“Will you require anything else, sir?”
Findaráto turned his gaze toward the voice formulating the question. It belonged to a young lad, its timbre stuck between the deep, baritone tones of an adult and the sweet, slightly higher pitched sounds of those that have yet to abandon childhood. Its owner, the young son of the captain of the ship he had boarded to transport him from one extreme of the Bay of Belfas to his small settlement of Barad Nimras, looked embarrassed after its slip.
He smiled and hastened to assure him, “Nay, young master. All is well.”
After having navigated the Narog, and gotten to the wider Sirion, he had stopped in the settlements around the Mouths of Sirion to trade information with the leaders of the various Morequendi tribes inhabiting the Taur im Duinath. His brother, Aikanáro had remained in charge of Nargothrond while he went on his information seeking expedition. He wished to know if Morgoth was bringing any reinforcements from the Southern lands through the coast. However, this was not the only reason why he had left. Aikanáro had begged to be given an excuse to be away from Dorthonion.
His brother was torn between his deep sense of duty and the heart wrenching reality of loving a mortal, the wise, sweet Andreth. Findaráto braced his hands on the railing and inhaled the briny sea air. His brother's anguished plea reverberated through his head, “I beg of you, send for me, away from Dorthonion. If you do not, I will disgrace myself and our family's honor by stealing the one that holds my heart away. She loves her family, and I love mine, the joy of our union would turn to sorrow as soon as the reality of our situation settled. The time for a union between our races is yet to come.”
His brother was gifted with foresight, and was wise beyond his years. His desperate plea had been out of character and alarming to Findaráto, so even if he hated the mere thought of being used as the excuse used to separate the star crossed lovers, he had relented and gathered his supplies and a few trusted companions for an impromptu reconnaissance expedition.
He often wondered if he would ever find love. He thought he had with Amarië, but she had not loved him enough as to follow him. It had wounded him deeply and eventually the deep feelings he felt for her wilted away and now instead there was the stark, empty space in his chest as a reminder. He often wondered what it would be like to love someone as his brother loved Andreth. Every time they looked at each other their eyes lit up, their feär vibrated to the same frequency. He longed for the time he could love and be loved with the same sort of utter abandonment and devotion he saw in their eyes.
Findaráto was still lost in his musings when he felt a drop of rain fall on his nose. As he had stood on the deck musing about love, the weather had been worsening. The wind now howled, and the sky had darkened to a menacing, angry gray. There were shouts from the sailors rushing on the deck, and his men hurried to lend whatever help they could to the crew of the ship, only to be ushered toward the cabins. Findaráto felt a bit useless, just standing there watching the waves rock the ship as if it were made of cork. His sea legs felt even more awkward under him given the wild swaying of the ship.
“Secure the sails!” shouted the captain.
A wave hit the ship so hard that it almost capsized. Findaráto grabbed tight to the railing to avoid going overboard and felt the strain on his shoulder as he held on during the sea's relentless attack. The sailors had ushered his companions below deck and were now too busy trying to keep the boat afloat to worry about him.
“For Manwë's sake!”the captain shouted, “hard starboard!”
The young, sweet looking lad that had been so shy and solicitous when he got on board was working as if he had been born on the deck of a ship. He was helping the other men secure the sails, a tough job under the circumstances. Findaráto was about to head to his cabin below deck when a nasty crack thundered in his ears. He turned and watched, horrified, as the main mast cracked and fell onto the deck, nearly missing the captain's son who leapt to one side, slipping and striking his head on the railing. Without a sound he slipped off the deck into the crashing waves.
Findaráto did not wait but jumped in after the boy. It was utter madness, but he was hitting the waves before he realized what he had done. The rain made it hard to breathe, he could scarcely see, and for every stroke he took, he went back two. Regardless, he kept the boy in sight and worked with all his might to reach him. The captain's son was sinking like a stone, and Findaráto had to dive in deep. The rolling waves made keeping sight of the boy almost impossible and threatened to swallow him away to the deep recesses of the sea. Findaráto stretched his body taut and pulled the boy by the collar of his tunic, his muscles burning with the exertion and the lack of oxygen. He pulled up and up until he broke the surface, taking the lad along with him. His effort was rewarded with a mighty gasp followed by wild retching and flailing as the lad regained consciousness. It took all of Findaráto's strength to keep them afloat.
The captain's desperate shouts reached Findaráto's ears, a miracle, since it was almost impossible to be heard above the crashing of thunder and the roar of the stormy sea. He turned his sight in direction of the ship while trying to get the lad to stop flailing, after a few seconds of panic, the lad calmed and Findaráto was able to swim toward the rope. The lad was still weak from his contusion and clung desperately to Findaráto.
Slowly, Findaráto swam, the waves beating against them and threatening to crash them against the side of the ship. He managed to secure the rope around the lad's torso and gave a motion for the sailors to start pulling. He watched as the lad was being heaved up onto the deck, his mind and body exhausted by the effort of fighting the angry sea. A sudden swell formed next to him, by the time he became aware of it, it had already pushed him against the side of the ship. He hit the side of his head, and was pulled down by the riptide, away from the ship, far beneath the surface.
Ulmo roamed the depths of his kingdom, his essence spread into countless little particles, stretched upon miles and miles beneath the water's surface. He liked the freedom this form afforded him in the bottomless depths of the ocean where the light of Laurelin and Telperion was nothing but a distant dream, and the gardens he tended were more strange and beautiful than the timeless path of Lórien.
He knew the rest of the Valar did not understand his part in the composition of the song of making. .They could not appreciate its exotic beauty, but the One had been pleased with his work, The Children alone were able to take from it and build upon its majesty. The sea was one of the realms where the taint of Melkor had spread the least. He feared and underestimated Ulmo's element and left it, for the most part, untouched. It was unfortunate that the Children could enjoy only a very small part of the kingdom, which was the core of his unfettered essence. To them their hroä merely housed their restless spirits but he alone knew how much of these sheltering vessels were a part of him and his part of the great song.
Ulmo let the currents carry him and his mind wander, listening to the deep resonances and soothing lullabies that abounded in the depths. They carried news of distant places in a language he had devised, and only those he favored understood. He felt an out of place vibration, a ripple that should not have been there. There was power and violence being unleashed unheeded upon the waters of what the Children called the Bay of Belfas. It was during a time when the Children's vessels were out to seek the treasures and nourishment his kingdom hid. Ulmo was angered that the sea was being lashed to fury without his knowledge, making the toil of those sailing upon it unnecessarily harsh and dangerous. Ulmo projected his mind far and heard the desperate pleas from Uinen, his vassal Ossë's wife, carried on the waters. He listened carefully and learned how Ossë had risen to a temper after an argument with her and left in a great display of unheeded power. She had been tending to her gardens close to the shores, and a vessel filled with the Firstborn was being battered mercilessly by his fury.
He wasted no time and willed himself close to the disturbance. One of the Children was sinking fast into the rolling waters. He was young, not quite a man yet, and he was unconscious. He willed the waters to keep him as close to the surface as possible, but Ossë's temper kept them churning and wild, and he did not want to cause even more disturbance by displaying his temper. He had a few things to settle with his Maia, but he dared not take his eyes off the vessel – for once unleashed, the fury of the sea was untamable, not even Ossë could halt the storm now, it had to follow its course. He expanded his essence toward the vessel and felt a jolt of recognition. His body hummed throughout with that strange longing he could not understand. He only felt it in the presence of that Noldorin prince, the one they called Findaráto, one of the two he had approached in dreams and pressed to build a refuge away from the eyes of Melkor.
The image of their encounter flashed in his mind. The Noldo had been dreaming of bathing in a stream, unclothed. The pale rays of Telperion caught in the wet, golden strands of his damp hair and softly glowing skin. Ulmo had chosen that moment to deliver his message, using the waters of the stream as raiment. That had been a mistake, as his essence spread unheeded in the waters of the stream, mingling with the prince's fëa. He had longed to lovingly caress and mingle his essence with that of Findaráto since then, but feared to do so and had avoided coming to shore, choosing instead to roam deep within his kingdom, away from temptation.
Ulmo witnessed Findaráto save the young man's life. He had been forbidden from directly intervening in the Children's affairs, but when he saw Findaráto hit the side of the ship, his fear of losing the now King of Nargothrond to the oppressing gloom of Mandos's halls, spurred him on. The King was caught in a riptide that sucked him even further into the depths. He was drifting far from the vessel and the surface with the much needed air for his lungs. Ulmo willed the waters to form a great bubble of warm air surrounding Findaráto's body and gently pushed the bubble to the shores of a small island. He planned on delivering Findaráto there and then let events unfold, but the sight of his hair, resembling as it did the molten gold from Aule's forges, and the soft skin that was now pale and tinged blue from the cold strengthened his resolve. He wanted to protect, to cherish, and thrum in tune with the rhythm of Findaráto's life force. He took shape, not the usual one he favored with its glittering green armor and the roaring waves. This time he chose to resemble one of the Firstborn and gathered the body of the still unconscious Findaráto in his arms.
The waters parted and Ulmo emerged with Findaráto in his arms. He walked beyond the beach and deposited Findaráto upon the pristine white sand. He lay next to him and placed a hand on his chest feeling the steady rhythm of his heart. Joy filled Ulmo’s own breast to perceive the weakened life force strengthen. He had heard Mandos's relentless call, beckoning Findaráto's fëa toward the West but his intervention had prevented Findaráto from following. Ulmo knew the Master of Doom never forgot a thing and that he would pay dearly for his intervention in the future.
Findaráto gasped, sat up and expelled all the water he had swallowed while unconscious. Taking deep shuddering breaths, he started to come to his senses. His head throbbed in pain from hitting it on the side of the ship, and his chest and throat burned with the effort of dislodging all the liquid from his airways. He felt the soothing touch of a hand on his back, traveling back and forth, and his eyes fell upon the most beautiful and strange man he had ever seen. He was one of the Firstborn, of that Findaráto had no doubt, with long ebony tresses, but his eyes, those were unearthly; a deep green with small flakes of blue and silver. His face was fair with high cheekbones, generous lips, a strong jaw. The man's body was powerfully built, strong shoulders, thick, powerful thighs, a hard, knotted stomach. He looked savage, formidable, unrestrained. He locked gazes with the stranger, and saw an expression of deep concern marring his beautiful features. He felt warmth spread through his being, a sense of recognition that made him feel safe, comforted.
“Who are you?” he croaked.
The man's eyes widened and after a few seconds he spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, “That is of little importance.”
Findaráto started to protest, but the man placed his hand upon his brow and said, “Rest, little one. You had a difficult day and your body is weary.” Then, he muttered a healing spell and Findaráto felt his eyes grow heavy and the man's arms close gently around his chest. Findaráto's mind told him to protest, to resist the lure of that warm embrace and those bewitching words, but his traitorous body gave in and the last thing he remembered was his companion's deep voice singing softly while he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Ulmo's soothing voice lulled his charge. A sigh of relief escaped him. He had forgotten how inquisitive and sharp the minds of the Firstborn could be, particularly this one. Also, this raiment had a strange reaction to the spicy, musky scent filling his nostrils, Findaráto's scent. His mind filled with images of Findaráto's soft skin, and he wondered what would it feel like to touch that bow shaped mouth with his own. The appendage hanging heavy between his legs had lengthened and lay hard against his belly. Never before had he felt this... He searched his memory for the word... Desire? Lust? Yes, definitely lust. His raiment had translated his feelings, his longing into this unsettling physical reaction. It made it hard to think, hard to concentrate when all he wanted to do was use the limited senses of this body to explore every single inch of the golden beauty lying next to him. He shook his head and willed himself to think of a plausible story for their current situation while concealing his identity. He was incapable of deceit, but he knew that revealing his identity to the King of Nargothrond was not an option. He feared what effect the knowledge of his identity would have on Findaráto's mind. He did not want it to taint their interactions. He wanted to spend time with this Child of Eru, listen to his beautiful voice, look into those wise eyes of his, feel his warm breath and revel in the radiance of his fëa.
Practical concerns eventually pressed him into action. He took Findaráto in his arms and willed the waters away from a cove close to the beach where they could rest protected from the elements. He lay Findaráto's body on a patch of soft, dry sand free of any sharp rocks or debris. The Firstborn needed warmth, nourishment and clothing, and the island was bereft of at least two of those elements. Also he needed to settle some issues with his unruly Maia. Reluctantly, he walked away from the cove, and was about to will himself elsewhere when Mandos's voice reached his ears.
“You cannot keep him,” the Master of Doom said.
Ulmo turned, a deep scowl on his face. Námo was clothed in his usual raiment, hard and severe.
“I do not intend to,” Ulmo answered. After a few seconds he added, “Not for long.”
“I called this one and you prevented him from answering. You have no right to change the fate of Children destined to come to my halls. Give him to me, or face the consequences.”
“You have no power to interfere in my domain,” Ulmo answered. “He came to me before he was destined to be yours and I shall decide his fate.”
“Have a care you do not overstep your boundaries, brother. If you save him from this fate a darker one awaits him.”
“He will have my protection whenever he is near my domain. You shall not have him.”
“Then your decision is made. Remember this moment, for it is you who have sealed his doom. He will be mine and you will have no power to save him.” In the blink of an eye, Námo was gone.
Ulmo closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Námo's words had etched themselves upon his mind and dread and apprehension reverberated through his being. He wanted to scream in frustration, but he knew a display of his temper would do nothing but endanger his charge. His hands clenched into fists, he opened his eyes and placed his worries in the back of his mind. There were more pressing concerns he needed to take care of. He willed his form into that of a mighty wave and left the island at the speed of thought.
Findaráto woke and uttered a deep groan. His head pounded and his throat burned, it was possible he was running a fever. He sat up and looked around to see he was in some sort of cave, and the daylight was already waning. The temperature was starting to drop fast, and his damp clothes were not helping. He lay back down and closed his eyes and took deep steadying breaths to assuage the nausea and dizziness that attacked him.
His thoughts were fuzzy and vague. The last thing he remembered was jumping off the ship to rescue the captain's son... no... that was not it. He had been in the water and he had hit the side of the ship, hard. He had lost consciousness for a few seconds and awoke deep in the water, caught in a riptide. He had fought to get out, to break the surface, but he was weak, and the waves too strong. Soon his body had given out, and he had heard the call, Mandos's call, beckoning him West.
He shuddered at the memory. There had been so much pain, his lungs had felt as if they were going to explode from the lack of air, then an unnatural warmth had spread through his body, and his fëa had started detaching from his hröa. There had been this incredible, indomitable force anchoring him to his body, the warmth spreading through his chest lent him the necessary strength to resist the call. It was a terrifying, dreadful experience, feeling his spirit drift away from his body, and he did not wish to dwell upon it any further. He shut that train of thought and instead focused on remembering how he had gotten to the cove.
The image of the wild looking, beautiful man, with the deep voice and the warm embrace filled his mind then. The man had held him in his arms and sung to him in a strange, lilting language. It had comforted, made him feel safe. Findaráto remembered the man's scent. It still clung to his nostrils, that scent, reminiscent of sunshine, brine and musk. The man had been unclothed, and his body was perfect, all hard muscles and inviting valleys. Findaráto found himself getting embarrassingly aroused, his body even in his discomfort reacting to the memory of the man. He wanted him... badly, and wondered where he had gone. He had never been one ruled by his lust, contrary to his cousins, Káno and Celegorm, who bedded anything that walked, but this man awoke those feelings he had thought long gone. Not even Amarië in all her naked glory had awakened within him this sort of hunger, and she had been very adventurous in the matters of the flesh.
Findaráto pulled himself out of these desirous thoughts and looked around. The cove walls were bathed in orange and purple light signaling the setting of the sun. He should get up and explore his surroundings, but he was too weak, and the cove seemed safe enough. It was foolish to go out at night in a strange place, so he decided to take advantage of the shelter of the cove and rest until the morning when he could explore and look for nourishment and fresh water. He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, images of hard thighs, sun bronzed skin and green eyes flashing through his mind as he settled into a lust hazed sleep.
Ulmo watched as Findaráto slept. The light of the small fire he had lit casting dancing shadows across that fair face. Ulmo was mesmerized. He should be rehearsing the story he had come up with to explain his presence, and all the supplies he had gathered, but he was on edge, restless, expectant. This raiment was susceptible to the elements. It made him feel vulnerable, exposed. He had dressed in a loose shirt and some soft doeskin breeches, the feel of which he found pleasurable, and eyed Findaráto fondly.
His vassal, Ossë, had proved useful gathering all the supplies needed from his friends among the people of Círdan. Ossë had been surprised at his request, but did his bidding without asking, and very discreetly. Ulmo had been harsh on his Maia, but softened once he saw how utterly contrite Ossë had seemed after losing his temper – Uinen had much to do with that, and was in a temper herself, which was surprising and more awe inspiring than an angry Tulkas.
He took stock of their provisions. They had a healthy supply of firewood, dry meats, bread, clothing, a couple of bed rolls and thanks to his powers, plenty of fresh water. That should last them for a while. He dreaded thinking of the future, of the questions he knew he would eventually have to answer and of the inevitable time when he must relinquish his charge.
A deep groan took him away from his thoughts. He scooted close to the supine form and watched how Findaráto's eyes cleared from their sleepy fog and focused on his face. Findaráto's cheeks flushed deeply and he averted his eyes. Ulmo held his breath and waited...
“Water,” was the desperate plea from his companion.
“Shh... You are still very weak,” he said while holding a flask filled with fresh water to Findaráto's mouth. He helped him sit up and watch him drink his fill.
“No more sleep, please.” Findaráto begged when he saw the man's hand make his way toward his forehead.
He smiled. “You were running a fever, I merely wish to know if it has gotten better.”
Findaráto looked at him skeptically, but nodded his consent. Ulmo placed a hand on his forehead and felt that it was cool to the touch. “Your fever is gone...”
“Who are you?”
Ulmo frowned, not used at being interrupted so rudely, but answered, “I am Maranwë.”
Findaráto made a noise and Ulmo suspected he was trying hard at suppressing a healthy bout of laughter. He scowled darkly and that only helped egg his companion into unrestrained guffaws.
“I am sorry, but that is a silly name,” Findaráto said after having calmed down a bit.
Ulmo just grunted. It annoyed him to have his chosen name ridiculed, but seeing the golden beauty next to him lit up in joy had been worth it.
Findaráto was now studying him, looking at him closely. Ulmo felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny of those wise eyes.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, a bit brusquely.
Findaráto nodded, then after a few seconds added, “I have upset you.” He placed his hand upon his chest. “My apologies, it is just that it is not often that I come across someone with such a.... grand name. I am Findaráto Ingalaure, but those close to me call me Ingo.” Ulmo felt the last vestiges of his annoyance ebb away as he saw his companion's eyes search his face for some sign of absolution.
“I suppose Findaráto does not qualify as grand?” Ulmo asked, smirking. He held out some of the dry meat and bread from the supplies.
Findaráto gave a relieved chuckle. “I guess it does.” He took the nourishment offered and ate, his gaze fastened on Ulmo's face. Ulmo just sat there watching him, unsure of what to do or say next. He was amazed that just spending time next to this Child of Eru would fill him with such contentment.
After eating and drinking his fill Findaráto asked, “Where are we?”
Ulmo looked away. “A small island far from the coast. I keep a few supplies here to weather the storms.”
Findaráto's brow arched. “Are you a fisherman, then?”
Ulmo cleared his throat, he hated deceit. “You could say that.” His face burned. He stood up abruptly and went to the mouth of the cove. He watched the beauty of Isil's silver rays reflected on the waters and his mind lingered on that night, long ago when he had visited Findaráto's dream. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence he turned and what he saw made him stop cold. Findaráto stood in the middle of the cove, his chest bared, his golden hair unbound.
“What are you doing?” Ulmo stammered, shocked.
“Damp clothes are very uncomfortable,” Findaráto shrugged. Ulmo's gaze was fastened to that hard chest and those strong, muscled arms. There were silver scars marring the skin of both and he felt anger. He was angry to know his golden beauty had suffered pain before. His thought shifted when he saw Findaráto's hand travel to the fastenings on his breeches. “I never sleep clothed.”
Ulmo was even more aware of the sensuality of his raiment as he watched Findaráto's movements. He spent so little time in bodily form that he found it difficult to control the sensations overtaking him and he reached for Findaráto and drew his body close. Findaráto let out a surprised gasp, but responded by grabbing his face between his hands and crushing their mouths together.
Never had he felt such a heady rush. He got lost in the taste of Findaráto's mouth, in the texture of that skilled tongue plunging, demanding. He felt his blood heat to the boiling point when Findaráto's hips thrust against his. He allowed his golden lover to lower him to the sand and school him in the ways of passion.
Findaráto watched those unearthly green eyes regard him with such trust, such devotion, that it made his heart skip a beat. They undressed in hurried, clumsy movements, their desire consuming any attempt at elegance. Maranwë's skin was flushed, he breathed heavily, his strong chest rising and falling like a tempestuous ocean wave. Findaráto thought he was the most beautiful sight on Endorë, unrestrained, alluring. He stretched himself over his lover and proceeded to taste every single inch of that bronzed skin with his impassioned lips. He wanted to sink himself into his lover's naked skin and dwell there forever.
He hissed softly when Maranwë placed a hand on his sore side. His lover's expressive eyes filled with apprehension. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, just a sore spot,” Findaráto answered. He laid a row of tiny kisses on Maranwë's neck, “nothing to worry about.”
The hand stroking his hair suddenly tightened from a caress to a demand as Maranwë took his lips in a soul searing kiss. Heat flooded him, making his already ragged breath catch, the little pains and aches from his earlier ordeal disappearing.
“I can't get enough of your taste.” His voice sounded rough, hungry. He flicked a brown, taut nipple with his tongue. “Let me love you, Maranwë”
“I need... more,” his lover groaned.
Hearing his plea made Findaráto's already tenuous self-control snap. He grabbed the pulsating member nestled against his stomach and sunk himself on it. There was pain, exquisite pain, but also mind shattering pleasure. Findaráto's deep groan was muffled by his lover's mouth taking his into a crushing, lip bruising kiss. Again and again, Maranwë's hips drove up, up, stroking him, taking him higher in that climb toward ecstasy. Maranwë's hand closed around him and the feeling of those powerful fingers stroking, teasing was too much. Inside and out, he was driven closer and closer until he finally burst, his shout of release just a heartbeat from Maranwë's. Gazes locked, he was aware of Maranwë's life force touching his. Their fëar entwined in a primal dance where time and space melted and the only reality left was their passion.
Ulmo had never experienced such intense pleasure. The limited senses of this raiment intensified his experiences, every touch, every breath, every kiss. Why had he wasted so much time in solitude? Was this what his brother and sisters had with their mates? He wondered if he could have experienced this sort of rapture with Nienna. He loved her, but not like this, not with this intensity. She did not make him feel complete, peaceful. Was this the reason Melkor had grown bitter, because Varda had refused his love? No, Melkor could never be able to understand love. He wanted to possess, to command, not to submit, to willingly make oneself vulnerable in order to make someone else happy.
With those thoughts dancing in his head he closed his eyes, happy to at last having found the one meant for him.
Findaráto watched as his lover slept. Maranwë seemed familiar, but he could not recall where he had met him before. He searched his memory hard but could not place Maranwë's face. Regardless, the sense of familiarity was there. It felt as if they had already been intimate before, the only problem with that theory being Findaráto's celibacy since arriving in Middle Earth, and before there had only been Amarië. There was something strange about Maranwë though, there were too many inconsistencies, too many unspoken truths. Maranwë was not a fisherman, of that he was sure. He spoke not Sindarin, but an archaic form of Quenya mostly reserved for ceremonial uses and worship and dressed in expensive clothes. A fisherman would never be able to afford such luxuries as a silk shirt and fine doe skin breeches. Most importantly, he did not seem surprised at having the King of Nargothrond in his cove. Findaráto knew his name had traveled far; any of the exiles would have known who he was, and the people of Círdan also knew of him. Maranwë held the beauty of the light of the Trees in his eyes, in his skin, he exuded authority, raw power. True, he never said outright what he was and the elusive answers he gave made Findaráto uneasy. Regardless, he had not pressed for more information. He feared what the answer to his inquiries could be.
He heard Maranwë shuffle and grunt on his bed roll, his splayed hand searching. It made Findaráto smile. He took Maranwë's searching hand and placed a soft kiss on it.
“Where had you gone?” Maranwë asked in a somewhat querulous tone. His eyes remained closed.
Findaráto lay down and settled against Maranwë's strong body, “I watched while you slept”
Maranwë smiled, pulling Findaráto closer to him, “There is no need, Ingo mine. We are safe here.” He placed a kiss on Findaráto's cheek and said in a sleep thickened voice, “Rest.”
Ulmo turned around, a big writhing haddock in his hand. He grinned at the expression on Findaráto's face. His valiant, self-sufficient lover was put out at having once again failed to capture any fish.
“You need to ask nicely, Ingo” Ulmo teased. “They'll eventually come.”
Findaráto snorted. “Right, the last thing I need is to look like an idiot talking to fish, asking them to let me catch them in order to eat them.” He stumped to the shore and plopped on the sand, a deep scowl on his face. His lover's mood had been steadily worsening the longer they stayed on the island. This was the end of their third month; it seemed such a short time to Ulmo. He who had been alive before Time and had seldom ever paid attention to it now dreaded its passing.
Ulmo sat next to his lover. He had finally put the fish out of its misery by hitting it against a rock. He hated having to do that, but found that dried meat and bread started to get old after a week in this raiment, not that he really needed to eat. Findaráto had made a comment about him not eating after the second day, and he had been forced to take nourishment since then.
He had attempted to show Findaráto how to fish without a net or pole, and Findaráto had attempted to show him how to build a bow. They had both failed miserably in their attempts. Findaráto being too bent on the “logic” behind fishing, an exercise thoroughly based on instinct and Ulmo not being meticulous enough in his attempts with the dried wood.
He pulled himself out of his thoughts and nudged Findaráto with his shoulder, “What's ailing you?”
“Erello...” The silly nickname had stuck. According to Findaráto, Ulmo's skin turned green in anger when he did not get his way, but Ulmo knew he owed the nickname to the color of his raiment's eyes. Findaráto never seemed to get quite enough of them, saying they reminded him of the combined light of Telperion and Laurelin at dawn.
Ulmo pressed on, “Ingo... please, I can't help if I don't know what's gotten you so upset.”
“I wish your boat hadn't been lost in the storm,” Findaráto whispered, looking away. “My men are probably beside themselves with worry, if they do not think me dead already. I have been away from my people for too long and the enemy's forces are always looming. I worry about them.”
Ulmo looked guilty. He could nudge one of the Children's vessels toward the island, and he had intended to do so after the first week, but could never bring himself to actually do it. He was in love, no doubt about it. It seemed his essence and Findaráto's fëa complemented and completed each other. Findaráto's patience, wisdom and general peaceful demeanor balanced his more passionate, explosive nature. He felt complete, sated, content, no longer on edge or in search for that missing part. The coda was complete and his best contribution to the song was here, in his love and in reveling in the beauty of Eru's gift, his Children.
Ulmo suspected Findaráto knew exactly what and who he was, or was very close to figuring it out. His nickname among the Secondborn, Nom, was well earned. Regardless, never had he pressed for answers that Ulmo had not been ready to give.
“I am sorry, love.” Ulmo dropped the fish on the sand and wiped his hands on his wet trousers, he took Findaráto's face between his hands. “We will find a way to return you to your people.”
Findaráto nodded tersely then stood up and went on one of his usual walks. They had moved away from the cove to a more sheltered spot close to a small fresh water creek. Fish forgotten, he followed him. He had never seen his lover so... angry.
He found Findaráto close to the creek in deep thought. His expression was strangely blank. He approached and saw his lover's eyes flash in bright anger. There was this strange feeling in his chest, it... ached. He did not like to see such a wounded, angry expression in his lover's eyes.
Findaráto shook his head. “No, no more.”
“What do you mean?” Ulmo asked, puzzled.
“I may seem a child to you, but I am not. I have waited patiently for you to open up, to be truthful with me, but I see that this,” Findaráto pointed between them, “is only a game to you.”
Ulmo's temper was piqued. “You know not what you ask of me.”
Findaráto's face paled, his eyes widened as he looked up at the terrible storm clouds Ulmo's temper had unleashed.
“It is true then,” was all Findaráto said before dropping to his knees, his head down. “I am sorry, my Lord.”
Ulmo groaned and dropped next to Findaráto, taking his chin in his hand. “No, no, never from you. It is I who needs to beg your forgiveness.”
“My lord... I...” Findaráto was unable to finish his sentence because Ulmo took his mouth in a deep kiss.
“Promise me, promise that I will always be Maranwë for you... your Erello, promise me.” Ulmo shook him gently by the shoulders, but Findaráto continued to avert his gaze.
“I beg of you...” Ulmo pleaded, “I love you so much.”
Findaráto's gasp drew Ulmo's attention. He smiled. Findaráto regarded him with a wide eyed look of surprise.
“Did you think I make it a custom to take as lovers random Noldorin Kings and hold them hostage on an island against their will?”
Findaráto was speechless, after a few seconds he shook his head no.
“Speak, for the love of Eru, tell me what is on your mind.”
His lover was silent for a long time. Ulmo thought he had lost him, then Findaráto spoke, “I have loved you since that time you came to me in dreams, bidding I build the fortress away from the enemy's eyes. I just was not aware of it. I felt your touch upon my fëa and it forever stayed... since then I was never the same, always looking, always wanting to be complete again.”
Ulmo breathed deeply, relieved. “I feared.... I feared I had lost you.”
Findaráto placed his fingers against Ulmo's mouth. “Say no more. I love you. You needn't reveal your secrets, I do not wish for power, or allegiances. I love you, the being that has loved me on this island, the one that took care of me when I was ill, for what you are.”
Ulmo smiled and sat down, pulling Findaráto down, setting his lover's back to rest against his strong chest. Findaráto continued, “When you saved my life, I know it was you anchoring me to my body, preventing me following the call of Mandos. I suspected it was you, I felt the same... completeness, but thought myself foolish. What kind of man would ever dream to hold the regard of one of the Powers?”
“Only an extraordinary man, such as Findaráto Ingalaure, King of Nargothrond,” Ulmo said stroking Findaráto's cheek. “When did you know for sure?”
Findaráto smiled, “You did not make it very hard to guess, but my self-doubts prevented me from ever admitting it to myself.” After a few seconds he looked over his shoulder and added, “Besides, what kind of Endorë fisherman would ever speak Vanyarin Quenya, heal their lovers with kisses and dress in silks and fine leather breeches?”
That prompted Ulmo to break out in healthy laughter, which in turn made Findaráto laugh. It took them a few minutes to calm down. Ulmo tightened his hold on Findaráto and they stayed like that for a long time, just enjoying what they knew would amount to their last moments together.
Eventually, their desire made itself apparent. They went to their shelter and made love for hours, as if to compensate for the long years ahead of them. Finally, after spending the day exploring each other's flesh they fell into a sated sleep.
They stood on the shore of the island, Maranwë dressed in his fine leather breeches and silk shirts, Findaráto wearing the fine woolen tunic and breeches he had on when he had jumped off the ship. This was to be their final day on the island, the burden of their responsibilities pressed heavily on their minds.
“What's to become of us?” Findaráto asked. He took his lover's hand in his and held on, afraid to stop touching him – he still could not bring himself to utter his lover's name, not even in thought. To do so would acknowledge the insurmountable gulf that separated them.
Maranwë dropped his head, groaning. Findaráto noticed the waters churned a deep gray, betraying the emotions of their Master. He knew what the answer to his question would be, but he needed his tempestuous, headstrong lover to come to terms with their parting.
“Ingo... I must let you go, you need to lead your people and I must attend to my duties. It... hurts. I ache at just thinking of not being at your side, but it must be done.”
Findaráto nodded grimly. He now understood why his brother had asked to be called away from Andreth. To give up the one you love was a terrible ordeal, more terrifying and painful than listening to the call of Mandos. Aikanáro wouldn't even have the consolation of setting his eyes upon his lover's fair face. She and her kind were not for Arda and dwelt within its confines for a short period of time. At least he would have a reminder of his time of bliss everywhere he went where his lover's kingdom spread.
Findaráto raised his lover's chin with his hand and placed a soft kiss on his mouth before replying, “Indeed, our time together was brief and the bitterness of our parting cannot be assuaged with words. Know this, Erello mine, you shall remain in my thoughts for the rest of my existence and this,” he pointed at his heart, “is yours, forever.”
Tears streamed down Maranwë's face. “You asked nothing of me, but I will protect you and those you love while you are within my Kingdom and reach. This I swear to you.” Maranwë then kissed him once more and stood away.
A great wind came, blinding Findaráto, and it was then, on the beach of the island of their love when he saw Ulmo, the Vala, in his most majestic form. A great wave rose above the sea, ridden by a beautiful being, wearing green armor, crowned in light, awe inspiring, terrible in his might. He spoke in a deep, resonant voice,
“There shall be a time when you and I will stand shoulder to shoulder, our stations and differences stripped away. I shall wait for you there, Findaráto Ingalaure, and you shall be mine and I yours, forever.”
“We had lost hope,” the ship's first mate said. “We sent out many search parties, but could never find you. Your sister, insisted you were still alive and kept sending yearly expeditions to look for you.”
“Years?” Findaráto asked, surprised. “I was on the island for only three months.” He was standing on the deck of the ship that had rescued him. They came a day after Maranwë had left.
“Three months?” The young man asked in an alarmed tone. “Nay, my lord, it has been ten years since you were lost at sea. You were lost trying to save my life.”
Findaráto's eyebrows rose. “It can't be.”
The young man grinned. “I suspected you did not recognize me.”
Findaráto still could not understand how time could have passed so slowly for him but so fast for the rest of the world, but then if he had the ability to alter time perception he would have done it in order to spend more time with Maranwë. “You've grown into a fine sailor, master Lennion,” Findaráto answered after he collected himself.
“I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do so if it were not for you, my Lord Felagund, and for that I thank you.”
Color rose to Findaráto's cheeks. “No thanks are needed, master Lennion, you would have done the same for me.”
It took him a month to make it back to Nargothrond, his brother Aikanáro and his nephew, Arataresto spent a great deal of time just fussing over him once he got there. To his great chagrin, they sent a message to his sister who made it all the way back from Doriath, interrupting her apprenticeship with Melyanna and very likely earning her very possessive husband's wrath. He dreaded meeting with her and to be under her far-reaching, all-knowing gaze after what happened on the island. He did not feel ready to talk about it, not even to his beloved Artanis.
The morning of his sister's arrival found Findaráto restless and in a sour mood. It sat wrong with him that his sister could take a look at him and be able to guess his deepest, most guarded secrets. Not that he had many, but he wanted to keep his time on the island to himself, to be able to lick his wounds and love Maranwë from afar without giving anyone any explanations about his melancholy, self-imposed solitude and celibacy.
He stood waiting at the entrance to his hidden kingdom and watched his sister riding her horse skillfully along the narrow path that led to the gates. Her hair caught the radiance of the sun and reflected it into a thousand little rays of silver and golden light. Her face held a look of determination and some worry lines marred her brow. She rode her horse hard, her Sindar companions nowhere to be seen.
She got off her horse with more grace and skill than some of his most seasoned riders and threw herself into his waiting arms.
“Don't you ever dare do that again,” she said into his mind. Her fair face was a testament to her conflicting emotions. Tears streaked her cheeks, but her eyes were alight with joy.
“Silly, goose,” Findaráto said while kissing her cheek. “It will take a lot more than a storm to get rid of me. You cannot take my throne just yet.”
She laughed, the sound reverberated off the walls like the song of a hundred nightingales, beautiful and disconcerting.
“Where is the rest of your party?” he asked while looking over her shoulder. “I know your Sindar Prince would never allow you to come unguarded.”
“I lost sight of them a mile behind. I was in too much of a hurry to see you,” she said while stroking his cheek, her penetrating gaze fastened to his face. It had been a long time since the last time she had seen him. It seemed as if she did not want to miss a second of their reunion.
He frowned. “You shouldn't have done that. These are dangerous times.”
Artanis smiled, giving him a warning look. He blushed deeply realizing how silly he sounded telling her to be careful. He had been gone without word for ten years, hardly one to be giving people counsel on how to behave in times of war. Pulling her by the hand he said, “Come. I have prepared a very boring and stiff feast to celebrate your arrival. I can't wait to see the look of your party when they sit through all the speeches written in your honor. I think Angaráto even wrote one of his dreadful poems.”
She made a face. He knew how much her companions hated all of their “Golodhen ways.” Even worse, their brother's poetry could make a Balrog weep it was so bad, but she went with him without asking questions that he could not answer, happy to have her brother back. They celebrated their reunion and made merry along with the rest of their family for a week straight. Aikanáro got drunk and vomited on the feet of a very pretty girl who had been trying to catch his eye since he got to Nargothrond; quite unsuccessfully as his brother's heart had been taken long ago by a sweet little mortal of twinkling gray eyes and ebony hair. Angaráto waxed poetic about their joy, to everyone's chagrin, and Arataresto announced his impending nuptials to Eldalöte, the daughter of one of his advisors. It seemed he would become a granduncle earlier than anticipated given the hastiness of the whole deal.
Throughout it all, Artanis had participated with her usual calm disposition and elegance of bearing, but she kept watch on him. He would often feel the weight of her sight, especially when his thoughts wandered off to those nights on the island. He tried to school his face into a bland expression, but it was in vain. She knew something had happened during his absence, but as to the extent of her knowledge he could only guess, without inviting for more questions, something he wanted to avoid at all cost.
It was the night before his sister's departure, and they were having an intimate farewell supper for her and her companions in one of the rooms of his underground palace. Arataresto had wedded the week before, and the whole of the Nargothrond seemed to be bent on looking for a consort for their king. Findaráto had borne it all in a composed, somewhat amused manner. Even their Sindar guests had caught wedding fever.
“... and the bride was radiant. I do hope they bring a child into these halls soon. There are so few children born in these times,” said Thinien, one of the Sindarin ladies that had accompanied his sister from Doriath. She had followed him all around the palace like a lost puppy. He had been amused at first, but all the unwanted attention had become tedious and he was starting to get irritated, especially after he saw her sister's amusement at his expense. It seemed Thinien was well known in Doriath's court for falling in love with a new beau every spring.
She turned and gave him her most coquettish smile. “How about you, my lord? Will you wed and have an heir to the throne of Nargothrond?”
He almost choked on the bread he was chewing, Aikanáro hid his giant snort with an ill faked cough, Arataresto dropped his head in order to hide his smirk, but Artanis just held his gaze. As he lost himself in the deep azure of his sister's eyes, images of the ruin of his hidden kingdom flashed through his mind, the smell of burnt flesh and the metallic tang of blood assaulted his nose. His whole body felt rigid and cold, and cold sweat trickled down his back. Slowly, he came to his senses, now dulled by the terrible experience. He saw everyone fussing over him, but he only had eyes for his sister, whose face was marred by sorrow.
“There will be no stone left in Nargothrond that a son of mine could inherit, Lady Thinien,” he said in a voice roughened by pain before getting up and leaving the hall abruptly.
He ran, away from the hall trying to make sense of what he had seen.
He turned and saw his sister; she was flushed by the exercise and her breath came in short gasps from trying to keep up with him. “I have seen it too.”
He dropped to his knees and hid his face in his hands and sobbed, “So much pain, so much death... everyone I hold dear gone... I wish I had never seen it.” He felt his sister's hand take his and he looked up. “How do you bear it?”
“It becomes easier with time.” She squeezed his hand. He leaned over and took his sister in a bone crushing hug. She was to depart the next day, without ever having asked about his absence, always understanding, always there for him. She was far greater than he had ever given her credit for, and much wiser than him. He had no doubt she knew, but she had respected his need for privacy and had given him understanding and unconditional love.
He that had always seen her as a nuisance, as a little girl, now understood what a great woman she had become. As she left, along with her Sindar companions, he spoke into her mind, “Fare thee well, Lady of Light.”
She turned her mount around and that heavy gaze of hers on him. “He sent a message for you. He said to not dwell on what shall be lost but what is to come after, to remember his promise... and to stop pining.”
“You knew all along,” he stammered, shocked, “and did not tell me.”
His sister laughed. “My mirror is made out of water, brother mine... never forget.” She winked, blew him a kiss and turned her horse around. He stood there, totally bewildered, watching as she rode away.
“I must go... Please brother, you must allow me to go to his aid.” Ulmo's voice reverberated through the halls of Manwë's palace.
He had watched through the years as his lover grew in power and wisdom, his fëa burning brighter and brighter as the years passed. He had wept with his lover for the losses he bore during the Dagor Bragolach, felt his heart swell with pride at the praise his lover received for his wisdom, his kindness, his braveness.
He had traveled from Endorë, having discovered his beloved Felagund had gone deep into Melkor's lair to help Beren, a mortal who was sundered from his love by virtue of his race. It was unfair, and Findaráto had been bound to help him, not only had he sworn an oath to Beren's ancestors, but his dead brother's thwarted love for a mortal, and their own story had prompted him into action. Findaráto and his companions were being held on the island of wolves, and he had been trying to break through Melkor's wards for a fortnight before coming for aid to Valinor only to have the King of Arda forbid him from intervening further.
“You must let the events unravel. There is much more than the life of Ingalaure at stake.” It was not Manwë, but Vairë's voice who replied.
Ulmo was shocked into silence. His sister never left her halls, always weaving, always quiet, for the weight of her knowledge was great and her words were always chosen carefully. Her raiment was just as severe as her husband's, but her face held hope. She approached him, her essence lending him strength and comfort before whispering, “I am so sorry, brother mine.”
Manwë's beautiful face held pity and sorrow, but his voice did not waver as he gave his command, “You are not to intervene. You must stay within these halls until it is safe for you to be out again.”
Ulmo shouted in pain. His beloved's death sentence had been all but spoken.
Some ignorant people say it has never snowed in Valinor. They were not there the day Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond lay dying in the Island of Werewolves. It snowed for three days straight, the bleak landscape a testimony to the deep mourning of a Vala that had been forced to watch as his beloved was torn apart by the jaws of a werewolf.
Ulmo stood on the waters surrounding the Island of Werewolves. He had finally been allowed to leave Valinor, a whole day after his lover took his last breath. He dreaded the task that awaited him, but he could not allow any of Melkor's lackeys to desecrate Ingalaure's body.
He felt one of his kind approach him, it was Mandos. “His fëar takes rest within my halls,” was all he said. Ulmo just grunted, he was not capable of speech, the thought of all the pain Ingalaure had experienced rendered him mute.
After a few minutes he managed to collect himself enough to scrape out, “I must retrieve his hröa. I have seen the results of Melkor's experiments. I cannot allow that to happen.”
“I will lift the veil of darkness while you go retrieve it. You must be fast as I cannot fight it for long,” Mandos told him. He sent a look of gratitude to his brother whom he had previously defied, and was now helping him in the only task that would afford him any measure of closure. Together they set out on their grim task.
A gasp of pain escaped Ulmo's lips as he came upon his lover's body. He lay in a pool of now congealed blood, his lips bluish, his face pale. There was a great gash on his side and his arms and hands bore deep lashes, no doubt the results of the werewolves teeth and claws. He gathered the body that had held his beloved's essence and carried him away from the dark, unholy place to lay deep within his kingdom and set him to rest in a grave made of the purest ice. The waters washing away the foul vestiges of Melkor's servants.
It stayed there, untouched by decay, until the time for Findaráto's release from Mandos came, when Ulmo delivered him back to the shores of Valinor, just to watch as it faded away, along with the wonderful being that had inhabited it, into a whisper with the passing of the long centuries.
Findaráto twitched his nose at the insistent tickling he felt there but did not open his eyes. He felt so comfortable lying there, he did not want to move, but the tickling moved from his nose to a sensitive spot on his neck. He opened his eyes and glared.
“What must one do in order to get some rest around here?”
His lover gave him a sheepish smile, hiding the little flower he had been using to tickle him behind his back.
“Well?” he asked, annoyed.
“Must you sleep? What need have we of sleeping?” his lover pouted.
“I happen to like sleeping, even if I don't need it,” he replied. After a few seconds he added, “Besides, I can dream of new ways of making love to you.”
His lover grinned. “Hmm, I like that. You should continue sleeping then.” Then when Findaráto closed his eyes he felt the pesky flower on his nose again.
He groaned. “Now what?”
“Tell me again, I like hearing it.”
Findaráto opened one eye. “I have told you a thousand times.”
“Please?” his lover begged. “It just sounds so wonderful on your lips.”
He gave a dramatic sigh, but said it for the one thousand and first time, “I love you, Ulmo.”
Ulmo laughed. He had waited for the world to be remade in order to hear his name upon his lover's lips. It never got old.
He tickled Ingo again. “You know, we should go visit your brother, Andreth is about to deliver her first baby...”