Here was as close to no place as any of his long lives had taken him.
The little slash-and-burn homesteads leached what half-life there was from the blackened soil until they could no longer grow even the meanest of oats and rye. Then the scrubby fields gave way to the great sheepwalks of the monks, and the threadbare Lordships that came after, each stealing ever more life from the sickly ground. Eventually, a winter came that froze such straggly sheep as the hills supported dead on the hillsides. Now the reservoirs drowned the valleys and the cold, blueish forests of Sitka smothered the farmhouses and the people left the empty land to the revenants, who kept it to themselves.
At least, thought Fingon, there is one revenant who is open to receiving visitors. The sky was a weak, bitter lemon as Fingon followed the slender thread of the metalled road, running on into a nothingness of bleached grass rising and falling like a petrified ocean, heavy as Mandos, empty as the halls of the dead. Nant-yr-Eos was a black blot against pale gold, a foursquare farm house with one chimney stack collapsed, a bear with a mauled ear on the horizon.
He killed the engine of his motorised bicycle and covered it as carefully as a stable boy would the war horses of Barad Eithel, wary of the silence pressing against his eardrums. Once, there had been a track, but it had sunken into black mud and marsh grass, sucking and impassable. He trudged along the hillside instead, the raffia grass pale as ghost’s hair gathering hopelessly in knots around his feet, tugging him downwards. Would lesser creatures drown in such weeds? It was a cool day, barely past the turn of spring but it felt airless in spite of the chill.
Close to the house, a few stunted fruit trees, nothing more than skeletal black branches struggled on in memory of the former inhabitants. Closer still and he could see the crack in the gable end wide enough to let light through. How many years since the last people gave up here? A sapling had sprouted from the remaining chimney. Thirty years? Thirty years seemed such a brief time for a house to die.
Despite the ruinous state of the house, the door stood proud; thick wooden planking, held together by iron, hard to force. Fingon did not need to. When he put his hand to the door, it swung inward at his touch. He paused for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the low light, and his breath to the creeping damp in the air. A shattered stairway led to nowhere, the right side ceiling had collapsed, leaving the rafters visible, the gaping wound exposed. Green slime flowed down the dingy whitewash; some sheep had chosen that place to die, the fishy smell of decay still lingering over their clean picked bones.
He saw no bird’s nests on the roof beams, no rustle of mice beneath the floor. Olwen’s white fingers had traced loving lines of fungal life over the banister, and the air was sweet with her sleepy perfume of decay. To the left, the first floor was standing yet, and someone, - squatters, foresters, possibly even traveling Avari had re-enforced the sagging ceiling with plywood, creating a rough snug. Fingon pushed the door open, hoping for a better welcoming.
There were still sticks of furniture in this room, rickety hardwood chairs, an old desk. Light spilled from a stubby candle placed on a crushed disposable metal ale-flask. Sat at the desk, legs stretched out long beneath it, was the revenant who could be the spirit of the house itself. Candle light caught the cracks in his face, the thick white scars running the length of his left cheek, his crooked nose still pointedly defiant. One ear poked raggedly through his braids, the other missing, torn through and lost centuries ago.
Fingon pulled up the least wobbly chair and sat down at the desk, trying to ignore his companion’s raised eyebrow.
“Well, you could look a little more pleased to see me.”
“Varda’s Phosphorescent Fox-hole, Maedhros, what kind of a place is this?”
“Somewhere where we won’t be followed. Are you going to turn me down?”
“Don’t be a fool. I would have bedded you in Mandos itself had you ever shown up there.”
“I’m fairly sure I prefer you embodied.” Cool grey eyes raked the body in question before Maedhros stood and stalked out of the room. Fingon heard metal scrape across metal as the door bolts were dragged locked. On returning, he moved to the fireplace. There was a pungent smell of something underworld and sulphurous, a moment later a circle of tiny blue flames illuminated a coffee pot.
“I’m afraid lighting a fire would just asphyxiate us,” he said, “so we’ll just have to make do for warmth.” There was another movement of his fingers and the snug walls appeared from the darkness in the blaze of a hurricane lamp. He waved the lamp rightward over a loosely thrown arrangement of blankets and furs. “I bought plenty of bedding.”
Trust Maedhros, Fingon thought, for being so business-like. When he looked up he knew he was smiling. He would have stood up and welcomed his cousin properly, had it not been for the click of the hurricane lamp on the desk top and his cousin’s fingers deftly stroking along his shoulders.
“What is this, new armour?” Maedhros’ gaze was appraising, taking in the leather at his shoulders and thighs, grey eyes darkening.
“Leathers, I um…got the motorised bicycle.” Maedhros was laughing softly as he felt himself being tugged upward. “It’s very fast.”
“So, could I have a better greeting than a scowl?” Pressed together, Maedhros arms at his waist, hand resting innocently against his rear, staring up into the slate grey-eyes, Fingon forgot whatever witty comment he had been about to make.
His cousin mouthed softly down his face as Fingon drew himself up, almost on tiptoe to press against the lips on his nose, upper lip and mouth. He lifted his hands to brush back the cool auburn braids as Maedhros continued to tease his lips with soft, chaste kisses, until business could wait no longer and bunched his fingers against Maedhros scalp, pulling him down and kissing until they were both breathless.
“Eru, I have missed you. Can I just have one lifetime where we share a bed?”
Maedhros shook out his braids with a crackle and a few small sparks.
“You would tire of me.”
“Who could tire of you?”
“You would grow tired of me very swiftly if I were to become domesticated. I would tire of me.”
Much to Fingon’s annoyance, Maedhros released him and reclaimed the coffee pot from the stove.
“I’m not thirsty,” said Fingon. Maedhros gave him a stern look in reply.
“I’m not having you passing out from exhaustion at some critical juncture,” said Maedhros, pouring the coffee. “Besides there is something I wish to speak to you of before your brains are addled.
“I have my best thoughts after lying with you,” he protested, “it makes me very creative.”
“I look forward to hearing them. Do you want sugar?”
“I’d rather have some whiskey,” Fingon’s honesty could override his sense. He put his hand to his mouth mortified. Maedhros rolled his eyes and put three sugar lumps into Fingon’s mug.
“I’m not going to relapse at the mention of a name.”
Maedhros pushed the melamine mug over towards Fingon then resumed his own seat.
“I’ve got such a stupid mouth.”
“I know, said Maedhros, rummaging in his pack for a shiny tube of mortal traveling biscuits, “it’s one of the reasons I like you,” Maedhros bit through the packaging and levered out four biscuits, “that and your willingness to use it on a murderous drunkard orc.”
He passed the pack to Fingon.
“You really shouldn’t say those things about yourself. I read that…”
“I am not one of those ancient creatures that you hunt for, something whose care and feeding habits can be looked up in the fusty scrolls of the Queen’s library.”
Fingon tried to eat as contritely as possible. The biscuits, though dry and hard were pleasantly wheaty and sweet.
“Oh,” said Fingon.
“Yes?” said Maedhros looking up from the mug into which he had been dunking his biscuit.
“Sorry. I did not know how to eat these.” Fingon was now finding himself a little too absorbed in watching Maedhros lick the brown sticky substance from the bottom of the biscuit off his fingers. It was a little like chocolate.
Maedhros smiled like a crooked pin.
“You may eat them as you will. Digestives or myself, if you do something objectionable, I will tell you. Now please stop looking big eyed and mournful I have some ancient animal business for you.”
Fingon sipped his coffee as best he could, conscious of the heated plastic leaching its gluey tang into his coffee, glad of the sugar to take away the aftertaste.
“Ancient animal business?” said Fingon, wishing, on reflection Maedhros had shown interest in just about anything else.
“Well, you are the Queen’s Cryptozoographer.”
“It’s an honorary title.”
“That’s not how you were taking it last time we met.” Maedhros was waving a digestive to make his point. Fingon took another mouthful of gluey coffee.
“It is six months since then.”
“Hey,” Maedhros abandoned the biscuits on the table top and sure enough Fingon soon felt a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder. “Too much disappointment?”
He didn’t want to be sad next to Maedhros, he didn’t, but the crushing realisation that mortals will make a story over anything, and seemed completely unwilling to apply any standards of scientific rigour pained him.
“The last dragons have gone.”
“Oh Fingon, I’m so sorry.” He felt sinewy arms around his shoulders and the cool comforting press of braids against his face. “I always knew you wanted to raise one.”
“They are wild animals, Maedhros, one does not keep them like pets. Or they were.”
Maedhros squeezed him again.
“I am sorry. I’ve no dragons I’m afraid.” Maedhros patted his hand. “Ever heard of Y Gath Tefildo?”
“No,” said Fingon.
“It’s –in a tale of the Afari,” said Maedhros, “one of the Lost Tales from before the Great Journey. A giant cat, greater than a tiger, fanged and clawed,” Maedhros helpfully flourished his own talons, dark green and silver starred Fingon noted, in the direction of his jagged teeth,“ and all black, with a golden collar.”
“It’s a housecat,” said Fingon. “Most mortals cannot estimate size in the dark. That’s what you are going to tell me aren’t you? That it’s been seen round here.”
“It’s been seen quite a lot around here. The police have set up a special department due to the number of sightings.”
“Then it’s a leopard or a panther escaped from a zoo.”
“Escaped for five years,” Maedhros was grinning from scar to scar, prowling his hand across the table as if imitating the great beast himself, a monstrous cat dropping a mouse at his master’s feet. Still Fingon could not rouse himself to optimism, but there was nothing wrong with intellectual inquiry.
“But what would it live off? Not even Avari live here anymore the hunting is so thin.”
Maedhros raised a ginger eyebrow. “Perhaps it does not need to hunt.”
That was ridiculous. “Come on Maedhros, even dragons need to eat.”
“The Afari tell a story of a black cat that snatched children from their flets and bedrolls to serve the king of Anwfn.”
“The king of the underworld. It was usually translated by the Noldor as ‘Morgoth’ however – not everything that crawls in the dark belonged to him. It written of in the Black Book of Carmarthen.”
“Can you not hunt it yourself?”
“I don’t want it hunted. I want it noted by someone with your credentials.”
Fingon tried his hardest not to bask in Maedhros’ attention.
“Any scat or spraying?”
“No, just sightings.”
“But as yet no reported abductions?”
“None that have been reported, although I feel that mortals may not know exactly what they were dealing with. You should probably check the local newspaper archive in Tregaron.”
“Thank you Maedhros, I know how to investigate a sighting.” He narrowed his eyes. He was the Royal Cryptozoographer after all. Maedhros’ grey eyes were as bright as the lantern.
“What is in this for you?” Fingon adjusted his chin to look closer to commanding, and was rewarded with the tip of Maedhros tongue poked towards him.
“You mean apart from having you look so enlivened.”
“Maedhros, I have never known you do anything that doesn’t have some lurking motive.”
“Even giving myself in body and soul to you? Was that mere insurance against capture from vengeful demigods?”
“Very probably. And of course to get a favourable voice at the High King’s court.”
Fingon felt a sharp spike of pain as Maedhros leaned in and nipped his ear.
“Very well. I’m after Sigint.”
“And what is that in Sindarin?” Fingon couldn’t help but notice Maedhros hadn’t leaned back.
“Signals intelligence. I’m here in my capacity as murderer for hire and espionage officer for Afana. If it is Gath Tefildo y Anwfn, it is a threat to us. We would like to know why now, and who is his master.”
Maedhros’ voice has dropped very low, and there seemed to be no answer to that other than to lean in and let himself be kissed. Maedhros was warm and soft and sly against his mouth, strong against his arms, the most wonderful monster Fingon has ever encountered.
“Now, said Maedhros, “are you going to stand up and show me how well that leather suits you?”
“I forget how good we are at that,” said Maedhros, the words rumbling through Fingon’s cheek as he snuggled himself comfortable beneath his lover’s chin. Maedhros draped his arm around Fingon’s waist, pulling him in tighter, cradling the back of his head with his hand.
Fingon laughed a little, “We have had rather a lot of practice,”
“Imagine how much better we would be still if you wouldn’t keep getting yourself killed.”
Maedhros pulled the blankets around them. Fingon clutched his chest like a drowning elf clutches driftwood, shipwrecked.
“Did you miss me very much?” mumbled Fingon.
“The first time, my very world fell to ruin. The second I just resigned myself to being unfulfilled and irritable for a few centuries,” Maedhros paused then murmured softly, “Please don’t get killed again.”
“Only if you promise no more crooked dealing with demigods.”
Maedhros laughed still a little breathless. “Don’t you think it strange?”
“What?” For such a bony creature, Maedhros made a most pleasant bedroll, warm, with the soft lulling of a heartbeat soothing Fingon towards sleep.
“We were the enemies of an entire pantheon. All the Gods or demigods, or whatever they were, good or ill hated us, each in their own way. And yet, here we are.”
“And yet, you still seem only to lie with me in draughty old stone shambles on desolate hilltops,” muttered Fingon, getting a poke in the ribs for a reply.
“Himring was not a shambles. Besides where better to fuck ghosts?”
Fingon squeezed him more tightly to emphasise his point. “You feel very solid for a ghost Maedhros.”
It had been a long ride, and a tiring walk through ground that had been reluctant to let him past. Fingon yawned and Maedhros stroked his face thoughtfully in reply.
“No, but it is extremely convenient for me to be dead.”
There wasn’t really an answer to that, so Fingon drifted into sleep instead.
He awoke against the stone floor, feeling its chill through the fur beneath him. The room was pitch black, whatever daylight had seeped into the snug had fled; night had fallen while he slept.
“Maedhros,” he called out, alarmed.
“Over here,” the hurricane lamp blazed revealing a heavily shadowed Maedhros making notes at the desk, “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”
“Couldn’t it wait?” Fingon, never the best after awakening found himself decidedly grumpy.
“Pleasing as it was to watch your slumbering form, I started to get a cramp after the first half hour. Come, I will put some coffee on.” Maedhros smiled showing more teeth than was necessary, “Then maybe, you can come again.”
Maedhros was looking far too pleased with himself, which did nothing for Fingon’s mood, even when he remembered that his own skill was the source of Maedhros’ well-used smugness. It was only after a few blessed sips of the rich, warm liquid that he began to feel more kindly to the situation, and to note with satisfaction the purpling bruises on Maedhros’ throat and collarbone.
“So what was more interesting than my sleeping?”
“Case notes,” said Maedhros, “I needed to set down what background information we have,” he nipped at Fingon’s nose, “don’t crumple your beautiful face like that, I know your skill lies in the doing rather than the recording. But if you are to take this study before Queen Lalwen, you will need to have your facts in order.”
“You are wearing too many clothes,” Fingon tugged at the unwelcome presence of Maedhros’ greatcoat, abrasive beneath his fingers.
“It’s gone midnight and it is none too warm here,” Maedhros’ was about to request something. Fingon knew the tone.
“Besides?” He raised his eyebrow.
“Besides,” said Maedhros smiling, “I was hoping you would take me for a ride.” In a moment, Maedhros’ sharp wet tongue was kissing the furry sleep from his mouth. Fingon startled for a moment, then leaned into the warmth, feeling his whole body heating and returning to wakefulness as Maedhros continued his coffee-flavoured explorations.
“Have I not already done so?” muttered Fingon as they broke apart.
“You know what I mean,” and kissed him again. It was an intriguing idea, Maedhros huddled close behind him as he swooped down into valleys and raced across the wide moors, arms around his back, body against body.
“I don’t have another helmet,” said Fingon weakly.
“It’s dark,” said Maedhros, “There will be no-one to see us.”
Fingon raised his eyebrows. Maedhros ran his hand down Fingon’s naked chest and smiled his twisted smile.
“Very well, just stop teasing or I will not be able to get into my leathers.”
Maedhros nodded and licked his lips. Fingon threw a shirt at him.
“What is that for?”
“Because I could not find anything heavier.”
Fingon had long resisted his urge for a motorcycle, ever since he knew such things existed. It was too much of a cliché for a spoilt prince. It was ugly, smelly, mortal technology, unbefitting a Noldo of the old North. But he had always loved to ride horses that were swift and powerful, and the idea of a steed that could race to a hundred miles an hour, swerving gracefully around curves and thundering to crest hilltops was eventually too much for him. When he finally gave in, he cursed that it had taken so long. He felt flooded with the same sense of freedom he had as a child, the first time he coaxed his pony into a gallop on the wide plains of Valinor.
Here was a ride that took skill that took reflexes, which required fast wits and strong thighs. He felt as one with the ugly contraption as he ever had with a warhorse, thundering over Ard-Galen to the call of battle. And now, beneath the pale silver face of the moon, under the thousand stars of Elbereth, with Maedhros seated behind him, his body moving as one with his own, seamless as their lovemaking, rounding hairpin bends and plunging down the most precarious of mountain roads, he felt his spirit soar in his chest, his happiness as bright as starlight, like his own silver moon rising within him.
He rode for as long as he could bear it, the cool breeze on his face and Maedhros’ hot breath on his neck, past towering, treeless cliffs bleeding thin silvery waterfalls, black ink reservoirs with their barren shores the hilltops of the drowned land beneath. They flew past a hundred homesteads as ruinous and empty as Nant-yr-Eos, past blank stands of conifers as silent as death. He felt the powerful throb of the engine as they ascended the devil’s staircase, twisting again and again between precipices, the burnt out remains of cars that failed the journey below. He rode across the high moorlands, until he could stand the burn and the ache no longer.
Surrendering, he pulled up against the roadside and pushed or was dragged downward, he could not say which, with Maedhros mouth pressed to his and Maedhros hand knocking against his as they fumbled to free themselves.
It was so sweet, so viciously sweet to feel cool keen air on his skin, and Maedhros’ face framed with black spikes of moor grass gasping and mouthing soundless pleas, working each other’s painful hardness towards the blessed relief of release.
“Please,” gasped Maedhros, “please, I want, I’m still -”, Fingon kissed his lover quiet as his fingers slid easily between his spreading legs. He groaned luxuriously as Fingon pulled their clothes down a little further and granted him the fullness he craved. Maedhros’ eyes were wide, glittering like swords in the starlight, and Fingon slid his hands beneath his buttocks, thrusting in to the hilt, making him snarl and curse and call out.
“Fingon, Fingon!” suddenly Fingon found himself flipped over and rolling across the grass. Maedhros crouched low above him, a revolver in his hand. There was a soft thud from the dented grass where a moment ago he had been lying. There was heavier darkness there, an impenetrable blackness, and from out of that two sickly green eyes blinked and then fixed their slit pupils on him.
There was a bang and a smell of cordite and the eyes turned from him. Maedhros swore, and grabbed his hand pulling him upright and aside as the ground thudded again. They ran to the motorbike, roughly fastening their trousers as they went.
“It’s after us again,” said Maedhros, and this time, in the headlights Fingon saw the snarl of blood red gums and sharp white teeth, the glint of gold at its throat. Fingon swerved onto the road feeling the rush of air as the beast jumped over them.
“Did you miss?”
The road shook as the creature gave chase, but it was no match for his motorised steed.
“Are you sure you didn’t miss?”
“Which one of us can see in the dark? The bullet hit its forehead and bounced into the grass.”
Fingon worked the accelerator as hard as it would go, feeling another rush thrill through him, the hot-blood of a chase, of a hunt, of war.
“Eleven o’clock on the horizon.”
Sure enough, against the grey of the western sky a black shape was blotting out the last fading of the light. It moved along the silvery scar of the roadway like it was devouring it, bearing down on them.
“I know this is awkward for you, but along the right side of the bike is a scabbard.”
“You keep a broadsword on your motorbike?”
"I’m a cryptozoologist. This is what my job is supposed to be like. Draw it out. I’m going to run it off the road.”
He could see the creature now, bounding leopard like towards them, at least as tall as an elf and thick with muscle, bulk like a half-grown dragon.
“I – do you enjoy being in Mandos or what?”
“Got any better ideas?”
He heard the metal ring as Maedhros held the sword aloft, felt the engine growl at the increased drag. He could feel the heavy paws now each time they struck the road. It stopped, one hundred feet away from them, black fur raised, teeth bared, quivering ready to pounce.
It stood firm at fifty feet, Fingon wondering if he could survive crashing into that much solid muscle. At fifty feet he could see the green eyes flash red before him.
“It wants blood.”
He felt Maedhros’ arm tense ready to strike. They were driving straight at a mountain, straight into a velvet clad rock of flesh. The cat swished its great black tail at them, head down, ready to pounce. He felt fury overtake him and he cried out as he had done on the battlefields of Beleriand so long ago.
There was a sudden rush of wind, and the bike veered sideways, for a moment everything went black and he felt something hot splatter against his neck. Then there was nothing but sky and the road ahead clear as a ribbon. He wrestled back control and stopped them colliding with the mountainside, hearing Maedhros exhale loud behind him.
“It jumped clear,” said Maedhros. “It must fear cold steel after all” Fingon turned briefly to look at him and nearly fell of the bike. Running across Maedhros face were the bloody tracks of three claws. Maedhros squeezed him.
“More for the collection,” he laughed, but he kept the sword unsheathed.
When they reached the track to Nant-yr-Eos, Maedhros shrugged off any attempt by Fingon to fuss, complaining that Fingon was filthy and that he had clean surgical wipes back in the house, handing Fingon back his sword.
As they approached the cottage, Maedhros ducked around the side and emerged leading a roan mare with a star-flecked forehead and a green jacket.
“Stop moaning I will bring your fodder in a moment,” he told the horse. It attempted to eat his jacket in reply. He settled the horse in the main space of the house –“Horse dung cannot smell worse than decomposing sheep”, before bolting the door and heading into the snug.
“So where is the First Aid Kit?” said Fingon as the hurricane lamp flared.
Maedhros snorted and pushed him down on the furs, straddling his hips, pinning him to the floor.
“No first aid then,” said Fingon, and Maedhros clearly thought he could put his mouth to better use by biting down on his lip hard, so their blood mingled as Maedhros pushed him backwards, ravishing his mouth. Maedhros barely broke the kiss to pull his shirt off, to discard Fingon’s jacket and undershirt, grinding down against Fingon without mercy, biting at his shoulders, and ears, pinching at his nipples.
“Please, Eru Maedhros, let me out of my leathers before I make a mess of them.”
Maedhros shifted and snarled, ripping down his trousers and freeing his painfully hard cock. He smiled at it, tilting his head, pawing at it almost playfully, then swallowed it.
One, two three relentless sucks, strong enough to suck out the breath from his lungs and then he let Fingon’s cock go with a pop.
Maedhros tugged at his boots, ignoring Fingon’s whining at his untended erection, swatting away the hand that drifted over to soothe it, near pulling off his foot in Maedhros’ urgent need for his lover’s nakedness.
A few moments later, Maedhros was naked too and Fingon moaned appreciatively at the body he loved, before he was thrust backwards again, his hands held above his head as Maedhros straddled his thighs and took him deep inside him. Watching Maedhros work above him, watching his muscles flex and release in the shadowy lamplight was almost too much for him. Maedhros took his pleasure from him as though he were lifeless, his eyes furious, his face still streaked with blood. It was only after his first orgasm overtook him that he appeared to fully alert to him. Maedhros rested his head on Fingon’s shoulder for a while, panting. Fingon nuzzled him and nipped at his ear for something to bite, knowing there was not much sensation in the raggedy tips but needing to feel flesh below his lips. A curtain of red hair smelling like storm clouds, like the air before thunder fell over Maedhros’ shoulder as he nuzzled Fingon’s face with his lips and smiled and kissed him.
“Hold there,” said Maedhros, squeezing Fingon’s hips tight. “I just need a few moments.”
“Ai!” Fingon used the pause in their lovemaking to catch his breath, “for one who lay with me scarce hours ago, you looked like you needed that.”
“Really,” said Maedhros, lazily stroking the hard muscles of Fingon’s chest, running his hand over the powerful girth of Fingon’s shoulders and biceps, the solidity of his chest and belly.
“I need this,” he murmured, “I need all of this. I need you real and here.”
“I am here,” Fingon stroked the fallen red braids back off Maedhros face. “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
"The next morning Fingon rolled over in the furs to find the floor uncomfortably hard, the air damp and chill, and his lover neglectful.
“What do you even find to make notes about anyway?”
“Markings, distinctive features, width and approximate diameter of claws.”
“It was a black cat.”
“Yes,” said Maedhros, tapping the pen against his teeth, “that gives you a very interesting case.”
“Mmph?” said Fingon, drawing the blankets closer around his shoulders in the hope Maedhros took the hint.
“Because big cats, I mean normal big cats aren’t ever truly black. They are melanistic, their usual markings can still be deciphered within their darker fur. There is coffee in the pot.”
Fingon growled and put his head back under the bedding.
“Romantic as it would be,” Maedhros said, pulling the covers from Fingon’s head and giving his ear a sharp nip on the more commanding side of tender, “I really don’t think this is going to scar.”
It was probably true, fighting down the desire to punch Maedhros in the nose, Fingon grumbled himself upright. The edges of the wound were already pinkening. Maedhros pressed a warm mug into his hands, the curling drift of coffee starting to reconcile him to wakefulness.
“I have bacon and bread when you are ready for breakfast.”
Fingon settled himself comfortably between Maedhros’ long legs, still wrapped in the bedding, head resting against Maedhros shoulders, coffee mug balanced on -
“I am not an armchair.”
Fingon ignored him. Maedhros did in fact make an excellent armchair, and one that would be providing breakfast in due course.
“Perhaps, if you met me in more hospitable places you wouldn’t have to double up as furniture.” Fingon removed the mug from its stand on Maedhros’ right knee and took a long mouthful before replacing it. He was beginning to grow accustomed to the the plastic flavouring.
Maedhros sighed, “We have been through this before. If you were followed and they found me, that could cause all sorts of problems. And while I might deserve the wrath, I’m not bringing the righteous vengeance of the North Kingdom down on the Afari.”
“Do you ever think of returning?”
“Returning? Fingon it is my home.” Maedhros paused, feeling the slump of Fingon’s shoulders. He squeezed him a little. “Don’t be sad that I am happy.”
“So you are no longer Noldor?” Fingon’s head slumped a little, the better to contain the sudden weight in his stomach.
“Of course I’m a Noldo,” said Maedhros. “I’m a Fëanorian, nobody is going to let me forget that in a hurry.” Fingon returned his head to his shoulder, seemingly a little pacified by this. “Besides, no one has ever heard of a ginger Afarin, much less one with freckles. But look at me, and tell me you prefer the grim Lord of Himring to what I am now?”
It was an awkward angle, but Maedhros still managed to draw his face in and kiss him, raspy with sleepiness and musky with the taste of their bodies. Maedhros pulled away slightly, brushing Fingon’s bruised full lips with his thumb.
“It’s just - it feels like you have had so much life without me. We were close in age once, and now, it feels like you have milenna on me.”
Maedhros held still enough to let Fingon sit back comfortably against him again, before drawing his right arm around Fingon’s waist.
“That’s an unfortunate side effect of your valiant nature.”
“You make it sound as if I intentionally get myself killed.”
“No, no you know I do not think that,” Fingon felt him take his free hand and stroke it gently. “I mean that our natures mean I am likely to stubbornly live on till the ending of the earth, whereas you will fearlessly court danger and run more risk.”
“Its as if - one day I could come back and not know you. Or you could no longer love me or desire me.”
“Hush,” Maedhros folded Fingon’s head on to his shoulder, stroking his cheek slowly. “We live long lives, who knows one day we might outlive our love. But it will always be true that you bear within you a piece of my soul, and I a piece of yours.”
“It still remains that life changes you in ways the Halls cannot.”
“How many times have I changed, yet your love did not falter? I changed after captivity, and I had changed again when you came to me in the Second Age.” Maedhros hummed a little, thoughtfully, as if suddenly fearing silence. Fingon paused, held still against the vibration at his back, knowing there were more words to come.
“I was worse I think, when the Afari found me that I had been after the mountain. I really was like a wild thing, poisoned by blood and starlight, whimpering and afraid. They took care of me then, and they take care of me now.” He nuzzled Fingon’s dark plaits. “I feel safe there, safer than I have for a long time, maybe since Valinor. You cannot begrudge me that I am quite well, that I have friends.”
“I could never begrudge you anything,” muttered Fingon, as Maedhros started to kiss his way intently down his neck.
“Then move your coffee,” Maedhros hissed, and with considerable agility, spun himself around so he was kneeling at Fingon’s front, kissing down his chest and abdomen, removing blankets as he went.
“This is just some evil ploy to get me upright,” gasped Fingon.
Maedhros sat back on his heels, raising an eyebrow. Fingon braced for any number of comments on his state of uprightness.
“You are my husband. I trust you. Don’t you feel that sense of being alert to each other?”
Fingon blinked, and reached out for Maedhros hand.
“Of course, it is always so after we have lain together.”
“Not for me.” Maedhros kissed Fingon’s lips softly, “For a long time it was not like that for me. It is good that it is back.”
There was no answer to that other than to kiss him back harder, and smile into those grey eyes he had loved since their childhood.
“Now please, shut up and let me suck your cock.”
“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Fingon said through a mouthful of bread and bacon.
Maedhros sucked a bundle of the wormlike substance he had been twirling round two peculiar eating sticks into his mouth and smiled.
“Muck out Skoda’s leavings, check on her welfare, finish my write up and amuse myself in keeping house until my Lord’s return.”
Fingon narrowed his brows. “Really?”
“Truly,” said Maedhros, putting another bundle of pale worms into his mouth. “Once you have your local intelligence, what else will need to be done for the case to be made?”
Maedhros snatched a piece of escaped bacon from Fingon’s plate.
“It would be good to know more about the manner of the creature? Is it a true monster such as a dragon? Or is it a malevolent spirit that takes on forms as we take on coats.”
“Well,” said Maedhros, “I did shoot it in the head.”
“Are you sure you -,”
“Yes Fingon I am perfectly sure I hit it.” Maedhros chased the last of the spicy scented sauce with his finger and licked it clean. “Besides - Skoda started getting restless and I didn’t want her whinnying to wake you.”
“I took a sword.”
“You complain I am foolhardy.”
Maedhros bit open one of the antiseptic wipes.
To the everlasting darkness doom us if our deed faileth.
“Fingon, if there is one thing I know I am very good at over the years it is not getting killed.”
“That’s what I told myself before the Nirniaeth.”
How many nights had Fingon looked out from Barad Eithiel, and imagined he saw the red fires of Angband just over the northern horizon, the red fires Maedhros lived in full sight of?
“Yes well,” Maedhros carefully wiped down each of the eating sticks and then replaced them in his hair, “I have a slightly larger evidence base for my assumption.”
Fingon narrowed his eyes.
“You only need to die once.”
In Hithlum, Fingon had learnt to dread the darkening of the leaves, and the shift of sun southwards. The start of the campaigning season, when the nights were long enough for orcs to cover many leagues in darkness but before the relative safety of the winter snowfalls.
“You will be riding into town today without my protection, and hopefully you will be riding back.”
“I will be riding in daylight. On a motorcycle.”
In the embers of summer, and all through the crisp autumn, beneath the hunters moon, orcs would seep over the plain of Ard-Galen, trolls and balrogs creep through caves and over mountain passes, and the wave would break over Himring, night after night after night.
“Night is hardly a hardship for me.”
“The risk was unnecessary.”
“I’m not dead Fingon.” Fingon scowled into his coffee, brows still ominously lowered.
Sat at his father’s side in the great hall, watching the fire crackle in the stone hearth, praying silently to Manwë or Varda or anyone who wished to answer that the eternal darkness did not claim Maedhros that night.
“You will only get to die once.”
To the everlasting darkness doom us
Maedhros looked up at him then, really looked at him, as if he saw the very pictures that had been running through Fingon’s head.
“You know I won’t go back.”
He didn’t need to say where. Maedhros had refused the summons to Valinor at the end of the War of Wrath, and it was plain he refused it still.
“You will go into the darkness as the Avari.”
Maedhros hung his head. He seemed to study the table top for some moments, and when he looked up, his eyes were soft and he reached his hand towards Fingon.
He looked, if not contrite, then at least without the worst of his Fëanorian superiority.
“I am sorry that I hurt you. I know we have lost too much to be careless with one another.”
“Did you just apologise to me?”
“It has been known to happen. Although there are usually more deaths involved first. I am sorry, I was thoughtless. It just seemed like such a waste of time to be sat there in the dark.”
Fingon reached over and ran his – only slightly greasy – finger over the shadowed skin beneath Maedhros’ eyes.
“You could try sleeping.”
“I will, I promise, just – not then. I wasn’t tired in the slightest.” Maedhros removed the finger from his face and sucked it clean of bacon fat, then took his hand and kissed it, soft against the knuckles.
“So, what did you find out?” said Fingon wearily. Maedhros, still attempting contrition, did not smirk, although Fingon saw it took some effort. “Promise me you’ll get some rest while I am away, and I will listen to the next instalment of unnecessarily dangerous things I did when my husband’s back was turned.”
“You do realise that is the title I will use for your biography.”
“Just promise me, Maedhros.”
“Very well, I promise,” Maedhros smiled, let go of Fingon’s hand and poured them both another cup of coffee, “What I found was -,”
“Should you be drinking that, if you intend to sleep?”
Maedhros nostrils flared a little, but his eyes remained cool as he pushed the cup away. Fingon didn’t really hold out much hope that Maedhros would sleep; he had been bad at it even back in Valinor and subsequent events had hardly improved matters, but Maedhros was willing to humour him at least.
“So what did you find?”
Fingon rolled his eyes.
“I mean, I found the crushed grass where we alighted,” he smiled, eyes flashing bright, “but as for our assailant,” he tossed a bullet onto the table, “not so much as a bent blade of grass.”
“Not just a monster then,” said Fingon. “Not something we can kill.”
Maedhros briefly rummaged in the pack beneath the table and tossed Fingon an antiseptic wipe for his fingers. He put a small white bottle on the table before him.
“I don’t think you can kill evil, perhaps I should know this better than most. As long as elves and men continue to have hearts, such spirits will draw strength from what lurks within them.”
“But one can still force such things to shed their coats?”
Maedhros bit through the bottle’s seal and popped the lid.
“To your health,” he said, and downed the contents like a shot of miruvor before making a face. Fingon found his face softening a little.
“I am proud of you for killing that monster you know.”
“It’s not dead.” He quirked his lips “It’s under siege. I don’t think that hunger can be killed either. But I’m hoping for a long peace at least.”
Fingon leant across the table and kissed the curious taste from Maedhros’ lips. It was indeed foul, both bitter and over-sweetened.
“You are both lovely and terrifying, in equal amounts. Now tell me how we inconvenience this foul spirit with cold steel. We can still do it significant damage?”
“Oh yes,” Maedhros flashed his teeth, “you can still cause damage.”
Fingon rolled his eyes and threw his crumpled wipe at him. “Assuming you’re not going to bite it to death, did you actually bring any more -,”
Maedhros rolled his eyes and looked pointedly over to the corner where his own sword was propped, still in its scabbard.
“Celebrimbor made that,” he said, no longer grinning. “I’m sure he would appreciate the use it will be put too.”
“Keep it close,” said Fingon, leaning in for a final, greasy kiss. “And no more dangerous stunts before my return.”
The half-light came early in these parts. It was barely mid-afternoon when Fingon left the handful of houses that was Tregaron, but the light was low, and the hills cast heavy shadows, the sun herself faltered amid banks of grey cloud. By the time Fingon got to Nant-yr-Eos, the lamp light leaking through the boarded windows was a bright star against the dark hillside. Fingon took this as a good omen, trudging up through dead grass made luminous in the brittle light.
Pushing the door to, Fingon entered the snug and found Maedhros sat at the desk as ever, although this time, Fingon noted, a sword hung at his side.
“Isn’t it time you brought that horse or yours in?”
“Hmm,” Maedhros seemed lost in thought, “Oh yes, I’ll see to it now.” Maedhros stood and pushed a scrap of paper towards Fingon, then walked towards the door. Fingon heard the bolts rattle, Maedhros unlocked the door, but went no further. Fingon looked at the piece of paper.
- It is in here
Maedhros walked back to the table.
“Fruitful day, love?”, said Maedhros, kissing the top of his head and passing the notepaper.
- Where? Also how do you know?
“Mostly sad,” said Fingon. “You were right about the children. When these families lived here, half the babes born died before their tenth year.”
Maedhros covered Fingon’s hand as he slid the paper towards him.
- How did the sheep get in?
Fingon scowled at his non-answer then suddenly realisation dawned as he spoke
“Most of the documents were in the local tongue, I’m sure you could read it, but I was at a loss,” he pushed the paper back.
“So what kept you so long?”
“There was this very helpful young lady who worked there.”
“Say no more,”
“For Eru’s sake Maedhros, she looked thoroughly respectable, well apart from the purple hair.”
He could tell Maedhros was rolling his eyes beneath his pointedly lowered eyelids.
“You are not being fair. She was already an accomplished student on local history and tradition, and she was most interested in our cause.”
Maedhros’ eyebrows had ascended into his hair.
“The library closed at midday on Wednesday, but she took me to the tavern next door for coffee afterwards.”
The Ginger Orclet was now smirking like a waist-high child.
“Dear husband, you are an inveterate slut.”
“What? No, the innkeeper was a friend of hers, I told her I was married, and she was far too well-mannered to ask about the ears, although I think they know a lot more than they let on in these parts. She told me a lot about what her grandparents heard, when they grew up on these hills.”
“I hope you paid for her drinks at least,” said Maedhros, sliding the paper from beneath Fingon’s fingers.
- Daw Awst, Daw Nos Daw yr Arglwydd Cath
Plant yr Haf, Cer y gors, Cysga’n olaf
- Summer children go into the ground, wrote Maedhros.
Of course, it would make sense, to send the summer-borns less likely to make it through the winter.
“Oh no, she paid for my coffee, she insisted,” said Fingon while scribbling another note:
- What are you talking about?
“Smart girl” Maedhros shrugged and wrote:
- It was the price they paid. They made a living here, on the Lord’ Cat’s land, and that was their rent, their taxes, if you will.
- In this house, six children died.
- Maybe the farmer was a bad tenant. Maybe he refused to pay up. There’s a tunnel leads straight to these cellars.
- But six children, one after another?
- You were a king after all, you should understand taxation, and the perils of not paying your due.
“Yes, I am pretty sure that the first thing Caranthir will receive on re-embodiment is a lien for 400 gold pieces from my father,” Maedhros rolled his eyes.
“Why are we still talking?”
“I need to get this down,” said Maedhros, who was seemingly was about to do just that, Fingon rose, slipped an arm beneath Maedhros’ elbow and handed him a note.
- WHERE IS IT AND HOW ARE WE GOING TO KILL IT???
Maedhros smiled, clearly not sharing Fingon’s sense of urgency. He put his finger to his lips and motioned Fingon to follow him out of the snug. He didn’t, Fingon noticed, take the lamp.
The door of the cellar had partially rotted, the edges were ragged, and a small amount of light fell from a missing step overhead. Both elves moved silently, feeling out any creaking steps, slowly moving weight from foot to foot.
The cellar itself smelt earthy, the underground heat was stifling after the cool air of the farmhouse, it felt an effort to draw breath, but something clearly was, deep slumbering breaths and very occasionally a purr like the engine on Fingon’s motorcycle.
Fingon moved to step forward, but Maedhros arm was tight around his wrist. He was reluctantly pulled backwards up the stairs.
Maedhros shut the door and whispered – “Not here, not now, upstairs and on our own terms.”
Fingon hissed “It’s asleep.”
“It won’t be for much longer if you stick a sword in it, and only one of us can see in the dark.”
“So how do we get it up here?”
“It’ll smell our blood soon enough. Although on hindsight, perhaps I should have bought tuna.”
Darkness fell as they waited, hand to the hilt of his sword in Fingon’s case, hand to the pen in Maedhros’ case, “It is a subject of some debate as to whether big cats emit a true purr, adding strength to the hypothesis that the beast is but an enlarged body of Felix catus, suggesting a forged Fana…”
“Do you ever stop?” said Fingon, who by now was pacing the flagstones, desperate for the beast to make an appearance. “What if it heads straight out the door?”
“That would be a best case scenario. In which case we are both behind it, and if we can dodge the tail, my reach is long enough to cleave at the base of the skull, while you aim for beneath the ribs.”
“These things are so easily pl-,”
“Hush,” said Maedhros, standing and drawing his own sword, as a loud thud shook the snug walls and a moment later a thick black paw appeared at the sidewall.
Fingon aimed too quick, his blow had already fallen by the time the cat’s grinning head joined it, forcing him onto the back-foot as it hauled its black bulk through the gaping hole.
Teveidlo, Lord of Cats swished its great black tail and sniffed the air.
“I smell orc,” it declared, shaking the wood-shards from his coat. There was another rush of air and a terrible yowl as the black tail fell lifeless to the ground.
The green eyes flashed red and with a swipe of his paw, the hurricane lamp fell to the floor and shattered beneath a black foot.
Fingon’s vision was narrowed to two red eyes in the darkness, and behind them, the brutal glow of Maedhros’ own stare. The cat pounced again and more by luck than intent, Fingon jumped clear. Maedhros’ eyes were closer now, close enough he could see the scars on his cheeks.
“So you are the runaway,” it smiled at Maedhros, teeth flashing white, pouncing and falling back, as Maedhros bared his own fangs and laughed like all the chains of Angband set rattling, his sword buried deep in the beast’s side.
Teveildo was a wall of fur covered muscle which bucked sharply at the blow and threw Maedhros skittering across the floor.
“Ghâsh agh búrzum.”
Fingon hissed and moved towards the sound, his distraction seized by Teveidlo, who struck; paws thudded across Fingon’s collar bone, deadening his sword arm. He knew his answering blow was weak, not deep enough to sever flesh, but Teveildo’s teeth were buried in his left shoulder and the beast’s breath was the stench of death itself.
The cat jolted, and another weight thumped against his shoulder, Maedhros had jumped on the cat’s shoulders, and was now seated there, behind its head, glowing as bright as daylight, and of all things, fiddling with his hair.
One of the great red eyes disappeared. Maedhros held the creature impaled on a slender eating stick, black against the silver glow of Maedhros‘ hand, Teveildo mewled and squirmed piteously, and Maedhros, seemingly effortlessly, slid from its shoulders to stand beside Fingon.
“That’s right,” said Maedhros, staring into the one great eye as it flickered from red to green, “I am the runaway. Go back and tell your Master that Maedhros is here. That Maedhros lives.”
This time Fingon’s blow rent the belly, slithering entrails cleaved to the sword hilt as Maedhros drove deep into the creatures brains. Foamy flecks of bloody spittle hit the floor as the cat shook and gasped and eventually stilled. Fingon felt, or maybe even saw a darkness lift from the body and drift away, chased by Maedhros’ hurriedly lit candle, back to brooding in the shadows until evil again granted it shape.
Maedhros sighed, wiped the stick on his trousers then replaced it in his hair. He lit a few more candles, no longer coruscating. In the shadows, Maedhros looked pale, maybe even drawn. Exhaustion or pain, Fingon could not tell and knew that asking would not enlighten him.
This will make a wondrous rug for Queen Lalwen,” said Fingon, kicking the carcass.
“Burn it,” said Maedhros.
“But I need samples, for research,”
“Burn it.” Maedhros paused, “wait, - let me see to your shoulder, and then we burn it.”
“I’m really fine,” said Fingon, but Maedhros was already rummaging in the first aid kit.
“Shirt off.” Maedhros sat Fingon on their one surviving chair and started to clean the wound.
“You don’t know what evil the fangs of such a creature could contain,” Maedhros clucked as Fingon fidgeted. Maedhros pulled a fine copper hair from his own head and started stitching, holding the wound taught with the bony end of his right arm. “And if you want for evidence, this will give you a pretty wound to show our aunt.”
“She’d just see the bruising and ask if I seduced it to death.”
Maedhros laughed softly. “It’s alright, I think I can gather the dental configuration from the punctures, -ow,”
“Your hand is cold,” said Fingon, continuing his protesting wriggles as Maedhros attempted to smooth balm into the wound.
“It has just done away with a manifestation of purest evil,” Maedhros shrugged, “It’s been through worse.” He tapped Fingon’s shoulder. “All done.”
Fingon looked sharply at him, standing and offering the chair. “And yourself?”
“I am as well as to be expected,” said Maedhros. “I don’t think Varda meant to give me an upgrade, but between that and the Afari healing, an improvement is what I got.”
“It’s cold, come - let us get a fire going.”
Maedhros emptied another of those white bottles while Fingon prepared the corpse for removal.
They dragged the body outside and set it aflame, it took an age to light in the drizzle, as if flames themselves resisted its foulness and spirit of fire that he was, Maedhros was not really up to being incendiary. He is good at being in pain, Fingon thought, he’s got that knack of relaxing into it. He breathes through it. In fact, the change in Maedhros’ breathing was often the only clue he was injured at all. He breathes as he does now, thought Fingon, slow and deliberate, deep.
When the carcass finally caught it was with such a stinking fume that they quickly retreated back inside Nant-yr-Eos. Fingon, finally sensing an opportunity to fuss over his impossible husband, took the remainder of their food and nested himself in the blankets. Maedhros rolled his eyes, but duly gathered his papers, and in the absence of a table, settled himself beside Fingon and began writing on his knees.
“You should eat something,” said Fingon, drawing the blankets a little closer round Maedhros.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Won’t you at least let me fuss you a little?”
“Oh very well,” said Maedhros, taking the proffered bread and cheese, picking at it intermittently as he finished his description of the feline’s jaw structure, intermittently consulting Fingon’s shoulder for reference.
Later, Fingon caught him throwing up in the bank of stinging nettles behind the cottage.
“Considering how often you get into these states,” said Fingon as he held Maedhros’ braids clear and stroked his back, “you think you would learn to be a grateful patient.”
Maedhros sat back on his heels.
“You know very well why I do not like to be fussed over.”
Fingon did. He knew all the answers to why Maedhros was what he was, although the telling had taken many years and a great deal of effort. Maedhros seemed temporarily lost, staring into the darkness before he shook himself, his braids sparking a little in the night air.
“Fingon, I am a fool,”
“I know that,” he tentatively rested his hand on Maedhros’ shoulder, “how have you been a fool this time?”
“I got - annoyed with a cat.”
“It was a rather obnoxious cat.”
The moon had finally shown his face through the cloud banks, his silver light catching the small smile Maedhros gave in return.
“What if it is not just a local spirit of malice?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if our obnoxious friend served a greater master?”
“Do you have any evidence that it did?”
“No, none,” said Maedhros. He picked at the end of a braid thoughtfully. “Only the luck of the Fëanorians.”
Fingon gathered up Maedhros’ hand, as cold as any he had held crossing the Helcaraxë, and held it still.
“You are jumping at shadows. This was nothing but a local faë, the gnawing hunger of the mountains. Nothing more.”
“It knows I live. If it is more than that, I could have drawn everyone I love into my damned Fëanorian luck.”
“I’ve never minded it,” said Fingon, now actively holding Maedhros across his shoulders. “If - there’s more to this than a local evil, you will not have to face it alone.” Maedhros rested his head on Fingon’s shoulder, seemingly quietened by his words. “Now how about we go back in the warm and you read me all those notes you made?”
Maedhros smiled again. When he stood, he was steady on his feet, deliberately so, Fingon thought, he’s still hiding how much that hurt.
“Oh and Maedhros?”
Maedhros looked back, a flicker of concern in his pale eyes.
“Wash your mouth out before you get into bed with me.”
Maedhros snorted, although once they were inside, he did as Fingon requested.
Safely back in bed, Fingon curled himself around Maedhros like a viper, letting his warmth at least soothe the chill of lingering darkness. Maedhros wrote well, clear, precise without being pedantic, neatly setting up the case that the beast had indeed been an embodied evil spirit, and firmly demolishing any alternative arguments.
“Fingon, this is an academic description. Well struck as your blow to the creatures’ guts was, I am not including it in a scientific paper.”
It was however, a little dry for Fingon’s tastes. Slowly, he drifted off to Maedhros invocation of “genus Panthera” “pseudaelurus”, “suborder feliformia”, black fur flying and his sword bright beneath the cold gleam of Maedhros’ eyes.
Fingon awoke to burnt down candles, a sheaf of completed case notes and an empty bed. He sighed, and rolled his eyes. Years ago, such a desertion might have pained him, but long centuries had rather inured him to his lover’s dramatic ways. Besides, Maedhros was always one who preferred to lick his wounds in private. Thumbing through the bundle he noticed the last page contained a strange message, as if it were encoded.
Maedhros.Nelyofinwe@hotmail.com. Ask your college tutor.
This story was inspired by the persistent rumours of large black cats in the mid-Wales area.
Skeptics state it is a reflex from our hunter-gatherer days, to oversize feral cats in wild areas, Dyfed-Powys police took the sightings seriously despite the lack of physical cat evidence (scat/spraying), and sightings continue.
Obviously, I thought of Teveildo. It would explain everything.