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Solitude

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What was most surprising about interminable captivity was the boredom. The cell was small, but not cramped, about ten feet square; just the cold face of the deep mountain granite stretching upward to a high ceiling lost in darkness. When he had first arrived, that had surprised Maitimo. He had expected a squalid hole, or a pit full of spikes perhaps; a cruel cage barely big enough to contain him with orcs jeering at him through the iron bars. So far, the only orcs he had seen were the four who had escorted him down to the cell on his first day. Presumably he was guarded, but without windows in the walls or door, it was impossible to see or even hear his captors.

He was alone.

It would have been somehow more tolerable if he had been at least questioned. Maitimo had been prepared for that, for rough treatment, for torture even; he was a king and a son of kings: he knew how to take pain for his people. But no one ever arrived to exact the torment he expected. It was almost insulting, as if the Black Foe did not believe he had any information of value, as if he was merely a pawn, a bargaining chip in a great stratagem. The solitude was the best torture the Enemy could have devised, he slowly realized. He’d never been alone for so long before; from birth he’d been surrounded by parents, nurses, tutors, trainers, counselors, and playmates. Later in life he was almost never without a brother or three tagging along at his heels, and as his father grew more secretive and wrathful, each of their personal guards. Living utterly alone was at first a novelty, but it soon became a torment, without sight or sound of any other living creature. After a time, even the crude features of an orc would have been a welcome sight. It was like being at the bottom of a deep well, without even the light of day far away to comfort him.

Slowly, he formed a daily routine to drive away the silence. Wake. Mark the new day on the wall (he defined these without light as the time between each period of sleep), eat, exercise, remember. The last, as time went by, seemed increasingly important. He would repeat all the names of his family, recall their faces and gestures: Tyelkormo’s laugh, the way Curufinwë’s hands never stopped moving, the gentle sound of Makalaurë’s voice. But like ghosts, eventually they started to fade, even as he clutched at them; the images of their faces, the sounds of their voices slipping through his fingers into a long forgotten time that seemed almost unreal.

One day he went to mark the wall and found he had no more room. He had marked all the walls from the ground to the highest part of the wall he could reach.

He started on the floor.

One day, when the floor was scored almost all over its surface, It came. He had been sitting on his little cot, remembering a day spent with Findekáno eating stolen plums in Uncle Arafinwë’s orchard, when he nearly fell over in shock.

There was something in room with him.

He could feel the hairs rising on the back of his neck, his muscles tensing to either fight or flee. The air was hot and thick with a smell like thunderstorms and something else, unfamiliar, acrid and sour. But stronger than all else was the feeling of being looked at. Not just looked at. Studied, he thought. Something was watching him. Cataloging every twitch of a finger and throb of blood in his ears. He was caught unprepared and exposed. The gaze wracked him and he sat frozen like a bird watching an approaching snake. It wormed under his skin, into his blood, inspecting, testing, surveying each shuddering nerve and impulse. He was safe nowhere from that flaying mind like a wheel of fire; flesh pierced by eyes unseen. Just when he thought that to endure any more would be to die, It tore away, the needles of its intellect slicing through his tendons and bones like shards of ice.

When he came to himself again, It was gone. So were the marks on the walls and floor. He might have thought all the days of his vile imprisonment a dream if not for the lingering smell in the air. He felt sick and shamed, the bile rising in his throat. He had been ready for a physical attack, ready to suffer in silence through beatings and torture, but he had never prepared himself for any kind of mental assault.

You always lacked discipline, Nelyafinwë. His father’s voice sounded reproachful in his pounding head.

Maitimo gritted his teeth. I will learn.