Andreth drew in a deep breath as she stepped through the trees into the small clearing awash in a mesh of shadow and light, spears of sunlight piercing down through the leaves overhead, alighting upon her husband who stood waist deep in the water of the little pool beneath the clattering waterfall. His garments lay a short distance away from the water in a neatly folded pile. He did not see her at first, his back to her, and Andreth paused, admiring his masculine beauty, warming at the thought that the sun had set and risen three times since they had spoken their vows. He stood, now, beneath the clear cascade as it spilled over his head, his arms lifted, his hands running through his long, streaming hair.
Firiel had once told her that it was natural and to be expected that the wild passions of a newly wedded pair would eventually calm, giving way, if their love was true, to a sweet familiarity of quiet joy, even more beautiful than swift, fiery passion. And Galadriel had confirmed that it was so with elves, as well. Andreth understood this, and knew that eventually she and Elros would turn their attentions on the journey they would need to take across the sea, and in serving their people.
The day would come, one day, she knew, when they would not sleep, exhausted, until mid day, from having spent the greater part of the night making love.
But she would never tire of hearing him tell her he loved her, of feeling his touch, or of hearing him praise her with the fair, beautiful words at which he was so skillful. How much she wanted to make him happy.
The muscles of his back shifted and rippled as his fingers raked through his dark hair, his shoulders broad and strong, narrowing to his lean waist and hips that disappeared beneath the water. Water streamed over him, trailing down the smooth valley of his spine, and dripping from his limbs and hair in sparkling droplets beneath the late morning sun that speared down through the canopy. Ai, he was magnificent.
The scene was perfect, peaceful and taut with the simmering excitement of a newly wedded bride that she knew now so well. The beauty belied the worry that gnawed at her stomach now, that had begun on her way here, after she had woken from sweet dreams only a few minutes before in their bed, groping sleepily for him only to find warm, empty sheets, and a small note he had left upon his pillow.
I beg your leave, my beloved one, his elegant script had read. I was loath to leave you sleeping alone, so soft and warm, and beautiful in your slumber. But I confess, nature calls to me, and Nórui and Maidh need attention. I will see to their breakfast, and let them out to wander where they will. They will not go far. If I have not returned upon your waking, I will likely be at the pool at the end of the west trail that we found yesterday, for I am in want of a bath. I would be most honored if you would join me there when you wake. For, as I have already seen, you do great honor to water droplets that are blessed enough to grace your skin when it is bare. And the grass beside the pool as we have already discovered, is very soft.
I hope you have not yet tired of hearing these words from me, but I love you, my fairest Tindómiel. My life, my heart, my soul are yours. For your love, I am blessed above all the sons of Ilúvatar.
A postscript after his name had read,
Our children will have a wonderful mother. I would be most pleased if we conceived our first child while we were yet on these shores. If it is your will, as well.
Andreth's heart warmed as she thought over his words, though his last had, without intention, begun the seed that had grown into the worry she felt now.
At this, she drew in another breath, and stepped forward.
"My lord," she called.
Elros turned at her words, and grinned as he stepped from under the waterfall, water streaming down his face and through his hair. He brushed his hands over his face, pushing the water from his eyes. "My lady," he called. "You honor me by answering my missive."
He smiled, sloshing nearer to her through the water.
Andreth smiled and stepped nearer. "You honor me by asking," she said. She ignored the stone steps leading down into the water, and dropped to her knees on the bank nearest her husband. "And it pleased me very much."
One edge of the sash of the white dressing robe she wore slipped over the side into the water, and Elros caught the glimmering white sash where it floated, lifting it out, dripping.
With him in the water, and Andreth kneeling upon the bank, they were at eye level now, and she felt herself warming as Elros' eyes drank her in, his desire for her evident in his gaze.
"Very much," she said. "I will save it forever." Then drawing in a breath, she murmured, "My life, my heart, my soul are yours, as well, my lord."
Elros smiled, recognizing his own words. He reached out, and touched a hand to her face, his fingers moist. Trails of water trailed down her throat, but Andreth hardly heeded them as her lips met those of her husband. Her hands reached out and found his shoulders, wet, but warm and firm. Long their mouths searched each other tenderly until at last they drew apart. "Join me," he pleaded, slowly tugging upon the silken sash, until the knot fell undone. The hem of her robe fell open, and Elros' hand touched her thigh, beginning to part the cloth.
"In a moment," she whispered, catching the sides of her open robe, and drawing them closed like a timid maiden. Elros' hands withdrew, but only enough to fall, and rest upon her bare knees. He studied her with a furrowed brow and beseeching eyes.
"I must speak to you of something," she pleaded.
"Of course," he said, his eyes suddenly sober, sensing the seriousness of her words.
"What if I-" Andreth bit her lip, and looked away, wondering if she should even ask.
"Andreth, my fair one, what is it?" he asked with such tenderness, that the words spilled from her lips along with her tears.
"What if I never conceive?"
Elros' lips parted at the energy in her voice. Gently, he squeezed her knees, running his hands up until they came in contact with the thin cloth of her dressing robe, and stopped. He seemed as if he wished to speak, but he did not, seeming to sense that she wished to speak more. Gratitude swelled in her heart at the wisdom and kindness of her husband, but still, the worry did not dissipate.
"Firiel never bore children. What if I am as she?"
"My Tindómiel," Elros breathed, his thumbs gently brushing over her bent knees. "Did my post script trouble you? Forgive me. I did not intend for it to do so. Truly, Andreth we have time." A slow breath swelled his chest. "We have been wed but three days," he soothed.
She smiled softly, seeking his eyes, wishing she could be assured by his gentle words. "But you are to be king," she breathed. "My duty is to provide you with an heir, and-,"
"Your duty," Elros murmured, cutting her off, and lifting his hands to cup her face, "is simply to be my wife. Do not worry. You were marked by the Valar themselves to be the first queen of Númenor. It was no trick of fate. I do not think you will be barren."
Andreth began again to open her mouth, but Elros' warm finger to her lips gently silenced her. "And what if you are?" he continued. "What if you never conceive? What if we live and die childless? Truly you do not think I would love you the less?"
Andreth looked away. "But I ache to bear your child, Elros. I would love to conceive our first child on these shores. And I know that you-,"
Elros' lips gently cut off her words as he leaned in, claiming her mouth once more. His arms went about her, running over the silken fabric that covered her back. His brow pressed against her own a long moment before he drew back, and his deep, sea grey eyes found hers.
"Nothing," he whispered, "would please me more than to give you children. For you would be not only a wise and goodly queen, but also a wonderful mother as well. But no matter what comes, I will always love you. Trust the Valar, my love. Trust them as you did, when you accepted my choice."
To this, Andreth's face flamed in sudden realization. She dropped her eyes. "I had forgotten simply to trust them." She released a sigh. "May they forgive me. And may you forgive me too, Elros."
To this, Elros smiled. "There is nothing to forgive, my fair one."
To this, Elros offered her a roguish grin, and reached out, fingering the silken fabric of her dressing gown. Her hands loosened their hold, and in a in a flutter of whispering silk, her dressing gown tumbled off her shoulders.
She closed her eyes, and let herself melt into his arms as he drew her with him into the water.
Talia smiled as she walked through the market of Mithlond. The square fairly teemed with people, most of them mortals, and newcomers to the city, who camped on the outskirts, in the woods or meadows, waiting for the day that Elros and his lady would sail away with them across the water to the new land waiting for them behind the horizon. The thought thrilled her, and set her heart to racing, for the lady Andreth had already said that she could also come. The thought filled Talia with a bright hope, a sense of freshness, and a new beginning. And she was most especially glad, for her friend Hathel was sailing as well.
As if thoughts of him brought him into existence, the crowd parted, and she saw him, seated a short distance away on a low wall between two young boys, speaking to them as he held in one hand, a small piece of wood, and a carving knife in the other.
At the sight of him, her heart lightened, and its beat began to quicken. He had been a good friend to her since her coming to Mithlond, and especially since her father had died.
Since her coming, Hathel had made no overture to become more than a friend. She had heard the rumors that it was because he still felt vestiges of caring for the lady Andreth, with whom he had once been in love before she had chosen the lord Elros over him. But this did not trouble Talia. Not much. In truth, their long, comfortable friendship pleased Talia. Hathel was good and honest, a hard worker, and wondrously handsome as well. Nothing at all like Derk had been. Talia cringed to think of the name. Derk's courtship of her had been a flurried, passionate one of only three weeks from their first meeting at a spring festival in the small hamlet where she had been born. He was not from her little home, and even now, she still did not know of his family, or of his birthplace. Yet now, she knew all about Hathel's. Hathel was the only living child his mother had borne, and both she and his father had loved him and taught him well. His mother had died in his tenth year, and Hathel's father, a stone mason, had taught his son his trade. His father had fallen in the war, and though Hathel had not told her this, Lord Cirdan had told Talia that Hathel had wished to fight has well, but his father had forbidden him. Hathel was her friend, and sought her companionship not because he longed for a woman to cling to his arm, but because he liked her. And Talia, she confessed to herself, adored Hathel for this. Derk had been stiflingly needy, she remembered; his protestations of undying love and devotion had been so wild and pleading, that Talia felt she had to wed him or the poor man would pine away to death. He had not even been handsome; a rather sodden, hunched shouldered man, whom she had thought, if nothing else, to be good, and truly in love with her. She had not loved him on their wedding day, for she had thought that with his devotion being what it had seemed to be, that her love would come eventually.
Talia sighed and dropped her eyes. But Derk's hatred of her had come just as swiftly as his initial claims of love. Within days he had begun finding fault over the smallest things, sometimes over nothing at all as he imagined up some terrible fault, seeking out some reason to be angry. And his beatings and drunken rages had begun before even a week had passed.
Those, Talia remembered, though, were not the worse that he had done. Immediately upon marrying, he had taken her away from her father, far to a small clearing in the woods, and had forbidden she ever contact him, telling her that as her husband, it was his duty to do so for her. He had then claimed that Gondien had gone to Mithlond, the only truth he'd ever spoke, and no longer wished to see her. Derk had in turn, sent missives to Gondien claiming that Talia no longer wished to speak to her father.
What had finally gripped her heart, and given her the courage to slip out of the window and dash into the woods one bitterly cold night after one particularly severe beating and Derk had fallen into a drunken sleep, Talia could, to this day, not say. But something had given her courage, and she had done so, with no more than shoes upon her feet and a ragged shawl around her shoulders that had once been her mother's.
She had not known where to go to find Mithlond; only that it was near the sea. And so she had gone, keeping herself alive by nibbling at what little edibles she could find in the forest, terrified that Derk would find and kill her, and sleeping only in short snatches until she had come to the gates of the city, and looked upon the elven guards.
They must have been astonished at her filthy state, but still they had been kind, answering her questions most graciously as to where she could find her father. They had even given of their own food, and had bidden her sit in the guardhouse and eat her fill before one had guided her to her father's house, and left her in his care with good wishes.
She had found her happiness again, and though her father was gone now, she was still content. Hathel was her friend, good lord Cirdan, though she was not an elf, had given her employ in his house, and she was to go to the great land beyond the horizon when it was time to sail.
Talia came back to the present, and the busy shifting crowds, when Hathel, as if sensing her eyes upon him, looked up. He smiled.
All was well.
"I have been looking for you, everywhere," growled a voice at her ear in the same moment that a hard, fierce grip siezed her arm, and a sharp prick stung her side.
She stiffened, all joy, all sense of safety vanishing in a moment.
"None of that, now," Derk said in her ear, his breath hot. "Make any noise, wife, and this knife will go between your ribs."
"I'm not your wife any more," Talia hissed, though she dared not struggle. For she knew his threat was not an idle one. She despaired. The crowd had shifted, and she had lost sight of Hathel.
"You're my wife as long as I say you're my wife," Derk snarled, following his words with a soft curse. "Now come with me."