That night when I entered the Great Hall of Feasts in my Grandfather Finwë's palace, apprehension and anticipation overwhelmed me. I thought he would be easy to spot--the tallest elf in Tirion, with the vivid flame-colored hair. I longed for the sight of his indulgent eyes and handsome face. But I did not see him. In that room he was known as Prince Nelyafinwë, first son of Prince Fëanáro, eldest grandson to King Finwë, but to me he was simply Maitimo. I had delayed my arrival, wanting to be sure he would be here, not wanting to arrive before him and be forced to wait impatiently as I had waited for the last three months.
My Uncle Arafinwë came up behind me, slapping me hard on the back. "Findekáno, welcome home. I see you survived another season in the house of Fëanaro. Good to see you, nephew." I mumbled something I hoped sounded correct and affectionate in response while scanning the crowded room with increasing desperation for the one face I longed to see.
The soaring domed ceilings and tall marble pillars gave me a disconnected feeling, almost of floating, so accustomed had I grown to the elegant, low-slung simplicity of the rooms in the house of my Uncle Fëanaro in Formenos. The expanse of the immense open chamber had quickly filled to overflowing with Noldorin lords and ladies, respected craftsmen and the countless bureaucrats who undoubtedly spring up like mushrooms in any courtly setting. Yet it felt so good to be back finally in Tirion, to know I would find him here. I saw that my Atar and Amil had taken their places on one side of Grandfather Finwë and Grandmother Indis.
Grandfather looked over the crowd longingly, subtly anxious, before a smile of such radiance suffused his face that I knew immediately he had spotted Uncle Fëanaro. No one else warrants such a response from Grandfather.
Uncle Fëanaro wore a simple black tunic, trimmed in silver, his only jewelry a simple mithril diadem and the Star of the House of Fëanaro glittering at his throat. No excessive finery there, yet he looked every bit the "greatest of the Noldor" that he is reputed to be and the acknowledged heir to Grandfather Finwë. Aunt Nerdanel's hair gleamed golden red that night in contrast to her dark wine-colored gown. He held her close to him by her upper arm, as though to reassure her. But I sensed she also soothed him amidst the throng that contained so many he would rather avoid. As they moved toward the front of the room, his face repeatedly lit in unmistakable warmth as he would nod to a lord or lady only to change instantaneously to stiff, nearly hostile, arrogance when faced with another. Pretense had no place in Fëanaro's world. I looked carefully in front and behind of my aunt and uncle, as they made their way to their places on the other side of Grandfather, to see if Maitimo might be near them. He was not.
Three months earlier, after Uncle Fëanaro casually mentioned to Atar that if I wished to stay in Tirion for the summer he could hardly object, I had plotted and schemed to travel again with my uncle's family to Formenos as I had for most of my boyhood. "He will never be a craftsman," Fëanaro had said to Atar, laughing lightly. The disappointed edge such laughter once held had long-ago softened into amusement.
My uncle's ill-concealed pride in his role in encouraging what he considered my greatest asset--an inquiring mind--made him able to accept with uncharacteristic benevolence my complete lack of interest in his first and greatest love. He told Atar that, while I was always welcome in his home, he could no longer pretend that either of us might profit from me spending more time in his workshop. Grandfather Finwë for once voiced no objection. It had been Grandfather who originally suggested, and then annually encouraged, my trips out-of-the-city with Uncle Fëanaro and his family. Atar previously had tolerated those summers, although with little grace or gratitude. Relieved, he immediately began planning my summer.
I desperately argued with Atar that I had left projects behind in Formenos I ought to finish. (Of course, I did not mention they were clumsy, stymied efforts that I had abandoned gladly the previous year.) I explained that my cousins stimulated and challenged me, and I embellished how much I learned in their company in addition to the few hours I spent with uncle in his workshop. I whined that no one or anything in Tirion could hold my interest and, finally, that one last summer before leaving my carefree youth behind was not too much to ask.
As a last resort, I approached Uncle Fëanaro himself. I begged, wholly prepared to grovel if necessary. "Please tell Atar that you have reconsidered and you do wish to teach me. Or ask Aunt Nerdanel if I can work more with her in stone. She tells me I have talent."
Uncle Fëanaro captured my shifting, less-than-honest gaze with his blazing grey eyes. Consciously remaining still, I squirmed inwardly at my deception. I had always prided myself on being able to unflinchingly meet those intense eyes--something many a grown elf in Tirion could not do. That ability, along with other less conscious acts, had earned me the embarrassing nickname of Findekáno the valiant from my cousins.
I never withheld information from Fëanaro. In fact, prevarication was not one of my talents. Among Fëanaro's sons, Tyelkormo could be a first-rate liar as long the subject was trivial. Maitimo and Macalaurë preferred simple honesty, but as a skilled politician and a performer respectively, each could hedge the truth when they deemed it expedient. Carnistir could not be bothered to speak with anything but candor.
"What is it that you want from me, Findekáno?" he asked. "You hate the forge. We both know that. Nerdanel says you are gifted in the arts but uninspired by her craft of late."
"You could tutor me in philosophy and lore," I offered, momentarily satisfied at my inventiveness.
"Káno," he said, his voice and face softening as he used my nickname. Although his sons and his wife addressed me by nothing else, I had rarely heard it from him. "You know that everything I want to say on those subjects can be found in the library or expanded upon in a fresher light by Nelyo."
"I could do unskilled work around the forge for you." I would not give up easily.
"If I wished more help with that, two of my sons have rather more free time than is good for them. Actually, that manner of work relaxes me. Allows me to think," he said.
"I just want to come to Formenos," I said lamely, appalled at my own stunning lack of articulateness before my uncle's persuasive genius.
"That I can understand," he said, his countenance lighting up with one of his sudden bursts of affection that never failed to surprise and encourage me no matter how many times I experienced them. "Tirion is intellectually stifling, unbearable really. And I suppose you enjoy spending time with your cousins. I will speak with your father."
Relief flooded me. Uncle Fëanaro usually got his way. A few hours later Atar sent for me. "We have decided that..." he began. We? I could already see the outcome in the set of his jaw. Nolofinwë, proud and irritable before his half-brother, whom he envied and often found insufferable, predictably had collapsed once again when served an unanticipated dose of Fëanorian charm along with Uncle's legendary persistence. I could barely restrain my jubilation. Atar continued, "...another summer in Formenos would be valuable."
The following morning Maitimo arrived for our thrice-weekly lessons. We settled into our usual chairs, facing one another. Maitimo slouched, one long leg stretched out before him and the other bent at the knee, the features of his incomparable face as relaxed as his body. My heart contracted at the sight of his casual grace and his beauty: red hair with its strands of lighter gold and darker auburn shimmering under the light of Laurelin flooding in through the open window, lightly-tanned skin, faintly ruddier at the apex of his perfect, high cheekbones, wide-set clear grey eyes, recalling the silver glow of Telperion, framed by thick, surprisingly dark lashes, his full, generous mouth.
Once, when I was still a small boy, I heard him being teased by Macalaurë, who claimed he had been asked again if it was true that "your older brother is as stunning as a Vala." Maitimo had reacted, annoyed and embarrassed. In those days, I had already seen several Valar and none of them affected me as my oldest cousin did. Many others claimed that Fëanaro was the handsomest elf in Aman, the most beautiful of the Noldor, but to me my uncle's undisputable magnificence of face and form approached not even a close second to that of my cousin Maitimo.
But that day, I was not overcome by the usual few moments of self-consciously stammering at the mere sight of Maitimo. I burned to tell him that our studies could continue through the summer, that I would be going to Formenos after all. Pleased with myself and feeling witty, my words tumbled out, one heedlessly after another, like pebbles rolling down the face of a cliff.
Maitimo's face shadowed for a moment before he smiled and replied, "Good work, Káno. You do need to get away from Tirion more often. I only wish I were going with all of you again, but grandfather has asked me to help him this summer and I could not refuse."
My world fragmented around me. What a dim-wit I had been. Why did I not speak with Maitimo first? At that moment, I worried he would see the despairing yearning in my face and be repelled by it. Fortunately, it seemed he did not.
He gave me the familiar lopsided, self-conscious smile that always seemed so incongruous to me and said, "But we are talking about your plans and not my tedious summer. What do you want to do in Formenos? I thought you hated Atar's lessons and that sculpture bored you."
If I had not been so weighed down by my own disappointment, I would have laughed and commented at how closely his observations mirrored those of his father. I could not say that I had only wanted to go to Formenos because I could not endure being away from him. So I answered with a half-truth, much as I had responded to Uncle Fëanaro, "I just wanted to get out of Tirion."
Later when he took his leave, reckless in my misery, I followed him out the door. "Maitimo, wait," I said.
"Yes?" he said as he slowly turned around, his voice sounding insincerely cheerful, his smile taut. It was almost as though he had not wanted to look back.
"I love you, Maitimo." My voice broke as I spoke and my cheeks flamed.
"I love you too," he answered, his voice suddenly tender but serious. He pulled me into a quick embrace, arms rigid, intent on maintaining a distance, his hands so warm they felt nearly hot holding tightly onto my upper arms. Then he abruptly let go of me, turned and ran down the steps. He paused, looking indecisively back for a second, before he quietly said, "We will talk when you get back, Káno."
The entire summer, I ruminated over that farewell hundreds--no thousands--of times. Was he cool because I embarrassed him? Or already distracted thinking of other things? "I love you, too," he said. Did he mean he loved me no more or less than any of his cousins? Did he know I meant I worshipped, shamelessly desired him, thought of him morning 'til night? "We will talk..." he said. Could he have known and did not care? Understood and hated me for it? Could he care for me in a similar way? Not likely. Ridiculous to even contemplate. Yet, perhaps not impossible?
The summer had been far from a complete loss. Aunt Nerdanel permitted me to paint and draw and talked with me about art and the creative process, with no further attempts to make a sculptor out of me. Uncle Fëanaro drafted me as an assistant doing laborer's work in the forge and surprised me with what good company he could be outside of our previously ill-fitting roles of frustrated master and reluctant apprentice. Yet I could not walk by the open door of Maitimo's empty room without feeling a heart-wrenching stab of pain at his absence.
Tyelkormo and Carnistir annoyed me far less than they had in the past. I actually grew closer to Macalaurë. I suspected he missed Maitimo almost as much as I did, especially since his wife was visiting her parents in Alqualondë. Even baby Curvo was pleasant and entertaining, not at all the little beast that Carnistir had been at his age--or perhaps my own advancing years made a difference. All in all, summer passed much as it always had--as one of Uncle's apprentices once described time spent in the house of Fëanaro in Formenos: "with honest and challenging work, warm and stimulating company, good food and plenty to drink." So nearly of age was I by then that no one counted how many glasses of wine I drank. If it had not been for the gaping hole in my heart I would have actually enjoyed myself.
Finally I found myself back in the same city, the same building, probably the same room, as Maitimo. At first, I looked randomly from side to side and then began to comb the crowd in an orderly manner one small segment at a time. How could I miss him even among this crowd? My cousin Macalaurë, who always knew where to find his older brother, approached my grandfather at the front of the hall, smiled, nodding in agreement at an apparent request, and then took a seat with the musicians. I sighed with frustration that I had missed my chance to ask Macalaurë if he had seen Maitimo.
Macalaurë picked up his harp obviously preparing to sing. The crowd pushed me with it closer to the front; everyone wanted a better position. Suddenly I felt a body attempt to squeeze by me, brushing my upper arm. I immediately recognized the heat of that vital touch. Then I made out the voice. "Sorry. Excuse me, please," he repeated as he moved forward.
"Maitimo," I said, turning him by the arm to look into my face. I was amazed to find that my eyes were nearly level with his.
"Káno?" he said, with surprise and something akin to relief. "I was looking for you just now but I did not recognize you from behind. You are much taller, broader too." The easy, crooked smile that lit his beautiful face pierced the core of me like a blade. The murmur and hum of the press of those around us receded for me until I could hear nothing but the hammering of my own heart and see nothing but his silver-grey eyes.
"I came here early to find you." Maitimo said, his voice soft, no longer cool but fond, full of promise. "I need to speak with you, Káno."
"I came late," I said uselessly, a little too loudly, grinning from ear to ear. "Shhh..." hissed a nearby voice.
"Macalaurë's singing," whispered Maitimo, placing his arm around my shoulders, his breath upon my ear. "Come. Outside."
He guided me toward the door. We walked onto the terrace and into Telperion's light, down a small set of steps and through the garden, until we entered a small copse of trees, a near-authentic imitation of a natural woodland setting. Maitimo still had his arm across my back, guiding and propelling me. He stopped and turned to me, placing a hand on each of my shoulders.
"You should know that you tortured me throughout the summer," he said. "The last time we saw one another, you said 'I love you'. What did you mean by that?"
"You answered, 'I love you, too.' What did you mean?"
"Not fair, Káno. I asked first," he said, grinning.
"I meant that I'm in love with you," I answered. We had come this far--too late for me to dissemble now. For good or ill, I would speak and hear the truth.
For a long moment Maitimo said nothing, I looked into his eyes and saw something new, or at very least an emotion I had not recognized before. It both excited me and contented me. He loved and desired me as well. I felt my heart lurch and my face flush with a sense of victory at achieving what I had sought for so long, tempered by a fear of unworthiness. Then Maitimo took my face in his hands and kissed me on the lips, a kiss as soft as the murmur of a breeze upon new leaves, yet absolutely unlike any of the thousands of kisses he had given me before. It was unmistakably the kiss of a lover, no longer that of a cousin, or a friend.
The tentative lightness of it might have belied passion, but its length and tenderness expressed a sensuality that no brotherly kiss contained. The recognition of shared desire dispelled all my timidity and insecurity. When he attempted to pull back, I threw my arms around his neck, claiming his lips in a hard, passionate kiss. He moaned under my assault, the welcome sweetness of that sound impelled me to do more. I ran my tongue along the seam separating his lips--so perfectly shaped and almost red--causing him to open his mouth to me. Through all the Ages of Arda, into the Halls of Mandos and back again, wherever I may go, whatever may befall me, I will never forget that moment of elation. Finally, I drew away to gaze on that his face, the sight of which astounded me.
"Findekáno the valiant," he said, his voice hoarse with yearning, eyes half-closed, focused not on mine, but seemingly on my lips, "whence do you get your courage. I'm like a blushing maid before you."
"Not like a maid at all," I said, punctuating my remark by pushing my hips against the evident proof of his masculinity, surprising myself and him with my wanton boldness.