Firiel sat, half drowsing in the comfortable wooden chair that Elros had fashioned for her, listening to the young elf's voice as he sat opposite from her, upon a wooden stool, not nearly as fine as the cushioned high backed chair she sat in, reading to her from an open book which he held in one hand in the dim twilight of the winter evening.
His voice was low, warm and soothing as he recounted the first meeting between Thingol and Melian, and she smiled and closed her eyes as she rocked lazily upon the ingenious legs of the chair, fashioned upon curved runners, that allowed the chair to tip back and forth with very little effort from her own feet. He had presented the gift to her not many hours before, easing her curiosity as to what he had been working on for several days out in Lavaniel's stable with a lamp burning far into the night.
Perhaps he should make a cradle next, she had said, teasing the young dark haired elf. Elros had said nothing to this, but he had smiled at her words.
The sweet, meaty smell of the rabbit he had shot earlier that day filled the air, and soothing her senses even more. His other hand, slowly turning the spit upon which the meat had been strung paused momentarily, as did his musical words, and Firiel opened her eyes.
"Is it ready yet, my lord?" she asked.
"I think it is," he said. "But truly, Firiel, you need not call me lord. I am almost a son to you, betrothed as I am, to your charge."
"Indeed you are," Firiel said in return, laughing softly. "But in truth, you are still my elder. I am all of eighty three years. And you are nearly ninety, are you not?"
"Yes," he admitted. "But my begetting day is in the spring. I am still eight-nine."
Firiel smiled, then sighed. "The day of Andreth's birth is also drawing near."
"And she will be twenty," Elros said, his eyes turning to the fire. His voice and eyes grew wistful, and Firiel smiled at the softness upon his face.
Firiel chuckled lightly. "You dear boy," she mused. "I've never seen a man more smitten than you."
Elros smirked and ducked his eyes, his face coloring in the light of the fire. "I have a good reason to be," he murmured. "Andreth is the most beautiful maiden who has ever lived."
"Even more than your ancestress, the famed Lúthien Tinúviel?"
Elros drew a deep breath into his chest and released it slowly. "Yes. And indeed, my fair betrothed is more beautiful than even Elbereth, the Star Kindler herself. Though I pray that the Valar forgive me for saying thus."
Firiel smiled. "I am certain they will understand, and forgive you heartily," she said. Pressing her aging hands against the arms of the chair Elros had made for her, she began to rise to her feet.
Seeing her effort, Elros quickly scrambled up, and offered her his hand, which she took gratefully, thankful for his solid strength as she gained her feet and stretched, feeling the weight of her years as she crossed the room to the shuttered window, and drew the latch aside, opening it to gaze out into the winter night.
Though the sky was overcast, and no light of moon or stars escaped through the blanket of clouds, a soft light still seemed to hover over the snow, cool and blue, and over the trees blanketed in sheets of white.
The chill of the night wafted through the open window, and Firiel shivered, drawing back to close the window.
Elros smiled toward her, carrying the roasted rabbit toward the table upon a wooden platter.
"Are you ready to eat?"
"Elros, what became of that- that man who tried to kill you?"
"Lang?" Elros shrugged, settling at one of the benches at the table. "None know. I'm certain he has gone far from these lands. There are still trackers seeking for any sign of him, and I think they would find him. I do not think he would come anywhere near Mithlond. And now with winter deep on the ground, a lone man in the forest would not fare well without a fire, without supplies. Anyone could see signs of a fire from leagues away, and no one has seen anything. Not even the barest footprint. For all we know, he may be dead, and devoured by wolves."
Firiel sighed as she returned to the table, and sat at the bench that Elros graciously drew out for her.
"But your friend. The one you've spoken of, the son of Fëanor."
"He has proven that he can keep himself well hidden for years, unless he wants to be found."
Elros acknowledged this with a nod. "Yes, but remember, Maglor is an elf. He has ways and means that a mortal does not. Truly, madam, I do not think we need to fear Lang."
"Perhaps you're right," she said, and sighed, dropping her fist into her hand. "But even so, I worry for you. We mortals may not be so graceful as you, but do not underestimate us. If he knows how to stay hidden, he will stay hidden."
"Firiel," Elros offered, reaching his hand out, and pressing her hand across the table. "Do not worry. Even in my deepest sleep, I could sense anything crossing the snow between the trees and these buildings. Do not worry about me."
Firiel smiled fleetingly. "But I do, Lord Elros," she said. "Indulge the mother in me, but- your weapons-" She nodded to the bow and quiver of arrows that sat in the corner where he'd set them after he'd returned from his hunt. "At least take them with you tonight when you go to sleep."
Elros drew in a breath. Clearly he did not think such a precaution was necessary. But to her gratitude, the young elf finally nodded, and smiled.
"As you wish," he said. "I'll take them with me."
The cold of the winter night, pinching at him, and biting through his cloak as he made his way through the cold shadows of night was immediately banished by the warmth of the little barn as Elros stepped through, welcomed by the happy bleat of Lavaniel the goat. Raising the lamp he held, he noted the friendly goat rising from where she had lain, snuggled in her corner of the barn, her fluffy tail slapping at the air, almost like a dog's welcome wag. Turning back, he saw Firiel gazing at him through her little wooden window.
He raised his hand, assuring her, and waited until she had shut the window before he pushed the barn door closed, and dropped the latch as she'd wished him to, then turned, and with the lamp in one hand, his bow and quiver hanging from his shoulder, scampered up the ladder to the low ceilinged loft, and the welcome mattress that waited there upon the dusty wooden boards, to one side of the pile of hay that he had shoved aside.
Elros dropped on it gratefully, and lay upon his back for a time before he rolled to his side, and buried his face into the mattress, drinking deeply of the scent there. This mattress had been Andreth's when she had lived here, and the sweet scent of his betrothed still lingered on it.
"Tindómiel," he breathed, drawing in a deep sigh, and turning again to his back, propping his hand beneath his head and lifting his eyes to the ceiling. "How are you, fair one? Are you thinking of me at all?" He drew in a deep breath that swelled in his chest.
"Valar, watch over her," he breathed. "Give her peace and comfort, and remind her of my love for her."
The quiet peace of his heart lingered for a long moment before a sudden, and inexplicable unease gripped his heart, like something had invaded his senses, intangible, but still real, and he sat up quickly, snatched up his bow from beside him, and made his way to the small hatch upon the wall, unlatched it, and looked out. The light of the small lamp behind him cast a square of light upon the cold snow.
What was that? A shadow, perhaps a bear, perhaps a deer, moved upon the edge of the trees far away, before turning, and lumbering back into the shadows of the icy forest.
Elros shook his head, and closed the small window before returning to his bed and falling again upon it, weary. His brief unease was gone, and sleep beckoned to him irresistibly.
Though his shared dreams with his beloved had not continued once he left Círdan's house, Elros still welcomed the boon of sleep, for though they were not as vivid as they had been before, he could still dream of her, Andreth's face ever before his thoughts. And in his dreams and memory he could relive the last kiss she had granted to him in their cave, the night before he and Firiel had left Círdan's house.
Andreth sighed as she sat at the high window upon the balcony surrounding the main hall of Círdan's house, and gazed out the window, watching the fat flakes of falling snow as they fluttered from the grey sky. The blanket of white spread unbroken before her across the flat plain to the forest where the trees rose stark and shadowed from the blanket of white, their branches cloaked in shrouds of white themselves.
Beneath her fingers, the strings of the harp she held sent forth a fair melody, giving voice to the softness of the falling snow she could see through the window, and the sweet sadness of her own heart.
Where she sat, with the warmth of a fire that roared in a fireplace down in the main hall rising up to where she sat, Andreth was entirely comfortable. But still, she shivered a little as she looked out, turning her gaze toward the north and west where Firiel and Elros were, praying silently in her heart that they too were warm and safe.
"Dear Valar, watch over him," she breathed beneath the gentle music her fingers brought forth from the harp. "Take care of him. I know I do not need to, but still I worry for him."
Her music stopped, and she looked up with a smile as Elrond, two cups of steaming liquid in his hands, reached the top of the stairs, and started toward her.
"Here," he offered, holding out one of the cups. "Wassail. You will like it."
"Thank you, brother," she murmured, taking the cup of warmth from him, and lifting it to her nose, drawing in an appreciative breath of the sweet, spicy drink before taking a sip. The sweet warmth filled and warmed her, and she smiled.
"Ah, it is good."
Elrond sat beside her, and now he looked out the window as he drew a sip from his own cup, his gaze looking in the same direction her own had moments before.
"No doubt he is thinking of you as well," Elrond said, turning to her with a half grin. "And praying for you."
Andreth smiled. "I still miss him."
Elrond's smile softened and he reached out, catching her hand, and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I know," he soothed. "But if this is any comfort, the Valar are mindful of you both, and are watching over you always."
She sighed. "That is comforting to hear."
With a deep breath, Elrond rose to his feet. "Well, little sister, I am weary, and will go now to bed." He bent down, and kissed her brow as if she were a child. "Good night."
"Good night, brother," she returned, and he turned and walked away, turning down the hall into his wing of Círdan's house.
In a short while, she would do the same, and go down her own wing to her own room, and the welcome warmth of her bed.
But for now- She turned, and looked out the window again, gazing toward the north, and toward Elros, where he was no doubt falling into sleep.
"Remember I love you," she breathed.
She would sit here, just a few minutes longer, and think of him, and softly play her harp.
A mortal man, seated upon a heavy fur cloak of various animal skins stitched and knotting together, squatted down before the small cluster of glowing rocks in the deep cave where he had lived and slept for some days, a gnarled stick strung with bits of rat meat toasting slowly over the coals that glowed before him.
He did not like the taste of rat, but it was what he could find without going far from this cave he had found in a low hillside where he stayed now, biding his time, and nursing his anger.
He scowled as he tested the toasting meat, and took an experimental nibble. He could have gotten some mutton earlier when he had ventured near that tiny farm, for he had heard a goat's bleating, and thought he could snatch it away. But then the upper window of the barn had opened, and of all the cursed fools in the world, that elf, that wretched fool Elros, a bow in his hand no less, stuck his head out.
A soft snarl escaped Lang's lips. If he'd had a bow himself, he would have shot the wretch. But he didn't. He would have to bide his time.
Slowly, a cold, humorless smile came to his face. He could wait. Make his plans, and patiently wait.
Lifting his stick strung with rat meat from the glowing coals, Lang tore off a smoking piece, and began to chew, his thoughts roiling, and boiling in his mind.