Disclaimer: I do not own this.
Author Notes: As usual, I started off thinking this was only going to be about four chapters, and it ended up a bit longer. So don't worry, I wouldn't end it like that; I'm writing chapter six right now, and the story is not near complete.
Names: 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. Fëanor: Fëanáro. Fingolfin: Nolofinwë. Fingon: Findekáno. Turgon: Turukáno. Morgoth: Moringotto.
Just One Victory
IV. The Valiant
"We may feel about to fall, but we go down fighting
You will hear the call, if you only listen
Underneath it all, we are here together..."
-Todd Rundgren, "Just One Victory"
The battle is raging; that much is clear. Forces have met and clashed. It is very bewildering, because after years of orcs and Balrogs and other less than appealing characters, years of any other elves in his presence being maimed, bleeding, dying, Maitimo finds it highly unusual to catch glimpses of pointed ears like his own, of fair skin and Elvish banners fluttering and polished armor shining in light that seems to originate from a glowing ball of gold above their heads. He thinks he catches the sound of a familiar voice from far away, crying:
But he cannot place the speaker; it takes his worn out mind several moments to process the words at all; and he does not draw the hope from them that so many mighty armies in the distance seem to. They say:
"Auta i lómë!"
And the phrase breaks meaninglessly against his ears.
The sky is a strange color, and everything is very loud. His own thoughts are hard to hear above the din. But then, he is not accustomed to clear thinking, anyway.
The orc who holds him is moving at a rapid pace, pushing its way through orcish allies toward the frontlines; there is an unsheathed sword in its hand; Maitimo kicks wildly, but cannot get free. Everything sways in his vision, and though they are certainly surrounded by a crowd, he cannot deduce any more than this. It is so bright, and the visible sliver of sky is startlingly blue, a blue like blood is red, a very final and altogether unnatural color.
The world spins madly, the ground is getting closer, and he hears rather than feels the collision as he hits the ground, beside the motionless body of the orc that had carried him. Things are moving so fast, he cannot keep track; the world is a blur above him. The orc's sword, by some fortune, has landed nearby. He wraps his fist around the hilt, holding it as tightly as he can.
There is a lot of shouting going on. It pounds through his head. But he does not need to move, anyway; he is just going to stay very still, because instinct tells him to do so, and at the moment careful planning of his actions is not an option.
A great many things need to be figured out. For a start, out in the open air he finds his memory much more substantial. His father Fëanáro is dead. Makalaurë, it would seem, is his brother; Findekáno is his cousin, and possibly lover, depending on circumstances; both are very likely somewhere on this battlefield. Finding them is not a priority until he has sorted himself out, and it doesn't seem like any sorting is going to happen until he escapes the battleground.
That would all be well and good if not for the acrid smell of smoke that warns of approaching Balrogs. After a certain number of run-ins with such beings, he really has no desire to contend with another. This is unfortunate, because a stolen glimpse positions them almost above him, with a rather strong-looking elf, dark-haired and royal, standing over a mass of dead guards and looking rather frantic.
Of course, there is only one Noldo in all of Arda that could ever be so stupidly brave as to land himself in such a situation. And Maitimo, centuries after the fact, feels that, all love aside, he cannot abandon the same cousin first to ice and now to fire.
Standing is not an option. Crawling, rolling, and stumbling are still in the picture. The clash appears rather heated. It would not be intelligent to remain where he is.
Coming back to life, he struggles to his knees just in time to watch his cousin beat down rather forcefully by a whip of fire. Knowing in a rather practical manner that this is not an enjoyable experience, he does the only logical thing and uses the orcish sword to stab the demon in the foot.
If nothing else, this alerts Findekáno to his presence. He inhales sharply, and then starts to say, "Ai! …Russ…"
But there comes another whip-crack, for this is not exactly the time for a cozy reunion. A rather hefty axe comes swinging down, and it is all Maitimo can do to pull the other elf out of the way. Dragging his cousin along with him but leaving the sword behind, he begins to crawl like an insect away from the fiery demons.
This may or may not be the safest course of action; at any rate, several maces come out of nowhere, ripping apart armor and bashing the dark-haired one forcefully into the dust. By some convenience Maitimo lands half on top of him, and lies with his eyes shut tight. Some very large and heavy weapon comes in contact with him and he hears something in his chest snap, but better him than Findekáno.
Several breathless moments later, he cracks an eye open to find that the Balrogs have retreated, that orcs are swarming here and there, and that hoards of men and Elves are withdrawing.
He is unsure of whether or not this is a stroke of luck.
It is all chance and pure will that brings them to shelter, following a hit-and-miss route toward the hills in the distance, unplanned detours taken to avoid several orc-chieftains who seem bent on killing survivors. That Maitimo manages to remove the bent and broken armor from his cousin still does not make Findekáno any less injured, or himself; and while the taller one is accustomed to crossing great distances in considerable pain, this does not make it tremendously easier to travel with one who must be over twice his weight on his back. They chase the retreating elvish armies until these vanish into the distance.
The first time Findekáno speaks, it is Maitimo's name, softly, as though he is afraid that the other is no more than a fantasy.
He cannot find the energy to answer.
They have stopped to rest in a deserted patch of even ground, lying side-by-side. Maitimo watches the sky in curiosity. The blue that had seemed so stark and unnatural has gone, leaving darkness and stars in its place. It is an interesting phenomenon. It is much more enjoyable to observe this than to think of the journey ahead of them, and wonder whether or not they will make it.
"Maitimo." Findekáno says the name as though afraid of being corrected.
Maitimo rolls over to face his cousin. "We should leave soon," he says, or he thinks he does. The words feel as natural as anything, but Findekáno is watching him with nothing short of horror. Maitimo realizes belatedly that his speech was orcish. Through all the apathy that keeps him in the present, he feels a stab of self-disgust.
The dark-haired one looks directly at him, gaze narrowed, straining to see through his glazed eyes. "Maitimo?" This time, it is more of a question.
"We should leave soon." Quenya, this time.
"I didn't forget you."
Maitimo is already dragging himself up into a sitting position. It is not that he does not want to hear it, but they have to keep travelling, they have to go on, and if he were to pause for this, he might break down. "Can you move on your own?" His voice is impassive.
Making a failed attempt to get to his feet, Findekáno laughs a little, somewhere between disbelief and hopelessness. "I…"
Already lightheaded from the motion, Maitimo struggles to haul the younger elf onto his back once more. Fleetingly, he thinks of how ridiculous they must look. The ghost of a smile appears on his lips. It does not feel altogether out-of place, not now that he can feel the warmth of his cousin's skin against his own.
They set off. Several times more, Findekáno tries to speak, but the older one makes shushing sounds because their position is still precarious. Every so often they lie still to avoid the attention of some passing enemy or other. Once, they do not still themselves in time. Maitimo freezes in place and imagines the worst.
Instead, he finds himself face-to-face with Amil; she is not veiled anymore, but he knows it is she, from her armor and the way she looks at him. Her face is warped and awful, scarred a thousand times worse than his own, which is saying something; it makes him feel sick, but with compassion and not disgust.
She meets his gaze in concern, then nods to him, once. By this time Findekáno is not conscious enough to notice the exchange. Maitimo is worried about him, in a way, but all too rationally figures that what will come will come, and there is another acquaintance to say goodbye to first. Neither says anything aloud; they lock eyes for a moment and then move on. It becomes absurdly clear that this is what she intended all along. He wants to take her with him. And, just as much, he wants to believe that he will never see her again.
He has a feeling that he is not going to forget her.
Rain comes, and Maitimo welcomes it like nothing else.
Water is no longer to be searched for in narrow streams on this endless journey. It is no longer a thing to be lapped out of shallow puddles in stone floors. It is everywhere, in his hair, dripping down his cheeks, wetting his lips.
Every crack of thunder makes him wince, but Eru is in that rain, he is there and he is saying that maybe something has been sung for them besides doom and despair. Maitimo is past knowing whether he has ever felt such rain before.
He falls asleep with a hand in Káno's hair and that holy water falling from the sky. He awakens in a patch of mud, in a land desolate and silent but for their labored breaths.
A few more yards and Findekáno is whimpering, caught in that state where hurt makes all else irrelevant, a place that Maitimo knows quite well. Stopping to see how much damage was done, however, is not an option; those maces were quite large, the mark on his face where the whip caught his cheek is identical to one Maitimo once had against his shoulder, and the extent of harm does not really affect the need to get to sanctuary.
The voyage is eventless from then on. Either the Valar are watching, or some great scale of balance says that Maitimo has had quite enough trouble for one millennium. While even the slightest movement hurts, while hardly an instant goes by when he is not sure that he cannot go on, he continues.
He breathes. He crawls. He murmurs to his cousin that they are almost there, and that everything is going to be alright. He knows that he has no proof of either statement. They leave smudges of blood on the ground as they journey onward. For all the land is not rough, he feels as though it is a mountain that they are climbing.
He is going to give way, he is going to fall and that is going to be the end. Maitimo knows it. He knows it until those hills rise on the horizons, more beautiful, in that moment, than Taniquetil itself. He draws strength from that vision, from the ground beneath him, from his wounded skin, as though every drop of his blood that smears against the ground beneath him is a drop of energy to push him onward. He is used to the hunger, the weariness, and something about Findekáno's hair entwining with his own makes it all worthwhile.
The sun has made many full cycles and the moon is in the sky by the time that, on all fours, he makes his way into his younger cousin Turukáno's transient encampment in the hills. He has become good at skulking around unnoticed, when necessary, and so getting within, unseen, is not as difficult as it sounds.
Like a phantom he creeps, avoiding the few watchful guards; his lover, if they still can be called such, he leaves in the center of the camp, brushing a kiss on the wounded elf's cheek, before finding himself a hideaway in some nearby bushes.
Amazing, how he could have forgotten the existence of such plant life. The leaves are spiky but welcoming, and he falls asleep quickly, buried in foliage, concealed from view. Soon he will have to worry about his cousin, but right now he has done all that he can, and he is drained and confused, and even what might still be love must wait.
When Turukáno is woken at sunrise by an anxious servant who announces that his brother, alive, has been found nearby, he is skeptical at best. If Findekáno has survived, he is certainly the only one of his and Nolofinwë's combined armies to have done so; and anyway, the guards should certainly have alerted him to his brother's presence long before he entered the camp.
There is no denying that the near-lifeless body belongs to Findekáno. It is, on the other hand, equally true that there does not appear to be much sense left in him. When he awakens, hours later, it is only to mumble about being saved by a lover who he insists is not his far-off wife, but refuses to name. Turukáno dismisses this story as delirium.
The first part of the tale, involving Balrogs, whips, axes, and maces, is far more believable, and would explain his brother's condition; but though he constantly questions his elder sibling as to how he reached the camp, the answers he receives all lead back to this mysterious, unidentified savior.
After a while, he stops asking. He refuses, however, to leave Findekáno's side, or to pay much attention to the news he is brought. Significant news, pertaining to the Hill of Slain, beneath which he supposes his father lies, or to the orcs that have fast overtaken much of the surrounding land; or less momentous, such as the disappearance of food from their stores, as though taken by a ghost.
"They say that the lord Findekáno is dying." The speaker is gathering firewood on the edge of Turukáno's encampment; the sound of wood being broken into kindling masks any rustling of a nearby hidden watcher. "They say he will not last the night."
"It is the Valar," his companion replies, his hatred cold and chill. "Glad to doom us all… some days I think they do it out of spite."
"You shouldn't speak of that."
"No? Then what of Eru Ilúvatar, who on a whim lets all six of Fëanáro's sons live, after… what happened in Menegroth…" A pause. "Who is he to take away our lord Nolofinwë and leave them intact?" The elf snaps a dead tree-branch with a vehemence inappropriate outside the fiercest of battles.
Maitimo darts away.
As night falls, Findekáno grows agitated, and cannot lie still; he refuses the presence of the healers to whom he has been nothing short of obstinate since his arrival, and now commands his brother to leave as well.
This does not need an explanation.
There is not much to do except obey, both the order to leave and the subsequent one to remove all others from the immediate area.
It is a moment before Turukáno departs; Mandos is etched into his elder brother's eyes, and the thought of willingly walking away from him at such a time feels immoral, almost treasonous, despite what he is commanded.
"Do not worry," Findekáno says, "I will see you soon."
"Was that meant to be comforting?"
"No." A wry, unbefitting smile. "But it's true."
Turukáno does not answer. He drinks in the image of his brother one last time, nods to him, and departs the tent.
Findekáno may not have had the foresight to prevent a failed battle and the destruction of a vast number of his people; but he certainly has enough to know that his time is running out, and that there is one face he needs to see again or the Halls of Waiting will be unbearable. He lies in his pile of blankets on the tent floor and prays to Manwë that Maitimo will come soon. Most of all, he prays that this is not some desperate delusion that has come from years of yearning.
An eternity passes before he comes. With every passing second Findekáno is afraid that he cannot last and that he will not see his cousin again.
But he enters. Not elegantly: stumbling, falling and then staggering back to his feet; his coordination has improved drastically in the past couple days, but not enough that he might be considered graceful. His clothing is stolen from Turukáno, but his expression is distinctly his own, and entirely unreadable. Straight through the front entrance he comes, unceremoniously, as though they are back in Paradise and he is just stopping by to say hello.
That is, in fact, exactly what he does say.
Findekáno reaches uncertainly in the direction of his half-cousin; Maitimo kneels beside him and takes the proffered hand. For a while all they do is stare at one another. With his other hand the younger reaches out and takes a lock of copper hair between two fingers.
There is enough understanding between the two, even after centuries, that when Findekáno rolls over, wincing, Maitimo curls up against him without being asked; that when the latter says: "You must have known you could only get away with being the Valiant for so long," the former answers, "Well, I did it for you."
Findekáno finds himself all at once fearful that he is going to have to leave without the time for a full explanation. The thought terrifies him. Words trip over themselves as they slither from his lips:
"I knew we would not win. I was going to get myself captured… I was going to see you again… I could not… I could not live without…"
"Shhh," Maitimo soothes "I am here now. You have been a fool, but I am here." He runs his thumb against the other's cheek, gently, avoiding the burn mark there. He murmurs, "I could have… I should have saved you. I should have…"
"That is more than I ever did for you."
Maitimo burrows into his cousin's arms and rests his head on the other elf's shoulder, clearly unmindful of any pain he might be causing him. The younger one does not oppose this, but carefully moves to accommodate him, so that they lie together, interlocked, a mass of pallid skin, of wounds and untidy hair.
At some point the candle in the corner extinguishes, right around when Findekáno's breathing becomes more labored and Maitimo is forced to loosen his grip. Time stands still. Exhale, inhale. Exhale…