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"Detour" by Dawn Felagund

Author: dawn_felagund
Title: Detour
Rating: PG-13 for mild sexual content (Maedhros/Fingon), mild violence, and reference to character death
Theme: I am writing for the leftover Yule Exchange prompt, originally requested by silver_trails: "I would like a Fingon and Maedhros story, where they love each other. It can be set in Tirion, in Middle-earth, or after they come out of the Halls."
Author's Notes: I have lately been unable to stop writing stories about the Finwëans as they are released from the halls of Mandos and into a version of Tirion they could never have imagined. Finarfin has unkinged himself and, against the will of the Valar, established Tirion as a democratic republic. I don't believe that familiarity with the earlier stories is required to understand this one, but if you're curious: Bone-White and Museum for the Forgotten. (Incidentally, "Bone-White" was also written for a request by Silver Trails, so she can really be blamed for a lot of this. ;) Please see the endnotes for translations of Quenya names.
Summary: It is the Fifth Age of Arda. Finarfin has unkinged himself and declared Tirion a democracy, and the Noldorin people are alive with the possibilities to be found in their new existence. Yet Maedhros, more than ten years after his release from the halls of Mandos, has retreated to a life of apathy and loneliness, until one day, Anairë comes to deliver him news that he never hoped to receive: His cousin Fingon has been released from Mandos. (Maedhros/Fingon)
Word Count: 7,900

Detour



The day is done and I am bone-tired. I have survived it, in more ways than one. I have survived the daily drudgery of my work at Tirion's Lower Circles Academy, teaching literature, history, and rhetoric to young Noldor on the cusp of maturity, still full of gangling energy but beginning to hone the keen tongues of our ever-fractious people. These children are the sons and daughters of the residents of Tirion's lower circles, where workers tend to live who have few intellectual and creative aspirations beyond pounding out a day's work in a forge or workshop and then spending the evening listening to spritely, soulless music with an ale in hand. They do not bring with them much curiosity. If it were not for Arafinwë's laws mandating school attendance until the age of forty-five years, most would not be here at all.

It is an onerous placement even for the young, enthusiastic new graduates of Tirion's College of Pedagogues, and I am not young and I am not enthusiastic, and I am far from new at anything--even this body, spruce from reembodiment just over a decade ago has begun to wear its share of minute blemishes and scars. Few manage more than five years of service here before finding a place at a more prestigious school in the higher levels of Tirion or at a school with students younger or older than these: with the energy of childhood or the razored attitudes of adolescence but not both. I have been here for ten years. People often accost me as to why. I'm not sure I can offer an explanation.

But I have survived again today. With birthrates among the Eldar ever-falling, pedagogy is no longer a secure profession, and two lecturers found out today that they would not return to the Lower Circle Academy for the next year. I thought I might be selected. I half-hoped I would be: a culling from the sluggish herd followed by a rapid if painful transformation into something entirely different. My instructional methods are alternatingly described as full of malaise and edged with cynicism. I should have been selected. But the day passed, and I was not called to the headmaster's office, so an eleventh year shall be my lot.

I plod down the steps that lead from the entranceway of the school and into the street. The Noldor do everything with magnificence, as though reality will rise to meet their expectations. The school is of fine marble, columned and corniced as one of the colleges of the administrative district. It is on the third level of the city, generally a mercantile district with few workshops, but going gray with the effects of smoke that billows up from the levels below it. On windless days, a fog of it swaths the building so that the shades of my study might be drawn for all I can see. Pigeons nest in the gap left along the school's fancy roofline and streak the building's face with their droppings.

There is a lamppost directly in front of the sweeping stairway to the school, but the sky has just begun to be tinged with night, and the stone in the lamp's heart has not yet come awake. Someone is standing beneath the post. I gird myself for the possibility that one of my pupil's parents has come to berate me over a perceived indignity in class or a mark--it would not be the first time--but I realize that the figure possesses an uprightness, a poise of one who doesn't hunch over its work all day. And then the lamp flares to life: my Aunt Anairë.

It's not the first time she's come to see me. I expect she made some sort of promise to my mother, living north of the city, to look out for me. She is an elected representative in the House of Scholars; in my youth, she was prim to the point of priggishness, but though she has relaxed considerably in the intervening ages, even now I cannot describe her comportment as less than dignified. She wears her dark hair in a single long braid, any wayward strands well tamed by gold clips that set almost like a circlet upon her hair. She wears a close-fitted, plain, cream-colored tunic over slim trousers of the same color. She smiles without showing her teeth.

I find myself pulled upright in her presence and my old graces returning, like a child called to recite before the class. I don't dare do otherwise. She has been elected as representative more times than anyone else in the House of Scholars or House of Craftspersons. She is formidable.

She came here once to encourage me to run for an office. She came a second time to tell me of a position in the History Department of the College of Scholars that she felt I was uniquely qualified for. Her eyes scrunched a little as she said it, and I understood that, qualified or no, strings would be pulled to gain me the position if I wanted it. Arafinwë may have used--and relinquished--his reign to establish some notion of parity among the people of the Noldor, but nature is nature, and one always watches out for one's own. And I've never been directly told but nonetheless perceive that a decade-long stint teaching mnemonic devices to remember the Eldarin kings to the children of blacksmiths is beginning to become lusterless and a little embarrassing to members of my family.

I hold out my hands to her. I force myself to pantomime my old smile that used to make people feel so welcome and warm. She places her hands in mine. We kiss cheeks without actually touching. I say, "Aunt Anairë," and she says, "Maitimo." She long ago abandoned the forced affection of using my epessë.

"I am probably not going to be interested," I say and force myself to laugh to blunt the edges of what might be heard as rudeness. "I am content here. Really, I am." The last bit seems as much a note to self than anything. "But it is so kind of you to look out for me."

She does not smile. In the shimmering light of the lamp, there is something sad about the lines in her face. "That is not why I have come, Maitimo."

I take her arm and guide her towards my home: the appearance of my familiar old manners inviting a lady to converse as we stroll but really my tired feet, a desire for my armchair, a tumbler of not-unworthy whiskey. "Should we stop for a light supper? Or would you like--"

Her hand jerks on my arm, and I realize she is not moving. The play of the lamplight on her face is no longer an excuse; she is clearly marshalling her emotions.

We watch each other in the falling dark for a moment before she says, simply: "Findekáno."

~oOo~


We used to rush into the other's innermost rooms without invitation. We used to presume the right to turn and read anything on the other's desk. We used to share cups and plates and pilfer the other's handkerchief right from a pocket.

We used to tell each other when clothing looked foolish. When speeches sounded stupid. We used those words: foolish, stupid. We used to ruthlessly mark each other's parchments. We said to each other the worst possible things we might hear when we left our rooms, and so we were never surprised, never wounded by the outside world.

We used to fight without anger.

We used to forgive without words.

We used to conspire to spend summers together. Nights. We used to hog the other's attention. We used to listen every day for the approach of a messenger. We used to long for a letter, a word, for anything.

We used to deliberately feign crises to stay longer.

We used to read together and ravel our legs. We used to scratch each other's itches. We used to swim naked together. We used to use the privy while the other bathed. We used to use our own spit to clean the other's face. We used to use our own hands to staunch the other's wounds.

We used to--

~oOo~


Crossing the threshold from the vestibule into Aunt Anairë's living room is more difficult than it used to be to leave my doorstep for battle. She lives in an apartment in the administrative district now: rooms that had once belonged to a lord of the Noldor who had gone east. Neither her children nor husband have been reembodied--not till now, anyway--and Arafinwë reckons that she doesn't need a lot of space, alone as she is. We take a lift to the third floor, then a long hallway, then a bend to the left. I know this space; I've been here before with my mother. We visit about annually. My mother thinks Anairë must be lonely and wedges us into her busy life about once per year. I know her buff-colored furniture and paintings from a Tirion artist who works in angry splashes of paint. I know that arching doorway into the living room.

I know Findekáno beyond it. Don't I?

She might call, "We're home, Káno!" She might make some homey overture to ease my transition from my life without him to a life where he is restored to me--or is he? I certainly am not restored to him. But she doesn't. She wordlessly opens her palm to the arching doorway and closes the door behind us.

I spend a lot more time than needed taking off my shoes. Aunt Anairë has cream-colored carpet. She slips out of hers and disappears in the direction of the kitchen. I go to rake my hand through my hair before remembering that I am just off from work, and it is still braided. I wish I had insisted on stopping home to change my clothes. I have on a plain shirt tucked into my trousers. It makes my legs look stupidly long. I start to untuck my shirt but it is hideously wrinkled, so I hastily jam it back into my waistband. My socks are both black but slightly different in weave.

A little gray dog furred like a dustmop wriggles into the room and sniffs my feet. I have a hole in one sock. I use the dog's careful inspection of my feet as an excuse to dawdle longer.

Then I have no choice. My delay is becoming awkward. Findekáno clearly knew I was coming and clearly heard my arrival, and here I am. Here I am. I should be rushing into his arms, but here I am.

I take a deep breath and brush the front of my trousers to make sure I don't have any chalk on them. And I walk into the room.

He is studiously casual, reading a book on the new Noldorin government. That's just like Anairë; she has probably already spoken with someone about a position for him and assigned a reading list. He is probably already on the next ballot, though the next election is years away. The lights are low, but that's characteristic of Anairë too: She would have known that Elves newly arrived from the halls of Mandos are keenly, painfully sensitive. Even though no one else knows these things, Anairë would have known. Somehow. He should be past the worst of the pain, but the dimness will be a relief nonetheless. She has spread a silk sheet across the sofa where he has folded himself to save his skin from the nubby upholstery. It matches the sofa perfectly, but she has overlooked the price stub still stuck to the corner; she has perhaps betrayed that she wasn't entirely ready for his reappearance into her life, isn't as entirely connected and aware of everything as she gives the impression of being.

He looks over the edge of his book. Blue eyes, he has--

The things you forget because they become so familiar. Noldor generally have gray eyes.

I expect to see my confusion and uncertainty reflected there. I think we might awkwardly regard each other for a few moments before one of us decides what to do. I decide to bridge the awkwardness with a "Hi" that comes out as a croak, but even that small syllable is partly lost when the book tumbles from his hands and he bounds across the carpet that I know must still be painful to his new feet. And he holds me.

He shoulders, his shape, the knobs of his spine, the way his hair tumbles over my hands and tickles the backs of them, his smallness next to me, the way he turns his cheek to rest on my shoulder, slips his face against my chest over my heart.

"There it is. Still beating."

~oOo~


A fall from his horse. He is still a child; I am barely a man. I rush to his side with my blood roaring in my ears. We are in the deep forest, a day's ride from anyone. He is trembling upon his back, hands curled in the air before him; he coughs out a sob. He is okay. "Shh, shh," I say. "Shh, shh." A hand on his chest, as much to reassure myself as him: "See? You're okay now. There it is. Still beating."

~oOo~


The next morning, in the middle of the history block, a shrimpy boy with protuberant ears--the son of a gemsetter and a street cleaner--raises his hand and blurts, "IhearPrinceFindekánoisback."

"Enunciate, enunciate," I intone, making a circling motion with the chalk in the air.

"Prince Findekáno, I hear he's back."

"He's not a prince anymore," I remind him. "We're a democratic republic now, not a monarchy. Who can tell me what that means?"

He ignores my question; they all do. "I'm talking about back when," he says. "He used to be a prince. In the time we are learning about."

Of course, I used to be a prince too, but that doesn't seem to impress them when they do things like steal my erasers or set a time when they all drop their books on the floor simultaneously and nearly frighten me out of my skin. Two of them are scribbling on a piece of paper between them and giggling now and another is whittling the edge of the desk and another is sound asleep.

A raw-boned girl with constantly chapped lips doesn't raise her hand before asking, "Is he really back?"

"He is really back," I admit.

"Prince Findekáno is a hero!" This from the back of the room, from a mousy brown-haired girl who seems physically unable to smile.

"Well, it's complicated," I say, although I am well aware that the portrait of Findekáno in their textbooks is exceptionally dreamy, and I go through this every year with most of the girls and the occasional boy. "He was also a kinslayer and an exile."

"Nuh-uh! He came up late on the kinslaying! He didn't really know what he was doing!" Chapped Lips says with the aggrieved urgency that seems a hallmark trait of that particular age. And before I can add anything, Shrimp with Ears adds, "Yeah, it's not fair to blame him for what he didn't know."

"Well, he certainly knew he was choosing to be an exile," I remind them dryly. "And ignorance is not an excuse for forgetting your homework, so it is certainly not an excuse for slaying thousands of all-but-unarmed Teleri."

When I started this job, I protested the assignment of First Age history. I far preferred the Second Age curriculum, where I could critique from afar the bad choices of the Númenóreans and could cover the early evolution of the Democratic Republic of Tirion under the leadership of my Uncle Arafinwë in all its dull minutia. All of the controversial figures I had known--and often loved--were tucked away in Mandos by this point in history. I argued that to cover the events of my own life was hardly teaching history; I was very likely to be horribly biased and perhaps unnecessarily provocative. I was assured by the headmaster, however, that he had every confidence that a scholar of my caliber could separate himself from the content he taught. Furthermore, had not the rigors of Mandos tempered those ungainly emotions? It was dangerous to admit otherwise than, yes, of course they had. I accepted the position.

By now, most of the class is half-shouting at me, leaning forward in their seats, whittling and doodling forgotten; even the little boy who was napping awakes with a start and begins shouting about autonomy. I wouldn't have dreamt he knew that word. The dreamy picture of Findekáno is opened on several desks, I notice. I parry their arguments as best I can, but I will leave the classroom at the end of the block feeling like I've climbed halfway up a tree before realizing that I have ascended right into a swarm of bees.

At the end of the hall, the timekeeper begins to clang his bell. For a moment, they sit motionless, leaned forward upon their elbows with their eyes fixed on me like a pack of wolves contemplating a wounded deer. Then they clamor to their feet, hoisting bags to their shoulders and leaving the chairs askance and sweets wrappers littering the floor, and crowd into the hall. Someone leaves a textbook, opened to the dreamy picture of Findekáno. I pick my way through the disarranged desks and chairs to retrieve it, closing the cover upon his face and putting it somewhere safe so the one who left it can easily find it once he realizes it is missing.

~oOo~


"We have to tell!"

"We
can't tell."

"People are going to wonder why you haven't married. The eldest of Finwë's grandchildren!"

"It doesn't matter. We can't tell."

"You want to keep this--keep us--a secret forever?"

"That's not fair. You know I don't. But we
can't tell."

~oOo~


I don't know how to proceed with this. I wonder if Námo and the other Valar thought of this, when they decided that our permanence upon Arda meant that we should be assigned new bodies when our old ones failed. When they decided to press our feär into shapes resurrected from our youth and send us out into a world that wore only a veneer of recognizability to eyes that remembered the utmost of both triumph and terror. When others looked upon a face they assumed they knew, ignorant of the stranger inside. I wonder if they thought of what that meant for us.

For hundreds of years, Findekáno and I lived a life of unity. Even when apart, we moved as one: the north and south poles upon which the world turned, far-sundered and unwavering. Our reunions were equally easy and joyful, whether the bookend of a day or a year spent apart. But when ages and death came between that last parting and this moment, this now? The trials of Mandos and horrors of reembodiment? Things that no flurry of letters could contain, nor councils nor confessions, nor even whispers passed in the intimate hours of night?

He is before me now a stranger, a guise he's never worn. I watched him grow and learned to love him and watched that love transform; he'd never known a life without me. We became ourselves ever in the other's presence and always loved. There was a sense of inevitability about us, the way that two rivers will join and tumble together to the sea, having neither choice nor qualm. But now we meet as men, men with the unspoken and unknown cloaked within their hearts. Now we must begin the process of acquaintance and revelation, knowing that each was a juncture presenting a choice, and each choice the possibility of rejection.

I do not know how to present the man I am, who is not the same man he expected to meet in the battle now called Nirnaeth Arnoediad as hammer meets anvil. One such as me never should have been worthy of one such as him. I was fair to look upon but bookish and dull, preferring to retreat to the library on days when I was left to myself. He was the painting on the page in the students' history text: jaw squared and hair slightly loosened from its gold wrappings and blue eyes ever fixed on the horizon, fearless of what lay beyond and speeding to meet it. A lifetime at his side had prepared me for my duty and even to rise to distinction, but left without him, as I have been these past eleven years, I have fallen into obscurity. And, in truth, I look back at our lives as told in the pages of the history texts and have no desire to see such times again. I rather prefer, I find, my name to be unknown.

I do not know that he will want me now, and so I find myself trapped in the inertia of my uncertainty, a churning mind secreted inside a body that does nothing, that doesn't dare.

For despite the lessons of Middle-earth, my mind imagines great and dramatic things. I imagine clattering to his door upon a black horse and carrying him away to the forest and lying him upon a riverbank beneath the stars. I imagine renting an inn and ordering it filled with candles and roses before being deserted by all save him and me. I imagine taking him to the lakes in the south and bringing enough provisions to survive upon an island until we wish to return, if ever.

And then? Confessing my disappointing job, my tiny loft with its single window, my lack of aspirations, my early bedtime, my days off spent in bed with soup and a book I've nearly memorized from rereading because I am too indifferent to venture to the library for another? Or inventing a life for myself, or saying nothing, and leaving him to discover, as I allow him back into my life, the disappointing truth for himself, that I give no one reason any longer to say my name and am perfectly content in that?

But as is Findekáno's way, he gives me little choice. I return to my study at the school for the break between my second and third lectures, anticipating a cup of tea and dreading the stack of student essays that have been occupying the corner of my desk for several days now. I share the study with two other lecturers but empty mugs and a similar pile of papers on both desks signal that neither is in: We are content with our schedules that never force us to share each other's company. We could change it but don't. The study is stuffy and overwarm as is normal; the light is too dim; all is as it should be save a letter in the center of my desk.

Maitimo Fëanárion

(it says)

Lower Circles Academy of Tirion

I know that hand. It is a little more stilted than I recall as he regains comfortable use of his body--Findekáno always sprawled ink all over the page simply because parchment could not hold his attention long enough to watch where his letters were going--but the ascenders still fly off into the blank space upon the folded parchment and when the letters rise and fall in rapid succession, there is a freckling of dark ink that betrays that he was carelessly fast in forming them. We don't use seals anymore. A craftsperson in Tirion has taken to making colorful shapes with sticky backs for sealing letters that have become popular: the more whimsical, the more popular. He has used one of those: a sweetly smiling lion, crookedly applied.

I ease the lion away and unfold the letter.

Nelyo,

(it says)

My mother has told me all about you and your life. I hope you are not angry! I was starving for any news of you! After she cut our visit so short, she packed me off to bed, but within the half-hour, I was back in her study, pestering her for news of you. Mostly what you've been doing these eleven-and-a-half years. She finally told me just to shut me up so she could get back to work. I wish now that I'd waited to hear it all from you! I feel like a child who sneaks a look early into a gift and then is disappointed by the lack of surprise at the actual, official opening of that gift. Well. You know I've always been restless. I hope you can forgive me.

She tells me that you are a teacher and that you live in the lower circles now. Your students are so lucky! All those years you taught your brothers and me--most of what we know if we're honest because neither of our fathers had much endurance where our educations were concerned--and I think we turned out okay, although I expect you're not allowed to say that officially anymore? It must feel strange speaking of our former lives as history, but what better person, truly, to do so! I'm sure you make them feel the same restless longing for the world that you awakened in me. Remember me as a stupid little boy who was scared of everything until you got your hands on me?

What a world this has become! I bother my mother day and night to explain about this place called Tirion but nothing like our Tirion. I knew Arafinwë had some crazy notions but never pegged him as courageous enough to try them, although I suppose I have to admit the possibility that he wilted in the shadows of both our fathers! So we never knew him at all perhaps. I am supposed to spend a day with him two days hence to learn the workings of this home I no longer recognize.

Okay! I have to go. My mother is glaring daggers at me. You know the look! I am supposed to sit in on a session of the House of Scholars today to see how this representative government thing works. She loaned me a book which I devoured. Okay, she's going to disown me if I don't stop scribbling now, she is tapping her toe in that way, so write soon with a time and place we can meet, I will go anywhere and drop everything to see you!

He who loves you, so much, is none other than,

Káno

~oOo~


(I use the old wax seals. I also studiously resist the overuse--or use at all--of exclamation points, which reminds me of the writing of some of my flightier girl students and has become a pet peeve.)

My dearest Findekáno,

Your letter came as quite the surprise. I did not expect to hear from you so soon but was pleased to be remembered so quickly after our meeting. I do not mind that Anairë has told you details of my life; I imagine she sent you back to bed posthaste, for there is not a lot to tell. I have lived a humble existence here. I learned the lessons that Middle-earth was intended to teach. You are correct that I am a lecturer at the Lower Circles Academy of Tirion. It is not an prestigious appointment. I live a ten-minute walk from the school, as I no longer wish to bother with horses and tack and riding everywhere I wish to go, and my stipend cannot afford me a carriage each day.

It would please me greatly to meet again. One does not hope that the vagaries of Námo will return the loves of one's heart, and I did not dare hope to see you again. Please ask Anairë for recommendations of where we might meet. I do not know the upper city well anymore, and nothing here is suitable, I fear; it is all rather squalid. Perhaps she knows a restaurant or a park that would be appropriate.

After the morrow, I have a three-day break from classes, and this would be the ideal time for another reunion. Please send word about when and where we shall meet.

With most affectionate love,

Your cousin,

Maitimo

~oOo~


(The sticker is a tree with hearts for fruit.
Impossible, and rather disgusting if one carries the metaphor to its logical conclusion.)

Nelyo!

Stop being stuffy! If I wanted to idle in some park or over weak wine (doesn't all the wine here seem weak after Middle-earth??) in a restaurant then I'd just as soon invite you to dinner with my mother. I don't have rooms of my own yet, so I will come to your rooms. Tell me when!

He, who is entertaining improper thoughts of you and is perfectly willing to accept squalid, is none other than,

Káno

~oOo~


(I pilfered a sheet of stickers from one of my students today who was using them inappropriately during class. The sheet includes dancing grapes and sleepy-smiling walruses and all manner of nonsense. But after I write the words they seem to require a wax seal. The stickers I put away.)

Findekáno, my dearest love,

You say your mother told you much of me, but I fear she has misled you--certainly inadvertently!--if she forbore in mentioning my humble appointment at the school and that I am possessed merely of lodging to match. I haven't "rooms," I'm afraid, but a single room that is too humble to entertain anyone much less you. I swear to you I am not trying to be stuffy. (The single room, however, is stuffy, being possessed of but one window. That is only part of the reason. There are mice in the walls and a crying baby downstairs.)

I will always love you above all others, but my life now is not worthy of you, and I do not see the point in deluding you any further. I am no longer a prince, the son of a king, yet I remain dispossessed: I am dispossessed of the courage and the vigor you awakened and sustained in me, and having been betrayed by all that I held ideal and strove to nurture within myself, I have slipped into mediocrity. And worse yet, I am content in that mediocrity. Perhaps it would have saved us, all those ages ago, if I had been content to accept it then. It is not a life--and I am not a partner--that you deserve. I am no longer the man you knew.

I am sorry, Findekáno.

I love you.

Maitimo

~oOo~


(No sticker, just crookedly folded parchment coming undone on my desk.)

Nelyo--
You are a fool.
-K

(it says)

~oOo~


The council chamber was slow in clearing out. Too slow. It was tradition for the king to leave the room last, so Findekáno had the pretense he needed to remain at the chair at the head of the council table, one wrist supine upon the arm of the chair and the other hand pulling slowly at the gold wrapping in his hair. I, on the other hand, had to shuffle and rearrange my papers and books to the point of ridiculousness in order to remain in the room with him until we were alone. A slow procession of people went to the front of the room one by one to speak to him. His voice was languid in answering them, like the delay didn't matter.

At last the door snicked shut upon the last of them. Findekáno was suddenly upon me. My hip collided with the edge of the table, hard enough to bruise. My hand caught at anything to stay my fall. The papers and books, they slid into disarray across the tabletop.

His hands upon my face, he kissed me breathless.


~oOo~


It used to be that when Findekáno insulted me in a letter--which was quite often by the time we'd weathered each other long enough to reach Middle-earth--that I would reply while the rage was still fresh and insult him right back. Then, in the sleepless night that followed, I'd think better of it and pen an apologetic reply and wake up the fastest messenger I could find so that the second message would arrive simultaneous with the first or, at worst, shortly after. Or sometimes another messenger with another letter would arrive before the ink on my first had dried, and Findekáno would apologize to me.

My heart no longer kindles to rage, even though he was entirely wrong: I am not a fool. I see my life with a clarity I never possessed when I was younger. It's like I look upon it from high above it, seeing it stretch back into the past with all of my many mistakes and their painful remedies in Mandos still bright with lurid detail like illuminations in a book, then seeing a future like parchment unrolled across the time before me. It used to be that I thought of my future as unmarked parchment. Now I saw the guidelines, carefully ruled there for me to follow. My earlier life had been like a spill of ink, ruining the page, the book, the tabletop. This time was different: What I wrote would not be beautiful but it would be tidy, useful, safe.

I felt the least foolish as ever I have in the whole of my long life.

Divested of my rage, I do not know how to respond. So I do not. Part of me expects a second messenger to follow, but the final school day of the week passes with no letter upon my desk. Then I have my three-day break, and still no word comes. I go to the school each of the three days nonetheless and finish grading the essays on my desk so that I will not think of Findekáno. In the evenings, I have my dinner in a tavern and stay as late as there is music, even though it is trite and insipid, so that I will not look at my little room and narrow bed and perceive my life as lonely.

By the day the students return, I do not even bother to watch for a messenger.

It is a long day. My first lecture is observed unannounced by the headmaster. These are always tense occasions on account of the dwindling need for lecturers and the not-unjustified perception that such unannounced visits are at least partly motivated by a need to pare the rolls even further by catching us in negligence. On my break, I spill tea upon a nearly completed document and have to start again and fall behind in my work as a result. Then, on my way to my next class, I discover two boys scuffling in the hallway, their arms wrapped around each other and their little fists pummeling furiously at the other's back, ringed by silent students clutching at their books and watching wide-eyed as the boys crash into a wall and fall upon the floor. I drag them apart and, their collars bunched in each of my fists, into the nearest empty classroom.

"Are you mad?" My voice hasn't shouted in hundreds of years. It rasps; it hurts. I feel my eyes bulging; my throat feels thick with the blood pounding through it. I feel anger I thought I no longer possessed billowing from the depths of me until my blood races and my body burns with it. "Are you mad?" I say again in nearly a shriek.

A slow trickle of blood leaks from one boy's nose. Both are trembling, whether in the aftermath of anger or from fear of me, I do not know. I am suddenly aware of my height. It used to be something I was conscious of all the time, but I haven't thought of it in years. I am aware of it now, of the way I can bend my body to look down upon them. They seem to shrink smaller. Their faces tip to peer up at me.

"Our people have been nearly extinguished by violence! The most brilliant and skilled people of the Elves, and we nearly allowed ourselves to end because we could not keep our fists at our sides, because we could not calm the anger in our hearts. Do you know how many of our people died? The suffering they endured? Because of foolish, stupid, pointless violence!" I start to turn to dismiss them but my voice seems to have a different idea. "Look at me! Look at me! What a waste my life has been. Because I was too stupid to keep my fists at my sides."

Then I am late to my next class. In the logic-defying way that adolescent rumor spreads through the school as instantaneous as light filling a room, the entire class somehow knows about the fight and how I lost my temper. They sit in complete silence as I enter the room, and there isn't a whisper or a shuffle as I deliver a brisk lecture on the partition of the lands of Beleriand, then dismiss them five minutes early. Not a sweets wrapper remains on the floor after they leave. One book remains behind, and as I close it to put it on the lost-and-found shelf, I notice that it is opened to a pencil drawing of me astride my horse, preparing to ride forth to parlay with Morgoth.

I close it with a bang and leave it where it lies.

I stay late, expecting to be summoned by the headmaster and probably fired--reprimanded at the least--for losing my temper with that pair of quavering urchins, but no summons ever comes. Twilight over the city is silver, the darkness forced back by the lights of the city. As I descend the steps in front of the school, I watch the lamp stones quiver to life, one by one up the street, as the darkness creeps upon them. They leap to life, and the darkness is shoved back in less than a blink. I am so intent upon this thought that I do not see the figure detach itself from the lamppost in front of the school until it places itself in the path before me.

"Findekáno!"

"You never wrote back." Amazement lilts his voice at the end, like he is asking a question. I am always correcting students of this habit. "You never told me a place to meet you."

We fall into step, side by side. He is shorter than me by quite a bit, but as always, he moves with such energy (or maybe I move with such lethargy?) that he keeps pace easily. "I thought you took me at my word. You never sent me a second message apologizing for calling me a fool, so I thought--"

"I'm not going to apologize for calling you what you were. To think I care! About where you work or where you live."

"I don't think you understand, Káno."

"Nelyo, I don't think you understand how boring you were in our youth, when the green chair in your father's library that you loved so much? It had an imprint of your butt in it because you were in it so much. And your hands smelled like the mold in books. And you used to talk to girls of Quendian grammar, and they looked at you with eyes like dinner plates! And you used to drone endlessly to me about lore, and I couldn't have cared less as long as it I was the recipient of your droning." He shrugged. "You became more interesting with time."

"Not this time." I shook my head fiercely. "I'm not going to this time. I learned the lesson Middle-earth was meant to teach. Námo showed me, in his halls. I think that was one of the more painful things I came to know: that he knew what we went into, he saw what would come of it, and he let us go because it was the only way we'd learn. Well. I was exiled, captured. Tortured. Mutilated. I lost my father, my brothers. You. I died that day and every day after, when I woke and remembered you were gone, and yet it still hurt when the fire took my body. If I'd known how bad it would hurt, I would not have had the courage, and you'd still be dying every day in my memory. After all that? I am cured of the need to be interesting."

We are descending to the lower streets. There is a carnival in the streets: colored lanterns upon ropes that dip between buildings, a smell of sweets so strong it cloys upon the tongue, whirling machines that sweep their riders high in the air before dropping them low again. Screams of delighted terror fill the air. A juggler poised on stilts weaves her legs over us; Findekáno drops a coin into the hat carried by a small monkey that follows her. Two of my girl students pass, still in their uniforms, their mouths stained pink by spun sugar; they are giggling and do not notice me. Every tavern seems to have a musician and the sounds tangle in the air and come out somehow with a sort of frazzled coherence. A fire-breather leans over a third-storey balcony, and every few seconds, the street turns orange and the shadows jitter darker upon the ground.

Findekáno seems not to have heard what I've just said. "I've been spending the past few days at the top of the city," he tells me. The colored lights stain his dark hair. "This place, Tirion, has become amazing. Do you know about it?"

The fire-breather belches out a burst of flame and a muted Ooh! spreads through a crowd that never seems to become bored by it. Findekáno's eyes meet mine; firelight splashes through blue vivid enough to catch my breath in my chest. "If you mean Arafinwë's experiment with democracy, of course I do. I'm a lecturer in history; I had to pass an exam on the post-exile history of Aman to receive my license. Arafinwë's experiments are necessarily a large component of that."

Findekáno laughs. I had forgotten how he looks when he laughs, how his entire body seems to relax into it. I remember the last night he spent at Himring, sitting with him on an outcropping of rock that looked southward, where a few brave farmsteads held fast against the cold, where the road we built snaked to my brothers' lands and then westward to the realms of my cousins, where through hard, unending labor we had dressed the land in the trappings of peace and prosperity. He was laughing at something I said, some joke I made, probably flat and stupid because my jokes always were, though he didn't seem to mind. One knee was raised, his arm extended upon it. His hair was unbound. And it seemed in that moment, though we had a big battle yet to fight, that we had succeeded and that it had been worth it. Thangorodrim was at our backs and we laughed and plotted where orchards might go once we won for good.

That moment and this--his laughter then, his laughter now--were suddenly superimposed upon each other as though all that came between was but a detour that no longer mattered, like taking a wrong turn and doubling back the way we came and continuing on the journey we'd embarked upon with hope in our hearts. "Experiments! It's beyond that, wouldn't you say, Nelyo? What Arafinwë has done here--do you realize we never needed to go to Middle-earth at all?"

"Well we did," I say. "Because of Morgoth."

He waves his hand. "I mean to seek the freedom your father wanted and made all of us want in turn." He seizes my arm suddenly. "I want to try one of these machines."

"You don't," I say. "They'll make you ill."

Yet I find myself stepping into a seat barely big enough for the two of us and trusting a soot-darkened Noldo to secure us inside with a complicated latch after making us switch places so that I--the larger of the two--am on the outside. Findekáno is still talking about Arafinwë's new government. "Do you remember that bastard Lónango?" he asks. "Had an answer to everything, and no matter what you did, he had a story where he did it better? Always stories, though, mind! Did you know he's in the House of Craftspersons? I don't know how that happened! I remember a market day and looking for a letter opener for my mother, and the one he tried to sell me was as crooked as the tengwa canta. But my mother tells me that the designations of scholar and craftsperson are loosely assigned, and really, anyone is eligible. That means I can be eligible. Do you know how satisfying it would be to get to argue with that idiotic sot and put him in his place in front of the whole representation of Tirion and all of the news sheets?"

Findekáno is still talking about the House of Craftspersons and Lónango and now his mother's certainty of his election, but all I can think about is the length of his thigh pressed to mine, how firm and warm it is. My hands were clutching the bar secured across our laps, I swear it. But now one is upon his thigh.

He abruptly stops talking about elections.

"I am frightened of this machine," I manage quickly when his eyes meet mine.

There is that laugh again: the whole of him, tumbling against me, the laughter coming from a place deeper than seems possible to be contained within his body. That time between? Between our last night before the Nirnaeth and this moment now? I feel it break free and float away. No, I will never be fully rid of it. But I know now, it can be but a detour. I only need to step forth again upon my proper road.

The machine grinds to life and begins to slowly turn.

"Do you know the most amazing thing Arafinwë told me when I met with him the other day?" His hand covers mine. Part of me cannot believe he is still talking about government. I am supposed to be the one who awkwardly fails to desist from didacticism when social norms demand it. The machine is beginning to spin faster and crushing his body against mine: shoulder to shoulder, ribs to ribs, thigh to thigh. Our fingers ravel. "He told me that the Noldor no longer abide by the Valarin ban against love with one's own sex. He told me that even marriages take place now between two women or two men."

The lights, the fire, the music, the sweetened spring air: all blur as I give into the centrifugal forces and gather him against me and kiss his mouth before the world.




Quenya Names:
Maitimo/Nelyo: Maedhros
Findekáno/Káno: Fingon
Arafinwë: Finarfin

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
silver_trails
Jan. 29th, 2017 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oh! I've been so busy working on an article - at home, but still working on it - that I had no idea you wrote this for me! I would have read it before and not wait till Sunday! I love it! It's just perfect! Thank you very much!

*hugs*
dawn_felagund
Jan. 29th, 2017 03:21 pm (UTC)
I posted it at 1:30 AM Sunday morning, so you were about as early as you could possibly be in reading it. :D It was a late entry for this challenge because last weekend I was at the Women's March.

The potluck prompts were posted without mentioning who had requested them, so I didn't know it was your prompt until the story was finished and I used my modly powers to look up who had requested it! Otherwise I probably would have mentioned it over email the other day. It seemed especially fitting that it was yours since the story I wrote for your prompt about Maedhros and Caranthir over the summer, "Bone-White," got me started on this reembodied Noldor kick in the first place.
silver_trails
Jan. 29th, 2017 11:05 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you wrote it! I loved Bone White too. I was remembering that story when you described how Fingon's skin was still tender. You did a great job with both tales. =)
dreamflower02
Jan. 30th, 2017 05:46 pm (UTC)
I love your style in this, the voice that you give Maedhros so perfectly reflects his weariness. I've often thought that immortality would eventually depress most who had it--which explains the pains many Elves go through to try and "preserve" their world.

I'm normally not much for "first person present" but there are times when that is just what a story needs, and this one certainly does! The voice makes it immensely personal and gives a depth to the POV not found in the usual narrative voice.

And I love the idea that Tirion has become a democracy! I'm sure it shook things up a lot when that idea was put into place!
dawn_felagund
Jan. 31st, 2017 01:35 am (UTC)
I'm tickled that you read this, Dreamflower! Thank you! :)

immortality would eventually depress most who had it

I agree, and I often think of the shock those Elves--used to slow, creeping change--who were reembodied in Aman must have experienced. I know my vision of Aman here could be considered contentious only because the "Undying Lands" presumably change little, and slowly--I doubt I could have gotten away with this story ten years ago and would have had people all over me to label it AU!--but Elves who lived most/all their lives in Middle-earth would have had quite the shock.

I'm admittedly a fan of first person and present tense! ^_^

I'm sure it shook things up a lot when that idea was put into place!

I imagine it happening soon enough after the Darkening that people were willing to go along just as long as the Sun didn't fall from the sky! :D
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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