The feast had already gone on longer than I cared for. Nolofinwë was careful not to make his guests regret the banquets that had been given in Tirion in the days of the splendour of the Noldor, and when the ninth (or was it the eleventh?) course was cleared away those seated around his table had been suitably made merry by the harsh wine of Mithrim's hills. Talk of the war, talk of the strained relationship with the Fëanárions; the usual chatter, the empty buzzing of Elves five years of reigning in a new land had grown again into a sense of safety, however precarious. At their lord's table, eating and drinking to a new life. The dead had been left behind, abandoned in a shaded land dimly lit by a cold light.
My attention had been swayed long before this moment. With absent eyes I looked up to the narrow windows of the hall, palace of stone that Noldorin hands had made out of the tents that were. Strengthening their hope with each new foundation laid. Paneled with alabaster cut out from the hills, blinded flights of bats dancing in shadows behind the windows, like drunken guests when the party is long over. Shadows was all that feast was at the borders of my mind. For my spirit wandered in a different time, a different day. On my skin the remembrance of a touch an uneresable print.
By my side Artanis exchanged comments on the last skirmishes with the Orcs, her tone sharp, clear. No platitudes ever came from her mouth, but a criticism edged with the hard conscience of someone who knows she is right. Sometimes she would look at me, the flicker of a glance five years had taught me to recognize. Under the table her knee brushed mine. I brushed her back. Yes, I was still here.
Her eyes went back to the one on her other side. Slowly, the flame had come back in her pale irises. Hardened and pure, as if tempered into adamant and steel. Often those she talked to would quail in fear.
At long last the sweets were also brought away, along with the trees of golden wire that held the fruit. I cleaned my fingers of cream and crumbs, sipped one last time the wine. Tasting already in my mouth the velvety solitude of a moonless night, the unbroken black of a garden whose scents would be awakened by the gentle touch of the fingers of the dark. The stars would shine cold and lost, frozen tears. Beneath their light, memories could grow and feed upon themselves, the past live anew.
Ere a suitable moment could be found to excuse myself, Nolofinwë rose.
"I propose a toast. To my son Findekáno , and to his warriors, whose strength keeps our borders secure!"
The toast echoed down the table, the seats rasping on the stone flags as the guests hastily rose, bringing their cups to their lips. Wetting my mouth, I sought my cousin's eyes. Beside his father he sat in gloom, his eyes fixed upon his fingers, twined around his vessel's stem. His pupils rose to meet mine, and imperceptibly I inclined my cup to him in silent tribute. He frowned, upon his face, as always when we met, stronger the grief, the regret. But I already looked elsewhere, detached, far from that place and time, again.
When the toast was over Findekáno rose, and silence fell. He rarely spoke in such occasions, accepting thanks and homage in stubborn silence, lightly bending his head. Now he raised his cup himself, his voice deep and hoarse, his pain a growl at its bottom.
"To the warriors."
"To the warriors!"
The guests sat again. Findekáno remained standing.
"To the warriors. Living and fallen."
"Living and fallen."
A murmur across the hall. The musicians in their corner had ceased to play. Throughout the banquet their music had been like a frail veil enveloping words and deeds. Now the only sound was the enraged flickering of the torches.
"Living and fallen. And prisoner."
Findekáno looked down to his father. Nolofinwë understood. The silence thickened, but ere the lord of the hall could speak his son had carried on.
"The doubt has become certainty. The Orcs we take prisoner to question them say nothing, held by a terror stronger than the one we can inspire. But for five years now they have died taunting us. They say we have left our king to languish in their thrall."
Nolofinwë sighed, and it was clear to those present that Findekáno had brought in the clear something they had oft discussed in private. I turned to my cousin. Something strived beneath the still surface of my mind, something struggled to make itself known. Something I pushed back.
No pain. If I did not draw closer I could not feel it.
"Son, it is not the first time that you bring such tales to my attention. But I ask of you, would Canafinwë have taken the crown, had he believed his brother to be alive?"
"Morgoth has many malices. My cousin overstepped the mark, believing him more cunning, or more merciful, than he is. Having a son of Fëanáro in thralldom the Enemy would not grant him the grace of a swift death."
At the mention of his brother Nolofinwë winced. Mastering his own grief he replied: "And yet no other word you have but that of spiteful, corrupted creatures, creatures that shall say nothing but the lies their own masters tell them."
"Orcs are simple, brutal rather than deceitful. Such subtle malice would be past them. They hurt with strength rather than cunning. What they say I believe above the reasoning of those that surround me."
"Do not give hope to your heart. Reconcile yourself to your loss. Nelyafinwë is gone. Or would you have me endanger many of my people to chase after a wild dream?"
Findekáno 's face was contorted and broken by a spasm of rage.
"Silmë of the Vanyar!"
My name echoing across the hall. My forgotten lineage. And my conscience, that had fought to hold itself back, that had strived to keep away that taunting hope, that novel sorrow that Findekáno held up to it, was wrenched away from its blissful indifference, to his harsh voice.
"Silmë my cousin! You are bound to Maitimo by love given and received, by promise exchanged. Like me you feel in you a loss that does not pass. Unlike me, your spirit is tied to his with chains that none but you can break." An ancient grudge passing in his eyes, a remembrance of a distant sundering. But it was a moment, and then it was gone, not to return again. "Silmë! Tell my father, tell me, you that alone among us can know the truth. Has Nelyafinwë, son of Fëanáro, abandoned this world?"
The words faltered upon my lips, his black eyes arrows bearing into mine. I have accepted my punishment, I wanted to scream, I have taken my burden. Do not torment me further. But even as I wished to cry something held me back, the hesitation of a moment, that unbroken bond at the bottom of my conscience, that hurt that still stung past death. His spirit, calling to mine in pain. Words rushing to my lips, words dying.
But ere I could frame an answer to his voice, ere I could defy and silence the eyes of the guests hungrily fixed upon me, Artanis rose.
"That is enough." Cold authority, hard words. Her pale blue irises staring Findekáno down. "Spirits that are joined in love cannot be sundered by the death of the bodies that host them. You all know this. To my cousin her betrothed is alive as the day he was bound to her. Still his spirit lingers within the circles of Eä, and thus no true sundering can she feel. But she has suffered enough."
She sat again, her eyes lingering upon Findekáno like a leaden threat. He would have spoken again; my eyes now lowered to my fingers, seeing them white in effort. I had clutched the table's edge until my nails had broken.
"That is enough." Nolofinwë's words echoing Artanis. "Son, I shall not hear another word on this. You shall ignore what the Orcs say. I am certain it is uttered in malice and spite, nothing more." He turned to me, his eyes now kinder. "I should be sad if this evening were darkened for you, cousin. You promised you would sing for us. Will you?"
My body numbed, unfeeling. My mind raging. Slowly, I nodded, rising. Clenching my hands into fists, so that none would see the fingers hurt. Sitting beside the harpist, that now plucked his chords. The first bars of a song the Noldor had made in the exile of Middle-earth, since we had learnt to feel upon us the black shadow of death, flourished from it.
Set me like a seal upon your arm,
Like a seal upon your heart,
For love is as strong as death
Its fierceness as cruel as the grave.
Love flashes like fire, the brightest flame.
Tears I had not summoned coursing down my cheeks. Artanis' eyes upon me, her lips pursed. Pity and foresight mingling into them. Findekáno 's eyes upon me, in them a stern request that granted no appeal.
Artanis reached me as I ran down the passage to my room, her fingers closing on my sleeve. I did not look at her.
"Let me go."
"You should not listen to what Findekáno says. It's only hope and denial that speak in his voice.
"And yet he says the truth." I turned to her. "Do you not wonder that I do not cry? For five years now I have felt Maitimo's presence, his spirit reaching out to mine. I had thought that it was from Mandos' Halls that he called, and yet – "
"And yet, I see that our cousin's folly has touched you too. He should not have spoken."
"But if the Orcs said the truth, if he were alive…"
Her eyes turning away from me, and now it was I who grasped her sleeve.
"Artanis." My voice soft and low, and dangerous. "What is it that you are not telling me?"
A long silence, her irises into mine. At long last, words coming out of her lips, hissing.
"A power stronger than mine guards Utumno, a darkness I cannot defeat hides it. I cannot know with certainty what is it that I feel, and my guesses are as good as nothing."
"But you suspect." I let go of her, my voice broken. A grief I had striven to keep at bay seeping through. "You suspect that he still lives."
Impatiently, she shook her head.
"Something gives the Enemy pleasure, someone cries out for help. Sometimes I think that I can feel, through Morgoth's malice, a different kind of call…but how can I know that it is Nelyafinwë? And even if I knew, what good would it be?"
When I replied my voice was shaken, cracks driven through the words.
"You should have told me."
I turned away from her. Outside the window the world was asleep beneath the white face of the moon, its light like spilt milk falling upon the trees. Lake Mithrim a polished shield; on its far shore, the lights of the Fëanárions' abode. Inside me, a different kind of lake spreading, my ancient despair breaking its dam. Demanding, now, to be listened to.
Artanis reached out to me, her arm drawing me to her.
"I do not know." Low voice, worry vibrant in her words. "What good would it do to you if you knew that he is prisoner? And you cannot. I never told you, because I never could be sure."
Slowly, I met her glance.
"I believe you. But what you say, joined to Findekáno 's evidence, cannot but convince me that it is true. And how can I live in peace while he suffers?" I took her hands. "I thought our sundering was a punishment inflicted upon me, and I accepted it. But to live knowing that he is in torment…no, this I cannot do. This I shall not accept."
"But what would you do then? Nolofinwë shall not give you soldiers for this deed. All the other lords are far too weak to help you, even if they would."
"There are the Fëanárions."
Anger flamed into her eyes, and she drew away.
"They are his brothers. Had they believed something could be done, they would have acted before."
"Macalaurë thought him dead. But now…"
"…now he shall not listen to you all the more. You have no siblings, Silmë; you cannot understand. Macalaurë took the decision to declare Nelyafinwë lost. He needs to think it was the right choice. To think to have left him to thralldom and torture…" She shook her head.
But my mind, till now so dazed, so uncertain, now awoke. Steel I had not felt for a very long time forming anew, the hard shell of a choice I would not back away from.
"Carnistir will listen to me. He shall persuade the others."
"Even if he did you could not hope to conquer the fortress with their forces alone. You saw what the Enemy can do." A pause, and when she spoke again, her eyes were steel. "You heard what Fëanáro foresaw as he lay dying."
A bitter laughter coming to my lips.
"Would you believe him then? Where is now Artanis the Fearless?"
"No fear inhabits my heart, but hatred of waste. Nelyafinwë is lost, be he living and prisoner, or dead. It is high time you accepted it. It is high time you lived again."
"But I live." Smaller my voice then I would have liked, or thought. "I live, and it is for you, and Daro. If it had not been for you I would have forsaken this life long ago."
A sudden tenderness shining in her eyes, and her fingers caressed my face. "Then let all this go. Rest, dream. Tomorrow it shall hurt less."
"Perhaps." My own hand reaching out for her cheek. The skin was pale, and smooth. Like mother-of-pearl in the moonlight. "Perhaps. I know that all you do, you do for my own good." Unsaid, unuttered the thought my mind framed. Even if you cannot understand. "Goodnight now."
She kissed me lightly, and then we parted, Artanis remaining in the passage, watching me go. The light shone on her white dress, it wove silver threads into her hair. Her eyes were invisible, drowned in the deep shadow her brows cast.
Thinking back to that evening now, I know I did not deceive her, not for a moment.
When I reached my room I locked the door behind me. Incapable of sitting, incapable of standing still, I paced back and forth, my unquiet feet digging deep scars in the soft rug spread on the floor. I did not notice. The roaring of my blood filled my ears, an enraged ocean.
Maitimo. Prisoner, tortured. Calling out in vain. My spirit reaching out for his, finding again that immutable, faint call. Only we could break the chains that bound us together; but still I could not know what was that kept us apart.
Kneeling on the floor, hugging my shoulders with my hands, trying to think. In vain. My mind an empty plain where Findekáno 's words alone had been left.
We left our King to languish in their thrall.
My king. My love. My atonement and my punishment, my blessing and my curse.
I rose. Gropingly my hand searched the bedside table, upturning a bottle of perfume. It stung my broken skin, it stung my mouth when I sucked my fingertips. Bitter taste on my tongue. Such a small, such a trivial pain. Nothing compared to torture. Nothing compared to the conscience of having been left behind.
I sat on the bed, listening to my heart beating. Framing and reframing in my mind words that could move, words that could persuade. Knowing every word would have been in vain. As always, Artanis had been right: no help could I hope to find, not for this. And yet knowing that I could not live until this doubt had been dispelled.
The spilt perfume had spread, a scented pond lapping the silver lamp I had not lit, the wooden box where I kept my jewels. Carefully, I opened it. At its bottom a hidden compartment, I place I rarely, if ever, opened. A present sent four years before by Macalaurë, one last gift to the one that would never be his sister in law, nestled in the velvet.
Nerdanel had been a gifted artist in many fields. Miniature-painting was not the least of them.
In the cold light of the moon Maitimo looked at me from the small portrait, a smile playing around the corners of his lips. A mischievous glint in his green eyes, the copper mass of his hair, almost a living thing in the slanting light, falling unbound over his shoulder. Young then, not yet thirty, his body still slender, in his bones the promise of the might he would achieve. His eyes still without shadows, his face unlined. Too much had happened to the boy in that portrait; too much time had passed. But to him I still owed a promise that had not been fulfilled, a love that that youth could not yet imagine had come to unite us. And I would not forsake him now.
Clutching the miniature, I rose. My mind empty, but of a different void. A decision had been taken, and now all doubt was past. Come what may, my grief had been temporarily assuaged in this blinding choice. I wore the traveling dress with which I had ridden to Mithrim, a stout cloak. Thick gloves concealing my hands, and the silver sheen of my ring. On the door I hesitated, looking back to the desk, where a bejeweled, sharp paper knife stood in its leather sheath. But I would have not known how to use such a weapon, and eventually I closed softly the door behind my back.
On the threshold I hesitated for a long moment, listening. The small sounds of a palace asleep surrounded me, even breathing of those who dreamt, rhythmic pacing of the guards. Silently I slipped along the polished floor, in and out of the sharply cut pools of light the windows let in. Somewhere in the garden an owl hooted its melancholy to the night.
The stables were as silent as the palace itself, the horses snorting, breathing heavily away in the uncharted land of their sleep. Softly I called to my mare, and she awoke, a subdued neighing in the dark. With my fingers I felt for her harness, my hand finding the wooden edge of her compartment. A movement, barely more than a whisper of sound in the silent stables, and I looked around in alarm.
Swift rustling of straw, quick steps behind me; and ere I could turn strong fingers had seized my wrist, and someone taller and mightier than me had turned me briskly to him.
"What are you doing here, Silmë?"
I tore my hand from his.
"Findekáno. I could ask the same of you."
For a moment we remained silent, facing each other. I relented first, my blood still boiling. Findekáno had long since schooled himself in a silent brood.
"Your words recalled me as from a long sleep. I shall seek the truth. If Maitimo be truly prisoner…"
"Do not speak foolishly. You shall do nothing of the sort."
His voice was harsh, dry. Anger closed my throat; and only then I saw, beyond his shoulder, his own horse, already saddled, patiently waiting for its master.
"It seems we were driven here by the same wish."
"So it is. But your pursuit ends here. I set forth tonight."
"My right – "
"Your right is untouched." Softer now was his voice, gentler. But just as firm. "But what possibility of success could you hope to have? Where are your provisions for the voyage, weapons to defend yourself?"
"I – "
In the darkness, annoyance at my own foolishness. I would have ridden out into the night without a drop of water, and my silence told Findekáno as much. But he caressed my cheek, lightly.
"You are no warrior, cousin. Let me try this road. If I do not come back, there shall be enough space for you to follow me."
He leant over me, kissing me on the forehead.
"Go back to bed. It would help me more if I knew you shall be waiting for my return."
I bit my lip, angered at my incompetence, but anguished, now, for him. To put my own life at stake would have been easy. To know that he would be risking his awoke new despair in me.
"All these years," my voice was subdued, words long since owed forming but with difficulty, "All these years I saw your pain, its depth. I wish I could have done something for you now. I wish you would not risk your life without necessity. If truly this be nothing more than Morgoth's malice at work – "
"So hasty on putting yourself on the line, still you would instruct me in prudence, Silmë? Worry not, I have no wish to die. But like you, I cannot live with this doubt. Wait for me, cousin. And if truly something you must do, then pray."
He walked past me, his horse following him. I watched him go, my heart beating feebly, as if crushed. The question burnt in my throat, it burnt on my lips. One last thing to ask, one last occasion to do it.
The word rolled off my tongue, round and heavy.
He stopped. Beyond him I could see the courtyard, flagstones painted white by the moon. His eyes fixed on me, another, soft laughter, subdued in his throat.
"Why would you have done the same?"
His question took me aback, my reply guarded.
"Out of love."
"Love," he savoured the word, his face thoughtful, "Such a small word, is it? Such a great burden."
He mounted upon his horse, gathering the reins in his hand.
"Go to bed, Silmë," he repeated, "And do not ask things whose answer you do not wish to know." His face softened, a small smile spreading on his lips. "Wish me luck."
He released the reins, spurred his horse forward. And then he was gone.
I fed my horse, caressed her back to sleep. Her nose was soft and humid beneath my fingers. Nibbling my gloves, she fell again into the deep waters of dream. I retraced my steps, this time caring not for who saw me, my steps heavy. I lost my way and wandered back through the great hall, guards armed with spears against the night clicking their heels at my passage.
Until at last I came again to the long passage. Lozenges of moonlight tinged with streaks of red checkered it, for as it set the moon darkened. My door waited, closed as I had left it; and as I pushed it open it was as if the heaviness of that night had fallen off my shoulders. Inside, quiet shadows draped on the bed. And on its edge, sitting silently, Artanis.
A moment of silence; then a tired smile stretched my lips.
"I preceded you to the stables. When I saw Findekáno I knew he would persuade you to stay behind."
I took off my gloves, undid my cloak's brooch.
"You all seem to know far better than me."
"Do not speak so." She rose, coming to me. "I consider what Fino is doing ill-advised, and sure to bring him to an evil end. And yet, our fates rest in the hands of the One; and in the future He sets down for us I cannot discern but shadows, and flames. There may still be hope, even amid such pain."
Kicking away my shoes I reached for the bed, and lay down.
"If something can be done, he shall do it. I thought that I alone could understand such a loss, but now I see that his need matches my own."
She remained silent. In the dark, an unspoken question, an unspoken answer. Her words at my betrothal, so many years before.
We only see what we believe can be real.
What I could believe had changed throughout the years; and an answer to his grudge, to his pain now fluttered in my mind, like a bird alighting swiftly, creasing the water. It mattered not. Whatever reason guided him through the night, whatever love, I wished Findekáno luck.
I curled up, closed my eyes. Sleep. Artanis lay down beside me, embracing me. Together, and sweetly, we dreamed.
The palace awoke to the news of Findekáno's departure. Scouts were dispatched after him, but he was already too far to reach. Nolofinwë paced back and forth the length of the courtyard as he waited for them to come back with news, and when the horses galloped their way back he screamed with rage.
He glanced to me and Artanis that in a corner waited in silence, and it looked as if he would speak; but then, as if afraid that once unleashed his wrath could not be mastered again, he kept silent. He strode into the palace, anger a dark mask upon his face. In silence, a part of my spirit had hoped that Findekáno could be persuaded to come back, saved from his own courage; but now I knew that what he had started, once again, he would see to its bitter end.
I looked to Artanis, a mute question in my eyes.
"Waiting is all we can do," her voice was toneless, hard, "It now rests in the One's
It seemed a simple thing to say; once it had been a simple thing to believe. But too many curses, too many dooms had been laid on the Exiles of Tirion to think that anything they began could now reach a fruitful end. Left alone with my hope and my fear, incapable of raising prayers to a sky that had seen us guilty of so much blood, I waited. And the long count of the days of Middle-earth seemed to slow, as if Time itself were waiting with me.
Findekáno's horse came back, alone and riderless, on the fourth day. It was not hurt, it bore no trace of combat. Unthinkable that one trained to battle, one that had served its master faithfully in many strives, would abandon him so easily. It had been left go, sentenced the master of the stables. Wherever Lord Findekáno had gotten to, he had had to continue on foot.
Without a word Nolofinwë left us. Worry and remorse, a nameless anger bit his heart, and in those days he would not speak. But Artanis and I exchanged a glance, knowing what this meant. Findekáno had reached the shadow of Thangorodrim, where no horse could hope to pass. And in our hearts the last of our hope was crushed, our spirits hanging on the frail thread of confused visions of an uncertain future. The dread, subdued but present in Artanis' eyes, that soon from Utumno's deep another voice would be calling out in pain.
I looked to the sky then. It was sullen and overcast, thick clouds like sullied wool covering it, a tightly woven cloak from one corner of the heavens to the other. Perhaps it was blasphemy what I thought then, that Eru had covered Arda, hidden it from His view. As if he no longer wished to see what the Ainur and His Children had made of His creation.
But beneath such gray skies, one felt alone, cast away. And all prayers remained unspoken, crushed beneath heaven and earth by the leaden dome of a bleeding sky. It started raining, and the Elves all around us ran for the shelter of the palace.
Alone, Artanis and I remained beneath the falling water, tears from a sky that, sole among us, could know what had been of those who had left us.
To wait is to spin a thread that every day grows heavier; until the waiting is over, and the thread simply falls from your hands.
The sentinels sighted it long before it reached us. In alarm they called, one voice from one to the other, till the palace was alerted, and Nolofinwë's court poured like spilt water into the courtyard. They pointed to each other the great stain, fast moving against the wind, that came from the North; from the ill vapours of Utumno and their malice. Artanis and I had been in the garden, and when we joined the others not one could tell what the flying creature was.
Keen Eldarin eyes scanned the sky, and together we waited for the great bird to come closer, perplexed glances exchanged, archers training their bows upon it, for great upon us was the fear that it could be yet another of Morgoth's tricks. And yet our eyes could not leave its sight, as if our eyes, enchanted, could not bear to cease observing the slow music of the beat of its wings. Until it came close enough for us to recognize what it was, and Artanis was the first to cry out in surprise.
"One of Manwë's Eagles!"
The cry echoed from mouth to mouth, many now distinguishing the powerful beak, the noble profile of the great beast, greater than any simple eagle Arda could nourish. For it was one of Manwë's own messengers, and a spirit of great power.
And as I looked at it, I marveled, elation long since forgotten filling my spirit, for only good could come from the King of Arda, that knew no evil. But as I watched the Eagle drawing ever nearer something else I saw, nothing more than a small shape, an uncertain stain clinging to its neck, a darker colour between the delicate bronze of its feathers.
"It bears someone…"
Grasping Artanis' shoulder, I pointed out to it; and ere she could reply I cried to the guards: "Open the gates!"
A stunned expression on their faces, but too much was the urgency in my voice, the unexpected hope in my cry, for them to think of disobeying.
"Open the gates, quick!"
Artanis' voice joining my own, and Nolofinwë's joining it, for now he, too, had seen it, the small thing the Eagle flew, its progress steady, its wings cutting the wind as if it were nothing against its might. The pulleys were manned, and the thick wooden doors opened; and we ran out into the wide lawn, the stretch of open land that had been cleared of wood as a defense between the palace and the lake. For it was unthinkable that the eagle could alight inside the courtyard, too small to fit its great size; and alight it would, circling ever lower, its shadow upon us obliterating the light.
Until, with a soft rustling, an elegant folding of its wings, it came to rest upon the ground.
For a long moment no one spoke, the eagle surveying us with great amber eyes, stern and liquid, their golden glance taking us in one by one. Powerful its spirit; and no less strong the spell it could work. Until an urgent call broke it.
"Artanis! Silmë! Father!"
Findekáno 's voice; but ere we could rejoice at his safety, ere our hearts could grow light of the burden that had oppressed them at his departure, ere our hurrying feet could reach him, he was struggling to descend from his mount, his movements hindered by the weight he carried. A weight that fell limp upon his arm; a head dangling lifelessly from the crook of his elbow.
And it went silent then that whole lawn, silent, voiceless those who peopled it; and the shapes themselves were but a blur in my eyes, my blood pounding furiously even as my heart slowed down almost to a stop. One word, one thought filling my mind, even as my feet did not cease running.
Time stretched itself in that few moments, that short pause before my hands could reach out to him; that immobile instant before my fingertips touched his skin.
As reality had unraveled and paused, a badly woven cloth fraying at the edges, thus it bounced forward, faster than I could follow it as soon as his weight, his cold skin rested upon my palms. Artanis and Findaráto by my side, we took him from Findekáno's hands, and lay him on the ground. A short passage; and yet enough to strike me with the sudden, terrible conscience of how light, inconsistent his body was. A body tortured and brought past recognition even by those who had known it best.
There is something defenceless, innocent about an unclad shape; something terrible about the weakness of a form laid out for examination, the limbs a map for the wounds to display themselves. Past all love and desire, when hurt a body becomes but a piece of ruined flesh. And the spirit it hosts a prisoner screaming out from a locked jail.
I looked at him, my love whose strength I had known so well. I looked at him: and five years of torment washed over me, the silent cry that had filled my head, my dreams taking now a terrible meaning. Before us it was shown then in full what Morgoth could do: before us it was shown that there are destinies far worse than death.
Before such a spectacle, all my words died. And all hatred was forgotten as Artanis framed the words my broken mind could not pronounce: "What have they done to him?"
Might that is broken is terrible to behold.
Slowly my eyes looked him over, as Artanis' expert fingers checked him briskly: for five years of warfare had taught her more about what hurt a physical form can receive than she would have wished to. I looked at him, my heart now tottering on the edge of despair. My love, my spirit could only repeat, a broken charm, and a useless one. My love. In me the certainty that aid had come too late.
Gray was his skin, gray. No colour, no blood left in it, filth encrusting with dried blood many and different wounds. Whips, hammers; knives. Bones had been broken, and had healed crookedly; and those which had been left whole now stretched the skin painfully, the tendons standing out like chords, as if they were an inch away from breaking that frail, ruined cover. His tall, strong shape now reduced to an empty shadow.
His hair had grown out, straggling locks whose copper dust and dirt had dulled down to a different kind of gray. They covered a face where the eyes were shut, the eyelids twitching; the mouth broken and dried, the lips cracked and bloodied, as if flayed by thirst. His cheekbones sharp above sunken cheeks.
Down I looked to his face; down, to the square, cutting angle of his shoulders, to the cliff of his collarbone; down to the thin arms where the veins marked raised paths beneath the skin. Artanis cradled in her lap his right arm, her hands staunching with a kerchief a wound I could not see; not until she looked up to Findekáno that had slid down the eagle's flank, that now looked at us with lost eyes.
His voice, when he answered, was so low we could barely hear it.
"He had been hanged by one of Thangorodrim's peaks, his right wrist caught in a band of steel…I could not break it. I had to…there was no other choice."
Artanis looked at him for a long moment; then, she nodded. And I lowered my eyes: seeing now of what she had been talking.
For Maitimo's right arm ended now abruptly in a bloodied stump, like a broken branch on a mighty tree; and the hand of the sword had been cut away. The skin of his wrist was tormented and raw, blood exposed that no clean thrust could have drawn. The mark of the cuff that had held him in thrall. I comprehended in that moment the pain of Findekáno's choice; even as my heart understood its rightness. He had brought him back. No price could have been too great.
Under Artanis' touch Maitimo seemed to come to his senses, his eyelids trembling, struggling to rise, his parched lips forming unintelligible words. With practiced hand she held him down, calling with a gesture of her head Findaráto and one of the guards.
"Take him, quick. He must be attended to immediately."
With care they raised him from the ground, and I rose with them, meeting as I did so the Eagle's glance. Passionless it had stood by, observing us; and now to it I bent my neck.
"Thank you, my lord."
Such small, such meaningless words. But the Eagle bowed its head, as if acknowledging them; and with a swift step of its claws it drew apart, spreading its wings to take flight. The sky was clear on that day, a mirror through which Eru could look. And smile.
As the bronze sheen of the Eagle rose the bearers were ready, suspended among them Maitimo, as limp, as weak as drowned flesh. With trembling fingers I reached out for his left hand, their tips caressing his skin, its coarse texture. And that body, apparently utterly spent, sparkled of one last ray of strength, his own fingers meeting my own, however weakly. And the wedge in my heart was healed, as pain at his wounds was the only thing left. Beyond all hope, past any prayer, I had found him. That much counted.
We hurried to the house, Findekáno following us with staggering steps, exhaustion taking his toll. Later I would cry, later I would thank him with all the thanks Elvish tongue could frame; but now my world began and ended in those closed eyes, in that broken skin, in the frail hold of those fingers on mine.
It was Artanis who spoke to Fino; her voice at the same time tender and brisk.
"You should rest, cousin. Let your father take care of you."
"We shall see to him. But you need repose."
He did not question her, his steps stopping, perhaps his strength now truly failing him. Of his deed the bards would sing until Elven songs be remembered; but when we stopped at the palace's door, waiting for it to be opened, and I turned to him, he looked at us with lost and broken eyes, his hands abandoned at his hips, as if he no longer knew who he was, or what he had lost that he could no longer find.
But Artanis hurried us forward; and we left him behind.
As we coursed down the corridors I held Maitimo's hand in mine, and nothing else could matter under the visiting Sun.
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.