Ossiriand (just after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad: FA 472)
Maedhros sat in front of the fire but Maglor knew he wasn't seeing it burn. There were too many other flames in his thoughts.
They had reached the relative safety of Ossiriand and made camp there just two days ago. They could go no further though, for there were too many wounded, and too few supplies. Maglor and Erestor had met with representatives from the Laiquendi again this morning and an uneasy understanding had been reached. Healers had also been dispatched to assist the injured Noldor and the Men who had fought with them.
Maglor knew the armed host made the Laiquendi uncomfortable but there was nowhere else to go. Hithlum was overrun and Himring was lost to the Orcs. Nargothrond was closed to them due to Celegorm and Curufin's idiocy and Turgon's hidden city would remain forbidden to the sons of Fëanor, even more so now with the loss of Fingon.
Fingon. Maglor shook his head and chanced another look at his brother. Maedhros had scarcely spoken since they had escaped the battle. He had shrugged off the Noldorin healers brusquely, saying he had suffered worse wounds and that the healers should concern themselves with those who needed them. Maglor, of course, knew he was injured but Maedhros would not admit to requiring any help.
Maedhros had spoken to his brother only once since their escape from the battlefield. Maglor had been the one to come to him, to tell him definitively of Fingon's death at the hands of Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs. But Maedhros had already known, Maglor was certain of that.
They had been fighting back to back when a sudden surge of Maedhros' guard had given them a temporary breather. Maglor had turned to speak to him but his brother had suddenly cried out and doubled over in agony. Maglor could see no obvious injury or enemy near enough to wound him. It was then that Maedhros had looked up at him and gasped out, "He's gone, Kano. He's gone." Maglor knew Maedhros' and Fingon's fëa had been linked far too many years for his brother not to notice a sudden absence of that bond. Yet as fate would have it, he had not had time to console Maedhros before another wave of Orcs had overcome the guard and they were fighting for their lives again. Maglor and Erestor had forcibly dragged Maedhros from the battleground as they retreated, for had they not, he would have fought on alone, scouring the battlefield in his search for Fingon.
Maglor's confirmation, a day later, when stragglers from Fingon's forces found them and told the story, was simply the verification of the reality of his loss.
"I've repaid his saving my life with causing his death," Maedhros had said when Maglor had told him.
"You didn't kill him, Maedhros," Maglor had said.
"I might as well have. This was all my idea," he had replied.
Since then he had not spoken, as far as Maglor could tell. Nor did he eat or sleep, for the brothers shared a tent and Maglor knew he had not.
Erestor had finally managed to peel Maedhros' blood-stained and dented armor off him but the now-silent warrior had not bothered to remove his bloody undertunic or leggings. There were still clumps of blood in his hair, darkening the usual red to a deep maroon.
But now they had a regular camp, which meant regular meals and regular baths and if anyone needed a bath it was most certainly Maedhros.
He looked at Maedhros again. He still sat in silence, staring into the fire, his mind likely miles away—in Hithlum, Himring, or on the battlefield behind them.
"Maglor?" A voice broke into his thoughts. Turning, he saw Erestor entering the tent.
"Yes, Erestor. What can I do for you?" Maglor asked, noting that Maedhros' eyes had at least shifted at the sound, even though he had not changed position.
"I've got the mess halls organised and the latrines set up. There are plenty of streams near to access for our water supply," Erestor reported, glancing quickly at Maedhros and then back at Maglor as he spoke.
"Thank you, Erestor. Our troops should be adequately provisioned now, it seems," Maglor responded.
"Better than we were yesterday," Erestor agreed. "Healing tents are well manned finally." His eyes slid to Maedhros again. "As most of the seriously injured have been cared for, I wonder if it's time you both had your wounds properly tended?"
"I've no more than a few scratches and cuts that will heal," Maglor said. "I can't speak for my brother —I don't know how much of the blood still on him is his and he won't let me look."
Erestor looked at Maedhros directly now. There had been so much blood on his armor it had been hard to tell if it was all his or those he had fought. Once Erestor had gotten the armor off the day before he had noted some deep cuts and had suggested sending for a healer but Maedhros had simply growled and stalked off without a word.
"The prospect of a bath sounds promising," Maglor said smoothly into the silence.
"I can have a tub brought here," Erestor said. "Then there's no need to leave the tent," He nodded his head slightly in Maedhros' direction.
"That would be greatly appreciated," Maglor answered, raising his eyebrow in response.
A short time later Erestor returned with two tubs and steaming hot water. He insisted on Maglor getting in one while the water was still hot and then he turned his attention to Maedhros. As Maglor soaked his tight muscles and scrubbed at his filthy hair, Erestor approached his long-time lord, the one Erestor had been loyal to all the years in Himring.
"Up, Maedhros. Bath. You are rank and filthy and I can't get those clothes washed while you are still in them," Erestor said, adopting his usual brusque manner.
Maedhros shook his head.
"The water isn't going to stay hot for long, " Erestor continued. "And terrifying as you may seem to any Orc that may come along, with all this gore and filth on you, you aren't going to make a good impression on our local benefactors, caked in Orc blood."
Maglor watched closely as Erestor gently put a hand on Maedhros' shoulder and spoke more quietly. "Come, Maedhros. Those cuts may not be so deep but they will fester if we don't get them clean soon."
"You think I care if they do?" Maedhros growled.
"You may not, but I do," Erestor replied briskly. "You are a complete ass when you're sick and I am in no mood to deal with you having an infection." He shoved Maedhros' shoulder roughly. "Move. Or I will take my bath and leave you to take one in Maglor's dirty bath water."
With another growl, Maedhros stood up and tore his clothing off, piling it on the floor. Cuts and abrasions covered his arms and torso, red against the pale skin and silvery lines of his old scars. He stepped into the tub, unmindful of the water he splashed to the floor, for the tub was somewhat small for his height so he sat, knees up, and glared at Erestor over the edge of it.
"Dunk your head," Erestor ordered. "It's going to need two good hands to wash this mess." He was rewarded with another glare and then a sudden splash as Maedhros dunked his head under the water, garnering a string of cursing from Erestor as the water splashed him. He roughly scrubbed Maedhros' hair with the soap when he surfaced again, his hands growing more gentle as he combed out the tangles.
Maglor wisely stayed silent and watched them as he finished his own bath then stepped out of the tub to dry off in front of the fire, wrapped in his towel. He saw Maedhros' shoulders visibly relax as Erestor finished with him and soon enough his brother was seated next to Maglor, his hair resting damply on his shoulders.
The tubs were hauled out and Erestor began to rummage through the bags in the corner of the tent, grumbling unintelligibly as he did.
"That one is mine, Erestor," Maglor said, standing up to take the satchel from his friend's hands. He riffled though it and found clean leggings and an old tunic, which he put on.
Erestor took the other bag near the fire and pulled out clothes for Maedhros. He shook out a particularly wrinkled tunic and Maglor saw something bright fall from it towards the floor.
With a strangled cry Maedhros lunged from his chair, overturning it with his legs, as he snatched the fluttering object just as it reached the floor.
Maglor hadn't caught sight of what had affected him so intensely but he caught Erestor's stricken expression, and so he moved closer to where his brother now crouched on the floor, as Erestor placed the clothes he held on the other chair and stepped back. His eyes darted from Maedhros to Maglor, tears suddenly filling his eyes.
Maglor, puzzled, looked down and his breath caught. Maedhros held one of Fingon's golden hair ribbons in his left hand, his right stump gently stroking it, his head bent over and his hair covering his face.
"I am sorry, " Erestor whispered and fled the tent, leaving Maglor alone with his brother.
Maglor sat down on the floor next to him and slipped his arm around his brother's shoulders. The ribbon gleamed in Maedhros' hand, catching the light from the fire, as did the tears in his eyes. Maedhros kept gently stroking the ribbon with his stump until he finally spoke, his words barely audible. "I remember the first time I braided gold ribbons in his hair. In Tirion. It seems so long ago now. Like another life."
Maglor tightened his grip on Maedhros and rested his head on his brother's shoulder.
"I don't know how it came to be in my bag, " Maedhros continued, his words just a whisper. "It is all I have left of him. His letters, everything else was at Himring."
Maglor felt the tears running down his own face at his brother's words. Maedhros made a sudden choking sound then he seemed to let himself go and hoarse sobs ripped from his throat. Maglor held him, as he finally let his grief out. He stroked his hair, murmured words of comfort and kept his arms around him and with time Maedhros' breathing returned to a more regular pattern and he turned his tear-streaked face to Maglor.
He had not seen this kind of blankness in Maedhros' eyes since the early days after Thangorodrim. He shivered at the desolation he saw there and so he pulled him closer and quietly began to sing.
Tirion in the time of the Trees
"You are restless today!" Maitimo laughed, watching Findekáno stalk across the room.
Findekáno's Mastery examinations for Literature and Lore were in two weeks and Maitimo had been pressed into service by his Uncle Nolofinwë to help him prepare. It took Maitimo back to the days when Findekáno was young and Maitimo had been his tutor. He was acting now much as he had those first few weeks long ago.
"Come on, Finno. We have to get through this. I don't want to be late for Grandfather's party tonight." Maitimo definitely didn't want to be late, for his mother had been commissioned to create the sculptures for the High King's new garden. This was an important night for Nerdanel and he couldn't wait to see her recognized for her artistic skills tonight. It was not often that Nerdanel had the spotlight, married as she was to the incomparably brilliant Fëanaro, his father.
Findekáno threw himself into the chair across from Maitimo. "No, I don't want to be late. I would only get a lecture about it and anyway, I want to see your mother's sculptures. Is it true that she uses you all as her models?"
Maitimo snorted. "Stop trying to distract me. We really need to get some work done today, Finno."
"But does she?" Findekáno persisted.
"Well, we are pretty much all she has around. She usually gets an idea in her head and sketches it out and works from that. Occasionally though she needs one of us to stand in the sculpture's pose—so she can get the proportions and position right." Maitimo was aware Findekano already knew the answer but in his current mood would likely persist in questioning him. Giving him a straight answer would save time, he hoped. "Now, let's get back to Rumil's first work. . ."
"Blast Rumil. What's even the point?" Findekáno interrupted. Maitimo sighed and put on his most patient expression. Six younger brothers had given him an ample amount of preparation for moments like this. Findekáno wasn't going to let go of this today.
"The point is for you to pass your Mastery tests," Maitimo said patiently, "We've got two weeks and a lot of material to review yet. We can get through it at this pace—I kept my notes from my review with Ata before my exams and I think I have you on the right schedule . . ."
"Oh please. This coming from the individual with the highest recorded scores for Literature and Lore? And you only think you have got the correct study plan mapped out?"
"Second highest. You forget my father has the highest scores," Maitimo corrected.
"Yes, well you are a more ordinary specimen than your father, who is absurdly brilliant. I can't even bother to compare myself to him," Findekáno retorted, frowning.
"And here I thought you regarded me as something more than ordinary, Finno. Truly, you wound me with your words," he joked, trying to get a laugh out of Findekáno.
He wasn't having it. "Oh by the Valar, Maitimo! It's just an expression. As if there could be anything ordinary about you." Findekáno frowned directly at Maitimo now. "I thought you were extraordinary from the first moment I met you."
Maitimo felt his face get warm. He got up to walk around but found himself standing behind Findekano's chair, putting his hands on his shoulders and feeling the tense muscles there. "What's really wrong, Finno?" he asked, kneading gently at first, but then with more pressure. "This can't be just worry about the exams."
Findekáno relaxed back into the chair as Maitimo's fingers dug in to his shoulders. "I don't know, Maitimo. It's partly the exams but I'm just frustrated I think." He sighed and looked up.
Findekano's face was comical gazing up at him from below. Maitimo smiled down at him. "Frustrated about the exams you mean?"
"Yes and no," Findekáno replied. "I'm worried about them, of course, but it's more than that." He looked down at the table again, as Maitimo continued to massage the muscles. "You know what your role is, Maitimo. You know what you need to know and how it will serve you. You've had the time to learn other things for pleasure, or for the simple joy of the knowledge, but your course of study has always had a focus, a purpose, as a Prince of the House of Finwë."
"You are a Prince of the House of Finwë too," Maitimo said, cuffing him on the back of the head.
Findekáno swiveled around to look at Maitimo directly and Maitimo dropped his hands to his sides. "But it's different, you know. You're destined for the leadership of our people—don't give me that look—we all know it," he said, as Maitimo rolled his eyes. "You will rule over us one day or continue to assist Grandfather or Uncle Fëanaro." Findekáno turned to glare at the table again. "And Makalaurë will continue to create music with his company and teach. You've both got your plans laid out. I don't."
Maitimo pulled another chair over and sat down facing Findekáno. "That's just because we're older, Finno. We finished our formal studies and have moved on to our work now. You just aren't there yet."
"I don't have a 'there', Maitimo. I'm not going to rule our people, or create stupendous music, or craft beautiful objects, or invent things or any of that." He looked at Maitimo with an anxious expression. "There is nothing that sets me apart. I can play music, but not like Makalaurë. I can discuss Art, Literature and Lore with you but I'll never have the mastery you have of it. I can ride and hunt and shoot but I'm never going to be better at it than Tyelko." He blew his breath out. "I know I sound like I'm whining. And I probably am. Poor little Prince, doesn't know what to do with himself. But I really don't. Even with Ata—he has you and Turko. He really doesn't need me for any of the day to day things."
Maitimo leaned forward. "Finno. It's the same for Findarato, Turko, Tyelko and Moryo. It's too soon to worry about this."
"It is not," Findekáno contradicted him. "Findarato has a place in Makalaurë's music company any time he chooses. Your mother has offered countless times to take him on as an apprentice. He works with King Olwë when he goes to Alqualondë, so don't worry about Findarato—he has options."
Maitimo made a scoffing sound but Findekáno ignored it. "Turko helps Ata. He loves building things and planning out spaces. He will join the architects guild in no time." He paused and gave Maitimo a grimace. "I suppose Tyelko and Moryo are about as useless as I am."
"You are not useless. Foolish perhaps, getting all worked up about this. It's not like you." Maitimo reached to put his hand on Findekáno's knee but then drew it back. "Finno, you are brilliant. There is no one I can discuss Literature and Lore with who is as intelligent and insightful as you, short of Ata himself. You know as well as I do that Makalaurë has told you he would love to have you join his company any time—you are near as skilled on the harp as he is." His hand reached out again, hovered over Findekáno's knee and then again drew back to clutch his other hand in his lap. "There is no one as kind, as good-natured, as loyal a friend as you, Finno. You've got all of Tyelko's skills and athleticism, you know, but you're actually pleasant to be around."
Findekáno finally laughed at that. "I'm sorry, Maitimo," he said, reaching out and placing his hand firmly on Maitimo's knee. "I have wasted your time with all this selfish whining and fishing for compliments. I don't know what's gotten into me. I'll stop."
Maitimo tentatively put his hand on Findekáno's. "You're just right the way you are, Finno. This is just nerves about the test taking over. Whatever you choose to do, however you choose to do it, you will be perfect at it, trust me."
Findekáno smiled. "You would know, I suppose, since you are perfect yourself."
Maitimo snorted again and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms on his chest. "Not if you ask anyone in my family!"
"I'm in your family and I think you are. Brilliant mind, perfect physique—'well-formed one'-Hey!" Findekáno dodged too late to prevent Maitimo smacking him in the arm for that comment. "Distinctive red hair—Ow!" Maitimo struck him again. Findekáno kept going. "Breaking all the fair maiden's hearts—Hey!" He yelped as Maitimo scored another direct hit on his left arm. Findekáno grinned at him. "Should I keep going?"
"Shut up, Finno. As if all that didn't apply to you as well," Maitimo frowned at him now, a hint of color touching his cheeks. "Well, other than the red hair. That's my burden," he said, giving Findekáno a crooked smile.
"Standard issue Noldorin black hair here. Couldn't pick me out of a crowd at a feast or festival. Not like you and Findarato." Findekáno smiled back.
"It has it's disadvantages, I'll have you know, always being noticed in a crowd," Maitimo grimaced.
"Well, it doesn't help that you're so freakishly tall as well. It's hard to miss you. I just blend into the Noldorin rank and file," Findekáno said, leaning back in his chair.
"You don't blend in, you idiot."
"I do and you know it! Put me, Turko, Ata, Moryo and Curvo facing away from you and you couldn't tell us apart!"
"I could," Maitimo answered.
"Well, yes but you're brilliant. We've already covered that," Findekáno retorted.
Maitimo leaned even further back, closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of his chair. His hair cascaded down, contrasting with his pale skin and Findekáno caught his breath at the sight.
"Well, we are obviously not going to get any studying done in your state today," Maitimo drawled, lifting his head and raising an eyebrow at Findekáno. "We've hours before the party. Let's head down to the market and look around a bit. Get your mind off all this."
"As long as we don't run into Ata or Turko we should be fine, " Findekáno replied, his eyes shining and his demeanor happier now.
"I've got formal robes here at grandfather's house so I shouldn't have to go home to change. We'll have time to clean up when we get back, in plenty of time for the party," Maitimo said.
They left the library, taking back stairs and hallways, alternately laughing and shushing each other until they had cleared the palace gates.
The market was just what Findekáno needed. Open air, so many interesting things to look at and eat, Maitimo strolling at his side.
They passed a fabric merchant and Maitimo stopped, looking thoughtful. "You need new robes?" Findekáno asked.
"No. Just thinking about something," he murmured and then looked at Findekáno. "There's that flavored ice seller. Finno, would you get me a peach one if they have it and I'll finish up here?" He looked at the light coming from the Trees. "It's time we were getting back."
Findekáno gave him a puzzled look but nodded and headed over to the ice stand. Fabric typically wasn't something Maitimo was interested in but maybe he had some new idea. You never knew with Maitimo's family. He may be perfect but they definitely were an eccentric group, Maitimo included, Findekáno thought.
He returned with Maitimo's peach ice and one of his own and they began the walk back to the palace. "Find what you wanted?" Findekáno asked.
Maitimo gave him a sidelong look and a mischievous grin. "It will do."
"Fine. Be mysterious. Can't imagine what you wanted with a fabric merchant," Findekáno shrugged.
They reached the palace and headed to their rooms. "Meet you here when I'm ready?" Findekáno asked, as they paused in front of Maitimo's door.
"Yes, come get me," Maitimo replied. "But don't take forever. I don't want to be late and there is something I want to do before we go to the garden."
"Do? Do what?" Findekáno asked. Maitimo shook his head and smiled down at him.
"Patience, Finno," he said, entering his rooms then shutting the door firmly in Findekáno's face with a grin.
Findekáno was back at Maitimo's door not an hour later. He knocked and Maitimo opened the door. "You ready?" he asked.
"Come in for a minute," Maitimo said. "I'm not quite ready to go." He looked at the light out his window. "We have more than enough time."
"Time for what? Why are you being all cryptic?" Findekáno crossed his arms and leaned against the closed door. "You look ready to me." Maitimo did look ready. His hair was pulled back from his face in two elaborate braids, clasps obviously crafted by Fëanaro holding them in place. A slender copper circlet sat on his brow, the richness of the metal glowing in his hair. His deep green robes only further set off his hair and his exquisite fair skin.
He took Findekáno's breath away again. He felt his face heating up so he moved quickly to the window, under the pretense of looking out at the light, and let the breeze cool his cheeks.
"Come away from the window, Finno and sit down," Maitimo ordered.
Findekáno took a deep breath and turned back to the room, striding over to the chair Maitimo was standing behind.
"Where's your circlet?" Maitimo asked.
"Blast it," Findekáno muttered, making a face. "I forgot it again."
"You always do."
"I know. I know. But it never stays in place. My hair goes every which way and it slides to one side or sits crooked and . . ." Findekáno threw his hands up and flopped into the chair. "Stop laughing at me. It's too late to go get it now anyway."
"Too late now is right," Maitimo agreed. "I might have a solution though."
"What, you have a spare?"
"No, not a spare. Just an idea I had. Let me see if I can do something with your hair so no one notices the lack of a circlet," Maitimo said.
"Ata will notice. And Turko. They always notice," Findekáno grumbled. He felt Maitimo's hands in his hair and his face heated up again.
Maitimo brushed his hair, untangling the snarls and smoothing the curls. He began to braid the hair on one side, his fingers brushing Findekáno's cheek intermittently.
"I think this will work," Maitimo said, switching to the other side of Findekáno's head. It was relaxing having Maitimo do the work and Findekáno leaned back. Fingers fluttered down the braids again and then Maitimo was done.
Findekáno looked up at him with a smile. "Can I see now?"
"Come over to the mirror. I don't think anyone will have any trouble singling you out of the Noldorin rank and file tonight," Maitimo said, looking quite pleased with himself. He pushed Findekáno towards the mirror on the far wall, standing just behind him and to the right as Findekáno looked. And then Findekáno started to laugh. He caught Maitimo's eyes in the mirror and their gaze locked.
"Do you like it?" Maitimo asked, still looking at him in the mirror and gently putting his hand on Findekáno's shoulder.
"I do. It's unusual." Findekáno reached up to touch Maitimo's hand, where it rested on his shoulder. "I don't think anyone will mistake me for Turko tonight."
Maitimo had plaited golden ribbons into his black hair. The effect was striking.
Maitimo's smile was radiant. "No one could ever mistake you for Turko anyway."
Findekáno shook his head, amazed at how the ribbons caught and reflected the light. "So this is the sudden interest in fabric?"
"Just a tangible way to remind you just how extraordinary you are, Finno," Maitimo said.
Findekáno turned around. Maitimo had been standing close behind him and they found each other face to face, chests almost touching, when he turned.
"Tangible reminder that you cared to let me know that," Findekáno replied. They looked at each other, silver eyes staring into blue for a long moment, then Maitimo stepped back, blowing air out his mouth as if he had been holding his breath.
He gave Findekáno his lopsided smile. "Now we really need to go or we will be late and both of us will get lectures."
"After you," Findekáno motioned towards the door with an inclination of his head. Maitimo reached out a finger and lightly touched one of the gold and black braids then turned to the door, Findekáno following closely behind him.
As Maitimo opened the door Findekáno reached out for his hand, lacing his fingers through Maitimo's. He looked down at their hands and then back at Findekáno, a puzzled expression on his face.
"I didn't say thank you," Findekáno squeezed Maitimo's hand and felt the reassuring squeeze back. His heart sped up and that now-familiar warmth came over his face again.
"You're welcome, Finno," Maitimo grinned at him, a blush creeping up his face all the way to his ears. He pulled on Findekáno's hand. "Come on. Grandfather will be irritated if we're late and I know Father will be furious."
They stepped into the hallway, Findekáno closing the door behind them with his free hand, his other still holding Maitimo's as they walked down the hall.
The fire had died down and still Maglor sat with Maedhros, holding his brother in his grief.
"I need to put another log on the fire," Maglor said quietly. Maedhros nodded. "You must be freezing," Maglor said to him. "Get your clothes on. That towel of yours is still wet." He moved to the fire and threw a few more logs on. Maedhros was dressed when he turned back around, still holding Fingon's ribbon in his left hand.
"Help me?" Maedhros said. That in itself was such an unheard of request—Maedhros never asked for help, no matter how challenging the task—that Maglor felt another cold shiver go through him at his brother's words. He stepped close to Maedhros and put a hand on the arm holding the ribbon.
"Maedhros?" he questioned.
"Tie it around my wrist, Maglor. I can't do it myself," Maedhros said.
Maglor took the golden ribbon from Maedhros' hand and slipped it around his left wrist, trying to keep his own hands from shaking. He looped it around and then plaited it. He snugged it so it was resting just on the skin, not too tight or too loose. He knotted it a few times and then pulled on it to test its strength. "There," he said, touching it with one finger when he was done.
"Thank you, " Maedhros whispered. He looked at Maglor. His eyes were still dark but they were not quite as empty as before. "I have to see this through," he said. "It may be the only way I ever get to see him again." He touched the ribbon bracelet with his stump again. "At least I have a part of him with me now."
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