Tainted Light: 21. Crooked

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21. Crooked

Chapter 20

Crooked

We laid him down on the bed in an empty room, Artanis demanding water, ointments, bandages. The guard bowed and walked out quickly, gone to fetch what she asked for; Findaráto leant over Maitimo with her, his own eyes taking in the damage. Still holding my betrothed's hand, I knelt by the bed. 

I looked at his ruined, gray face, at the closed eyelids he still had no strength to open; and the light of that day had taken a different colour. Findaráto's voice reached me as from a far place.

"Shall he heal?"

Even without looking at her I knew Artanis had shaken her head.

"He was strong. We may heal his body…but what his mind has suffered, he alone knows."

Her words stung, for in my joy at Maitimo's delivery, made sharp and cutting by pain at his hurts, I was like one who lives without skin. Artanis' doubt touched me, but I chased it away. Maddened, broken I would still have loved him. I would be with him as his spirit wandered in search of healing. Nothing else mattered.

The guard came back, his steps urgent. Servants followed him bringing what Artanis had asked.

"Water, and balms for the stump. Then you will have to help me reset his bones."

Her tone was flat; her words held the certain promise of new hurts. I looked up to her, my own voice small.

"Is there anything I can do?"

A brief hesitation in her eyes, compassion crossing them, and understanding.

"For now, just hold his hand. And do not look at what I will do."

I nodded. I did not take my eyes off his features, the lineaments I recognized and loved even in this mauled form. I had no other Sun. On them I traced the progress of Artanis' actions, my heart beating in unison with his pain.

"Thread and needle. Clean the cut, quick now. Hold him."

In Aman we had had no need for the arts of medicine. Here Artanis had learnt a physician's cold passion, the healer's silent struggle against death. Faceless flesh the ones she cured, behind their names, be them familiar or unknown, the same shadow. The same unbeatable enemy. I clasped his hand, bringing it to my lips. His skin tasted salty upon them.

Artanis sewed together the margins of the wound, cleaned the steel's sore.

"A neat cut. Now the limbs worry me. You shall have to hold him tightly. I must break the bones again for them to heal well."

Rustling of clothes, small steps behind me as Findaráto and the guard took position. I leant over Maitimo, whispering quietly to him. What I said, I remember not.

"Be ready."

Again, her cold voice. Behind me, the sickening sound of shattered bone. From Maitimo's throat it escaped a hoarse cry, the hopeless lament of one who expects no reprieve. I flinched; his body suddenly relaxing, going limp beneath my touch. Artanis' toneless words were tinged by a shade of relief.

"He passed out. He shall feel no pain now."

Quickly, she finished her work.

"You can go."

A small noise, the guard bowing, going away. Slowly, hesitantly, I raised my fingers, reaching out for Maitimo's face. As if in fear of breaking it, delicately I brushed against the profile of his cheekbone, his exhausted, spent features now lost in merciful oblivion. A quiet happiness, a harrowing grief filled me. 

I felt Findaráto's touch on my shoulder.

"I shall leave you."

"Yes. We should suffice now."

Artanis' voice, still detached. Away her brother went, closing the door behind him. One short moment of silence, and only then I turned. My friend looked at me, in the uncertain light that came from the window her eyes dark.

"Help me," she said, a note of gentleness tempering her words, "Help me clean the other wounds."

Silently, I nodded. With a soft cloth I washed him, his skin emerging slowly from under layers of encrusted dirt, the full, raw design of his scars revealed. Artanis immobilized his broken limbs, and then stood back, her lips pursed, as I wiped away the dust from his limp hair. I covered him with a sheet, only then turning to her.

"What shall happen now?"

"Fever shall ensue, out of loss of blood, shock, and possibly infection. He may rave. We shall nourish him, but lightly, with milk and water. In a few hours, or in a few days, he will come out of it." Hesitation, again; but my eyes demanded the truth. Her own were clouded. "And then we shall see what of him is left."

I nodded, slowly. My mind courted her words, it examined them gingerly, like a scalding cup in which white hot liquid has just been poured. If he had gone. If his spirit had been lost, chased away in regions when I could no longer reach him. But I could not think of this, not now. His body was saved, helpless, in need of care. Later there would be time enough to despair about those things which we could not control. 

"You may go, if you wish so. I shall stay here."

My words were calm, almost cold. She looked at me, and understood. Her fingers brushed lightly against my right arm. 

"I will come back every hour to check on him."

I bowed my head.

"Thank you."

She was gone before I had had time to look up. The sound of the door as it closed softly was her only trace. 

I remained standing, listening to her steps fading down the corridor. It was only after their last sound had vanished that I turned to him, to his abandoned form, like a horse asleep. So powerful, so defenceless. So ruined. I sat by the bed on a low stool, without touching him. My eyes lingered upon him, his form outlined under the sheet, his unconscious face beneath his humid hair. Looking at him was like violating a secret, his helplessness more intimate, more private than any caress had been. For a long time I had believed him dead. For the first time in a very long time, we were together again.

Even if he didn't know it. 

I did not count the time I passed in that manner, simply gazing at him, like a thirsty steed shall drink at a fountain after a long run. Filling my eyes, filling my heart. His simple sight, even now, the only balm my hurts needed. A servant came in after a while, bringing fresh water, warm milk and honey. I dismissed her without a word. 

Slowly I wetted his lips with the milk, I used the honey like a balm on his cracked mouth. The hours that followed were a kaleidoscope of moments I would remember clearly, a mosaic of sharp instants where my life was taken to pieces, and glued together again. I watched him sleep. I watched him struggle from unconsciousness to tormented dreams, I listened to his ragged breaths, trying to make words out of the sounds that escaped his throat, and failing. Listening, my heart beating painfully, to the whimpers that fled his lips as slowly his body became aware of the pain, the splintered leg, the tightly bandaged ribs. Such small, such pitiful noises from one so great, and yet so undefended.

Sometimes, hesitantly, my fingers would reach out to his shoulder, the smooth skin, the rounded head of the bone beneath it. But uncertainly, as if he were a frail, a precious thing an uncouth movement might break. Artanis came in time and time over, gliding silently to the bed, feeling for his temperature with her long, slender hands. Murmuring below her breath that all was according to previsions. I did not answer. My world in those hours ended at the borders of his bed.

He tossed and turned in his fever, his eyes still tightly shut, and I struggled to hold him still, his body thrashing in pain. He dirtied himself in his unconsciousness, and I cleaned him, whispering softly to him to sleep, sleep. Until all would be better, all well. In another world, another life. He raved, calling out harshly, sounds too maimed by grief and anger to distinguish them. Once I thought I recognized my name; but I could not know it.

Slowly the raving slid into a shivering, halting sleep, his limbs twitching nervously, like those of a scared animal. Without haste I let my fingers crawl upon his, my hand nestling inside his own. And thus I stood, singing below my breath to him, a frail enchantment against the night, the sickness, the hurt. 

Nightmares I could not know assailed him; and in their grip, eventually, he opened his eyes. His hand grasped mine with unexpected strength, his eyelids uncovered briskly his irises where fever had reduced the pupils to small, bright jewels. They looked at me, as if he did not recognize me; but then his voice framed, shakenly, the first words I could understand.

"Don't go."

"I won't."

Simple my answer, solid. Like the truth.

"You always say it. You always go."

He fell back upon the pillows, his eyes closed. His words cut deep into me, another part of a punishment I had deserved. Even now we paid for what had been. Perhaps our debts would never be made even. But for his fear, at last, I could offer consolation.

"No, I will not go."

I whispered it into the back of his hand, brushing it with my lips. He made no answer, shivers rattling his bones like old bells. Carefully, without letting his hand go I lifted the sheet, the light cover, climbing into the bed with him. Carefully I took him into my arms, draping my legs around his, taking care not to crush his cracked ribs, his broken thigh. 

Soothingly I whispered into his neck, my fingers finding again a familiar path beneath the thin locks of his hair, down the curve of his head, the indentation of his nape. All else had changed. This familiar path spelt home.

Under my caresses, like a tired dog, he fell asleep, his head turning to me, his nose against my cheek. I closed my eyes. The perfect fit of our bodies, their usual twining that we found even now. Once upon a time, a safe place among many others. Now, the only one that had been left.

So frail his body in my arms, so uneven his breath. His heart beat flutteringly, like a scared bird inside his wounded ribcage, skipping a beat for every new, dark dream. All I could do was lend him my warmth; with whispered words, undead love keep the night at bay. Insensibly, behind the paneled window, the day had slipped away.

I kept him closer to my heart, and slept.

***

We had long since learnt that it is in sleep that lies the best defense of a broken body, in sleep that healing takes his mysterious path. Haltingly, laboriously, his wake and his dreams scanned by bouts of raving, he slept for the better part of two days. I fed him with thin milk, spoonfuls of honey when I could coax him into taking it. Sometimes he would shy away from me, as if from his worst enemy, fear and pride in his eyes. Sometimes he would call to me, as if he could not see that I was there. Sometimes his irises would meet mine, and I would know that he saw me, he recognized me; but always at the back of his conscience was that fear, that imploring prayer he did not utter, that I would not go away.

Then I slipped beneath the covers with him, then I sang to him, and he would speak, as if resuming a long dialogue interrupted more than once. He would count them, all the times I had gone away. He would count them, all the times he had called in vain. Soon I understood he thought me no more than a dream; soon I understood he knew not where he was. He spoke, as if he battled his own evil spirits; but in doing so he exposed my many faults, and his pain chastised me. I bit my knuckles not to cry.

Artanis came, and pronounced his progress steady. He did as well as could be expected. It could not be said when the fever would subside. I nodded slowly, and waited. In another room, she told me, Findekáno lay, dehydrated and feverish himself. Any hope came unexpected out of this tormenting hour.

I waked upon Maitimo, falling asleep but fitfully. My hair was tangled into knots, my dressed was stiff with sweat, odorous with sickness. In the room the air was stale. When the fever eventually declared itself won for that day, when it abandoned the battlefield of his body, receding like a tide, leaving him stranded on new, unknown shores, I was wandering in the misty planes between sleep and wake, my head abandoned upon my folded arms. 

His left hand rose hesitantly, it reached, tentatively, for my head. His voice was uncertain and low, cracked.

"Silmë?"

I raised my head, my eyes clouded, as if I thought that his calling existed only in my dreams. But his head was turned sideways on the pillow, his eyes focused upon me. He saw me; he knew that I was no longer a hallucination, of his raving a torment and a treat. He saw me; and now, his hand falling heavy and light upon my hair, he touched me.

"Maitimo."

In the silence that followed our names vibrated, chords struck by a lonely musician in an empty hall.

What followed could be nothing but useless platitude before that silent acknowledgement. Unspoken words filled the air, a silver thread between us.

I have found you.

We looked elsewhere at the same moment, our own intensity heavy upon us. His words, when he next spoke, were evasive, fragmented, broken nuggets scattered to the wind.

"Where…?"

"In Nolofinwë's palace. Findekáno brought you here."

"Yes…I remember."

He looked away, the silence tainted by the unspoken remembrance of what had come to pass. A cloud upon his face, his spirit struggling to reconcile itself to this different dream. Safety must be now like strong wine. Embarrassed, I tried to speak.

"Artanis is taking care of you. She says…"

But what Artanis said I would never tell him. For he turned upon me his eyes, and their green gaze was full of an ancient grief; and at the same time their light was the only thing the Enemy had not touched. Beneath their gaze my will was shattered, and shaking I slid down the stool, kneeling onto the floor. Broken sobs escaped me, crushing my chest; and vainly I hid my tears with my hand.

"Silmë…"

His voice, confused and beseeching, as if from another world. And I hated myself for all that I had done, and all I should have accomplished, but had not; and leaning forward I lay the palms of my hands upon the bed, daring not to look at him.

"Forgive me," I murmured, "Forgive me." I looked up to him, my face streaked with tears. "I…forgive me."

He looked at me. He did not say a word, not for a very long time. And behind the emerald of his eyes, slowly, his answer took shape.

"You are real," he finally uttered, his voice final, "You shall not leave."

I shook my head, still trembling.

"No. Not if you will allow me to stay."

He lay back his head, closed his eyes.

"Then you forgive me for all in which I have disappointed you."

I would have wanted to laugh. Instead I kept crying, long shivers shaking me, sobs racking me for all the five years in which I had mourned in silence. This harsh happiness was too much. Incapable of speaking, I covered with kisses the palm of his hand.

A flicker of tenderness came into his eyes, a relic from a long-forgotten age, a lonely ray between his clouds. Like so many times he had done, he raised his right arm, wishing to caress me. The bandaged, blunt remains of his wrist emerged from the blankets.

He lay very still, and I raised my eyes, seeing that he looked at it intently, as if he were studying something new, and unguessed. Unexpected. Then he turned to me a wistful, ironic smile.

"It seems that if you want to be caressed, now, you shall have to give me my left hand back."

And then, so suddenly I could not prevent it, he screamed. It was a long, piercing cry, the despair and the anger of one who had been mighty, and then had been seized, and tormented, and unmanned in solitude and thrall. He screamed, and his body shook with his voice, his broken bones, his marked skin giving him a pain that doubled his cry.

I let him scream. Then I leant over him, taking in my hands his right arm.

"It does not matter."

Slowly, purposefully, I lay a kiss on the top of the stump. Through the bandages he felt it, pain and pleasure, and he shivered. I looked at him, and in his eyes there were shadows I could never fathom, a burden I could not share; a new hardness at their bottom, a pitiless, merciless wrath. At himself, and at fate, and that at the one that had done him this. The Enemy should have killed Nelyafinwë, son of Fëanáro, when he had him at his bay. Now he had made of him something new, and harder. A fighter born from the ashes of a quiet Elf.

But among this novel pain, this newfound strength forged in torment, something I knew and loved still held forth. A shade of the Maitimo I had learnt to know, the Maitimo I had unlearnt to live without, such a long time before. 

"I wish I could believe you."

"I will make you do so."

He was still frail. With the same care, the hesitating prudence of the first time I went to him, embracing him. Laying my head, delicately, upon his shoulder. The words that I pronounced were subdued, but clear.

"I thought you called from the Halls of the Dead. But still you were here."

He buried his nose in my hair.

"I called to you, and you would appear. But as my fever went, as my tormentors came to me you would vanish into thin air."

With what remained of his strength, heeding not his pain he held me near. My reply was muffled, subtle against his neck.

"Not now. Now I shall stay."

I raised my face, looked at him without words. Our kiss was light and short, no more than a caress of his broken lips upon mine. But our promise was exchanged anew in that moment, as our spirits met each other again, they reached out eagerly from our half-closed eyes.

Set me like a seal upon your arm, a seal upon your heart. 

He let his head rest upon my own. I let my heart slow down against his. 

Tomorrow there would be tales to tell, horror to be unfolded for hope of forgetting it to exist. Tomorrow healing would grow closer, or come farther off. But now night like a curtain draped the window, and the wind whispered softly beyond the glass. Together, we slept.

***

I woke to his presence, my head drunk on sleep. I blinked uneasily in the mellow light of the lamps. His shadow was great and black in the demi-darkness, his face obscure. Findekáno filled the doorway, looking at us as we slept. 

Gingerly I rose upon an elbow, wishing, perhaps, to call to him; my long-due thanks, my happiness at his return burning upon my tongue. But he did not stop; he did not came to me. He turned and left, his steps light, a finger raised to his lips, asking for silence. Forbidding me from awakening the one who slept by me, his arm thrown across my waist truly a seal in the dark gold of the light.

Thus Findekáno left, saying nothing; and my mind denied my spirit what it believed it had guessed.

In the black obsidian of his eyes, more pain than I would see in any Elf's countenance for the years the One would think it fit for me to live. An aching need, and an unsatisfied one, burning them.

I lay down again, Maitimo shifting as he slept. His fingers clenching and unclenching. We believe what we want to believe; I called what I had seen a dream. But ere I slept, the words fluttered again through my mind.

For love is as strong as death, its fierceness as cruel as the grave.

Such a small word. Such a great burden.

***

Artanis came the next day to find him awake, drinking with small sips milk and honey. She felt his forehead, which the tepid sweat of healing made humid, and she checked his bandages. The wounds were clean, healing well. She straightened, a thin smile upon her lips.

"Welcome back."

Even as she said it I saw her retreating, the healer's triumph putting an end to the truce. He had come back from his thralldom one to be pitied, a waif and a thin memory of the one he had been; not the one who had sailed away leaving us behind. But now in his eyes she could find again the Son of Fëanáro. The truce was over.

He bent his head, lightly.

"I thank you."

Artanis took a step behind. The wedge between the Noldor still existed; even if their King came back from the dark, the Helcaraxë could not be forgotten. Nor forgiven so easily. Maitimo saw it in her eyes, his words struggling to sound even.

"Do my brothers know that I am here?"

A bitter smile upon her lips. 

"It could not have been kept a secret, even if we had wished for it to be so. An hour after you had arrived their messengers came galloping. I answered that you were still too weak."

He bent his head, lightly.

"If I could ask you to call Macalaurë. And my uncle. I must thank him."

She laughed, briefly.

"Oh, Nolofinwë shall come of his own accord. As soon as he can come to terms with the fact that his son was right." Her laughter died. "Fino was the only one to believe. He snatched you back from torment."

"No amount of years, no amount of thanks can ever repay my debt. But where is he?"

"This deed took its toll from him. But he shall come to see you, too. Now rest."

She went to the door, pausing on the threshold.

"I sent messengers to your brothers' abode before I came to see you. They should be here shortly."

And with this she left.

The faintest of smiles creased Maitimo's lips.

"Artanis does not change."

"No. She doesn't."

I looked at him, my hand finding his left wrist. Had he changed? There was that hardness at the bottom of his eyes, like rocks beneath the light lacework of the foam. In the uncertain light of the dawn he had awoken, he had whispered into my ear words of which I shall leave no trace. The memory of his torment remains like a haze at the back of my conscience, his voice conjuring images that would not abandon him. Nor me.

I looked away, taking again his cup from the bedside table.

"It's still warm."

Thinly, he smiled.

"No more milk and honey. Or have I truly become as helpless as an Elfling?"

The bitterness at the back of his voice, and I took back the cup.

"You shall heal. You shall be strong again."

"Some things will not be the same. Or should I say, all things."

Absently his left hand rose, it tormented the long locks that fell upon his neck and shoulders. He looked to the window, the gray sky of that day reflected into his eyes. 

"When I rise, I must crop this forest again."

A vain try. Going back to the normal world, one where overlong hair still counted. Weakly, I smiled.

"I could cut it for you."

He turned to me, a dim light in his eyes. 

"I would be grateful."

Slowly I rose, taking the scissors Artanis used to cut his bandages. My hands trembled, my heart uncertain. Last night we had been together; last night our separation hadn't counted. But now, in the crude light of day, my uncertain spirit wondered whether the damage had been too much to be mended. Whether in his cracked heart there could still be space for the agony and the ecstasy that our love had been.

I hid the trembling, but it remained in my eyes, in the uncertainty of my fingertips as they lifted the locks from his forehead, his neck, cutting them one by one. He looked at me, eyes intent, as if looking for something he had known beneath a new change.

"There you are."

I gathered the cut strands, like copper threads, in my hands. Now I could bend my head. There were tears behind my eyes, but I would not shed them now. His voice, when it came, was low and husky, as if his throat had been full of wool.

"Silmë," he said, quietly, his left hand reaching for me. It touched my arm, my skin shivering. Love and desire and longing, together, mingling. Ice and fire. If he had told me it could no longer be. If he had told me that too much had happened, too much changed. Now that he was here, now that our bond was truly put to test, at the thought of losing him Mandos' Halls appeared closer. Cold seeped through me, and I dared not look at him.

"Silmë," he repeated, and now his hand reached for my chin, raising it, the gesture once familiar, now almost painful. 

"Maitimo." Our names, like the night before. But so different now. My throat was knotted tightly, no air could pass through. My unshed tears burnt. In his eyes would be my answer, and my spirit, that had so long locked himself in indifference, now lived a harsh life. Throbbing one last time, like an animal that shall soon die. 

He looked at me. And when he said the words, they fell like rocks into the silence.

"I love you."

Words overused and worn, meaningless words. But true and naked, and sharp, as he pronounced them, declining them like a song of knives. The truth. Which would only take itself as a reply.

"I love you."

It was there. A bridge, over the five years that had passed, over the betrayal that had preceded them. And he took my hand in his, clasping it, as much as his faded strength would allow him.

"I am damaged, Silmë. More than the day you accepted me as your husband to be, and then already I was marked for shadow, condemned to darkness by my own blood."

The knot in my throat strangled me, swallowing it was painful.

"I don't care."

"Truly you believe so? I am maimed. I am not whole. I am…"

"You are Maitimo. Nothing else matters."

He looked at me, eyes and nose and mouth, and trembling lips, my face I saw reflected in his own. Until he took my hand and brought to his mouth, kissing it.

"I believe you."

And it was all that could matter. The endless count of eternity was over. I gathered once more his cut hair in my hands, and now my fingers did not tremble.

*** 

Macalaurë came announced by brisk steps in the corridor, but it was not his the hand that pushed open the wooden wing, nor his the voice that greeted us. Rasping irony against the lead of that moment.

"Then you're truly back from the dead, brother."

Carnistir's voice was a blade honed to a fine point, its cut invisible. He surveyed the scene – Maitimo, propped up upon pillows, his hand, his bandaged stump lain neatly in his lap. Thinner, weaker in body; but in his eyes shining a harder light. I sat by his side, and me, too, Carnistir looked over with scalding eyes, amusement burning in them. I held his stare. Simply, he scoffed. Before he crossed the room in two strides and took his brother into his arms.

"Welcome back."

Artanis' own words; and no need to add something else. In the shade of the door Macalaurë lingered, biting his lip, his thickset body, more muscular than his brothers', hunched in shame and guilt. Carnistir sat upon the edge of the bed; looking not at his older brothers as they confronted each other silently, and the air grew heavier, sown with the dark seed of incomprehension and regret. Quietly, I rose.

"I shall leave you."

Maitimo nodded lightly. Macalaurë did not look at me when I passed him, nor did I glance his way. I would not add to his shame; his burden already heavy enough. Carefully, as if I were afraid to break it, I closed the door behind my back. I had not crossed the corridor when it flew open again, and this time it was shut with a loud bang.

Surprised, I turned to look at Carnistir. Darkly, he smiled.

"Better to leave them to it."

His untended hair fell in stranded locks upon his forehead, down to the undone collar of his tunic. I smiled back.

"Better, yes."

Silently, I sat on an upholstered settee, against the opposite wall. Carelessly, he settled on the floor, by its side. I could not help myself at the sight of his lanky body folded in that strange position, his left leg abandoned on the marble tiles, his right knee bent. I smiled again.

"I could make room for you."

"I'm comfortable like this."

Silence fell. Birds chirped outside, on the branches of the trees in Nolofinwë's garden, but subduedly. A strange, milky light flooded the skies. From behind the closed door no sound came, no sound but a quiet murmur, like the Sea dying quietly upon the shore, some distance ahead. The voices were low, controlled. Another moment. Then, suddenly, Carnistir laughed. His was a curious laughter, utterly different from the contagious, tolling note that had once belonged to Maitimo; his was a throaty sound, almost muffled.

"I told him," the words came breathlessly, the way a child would speak, telling what he deems to be a very good joke, "I told him, five years ago, that the Enemy would not be so kind as to kill him. That he would want his amusement, that he would have liked to play. But Canafinwë could not take it…he would only see the easier road. Mourning instead of fighting. Very much like him. Without Maitimo he is lost. But that is just the odd man out speaking." Again, bitterly, he laughed.

I regarded him, curiousity and surprise in my glance. Among the sons of Fëanáro, truly he was the lonelier; but somehow I had always thought it a natural condition to him, part of him as much as his scorching humour, his sincerity bordering on brutality. Carnistir walked alone. I had never considered it could weigh upon him. Truly we only see what we expect to find. 

Quietly, I replied.

"He was not alone in taking that road."

Silently he considered me for a long moment, his eyes dark coals. I saw then something I had not noticed before: that although Curufinwë resembled his father the most, it was Carnistir that had inherited Fëanáro's burning eyes. They made me uneasy, torches from another, darker world. Heralds of an unkind fate. I looked away, fearing his scorn, and calling myself childish for this. But when he spoke again, he was not laughing.

"It was understandable. And after all, even I, who had guessed the truth, what did I do? I waited; waited for others to tell me I was right. Well, no one did it. No one will now. I should have done myself what Findekáno did; and I should have done it long ago."

Our regret filled the air, twin remorse unspoken. The birds had flown away, a soft rustling of wings as the wind rose. 

"The most one can do is try to mend what they once did wrong."

A low chuckle came from him.

"Very wise, my dame Silmë. Shall I then finally call you sister?"

His eyes rose to met mine, and I smiled coldly.

"I have many faults. But I was forgiven. I will try to deserve it."

"Deserve it." He savoured the words as if they had a bad taste. "Deserve it? What did any of us deserve? You chose your own blood when the betrayal came. He did the same. None is to blame."

I looked at him, surprised.

"You understand then? I thought…"

"I may be harsh. But blind, I am not. We have trodden paths where every choice was wrong. The only thing we could do was try and see where the lesser evil lay." A bitter grimace twisted his mouth. "Had we been as brave as we like to call ourselves, such paths we would never have taken."

I made no reply, but looked at him. In his words, a different world showed itself. One where Fëanáro's folly had been challenged, and stopped. A different world. One that would never be. Carnistir was right: we could not call ourselves brave. Clouds came into my eyes; and no joy could dispel them. I looked away, and his voice rose, firmer.

"Still, you have found each other, have you? I suppose it is some consolation." It seemed that he could smile no smile without a sharp edge to it. "As if I knew anything about love." He rose, suddenly. I turned, and saw what he had seen beyond me, Nolofinwë coming up the corridor with long strides. 

I walked to the door, and knocked. A brief silence, before Macalaurë opened it. I did not look at him, but to my betrothed lying upon the bed.

"The lord of the house is coming."

Strangely, he smiled.

"The old saying was true. You speak of the wolf, and soon his tail shall appear."

Macalaurë turned to him, his voice thick.

"I deem your proposition hasty. Inconsiderate. It is not a step that it is yours alone to take." 

Maitimo's eyes hardened, green, solid rock.

"It is my right to accept or relinquish. This decision, at least, you shall leave me." 

Macalaurë flinched. His guilt was a sore that would remain raw for a very long time. Maitimo saw his pain; more kindly, he said: "I know you mean well. But I shall not change my mind." He looked to me when he added: "If you could leave me for a moment with Silmë, I would be grateful. Our uncle shall be glad to see you."

For a moment it seemed as Macalaurë would protest once more; but he walked out of the door, head bent, and closed it behind him. My face a puzzled mask, I went to the bed, kneeling by it.

"What is it that concerns Nolofinwë, and Macalaurë does not approve of?"

Maitimo's hand rose to my face, caressing it lightly. I closed my eyes, feeling at peace. When he spoke, it felt as if he mentioned things that were far away from us, unimportant.

"Would it disappoint you not to become a queen?"

I opened my eyes, the same, irrational fear as before seizing me. 

"If I did not wed you, you mean…"

"No. I am asking you if it would disappoint you, were you to become the lady of Maitimo, and not the queen of the Noldorin High King."

For a moment, I looked at him, without understanding. Then I saw it, as one guesses a mosaic when the tesserae are all laid out. 

"You intend to relinquish the crown to your uncle."

"Yes."

Matter-of-fact was his voice, without uncertainty. The voice of a king, even in the wisdom of the words it uttered next.

"As long as they feel bound to our House by duty, the Noldor shall not unite again. In the face of this Enemy we can afford no division." Almost lightly, he smiled. "It seems fitting that at last this title should go to him." He turned to me, his eyes dark and clear at the same time. "Already there are too many dooms lain upon my head. A crown would be just one too many."

A strange warmth flooded me, and unthinkingly, as long before I would have done, I leant over him, my mouth meeting his. His hand cupped my head, his teeth grazing my lower lip. Frail, he still was, and soon we detached. But a new strength and an ancient pain were written in his eyes when he looked at me.

"Time to rest, and heal. Others can call themselves kings. I shall have to learn again how to live, and fight." His voice lowered, his fingertips traced the contours of my cheeks. "And love."

A brief glance between us. And no uncertainty would I feel again. I rose.

"Time to go upon the stage then. Shall I call the king-to-be?"

"Do. But hurry. My milk and honey waits for me."

A grimace, the ghost of a laughter in his throat. Past pain, beyond sorrow. To healing. 

I went to the door.

***

Many have spoken of the noble dialogue of Nolofinwe, son of Finwë, and of Nelyafinwë his nephew, as he relinquished to his father's brother the crown and kingship above the Noldorin Elves. Many have sung of the nobility of their words, and of the wisdom of their choices. Many have done it before; and I have no reason to echo them.

Truly, I was there; and to the words of the bards I shall add only this: that in Maitimo's green eyes shone the gold of a pain that could not be forgotten, and the steel of a path he would forge anew. And that in a corner of the room Carnistir, his brother, looked upon the scene without a word, upon his lips his crooked smile.


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.

Story Information

Author: Aredhel Serindë

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/29/10

Original Post: 04/22/10

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