4. Licking Wounds
He had challenged Morgoth himself. No one else would have had the courage, or the power to wound this foe. Or should it be called folly and rashness? Had the challenger been Fëanor, the answer would have been easy, for despite his verbal prowess the Spirit of Fire had never been able to discern between a fiery heart and a hot head. Not so the elder of his half-brothers; if not the wisest, Fingolfin had certainly been the shrewdest of Finwë's sons, with a thought behind every word and deed.
How shrewd was it to fight Morgoth in single combat? Did my father truly believe he had a chance to win, Fingolfin's son wondered, staring at the crown that sat before him on the table top, while he tried to grasp the enormity of Fingolfin's fall. Would I do the same? What could induce me to do such a thing? In the twilight of his chamber in the Citadel of Hithlum - a place no longer as safe as it used to be - these questions seemed to grow and thicken with the shadows.
The long summer of peace had abruptly been turned into a winter of destruction and ruin: the fertile plain of Ard-galen scorched, the siege of Angband broken, two of Finarfin's brave sons fallen, the faithful Hador of Dor-lómin slaughtered, the sons of Fëanor scattered, and the lands of East-Beleriand lost - save the great fortress of Himring, thanks to the fierce resistance Maedhros put up. And the dragon was back, Glaurung the Urulókë, come into his full might, as Fingon had known he would: for had he not seen him grow in his darkest dreams, inch by inch, foot by foot, ever since he first beheld the golden-eyed beast, now four hundred years ago?
The dragon had turned east against Fëanor's sons, and even now Fingon still feared he would be Maedhros's bane, for this monster would wreak havoc wherever it went. But never had he dreamed that his father would die. Without warning, the High King had galloped to his end under Morgoth's feet. Now, his son tried to convince himself that it had been a courageous gamble, not an act of despair. For he who invites his own death will long be hosted by Mandos.
What had the King left behind? A people bereaved, a realm diminished, a grieving heir without an heir. What had the son inherited from his father? The burden of kingship - Fingon lifted the adorned helm and put it on his head - a revenge grown huge as Glaurung, the feeling of falling short.
And too much remained unsaid. His personal dragon had been a thorn in his father's side, impossible to remove - but why had he never acknowledged that it might hurt?
Fingon jumped when someone knocked at the door. Quickly, he removed the crown, as if putting it on had been an act of impropriety.
A slender figure entered. It was the maiden Coiriel, she with the red locks. When the plain of Ard-galen was laid waste in the Dagor Bragollach during the onslaught of Glaurung and his Balrogs, she had been among the few survivors. Having lost her entire family to the fire, she had sought refuge at the High King's court in Hithlum.
'My lord King,' she said to Fingon, 'you are sitting in the gloom. Do you wish me to light a lamp for you?'
And where will you find the lamp that is bright enough? Inwardly, Fingon sighed. He should have avoided staring at her hair, just because it reminded him of Maedhros's copper. Misjudging his motives, Coiriel had begun to seek his company, her face shining expectantly as soon as she saw him. It saddened him. After so much suffering she deserved to find love, yet he could not offer her a glimmer of hope.
'Thank you, lady Coiriel, but the failing light fits my mood,' he said, trying to sound discouraging. 'I know where the door is, even in the dark.'
'No doubt, my lord,' she said, smiling. 'And I think you shall want to use it soon. A company of riders approaches the citadel; they were sighted from the watchtower a short while ago. It is thought they will reach the gates when the stars have come out.'
Good; he had been alone with his thoughts long enough. 'I will prepare to receive them.' Now get out of here, girl.
Coiriel nodded, and after a short hesitation vanished from the room.
Fingon thought of the dragon at large, destroying everything in its path. He hoped the riders would bring good news from the east. Once more he touched the crown, convinced that it would be easier to wear once he knew Maedhros was alive and well.
It was, in fact, Maedhros whom the watchers had seen. He was alive and well, and he came to express his sorrow at the death of the High King and pay homage to the new one. Maglor had come, too; a ploy, perhaps, to divert attention from the fact that the homage was as needless as it was unasked for.
Turgon and Finrod, ensconced in their hidden kingdoms, had merely sent messages, and most of Fëanor's other sons did not even bother to do as much. But Fingon was happy enough that his lover had come, whether his deference was a pretext or not.
It most definitely was, for it was feigned. Maedhros insisted on kneeling before his King, his posture exceedingly formal. But his expression was sardonical, causing Fingon's happiness to fray a little at the edges. Maglor, going through the motions, looked troubled.
Wait for me tonight in the room assigned to you, Fingon spoke into Maedhros' mind when the two brothers rose.
The answer came as a surprise. I would rather wait for you in the armoury. It has been too long since we last crossed blades.
The King complied, remembering only too well what sparks a sparring match could strike out of them.
When he entered the armoury later that night, his formal robes exchanged for a simple tunic, his hair pulled back and bound with a cord, Maedhros was already there, sword in hand. His own blade, not a blunted practice sword.
'If you plan to fight me to the death,' Fingon remarked airily, 'I strongly advise you to don a mail shirt.' Briefly, he considered claiming a kiss before the clash but decided against it; why not play at being serious for a change? Instead, he proceeded to choose a blade, for he saw no reason to return to his room to find his own sword.
'I can do without a mail shirt,' he heard Maedhros say to his back, 'but I won't keep you from wearing one if it suits you.'
Fingon wheeled. The mockery that should have been there was absent from his lover's voice, who had to be in a truly foul mood to speak in such a manner. To his dismay, careful probing told him that Maedhros had shut his mind against him. He felt his anger rise. 'Do you know what suits me?' he retorted, and without waiting for the answer he unclasped his belt and peeled off his tunic and shirt. After some hesitation he also removed Maedhros's gift, the green stone crafted by Feanor*, lest it be damaged. Hoping the gesture would not be misinterpretated he turned around to face Maedhros bare-chested. 'This allows more freedom of movement, would you not say so as well?'
The eyes on the other side of the room narrowed perceptibly.
Again, Fingon turned towards the rows of swords on the wall and inspected them at leisure; Maedhros needed time to strip, and under the circumstances he would probaly refuse help. Finally, the High King found a blade to his liking, but he did not turn back until his sharp ears caught the faint rustle of silk on the floor and he knew Maedhros had divested himself of his shirt.
His gaze alighted on his lover's chest, and from there roamed upward to his throat, his chin, his mouth, his eyes - where it was caught and held. And suddenly, Fingon wanted nothing so much as throw his sword aside and embrace him to dispel the clouds he saw in those eyes - except that he could not. By now he knew that this was much more than a game, and only one step short of madness.
'Ready?' he asked, not wholly without apprehension. Left-handed swordsmen were never easy to combat, and this one had the experience of both hands, the one he used presently and the one he remembered using in the past. In confrontations like this one it was, in fact, Maedhros who had two hands, while his opponent was the one-handed warrior.
'Ready,' came the reply.
Fingon attacked at once. He had a chance to hold his own, but only if he did not hold back.
Maedhros parried just in time; then the need to watch and anticipate, to hew and block, to advance and evade, overrode all thinking and fretting, while the clanging and screeching of metal assailed their ears and bounced back from the walls of the room.
At one point, Fingon barely avoided having his rib cage slashed open, while his own blade just failed to bite into his opponent's shoulder. They paused simultaneously. 'Is it the crown you want?' Fingon heard himself ask. If Maedhros thought it galling to be ruled by a much younger king...
'Why do you think I came to pay you homage? The House of Fëanor is dispossessed. The crown of Finwë is yours. Be worthy of it.' Taking a deep breath Maedhros went to the attack again.
A renewed exchange of blows followed. Maedhros came very close to drawing blood, whereas Fingon began to wish he had gone for his own sword. Another lull in the fighting; they were both panting and sweating now. 'If not the crown itself, is it the distance it creates between us? Fingon asked, wiping his moist palm against his thigh.
Maedhros did the same, resting his sword against his body for a moment. 'What is this, a sword fight or a riddle game?'
'Maitimo, I would prefer answers to parries. And instead of sword-strokes, would you not rather -'
Again, Maedhros went to the attack, fiercer than ever. By now, Fingon was unable to do more than defend himself. After a while, though, he noticed that his opponent was getting impatient, and a little careless. That was not like Maedhros at all; he had to be deeply troubled, so much was clear. But Fingon knew that if he pressed his advantage, he would inevitably wound him. Perhaps badly. He hesitated.
It was not something he could afford even against a careless Maedhros. The blade broke the skin on his chest before he was aware of it. Gazing down he saw his own blood well slowly from a cut across the very spot where the green stone used to rest. The next moment, he heard a sword clatter to the tiles. He let go of his own weapon and sank to his knees.
A strangled noise. Suddenly Maedhros was kneeling in front of him. 'I have wounded you,' he said, aghast.
'A scratch, no more,' Fingon muttered. Right now, it did not even hurt, though he knew it would when the blood stopped flowing. 'I am well. Only a little tired.'
'It is nothing.'
The King complied, allowing himself to be lowered to the floor, a tunic between his bare back and the cold tiles. 'You win,' he said, thinking now that this must be what Maedhros had been after: the certainty that at least in one respect he was still in the lead.
And was he? 'You win,' Fingon repeated after a silence.
'I wish I could believe you...' The next moment, Maedhros bent forward and began to clean the wound with his tongue, licking away the blood, like an animal would do with an injured cub. An excellent way of stanching, and of stimulating the healing process.
It also had a side effect. A slow pleasure, punctured by the faint throbbing of the cut on his chest, spread throughout Fingon's body. A strand of hair tickled his collar-bone and he felt the stump of Maedhros's right arm rest lightly on his stomach. 'I like this,' he said.
After a few errant heartbeats, Maedhros raised his head. To Fingon's immense relief he smiled, albeit wanly, and the gates of his mind flew open. And I like doing it. He resumed his ministrations, extending his loving care to places his blade had never touched.
'Do you not wish I had wounded you?' Fingon murmured suggestively.
You could have. You should have. I was mad.
Mad... bad... and dangerous to love. It was difficult to concentrte on mind-speech, Fingon discovered.
His beloved withdrew his tongue. 'Regrets?'
'No...' Fingon briefly considered talking it out but decided to let it rest. He thought of Glaurung; they had not spoken of him yet. 'Have you seen the dragon?'
'Which one?' Maedhros stroked the place where Fingon's private monster was straining against its confinements.
'Both. But I will not ask which beast you think more impressive.'
'The answer might surprise you,' Maedhros said meaningfully.
Fingon snorted, groping for his lover's dragon. 'Let me feel! Move closer, and I will set it free.' He refrained from bringing up Glaurung once more. He dismissed the thought that Maedhros harboured yet another dragon, one he could not grasp quite so easily. He also dismissed the idea that Fingolfin's persistent and vehement opposition to their bond could have something to do with it. 'Come. Make love to me.'
'Perhaps not here?'
'I bolted the door after I went in.'
Fingon had barely mentioned the door when someone rapped on it. He sat up too abruptly, and groaned.
'Careful,' Maedhros warned. 'Or it will bleed again.' He raised his voice. 'Who is there?'
'I am.' The voice rang out loudly, even from behind the thick wood.
'One moment, Maglor,' his brother said.
Of course, it took them much more than a moment to dress and wipe the blood from Maedhros's sword, and by the time they were finished Fingon's wound was indeed bleeding again. Fortunately his tunic was dark blue and unadorned, so the damp spot would not easily be detected.
When he opened the armoury door, two people stood waiting outside: Maglor - and the maiden Coiriel.
'I wanted a word with you,' Maglor said to Fingon. 'This lovely lady told me you were in the armoury. But why bolt the door?'
Fingon suppressed a sigh. What was he to do with this persistent female? 'We went in for a sparring match,' he explained. 'And we decided that no one was to find out who bested whom.' He gave Coiriel a courteous nod: 'Good night, my lady, and thank you for showing lord Maglor the way.'
She smiled, not at all abashed by his lack of warmth. 'A good night to you, my lord King.'
Meanwhile, Maglor eyed them strangely. 'You had an argument,' he said when Coiriel had left.
'We had, but the matter has been resolved,' Fingon told him. 'What was it you wanted to speak about?'
Maglor looked from him to Maedhros and back again. 'Does it ever happen to you that you believe you have something urgent to say - and then you have a flash of insight, and you know it will make no difference whatsoever?'
'It does,' Fingon replied gravely. 'So there is nothing to discuss?' He realised he was speaking to himself as well as to Maglor.
'Nothing.' Casting them a last, helpless glance, Maedhros's brother turned on his heels and went his way.
'What do you think he wanted to say?' Fingon asked when he thought Maglor was out of earshot.
Maedhros shrugged. 'Who can tell what is on another man's mind?'
Fingon shook his head. 'Not good enough.You are his brother.'
Maedhros pulled him closer. 'Maybe he wanted to speak of the fire-dragon?'
'Has he seen it?'
'What does he think of it?' Fingon asked after a silence. 'How much does he hate it?'
'Hardly at all. Maglor is good at singing his hate away. But...'
'I think he prefers to avoid it.'
Fingon winced a little when Maedhros pressed him against his chest to kiss him. But that was just his wound, of course.
The wound that was love.
*According to Christopher Tolkien, this is the Elessar as it was first conceived by his father. It's mentioned in the HoMe, Vol. 11, The War of the Jewels, pp. 176-7, in two pencilled notes: 'He [Fëanor] gives the green stone to Maidros', and 'The Green Stone of Fëanor given by Maidros to Fingon'. CT's commentary: 'My father was at this time pondering the previous history of the Elessar, which had emerged in The Lord of the Rings; for his later ideas on its origin see Unfinished Tales, pp. 248-52.
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