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fireplaces and autumn mist

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Nail down the traitor
cross over the ice
though the wind blows and the hate grows
your thoughts will suffice
[Falconer- Boiling Led]

*

Findekáno was tired of waiting.

Three months had passed since he had rescued Russandol from Angband. He still remembered that all too clearly, Russandol’s broken body falling into his arms, the blood that gushed from his wrist. He remembered how he had covered his cousin’s frozen body, desperately hoping to protect him against the icy cold of the North. How he had embraced Russandol, whispering soft, desperate words of love into his ear, even when Russandol had fainted into his arms from the pain and fatigue.

It was so that the Eagle had brought them to Lake Mithrim, and it was so that their families had found them, still entwined in an embrace.

There were no words of gratitude from the Fëanárians: they had simply taken their brother, put him on a stretcher, and silently returned to their camp. Findekáno hadn’t seen Russandol since that moment.

Still in his tent, he got up from his bed, and began to restlessly pace back and onward. He was sure that if he had to stay a minute more there, he would go crazy.

In the end, he took a deep breath. I can’t stay here, he said to himself. No word had come from the Fëanárian camp, no news of what had happened to Russandol after the rescue. Was he still alive, or he was dead, like his father?

No, Findekáno thought. He couldn’t be dead. I would have known.

Staying there, almost entrapped in the camp, with all around him people doing their best to to create a new life after having crossed the Ice and abandoned their homeland, was becoming a torture for him.

So, he took his decision. Once again, he collected what he needed: his long bow, his quiver full of arrows made of grey feathers, his mantle, that permitted him to disappear between the shadows, and few supplies, just in case he was going to stay away from the camp longer than he intended. And it was so that, exactly as he had done when he had gone towards Angband, he went out of his tent, and headed towards the gate.

This time, it was full day, the sky lit by the new lamp that the Valar had put far above Arda. It spread a strange light, not suffused and delicate like that of the Trees, but rather strong and almost dazzling. Vása the Consumer, the Noldor called it, and rightly, for it burned the eyes of the one that watched it too long.

Findekáno slid between his people like a shadow, among carpenters and bricklayers, blacksmiths and woodworkers, all busy raising walls of stone and woods, to transform the vast camp of tents into a true citadel. Luckily, he didn’t meet any of his siblings or cousins. If anyone noticed him, they would surely tell his father.

He knew too well that what he was doing could cause strife between him and his family. Ñolofinwë hadn’t said a word of Russandol since Findekáno had returned from Angband, but he knew that his father’s rage was like a glacier: slow, but destructive all the same. Ñolofinwë hadn’t forgotten the long years that they had spent on the Ice, and the losses that they had suffered. He surely hadn’t forgiven the sons of his half-brother for it.

Findekáno too couldn’t forget what they had endured on the ice, the despair that had almost overcome them in walking through the ice with no light but that of the torches, the bears and the wolves too near to their camp, attracted by the promise of fresh meat, the empty gaze of Turukáno and the quiet sobbing of Itarillë when Elenwë had been lost in the Ice. That was the worst of all.

But a part of him, a part that had never abandoned him, not even when a bear was the only hope they had of not starving, when Ñolofinwë cursed Fëanáro’s name in the dark. Findekáno couldn’t forget the heartfelt way Russandol laughed, or the way the rays of Laurelin shone in his copper hair, the sweet taste of his lips on his own, or the nights they spent secretly together.

Deep within him, Findekáno still hoped that everything had been a mistake, that Russandol hadn’t really abandoned him. That he too hadn’t forgotten what they had felt for each other.That Russandol hadn’t forsaken him to obey his father’s orders.

Maybe he was truly a fool, for that. But fools could dream, after all.

He was just out of the east gate, when a white shape appeared just in front of him. Írissë was there, a bow in her hands, and an arrow ready to shoot.

“Oh, it’s you!” she said. She lowered her bow. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m going to hunt,” Findekáno patted his quiver. It was a weak excuse, maybe, but it was the only way to explain him going out of the camp with his bow and arrows.

Írissë narrowed her eyes. “You’re not going to hunt, aren’t you? You’re going to him.”

She pronounced the last word with venom.Tyelkormo and Atarinkë had been her closest friends in Aman, but neither of them had gone against the will of their father for her.

Both of them were traitors, exactly like Russandol.

Findekáno gave up the idea of lying. So he merely replied: “Aye. But Írissë, he needs me.”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt he needs you” Írissë shook her head, long black curls that moved around her like a halo.

For a moment, Findekáno thought of the times she had cried into his arms, after the death of Elenwë, and sadness overcome him. What has become of us?, he asked himself. Moringotto had so easily set us against each other. The merest push, and we’re all ready to tear the throats of our former friends.

“But you don’t think that we need you, too? Are you really been able to stab our father at the back like this? And what about Turukáno? Think about what he has lost. Itarillë is going to grow up without a mother. ”

Findekáno knew she felt betrayed, both by her best friends, and now, by her brother too.

“Itarillë needs a mother,” Írissë had once said to him, in a cold, desperate night on the Grinding Ice. “And I’m nothing more but a poor substitute for her. I never wanted to be a mother, Finno, never in my whole life. And she needs me, but what can I do? I’m not suited, and maybe I will never be.”

Findekáno had only been able to embrace her tightly, for there was nothing else he could do.

And now, he was tired. Tired of the hate, tired of the pain, tired of everything that had happened to them since they had taken the mad decision to follow Fëanáro to Middle Earth.

Maybe, his hope was nothing but madness, but it was all he had.

“Yes, I did.” He took a deep breath. “Írissë, you know that I love you, Turukáno and Arakáno. But I can’t live like this. Hasn’t there already been too much death? And all for what? Fëanáro is dead: he will answer for his crimes to Mandos. The justice our father yearned for is done, and without him staining his hands with his brother’s blood. And for me, that’s enough. Don’t ask me to hate the son for the crimes of the father. I won’t do that.”

Írissë said nothing for some minutes. Then, when she spoke, her voice was calm, almost emotionless: “He could be a traitor like his father, and you know that.”

“If so, well, he’s in a good company. I’m a kinslayer, don’t forget that.” Findekáno gave her a sad smile.

Írissë shook her head. “Even so, you’re much better than them. So much better. Do you truly want to do that? To turn your back to us?”

“Írissë, I’m not going to do that, I swear to you.” He took a step towards her. “Don’t ask me to choose between him and you, because I won’t do that.”

“Very well,” she watched him, her grey eyes that burned almost like those of Fëanáro. “But sooner or later, you will be called to choose between him and us. So choose carefully, brother, for there won’t be a second chance. Remember this.”

Before Findekáno could say anything else, she went past him towards the camp. Before she left him, he called to her: “ Are you going to say anything to our father about this?”

Írissë’s tone was calm, but Findekáno could sense the turmoil of emotions beneath it: “No. I don’t want to break our father’s heart.”

Findekáno set off in the direction of the Fëanárian camp, asking himself if he was doing the right thing. What if Russandol had decided to forget him to follow his father’s project of ruling Middle Earth, and had decided to sacrifice their love on the altar of his ambition?

Findekáno didn’t want to think about it. Aye, Russandol had always been ambitious, but he had always been honorable, too. He couldn’t do such a thing, he told himself.

He had given all of himself to Russandol, all the love of his heart and even more. He had lied to his family for him, in order to keep their relationship secret so it wouldn’t cause scandal. Findekáno had once hoped that, one day, they would make their love public and obtain the favour of the Valar for marrying each other, exactly as his grandfather and his grandmother had done - after all, if Finwë had obtained the permission of the Valar of marrying once again, why they wouldn’t?- but that moment had never come, and instead, the rivalry between their fathers had come to the point of no return.

Such were the thoughts of Findekáno, as he walked between the autumn trees, their leaves a sparkling of gold, brown and red. A faint mist raised from the lake, covering the wood in a white blanket, making the landscape all around him like that of a dream. Winter was coming, he realized.

He exhaled, and saw his breath turning into smoke in the crisp air. It was almost sunset, and the shadows around him were getting longer and longer. And suddenly, in the deep of the wood, there was the sound of a branch being broken.

Findekáno immediately tensed, turning towards the direction the noise had come.

An enormous shape, as big as a cow, appeared between the branches. For a moment, Findekáno thought about the wargs of the Enemy, but when it came nearer to him, he realized it was a wolf-hound, grey as the twilight shades. It watched him with golden eyes, and snarled.

A hooded figure appeared between the trees, and came nearer to the dog. “Hush, Huan” he said, in a voice that Findekáno immediately recognized. The figure looked in his direction: “I thought you were a servant of the Enemy.”

Findekáno swallowed, not daring to sheathe his blade. “Hello, Tyelkormo.”

“Hello,” Tyelkormo lowered his hood. A cold pair of grey eyes, together with a face made of fine, but harsh features, and a long braid of silver hair, appeared. “What are you doing here?”

“That’s a good question. I could ask you all the same.”

“I’m searching for the Enemy’s servants, I told you. Those bastards learned what it means to come too near to our camp.” Tyelkormo’s smile was a cruel one. “But you, dear cousin? What are you doing here?”

 

Findekáno hesitated. He could lie, but what was he going to do if Tyelkormo found him at the Fëanárian camp? Aye, asking for Tyelkormo to understand him was too much, but he could always try.

“I’m going to your camp.” He said straight. “I’m going to speak to your brother.”

Tyelkormo furrowed his brow: “Ah, that’s new. And you think that you’re going to find the camp open to you? Why do you think that you’ve the right to speak to my brother?”

“I saved him from Angband.” Findekáno held his gaze. “When you all left him imprisoned in the Enemy’s talons for three years.”

Tyelkormo almost snarled, like an animal. “Be careful of what you say, cousin. You know nothing of what we attempted. If we didn’t try again, it was because Makalaurë ordered it.”

And of course, you’re so good when it comes to following orders. Findekáno thought.

“I know nothing of what you tried to do, aye. ” Findekáno forced himself to smile, faking a self-assurance that he didn’t feel. “But I know that I managed to save your brother. I think that that gives me enough right to speak with him. Don’t you think so?”

Tyelkormo tightened his eyes. “Are you really so arrogant? You?” He let out a ragged laugh.

“No,” Findekáno said quickly. “I know you well enough. But I think that you owe me a favour. Thanks to me your brother is in your camp, and not in the hands of the Enemy. You should be more grateful.”

“Grateful!” Tyelkormo spat. “You arrogant, stupid bastard. Let me give you a piece of advice: don’t dare to talk like that to me or my brothers again. It would take a long time for your precious father to find you again in those woods.”

Findekáno felt a cold shiver down on his back, but he didn’t flinch. “Are you threatening me?”

“Maybe. Or maybe not.” Tyelkormo gave him a wolfish grin. “It’s just friendly advice. But it’s your lucky day, cousin! Maitimo asked for you. He called your name in his sleep, while he was still unconscious. And when he woke up, this time for real, he asked about you. He asked about you. I don’t have to betray my family to return a favour. But don’t ever dare to tell anyone about that.”

“I won’t.” Findekáno exhaled. He asked himself if Tyelkormo was really threatening him, or he was only talking for the sake of talking, without any true intention of harming him. Yes, he should be that, he told himself. Even after what the Fëanárians had done, he couldn’t believe them able to kill a kinsman. Not even after Fëanáro pointed a sword at Ñolofinwë’s throat.

Or maybe they would dare?, murmured a part of Findekáno, a part he had always tried to ignore in the long years on the Ice.

“Very well, then. Follow me!” Tyelkormo made a big gesture. Huan jumped ahead, ready to follow his master.

“Fine” Findekáno said flatly, following them. Then he said, in a low voice, but enough for Tyelkormo to hear. “You see, Tyelkormo? You can be reasonable when you want to.”

Tyelkormo turned towards him, his eyes tightened. “You know something, Findekáno? My brother Curvo always said you were an idiot. He was right, too.”

“If your brother Curufinwë said such a thing about me, I’ll take it as a compliment.” Findekáno replied, and they continued to walk, speaking no more.

*

It was evening, and the silver disk of Rána the Wayward had raised high above them- when they arrived at the Fëanárian camp. Seeing the high stone walls and the burning torches of the guards, he slowly raised his hood, hoping that his mantle would help him to blend with the shadows.

“Come here!” called Tyelkormo, and Findekáno followed him and Huan’s grey shape just under the east perimeter of the walls. As they came nearer, Findekáno noticed many spikes, and all of them had the rotting head of an Enemy’s servant - Orcs, they were called- planted upon it.

He felt suddenly disgusted. He had killed the Enemy’s servants, aye, but his father had always ordered to burn their corpses. The Fëanárians could have done this to scare their enemies, but all the same, his stomach turned, and he tried to not stare too long in those empty eyes, for they reminded him of the empty eyes of the mariners at Alqualondë. He had no wish to recall such memories.

Tyelkormo leaded him to a small door, almost hidden by trees and rock. Findekáno wondered why they had such a door in the middle of the walls, considering that the Fëanárians were obsessed with security, but he realized that such door could be easily walled up in case of danger. Beside,Tyelkormo was such a restless spirit that Findekáno had no doubt that the cousin needed to slip away from those tall walls.

“Don’t tell anyone about this. Am I clear?” Tyelkormo asked, his tone harsh.

“I told you that I won’t. You may think I’m an idiot, but you know I’m not an oathbreaker.”

“Very well” Tyelkormo crossed the arms. “ I’ve decided to trust you. You’re an idiot, but an honorable idiot. Now, go. My brother is in his house, there.” and he pointed to a house in the middle of the camp, a real house, even if little, but made of stone and wood, not a mere tent.

“Fine.” Findekáno exhaled. “Thank you, Tyelkormo. I mean, really. You’ve no idea of how much you helped me.”

Tyelkormo smiled. “Maybe I wasn’t so bad for your sister, then?” he said, but before Findekáno could reply, he was already gone.

 

The first thing he heard when he came near to the house, was a song. A sweet, heartfelt song, full of longing and melancholy, of desire and regret. He immediately recognized the voice. Only Makalaurë could sing like that.

Luckily enough, there were no guards in front of Russandol’s house, so it was easy for Findekáno to slip through the shadows to the door of the little house.

The heat was the first thing that welcomed him. A huge fireplace that lit the room, casting flickering shadows on the floor.

The music stopped immediately. Findekáno turned, to see Makalaurë, with a big ebony harp, looking astounded. And right beside him …

Right beside him, there was Russandol.

Findekáno remembered the last time had seen him, his face hollowed by the tortures of Morgoth, his gaze haunted, his beautiful copper hair made dull and lifeless, his body so scarce that he could see the ribs on his chest. Now, Russandol had more meat on his bones, but it was still painful to see him reduced in such way, with dark circles under the eyes, his hair cut short, the right arm bandaged and supported by sticks. And his gaze, oh his gaze…

His gaze was still haunted, like the last time Findekáno had seen it. It was like those fair green-grey eyes that he loved so much, had looked straight into the depths of Hell.

“What in the name of Eru are you doing here?” asked Makalaurë, raising from his chair. His powerful voice echoed within the stone walls.

“You should be able to guess,” Findekáno replied. “I was told I’m needed here.” He had no idea of how Makalaurë would react, but he didn’t want to break the promise made to Tyelkormo.

Makalaurë watched him, his eyes tightened. “Aye … and I’ve some clue of who did it. I’ll need to exchange two words with … that person.”

“Laurë, please” Findekáno’s heart jumped as he heard Russandol’s low, powerful voice rising for the first time. “I need to talk with him. Alone. Leave us for a moment.”

Makalaurë looked towards him, as he couldn’t believe what Russandol had just said. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you really want me to let you alone with … him?”

“Aye,” Russandol’s tone was calm, and Findekáno could sense no emotion in his voice. “Do what I said. No questions. I’ve no time for this.”

Makalaurë took a deep breath. “As you wish, brother. I’ll go to find Tyelkormo, then. I should say a couple of things to him.” He turned towards the door, but just before he got out of the door, he grabbed Findekáno’s arm, and said in his ear: “Be careful with him, or else, I promise that you’ll regret it, if you think to take advantage of him because he was ill.”

Findekáno asked himself why all the Fëanárians liked so much to threaten him, and said, in a low voice: “You know that I won’t.”

“You know when he was finally able to get out of bed?” Makalaurë’s voice was the barest whisper, but Findekáno could only shiver when he heard it.“Three days ago.” And then, Makalaurë was out of the door, letting him alone with Russandol.

Ironically enough, now that he was finally alone with Russandol, a moment he had thought and wished so much during those long three months, he wasn’t able to find a single word to say to him. What could he say? Ask why Russandol had left him on the shores of Araman? Tell him about what those months had meant for him, after he had saved his life?

“What are you doing here?” thanks to Eru, it was Russandol who spoke first. “Makalaurë already asked, but what are you really doing here? Coming here alone, it’s too much even for you, Astaldo.”

Findekáno grit his teeth to hear Russandol calling him like that, the special name he had given to him when they were younger. Because I love you, a part of him wanted to scream, but he didn’t dare. Instead, he merely said. “I saved your life. You remember that, aye?”

“Aye. And you came here, hoping to collect my gratitude?” Russandol let out an harsh laugh. “Well, you wasted your time. There are moments when I wish that you had shot me with your arrow and let me die.”

“Nonsense.” Findekáno felt a cold shiver down on his back. “Russandol, if this is a joke, it’s not funny.”

“It’s not.” Russandol’s gaze met his own, and Findekáno saw the fire of Fëanáro burning within him. “You have no idea of what I went through. You’ve no idea of what it means to feel such pain, trapped in your own body that has become a prison you cannot escape. Is it such an unbelievable thing that I just want to be free?”

“Russandol,” Findekáno took a deep breath, trying to recover himself. “Do you really wish I had killed you, there in Angamando? You asked me that, aye, but …” he clenched his hands into fists. His hands had shaken, while he aimed his arrow at Russandol’s heart.

Russandol’s gaze was still implacable. “Then, I ask you again. Why? First, you came into Angamando, when all my hopes had been wasted, and then, now, again, you came where you shouldn’t. And I ask myself why you continue to come, despite everything.”

“You ask yourself why?” It was Findekáno’s turn to laugh, now, and he let out a long, almost hysterical laugh. “Why? Well, I’ll tell you. Because I’m so much of an idiot to still love you, despite everything. Despite the fact that it was your dear father’s fault, if me and my family spent three cursed years on the ice. I should curse you and your name, for having burned those damned ships together with your father, but I’m enslaved to my own heart, and even in the darkest moments of those years, I couldn’t stop loving you, no matter how much I tried, no matter how much I told myself it was wrong, after all what you did, but …”

Words failed him. Into his mind came the memory of the empty gaze of Turukáno as he watched Elenwë’s golden hair disappear under the water, the sobs of the little Itarillë, Írissë that cried against his shoulder, the muttered curses of his father, and the horror in his mother’s gaze when she realized he had killed the Teleri for Russandol’s sake. He felt a lump into his throat, and he knew that if he talked more, he was going to cry.

Silence fell for a moment in the room. Findekáno’s gaze was lost into the patterns of the fire in the fireplace, hoping to distract himself from such memories, and that the moment would pass.

“I didn’t burn the ships,” it was Russandol who spoke in the end, breaking up the silence between them.

What?” Findekáno’s voice went out more acute than he hoped, but he couldn’t help himself, for the surprise was too big. “You didn’t?”

“No. I swear that to you.” Russandol exhaled, and copper locks fell into his eyes. He looked so tired, Findekáno couldn’t help to think, and for a moment thought of touching him, of caressing Russandol’s cheek. “I didn’t know what my father was going to do with the ships until the last moment. I asked to him to return to Araman, for I knew that your family was waiting for us there. I … I said to him that you should be the first to come on those ships. But he laughed, and suddenly I knew how fey he was, for his voice was the one of a madman. He called you all “useless burden”, and said that he didn’t care about your destiny. Then, he burned the ships, and I could do nothing but stare at the fire, knowing that you remained there in Araman, and that you would think me a traitor.” He shook his head. “But then, when I was in Angamando, I came to thank my father in his folly. For I’d no wish to see you captured by the Enemy as it had happened to me, to suffer tortures at the hand of the Dark Vala. But you, despite everything, despite what my father had done, you’d come all the same.”

Findekáno didn’t reply. It was too much for him, too many emotions to process, too many thoughts in his mind. He had never expected that. In his worst moments, he had feared that Russandol had disowned him. Even in his best moments, when he had hoped that Russandol somehow still loved him, he had never dared to hope that Russandol had gone against Fëanáro’s will for his sake.

After all, why he should have done? Findekáno knew how much Russandol loved his father, to the point of worshipping him. When the strife between Fëanáro and Ñolofinwë had reached the point of no return, Russandol had taken the side of his father without regret, until they too had grew apart. Findekáno had often asked himself if Russandol truly loved him the way he himself did, or if his love for him was less than he had ever expected. After all, Russandol had demonstrated that he would easily choose his father over him.

And now, despite all of this, despite everything, he suddenly knew how much Russandol loved him, truly loved him, to the point that he had dared to speak against Fëanáro’s words in the darkest moment of his folly. It was too much, and Findekáno felt his head ache. I need to sit, he thought.

Silence fell again in the room, and Russandol, in the end, took a deep breath.

“But now nothing of it mattered.” he said, without waiting for Findekáno’s reply. “My father’s gone. My father, who had always been so strong and so resolute, so fierce and so powerful. I thought him untouchable and unmovable like the rocks of the Pelóri, but in the end, he was nothing more than dust in the wind. He would have known what to do, Findekáno. He would have prepared a siege like nothing seen since the War of the Valar against Utumno.” He shook his head. His eyes burned again of the same fire that they had showed some moments ago. “When I saw the peaks of Thangorodrim, I saw nothing but my failures, nothing but the death that I should have. I saw the darkness and the horror that I had witnessed in those three years, I heard the cries of the slaves and the rustles of the fires. He is a Dark Vala, Findekáno, he has powers that we couldn’t even imagine. I saw his forces and his armies in Angamando, and oh! those visions still haunted my dreams. But my father would never asked me to renew my oath, if he hadn’t known a way for us to overcome Moringotto, to win again the Silmarilli. Of that, I am sure. As soon as I can walk again without the help of one of my brothers, I should return to work. I can’t fail my father, Findekáno. I can’t do that, after all what he had done for us. But how? That is what still escapes me.”

Findekáno moved a step towards him. A part of him wanted to say to Russandol to think about his health first, to rest, to not think in such moments, when he was still ill, about his father’s last will. Another part of him, all what he wanted to do was to kiss him. His desperate longing of touching again Russandol had only increased, and he wished, for the first time after so many months, years spent alone, to pass the fingers through those copper hair, to feel Russandol’s mouth against his own.

“I have no answers to your questions.” he said in the end. “I’ve no idea of how Moringotto can be defeated, or how we would do that, or how much this war could take. I only know that I love you, and that I will always love you, no matter of what the Valar or our fathers could say.”

Russandol didn’t reply, but merely smiled, and for a moment, it was like he was returned his old self, the charismatic, beautiful firstborn of Fëanáro, admired and envied at the same time by all the Elves of Tirion. He began to raise from his seat, and before Findekáno ever realized it, he was at Russandol’s side, taking his arm and helping him to raise. Their eyes met, and Findekáno felt his breath ragged.

Russandol had his beautiful red hair cut short, and a scar divided his right eyebrow in two pieces. He looked pale and frail, with his cheeks hollowed and dark circles beneath those shining grey-green eyes, but he was still astoundingly beautiful, of the same divine beauty of the statues of the Valar of aunt Nerdanel. Findekáno could do nothing but stare at him, hearing his heartbeat increasing.

“You know I love you too.” said Russandol in the end, and before Findekáno could ever think of something to say, Russandol’s lips were on his own.

And it was like nothing had never happened, not the strife between their fathers, not the burning of the ships or the deceits of the Dark Vala. It was like it hadn’t passed a mere day from the times in which they kissed each other in the fields of Aman, under the light of Laurelin and Telperion alike. Their tongues met, and Findekáno grabbed Russandol, holding him like he had done so many times before, and a moan escaped from his lips when he felt Russandol’s only hand between his hair, keeping him close.

They kissed for a time that could be years like mere minutes, until Findekáno remembered that no, Russandol was still recovering, he should treat him carefully.

Maitimo” he murmured when the kiss ended, using his mother-name, that name that he held dearer than gems or gold. “Are you well? Was I too rushed?”

“No” Russandol’s voice was dry, now. “Findekáno, don’t. Don’t treat me like that. Don’t treat me like I’m irremediably broken.”

“I won’t” Findekáno exhaled. He felt like he had drunk too much wine, for he had passed from having so little hope to the joy in so few hours. “Tell me what I should do, then.”

Russandol smiled, and for a moment, it was like Laurelin had never been destroyed by the Enemy. “Fuck me”, he murmured, the barest breath.

Findekáno hold still for a moment. His gaze fell on the bandaged arm of Russandol, on the place where once there had been his right arm. “Are you sure? Maitimo, I’ve no wish to treat you like you are broken, as you said, but I’ve no will whatsoever to hurt you.”

“Well, you won’t” Russandol raised his chin, and Findekáno could see that now his gaze burned with the same fire he had seen when they had made love in Aman. His heart throbbed even more now with desire. “And even if you do, I don’t care. After what happened to me in Angamando, I’ll take as a token of honor any hurt you’ll do to me.”

Findekáno exhaled. “As you wish. But please, tell me if I’m going to hurt you.” They kissed again, of another long kiss, and this time, they took time for exploring each other’s mouth, to do what Findekáno had longed so much to do in the long lonely years that he had spent on the ice.

Kiss after kiss, Russandol led him to another room, straight into his bedchamber. This time, there wasn’t a fireplace, but the room was well lit by the light of Rána. It was a pale imitation of the light of Telperion, but Findekáno couldn’t care less, as long as the light was enough to permit him to see Russandol’s face.

Seeing the silver light that filled the room, a memory came to him, of Tyelkormo walking under a similar light. He could do nothing but think of Írissë too, of how she had reacted when she had found him in the woods that very afternoon.

“Just a moment,” he asked to Russandol, gently putting a hand on his arm. “I’m just reminded of … of a thing. May I ask you where Tyelkormo was when your father burned the ships?”

“Aye,” Russandol took his hand, and gently kissed his knuckles. “Tyelkormo wasn’t in the camp when Father and I discussed the ships. He was out scouting with Huan. He came only after the burning of the ships, for he had seen the fire and had no idea of what was happening.”

“Good to know,” murmured Findekáno, and he meant it. I should tell that to Írissë, he thought. She needed to know that the cousin that she had loved so much once hadn’t betrayed her, after all. “I know someone that will be happy to hear it.”

“I’ve no doubt of that,” Russandol smiled to him, again that heartfelt smile that warmed Findekáno’s heart. “But now, help me with this. It’s difficult to unbutton a skirt when you have only one hand.”

Findekáno didn’t make him wait. He helped his cousin to undress, even if it took time, for it wasn’t easy to remove the shirt without touching the bandaged arm. Under the shirt, Russandol’s chest was pale and hollow, his ribs visible under the flesh, despite not being so skeletal as he had been in Angamando. Red scars still stained his skin, some closed, others still covered by bandages. His heart tightened for a moment, thinking about what suffering Russandol had endured in the hands of the Dark Vala.

“It’s nothing,” Russandol’s voice roused him from his thoughts. “I’m healing, Findekáno. There’s no need to look at me like that.”

“If you think I can choose not to worry for you, well, you’re wrong,” Findekáno replied. “But don’t worry, I’ve as much will to fuck you as you have. Only … only please, tell me if I’m going to hurt you accidently. Please.”

“That’s a compromise I could accept.” Russandol took a deep breath. “My brothers worry for me, but they treat me as I’m broken somehow, and Eru! I can’t stand that. I want to slap them, when they give me that pitiful look. Don’t do that.”

“I won’t,” Findekáno took a step back, and began to undress himself, first the long mantle he was wearing, then the tunic and the trousers. “I already promised you that.”

They stood naked before each other, for a moment embarrassed, and uncertain of what to do next. In Aman, it had always been simple, after they had sneaked into each other’s chambers, they rolled on their bed and laughed together, red locks entwined with raven-black ones, and they had kissed until their bodies mingled, in a whirlwind of love and lust.

Now, there was uncertainty, after what all they had endured.

“This” Russandol took a step towards him, and pointed at a big scar across Findekáno’s chest. “How did you get this?”

Findekáno gave him a little, painful smile. “It was a white bear on the Grinding Ice. I managed to kill it in the end, with Írissë’s help, but it managed to give me a present. Findaráto had to put a lot of stitches on my chest to stop me bleeding to death.”

Russandol’s caressed the profile of the scar, raised compared to the rest of the skin. “Astaldo” he murmured. “Such a name suits you.”

“That’s why you give that name to me!” said Findekáno, trying to joke, but he was soon distracted by Russandol’s hand, that began to go down and down, caressing first his chest, then his belly, slowing between his legs.

Here Russandol halted for a moment, before taking Findekáno’s erection in his hand. A groan escaped from his lips, for oh! For how much time he had longed for feeling Russandol’s hands against his skin, touching him in such ways? And for how long he had no hope of it happening?

Russandol’s hand continued to travel, slowly caressing him along the length, making him moan even more. Findekáno closed his eyes, simply enjoying the sensation of Russandol’s hand on his member, his fingers caressing the tip, spreading on his skin the drop that came out.

Something changed in Russandol’s posture, and when Findekáno opened his eyes, he saw that Russandol had taken both their erections in his hand. Before he could say something, Russandol began to stroke them both at the same time, moving up and down and sending delicious shivers of pleasure down on Findekáno’s spine. Russandol’s hand was maybe less firm than he remembered, but it was still strong, with fingers made callous by the sword training, and it didn’t take long before Findekáno’s breath got ragged, his heart furiously throbbing in his chest, his face red and heated as if he was near to a fire.

And suddenly, Russandol let out them both, removing his hand. Findekáno groaned in frustration.

“Maitimo” he asked. “Are you well? Did I do something wrong? Why did you stop?”

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Russandol placed a butterfly kiss on his forehead. “Only … I want to feel you inside me. It’s passed so much time since the last time we did it … I miss it.”

A part of Findekáno had a lot of complaints, most because he knew that it wasn’t the most careful thing to do, since Russandol was still healing from the wounds he had received, and he still feared to accidentally hurt him. But when he raised his gaze and met Russandol’s eyes, and saw in them the same fire that burned in his loins, any hesitation vanished like dew under the morning rays.

“Fine.” he merely replied. “Just… tell me what I should do to not hurt you.”

Russandol gave him a mischievous smile: “There’s a bottle of oil in the drawer.” he said, and Findekáno immediately noticed the ebony night table along one of the walls. “Makalaurë uses it for his harp, but I think it would be useful for us as well.”

Findekáno found the little bottle of oil as Russandol had said, and when he turned again towards the cousin, he noticed he had already placed himself on his large bed, again a mischievous smile on his lips, despite the fact that the bandaged arm didn’t make for him simple to spread on the mattress as he liked to.

Findekáno could do nothing but gulp seeing his cousin waiting for him, so eager and impatient, as they once were in Aman, desiring so much each other that they didn’t care if they ended with some bruises.

But this time was different, he reminded to himself. He would never forgive himself, if he finished to worsen Russandol’s wounds with his restlessness. They weren’t in Aman now, so young and impatient in their love, they were in an unknown land, under strange stars, and with the Enemy at their door.

“I told you I’m not made of glass. Don’t make a fuss of it” said Russandol, his voice hard, as if he had listened to his thoughts.

“I know” Findekáno climbed on the bed, and once beside Russandol, he gave him a gentle kiss on his lips. “But your brothers are going to tear me apart if something happens to you, so wait just a little more.”

This time, Russandol laughed, a heartfelt laugh that warmed his heart. Findekáno placed himself between his cousin’s open legs, and after having taken a little quantity of the oil on his palm, began to spread it on his erection. A pleasurable yearning filled him once again, as it had filled him when Russandol had touched him, and a little moan escaped his lips.

“Move on,” Russandol’s voice interrupted him, and he saw how his cousin had spread his legs, waiting for him. “Astaldo, don’t make me wait.”

Findekáno took a deep breath. “Oh, cousin, don’t think I don’t understand.” He bent over Russandol once more, between his open legs, gently caressing his thighs before coming near to his hole, where Russandol longed so much to be touched.

Findekáno inserted a finger inside of him, carefully, with gentleness. When Russandol let out a moan of relief and pleasure, he knew he was doing the right thing, and slid another finger inside of him, moving his fingers up and down, opening Russandol for him.

“Very well” Russandol let out a brief laugh. “Oh, Findekáno, may I be cursed if I wait a minute more before I feel you inside of me.”

“You won’t” Findekáno laughed, too, and positioned himself so that the tip of his erection touched Russandol’s hole. “Just let me know when you’re ready.”

Move on,” Russandol’s breathed, and Findekáno just slid inside of him, letting out a moan when he felt Russandol’s body all around him, clamping in a pleasurable grip. He grit his teeth -he hadn’t expected Russandol to be so tight, and tried to find a good position, for he didn’t want to lean on Russandol, whose chest was still covered by scars.

“Findekáno” Russandol hissed, as he had listened once again to his thoughts. “I don’t care. Now

Findekáno rest his forehead against Russandol’s, feeling their breath mixing. “As you wish, my love.”

He began to thrust inside of Russandol, first slow thrusts, helping Russandol to get used to them, enjoying the sensation of the hot walls of Russandol’s body all around him, then when Russandol once again grew impatient, faster and faster, until rivulets of sweats began to fall from his back.

Russandol’s hands were on him, on his back, on his buttocks, and before Findekáno could realize it, he was answering to such caresses with another strokes, gently tracing the profiles of Russandol’s closed scars, on his chest, on his arms, on his belly.

Maitimo” he murmured, his voice a reverent breath. “You’re so beautiful.”

Russandol did nothing but laugh, not a harsh laugh, but rather a gentle, heartfelt one. And it was then that Findekáno sensed that he could feel Russandol’s mind, and before he could realize it, Russandol’s mind was opened for him, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with all the love that Russandol had felt for him since the days of Aman, all the love that had made him stand against his father and that had helped him to survive during the long, cruel imprisonment in Angamando.

Findekáno found himself laughing too, for it were years, centuries that Russandol hadn’t opened his mind to his own, centuries that they had not had such an intimate experience. He bent over his lover, and kissed Russandol, a hungry, long kiss.

Almost without thinking, Findekáno’s hand closed on Russandol’s erection, and began to stroke him, and they continued so, Findekáno thrusting inside of Russandol, and Russandol pushing back, up and down, welcoming him, until they came near to the edge of pleasure.

Findekáno come first, feeling himself releasing inside of Russandol. Once again, he laughed, laughed of the simple, pure joy of being so near to Russandol, both in body and in soul, so near as they had not been in centuries. And Russandol came too against his hand, a long, final moan that escaped out of his lips, sweeter than any prayer to the Valar.

After, they simply laid together among the sheets, their breath ragged, their limbs entwined, and their hearts filled of joy after so much, too much time spent in despair.

“You love me.” It was Findekáno who spoke first, in the end.

“Aye,” Russandol smiled, then he noticed Findekáno’s face. “I don’t blame you if you thought me not. You couldn’t know what my father had done.”

“Aye.” Findekáno buried his face into Russandol’s neck, exhaling his scent. He smelled of sweat, and of something spicy that Findekáno couldn’t recognize. “But I should have more faith in you and in our love. Instead, I doubted of you, and I did it many and many times.”

“I told you that I don’t blame you for that” murmured Russandol, and Findekáno felt his hand tracing doodles on his back. “And we shouldn’t care about it anymore. It’s past, and we should look at our future, not at what lies behind our backs.”

Findekáno thought about Fëanáro’s words in Tirion, about the large space of Endor and of the realms that lay waiting for them in the Outer Lands, and suddenly realized that Russandol, even after what had happened to them, still believed in what his father had said, still believed it was possible for them to have a future in Endor.

And hearing him speaking in such way, with such passion and conviction ... Findekáno could almost believe it, too. He hadn’t dared to dream about a reign of his own, in which he could rule side by side with Russandol, during the long years on the Ice, believing that such dream was no longer possible after Russandol had betrayed him, but now he realized that it could be a possibility, that it could still be, even after all.

He heard Russandol’s breath, regular and calm, and he suddenly realized that his lover had fallen asleep. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling, and gave Russandol a little kiss on his forehead. Russandol snorted, but didn’t wake up.

Findekáno then laid side by side with his cousin, not daring to move. He knew that sooner or later he would rise from the bed, and return once again to his own camp, but the night was still long, and he had all the intention to spend all the time he could with Russandol. He deserved it, after the long years of solitude and despair on the Ice.

He thought about his family, if they felt his absence and desired that he would return soon. Turukáno would be with little Itarillë, softly humming a quiet lullaby for helping her to sleep. Findekáno would easily imagine Írissë right beside him, watching Itarillë asleep, her head gently resting on Turukáno’s shoulder. Maybe they would remember Elenwë together, remember of happier, easier times.

And Father would have been with Arakáno and Aunt Írimë, preparing himself for the winter, making sure that all his people would be fed and kept warm during it, for he wouldn’t permit any of his people to die of the cold or for starvation, not after what had happened on the Helcaraxë. Or maybe he would be alone, right beside the fireplace, an old shawl, once belonged to Anairë, between his hands. Findekáno had found him like so the very first night they had came on Lake Mithrim.

He thought about them all, and then he remembered Írissë’s words. You will be called to choose between us and him, sooner or later, she had said.

But how I could choose?, thought Findekáno, staring at Russandol’s sleeping face. Despite the scars, he looked so peaceful in his sleep, like he had known no trouble, no pain and no suffering in his whole life. How could I choose between the people I love? I could never do it.

He merely rested his head against Russandol’s shoulder, closing his eyes for a moment. Outside that little house, and its warm fireplace, the night waited for him, full of cold and autumn mist, but he could still delay his return a little. The dawn was still far, far away.

And before such moment, he had all the time in the world.