The Choice of Elros

Chapter 54

Chapter 54

Aelin paused in the doorway holding a basin of warm water a towel looped over her arm, uncertain if she wished to go nearer to the bed where Elrond stood over the still form of her enemy, Maglor. Elrond's hair was drawn back in a tight tail, his sleeves rolled to his elbows, a heavy apron cloaking his front and his hands and forearms stained with blood. Elrond's broad back and a curtain kept Aelin from seeing Maglor's head, but she remembered it well enough from when Elrond had carried the son of Fëanor into Círdan's house, Maglor's face caked in blood both dried and wet.

Maglor's legs from the knees down were bare, and did not move. A white sheet covered the elf from the knees up.

"How is he, my lord?" she asked

Elrond looked up fleetingly, then back at his patient.

"He is yet alive," he answered, his voice betraying his emotional and physical exhaustion. "It is a wonder his skull was not shattered by that blow. I had to withdraw a piece of wood embedded between flesh and bone."

Aelin felt herself flinch in sympathy as she clasped her hands before her. The poor youth needed to hear the news she brought to ease the strain upon his mind.

"My lord," she said as she turned to the table beside the door, and set down the basin, laying the towel beside it. "Lords Círdan and Celeborn found your brother and Hathel, and Lady Andreth. They are bringing them now."

To this, Elrond's shoulders visibly relaxed, and a deeply heaved breath escape him, though his eyes did not look up from his patient. "Thank the Valar. How are they?"

"Andreth is well, but Master Hathel and Lord Elros were both struck by arrows. Your brother in the thigh, and Hathel in the shoulder. Hathel is unconscious. It is said he pulled the arrow out of his own shoulder, so that Andreth could use it to slay the last bandit. They are both dead, Lang and Derk."

Elrond glanced at her, a fleeting look of astonishment in his eyes before he turned back to Maglor.

"Andreth slew one of them?" he asked.

"Yes, my lord," she returned. "She shot him with an arrow when he was about to kill your brother. Hathel slew the other."

Elrond closed his eyes at this, his jaw growing taut. As he opened them again, Aelin could see the sorrow in his eyes for what Andreth, his little sister had been forced to do. Aelin read the weight of his expression; always the taking of life, of any life was a heavy thing. Her own heart grew heavy, and her eyes strayed to Maglor's bare feet. She was glad she did not know the heavy weight of having slain anyone.

At last Elrond nodded. "Lord Cirdan knew what he was doing when he insisted she learn skill with weapons."

" Indeed," Aelin agreed.

"There," Elrond said at last, his voice trembling as he stepped back, his shoulders sagging in weariness. "The last of the stitches are finished." He turned, a tentative smile coming at last to his face as he strode to the basin. He dipped his bloodied hands in the steaming water, rubbing vigorously as the water turned an oquirre hue. "I must go see to my brother and Hathel, and Andreth. I am most especially concerned for Hathel. Maglor will need to be moved soon to a bed where he can rest and recover. Until then, will you be able to-"

Elrond's hands froze in the middle of a movement as if he suddenly realized the weight of what he was about to ask her, and his eyes flew to Aelin's, uncertain.

"You wish me to watch over him?"

He stammered, "I can find another servant-"

"No," Aelin protested softly. "I will do as you wish. Go now, and see to Lady Andreth, and the others."

The young elf shot her a look of deepest gratitude at this, and without another word, turned and strode out the door.

With a sigh, Aelin glided toward the bed whereon the last living son of Fëanor lay. She felt her shoulders stiffen as she gazed over the curtain and studied his still face. His eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling steadily beneath the white coverlet.

The side of his head, once matted with dried blood, was cleaned now, and a ragged gash, between his ear and his temple had been stitched closed. His long dark hair, just around the wound, had been clipped short. Aelin understood its necessity, so that Elrond could the more easily treat the ragged gash, but still, she flinched as sympathy touched her heart. No doubt Maglor would understand, and perhaps with his hair hanging free, it would not even be visible, but still, an elf's hair was his greatest pride.

Aelin drew in a deep sigh. Her eye strayed to a small tray of instruments laying by, among which was a sharp, razor-edged scalpel. Her eyes slid toward Maglor's still face, and the steady movement of his pulse in his throat. His life, she realized, was in her hands. Elrond had entrusted her fully and completely, with the life of Fëanor's son. Her enemy.

Releasing a sigh, Aelin moved around the narrow bed where he lay, to more easily to watch him while he slept, and dropped into a chair, her eyes upon his face.

"I will never- like you, son of Fëanor," she murmured, "but I do not hate you. My bitterness is gone. And you have nothing more to fear from me."

Maglor did not respond, and only continued to breath silently. Still, Aelin was glad that she had spoken the words.

…oOo…

Maglor hovered in a land of shadows and thoughts, and half remembered dreams. He felt as if he were in a chamber, a large pillared chamber, but the features were not clear, as if he were not fully present.

Am I in Mandos, he wondered, trying to speak, though no sound came to his ears. Was he in bodily form? He felt as if he were; feeling the sensation of arms and legs, but all about him was so vague and dreamlike-

Son of Fëanor.

The voice behind him he felt rather than heard, and Maglor turned, surprised at the form of an elf woman behind him. She looked not fully corporeal, though he could see she was elven, and a woman. Behind her Maglor saw other shadows, other elves, souls of elves, he amended, his kin among them, perhaps? But he could not tell, for only she was clear to him. And she so looked like-

You are the sister of Aelin, Maglor returned. Your name is Indilwen.

The maiden's lips smiled at this, giving him her answer.

If Maglor could have wept, he would have. She was so fair and young. He could not remember her face, but that did not mean he had not slain her. He had slain far too many, whose faces he could not remember. There was so much he could say, he should say. But he could only manage three small words.

I am sorry, he pleaded.

I know, she offered. I forgive you.

Maglor's heart swelled, astonished at the liberating relief he felt at the maid's gentle words. Your sister misses you, he offered not knowing what else he could say.

I miss her also, she said. When you return, give Aelin my greetings. Give also, the maiden's eyes dropped, and if a soul could blush, Maglor sensed she would have, give my greetings to Ereinion. I await the day when I can see him again. Tell him I do not wish to be reborn until I see him again. He is more dear to me I have ever told anyone. Even him. He sensed a tone of regret enter her words. I wish I had told him.

Maglor paused. She does not trust me. How will I make Mistress Aelin know-

Remind my sister of the time she and I sat beneath the bows of our favorite tree, and I spoke to her of Ereinion as she wove flowers into my hair. Tell her also, that I have seen her own dear one, Thallon. Tell her he is no longer here. He has not been for sixty years. Tell her he is waiting for her.

Maglor's chest ached at her words, but something pulled away him from the shadowed scene, into something more vague, as if he were now in his own dreams.

Makalaurë, I sensed your presence- another voice whispered in his thoughts. He felt himself in a mist, but could not see her. Still, he knew her as he knew his own soul.

Anoriel-

I had to speak to you while you were in this dream realm. How I miss you!

And I miss you! he cried noiselessly into the mist, straining for some sight of her, the scent of her, if nothing else. But why do you still want me? You know all that I have done.

Yes.

And you still love me?

Of course. You were unwise. You and your kin. I will not deny that you were. But my dearest one, your soul has not fallen into darkness.

Anoriel! he cried in his thoughts. You love me more than I deserve. I have failed you. I am so sorry.

I know you are sorry. I will wait for you.

Then I will see you again my love? Maglor pleaded. Some day?

I hope so. Something tells me we will be together again. Trust to hope, my love.

Anoriel, I want to see you. Please. Even if it is only a shadow, only the faintest hint of you, please!

I love you, Makalaurë, her voice, fading, seemed to call from a distance.

Maglor tried to turn about, to see something of her, some faint hint or shadow, or even the barest hint of her sweet scent-

Then he saw it. The faintest shadow of a woman-

"Anoriel?" he pleaded, reaching out a hand. He touched a soft cheek.

"Son of Fëanor, remove your hand from my face."

Maglor withdrew his hand as the voice demanded, and blinked his eyes, the ceiling of the room coming into view. His skin crawled as he realized he was inside a house. Likely Círdan's house. He should not be here. But his limbs were too heavy to rise, and leave. Beside him, somber faced, sat Aelin.

"Mistress Aelin," he grated, his voice feeling rough and dry in his throat.

"Yes?" her voice was not soft, but was gentler than he had ever remembered.

"I have a message for you from your sister."

…oOo…

Hathel's eyes slowly opened, and for a moment, he was uncertain where he was as he studied what he slowly came to realize was the painted ceiling of one of the rooms of Cirdan's house.

"Hathel," the rustle of cloth accompanied the gentle voice of Talia as her lovely face appeared above him.

Hathel smiled up at her, drinking in her face, her dark hair spilling down about her face. He tried to move, but a wild pain raged through his bandaged shoulder, and he winced.

"Don't move," she commanded, her face growing concerned. "Your wound is deep, and will take time to heal. Lord Elrond bid me not let you move it."

"Forgive me, Mistress Talia," he said.

To this, she drew in a breath. "Oh, Master Hathel. I assure you, you have done nothing for which you should be forgive. In truth, you were wondrously heroic."

Hathel felt his face growing warm at her praise.

"Do you think so?" he asked softly.

"I know that you were," she assured him, her voice softening and growing warm.

"The lady Andreth told me all that you did. All that you said."

Talia bit her lip, a faint tinge of color warming her face.

"Thank you for defending me," Talia breath, turning her eyes to the coverlet. Her hands touched it, gently smoothing it over his chest. He wondered if she could feel his heart thumping beneath her hand. "For defending my honor. You are a true gentleman."

A lock of Talia's hair fell against his uninjured arm, and Hathel reached up, and took it between his fingers, rubbing it gently. It felt like silk.

"It was my priviledge to do so, mistress," he murmured.

Her eyes returned to his. Hathel's heart tripped over a beat as the fair maiden touched a soft hand to his uninjured shoulder, then bent low over him, her sweet scent entering his nostrils before her lips, soft and warm, touched against his brow. She drew back smiling, and gazed down adoringly into his eyes, igniting a simmering, welcome sense of hope in his heart.

"Nevertheless, I am grateful," she breathed. And he could see in her eyes, that she was.

…oOo…

Andreth sighed where she sat beside the bed whereon lay her husband Elros, their fingers entwined. Her eyes were locked with his, adoring him silently as Elrond stood on the other side of the bed, tying the final knot on the bandage wrapped snuggly around his thigh.

Looking up, Andreth met the eyes of her brother-in-law and caught his gaze. She returned Elrond's smile, noting though, that his weariness seemed to hang over him like a heavy mantle.

The day had been an exhausting one for him, tending to Lord Maglor, and to Hathel before seeing last of all, to his brother.

The light of the evening sun fell in a slant through the window as the sun sank down, nearly touching the sea.

What an eventful day it had been, she thought to herself as she gazed out, looking across the wide expanse of water toward the horizon, her heart aching toward it. Not many more days would pass and she would get her heart's wish. She would, with Elros, and their people, find at last, what lay behind that distant dark blue horizon.

"My lord."

A young girl's breathless voice came from the doorway where a young maid paused, swaying, bracing herself in the doorway, halting her speed.

"Yes?" Elrond asked, turning, suddenly alarmed.

"The-" the girl gasped for breath. "The Fëanorion has woken. Mistress Aelin said to send for you."

"Of course," Elrond said, turning hastily toward the door. He turned back for a fleeting moment. "You'll be-"

"We'll be fine, brother," Andreth assured him, and he grinned, turned away, and hurried after the girl.

The door shut with a click behind him, and Andreth turned back to Elros, her smile matching his.

Slowly, she rose, and settled on his bed beside him. They were in his chamber rather than the rooms that had been hers, for which Andreth was glad, for she could watch the sunset more easily from here.

"It has been an eventful day, has it not, my fair wife?" Elros murmured as her head settled upon the pillow beside his own. His hand reached over and lost itself in her hair.

"It has," she murmured, sidling nearer to him, and slipping her arm across his chest as she tucked her head against his shoulder. A faint stirring of desire pulsed through her blood at his nearness, but she pushed it away forcing herself to be content simply with his nearness; Elrond had left strict orders that Elros not move his leg any more than entirely necessary for the next several days.

"I am glad you are well," he murmured, brushing his fingers against her face, his eyes adoring her with such warmth that her resolve wavered painfully.

"And I, you," she sighed, leaning near and brushing the faintest kiss against his lips before settling her head again against his shoulder.

"If something had happened to you," he continued, "or to the baby-"

His other hand strayed to her belly, caressing her stomach through the thin cloth of her gown.

"All I could think of, was you, and our little one, of saving you, doing anything I could-"

"Even sacrificing yourself," Andreth added, unable to withhold the shudder that trembled through her body. She blinked hard and hid her face against his shoulder, remembing his shouted plea for her to run, even as he staggered beneath Lang's relentless blows, wounded, the last of his strength draining away.

At this, Elros' arm tightened about her, drawing her closer as if he too pictured the same scene.

"But you saved me," he reminded her. "You and good Master Hathel. We are all well, and all safe."

"And our danger is gone," she said with another shudder. His arm tightened all the more. Despite the residue of fear that still shivered through her, Andreth felt sleep creeping onto the edges of her consciousness.

Were she not so weary, she would have sat up and found the coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. But her eyelids were heavy, and Elros' warmth was better than a blanket.

Content in his embrace, and comforted with the familiar movement of his steady breathing, Andreth let her eyes fall closed, welcoming the gentle boon of sleep.

The warm silence of sleep closed round her, gentle, like a warm mantle, until of a sudden, she became aware of herself again, of the sweet scent of salty water, and the soft whisper of grasses in a night wind.

With a gasp, she sat up. The night sky above them was awash with stars where she and Elros lay side by side upon a gentle slope of grass not far from the edge of the sea where the water whispered softly. The eastern horizon was an unbroken line of dark blue against the night sky.

"Elros!" she cried, and beside her, Elros jerked up into a sitting position as well, regarding her with as much wonder as she did him.

"We're back in our dreamland! In Númenor!" she gasped, scrambling to her feet, and studying herself, clad in the same fair garments she had worn in the dreams when she and Elros had met so often before.

Elros scrambled up as well, reaching for and catching her hand as he glanced about. Turning one way and the other, as if looking for something or someone.

"They are not here," he said. "The Lord and Lady, Irmo and Estë."

"Perhaps they are nearby, wishing for us to join them, that they might give us more instruction?" she suggested.

His hand tightened in hers. "Come."

In long, unbroken strides, he led her up the steep embankment from the beach, and she followed him willingly, marveling that the wound upon his thigh did not remain here in their shared dream.

Together they crested the hill, and glanced about, toward the rising peak of the great volcanic mountain, but aside from the lights of some bright city they could see in the far distance, they could see no living soul near to them.

"What do you make of it?" she asked, turning to face him, taking his other hand as well.

"They would not bring us here, give us this dream to no purpose," Elros said, drawing in, and releasing, a deep breath.

"Indeed," she agreed. "There must be some reason for our being here. Do you-"

A gasp cut off in her lungs as, without warning, Elros bent his head, and silenced her words as his mouth claimed hers for a fleeting, though heated kiss. He drew back, his hands tightening in hers, his expression uncertain, like a youth who had just stolen a kiss from a maiden.

Never before had he dared do such a thing in their shared dreams. Unwilling to do more than touch, or kiss her hand. But then, Andreth's heart grew warm at the realization, they were married now.

Slowly, her lips softened into a smile, and she lifted her eyes, her gaze growing soft as she drew her hands from Elros' and let them rest upon his chest, letting her hands slide up to his shoulders, marveling at the warm contours of his chest which she could feel beneath the cloth, as real as in life.

His own smile softened, his deep, sea grey eyes darkening with unspoken intent as his hands found her hips, then circled around her, and pulled her gently, but insistently to him.

How warm, how real and strong his body felt against her own through the fabric of the garments they wore. Andreth closed her eyes for a long moment, struggling to check her breathing, feeling her blood warm as she sensed his desire for her through their embrace.

"Andreth," Elros breathed, and she looked up at him, a familiar spark dancing in his eyes, "perhaps-"

"Shh, my husband," she breathed, "just kiss me again."

Smiling, Elros let his words fall silent as he bent his head, and did as his wife bid him; and more.


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