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So Shall The Rightful King Be Known

Chapter Text

Rain was drumming down on the wide grey lake of Mithrim, sending thin streams of mud curling down into the water from the unfinished pathways of the camp that spread out far along the lake’s northern shores.

Most of the paths around the camp were not yet paved, save for the center, which had once been the heart of the old Fëanorian camp.  Fingolfin’s force was much larger than his brother’s, even after the worst the Grinding Ice could do. In Hithlum, they had had to build quickly to house everyone before the winter came.

Fingolfin could not see the new Fëanorian camp south of the lake today, through the rain.  But he knew his nephew Makalaurë and his people had set up new buildings of wood and carven stone, a mirror image of the northern camp.

Fingolfin had not visited the southern camp himself. Nor had Makalaurë visited him.

Makalaurë had sent his brother, one of the Ambarussa, as his herald. Ambarussa had arrived armoured in steel marked with runes and set with gems, and wearing a coronet, on horseback, in a velvet cloak.

The people of Fingolfin still had their war-gear, but they had no horses left. The horses had not survived the Grinding Ice. Their cloaks were ragged round the edges, and were mostly made of uncured sealskin.

Makalaurë’s message went; Curufinwë the King is dead. Nelyafinwë his heir is taken prisoner. I, Kanafinwë, send you greeting as regent in my brother’s stead.

Fingolfin, who had usually been called Ñolofinwë then, had noted the form of the names, each pointedly the father-name, echoing his slain father Finwë.

He had said to Ambarussa; “Take my greeting to your brother, Makalaurë.” There was no further discussion.

After that, Ñolofinwë had announced he would take a new name for life in Middle-earth. In the language of the local Sindar, who had welcomed their strong new Noldor allies with generous delight, he would be Fingolfin .

Meaning Finwëñolofinwë .  It was the name that he had taken in Araman, that had so annoyed his brother Fëanor.

The name neatly made the point that he was the eldest living son of Finwë the King, and the only one of Finwë’s sons in Beleriand.

To emphasize the point further, his eldest son Findekáno took a new name for Middle-earth too. In the new language, the name Fingon had the advantage that it sounded like a reference to Finwë, too.

It was a busy time. Fingolfin had a whole people who needed food, clothing, shelter, weapons in this new land, where a terrible enemy lay upon their eastern flank.

From the generous Sindar people of Hithlum, Fingolfin learned the horrifying details of what had happened before the rising of the Moon. His unwise brother, wounded terribly in battle by the Balrogs, dying soon after. His nephew, suspended in torment upon a cliff under the three dark peaks of Thangorodrim.

The agony of those that had endured the crossing of the Ice had been great, and Fingolfin and most of his people held Fëanáro’s sons to be the accomplices of their father. There was little time or inclination to pity Fëanáro’s eldest son, who had, after all, six brothers and all of Fëanáro’s friends and closest supporters to think of him.

When the patrol that Fingon had been leading came back without him, Fingolfin did not at first make a connection with his nephew at all.

He sent out searchers, well armed in strong companies, to search for their prince through the dark of Morgoth’s smokes and vapours, all across the Ered Wethrin and through the pass of Eithel Sirion onto the wide fields of Ard-Galen.

Turukáno’s people found no sign of Fingon. Findaráto’s people found no sign of him either. The patrol that Fingolfin led out himself had no more luck.

By the third day, Fingolfin found himself thinking of his nephew Maitimo a great deal. If Fingon had been taken by the Enemy...

He sent to Makalaurë and asked, urgently, for every detail of what Morgoth had done when he had taken Maitimo.

Morgoth had sent a message, Makalaurë said. Morgoth had offered to return his hostage, if the Noldor promised to return into the West, or go far away into the South.

Makalaurë had refused.

Morgoth, of course, lied. Makalaurë did not say it, but Fingolfin knew it. But still, Morgoth had sent a message about Maitimo. As long as he had not sent one about Fingon, there was hope.

By the fifth day, Fingolfin had abandoned the camp by the lake of Mithrim, and was camped in the pass of Eithel Sirion, trying not to stare too fixedly at the peaks of Thangorodrim, and listening to the thunder of Morgoth’s forges deep underground, making ready for war.

And trying not to give in to despair.

He had thought of death as the risk they all ran. Death was terrible, of course, and sometimes it was slow and painful. He had seen it too often on the Ice.

Now he looked out at Thangorodrim, where his nephew had hung for so long in agony, and wondered how it would be to ride to the gates of Angband, to look up, and see his eldest son in endless torment on the mountain. Death would be a friend by comparison.

And then the Eagle had come.

***

Fingolfin hurried through the rain beside the lake of Mithrim, coming down from the new quarter of the weaving-sheds and smithies, where progress was encouraging, to deal with a more complicated duty.

He ducked in through a doorway, nodded to the waiting guards, and handed over a dripping blue cloak to be hung up to dry, one of the new wool and linen mixes that they were making now, three years after their coming to Hithlum.

This was one of the old buildings of the Fëanorian camp, and so more comfortable than the hastily-erected shelters on the outskirts, with glass in the windows rather than oilcloth, a well-made stove, and solid doors with Valinorean latches. It had been in use as a meeting place and refectory, until yesterday.

Fingolfin knocked once briskly and entered the inner chamber.

“Good morning, Maitimo,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“I’ve had considerably worse days, recently,” his eldest nephew said warily. He still looked exhausted, leaning back in the roughly-made wooden bed piled with furs, with black smudges beneath his eyes. His right arm was in a sling and he was thinner than anyone should ever be, every bone sharp beneath the burned and blistered skin stretched painfully over it. His voice was hoarse, and his once-bright hair was bleached and knotted like a tangle of dead grasses.

But the dried blood and old dirt had been washed away, he was wearing a clean soft overshirt, and his too-large, shadowed eyes looked present and alert. At least he looked as if he was alive now, more or less.

“I’m sure you have. May I have a look at that arm?” Fingolfin asked.

“It was dressed yesterday,” Maitimo said. His face was still, but a tension had come into him. He was leaning away, very slightly.

“If you don’t want it touched, then I won’t touch it,” Fingolfin said, patiently. “I was going to say some words over it to help with the pain. That’s all.” He stood back and waited for Maitimo to think about that.

He had little love left for his older brother’s children, after Fëanáro had dragged him into slaughter in Alqualondë, after Losgar, after the Ice.

But nobody could look at Maitimo now and be unmoved to pity. On the Ice they had been hungry and unhappy; they had lost people to the sea and to the endless cold. Fingolfin had kept his people together, walking forward with one purpose. Together, they had mourned their dead. Together, they had gone on.

All that time, his nephew had been alone in the hands of Finwë’s murderer. What had been done to him so deliberately, to cause pain and misery and to bring terror to his people was a horror far beyond mindless snow or ice. It was a horror beyond anything Fingolfin had ever seen or heard of.

He had chosen the Ice for his people, knowing that it would be hard. They had chosen to follow him and endure it. His brother’s son had not chosen this.

“Very well then,” Maitimo said, after a long, long pause, and the echoes of pain and fear in his voice were hard to hear in one who had been so proud and sure.

Fingolfin stepped forward cautiously, and sat on the edge of the bed, not too close. Maitimo’s thin wasted muscles twisted visibly under the shirt with the effort of not pulling away, and Fingolfin pretended that he could not see that.

“Tell me if it’s too much,” he said, not because he doubted his ability, but because he thought it might help Maitimo keep hold of the fact there was a choice.

He held his hands over the twisted shoulder, and the arm that ended short, not quite touching, and said the words gently, letting power leak through them, not too much at once, in the way that had become habit now, after years in darkness on the Ice.

He took the pain and calmed it, speaking virtue into the cut flesh of the damaged wrist, and soothing the ulcerated skin until it began to ease towards a kind of whole. The wrenched and damaged shoulder would take longer, but he could at least lull the pain to calm while Maitimo’s spirit worked within his body to try to pull the damaged flesh back to balance.

“You are very expert,” Maitimo said, still tense. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad my father made us practice,” Fingolfin said. “Not much call for it, in Valinor, but this is one tradition of the march from Cuiviénen that has more than proved its worth since we left.”

“A great gift,” Maitimo said, colourlessly.

The talent was, of course, the reason that Finwë had originally been chosen by his people to be king. In the darkness of star-shadow, and on the long dark road through Middle-earth into the West, the power to drive back pain, terror and darkness with word and thought, the power to shape the world to wholeness, was a treasure that Elves had prized above all else.

Finwë had passed it on in various forms to all his sons and grandchildren.

Fingolfin looked at his nephew’s tall wasted form, the shadows of pain and fear that lay behind his eyes and thought of Fingon.

He found himself rather tired of politics, all of a sudden. Sometimes a talent was worth having in itself, not only as a qualification for something else.

“You will be able to do it for yourself in a while, of course,” he said, reassuringly. “But we had better get some strength back into you first. Do you think you could drink some more tea with honey now?”

“Thank you,” Maitimo said, his chin up, that skeletal face still managing to be confident and calm, somehow. “But don’t let me detain you, uncle. I am sure you must be very busy.”

Fingolfin opened the door and ordered tea and fruit to be brought, then turned back to his nephew. “If you would prefer, I will go away and send Fingon, or Írissë, or Findaráto,” he said seriously. “Whoever you wish. But someone should speak a virtue over this tea, and I am here already.”

“You don’t suggest any of my brothers. Are they under guard, too?” Oh, of course. Maitimo had not been here when the Fëanorian forces had moved out. He must recognise the camp, and wonder where those who had lived in it when he had last been here were. No wonder he was wary.

“Your brothers are free and well,” Fingolfin said firmly. “They moved their camp to the south of Lake Mithrim, when we arrived. It’s some distance away. I have sent them a message. But you are not well enough to walk there yet.”

He paused and looked at Maitimo’s unrevealing face. “There has been no battle between my people and your brothers. The guards outside are not to stop you leaving. They are there to protect you, and to bring you anything you need.”

“Oh,” Maitimo said, expressionless.

“They are some of Fingon’s best,” Fingolfin said. “Not mine. He chose them, to ensure you would not be troubled by anyone from the camp deciding to make themselves awkward.”

That seemed to help a little. “Perhaps I have become too used to guards with whips and chains,” Maitimo said, and his mouth tightened a little in a kind of smile.

Fingolfin went on talking through the faint drum of rain outside, hoping to make a connection. “Just at the moment, some of them are there to keep dry, too. It’s pouring, and we have only been in Hithlum a little while. We’re still short of space: building workshops and arranging supplies was our first priority, after defense, of course. Did Fingon not mention any of this?”

“He hasn’t come back,” Maitimo said. “When I saw him yesterday, I was a little preoccupied for extensive conversation.”

“I asked him to make sure that all the search parties knew he had returned. I expect he’s doing that still. We were concerned, when he went off alone. He said he had looked in on you earlier, but you were still asleep.”

The tea arrived, with some of the precious honey, still in short supply, a dish of small sweet bilberries, some oatcakes with a little cheese and butter, and a bowl of porridge. Fingolfin looked at it all carefully, checking for any petty signs of revenge from the kitchens but all was well. Perhaps whoever had cooked it had seen Maitimo, and had also thought that he had suffered enough to make up for anything.

Someone had thought to bake a virtue of hope into the oatcakes, too. He made a mental note to find out who, and commend them.

Fingolfin set words of healing on all of it, moved a stool next to the bed to set the tray on, and poured a cup for Maitimo, then pulled over a chair for himself.

“I don’t know what is right for you to eat,” he said a little helplessly. “I don’t think anyone has ever... anyway, try some of this. They will bring you more of whatever you think feels right.”

“Thank you,” Maitimo said. He ate a few of the berries, then took the tea with a hand that was almost nothing but skin over bone, but steady enough. “I saw you come. And heard it too. The trumpets ringing out before the gate. I called out, but I don’t suppose that you could hear me. Then you went away.”

Fingolfin looked at him, distressed. “No. No, we couldn’t hear you.” He restrained himself from saying anything about Maitimo’s brothers who had sat idle beside Lake Mithrim while their brother hung in torment.

“I did wonder if anyone could hear. I thought you might have decided to leave me, as we left you in Araman... It was hard, after a while, to believe in anything outside of Angband. Any reason for anything that wasn’t pain, or greed, or misery. After a while it seemed to fill the world. But then... Fingon came.” He rested the cup on the bed next to him.

“Why did you leave us in Araman?” Fingolfin asked, then thought again. “Don’t worry about that. It’s waited long enough. We can talk of it another day.”

He would have demanded to know it of Makalaurë when they had come to Hithlum, if it had not been that he was not quite sure he was ready to know the answer, then.

He had been angry already, and one kinslaying had been more than enough.

“We might as well get it over with,” Maitimo said. “Believe me, it’s easier to answer questions from a bed while sipping tea, than not to answer them in Angband.”

“I’m sure it is. But you don’t have to do either of those things.”

“I’d rather get it over,” Maitimo said. “You asked a reasonable question to which I can provide an answer. I’m trying not to weep with relief.”

“Go on then, if you want,” Fingolfin said gently. “It’s your choice.”

“We left because our father ordered it,” Maitimo said in that hoarse, strained voice. “He did it because he feared betrayal. He had heard your people curse his name, and blame him for their hardships. He believed you hated him, and would be sure to turn on him.”

Fingolfin closed his eyes for a moment and held onto his temper. It would be utterly churlish to show anger to someone in this state.

After a moment, he was calm enough to say, “You didn’t feel that he might need us, or that Morgoth might be the greater enemy? You know, if my sons were so blindly obedient to my will, you would not be here.” That was temper pulling at him again. Why was it so hard to think or speak of Fëanáro without annoyance? Consciously, he made himself relax.

“I asked him to send the ships back.” Maitimo said. “It’s not much, I know. But I did ask him to send them back for Fingon, and when he would not, I refused to help him burn them.”

Fingolfin stared. For most people, it would have been little enough, of course. Fingon had done more, when he had set out alone to rescue Maitimo. Findaráto, Artanis and their brothers had done more when their father had turned back to Tirion, and they had chosen, out of courage, loyalty and friendship, to rebel against the very Valar and go on.

But for one of Fëanáro’s proud, unreasonably loyal sons, who had never, so far as Fingolfin was aware, voiced a word of criticism of their father, who were loyal to the House of Fëanáro to the point of barely admitting that his half-brothers were family, it was a very great thing that Maitimo had spoken publicly against his father, out of loyalty to Fingolfin’s son.

It was, perhaps an even greater thing that he would tell Fingolfin of it.

“I swore to follow Fëanáro,” Fingolfin said gravely, looking at his nephew’s eyes and not the ruin of his flesh. “I didn’t swear to do it blindly, without question, but I don’t give my word lightly. He was my king too. It hurt to be distrusted. It is hard to be betrayed by your brother and your king. It leaves a scar. If Fingon had come to me and asked me for my counsel, I admit it, I would have said no, he should not go to Angband. I did not want to lose him too. But Maitimo, I am still very glad he did.”

“So am I,” Maitimo said, with a tired fleshless grin.

“Have an oatcake,” Fingolfin said. “Or would you prefer soup? After the trouble Fingon went to, retrieving you, I’m not having you fading into a shadow of regret in the middle of my camp.”

“People would surely be disconcerted and alarmed,” Maitimo agreed with a faint flutter of what once might have been laughter. “I’ll eat the berries. I don’t think I can face an oatcake yet.” He ate a few more berries from the dish.

“Fair enough,” Fingolfin said, took one of the oatcakes himself and took a bite. He thought he could use a little extra hope. “They aren’t bad, though.”

He got up, taking the oatcake with him. “I must go. Someone will bring soup. See if you can face that, and then sleep, if you can. I’ll send Fingon along after the meeting of my captains, and ensure your brothers are brought straight here if they arrive.”

When they arrive,” Maitimo said, letting his head fall back and closing his eyes. “I can’t blame them for not being Fingon. There aren’t many like Fingon.”

“No, there aren’t,” Fingolfin said. “And someone had to rescue our king. A good thing it wasn’t left to me and Makalaurë.” Maitimo’s eyes flew open again in shock.

Fingolfin grinned at him, and left. He did not salute. He was not quite ready for that yet. But Maitimo had turned away from his father for the sake of friendship with the House of Fingolfin, and Fingolfin would do a very great deal in return for that kind of loyalty. Maitimo had not chosen to abandon them to the Ice. He could work with that.