"I have come, Talia," Hathel murmured softly, "to realize that- I feel for you something that I did not share with Andreth."
"Perhaps," Talia ventured, her voice as soft as the wind, "perhaps it is because we do share- something." At last she looked up, and met his eyes, soft, deep and brown, like polished mahogany.
"Perhaps," she whispered, "what you feel for me is returned."
"Then perhaps," Hathel offered, his voice deep and soft, "it would not be unseemly to ask your permission to court you."
His uninjured hand gently squeezed hers, and he bit his lower lip, a gesture she had never seen before, but which struck her as boyishly endearing. "I assure you, fair mistress, that it would be a singular honor to be granted your consent to call upon you."
Talia's throat felt dry. Her thoughts flickered to Derk for a fleeting moment. He had never treated her so kindly as Hathel.
"I assure you, kind sir, that it would be my honor."
Hathel smiled at this, at the formal tone they had taken in their shared nervousness, and Talia returned it, their smiles widening, until they both offered soft, nervous chuckles.
"Truly," Hathel said, dropping his eyes to their clasped hands, "I would be pleased to be granted permission to court you, Talia."
"And I am pleased to grant it, Hathel," she returned.
Hathel smiled at this, his eyes fixed upon hers. Ai, she could lose herself forever in those eyes. At last, he lifted her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles as graciously as if he were a noble lord.
Talia's body grew weak at this, at the soft feel of his lips caressing the back of her hand. What would it feel like, she mused, to feel those same soft, warm lips against her own mouth?
She dropped her eyes, blushing again at the thought, and Hathel lowered their clasped hands again to the bed, his thumb brushing over the backs of her fingers.
"Lord Elrond would wish to know that you finished all your dinner," she murmured at last, not daring to look up. "Preferably before it grows cold."
"And I must do as he requests," Hathel agreed evenly.
Talia smiled, and took up the bowl and spoon again, offering him another mouthful of the soup. Now, though, she leaned slightly nearer as she fed him, and her eyes did not leave the deep brown pools of his own eyes until the last bite of soup had been scraped from the bottom of the dish, and Hathel had swallowed it.
"Your eyes remind me of a doe's eyes, Talia," Hathel murmured as she turned away, placing the bowl and spoon back upon the tray with a soft clatter.
She felt herself blushing again.
"When we met, it was one of the first things I noticed about you." Hathel smiled. "How soft and deep they were."
"You know, if I did not know better, I would think that you wanted to kiss me," she breathed.
"I do," Hathel confessed.
But as Talia's eyes fell and her face blushed scarlet, he smiled gently. "But now is not the time," he murmured. I only just won your permission to court you. It would not be seemly to kiss you so soon. And we are in my bedchamber-"
Hathel dropped his eyes.
Talia softly bit her lip. Her heart gave a painful throb. Hathel was unlike any other man who had ever looked on her with desire. He was all that she had ever hoped for in the dreams of her girlhood; wonderfully strong, scandalously handsome, and truly and wonderfully good.
"Am I-" she hesitated, "worthy of you, Hathel? You are so unfeigned, so honorable-"
Hathel's hand once again sought out hers where it held the edge of the silver tray. "Talia, I told you that you are as pure as the first snow of winter."
He looked up, his eyes delving into hers. "I meant that." His fingers gently moved over her own.
"Oh, Hathel," she breathed. At this moment, she wanted, desperately, more than she had ever wanted anything, to lean forward and press her lips to his. But he was right. Now was not the time. And the waiting would make their first kiss that much sweeter.
Talia gave his hand one last squeeze, and rose to her feet, the tray in her hands.
"Rest well, Hathel," she said. "Lord Elrond hopes to remove your last bandages in two weeks before we sail. If you do as he says, he will be able to do so."
To this, Hathel nodded and lay back against the pillows, his eyes following her as she glided across the room to the door.
She offered him a smile which he returned. Then she turned away, and pushed out the door into the hall, letting the door fall shut behind her.
In the hall beyond, she saw the lady Andreth approaching from the main hall, a sweet, dreamy-eyed look upon her face.
"Hathel is well?" Andreth asked, smiling as her eyes met Talia's. The lady paused, her hand upon the latch that would take her into the chamber where her husband, the Lord Elros rested.
"Yes," Talia said, the word spoken with a sigh, to which Andreth paused, a questioning look touching her eyes.
"And? My friend, Talia?" the lady who was soon to be her queen asked as Talia glided past with the tray in her hands.
"Lord Elrond says Hathel is healing almost as quickly as an elf, and his shoulder will be hardy enough to remove the sling and bandages by the day we are set to sail."
Andreth's smile grew playful, and she reached out, stopping the maiden with a hand upon her arm. "And-?" she insisted, her eyes bright.
Talia bit her lip, hesitant, though at last she spoke, adoring the word as it passed her lips. "I think I am in love."
Andreth sat upon the veranda beside Aelin, her flute to her lips as Aelin accompanied her upon a harp. Andreth's eyes looked westward toward the horizon where sea met sky, and she smiled, both pleased and sorrowful.
Briefly she glanced down at her stomach, still flat beneath the cloth of her gown. When would her belly begin to swell? When would she feel the first stirrings of life, the first little flutters of movement within her?
Not far away from her and Aelin, the lady Galadriel sat, one arm upon the railing of the veranda, her hand gently caressing the small bud of a single tindómiel flower, not yet open. Her eyes carried a dreamy, far away look. Her other hand rested against her own stomach.
Andreth smiled as her song continued, and turned her eyes, seeking Elros where he stood beside Elrond, the two brothers standing side by side, their arms braced against the railing of the veranda as both looked westward and conversed in low tones.
A ragged breath filled her lungs at the sight of them, and her song faltered for the briefest moment. As she continued to play she studied her husband, admiring the way he filled the fine robe he wore, and enjoying the sweet feeling of warm desire that simply watching him stirred within her. He stood erect without the aide of crutch or staff; this was the first day in weeks that he had walked unaided, for the arrowhead that had struck him, had been buried deep. He still favored his injured leg; she noted this whenever he shifted his weight, but only a little now, and his limp was nearly gone.
Because of his injury, and of Elrond's admonition to let it heal, she and Elros had not shared a bed, at least not as lovers, in over two weeks.
But they had their dreams. And at this thought, a faint, knowing smile touched her lips. For their shared dreams were as real as life, and the solitude afforded them there, had allowed for many tender, passionate encounters beneath the star washed skies of their dream of Númenor.
As if sensing her thoughts, Elros turned briefly, and grinned at her, his eyes gleaming with the light of their shared secret. Andreth blushed over the flute beneath her lips, and returned his smile before he turned back again to continue his words with his brother. As she watched, one of Elrond's arms left the railing, and rose to clap upon his brother's back.
Dear, wonderful Elrond, Andreth thought, her eyes trailing to her brother-in-law. She could only guess how difficult this was for him, with his brother from whom he had never been parted before, sailing tomorrow. And now, with Galadriel and her lord leaving as well-
Galadriel and Celeborn had already announced that not long after Andreth and Elros sailed, she and her lord would be departing, and while Elrond had shown no outward signs of uncertainty or sorrow, Andreth knew him well enough to understand that he honored the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn as if they were his own parents, and she knew he would miss them.
But he still had his friend the king Gil Galad Ereinion, and wise Lord Círdan.
Elrond's face was half turned to her as he looked at his brother, and a smile touched his lips as he talked, for which she was glad. She hoped the smile upon his face was more than for their comfort, and that his heart was at peace. He seemed to be.
Ereinion stood not far away, speaking with Círdan and Celeborn.
In the furthest corner of the veranda, upon a carven bench, Hathel and Talia sat. Hathel's arm still rested in a sling, but Elrond said that he would be able to remove it tomorrow in time to sail. The two spoke in soft tones, and Andreth could not hear what they said. But she could see their joined hands, and the gentle contentment on both their faces.
Andreth smiled as she played, remembering two weeks before, when Talia had confided to her that she thought she might be falling in love with Hathel.
Talia smiled at something Hathel said, and ducked her eyes. The stonemason grinned, and leaned near, pressing a kiss to her brow. He had yet to offer Talia a kiss on the lips, Andreth knew, for they had only been formally courting since the day of Talia's confession. Andreth thought the gesture endearingly delightful. Their first kiss, perhaps on the deck of a ship, or maybe upon the shores of their new land, would be wondrously sweet for them.
Across the veranda, quiet peace reigned, a mantle of gentle sorrow overlain with sweetness seemed to enfold everyone.
Beyond the veranda, a dark head appeared, climbing the stone steps from the shore, and Andreth's music cut short as she looked up. Aelin's soft notes cut short as well, and all heads turned as Maglor paused at the crest of the steps.
The last living son of Fëanor approached the veranda, and paused before he had quite reached the steps. He was clad in his old garments, as worn as they had ever been, though cleaner now, and the jerkin emblazoned with the silmaril was gone.
Aelin told her he had left that morning, silently, slipping like a shadow out of Cirdan's house, and into the blue shadows of the morning twilight. Andreth had thought she would never see him again.
"Please, come up," Cirdan invited, and slowly Maglor climbed the steps, then paused again. Upon his back, he bore a rough pack, through which she could see the shape of his precious harp. A bow, unstrung, and a quiver of arrows rested there as well. His hair hung long and shining, and as Andreth had guessed, she could not tell that part of it had been clipped away so that Elrond could stitch the gash the Fëanorion had earned, protecting her. His eyes scanned the group with a fleeting expression of uncertainty before they alighted upon the Peredhil, and his expression eased.
"Seldo Titta," he said. "Lapse Titta." His lips drew up into a quivering smile. "Elrond and Elros."
"Otorno," both brothers said as one, turning to Maglor.
"I am going, now," Maglor said softly.
Andreth gripped the flute in her lap, and looked on in silence as Maglor's eyes moved again over the group, his expression softened now.
"Thank you, all, for your hospitality," he said softly, nodding to Círdan, to which the bearded elven lord returned a bow of his head, and a faint smile. Maglor's eyes moved to Aelin's, and he nodded his head.
Aelin returned this with a bob of her head. She did not smile, but neither did she look unkindly on Fëanor's last living son as his eyes at last slid to Andreth where she sat. Maglor's expression measurable softened, and his eyes gleamed with new, unshed tears.
"Farewell, Andreth, fair elf-friend," he said, shifted the pack upon his back, and taking a step toward her.
"And you, Lord Maglor," Andreth murmured, rising to her feet. She glided forward, and extended her hand, her smile widening as Maglor took it in both of his own. "May your life be blessed, my lord," she murmured. "The Valar will not forget the good that you have done."
Maglor smiled, though sadly, at this. He squeezed her hands. "Thank you, Andreth. You are as kind as you are lovely. You will make a glorious queen. Elros is blessed."
"As am I," she breathed.
Maglor drew a step back, and his hands slid from her own. Andreth was loath to let his grip go, sensing that this would be the last time she would ever see this gentle son of Fëanor, who had done so much for her.
He turned again to the Peredhil, and swallowed thickly. "May I speak to you both for short time?"
"Of course," Elrond said softly, speaking for the both of them.
Andreth looked on in silence, holding her flute in a trembling fist as together, the three dark-haired elves descended the steps of the veranda, and strode together toward the slope that dropped down to the sea. Their hair, like ravens' wings, caught in the sea breeze as the three of them dropped down the stone steps toward the water, and disappeared from her view.
Silence now fell over the group, and Andreth dropped her gaze, feeling the eyes of the others upon her.
After a long moment, she sighed, and looked up. Aelin met her eyes, and lifted her hands, her fingers poised to pluck at her strings. Andreth sighed, and managed a smile then lifted the flute to her lips, and once again began to play.