1. Bright Morning
The candle by the window guttered out as Findekáno noticed the first pink of dawn on the horizon. The mist blurred the division between land and water at the edge of Lake Mithrim, while one remaining star reflected upon its silver surface. Releasing a weighty sigh, Findekáno wondered if he might be able to nap a little before the sun provided sufficient light for him to continue with his self-appointed task. A waste can near the bed was filled with matted clumps of bleached reddish hair.
Findekáno still had not accustomed himself to the unpredictable properties of this new light. He speculated that it was too early to be able to tell what the new day would be like. The previous day had been overcast with a grayish white sky. It had also rained a few times. While the golden light of Laurelin had encompassed one in a shimmering, warming and soothing embrace, this sun traveled across the sky beating down upon one from above. Sometimes burning and other times nearly completely hidden, it could abandon the earth to a chill, gloomy half-light with the passage of a single cloud. It must have been this burning aspect of the sun that had turned the top layer of Maitimo's hair a dull straw color.
Findekáno laid the comb and scissors on the table at the side of the bed. Removing a cloth from Maitimo's forehead, he dunked it into a basin of water, wrung it out, and smoothed it across the injured man's brow again. Findekáno's lower back and leg cramped agonizingly, but he was loath to shift lest he disturb his sleeping cousin. Barefoot and dressed in a light under-tunic and leggings, Findekáno leaned against the modest headboard with one leg upon the bed, bent at the knee, and the other foot resting on the floor.
The day before, one of the Sindarin healers had been intent upon chopping off all of Maitimo's renowned flame-colored hair. When the healer first examined Maitimo, he said, "Nothing can be done. Best to clip off it right at the scalp. It is ruined and unsanitary. If only he had ordinary straight hair. If his were not so thick and curly, we might have been able to save it."
Earlier, Findekáno had expressed his skepticism that the Sindarin healers his father summoned were indeed better than their own or those who might be found in the settlement of the Feanorians across the lake. Nolofinwë convinced him that the native healers had dealt with prisoners rescued from the Enemy before, whereas their own had not. This matter-of-fact suggestion relating to the wisdom of cutting all of his cousin's hair collided with Findekáno's own sense of helplessness, causing him to explode into a rage. While Nolofinwë had summoned all of his patience in an attempt to calm Findekáno, his brother Turukáno had stormed off in an irritated huff. Turukáno understood neither his brother's reckless daring nor his stubborn loyalty to their eldest cousin.
After the hair incident, Findekáno realized that the healers and their staff regarded him with a caution usually reserved for the mad and the unpredictably dangerous. More importantly, they left him to his chore. Shearing off Maitimo's hair would have been a minor indignity compared with what he had endured--it would grow back quickly after all--but one that he would prevent no matter how much time and labor it took. He had since spent long hours untangling and working with comb and scissors to save as much as he could.
They had returned from the peaks of Thangorodrim two days ago. No sooner had Findekáno struggled onto the giant eagle's back with the limp, unconscious body of his friend than he had shifted from energetic purpose to numb exhaustion. The previous day had passed with an endless frenzy of motion and sounds intruding upon his anxiety for Maitimo. Findekáno could only muster the energy to hold onto the flame of Maitimo's fëa, flickering at first but growing stronger as the hours passed. The refrain echoed over and over in his head: Not now. I cannot lose him now. Findekáno felt that only by maintaining his own concentration upon Maitimo could he ensure his cousin's survival. He tried intermittently to respond to the ceaseless demands for details and explanations from his father and the healers.
Nolofinwë understood much more quickly than the others that his son would not be deterred from his focus and that answers to questions unrelated to the necessary details regarding Maitimo's physical condition would have to wait.
When Findekáno had carried him, naked and unconscious, into the dwelling set aside for the healers, Maitimo had been so covered with blood and dirt that the true extent of his injuries could not be discerned. Findekáno worried most about the amputation site, something for which he held himself responsible. Although the healers complimented him for effectively limiting the amount of blood loss, he said nothing. He did not tell them that his Uncle Fëanaro and Maitimo himself had instructed him in a basic knowledge of the circulation of blood as a mere child and, therefore, he knew to tie off the arm before attempting to sever the hand.
Having refused to permit anyone else to take his place, he held his cousin securely as a healer removed further tissue along with splintered fragments of bone. Using a combination of small, practiced stitches and cauterization, a surgeon closed the arteries and veins, before they finally pulled a flap of skin over the stump suturing it securely in place. Throughout all of this Maitimo remained unconscious, aided only by a few drops of a powerful draught that rendered him insensible. One of the healers remarked to Findekáno that their surgeon was an expert, "a true artist," he said. Findekáno could not hold back the thought that in this case the true artists had been Nerdanel and Fëanáro and he, despite all of his love and best intentions, had gone a long way toward undoing their finest work. He did not regret what he had done, but he allowed himself to grieve. Maitimo had never been vain, but had accepted his lauded beauty of face and form as part of his totality and used it along with all of his other gifts. Findekáno therefore feared his reaction to the mutilation of his heretofore perfect hröa.
Finally, the healers bound up Maitimo's arm. They carefully bathed and examined his body from head to toe. Maitimo's torso, front and back, as well as his thighs were marked with partially healed lash marks and cuts, along with older scars of similar abuse. The healers speculated that Morgoth or his minions had hung Maitimo from the cliff no earlier than a dozen or so days before Findekáno had found him. His state of emaciation indicated long-term malnourishment. Despite serious dehydration, he had, nonetheless, been able to swallow liquids in small quantities indicating it would not be long before he could accept more substantial nourishment.
The oldest and most somber of the healers who examined Maitimo commented, "His condition is excellent for one who has endured such torment. The fire that burns hotly within him reflects a potency that is not of this world, but is only possessed by those who have been nurtured in Aman." Findekáno reflected upon the truth of this observation; the Eldar born in Aman were conspicuous in their strength. Yet, even among the Noldor who had chosen this journey, Maitimo's vitality stood out. Findekáno recalled how he had witnessed others of their generation give up and stop struggling on the long march across the Helcaraxë. He had feared even for his brother for a while after Turukáno had lost his wife. Yet Maitimo had survived unthinkably worse horror and appeared to be recovering quickly.
After all of the activity ceased and Findekáno was told that Maitimo would survive, he was left alone, with instructions to send for assistance if he observed any troubling changes in his cousin's condition or if he woke up in pain. Findekáno did not sleep during that long night, yet the morning found him quieter and rested to some degree. Nolofinwë had told him the day before that he had sent messengers to inform the Feanorians that their brother had been found and lived. Soon Maitimo's brothers would arrive. Findekáno did not look forward to that. I'm selfish, self-absorbed. Maitimo needs his brothers to be here. He shook his head as though the gesture could dispel from his mind the haunted faces of his cousins at their last meeting.
The door opened and a young woman entered carrying a basket filled with rolls of fresh white linen and a large lamp in her other hand. "My lord," she said, startled. "I thought he was alone. Are you one of his brothers? We were told to expect his lordship's brothers today."
"My lady, I apologize that I cannot stand up. I am afraid to disturb him. I am not one of his brothers, but a kinsman and close friend."
"My lord, I am Tadiel, an apprentice healer. My master will be along soon. He wants to change the bandages on his arm before the effect of the narcotic wears off." Findekáno listened carefully. His ability to understand Sindarin was marginally better than his facility in speaking it. It was not any lack of aptitude he thought, but the fact that he had, up to this point, had little contact with the elves native to this area.
She set the lantern on the table, allowing the light to shine fully onto Maitimo, and then turned to study Findekáno. "What have you done, my lord? What strange powers have you? I do not understand you Deep Elves from across the Sea. Have you a gift of healing, my lord?"
Findekáno looked down to study the familiar face upon the pillow. She was right. Maitimo's lips again had color. His emaciation further defined the elegant contours of his face, soft lavender circles under his eyes revealed his exhaustion, but his grayish pallor had receded and a faint blush on his cheeks confirmed that his body had, indeed, begun to repair itself. Before Findekáno had time to consider her question, a thin, dark-haired elf, sharp-eyed yet of gentle of demeanor, entered the room.
"Pilimor, healer, at your service, my lord. I see he has improved rather dramatically," he said, in a voice just above a whisper, while studying Maitimo. "Tadiel, leave us, please. I will call you if you are needed." She left, after quickly looking wide-eyed from Maitimo to Findekáno to her master. The healer removed the dampened cloth from Maitimo's forehead, placed his hand there for a moment, and nodding with satisfaction put it to one side. Turning back to Findekáno, he said, "I understand from Prince Nolofinwë that this elf is the High King of the Golodhrim and you are his close kinsman?"
"My father…Nolofinwë, I mean, said that?"
"Indeed. He indicated that the divisions among the Golodhrim are complicated. That any errors in your king's treatment could lead to a worsening of the political situation," the healer said, releasing a quiet, but markedly acerbic laugh. "I informed him that healers among my people do not involve themselves in such disputes. I assumed you and Prince Nolofinwë were on opposing sides in this discord, but now you tell me he is your father." The healer shook his head in implied disbelief.
"Please call me, Findekáno," he said. "These complications are nowhere more extreme than within my own family. My principle concern at the moment is the health of my cousin and I am happy that my father shares it."
"Your cousin?" the healer asked, arching his eyebrows.
"Apparently, the Golodhrim are also complicated in their personal lives."
"Such circumstances are not common among my people either, I assure you. We share the same grandfather, King Finwë, killed by Melkor in the so-called Blessed Lands."
The healer continued his examination of his patient, gently prodding and poking at his sleeping form. "Ai, even one as distant from such affairs as I am has heard that story. A legendary figure even here, your grandfather, long before these recent events. But my first concern is your friend's recovery. The effect you have had on him is impressive, but what you attempt is not safely done without assistance."
"I know not of what you speak," Findekáno said. He kept his tone mild to mask his wariness. "I merely have tried to comb his hair and trim away the parts that are beyond repair." He was unable to resist the impulse to tenderly brush a few short, russet curls off Maitimo's forehead. "Did I meet you yesterday? I can barely remember the events; there were healers, a surgeon, and many others about."
"I was away and returned to quite a commotion among my staff late yesterday. You dozed when I last checked on our eminent patient. I took care not to disturb you."
"I appreciate your consideration." Findekáno laughed silently, little more than a release of his breath. "I was convinced I had not slept at all."
"Please do not try to change the subject or pretend you know nothing of what I observe. I saw the condition of the patient yesterday. Now he has color, his fever has subsided, and he sleeps naturally."
Findekáno replied with caution, "He has been my dearest friend since childhood. I am the one who cut off his hand to free him from Morgoth's bond and bore him back here by the grace of Manwë. I could not leave him alone throughout the night."
"The mores and customs of you lords of the West are unfamiliar to me. But from what I am able to observe, it appears that you are partners and you have joined your faer to his to rebuild his strength. What I discover here will not leave this room, but if this is what you have done you must bear in mind that I am compelled to take you under my care as well."
"Master Pilimor, I will not insult your intelligence by denying that I have tried to lend him support in any way I could. I am forced to trust your discretion. I only ask that you enable me to maintain the strength to give him whatever assistance I can for as long as he shall need it."
"Then I will assist you. My purpose is to succor, to do no harm. I am neither a philosopher nor a wise man. I am a healer by skill and have witnessed much in that role. I have seen love both between two men and two women. Judgment is not mine to give, but it is my duty to ensure the physical well-being of those under my care. And to gossip or tell tales is a violation of my principles," Pilimor said.
"I will follow your directions, but please understand that first and foremost I will see my friend healed, at whatever cost."
"He may never be the same as he was before, nor likely wholly well in spirit. But his body should heal. The will to live burns powerfully in him and the bond you share is strong," said the healer. Then with a ghost of a smile he added, "It does not strain my imagination to see why you would love him. He surely must have been one of the most beautiful of all the children of Ilúvatar if this is how he appears even after such an ordeal."
Findekáno could not believe the temerity of this Sindarin healer to voice his observation so openly, but he needed his help and was not in a position to look askance at this man who offered it without judgment. The relief he felt that his father was willing to overlook his disapproval of the relationship between his son and Maitimo for the moment had put him in a tolerant mood. He returned the healer's smile. "To me he is the most beautiful."
"You, my lord, if I may be frank, look terrible," said Pilimor. "Most importantly, you must eat and sleep." He stepped to the door and opened it narrowly. "Mistress Tadiel," he called in a soft, clear voice. He mumbled a few words, closed the door behind him and returned to the side of the bed.
"I need to examine his arm and change the dressing," Pilimor said. "If you wish to stay, you will have to act as my assistant. Please stand and take his hand." Findekáno winced at the thought of having to loosen the hold of the hand that even in sleep still held his leg in a vise-like grip. As though aware of his misgivings, Pilimor nodded curtly in the affirmative. "He may wake up. But I will do nothing that will hurt him today."
Findekáno pried Maitimo's hand free from his leg and clasped it firmly in his own. He gingerly stood, straightening himself with some difficulty given his stiffness. Grey eyes, once brilliant and filled with life and possibilities, slowly flickered open and met his own. No longer clouded with pain and horror, neither were they what they had been.
"Káno," Maitimo whispered, showing a faint smile.
"Yes, it's me." Findekáno said, returning the smile and adding, "I am not going anywhere." He lifted Maitimo's hand reflexively brushing it with the lightest kiss, despite the shiver of sensation that raced through his body at the touch of lips to skin. Nothing has changed. He enthralls me as much as ever he did. He was certain that Maitimo must have sensed his ardent reaction. "This is Master Pilimor, a healer. He is here to examine you and tend to the dressing on your arm."
Maitimo squeezed Findekáno's hand strongly and turned his head in the direction of the healer and nodded slightly. "Master Pilimor," he said. Relief bordering on jubilation flooded Findekáno: Maitimo was alert, aware, and responsive.
Capturing Findekáno's eyes again and holding them, Maitimo said, "I am sorry. Please forgive me." It seemed strange and slightly disturbing to Findekáno that he did not wait to speak of personal matters until the healer had finished and left them alone again. He had not wanted to speak himself out of respect for Maitimo's usual innate sense of discretion. As transparent as a glass of clear water with his family and friends, the Maitimo he had known always presented an indisputably royal public face not merely by virtue of his natural grace but by his conscious exercise of reserve.
Startled, Findekáno asked, "For what?" Everything and nothing I suppose but you, my sweetest Maitimo, should beg forgiveness no more or less than I should. "I also believed many of the lies and vile rumors. But we are both here now. There will be time to speak of past misunderstandings and what our Houses need to do to move forward together." Maitimo gave him a look that simultaneously showed affection and subtle frustration, flashing the crooked half-smile that Findekáno remembered well.
"Yes, we will talk later. You are distracted now," Maitimo said, deliberately not watching the healer's manipulation of his arm. Findekáno, however, could not look away.
"It is healing already," Findekáno said. His voice softened with relief tempered by anguish. He looked up to meet comforting silver-grey eyes.
"I thank you for having the courage to free me as you did. It must have been excruciatingly painful for you."
"Ai, what a thing to say! Your pain was incomparably greater."
"Truly not. I passed out and you were left to finish it alone," Maitimo answered.
Pilimor coolly ignored his charges and completed changing the wrappings on the injured elf's arm. He then spoke to Findekáno, "That should do for now. You were right. It is healing well and fortunately there is no sign of infection. But you must eat, my lord, if you wish to be of any use to your kinsman." Turning to Maitimo, he added, "And you, lord High King of the Golodhrim--I have no idea how I should address you--must drink. Just a few sips at a time. Both of you should try to rest. I will return in a few hours. I will leave you now."
"Is it not unseemly for a presumptive heir to the disputed kingship of a fractured people to be sensitive about forms of address? Just call me Maitimo. We apparently will be on rather intimate terms for some time to come. Thank you for your assistance," said Maitimo. Findekáno could not take his eyes away from Maitimo—his sensitive lips, those high, sharp cheekbones, his once-mobile features still subdued, but growing more familiar moment by moment. Findekáno managed to shove aside the most agonizing of the unbidden memories of a past forever lost. It is surely wicked to mourn for diminished perfection while faced with such beauty. Sunlight at last filled the room. Findekáno considered his handiwork on Maitimo's hair. It looked darker, much redder now, and curlier than he had ever seen it. Only the back of it remained to be untangled and trimmed.
Maitimo held onto to Findekáno's hand, rubbing the top of it with his thumb in a once-habitual gesture of possessive reassurance. With difficulty, Findekáno managed to refocus his attention on the healer and say, "Thank you, Master Pilimor, for all of your kindness."
"Someone should arrive with food and drink shortly. I will leave instructions that you are not to be disturbed after that," Pilimor said, backing out of the door and closing it behind him.
As soon as the healer had left the room Findekáno said, "Do not speak so lightly of your kingship. When it is heard that Manwë rescued you, many will be more willing to accept your claim."
"But you know better, Káno. Manwë did not rescue me. You alone rescued me. Manwë only took pity on us both for a brief moment. I am sorry for leaving you. I did try to force Atar to come back for you. I would have had to kill him to keep him from burning the ships."
"We ought not talk about that now, or about any of those things that either of us did which cannot be undone. First, you must rest and be well. I do want you to known I grieved for your loss of him, and for him, when I was told. You know that I once loved him too," Findekáno said.
"Is that how you think of me? As one you once loved?" Maitimo asked, the color in his face heightening, his eyes pleading.
"That is a rather preposterous question under the circumstances, is it not? I am sorry that I clouted you in Formenos." Findekáno raised Maitimo's hand to his lips.
"You should not be. You hit me because I struck you first." Maitimo smiled, causing Findekáno's chest to constrict. The intensity of his response to his older cousin remained utterly unaltered.
"You slapped me only after I yanked on your hair." Findekáno said, unable to hold back his grin.
"You were angry because I was with that woman." Maitimo was now grinning too.
"Which you did deliberately to provoke me," Findekáno said. "Yes. I will accept your apology for causing me to punch you." Maitimo reached for him, grimacing at the effort. Findekáno bent and kissed him, wholly without caution for the first time since their return.
"I hated you so much at that moment. Stop bending over me like that. I'm not made of glass. It's annoying. It is only that my shoulder pains me if I turn too far. My hand, I mean my arm, does not hurt so much if I do not move it. Crawl up here and lie down so I can touch you." Findekáno did as he was told. "And it only got worse. You looked wonderful that night--your dark hair braided with cords of gold, your eyes wild. She certainly was no match for you in attractiveness, nor was she very bright and never less so than that night. Silly wench."
"What an ungracious thing to say. Most unlike you. At least you were kind to me in your choice of a companion. I knew you could not possibly care a fig about her, that you knew I would know, and, therefore, that you must have still loved me. Truly, I do not blame you for everything," Findekáno said, feeling both tender and amused. He gave Maitimo the smile he wanted and needed. "Just almost everything."
"Well, thank you for that concession anyway. Yet, you could have visited me in Formenos near the end." Maitimo said, his smile transforming into a pout as he brushed the back of his hand across Findekáno's lips. His lower lip protruded slightly in a manner that Findekáno believed he surely remembered--in better days and another world--had usually earned him a kiss. He could not resist the implicit invitation.
After responding unrestrainedly to the kiss, Maitimo said, "There. That was not so difficult. I do so love to watch you blush."
"You said you hated me. You told me never to come back the last time I was there. Remember?" Findekáno raised himself on his elbow and bent over him kissing him again thoroughly as though he wished to cast out all of the pent-up longing and regret.
"Disappointing response, Káno. You must do better than that. You have just admitted, despite all the stupid things I said and did, that you knew I loved you still."
Findekáno was grateful for his cousin's small grin, but the anxiety of the last few days coupled with the bitter loneliness of the last years, made it impossible for him to lighten his response to match the Maitimo's teasing tone. He burst out, "I know I can never undo that failure. Would you have sworn that cursed oath if I had been there during that period? And, if you had not sworn it, what of Macalaurë? And would your younger brothers have succumbed to such madness if you and Macalaurë had refused? I have lived with those thoughts every day."
"No. No. There was nothing you could have done, my love. Please forgive me. It was wholly inappropriate for me to bring that up. But I never stopped waiting. Every time a messenger arrived, I would…"
"But I did follow you. Eventually," Findekáno said. His voice sounded angrier than he intended. Maitimo kissed him using Findekáno's braids as a lead to pull their heads together. The gesture, done with such ease and lack of tension or self-consciousness, caused Findekáno to smile and release the breath he had been holding.
"It is true. I wish I could say that I left Valinor only because of you; but I cannot--just mostly because of you."
"Then despite everything, you love me. But do you still desire me? Like this? You do want me now don't you?" Maitimo asked. He took Findekáno's hand and placed it purposefully between his legs. Findekáno flushed wildly with a sharp intake of breath.
"You ask me such a question?" Findekáno stammered. Both men laughed. "What kind of animal do you think I am? I will wait as long as I must," Findekáno said with mock umbrage. "Some things do need to change between us. I grow tired of your jokes on this subject, Maitimo. You know you need me as much as I desire you. I want to hear you admit it." He moved his hand away to reach beneath the covers and fumbled to find bare skin and grasp Maitimo firmly again.
"Ai, Káno, you know that I often wonder if I have not always needed you more."
"I doubt that very much," Findekáno whispered, kissing Maitimo yet again, suddenly aware that his warm kisses, his touch, restored his lover's spirit in a way that no healer's skill or draughts could ever do.
"There, see. You admit your weakness."
As they laughed, the door creaked open. Tadiel entered with a tray of food and drinks. Findekáno hastily struggled to his feet.
Apparently oblivious to the amorous scene she had interrupted, she said, "My lords, Master Pilimor has asked me to remind you to eat and drink as he requested. He also has ordered a bath prepared for you, Prince Findekáno. You will find everything you need in the room next to this one. The door is open. If you would like to bathe before eating, I can quickly change his bed while you are gone."
"Thank you, mistress. I know his preferences well and can assure you that my kinsman is most eager to bathe," Maitimo said. Findekáno noticed, not for the first time that morning, that his cousin's fluidity and ease in the use of Sindarin far surpassed his own. He shuddered to think of the circumstances under which he had acquired his proficiency in the language and the condition of the elves from whom he had learned it.
"Thank you," Findekáno said, nodding to the young woman. "I will take advantage of the opportunity if you are certain that you are able to manage alone."
"More skill than strength is required, my lord," Tadiel replied.
Findekáno leaned forward to kiss Maitimo on the forehead. Glancing out of the window, he caught sight of the bright morning which seemed finally to dispel the brooding darkness that had followed him since he had last left Maitimo in Formenos.
Thanks to Dawn Felagund, not only for her patient Beta of this chapter, but also her generosity in allowing me to steal some details from her dark, sizzling ficlet "Hatred," included on this site in her Tales of Thanksgiving: A Drabble Collection. I also extend my appreciation to Claudio for his help on the first paragraph and responding to my questions on geography, and to Jael and IgnobleBard for reading more than one draft and offering corrections and suggestions.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.