The sun at her back brought the retreating shoreline into beautiful relief where Andreth stood at the stern of the ship, her eyes upon the haven of Mithlond within the arms of land that encircled the bay. She could see the rising buildings and towers that climbed the slopes on either side of the bay, and Cirdan's house atop the knoll.
Leagues of shoreline opened to her view as the land drew further away; the naith of land around which the forest came down toward the water, where Elros' cave was to be found. And further north and west, the distant shoreline fading as the ship, her sails full, plowed westward through the waves. There, in the faint distance, lay the land that had once been Firiel's, where she lay beside her husband Haran, until the world would be remade.
Her hand, within Elros' had lowered when they had passed out of the bay, but still, he stood by her side, his hands gripping the railing, his eyes fixed upon the mouth of the bay through which she could see a fraction of the shoreline. Aelin had left their company, and had gone below some time past, leaving the married pair alone at the stern.
"He is still there?" she asked softly. With his elven sight, Elros could see more than she. And he nodded.
"Elrond is still watching us, and Ereinion. Lord Cirdan also, with the lady and her lord."
Andreth nodded, and moved against him, sliding her arm about his waist. Elros responded with a sigh, and slipped his arm about her shoulders.
"I have never been this far from him," he murmured, and she could hear the tremor in his otherwise strong voice.
The voice of one of the elven sailors broke through the silence of their thoughts, and both Andreth and Elros turned to see a fair haired elf approach. It was a strange thing, Andreth noted, to hear her husband addressed thusly.
"Forgive my intrusion, but look."
The elven man pointed westward and up, past the upper corner of the ship's full sail, and into the sky.
Though the sun was only just westering, a bright star hung in the sky, gleaming as if twilight had already descended. Eärendil, she knew immediately.
"Adar," Elros murmured, confirming her thoughts.
Andreth turned her gaze to take in her husband's face.
Elros' hand rested upon the small of her back, but his eyes were uplifted to the star, the strong, chiseled lines of his face written with wonder, with pain, and joy mingled.
"He is guiding us," she murmured.
He nodded, his hand gently brushing up and down her spine as he did, then turned to her, his gaze growing soft.
"This reminds me of our wedding day," he said softly. "Never before that evening, when I saw you coming toward me, had my father's silmaril shone more brightly in the sky."
His gaze softened as he studied her now. A hand lifted, touching lightly against her hair, his fingers brushing against the smooth tresses.
The elven sailor who had approached them, smiled and ducked his head, turning away as Elros cradled her face in his hands, and bent his head. Andreth let her eyes fall closed before she felt the soft brush of Elros' lips upon her own before he drew back, and smiled.
Together, they turned their eyes eastward again, toward the shore that shrank even as they watched.
Long they stood, side by side, watching the shore draw away. The sun sank into the sea behind them, and night gradually claimed the sky. But Eärendil did not move. He hung in the westward sky, steadfastly in his spot as the other stars flickered one by one in the darkness.
A bright light, as of Eärendil himself, gleamed from the now distant shore that was now nothing more to her eyes, than a dark line against an indigo sky.
"The lighthouse," she realized aloud. "The one you helped build." Elros nodded, wordless.
Here and there, about the ship, the elven sailors were bringing silver lanterns to life, their light flickering across the deck, and even one high on the main mast, like so many fireflies. Upon the other ships as well, across the water, lamps were coming on, one by one. Brightness against the darkening water beneath them, flickering against the oceans swells upon which they rode. A wind brushed over the stern of the ship where she stood with her husband, and Andreth shivered a little. His arm tightened about her, drawing her closer.
From behind her, a lamp approached, and a voice.
"Lady Andreth, my young lord, Elros, your cabin is ready, and supper is waiting."
The pair turned to meet Aelin's eyes, gleaming in the light of the lamp she held.
"Aelin, you've been below, preparing our cabin?" Andreth asked. "Oh, I should have helped-"
"Indeed not," Aelin teased. "You have done just as you should." Her brows raised as she smiled. "But will you come, now? No doubt you are weary."
Andreth was indeed ready for rest, and she nodded, looking up into Elros' eyes before she started after Aelin.
"I will stay here a moment longer," he said. "Elrond has not returned to Círdan's house yet."
Andreth turned her eyes eastward. She could see nothing more than a dark outline beneath the brightness of the lighthouse.
With a quivering smile, she squeezed her husband's hand, then turned away and followed Aelin beneath the sail, and down a sloping stair into the hollow beneath the deck.
The belly of the ship was faintly warmer than the outer air. At the bottom of the wooden steps, a corridor led down the length of the ship, from the bow to the stern. Its walls were of paneled wood, interspersed with a few narrow doors. Three small silver lamps in sconces lit the length of the hallway. She followed Aelin toward the bow of the ship where the corridor ended in a door.
"Your chambers," Aelin said, pushing the door open, and gesturing Andreth into a chamber with a few small candles. This was the prow of the ship, the far end of the room ending in a point. A window of glass was set in a frame to fit within the narrowing brow, a splash of water now and then striking at the thick glass, reminding her of the ever forward motion of the ship. Rich red velvet curtains had been drawn aside, giving her a clear view of the dark ocean ahead and of Eärendil, who still hung in the sky, though by now, full dark had fallen. Within the narrowing hollow where the glass ended in a point, a table, with two waiting chairs, sat, spread with covered platters, empty cups, and a decanter of wine.
A large bed stood the left wall took up much of the spacious cabin, a wardrobe opposite that. Beside the wardrobe, sat a small, though gracefully carved dressing table with a small mirror and chair before it.
Andreth turned and looked into Aelin's eyes. The elven woman smiled, her eyes filled with more delight than Andreth remembered seeing in her face before.
"You needn't have done all this, Aelin," she chided gently.
Aelin grinned, and shook her head. "I was glad to," she returned. "I knew you wished to stay on deck, and so I came down here, and prepared your cabin, and my own," she gestured over her shoulder. "And I found the galley. Gilion, one of the sailors aided me, and I prepared you a small meal."
To this, Andreth could only sigh, and smile gratefully at her friend who would be sailing on, once she and Elros and their people had disembarked in Númenor. Aelin would join her husband, Thallon, she had said, who, she was certain, had been reembodied, and awaited her in the Blessed Realm. And while Andreth was happy for her gentle friend, she was sad as well, for she may not see her again.
"Thank you, Aelin." Impulsively, Andreth leaned forward at this thought, and embraced her elven friend.
"You have been a good friend," Andreth murmured.
Aelin returned the embrace for a long moment, before she took hold of Andreth's shoulders and pushed her back.
Aelin smiled at this, and blinking gleaming eyes. "As have you," she returned. "Good night, Lady Andreth." she said, and as Aelin turned down the corridor to her own cabin, Andreth shut the door.
The light from Eärendil, combined with the faint light of the candles, lit the room in a muted glow.
Andreth sighed as she moved to a small wardrobe opposite the large bed, and opened it. A few items of clothing, for herself, and Elros, hung in the closet, enough for a few days.
With a sigh, she pushed her slippers off, and set them on the floor of the wardrobe. She lifted the pouch of precious athelas from over her shoulder, and set it upon the dressing table. She turned and glided to the wide window, gazing to the port, then to the starboard side through the glass panes at the lamp bedecked ships that sailed silently beside her own through the dark night, like stars moving over the surface of the sea, gliding toward the beacon in the sky that was Eärendil. The father of her beloved. With a sigh, she drew the knot of the curtain loose, and with a whisper of fabric, the curtains tumbled over the glass, blocking the ocean from her sight before shrugging out of her gown. She sighed, glad to be free of its weight as it crumpled to the floor, leaving her in her thin, cool shift that whispered about her ankles, and left her arms bare.
She shivered a little as she gathered up the weight of her gown, and hung it upon a hook in the wardrobe before she dropped into the seat before the dressing table. Beside the mirror, lay a hair brush. She picked it up as she removed the combs that had gathered her hair, and began to draw it through her loosened tresses.
She had drawn it only a few strokes, when the door behind her opened. She turned as Elros entered with a sigh, and shut it, his back pressed against the door as he gazed ahead, his eyes fixed on the curtains that hung before the wide window as if he could see through them into the west, and toward Eärendil in the sky.
Andreth set the brush down and rose. "Elros?" she murmured as she glided to him, warmed by his nearness.
At her voice, Elros' eyes found her, and his mouth drew up in a weary smile. "Andreth," he murmured, shifting and drawing his arms loose as she slipped the heavy robe from his shoulders, freeing him of its weight. She turned, folding it, and laying the thick garment upon an empty shelf within the wardrobe. "I watched until I knew he had turned away. I am sorry I kept you waiting."
She turned back with a smile, and returned to him.
"Do not be," she murmured. 'Your feelings are still raw. And doubtless will be, for some time."
Andreth lifted a hand to his jaw, and moved to him tilting her face up, seeking for a kiss, and the feel of his arms circling her.
But Elros did not immediately embrace her, nor, for a long moment, did he look at her, his eyes instead, turning to gaze again toward the curtains as if he could see Eärendil beyond, his countenance sad, and distracted. His hand did touch her waist, but nothing more.
"Elrond and I have been parted before, a few days here or there, but not like this," he murmured to himself. "Nothing like this." His voice was soft, but within it, she could hear the faint tremor, and the quiet pain. "Every moment increases the distance between Elrond and me."
"Oh, Elros," she murmured, her hand trailing from his jaw to his arm, rubbing her fingers over the cloth, caressing the ridges of his muscles beneath. Her heart ached at the pain on his face.
His eyes found her own then, and he smiled, though sadly, his other hand finding her bare shoulder.
Gently, he learned near, and pressed a kiss to her hair. "I will never regret this choice he murmured, his voice a soft rumble from deep in his chest. "One lifetime with you is worth more to me than all the glories of Valinor." He smiled sadly. "But even so, it is not without pain. I know what I have done to Elrond."
Of a sudden, Elros turned to her fully, and gathered her against himself. The gesture was unexpected, his strength robbing her momentarily of breath, but even so, Andreth responded, by slipping her arms about him, and holding him as he pressed his face against her hair. A shiver ran through his body.
"This hurts, Andreth!" he moaned. "As if my heart has been wrenched in two! I have never been without Elrond! Nor he without me! What am I to do? What will he do?"
Andreth held him as Elros shuddered, his arms holding her to him with vice-like strength. After a long moment, his strength eased and he pulled back. Andreth lifted her eyes to her husband's, seeing the pleading there, the hope that she would say something wise; something comforting.
"I know it is difficult," she murmured. "I cannot fully understand what you feel, I admit, for though I love him, he is not my twin. But I beg you, my husband, to remember what you have before asked me to do."
Elros' eyes studied her own as he awaited her next words.
"Trust the Valar," she murmured. "They will give you strength. And Elrond will have strength as well. You have both chosen as you should, and you will both be blessed for it. And your children. And their children. Ages from now, all of Arda will be blessed because of the choices you have both made."
Elros' lower lip trembled a little and he looked away once more.
The innocence of a child, and the wisdom of a man seemed to coalesce in his eyes as he studied the curtains that veiled the distant gleam that marked his father's place in the sky. His dark hair hung smoothly about his shoulders, down his back and over his chest, parting before and behind the tipped peak of his ear. To look upon him, he still looked as he had the first day she had met him, before he had elected the life of a mortal. Before he had given up the chance to live for all the ages of the world as one of the immortal Firstborn. Before he had declared her love of more worth to him than all the jewels of Tirion. Love swelled in her heart, and gratitude. He was beautiful. In so many ways. How had she won such a husband, such a lover, such a friend? What noble deed had she done to earn his devotion? Was she truly worth more to him than all the beauties of the Blessed Realm?
As if sensing her thoughts, Elros' gaze fell again to hers, and his eyes softened as he smiled.
Elros drew in a sigh, his hands finding her shoulders once more, and running gently along her arms. "Of all the daughters of elves or of men, you are the most beautiful," he continued softly. "Your beauty outmatched only by the goodness of your heart. How was it that I, of all the sons of Ilúvatar, was the one blessed to win your love?"
Andreth blinked, swallowing hard at her husband's fair words.
"Your words are wondrously lovely, Elros," she sighed.
"Only because you are," he returned.
She smiled, and rose on her toes to press a gentle kiss to his jaw. "I love you," she murmured, lifting her hand again to his jaw, hoping to draw his face down to her own for a kiss, but Elros only sighed, and clasped her hands, stepping back as he gazed down into her face, pleading filling his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Andreth, I-" he glanced away, as if he were ashamed. "I should not let my sorrow hinder us from-"
He broke off with a sigh, and then Andreth smiled and understood, her thoughts casting back to their wedding night, and how gentle and patient he was with her, when she had been fearful and hesitant.
"Do not be sorry," she soothed, stepping back from him, and gathering both his hands in her own. "Your heart is heavy. Do not apologize for that. But come. Let us simply lie together, for now. Lie with me, Elros and rest."
She turned and stepped toward the bed, her hand still within his. Elros followed her, unprotesting, as she drew the warm coverlet back with a whisper of sheets, and sat upon the soft mattress, easing to the middle to make room for him.
Heaving a breath, Elros sat beside her, pushed his boots off, then turned, and moved to her where Andreth sat in the center of the bed, her back resting against the plump pillows.
"Andreth, I'm sorry," he began in a whisper as his arm moved across her stomach, still flat, as his warm body drew up beside her own, and his head rested, like a child's against her shoulder. "I shouldn't-"
"Do not be sorry," she murmured, as she circled her arms about him, and drew him ever closer.
His hand grasped the coverlet, and drew it up, warm, to her shoulder.
"Simply being with you, sleeping in your arms is enough, tonight," she assured him, and to this Elros smiled.
"I love you, Andreth," he murmured.
His eyes remained open, his face still turned toward the curtain that veiled his father's star. But his breath gradually deepened, and his focus dulled, letting her know he had found the path of his dreams.
"I love you too, my dearest," she breathed.
About Talia on the ship, the silver elven lamps gleamed, bright and unflickering, not unlike so many lovely fireflies.
Just beyond the point of the railing where she stood, her hands resting upon the polished wood as she gazed forward into the darkness, one lamp hung on a jutting point, casting its silver light off the dark water below, its reflection casting and dancing back into her face in lovely splashes of light. Ahead of her, she could see nothing in the darkness, save the light of the stars, including the bright star which hung unmoving in the western sky, the bright star which Hathel had told her, was indeed no star, but the Lord Eärendil upon his ship, Vingilot with a silmaril upon his brow.
How many days would it be, before the land where they would dwell, would appear upon the horizon? She looked forward to that day, but at the same time, she almost wished it not to come too quickly. For the ocean was beautiful, the rise and dip of the boat beneath her feet, and the gentle wind in her hair-
A foot upon the deck behind Talia turned her quickly, an apology upon her lips for the elven sailor she was certain was drawing near behind her, wondering why she had not retired for the night.
But the words died before she spoke them, seeing in the light of the silver lamps, Hathel's eyes delving gently into her own as he approached her.
"You were not with the other maidens when I knocked on your door, seeking to bid you goodnight," he said, drawing near to join her at the railing. "The others said I would find you here."
"I do not feel sleep coming yet," Talia confessed. "It is so lovely here, the darkness, and the stars- and- and you, now. In truth, I could stay here, contented, all night. If only you-"
Talia stopped and ducked her eyes, flushing at the boldness of her words. Beside her, Hathel did not speak at first, but shifted nearer, letting his arm brush against hers. A thrill of heat trembled through her body from the point where his arm touched her own.
"So could I," he confessed, his breath washing her cheek as his hand shyly moved to cover hers where it rested upon the rail. "But in truth, I would not be watching the stars. Rather, my gaze would be fixed upon your eyes, which are more fair than any star I can see in the sky."
Talia turned to look up at him now, conscious of the way his hand trembled as it held her own. Softly, she began. "Hathel-"
"I love you, Talia," he blurted, his eyes growing suddenly uncertain at the boldness of his own words.
She fell silent, her heart bursting in a sudden thrill of ecstasy. She wanted to sing, and weep at once. But she could only hold his hand in silence and study his eyes. "You do?" she asked softly.
"I do," he returned, drawing her back a little from the railing so that he could turn fully to her. "I love you with all of my heart. And I can only hope that you love me as-"
"Hathel, hush," Talia breathed; she stepped near, her arms circling about his neck. "You need say no more."
Talia smiled as his eyes sparked with sudden hope. "Just kiss me," she urged.
Hathel smiled. His hands, strong, firm, and wondrously gentle, found her waist, and he did as she bid him.
Talia closed her eyes as his lips found her own, sending pulses of heat racing through her. His mouth tasted her own shyly, but eagerly, exploring her own mouth with trembling timidity.
She had never been kissed like this before, with such gentleness, such tenderness and such pure, sweet longing. If his words had not convinced her of his regard, these soft, gentle caresses of his lips upon her own, left no room for her to doubt his love and his absolute adoration.
Talia sighed into the kiss, and found herself matching his passions with a warmth all her own as she pressed closer to him, eager to assure him of her own ardor.
To this, his arms strengthened by years of loyal work cutting and shaping stones, only tightened about her further, and Hathel deepened the kiss, fairly lifting her off her feet before he suddenly drew back with a gasp, and set her again upon her feet, studying her eyes with an expression of wondrous disbelief.
"Talia," he gasped, his trembling hands finding her own. "I- you- that was wonderful."
Talia ducked her eyes at this. "It was," she agreed shyly.
"Do you love me?"
Her eyes shot up again. The soft eyes of this wonderful, honest stonemason studied her own, pleading. Almost uncertain. As if she could ever give him any other answer!
"Oh, Hathel, yes," she returned, her voice breaking as she spoke. "I do. I love you. With all my heart, I-"
"Then will you marry me?"
Talia froze. Hathel's strong arms squeezed about her. He was in earnest. She hesitated only a moment longer.
"Yes," she said. She did not wish to speak any more, for now. And she did not need to as Hathel dipped his head, and once again his warm, pliant mouth found her own.