Summary: AU. Morgoth never hangs Maedhros from Thangorodrim, which means Fingon is unable to rescue him. Centuries later, the Union of Fingolfin results in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, and a prisoner takes his chance for escape.
Disclaimer: I do not own this. The credit goes to Tolkien. I merely write to express my abiding love of his works.
Warnings: slash, incest, non-con, torture, violence. (also seriously AU.)
Author Notes: The above are general warnings for the entire story, not necessarily for this chapter. I estimate that there will be between four and six chapters total.
Names: I have chosen to use Quenya names throughout, because usually when I try to keep it in Sindarin, bits of Quenya end up slipping in, and I figured it was better to keep things standard.
My original character is an orc called "Amil" - this means "mother" in Quenya. While she would most likely not have spoken Quenya, the word for "father" in Primitive Elvish is the same as the Quenya word, so since I could not find information on "mother," I decided to assume that it would follow the same example.
All names are taken from HoME 12, and are as follows. Maedhros: Nelyafinwë, Nelyo, Maitimo, Russandol. Maglor: Kanafinwë, Káno, Makalaurë. Celegorm: Turkafinwë, Turko, Tyelkormo. Curufin: Kurufinwë, Kurvo, Atarinkë. Caranthir: Morifinwë, Moryo, Carnistir. Amrod: Pityafinwë, Pityo, Ambarussa. Amras: Telufinwë, Telvo, Ambarussa. (I have both twins named Ambarussa, rather than calling one Umbarto, because the latter name is tied in with the story in The Shibboleth of Fëanor, whereas I am sticking with the plot of The Silmarillion in that respect.) Fëanor: Fëanáro. Fingolfin: Nolofinwë. Fingon: Findekáno. Turgon: Turukáno. Morgoth: Moringotto.
Just One Victory
I. The Flaw
"You are being unreasonable." The dark-haired one is looking out the window as he speaks, but not for long. He turns and paces across the sunlit room, absentmindedly reaching up to adjust the crown upon his head. He has worn it for well over four centuries of the sun, but still it does not sit naturally; with it he feels like an imposter.
"Strange. And here I thought that was you." The blond approaches his brother without caution, laying a hand on his arm. "This is our chance," he says.
He shrugs away from the hand, and returns to the window, north-facing, revealing a landscape that feels like a lament.
The younger persists. "We win Nolofinwë back to us. We fight for him. We earn his respect once more. His people bow to us."
"To me, you mean," the king corrects.
"Your plan is illogical," the crowned one states plainly. "We fight for him, we bow to him, he takes away the last of pride, we are slaughtered in his so-called great battle and he no longer has to worry about us."
"When did the mighty singer become so cynical?"
"When did the crown first touch my head?"
The blond is silent. He states at last, "If you won't do it for politics, do it for the Oath."
The king shakes his head, not to disagree but to clear his pounding thoughts. He is tired.
"For our father," his brother persists.
A pause. He thinks of fire slain by fire beneath the stars. He thinks of wisps of ash carried on the wind.
The younger one aims his next blow lower. "For our brother," he says.
Time stops. The crown is very heavy. He returns to the window, gazes unseeingly on the sandy ground, the gnarled trees, the jagged hills, imperfect scenery that never would have pervaded in Paradise.
"Makalaurë?" asks the fair one. "Brother? My lord?"
Makalaurë feels old, so old. "Send a message back to our uncle," he orders. "We will join in his great battle. We fight at his command."
He has had a good year and so they are kind to him. He must be careful not to be too good or too soon he will be sent back where he does not want to go. This is how he thinks.
The flaw in this thinking is obvious. He does not know how long a year is anymore, and kind has become relative.
He lies on the floor. It is grimy, but at least there are no rats here. Illumination comes from barred windows set here and there; these portholes leak flame-light that accents his hair. Beyond the door is a stone corridor, with throne-room in one direction and mines in the other. It is a very central place to be. He feels powerful to be in such a position.
He does not dare make a sound; he does not welcome punishment; he simply mouths the words, as he does often, the words that should remind him of his legacy and the life that shimmers with tree-light in the depths of his memory. First comes his own name.
Next he recites like a prayer the ones for whom he endures. The names no longer have faces; they are empty syllables with unattainable meanings.
Finally, a curse. A desperate love and resentment that ordinarily he masks with cold pride.
No sound leaves his lips. He closes his eyes and waits.
When she comes to gather him, Maitimo greets her and she helps him to his feet. She is not a captain or anything of that sort, but has status nonetheless; he would name her orcco for her figure and her language, but is not precisely sure if that is accurate. Their relationship is warm but tentative at best, and yet still strong enough that she unchains his ankle and guides him from the room with her arm instead of her whip.
He trusts her. It is a mindless faith, based only on plain fact, and nothing more. She is his shepherd; she takes him to places unspeakable, but always brings him back. Her presence is comforting, in its own way, but also threatening; he has been in her care throughout years he no longer cares to count; she has brought him to some fates he cannot himself fathom, and some less bad.
They exit the room. He does not waste a thought wondering where she will bring him today. Sometimes while she is readying him for an audience with her master and he is feeling edgy, she tells him stories of Utumno to distract him. When she says she was not born there, he knows what she means. It is she who returned from a scouting mission, long ago, to tell him in wonder of the newfound existence of sun and moon. She has given him lessons in the Elvish language of this land, as well, for use in the occasional instance that he comes across a Sinda; he hates its hastiness, the words do not fit easily in his mouth, but it is something to distract him, and he treats it like a gift.
He did not know that one of her kind could feel wonder. She told him that she is a special case. When he asked for her name, she answered, Amil. It was years before he could address her as such, though now he does it effortlessly. It is easier now that he no longer has other features to associate with that word. It is easier because after years of disusing that sacred language from whence it came, he hardly remembers what it means.
Her appearance is unclear, masked by rusted metal armor, just the color of his hair, and the veil she casts across her face, thin enough that she seems to still be able to see him clearly. He only knows that she is female by instinct and from her supposed name.
Maitimo supposes that he is not much to look at. He limps after her like a wounded animal while she barks at him to hurry. Sometimes he trips and scampers for a few paces on all fours. A great deal of this behavior has made his hands rough to the touch.
They play a sort of game. He'll lag in his pace or stride too quickly, speak a word of his own tongue or swipe her arm away when she moves to direct him forward. In return, she will kick him to the ground or snap her whip once against his back; later, she will report this disobedience to the higher-ups and he will be kept away from his nightmares for a while longer, all in the name of being broken like a disobedient dog.
That is not to say that life is pleasant. Wherever Amil brings him now will surely result in a great deal of pain and humiliation, to which members of his old life would be horrified to see him walk willingly. But it makes him want to laugh; to laugh with the air of a creature that knows that its doom is near.
It should be impossible for Maitimo to feel mirth, by now. He should look at himself objectively, and see that the regime meant to break him is what he considers kindness; that his situation is precarious and the only reason that they have been easy on him recently is that he is so near breaking point.
All he knows is that when they are done, if ever they are, he will not have to feel terror as his wrists are chained behind his head; the touch of orcish skin will not make his own crawl; his fëa will be shattered and he will not have to feel anymore.
Amil tells him to hurry up.
Findekáno reaches to knock on the tent-post, but finds the canvas already pulled back, revealing the flickering light within.
"Come in." The tone is impassive.
Inside is not ornate, but practical. Nolofinwë is the only one in the tent. The candles are nearly burned out, but they cast light upon his drawn face, cautious and world-weary.
"Your brother's children have sent word. They will fight for us." Findekáno's speech is hesitant, but hopeful.
A pause. It is not a necessary question. The sons of one brother have already camped with their warriors not far away.
Nolofinwë nods. "They are the last ones," he states unfeelingly. "Everything is settled. We are ready."
It is lucky that they are ready; they have uprooted themselves and traveled swiftly; they are less than a day from the enemy's stronghold, and even closer to the lands governed by their cousins.
Traveling has been difficult, marching over mountains and across plains, soldiers looking to their lords, and their lords looking to battle, triumph feeling not far-off. It is slow going, but feet are propelled by a sense of purpose, the fire of pure and grave intention. The alliance is set in motion – the Union of Nolofinwë, they are calling it, the masses being unaware that it was truly his eldest son's proposal – and nothing short of total defeat will halt it.
"When do we attack?" questions Findekáno.
"You so quickly relinquish authority over your own plan?" It is a rhetorical question but nonetheless receives an answer.
"It is not exactly mine. You would have challenged him in single combat long ago. This is a better way. This will be the end of the war. The people will unite beneath Lord Nolofinwë, the rightful high leader of the Noldor. That is what they have promised." He announces this with pride.
"You are so calm," says his father.
"If doomed we are, then at least we shall go down fighting."
The older one smiles. "Always the valiant," he murmurs fondly.
Findekáno looks away, and thinks of a different cousin, of a hell of iron, of a decision that nearly broke his frozen heart. "Not always," he replies softly, careful to remain composed. "We leave at dawn?"
A pause, a consideration, a firm resolve. "Yes."
Maitimo does three things that he had not planned.
First, he shuts his eyes. It does not make much difference, because the room is already dim – and he wonders how they have such perfect aim, if their vision is nocturnal, if they are just taking lucky shots and hitting their mark each time – but underneath his eyelids looks just the same as it always did, and it is the only thing that still reminds him of home.
Second, he screams. He has not done so in some time, and the action is not purposeful now; in all the years since this phase of his existence began, he has been quiet. There is something different about today.
That is incorrect. There is nothing different about today. It is simply that he has looked into his future, and seen eternity. And whether he is going to spend that infinite time on his back, or writhing in pain – what kind of a choice is that?
And so, third, he says:
It is a whisper, or a whimper, hushed but audible, spilling out from between parched lips. At first he is not sure if he has spoken aloud at all, but the laughter around him proves it. Next comes the sound of scattered footsteps retreating, as though that small word was a signal for the withdrawal of all present. He opens his eyes, and even the dull light of the single torch hurts at first. As it happens, he is sticky with blood and the thought that Amil might heal him, as she has done previously, in preparation for some new torment or other, is not a heartening thought.
It feels as though he is alone for a while. It feels as though only a second has gone by. Time, as always, has become irrelevant. Dizzy and shivering, it takes him a moment to realize that he is unbound, and yet another to remember that this means he can sit up. He has not had the opportunity to make such a move without permission from a jailer in such a long time that the freedom feels awkward.
Hunched over but no longer lying down, Maitimo tentatively fingers the new wounds on his chest and feet. They sting, but as usual, not enough for a journey to Mandos. He did not scream because he has not experienced this a thousand times before. He screamed because he cannot imagine enduring such treatment a thousand times again. The door to the cell is closed; whether or not it is locked, he is unsure, but a failed attempt to stand proves this to be beside the point. His clothing he discovers in a heap nearby and crawls to it, leaving trail of smeared red in his path. Dressing is a slow and tedious process, after which he collapses, full aware that he will have no control in whatever comes next.
Amil returns for him. He waits for her to help him to his feet and maybe scold him for sitting on his own. He almost does not wait. Something is building up inside him, something powerful, like a flare, a fire that flickers uncertainly and may be no more than a thing of imagination.
Instead, the only orc for whom he has something akin to respect, kneels beside him. Her master would like her to speak with Maitimo, she says. She does not use his Elvish name, of course, but that is the gist of it. She calls him child. He supposes she has the right to. She cannot be much younger than his grandfather. Drained, weary, it takes him some time to process the words, spoken in harsh orcish. He answers:
This happens every so often: she interviews him carefully and surely, when her master is too haughty to do so himself. She is his keeper. His every move and thought is her responsibility.
And so they talk.
The night before a battle is always difficult. The night before almost certain death is even more so. Near midnight, Findekáno retreats to the camp's makeshift armory and spends far more time than necessary sharpening his sword. Every few minutes he holds it up to examine it by moonlight.
A voice comes from behind him. "I think it might be sharp enough."
Findekáno spins around. "Turukáno," he greets. He has not seen his brother in quite some time.
"Nice to see you, too."
"I suppose you've got a rather large army camped nearby?"
The younger nods. "Naturally. No one else refused the summons; why would I? We are all here for you," he states plainly.
"For Father, you mean."
Turukáno scoffs. "Don't be ridiculous. Father never would have made such a rash move without your suggestion." He presses on: "Why now?" Turukáno cannot keep the mingled curiosity and scorn from his speech. "Are you weary of this world? Shall we all return to the care of Mandos who cursed us?"
"We cursed ourselves."
Evidently this response is not enough. "What are we doing? Marching on Angband itself? What can we possibly find there, but death and destruction? Would you face the defeat of your entire people…"
Findekáno tenses. He knows what is coming. He knows, because beneath this great alliance of all the first and second children on this side of the sea, is his own greed and hunger.
" …all in vain hope? There are not enough of us."
The older one relaxes. That is not the expected argument.
Turukáno presses on, with the air of one desperate who knows it is too late. "There is still time. Call this madness off." Then, more softly, yet colder: "We did not swear their Oath. This war is not ours."
Findekáno sheathes his sword. "He was our grandfather, too." He exits.
Memories, unlike time, do not move in a straight line; they are akin to a chain, linked but bendable, coiling or stretching out. Findekáno once crossed a hell of ice just so he could confront his lover and say, "I'm cold, and all because of you. Warm me." But it did not work out that way.
Findekáno once caught a glimpse of Ambarussa on a stormy night, russet hair swept by the wind. He ran to the youngest son of Fëanor and called, "Maitimo, Maitimo," before realizing his mistake.
After the drawing of a sword and the pronouncement of a banishment, a young Findekáno ran to find his cousin, grabbing him around the waist and insisting, "Stay with me." But this was not to be.
Upon arrival in Mithrim, it would seem that a confrontation with his lover was in order; but the only cousin to confront was a half-distraught second son, one who could not stop pacing or meet Findekáno's eyes.
"He told Father to send the ships back," Makalaurë said blankly. "He never forgot you."
That night was the last time Findekáno ever cried.
"What does your master want to know?"
Maitimo always says it like that – your master – because he does not have the energy for a childlike competition of name-calling and derision anymore. He is sitting with hands to the stone floor, fingers splayed, using his arms to support his body. When he thinks about it, he realizes what an uncertain existence he leads. They wait until he is nearly beyond repair and then fix him up again. Each time, he feels a bit of his fëa crumble like sand; this he both welcomes and abhors.
She speaks. "He would like me to ask you if you remember why you are here."
That is a difficult question. He is certain he has not always been here. Obviously the names in his head belong to connections made outside of this place; and anyways, he must have come from somewhere else, because he can still envision the starlit sky as he knelt by a dying figure and said…
The memory ends there. "I was brought here," he says, "someone took me here." He is just a little proud to know that much.
She might be smiling, but with the veil it is hard to tell; shaking her head, she counters: "No. I mean, do you remember the… incident… do you know why you are in this room right now?"
That is altogether another matter. "Yes."
He stiffens. "But you already know."
She nods. "Do you know what you need to do to leave here?"
It does not cross his mind that she means: leave this hell, this prison. In his mind, to go away means to return to four walls of which he knows every last detail, to fetid, callous bodies against his protesting skin, to choking and drowning in bile and less pleasant things, to being torn apart.He says:
"I don't want to go back."
Simple sentences. It is not a tongue that allows for much more. Memory is a better language.
It is before dawn when the Fëanorians begin preparations, arming and forming divisions; orders are shouted, weapons sheathed, and they depart. Red banners like blood flutter above the armies of the six brothers. Not far-off are the horn-calls of allies. Everything is set.
Makalaurë the king marches first, his crown exchanged for a helm. With each stretch of land they cross, he thinks he can feel something, a tug, pulling him forward. He fancies that this means he is doing the right thing, though it may be no more than the call of duty. It should have been him, he thinks. He should not be riding at his uncle's command; their positions should be somewhat different; the poet was never meant to be a monarch, but if that is his fate he should at least do it properly.
In truth, he has had little contact with his uncle or his uncle's people since they reached this land. A polite, necessary assembly here or there, a few letters or messages back and forth; that is all. After only a few years he had taken his brothers east of Sirion and left Hithlum and the land surrounding it to the ones who had crossed this ice. He supposed that this was the least he could do.
Some days it seemed that his every move was made in the painful knowledge that he could no longer stand to meet his eldest cousin's eyes, and vice versa. There was a gap separating them that had nothing to do with kingship or betrayal; a ghost stood between them at all times. And so while in the back of his mind Makalaurë is sure that this great alliance is of Findekáno's design, he chooses to believe that it is Nolofinwë's; he chooses to be one with every other Elf or man in this land, to fight and maybe, just maybe, fulfill an oath and be at peace.
A blatant question comes to mind. Hours before they began to march, a little brother came and sat beside him. "Is this all we are good for?" he asked.
"I am not sure that I know what you mean, Ambarussa."
"Fighting. Dying. Like we swore."
"It would seem that way."
How the war seems is: everyone is fighting for a different reason. Five sons of Fëanáro want three jewels to share amongst themselves, over which they will most likely squabble and bicker unto the ending of the world. Nolofinwë and one of his sons, along with four of another, would want an end to darkness, or so they would claim. The various tagalong mortal elf-friends seek glory and a place in the history of the world. And as for Makalaurë and Findekáno? Well, that is not a difficult answer.
"I might not see you again." Ambarussa said.
"It is something I've always wondered," Makalaurë agrees. "Do the spirits of Mandos have eyes?"
"More likely than those of the everlasting dark." He stood, and left: most likely to find his twin.
That is right, the king thought, that is right. Go back to your redhead and let him tell you that everything will be all right. Be glad that yours is still in your possession.
The wishes of Makalaurë and Findekáno, it would seem, are not so different.
In the distance, in the hazy orange dawn-light, black smoke curls around the three-peaked mountain. An army approaches like a mass of darkness and doom. Makalaurë draws his sword.
Makalaurë, too has memories. Once, he awoke to a panicked Tyelkormo shaking his shoulders. "It's Maitimo," he said.
"He has returned?"
Once, he was strolling through a garden, and heard faint laughter from beyond a tree. Makalaurë investigated. It was Maitimo and Findekáno. Now he wonders why he was surprised.
He watched Maitimo leap to their father's side, sword drawn; solemnly, his brother nodded at Makalaurë, which was the incentive he needed to draw his own weapon and follow.
Moringotto's messenger made it sound so simple: did they want their brother back, or not? The messenger left a lock of copper hair at Makalaurë's feet. He keeps it always stowed away, and never looks at it.
Maitimo taught him to climb trees when he was very young. Makalaurë asked him if they could climb Telperion, and his brother laughed.
When the moon first rose, he hoped, that somehow, inexplicably, Maitimo would catch a glimpse of it, and remember him.