Elrond released a soft, silent breath as the great door to Círdan's house fell shut behind him, shutting out the cool scent of young spring flowers that covered the wide grassland between Círdan's house and the distant forest like a rich, green carpet. He sighed, weary, and rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes. The soft sounds of a harp, and of a sweet voice singing in accompaniment, wafted toward him from the weaving room, several paces down the hall.
Something intangible in the air told him that there were many people in the room from where the music was coming; mortals. Contingents of the Edain. From the small groups of the faithful, the houses of Bëor, Hador, Haleth, who were gathering in groups and clusters in the forests and meadows all about Mithlond, all summoned, so they said, by Lord Eönwë himself. Elrond wondered if his brother were part of the audience that sat in the ladies' weaving room listening, silent and enthralled to the fair voice and the harp of the mortal maiden who would be their queen.
"Little sister," he murmured, smiling, even as his heart within him grew heavy. Fairer in face, and in voice, than any elf maiden. Any yet living, Elrond added in his thoughts. His brother was blessed to have found her.
The little tree dwelling that Maglor had built for them in anticipation for their wedding night, was looking more elegant and comely every day. He had only just this evening, been carving an elegant wardrobe, in accordance with Aelin's suggestion, its latches, hinges and all, made only of wood, everything smooth and polished, and intricately carved. And while Aelin had busied herself with the bed, a canopy of silver silk, and the rich coverlets and pillows that adorned a downy mattress, Elrond had helped his once foster father, glad and honored for the work, for it occupied his mind, taking his thoughts away from the day, approaching ever closer, when his brother would sail, leaving him on these shores to watch the ship that bore Elros and his fair queen, carry them away from him and beyond the horizon.
Returning to the present, Elrond rallied, pushing away his own heavy thoughts, and shot a grin to Aelin who stood beside him, her eyes bright with the sweetness of the secret errand they had just completed. One of many over the past few weeks. Círdan, they had spoken to, explaining their long journeys into the forest, and the lady Galadriel and her lord, Celeborn. The three of them approved, but no others knew. And only Elrond and Aelin had gone to the little sylvan dwelling to help Maglor.
"Are you all right, my lord?" Aelin asked, drawing her cloak from her shoulders and draping it over her arm.
"I am," he assured her, smiling. But Aelin's own smile softened. She reached over and touched his elbow.
"I see both joy and sorrow in your eyes."
Elrond heaved a deep breath at this, and his smile eased.
"Am I so easy to read?" he asked. "I am sorry."
"Do not be sorry," Aelin insisted. "You, more than anyone, have right to feel such contrasting emotions."
He swallowed stiffly as Aelin, her eyes moist with compassion studied his face without speaking, the gentle strains of Andreth's harp and gentle voice echoing about them.
"I am happy for them," he said at last. "I feel peace at his choice. I know the Valar have willed this. But I do not relish the thought of him- of her- I do not want to lose them. Not to Númenor, not to- to death." He stiffened at the word. "I have already lost so much."
"The Valar will uphold you, Elrond Eärendilion."
"As they have, you," he finished, a weak half grin touching his mouth.
"Yes," she sighed. "You know Andreth asked me to sail with them."
"I heard," he returned. "And I understand that you agreed."
Aelin nodded. "From their new country, I will sail on to the peace of Valinor. My time on these shores is ending, my young lord."
"And mine is beginning." Elrond dropped his eyes to his hands. "And what does life here have in store for me? What other griefs will I endure? I fear to think. Sometimes, the gift of Men seems so- so sweet, Mistress Aelin."
"But you chose right, as did Elros!" Aelin said, her eyes grown gently stern. "And the Valar will bless you. One day, you will be glad you chose as you did. You will have joys as well, my young lord. Joys so great, you cannot now comprehend them."
Elrond smiled at this.
From down the stairs that led to the upper level, the soft tread of boots found Elrond's ears, bringing Gil Galad with them.
The young king smiled at the two elves still near the door. "Aelin, Elrond," he greeted. "Where have you been?"
Aelin offered Elrond a hasty look of apology as she turned away from him.
"On an errand for Lord Cirdan," she said as she moved toward the dark haired elf. "Forgive our absence. But come with me, brother. Let us listen to Andreth."
She disappeared through the door into the weaving room, her arm looped through Gil Galad's, and Elrond was left alone.
He heaved a deep sigh, letting the sweet chords of Andreth's harp and her clear, sweet voice wash over him before he turned and moved through the doorway into the dimly lit library. He undid the lacings of his cloak as he inhaled deeply, relishing the sweet scent of the books; the pleasurable mingling of old leather, and parchment that lined the many shelves. He tossed his cloak over the back of a chair as he selected a tome from the shelf and studied it a moment. Of the Crossing of the Helcaraxë, it read. Frowning, he set it down. He was in the mood for something happier, and moved along the shelf, his hands trailing over the books before he picked up another. Fëanor and the Making of the Silmarilli, read the tooled lettering. Shaking his head, he set it back, and picked up one more, a smaller thinner volume. Of the House of Bëor, the silver lettering across the top read, and in smaller letters, Of the Life of Saelind, Elf friend, Andreth daughter of Boromir.
Elrond's jaw tightened. He would still be dwelling upon these shores when ancient, time faded books speaking of the noble deeds and life of Andreth Queen of Númenor sat upon dusty shelves in shadowed libraries. Releasing a ragged breath, he forced a grin upon his face, willing cheer into his heart, and settled himself in a cushioned armchair beside a low burning lamp, opened the book and with the soft music of Andreth's voice, and her harp floating gently through the air, he began to read.
"You should go, now."
"Yes, I should."
The soft words, whispered in the space between them, echoed in the dimly lit main hall of Círdan's house. The night was late, and the hall empty but for Andreth and Elros who stood together near the main door.
Despite their shared words, neither mortal maiden nor elf man moved. The wall beside the door was smooth, pressed against her back, Elros' brow resting against her own. In truth, she admitted to herself, she did not wish for him to go.
His breath felt warm and sweet against her face. Beneath her hands, the contours of his sinuous arms were strong and firm through the cloth of his sleeves. And as she ran her hands gently along his arms, marveling at the solid firmness of his muscles beneath the thin cloth, Elros' lips released a soft, almost inaudible groan, a mingling of pleasure and pleading. Her hands stopped moving, but she did not withdraw them. His own hands upon her hips were strong, yet gentle. They trembled a little, and she sensed his mighty restraint.
"Your music was beautiful, Tindómiel," he said. "I could see it in their faces tonight as they listened. They who will be our people, have great reverence for you already."
His voice softened. "I have great reverence for you already."
"I am glad," she whispered, feeling sweet longing pulsing through her body at his words. "And I am honored that my music pleased you." She lifted a hand slightly, and caught a lock of long dark hair where it hung over his shoulder against his chest. She twirled the lock around a finger before releasing it, and letting it fall again to his chest that rose and fell heavily with each breath. "Thank you."
"Thank you," he countered. "Watching your fingers move so deftly over the strings, hearing your voice, watching- you-" he hissed, his voice deepening. "It was- intoxicating."
Andreth felt a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. She dared not lift her eyes as she murmured, "You are intoxicating, Rau Amin." The nearness of his mouth to her own was sweet agony for her, and surely was for him as well.
"Am I?" His voice was a soft, feral growl, sending shivers of pleasure over her skin. "Then I truly should go."
"Yes," she returned, her own voice breathless. "You should."
A moment passed. Elros did not draw back. He shifted his weight. His boots upon the floor whispered softly in the quiet. He eased a fraction nearer. "I do not want to go," he admitted.
"And I do not wish you to leave," she whispered.
"Bidding you farewell grows more difficult every day," he confessed, his breath washing her mouth, "I never thought nine months could pass so slowly."
"Nevertheless, you are very patient," she murmured.
To this, he leaned forward, letting his cheek rest against her own as he gently whispered near her ear, the words hissed through his teeth, his voice a gentle growl, "I assure you, lady, the anticipation is very sweet."
His words were a warm caress, and Andreth closed her eyes, breathing in deeply, drinking, and tasting the scent of him. Warm, musky, alluring. The feel of his jaw smooth, hard and warm, pressed against her cheek, his lips gently touching the lower corner of her ear. She drew in a sharp breath, feeling her body softening, weakness and warmth pulsing through her veins. But he was right; the anticipation was very sweet.
"And now, I surely must go," he said, his sigh washing her face as his arms at last, released her, and he stepped back.
Without the nearness of his body warming her, the air seemed colder to Andreth, and she folded her arms against herself studying his face where he stood an arm's length away. She drew in a breath, and strength returned to her legs.
"You will return tomorrow, Elros?" she asked, stepping away from the smooth wall as he turned, and picked up his cloak from the side table, her Yule gift to him. "It is your begetting day, and Elrond's, and I do not wish it to pass, without seeing you."
"Of course," he said with a smile as he flung it smoothly about his broad shoulders. "I would not wish to be parted from my brother on our begetting day." He smiled roguishly. "And any excuse I can find to see you, I will take it."
He reached out, and gently touched warm fingers to her cheek, trails of sunlight tingling through her body from the point where he touched. The softness in his eyes melted her heart anew.
"Good night, my lady queen," he breathed.
"Good night, my lord king," she whispered in return. And with that, a sweet night wind scented with the aroma of new flowers, brushed over her momentarily as the door opened and shut, and then he was gone.
Andreth stepped forward and touched a hand to the door, leaning her brow against the cool, smooth wood. "Elros," she breathed, and a ragged sigh escaped her.
Another ragged sigh echoed her own to her right, and Andreth drew back, a little startled. She had thought she was alone. She turned, looking through the doors into the library, and then smiled to see Elrond, reclined in a soft chair, a book splayed open upon his chest, and his eyes gazing unfocused at the ceiling. He was sound asleep.
Her smile broadened when she saw the lettering upon the front of the small tome splayed upon his chest. He had been reading, of all the world, about her ancient namesake.
"Elrond," she grinned. He was asleep, and she knew he could not hear her words, but she said them anyway. "Dear brother. Thank you. Thank you for accepting his choice. I know it has not been easy."
She touched a hand to his cheek, and he stirred faintly, but did not awaken.
"I have a gift for you, dearest brother. I know it cannot replace Elros, but-"
Sighing, Andreth clasped her hands, and turned away.
A soft, feminine voice whispered through his dreams, and Elrond stirred. A slender hand gripped his shoulder, jostling it.
"Wha-?" he whispered.
"Elrond, wake up."
"Andreth?" he croaked, blinking his eyes as they came into focus, seeing, instead of the soft face of the silver-haired elf maid of his dreams, Andreth's face hovering above him, her soft, honey brown hair spilling in loose waves about her slim shoulders.
"I have something to give you," she whispered in the quiet darkness of the library where he found himself. Ah. He remembered now. He had fallen asleep, reading. Reading about the maiden who hovered over him, prodding him gently to wakefulness. No, not her, her namesake.
Looking down at himself, he noted the book still splayed on his chest.
"It isn't yet dawn," he chuckled, and swallowed, looking up at her again. "Indeed, it must be the middle of the night."
"I couldn't wait. Come, Elrond."
She drew back, and he saw at last, the wide roll of heavy fabric on the table behind her.
"Andreth!" he said, sitting suddenly up, anticipation banishing sleepiness to the remotest corners of his mind. "Your tapestry-?"
"Your tapestry, now." She moved to the table, and touched a hand to the roll of cloth. "Come and see it."
Elrond drew in a ragged breath, and looked at her. Andreth's eyes were bright, and she bit her bottom lip.
"Unroll it," she said, beaming like Maglor had been the first time he had shown him and Aelin the little tree bound dwelling he had made for Andreth, and Elros. "Look at it."
Looking down now, at the rolled tapestry, he put out a hand, hesitated, then touched the cloth, and began to unroll it over the table.
Slowly, the maiden upon the cloth, her image, and the greenery behind her, framed in a square of golden, twining vines, came into view. Her shoulders and body were turned slightly away from him, but her face, beautiful and delicately shaped, gazed directly out at him through the tapestry, a smile upon her lips as if she had only just turned at the sight of him, and was gladdened by what she saw. Silver hair spilled over the slender lines of her throat and her delicate, narrow shoulders, her shapely form clad in a gown of soft white. One hand held within it a small blue flower. The other extended to her side as if she were in the act of reaching for something, a low tree branch, or the handrail of a staircase she was descending- he could not say.
The maiden upon the tapestry, though not alive, stirred a warmth in his blood nothing else ever had. Her face, her eyes, her form- all that was in the image combined to stir something in his soul that was akin to a long forgotten memory, but could not be, for he'd never seen the young woman in his life.
"Cele-," he murmured, before his voice stopped. What was he about to say? Her name? Surely such a maiden would have a name that started with Silver- It would not be right, any other way.
"Andreth," he sighed, swallowing stiffly as he thought on the hours, the days of work that had gone into this beautiful image. "You have outdone yourself. She's beautiful." He turned to the mortal maiden who stood by, just as lovely in her own way as the image upon the cloth.
"Thank you, little sister," he said, his throat thickening.
"You are welcome." Andreth smiled, and reached for his hand, squeezing it. "Happy begetting day, older brother," she breathed.
Wrapped in his pelt of warped and ragged skins, Lang squatted upon a low moss covered rock, studying his handiwork that lay scattered across the wasted clearing before him. The black ragged piles of charred wood that had stood out starkly against the white snow during the winter, had faded into the dark dampened earth, blades of young green grass growing up among the once blackened ruins.
Lang scowled. He had changed nothing. Elros' life was no worse than before. What had been lost, but a few meaningless buildings? The elf had simply returned to Mithlond, and probably to that- woman of his. And he still lived.
To this thought, Lang uttered a curse, and spat on the ground. He should remedy that. And may that wretched elf who had picked him up by the throat and shoved him against a tree, rot in the abyss, along with his foolish threat.
"Go far away," the elf had snarled between his teeth as he had held Lang by his throat, pressed to the rough bark of a tree, several inches off the ground. "Never return. If you do, if you try to hurt my boy, if you try to hurt his bride, if you try to hurt any child of the All Father again, the wrath of the Valar will find you. That I promise."
Lang scoffed at the memory. Did the point eared fool think mere words could frighten him?
Lang snatched up a bow at his side, and a wrinkled leather quiver of newly fashioned arrows, tipped with wickedly sharp heads of black obsidian. Drawing both bow and quiver onto his shoulders, he staggered to his feet, and lastly, snatched up a small knife at his side. The haft was wrapped thickly in leather, the blade fashioned of black obsidian chipped fine, to a razor's edge.
Lang looked down, studying the blade of shiny black stone, Lang sneered at his face, reflected in the glass smooth surface of the gleaming blade. His heart tightened into a fist around the haft as he imagined the length of it soaked and dripping in rich, red, elven blood.
With that thought, Lang uttered a low chuckled. He shoved the blade into his belt, turned, and stalked away into the shadows of the forest, his feet turned southward, toward Mithlond.