The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 42

Chapter 42

...oOo...

Maglor sighed where he sat, cradled in the crook of a tree, high enough that he could see the sun dipping ever closer to the horizon far out on the ocean, and yet still near enough to the earth that he could see the ground beneath him without branches blocking his view entirely. The earth below was spotted with patches of snow, and of damp earth where sparse bits of grasses and new flowers were beginning to lift up their timid little heads. Early spring was here already. But Mistress Aelin was not.

The hour was nearly passed. She was not coming. Not that Maglor had not half expected such a thing. Perhaps he could have addressed the letter to Artanis, his kinswoman, Galadriel- but no. Maglor pushed the thought away. Not after what his father had done. She would surely have declined, and Maglor would not have blamed her. And any other serving woman of the household was entirely out of the question. The gentle mortal woman Firiel would likely have been willing, but it would have been unkind to ask such a favor as he wished, of the aging mortal woman. And Maglor did not wish for any other elves, more than already knew, to know of any of his hiding places. Since Aelin already knew, asking her to come was most practical. Except, of course, that she hated him.

He drew in a breath of chilled air and grasped a branch, rising to his feet. He had hoped for the wisdom of a woman's influence in the completion of the gift he had made for Elros and Andreth, but it appeared that he would not have it, now.

Gathering up the bear skin cloak, he shrugged it around his shoulders, and prepared to turn away in disappointment when a sound stopped him.

Maglor's heart jumped and he turned back, snatched at a small branch above his head to maintain his balance. The clop of a horse's hooves. A single horse. The lady Aelin had come, after all.

He swallowed, feeling a fist of trepidation grip his heart as he heard her voice from below, muffled through the trees, calling out his surname. "Feanorion?"

Despite his uncertainty, he leaped from the branch, down to another, and another, until with a soft squelch in the snow dampened earth, he alighted upon the ground. To his left, was the mouth of the hollow tree where he rested oft times in the warmer months, where he had given Elrond the athelas that had saved Andreth's hand. Before him, a white horse, a slender, noble looking mare, drew to a halt, two figures upon her back meeting Maglor's eyes.

"Mistress," Maglor said, nodding to Aelin, clad in soft brown, seated behind her darker clad escort.

"Eärendilion," he said, nodding to Elrond seated in front of her.

"Maglor Fëanorion," the elven woman said, remaining in her place upon the mare's back, behind Elrond. She sat like a queen, gracefully side saddle, though her eyes were not soft, but rather hard and distrustful. "What do you want?"

Her lips were pursed as she awaited his reply. Maglor swallowed stiffly.

"Your help," he said simply.

"With what?" she demanded, her words clipped she gestured a hand toward him. "I can see, from that bear skin, you can fend quite well for yourself."

Maglor shrugged his shoulders beneath the bearskin. "Yes, this old fellow- he was out in midwinter, looking for a meal. He thought I would suffice, and I, well, disagreed."

Before her in the saddle, Elrond chuckled, but said nothing otherwise. Aelin did not smile.

Maglor fixed his eyes upon the young elf lord, and smiled, grateful to see one kindly face. "Thank you for coming, Seldo Titta," he said.

"I am more than glad to do so, Otorno," Elrond returned with a bob of his head.

"I brought the boy Elrond along with me for protection," Aelin interjected.

Maglor turned back to Aelin, then dropped his eyes. "I am sorry you do not feel safe in my presence. I promise you, I do not intend-,"

"Not for my protection," the lady said stiffly. "He is here for yours."

"Ah," Maglor returned. And could say no more.

Well he remembered, the first day he had met her, the knife blade in her hand, and the fury in her eyes. Not that he could condemn her, for he was indeed Fëanorion, the last living one, guilty of the vile kinslayings which his kindred had committed. There were many, Maglor knew, many more, not only this woman, who might justifiably take his life to avenge a fallen loved one. If she killed him, she would not be in the wrong.

"Now," Aelin clipped, her eyes flashing, "Do not mince words! What do you want, Fëanorion?" The word was spat at him like a slap in his face.

Maglor drew in a breath. "Your expertise," he returned.

One slender brow lifted sharply above her stern eyes. Elrond's own eyes showed curiosity, his jaw growing taut though he remained silent.

"Your feminine tact," Maglor added. "I lack such skill. You are the only woman, aside from Andreth, who knows to look for me, here. And I cannot ask her help."

Elrond remained silent, though Maglor could see the young elf was brimming with questions.

"In regards to this gift for her and Lord Elros, of which you spoke in your missive?" Aelin demanded. "If you wish for my expertise as you say, I will need to see it. May I?"

"It is this way," Maglor said, pointing away through the trees. "It is not far, but for the trees, it would be visible from here."

With that, he leaped up, caught hold of a low branch, and pulled himself up into the tree, until he stood upon the low branch looking down upon the two elves and their horse.

"I have found this means of travel easier in the winter," he called down. "I need not slog through deep snow when I take to the trees. Nor do I leave so many tracks in-"

"Show us the way, Fëanorion," Aelin called, her voice impatient.

"Yes, madam."

Content that they could see him and follow him easily, Maglor turned and started away in the direction he wished them to follow, leaping lightly from one branch to another as below them, the mare's hooves thumped a drum beat over the sodden ground.

Not many minutes later, Maglor, slowed at last and grinned as his creation came into view, perched in the lower branches of a strong tree that rose in the center of an open clearing, the snow in patches across the open ground, rich dark earth peeking through.

His heart, as it did whenever he looked upon that which his own hands had fashioned, swelled anew with pride as he stopped, perched like a cat upon the branch where he stood, and caught a smaller branch above him as he turned and looked down upon the faces of the earthbound elves, his chest heaving, eagerly seeking for their expressions.

Below him, Elrond drew the mare to a halt at the edge of the clearing, and lifted his grey eyes to take in the little tree bound dwelling. Maglor was not disappointed, for the eyes of the young Peredhel widened, and his mouth fell open in a soft circle.

Aelin's expression was no less astounded, where she sat behind her escort, and Maglor's grin widened as he leaped to the ground, turning to gaze up at the small, but elegant house that he had built into the very branches of the tree.

"You made this?" Aelin breathed, sliding gracefully, with Elrond's hand assisting her, from the back of the white mare, and gazing, as one enraptured, up at the smooth walls, and fluted windows that Maglor had worked at so painstakingly through the winter.

Without waiting for a response, the elven woman continued in a voice that had softened considerably, "May we go inside?"

"Of course," Maglor said, offering a gracious gesture of his hand toward the carven steps that began at the foot of the tree, and which curved around the trunk, climbing up to the door of the little tree bound dwelling.

Aelin and Elrond traded a look of wonder before the pair started up the steps, Maglor following behind, struggling to bridle the broad grin that wanted to claim his face. The door at the end of the steps, intricately carved and painstakingly polished, swung silently open beneath Aelin's fingers, admitting the two astonished elves, and their beaming host, into a small, but elegant sitting area. Empty as yet, but for a small unlit lantern that hung from the ceiling in the center of the room.

Aelin, her eyes glowing, turned about, taking in the room.

"This is your gift to them?" she breathed.

"I would like your advice on how to- furnish it. This, and the next chamber."

Turning, Aelin made her way through the next doorway that swung silently beneath her fingers, and stopped, her hands falling to her sides as her gaze moved from one end of the large room to the other. A soft sigh of approval escaped her lips, but no other noise.

Behind her, Elrond craned to see within, and Maglor stood back, grinning fully now, pleased with their awe.

At last, the elven woman moved into the room, making way for Elrond to enter as well, and Maglor behind him.

The room was large and high ceilinged, curved half way around the trunk of the tree that rose through the floor upon one side of the room. The high ceiling was a mingling of woven tree branches and fluted shingles, sloped to keep out any rain, or wind that wished to enter. Within the center of the chamber, upon a dais reached by three steps, stood Maglor's masterpiece, and, for now, the only furnishing in the room. A wide, and elegant bed. Four intricately carved posts supported a wooden frame, then rose high into the air set with braces that could uphold a canopy. The frame was yet bare, for it supported no mattress; no cushions or coverlets yet adorned it, yet the massive bed was still an impressive sight. How much more impressive the room would be, when it was finished.

"Blessed Valar," Aelin murmured, stepping further into the room, imagining, perhaps, the same image that Maglor fostered in his thoughts. Her footsteps echoed, almost reverently, in the hollow room.

"Is there any more?" she breathed.

Maglor sighed. "I did construct a stable, large enough for two horses, and a privy, some few steps away through the trees, and not many paces in the other direction, the stream that runs through these woods falls down a modest waterfall into a little pool, which, I think, would be pleasant in the spring and summer, so I fashioned some stone steps leading down to it. But this is all of the living space."

Aelin drew in another breath of air, and traded a look with Elrond. Until now, the Peredhel had remained silent, but Maglor could see amazement in Elrond's eyes.

"Your hands fashioned- all this, Otorno?" he asked at last, his words soft with wonder. "All this?"

"They did, Seldo Titta." Maglor returned, unable to keep the pleasure out of his voice as he rubbed his hands, remembering. The beauty of this little house, and their admiration for it, were worth the work, the aching hands, and the cold days and nights of exhausting labor. Even the time away from his beloved harp had been well worth it.

Aelin turned to Maglor. Her eyes were still guarded, but the animosity in her gaze had visibly faded. "You did all this- for them? For Elros and Andreth?"

"Otorno," Elrond said softly as he stepped toward the door, and ran his thumb over a small carving of a leaf; one of many that decorated the wood of the lintel, an imitation of a vine that arched over the doorway.

"What is it, Seldo Titta?" Maglor returned, recalling, with a pang in his heart, when this young elf had been a child, and would come to him with a question.

"You know they won't be-," Elrond hesitated, and his voice fell. "Staying here much longer."

Aelin dropped her eyes.

"Not long after they wed, they will sail away." Elrond's expression grew heavy. "To the land the Valar are giving them."

"I know," Maglor said with a faint half smile. "But I want to do what little I can for them while they are yet here. When they are gone-," he heaved a ragged sigh. "I suppose Artanis and her lord might like it." He grinned tentatively as a new thought struck him. "Or you. You are not to marry soon, are you?"

Elrond dropped his eyes. "I fancy no maid yet living." His face grew thoughtful, his eyes deepening.

"Whether they stay in this dwelling for a month, or only one night, I will consider all the work worthwhile," Maglor said softly. "They are dear to me. Both of them."

"As they are to us," Aelin agreed, as she lifted her chin, her soft voice echoing in the still room.

A sigh escaped her, echoing in the stillness of the room. "This is like-," Aelin paused, her lips pursed in thought. "This is like a visible song, Fëanorion," she said at last, his surname no longer a blade upon her tongue.

"It is as fair as-," she swallowed, "your music. You have done a beautiful thing, for their sakes."

To this, Maglor's heart swelled. His vision blurred, and he dropped his eyes.

"I would be pleased to help your furnish it with lovely things," she finished.

The evil he had done, he knew he could never undo. The unjust wars he and his kin had waged in their foolish quest for his father's jewels he could not unfight. The slain he could not bring back. He knew it, and he knew Aelin knew it.

Even so, this goodly lady was willing to put aside her anger for the sakes of the two young lovers for whom they both cared. It was truly more than he deserved. At this thought, his throat thickened, and he was unable to speak, but for two choked words. "Thank you."

…oOo…

The light of the small candle in Hathel's sitting room made Elros squint as he held the small translation book before him, struggling to keep his eyes focused. Why could Andreth, despite her few years, speak better Taliska than he? Were it not for her- well, it was no question. She had won their hearts already.

Elros smiled as he remembered the vision of her face in the dim light of the hall, the feel of her in his arms before he had bidden her farewell earlier in the evening. He hoped her dreams were sweet.

A rapid patting at the door jerked him up in a moment though, the memory vanishing like mist, and alarm rising in his heart as beyond the wood of the door, he heard a woman's soft sob.

Jerking the door open, Elros' heart tightened in anxiety at the sight of Talia, her hair hanging in a disarrayed tangle about her shoulders. Despite the chill of the night, the lady did not even wear so much as a shawl about her shivering shoulders.

"Mistress Talia," he breathed. "Come in, I beg you."

She did as he bid her, shivering, the light shining off her tear streaked cheeks.

"Is Hathel here, my lord?" she choked.

"Talia?" Hathel's voice thick with worry sounded before Elros could even turn as the mortal, his hair tousled with sleep, came stumbling out of the sleeping chamber where the bunks of the three men were kept. The young mortal wore naught but sleeping breeches. His chest was bare, and a shadow of scruff darkened his usually clean shaven cheeks. Despite all this, Talia gasped at the sight of him and rushed to him, throwing her arms about his shoulders, her sobs wrenching forth like water over a broken dam.

Hathel stiffened at first at her boldness, but then sensing her need, his arms softened, and went around her.

"Talia," he choked. "What is wrong?"

"My father-," she began, but she could not continue.

"Your father's sick?" Sigil's thick voice wondered as the large man came staggering out into the light of Elros lamp, rubbing a fist into his eyes.

Hathel grasped her shoulders and pushed her back. "Master Gondien?" His eyes burned with concern. "He is sick? Hurt?"

"Mistress Talia, take me to him," Elros volunteered, his heart pounding hard. "I am not as skilled in medicine as my brother, but I will do what I can until my brother can come."

"No," Talia choked, stepping back, and taking in the faces of the three worried men. "There's nothing-," a ragged sob choked her. "There's nothing you can do for him. There is nothing anyone can do. He's-,"

Elros' heart grew heavy as the realization of what she was trying to say struck him. The doom- the gift of men.

"He was old-," Talia said. "That was all. He simply- From my room, I heard him stop breathing. I went to him, but I could not wake him. He is- Hathel, he is dead."

"Oh, Talia," Hathel mourned, his voice thick. And he gathered the weeping maiden again into his strong arms and bent his face over her head as she sobbed against his sturdy chest.


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