Taken by Zhie

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Story Notes:

Written for the Lord of the Rings Dreams Writing Challenge VII; Location: Lake Mithrim

Camp, for the followers of NolofinwŽ and FindarŠto, was tattered and makeshift. Torn cloaks had been pieced together and stretched between trees to provide some respite from wind or rain as it came. A purpose was found for every last item, no matter how trivial – hair combs were broken apart to make needles; banner tassels unwoven and retied to make fishing nets, and so on. There were only three small enclosures on their side of the lake, made mostly of fallen branches and animals hides. NolofinwŽ set one for his base, and FindarŠto another. The third was upon insistence from Artanis and IrissŽ that there must be a tent for the nissi to use ‘for certain things’, which none of the neri really needed an explanation of.

FindekŠno, though invited to enter the tent of his father often, spent most of his time sitting at the entrance of it, his back against the deerskin, watching everything that was going on across the lake in the camp of the FŽanŠrians, which seemed to be much smaller than it should have been. He kept notes in his mind on who did what, who spoke to whom, and who was missing. CurufinwŽ, for example, did not appear to be in the good graces of the rest of his brothers, who no longer numbered seven from what FindekŠno could tell. Ambarussa showed the most animosity, knocking his shoulder into CurufinwŽ as he passed by him one day and saying nothing to excuse himself as far as FindekŠno could tell. He had to admit, at the distance, reading lips was difficult if not impossible.

A rustle near his left ear alerted him that someone was leaving the tent. He did not move or even look up, but knew immediately who it was. “How is father?” he quietly asked his sister as she sat down to the right of him.

IrissŽ sighed wearily and tucked her legs up, her arms now wrapped around her knees. “Better, but he still blames himself for ArakŠno. He will take a long time to heal, and his heart is set upon challenging Morgoth. TurukŠno and I have both counseled him to be wary.”

“As will I,” promised FindekŠno. “What of our brother?”

“I worry about TurukŠno. He hides his grief over ElenwŽ, but it will come pouring out at some point. I only hope I am there for him when it happens. And poor little ItarillŽ – how terrible for her, to come on this march, and to watch her mother...” IrissŽ bowed her head as FindekŠno put his arm around her.

After a few moments, FindekŠno pressed a kiss upon his sister’s forehead. “I know you had your doubts about coming, but for all things there is a reason. Although she is no longer a little girl, she is not quite grown. That you are here for our dear niece lifts my spirits a little.” He rubbed IrissŽ’s back and said, “I must ask a favor of you, though I regret to at such a dark time.”

IrissŽ sat up a little straighter. “You know I will do whatever you ask of me, if it is in my power.”

“I have been watching them,” he said, waving his hand towards the other camp. “I have been waiting for Maitimo to come out of whatever tent he is in so that I might speak with him. It worries me that I have yet to see him. Ambarto is missing as well. Someone must find out what is going on. Father refuses to go, and the rumors I have heard declare that Uncle FŽanŠro is dead.”

“Perhaps he is simply injured—“

“If our uncle was still leading them,” interrupted FindekŠno, “then he would never have withdrawn. Even with mortal wounds, he would have confronted father. Uncle FŽanŠro never had much in the way of humility,” he added bitterly.

“Let us accept for a moment that the rumor is true. Would Maitimo have pulled back without at least acknowledging us? It is very strange that we appeared and they shrank back without so much as a single emissary sent.”

FindekŠno agreed with a nod. “Do you see that group of ladies who have wandered away from the camp, almost midway around the lake? Would you and Artanis go down to the lake for water, and see what you might learn from the other nissi who are washing?”

“I shall see if Artanis will acquiesce. You know how she detests manual labor.” IrissŽ stood up and gave a tug on one of FindekŠno’s braids as she often did when she was a young child. He looked up, and she said, “I will do this task in exchange for a smile from you. It has been far too long since I have seen anyone happy.”

“It is far too difficult to be happy these days,” he said to her.

“I will pull your hair again,” she teased.

At this, FindekŠno did smile. “I believe you would.”

IrissŽ winked at him before making her way through the camp to one of the other tents. FindekŠno returned to his watch, and observed what appeared to be Carnistir and MacalaurŽ in either argument or heated debate. This continued for some time, until MacalaurŽ entered their main tent abruptly. Tyelcormo exited, made a few exaggerated motions toward the tent, and then stomped to another, nearly ripping off the flap as he entered. Carnistir followed Tyelcormo in a huff, and gave the main tent a final glare before disappearing into the second tent.

Movement closer to FindekŠno caught his eye, and he watched as IrissŽ and Artanis, accompanied by ItarillŽ and two other younger nissi, carried a meager amount of clothing and a few water skins down to the shore. FindekŠno nervously waited, his attention split between the camp and his unsuspected spies.

His concentration was broken as someone else left the family’s tent; this time, it was his brother. TurukŠno meandered out of the tent and dropped down beside FindekŠno. The younger was slumped, and looked defeated. “We should never have come,” he said sadly. “What worth has been placed upon three jewels? The lost lives of many,” he answered himself. FindekŠno said nothing, but wrapped both arms around his brother, whose head came to rest wearily upon the shoulder of the elder.

The activity at the FŽanŠrin camp had slowed down as evening came. FindekŠno was still uncomfortable with the change from day to night. The slow fading from one tree to the other was still fresh in his mind. He was not sure he would ever be used to the abrupt setting of Anar or Isil’s wavering path.

It was now, in the semi-darkness of dusk, that IrissŽ and her helpers returned. They all began to speak at once, but Artanis’s voice was clearer than the others, and she spoke over the rest. “FŽanŠro is dead. Of that, there is no question. He was felled by a balrog; Gothmog was the creature’s name.”

“What of his sons?” asked FindekŠno. TurukŠno, who had drifted into reverie, blinked his eyes open and sat up with a stretch of his arms.

The other ladies were hushed by IrissŽ while Artanis continued to recount what they had been told. “When the ships were burned, Ambarto was still aboard. There is some confusion as to whether FŽanŠro knew this or not.”

“FŽanŠro burned Ambarto alive?” TurukŠno’s anguish became all the greater at the news of his young cousin’s death. “It must aggrieve Ambarussa greatly.”

“Aye, and what is more, Russandol has been taken.”

FindekŠno swallowed hard. “Taken?” he parroted, and Artanis nodded. “Taken by whom?”

“By the company of Morgoth. They were to meet and discuss terms for the return of a Silmaril, and—“

“And he believed Morgoth would just return one of them!?” FindekŠno bit the knuckle of his hand, quietly cursing the fact that he had shouted so loudly. “Why would he do something so stupid?” he asked in a lower voice.

“He took a larger army with him than had been agreed upon, but Morgoth sent all the more,” explained Artanis.

“And, there were balrogs,” added one of the younger ladies at the pause.

IrissŽ shushed the younger ones before she added, “Morgoth offered to release Maitimo if all of us go back to Aman. MacalaurŽ refused, and as far as can be told, Maitimo is still being held prisoner somewhere in Angband.”

FindekŠno felt a knot twist in his stomach. “So when we approached the gates and the trumpets sounded, Maitimo could hear us. And we left him there.”

Artanis shook her head and shrugged. “How were we to know?”

There was a momentary hesitation before FindekŠno admitted, “I thought I heard him calling. Then I thought it must be my imagination, and so said nothing. It has haunted me ever since.”

No more was said, and TurukŠno and ItarillŽ disappeared into the tent while IrissŽ and Artanis escorted the other young ladies back to their families. The stars had since emerged, but they gave off little light. Their reflections danced across the water, and FindekŠno watched them for a while. He felt suddenly as if he was being watched, and looked across the lake to see MacalaurŽ scrutinizing him.

The betrayal of his uncle and cousins still stung at his heart, but the memories of the great friendship he had with all of them, especially Maitimo, brought him to his feet. FindekŠno stared at MacalaurŽ, closing the distance the small amount that he could, until the water lapped at the toes of his boots. ‘He is your brother, your very own brother, and here you stand, doing nothing.’ FindekŠno recalled the breaking of the ice and the loss of his sister-in-law; the battle they fought at Lhammoth where ArakŠno perished. He could not save either of them, but there was yet hope to rescue Maitimo. As MacalaurŽ dropped his gaze and hid away in his tent once more, FindekŠno secretly gathered weapons and supplies. He would find Maitimo, and just as Morgoth had taken his cousin, FindekŠno would take him back.

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