The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 41

Chapter 41

Maglor's steps were firm and long as he strode along through the wintry forest, his breath a soft cloud before him as he walked. The air was cold, but not bitterly and there was a sweetness to it, the faintest suggestion that spring was not far away. Here and there, through the trees, a gentle symphony of dropping water reached his ears as melting snow dripped from melting icicles, and the yet bare branches of the trees. He was not far from the forest road that led to Mithlond, and through the trees, he could see small clusters of people, mortals, upon the road, an unusual number, trudging along in the direction of the elven haven. Here and there a horse bore a rider, but most of the mortals walked.

Maglor drew in a breath. Perhaps one would be kind enough to deliver his messages.

He started forward paused, then turned his head, stooping as a smile came to his face. Beside him, through the snow, peeked the brave heads of a small cluster of flowers. The first he had seen this year. Tindómiel they were called, little flowers delicate and white beneath the sunlight, but that gleamed silver beneath the light of the stars. They were beginning to come back.

"Forgive me, I pray," he said, speaking to the little plant, "If I take some few of your blossoms?"

Gently, he plucked two of the blossoms, and rose again, studying the little flowers as he strode along. But then pausing beside a rough, moss-covered stone, Maglor shrugged off his pack, and set it beside the stone in the dampening snow as he set a piece of rough bark paper folded carefully. Then fishing out a small clay bottle of ink and a battered little feather quill from a pocket separate from the main pack where he cradled his treasured harp, he carefully uncorked the ink bottle, and dipped in the feather, scratched a single word on the outer fold of the parchment.

Carefully recorking the bottle, he dropped it and his quill back into his pack. The remaining two flowers he tucked into his belt before stepping forward again, quietly through the trees.

The last of the trees beside the road parted, and Maglor stood in the open, quietly studying the slowly moving group. Families, he noted, likely of the same kindred, for their hair was all the color of straw or sand, and of the men, some of them were clad in the battered uniforms they must have worn in the war. There were women as well as children, young as well as old.

One small family was passing near him. The man, tall and broad-shouldered with a youthful, sand colored beard, wore a battered uniform, and his wife held his hand beside him, a thick braid the color of new straw hanging over her shoulder. The pair did not seem much older than Andreth, and they had but one child, a little girl of perhaps five years, perched upon her father's shoulders. Maglor could not tell the child's hair color, for she wore a knitted cap of bright blue. The little girl's eyes danced all around; clearly she saw this journey as some marvelous adventure. And when her eyes alighted upon Maglor, standing still as a young tree beside the pathway, her eyes brightened.

"Atta! Nana!" the child cried, pointing a small hand. The little girl spoke Taliska. These then, with their light hair, must be of the folk of Hador. "An elf! I see an elf! At last! He is very handsome. But see his ears! How funny they look!"

"Himina!" the child's mother scolded. The young mother turned apologetic eyes upon Maglor, seeming to notice him for the first time.

"For- forgive her, my- lord." The young mother struggled with the elven tongue. "She is- but a- child."

"There is no need for apology," Maglor said in their own tongue with a smile and nod. The young husband and wife smiled at this, and traded a glance.

"Pray my lord," the young woman's husband said, as the pair drew to a stop "Are we nearing the haven called Mithlond?"

"Indeed." Maglor pointed. "It is less than a day's journey for you now."

The pair smiled at this, and exchanged another hopeful glance.

Maglor looked about, at their kinfolk already past, and those yet coming. "Indulge me, young ones," he said, his hand spreading to indicate the caravan of mortals. "I have watched your group coming along this way toward the Grey Havens for some time. I see your camp fires at night, and the long trail of your caravan in the day. But it is late winter, and a time not customary for so much travel. Why-,"

The father smiled. "Our people have been summoned."

Maglor tipped his head. "By-,"

"By the great herald of the gods," the young woman answered, her voice reverent. Her hand reached out, and touched her husband's arm. "Eönwë himself."

"I fought in the great war not long past," the man explained. "I served under the noble elf lord Elros. Do you know him?"

Maglor grinned at this. "Indeed. I know the boy quite well," he said.

"And my husband fought most bravely," his wife answered. Her husband smiled, and took her hand in his, squeezing it.

"And for that," the young man continued, "we have been asked to journey with our people to the haven at Mithlond. The great Eönwë has promised us a new land, rich in all manner of things, waiting for us beyond the horizon. Lord Elros, so Lord Eönwë said, shall be our king."

"And we shall take a great white ship to go there!" the little girl added.

Maglor smiled at her enthusiasm.

"I am happy for you," he said, his words warm despite the deep pang he felt within his heart. What would it be like, to stand upon the deck of a ship heading westward, to feel the movement beneath him, the spray in his face, and bright hope, shining hope, in his heart. "I am not going to the haven myself, but I have friends who dwell there. Would I trouble you to ask that you take this message to the house of Círdan? The name of she for whom it is intended, is written upon the message."

The young father nodded, and accepted into his hands the folded piece of parchment Maglor held out to him. "It would be our honor," he said, and at his side, his wife smiled, and nodded as well.

My name is Maht, and this is my wife, Aiwin, and our child, Himina."

Maglor nodded at this, and clasped the young father's forearm in greeting before their arms parted.

"I am Lin-," Maglor stopped himself, and drew in a breath. "My name is Maglor."

Both husband and wife stiffened slightly at this. They recognized his name. But only a moment later, the wife smile, and drew in a sigh. "As my husband said, it will be our honor, my lord."

"We shall see done that which you ask us," her husband answered.

The little family began to turn to move on.

"Wait," Maglor said impulsively, and they turned back. "Here." He drew from his belt the two small flowers, and held them out, one up to the little girl who beamed as she took the blossom, and the other to the young wife, who smiled and blushed. "The first flowers of spring, for two fair ladies."

"Thank you, my lord," the young mother said.

"Thank you," Maglor said, swallowing at a lump in his throat as with a final smile, the young man and his family turned away, and continued down the road, Maglor's letter held safely in his hand.

…oOo…

Aelin smiled as she ran her hand over the soft, sheer fabric that rested upon he knees, watching the way the thin fabric seemed to catch in the light of the lamp beside her where she sat within the ladies' weaving chamber, listening to Firiel and Galadriel as they spoke of the virtues of the lengths of thin gossamer fabric they were examining.

Some distance away, the soft whisper of Andreth's weft threads as she slid her shuttle through them found her ears as the maiden worked at her loom. Her tapestry of the maiden whose features seemed a mingling of the lady Galadriel and her lord Celeborn, at least to Aelin's eyes, was nearly finished. Aelin looked over at Andreth, catching the mortal maiden's eye.

Andreth smiled, and Aelin returned it. Lord Elrond would be pleased, she thought. He had come to see Andreth as he would a sister of his own blood, and would treasure her gift forever.

"White is very sweet and innocent, and seemly for such an occasion," Galadriel murmured, and Aelin turned back.

"Ah, yes," Aelin cut in softly, so that Andreth could not hear, "but my lady, this green would so match her eyes."

"I doubt that her handsome lord will restrict his gaze to her eyes," Firiel cut in, her voice innocent, though her eyes twinkled with mischief.

Aelin put a hand to her mouth, and struggled not to giggle at the boldness in the old mortal lady's words, and at the blush that touched Lady Galadriel's cheeks.

"In truth," Firiel added, unruffled by her own words, "her favorite color is blue. And she does look lovely in it." The old mortal ran a hand gently over the length of sheer blue gossamer upon her own lap.

"How shall we overcome this impasse, my friends?" Galadriel queried.

Aelin studied the soft green length of cloth upon her own lap. This, she was certain, would complement Andreth the most, but she could see the reasoning of the other ladies as well. "What if we fashioned the garment out of a cloth that combines the virtues of all three colors?" she suggested at last.

Galadriel tipped her head. "A light bluish-green?" she asked.

Firiel sighed. "The color of the sea," she breathed, and she smiled even as a far away look touched her eyes. "It would be fitting. And she would be happy with the color, I am certain."

Galadriel smiled. "Then we are agreed?"

"What are you whispering about?"

The voice, unexpectedly near, caused Aelin's head to shoot up, seeing Andreth standing over them, a smile upon her face. Ah, indeed, the soft sounds of Andreth's work had ceased some few moments before, but Aelin had not heeded the change.

"This fabric-," Andreth wondered. "It is for-,"

The maiden's words choked to a stop, and her cheeks warmed with color, guessing now the reasons for their whispering. Taking the fabric up from Firiel's lap, the maiden ran her hand beneath it, seeing, as Aelin did, her palm and fingers easily through the cloth. "Oh," she smiled faintly, and a soft laugh parted her lips, though the color continued to climb into her cheeks.

At that moment, a soft knock sounded from the main door without the room, echoing through the main hall.

"I will get that," Andreth insisted, but Aelin was quick to rise.

"No, I will," she said, and touched a hand, gentle, but insistent, to Andreth's.

Andreth sighed, visibly relenting, and sank into the seat Aelin had vacated. She picked up the transparent green swath from the seat, working it nervously through her fingers as Galadriel, her eyes soft with understanding, reached forward, and squeezed her hand.

Aelin smiled and turned away to hurry out the door.

There were others in the house who could have gone to the door as well as she; there were other servants in the kitchens, and Lord Elrond was in his apothecary with the young mortal Talia, treating her fading injuries.

But she was the nearest, and secretly, Aelin was relieved to have a moment to her own thoughts, for the mingling of anticipation and uncertainty she saw in the maiden's eyes, she well remembered herself. For she too, had once been a betrothed maiden, her heart both frightened and eager at once. It had been so many years since her beloved fell in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, but even so, she remembered him as well as if they had parted but minutes before.

She sighed, her heart weighted as she recalled his face. His strong, beautiful face, before he had left her to fight his last battle upon these shores. She still remembered his last kiss, his last touch, the warm feel of his strong arms about her, the last night they had spent together, and the sweetness and secrets they had shared.

"Thallon," she whispered to herself, his name sweet upon her tongue. Rarely did she speak his name aloud, but she was alone, and no others could hear her. "Would that I could see you again. That we could know the joy we once knew. That I could bear your child-,"

Again the knock sounded, and Aelin brushed a hand beneath her eye and quickened her pace, reaching the door, and drawing the latch back to meet a stranger's eyes.

A mortal man's, unknown to her, but not unfriendly. His hair was the color of wheat, and behind him, a step down, stood a woman with a thick braid of yellow hair hanging over one shoulder, holding upon her hip a little girl, wrapped in warm clothing. The child's eyes were wide, and her head thrown back as she took in the grandeur of the house; perhaps the largest she had ever seen. Aelin smiled at the child's open astonished face.

"This is-," the man spoke slowly, with a thick accent. "This is the house of the mighty Círdan, the skilful builder of ships?"

Beyond the man's shoulder, farther out upon the white snowy field between the house and the distant trees, Aelin could see a modest cluster of tents. A small fire had sprung up in the midst of the circled tents, and Aelin could see the silhouettes of other mortals, alike in appearance to these three, moving about in the sparse light the fire made. This little family, it seemed, had come with their kinfolk.

Aelin's heart caught upon a beat. Then they were coming already, the Edain, summoned by Eönwë.

"Yes, my young sir," she managed to answer despite the quickening of her heart.

The young man smiled through his youthful beard. ""I am Maht, of the house of Hador," he said. "I was bidden to give you this. The word, I cannot read. You will, I pray, give it to the one for whom it is meant."

The young mortal held out a folded piece of bark parchment, and Aelin's eyes widened at her own name upon the outer fold.

"Yes, thank you, it seems to be for- me." She took the parchment in her hands, and turned it over. From whom had it come? Elros? But it was not his writing.

"I am glad." The young man smiled, and bowed his head. "Does the great lord, Elros, dwell here, that our chief may speak to him?"

"Elros is not here," Aelin said, but added quickly as the man's face began to fall, "but she to whom he is betrothed, is here. If you will go and bring your chief, I shall tell her you have come, and she and your chief may speak one to another."

The young man's smile broadened. "She who will be our- our queen?"

Aelin smiled. "Yes," she answered, to which the young man turned and spoke quickly to his wife in a tongue Aelin could not understand. But the young woman smiled broadly at this, and nodded with energy. Her husband turned back.

"We will do as you ask us." The young man grinned, hopeful once again. "We will return to our people, now, and fetch back our chief. Farewell."

With a final smile and bow of his head, the man and his wife and child, turned and started away toward the distant fire.

Slowly, Aelin shut the door, and studied the parchment again. It was rough, fashioned as by one who had few worldly means, yet with great skill as well. Who could-

And then the understanding came, and Aelin's lips tightened. Her fingers twitched, suddenly wanting to crumple the paper in her fist. Her eyes darted to a nearby lamp, and she envisioned herself holding the parchment to the flame until it caught, and was entirely consumed before she even read the contents of the letter.

She stopped herself, though, curiosity, or perhaps a faint hint of pity, staying her hand. Drawing in a breath, she turned the parchment over, unfolded it carefully, and began to read as she walked, though slowly, back toward the weaving room and to Andreth.

…oOo…

The familiar smells of his apothecary swirled in the air around Elrond and around Aelin where she stood before him, her hands clasped tightly as she waited for him to speak. Beyond her shoulder, through the open door of the room, Elrond could hear Andreth's voice out in the main hall. She was bidding farewell to the chieftain of the small group that had only just come of the people of Hador. Elrond smiled, pride swelling in his heart at how graciously she had received the man, his wife, and his eldest son when they had come to Cirdan's house bowing to her as if she were already the queen they saw her to be. She even knew a smattering of Taliska, which had amazed Elrond, and pleased the chieftan's small contingent. Andreth was, Elrond realized, Elros' perfect match, raised up by the Valar to this very purpose, it seemed. She would make a marvelous queen.

The great door shut, and the chieftain and his kin were gone. Elrond dropped his face again to the letter in his hand and ran a hand over his mouth, reading the words one more time, though he had read them several times already.

My lady, Aelin, the first words read, I will not mince words. I know of your dislike, even hatred of me. I do not blame you. Indeed I cannot. Nor do I feel worthy even of asking your forgiveness. For I know there is nothing I can ever do, to earn it. But I do wish to ask of you a request. I know you have no affection for me, but I do know that you and I both care dearly for two fine young ones who are to be wed soon, and I hoped to request of you some help in preparing a gift that I wish to give to Elros and Andreth. I do not ask you to trust me, nor to become my friend, but I do wish to ask that we form a temporary alliance, for the good of those dear to us. Will you agree to meet me tomorrow evening an hour before sunset in the forest where we have met, twice before already? My apologies that I cannot come to you. You know my dislike of being in cities, and near the dwellings of honorable elves. Even so, the gift I have prepared for them, is too large to bring.

I will wait for you for an hour. If you have not come in that time, I will understand that you have declined my request, and I will depart without bitterness. Yet, my lady, I hope you will come.

If you are willing to meet me, but to not wish to come alone, I pray you share this letter with the eldest of Eärendil's sons, and bid him to come with you. I would be pleased to see him.

Maglor son of Fëanor

Elrond looked up and spoke at last. "You shared this with me because you fear him?"

Aelin shook her head. "No, I do not fear him, but-,"

She sighed. "What in all of Arda, am I to make of this? Why me? Why did he not address the letter to you, if he is already willing to see you again, and avoid the unpleasantness he knows that I would bring?"

Elrond lifted his shoulders, and let them fall, helpless. "I cannot begin to say."

Aelin drew in a deep breath, and sat back to lift her eyes to the flickering candles upon the wall. What did Maglor want of her, and why her? Elrond's eyes told her well enough that he could not begin to guess any more than she could.

"In any case," Aelin said, and Elrond lifted his head, his eyes still deep in thought. "Will you come with me?"

The young, dark-haired elf smiled, and at last Elrond nodded. "Of course."

…oOo…

Elros sat upon the steps of Hathel's house, his elbows upon his knees as he studied the palms of his hands, roughened from the work he had been doing all day.

Lifting his head, he studied the nearly finished lighthouse with a weary, but contented smile. In not many weeks, days perhaps, it would be completed. Then the work would move on to some other task in the building of this fair haven. Construction had slowed somewhat, for Círdan himself, and many of his men had turned instead to the building of many ships down upon the shores of the bay in the wide boathouses there. Elegant white boats that would carry Elros and his people across the sea to Númenor, the land where he would be king. Already a number already finished, waited at anchor, bobbing silently like so many swans, upon the edge of the water beneath the light of the stars that were slowly blinking into life one by one, above his head.

Elros swallowed stiffly at that thought. I will be- king, he thought, elated and sobered at once. Would he be a good one? Would he be benevolent, and good to his people, or would he be a tyrant?

The faithful of the Edain, summoned by Eönwë himself would come, and when the ships were completed, he and Andreth, and their people would sail away from these shores to a land they had never seen before. He smiled at the thought. At least in the waking world.

"Lord Elros?"

Behind him, the door creaked open, and Hathel stepped out, holding a bowl of something steaming, the handle of a wooden spoon sticking up. A welcome meaty scent rose up, causing Elros' mouth to water.

"Are you hungry?"

"Thank you," he said, accepting the thick stew Hathel handed him.

He dipped the spoon into the savory mixture of potatoes and meat, and took a bite. Delicious. Sigil no doubt had made it. Though his mind was slow, the man was an excellent cook, and since the three had agreed to share a house for the weeks before Elros' wedding, both Elros and Hathel had grown to appreciate Sigil's cooking.

"You won't come in?" Hathel asked, dropping down on the stoop beside him. "It is cold; even for an elf I'll wager."

Elros grinned over at the young mortal, remembering the near bitter rivalry they once had shared in their competition for Andreth's affections. Much had changed since those days, including his own opinion of the young mortal. Hathel was honest and true, and his heart was good.

"I am not too cold," Elros said, taking another bite, savoring the hearty meat as he chewed it. "And sitting beneath the stars helps me to think."

Hathel inhaled, drawing in a deep breath of the cold night air before expelling it in a cloud of mist.

"I can imagine that you have much to think of," Hathel said. And with the tone with which the young mortal spoke, Elros could not help but smile. He glanced sidelong at the young mortal, who grinned, and reached out, clapping his shoulder as the two men chuckle together.

Their laughter though, was cut off by the soft chatter of women's voices and both men looked up to see two young women coming toward them along the street, their arms linked like young girls. One of them bore an elven lamp in her hand that gave off a soft glow. Elros' heart gave a painful throb and his blood began to quicken at the sight of his own lady, Andreth, in whose hand the elven lamp swung, its gentle light caressing the beauty of her face, and her form, wrapped in a warm cloak. He set his half eaten bowl of stew upon the stoop beside him, and rose to his feet.

At his side, Hathel stirred and rose as well.

Gondien's dark haired daughter, Talia, turned her face from Andreth to take in the two men, and Elros noted her eyes gleaming in the light of Andreth's lamp as her gaze lingered long upon Hathel.

She was a pretty girl, her face almost entirely healed of the bruises that had once marred it, thanks to Andreth's gentle care, and Elrond's skills. Naught but a small scar remained upon her jaw, which would probably never go away, yet certainly did not detract from the smile that brightened her face.

"Good sirs," Andreth was the first to speak. "We are well met." Her eyes found and fixed on Elros, her gaze dancing at the sight of him. "Especially you, my lord. There is much of which I wish to speak, with you."

Elros grinned, feeling his blood stir as he studied her face in the soft light her lamp cast, and her hair, unbound and spilling about her cloaked form like a cascade of russet and gold. In his eyes, she was already a queen. Elros bowed his head. "I am at your disposal, my lady," he said.

"Master Hathel," Talia asked, her voice a little breathless as she spoke, "now that Lady Andreth is occupied with other duties, would you do me the honor of escorting me the rest of the way to my father's home?"

"It would be my honor, mistress," Hathel offered in a quiet voice as he stepped down. Talia took his proffered arm.

"Take the lamp," Andreth offered, pressing the handle of the softly glowing lamp into Talia's hands. "I do not need it, now that I am with Elros."

"Thank you, my lady. I will make sure to return it," Talia said, and Hathel spoke his thanks with a gentle smile over Talia's head before the two mortals turned away, walking side by side, Talia's arm looped through Hathel's, away into the silver shadows of the night.

Elros turned to Andreth, drinking in the sight of her face; just as lovely beneath the starlight as in the light of the lamp. Her cloak had fallen open for she no longer clutched it so tightly, and she wore a white linen gown beneath; the gown, he noted, that she had worn the night he had first called her Tindómiel, when she had stood upon the topmost step that led down to the shore, her form slender and beguiling, and fairly glowing beneath the moonlight, the wind fluttering about her, making her appear as a sea bird, ready to take to the air, and fly away. He had not wanted her to do so then, and as he studied the light in her eyes, he could see that she had no wish to fly anywhere without him.

Now that they were alone, Elros felt his desire for her stirring almost painfully, and he had to look away for a long moment. There was a chill in the night air, but he dared not ask her in. Sigil was within, but the man slept like a stone once he fell asleep, and would not serve as a trusty chaperone.

"Now, my lady," he said, his tones softening as he took a step toward her, and turned again to drink her in with his eyes. His blood thickened at the visible quickening of her breath, easy to see now that her cloak had fallen open. Ai, but her body was perfect. How soft she would be-

He cleared his throat. "What did you wish of me?"

To this, Andreth smiled, and stepped forward, finding his hands. Hers were cold, and Elros clutched them tightly, wishing to warm them. He bent his head to kiss her, but Andreth withdrew, her eyes begging forgiveness. Elros smiled, easily granting it.

"Spring is drawing near," she murmured. Her voice told him, in its softened tones, that something had made her shy. Elros too stepped back a pace, respecting her girlish uncertainty, though as he moved to withdraw his hands, Andreth's tightened, and would not let him go. Elros relaxed his arms, happy to let his hands remain imprisoned within her own.

"It is," he agreed.

Andreth dropped her eyes, her cheeks blushing beneath a cascade of hair that fell, veiling part of her face from him.

"Tindómiel?" he gently pleaded as he lifted a hand, and brushed the hair away from her face, letting his fingers linger long against the soft, fair skin of her jaw before drawing back again, and finding her own small hand. "What is it?"

She lifted her eyes, bright and soulful, and achingly alluring.

"They are beginning to come," she said.

Elros paused. A part of him knew, in a moment, what she spoke of, but wanting to hear the words from her lips, he asked, "Who?"

Andreth drew in a ragged breath. "The faithful of the Edain. Those who will go with us to Westernesse, to Númenor. I have seen a small group, where they are encamped. Aelin told me of them, and I have spoken to their chief. They are a goodly folk, of the house of Hador." She leaned near, her voice dropping to a reverent whisper. "You will be their king, Rau amin." She ducked her eyes again. "And they will be your people."

A deep breath filled Elros lungs at this, and the weight of her words settled upon his heart. Andreth's hands tightened in his, strengthening him, and he drew in a breath. "Our people," he corrected.

She lifted her eyes and smiled, a sweetly shy, tentative smile. Elros caught his breath, and closed his eyes. How he longed to pull her into his arms, capture her lips, and devour them! But sensing her timidity, he held himself back.

"Will you-," she murmured. "Will you walk me home?"

"I will," he breathed. Elros drew back from her, and offered her his elbow as Hathel had for Talia.

"In truth, Tindómiel, I will do anything you wish of me."

She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm, and eased close to him, her cheek pressing against his shoulder.

"Even fly?" she teased softly.

"Were you to bid me to fly, my beloved," he said, as their steps began, taking them back up the hill and toward Círdan's house, "I would find a way."


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