6. An Intimate Dinner
"Who else is going to be at this dinner with your father?" Maitimo asked, as he stood barefoot, clad only in leggings, hanging a towel on the rack near the wardrobe. Findekáno thought that the heightened color in Maitimo's cheeks, fresh from a hot bath, made him appear as young and vital as he ever had looked in Tirion. Maitimo's wavy hair reached past his shoulders again. A few damp wayward strands clung to his forehead and cheek.
Findekáno had appraised his own reflection, glancing at himself in the long mirror a few moments earlier. He still wore a large towel twisted low on his hips. Findekáno had taken the time to plait a few golden cords into the handful of loose braids that hung on each side, serving a purely ornamental rather than any practical purpose. Over the years, Maitimo repeatedly had made it clear how that particular look never failed to move him. Findekáno did not think of himself as vain in the abstract, but he did admit to expedience--he was concerned that he appear attractive to Maitimo.
"He only invited Findaráto, you and me. Not having second thoughts, are you?" Findekáno said with a grin. He knew that Maitimo was as prepared as he would ever be to announce his intentions to Nolofinwë. They had discussed every detail endlessly for the last several weeks. Findekáno's only remaining concern was that Maitimo should feel relaxed and confident.
"Please be serious for once," Maitimo said, narrowing his eyes and sticking out his lower lip.
"If you want me to be serious, you should not do that with your mouth. You know very well how that affects me." Findekáno grabbed him and teased the enticing lip between his teeth. He had wanted to calm Maitimo down. Although his ploy did not succeed, he did manage to take their minds off both the dinner with Nolofinwë and the future of the Noldor for a few minutes at least. They, not surprisingly, ended up in a slow, passionate kiss, which resulted in them flopping onto the bed. Maitimo, initially pinned down against the mattress, deftly rolled Findekáno onto to his back and straddled him. Findekáno found himself flushed and breathless and painfully hard, when Maitimo preemptively pulled himself out of the tangle of their intertwined arms and legs to stand. How did Maitimo shift from seduced to seducer and back again so fast?
"We're not late yet," Findekáno protested, making one final, less than whole-hearted effort to haul Maitimo down onto the bed again.
"You're impossible," Maitimo said, easily evading him, no longer pensive but laughing. "I am ready to talk to him. I only wanted to confirm it would be just the four of us. I am not the least bit uneasy about speaking with your father."
Maitimo met Findekáno's eyes, with self-effacing shrug tempered by a small grin. "No, that is not true. You are right. I am overwrought about speaking with Nolofinwë; but I am not uncomfortable about what I have to say. Yet, he could refuse to accept my offer, say I am nothing but a pretender. It is essential for me to give the kingship to Nolofinwë publicly, and to have him accept it from me, if I am to be able to bring my people along with me. Tomorrow I will talk to my brothers, when they stop here to clean up before we go to Nolofinwë's begetting day feast. They may not all like it, but they will do as I say."
Findekáno watched the cascade of emotions falling across Maitimo's features. I would take all of his hidden dread and guilt upon myself if I could but wash away the darkness once and for all. Findekáno knew that he always gave love unquestioning, even forgiveness for imagined wrongs, because Maitimo asked it of him not because he believed there was anything to forgive. At times, Maitimo needed simple physical warmth and in other instances emotional refuge, but Findekáno thought, at that exact moment, what he could offer that would be most useful would be humor.
"Am I required to be present for that little chat with your brothers?" Findekáno said, his tone showing he was playing for a laugh. Actually, he didn't know whether he wanted to grin or curse at the thought of the potential volume and heat of that discussion. He did study Maitimo's face for any further signs of nervousness. Most of all, Findekáno wished to see him smile.
Lifting an eyebrow, while looking down at his leggings, Maitimo granted him a minimal smile and asked, "Would my green tunic look well with these trousers?"
"Forget the tunic for now. In fact, better yet, get rid of the trousers." Findekáno gripped Maitimo's thigh, moving one hand up closer to his crotch.
Maitimo moved out of Findekáno's reach, with a slightly deeper smile reaching his silver-grey eyes. "We should not be late at all. It would be not only rude but also impolitic to leave your father waiting. Better to be early, in fact." Findekáno shook his head in a gesture of chagrined acquiescence. He knew his likelihood of success had been slim in light of the urgency his lover attached to the upcoming meeting and his obvious nervous tension.
Stooping to open a large chest at the foot of the bed, Maitimo pulled out a wooden box and removed a silk-wrapped bundle. Unwinding the cloth, he put aside a finely crafted, simple mithril diadem, exquisite in its lines beyond any shift of fashion or taste. Findekáno recognized it as Fëanáro's. The next layer revealed the gold diadem of similar design he had seen Maitimo wear many times. Beneath it was a heavier golden crown, antique in style and more ornate, encrusted with gems. Findekáno audibly took in air.
"Grandfather Finwë's crown?" Findekáno said, in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "I had not realized that it had been salvaged."
"When we returned to the house in Formenos and discovered Grandfather, the treasury and all of its safes had been ransacked, smashed and ruined. We found nothing of any value when we rummaged through the wreckage. But Grandfather always kept the crown in his own bedroom--unlocked and unprotected. That was how it survived," Maitimo said, looking up to meet Findekáno's eyes.
"Are you wearing it tonight?" Findekáno asked, certain his doubt at the wisdom of that showed in his voice.
"No. I won't be it needing it tonight, but tomorrow for the begetting day feast. Then I will remove it and publicly present it to Uncle Nolofinwë. Do you think that is too dramatic? Not silly?" Maitimo shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed, in need of reassurance.
"It is dramatic but hardly silly; effective would be more the word. Actually, I might say brilliant."
"It will be the only time that I will have worn it," Maitimo said, without a hint of self-pity but rather a tinge of wistfulness in his voice. "Did I ever tell you that I always suspected Grandfather would relinquish his kingship at some point to devote himself to Indis, his children and grandchildren? I also fully expected Atar would grow bored quickly with the tedium of the administrative details and either pass the kingship directly to me or at very least the day-to-day responsibilities. My entire life I tried to prepare myself to be worthy of that burden. Being my father's heir, the oldest grandson, meant something to me."
"You didn't have to tell me, love." Findekáno placed a comforting arm around his shoulder. "I saw it in your determination to work in the court in Tirion with Atar and Grandfather, even risking the disapproval of Uncle Fëanáro. I was proud of your decision then and the choice you make now."
Maitimo took Findekáno's chin in his hand and dropped a light kiss on his forehead. "And surely it has occurred to you as well that life here can be short and harsh. And war, however long we are able to postpone it, is inevitable. It comforts me to think of you as Nolofinwë's heir. I know you can temper your rashness, turn your boldness into an asset."
Findekáno sighed, hearing the aching sadness in his own voice when he said, "You would have made a truly great king."
"Don't," Maitimo said, no doubt seeing the wretchedness manifested in Findekáno's face. Findekáno drew Maitimo into his arms, hid his face on Maitimo's shoulder, and said nothing. He did not trust his ability to conceal his emotions evoked by the raw desolation he felt at the pain Maitimo had suffered and would continue to endure and, now, the relinquishment of his youthful dreams.
"What is done cannot be undone," Maitimo finally said, his voice soft and soothing, his breath warm on Findekáno's neck. Maitimo's earnest expression of the uncharacteristic platitude touched Findekáno's sense of humor, never far beneath the surface, even at such moments.
Findekáno responded with mock tragedy. "The past is the past." Maitimo snorted and squeezed Findekáno's rump.
"What would I do without you?" Maitimo asked.
"Be entirely too serious, no doubt."
"Do not worry so for me, love," Maitimo said. "I am well. Truly I am. We are alive and will be a good while longer, with any luck at all. We are together and tomorrow I do the right thing. We are in the best of all possible situations for us at the moment." One of the tears that Findekáno had fought to control, he had believed successfully, rebelliously slid down his cheek. Maitimo brushed the tear away with his thumb, at last giving Findekáno the smile he had wanted, although considerably less brilliant than he had hoped it would be. "Where are Turukáno and Irissë?"
Findekáno answered, "When I spoke with Atar, I told him that we needed to speak with him in confidence. He assured me that he would instruct my brother and sister to make themselves scarce. They also have details to attend to for the celebration tomorrow."
When Maitimo and Findekáno arrived at Nolofinwë's house, Findaráto greeted them with rough bear hugs before returning to lounging against the large fireplace, unlit on that evening, which was not cool enough to permit a fire without overheating the spacious but low-ceilinged room. One of the largest of the buildings in the compound, slightly bigger than the Healing House and not nearly as large as the stables or the storage facility located at the dock on the Lake, Nolofinwë had made the lodging uniquely his own. He had surrounded himself with furnishings he had brought with him or had commissioned in the style of the home he had left behind.
"So, this is the moment," Findaráto said to Maitimo under his breath, shifting gentle, sympathetic eyes from one of his cousins to the other.
Nolofinwë met his eldest son with a warm hug and kiss. Only someone who knew Nolofinwë well would have noted that he appeared subtly more reticent in his greeting of Maitimo. Nolofinwë showed none of the signs of tension he had whenever, in that other world, he met to have dinner with Fëanáro. Yet, despite Nolofinwë's smooth, gracious manner, his father appeared to Findekáno as though he believed he might not like what they had come to discuss with him.
Unlike Findekáno's large, rough table, the one in Nolofinwë's dining room was made of polished, gleaming wood, with finely carved legs. A long runner of blue brocade embellished in silver, elegant table settings, and crystal wine glasses gave it a look reminiscent of Nolofinwë's house in Tirion. The rough-hewn supports in the ceiling and walls and the narrow, shuttered windows detracted from that image--not to mention the lack of Anairë's presence at the end of the table.
"Would you like a drink before we sit down?" Nolofinwë offered.
"I'd gladly accept one," Findekáno said, grinning.
"I knew you would. I was actually asking Nelyafinwë," his father answered with an indulgent smile, handing Findekáno a glass he had already poured.
"Yes, please," said Maitimo. "I think I can safely assume what you offer is far superior to that execrable swill Tyelkormo and Macalaurë persist in drinking."
"It certainly is--native brew though. What we carried with us long ago disappeared. Findaráto, can I freshen your drink?"
"No thank you, Uncle," Findaráto answered, approaching the others standing near the table.
"Shall we sit down?" Nolofinwë asked. "I do not want you to overstrain yourself, Russandol."
"He's not exactly a tottering invalid," Findekáno answered, noticing his own defensiveness too late. Maitimo poked him discreetly in the back. Findekáno turned and squinted testily at Maitimo only to receive a bland smile in return. "Sorry, Atar. He gets cross with me when I try to look out for him."
"I appreciate your concern, Uncle Nolofinwë. I do give Káno a difficult time. I'm unbearably irritable with him when I get overtired and am worse when he tries to make me take things slower," Maitimo said.
"I have watched the two of you sparring. In fact, it's become quite the popular spectator sport around here these days. Everyone observes your progress with great interest. I have heard there are bets being made on how long it will be before you take him," Nolofinwë said, rolling his eyes in warning at Findekáno to indicate that that he would not appreciate him interrupting with any licentious remarks. Findaráto caught the exchange and grinned roguishly, which Nolofinwë completely missed.
"I haven't entered a bet but neither have I shared my opinion that the two of you always were evenly matched. What do you think, Findaráto?" Nolofinwë asked.
Findaráto took his chair with his usual languid grace and answered, pale blue eyes lighting up with mischief, "I would not presume to speculate upon the intimate details of Káno's relationship with Russandol."
Nolofinwë sighed with uncharacteristically self-deprecating good nature. "I fear it will be a long evening for me if the three of you persist in making me the butt of all of your jokes. My understanding was that this intimate family dinner is, in fact, an undeclared formal meeting among the Houses of Fëanáro and Nolofinwë. Also, that you have insisted upon Findaráto's presence as the eldest representative of the House of Arafinwë on this side of the sea."
Findaráto said, "Yes, Uncle, that is a fair assessment of our conception of this meeting. Would you not agree, cousins?" Maitimo and Findekáno nodded.
Nolofinwë showed a small smile, barely more than a slight upturning of the corners of his mouth, before continuing. "And I need not ask why you are here Káno, it goes without saying that Russandol has discussed the politics of the division of the Noldor and every other aspect of our survival in this land ceaselessly with you since you returned to this encampment with him."
"I think one could fairly say that he has been rather single-minded," Findekáno answered. He touched the top of Maitimo's hand, which rested on the table.
"I presume the absence of your siblings indicates that the three of you want to ensure a situation where there can be discussion, perhaps negotiation even, without breaking down into the usual Finwëan family bickering," Nolofinwë said, his tone dry, but his eyes sparkling with wit.
Findekáno felt that his father had gradually undergone a change since he had left Tirion, showing more humor and less evasion or guardedness. This was particularly notable under the circumstances, which on the surface ought not to have been conducive to such an alteration in his behavior. For the first time it occurred to Findekáno that perhaps the Nolofinwë he had always known might have been, at his core, more like him in temperament than he had ever imagined. Perhaps the years of family strife, competition, envy and jealousy had squashed those characteristics in Nolofinwë's youth. He felt a sudden tenderness toward his father unlike any he had experienced since he was a child.
"Russandol, I forgave you long ago the first grudge I held against you, the young man I thought had seduced--perverted I think was the regrettable word I once used--my son and heir," Nolofinwë said, with a hoarse laugh. "But we all learned soon enough who had been the pursuer and who had been pursued. Now once again he has tracked you down and brought you back to us. For that I am most grateful."
Maitimo gave Nolofinwë his most winning smile. "Ai, Uncle, I doubt that I deserved your forgiveness. I loved him in our youth as much or more than he loved me. One might say that we were touched by the same fire. If he had been less aggressive I might have chosen to wait, if it all, only until he was a bit older," Maitimo said.
Everyone took their seats with Findaráto and Maitimo on either side of Nolofinwë and Findekáno next to Maitimo. Findekáno noticed that Nolofinwë's trusted valet placed the soup bowls in front of each of them and refilled their water glasses, the usual flurry of servants about the table being conspicuously absent.
"Conceivably. Do you think you would have had the imagination, the audacity? You were impulsive even then, but ambitious," Nolofinwë said. "Well, we will never know if you would have acted or not. But since I have been wrong in my assessment of you before, I am more than willing to reserve judgment and listen to you now. I have seen elements of Fëanáro's brittle brilliance in you but I also have seen a reflection of my own father's temperance and wisdom. What have you come here to propose?" Nolofinwë asked.
Findaráto cleared his throat. "We have discussed at length among ourselves what our next move should be. It was not that we did not trust you, but Russandol needed our counsel when he first started thinking about his options. The decision he wanted to make weighed heavily upon him and he wanted our opinion before he spoke with you. I suppose I was included because of my love for them both and my reputation of being unbiased."
With Findaráto's nearly shy smile, Findekáno realized that, despite his cousin's generous, honest temperament, he could compete in the exercise of diplomacy with the best.
Findaráto directed himself to Nolofinwë, his deep voice soft with affection and sincerity, "Aside from the three of us, only Macalaurë knows the content of what Russandol wants to propose to you tonight."
Maitimo spoke up. "The fact is, Uncle, that I felt unsure of my own powers of analysis so soon after my recent experiences. I wanted to see how Findaráto and Káno would react to my plan. Then, when they did seem to be in agreement with what I was proposing, I wanted to discuss with them how they believed that others, both in my camp and yours, might react and how best to deal with any objections."
They all began to eat their soup. Nolofinwë's manservant arranged fresh vegetables, sliced meat and fowl on the table so that they might serve themselves and left them alone.
Nolofinwë extended a basket piled high with fresh bread to Maitimo. "I left the three of you to hold your private deliberations at your leisure. I was certain that you would approach me when you were ready to talk. But, as I explained, I am now more than ready to listen." Maitimo took a roll and passed the bread to Findekáno, before taking a long breath.
Nolofinwë said, "Try some the red berries on your chicken. They are not sweet but tart. There is also a creamy, nutty sauce that Káno requested." He gestured toward a small tureen, grimacing when he spoke of the heavy sauce.
"Uncle, Káno is still trying to get Russandol to gain back all the weight he lost. Káno likes his men tall and well built," Findaráto said.
"I'll try the cream sauce." Findekáno. "And that is not the whole truth. I can see the beauty in a willowy blond."
"Willowly? Willowly?" Findaráto pretended to choke on his wine.
Findekáno smirked. "You're stuttering, Ingo. Take a hold of yourself."
"Káno, Ingo, please. Have a little respect for Uncle. He has served us a lovely dinner, with excellent wine, and has promised to listen to our proposals. You sound like my youngest brothers at their worst," Maitimo said.
Nolofinwë topped off Maitimo's glass with the remains of one of the wine carafes. "I don't mind them really. They remind me of the rare times when my two brothers banded together to try to make me feel uncomfortable. Never thought I would look back on those occasions with fondness."
Maitimo lifted his chin in a gesture of pride and self-possession, saying in a clear voice, even and devoid of emotion, "I am grateful for their counsel and support, but I do not have the patience for nonsense right now. Uncle, I want to get right to the point and hear your response. I intend to renounce all rights of the House of Fëanáro to the kingship of the Noldor, that is if you will accept that responsibility.".
Nolofinwë's eyes widened with honest surprise. "I never realized before how strongly you resemble your father in his youth, how much even the quality of your voice reminds me of him." The line of Nolofinwë's jaw relaxed perceptibly, yet his eyes turned wary. "I will be honored to accept your offer, but I would expect if I do so that you and brothers will agree to support me. I will not be a token King for you, Nelyafinwë."
"Of course. I will see that it is done. I intend to hold onto the leadership of my own House. You will have my allegiance and that of my brothers and our followers." Maitimo's expression softened, suddenly careworn, and Findekáno squeezed his thigh under the table.
"Do you mind explaining to me what led you to this decision?" Nolofinwë asked.
"As for why, it is surely obvious. No matter how much I might desire it, I can no longer promise to always, under all circumstances, put the interests of our people first."
"You stand by your oath then?" Nolofinwë asked, frustration, regard, and regret flickering across his face.
Maitimo's voice dropped so low that the other three leaned forward to hear him. "You heard the words of it, Uncle. I have no choice. It cannot be undone."
The only sound that could be heard in room was a rattling of wind against the shutters and the far-off cry of a waterfowl when Findekáno cracked the near silence with an explosive sneeze.
"Oh, Káno!" Maitimo exclaimed with a brilliant smile.
Findaráto stood. "Excellent. Then I propose two toasts: first, to Maitimo for putting the unity of our people before any personal aims or pride, and, secondly, to Uncle; may his wisdom and experience help us heal our divisions."
The rest of the evening passed swiftly. Finally Maitimo and Findekáno found themselves alone, walking back toward Findekáno's tent, under a blue-black moonless sky dotted with gem-like stars. The breeze from the Lake wafted warm and slightly damp over them. Maitimo let go of Findekáno's hand under the oak tree near the tent and jumped and grabbed the lowest of the stronger branches and hung there for a moment before dropping to his feet again. A tightness weighing upon his chest that he had not even realized was there had at last released him. A single lantern hung from the front of the tent, illuminating his lover's countenance, finding small points of matching light in the golden threads laced throughout his braids. Maitimo stood looking at Findekáno, marveling at the beauty of his open, smiling face.
"You are happy now that it is done?" Findekáno asked, his voice husky with tenderness and hope.
"Happy is a strong word. Relieved is more accurate, and thankful to you, Ingo and Macalaurë for your support. There is only one thing left to me that makes me truly happy. I think you well know what that is. You try hard enough to offer it to me whenever I look the least bit glum. Findekáno the valiant, the beautiful, the generous, the ardent, what would I do without you?"
"If I have my way, you will never have to find out, will you? Meanwhile, if you would like a way to express some of that gratitude you were talking about, I believe I can think of some suggestions."
Findekáno laughed when Maitimo pulled him hard against him with both arms, sliding his hand up beneath the back of Findekáno's tunic, feeling skin silky-smooth and warm.
"Kiss me while you think about what it is you want most," Maitimo said, wishing he had another hand with which to touch Findekáno's cheek and pull his mouth closer. Findekáno inhaled sharply and looked at him with such longing that Maitimo thought, as he often had before, that his Káno always accepted every kiss as though he had been waiting for it forever, as though there had never been one before it and might never be another. If anything or anyone could ever truly heal his spirit and banish his nightmares, Findekáno could.
Predictably, Findekáno kissed him, fiercely and bruisingly hard. "Want you. Want you so much," Findekáno gasped, before kissing him again with no less fervor. "You made me wait," he accused, his voice heavy with affection, while backing toward the door of the tent, pulling Maitimo along with him. Maitimo yanked him to a stop immediately in front of the door of the tent.
"Yes, I did. And I beg you to forgive me. I was preoccupied and I thought you deserved far better than that. The rest of tonight is all for you. I promise I will properly make amends." As Maitimo spoke, he could feel the heat of Findekáno's body rising to the cheek that rested against his neck. "You tell me what you want and I will do it. Anything and everything."
Findekáno let loose a loud, echoing "yes" in a timbre combining equal parts mischief and desire, which caused Maitimo to catch his breath, laugh and then scold, "Quiet. You will wake everyone nearby."
"But there is no one nearby. I had a reason when I picked this site for our tent. Now get inside. You are happy tonight. Don't try to tell me that you are not. I intend to claim everything you have promised and ensure you will not quickly forget this night either."
Maitimo laughed again, unable to take his eyes from that shockingly sensual mouth except to look for a moment into wide, improbably dark blue and trusting eyes. The memory of both had haunted his waking dreams, driving away for hours at a time his terror, pain and self-revulsion and leaving him with a tiny spark of hope that had lit more than a few of the darkest nights of his soul. He had thought in those fetid cells--filthy, alone, bloody and battered, nearly broken--I can withstand this; if Findekáno could have loved me once, I cannot be wholly lost or unforgivable.
Maitimo's laugh faded and he could only manage a whisper, hardly more than a sigh. "Findekáno."
"Inside, inside now," Findekáno responded, his intonation low and shaky, but determined. "Don't play with me. You know the sound of your voice alone can make me spill."
He did not need to order Maitimo again. Maitimo turned him around and hustled him into the tent and to the bed at the back of it. Pushing Findekáno down upon it, Maitimo realized that he had not felt this desperately eager to make love since they had found one another again. Old dreams, no longer possible, had to be abandoned, but with Findekáno's love he could face a new day, hopefully not with foolish expectations, but at least some measure of hope.
 Wife of Nolofinwë (Fingolfin) and mother of Findekáno (Fingon), Turukáno (Turgon) and Irissë (Aredhel), who did not leave Aman with her family.