The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 46

Chapter 46

The cool of the evening washed about her and Elros who bowed before her in the cool blue twilight, his head bent over her hand, his lips brushing her knuckles with the faintest caress.

Elros lifted his head then and gazed up into her eyes, his gaze almost worshipful. And as he studied her eyes, it struck her. How very much like the image in her shared dreams he looked, with his fine clothes, and the elegant crown upon his head.

"You look just as I remember from our dreams," he breathed, his voice soft with wonder, his words echoing her own thoughts.

"And you also," she breathed, conscious of the fire in her blood that the faintest touch of his fingers stirred.

Elros' chest swelled with an indrawn breath, and he smiled, like a shy youth, his face bright with the wonder they shared between them. He straightened, his hand still clinging to her own. Oh, dearest Valar, she could lose herself in his sea-grey eyes, turbulent passions swirling behind his gaze.

"Elros Eärendilion."

The voice carried through the air of the lowering evening. Andreth drew in a quick breath as both she and Elros turned. Beyond the forecourt, upon the grass of the wide meadow, Círdan stood, his hands behind his back, waiting beneath the archway into the bower.

The soft murmur of the Edain fell into silence, save for a soft rustle of fabric as men and women moved to one side and the other, creating a path between them toward the bower.

Her heart thumped within her as she struggled to remember the words of the ceremony Galadriel had helped her rehearse.

"My lord, Círdan," Elros called back. With a final squeeze, he released Andreth's hand, then turned and bowed his head toward the silver-haired shipwright.

"Why have you come here, this day?" Círdan's voice was gentle, lower and measured, though it carried easily through the evening air.

Elros drew in a deep breath that swelled his chest. He cast a fleeting, tender glance toward Andreth beside him.

"To bind myself to this lady, Andreth, daughter of Beldir," he returned, his eyes caressing her as he spoke.

"Then, if it is the will of your heart, take your place, and await the coming of your bride," Círdan admonished.

At these words, Galadriel stepped forward, silent and graceful, and rested a hand upon Elros' arm, taking the place the bride's mother would have, were she here. A slight, ragged breath jerked in Andreth's lungs at this. Seeming to sense her thoughts, Galadriel cast Andreth a gentle glance. The playfulness in her eyes was gone; this was to have been Firiel's duty, and Galadriel's gaze filled with the weighted solemnity of this knowledge even as her eyes warmed with encouragement.

Elros drew in another ragged breath before he started forward with Galadriel at his side. The pair moving between the parted gathering of Edain. Andreth watched them go, her eyes upon Elros, her breath quickening at the grace and strength of his stride. The eyes of the crowd followed Elros and his fair escort, bowing their heads as they passed, and Andreth's eyes stopped as she recognized Hathel among them. She smiled at the sight of him with Talia already at his side. The mortal maiden must have found him in the crowd already, and gone to stand beside him. His hand was upon her elbow in the gesture of a familiar friend, and the sight gladdened Andreth's heart.

"Andreth, daughter of Beldir," Círdan called again, emotion catching in his voice. Andreth lifted her eyes. Elros had taken his place beneath the woven branches of the bower. Galadriel stood just outside the bower. The elven lady's eyes found Andreth, and smiled. Andreth smiled in return.

A space away from Andreth, Elrond stepped nearer, his boots brushing over the stones beneath his feet.

"My lord, Círdan," she offered, fearing perhaps that her voice had not carried, until the ancient elf smiled.

"Why have you come here, this day?"

"To bind myself to this lord, Elros, son of Eärendil," she returned. Her quavering voice echoed through the still air as she met Elros' gaze across the distance between them.

"Then-," Círdan choked, his voice carrying the tenderness of a father, his eyes filled with such warmth and pride that Andreth's heart swelled within her, "if it is the will of your heart-, go to him."

In a moment, Elrond was at her side taking the place Elros' father would have, and she turned, smiling up into his eyes as his hand found her own. His strong grip served to calm the painful throbbing of her heart, and her heart lifted with gratitude. But then as she noted his eyes, and the mingle joy and sorrow that radiated from his dear features, her heart tightened. How much pain at his brother's choice did he still feel? What did he hide for their sakes?

"Elrond, you're sad-," she breathed, her heart weighted.

"No," he said, sensing her concern, "do not worry for me. I am fine." He leaned near. "And this is your day, little sister."

As a grin touched his face, Andreth smiled in return. He squeezed her hand. "Come," he breathed.

All eyes in the silent gathering turned upon Andreth now as she, with her trembling hand in Elrond's sturdy grip, stepped forward and started across the space between herself and Elros where he waited for her beneath the flower entwined archway. Just beyond her beloved, stood Círdan, and as she met the gaze of the ancient shipwright, his eyes grew gentle, no less tender than a father's would have been.

Andreth's heart took flight, beating like a seabird's wings as she turned her eyes from Círdan toward Elros' tender gaze a he watched her come, his eyes adoring her.

To her right and left, heads bowed as she passed, though her own eyes were fixed unmoving upon her betrothed as she drew ever nearer to him. He was so beautiful, she mused, his chest rising and falling as she came, his eyes fairly worshiping her as she neared.

As she reached the grass, it shifted and rustled about her slippered feet. The sweet heady scent of the flowering vines twined through the woven branches of the bower embraced her in their scent.

Galadriel's eyes, greeted her as she reached the archway into the vine entwined bower. Elrond's hand released her, and the gentle touch of his hand at her back urged her forward into the sweetly scented enclosure where Elros and Círdan stood.

Andreth turned to face Elros, her flesh aching at his closeness and warmth. How she wanted to reach for him, to touch him, though she would not do so. Not yet.

Elros spoke not at all, but his chest rose and fell with deepened emotion as their gazes embraced passionately across the space between them. His pulse was visible beneath the taut flesh of his throat, and she knew that hers was visible to him as well.

Without speaking, his eyes lifted to the westward sky, and Andreth turned her head, following his gaze, her eyes looking up through the twined branches of the bower to the smooth curve of the evening sky where one star alone, was visible, hanging low in the dark velvet of the sky. Andreth looking up through the archway into the sky from whence the wind came. The evening star seemed brighter than usual.

"I watched it as you came," he whispered so that she alone could hear. "The light touched your hair, and set you all in silver light." She turned her eyes again to him. He smiled, his lips quivering as his eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "My father and mother approve of you, my Tindómiel."

His parents approved of her. The understanding settled upon her heart, setting Andreth's soul soaring up and away, among the stars.

"My lord," Galadriel's voice murmured from the archway, bringing Andreth's thoughts back to the earth, "you have come this day, to bind yourself to this maiden."

"I have, lady," Elros returned, his voice louder now, his eyes remaining fixed upon Andreth's.

"Have you your gift for her?" Galadriel asked.

"I do." With quiet reverence, Elros reached into a small pocket on his belt, and withdrew a single golden ring.

"My lady," Elrond's voice, warm and deep with affection, "you have come here this day to bind yourself to my brother."

"I have, lord," Andreth murmured, her eyes drowning in Elros' sea grey gaze.

"Have you your gift for him?" Elrond continued.

"I do." Andreth reached into a small pouch hidden behind the belt at her hips, and withdrew a cool, smooth golden ring.

"Lord Elros," Galadriel's gentle voice spoke now, "will you vow to love my friend Andreth, to honor her, and protect her, to comfort her and cleave to her as Varda's lord cleaves to her?"

"I will, my lady," Elros answered. "I swear it." His eyes unmoving from Andreth's face, danced with light as he spoke the words.

"Lady Andreth," Elrond's warm tones intoned, "will you vow to love my brother Elros, to honor him, and protect him, to comfort him and cleave to him as Manwë's lady cleaves to him?"

"I will, my lord," Andreth vowed, and a look of adoration claimed Elros' countenance as she spoke. "I swear it."

Elros drew in a deep breath now, and his hand at last, found hers between them, his fingers warm and lean and strong. Andreth trembled as he lifted her hand between them. Her eyes dropped to their hands, and she studied them, his fingers warm, lean, strong. Hers slender, tapered. Fairer, and smaller, in contrast to his. His hands, she observed, were beautiful as his fingers took the silver betrothal ring, sliding it gently from her finger. One hand tucked it reverently away before he lifted the golden ring, and slipped it onto the finger where the silver ring had once been. The metal was cool and smooth as it slid down the length of her finger, and his fingers were warm. The ring fit perfectly.

Her eyes lifted to his once again.

"This ring I give to you lady," Elros murmured, "as a token that I bind myself to you as your husband, and that the vows I make this day, I will keep."

Elros' words were measured and solemn as he spoke, but his gaze pulsed with promise, giving silent meaning to the words he spoke.

"Do you accept my pledge, lady?" he asked, his voice a warm caress.

"I accept it, my lord," Andreth murmured.

A gentle evening wind washed over the silent meadow from the sea sweet with the scent of the ocean as she drew in a breath.

"This ring I give to you lord," she breathed in a soft voice, struggling to keep her words steady despite the wild pounding of her heart, as she slipped the silver ring from his own finger to tuck it away in the hidden pocket from which she'd brought the golden ring, "as a token that I bind myself to you as your wife, and that the vows I make this day, I will keep."

As she slipped the golden band onto his finger, in the place where the silver ring had rested for so long, she lifted her eyes and watched his gaze, her heart softening at the love and the tender longing she could see in his eyes as the ring finally found its place at the base of his finger.

"Do you accept my pledge, lord?" she whispered, still clinging to his hand.

"I accept it, lady," Elros breathed, his voice eager and tender as the warmth in his tones washed through her soul.

The weight of his softly spoken words quavered through her heart like the strains of a hymn; of the great and eternal song of Eru. Her lips parted as she studied the way her dear one drew in a deep breath, his eyes caressing her tenderly.

"As Varda and Manwë are your witnesses," Círdan spoke now, his voice reverent, "and as the Father of us all stands in witness-," the silver haired shipwright drew in a breath, the moment tingling with anticipation before he intoned in a voice deepened with gladness, "You are now husband, and wife."

A soft gasp caught in Andreth's throat as Elros' fingers tightened gently about both her own. A rush of sweet completeness swelled her heart as she gazed up into his sea grey eyes.

Beyond the bower where they stood, the meadow erupted into joyful cheers, the solemn air vanishing. But Andreth stood facing Elros, their fingers woven eagerly together, both of them silent and motionless but for the quickened motion of their deepened breathing, and the quiet trembling of their bodies. At last Elros lifted her hands to his lips, kissing her fingers, her knuckles, the caresses of his lips no longer so chaste as when they had met at the base of the steps, but still, she could sense the tension in him, the restraint with which she was so familiar.

She could not look away from him, his eyes fixed ardently upon her, her heart and soul entirely overcome with the weight of the understanding that he was her- her husband.

Trails of lightening crackled along her limbs as Elros questioned her with his eyes. She smiled, giving him her answer. Then with boyish timidity, he slowly bent his head downward. Andreth sighed, and tilted her face upward.

For the briefest moment, Elros paused, his mouth hovering deliciously above her own, their breaths mingling before slowly, so slowly, he closed the space between them and brushed his mouth across her parted lips. A kiss so soft and chaste, that it caught her breath away from her. He drew back a fraction. Andreth trembled as Elros' eyes met hers, turbulent and filled with adoration. His fingers tightened about her own before releasing her hands. One hand touched her side, warm through the cloth of her gown, and slid over her hip. The other lifted and brushed against her throat. His fingertips soft like the wing of a bird slid up her jaw until his hand cupped her cheek. Once again, he bent his head, and captured her mouth, tasting her with tentative hunger.

Andreth trembled in pleasure, relishing the feel of her husband's strong, firm body against her own, awakening excitement and passions that threatened to overwhelm her. She reached timidly forward, and slid her hands slowly beneath the soft weight of Elros' robe, her fingers pressing into the fabric of his tunic, feeling the warmth of his torso, and the steady movement of his breathing. To this, Elros moaned softly against her mouth, so softly that no other but she could hear. Slowly, he drew back. His eyes found hers, and he smiled.

"Andreth Tindómiel," he breathed, his hand caressing her face, "I-," he drew in a ragged breath. His eyes were deep, and passionately intense. "I love you, my-, my wife."

The simple words, the first declaration of love between them as husband and wife, spoken in a voice of breathless wonder, sent a thrill of joy trilling through her heart.

"And I love you, Elros, Rau Amin. My- husband," she sighed, tasting the sweetness of the word upon her tongue as she spoke it.

Turning her head, her eyes found Círdan's, and her heart swelled with gratitude. The ancient shipwright smiled as their eyes met.

"Congratulations, my children," he said, reaching for, and clasping her hand.

Andreth drew in a breath, and squeezed Círdan's hand. She stepped away from Elros, and in a moment, her arms were around the shipwright's shoulders.

"Thank you," she choked against his shoulder. His garments brushed against her cheek, soft and sweet smelling, like the sea.

She felt Círdan chuckle, unruffled by her sudden affection. He embraced her in return a long moment their embrace eased and she stepped back, shooting a glance to Elros, who grinned at her, then stepped forward and embraced Círdan as she had.

"May the Valar bless you with happiness, Elros," Círdan said, his voice breaking with emotion as the younger dark haired elf stepped back, and turned his eyes to her, returning to her side.

"They already have," Elros said, his hand seeking and finding her own.

"Andreth?"

Galadriel's voice laughed from behind her, and she and Elros both turned toward Galadriel and Elrond who, with beaming countenances and soft laughter, moved forward to embrace them.

Andreth smiled tearfully into Galadriel's eyes as the elven lady caught her against herself, and kissed her cheek.

"How happy I am, for you," Galadriel whispered against her hair. "May the blessings of the Valar rest upon you, always."

Galadriel drew back smiling to turn toward the bridegroom. But Elrond had not turned yet from his brother. His left hand was upon Elros' shoulder, and Elros' hand was upon his. Something was between them; a small folded bit of parchment passed from Elrond's hand to Elros'.

"No matter where I go," Elros murmured, his voice barely audible as he squeezed the piece of parchment into his fist. "No matter how long our parting, you will always be my brother."

"And you mine," Elrond returned. He drew back with a trembling grin, and with his hand still upon his brother's shoulder, turned toward Andreth where she stood beside Galadriel. "But now, you also have a wife." He smiled. "And I a sister."

Elrond stepped forward now, his strong arms circling her and catching her close. "The blessings of all the Valar be with you forever, little sister," he murmured, his voice choked. "My brother has chosen well."

"Thank you, older brother," Andreth murmured into his shoulder.

"You are most welcome," he choked. He drew back and nodded to his brother who was accepting Galadriel's congratulations. "I've given something to Elros. He will share it with you."

"Come," Galadriel urged, smiling. And at her bidding, Andreth and Elros, finding each other's hands, stepped beneath the archway of the bower, to the applause of the Edain.

Out of the midst of these, Celeborn stepped, tall and regal as he came forth.

"Blessings to you both," Galadriel's tall, noble husband said as he reached them. His hand gripped Andreth's elbow, and clasped Elros' hand.

Celeborn turned his eyes upon Andreth, and his look grew tender. "Elros is a most blessed man, my lady, for you are truly one of the fairest of all the daughters of elves, or of men."

"Thank you, my lord," Andreth murmured, humbled by his praise. She tightened her fingers, woven through Elros', and felt their gentle, answering response. "I too am wonderfully blessed."

Celeborn now turned his eyes upon Elros, and the two shared a silent, though weighted look. "Remember what we spoke of," Celeborn said.

"I will," Elros vowed. He lifted her hand, and bent his head, pressing a kiss to her fingers.

The faintest look of something indefinable entered the eyes of the silver haired elven lord as he looked from her to Elros and back again. "And may your treasure remain with you always, and any parting between you be brief."

Celeborn's smile trembled, and he stepped back, turning to move to Galadriel, who had stood by, looking on in silence. She smiled at his coming, and her hand extended as he came, finding and clasping his as a look of gentlest love passed between them.

"Elrond said he gave you- something," Andreth said now that she and Elros stood alone, she shrank closer to his side, her eyes falling to the parchment in his hand.

"Yes, my lovely wife, he did," Elros said, a smile warming the smooth tones of his voice.

Andreth blushed, loving the sound of the word as he handed the folded parchment to her.

Touching the paper with her own fingers, she turned the parchment so that she could see the words as well.

Follow the lamps, the words upon the parchment said, and beneath the words, a single name. ~Maglor Nothing more.

"Elros," a voice called, and the two looked up.

Through the crowd of Edain, Gil Galad came striding, and at his side, Aelin came. Both elves led a horse by the bridle, each animal fully bridled and saddled. The young Noldorin king guided Nórui, Elros' stallion, and Aelin came, leading Maidh by the bridle. Behind the two horses, came a tinkling of bells, and Andreth smiled to see Lavaniel trotting faithfully at the heels of her equine friends. This elicited many muffled chuckles, for about the little goat's neck was entwined a silken white ribbon, and a necklace of flowers. While into the mare's mane, tindómiel flowers and silken silver ribbons had been woven, making Maidh look as if she too, were a bride, and little Lavaniel her faithful attendant.

A delighted cry filled the air as a group of little children noted the small goat, and came scampering near, surrounding her, petting her, and stroking her. Pleased with the attention, Lavaniel turned her attention onto the children, bleating merrily.

Gil Galad grinned, seeing that Elros and Andreth had noted him, and spoke something to Aelin, who smiled as well.

"Blessings to you, my friends," the young Noldorin king greeted, and with a sigh, Elros and Andreth drew apart, turning to the elves who stopped before them.

Gil Galad smiled. He stepped forward and surrendered Nórui's reigns into Elros' hands.

Aelin did not speak at first, though her eyes danced as she handed Maidh's reigns into Andreth's hands.

"Lord Maglor wishes us to- follow the lamps?" Andreth queried, sensing that the two of them would understand the message within Elrond's missive.

"Yes," Aelin said, trading a knowing glance with Gil Galad. "Look there."

Aelin's slender hand pointed. Elros and Andreth turned, and looked through the weavings of the branches of the bower where they had just wed, toward the line of trees on the far side of the wide meadow. Where the shadows of the trees began, all was dark except in one place where a single light gleamed in the low branch of a tree, bright in the deepening twilight.

Suppressed laughter danced in Aelin's voice. "Follow the lamps," she repeated, and Gil Galad chuckled, not speaking.

Trading a glance with her new husband, Andreth smiled, then moved to Maidh's side. The creamy white mare had been saddled with a side-saddle, for which Andreth, with the skirts of her wedding gown, was grateful.

Gracefully, she mounted, smiling over at her new husband who deftly swung to Nórui's back with his usual elven grace, calling back to her mind, the first day of her riding lessons, nearly a full year ago. He met her eyes and grinned, his gaze telling her as easily as words could, that his thoughts had returned to that day as well.

With the newly wedded pair mounted upon their horses, a band of musicians seated near the food tables, took it as a signal, and music sprang up, filling the evening air, and echoing merrily away over the grass toward the line of shadowed trees.

And at this, the crowd began to shift, some moving toward the tables laden with food, others, couples hand in hand, beginning to dance merrily upon the grass in time to the music, beneath the light of the full, yellow moon which had just lifted his silver face above the eastern edge of the world. Others of the Edain remained near, their eyes fixed upon the newly wedded couple, smiling and trading merry glances as Elros turned Nórui's head to maneuver nearer to his new bride. Grinning mischievously, he lifted a hand, cupped her face and leaned in, gently kissing her amidst gentle applause.

Drawing back enough so that their eyes could find one another, Elros offered her a boyish half grin and murmured, "What would you say, were I to confess to you, that the first day of your riding lessons, I imagined kissing you like this?"

"Did you?" she wondered.

"For a fleeting moment. I tried to dismiss it as boyish foolishness, but I could not deny that you were thoroughly captivating."

"As were you," she breathed dropping her eyes, recalling how regal, how graceful and fiercely beautiful he had looked, mounted upon Nórui's back as he rode beneath the sunlight, the wind in his hair and braids. She lifted a hand, and touched the pearl that rested beneath her throat. "It was the first day you showed me this."

"Yes," he agreed, his voice softened, and his eyes dropped to the fair pearl resting against her flesh. It was a long moment before his eyes lifted again. "Many things have happened since then," he breathed. "Many marvelous things."

She looked up again, searching the depths of his fathomless sea grey eyes, a warm inviting spark dancing within them. She smiled. "We should follow the lamps," she breathed.

Elros drew back a breath swelled in his chest. "So we should."

He grinned as Andreth turned Maidh's head toward the forest, toward the single shining lamp she could see there, and kicked the mare into a trot.

A moment later, she heard the soft pounding of hooves coming behind her, and turned to see Elros at her side, the moonlight upon his strong form, and the wind in his hair.

Andreth smiled, and reached a hand out, which he eagerly took, as their mounts trotted on, side by side.

…oOo…

Galadriel stood beneath the moonlight, a faint smile upon her face as she watched the newly wedded couple trot away from the music, the laughter, the voices of mingle languages, of men and of elves. Nearer they went toward the shadows of the trees, side by side, and the one single lamp that gleamed upon a low branch at the very edge of the trees, until they disappeared beneath the welcoming shadows of the trees.

Celeborn studied her from a space away, a glass of wine in his hand, though he had barely touched it, wishing to keep his senses about him as he contemplated the marvel that was his wife.

How fair she looked, silver beneath the moon, like a bride herself, her hair long and gleaming about her shoulders, and spilling about her shapely form. How soft it would feel, Celeborn mused, to lose his fingers in it, to take her into his arms, her form supple and yielding, and yet strong, and-

You are remembering our wedding night?

The thoughts touched his mind playfully as Galadriel turned her head, observing him with dancing eyes.

The silver-haired elven lord felt his face growing warm. Yet he managed a grin of his own.

And what if I am, lady? Would you think me a scoundrel?

Galadriel's smile widened at his returned thoughts.

I cannot deny that sensing your desire for me is most flattering, her thoughts returned.

I cannot help it, Celeborn returned, setting his glass down on the table beside him, and taking a step toward her, though much space still remained between them. You are the most beautiful woman I have every known. My heart is in your hands, and I am at your mercy.

Her smile quivered a little. Sometimes it is frightening how much power you give me over you. You, my love, who are one of the most powerful of the princes of the Teleri.

Because you treat my heart gently, he assured her in his thoughts. And to this, her smile softened, and she looked suddenly like a shy young maiden, youthful, vulnerable, and in need of his protection.

How he longed for that chance. To protect her, to watch over her.

Galadriel sighed, and he knew she sensed his thoughts, though they were but emotions, and without words.

Follow me, she admonished silently. I want to show you something. And with that, she turned away, gliding away toward the point where the deepening shadows of the trees met the edge of the knoll where the land fell down toward the sea.

Celeborn's heart caught upon a beat. Eagerly, he followed after her.

…oOo…

Elrond listened, as if from a distance, to the bright, merry music as he lifted a wine glass, and took a thoughtful sip.

All about him, was merriment, elves and men with bright eyes, and happy laughter.

And Elrond too, was happy, truly. Even so, he admitted, he could not deny the pulsing ache that had dwelt in his heart, often pushed away into hidden corners, but always present from the moment his brother had spoken the words, I choose a mortal life.

Elros dwelt in his heart. And Andreth dwelt there, too, occupying a space that would be empty forever, once they both passed beyond the boundaries of the world. And the thought saddened him, despite the joy he also felt at the happiness they had found together.

"M'lord, m'lord-,"

A tugging at his robe brought Elrond away from his morose thoughts, and he turned his eyes down to meet the bright eyes of a little yellow-haired mortal child. The little girl wore her hair in two braids, her head adorned with a crown of flowers, hanging askew. She grinned up at him, showing a gap in her mouth where two teeth were missing.

"Here," she said, lifting a flower.

"Thank you, my lady," he said, taking it from her, and offering the child a gracious bow as he tucked it behind the point of his ear. To this, the child giggled.

"And for you," he said, reaching to the table at his side, and scooping up a small berry tart from a platter.

He handed the little girl the sweet, and she giggled again, taking an eager bite. Her eyes widened in delight at the taste before she turned, and darted back to a group of children who were squealing in delight at the antics of the little goat, Lavaniel who cantered about in the midst of them, twisting and bleating as if she too were trying to dance to the music. Elrond smiled. For once, the little goat had stayed behind, of her own volition, and had not followed her equine friends. Beyond the antics of the little dancing goat, though, something else caught his eye, and he looked up in time to note Galadriel, trailed by her husband Celeborn who glanced about furtively, almost guiltily before he vanished behind his wife into the shadows of the forest near the knoll that dropped down to the mouth of Elros and Elrond's little cave.

Elrond sighed at this, and dropped his eyes, chagrined. Their truancy, he realized, was not something he was meant to have seen.

His eyes turned back to the children who gathered about the gentle little goat, patting her, and cavorting with her. He smiled. Thank the All Father for children, he thought, remembering that his heart was not entirely without gladness, though it would never be the same. Elros dwelt in his heart, and Andreth, who was as dear to him now, as if she had been his sister from infancy. And Elrond did not relish the understanding that one day he would lose both of them.

But now, as his eyes moved from the dancing children over the mingled assembly, and let his eyes linger upon the dancers out upon the meadow, youths and maidens dancing hand in hand, somehow, from somewhere he could not name, he felt the faintest gleam of hope. A promise that his heart would not be forever empty.

…oOo…

"This is the cave of the Peredhil, is it not?"

Galadriel smiled at the first audible words her husband had spoken since they had left the wedding feast.

She turned toward him, admiring the way the light of the lamps gleamed in his eyes as he ducked past the waterfall into the little grotto, and looked around in awe.

Instead of shadows, the little chamber had been transformed. Lamps hung here and there about the room, and a warm fire burned in a little hollow in one corner, its smoke escaping to one side of the cascading sheet of water. Not far from the fire, a small, elegant table had been set, two carven chairs beside it, and two covered platters, no doubt with food beneath them, still warm.

Over all these, Celeborn's eyes moved in amazement, though as his gaze moved across the room, it lingered longest on the sumptuous bed that had been arranged against the other side of the cave.

Galadriel felt her blood stir as his eyes widened, and his breath quickened at the sight of it.

"Some of the servants in the house of our dear Lord Círdan, arranged this for Andreth and Elros," Galadriel explained. "Well meaning as they were, they did not know of the little house in the forest."

"Ah," Celeborn returned. His eyes moved from the bed to the small table were the food waited. "Clearly they took great pains for this."

"They did," Galadriel agreed.

She smiled as his gaze slid again, back to the bed. "'Twould be a pity that their efforts go to waste."

"It would," Galadriel agreed. She turned and glided toward her husband, smiling as she sensed his thoughts, and the desires stirring within him as he watched her glide toward him.

Galadriel stopped as she reached him, and gazed up into his eyes as she lifted her hands and rested her palms against his chest. For a long moment she stood thusly, feeling the rise and fall of his breathing before she slid her hands upward, and slipped her arms beneath his robe, pushing it over his broad shoulders. The thick cloth tumbled to the cave floor at his feet, forgotten, as Galadriel's arms circled about his neck. She drew in a breath, enjoying, for the moment, the feel of his strong, firm body pressed against her own through the fabric of her gown and his tunic between them.

Celeborn's strong hands found her waist, and his gaze deepened, need filling his eyes. "Tell me what you want, Galadriel," he hissed, his voice suddenly grown thick, filling her with warmth. "Tell me what you desire of me, and I will give it you."

Galadriel leaned forward, and gently kissed him. At this, Celeborn's arms slid about her waist, pulling her firmly to him as he began to deepen the kiss, but she drew suddenly back, and he, startled, let her go, a very little. Enough to look into her face.

Galadriel drew in a gasp, struggling to calm her suddenly wild breathing as she studied her husband's eyes. In so many things she craved to be in command; she knew this and admitted it willingly to herself. She wanted power, people to lead. But here in his arms, she found that she was strangely pleased to be at his mercy, to be in the embrace of this wise, and gentle Telerin prince whose physical prowess far outmatched her own.

"So often you think of what I want, my lord, Celeborn," she gasped, "Tonight, tell me what you want."

Celeborn blinked at this, and looked away briefly. She sensed his thoughts racing. A child, his thoughts told her before his words did. He turned back, and studied her eyes, his emotions hopeful. "A daughter," he breathed. "One as beautiful as you."

He swallowed audibly, and her heart ached at the pleading in his eyes.

Galadriel smiled at this. "I would love a daughter," she said, and looked away, blushing coyly. Her eyes turned back again to her husband's. "But- what else do you desire, my lord?"

To this, a roguish smile drew up Celeborn's lips. "I will show you, my lady," he growled, fire lighting his eyes. And this time, as Celeborn pulled her fiercely to him, she surrendered eagerly, his mouth capturing her own in a searing kiss.

It would be many hours before the food would be touched; it would be cold then. But that mattered little to Galadriel, for the bed was very warm.

…oOo…

Andreth could not withhold a laugh of soft curiosity as Maidh trotted beneath the dark trees, little visible here in the deep night shadows of the forest, but the next glowing lamp toward which they rode. They had passed five already, and were surely deep in the forest. Deeper than she had ever ventured. Andreth doubted that this place would look familiar to her, even in the daylight. But still, she was not afraid. For she sensed a protective presence around them, something intangible, but very real, and she looked over at her husband's silhouette, seeking his eyes, wondering if he sensed it too. Perhaps, she mused, it was something like the girdle of Melian.

For the darkness, she could not see his face, though his lean, sturdy outline was clear enough to her. And the touch of his hand very real. She squeezed Elros' hand, feeling it returning her squeeze as he trotted beside her, Nórui and Maid keeping perfect rhythm.

They had not spoken since they had entered the forest, and Andreth was content with that. Silence unbroken but for the hoofbeats of their mounts seemed fitting here in this place of gentle shadows and sweet mystery.

The lamp was growing closer, a delicately crafted elven lamp like the others, a gleam shining through the grating. It hung from the branch of a particularly fat tree, the only light she could see in the dark forest. It illuminated the tree beside it, casting the smooth bark and the ground below in a silver sheen. Little else was visible.

But as she and Elros reached and passed beneath the single lamp, a glow they had not seen until now, for it had been blocked by the trunk of the tree and the other trees of the forest, found their eyes.

A radiance as of many hundreds of silver lamps glowed steadily in a clearing not far ahead, beyond a few darkly silhouetted trees.

Elros, as startled as she dropped her hand, and drew Nórui to a stop. Andreth did the same.

"What is it?" she breathed in the silence, and shot a glance to her husband.

Elros returned her gaze, equally in awe.

"Our- gift from Maglor," he breathed, though his voice told her clearly, that he could not say what sort of gift it could be. "Let us go see," he said, and urged Nórui into a hasty trot.

Andreth nudged Maidh, who trotted after the stallion. Andreth checked her breath in her throat as the trees fell away, and the clearing came into view.

Her lips parted in amazement, and she tried to speak, though only a sigh came forth as she gazed up at the curving walls and arching windows of the little dwelling perched within the branches of the fat tree in the center of the clearing. The little dwelling, fair and white as the bark of the tree in which it rested appeared as if it were but a natural extension of the tree itself, clearly fashioned by elven skill. An ascending staircase spiraled around the trunk away out of sight, leading, she presumed, to an entrance to the fair dwelling. Silver lamps hung about the clearing, illuminating the tree and the little house nested within its branches; one small lamp hung at the base of the steps as if beckoning them to ascend.

Maglor had made all this?

"Oh, it's beautiful," she breathed.

A breath escaped her husband, followed by the creak of leather as Elros swung smoothly to the ground. Soft leaves and twigs crackled under his boots as he strode now to Maidh's side, and looked up into Andreth's eyes.

Wordlessly, Andreth turned to him, drew her foot from the stirrup, and slid easily from Maidh's back, down into his welcoming arms in a whisper of skirts.

His arms circled her waist, strong and warm, and her hands found his shoulders, firm beneath the cloth of his robe.

Elros smiled, his eyes dancing in the light of the many silver lanterns.

"Welcome home, my fair wife," he said, and smiled.


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