Lang glanced across the fire at his younger kinsman, watching the youth tear at the meat Lang had roasted over the coals. He looked away, sneering to himself, wondering if the boy would devour the meat so enthusiastically if he knew-
"How's that rat meat?" Lang said, turning back, sneering as Derk gagged and choked, spitting meat out of his mouth.
"Rat meat?" Derk wailed, flinging the rest of the roasted carcass into the fire. "Why're you feeding it to me then? Tryin' to poison me?"
"I been living off it all winter, boy," Lang chuckled, taking a stick and spearing the roasted rat carcass out of the flames. "Don't be so fast to complain. You were eating it happy enough, a minute ago."
He took the hot carcass, tossing it between his two hands until it had cooled sufficiently, then began tearing into the meat himself.
Derk looked on in revulsion and disgust before turning away.
Seeing his reaction, Lang chewed and swallowed his bite, then gave a scoffing snort. He picked up the bow beside him, and pointed away into the trees.
"I have seen light through the trees that way, for the past seven nights now," he said. "Far away, there's some sort'er clearing. In the daylight, I've seen the horse of the very elf who killed your da roaming near to the clearing. That and another horse. I can't never get near, though, not even to the horses, because they don't stray far. I can see them from a distance, but when I try to go near, whether it's in the day or the night, I always lose my way, and somehow, my sense of direction gets turned around. But I think the elf we want, is there."
Derk dropped his eyes at this, and snorted. "Lost yer way-,"
Lang frowned bitterly at Derk's mirth. "There's some- sorta spell over that- wretched place!" he snarled defensively, and uttered a frustrated curse before he finished, "Some witchcraft over it. Elf witchcraft."
Derk shrugged, and picked up one of Lang's arrows, testing the sharp stone tip on his thumb nail. He shrugged. "Well, he can't stay there forever. So we wait 'til he leaves it."
Lang's brows lifted, and met Derk's sneer across the fire. The young man's eyes were alight like the eyes of a demon. It was just what he wanted to see.
"Then we get 'im," Derk said.
Andreth smiled as she glanced over at the bed, and the sleeping form of her husband, her eyes running over him appreciatively in the dim light of the early morning. The piece of folded parchment she had left for him, lay folded upon her pillow, and he would find it upon his waking.
This was the morning of the seventh day of their marriage. A week had passed, only a week, but it had been filled with such beauty and wonder to fill an entire lifetime. He was her own, and she was his; their souls were one, as were their hearts.
Andreth drank in the sight of his dark hair, spilled about his head, and over his shoulders and chest. His sinuous arms lay against the pillows above his head. His eyes gazed upward at the silver canopy, focused on nothing. The coverlet, laying in rumpled, luxurious folds, covered his legs and hips, leaving the strong lines and curves of his torso visible to her admiring eyes.
She sighed with reluctance as she pushed her arm into the sleeve of the gown she was putting on, and drew the cloth up her arm to her shoulder.
Andreth turned toward the mirror, brushing her hands over the front of the light green fabric. Her hand touched and rested over the cloth that covered the flat of her stomach. She smiled, imagining how it would swell over the next months, wondering when she would feel the first little movements of which other mothers had spoken. Elros' face, she imagined, would brighten when he put his strong, warm hand upon her belly to feel their child's movement.
She drew in a ragged, happy sigh, feeling the faintest glimmer of warmth there; the tiny presence of the child Elros had given her just a few days before, when they had loved each other upon the sunwashed grass beside the sylvan pool. The child was a boy, she knew, his presence unmistakable, though at this moment, he could be no bigger than a grain of sand. Nevertheless, he was the future king of Númenor. He was her husband's heir. But most importantly, he was her child. Elros' child. Their precious little boy.
Though she knew that Elros's words had been true, when he had told her that he would love her no matter whether she bore him children or not, the understanding that Elros' child grew in her womb, filled her with a sense of completeness, of light and joy, and a glowing feeling of purpose, both solemn and beautiful.
She did not wish to leave her beloved. But her fingers itched to try her hand on the bow that Hathel had taught her, to see if this last week of indolence and indulgence had made her archery skills less sharp.
Elros' bow, already strung, leaned near the door, waiting for her, and a small quiver bearing but three arrows. A flute and a lovely harp that she and Elros had found waiting for them at the bottom of the steps when they had returned from the pool that memorable day, sat beside the quiver, both wrapped in protective sheets of soft cloth. She would take the flute, Andreth decided, and the bow and quiver. The harp she would leave here. She would need little else, for she would return soon, hopefully before her husband awoke and missed her. And if he did awake and she was gone, then the few minutes he spent pining for her would make her reunion with him that much sweeter when she returned.
She smiled at the thought, and reached down, picking up the bow, and the nearly empty quiver, slipping the flute in with the arrows. As she did, the long rope of her braided hair spilled over her shoulder, a long, glistening rope whose tip brushed the floor before she straightened. When she returned, Andreth thought, she would enjoy watching Elros' fingers deftly losing the glittering rope of her hair, one loop at a time.
Andreth opened the door. It swung on its hinges silently. Upon the bed, her lover did not even stir.
She cast a final smile toward his sleeping form. He did not move, save for the steady rise and fall of his breathing.
He was so beautiful.
For a moment she froze, seized by a sudden urge to return to bed, to cast aside this bow, these arrows, and peel off these heavy, unwieldy garments. The longing to gather his sleeping head into her arms to wake him with kisses and soft, pleading words of love and yearning, almost overwhelmed her.
But no, she decided, pushing the longing away. She would let him sleep on, for now. She would return to him soon enough.
"I love you," she breathed. Then she turned, and stepped out the door.