The Choice of Elros

By Lalaith

Romance / Fantasy

Chapter 60

Chapter 60

Elros stirred in his sleep as the sweet refrain of a harp filled his ears, the wooden ceiling above him coming into focus, and drawing him from his dreams. He blinked in the early morning light that filtered through the curtains, and rolled to one side, the bedclothes whispering as he did. He lifted up a little, propping his head in one hand, the more easily to observe his wife who sat a short distance away from him, her body turned partway toward him so that her soft profile was visible, as she gently plucked at the strings of her harp.

Andreth must have only just risen a few minutes before; her hair had been loosely twisted onto her head, held with a single pin, a few adorably tousled locks trailing down her shapely neck, and she still wore her nightgown, the gossamer thin cloth doing little to conceal her womanly virtues. He felt his blood stir as the thought touched him that perhaps this was what she intended.

Elros smiled and sighed, his heart giving a guilty throb. Since they embarked on their voyage, he had allowed his separation from Elrond to nigh consume him. To the sailors, to Aelin and to his people on the other ships whom he could hail when the light was good, he hid his lingering sense of loss. Andreth alone, saw the true pain in his heart when they were alone in their cabin, and she bore the weight of being his sole comforter. Little had he done, to thank her, though.

He heaved a soft breath where he lay, studying the graceful movement of her bare arms as her fingers gently caressed the strings, recalling how he had awoken when the morning dawned after their first night at sea, still cradled in her arms, Andreth beautiful in her sleep where she lay half reclined against the pillows above his head, with her arms about his head and shoulders. It had been the first night they had shared as a wedded pair without making love even once. And every night since had been much the same, except that he would not again let his expectant wife sleep sitting up for his sole comfort.

He had held her in his arms when they went to bed, her head in its customary place, resting in the crook of his shoulder, her slender arm draped over his bare chest. But aside from enjoying the feel of her in his arms, her soft, warm body against his own, their legs deliciously entangled, he had not bonded with her, nor even lain with her unclothed, since their departure. He had been too preoccupied with his own sorrow, he recalled with regret. Yet not once had she complained these last days, neither in word nor in gesture, showing nothing to him but patience and understanding.

Elros' heart swelled with gratitude at this thought as her fair, shapely fingers moved delicately over the strings, her music washing through him in comforting waves. Their new home, her music seemed to say, would be fair and lovely, and they would find joy there.

He listened and watched in silence, musing as he did. Doubtless she had missed him, missed the intimacy, the sweetness and pleasure of their love making, the warmth and the satisfying contact between their unfettered bodies as he realized now, he did. Especially now as he watched his wife play, watching the grace of her movements, the slender beauty of her bare arms, and the soft, supple curves of her body visible beneath the thin blue-green cloth of her sleeping gown. The same gloriously thin garment she had worn on their wedding night.

All that was in him that made him a man, stirred with ever increasing hunger as he watched her. If she wished to seduce him, she was succeeding marvelously.

A deep sigh escaped him. He had been a neglectful husband. But if she would permit him, he would remedy that. He smiled lightly.

"Andreth," he called at last.

…oOo…

Andreth's eyes were closed as her fingers moved over the strings of her harp, the music bringing to life images in her head of the tall mountain she had seen in her dreams, garbed in snow, and wreathed by clouds, of low valleys, bathed in mist. Of wide, fair plains lush with grass, and deep, green forests populated by tall, noble trees reaching toward the heavens. Númenor would be beautiful.

"Andreth," Elros voice murmured from behind her. She smiled. She had been hoping-

Her music fell silent as her hands dropped to her lap.

She turned a little, and looked at him over her shoulder, studying him a long moment, pleased at the way his eyes moved over her, warm with adoration, and also with longing; something she had not seen in some days. Her heart quickened.

"You are awake, Rau Amin," she breathed as at last, she turned, and rose to her feet.

"Your music roused me from my dreams my Tindómiel," he murmured as she drew to his side, and sat beside him. One warm hand found her own, and lifted it to his lips, kissing the knuckle of her thumb where the Ring of Barahir rested.

"And I am glad," he finished, settling back against the pillows, and drawing her with him, so that her hands pressed into the bed on either side of him as she leaned over him. "You are a wondrously lovely vision to see upon my waking. And your music was very comforting."

Andreth smiled down upon him, a few strands of loose hair trailing down to brush against his throat.

"I am happy that I pleased you with my music, my lord," she murmured where she hovered above him. She parted her lips slightly as she studied his sea grey eyes. Her heart began to quicken. Softly, she breathed, "Is there aught I can do, to please you more?"

"Oh, my lady," Elros sighed and lifted a hand, letting his fingers caress her bare throat before sliding to her hair, and drawing the single pin free. Her hair tumbled now about her shoulders in loose whorls as Elros tossed the pin away. It clattered to the floor a moment later, though neither she nor Elros watched it go. His fingers trailed down her throat to her shoulder, and rested there for a moment, warm and strong, the weight of it solid and welcoming. His other hand found her hip, warm through the thin cloth. Elros shifted his position, and with tender, controlled power, drew her down beside him onto the bed, the sinews of his strong arms and shoulders shifting gracefully beneath his warm skin. The softness of the bedclothes against her back still lingered with his warmth as her hair spread out about her.

"It is I who should ask you that question," he murmured.

Cradled now in his arms, she looked up at him as he rose up on one elbow, his dark hair trailing down over one sinuous shoulder. She smiled for a moment into his eyes, but did not confine her gaze to his face for long, letting her eyes trail over her husband's sculpted torso, admiring his fierce beauty. He always slept without a shirt, and this pleased her, even when their passions were cool and they merely lay in each other's arms. He was truly magnificent simply to look upon, his warm, muscular flesh wonderful to touch. But now- Now-

Elros bent his head, pressing his lips to her jaw, and she sighed at this.

Andreth closed her eyes, shifted upon the bed, and tipped her head back. At the silent invitation, a soft, feral growl escaped Elros, and his lips trailed warmly down to the sensitive skin of her throat. "Andreth," her name a husky breath on lips that kissed her tender flesh, tasting her sweetness as his free arm moved, sliding over her, his warm hand gently gripping the thin cloth that shielded the soft contours of her body, his strong fingers gentle, yet generous in his caresses.

An involuntary moan of pleasure escaped her. Ai, she'd missed this!

"My Tindómiel-" His voice was a rough plea.

Andreth lifted a hand, brushing her fingers over the warm skin of his neck. "Rau amin," she murmured.

Elros sighed, and drew back. Andreth opened her eyes to gaze up into his own. Long his sea grey eyes studied her, roiling now with deepening longing. "I have been selfish," he murmured at last.

"Elros-" she began tenderly before he bent his head, and captured her open, eager mouth. His mouth was warm and moist, tenderly insistent. Andreth draped her arms over his shoulders, weaving her fingers in his hair as she lost herself in his caresses, tasting him, devouring him, matching his ardor with her own rising passions, his kisses steadily increasing in fervor. She felt his arms tighten and the bed shift as his own solid weight, warm and welcome, settled upon her, their bodies twining together, though the cloth of their thin garments still hindered them.

"Forgive me," he pleaded breathlessly against her mouth as he drew back a little. She looked up at him, seeing the apology in his eyes. "I have neglected you these past days." His voice was a thick, husky growl, alluring in its penitence.

"All is forgiven," she assured him with a soft, eager gasp, and she gently drew him back down to her, to show him how truly she meant her words.

…oOo…

Aelin stood at the point of the bow, her hands upon the railing, leaning as far forward as she dared over the water that foamed and hissed in protest as the bow cut through. She drew in a deep breath, thirstily drinking in the sweet scent of the ocean air, and smiling into the west where lay a small patch of cloud on the far purple horizon. The sky there gradually faded to a softer blue as it climbed higher, the distant patch of cloud washed in pink with the dawn nearly ready to rise behind Aelin. Eärendil still remained in the western sky as he had for the past several days hovering ever in the spot where he usually appeared only at twilight.

Aelin drew in another breath, and held it in her lungs. There was a new tang in the air, today. A new deliciousness that filled her with a brightness and sense of anticipation she had not felt since her youth.

"Mistress Aelin," a voice spoke behind her, and she turned to see the captain, Nithron, drawing near. He nodded in deference to her, and she bobbed her head in return.

"Can you sense the change in the air?" he asked as he paused a short distance away.

"I can," she returned. "I was just wondering why. I suppose it portends-"

A high avian cry sounded through the air then, cutting off Aelin's words, and her eyes flew westward again.

Something was coming toward them through the air, white, and slender in the brightening light.

"A seabird," she breathed, watching it near.

Nithron said nothing at all as the gull neared, then flew over their boat, its grey tipped wings outspread, to circle about their mast, then alight upon the yard beside the elf perched there on lookout. The gull stood there a moment before it sidled along the narrow wooden yard nearer to his new elven companion in a way that brought a smile to Aelin's face, the gull reminding her of a shy newcomer eager to make a friend.

The bird tipped its head, solemnly observing the elven man who in return studied the bird with a humored expression that mirrored Aelin's thoughts before the gull spread its wings and lifted from the yard to wing rapidly back over the ship and in the direction from which it had come, purpose and speed in its flight, as if it were a messenger hurrying away with glad tidings.

All eyes followed it, and as it went-

"Land, Master Nithron!" the voice of the young elf perched upon the yard, frantic with joy shouted from above, and her eyes jerked up. The elf waved a frantic hand down to them, before he directed his shouts to the neighboring boats, his arm waving joyfully, frantically as he shouted the word again. "Land!"

The cry came back like an echo, from other elves perched on the yards of their own ships, mingling with other excited cries as, at the shouted word, their Edain passengers began clambering out from below deck, men and women, children as well, babies in the arms of their mothers or fathers. They crowded to the railing, many of them pointing westward, their faces alight with wonder and joy.

Aelin's eyes swiveled forward, and she saw it now as well. In the distance, rising out of the water, a distant peak rose through the swath of cloud, a gleaming pinnacle not visible before now. Eärendil's gleaming light hovered directly above the peak of this great mountain, a beam of light seeming to descend until it alighted upon the very pinnacle.

"We must let the young king know, and his queen," Nithron said.

The elven sailor turned away quickly. "I'll go fetch them. They'll want to see this."

"No," Aelin spouted hastily turning after him, and touching a hand to his arm. "No, Master Nithron, don't. Let them- give them time. They'll- they will come when they will."

The sailor paused. He seemed to have as many centuries on him as Aelin, but she could see in his countenance that he had not yet found a wife. Perhaps he didn't understand her unspoken hint.

Nithron hesitated, but then he nodded at last. "Very well," he said, and turned away, shouting orders to his crew. The elves scrambled to obey him as Aelin turned again to look westward, her heart thumping with a sense of renewal and purpose.

Her hands clasped together over her heart as the morning sun rose fully behind her, bathing the growing mountaintop in golden splendor.

Her lips moved, and the name escaped her lips before she was aware she spoke it. "Thallon."

…oOo…

Andreth could do little more than stand at the bow in wonder as the towers and docks of the port city to which they were nearing, grew ever larger. To the north and south of their ships she could see arms of land against the horizon. They must be two of the five arms she remembered from the vision Lady Este had shown her, drawing together in a point where the city stood, waiting beneath the sun high, and bright above their heads. Far beyond the city, she saw the mountain, like a pillar supporting the heavens, rising into the sky, wisps of cloud still clinging about its sides. How well she remembered it from her shared dreams with Elros.

Along the shore, crowds of men and women, elves she was certain, though with her mortal vision she could not see them as clearly as Elros surely could, were gathered, alerted of the arrival of the ships, and clearly pleased at their coming.

Oh, if only Aelin was here to see all this as well! But her faithful friend had insisted she go below and prepare Andreth's things to disembark.

"No," Aelin had said with a smile when Andreth had tried to go below to help her. "You must stay on deck to greet the elves, and to be visible to your people. Do not worry about me. I will come up, soon enough."

Perhaps, Andreth thought, Aelin could see all this through the window at the bow. But the view was not as vast, nor the air so clear and filled with the cry of gulls as it was, below deck.

Elros stood behind her, his solid warmth against her back, his jaw pressed to her hair, his hands at her waist.

"It's beautiful," she murmured. Behind her, he sighed, and shifted his weight.

"Indeed," he agreed. She could hear the smile in his voice. "They've built it for us."

"The elves of Tol Eressëa," she breathed.

"Yes," he agreed, "and-"

She felt him stiffen at her back, and a short, sharp breath of happiness escaped him.

"Olórin?" he breathed as he stepped away from her and moved to the railing at the prow, shading his eyes as he studied the elven folk waiting on the quays, and on the land rising from the water.

"Who?" Andreth asked, slipping up behind him, and touching his arm.

"Olórin!" he pointed toward the shoreline, though Andreth, even with her senses heightened since her marriage to Elros, could not see, among the bright, lovely forms, the one to whom he pointed. Elros slipped his arm around her and laughed gently in merry disbelief as he lifted his other hand and waved with enthusiasm toward someone she still could not yet see amongst the crowd of elves. "A good friend to both Elrond and me. Ah, I am glad to see him!"

"Which of those elves is he?" she asked, still unable to see the man whom Elros could.

"He is not an elf," Elros said. "He is a Maia."

"Like Lord Eönwë?"

Elros paused. "Yes, like Eönwë, in honor and courage, but- unlike, also. He is like-" Elros paused. "He is like a goodly king, noble, and with much power, but one who has not forgotten what it is like to be a child. He is noble and regal, but not so much that I could not sit with him before a fire, and confide all my thoughts and troubles. He knows how to appreciate small things, things that might pass unnoticed by others, and he has a merry laugh. Yet his courage could rival Tulkas'. He saved both my life and Elrond's more than once during the war."

"Indeed?" she asked, pleased. She lifted her eyes, studying the side of his face. "Then I am sure he and I will be good friends."

Elros looked over at her, and grinned, his grey eyes dancing. "I am certain you will be."

With his eyes turned upon his lady, and her eyes upon his, they did not see Eärendil, high above the great mountain peak, offer a last glimmering twinkle before sailing away westward. But Andreth saw him when she turned her head at last, the last of his light, like a falling star, fading brightly away over the horizon.

…oOo…

So this is Olórin, Andreth thought as she descended the wide plank, and alighted upon the dock. She touched a hand to the pouch of precious athelas seeds and leaves she carried over her shoulder, realizing for a moment that to these fair, bright elves, Maglor's leather bag likely looked out of place against her hip, its strap looped over the shoulder of her silken gown as if she meant to go sowing seeds in her fine clothes. But her elation was such that she hardly cared. The cries of gulls filled the air, a delicious, welcome sound, mingling with the merry greetings of elves along the docks as the others of the Edain disembarked from their own ships. She smiled as she approached her husband, and the tall man whose dark beard and hair, streaked through with grey, belied the bright twinkle in his eyes. He did not seem like a mighty, fearsome warrior like Eönwë; rather he seemed like a gentle fatherly man, more used to taking small children onto his knee and making them laugh, rather than warring with balrogs. But as Olórin smiled and stepped forward, nodding to a tall elven man beside him, who stepped forward as well, a pace behind the kindly Maia, Andreth found that Olórin's fatherly appearance suited him.

"It is good to see you again, my boy," Olórin said, his voice deep, pleasantly gruff and warm.

"And you, my friend," Elros returned.

"Welcome to Rómenna."

The bearded man embraced the young Peredhel as though Elros were his own son, and as he did, his bright eyes met Andreth's over Elros' shoulder. Olórin smiled at this, a warm smile like her own father's had been, and in that moment, Andreth knew that she and Olórin were friends.

"We will not stay here long," Olórin said, his voice gruff and soothing at once, turning his eyes back to Elros, "for you will be crowned in Armenelos, further inland, nearer the center of Elenna, and there ascend your throne, and take your sceptre."

At this, the bearded Maia turned and let his gentle gaze fall full upon Andreth. "With your lady queen at your side," he said softly. The gruffness of his voice softened a little, though the warmth remained.

He stepped to her, and took Andreth's hand in his own. "My lady," he said, bowing over their clasped hands before he looked up again, and offered her a companionable wink. "If I may be permitted to say, I can see, though we have only just met, that Elros is a most fortunate man." He straightened, and smiled warmly. "I am honored to meet you."

"My Lord, Olórin," she returned. "The honor is mine." She drew in a breath. "I have much to thank you for. As I understand it, you saved the life of my husband more than once."

Beyond his shoulder, Elros looked on, smiling, and as she traded a glance with him, he grinned.

Further behind Elros, the tall elf stood, as if waiting. Fleetingly, she met the elf's eyes. He smiled and offered a faint nod. Andreth paused. He seemed- familiar, though she was certain she had never met the man. He was handsome, with a warrior's build, and he seemed somehow- different than the elves about him. Though she was certain he was no Maia like Olórin, his skin seemed to bear a faint glow to it, though Andreth reminded herself that it could simply be the sunlight off the glimmer of his clothing. But it could not be. For fine though his garb was, and light in color, it was not markedly different from his fellows.

"Not more often than he saved mine," Olórin assured, bringing Andreth's eyes back to his.

"I am called Andreth," she said.

"Andreth, daughter of Beldir," Elros added, "of the House of Bëor."

"Indeed?" Olórin queried, his glance coming back to her. His eyes danced. "A most fitting name. And an honorable house from which you have descended." His smile grew warm. "But no doubt, Elros came to love you for the greatness of your heart, not your ancestors'."

Andreth felt herself blushing, and Olórin's gaze softened. "I can see in your eyes, the brightness of your soul," he continued.

Again Andreth looked toward Elros who stood just behind Olórin's shoulder. "His own soul is wondrously bright as well," she murmured. To this, Elros' eyes met her own, and his smile grew tender.

"Now," Olórin said, stepping back, and turned toward the tall elf who had been waiting in silence, and regal patience. "May I introduce a friend of mine. One who perhaps understands your sentiments well."

Olórin stepped away, and Andreth moved to Elros' side. She slipped her hand into his as the golden haired elf took a step nearer to them.

"I was hoping to meet someone very dear to me," the elven man said, his voice soft, and deep, like Olórin's but smoother, and more youthful. He lifted his eyes to the deck of the ship, scanning the sailors there, clearly not seeing whom he was looking for. "I understood she had come with you."

Andreth's heart throbbed suddenly within her.

She- the elf had said. Elros seemed to sense her sudden excitement, and turned to her, though Andreth's eyes remained fixed upon the elf's face.

"You speak of Aelin," she said.

"Yes." His eyes jerked back to her, brightening with hope. "Yes. Aelin daughter of Calanon. She has come with you?" He took a step forward, his regal demeanor seeming to fall away in his haste and eagerness. "I have come from Tol Eressëa in the hopes that I might see her here. Perhaps she has spoken of me before. You see, I died, once, slain in battle, but I was reborn in the Blessed Realm. It has been nigh on sixty years since my rebirth. I am-"

"Thallon!"

Andreth spun toward Aelin's shriek, wild and fraught with frantic and sudden joy.

Aelin must have just come upon deck, a basket on her hip, but now the basket fell, and tipped on its side. Carefully folded linens tumbled out, but Aelin did not heed this as she sprinted down the ramp, her skirts flying about her. She darted past Andreth, Elros, and the bearded Maia before throwing herself into the elf's waiting arms.

"Aelin!" the elven man choked, his voice wild and broken before he buried his face in her hair.

Aelin's frame visibly shook, her sobs of joy audible even with her face buried against her husband's neck.

Andreth could not see her face, and as the elven man had buried his own face in Aelin's hair, she could not see his own expression. But she could see his hands, mottled from the strength with which he clutched his long sundered wife to him, the trembling of his fingers as he sobbed into her hair.

"Welcome home," Thallon managed, his once dulcet voice ragged with unfettered rapture. "Welcome home."

Andreth's eyes dropped to the wood of the dock beneath her feet, her throat suddenly choked with fierce emotion. For Aelin and her husband as well as herself, Elros, and all their people. For the Edain were truly home.

Elros' hand released her own, and slipped up her back, his fingers trailing to her shoulder. With gentle, though sturdy strength, he gripped her shoulder, and drew her close. Her own hand lifted, circling about his waist, and she closed her eyes against the tears she could feel forming.

Elros turned his head, his breath warm against her hair before his lips touched her temple. "Welcome home," he murmured in words softer, less broken than Thallon's, but just as deep with joy. His free hand gently touched the flat of her stomach where their son grew. "Welcome home."


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