5. The Games They Played
Findekáno sprawled on the grass, his back against a large shade tree, with a handsomely carved and intricately inlaid miniature harp in his hands. Artanis and Irissë sat with Maitimo at a table arranged in front of the tree. The midsummer morning had been hot and bright, but the afternoon had turned cooler. Each gust of the light wind off the Lake lifted random wisps of Irissë's thick, but fine-as-silk, dark hair and blew them across her face. Findekáno noticed that in contrast Artanis's hair, heavy, golden and touched with silver, coarser and curly like Maitimo's, appeared nearly unaffected by the breeze.
Consciously attempting to look abstracted from the discussion of the others and the small battle playing out before him, Findekáno closely observed each member of the small grouping. But he did not bother to hide the smile that flitted across his face as he watched Maitimo reach out to move a red horse on the game board. The ruby-colored piece glittered in the sunlight, appearing not to be made of glass but of precious stone. Maitimo gave a triumphant glance at Artanis, ill-concealed behind an insincerely sweet smile. The opaque pale blue figurines piled haphazardly in front of Maitimo made a lovely contrast to glittering, miniature, scarlet lords, ladies and horses still triumphantly aligned on the board.
The cousins had chosen a large old tree as the site of their impromptu gathering for its proximity to the open tent that served for the time being as the home of Maitimo and Findekáno. Maitimo remained under the care of the healers for rehabilitation and treatment and would for at least a few weeks more. After that he had determined to train a while longer with Findekáno and complete some significant negotiations with Nolofinwë before joining his brothers on the far side of the Lake, possibly sometime around the first snow. Findekáno dreaded the parting. He consoled himself that at least for the foreseeable future, even after Maitimo returned to his brothers' encampment, he would be no more than a matter of hours away--a day or a bit more by horseback or a few of hours across the Lake by boat.
Artanis sighed and turned sharply to Findekáno. "Káno, is there something amiss with that instrument?" she asked.
"Indeed not. It's a marvelous harp, crafted by Macalaurë's favorite maker in Tirion. He gave it to me to replace the far inferior one that I lost when . . . that I lost. A princely gift indeed."
"A bargain for the return of his king and favorite brother," Artanis said, while Findekáno shook his head in disbelief at her audacity. He let her remark pass without comment. Findekáno had determined, before the women arrived, that he would not quarrel with his cousin. Artanis continued heedlessly on, "So, then, stop your annoying tuning of that harp and play us something."
Findekáno released, with a dramatic flourish, a single rousing chord and shot her a challenging grin, before resuming his seemingly random plucking.
Irissë laughed, tossing her loose hair back and refastening a golden clasp to hold it more securely in the rising wind. "Don't be such a sore loser, darling. Victory never comes to the faint-hearted."
"I am not faint-hearted. He is careless, reckless and rash! Hence completely unpredictable," Artanis said, poking a finger into Maitimo's chest.
"Possibly, but not in this game," Maitimo drawled, with a slow dangerous smile, grabbing her finger and holding onto it for a moment. "Would you like to try again? I'll give you the first move."
"I have had enough. I'm at least bright enough to know when to stop. Have I ever bested you?"
"A few times. But never in this game."
Artanis allowed herself to laugh. "I concede to your superior strategy--in board games that is. But, let's stop feeling sorry for me and talk about something else. I am considering going with Aikanáro to seek out our grandfather's brother, Elwe Singollo or Elu Thingol they call him. I rather like the sound of that." she said. "Thingol," she repeated, slightly overemphasizing the initial consonants Findekáno thought. He had recently had been concentrating on improving his own pronunciation to circumvent Maitimo's teasing.
"You must not go this time around. Perhaps, you could go on the next trip, after we know the route and its conditions. When Ingo goes," Maitimo asserted. Findekáno winced at the thought of what a prize his elegant cousin would make for the Dark Lord's minions if something were to go wrong. Her bearing and looks might draw attention that even her considerable skill with arms and the earnestness of her defenders would be hard-pressed to repulse.
"You are not my king, Nelyafinwë. I do not answer to you. I merely informed you of a thought I entertained," Artanis answered.
"Indeed. Ask Nolofinwë who is king," Maitimo said. His grin was completely wicked.
"Pftt. I don't care what he thinks either. Did we not come here to get away from masters? From begging permission for our every move?" Artanis asked. "I suspect that is why Uncle does not challenge you. Because he intends to do as he pleases in any case."
"Perhaps he does not challenge me because I am not my father or out of respect for Grandfather Finwë. He certainly watches and waits to see what I will do next and I respect that. He appreciates the need for unity. Our uncle does not wish unnecessary strife."
Dark clouds moving quickly replaced the soft white ones that had been drifting slowly overhead. Maitimo replaced the red and blue markers in their wooden box, shoved it under his arm, and picked up the game board. Findekáno stretched his legs, stood, threw the small harp over his shoulder by its leather strap, and approached the table.
"I think we should move inside unless we want to get soaked. I will make tea and I can offer you some tolerable wine," Findekáno said, motioning to them that he intended to pick up the table.
"Everyone grab a chair. I'll help you with the food, Káno, but I want mine with wine. They always have treats," Irissë said turning to Artanis. "He is still trying to fatten up Maitimo. Although it looks like he should stop soon or he will have gone too far." Irissë puffed out her cheeks and reached up to pat Maitimo on his lean jaw.
"Well . . ." Artanis responded.
Irissë stood, smoothing out her skirt. "Come along. I'll protect you from these big brutes. I'm starving and I predict there will be butter, cream and jam, bread and cakes, cheese and fruit, perhaps even some cold roast chicken. Am I right, Káno?"
"You know you are." Findekáno held out his hand palm up, after being hit on the forehand by a single drop of water. "Here it comes."
"Yes, Artanis. I insist," Maitimo said. "I want to continue the discussion you began. Not the one about your proposed trip--I hope your own better judgment will convince you I am right about that--but the one about the necessity and function of leadership."
"Fine," said Artanis. "I am certain that will be fascinating." Knowing well how Artanis hated to be contradicted, Findekáno assumed she was nearly grinding her teeth from the effort to control her irritation. She finally succumbed to a breathy laugh at Findekáno's successful attempt to capture her gaze with a wide-eyed innocent smile.
The downpour hit, forcing a tumbling, undignified entrance into the tent, accompanied by much laughter and the shaking of rain from their hair and clothing. Everyone pitched in to set the table for tea. The table was a long, heavy rustic affair of which Findekáno was inordinately proud. It seemed to fit this rough, austere land and yet still served its purpose admirably, encouraging one to linger, leaning upon it while seated in one of broad low chairs that flanked it.
The inside of tent was large, high and airy. Battle flags with the heraldry of both Maitimo and Findekáno hung from a support near the back--one blue and silver and the other scarlet and gold. The oversized, carved wooden bed that Findekáno had commissioned stood partially concealed by a curtain to the back and side of them. A large writing desk and shelving stacked with books and rolls of parchment partitioned off one area and partially hid an impressive array of armour, bejeweled helms, shields, swords and pikes. The overall impression was one of simple comfort based solidly upon the gleanings from a sumptuous past. Findekáno looked to Artanis to see what she would think of their accommodations.
"The two of you have made this tent look so handsome! It far more pleasing than the house my brothers and I share or even that of Uncle Nolofinwë." Artanis blushed. Most likely, Findekáno thought, at the astonishment she had revealed in her exclamation. Artanis did not like to divulge surprise at anything.
"Thank you. We wanted it to be comfortable. Although, of course, it is only temporary. Maitimo won't be here long," Findekáno said with a sigh.
Maitimo, fussing with the nearby metal camp stove and putting a teakettle on to boil, reached out and stroked Findekáno's cheek with the back of his hand. "I can take no credit. Findekáno did everything," he said.
Artanis looked at Maitimo and said, in a softer voice, "I am happy to imagine you here. More than you may think. I don't mean you to assume I do not love the two of you or wish you to be happy. I only feel that we want such different things."
"Not as different as you may think, Artanis," Maitimo responded, his eyes wide and serious. "We desire first the peace and security of our people and that of the Moriquendi we have found here. All other concerns must come later. Surely you would agree with that."
Irissë turned to Findekáno with a sly wink. "Yes, I'll drink to that. Now where are you hiding the wine, sweet brother?"
They had barely settled down at the table to the rumbles and claps of thunder and the beating of rain upon the thick canvas above them, when a loud, utterly recognizable whistle sounded at the entrance of the tent.
"Anyone in there? Findekáno, open this thing up. It's tied shut and we're getting soaked."
Maitimo laughed. Findekáno shrugged, pushing his chair back and heading toward the sounds of the voice, not in the least unhappy to forego the predictable--pointless he thought--argument between Artanis and Maitimo.
Only Findekáno, Macalaurë, and Findaráto were aware that Maitimo intended to relinquish his claim to Kingship of the Noldor to Nolofinwë. Findekáno found it annoying when Maitimo seemed to enjoy playing games based upon their ignorance of his decision. He feared Maitimo underestimated the resentment of Artanis and Turukáno, not to mention their shrewdness and ambition.
Maitimo insisted he did it with a purpose--to mislead. He did not want anyone to know of his decision before his brothers, whose legacy and birthright he intended to renounce. Findekáno understood and completely supported Maitimo's choice of abdication, but it pained him. He carefully concealed the anguish he felt when he considered how Maitimo, in better times and before the oath, would have made such an admirable king.
Findekáno opened the flap to admit two tall redheaded elves, who grinned at the others, while dripping copious amounts on water onto the richly woven rug just inside of the doorway.
"Telvo, Pityo, come in out of the rain. Let me close this again before everyone gets wet," Findekáno said.
"Is Irissë here?" Telufinwë asked. "Ai, there you are, you wicked girl. We've brought the sweetest thing for you. Well, not for you exactly, but for your niece. Have any more glasses, Káno? We wouldn't turn down an offer of some of that wine you're having."
Pityafinwë smirked. "Hullo, Artanis."
"Artanis, how lovely to find you here," said Telufinwë.
There were times when Findekáno warmly appreciated the cheeky Ambarussa, like when he yearned to see Artanis knocked down a peg or two.
"Hello to both of you," Artanis answered, with a studied avoidance of showing either ill will or enthusiasm.
"Nelyo, you are looking well," Telufinwë said. "Isn't he, Pityo?"
"Absolutely stunning in his splendor," his twin answered.
"The two of you look like drowned rats," Maitimo said, leaving the table to return with two more wine glasses. "Now, please, move off of Káno's favorite rug. Take off your boots, and get rid of some of those wet clothes. Hang your cloaks on that rack near the fire."
"Ai, Maitimo, you make me sound like a fussy housewife. That rug has seen water and far worse before," Findekáno said, irritated. Maitimo worried so about protecting him that he even extended his defensiveness to his belongings, as though he owed him something, a debt that could never be repaid.
"Have you eaten?" Findekáno asked.
"We stopped at a quaint Sindarin vendor selling some sort of mystery roast beast or fowl on a skewer--gamy, but well-cooked, and moderately well-seasoned. Could have used a bit less salt though. Wine would be perfect right now," Pityafinwë said. Irissë, meanwhile, had approached the twins and was helping them shed capes and boots, heedless of the water and mud splattering onto her elegantly embroidered, white summer dress.
"Did you ever notice how Fëanáro's sons have to pass judgment on everything they see, hear or eat in tedious detail?" asked Irissë, her voice warm with affection.
Telufinwë, ruffling her hair with dripping fingers, interrupted her to continue. "We stopped right before the storm broke. Then we went directly to Nolofinwë's place with our surprise. Spoke to Turukáno. Left the poor, unappreciated creature with some of his men and headed over here. Insufferable prig your brother is."
"He informed us that he couldn't accept the gift without clearing it with Irissë first. Says she has taken charge of such minor details concerning Itarillë now," Pityafinwë said, giving Irissë a clumsy hug around the shoulders and a kiss on the cheek. "Said we'd find you here." Then he added "as usual" in a mincing, pinched tone. And laughed uproariously at himself, joined by Telufinwë.
"Minor details! Ungrateful sod. Just wait until you see him. He is the prettiest little thing you ever have seen. Warm-blooded and gentle but intelligent. We surely never saw anything like him before," Telufinwë said.
"Yes," Findekáno said. "We are all aware that my brother has no tact. Now please sit down and quit babbling incoherently and tell us what you are talking about."
Maitimo added, "I've deduced the pretty he you refer to is not Turukáno but is this precious gift, which I presume is a member of the animal kingdom and suitable for a young girl--at least in the eyes of some whose judgment is all too often questionable." Artanis lost the battle she fought to maintain her look of cool disinterest and laughed. Findekáno caught Artanis's eye and smiled pleasantly. She slapped him on the arm.
Telufinwë said, "It's a horse."
"A horse?" asked Irissë, wrinkling her forehead in doubt as she slid into her seat again, hastily cleaning her hands on a napkin she had indelicately dunked in her water glass.
"Well, actually, more of a pony," said Pityafinwë.
"But finer-boned, longer-legged than a regular pony," added Telufinwë. "Better temperament than a pony too."
"Still much smaller than a horse," Pityafinwë said.
"Nearly but not fully grown yet we were told," said Telufinwë.
"He had a matching brother. We acquired the two of them from a Sindarin trader," said Pityafinwë. "Swapped an ordinary horse for them."
"Far superior to an ordinary horse," Telufinwë insisted. "We traded a magnificent horse for the two so-called ponies. We gave one to Tyelpo--Curvo seemed appreciative--and we thought the other would be perfect for Itarillë."
Findekáno exchanged a glance with Maitimo, whose bright grey eyes glittered with amusement. It made Findekáno happy to see Maitimo distracted by his brothers' antics. Two-at-a-time were perfect, more than two was chaos. And he wanted to speak to Maitimo before he attempted any further engagement with Artanis. Findekáno knew her far better than Maitimo did. He thought that Maitimo still thought of her as the more malleable young women they had known before the years of the Fëanorians' banishment to Formenos and her long trek across the Helcaraxë.
Findekáno had dreaded that Maitimo and Artanis would have argued throughout the late afternoon and into the early evening, causing him to drink far too much wine, as he often did when Maitimo was upset, and ended with neither of his cousins having changed the other's mind one jot. The fortuitous arrival of Maitimo's brothers interrupted this probable scenario.
"Oh, I want to see him now!" Irissë said, clapping her hands and jumping up. "He sounds wonderful."
Pityafinwë let out a whinny of a laugh, causing Findekáno to startle at its shrillness. "I adore you, Irissë! But there's a bloody thunderstorm outside the likes of which would send Oromë running for cover," Pityafinwë said.
* * * *
On a grassy hillock looking down upon the expansive tent belonging to Findekáno, Tadiel the master healer's female apprentice rested with another young Sindarin woman. Tadiel watched the laughing group assembled around a table in front of a maple tree. The four kinsmen gave every appearance of relaxed, companionable sociability. She could not help but wonder in what ways these women differed from the ones she had known at the court of Thingol and Melian in Menegroth. They seemed easy and relaxed with one another, but perhaps that was because they were among family. Although she had heard rumors that the family of Finwë were a law unto themselves and did not necessarily present a reflection of the Golodhrim as a whole. Listening to the clear peals of laughter from the lively dark-haired woman, Tadiel noticed that the slightly taller blond held her shoulders more stiffly and spoke less frequently in a deeper, huskier voice.
Findekáno tinkered idly with a small hand harp. She had heard him play before and sing--he had a true, strong voice--but he appeared disinclined to do so that day. Maitimo looked well to her. He grew stronger with a rapidity that puzzled even Master Pilimor, who speculated that Maitimo's remarkable recovery was likely to be based upon two factors: the unnatural strength and resiliency of those who had arrived unexpectedly from the West and Maitimo's own unquenchable spirit, which had somehow survived torture and imprisonment in Angband. Tadiel had observed for the last several weeks, from a window of the Healing House, Maitimo training daily in swordplay with Findekáno. She noted that recently Findekáno exerted considerable effort in continuing to best his cousin. The two of them sparring, sometimes shirtless, was a sight to enrich any maiden's fantasy life, she thought with chagrin.
"So, Tadiel, tell me which of those two deliciously attractive lachenn lords has captured your heart. Your face gives away your infatuation," said her friend.
A rigid clench of the jaw replaced Tadiel's wistful half-smile. She decided against commenting that she disliked the pejorative use of the term lachenn. The light in their eyes never failed to enchant her. "I have no idea what you are talking about. And even if I were interested, I highly doubt that either would spare a thought for a tall, thin, Sindarin woman with mousy brown hair who does nothing but work."
"But the Golodhrim women are all tall and slim. Men like a woman who has acquired knowledge and skill."
"Of course, I am interested in and fond of both of them but not in the way that you imply. They are great lords of their people, intelligent and affable. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to know them," she answered. "In any case, neither of them is free."
"Ai. The lovely ladies below are their sweethearts?"
"Nay, those two are close kin. One is Prince Findekáno's sister, the other is a cousin."
"So where are these women to whom they have bound or promised themselves? Those are the only two Golodhrim women of their station that I have seen about. The lords seem to spend most of their time with one another. Oh, my. You aren't saying that they are . . ."
"I am saying nothing. I may not speak of anything that I have encountered in course of carrying out my duties as a healer. I am bound by an oath of confidentiality." Tadiel's face colored. She cursed herself for her remarks. Her friend was no lackwit and Tadiel's hasty protestations, followed by a blush, would provide more than enough evidence for her to guess what Tadiel refused to tell.
* * * *
The storms of the day before had fled, leaving a cloudless, bright blue sky. The cool breeze off Lake Mithrim tempered the heat of the midday sun. Irissë had perched herself atop the rough-hewn fence that separated the paddock from the remainder of the open area in the middle of the settlement. She alternated between observing Maitimo and Itarillë, who stood next to a pony in the center of the paddock, and listening to Turukáno and Findekáno. Her brothers leaned against the fence, elbows bent, long legs stretched out before them. So alike physically and yet so different in temperament, she mused. Their uneasy attempt at collaboration on behalf of her niece intrigued and amused her.
"He is the arguably the best rider of the entire family. And he taught me to ride," Findekáno said, with the ironic tone he was wont to use with his brother.
"Humph. I can't deny that you turned out to be an extraordinarily accomplished horseman. But Atar has always claimed that Fëanáro taught you," Turukáno said.
"Uncle Fëanáro left me almost entirely in Maitimo's hands."
"Ha. Would that either of them had known then where that would lead," said Turukáno. Irissë and Findekáno erupted into involuntary laughter. Maitimo and Itarillë turned and looked over toward them smiling. Itarillë, dancing in place and looking up with her eyes fixed upon his face, clearly liked her handsome, redheaded kinsman, heretofore a stranger to her. Turukáno smiled stiffly and waved at his daughter. Glancing back at Findekáno, he gave him a warning shake of the head that was not entirely without affection.
"Well, I don't have to like him, even though he may hold the reputation of being good with children and horses," Turukáno continued. Irissë and Findekáno released another laugh.
Turukáno pushed himself away from the fence. "Since you are clearly enjoying this, I leave the whole affair to the two of you."
"Later, then," Findekáno said, folding his arms across his chest, focusing upon the man, the girl and the pony in the paddock.
"Atto, are you leaving?" Itarillë called out, running to her father.
"Yes, sweetheart. I have work I should be doing. I am told you have a most capable instructor."
"Thank you for letting him teach me to ride. He explains everything so well," the little girl said. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she asked, "May I call him Uncle Russandol?"
"You can call him whatever you please. But accurately speaking he is a cousin not an uncle."
"I want call him uncle. I have so many cousins and only one other uncle."
"Run along then. And listen carefully to what he tells to you. Your Uncle Findekáno says he quite the expert at teaching children to ride well."
"Yes, Atto. I promise to listen."
She raced back to Maitimo, yellow hair flying behind her, shouting, "I'm ready now!" When she reached Maitimo, he dropped to one knee before her. He grasped a handful of tangled sunlit curls, twisted them into one long thick tail, holding it precariously atop her head with his stump while he worked a small leather helmet over it, securing most of the hair inside.
"Thank you, Káno," Turukáno said.
"Nonsense. It gives me the greatest pleasure," Findekáno said. He leaned forward, grasped Turukáno's arm and slapped him on the back.
After Turukáno had walked away, Findekáno allowed his face to soften into wistfulness. "He used to braid my hair so tightly before a riding lesson that it hurt. But it lasted through the following day."
"Shall I go over and offer to braid her hair?" Irissë asked.
"Please don't. He doesn't like to be helped."
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.