The sand beneath their booted feet left small indentations behind them that slowly filled with water as the three elven men walked in silence along the sand, northward toward the the high knoll that bent sharply toward the sylvan cave where Maglor and his brother had left the little Peredhil to play so long ago, and had not come back. Maglor walked slowly between the two brothers with Elrond on his right hand, and Elros on his left, nearest the water.
His eyes fixed downward, Elros watched the water hiss up the sand, brushing beneath the soles, and dampening the bottom edges of his boots. He felt little more than a twinge in his thigh now as he walked, his limp barely noticable. It would be entirely gone within a few days, Elrond had promised. Elros and his people would be on the open ocean then. His heart both sorrowed and rejoiced at the thought.
The sun rested upon the horizon, casting her tresses across the water as the three elven men paused at the edge of the jutting naith of rising stone.
Together, in silent agreement, the quiet group rounded the rocky wall and started toward the cave they could see, where the waterfall caught the red light of the slowly setting sun casting the light about the green tunnel of trees their path followed.
A short distance from the cave, where the spray of the water reached them and cooled their faces, Maglor stopped.
He stood, Elros realized, in the very spot where he'd stopped when they were children, and bidden them to go play in the pool as he set a pack of food upon a moss-covered log that had once lain where a young tree now stood.
Elrond had gone to the edge of the bank and stopped, but Elros had leapt fully clothed, into the pool. He had laughed as he surfaced, and turned to seek his brother's smile, and Maglor's, but only Elrond had been there. Maglor had disappeared entirely.
He would disappear again today, Elros knew, and in his heart, he understood that this was the last time he would see Maglor until the ending of the world.
As if sensing the young elf's morose thoughts, he felt Maglor's hand grip his shoulder.
Swallowing hard, he glanced toward the face of Fëanor's last living son. Maglor's other hand had come to rest upon Elrond's shoulder, and the elder elf heaved a deep sigh as he looked now at Elrond's face, now at Elros'.
At last, his hands dropped to his sides, closing into tight fists.
"You will sail tomorrow," Maglor said, and as he spoke, his eyes trained upon Elros, his gaze heavy even as a smile of fatherly pride filled his eyes. He did not need to say that they would not meet again, not while Arda lasted. The understanding already weighed painfully upon Elros' heart. "You will ever be in my thoughts."
Elros felt a hard lump in his throat, and he had to drop his face as he nodded. "And you in mine, Otorno," he said softly. "In both of ours. We will not forget your goodness to us."
He shot a glance to Elrond who met his gaze with a somber expression of his own, and nodded.
"Your mercy to us will count for something in the eyes of the Valar, one day," Elrond murmured. "You are at heart, a good man."
Maglor smiled sadly. "I am glad you believe in me, my sons," he said. "I will strive all my days to be what you deem me to be."
Maglor choked upon a breath as he met Elros' eyes, his own gleaming with unshed tears. Elros could not speak, his throat too thick to form words as Maglor spoke. "I hope that I will be blessed to cross the paths of your descendants, Elros. And, perhaps, do them some good."
He turned again to Elrond, his eyes filled with pleading tears. He swallowed thickly. "When your years upon these shores have passed away at last, and you sail, will you seek out my wife, Anoriel, and tell her I will always love her? And one day, perhaps not until after the ending of all we know, I will seek the pardon of the Valar, and find her?"
Elrond nodded. "Of course, Otorno," he said, his voice thick with emotion.
"My sons," Maglor breathed, and there was a sob in his voice. "I am so proud of the men you have become."
Maglor reached out and clapped a hand upon the shoulder of each young elf. Elros gulped hard, feeling the trembling of Maglor's hand against his shoulder, unable to keep the tears from spilling from his eyes as he drew in a deep and ragged breath.
And in a moment, Maglor's arm was about him. His other arm encircled Elrond as well, and he drew both young men close to him, Elros' tears falling against Maglor's shoulder.
A moment later, he felt Elrond's hand gripping his other shoulder, and he reached out, clasping his brother's shoulder in the same manner, his tears only increasing as he did.
Elros could not tell how long the three of them stood thusly, his head against Maglor's shoulder. But when at last Maglor drew back and their arms fell, Elros lifted his head to find that the sun was well below the horizon, and the evenstar was visible through the trees.
"I have left gifts for you, my dearest sons," Maglor said, gesturing toward the cave mouth as he stood back, sniffing, and adjusting the pack upon his back. "Within the cave. They are waiting there, for you."
Elros and Elrond both looked toward the sheet of falling water and the cave mouth beyond where he pointed. But as they did, a soft brush of air, and the hasty crackle of booted feet upon leaves found their ears, and though they turned swiftly back, they did not so much as catch a fading glimpse of his clothing before the sound of his departure had faded.
Another ragged breath filled Elros' lungs, and the weighted understanding pressed down upon his heart. I will never see him again, not until the ending of the world.
Elrond's hand clapped upon his arm, sensing his brother's weighted thoughts.
"Come, little brother," he urged, gently jostling his shoulder.
"Let us see to the gifts Otorno left us, and then we must return. Your lady is waiting."
Elros could see his brother's trembling smile, and he wished to cheer his brother as much as he could. He wished to speak, but he feared to, afraid that his voice would betray him. So Elros merely nodded, and did as his brother bid him.
Andreth stood upon the veranda, a lamp in her hand, watching eagerly for the return of her husband and Elrond. She had been waiting since they had departed, refusing to go inside even when the sun was gone.
Aelin had brought her a lamp, and a light shawl, which she clutched tightly now, a smile brightening her face as she heard the soft scuff of their leather boots upon the stone steps, then saw them rising toward her from the seashore.
Both her husband and brother-in-law looked weary and sad, as she expected them to, but when Elros lifted his eyes and saw her, the lamp in her hand, and the light of it upon her face, he managed a smile.
When they reached the crest of the steps, Andreth set the lamp down upon the railing, and flew to them, first to Elrond, embracing him swiftly, but tightly, barely noting the oddly shaped bundle he carried under one arm before releasing him and turning to her husband.
"Elros," she murmured, moving into his arms, her embrace far more lingering than it had been for her brother-in-law.
She barely noted the soft brush of Elrond's boots as he turned silently away from the pair.
The faint light of her lamp behind her faded as Elrond carried it with him into the house, letting the door shut behind him and leaving them beneath the starlight.
"This is our last night on these shores, beloved," he murmured.
"It is," she agreed.
She withdrew from him long enough to look up into his eyes. The starlight reflected in his gaze, and the soft light of the night brushed the carven angles of his beautiful face in a way that stirred anew a warm swell of desire deep within her. Elros shifted his weight, and held her body all the more tightly against his own, as his arms circled about her, entirely unconcerned that anyone could be watching from the house.
"Come inside," she pleaded, and drew back, pulling gently upon his hand, wishing to lead him inside, back to his room, and to his bed, soft and deep. His leg was sufficiently healed, and they would no longer need to wait for sleep to-
"My lady," he protested gently, drawing her back, and Andreth's gentle tug ceased as she let him draw her back to him, her eyes uplifted, studying the gentle smile upon his face.
"Let us not go inside," he breathed, his lips drawing up in a faint grin, his eyes dancing softly. "At least not right now."
He leaned forward and whispered softly, almost as if he feared being overheard, "Come with me- to our cave."
Andreth's heart jumped at this, and then a warm blush stole over her face. How often, since the night Elros had first tried to kiss her within the shadows of his cave, had she imagined in her secret daydreams, this beautiful elven warrior making love to her within the sheltering embrace of its shadows, the gentle waterfall clattering nearby. Many things had happened there; beautiful and sorrowful things, but mostly beautiful. They had already shared much there, in the soft, sacred confines of its protective walls. It would be fitting, Andreth thought, to farewell the little cave in such a way as Elros wished.
"The night is a little cold," she murmured, her words spoken for nothing else but to hear his answer.
"There is a fire kindled there already," he breathed. He smiled and added in a soft growl, "And even when it has faded into coals, I will warm you."
He bent his head to brush a teasing kiss against her lips. "Maglor also left gifts. Will you come with me, and see them?"
Andreth shivered. His fleeting kiss had left her in an agony of longing, and that, mingled with the curiosity of gifts, left her beyond all help.
"Yes," she pleaded. "I will."
Andreth sighed and arched her back wearily, reaching for, and finding, Elros' strong shoulder where he lay beside her.
The fire he had promised was indeed dying, its lowering light flickering off the ragged stone walls of the cave, no longer lighting the ceiling as brightly as it had in the past hour. Neither husband nor wife wished to rise and stoke it though; they were warm enough, as Elros had promised.
"A sheepskin," she murmured dreamily, half given to her dreams as she snuggled closer to him beneath his cloak which overspread them both, their bodies also cradled within the luxurious fur of an expansive sheepskin spread upon the floor which Maglor had left as his gift to Elros. "It is a lovely gift."
"Mm," Elros agreed his arm circling about her and drawing her body more firmly against his own, the other arm moving to cradle her head. "He left messages, which said it was the tanned skin of an old ram one of the chieftains of the people of Hador gifted to him as thanks for saving you."
"So soft," Andreth purred.
"Not so soft as you, my beautiful one," he growled warmly as he bent his head and pressed a gentle kiss to her throat.
Andreth sighed, running her hand appreciatively over the hard contours of his muscled arm. "What did he give Elrond?"
"A bear skin." Elros said, and drew back enough to grin down into her eyes. "A cantankerous old fellow he met in the deep winter, so his note said, who thought Maglor would make a fitting meal. Of course, Maglor disagreed."
Andreth smiled at his words.
"Thank you for bringing me here, my husband," she murmured. "This is a most lovely memory we are making before we sail away, tomorrow."
"Indeed," he agreed with a low breath.
She sighed. "I wish we could take this all with us."
"As do I," Elros sighed. "But there are doubtless many caves and waterfalls in our new home. I am certain we will find the time to seek them out, in between our duties."
"And we must find the beach where we first met in our dreams," Andreth added.
"Most certainly," Elros agreed. "We will find that, first. And there, I will build you a little cottage, and whenever our duties permit, we will go there, and we will share nights, just like this." Elros sighed and added, "Nights and days, and weeks and years. Just like this."
Andreth sighed, and gazed up into his eyes. "I love you," she murmured.
Elros smiled softly, "I love you," he echoed, and added as he bent his head to claim her lips again, "more than all the gleaming jewels of Tirion."
The waterfall continued its soft, everlasting song as the fire died down into red, whispering coals. But neither Elros nor Andreth gave it heed.