The Choice of Elros

Chapter 9

Chapter 9

The last faint glimmers of the dying day were fading from the horizon, and the bright evening star gleamed in the night sky as Andreth sat at one end of a delicately wrought bench upon a wide veranda on the western side of Círdan's house. Above her, the purple velvet of the night sky spread above her, stars slowly flickering to life across the darkening expanse. A carved balustrade, woven through with clinging vines sprinkled through with silver flowers, bordered the veranda except where a set of steps dropped down to a pebbly path that led away over the grassy bluff. The same path she remembered having seen as she and Firiel had come up to the house from the north gates of Mithlond. From where she sat, the path ended at the edge of the bluff where it dropped down out of sight. Andreth could hear the whisper of surf rolling against the sand, and drew in a deep breath of the sweet salty air. Were she to follow that path, she remembered, she would find stone steps leading down toward the water, bordered by a wide stretch of white sand. And if she walked along that sand, around the jutting corner where the bluff rose above the sea, what then would she find?

Andreth drew in a broken breath as she wondered. She lifted her arm and rested it on the curved armrest beside her, and leaned her head back, letting her breath come and go slowly.

Círdan's meal had ended some time ago, and Círdan had guided his guests out here to enjoy the last rays of the sunset, glasses of sweet wine, and friendly talk. The elves had been kind to her, especially Galadriel who had agreed to tutor her in weaving, and had seemed truly pleased that she was in their company. Hathel did not linger long, and while Andreth noted his absence after only a short time on the veranda, she did not think long on it, for her gaze continually strayed toward Elros where he lingered at her side, meeting her eyes now and again, though he did not speak. Elrond had hovered nearby as well, though he stood further away, his eyes down, and his mouth unsmiling, until as if at a sudden thought, he had come to Elros' side, and murmured something in his brother's ear.

Elros had nodded then, a concerned look coming into his eyes, and followed Elrond back inside.

Andreth had stayed, faintly disconcerted at his departure, though she had continued to smile and talk with Galadriel, sipping now and again at the sweet violet wine in her glass, half hoping that eventually Elros would come back, but he had not.

Galadriel and the other elves at last had given their farewells, and Andreth was alone now, both relieved and sad at her solitude. She had found this bench against the wall of the house, her hope fading, like the sunset, that Elros even now, would come back, and sit down beside her, gracing her with his smile, his warm, deep voice lightening her heart with friendly words.

Was this how her ancient namesake had felt, waiting day after day, year after year for Aegnor to return after she had stood with him him upon the shores of Aeluin, and had seen the unspoken love in his eyes, only to see him turn and walk away?

Andreth shook herself, chiding herself for her foolish thoughts. Indeed it was late, and even with eyes gazing into the western sky, she was falling into dreams.

Perhaps it was time to rise, and go back inside, she decided as she stifled a yawn, and thought of the cloud soft bed waiting for her in her new bedchamber. Her studies would begin the next day, and she should find her rest.

Andreth sighed, then moved to rise.

"You look like an elven maiden with a silmaril upon your brow, sitting there beneath the starlight," murmured a deep, resonant voice.

Andreth started, and jerked upright, for she had thought she was alone.

Andreth scrambled to her feet as Hathel climbed the steps from the path to the veranda, his boots scuffing on the stone as he came.

"Forgive me," he said, offering her a penitent grin at her startled expression. "I did not mean to frighten you."

"I was not frightened, sir," Andreth said, turning her eyes down. "Startled, but only a little."

"Even so, my apologies," he said, turning his eyes down to the vine entwined railing at his side, and reached out, touching a finger to one of the silver flowers. "And please, call me Hathel."

Andreth swallowed, her throat grown stiff. "You have not returned to your own dwelling yet?"

"No," he said. "I was walking along the shoreline, enjoying the music of the surf."

He drew a deep breath. "But then I realized the hour was growing late, and I thought perhaps I would return home. I thought I might come this way on my return to the city, in the faint chance that I might see you, and leave you my compliments. For I fear my departure was perhaps more hasty than it should have been, and it was ungracious of me not to bid you farewell." He gently plucked the small flower and studied it before he winced, and his face darkened in a blush. "Especially after I so boldly winked at you during supper. I only meant it as silent commisseration to a fellow mortal in the midst of elves, and did not mean to appear so forward. I hope you will forgive me."

With his eyes turned from hers, Andreth studied the mortal man. His robe and tunic were finely made. He was tall, with angular features, his tauny hair hanging to broad shoulders. In the starlight, he did not appear so uncouth as she had first thought him. And he was behaving very graciously.

"Of course," she returned, her voice soft.

To this, Hathel lifted his eyes, and offered her a tentative smile it was truly an honor to meet you," he said as he stepped toward her, and held out the small flower to her. "It would be a privilege to be the friend of one so elven-fair as you."

Andreth studied the proffered flower. Finally, she lifted her hand, hesitant, and took it.

"You flatter me, Master Hathel," she said suddenly finding it impossible to met Hathel's eyes, she turned and took a few steps toward the balustrade, resting her hands upon it, the slender stem of the silver flower still twined in her fingers. From where she stood, she could see the lights of Mithlond gleaming down the slope of the bluff before the river emptied into the widening gulf. "I am as other mortal women. I am merely Lord Cirdan's ward for a time, and only made so by his generosity, and no great accomplishments for which I can boast."

"But Lord Cirdan does not simply let anyone dwell in his own house," Hathel said, stepping near, though he seemed to sense her trepidation, and kept his distance. "I have known him since I was a boy. My father and his father before him, quarried stones, which Lord Cirdan and his builders then shape for this city. I live down in Mithlond, in fine rooms, to be sure. But not here. He must see something in you that is- extraordinary."

At his words, Andreth dared a fleeting glance at Hathel, and her heart gave a jump at the softness in his eyes, and the shy, boyish smile upon his lips.

"Your father?" she ventured. "He is a stonemason also?"

Hathel's smile eased, and he looked away. A sinew twitched in his jaw. "He- was a stonemason."

A long moment of silence passed as the soft wind of night brushed a friendly hand over the two of them. At last she spoke, her voice soft. "Did he- fall in the war?"

Hathel drew in a swift breath at this. "I am a thoughtless cur for keeping you from your rest."

He withdrew a step, and offered her a bow. "But may I call on you again?"

Andreth's throat thickened, and her heart clenched tightly. "Of course. I would be pleased to see you again, as I would any cousin, or other near kinsman, for before today, I did not know of any other mortal descendants of Beldir, or Bëor."

"I am not your cousin," Hathel said, his words softened.

Andreth could not think of any words to say to this, and felt a swell of relief and gratitude in her heart when Hathel drew in a sigh, and spoke.

"Goodnight, my lady," he said, and turned away, his head bowed, and dropped down the steps, his feet falling more heavily than when he had climbed them.

"Good night," she murmured to his back. "And Master Hathel-"

He turned back, his eyes soft.

"Please call me Andreth."

A tentative smile touched his lips. "As you wish- Andreth."

She returned his timid smile before she turned away, and moved toward the doors, drawing one open, and ducking into the large main hall. Darker now, though some few candles burned.

She was alone, for all the servants, it seemed, including Aelin, had retired. But she knew her way well enough now, and as a ragged sigh escaped her, her weariness suddenly pulling at her as an unbearable weight, she started for the dimly lit stairs.

...oOo...

Upon a balcony above the western facing veranda, Elros sat in utter silence with his arms wrapped around his knees, gazing through the raling at the mortal maiden below him, confused why she remained though the sky was darkening, and yet pleased that she did not leave. For the starlight was upon her hair, and the pearl in the delicate diadem she wore, so much in size and shape to the pearl he clutched in his fist, glimmered upon her brow. She looked so much like an elven princess, he could not look away. Truly, he could be content to sit here, and watch her all night long sitting upon that bench and gazing so wistfully into the west as she was, as if she were an elven maid desiring to sail there.

Oh, how he wished Elrond had not called him away from her side.

"I must speak to you of our lessons for the lady," Elrond had whispered furtively in his ear when he had caught his arm on the veranda.

He had been agreeable enough at the moment, and had followed Elrond willingly, thinking they would speak only for a few moments, and he could then return to Andreth's side, silently drinking in the light in her eyes, the sheen of her hair in the sunset, and the soft, rounded curve of her delicate ears that he found so strangely alluring. But Elrond had caught his arm again, once they were within the great hall, almost as if he feared Elros would dart away like a naughty child, and had led him to the library, bidding him sit at a table across from him.

"It would not serve her well," Elrond had explained sternly, shoving a thick tome toward his brother, "if we do not polish our own knowledge of the skills we mean to teach her."

"But I am not teaching her cyphering," Elros had protested. "I am to teach her riding, and the use of weapons. I know those well enough, and thought-,"

"Trust me," Elrond had insisted, the steel in his eyes allowing for no quarter.

Shaking his head in confused compliance, Elros had opened the book, though he could barely focus on the pages that droned on of various types of blades and their uses, lifting his head now and again as the light faded from the windows, and his hope faded also that he would see Andreth again before the day had faded into night.

Darkness had finally come, and with a heavy heart, he had climbed the stairs to his own chamber, bidding goodnight to his brother, and had come here, only to see her there, alone and still, upon the veranda where he had left her. Perhaps he should have turned about immediately and gone to her, but he had not, electing instead, to sit in silence and watch her, so fair and starlike in the darkness.

Now as he sat here upon his balcony, the sky overspread with full darkness but for the faintest gleam of dark blue on the western horizon, he wondered if indeed he should go down to her, at least to bid her goodnight. Would she welcome him if he did? What would he say to her, or she to him?

Would he startle her from dreams that she did not wish to leave? But she was not asleep, for mortals closed their eyelids when they dreamed, and still she gazed into the night, with her eyes green as young leaves.

Would she let him- his heart leapt at the thought, touch her hand again, perhaps guide her to her chambers, and allow him to bid her goodnight at her door?

Elros' heart exulted at the thought, and he moved to rise, so that he might go down to her, when a sudden movement caught his eye, and Elros stopped, frozen, and watched with bated breath as the mortal Hathel climbed the veranda steps and approached Andreth.

From his vantage, Elros observed the exchange of man and maiden, noting every word and movement, smiling in one moment, and frowning in another. His heart clenched as he watched her hand extend, and accept the bright silver flower from Hathel, that should have, Elros chided himself, come from his own hand.

He had not known Hathel before, and had thought him brash during supper, wondering why Cirdan would invite such an uncouth mortal to his house. But he seemed not so now. Was he merely behaving so to endear himself to the maiden? Andreth did not seem to know for herself, for she held herself aloof from the mortal man. Elros found a grin come to his lips as she spoke of possible near kinship to Hathel, then barely turned to look at him as Hathel bid her goodnight, and departed.

But his grin faded as Andreth, seeming to be suddenly and deeply weary, entered the house at last, and disappeared from his view.

At last, Elros moved, clambering to his feet, and hurrying through his chamber to the door that led into the outer hall. He opened and shut his door in silence, mindful of Elrond probably sleeping, in the room beside him, then turned and hurried down the hall.

The great hall opened to his view, and the balcony surrounding it.

Andreth, fair as a star in the darkness, had just reach the last step when he saw her. Without seeing him, she turned toward the hall that would lead to her own bedchamber, brushing one hand across her eyes in a gesture of deep weariness. In her other hand, she still clutched the flower that Hathel had given her. That Elros should have given her, if he had not been so entranced by the vision of her, sitting there in the starlight as Thingol had been by the vision of Melian in the woods of Nan Elmoth, that he had not gone down to her sooner.

Elros paused at the railing, his hands pressed against the wrought metal and watched her go. He wanted to call out to her, but that would not do, for it would waken the whole house. Could he dart around the encircling balcony and rush to her side? But what could he do now for her, what deed could he do, to outshine Hathel in her eyes?

Elros stopped himself at the thought. What was he doing? Did he truly perceive Hathel as a- a rival? For Andreth's affections?

Elros pondered the thought, his brow furrowed as Andreth's weary hand lifted the latch of her door, a latch that he, at the very least, could have lifted for her, and she disappeared into her bedchamber.

From where he stood, he heard the latch fall to with a click, and Elros winced at the finality of the sound. Any real or imagined rivalries aside, his delays had failed her in some way. With a heavy head, he turned back toward his own chamber.

But then a sudden thought brightened his mind like a lightening flash, and Elros lifted his head, a smile finding its way to his lips. There was one thing he could do, one thing, perhaps that might redeem him. And with a smile, he turned back, and started through the dark toward the stairs Andreth had just climbed.

Some few minutes later, Elros stood, a fistful of silver flowers in his hand, his chest heaving from his rush, just outside the door of Andreth's bedchamber. No sound came from beyond. She was sleeping peacefully, he hoped as he remembered the night after her attack, when he had touched her palm, and soothed her from a nightmare.

He smiled as he looked down at the flowers gleaming in his hand, and lifted them to his face. He touched a hand to a delicate white petal and inhaled the faint, sweet scent.

"Sleep well, fair Andreth," he murmured in the dark. "May the Valar bless your dreams, and make them sweet."

Stooping, he placed the handful of flowers at the base of her door. Straightening, he drew in a breath and lifted a hand, pressing his palm against her white door. The wood was cool and smooth beneath his hand.

Drawing in a breath that swelled his chest, he held it for a moment before he exhaled, then turned, and walked away.


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