They rode south-west all day, towards the location where the scouts had reported meeting the Sindar a couple of weeks ago. It was very unlikely that the Sindar had not moved on since and they had not shared their plans with Maedhros's scouts. They could have moved in any direction.
So, as Maedhros and Celvandil rode, they were watching for any signs that might indicate a Sindarin presence--knowing full well that the people they were looking for had developed not letting themselves be seen to the point of a form of art. They were also watching out, as always, anywhere in this land, for signs of danger--forces of the Enemy or sources of danger hitherto unknown. Already, they had moved beyond the area in the immediate vicinity of Himring in which they were familiar with every feature, every patch of ground. This was country they had explored but were not yet at home in.
It was a tiring ride, with the need for haste constantly in their minds as much as the need to be alert, and the weather somewhat insidious, not nearly as bitterly cold as the Marches could easily become, but a damp seeping chill that made itself felt more and more as the evening drew on. By the time they stopped, after nightfall, there were patches of thin mist drifting in the hollows. It was a comfortless halt--a trickling stream large enough to water the horses, a couple of scraggy bushes.
Maedhros felt wretched, far more than he should have, after what was, after all, no more than some hours of riding without serious incident and a bit of damp that he might otherwise not even have taken notice of. He crouched on the ground, suddenly feeling acutely remnants of physical pain that for the most part he had learned to tune out just by ignoring them. Worse, he was feeling strongly, once again, the malignancy of Morgoth's will beating on his brain from the North.
As the fortress of Himring took shape in Maedhros's mind and its walls, slowly enough, rose in actuality, stone by stone, on the ground, he had found it a serviceable defence, a mental one, even before its physical walls were strong or complete enough to keep out a single orc. He could focus on Himring and wall Morgoth out. If he was not inside the future walls or even some way away from the hill where they would eventually be, that had made no difference, in the past months--the mere concept of Himring in Maedhros's mind, the hope he had invested in the fortress and the protection it could offer his people had been shield enough.
But now Morgoth had broken through that defence--so easily. He had not had to send an army, he had just sent Targlin. And the message had been very clear.
I can break you. All of you. And I will.
Maedhros had already failed to protect his people before, exposing them to all this, and he had failed to protect them once again. And now he had compounded his failures by insisting on going off on this wild-goose chase for an unknown Sindarin healer who would have little interest in letting herself be found and might be unable to help in any case--just because, apparently, Maedhros could not learn to live with his mistakes.
Now here he was, sitting out here in the wilderness, feeling sick and sorry for himself, without Maglor to lend his aid, prop him up and gloss over his deficiencies until Maedhros regained his grip, as Maglor had so reliably done in the past. It had seemed the better plan to send Maglor with Caranthir on his explorations eastward, into unknown territory--Caranthir to sense intentions and threats, Maglor to soothe the feelings of any sentient beings that Caranthir's approach and manner might ruffle. It still seemed the better plan if only Maedhros had been as strong as he should have been, as strong as he had thought he was, but now Maedhros missed Maglor's support painfully.
In Maglor's absence he turned his thoughts the other way and allowed himself to think of Fingon. If Fingon could see him now, what would he think of this pathetic show his cousin was making? He would not tolerate it for long. He would do, as he had done in Mithrim: with gentle persistence bully him until Maedhros got up and got on with things, for the sake of the Noldor.
For the Noldor...
Maedhros's eyes pricked with tears. This was not working. He had tried to visualize Fingon's dear determined face, imagine Fingon's strong grip on his shoulders--but instead of feeling encouraged, he was assailed by an aching sense of separation and loss. Focusing on anything inside his head was clearly the wrong thing to do, tonight, and so he made himself look around for Celvandil.
Celvandil was still wholly occupied in taking care of their horses--talking to them softly, praising them for their cooperation and endurance today, checking their hooves one by one to make sure they were taking no damage on this extended journey. That was fortunate, thought Maedhros, it meant that Celvandil probably had not noticed anything, just now, and also that Maedhros had not been lost in misery as long as it had seemed, to him.
He considered Celvandil, his bent back, Noldorin black hair tied back simply but efficiently, his hands sure and gentle as he checked the grey mare's hoof. Maedhros could never have spoken as frankly to Celvandil, he thought, as he could speak to Maglor or as he could have spoken to Fingon, if circumstances had permitted it. He could not have revealed the extent of his weakness to Celvandil or the extent of his lingering pain or confessed his fears and flaws. It was not that he felt any specific doubt or distrust. His whole instincts were against it. He could make exceptions for Maglor and Fingon, nobody else.
And Celvandil would not have wanted him to. He surely would have been horrified if his prince had begun to unburden himself to him. Maedhros needed to remain a leader in the eyes of his people. He need the mantle of authority. If at any time, the fault lines became too obvious, at least his people needed to be able to avert their eyes.
Maedhros could not speak frankly to Celvandil, no. But nevertheless, Maedhros thought, Celvandil had without complaint accompanied Maedhros on his wild-goose chase in the wilds of East Beleriand, just as, before that, he had followed him loyally on the way from Mithrim to Himring and, before that, from Valinor to Middle-earth.
Maedhros remembered Celvandil as he had known him in Valinor. He had been the son of a successful horse-breeder who counted the royal family and the nobility among his patrons. Celvandil, as his son, had owned his own horses. When the Feanorians had reached Beleriand, all the horses anyone owned had been impounded by the crown, by military necessity, as had any other property that was too important to the war effort to be left in private hands. Celvandil's horses, the ones he had brought along on the journey from Tirion, were among them--not that they were taken away from him, at that point, as he was still employed in looking after them, but they were no longer officially his.
Celvandil had accepted it--nor had he shown any resentment, later, when Maedhros gave away so many horses to Fingolfin, accepting that necessity also, even though some of Celvandil's horses were among them. Fingolfin could be given only the best after all. How could peace among them otherwise be achieved? Celvandil had not understood, however, thought Maedhros, why Maedhros had also given Allinte away to Fingon, at the same time--whether Fingon had saved Maedhros from Thangorodrim or not. Allinte was Maedhros's own mare and so she had been his to give, as Maedhros, that is, as well as in his role as the head of the House of Feanor--but she was also the mare that Celvandil had trained specially to carry Maedhros when he first began to ride again, after Thangorodrim, and in that way she had been Celvandil's also.
Maedhros had been aware of an injustice, in that, although Celvandil never said anything and Maedhros could not offer any explanation that would not have shamed and embarrassed them both. Yet, Celvandil followed him still, ever since, and had given unstintingly of his loyalty as before and on this day, also.
'I will see to it that you have horses of your own again, one day, Celvandil' said Maedhros, suddenly.
Celvandil looked up, startled, carefully set down the last hoof and turned around.
'Thank you very much,' he answered. 'It is not really of so much concern to me, at present.'
Of course it wasn't, thought Maedhros. Celvandil's main concern at present was surely stopping his fool prince from running off and falling into a ditch and maybe dying there, when his people needed him in Himring.
But the idea of getting horses for Celvandil helped. It might in truth be as unattainable a goal, in their current situation, as ensuring the survival of the Noldor in Beleriand or defending Himring against everything Morgoth could throw against it or finding a healer out here in time to save an unconscious woman, but it felt more manageable, somehow.
'I will,' he insisted. 'One day. You will see.'
'Yes, of course,' said Celvandil, clearly humouring him, but nevertheless touched by the vehemence with which he insisted.
They spoke little further that night, rested until dawn and set out again as soon as it was light enough to see any tracks that might cross their path. Maedhros was filled with new determination. It was not possible that Maedhros Feanorion should allow a woman who had saved his life to die without doing his utmost to prevent it. They would find that healer.
More Author's Notes:
Targlin is the name I chose for the escapee of the Angband mentioned in the summary. The preceding chapters have in fact not been written yet, but at least he now has a name, which was somehow a major sticking point for me.
The whole story will be called "The Songs", when it is finished; at any rate that is the plan.
Also, the Sindarin healer Maedhros is looking for is a woman, but I'm not quite sure whether Maedhros knows this, at this point, or not.