Summary: Post-imprisonment, Maedhros is not waking up and Fingolfin goes to tell his son that he has to let him go. But starting that conversation proves to be far more difficult than appreciated. But he had to tell him. He had to let his cousin go.
Disclaimer: All belongs to the Tolkien Estate and not to me. I make no profit from these ventures of delving into the master's legendarium, and I also do not own the uploaded "book-cover" for this story. It is owned by "Gold-Seven", whose depictions can be found on deviantArt, and who has graciously given me her permission to use this image.
A/N: (Rated T for graphic descriptions) Even though I came up with the idea to write this two days ago, this is sort of an "apology" fic to those readers who had to put up with my overall absence and lack of attention to my stories, particularly "Weep and Be Burned". This was also in part written for Lia Whyteleafe (FFN alias), in compliment for her story "Waiting", which was a love of mine to read.
I apologize for any possible cliché-ness of this storyline, as I know people have gone to town with Maedhros-rescued-from-Angband stories. But aside from the fact that I wanted to explore an alternate viewpoint to the colossal mess, this one-shot also serves, and was mainly written, as a prelude to a much larger fic to be eventually published, titled "Breaking Iron", a canonical gap-filler surrounding the events of Maedhros' life post-imprisonment and post-semi-recovery. And the literary decision to place Maedhros under the care of Fingolfin in Mithrim instead of with his brothers during his physical recovery, as suggested by this one-shot, was based on what Tolkien wrote about Fingon rescuing him, and was made in correlation to what will occur in "Breaking Iron", as the suggested concept plays a significant role in that upcoming story. But for now, everyone waits to see if he can even recover, at least physically. And as always, any reviews are appreciated.
Index on Names: at this point in time, it is attestable that the Quenya form of Elven names were by now provided their Sindarin renditions. But because the Sindar's social interaction with the Exilic Noldor to the point of Sindarin adaptation is still in the making, at this time the Noldor would still have spoken their own tongue and used their Quenya names among their own people this early in the Age.
Ñolofinwë = Fingolfin, his ataressë
Findekáno = Fingon, his amilessë
Maitimo/Nelyo = Maedhros, his amilessë/ataressë (Nelyo being the epessë-like abbreviation of Nelyafinwë)
Moringotto = Morgoth
Makalaurë = Maglor, his amilessë
Fëanáro = Fëanor, his amilessë
Findaráto = Finrod, his ataressë
Arakáno = Argon, third son of Fingolfin who died amid the Battle of the Lammoth on the Ice
Sorontar = Quenya for Thorondor
Endórë = Ennor/Beleriand
"He who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, nor shall his place know him anymore.
Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit."
Job 7:9-11 (NKJV)
Ñolofinwë stopped in front of the closed door, closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath, one that came out shuddering. It had not helped, for the longer he stood there, the greater his heart fluttered and the weaker his limbs felt. Ñolofinwë opened his eyes and stared at the plain, wooden, uncarved door, the knot work of the wood a very familiar sight to his eyes by now. Ñolofinwë gave a cursory glance to his left and right, seeing that none were in the vicinity of Maitimo's chamber in the healing ward. Good. More time to stall never hurt anyone.
But it did, and Ñolofinwë sighed again. The more time he granted himself to hesitate, the more difficult it would be to finally speak his piece to Findekáno. And he had to, if alone for the fact that no one else had the courage to do it themselves. He himself barely did. But by the stars, how his son would feel in response to what he would say, how he would attempt to hide it, and to have to look into those eyes while he said it….His chest grew heavier.
Ñolofinwë took another breath, this time of resolve, and grasped the handle, one that had been forged so quickly that it was unadorned and plain to behold, even ugly. The door swinging on newly oiled hinges, Ñolofinwë entered the room, his eyes swiftly adjusting in the near darkness, and closed the door behind him with the barest click. It was a single chamber, not large and not small, but sparsely furnished and ornamented, as most of their north of the Lake was these days. The curtains of the two windows were drawn, allowing in starlight and moonlight, and only two candles burned low on their wicks atop the bedside table. And on the bed lay Maitimo, russet hair stark against the white of the pillow and soothing blue of the coverlets. As like the past five months, he lay there with closed eyes, he lay there unmoving, and he lay there with that lifeless sleep.
And as like the past five months, there sat Findekáno alongside the bed in one of the chairs, still remaining a ever-constant presence, leaving only when he had to or was bidden to by Ñolofinwë or the healers. The gold always so elegantly twined in his hair reflected the candlelight and Findekáno himself was attired as he now always was; ready to leave on a moment's notice, whether on a patrol or to take counsel or to do his father's bidding. It was rare he arrayed himself anymore in garments befit for sleep.
But at the moment he was sitting slouched in the hardback chair, his half-cognizant gaze alternating between Maitimo and the sheathed dirk in his hand, his own, as he absently ran a fingernail along the fine engraving of the hilt. But at the sound of the door opening and closing, his eyes sharpened as he looked up.
"Atto," he greeted, straightening up in his chair and setting the blade aside. And his gaze turned back to his cousin. "His eyes fluttered," he murmured, just loud enough to hear. "I saw them. I know they did." And he turned back to Ñolofinwë, wiping away the ever present traces of anxiety as he ran a hand roughly over his face. "What do you here at this hour of the night?"
Ñolofinwë regarded his firstborn solemnly, his face empty of any thought, and for a long moment was silent. His son was never one to be hard in the head or foolish of heart, but when it came to Maitimo, Findekáno had never been capable of letting him go. His whole life, Findekáno had never let him go, being near Maitimo in presence and heart as no two brothers ever were. He had not even let him go when separated by Formenos, always keeping their reunion to come at the forefront of his mind. He had not allowed Maitimo to go without him to Endórë. He had not allowed himself to be left behind at the sight of smoke from burning ships. He had not let himself believe his cousin to be dead when learning of his capture. He had not endorsed being idle when believing his cousin remained alive.
And he had not let him go when Maitimo himself had begged to be let go. Even then, Findekáno refused to say yes, always taking hold of any desperate opportunity he could to put off saying the words "so be it" awhile longer.
But now, with Maitimo here, though bedridden, alive, if not hale, healing, if only in body, asleep, though never waking….Now having him so nearby and safe, no chance existed on Arda that Findekáno would let him go now. Not anymore, and probably never again.
And that was why Ñolofinwë had to tell him he had to.
"We need to talk," he said softly. Even though he knew Maitimo was dead to the world in hearing, he still felt the urge to speak quietly. "When was it you last rested?"
Findekáno provided no answer and silence again fell for a brief time, but Ñolofinwë held his son's gaze. Another moment passed and Findekáno sighed, running a hand along his face again as he stood and stretched, and Ñolofinwë could hear the sounds of a cracking spine from where he stood. "Would you pray grant me leave to first fetch something to eat? I can bring something for us both back, and a cool drink. If you will watch him, I mean," he amended, gesturing towards the eldest of his generation. "And Nelyo needs water, though I would fain have a healer present when doing it." He gestured once more. "Will you stay?"
Ñolofinwë stared at him, abnormally grim in face and wanting to bow his head in distress at that look in his firstborn's eyes. Clenching his jaw and pressing his lips together, he gave a single nod and Findekáno was quick to walk over to the door, moving as though haste were demanded. "Thank you, Atto."
"Bring a healer back with you, Findë," Ñolofinwë directed, turning his head so slightly in his son's direction as he heard the door open behind him. "The time nears enough to change his dressings."
"True." Findekáno weakly grinned at his father's back, though Ñolofinwë did not see it. He heard it in the one word. "I will be swift."
The door clicked shut and Ñolofinwë nodded to himself, satisfied. Or as satisfied as anyone could be in this day and age. Truly though, it really was nearing the time for Maitimo's dressings to be changed, and having the healer present to do his work should give Findekáno enough time to finish his repast by time the healer left. Then they would talk.
Ñolofinwë stirred himself back into awareness, making his way to the chair. The silence of the room was deafening and the heels of his boots on the floorboards seemed even louder. But he sat in the chair, grimacing at the immediate discomfort it granted his body and he wondered in mild awe how Findekáno or Makalaurë or anyone else could sit in this damn thing for hours on end.
But he dismissed the complaint, blaming his exhausted brain as he leveled his attention on the only other occupant in the room, his elbow on the armrest and fingers absently fiddling with his wedding ring.
And Ñolofinwë could only stare at Maitimo, his brow slightly furrowing as he did. Five months, and healers were still direly needed. Elves healed quickly of their wounds, which Ñolofinwë knew far too personally, but the healing of Maitimo's wounds was progressing abnormally slow. Swathed in bandages, elevated on a pillow and gently covered by the sheets, the stump of his right forearm had finally stopped seeping blood and fluids, though it was still a ghastly mess of scarring tissue and stitches and swelling and red, raw, sensitized skin. Ñolofinwë's stomach still recoiled at the memory of standing there, watching the healers use a whole assortment of scalpels and delicate tools to dig out several more of the wrist bones, cutting out muscle tissue and tendons and veins, all in order to overlap the skin and sew it shut. By Aulë, Maitimo had already looked to be drained of blood, but an unnerving amount had still come during the procedure, coating the healers' fingers until they had looked to have been dipped in berry-dye. Findekáno had been there as well, white as a sheet with an overwhelming guilt in his eyes.
It had been nearly with paranoia the healers had watched for any sign of infection these past months. They still did.
The stump was hideous and even though it was securely wrapped up, it was difficult to look at, however much his attention felt drawn to it. But Ñolofinwë knew the stump was only one thing of many, for he had been there when his nephew lay exposed and emaciated under frantic healers' hands. On the surface alone so many injuries…deep ones green with infection, shallow ones half healed or still bleeding, fingertips now no longer revealing bits of bone, grisly scarring from previous wounds of so many patterns or lack thereof that Nolofinwë could scarcely imagine what inflicted them. And then there were the internal injuries, ribs and muscles and bones and lungs….It all eventually blurred together and simply made it plain that he was in trouble. What stood stark though, to Ñolofinwë, was the gruesome deformation of skin about his wrists, ankles, knees, even waist….Ñolofinwë had no morbid desire to know, but it looked as though small tips of metal had spent an endless time making their home in the skin. And he wondered if it were even possible for those scars to fade.
But though so much of it was unsightly, the healers proclaimed that the greatest worry was within the body. Namely, the whole right side of Maitimo. No one knew how long he had hung from that shackle, but a wrist was not meant to carry the weight of the body, especially for that long of a time. The shoulder had been dislocated, the skin of the hand separated from the forearm, the muscles of the arm, shoulder, chest, ribs, and even waist had been stretched and stretched, and finally torn. All the wounds, the stump, the body's rejection of sustenance….The healers watched it all with the firm belief the Noldorin Prince – King, could recover. But it was the muscles of the right side the healers worried over and observed with an uncertainty no healer should possess.
So slow. Maitimo's body was healing so slowly that half the time Ñolofinwë wondered if his body was just too weak to produce any more effort. If it had reached its desperate limit.
But now, sitting in that chair, the silence surrounding him, Ñolofinwë's gaze was solely riveted on Maitimo's face. Ñolofinwë swallowed, without thought reaching out to brush down a few stray russet hairs and running the tops of his fingers along the cold skin of his jaw. His chest tightened:
He could not reconcile this image of his nephew with how he had been before, how Ñolofinwë and all the Noldor had last seen the firstborn of Fëanáro. For what Ñolofinwë wondered now more than anything, and even feared to know, was if the physical torment had actually been the easy part.
Ñolofinwë could not take his eyes off his nephew's face, his brow furrowing deeper and eyes growing dark. The copper hair, sheared of its rotted locks, was still rich in its hue, but wholly lacked all luster. The closed and sunken eyes were dark and strained. The very skin of his face was pale and stretched tautly, showcasing his exquisite bone structure and sharp angles in a most unhealthy way.
And his fëa exuded no blessed light from its host.
By Eru, what had Moringotto done to him?
Ñolofinwë closed his eyes and bowed his head into his hand. This was not his nephew. For all the grievous errors in judgment made and sins committed, this was not his nephew from Tirion. Not the Maitimo who had once permitted his half-uncles and aunts to call him Nelyo. Not the copper-haired paragon who had hounded his home with Findekáno as much as his Findekáno had done to Fëanáro's. Not the eldest grandchild who had sat at Finwë's feet to learn of the kingship and governing. Not the Prince who had stood tall and bright and terrible to behold on top of Túna, swearing that accursed Oath. Not the valiant Elf who stood less than he in age by only a little, and whose ardor had burnt as eager as his father's flame. Not the Elf who stood so alike to his father; intelligent, gifted, and beautiful to behold.
But Ñolofinwë could not think of Fëanáro at this time. Not again until it was healthy to, not when he still felt his heart only turn blacker each time he did. Only, he did not know when such a time would come, if it ever would.
Maitimo was gone, replaced by this deathly shell, and he had not yet woken up. And Ñolofinwë despaired he ever would. Five months it had been, and the only sign of his surviving was the barest rise and fall of his chest and the ever so slowly healing wounds. That was all.
And Ñolofinwë knew it was not enough. Though far from well, Maitimo's body had gradually shown its, indeed doubtful, capability of recovery. Though not now and maybe not in the near time to come, his body was capable of waking. And that made one very noteworthy thing clear to Ñolofinwë:
It was not his damaged body that was keeping Maitimo asleep.
Ñolofinwë shuddered. Sorontar above, what had Moringotto done to him?
He lay on death's door and Findekáno sorely needed to prepare himself, to prepare his heart to face the very real fact that Maitimo just might not survive this. He needed to guard himself, to be able to let go, however agonizing it would be when that eventuality came to pass. With every new day it looked all the more certain his end was near, and Ñolofinwë had finally come to terms with it in his own heart, however more grim it made his face.
But why should he care? The taste in his mouth was bitter, but not entirely unwelcomed. He wanted to be angry, to find comfort in his ire for all things, for everything. For such loss to his family, for all the hurt, for….Ñolofinwë stilled and sighed. For…well….He reached out and took Maitimo's chin in hand, that gaunt face burning into his memory and making his heart clench all the more. And he hated it. He wanted to be angry, but….Ñolofinwë shook his head. After everyone had given up on him and believed him a lost cause, they truly had him back. The very probable chance of losing Maitimo after now having him back….An unwelcome and disconcerting weight churned in his chest at the thought. It simply did not seem appropriate to be furious with him, with his eldest nephew, when he lay dying in front of him, when he was not even able to hear what he would say. Maybe if he would recover and be alive again, Ñolofinwë could find the will to be properly enraged, to finally let loose all his reproof on abettors. But then yet, how does one erase thousands of years of memories to have a cold enough heart to do it?
But even then, what Findekáno had done…what he had set out to do without the counsel of any and then had achieved….Such a deed had rocked the pillars of fury that now seemed to be the daily bread of his people. Even now, all these months later, Ñolofinwë still felt shaken. Shaken by the fact that after everything, even after the cutting treachery of burning ships, Findekáno's ancient friendship with Maitimo had still stung his heart painfully enough when learning of his cousin's capture, all before even hearing from the Fëanorians the truth of the ships. He had still acted to perform feats as foolhardy as they were valiant, all in memory of that olden love, though a whole assortment of ill deeds conspired against it. What foolishness is this, Ñolofinwë would say. And his son would go, rather find what foolishness lay in letting be ruined all bonds of love numbering many by evil deeds numbering a few. Even when his firstborn had wielded all the justice in the world to hate and be bitter, his Findekáno had still refused to let Maitimo go. Even then.
A father was beholden to raise up his children in the way they should go, to be a teacher to his sons and daughters in all manners of good. And yet, it was his son teaching him. And Ñolofinwë knew himself to not be the only one affected, for even Findaráto and others among his kin had begun to silence words of hate. Something was happening. He did not know what, but something discernibly was, or starting to. But Ñolofinwë did wonder what would become of it if Maitimo did, in fact, fail to live this through.
Ñolofinwë wanted to kick himself. Nothing was right in his head anymore, and had not been for so many decades, it seemed. Too much had happened and still yet did, all fuel for songs only of bitterness and shame. The totality of it all, especially the death of his son, had still yet to wholly overwhelm him and render him catatonic with grief, but Ñolofinwë reckoned it was only a matter of time. He knew Findekáno had yet to as well. Right now, the moments had to be lived one by one and now, looking upon the unresponsive face of Maitimo, he knew he had to make Findekáno ready for what could and most likely would happen. Even as Ñolofinwë sat in that chair, he knew so many Elves, so many of the family were watching and waiting. So many expecting him to die. So many trusting he would. But not his Findekáno, he thought with a grim smile. Findekáno was desperate, latching onto the smallest of hopeful signs, refusing to leave Maitimo's side for as often as he may, as if his very presence would encourage along his recovery in some way….Ñolofinwë had to tell him to let him go, to acknowledge Maitimo had very little left to give, and to ready himself for that dreaded last expulsion of breath. Findekáno had to embrace the horrid reality of it and be ready to say farewell.
But then Makalaurë….
Ñolofinwë clapped a hand over his eyes, leaning forward on his knees. Why did Makalaurë have to find entrance to his thoughts? He could not handle it, not right now, and he still could not erase those mere instants from his memory, nor the heaviness of heart that came with it. It was branded there. Because Ñolofinwë had walked in on this room once before and had been ill-prepared for the sight that met him: Makalaurë nearly falling apart when he had seen his brother lying in that bed, alive and returned. Makalaurë weeping in Findekáno's arms, again and again thanking him, the words nearly nonsensical amid his sobs of relief. Findekáno holding him in a tight embrace, imparting comfort, working to calm his cousin, and trying to not become overwhelmed himself. Makalaurë beseeching to know why, for once adamant on reciting any and all deeds that should have soiled such friendship. And Findekáno failing to laugh it away with damp eyes, speaking of how he would rather Nelyo be near to hurt his heart than to be gone and not touch his heart at all.
Ñolofinwë too easily recalled how Makalaurë had been laden with a misery he had not seen the likes of before over the capture of his brother, how he had walked desolate of any faith in his survival, and all the while guilt had seemed to rot him from within. For Ñolofinwë had heard his new songs and lays, recognizing that Makalaurë too was no longer his nephew from Tirion. And as the years passed into decades, the desolation grew. When having received word of Maitimo's rescue, Makalaurë had refused to believe it, demanding to see it with his own eyes. And when he had….
Damn it all, why could he not have been elsewhere when he had?
Because really, could Ñolofinwë tell Makalaurë what he intended to tell Findekáno?
Ñolofinwë gave a humorless chortle, already knowing the answer. It was no place or burden of his to counsel Makalaurë or any of the sons of Fëanáro anything in the matter of their uncrowned brother. But in conjecture, if Ñolofinwë could not even find it within himself to tell Makalaurë, who still awaited the fire of his half-uncle's ire, by all the stars, how could he possibly tell his own flesh and blood? Findekáno had already lost as much as anyone else; first his grandfather in Darkness, then Maitimo on the empty shores of the Sea and then Arakáno among many on the Ice, and what now? By some blessing of Eru Findekáno had been given back the one person nearest to his heart, and now he wanted to tell his son to begin believing that that one person would die? What counsel was that? Good counsel, his mind cried. But his heart cried in bereavement something else completely.
Ñolofinwë felt his eyes burn, torn as he very seldom had been before. "Nelyo, why will you not wake?" he whispered, looking again at his nephew, willing anything to happen, even a small twitch. "Just wake up. You have here people to aid you in the rest, just open your eyes. Make it known that you live." Ñolofinwë stared at him a while longer and let out a shuddering sigh. Maitimo might as well have already been dead. If there was maybe a smidgen of hope to hold onto, Ñolofinwë did not know what it was, but Findekáno apparently did and was equally apparently grasping it out of pure desperation, in the abject denial that his cousin could ever die, should have already died. And if Maitimo finally did, if Findekáno had not let him go by that time….Ñolofinwë feared with every part of his being what that would do to his son. So he had to let him go, lest the crossroads turn to the lower road.
But if there really existed a chance of Maitimo emerging triumphant in this uphill battle for life, any chance at all that he would be a survivor of Angamando, and Ñolofinwë counseled his son to not trust it, to walk away….
Ñolofinwë watched his nephew's still face, everything else in the room blurring away as he unconsciously grew ready to sit in that chair for hours more. But he was jolted from his vigil as the single door clicked open and he looked up. The healer was here, entering behind his son who carried in a tray bearing a light repast enough for two. Ñolofinwë stood, silently and almost dolefully watching the healer ready the supplies and Findekáno set the tray of fruits and cheese and water on the corner of the bed. And he watched as Findekáno turned to him, questions visible in his eyes and strain touching his face.
"What have you to speak, my lord?" he softly enquired, wholly ignored by the healer. "I will listen."
Ñolofinwë opened his mouth to speak, saw the look in his son's eyes, and the words did not come.
Findekáno lifted an eyebrow at the silence. "Atar?"
Ñolofinwë reached out and gently took hold of his beautifully plaited hair between his fingers, the soft gold sliding against his skin. And he looked into his son's bright eyes, deep with knowledge and wisdom and hardened in ways they never should have been. Findekáno had attested that Maitimo's eyes had fluttered, but he knew Findekáno was desperate. He had to have imagined it because Ñolofinwë certainly saw nothing like that now. He looked at his son as tall as he and into eyes as blue as his, and he felt himself collapse within.
Come next week he would try again. In a week try again as he had for the past month. And though he refused to even speak it out loud, Ñolofinwë already knew that he would again walk in the room, again watch Findekáno leave for his well-deserved respite, and again allow his son to go before he would speak his counsel. Again, he would let him go.
Ñolofinwë gave him the briefest of smiles, though his eyes were dark, and he released his firstborn's hair. He took hold of his son's chin and kissed his cheek before turning to the door, ignoring the question in those sleep-deprived eyes. Ñolofinwë took hold of the familiar knob of the door, feeling his hands tremble from the iron weight in his chest.
He did not look back before closing the door behind him.