. She glanced away abashed, feeling suddenly very forward that she should be the one to kiss Elros, and in his brother's presence, though Elrond's back was discreetly turned. But as her eyes returned to his, she realized that Elros was not troubled by such things.
And wounded as he was, his arm still held sufficient strength to slip into her hair, his fingers sliding to the back of her scalp, drawing her face down to his.
A soft gasp escaped her before his lips touched hers, his mouth caressing hers with a mingling of tenderness and urgency that stirred Andreth's blood as sleeping coals are stirred before the flame flares to life.
But all too soon, his hand fell from hers, and he lay back, his strength clearly depleated.
He smiled once. "Tindómiel," he murmured, before he closed his eyes. His hand fell, limp across his chest.
"Elrond!" Andreth cried, suddenly alarmed, and Elrond turned back, scrambling again to his brother's side.
Lifting his eyelids, and checking his pulse, Elrond fell back with a ragged, uncertain sigh.
"When will he awake?" she pleaded.
"The athelas must do its work, and draw out the poison."
"Aelin will return in time," Andreth said, struggling to sound confident, though her voice choked as she spoke. "She will find Maglor soon, and she will bring the athelas.""She must," Elrond said, meeting her eyes across Elros' limp form. He reached out and took her hand, gripping it tightly. "For his sake, and for yours, my dearest sister, she must."