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Maitimo did not return that day; or the day after. It was a full week before MacalaurŽ finally discovered what had occurred, a week in which he spent long hours bellowing in frustration and dread at the silent stars, and demanding of the Valar what they did this time.
He and Maitimo had been quite correct: it had been a trap. And though neither Maitimo nor Morgoth's emissary had paid any heed to the original words of the agreement and actually come alone, it was Morgoth who sent the greater force. After some valiant but futile fighting, Maitimo's troops had been defeated, butchered like livestock, and Maitimo had been captured. He had, it was said, been taken to Angband, and hung from the face of Thangorodrim.
MacalaurŽ's scream of horror, betrayal and grief had been a terrible thing to hear. It was more than his strange, precarious mind could bear, and so it took flight into memory, ushering with it the secret friends as its only companions. It vainly tried to retreat among stolen kisses in stables long ago and playful afternoons with his brother under Laurelin's beloved light. It attempted to seek solace in the music room of his childhood, among swirling melodies as a much younger Maitimo looked on with a warm smile.
Time lost meaning - MacalaurŽ never cared to ask how long the madness lasted. The cycles of respite in illusion and hallucination followed by awareness only of pain, shouting voices in his head and vision after vision of Maitimo crying, bleeding and suffering were impossible to count. He sometimes had the most peripheral awareness of food being coaxed between his lips, and at those times the secret friends yelled at him, scolding him for allowing it. But all he could do was protest with a soft mewling; his tongue would not let him speak.
Days, nights - they became continuous and unreckonable; he was confined by his brothers to a makeshift cottage for his own safety, after initial frenzied attempts to break away and run - always north. They had given him bedding, initially, and a few simple comforts, but he ignored them. Eventually, the room's only feature was a circular track in the centre, worn by MacalaurŽ's continual pacing. If anyone tried to stop his movements, he was told later that he clawed at them, in terror rather than true aggression, and would only settle when his feet hit the familiar rut of the circle once again.
He recalled none of this for himself. All he knew of that time was that the secret friends gradually became his enemies, a ceaseless clamour of voices casting blame on him and tormenting him with commentary on distant tortures. His mind was at other times filled with memories, wrapped in shredded fragments of half-finished songs, tunes he had been inspired to begin by something Maitimo had once said or done. Although apparently he blinked when fingers were waved before his eyes, he never saw them, only Maitimo's face, drawn and grey, skeletal with staring, desperate eyes. Some nights, even when the weather was warm, he would shake violently with chill and stumble, falling to the ground, only to scrabble in the dust until he found his feet once again and resumed the endless circle.
A long time later, when Arien trekked across the sky by day and Tilion by night, the circle was broken. MacalaurŽ felt something release inside him, some shackle of insanity and hopelessness fall, leaving a small tendril of his mind free to look out, tentatively, and rediscover the world that lay beyond its chaotic prison. Deep in some recess of his thoughts he had heard a clang of metal against metal and now, with a scream, blinding pain shot through his arm and he fell to the dust. This time he did not try to get up; and so it was curled up in the circular furrow his frantic pacing had created that his brothers found him later, shaking and mumbling incoherently, holding conversations with himself. "Hush," Ambarussa tried to tell him, picking out a few words from his brother's nonsense. "Yes, FindekŠno, how did you know? He came here, across the Grinding Ice. They say he has gone to rescue Maitimo. Try to hope, dear brotherÖ"
"Maitimo is dead!" MacalaurŽ screamed the words, voice rough and brittle from disuse. He did not even believe the words - that was the worst thing. He knew his brother was alive, but to imagine all the tortures inflicted upon Maitimo - leering, hideous faces of Orcs, along with their implements to cause suffering, had haunted his thoughts since the day Maitimo was captured - was more than his fragile mind could bear. To fool himself into believe his brother was dead, safe and calm under the care of Mandos who, for all his bitterness, would not harm the fŽa of an Elf entrusted to himÖ It was simpler. "He is dead!"
"He livesÖ" Ambarussa tried to argue. "FindekŠno insists that he lives, even when our hope had been lost." But the protests were in vain and soon he gave up, holding MacalaurŽ until the trembling ceased and then taking his brother's hand. The two of them walked into the castle-keep, hand in hand, Ambarussa slowing his stride to match MacalaurŽ's weary shuffle.
MacalaurŽ's eyes grew wide at the sights outside, so long forgotten, and he blinked in the sun's harsh light. This was the first time he had seen the flowers of Endor under sunlight; their clean colours and sharp shadows felt uncomfortably alien to him, utterly unlike the velvety delicacy of petals in Aman under the Trees' light. The brightness around him - refreshing and yet, in his mind, hostile - was waking dormant corners of his mind. Songs spilled from his lips, tangled together, but they were not the joyous celebrations of life that such a vista might have triggered in any other. All MacalaurŽ was able to produce were haunting laments, pain-wracked and tormented. Even the flight of two butterflies inspired nothing in him than frail notes, ruing the shortness of their lives and their ignorance of his homeland. He closed his eyes, frustrated and anguished.
He allowed his brothers to assign him a proper room now, with a bed and all the expected comforts, but he was indifferent to most of them. "My flute. Where is my flute?" he demanded, caring about little else until it was brought to him. Ambarussa explained patiently that he had watched over that, and some of Maitimo's most treasured possessions, ever since their father's death.
"Maitimo is dead!" MacalaurŽ insisted once more at the mere mention of his dearest brother's name. It was to become a familiar cry - the other sons of FŽanŠro learned within the first few hours to avoid speaking of Maitimo, as the reaction each time was the same.
MacalaurŽ had grown pale and haggard since his brother's capture, his eyes staring and his hair dull and untamed. He did not care. He ate when forced to, but he would not sleep even now. Instead, he spent his days sitting on the window seat in his room, bare feet resting against one side of the little bay, back against the other, composing song after song in lamentation. Never before had he been so productive. The room was soon littered with scribblings - his brothers supplied parchment and ink whenever he ran out, after the first time MacalaurŽ reached the bottom of his pile of sheets and resorted instead to writing his songs on the undecorated walls of the room. The songs had to come out. They had spent years stagnating, slowly growing out of sight and awareness, whilst MacalaurŽ paced that continual circle in his hut. Now they spilled out on to any available surface and, as they did so, were slowly pulling MacalaurŽ's thoughts back into order and lucidity; not that his brothers would have agreed, seeing no outward change in his demeanour.
A few days later, Ambarussa knocked. He always knocked, as a courtesy. MacalaurŽ never answered the knock - mostly, he did not even notice - so after a moment, as ever, Ambarussa opened the door anyway. His auburn head poked into the room. "There is someone who wishes very much to see you," he stated gently, voice soft and kind and sad, as always.
"My brother is dead!" MacalaurŽ replied angrily.
Ambarussa flinched as if hit; MacalaurŽ froze. "I never said it was your brother, Fey OneÖ" He spoke the name fondly, but there was a slight quaver in it too in reaction to MacalaurŽ's foreknowledge of the visitor.
Another voice spoke, this one deeper, but crackly, like dry leaves underfoot, and parched like a riverbed under the searing heat of that sunÖ In the years to come, MacalaurŽ never did completely rid himself of that sense of lingering resentment towards the sun. "No, dear little fey one, I am not dead. Though I hear it was not just you who thought I wasÖ"
Maitimo leaned heavily on the broad shoulders of his cousin FindekŠno, ever a dear friend to him. The clothes he wore were the plain, poorly-fitting garments given out by healers to invalids in their care, making him shapeless and colourless, except for his hair. He moved with a laboured shuffling gait, and one arm was almost invisible, entombed in bandages and supported in a sling. None of that, however, mattered to MacalaurŽ. The parchment in his hands fell to his lap, and an ink drop from his quill hit his thigh, the stain spreading outwards in a dark circle through the pale blue fabric. "My brother is deadÖ" he whispered, almost a plea.
FindekŠno helped his tall cousin to cross the room - it took a while, and Maitimo stood on several parchments, not in any condition to hop and jump over the sheets. His face was pale and his was somewhat out of breath as he squeezed on to the edge of the window seat with his brother. Slowly, he stretched out his free hand to finger MacalaurŽ's tousled, unbrushed hair. "You say it as if you wish it were true."
MacalaurŽ swallowed as he looked into those beautiful, calm eyes. Maitimo had always taken the time to understand him, no matter how obtuse his thoughts. For the first time in so very long, he attempted to explain himself. "IÖyouÖevery time I felt what was happening to youÖthe pain and fearÖall teeth and chainsÖ" None of it was very coherent; his memories made no sense even to him, and he struggled to separate reality from illusion. A few times he slipped up, attempting to describe scenes that he only recognised as implausible several seconds later. "Öbut you hurt so much!" he concluded helplessly. "So much pain and hopelessness. I could not bear for you to hurt so much! Better that you were dead. I wished you to be free of the pain, and there is no pain for dead." He closed his eyes tightly as Maitimo's arm pulled him close, and he breathed in old, familiar scents of his brother's skin and hair.
"Dear, dear MacalaurŽ," Maitimo murmured. His voice was thick with sadness. "If what you felt was truly what I knewÖ If our places were reversedÖ Valar, I think I would be wishing for death for you, too. I begged for it for myself, once or twice, while I was his prisoner - I am not too proud to admit that."
MacalaurŽ opened his eyes again, to see FindekŠno nod agreement. His expression was grave and sympathetic; his face had a harder set to it than MacalaurŽ remembered from the days before the Kinslaying.
One of the hated voices whispered to him, a reminder, and MacalaurŽ felt his expression shift to anger as he stared at his brother. "You broke your promise!" he accused, recoiling from his brother as his thoughts ordered themselves better and the realisation sank in. "You promised three times!"
"What did I promise?" Maitimo asked in reply. He looked tired, but no impatience crept into his tone.
"To come back! I waited and waited for you to come back, but you did notÖ" He tilted his head, the obviousness dawning on him. "I suppose, in the end, you have come back, reallyÖ"
"I came as soon as I could." Maitimo held his brother as tightly as his injuries would permit. "Each day the Orcs paraded out to inspect me, hanging there, taunting me and taking bets on whether I had finally given up overnight and found a way to die up there. But I refused to give them that entertainment. I clung to life, because I would not break my promise to you any more than I can break the cursed Oath of the Silmarilli. I /have/ come back, though it took longer than I meant it to."
MacalaurŽ nodded, making a tiny choking sound. "For meÖ" Then, heedless of the others present, he kissed his brother with all the devotion he possessed.
Maitimo kissed back with barely a hesitation. His lips were dry and thin from his torment, but the kiss was no less sweet or soft. Had Arda ended right then, MacalaurŽ would have wanted for nothing. It was perfect.
The voices, as always, retreated when he kissed Maitimo. But this time, MacalaurŽ did not permit them to return immediately after. Imaginary faces of invisible companions who had once been his only friends seemed to fade and crumble, their chatter dying away. He was ready to let them go now, think without their dubious help. He felt empty, for a few moments, but he kissed Maitimo once more, deeply and not at all platonically, and the emptiness filled with warmth, love and life.
FindekŠno was staring, expression shocked from then suddenness of the gesture, but at the same time not overly surprised. Ambarussa did not even show shock; having seen how the loss of his brother sent MacalaurŽ into helpless turmoil, he must have guessed at their closeness. He averted his eyes, so none of the others saw the painful memories of his own and a faint nostalgic air that came over him. Thus, for the first time, the secret was released - but neither Ambarussa nor FindekŠno condemned or disowned them for it.
Wordlessly, FŽanŠro's two eldest sons looked at each other. It was Maitimo who finally broke the silence. "I have something else for you," he whispered. He let go of MacalaurŽ and reached into a fold of his loose tunic, taking out a plain flute made from some kind of terracotta. Its make was comparatively crude, but there was a sense of love in the craftsmanship. Maitimo glanced over his shoulder at his cousin, offering FindekŠno a smile, before he turned back to MacalaurŽ to watch his brother inspect the instrument. "FindekŠno tells me he was given it by some Men he befriended in the North. When he showed it to me, I said he should give it to you. Your collection needs to start again, after all."
"That would beÖwonderful," MacalaurŽ agreed. He placed the instrument to his lips and played a few experimental notes. The sound was not sweet and pure like that of his other flute, but hollow, haunting and earthy. It suited his mood and their new life well, he thought. "Thank you, brother. It is a perfect start. I will have to play it properly for you-" he looked his brother over, only now taking in Maitimo's appearance properly, the gauntness, the bandages "-while you recover from your injuries. I will stay by you and keep you company for as long as you will stand me." His fingers started to trace his brother's face, the strong angles of cheekbones and jaw. "I can read to you while you rest, and sing to you in the afternoons, or just talk if you prefer - or sit quietly and just be near you." He smiled lovingly. "I could even sit on the end of your bed at mealtimes, and eat with you." Happiness flowed through him; the future was shadowed, but with Maitimo here now, things felt /right/ again.
"I would welcome all of that," Maitimo replied with a smile that reflected his sincerity completely. But he was showing signs of tiring now; his skin seemed, if anything, greyer than when he had first arrived. FindekŠno smiled and urged him to consider returning to bed now. "I suppose so," Maitimo agreed, a little grudgingly and with a wry grin at MacalaurŽ. His fingers were still interlaced with his brother's, even as FindekŠno helped him to his feet. Maitimo swayed slightly as he stood, MacalaurŽ noticed, and narrowed his eyes in concern, but Maitimo shrugged it off and steadied himself. "MacalaurŽ, will you join me in a few minutes, after the healers have changed my bandages? I missed you - it seems a shame to pass up any time with you now. I will probably be asleep, but I would like you there even so."
MacalaurŽ nodded straight away in reply. "I can think of nothing in all the lands under this new sun that I would like better." He had his mind, he had his brother. The Oath and its Doom hung like a dark curtain on the edge of his mind but it was, for now, distant. "I love you more than anything."
"I love you too, my beloved little fey one," Maitimo replied fondly, as FindekŠno and Ambarussa escorted him out.
The door closed. MacalaurŽ picked up his new flute, laying it on an otherwise empty shelf next to his other instrument, and then looked around the simple, comfortable room that apparently was his home now, for the first time absorbing all, the details with his usual meticulous eye, counting the cracks in the plaster walls and memorising the pattern of knots on the wooden floorboards beneath his feet. In spite of this fastidious observation, his true focus was elsewhere completely - inward, on a single thought.
"My brother is /not/ dead. He is here."