Macalaurë avoids these streetfights and keeps to his chambers. Occasionally he agrees to join me at court to fulfil his royal duties. Findaráto and Turkáno have been searching for refuges. Apparently they believe that Ulmo is trying to tell them something. Only those fools would believe that the Valar would condescend to help us. If Manwë and the rest wished to help us, they could return Russandol back to us, right? I am done with trusting them.
The nights near the lake are so cold. And I am so lonely. There are days when my gaze rests on Macalaurë for more than is appropriate. Gaunt, spectral, wraith-like, he is now. But to me, it is only in him that Fëanáro’s fire burns the most. Often Findaráto jokes that Macalaurë can be used as the perfect advertisement for the word ‘Noldor’. He is right. Nobody else, with the possible exception of my own daughter, looks so Noldorin.
“NOLOFINWË!” Artanis’s voice was shrill, I ran out of my rooms to the courtyard to see her riding in.
“What is it?” I hurried to her side and held her mare still as she all but leapt into Turkáno’s arms and began sobbing disconsolately.
“Findekáno rode at dawn to Angband. I tried to bring him back. But he said he would return with Maitimo”, Artanis collapsed partly in exhaustion and partly in grief. Turkáno and Telperinquar, who had been visiting Macalaurë, carried her inside leaving me to stare east at the fell peaks of the cragged Thangorodrim.
“Any chance that he is alive?” Atarinkë asked me worriedly as he arrived with his brothers after hearing the news from his son, who had ridden north as messenger.
“Who, Maitimo?” Carnistro laughed bitterly, “It is likely that he is more goblin than elf now. For all we know, some of our blades might have killed an orc that was once the fairest prince of the Noldor.”
“Cousin!” Turkáno hissed before I could speak, “Please, let us try to do something than speculate. We must find Findekáno.”
“Turkáno”, Atarinkë placed a hand on his cousin’s clenched fist, the small gesture confirmed my suspicions that they were now lovers, “We cannot. The twins and Findaráto have tried to close the borders, but Findekáno slipped past.”
“We have no choice, but to wait”, Artanis sighed as she rose to her feet and walked to the window facing east, “I trust in Maitimo’s endurance and Findekáno’s courage. It shall not be in vain.”
“For once, cousin”, Turkáno smiled wryly, “I would not grudge you if you are proved right.”
“Nolofinwë”, Macalaurë’s voice was solemn as he joined my vigil by the lakeside.
I turned to face him. His obsidian hair, so like his father’s, glittered in the water-reflected starlight. His eyes were filled with regret and grief as they met mine. The aristocratic features, the hollowed cheek bones, it made me almost sigh. It was as if Fëanáro stood by me there.
“I resemble him too much”, he sighed, “Many of our people loath that.”
“I admired, respected and loved your father despite all his failings”, I said quietly, “And to see him in you pains me and gladdens me to the same extent. I grieve that he is lost to me. I am joyous that he is not entirely lost to us all. A part of him, a part of his core, lives on in you.”
“He really hated what he became at the end. Russandol and he had a terrible fight after the ships were torched. I tried to intervene. But they were both too furious”, Macalaurë’s voice faltered, “Father slapped Russandol. For a moment, I thought that my brother would do the unthinkable and slap him back. But then, he simply stood aside. Father asked him to take up a torch and set fire to the boats. Russandol said that not even the threat of a death by fire would induce him to obey father. They were not talking to each other after that. And when”, my nephew looked at the placidly shimmering water, “father fell, they were still not on good terms. Russandol regretted that heavily. He hated the kinslayings, the exile, the oath, torching the ships… So when the envoy came, I think he just wanted to die and be absolved.”
I did not reply. I hoped desperately for my nephew’s survival. But the small unbiased part of me knew that he would be much broken even if all that had happened to him was mere imprisonment. Could we erase what he had suffered, what he suffered even now as his brother and I stood by a peaceful lake lamenting his plight?
“NOLOFINWË!” Findaráto was running into my bedchambers at crack of dawn.
I had not slept well. Well, to say the truth, I have not been sleeping well after my father’s death and the rest which had happened that day.
“An eagle flies above the camp”, Findaráto said excitedly, his golden features deadly pale, “And I can see that it carries an elf. Turkáno says it is Findekáno.”
“ERU!”I threw on my robes and rushed down the stairs, with Findaráto close behind me, we halted at the courtyard. Except for Macalaurë, the rest of us were all gathered there.
“Father”, Irissë, who had the sharpest eyes of us all, murmured softly, “Tis Findekáno indeed...”
“And he is not alone”, Turkáno breathed.
As the eagle descended gracefully, I saw my son clutching to his chest something that looked more a skeleton than anything alive. Findekáno was splattered with blood. His eyes were red with crying and his lips pursed in a grim line. I think it was then that my son lost his innocence. Not even after the kinslayings had he been this affected.
A part of me was trying to concentrate on my son alone, to not even glance at the mess that he clutched so desperately in his hands. Turkáno and Findaráto hurried to lower Findekáno’s burden, their grim faces warning me not to look upon my eldest nephew whom my valiant son had rescued. I saw Irissë scream before turning to pull Artanis away. Fëanáro’s sons were all looking appalled as they helped Findekáno to his feet.
“Don’t touch me”, a hoarse croak in broken Quenya rose from the bundle of limp bones that Turkáno held.
My eyes widened in horror as I saw for the first time the price of his freedom. As long as I live, I will never forget the sight. Of seeing my beloved nephew, my confidant, my sparring partner and my foster-son all rolled into one, so broken and maimed. Turkáno tried to ignore him and continued into the fortress.
“DON’T”, now it was a bare, bitter order.
Findaráto tried to soothe his cousin’s brow, but Russandol turned his head away disgustedly.
Findekáno rubbed his eyes wearily before kneeling by his cousin and whispering, “Please, Maitimo…We must get you to a healer.”
“Maitimo indeed”, Russandol sneered as he raised his bloodied stump of a maimed arm to Findekáno’s left cheek. To my son’s credit, he did not even shudder, though unease crossed his face.
On a baser plane, I could understand well my nephew’s state of mind. He had not wanted to be rescued. He had wanted to die. But now, I was worried about his physical strength. I did not want to lose him ever again. Once had been too much for me. It was selfish, I admit…but selflessness has never been a virtue of my father’s sons.
I moved forwards and knelt before him. Caring not the least for the soiled condition he was in, I dragged him to my chest and folded my arms about him. The stench that emanated from him was overpowering and made me feel nauseous. But I boldly pressed a chaste kiss to each of his grimy cheeks and cupped his chin. His tortured grey eyes met my own. For a moment I was reminded of the vulnerable trust that had shone in them when I had been holding him for the first time. He had always trusted me, even when he had not trusted his own parents or siblings or cousins.
Russandol sighed as I held him tightly, soothing his naked back riddled with scabs and welts. It must have been painful to him, but he seemed to have lost the ability to feel pain.
“Welcome home, Russandol”, I whispered as tears fell from my eyes onto his face, determinedly tracing clean rivulets down the grimy cheeks of my nephew. If my tears and blood were all that was required to cleanse his mind and body, I would gladly have given both.
“Nolofinwë”, he closed his eyes as his features contorted with pain, “I am sorry.”
“What for?” I asked stumped. He merely shook his head in guilt-ridden grief.
“The ships”, Findekáno whispered, “He told me that I should kill him for putting us through that ordeal on the Ice.”
“OH!” Findaráto said stunned, “Maitimo, I thought we knew each other better.”
“We will talk later”, Turkáno sighed as Russandol shook his head, “Father, get him to a healer. I will get Macalaurë.”
I lifted my nephew into my arms and carried him into my chambers. Findaráto helped me settle him into bed before the healers arrived.
I was sitting in my self-imposed vigil by my nephew’s side that night when a figure glided to the bed quietly.
“He is asleep”, Macalaurë tentatively sat on the edge of the bed and looked down upon his sleeping brother, “If you would wish it, please, I shall stay here until you are more rested, Nolofinwë.”
I was not in need of desperate rest, and I did not want to relinquish my guard duty. But Macalaurë’s flowery tone told me volumes about his desperation to be alone with his brother. My second eldest nephew takes after Fëanáro too much; the same hiding behind ornate politeness when out of his depths. I stood up quietly and moved out of the room. I could see Macalaurë’s profile, so like Fëanáro’s, through the thin curtain. With a kind of terrible fascination that my age has not tempered, I waited and watched.
He reached out one of his artist’s hands to smoothen the unkempt, sun-burnished red tresses. Earlier they had been mahogany copper in hue. Now it was the colour of the blood we had all spilt, a grotesque reminder of our sins.
“Russandol”, he bent to press a kiss to his brother’s forehead gently.
I was about to re-enter and tell him that he would wake his brother with his fussing about when Russandol stirred, the effects of the sedative the healers had given wearing off him.
“Macalaurë”, his voice seemed weaker, though much less hoarser than it had been when Findekáno had brought him.
“Russandol”, Macalaurë sighed as he took his brother’s left hand in his own and kissed the palm.
I could see Russandol stiffening even from my half-hidden position. Macalaurë smiled softly as he bent down further to press a chaste kiss to his brother’s stump of a right hand.
“My dearest brother”, Macalaurë said in his soothing, melodious tones, “You are here, that is all that matters.”
“I am but half of the person I once was. I was taken to the brink of death and brought back countless times. I am not even sure that I am sane, Macalaurë”, Russandol confessed, I breathed deeply as the familiar sad, wise intensity returned to his words.
“Without you, I was insane. Our brothers left me in Nolofinwë’s care when my madness worsened”, Macalaurë said quietly.
“Then I am glad that I did not die”, Russandol said simply, “I would have sacrificed all my limbs before allowing even a hair of yours to be hurt, my brother.”
I leant against the door, closing my eyes as tears flowed down my cheeks and my throat burned in suppressed emotion upon hearing his simple statement. To me, those few words described everything that my nephew was. None of us in this wretched family could have said that and meant it, with perhaps the exception of Findaráto.
“Nolofinwë”, he murmured in quiet acknowledgement as I entered his chamber in the morning, “I was about to call for aid.”
“What is it, Russandol?” I smiled as brightly as I could while taking in the damaged body before me. He looked more elven today, but there was a strange resigned maturity about him. His grey eyes sparkled knowingly as he registered my gaze.
“I have changed, have I not?” he said quietly, “Ah, Nolofinwë, days and nights on the Thangorodrim without respite and hope do rather morph us into something less vivacious.”
“Russandol”, I said quellingly as he gave me a bitter smile, “You endured.”
“That is a different way of putting what I did…”, he said wryly, his grey eyes sparkling with ironic humour, “I was just screaming while I had the energy. And just lying limp when I no longer had the stamina to scream.”
I gripped his chin and made him look up, “You are the king now, Russandol. So you will have the personal pleasure of leading our army against the damn blackguard Morgoth. We will win.”
“I am king, aren’t I?” he said uneasily as I helped him sit up and drink the bitter draught, “You know, Nolofinwë, it is really a bad time for the Noldor, we have a king who cannot even feed and bathe himself.”
“Russandol”, I sat down beside him and ran my hand along his bruised legs, “We are a lucky people. We have a king who can endure.”
“Take up the kingship, Nolofinwë”, Russandol leant back onto the cushions and closed his eyes wearily, “I will learn to walk independently before I can even dream of ruling our people. You can do it.”
“I cannot”, I said dryly, “Remember what happened when I was king in Tirion. That is how we ended up here in the first place.”
“Findekáno told me of the tensions in the lines”, Russandol said gravely, “We must unite the people, Nolofinwë. You are in majority. And my father’s oath hangs over my brothers and me. You should take the kingship.”
“You cannot give me what is not yours to give”, I said severely, “My father named you the third of his line. You are king.”
“Do you want me alive and sane?” he asked me quietly, his eyes boring into mine. The eyes that had always made me feel less wise compared to him, “Do you want me to lead our people into a quagmire that is worse than this? To turn slowly mad in the end as Father did? I am too broken to be a king, Nolofinwë, that is the truth of it. If you wish to grant me some sort of peace, take it.”
“I cannot survive these past years’ ordeal again”, I said frankly, “Nor can Findekáno or Macalaurë.”
“Then do this for me. Take up the kingship, Nolofinwë”, he said earnestly, “I lie if I say I am being selfless. I lie if I say that I don’t want to be the ruler of the Noldor. But my dear Nolofinwë, it is a matter of worth, and of circumstance. I can only say that I am relieved it will be you. I will not abdicate in favour of any of my brothers. We have fallen low, true, but I will never voluntarily doom us further. Of us, you are the worthiest.”
“Only after you”, I whispered.
“Please”, he closed his eyes exhaustedly, “It is no longer easy to do what is right, Nolofinwë. Don’t make it harder for me.”
“Will it mean anything to heal what has happened if I say that I love you more than I do my own offspring?” I said gently.
“It means a lot. That you have not thrown me out”, he sighed, “After the ships.”
“We forgave Fëanáro long back. Why then should we even dream of reproaching you, the most innocent?” I enquired perturbed.
“You have been staring at Macalaurë”, he changed the topic swiftly, “I noticed it.”
“That is not new”, I grinned conspiratorially, “I find him quite fetching, especially when he glares.”
“He will throw a tantrum should he realize that”, Russandol smirked, “And yes, I do agree that he is adorable when he is angry.”
In view of my enlightenment on this matter, which he seemed to be still ignorant of, I could not resist asking him, “Does that mean I have company in voyeurism?”
“By Eru!” Russandol laughed helplessly, his eyes wide with good humour, “Nolofinwë, you know that Findarato and I are the girl-charming abstainers around here.”
“Findarato has been sleeping with my wife’s kin, Ecthelion”, I confided, “And even Atarinkë and Turkáno are together. I think they must be fighting than loving at nights though. So, my dearest Russandol, nothing that you or I will ever do will raise the records of our family’s depravity.”
“You did set the trend”, he shrugged.
“No, your grandfather did, he had a thing for Vanyarin women”, I said straight-faced.
It was so easy to pretend that nothing had happened. That we were merely bantering to release the tensions of a tough day in my father’s court…
“So since you are the only one to be yet touched by lust, and you find Macalaurë adorable when angry…”I trailed off, “It isn’t like you have any reputation left to care about. None of us have.”
“Really, Nolofinwë”, Russandol pressed his sole palm to his eyes in disgust at my words, “That is crude. Macalaurë would have your hide for that!”
So he was still the naïve fool that I had been before my son alerted me to this. Perhaps I should approach Macalaurë and try then from that angle.
“My Lord, Prince Turkáno has been wounded in a skirmish”, an aide rushed in.
It was not so easy to pretend that we were in my father’s court in Tirion. Russandol’s grey eyes met mine.