Andreth stood still, content in the circle of Elros' arms. "Welcome home," he had said, moments ago.
And indeed she was home, for wherever he was, she would always be home.
"Welcome home to you as well, my lord," she murmured, admiring the play of lamplight across the angles of his face.
Elros smiled, and leaned forward, letting his brow rest against her own. His eyes fell closed. He did not attempt to kiss her, but this seemed right to Andreth. She let her own eyes droop closed as well, and they stood together, listening to the silence of the forest, and their own breathing.
After a time, the horses began to shift. Nórui pawed the ground, then snorted; his hooves thumped hollowly against the ground as he moved to Maidh.
"Andreth," Elros sighed, and drew back. Andreth opened her eyes to find his studying her. "Tindómiel. My wife."
"My husband," she breathed. "Rau Amin."
A hand lifted, and fingers brushed her cheek. Still, he did not kiss her.
"I saw a stable on the other side of the clearing," he said. "I will see to the horses. I will join you inside, in a moment."
His arms fell from her, and he turned away.
Nórui's head was near to Maidh's as if the mare and stallion were whispering and feared to be overheard. Elros gathered up their reins. Then he paused.
Elros released a breath, then turned back to Andreth, and met her eyes.
"I suppose I should remove my robe."
"It would afford you more ease of movement, to- care for our mounts," she agreed, finding her voice.
Biting her lip, she stepped forward, and took hold of the edges of his open robe, helping him as he slipped his arms out of the folds of cloth. Her heart quickened as she gathered the weight of the long robe to herself, and her eyes lifted to his, so close to her own.
Free of the fine robe, the shape of his shoulders and torso were more visible than before beneath the cloth of his finely woven tunic and his overlaying jerkin.
Involuntarily, her mind cast back to the few times when she had seen Elros naked to the waist. She recalled the corded muscles shifting beneath his lightly tanned skin, the grace of his limbs as he moved.
Andreth looped his robe over one arm, wondering what it would be like to touch his skin, smooth yet firm beneath her hands, and so warm-
Andreth swallowed hard, and glanced away. "I will carry this inside for you," she stammered, grateful that Elros merely nodded, and turned away, gathering up the reins of the horses.
He left her there leading the horses away beneath the silver light of the lanterns circling the clearing. Andreth stood for a moment, watching him go, admiring the grace and the power of his stride, the form of his shoulders, his calf high boots, and the strength of his legs beneath his breeches.
This last thought left her cheeks burning, and Andreth turned away. With silent steps, she made her way toward the tree, and the bottommost stair where the single lamp hung from the eave that sheltered the rising steps, supported by slender columns that marched up the steps, bordered by an elegant hand rail.
Looping the smooth weight of Elros' robe over one arm, she touched a hand to the railing with her other, passed beneath the glowing lamp, and began to climb, a twinge of curiosity overriding for a fleeting moment, the strangeness of being Elros' wife.
The steps circled the tree, taking her past the stable, an elegant though simple little building of obvious elven craftsmanship where she could see, through a half-closed door, her husband, his work illuminated by a lantern within.
He lifted the saddle from Maidh's back, while Nórui, relieved of his gear, was flicking his tail, and eating from a manger. Elros' back was turned to Andreth, and she could see the muscles of his shoulders through the cloth as he settled the saddle over a low wall beside him.
Barely aware that her steps had paused, Andreth's hand tightened upon the railing, and her lips parted as she watched her husband's graceful movements. Elros returned to the mare and patted her, a grooming brush looped over one hand. How gently now he brushed Maidh, his hands well-formed, powerful, yet so tender as they stroked the horse's creamy coat. He was half turned to Andreth, and she could see the smile upon his lips, his mouth moving with soft words as he soothed and praised the horse.
Though it would have pleased her to remain watching Elros, Andreth sighed, and turned away. She continued on up the steps until she reached the crest of the curving staircase where stood a white door, polished and adorned with carvings of leaves and vines.
She put her hand upon the latch and pushed on it, her breath checked as a sweet scent rolled out. Tentatively, she stepped through, finding herself in a small sitting room with a door opposite her, identical to the one she had passed through. Woven chairs graced the walls, and in one corner, upon the smooth surface of a little table, sat a vase lush with flowers of many and varied colors. The reason for the sweet scent that filled the air.
She lay Elros' robe over one of the chairs, and continued on to the next door. She pushed it open, and stepped through, finding herself in a larger chamber with curving walls. Opposite her, a single candle in a bracket on the wall bathed the chamber in a dim glow. A few windows graced the walls, but they were all shuttered. To the left of the doorway, sat a chair, its back adorned with carven vines and leaves, like the doors. It was simple but beautiful, and not the only fair thing that graced the shadowed chamber.
The dim light was still sufficient for her to note the beauty of the rest of the room, her breath catching as she lifted her eyes to the cross beams supporting an arching ceiling, where here and there, the tree's natural branches lent support. To her left, against the furthest curve of the room, sat a small square table with carven chairs beside it, and a silver tray bearing two covered platters. No doubt with food beneath them. On one side of the silver tray sat two decanters, bearing wine, perhaps, for fluted glasses sat beside them. Standing beside the small table, was a modest cupboard, holding, she supposed, more food.
A few steps away from the little table, a wide dais upon three smoothed carven steps rose up in the center of the room. And upon this graceful dais sat an elegant bed. Four posts rose at the corners, a canopy stretched between the tops of the posts. Between the solid posts hung gossamer curtains, veiling the interior on three sides. On the fourth, the gossamer curtain had been drawn aside, tied with a ribbon to the post, revealing the wide bed itself, adorned with soft, deep pillows, and warm coverlets. Her wedding bed, Andreth realized, feeling her face growing warm; the bed she would share with Elros.
Andreth bit her lip, and let her gaze slide away to her right where the room narrowed, bathed in deeper shadow. Here, a wardrobe stood against the wall, with a small dressing table beside it. A tall mirror within a carved frame adorned the wall to one side of the table.
Upon the dressing table, sat a small flat bundle wrapped in silk, and tied elegantly with a ribbon. A small square of folded parchment lay upon the square of silk, tucked beneath one ribbon. This drew her toward the dressing table, and she smiled to see her name upon the outer fold of the parchment.
She drew the bit of parchment into her hands, and unfolded it.
Dearest Andreth, it read, this is a gift for you, from our lady Galadriel, myself, and of course, dear Firiel. I hope this gift pleases you. All my love, your friend, Aelin.
Andreth's throat tightened, and she set the note down before loosing the elegant ribbon, and drawing back the silken folds.
Folded within, was a soft, shimmering garment of sea green. As she lifted it, she was struck first, by how light it was, like holding something woven of starlight. Passing her hand beneath it, she could see the barest outline of her palms and fingers through the cloth. What was-
"Oh," she breathed, as the length of it tumbled in a soft whisper nearly to her feet.
A sleeping gown. She held the shoulders in her hands. The fabric was beautiful, shimmering even in the dim light. It seemed fitting that it would remind her of the sea, a mix of blue and green for she and her husband, and the people of the Edain would soon be crossing over the sea to their new home.
Andreth held it against herself, her heart growing still, and turned to study her image in the mirror. The shoulders were a thumb's length in thickness, and would leave most of her shoulder bare, along with the entire length of her arms and hands. The neckline, she could already see, plunged deliciously low. A trembling smile touched her lips as she imagined the delight Firiel and the elven women had shared, planning and fashioning this gift for her.
A warm longing for Elros to see her thusly attired when he entered their wedding chamber pulsed through her veins, mixed with a confusing tingle of inexplicable fear.
Her breath began quickening as she pushed away the prick of uncertainty, then bent and removed her slippers from her feet. The floor was cool and smooth beneath her feet. She turned and opened the gilded door of the wardrobe, to see within, carven hooks and shelves for clothes, and a woven basket. Most were empty, but upon one side, there were shelves lined with neatly folded garments, both for herself, and Elros. Andreth managed a tremulous smile as she hastily pushed the sleeves of her gown from her shoulders, letting it slide down her body and puddle about her feet. They would not need to leave this little clearing for days, if they did not wish to.
Andreth shivered as she pulled the fabric of her shift from her shoulders and let it slip to the floor to join her gown. Removing her undergarments and dropping them into the pool of fabric at her feet, Andreth shivered, her heart thundering within her that she could dare to disrobe so completely in this new, and unfamiliar place, and with Elros so near- Her heart clenched. What if he came through the door this very instant? A part of her wished him to, but another part desperately hoped he didn't.
Snatching up the thin night gown, Andreth swiftly stepped into it. It flowed over her bare skin like water as she put it on, loving the smooth feel of it against her flesh, like the touch of a cloud. It flattered the soft curves of her young body wonderfully, she decided gazing at herself in the mirror and turning slowly, to study herself from all angles. At last, she faced herself fully, noting her own hurried breathing, and flushed cheeks, and through the gossamer fabric, hints of what it concealed.
The diadem still gleamed in her hair, the necklace upon her fair bosom.
Carefully, Andreth reached behind her throat, and unfastened the clasp, then lay the pearl necklace upon the dressing table. She repeated the action with the matching diadem in her hair, setting it beside the necklace.
Reaching back, she touched the comb that would loose the elegant whorls of her hair. Then she stopped. No. She would leave that for Elros to remove.
Reverently, she bent, retrieving her garments from the floor. Her gown, she hung upon a hook within the wardrobe, while the other things she dropped into the woven basket.
Gently, with trembling fingers, she shut the wardrobe's elegant doors. The latch fell shut with a delicious click.
Footsteps sounded upon the stairs just beyond the door, a soft scrape of boots as Elros paused at the outer door. Andreth started and turned as the latch turned, and he stepped into the little forechamber.
"Andreth?" Elros' voice called from the little forechamber as the latch of the first door clicked shut.
"I- am here." Her quavering voice echoed in the wide room.
His boots whispered as he crossed the little sitting room. The door creaked as he pushed it inward, and he entered.
Her heart jumped at the sight of him as her new husband stepped into the room, and with a foot, pushed the door shut behind him. Tall and fair, and fiercely beautiful, his long dark hair and braids hanging over his chest, and down his back. She was torn between dashing into his arms, and a sudden urge to fly away, and hide. The buckles of his jerkin were already undone, and fell open, revealing the thin fabric of his tunic beneath. The front of his tunic could fall open down past the center of his chest, but for a string that crossed through eyelets, tied closed at the hem of his neckline beneath his collarbones. With his jerkin fastened, she had not noticed this before.
His eyes traveled to the bed and the little table on the opposite side of the room.
Seeming not to see her, Elros removed the silver circlet from his head, and set it upon the seat of the single chair to his left. He reached down, and pulled one boot off, then the other, setting them beside the chair to his left.
Andreth's heart, already tight, jumped. She had never seen his feet bare before.
As if he feared to disturb the silence of the room, he whispered, "Andre-,"
"Elros," she breathed, and he turned, his eyes finding her where she stood in the shadows.
For a long moment, Elros stood still, unmoving but for his chest which rose and fell deeply and his eyes which moved over her, softening worshipfully as they did. At last, he spoke.
The words fell from his lips with deepest solemnity. It was no mere exclamation that he uttered. It was the most hallowed of prayers.
"You are beautiful."
A wave of sudden shyness washed over her, and Andreth grasped for the back of the chair as she turned from him. She had anticipated this night for so long. Why then was she suddenly so afraid? What did she fear? Elros himself? Certainly not! The- pain then? No, for she knew Elros would be gentle with her.
"Tindómiel," Elros breathed behind her. His hand touched her shoulder. He had come behind her so quietly that even in this stillness, she had not heard him.
She felt the fingers of his other hand brush the back of her neck, then slide slowly up to her ear, his thumb caressing the rounded curve before drawing away as his fingers slid up through her hair. They stopped as they came into contact with the silver comb.
"May I?" he breathed.
Andreth felt herself shiver before she found her voice. "Please," she murmured.
His fingers eased the comb out, and the cool weight of her hair tumbled about her shoulders in a cascade of russet and gold, spilling into Elros' hands. The comb clattered upon the dressing table, forgotten.
"My wife." Elros voice was rough, thick with pleading as his hand brushed her hair aside, and he bent his head.
Andreth shivered as Elros' breath brushed against the sensitive skin of her throat, followed by the soft touch of his lips. Her breath caught as the tender caresses quickly grew more insistent. His grip tightened upon her arms as his warm, moist mouth trailed down, gradually nearing her shoulder.
"My bride," his voice moaned as his mouth tasted, caressed her skin.
She tried to speak, to reciprocate his ardor, but her voice would not work, and Andreth could only swallow thickly.
Elros' hands slid down her arms now, trailing to her wrists, before sliding across her stomach, drawing her more firmly against him. His chest was hard and warm against her back, his heart throbbing furiously between her shoulder blades. She could sense his desire for her, and it both frightened and thrilled her.
Through the thin cloth over her stomach, she felt the gentle, though firm strength of his hands and fingers.
"How long we have waited for this-," he breathed, his voice deep and rough, almost a muffle sob. "My queen-,"
One hand crept upward over the thin cloth, his fingertips trailing over the flesh of her stomach, brushing up over the ridges of her ribs. "I love you-," he growled as his warm hand, gently and with infinite tenderness, closed over soft flesh which, until now, decorum and his own honor had not permitted him to touch.
An involuntary gasp escaped her and she felt herself stiffen slightly. At this, Elros pulled away, and stepped back.
"Andreth-," he murmured, his voice taut, "forgive me-"
She turned to him, lifting her eyes to his, shamed that she had caused such a look of worry upon his face.
"No," she choked, as she dropped her eyes. "Forgive me. I- should not be so-"
"Andreth." His voice, gentle and soothing, silenced her, and she looked up again.
His expression melted from worry into one of understanding, softening and soothing her heart as he stepped forward, and tenderly cupped her soft shoulders in his hands, so firm and strong, yet so gentle, too.
"My fairest Tindómiel," he soothed, as he leaned forward, and gently kissed her upon the brow, a chaste kiss that conveyed tenderness and longing, yet which demanded nothing.
"Do not be ashamed that you are suddenly afraid of this-," he paused a long moment, "newness between us. I too am unsure and uncertain. Truly, I do not know what I am doing."
He drew her to him, and circled his arms about her, strong and warm, his chin coming to rest upon her head.
One hand touched her hair, his fingers weaving into its cool thickness, slowly sliding through the length of it.
Andreth closed her eyes, feeling the tension fading from her body as his hand trailed down the length of her hair. "And do not be sorry, Andreth. It is enough, simply to hold you, for now."
"But I am your wife," she breathed. "I want to please you, and I should-,"
"You should do nothing more than you are doing now," Elros soothed. "And you already please me."
Andreth closed her eyes, drinking in the feeling of him stroking her hair. Oh, why did she feel this nameless, foolish apprehension? In all her fancies and daydreams about what her wedding night would be like, she had never imagined being afraid!
His hand reached the end of her unbound hair, and paused at the small of her back. "You are my wife," he murmured. "And I am your husband. And for now, that is enough."
He drew back and smiled, the tenderness in his eyes softening her heart. His hands found her shoulders once again.
Andreth lifted her eyes, penitent, and at her expression, he smiled.
"Come," he urged. "It is late, and we are both weary. Let us simply- lie together, for now. And become used to each other, together in the night."
He stepped back, and turned toward the bed, leading her by the hand.
Andreth followed him, studying his face, flawless, strong, yet gentle in the dim candlelight, his eyes warm with tenderness whenever he turned to meet her eyes.
Their bare feet whispered as Elros led her up the smooth steps of the dais. At the side of the bed where the curtain had been drawn aside, Elros let her hand go. He turned and caught hold of the coverlet, drawing it back. The cloth rustled.
He turned, and sat down upon the bed, lifting his eyes to her, his gaze speaking without words, conveying his adoration for her in the silence between them.
Swallowing, she turned, lowering herself to the bed beside him. She lowered a hand to the soft sheets, her eyes turned shyly from Elros as she ran her fingers over the luxurious fabric.
Elros' hand touched her back and trailed back and forth.
She sighed and turned to him, still unable to lift her eyes. She touched a hand to his chest, her fingers coming in contact with the stiffness of his loosened jerkin.
"This would be somewhat stiff to sleep in," she said, caressing one of the loose fastenings. Then, realizing what she had said, drew back a little, blushing.
"It would," he admitted, his voice reverberating in his chest. "May I take it off?"
"Yes," she said, glancing away as he pulled off the loose jerkin and dropped it in a whisper of crumpling cloth beside the bed.
Andreth glanced at him, then dropped her eyes, blushing. Without the stiffness of his jerkin, the lean strength of his arms and chest were even more evident than before.
Beside her, the bed shifted, and gently, Elros' arm touched her back once again, rubbing slowly from one shoulder to the other, then down to the small of her back, and up again.
Andreth closed her eyes, and leaned against him, tipping her head against Elros' shoulder. His arms went about her then, and together, they sat in silence for a long moment.
"Lie with me?" he murmured, his voice a deep purr.
She nodded against the soft cloth of his tunic. Tension drained from her body as Elros leaned back cradling her against his chest; slowly, together, they settled against the softness of the pillows.
Elros, still with his arms about her, shifted a little, pushing his legs beneath the coverlet, and Andreth moved with him, relishing the softness of the coverlet and the sheets against her bare feet as well as the feel of his warm, strong legs against her own. She settled at his side, her head once more against his shoulder, amazed at how natural, how comfortable it felt to lay thusly as her free arm slid across his chest. The hand of his arm that cradled her head shifted, slid across her back, and entwined in her loose hair. The cloth of his tunic was soft against her cheek, and his body, so strong and firm, was wonderfully warm against her own. Especially as he drew up the coverlet over them both, then slipped his free hand beneath the warm covering, and let it settle at her hip.
She shifted her head and lifted her eyes to see his own upon her.
She found herself returning his smile, studying the deepness of his grey eyes, his dark hair splayed about him on the pillows. How she wished she could simply cast aside this inexplicable fear, and give herself to him!
"This is our wedding night," Andreth sighed. "And-"
"And it is wonderful," he said, turning his face, and kissing her brow. "Let your cares fade away my love, and sleep. Sleep."
His free hand touched her face, his thumb brushed over her heavy lids, and she let them fall closed. Elros bent his head over her, and she felt his lips kiss her closed eyelids, one, then the other.
"For so long, I have wanted to watch you sleep with your eyes closed, your lashes brushing your cheeks," he breathed. "You are unspeakably fascinating."
"As are you," she murmured, nuzzling into her husband's chest. She slid her hand over the thin fabric of his tunic to the center of his broad chest, where she let it rest directly over his heart. Even as she felt the warm weight of slumber settling on her, she could feel the soothing throb of his heart beneath her hand.
One last spark flickered before she sank into sleep. "Elros?"
"What is it, fair one?"
She felt his breath brushing her face.
"I love you."
She sensed him smiling. And then he spoke, but she did not hear what he said, for she was lost to sleep.
"I love you, as well," Elros whispered.
But perhaps she did not hear, for her deepened breathing told him that she was already walking the path of her own dreams.
Elros smiled down at his wife nestled against his shoulder, the length of her slender, flawless body pressed against his side. So warm, so soft and alluring. One slender arm lay across his chest, her hand directly above his heart. Her other arm lay beneath her, her elbow bent. Her hand rested against his shoulder, her palm pillowing her cheek.
She was beautiful. So beautiful, it was agonizing just to look upon her. And Elros admitted that he longed with all the strength of his soul and body to do more than simply gaze upon his new wife. Even now, as he studied her face in the faint candle light, and felt the soft movement of her body against his own, desire stirred and swelled painfully in his blood.
Elros turned his eyes to the silver canopy over his head. The smooth cloth rippled in the gentle night air that stirred in the chamber. He drew in a deep breath through his teeth, willing the thickness of his blood to ease, and cool. Making love to her could wait. She was sleeping. And this was what she needed now; simply to be held, to be adored, to sleep in his arms. Their bodies were not one yet, but their souls were, and would be forever. It was enough. For now. And his heart was content.
As much as she might think otherwise, this was a perfect wedding night.
Andreth started awake, and lifted her head from the curve of Elros' shoulder.
The single candle in the room was a dying flicker in the wide chamber. And by what light managed to filter through the shutters of the windows, she could see that the moon had completed half of his journey across the sky.
Turning her head back, she lifted her head to her husband's face. Elros lay upon his back, his dark hair splayed over the pillows. His open eyes gazed up at the silver canopy above their heads, but she knew that he slept, for his gaze was clouded and unfocused, and his breathing deep and even, swelling his chest in a gentle rhythm. What sweet visions inhabited his slumbering elvish mind? Would that she could join him there, as she once had.
Blinking wearily, she stirred, becoming aware of the contact between herself and her husband, the renewed awareness stirring her blood even through their clothing. The skirt of her nightgown had somehow snaked up to her midthigh. And one of her legs, she discovered, had twined with one of his in their shared sleep. Both his arms encircled her.
How she longed to stay here, entwined with him, adoring him until the sun rose in the east. But Andreth could not ignore the dryness in her mouth, thinking of the two decanters.
The supper which had been left for them, they had not touched, and she not eaten or drunken anything since the mid day meal.
Stirring at this thought, she gently untangling herself from her husband's embrace, hoping not to wake him. Her efforts were in vain though, for as she drew away, he stirred, and a light flickered in his eyes.
"Don't go," he pleaded in the silent darkness, his voice deep and soft with sleep. His eyes blinked, and awareness came again into them as his gaze found her own.
He reached out for her, finding her hand.
"I'm not going far," she whispered, propping herself upon one elbow, and touching her free hand to his face.
He gazed up at her.
"Are you thirsty?" she wondered.
"Yes," he said. His tone and the deepness of his eyes gave her pause, and a faint premonition that he spoke not merely of thirst for drink.
Andreth smiled. Then as her heart jumped within her, she lowered her head, and brushed her lips over his.
Elros returned her soft caress his lips tasting hers with tentative longing, He lifted a hand to touch her face. Andreth smiled, letting her lips linger upon his a moment longer before she drew back.
His hand moved to her hair catching a thick tress, and fingering it as if it were a length of smooth silk.
"I will get you something." She drew back, her hair sliding through his fingers like liquid gold in the faint light. She rose from the bed, the coverings whispering as she stood. She turned and pattered down the dais steps, toward the small table where the covered platters of food and the two decanters waited.
From the bed, Elros watched his bride glide away toward the little table where the food and drink had been set. Even in the small light of the dying candle, he could see the details of her slender body through the cloth of her sleeping gown, as thin as if it had been woven from the insubstantial threads of starlight. Despite his resolve to wait until she was ready, his desire for her stirred anew within him. A soft groan escaped his lips. How desperately he wanted her!
Drawing a breath deep into his chest, Elros sat up, pushing his legs over the side of the bed, the more easily to watch her, marveling at the grace of each simple movement. Her beauty was matchless. She truly flowed like a wave of the ocean. Her arms were long and fair, flawless in the dim light, and he longed to stand beside her, running his hands along the soft flesh of her slender arms, whispering words of love and desire into her hair, and feeling her warm response as she turned to him, unafraid, soft, submissive, yet eager, as well.
But she stood some distance away, her back to him. She seemed to pause as if in indecision about something.
Elros watched her. She had remained still for several long moments. He rose to his feet, then paused. If she still felt the uncertainty he had sensed earlier, perhaps he should continue to wait. He had no wish to frighten her, or to make her memory of their first night together anything less than truly glorious. But perhaps- he could simply offer her his help. And if his chivalry pleased her, then perhaps her uncertainties would fade as cold mist before the warmth of the sun.
Elros pushed the thought away, letting it simmer in a corner of his mind, a small, glowing coal of hope as he descended the steps of the dais.
Andreth could feel Elros' eyes upon her as she stood at the side of the small table, and she smiled, enjoying the feel of his eyes caressing her body. But even as she reveled in the warmth of his ardor, a prick of guilt troubled her heart. Their bodies were not yet bound, and despite Elros' assurances, she knew it was because of her fear. He longed to touch her as only a husband could. And truly, she confessed to herself, she wanted it, as well. If it were not for this strange shyness that had seized her, they would already have become one.
She sighed, picked up one of the silver decanters, and lifted the stopper. Beside the remaining bottle, there were four delicate glasses with fluted stems. She picked one up, tipping the silver bottle, and letting its contents clatter into it. Deep, rich, red wine. She swirled the contents and sniffed it, then drew in a timid sip upon her tongue. It was sweet, but strong, heady enough to dull her senses considerably, if she drank much more.
She studied its rich red contents through the clear crystal of the glass. If she drank this glass of wine, perhaps her fears would pass away, and she would be able to share the rest of the night with Elros the way she had so often dreamed.
But she hesitated. For she did not wish for her first memories as Elros' lover to be clouded by dulled wits. And she knew that he would not wish to share himself with her, with her senses and her will so blunted.
Even if there was pain, as Firiel had long ago warned her there might be, she wanted her memories of this night clear, in her heart, body and soul.
She touched the second decanter, noting the cool beads of wetness beneath her fingers as she uncorked it, lifted a second cup, and poured.
Water, clear as the crystal cup into which she poured it, clattered into the delicate goblet. She set it down beside the first.
"You are having difficulty deciding something, my fair wife?"
Despite his voice coming from so close behind her, Andreth was not startled. She had not heard him coming, but even so, his presence was as natural as the moonlight through the shutters over the windows.
Drawing in a breath, Andreth picked up one of the cups, and turned to him.
"Not any more," she murmured, lifting it to her lips, and drinking a sip of the cool, sweet water. It washed over her tongue and slid welcome, down her throat. "Here. Drink."
She held the cup to Elros. He did not take it from her hand; rather, his fingers encircled her own, and with their fingers entwined, he lifted the cup to his lips and drank before drawing back, and looking down again into her eyes.
The longing, the sudden, almost painful hope she saw there stopped her breath in her throat.
Shivering, but only a little, Andreth set the glass again upon the table and turned to look up into her husband's face.
"Elros," she breathed, hesitant, before she dropped her eyes.
"What is it, Andreth?" He stepped near.
He gripped her waist, and she lifted her own hands, resting them upon his chest. Ai, how wonderful he was, how kind to her, and how patient. These last hours, simply sleeping in his arms, had been marvelous, and had done so much to ease her uncertainty. She could only imagine how difficult holding himself back had been for Elros. Yet he had waited. For her. As her mind mulled over this, her fear, like wax before a flame, began to soften, and melt gradually, slowly, away.
"I-," she swallowed. "I am-,"
She drew in a breath, then forcing her throbbing heart to calm, she slid a hand up to the throat of his tunic, gently grasped the knotted string, and slowly pulled it.
The knot popped free, and the strings began to loosen and unravel, opening the throat of his tunic, and exposing a small portion of his upper chest.
The motion of his breath froze for a long moment. His eyes softened even as a spark of fire filled them.
Neither spoke, though his eyes remained fixed upon her face, his chest resuming its rise and fall as her fingers began to draw the strings through each eyehole, opening the throat of his tunic more each time, until she drew the string completely free, and dropped it absently to the table, his tunic open to the center of his chest.
Andreth's lips parted. She studied the portion of his chest visible through the slit of cloth before she lifted a hand, and parted it further, brushing her fingertips against the warm, firm skin.
In profound silence, Andreth lifted her other hand, parting the cloth further, her hands pushing the throat of his tunic open, exposing more and more of his sculpted torso, her fingers exploring the taut warm curves of his chest as she slid her hands over the corded flesh, the firm ridges of his collarbones, and then his strong, firm shoulders. The sinews rippled beneath the skin as he shifted slightly, drawing his arms free as his tunic fell easily from his shoulders, and slid unprotesting to the floor at his feet. Without looking, for his eyes were ever fixed upon her, he gently pushed it away with one foot. He stood before her now, naked to the waist, tall, fierce elven warrior that he was, wildly beautiful, achingly desirable, and flawless as a young god.
Her hands slipped from his shoulders to the center of his chest.
Beneath her fingertips, his heart thundered. Her own heart tripped at a furious pace as well. She had seen, and admired, his bare torso before, but she had never touched him, never run her fingers over the sinuous warmth of his hard, muscular body. Until now.
The feel of his skin beneath her fingers, and the sweet, musky scent of him, combined with the vision of him in the fading candlelight and the moonlight that spilled through the shutters was more intoxicating than ever the strongest wine could be. Welcome weakness, mingled with an almost frightening need for him, simmering deep within her, threatened to overwhelm her, and Andreth's hands slid down over his chest and corded abdomen, ever conscious of the taut strength beneath her fingertips, the warmth and the softness of his skin, before her hands touched the hem of his breeches, loose about his hips. A moment passed and her hands fell away to her sides.
Even now, he did not speak. But Elros' chest swelled as he drew in a shuddering breath. Now, his hand lifted and touched her shoulder. Gently, his fingers caressed the thin, sea green fabric there. It lingered a moment before his thumb, trembling against her skin, gently hooked beneath the cloth, and slid it over the soft curve of her shoulder, and partway down her arm.
Andreth drew in a sharp breath at the cool air that brushed her suddenly exposed shoulder as her husband bent his head.
"For so long I have wanted to do this," he confessed in a husky whisper. She closed her eyes, feeling his soft breath caress the curve of flesh a moment before his mouth made contact, tasting the naked skin of her shoulder with such gentleness that a soft, involuntary moan, a mingling of pleasure and pleading, escaped her lips.
To this, Elros lifted his head, his eyes seeking hers, a question simmering in their deep, sea grey depths. "Andreth-" he began, though her lips cut his words off as she cradled his strong face in her hands and brushed his lips with her own.
"You are so good to me," she breathed.
She drew back enough to find his eyes, delving into hers with a new hope that danced and sparked in their gentle depths, a pleading in his eyes as of one begging for his very life. She spoke three soft words in answer to this unspoken question. "I am ready."
Elros' arms encircled her in a moment, crushing her soft body against the hard strength of his own as his mouth captured hers, plundering her lips with feral abandon. The careful restraint with which he had guarded himself for so long, vanished. His power was such that she wondered if she could breath. She wondered if she truly wanted to, lost in the taste of his mouth, the scent of his skin, musky sweet, the feel of his hard strength pressing against her yielding softness-
The glasses on the table behind her rattled in protest as she bumped into them, and Elros, gasping hard, drew back, a very little.
His eyes found her own, and his gaze filled again with concern, grey as the sea, and just as soothing. He did not speak, but she sensed clearly enough that he feared he was taking too much too swiftly, and did not wish to frighten her.
Oh, dearest Valar, he was so good to her, so patient and unselfish. The understanding that he loved her, enfolded and surrounded her, like a comforting mantle. And how deeply she loved him in return!
He smiled, a tender smile of warmest adoration, and Andreth smiled in reply, aching for him now, despite the faint tremor in her limbs. At this, he leaned down once again, and kissed her.
But he did not kiss her now with the wild abandon of moments before. Now, it was gentle, steady, and warmly passionate. Andreth smiled, returning his tender caresses as her hands found his face, her fingers trailing up his jaw, over the outer edges of his ears, finding their pointed tips. As she did, a soft moan escaped his lips as he pulled her more firmly to him, and teased her lips apart, deepening their kiss.
For a long moment Elros' mouth explored her own, before he broke away, and found her gaze, his eyes warm and filled with fire. Andreth only wondered for a moment why he had stopped kissing her before his arms scooped her up, lifting her off her feet as easily as a child.
To this, Andreth circled her arms about his shoulders, reveling in the feeling of his bare skin beneath her fingers, the rippling of his muscles beneath the flesh.
Elros returned her smile, then dipped his head, and caught her lips again, continuing as he had moments before, his mouth searching hers, conveying his love, his longing, and his simmering need. Andreth returned his ardor with her own rising passions, letting her eyes fall closed.
He was moving now, she realized, striding back to their bed, though the warm caresses of his mouth did not slacken.
His steps rose up the tiers of the dais. Again, Elros' lips released her own, and he drew back with a deep sigh that washed across her mouth. A moment later, Andreth felt the softness of the bed beneath her as her husband lay her down. Sheets and pillows cradled her body as his warm, fragrant shadow settled over her, his dark hair tumbling about her in a soft cascade.
She opened her eyes, gazing up at him through the silver shadows. His elbows pressed into the bed on either side of her as he contemplated her worshipfully.
"My Tindómiel?" he hissed, his voice thick. "Are- are you certain?"
"Yes," she gasped, lifting a hand to his face, caressing his ear to the peaked tip. "What of you, Rau Amin?"
"I am yours, my lady," he said, his voice a soft growl.
"Then come," she breathed. as she reached up and circled her arms about his neck. "Come to me."
She drew him down to her and their lips met once more.
As the moon continued his journey across the sky, the last vestiges of fear fell away from Andreth's heart, slipping away as the snows of winter melt into spring, as garments reverently removed and cast aside, crumple, forgotten, to the floor.
Elros became in her mind and heart, like the bright, silver moon that sailed above their little sanctuary, far away in the night sky, tender, strong, and real, caressing the delicate, unfurled petals of a young tindómiel blossom that turned her face skyward, longing to bloom beneath the gentle light that was his. Beneath the tender touches and soft kisses of the moon's gentle rays, the yet unopened petals of the delicate flower gradually began to soften. Slowly, so slowly, the petals began to part beneath the moon's patient, silver light. And at last, with a burst of ecstasy, the petals of the young tindómiel unfurled into a magnificent bloom as the light and strength of the moon that she loved, entered her, and filled her soul with delight.
Faint morning light filtered through her closed eyelids, and Andreth smiled as her eyes fluttered open. She turned, lifting her eyes to the face of her new husband, pleased to see his eyes bright and focused in wakefulness, studying her where she lay against his chest, his arms about her, their limbs deliciously entangled.
He stirred as their eyes met, awakening all the points of contact between their bodies, and Andreth's blood stirred, even as she blushed and hid her face against his shoulder, more in pleasure now, than in shyness.
"Good morning, my wife," he murmured, the hand of his arm that pillowed her head gently caressing the soft skin of her back. His other hand touched her face, brushing away a strand of stray hair that fluttered across her cheek.
"Good morning my husband," she returned, lifting her face and smiling. "How long have you been watching me?"
To this, Elros grinned, and drew in a deep breath. "Not long enough. I could never tire of watching you sleep."
Her hand that had until now rested upon his bare chest, slid up to brush a finger along his jaw, and up to the peak of his ear. "You are well?"
He smiled. "A little hungry, but otherwise, I am wonderful," he said. His strong hands drew the coverlet, which had fallen a little, back up to her shoulder, holding in the warmth their bodies shared. "And for that, my lady, I have you to thank."
Andreth grinned at this, and rolled a little away from him, though his arm still pillowed her head, turning to look up at the silver canopy above their heads.
"How are you?" he asked softly.
Andreth smiled at this. "A little hungry also, but I too am well," she murmured, though her brow furrowed as she said this, for though she did speak the truth, she felt- different. Somehow- changed.
She drew in a sigh as she felt him roll toward her, and his hand find and caress her bare stomach. "Yet-?" he queried, bending his head and brushing his lips against the exposed flesh of her shoulder.
"I feel well enough," she continued. "But I feel- changed, as if-,"
Elros shifted at this suddenly, propping himself up on one elbow to gaze down upon her where she lay.
His expression became a mixture of alarm and delight, such a contrast, that Andreth could not but giggle a little.
"You have not conceived already, have you?" he breathed.
To this, Andreth laughed aloud. "I don't know," she confessed. "We mortals count our birthing days, rather than our begetting days for a reason, for we do not know for certain when we are conceived. Your foremothers knew the very moment they had begotten the children of their mortal husbands, but would I know? I am mortal; the first woman of the second born to be taken to wife by one whose blood hails from the elder race." Her smile eased. "I do not know what to expect."
To this, Elros released a breath of air, and lay back as well, gazing up at the silver canopy as she did. His arm beneath her head bent, his fingers burrowing into the thickness of her hair.
Hungry though they both were, neither wished to leave the warmth of their bed, or the companionship of the other.
"You will know," he breathed.
Andreth turned her head to see his gentle grey eyes studying her own, and she grew still as she remembered all that had passed between them the night before, the sweet, warm, unspeakably beautiful things.
Elros smiled and caught her hand, turning his lips into her palm to caress the lingering scar there. "The moment you conceive," he murmured, "you will feel our child's fëa within you."
This thought was pleasing to Andreth. She smiled, and turned toward him, settling her head again against his shoulder. "I wonder how long I will carry our children. Elven mothers carry their children a year; mortals but a fraction of that."
"Our mother carried Elrond and me ten months and a fortnight," Elros said.
Andreth sighed. "I suppose then, I will carry our children a little less than that, but more than nine months." She drew in a shuddering breath. "Will my body be strong enough?"
"Yes," Elros soothed, turning his head and pressing a kiss to her brow. "Do not doubt yourself." He smiled, his eyes growing warm. "After all, you are meant to be queen of Númenor. The Valar will uphold you."
Andreth shivered in pleasure at these words, and tipped her head against his shoulder, loving the feel of his warm skin against her cheek.
She withdrew her face when she felt his hand stroke her back, sending shivers of pleasure through her body.
His lips still smiled, but his eyes were inquisitive.
"You say you feel- changed, Andreth?"
She nodded, tipping her head back against his chest. "And I do not think I have conceived. Not yet. It is- something else."
"Describe the feeling to me."
Andreth sighed, and looped her arm over his chest, snuggling more firmly against him, and sighing contentedly as his arms responded, drawing her more firmly to himself. She paused as she struggled for the words to describe the sensation. "I feel- younger, yet older at once. I feel- as if time is passing more swiftly and yet- more slowly than before. It is a funny paradox, I know."
Elros sighed against her hair, and smiled.
Andreth contemplated his silence. "Is this how- elves feel?"
Elros chuckled at this. "I cannot compare the differences between the minds of elves and mortals. I know only what I know. But perhaps how you feel now, is, a little, like the way an elf feels. For myself, I too became conscious of something- some intangible change, once my choice was certain. After the trouble of my poisoned wound had passed away, I became more conscious of the color, the beauty of the world, even of my longing for you; not that I hadn't loved life before," he smiled, "or you, but the preciousness of life itself became more real to me. I thought it was only in my own mind, brought about by the joy you gave me, when you told me you loved me, and our betrothal, mingled with the sobering awareness that I would someday die."
Andreth furrowed her brow. But she did not speak.
"But now as you spoke, I began to think, perhaps, that it was more." Elros sighed. "I think it was a very real change in me because of my choice to elect a mortal life." He sighed. "I will die one day, and because of that, the time I still have is made more sweet." He smiled faintly. "And perhaps more passionate."
Andreth blushed, and drew in a ragged breath before he continued. "But even so, even now, I am not as other men. Though I am all of ninety years, I will live decades, centuries, perhaps, beyond today. I would not want to face those long centuries if you, my love, were not gifted the same length of years. For without you, they would be unendurably bleak. Perhaps the Valar have allowed you a greater length of years, as I have, that there will be no prolonged parting between us. As Lord Celeborn hoped."
Andreth contemplated this, listening to the rhythm of both their hearts beating in harmony. "You think I have changed in that way? Increased in years as you have decreased? That I could live for- centuries?" The thought was overwhelming, and humbling.
"I hope so," he whispered.
"But how? How could I have changed?"
"I cannot say." He drew her to him, his hands warm against her body. His jaw brushed against her cheek, and his lips caressed the curve of her ear. "But I think it might have something to do with- what we shared last night." He whispered into her hair, "Our bodies are one now, Andreth. Like our souls." His voice deepened. "And it was more glorious than I imagined it would be."
She trembled at this, and looked up into his eyes, grey as the sea, vast as eternity, and as kind as a spring morning.
"Did I please you?" he murmured.
Andreth smiled and lifted a hand, touching her fingers lightly to the line of his strong jaw, trailing along the length of it, and up to the peaked tip of his ear before she pressed her palm to his cheek. Closing his eyes, Elros turned his head and pressed a hungry kiss into her palm.
"You pleased me, Elros," she breathed. "In ways I could never have imagined in the days of my maidenhood."
"Good." He opened his eyes which had darkened with renewed desire. His voice deepened and grew rough. "For I desperately long to please you again."
"Ai, Rau Amin," she sighed, letting her hand fall from his face, her fingertips caressing the sculpted sinews of his bare arm. "My beloved-"
At her words, a soft, eager growl escaped him. Elros' strong arms pulled her to him, his warm mouth claiming her parted lips as he moved to overshadow her. Their morning meal could wait. They had another feast they wished to share.
Above the distant hills to the east, the gentle sun rose at last, washing over the forest treetops, and bathing all the world in golden light. But for all its warmth and brightness, it could not outshine the joy in the hearts of Andreth and Elros.