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of a harsh and caustic nature (the root of hope)

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The fourth son of Fëanáro and the first son of Arafinwë are born within twenty years of each other. They are almost the same age, small toddling children, when they are announced in the courts of Tirion, and Carnistir has only a vague recollection of his half-cousin at that time, small, chubby, and golden, mismatched blue and green eyes wide in his round face. He shudders to think of his half-cousin’s own remembrance of himself, equally small and chubby, but with pale skin that too easily mottled red with ill-temper or embarrassment, and dull eyes that didn't have the decency to choose between green, grey, and blue, and therefore patched asymmetrically with all of them.

In any case, Findaráto is soon spirited back to Alqualondë, and Carnistir passes his days in blissful ignorance. He is a master at avoiding the few occasions that Grandfather tries to bring the three families of his sons together. He occasionally sees Findaráto in passing in the library with Turucáno on those occasions, but the two younger boys still haven't found his hiding spot, high atop a wide, deep shelf by the wall in the Vanyarin law section where no one ever goes, where he's created a nest of blankets and pillows that he had Tyelcormo steal for him. He never sees his beautiful blond half-cousin close enough to lock eyes with him, and that suits him just fine. He develops his own opinion of the blond’s attitudes and character, from snippets observed from high above, and if it is an unflattering opinion, well, Carnistir has never felt charitably towards any of his half-cousins, especially the Arafinweans. He decides that the blond is vain and snooty, and he thinks he might not be far off from the vain quarter, because his cousin’s hair grows long and golden, always kept in a neat, tight braid. It's almost a shame that Findaráto and Turucáno seem so close, because of all of his other cousins, the Ñolofinweans, Turucáno is the one he hates the least.

His arm remains bare of the first thought of his soulmate, and that is slightly less fine. He finds a liking for romance novels, finding solace in overly-saccharine description and flowery language. After a time he even finds that he likes the books, and when Tyelcormo finds out, he's such a brat about it.

He also reads them for the sex, because while Tirion isn't as bad as, say, Valmar, their culture is still heavily sexually repressed. He's only realized this due to his novels, but when he tentatively breaches the subject with his fair brother, Tyelcormo goes uncharacteristically thoughtful, disappears for a week, and returns corroborating Carnistir’s theory. For all that soulmates are held to a high degree, the ideal of romance, sex in any form is not something discussed. Carnistir then makes it his quest to become fully educated on the subject, because he is nothing if not completely ornery. Tyelcormo joins in this question with an inordinate amount of glee, and between the two of them they become extremely thoroughly educated. Carnistir still has very fond memories of the two of them, leaning back-to-back high on Carnistir’s shelf, surrounded by the filthiest books they could find, and a few biology texts besides, both giggling and flushed.

Though Carnistir might now be fully educated on the matter, it all remains completely academic, and he finds himself very curious about the practical side of things. He has no partner in this, though, doesn't want one. He explores his own body, and discovers himself. It's pleasant, but he finds himself looking to his still-blank arm with keen displeasure and a small amount of wistfulness.

It's in his hundred and twenty-second year that the scandal breaks: Matimo and Findecáno are soulmates, each other's sweet, tender thoughts scrawled over their forearms. All of Tirion is in an uproar, and even the Arafinweans are called in from Alqualondë. Finwë is thrilled, Fëanáro is furious, Ñolofinwë appears to be in shock, and Arafinwë is attempting to placate all involved parties.

Carnistir is honestly just surprised they kept it a secret for so long. The two had apparently been courting for nearly ninety years, and have come out mostly so that they might be engaged and wed.

Carnistir fully admits that he hides, high in his sanctuary, where only Tyelcormo knows where to find him. Tyelcormo himself is hiding in the woods, so he feels himself quite secure. This kind of dramatic family politics is not their cup of tea, and Carnistir himself would rather face a mountain of tax paperwork than a scandal of this magnitude. Paperwork is easy, it doesn't fuss or scream or give him raging headaches. It's safe. So he feels himself entirely justified in his avoidance, and secure in the thought that he will not be disturbed.

He practically lives up there.

Findaráto finds Tirion much too hot, especially in the middle of summer. He lives in Alqualondë most of the time, in the marine layer, so the tropical climate of his grandfather's preferred home is somewhat awful to him. He still doesn't understand why his father has to play mediator along with Grandfather, and why he'd seen fit to uproot their entire family to Tirion for the duration of it all. The worst of it is still the fact that Turucáno can't spend that much time with him, caught up in trying to help his father and brother see eye to eye.

He finds himself at loose ends, which is why he finds himself even now, poking through the more obscure law texts of Valmar, trying to see if his grandmother had been pulling his leg when she had told him about their laws on soulmate bonds over tea the other day. He climbs a little higher on the sturdy ladder, gladder than ever for his mother’s insistence on all her children learning how to sail, because the ground is a long ways away but he learned to tolerate heights swaying on a ship in the open ocean, climbing on the rigging.

A sound catches his ear. A sound from above, and not the soundless, oddly well-oiled slide of this ladder along its track. He glances up, half-expecting to see a bird, and he thinks at first that it is, before the pale shape registers as a slender, long-fingered hand . His breath catches in his throat and he swallows down a frightened yelp. He steadies himself on the ladder before climbing the last few feet to peer over the top of the shelf. The hand has disappeared by the time he gets there, tucked sweetly against its owner’s chin. An elf rests here, atop one of the tallest and sturdiest bookshelves in the library, nestled among two soft woven blankets, at least five soft, embroidered pillows, and numerous books of varying sizes, kept from falling by the lip that the ornamental molding makes above the shelf. They're sleeping quite peacefully, and for a brief, strange moment, Findaráto envies that peace.

The elf is long and lean, though Findaráto doesn't know how tall they would be standing, clad in soft breeches of worn, thin black leather, and a sleeveless red tunic that's nearly threadbare, a book lying open against their slender chest. They wear no overrobe, no long, encumbering garment, as is the trend both here and in Alqualondë, despite the oppressive heat. Their legs below the knee and feet are bare of stockings and shoes, and Findaráto flushes at the queerly beautiful shape of the fine bones in their small feet and delicate ankles.

Their face is strangely beautiful, not a typical beauty, but something wilder. Sleek, straight hair so dark a brown that it's nearly black falls in silky strands around a thin, sharp-boned face. The second eyelids are closed, the milky membrane concealing from sight the color of their eyes, and their primary eyelids are half-closed in a sultry sort of way, dark sooty eyelashes a long, delicate fan, and the full mouth is open slightly, red lips strangely enticing. The strong, dark eyebrows have a faint, residual crease between them, despite the peace of the rest of their face, as though they were more accustomed to frowns then smiles, and Findaráto finds it a pity.

Findaráto realizes that he's been staring at this half-dressed, gorgeous stranger and blushes fiercely, scrambling down the ladder and out of the library in his sudden embarrassment.

It's only half a day later that he realizes he has no idea who the lovely stranger was .


Two weeks after the fateful encounter in the library things finally settle and subside, and the engagement celebration is arranged. Everyone in court is in an utter tizzy over it, even though it's been announced to be a strictly family affair. Findaráto doesn't know why the courtiers are so excited for a party they won't even be attending. He thinks briefly, longingly, of the stranger in the library, but from their mode of dress, they were likely a servant playing hooky, rather than a member of the upper echelons of Ñoldorin nobility.

He and Turucáno are dressed and walking to the banquet hall, finally able to spend a quiet moment in each other's company, when two elves walk easily out of the Fëanárean suite ahead of them, arguing quietly. Findaráto feels his heart skip a beat.

One figure he recognizes, though he wears raiment finer than he usually does. Tyelcormo Fëanárion is clad in deep twilight-blue, dark purple embroidery in subtle floral patterns decorating the cuffs, collar, and hem of his knee-length overrobe, his sash is the same purple. The breeches tucked into the tops of the black suede boots are an even darker shade of blue, and the entire outfit compliments Tyelcormo’s albinistic features, the dark colors making his stark fairness stand out beautifully.

His older cousin’s white hair is worn mostly loose, thin braids on either side of his face drawing the mass of his hair back slightly, joining at the back of his head. His face is lit with laughter at his younger companion’s expense, pink-red eyes glittering playfully behind the clear crystal lenses of his silver-rimmed spectacles. The rest of his jewelry is also silver, set with sapphire, a circlet at his brow and bracelets at his wrists, one finger adorned with a signet ring with his crest graven into it.

His companion is short, lean, dark, and wearing a disgruntled expression, and it is this one who makes Findaráto’s breath catch, because this is the bookshelf stranger. He is also clad richly, a strange juxtaposition of how he had thought of the elf upon first sight. His overrobe hangs in graceful folds nearly to the floor, but is clasped only at the chest, without a sash, the throat left to fan open carelessly. The fabric is a soft midnight color, embroidery glittering in flashes of silver at the cuffs, collar, and hems, and intricate beadwork lines the front in two narrow bands where the fabric meets, silver and chips of garnet creating intricate geometric patterns. The clothes visible beneath the robe are a dark, bloody red, a rich tunic and leather breeches tucked into the tops of black suede boots.

His hair is braided back almost severely, tied with a red ribbon, and threaded through with another ribbon of the same shade. His brow is also crowned with silver, a simple band with a single ruby set into it. Silver and ruby adorn his throat, wrists, and fingers as well, for he wears a choker necklace, bangles, and three rings, two on his right and on on the left.

Findaráto thinks he might faint, the other is so lovely. He smooths his own overrobe fretfully, hoping he looks as good in the summer-sky blue with white-embroidered crashing waves as his mother had assured him he did. The two see them, and Tyelcormo’s lovely face becomes even more mirthful, even as the stranger’s ruby lips flatten into a tight, displeased line. Findaráto’s fluttering hope falls flat.

“Turucáno, Findaráto,” the stranger says, and Findaráto panics slightly. This is someone he's supposed to know . Turucáno unwittingly saves him.

“Tyelcormo, Carnistir,” his cousin returns the greeting, and the bottom falls out of Findaráto’s stomach at that. Morifinwë Carnistir Fëanárion, often called ‘the Dark’, intensely private and often lauded as the most boring and least attractive of the sons of Fëanáro. They're the same age, practically, and they were presented at court at the same time, but all Findaráto can recall is a pouting dark-haired child, not this knife-slender, shadow-born elf. How could anyone think this beauty unattractive?

Their eyes meet at last, and usually Findaráto has the cognizance to think something polite and complimenting, as is the custom for meeting a new person’s eyes for the first time, so that your words, should they be your fated match, will be pleasant and lovely. He doesn't even know what he thinks as he gazes into Carnistir’s mercurial, tempestuous eyes, but the burning sensation in his arm is unmistakable. He yelps and clutches at it, and Turucáno steadies him. Carnistir’s fair cheeks go even whiter as he blanches, and then they flush a brilliant red. Tyelcormo and Turucáno are staring between them, incredulous, and Findaráto feels hopeful again, a bubble of bright elation swelling in his chest.

“We should-” he starts, smiling tentatively, as he gestures to one of the doors in the hall. Turucáno begins to pull away obligingly, as custom dictates that a new couple have at least a couple minutes of space to compare words and compose themselves. Carnistir cuts him off almost brutally.

“No, we'll be late,” he says, and it's nearly a snarl. Tyelcormo looks shocked.

“Little brother,” he starts, and Carnistir cuts him off with a sharp slash of his hand.

“There's nothing to be said here.” Carnistir says coldly before walking away, and Findaráto wobbles, feeling lightheaded and sick. Turucáno steadies him again, slipping a careful arm around his waist. Tyelcormo stares after his brother, face slipping from shocked to vaguely murderous.

“Excuse me, cousins. I'll see you at the party,” he says, short and clipped,before storming off after Carnistir.

“Ingo, hey, you don't look so good,” Turucáno’s voice sounds like it's coming from a long ways away, and his cousin is trying to urge him to sit on one of the nearby chairs, but the dizzy grief that's swamping him overcomes him at last, and Findaráto fades into blissful unconsciousness.

“There you are you little ass. What in the Void was that back there, little brother?”

“None of your concern.”

“None of my concern my perky ass . You've been waiting your whole life for this moment, Moryo, what the actual fuck was that ?”

“Nothing. We need to go, we'll be late.”

“Okay, what crawled up your ass and died? Varda’s tits, Moryo, you broke that kid’s heart with six words . You . You read about this shit all the time, you've been looking forward to this all your life, like I just said, and when it finally happens you reject him? No. This ain't happening.”

Let me go , Turko.”

“No, you're going back there and apologizing for being an ass, and then you're going to kiss that boy if I have to slam your heads together to make it happen.”

“No I'm not .”

“Yes you a- aaargh ! You little shit, you bit me! Get back here Morifinwë Carnistir Fëanárion!”

No !”

“Ah, shit, now what? Mom’s gonna kill me.”


The ceremony is short, but beautiful, and the reception is turning out well. The only dark spot to mar the day is the marked absence of her fourth son, Ñolo’s second son, and Aro’s first son. Turko slides in next to her, kissing her cheek as they mingle. Or try to, anyway, there's an awkward divide that only a few parties are attempting to bridge.

“Hey, mama,” Turko looks sheepish, a bit guilty and a little irritated, but not at her. Nerdanel smiles and puts her arm around his shoulders.

“I hope this is about your brother's absence, darling, I asked you to make sure he was here for Maitimo’s big day.” She says, mild as milk, and Turko winces.

“About that, mama, come over here.” He mutters, leading Nerdanel to a quiet, unoccupied corner. She goes, curious and now getting a little concerned. “Look, I had him dressed and cooperative, and we were on our way, and then we ran into Turucáno and Findaráto.” Nerdanel sighs, covering her eyes with one hand.

“And am I to find all three in the infirmary?” She asks, dry as the rock dust that she's habitually streaked with.

“Uh, not exactly. Um.” He pauses, and she lets him sort through his thoughts. “Well. I'm not sure there's a delicate way to put this, mama, he and Findaráto are soulmates. And he didn't take it well.”

She sighs, though it fails to displace the faint, reflexive smile on her lips. “I take it he went to hide then?” Turko nods, and she sighs again, looking around for Eärwen. She spots the other woman and waves her over with a bright smile. Eärwen drifts over, and smiles. Her smile has always looked vaguely sharklike, and Nerdanel has always wondered how someone as sweet and mild-mannered as Arafinwë ended up with a seafaring spitfire for a wife. Nevertheless, the two of them are good friends, in part to spite their husbands, as is also the case with Anairë, Ñolo’s wife.

“Does this have to do with my Ingoldo’s extremely conspicuous absence?” Eärwen says, tone mild, even though her voice is hoarse and jovial. Too much time spent shouting orders aboard a ship, Nerdanel thinks, but the other woman wouldn't have it any other way. She's never been cut out for court life, though she looks very comfortable in her sea-green gown.

“Yes, I'm afraid so, Eärwen, dear.” Nerdanel says animatedly, as though talking of something else. “Turko, stop slouching and smile. I don't want this getting around, or your father will actually rupture something. It stays between us, and I'll ask you to go ensure young Turucáno understands that later. Eärwen, my dear friend, Moryo is bound to your Ingo.” She holds up a hand to forestall Eärwen’s reaction.

“Fëanáro has never paid Moryo the attention that some of his brothers have received - Maitimo being our eldest, and Turko here having such a delicate constitution.” She pats Turko’s hand consolingly even as he looks mildly grumpy. Albinism is extremely rare in elves, and for Turko it had come coupled with a strange weakness of the eyes, one that Fëanáro had diligently researched how to alleviate, perhaps to the detriment of her fourth son. The light of Laurelin also causes him trouble, making his skin burn as though he had touched a hot stove, or stood too long in his father's forge. “That being said, Moryo has had a few, hm, misguided notions on what might make Fëanáro pay more attention to him, and one of these is a regrettable, sourceless hatred of your children.” She sums up quickly. Sometimes she wishes that Carnistir were more like Macalaurë, who had taken independence with both hands and refused to let go. Often loudly. Eärwen sighs heavily, managing to keep a smile on her face.

“That is less than ideal news, I admit. You said it was sourceless? Perhaps what they need is a push in the right direction? A supervised meeting of some sort? If Moryo rejected him outright, Ingo isn't likely to push the subject. He's got a little too much of his father in him. He'll outgrow it, I think, but for right now he's a bit of a pushover, though I love him dearly.” She twists her mouth wryly for a moment. Nerdanel looks thoughtful.

“Perhaps tea, two days hence?” Nerdanel suggests, and Eärwen agrees with alacrity. They disperse back into the crowd, minds set on their course of action.


Consciousness comes slowly to Findaráto, and when he surfaces, he wishes he hadn't. He's on a couch in the Ñolofinwean wing, head in Turucáno’s lap as his cousin strokes his hair soothingly. He sighs softly, turning into his cousin's hand, and Turucáno helps him sit up. He takes a deep breath and shoves up his sleeve, baring his new words to the light.

‘I fucking hate you, you fucking pretty-boy bastard.’ is scrawled in an elegant hand in a brilliant ruby-red on his forearm, and he feels like he's breaking into a million pieces. Turucáno curls around his back, muttering useless platitudes as Findaráto cries, desperate and grieving. Someone swears, and he's enveloped in another set of arms, rough and scented of dog and green things. It's not Írissë, which makes it Tyelcormo, and Findaráto almost pulls away violently, because Tyelcormo is not the Fëarárion he wants embracing him and muttering apologies. He doesn't have the energy, though, and Tyelcormo picks him up when he has exhausted himself to soft hiccups, strangely tender.

“Come on, kiddo,” his half-cousin’s voice is gentle, if gruff, and he feels almost comforted, though he does not open his eyes. If he opens his eyes he will fall into the trap of finding his beautiful bookshelf stranger turned antagonistic half-cousin soulmate in the contours of Tyelcormo’s face. “Hey, Turucáno, Mum and Aunt Eärwen want to keep this quiet, okay? If anyone asks, Findaráto got food poisoning, and you were helping him through it, got it?” He tells their other cousin, and Findaráto hears his best friend make a murmur of consent before Tyelcormo strides off through the hallways, taking him to the Arafinwean suite. Fortunately, it's not that far, unlike the Fëanárean suite, and soon Findaráto is being bundled into someone else's arms.

“Mama,” he mutters, and if he had the energy for tears he would cry again. As it stands, he loops his arms around his mother's neck and buries his face in her shoulder.

“Oh, my sweet little boy,” she sighs, and sweeps him off to his bedroom. He nuzzles his face against her dress, the soft green silk strange under his cheek when he's used to her wearing rough linen and cotton, stiffened by salt-sea-spray. She smells different too, because she smells like sweet hibiscus instead of clean sweat and ocean. He finds himself wishing she wasn’t still dolled up for the party he missed, even though he often wishes his mother would act more like the Telerin princess she is, rather than the rough and tumble ships’ captain that, well, she also is. But those are the thoughts of an easily embarrassed child about an ever so slightly embarrassing parent.

She helps him out of his outer robe, presses a nightshirt into his hands and turns away to give him privacy as he clumsily changes, hearing the low murmur of people returning from the party in the main rooms of their suite. He bundles himself into bed, pulling up a single blanket with the sheets, even in the face of the oppressive damp heat of Tirion. His mother comes and sits on the bed with him, propped up against the headboard, and he puts his head in her lap, feeling like a child. She sings him a sweet, Telerin lullabye, something gentle about the ocean and love, and unbraids his long, golden hair for him.

He cries again, and falls into a fitful doze, only half-waking when his father taps at the door and checks on them, little Artaresto peering around the doorframe. He barely registers the gentle kiss his father lays on his brow, the sweet kiss he shares with Eärwen. He surfaces some interminable time later, and shows his mother the words. She frowns, lips tight in an unhappy face, and tells him she and Nerdanel are trying to work things out.

“Tea, my dear. In two days, to give you a chance to recover, and that boy a chance to cool his fool head. Will that be all right, sweet boy?” She strokes his hair soothingly, and he almost refuses. Morifinwë has already thoroughly rejected him, what difference will this make? But he sighs softly and capitulates, wondering if something will change. If Morifinwë will change his mind.

Carnistir fumes in the bath, staring at the beautiful, sea-blue-green script scrawled along his inner forearm. Two days have passed since that awful encounter, and he had been managing to avoid looking at the words traitorously written in his skin. Here and now, though, he cannot avoid it.

It's a beautiful sentiment, if slightly trite, but not one he believes. Especially coming from his nearly ethereally pretty, doll-like, empty-headed, vapid half-cousin.

“‘Your eyes are beautiful, like quicksilver and lightning’ my arse .” he mocks petulantly. A knock comes at the door and he sinks a little further into the bathwater. “ What ?” He snaps.

“You need to get out and dressed, Moryo. Don't think I won't drag you out of there myself, boy,” his mother's voice comes from the other side. “I changed you when you were in swaddling, I've seen it all before.” She threatens, and he knows she'll go through on that threat. Nerdanel Mahtaniel does not make idle threats. He sighs petulantly, finishing his ablutions and rinsing off, before drying himself and pulling on the outfit she picked out for him. A soft, fairly plain red tunic is paired with soft brown breeches, and he leaves them intentionally sloppy, pulling his hair back into a low tail. He leaves the overrobe on the counter, his own rebellion, and stomps out. Nerdanel promptly straightens his clothing and redoes his hair, as he furiously submits to her preening. She sends him back for the overrobe and stands over him menacingly until he puts it on, and then whisks him away to have tea with his least favorite person in the universe.

The balcony they've chosen overlooks his mother's statue garden, and two tables are set up, one on either end. They're the first to arrive, and Nerdanel threatens him thoroughly into being on his best behavior, or actually trying to be, anyway. Eärwen and Findaráto arrive, the former clad in menswear, scandalously enough, and the latter following her like a passionless, meek lamb of an elf, clad in dark blue and pale brown. They sit at the table they are ushered to, and awkward silence descends.

Findaráto pours himself a cup of tea, tastes it, and adds a dollop of honey. Carnistir pours a cup of tea and adds just a touch of cream. They sip in silence, until Findaráto takes a deep breath, lifts his head, and beams a smile so fake it nearly physically hurts to look at it in Carnistir’s direction.

“So, shall we try this again?” He asks, and Carnistir makes a soft, derisive noise. Findaráto either doesn't hear it, or pretends so. “This is your mother's famed statuary garden, right? I've never had a chance to actually explore it, somehow.” He says, and Carnistir scowls.

“What, too lazy to take a walk?” he asks acidically. Findaráto flinches almost imperceptibly, smile falling slightly, before he rallies.

“Not in the least. Turucáno and I were much more interested in exploring the markets together, or the libraries.” He says, taking one of the small lemon tarts and setting it on his plate. He doesn't make any move to eat it, though, and Carnistir’s lips curl in a faint sneer. “Perhaps we could tour it together, as I'm sure you know it like the back of your hand,” he offers, and the other elf isn't even meeting Carnistir’s eyes any more, which makes him even more irritated. He rolls his eyes, taking a careless sip of tea, before remembering his mother's dire warnings.

“Meh, I suppose I could show you around,” he says with a heavy, put-upon sigh. He makes it clear in his tone of voice that this will be Findaráto’s great privilege, to put Carnistir out of his way so badly. The blond’s shoulder round and slump even more. He takes a sip of tea, and his hand is trembling slightly. Carnistir feels a faint pang of guilt and banishes it fiercely. The One has made a mistake here, and must acknowledge it. His lips twist, that slightly heretical thought in his mind, and he sighs again.

“The weather is quite hot this time of year, is it not?” Oh, goodie , now they've devolved to pleasantries about the weather .

“Can't handle it, you wilting flower?” He asks derisively, and he's fairly certain that Findaráto’s hands are clenched in his lap to keep from striking Carnistir. He inspires that in many people, especially during tax season. He's particularly proud of that.

“I only said that so you might understand when I ask that our next date, the stroll in the statuary garden, be set for after Laurelin wanes, when Telperion is stronger. When the heat lessens on whatever day we choose.” Findaráto says, voice soft and clipped. Carnistir snorts inelegantly.

“Ah, yes, this mythical second date. Because we totally arranged this one ourselves and weren't forced into it by our mothers.” He says, dry and sarcastic. Findaráto stands, and Carnistir startles at the sudden motion.

“Thank you for wasting your precious time with me, Morifinwë. I trust you will be glad to know this is the last you will see of me. Have a lovely life,” the smile his half-cousin gives him is brittle, and there are tears gleaming in his mismatched eyes. He leaves the terrace, and his mother hurries after him, calling his name. Carnistir’s own mother descends on him in wrath, but he barely hears a word she says, wondering why his victory seems so hollow.

He doesn't like it.

“Darling, you said you'd give it a chance.”

“I did, Mother, but- Valar, every word from his mouth dripped poison! I will not sit there and let him abuse me like - like a particularly distasteful joke. I won't mother. I can't .”

“Oh my sweet lad, don't cry,”

“I want to love him, mama, but everything I said he rebuked. Everything was a chance for an insult. I don't understand, mama, I don't!”

“Neither do I, sweet child.”

“I'll write him, from Alqualondë. I'll give him a last chance. But that’s all, mama.”

“I'll take it, sweet boy. And I'll fabricate some excuse for you and I and your little brother to leave, hm? I'm pregnant. I can claim it's unhealthy for the baby to be so far from the sea or something.”

“All right, mama. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Arafinwë is bewildered. His eldest child, his pride-and-joy Findaráto, has completely withdrawn from court life, where before he was ever tripping after Arafinwë, eager to learn the ins and outs of being a successful courtier in his grandfather’s court. Findaráto has so completely withdrawn that none but his family has seen him this entire month, despite the fact that he's still residing in Alqualondë’s palace.

“My heart?” He peers into Eärwen’s office, hoping she's not still interviewing rough-and-tumble youngsters to fill out her crew for her next voyage. A voyage he still wishes she wasn't going out on, given her pregnancy. Luck holds, and she looks up from her seat at her large, distressingly plain and heavy wood desk. She smiles when she sees him, and rises, beckoning him in.

“Sweet flower,” she greets him with her slightly embarrassing pet name for him. He flushes slightly, pleased, and she bows her head to kiss him. He's not the shortest of his family, that honor goes to his father, and he's taller than his half brother (if only barely), if not his brother or sisters, but his beautiful wife is still taller than him by a full head. He doesn't let it bother him. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure, sweet flower? Usually you avoid my office when I'm doing interviews, and I'm scheduled to all this week.” She asks him, steering him gently to the loveseat by the fireplace, even though there is no fire burning, it being early autumn still.

“I'm worried about Findaráto, my heart.” He confesses, accepting the glass of port she presses into his hands. Eärwen’s brow furrows, and Arafinwë bites his lip. She's noticed it too, then. “Is there anything we can do? Do you know what's caused this?” He asks, fidgeting with the stem of his glass before taking a sip. Eärwen taps a finger thoughtfully against her lips.

“I know what's causing it, but I'm sworn to secrecy, my flower.” She sounds regretful, but Arafinwë knows better than to ask her to break her confidence. She is the best secret keeper in Alqualondë, after all. “As for what we can do about it, well, I've already spoken to him about it. Perhaps he needs to be taken out of his head? I'm voyaging, after all, and he hasn't been aboard since he was eighty. Yes, that sounds good,” a smile is growing on her face, and Arafinwë smiles too, though that wasn't the solution he was really angling for. He wants his sweet boy back, following after him to learn again, not out sailing, becoming rougher and coarser. But Eärwen knows the situation, and he does not, so he's willing to defer to her judgment.

“If you think it's for the best, my heart.” He replies, and blinks at her when she takes the glass from his hands and sets it on the small table with the decanter. “My heart?” He asks, puzzled.

“I think someone else needs taking out of his head as well.” She tells him with a predatory smile. “You worry too much. First about me sailing while pregnant, and now about our son. Relax, my golden flower.” She says, before tipping him over onto his back on the loveseat and kissing him senseless.

“Someone has to worry,” he gasps out as she peels back the high collar of his robes and bites at his throat. “You never would, you're far too easy going.” he moans softly as she continues to divest him of his clothes.

“Hush yourself, sweet flower,” she says, and wraps his sash around his mouth, tying it neatly so he can no longer speak. Her leather belt binds his wrists, and he gladly submits to his wife's ministrations.

 “Serpent spotted! Travelling at six knots ten degrees to portside!” The elf in the crow’s nest shouts over the wind.

Eärwen takes hold of the wheel, “bring us about! Sails to full! All hands on!”

Beneath her stern gaze, the sailors scurry around the deck to their posts. At the heart of the deck, a half dozen sailors push the central winch and the mast creaks as it shifts. The wood groans when the ship pitches forward as the wind catches in the thick canvas.

She turns to Findaráto, standing by her side. “Hoist the colors and make ready!”

“Aye Captain!” Findaráto springs into action, ducking to the small crate near the aft sails and withdrawing the triangular banner with his mother's sea serpent hunting sigil embroidered on it. He slips it onto the line, seizes the rope and pulls it until it catches in the breeze. Once that's done, he vaults down to the main deck and disappears into the lower levels. His voice carries over the commotion, relaying orders as he collects the harpoons from the armory. Some of the crew come with him, collecting their weapons with glee, and other midshipmen come to help him with the harpoons. He distributes the harpoons to the harpooners belowdecks first, as these are the most important. Then he and a few others go topside to arm and man the harpoon stations there.

They've already hunted two sea serpents, the whales helpfully telling them where to find their predators. The two successful hunts lie butchered, packed and preserved down in the hold. This will be their last before they make port and share with the city the wealthy bounty of bone, skin, rendered oil, and meat. Findaráto, as it is the first time he's been a midshipman, hasn't really had any time to sulk, as his mother had put it, as there's always something that needs doing. He loads the harpoon into his ballista and starts cranking the winch to get the spring wound tight. He mans the aiming arms and starts scanning for the beast.

It breaches, and there's a collective intake of breath, audible even with the wind and water- roughly ten times the size of a northern whale, a little bigger than a blue whale, this is the biggest serpent they've seen this voyage. That's not all, though, because down along its sides are glowing, dappled markings in the starlight, bioluminescence. This is a deep-sea sea serpent, which explains its especially massive size. Like the squids, they breed them big down there. This beast is probably capable of staying in the deep sea trenches for up to at least thirty hours before needing to slowly surface for air.

“Below deck harpooners! Fire before she dives again!” Eärwen bellows, and runners relay her message quickly. Findaráto sees the harpoons flash out, feels the jerk as the barbed spears pierce the beast and it flails, a wailing shriek piercing the air. “Hold fast!” Eärwen bellows, orchestrating the hunt like the seasoned professional she is, the steadfast rock that the crew orbits around. That beast is capable of destroying the entire ship in a matter of minutes if they make one wrong move.

“Fire at will! We have to kill her before she drags us under!” Findaráto’s mother roars. He takes careful aim, factoring in the wind, the pitching of the deck beneath his bare feet, and the thrashing of the serpent, dark blood already staining the equally dark waves. He's only going to get one shot, try to make it count. Aim for vulnerable areas- the eyes, the great, wicked mouth with teeth as big and long as his arm, serrated wickedly. He breathes and shoots, and miraculously he gets it right beneath the eye, even as his mother, still manning the wheel, their rudder in the suddenly churning sea, shouts her next order and those brave, perilous, seasoned souls go shimmying down the ropes toward the creature to deal the deathblows. Their lifelines, securely tied around their waists, seem unbearably fragile to Findaráto, their sheaths strapped to thighs, waists, backs not nearly secure enough. Once they're on the creature’s back they target the vulnerable parts of the skull, hanging off of harpoons to stab it with swords seeming comically small.

Then it's dead, and for all that Findaráto has done this many times, it never ceases to amaze him. The bioluminescence still flares along its sides, and an idea occurs to him. If they could preserve whatever gland or fluid caused the glow, they could utilize yet another component of the creature. He helps the crew haul the beast into nets and rigging the carcass up between the foremast and the aftmast. Then he darts to the Second Mate. The elf looks up from their clipboard, smiling at him.

“What is it, Midshipman?” the older elf asks.

“I had an idea regarding the rendering of the serpent, sir. If we had any clear grain alcohol to spare, we could possibly preserve the bioluminescent fluid or glands, sir.” He replied, bouncing a little in excitement. The Second Mate smiles and makes a note on the clipboard, clapping him on the shoulder.

“I'll bring it up to the Captain and the First Mate, Midshipman. Good job. Keep it up and you may see a promotion. Back to work now, though.” Findaráto nods, and goes to join the butchering crews.

They do indeed extract the glands, preserving them in jars of grain alcohol, as Findaráto had suggested. Several older sailors, on hearing who had made the suggestion, congratulate him, saying that any accidental rupturing of those glands fouled the meat anyway, so extracting them whole first is actually easier.

They make port in another week and a half, thanks to a good tailwind, and the entire city is abuzz with the success of the hunt. All of the sailors not out fishing turned out to unload at the docks, and cartloads of bone, salted meat, skin, and rendered oil trundle their way out to market or the artisan district. The preserved glands also make their way there, to the Paintmakers’ Guildhall, where they are greeted with great awe and excitement.

The crew finishes disembarking procedures, leaving the rest for dock crew to handle, and make for the many taverns along the dockside quarter of the city to celebrate the hunt, and the fact that none of their number had been maimed or made a trip to Mandos. The young sailors Findaráto had made friends with drag him to one of the smaller taverns, and he goes willingly enough, glad he slipped on shoes and a shirt before making land. It's one thing for his fellow sailors to see his private mourning, the red wrappings that cover his arms from wrist to elbow, an entirely different matter for regular citizens to see them. Also, it's getting cold again, autumn turning chill coastal winds to whip around their fair city. They've been gone three months now, and winter is encroaching

“Ugh, the cold,” the eldest of their number gripes bitterly, rubbing at the mass of scarring on his shoulder.

“Come on, Haloisi, you old wretch. Let's get some liquor on you to warm your old bones,” Falassiel teases him. He smiles down at her and ruffles her short hair, a victim of an accident with the ropes this voyage. Findaráto had trimmed it even and neat for her, and she had promptly decided that she was never growing it out again, and fuck beauty standards from Tirion. Lirulin links her arm through Findaráto’s as they hit the loud, warm cheer of the tavern. Lirulin is probably his best friend besides Turucáno, who isn't here. She's quiet and thinks deeply, has a sensitive side that few see. In return he respects her silence, doesn't stare at the snarled mass of scarring across her throat that nearly robbed her of her life, and did rob her of her voice, the result of a harpoon accident. He never asks her why she never went to petition for healing, and he learns her language of expressive gesture, coupled with the soft, quiet touch of osanwë-kenta.

Falassiel calls over the noise for him and Lirulin to find a table, and hauls Haloisi to the bar, where his height and bulk enable him to catch the bartender’s attention faster than the small, slight Falassiel, built for squirreling around in the rigging.

“I hope they get us something we like,” Findarato says dryly to Lirulin. She grins at him, shaking her head slightly.

‘Bet you Falassiel gets straight rum shots,” she signs back. Findaráto rolls his eyes and sighs softly.

“No bet, that's more than likely.” He tells her, and she rests her head against his shoulder. Haloisi and Falassiel do indeed return with a tray of rum shots and a dark beer for the older elf.

Findaráto spends an enjoyable three hours with his friends before he departs to walk Lirulin to her home. She lives in a sailor’s bunkhouse, in a two-room affair that meets her needs adequately, as she has told him before. Lirulin leans against him tipsily, grinning up at him without the sharp edge her smile usually has. He himself is also comfortably tipsy, warm and resisting the urge to strip his shirt off.

They part, pressing fond kisses to each other's cheeks, and Findaráto heads back to the palace, the warm, fuzzy happiness fading a little as he does so. He swore to his mother he'd write to Morifinwë, and he intends to keep that promise, but he doesn't know what to say. He isn't even wholly sure the letter won't just go straight into the nearest fireplace. He sighs, and lets himself in through the servants’ entrance, quiet and empty at this time, no one due in for a few hours yet.

He collects himself some fresh clothing, free of salt-crust, soft and smelling faintly perfumed. He then goes to his family's bathing chambers and strips off his clothes, tucking them into a linen laundry bag that already holds his mother's soiled clothes. He fills a bucket from the bathwater, and sits on the small stool, taking up his favored soaps, scented of sweet honeysuckle and jasmine, and scrubs three months of working grime and sea spray from his skin. The ship has showers, but they're for rinsing only, seawater pumped up and filtered through cheesecloth three times. It's not the best, but it keeps everyone from stinking to high heaven. Then he unravels his hair, heavy with salt, grime, and excess oil. He grimaces faintly- this is the worst part, in his opinion, of going with his mother on voyages. He soaps and rinses his hair three times, and then treats it with a specially formulated oil perfumed with the same flowers as his body soaps, before wrapping it in a length of cotton cloth and coiling it around his head, tying it with a second strip. Then he gets into the bathwater, water clean and fresh and hot. Tension drains away, and he has to drag himself out of the water before he falls asleep and drowns himself like a fool. No one likes making trips to Mandos. Once robed in unadorned blue silk, he trudges to his rooms, stifling yawns. He shucks the robe, hanging it on a rack, and takes up a pot of lotion, rubbing it into sore muscles and dry, cracking skin. He falls into bed without further ceremony, wearing nothing but his hair wrap, and sleeps.


I write to you only because I promised Mother I would, as I find you entirely disagreeable. I believe you go out of your way to make this so. That being said, we are bound together by the will Ilúvatar, and I will try to see this through.

Now I'm not sure what to speak of. Nothing I have tried to speak to you about has ever piqued your interest, so I suppose I shall bore you terribly and tell you what I've been up to. Not that I expect you'll ever read this letter- I suspect it'll end up in the nearest fireplace the moment you receive it.

I recently returned from a hunt with my mother. It was my first time as a midshipman, and it was quite exciting. I'm glad I no longer have to be on the meat-salting crews, and especially not on the oil-rendering crews, the smell takes weeks to get out. I got to man a harpoon, so that was exciting, if moderately terrifying. I was also on the butchering crew, and managed to think of an improvement to the process. The Second Mate says I may be due a promotion soon because of it.

It's a good thing you're in Tirion, because, were you here and if I had deigned to tell my friends where you lived and who you were, you'd have Haloisi, Falassiel, and Lirulin knocking down your door. Admittedly, while you would probably find Haloisi and Falassiel the more intimidating, Haloisi for his height and bulk, and Falassiel for her sheer loudness, it's actually Lirulin you would need to watch out for. She's decided that your liver needs salting. She may not remove it first.

I am yours, no matter how you deny it,

Findaráto Ingoldo

 Findaráto rolls up the letter once the ink has dried, still lingering over a late breakfast of eggs, sausage, bread and fruit, all fresh, because after being at sea for three months he is sick of salted and dried everything. He whistles sweetly, and a friendly little tanager perches on the windowsill, curious. He sets a slice of peach next to the bird, and ties and seals the short letter into something the little bird can carry.

“Will you carry this to Tirion, little friend?” He asks gently, and the tanager hops and coos acceptance, pecking eagerly at the peach slice. Findaráto explains carefully where the letter needs to go, setting it in the small bird's mind with a touch of power in his voice, and gently pets the creature’s tiny head with one finger, offering it a dish of water to go with its peach feast.

After he sees the tanager off he pens a brief note to his mother telling her he has done so, and sends it with a nice tip with a runner he interrupts in the hallways. He then moves to his wardrobe to ready himself for court. He finds himself not as eager as he once was, though he will go because his father asked him to, with such an air of hopefulness that he could not deny him.

He wonders when something he had enjoyed became such a chore, but dresses neatly and goes to meet his father.

Chapter Text

While the voyage had been good for Findaráto- he'd made three new friends- returning to Alqualondë has been less so. He's tired all the time- perhaps not physically, but emotionally. Haloisi, Falassiel, and Lirulin have been worrying, and trying to encourage him onto another voyage. He's strongly tempted, and realizes that he doesn't want to be in Alqualondë anymore. Or leastwise, not in the palace.

Every courtier who bats their eyelashes and flutters their fan, then says something sharp and cunningly cutting now reminds him of Morifinwë. Every double-edged turn of phrase, every little disparaging comment. He had never realized how rife with sarcasm and political backstabbing court life really is.

He hides, and then feels guilty when his father comes to find him with wide, confused eyes.

“What's the matter, my sweet boy?” Arafinwë sits beside Findaráto on the long, low couch, and Findaráto slumps sadly against his father, tired and guilty.

“I don't know,” he lies, glad he's not looking his father in the eye. “Court life seems… different, since all the fuss in Tirion. I'm not sure it's what I really want from my life.” After the initial lie, the truth flows smoothly, tears pricking hotly at Findaráto’s eyes. Arafinwë sighs softly and strokes Findaráto’s head with a gentle hand.

“If you're sure, darling. I don't want to push you into anything you don't want to do. But darling, you do know that Maitimo and Findecáno’s situation was far from the norm, right?” He asks anxiously. Findaráto swallows a bitter laugh.

“I know, papa. I love you, you know that, right?” He asks, looking up at his father, suddenly anxious to ensure Arafinwë knows that. Arafinwë smiles and gently taps his nose.

“I love you too, sweet boy.” Arafinwë assures him, and his smile is sweet. Findaráto wonders how his father has retained his blithe sweetness in the midst of court. Then he recalls his father's general position in their family. Voice of reason and peacekeeper. Skilled negotiator. He sighs, slumping further against his father. Arafinwë gently rubs his back, humming a soft lullaby.

‘You should leave the city.’ Findaráto blinks dully at Lirulin’s hands.

“What?” He asks dumbly.

‘You should leave the city!’ Lirulin repeats, fingers moving faster, face impatient. Findaráto stares blankly at his friend for another moment before resting his chin in a hand and picking up his cup of tea.

“And go where, Lirulin?” He asks tiredly. He does admit, the idea has merit. Lirulin rolls her eyes expressively.

‘Anywhere? You could take another voyage, or move out to the countryside. I could go with you, if you really wanted me to.’ She signs, and one of the other chairs at their table scrapes as it's pulled out.

“Liru has a point, you know.” Short brown curls fan out softly around Falassiel’s face as she plops down in the chair gracelessly.

“Agreed.” Haloisi rumbles as he squeezes into the fourth chair. “This city is doing you no favors, Findo. I don't know what it is, and I won't pry, but you're practically a different person then the one we met on the ship.”

“If Haloisi says it, it must be true.” Falassiel nods sagely. Haloisi raises one skeptical eyebrow.

“Why, praytell?” He asks dryly. Falassiel smirks.

“Because you barely talk, so when you do, people better listen up!” She says cheekily, and Haloisi reaches across the table to tweak her nose.

“Just because I'm not an incessant chatterbox, doesn't mean that all I say is absolute truth, Lassi.” Haloisi frowns and Falassiel shrugs.

“Whatever you say, old man!” She chirps, and Lirulin and Findaráto exchange a grin. Falassiel and Haloisi are endlessly entertaining.

‘We could all go. Vacation- Lassi and I are benched for a month from taking any more voyages, and you and Isi haven't signed up for anything. Could be fun.’ Lirulin signs, and Findaráto considers the idea. It sounds nice, somewhere far from the frustrations of his life, but then again…

“Isn't that running away, though?” He asks, frowning slightly. The table descends into silence.

“What would you be running away from?” Falassiel asks, then bites her lip. “Is this about…” she pats her own arm gently, meaningfully. Findaráto is grateful for her discretion.

“Yes? Sort of? He was… caustic. Is caustic. Dissatisfied with me. He's in Tirion, but I feel like he's everywhere, criticizing, making sarcastic comments. It's hard .” He covers his eyes with one hand, biting back tears. He's cried enough for Morifinwë and he's tired of it. Haloisi rests one large, heavy, gentle hand on his shoulder, comforting and silent.

“How could anyone be dissatisfied with you? That is such bullshit !” Falassiel hisses, soft and venomous. Lirulin nods her agreement, scowling darkly. Findaráto shrugs weakly.

“He's, um. Don't spread this around, please,” he begs them, and they all nod their agreement, leaning in slightly. Findaráto casts a wary glance around, but the tea house is quiet, and their table isolated. the acoustics of the room are built to muffle, not to carry. “He's one of my half-cousins. I met him when we were up in Tirion dealing with the situation with my other cousins. And he's beautiful, but an utter, absolute asshole .” He covers his mouth, a little distressed over his own crassness. Falassiel lets out a soft, inappropriate giggle, and covers her own mouth.

‘I don't think I've ever heard you swear,’ Lirulin signs dryly. Findaráto colors slightly.

“It's true, though.” He defends himself. “Everything I said to him was an opportunity for criticism. I left that meeting barely ten minutes in, because I couldn't listen to him drip poison anymore.” He rubs his hands over his face and takes a sip of tea.

“Good on you, though. You're worth more than that. Maybe he'll get his head out from his ass someday, but in the meantime, you take care of yourself.” Falassiel nods decisively. Findaráto gives her a tired smile.

“Sometimes I feel like I should have tried harder. We're destined to be together, after all.” Lirulin shakes her head, reaching over the table to squeeze his hand briefly.

‘Lassi’s right. Sometimes these things don't work out.’ She signs. Findaráto sighs heavily, and Haloisi squeezes his shoulder again, before withdrawing. Findaráto glances at the red wrappings covering Lirulin’s arms, heart heavy. This is another thing he and she have bonded over, silently. He's never asked for her story- if she wants to tell him, she will, eventually. Haloisi and Falassiel are the other side of the story, bonded and proud, though both of them are fiercely independent and never mention it unless someone asks. He runs a hands across his braids.

“Maybe… maybe you're right. Mama has a lighthouse, out on the coast. She used to go there a lot, but she hasn't recently. I don't think she has a caretaker out there, so it might be a lot of work to clean up…” he trails off, glancing up at his friends. “It's about a half-day’s ride from the nearest town, and pretty secluded. It has its own dock, and the fishing’s good. I could start up a vegetable garden, maybe get a couple of chickens?” He smiles, remembering the place fondly. “I wonder if that old cherry tree is still there? I used to climb it all the time, and spoil my dinner on cherries. Papa would get so frustrated, but mama would just laugh it off.” Falassiel laughs softly, and Haloisi and Lirulin smiles at the mental image.

“What's this ‘I’ shit? The old man and I will totally pull up roots and follow you.” Falassiel inputs cheerfully. Haloisi nods, slow and thoughtful.

“Goat or two, for milk, cheese, butter. Just got to keep it out of the garden.” He mentions, and Lirulin nods.

‘Horse and wagon as well. Anyone got a scrap of paper? Let's make a list,’ she signs. ‘And then Ingo can take it to the Captain, and she can tell us what we don't need after all.’ Haloisi produces paper and a bit of charcoal, and the three of them make a quick list while Findaráto just stares at them in surprise. Falassiel touches his arm gently, looking concerned.

“If you don't want us to, we won't. Just keep in mind, you're an incurably social creature at heart, and you'd need to make pretty frequent trips to town otherwise.” She says, gentle and considerate. Findaráto shakes his head, grabbing her hand in his and squeezing gently.

“I'd like it, but only if you're sure. It’d be terrible if we discovered too late we're all terrible roommates!” He chuckles, wiping his eye ear of his sudden teary-eyed relief. They all reassure him gently, and the group slide into easier, lighter topics.

Later he goes to his mother and father. Papa looks worried, as he has since Tirion. Mama looks expectant. She probably knows what's coming, she always seems to.

“Papa, mama, I want to move out to the old lighthouse.” He says, nervous and determined. Arafinwë’s face crumples in dismay, but Eärwen smiles, bittersweet and fond.

“I thought this day might be coming. Though, to be fair, I had my money on you trying to live on a boat full-time, not going out to that old place. It's in disrepair, you realize, going to need some loving care. There was a bad storm that hit, oh, maybe fifty years back, and we haven't been out there in a good sixty-five. We stopped using that trading route a long time ago.” She nods contemplatively, and Findaráto pulls out the list, handing it over, before glancing guiltily at his father. His fine golden brows have drawn together in a pouting frown, and his eyes look suspiciously shiny. Findaráto steels his nerve.

“Do you have to go, little one?” Arafinwë asks, soft and serious. Findaráto chews on his lip nervously.

“It's not, I mean…” he takes a steadying breath. “Tirion made me open my eyes to a few things, and I'm just not comfortable in court any more, papa. It's not your fault or anything, I promise. I still love you.” He manages, firm, but anxious. Arafinwë leans forward and wraps him in a gentle hug.

“Oh my sweet child. Forgive your father his reluctance? I love you, and I trust you know what's best for yourself. I wish you would tell me what happened in Tirion to upset you so, but I can wait until you're ready to talk about it.” He leans back, cupping one of Findaráto’s cheeks in a hand, and both of them are teary-eyed now. “I'm going to miss you, my sweet boy.” Findaráto buries his face in his father's shoulder, and they both indulge in the threatening tears. Eärwen watches for a moment before folding them both in her arms, resting gently across the tight swell of her stomach. She's going to give birth soon. Findaráto presses one hand to her stomach, feeling the fluttery motion of a kick.

“I won't be leaving until my newest sibling is born. I want to welcome them into the world,” He mentions, wiping the residual tears from his eyes. The anxiety has drained out of him with those tears, and his father also looks restored by crying. Arafinwë gives all of them a tender smile, also pressing a gentle hand to Eärwen’s stomach. She allows it for a few moments, before knocking them both gently away with a smile.

“Enough, boys. Now come on, Findaráto, my lad. Are you moving out there on your own, or with someone? Arafinwë, occupy yourself with planning a farewell celebration. We can't have the rumours getting out of hand like they do in Tirion.” She instructs them both, and Arafinwë perks up. There's nothing he likes better than a good excuse to throw a party, and it will keep him occupied so he doesn't have time to fret and sulk.

“Must we, mama?” Findaráto murmurs mournfully. Eärwen shoots him an arch look.

“Not only will it make your father feel better, but it will control any rumors that could be bandied about as to the reason you're leaving. It's a political maneuver, too.” She reminds him, and Findaráto cedes her point. “Now, come on, tell me who you'll be living with.”

“How do you know I'm not just going by myself?” He challenges playfully. She grins at him.

“You need a few more centuries and a lot more guile to slip something like that past me, my laddiebuck.” She grins crookedly, and graciously allows him to assist her down onto the loveseat in her office.

The party is scheduled for two weeks after his sibling’s birth celebration, and in those three months, Findaráto is kept impressively busy. Party planning, trip planning, supplies gathering and sourcing and stockpiling, family time with little Artaresto, to ensure that his younger brother doesn't feel overlooked with the baby and Findaráto’s departure.

He hasn't seen his friends for more than an hour a morning once a week, to catch up on where everyone is at in the preparations. This strikes him as strangely hilarious, given that he's going to be living with them. The supplies they are procuring seem wide and incredibly random at times. Do they really need that many dried bamboo staves? Apparently they do. Also buckets of many varying sizes.

Eärwen is cranky with late-stage pregnancy, and she's assembling some sort of surprise for them. So is Arafinwë, who is jittery and anxious, and can't seem to sit still for more than two minutes together. It's a relief when they're all called to the birthing chambers. Findaráto takes charge of little Artaresto, remembering how scary his little brother's birth had been to him. Arafinwë and the midwife help Eärwen to the birthing stool, and it begins.

Birth is a terrifying thing, and Findaráto comforts Artaresto when he starts crying, confused at Eärwen’s undirected anger and pain. She's picked up some creative new swearing from somewhere. The midwife is businesslike and professional, telling her when to shift position, when to push or not push. Arafinwë is cheerful, praising Eärwen, flattering her, doing everything he can to ease her labor.

It stinks of blood and sweat and other things when the baby's cry breaks the air. It's strangely small for how big mama is, and the midwife is calling urgently for her assistant, passing the baby off and standing ready again? He glances at Arafinwë, but he's also confused. Then the second baby slips out, and Arafinwë is definitely shocked. Findaráto is shocked. Artaresto is just confused. The midwife pats Eärwen’s back and positions a bucket to catch the afterbirth, examining her carefully and letting her assistant and Arafinwë tend the babies.

Findaráto has two new baby brothers, it turns out. Papa names them Angaráto and Ambaráto. Mama vacillates between being mad about the younger boy’s name, and telling him he's terrible at naming. So terrible. Almost as terrible as his half-brother, really.

The party lasts for three days. King Olwë welcomes his two newest grandchildren with aplomb, and Findaráto gets drunk in his rooms with his friends in celebration and wakes up completely nude the next morning, regaled with tales of how he'd stripped off all his clothes and wanted to go running through the city. Lirulin hadn't let him, thank all the Valar.

The going-away party is more sedate. Even with the party, rumors have been flying.

He's jealous of his baby brothers. He's neglecting his duties to his parents to help them with the babies. He's somehow disgraced himself but the family wants to keep it quiet. He's running away to meet his lover. No, it's his soulmate, no, it's both. He's going to go start his own city. He's running away to go live in a sexually liberated secret enclave, where they're going to have five orgies a day.

It gets wilder every time Findaráto’s friends tell him the newest rumor. He can't wait to get out of here.

The leaving-day comes before mingling, as Telperion is just beginning to wane. In the silvery light that doesn't overpower the stars’ shining, they finish packing both wagons and the little skiff that is his mother's going-away gift. She's a beautiful, light, speedy little craft, and Findaráto falls in love with her immediately, and names her Herenya- fortunate. His father gives him a trunk full of books- not useful ones, but guilty pleasures, penny dreadful adventure novels based in Endórë, on the sea, or even in Cuivenien. Stories of daring sea battles and exploration. They're terrible, but he loves them, and it's a little embarrassing that Arafinwë knows that.

They have two carts, one a smallish one pulled by one horse, the other much larger, pulled by two. They're keeping the small one, and Eärwen will be driving the larger home, as she's boating the skiff over. Mingling sets in an hour into their journey to their new home streaking golden light from the west into the soft silver, contrasted by the darkness off the sea, and Findaráto can't help but lift his voice into a bright, hopeful journey-song, his clear tenor quickly joined by Falassiel’s sultry alto, and Haloisi’s deep, rumbling base. Lirulin pulls out a little hand-drum, and strikes a beat that has the horses stepping a little higher, their eyes shining in enjoyment.

They reach the lighthouse in good time, and Eärwen, Artaresto, and the infant twins are there to meet them with the skiff, already tied up at the dock. They make quick work of unloading the large wagon, setting it's contents atop oiled-canvas tarps, and covering them with the same, in case of rain. The four of them have already agreed to sleep in the cart should they need the rest.

The lighthouse is scouted, and found to be largely intact. The roof needs some small repairs, and a couple stairs want replacement. The furniture inside is weathered and old and in need of new varnish, but in otherwise good shape, though the mattresses, as they had suspected, and rotted and full of mice. They run water through the plumbing, and have to replace a couple pipes, but everything is otherwise good to go.

Life settles surprisingly quickly. They plant seeds, build trellises, haul water, and build irrigation channels. They repair the roof, re-varnish furniture, burn old and rotted textiles and replace them with new. They, by necessity, acquire two fussy lady cats, both excellent mousers. Lirulin finds a swarm of bees and coaxes them back to the empty hive they had brought with them, and tends them fiercely. Falassiel and Haloisi lay claim to the ground-floor bedroom, leaving Findaráto and Lirulin to bunk together in the much smaller upstairs bedroom. It's not as bad as it could be, if only because Lirulin is incapable of sleeping in anything that isn't a hammock.

Findaráto learns a bevy of new skills.

“Are you certain she won't just murder me?” He asks faintly, staring with trepidation at the placid-seeming goat and clutching both bucket and stool to his bosom. Falassiel laughs at him pitilessly.

“Come on, Prince, you haven't balked at anything yet! Are you really going to let Moica scare you?” She taunts. Findaráto glares at her half-heartedly. The three of them only call him by his proper title when they think he's being silly, or reluctant to learn something new.

“Why in all of Arda did you name her that? She doesn't look gentle in the least.” He complains, setting his stool gingerly beside the animal. He perches, and tries to figure out where his bucket goes.

“Under her, down near the end where her teats are. And name your beasts something to aspire to, haven't you ever heard that? Moica, she'll be gentle, Melda and Lissë, sweet.” Lassi replies absently, shoving her hand into the apron she's got belted around her waist and withdrawing a cupful of feed. She sets it on the ground in front of the goat, whose lead she still has a good grip on, and leans to the side to see what Findaráto is doing. “Grab the teats, gentle, they are attatched, and squeeze them down into the bucket, a quick one-two motion. Go on!” He's too timid the first time, but under Falassiel’s instructions, as well as liberal praising and bribing of Moica, he manages to milk the goat.

Life is simple like this, but hard work. There's something that needs to be done every day, but there's also time to relax. They're not farming and fishing for anything other than themselves, after all.

They experiment with goats milk and turn out a nice bit of butter. They aren't too sure about cheese yet, but it will come.

Findaráto writes, and his once-monthly letters turn into a sort of open diary cast to the void. He finds it easier not to even think of Carnistir out here, with the sea and the cliff, the lighthouse fire burning in the night, and his three fast friends about him.

Lirulin is his bastion of calm and quiet, and they find themselves often sharing a pipe of hempleaf out on the cliff near where the goat-pen is, on the opposite side of the property as the garden. This is usually during the time they're asked to make themselves scarce so that that the couple in their lives can have, well, relations .

They have plans to schedule voyages in when they have the time, but now is for settling, for growing and for healing.

Chapter Text

Carnistir raises his head as a small tanager flits in through the open window, dropping a tight little scroll on his desk. He sighs heavily, pulling the envelope from the thin metal container, and flattening it under the same paperweight as all the others. The tanager trills disapprovingly, and he eyes it jadedly.

“Get used to disappointment, bird,” he tells it caustically. It takes an uninvited drink from the heavy clay cup on his desk, and flies off. He is unperturbed by this- that's Athyamelda’s cup, after all, because the silly cat won't drink from a regular bowl. He has to pretend it's his own, or she won't drink it. He stares out the window absently, tracing the smooth glass of the paperweight that has sat on the same corner of his desk for the past two and a half years. This makes letter twenty-nine. Findaráto’s perverse stubbornness wears at him. Surely the fact that he's never written back, never even opened a letter to read it, should have worn his airheaded cousin’s idiotic hope down.

He should really burn them, but he's never quite managed to bring himself to do so.

A heavy weight lands in his lap, and he drops a hand to pet the short, sleek fur of his rather oversized cat. Carnistir still doesn't know where Tyelcormo found such a large cat. She has to have some wildcat in her somewhere. Athyamelda settles and begins to purr, and Carnistir returns to his paperwork. Numbers are simple,numbers make sense. Math can't lie or deceive, only the people who try to use them for their own gain.

A few hours later, he gathers the parchment together in a leather folder, and stands, gently depositing Athyamelda on the floor, to her vocal discontent.

“If you had your way, Princess, I'd never move,” he says dryly, and she gives him a disdainful look, lashing her long, striped tail. He chuckles, stooping to scratch behind her ears, before leaving.

Downstairs, he nearly trips over his youngest brother, little Curufinwë, sitting on the bottom step, sucking on his thumb and gazing into the open-plan living space with an expression of childish amusement. Mum and Da are there, and Maitimo is just bringing in a tea tray. Macalaurë is strumming skillfully in the window seat, not paying any attention to the excited argument. Tyelcormo is sprawled asleep on the rug in front of the fireplace, head pillowed on Huan’s flank, surrounded by the detritus of fletching. How he can sleep while Mum and Da are practically screaming at each other in some sort of creatively-inspired joy, Carnistir has no idea. He sits on the step with Curufinwë, who promptly crawls into his lap.

“What's going on now, then, Curvo?” He asks his brother, setting his papers down and combing his fingers through soft deep brown, tangled hair. He sighs. Had anyone helped the thirty-year-old brush his hair this morning? He wrangles a comb out of his pocket and begins gently picking out the knots. Curufinwë sits obediently still, used to Carnistir’s random bouts of grooming, and takes his thumb out of his mouth.

“Some paint, from Alqualondë. A new export.” He sounds the more complicated words out still, but his language skills are developing impressively. Carnistir pats his shoulder proudly, before quickly braiding his hair.

“All this over some paint? Hair tie?” Curufinwë shrugs, handing him a scrap of ribbon, only slightly dirty. How his littlest brother contrives to get so dirty all the time is beyond Carnistir. He ties off the braid neatly.

“It glows?” Curufinwë offers. Carnistir frowns slightly.

“All right, that does pique my interest.” Carnistir admits. He grabs his folder and hands it to his brother with the gentle admonition to be careful with it, then carefully stands, Curufinwë balanced on his hip. “How would you like to come to work with me?” He asks, dodging around the ecstatic debate with ease of practice, and finding Curufinwë’s little satchel, on the hook by the door with his own. The small boy thinks for a while, then nods decisively.

“Yes, please. I don’t think papa’s going to work today.” He says, and Carnistir sets him down, helps him with satchel and shoes, tucks his paperwork in his own satchel and pulls on his boots, before picking Curufinwë up and leaving, not bothering to do anything other than wave goodbye to Maitimo. They'd figure out eventually it was him who took Curufinwë, if they stopped arguing long enough to notice their youngest was gone. Besides, he wasn't Tyelcormo, he wouldn't lose his brother.

Tyelcormo had taken him out once, and lost him in the marketplace. Admittedly, he'd had a lovely time at the bookseller’s stall, but after six hours, he'd realized he no longer knew where his brother was. The bookseller had been kind enough to take him home, only to discover the house in an uproar, and Tyelcormo in disgrace. Tyelcormo’s track record had not improved with Curufinwë.

“So, glowing paint from Alqualondë?” He asks, and his little brother nods solemnly, thumb in his mouth again. “I bet we can talk to Ornemalin and get all the details, what do you say?” He asks, giving his baby brother a small, fond smile. Curufinwë nods, grinning.

“Do you think papa will be proud if we do, Moryo?” He asks seriously. The question gives Carnistir a pang in his chest, a touch of jealousy and sadness and anger irrevocably intertwined, but he doesn't let it show. There's no need for his little brother to know about how envious he is of the attention Fëanáro gives him. Curufinwë has done nothing wrong.

“Yes, I think he'll be very proud of you, Curvo,” he assures Curufinwë with another small, fond smile. Curufinwë frowns a little.

“Of both of us,” he insists earnestly. Carnistir kisses his forehead.

“All right, Curvo. Yes, he will be proud of both of us.” He lies gently. Curufinwë brightens, and Carnistir looks up, setting his brother down and holding his hand as they reach the palace. Why they don’t still live in the palace mystifies Carnistir. He likes their house down in the craftsman district, but he doesn't understand why his father chose to move them out there when they have living space set aside for them here. It seems inefficient, and wasteful. He murmurs greetings back to his coworkers as he sends his way to his desk in the Taxation and Revenue offices of the palace. A majority of the palace is actually workplaces now, rather than just living spaces. Internal Affairs, which his department belongs to, and External Affairs are both crammed in one wing, alongside the most comprehensive library in Tirion.

Part of the morning is spent filing and ferrying papers, making numbers dance to his whims, and a couple of departmental meetings. It's a strange mix of invigorating and relaxing, being in the flow of an organization, knowing his exact place and purpose. None of his brothers, or even his parents really understand it, and he's never been adequately able to explain it to them. Still, his family are all very supportive of his work. Even so, Carnistir feels a distinct disconnect - his family tries so very hard to be engaged with his work, but every time they try to talk to him about it they seem lost or bored. It's discouraging, despite their support.

Everyone in his department has become very accommodating to him bringing Curufinwë to work with him, ever since Maitimo had moved out of their house to live with Findecáno. His parents are loving, wildly supportive people, but they aren't wonderful with the minutiae of everyday living, like cleaning, reminding one’s children to bathe regularly, helping with hair care, remembering to eat regularly when they're in a creative jag. Honestly, Carnistir is fairly convinced that Grandfather is the only reason Maitimo came out as well as he had.

Curufinwë sits on the floor beside his chair, or sometimes in his lap while he does things, or sometimes just in his chair when he's off doing something else. He plays with his dolls, hand-carved of wood and cleverly jointed to be mobile by Tyelcormo, with little outfits made by both Maitimo and Carnistir. Or he works with his little jeweler’s kit, with small, simple projects suitable for his age, or he reads, adventure novels or history or jeweler’s books picked by Carnistir, geared towards younger elves, or the odd piece on music history or theory that Macalaurë slips into his satchel. He's a remarkably self-sufficient boy, similar to Macalaurë.

Soon enough it's lunchtime, and the department head rings the bell and tells them to get out for two hours. Carnistir goes along amiably, keeping Curufinwë close in the stream of people. He finds his favorite restaurant, claiming a table quickly, and is soon joined by Ornemalin and Fúmella.

“Hello, Curvo, come to work with big brother again?” Fúmella asks kindly,

“Mmhm,” he says, swallowing a gulp of juice. “Mama and Papa are having an-” he glanced to Carnistir, unsure.

“Artistic debate,” he offers. Curufinwë nods. “Perhaps you can help us with that, Ornemalin,” he continues, after placing an order with the waiter. “They were discussing some sort of new glowing paint?” Carnistir questions, and the other elf lights up.

“Of course! Alqualondë’s exports have begun to include art and sculpture made with glowing paint, which luminesces when Telperion is in cycle. It seems to charge the glow when Laurelin is prevalent. They aren't yet selling the paint as an export, and there's a high probability they will keep it off the market as long as they're earning exorbitant profits from it. That or it's labor intensive to make, and can only be made in small batches. Personally, I'm betting on both.” A gleam comes to her eye. “I know you hate the family you have in Alqualondë, but could you get someone else- Maitimo, maybe- to inquire about it?” Carnistir makes a considering noise.

“At this rate Mother or Father will,” he remarks dryly. Ornemalin practically sparkles, and Fúmella giggles, then winces slightly, pressing a hand to her abdomen.

“Fúmella?” Curufinwë asks, worried. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Carnistir and Ornemalin both recognize the reaction, and Carnistir squeezes Curufinwë’s shoulder reassuringly. Fúmella smiles at him.

“It's all right, Curufinwë. Remember how sometimes I'm Fúmellot? A boy? The shift just started. I knew it was coming, but sometimes it surprises me.” She reassures him. Curufinwë nods, chewing the pad of his thumb.

“Does it hurt, when your body switches between being a girl and a boy?” He asks curiously, and Carnistir sighs softly at his brother's curiosity.

“Sometimes, which is why I take three or four days off work.” She admits, and Curufinwë looks worried. “Come now! It's not so bad it needs to put a frown on your face, sweet boy! It just means I need to drink willow tea and rest.” She assures him, and he brightens up.

“All right!” he chirps, and digs into his food.

“You have a sweet brother. Everything been going all right, Carnistir?” Ornemalin asks, and he nods.

“Yes. They aren't arguing, not like they were when they were negotiating the wedding. Worrywart,” he jibes with a soft, private smile. Ornemalin rolls her eyes.

“Come off it, we barely saw you when they were negotiating the wedding. I know you didn't want to take time off, but they made you. And you were the baby of the department, before you transferred to taxation and revenue, like a traitor ,” she jibes playfully. Carnistir rolls his eyes with a fond smile.

“What can I say, External Affairs wasn't my cup of tea. Though I know Father would have preferred I stay in Imports and Exports like you. It's enough for him that I still have a friend in the department, though.” He laughs softly. Fúmella giggles.

“And another friend who works as an archival assistant in Trade Affairs? Really, half the department judges us for being friends with someone in Internal Affairs, it's so utterly ridiculous!” She laughs brightly. “I just don't get this bizarre rivalry they've constructed between Internal and External. We're all doing good, necessary work! It's so stupid,” she rolls her eyes. Carnistir and Ornemalin laugh and nod in agreement, and their conversation turns to non-work-related subjects.

When they part and reach their offices once again, Macalaurë is lounging melodramatically in Carnistir’s desk chair. Carnistir sighs heavily.

“What do you want , Cano, I have to get back to work.” He complains good-naturedly. Macalaurë arranges his face to appear wounded, and lays a hand over his heart.

“Ah, I see when I'm unwanted ,” he laments, before Carnistir snorts loudly, interrupting the dramatic tension. “Oh, fine. Mum sent me to make sure you had Curvo. Which you do- hello Curvo!” Macalaurë winks at their little brother, and Curufinwë smiles back. “So my job here is done. Want to come back to the house, Curvo? I could teach you some more harp!”

“Big brother, you're a bad teacher. You don't have the patience for it.” Curufinwë sighs. “But I'll listen to your new songs if you want, and tell you what I like,” he offers, seeing the genuine dejection in the older elf’s face. Carnistir ruffles Curufinwë’a hair proudly. He's been teaching the younger boy compromise, and it seems to be sticking. However…

“That's not the only thing mum sent you out here for,” he predicts, and Macalaurë shrugs.

“Yeah, but I know you. You'll keep whatever you found out to tell them yourself. And that's what I'll tell mum.” he grins, and Carnistir feels a wave of affection towards his melodramatic older brother.

“Thank you, Cano,” he mutters, and endures the hug the musician bestows on him.

“Anytime, Moryo,” he tosses over his shoulder, taking Curufinwë’s hand and walking off.

“Just don't lose him!” He calls after them.

“What, do I look like Turco to you?” he scoffs, tossing his deep brown hair over his shoulder. Carnistir smiles at them, and turns back to his work.

That evening when he returns for dinner the atmosphere is tense. This is for two reasons- first, that Carnistir is sitting on information Mum and Da really want. Second, Findecáno is here, ‘helping’ Maitimo make dinner. Or just following him around the kitchen like a lovesick whelp, either one. Tyelcormo is sitting with Curufinwë, showing him how to properly fletch arrows- it seems to be his goal to teach each and every sibling he has how to craft and shoot a bow and arrows. Why, one might ask, and Carnistir has? ‘In case of the worst’. What Tyelcormo feels is ‘the worst’, Carnistir still doesn't know. Macalaurë is setting the table with a distant expression, dancing around chairs to music only he can hear. Mum and Da are waiting like vultures to descend on him.

“Well, Moryo? What did you find out?” Da asks him, face eager and almost childish. He's struck in that moment by how very much Curufinwë resembles Fëanáro.

“Can't it wait for supper, Da? I'd like to tell everyone at once,” he says, a touch hopeful and shy. He loves his father immensely, and cherishes the attention he gets from him. Nerdanel chuckles, and Fëanáro pouts slightly.

“Ah, my most practical of sons, why must you make such sense?” Da sighs, slightly melodramatic. Macalaurë had to have inherited it somewhere. Carnistir giggles softly, and Maitimo calls them in for supper. Ever since Maitimo moved out back to the palace after the wedding, all of the brothers have mourned the lack of his cooking.

Findecáno looks faintly awkward throughout supper. It gives Carnistir a deep and petty joy.

“So, Moryo, are you going to keep us all hanging or spill your secrets? You've turned Curvo into your loyal secret keeper.” Tyelcormo drawls halfway through the meal. Everyone perks up, turning their attention to Carnistir, even Findecáno, who just looks very confused. Carnistir flushes brightly, unused to this much attention, and dabs at his mouth with his napkin, clearing his throat only a touch nervously.

“Alqualondë’s newest exports include art pieces that utilize glowing paint,” he begins. Findecáno’s eyes go wide and he leans forward, intrigued, accidentally putting his elbow on his plate. Maitimo sighs, tugging the offending limb back and wiping at his sleeve with a napkin. Findecáno looks horribly sheepish, and Carnistir chokes down a giggle fit, explaining to his family how the paint works. “We don't yet know how they manufacture the paint, how much they have of it at any given time, how difficult it is to make the paint, or how expensive,” he ticks the points off on his fingers. “All we really know is that at this point they are not exporting the paint, and thus far have no plans to do so.” He finishes up. His brothers give him a round of applause. He gives them a dirty look, face flaming. Nerdanel laughs brightly, and Fëanáro’s eyes are blazing with creative passion. Carnistir clears his throat again, delicately.

“I thought, perhaps, you might write to Eärwen, Mum,” he posits cautiously, aware he's treading in dangerous territory. Tyelcormo smiles slyly, nudging their mother's side. Carnistir shoots him a look promising swift and terrible retribution, but the damage is already done.

“No, no. I think it would be best to ask in person. One just can't send trade secrets by mail, after all, don't you think, beloved?” Nerdanel lays a hand on Fëanáro’s sleeve. He looks incredibly grumpy, and Carnistir’s hope rises.

“No, I suppose you can't. Damn it all, Nerdanel, do you have to be logical about it?” He growls, and Carnistir’s hope falls flat. He lifts her fingers to his mouth and kisses them with a gentle look, and Carnistir glares down at his plate, desperately trying to ignore the poison of jealousy wending through his veins. He breathes, trying to clear it out, and Mum speaks again.

“How about you go, Fëanáro?” Their mother ‘innocently’ suggests. Carnistir’s head shoots up, and the part of him not ruled by shock - he thought for sure she would send him - enjoys the equally flabbergasted expressions of all of his brothers.

“Mum, I really don't think that's a good idea!” Maitimo the peacekeeper hurries to interject.

“Of course,” she says soothingly, and Carnistir’s heart sinks. “That's why I'm going to send Moryo with him!” She finishes triumphantly, and Carnistir carefully moves his plate so he can rest his head on the table, despairing. A small hand pats his shoulder consolingly, and Carnistir peers over at Curufinwë - his possible salvation.

“Mum, I can't go,” he says abruptly, lifting his head. “If I go, who will look after Curufinwë? Also, there's my job. Even with my standing as a prince of our people, they won't look kindly on this!” He argues.

“I'm more than capable of looking after my own son, and I have your brothers to help. As to the political situation, this seems an excellent time to try and start easing tensions. You have a keen mind for this sort of work, Moryo, I'm sure we could get some sort of concession from your department.” She says, damnably logical. Carnistir scrabbles.

“But I don't work for External Affairs anymore!” He protests, a last-ditch effort. Nerdanel raises an eyebrow.

“But you used to, Moryo. Besides, Internal and External Affairs should really be a combined department. Just leave it to me.” She declares, and his fate is sealed. Carnistir lets out a soft, despairing noise, and returns to his dinner, wondering what vengeance he can wreak upon Tyelcormo before he has to leave.

Chapter Text

Caranthir; a brown-skinned, dark-haired elf dressed in dark robes with a red sash; holds up a large, golden stripey cat under her front legs. The cat looks very smug.

Carnistir wonders bleakly if he can get away with hiding until after father has left. The chances are slim to none, as Tyelcormo is in on this plot, and he knows all of Carnistir’s hiding places, unfortunately. He never should have shown his brother his library haunt. He finishes packing his saddlebags with a dejected sigh, and strokes Athyamelda when she headbutts his hand.

“I'll miss you, sweetheart,” he mutters to her, giving his full attention to petting her in all the spots she likes best for a few minutes. He wishes he could take her with him.

“Little brother! Time to go!” Maitimo’s sweet tones echo from the hall, and he presses a quick kiss between the cat’s ears before catching up his saddlebags and slouching out to meet his fate.

(Tyelcormo sneaks in the window after he leaves the room and gathers up all the letters, tying them together with rough twine. Moryo is going to read these letters, no matter what he has to do. Stubborn romantic idiot. Athyamelda watches him with bored golden eyes, washing a paw lazily before following him back out the window.)

The farewells are brief, the lectures Nerdanel and Maitimo read them less so. Tyelcormo blankets the horses for them, and straps on the saddlebags, adding a horse care kit atop one of Carnistir’s bags. He croons to the horses, soothing them gently through the whole process, the horses unused to carrying blankets and bags. They are necessary for the long trip, though, Alqualondë is a week’s ride, if they make good time and don't get delayed by storms.

Carnistir and Fëanáro mount up, murmuring softly to their horses before waving to their family and setting out.

The first leg of the journey is a bit awkward. Neither Fëanáro or Carnistir are really sure what to talk about. Carnistir pulls out his embroidery after a while, from his little leather backsack, cleverly designed and light enough that it doesn't affect his balance astride his horse. He finds the delicate repetition of stitches soothing, relaxing away tension he hadn't even realized he had. Fëanáro follows suit with some sort of tangle of thick wire, muttering and twisting it about itself with pliers. The road is wide and easy, hard-packed dirt maintained well for ease of transporting goods in wagons. The light from the stars is more than enough, as is the soft glow of the Trees, though it grows gradually dimmer. They pass under some trees occasionally that make Carnistir look up and rest his fingers and eyes. There's only so much Fëanáro can do with his project on horseback, though, and it gets stored back away before Carnistir tucks away his own project. Fëanáro looks over when he does, and blinks, frowning.

“What is it, Da?” Carnistir asks, and Fëanáro shakes his head slightly.

“Your cat. You didn't notice?” He asks, and Carnistir stares at him, bewildered. “Behind you, Moryo. On your horse. How did you not notice?” Moryo twists to glance over his shoulder, and sure enough, Athyamelda is curled up between his saddlebags, a warmth against his lower back he genuinely hadn't noticed.

“What- Athya melda !” He groans, pinching the bridge of his nose. She and his horse are very used to each other, as she often comes with him when he rides off for the occasional solitary picnic. He hadn't noticed her warm bulk because he's used to it. “She must have climbed a tree and jumped down when we passed, because she definitely wasn't there when we set out,” he complains softly.

“I always forget she's such a clever little thing,” Fëanáro says with a smile. “Like my clever son.” He's looking at Carnistir when he says it, so he probably means him. Carnistir feels himself flush a bright, beet red. “You are clever, Moryo. I'm sorry I don't tell you more often,” he says, and Carnistir has to concentrate not to shift his weight in embarrassment so he doesn't disturb his horse.

“Thank you, Da.” He manages, and Fëanáro’s smile is soft and warm.

“So, what were you working on?” Fëanáro asks. “Your embroidery is always exquisite. The outfits you embroidered for all of us for your brother's engagement ceremony and the ones for the wedding were beautiful. I still don't know how you got them done in time.” He chuckles, and Carnistir smiles faintly. Through stubbornness and a desperate need to avoid any and all participation in the actual negotiations and preparations, he carefully doesn't say. He is proud of the way Maitimo had outshone (in his opinion) Findecáno, when he had chanced to see them after the engagement ceremony. He's still a bit guilty that he missed his oldest brother’s big day, even with extenuating circumstances. He had made sure to attend the wedding on his best manners, biting back every snide comment that crossed his mind, staying at the reception long past the point he would have ordinarily left at.

“I'm embroidering a new sleeveless surcote,” he replies, retrieving the fabric and showing his father the partly finished garment. It's a rich, deep red, and tailored to fit him perfectly. If all goes to plan and he finishes it in time, he'll be wearing it to court in Alqualondë. He knows current court fashions there. He's going to be a dark jewel in a tide of white, green, purple, and blue. It gives him a certain perverse pleasure to completely ignore their current trends. The embroidery is a darker red, nearly black, curling in patterns like ferns along the clasps in front and over the caps where the sleeves would be. The embroidery shimmers slightly in the starlight, and he knows it does the same in lamplight.

“This is beautiful, Carnistir,” Fëanáro says warmly, and there's a touch of mischief in his flame-blue eyes. “I'm sure you'll be the talk of the court of Alqualondë.” Carnistir smiles, a touch shy, but preening under Fëanáro’s warm praise. “I'll admit, I brought the surcote you made me for the wedding.” He says, and Carnistir practically glows with pride. That robe had been painstakingly embroidered in fiery red-gold with the eight-pointed star associated with his father’s house. The embroidery had shown up splendidly against the deep chestnut brown of the heavy silk. The star had been the back piece, and he'd embroidered along the sleeve cuffs, open and loose, and the front, where the coat fastened, in the same red-gold, geometric patterns that all held the suggestion of stars. The thread had been specially made, and had cost him a pretty penny, silk wound with actual wire, so thin it acted like thread. The outfits he'd helped Maitimo make had been well-worth the salve, bleeding fingers, and thick, awkward bandages.

They speak lightly of embroidery and how they're both dreading their mandatory court presentation. Also how, despite Nerdanel and Maitimo’s efforts, they both had managed to sneak outfits that will probably offend the Alqualondan court. Carnistir is unreasonably pleased at his father's enthusiastic approval of his plans.

They make camp and rest the horses. Carnistir fishes for their supper and is surprisingly successful. He, Fëanáro, and Athyamelda eat well, though Da laughs at him a bit when he debones a filet especially for the cat.

“If I don't debone it now, she'll try to eat mine and choke,” he defends himself. Da raises his hands peaceably.

“I realize that! I just don't think I realized quite the extent to which you spoil that cat. It's nearly as bad as Turco with Huan.” Fëanáro laughs. Carnistir sulks a bit, but thaws when Da wraps an arm around his shoulders after they're done eating and tells him of the latest strange, contrived rules the Smith Guild has come up with.

The rest of the journey goes by well. Fëanáro is attentive in a way that soothes an easily riled, jealous part of Carnistir’s soul. He genuinely enjoys spending time alone with his father, with no real expectations of either of them except those the road throws at them.

The weather holds, a light drizzle forming on the second day that prohibits Carnistir from his embroidery, but he and Da get in a lively discussion of beaded embroidery, the prices of beads, gem-chip, glass, and ceramic, and thread. He tells Da about his trials finding embroidery thread with metal woven into it, and Da hums and says that sounds like an interesting challenge, promising to look into it.

Their luck breaks on the last day of their journey, and Fëanáro and Carnistir arrive in Alqualondë soaked and exhausted. Athyamelda is complaining vociferously from where she's huddled under Carnistir’s oiled cloak. The horses are equally grouchy and tired, and are glad to see the Royal Stables, warm and well lit and full of stablehands ready to warm them up and dry them down. Fëanáro and Carnistir take up their bags, Carnistir also trying to balance a grouchy cat, and brave the wet again to get to the Palace. Arafinwë and Eärwen greet them, their still-infant children strapped one to each of their chests, and show them to their rooms.

“You travel with your cat, little Morifinwë?” Arafinwë questions, amused. Carnistir hefts her a bit more securely, and she warbles in distress.

“Not purposefully. She stowed away.” He bites out, painfully aware he needs to be on his best behavior. Eärwen laughs. She looks much different than Carnistir has ever seen her, in well fitted, worn leather breeches and boots, and a loose white shirt. Arafinwë looks much the same as he always does, apart from the sleepy baby strapped securely to his chest. Carnistir peers at his newest cousins. At only about two years old, they're still very firmly in the infant stage. Closer to seven they'll begin to walk and talk and suchlike. Carnistir has, by necessity, taken care of elves that young, but he vastly prefers it once they're actually able to speak and learn. Eärwen catches him looking.

“This is Ambaráto, Morifinwë,” she introduces, and he startles.

“He's- a very pretty baby,” he says awkwardly. It's a true statement, and a relatively safe one. He eyes Arafinwë curiously and slightly judgmentally. Who names their child ‘champion of doom’? He wonders what the other babe is named. He knows he read the official announcement of birth, they'd sent obligatory gifts, and Mum had actually gone out to welcome the births after a couple months, bearing more gifts. He still can't recall the name, though, and he guiltily realizes he'd dismissed it as unimportant.

“That makes this, what was it, Angaráto?” Da is genuinely interested, he loves tiny children. His offhand statement has Arafinwë tensing up in irritation, though, and Carnistir winces slightly. How can they be expected to recall the names of bare-two-years-old infants they've never met? He's about to acerbically come to Fëanáro’s defense, when Eärwen intervenes.

“Indeed! These babes have a lot to live up to, the way Arafinwë’s named them. I'll wait until they have a bit more personality.” She laughs, and Arafinwë relaxes and Carnistir subsides. This is a facet of his half-aunt-by-marriage he's never seen before. Then again, he's thus far managed to avoid visiting Alqualondë.

They're deposited in a nice suite of rooms- from the decor the ones Nerdanel has stayed in before. There’s four bedrooms, and Carnistir immediately claims one. They have a decent amount of time to freshen up, dry off, and get warm, court isn't due to assemble until midlight of Laurelin. It's not quite midlight of Telperion yet. Arafinwë tells them he'll send a hot meal up from the kitchens for them, and the two and their babies depart.

The decor is understatedly lovely. Carnistir is aggravated to realize it meets with his own modest tastes, as opposed the the opulent grandeur of Tirion, in all its rich jewel tones. These are lighter shades, blue and green and white like sea-foam. He sets Athyamelda down and she retreats to the fireside to repair her dignity. Fires are lit in all of the rooms, welcoming them in warmth. It's nice, given that Carnistir is a child of tropical Tirion. The marine layer that hangs heavy over Alqualondë, creating an overcast chill, is not something he has experience with.

He hasn't seen Findaráto yet. Nor the other child, Artaresto. He supposes he'll see them at court, and resolves himself to enjoy his time without the elder of the two. Artaresto still isn't old enough to merit Carnistir’s full dislike yet. He unpacks his saddlebags, hanging his clothes in the closet and changing into warm black leggings and a worn green tunic that had once belonged to Maitimo. As he unwraps the fine black shirt he brought to wear with his newly finished surcote, something heavy falls to the floor.

A bundle of letters. About half, is he judges the size correctly. He groans softly in irritated dismay, turning to shake out his formal leggings, and check the insides of his embroidered slippers for good measure. The leggings are wrapped around the rest of the letters, and there is a beautifully-carved, red-stained wooden hairpin carved to look like a snake tucked inside one slipper. A demand and an apology, how very like Tyelcormo. He sets the bundles and pin on the dresser and finishes putting his things away.

Tyelcormo means well, Carnistir consoles himself. He just doesn't understand .

“Mother, what's the matter? You seem upset.”

“I am, Fëanáro arrived a day before we thought he would.”

“So that means…”

“Aye, sweet lad, Morifinwë will be accompanying his father when court convenes. I can make an excuse for you, say I need you to oversee something last minute.”

“...No, father would be terribly sad. Besides, I can't avoid him the rest of my life. And this way, I'll have Falassiel, Lirulin, and Haloisi with me.”

“That's the spirit. How are they regarding the prospect of attending court?”

“They're treating it like they would a festival. It's a bit funny, you know? Falassiel adores the outfits you commissioned for them. Haloisi is complaining about the expense, wondering when they'll ever wear them again. Lirulin is trying to decide whether or not she wants to scandalize the court by leaving her collar open, or if it's not worth the questions she’ll doubtless get.”

“Ha! Sounds like they're all in fine form. When are Haloisi and Falassiel heading back to the lighthouse?”

“They were going after court’s let out and they get changed. They'll probably leave the clothes here, just keep them with mine. They're taking the skiff back.”

“How does Herenya fare?”

“She's a wonderful boat, mother. A better going away gift I couldn't have asked for.”

“It's good to hear that, sweet lad.”

(Found tucked within a letter detailing Fëanáro and Morifinwë’s intended visit, writ by Nerdanel Mahtaniel, addressed to Eärwen Olwiel)

Eärwen Olwiel,

I suppose I should by rights address you as Aunt. I am not one to stand on address, hence why I've tucked this in Mum’s letter. I'm going to speak plainly, and I do hope you listen.

I know my brother- he's a stubborn git. He's also a hopeless romantic, which is why I don't understand why he's bound and determined to suffer like this. It's stupid, in my opinion. He's also a sucker for details. He's exhaustively researched court fashion trends of Alqualondë, and his ‘new embroidery project’ is actually what he intends to wear to his court presentation, fair opposite as you can get from Alqualondë’s vogue.

He'll be wearing a red surcote, with darker red embroidery of ferns, black leggings and shirt, red slippers embroidered with ferns. Should Findaráto appear in court at the same time, if you were to match the style, embroidery, and garb him in complementary colors, my brother will take notice. He's always thought Findaráto pretty, perhaps we just need to make him turn his head. I enclose with this letter a gift for my prospective new brother, a hairpin I crafted, matching one I have gifted to my brother. On the back of this note, a sketch of his outfit and the general gist of the embroidery.

Yours in utter exasperation,

Turcafinwë Tyelcormo Fëanárion

Findaráto is unduly nervous and fidgety. Lirulin keeps looking at him like she's going to smack him if he adjusts the lay of his shirtcuffs one more damn time. The outfit is lovely, though he's still not sure why Eärwen had new clothes made up for all of them. They're all in light, lovely blue and white, and Findaráto’s surcote has exquisite pearly-blue embroidery in fern patterns. He wonders if Mama is trying to start a new fashion trend- she does do that sometimes.

Finally Haloisi sets heavy hands on Findaráto’s shoulders.

“Why are you all abuzz, like you've wasps up your tunic?” He asks, and Findaráto bites his lip.

“He's going to be there,” he manages, throat tight and dry as a bone. Lirulin understands first, fists clenching and shoulders drawing tight, anger clouding her lovely face. Falassiel takes one look at her and gets it.

“We can not go,” she offers. Findaráto smiles gently.

“That's what mama said. She offered to manufacture me an excuse.” He murmurs, and shakes his head. “I can't live my life in avoidance. I-” he bites his lip, embarrassed. “I kind of want to go. To- to rub it in his face a little, that I'm perfectly fine without him. I don't need him, I can make my own happiness.” He glances up at them through his lashes. “Does that make sense?” He asks almost timidly. Lirulin smiles at him brightly and folds him into a strong hug, and Haloisi and Falassiel follow quickly after, making him laugh in mock distress. “You're going to make me wrinkled!” He complains.

“Oh no, however shall you recover?” Haloisi intones dryly, sending them all into fits of giggles. Finally they untangle from each other, carefully righting the folds of their clothes. Findaráto adjusts the lovely wood hairpin- delicately carved in the form of a snake, the wood bleached white and stained glossy. A gift, mother had said, and had only promised him it didn't come from Carnistir. Not that Carnistir would send him gifts. That would require acknowledging him.

“Ready?” He asks, and Lirulin links their arms together with a sharp nod and a warm smile.

“Let's go!” Falassiel carols, the short fluff of her curls bouncing as she does. Haloisi catches her arm with a tender smile, and they proceed.

Findaráto has to separate from them briefly for the presentation, Artaresto latching onto his hand with a bright, adoring smile. He returns the smile, squeezing his brother's small hand. He does miss his brothers when he is gone.

Fëanáro looks rather regal as they present him to the court, clad in completely inappropriate dark brown and red-gold. Rose-gold jewelry compliments the absolutely gorgeous embroidery on his surcote. Morifinwë is presented right after, and Findaráto is reluctant to even look at Fëanáro’s son. He does, though, and his breath catches in his throat. He's equally inappropriately clad, in ruby-red and black, the embroidery on his surcote gleaming in darker red in the firelight. His long, dark hair is caught up for once, a rarity, and Findaráto firmly doesn't admire the curve of the back of his neck, the way his golden jewelry compliments and warms his countenance.

Findaráto tears his gaze from Morifinwë and searches out his friends in the crowd. Falassiel and Haloisi are looking at him with worried sympathy, and Lirulin is staring at Morifinwë with dangerous intensity, anger making her eyes gleam darkly. He breathes, finding his inner peace and his polite, faint smile. Wear your mask, Findaráto. It's not going to last forever.

Chapter Text

Carnistir, for all that he dislikes large crowds of people- strangers even more so- navigates court with a sharp-tongued grace. He sticks close to his father for a while, trying, as Mum had asked him, to keep the possibility of a diplomatic incident down. He also deliberately doesn't look for Findaráto. Nevertheless, it's impossible to avoid him. He's surrounded himself with three elves who don't quite look comfortable in their pretty court clothing. Perhaps it's the vogue in Alqualondë to wear the simple clothes he'd first seen Eärwen in? But no, she's wearing a dress that emulates seafoam, fluttering layers of gauzy white over a deep blue base.

Findaráto can't have brought common folk to court, can he? It seems such a departure from how Carnistir views his half-cousin. But all three of his… friends are muscular and rough around the edges in ways the courtiers are not.

He feels hostile eyes on his back all night, making him a bit more caustic than even his normal. He's able to tone it down for young Artaresto, but only just. Artaresto has zeroed in on him and Fëanáro as curiosities, and has been sticking close despite both their best efforts to gently shoo him away. Well, maybe it's only Carnistir’s efforts, Fëanáro seems incredibly amused by the whole thing, sneaking glances at Arafinwë as the child wanders after them like a wayward duckling.

“Why are you wearing such a dark color?” Artaresto gently tugs on Carnistir’s sleeve, bright eyes looking up at him curiously.

“It's my favorite color. Wouldn't you want to wear your favorite color?” Carnistir asks, suppressing an aggrieved sigh.

“My favorite color is pink! Like the insides of seashells!” Artaresto tells him excitedly. Carnistir suppresses a surprised laugh. Pink is definitely not in vogue- the closest he's seen is a blue-purple- the color the child is wearing right now. Carnistir actually likes pink, it's a light version of red. He'd probably never wear it, but it's nice.

“I like pink too. You should ask your father to have your next set of court robes be done in pink.” Carnistir says devilishly. Fëanáro grins sharply, sending a knowing look to Carnistir, who merely smiles slyly.

“I asked , but he said it wasn't fashionable .” Artaresto complains with a pout. Fëanáro stoops down it his level with a very serious look.

“Then perhaps you shouldn't ask your father at all. Ask your mother instead. She seems much more reasonable, if you ask me.” He says seriously, and Artaresto blinks.

“But papa says we're supposed to go to him for clothes! Though I guess mama had Ingo’s outfit made special. Papa was grumpy about that. It looks like yours, Carnistir!” Artaresto giggles, and Carnistir feels himself go very still.

“Does it?” He asks mildly. Artaresto nods brightly. He resists turning to look immediately.

“Even your hairpin! His is white, though. I've never seen it before! It's really pretty.” Artaresto says blithely, and Fëanáro glances up at Carnistir with a frown. Carnistir automatically puts a hand up to his hair, the sleek mass of it caught up in an unfashionably simple bun, secured by Tyelcormo’s gift. Not an apology after all, then. Rage simmers under his breastbone, directed at his wayward brother.

“You just finished that surcote. How can he have a matching one?” Fëanáro asks, standing to put a bolstering hand on Carnistir’s shoulder. He looks around, and Carnistir can tell when he lays eyes on Findaráto, because he gets his examining face, cataloging every single similarity in their outfits with sharp eyes. Carnistir smiles tensely down at Artaresto, who is suddenly looking uncertain.

“You're dressed to match,” Fëanáro says, sounding baffled. “White where you're wearing black, blue instead of red. Fern patterns, not identical, but the same motif. I thought the vogue was water patterns, swirls and suchlike, intricate water flora?” Fëanáro asks, and Carnistir feels himself go cold. Avoid a diplomatic incident, Mum had insisted. There will definitely be a diplomatic incident if Fëanáro discovers the truth.

“It must be a prank of Tyelcormo’s,” he finds himself saying. “I was discussing the design with him, and he probably cottoned on to my plan to wear it at court.” He elaborates hastily.

“But how would Turco get Eärwen in on it?” Fëanáro asks. Carnistir thought frantically.

“Well, perhaps he was working with Mum to ensure I didn't stand out too badly here,” he offers, and Fëanáro sighs, subsiding.

“Nerdanel would do something like that.” He murmurs. Artaresto looks relieved now that the tension has eased.

“I think you two look nice! Like soulmates!” He chirps, and Carnistir feels himself go cold, darting a nervous glance at Fëanáro. Fëanáro looks like he's just bitten into a lemon.

“No, thank you. One suchlike bond is enough for this family.” He says with evident distaste. Carnistir grips his wrist in one hand behind his back, knuckles blanching white.

“Of course, Da,” he murmurs, and someone clears their throat behind them. Carnistir flushes, surprised, and Fëanáro turns, inquisitive. Two elves stand behind them- two of the ones who had been with Findaráto. One has scandalously short hair, cropped to chin length in bouncy ringlets. The other’s surcote is open at the throat, displaying a mass of scar tissue that makes it clear this elf cannot, in all likelihood, speak. They're both frowning.

“Findaráto wants to talk to you, Artaresto,” the short-haired one says. Artaresto beams, skipping to their side. “I'm Falassiel, this is Lirulin.” She introduces, almost as an afterthought. Carnistir nods cordially.

“Fëanáro and Carnistir,” Carnistir replies, entirely certain it's unnecessary. They nod, and without further ado, sweep Artaresto away to the safety of his older brother’s company. Carnistir allows himself a long moment to look.

Findaráto looks good, as much as he hates to admit it. He's put on muscle through his shoulders and back. His hair is braided, several thin braids collected into a bun held up with a white wooden hairpin in the shape of a snake, the rest of it in a single long herringbone plait down his back. Damn Turco. Carnistir feels vindictively glad of the revenge he had wrought on his older brother before they left- sewing a linen-wrapped bundle of sheep dung into his mattress.

Findaráto seems taller, as well, or maybe he's just standing up straighter. His outfit is indeed nearly matched with Carnistir’s, leggings and shirt of white, with a sleeveless blue surcote with fern embroidery. Carnistir takes quiet solace in the knowledge that Findaráto likely didn't embroider it himself. He looks away, trying to focus on something else, suddenly hyperaware of the thin black wraps over his forearms under his sleeves. The way he hasn't been able to wear anything but long sleeves since that day, for fear of questions he doesn't want to answer.

“Da, we should make Artaresto an outfit.” He says abruptly, realizing he's looking at Arafinwë, who's frowning back at him. He looks to Fëanáro instead. His father frowns at him, entirely puzzled.

“I don't see your reasoning.” He says, and Carnistir bites the inside of his lip, trying to organize his thoughts.

“Well. It's a bit of revenge, right? But disguised as a gesture of goodwill,” he says slowly, getting into the swing of it. “Seeing as they want us to feel welcome , going so far as to match mine and Arafinwë’s first son’s outfits , clearly we must pay back the favor.” Carnistir can't quite keep the derision from his voice, and Fëanáro raises an eyebrow. “So we make Fëanáro’s second son an outfit. Pink, in the Ñoldorin style. Gift it to him at least semi-publicly, so Arafinwë is obliged to allow him to wear it.” Carnistir proposes. Fëanáro nods thoughtfully, and Carnistir pauses.

“Moryo?” Fëanáro prompts gently. Carnistir feels a touch troubled.

“It seems to me a bit of a cruelty, Da. To not allow your young son to wear his favorite color because of something as transient as fashion. You never let that stop any of us.” He says softly. Especially me, he does not add, because black is a color not favored highly by any court, nor has it ever been. Fëanáro wraps his arm around Carnistir’s shoulders and squeezes gently. “Arafinwë is lauded for his kindness and level-headedness, and he denies his child such a simple pleasure?” Carnistir shakes his head, leaning into his father’s side. “He's a hypocrite, more like.”

“All right, son. We have a project, then.” Fëanáro grins, pressing a light kiss to Carnistir’s temple before releasing him. “How do you plan on getting the boy’s measurements?” He inquires.

“I have my ways,” Carnistir murmurs with a secretive smile.

Lirulin pats Findaráto’s elbow once he's finished fussing over Artaresto. He glances over, a question in his eyes, and she signs, faster almost than he can follow.

‘There might be more than just pigheaded stubbornness playing into your boy's stupidity.’ She tells him. Falassiel nods, frowning deeply.

“How do you mean?” He asks, glancing at Morifinwë. He's just looking away, which makes Findaráto’s heart do a strange hop-skip on his chest. The line from the tip of one long, delicately pointed ear down his neck is positively obscene, he's quite sure. No one wears their hair all up like that, baring their whole neck. It's quite scandalous. Morifinwë is going to be a subject of great gossip- he sees several people looking and whispering already.

‘I mean, Arto said something cute about your matching outfits- you notice you're matching? Your mother is being sneaky again- and his father made a face and said something about not wanting more than one of that kind of soulbond in the family.’ She signs, and he glances over again, indignation at his mother boiling in his chest. Fëanáro is embracing his son, and Morifinwë is leaning into it rather sweetly, head resting lightly on his shoulder, and yes, now that he looks, their color palette is inverted, and their cut is virtually identical. Even the embroidery is similar. He sighs heavily.

“So you think his father has something to do with it?” He asks quietly. Falassiel nods.

“He looked really nervous when Fëanáro said it. Gripped his own arm fit to bruise.” She confirms softly. Haloisi stands as a silent buffer between them and anyone looking for gossip. Findaráto bites his lip, then shakes his head.

“It doesn't matter.” He decides. “Not if he's that unwilling to go against his father.” He shakes his head and changes the subject. “Are you sure I can't convince you two to stay for supper?” He asks, and Haloisi relaxes his guard. Falassiel laughs, taking her bondmate’s hand.

“No, someone has to go home and tend the goats.” She reminds him, and he sighs, smiling warmly.

“Well, when you put it that way, I can't complain!” He says lightly, and Lirulin squeezes his hand lightly, a reminder that she'll be there with him.

The rest of the court session goes smoothly, and Findaráto and Lirulin see Haloisi and Falassiel off at the palace gates before returning to go to dinner with Findaráto’s family. Fëanáro and Morifinwë are also there, and Findaráto holds Lirulin’s hand until they all move to be seated. Luckily Eärwen appears not to have had a say in the seating arrangements, because he isn't forced to sit next to Morifinwë, a definite relief.

Olwë blesses their food almost absent-mindedly, that it sustain their bodies by the will of the Valar, and Findaráto swears he sees Morifinwë smoothly elbow his father in the gut. Fëanáro looks sour and slightly winded, but says nothing.

For a little while, there's pleasant, banal chatter, mixed with the babies’ babble, as Arafinwë and Eärwen coax them into eating fruit mush. Strangely enough, Fëanáro looks downright charmed by the babies’ presence at the dining table. Morifinwë looks unphased, and Findaráto recalls that his youngest brother- Curufinwë, in a stroke of incredibly uncreative naming- is only about Artaresto’s age, meaning Morifinwë does actually have experience with babies, probably. Finally Eärwen cleans up little Angaráto’s face and shrugs out of the top half of her dress, putting him to breastfeed and turning to Fëanáro with a slightly shark-like smile.

“So, Fëanáro, what brings you to us? Nerdanel mentioned something about smoothing over trade relations, or renegotiating them, or something of that ilk. To that end, I mostly understand your son’s presence here, after all he's part of your Internal Affairs division. Shouldn't they send someone from External Affairs? And your presence is quite astonishing, given that you didn't even come to welcome any of our children, even when your wife did.” Eärwen is as blunt as she has always been, eyes sharp and smile sharper.

“Someone had to stay with our own children,” Fëanáro retorts, blue eyes gleaming.

“You could have brought your children with you,” Arafinwë challenges softly.

“Some of us may like to rest upon the laurels of our birth and position in society, but others work for a living, brother ,” Fëanáro’s scorn is palpable, and Findaráto squeezes Lirulin’s hand under the table nervously. Fëanáro is clearly spoiling for a fight.

“Da, that was uncalled for,” Morifinwë’s voice is clear and soft, and he delicately wipes his mouth before continuing. “What my father meant to say is that the urgent commissions Grandfather and Mum put through on the occasion of each of your children's births were given priority, and this caused Da to fall behind on some of his other work, thus necessitating that he stay behind with us. That being said, I do seem to recall that you yourself did not come to Tirion when little Curufinwë was born.” Morifinwë says calmly, and Fëanáro subsides with a smirk. Arafinwë looks like he bit into a rotten onion- if the situation hadn't been so tense, Findaráto feels he would be laughing at that expression on his father's otherwise sweetly composed face.

“Indeed, I don't recall your presence at the celebration of any of my sons’ births save my eldest.” Fëanáro purrs, secure in the upper hand. Arafinwë mutters something indistinct, and Fëanáro stares at him coolly. “What was that?”

“I said perhaps I might if you and Nerdanel didn't breed like rabbits!” Arafinwë snaps, and Findaráto closes his eyes in silent despair.

“All right, Arafinwë, beloved, Angarato needs a burp and a change. Be a dear and give me Ambaráto?” Eärwen intervenes sharply, handing off one baby and accepting the other to feed. Arafinwë sweeps out, throwing his napkin over his shoulder to burp Angaráto with a haughty fury. Findaráto opens his eyes to see that, though his cheeks are red with contained fury, Morifinwë has a calming hand clamped over his father’s. Fëanáro looks livid.

“Well, now that the obligatory fight’s out of the way, why are you here?” It's Olwë, looking dryly amused. His grandfather has an intensely strange sense of humor, in Findaráto’s opinion. Perhaps it comes with being one of the First. Morifinwë takes a steadying breath.

“We are actually here to investigate reworking the terms of our trade agreements, as part of a new initiative approved by Finwë. This initiative includes the revisiting of all external agreements with both Alqualondë and Valmar every five years, in order that both trade and our relationships as cities continue to prosper and grow. Mum informed me that Finwë would be sending you a letter to this effect, Lord Olwë.” Morifinwë says smoothly. Findaráto blinks. He had been wondering why they're here, and that sounds surprisingly logical. Though why these two?

“Ah, it must still be in my inbox. I sometimes save Finwë’s letters for rainy days, they're usually good for a laugh. I'll read it and have my departments arrange for the review. It might take a few days, my apologies.” Olwë says cheerfully. Morifinwë nods with a soft sigh, whether from exasperation or relief, Findaráto isn't sure.

“Why you two, though?” Eärwen asks, genuinely curious.

“I used to hold a position in the Imports and Exports division of Tirion’s External Affairs, before I put in for a transfer to Taxation and Revenue, and I am considered highly as a contract negotiator.” Morifinwë says with evident pride.

“All right, that's you, what about your father?” She says. Morifinwë looks slightly pained.

“Da is here as a representative from the craftsmen’s guilds, to ensure that their needs are being fully taken into account.” He says, and Eärwen pounces.

“Is there some doubt that they aren't?” She asks.

“Not as such. However, there are some articles of interest regarding recent developments that Alqualondë seems to be holding in reserve,” he replies, looking dour. Eärwen doesn't wait for him to finish.

“Ha! You're here about the paint!” She cackles. Morifinwë contrives to look even more dour.

“Yes, Alqualondë’s seemingly recent invention of glowing paint is one such point.” He says, reaching up to rub at one temple.

“You know we're in no way obliged to share any manufacturing methods, right? Any previously shared methods were done so in good faith.” Eärwen points out. Morifinwë nods.

“We understand and appreciate this, however, call this a matter of professional curiosity on part of my father. And my mother, for that matter.” He says, and Findaráto wonders why his cousin isn't a prominent member of court. He's handling this with startling grace. Eärwen sits back, considering, absently stroking Ambaráto’s soft puff of hair. Findaráto’s brother gurgles happily up at her before returning to nursing.

“The paint cannot be shipped, I'm afraid. The compound is too unstable as of yet.” She concedes, and Fëanáro slumps, looking disappointed. “They're trying to find a way to make it transportable, but it's slow going. The key component is difficult to come by, to say the least.”

“What is the key component?” Fëanáro leans forward, face intent. Eärwen smiles wryly.

“I'm not just going to tell you, Curufinwë Fëanáro.” She tells him with a pitying look. Fëanáro, surprisingly, doesn't get angry, but sits back with a smirk.

“Afraid I'll reverse engineer it?” He asks smugly, and Eärwen shrugs.

“Part that and part if you end up in the Halls or in prison for theft, I really don't want to have to explain it to Nerdanel. She's a friend, after all.” She says casually. Interest sparks in Fëanáro’s eyes.

“You're not doing much to dissuade me,” he comments. Morifinwë looks despairing.

“Well then. Father?” Eärwen looks to Olwë, who smiles sharply, the smile that Eärwen had inherited.

“I say take him with you. He'll just be trouble otherwise.” Olwë says, and Findaráto’s heart sinks. He and Lirulin are signed up for Eärwen’s next voyage, and the last thing he wants is to have to dodge these two the whole time. His silent prayers go unanswered when Eärwen’s smile matches her father's.

“Very well, father. You two are going to have to report to the docks at mingling four days hence. Pack simple, strong clothes, nothing fancy or it'll be ruined, and prepare to be gone for three to five months.” She says, voice sharpening into her captain tone. Findaráto sighs sadly. Morifinwë looks alarmed.

“Why must I go? The renegotiation-” he protests, but Eärwen easily overrides him.

“You heard father, he hasn't even read Lord Finwë’s letter. This will provide the time necessary for him to properly arrange for the review, without rushing anyone. You've got no excuse, boy, you're coming. Besides, I'm willing to bet your Mama told you to stick to your father like glue.” She says mercilessly. Morifinwë subsides with a source expression, clearly bested. Fëanáro looks considering, anticipatory.

Findaráto sighs, and returns to his meal, picking at his food glumly.

Chapter Text

Three hours after the disastrous state dinner finds Carnistir and Fëanáro in the market district of Alqualondë. Carnistir is taking out his frustration in meticulously planning the outfit he intends to give to little Artaresto. To be fair, the dinner had accomplished its purpose- they are going to be doing the review in due time, Fëanáro hasn't caused a catastrophic diplomatic incident, and they're going to be let in on the secrets of the glowing paint. Unfortunately, Carnistir hadn't counted on being forced to go on a sea voyage. He's never been on the sea in his life. He's been boating on a lake, but he has the good sense to know that it's going to be very different. Suffice to say he is not looking forward to it. So he sets his mind to other things.

Finding pink fabric is surprisingly difficult. Still, Carnistir is a veteran at finding unpopular colors of fabric. He leaves Fëanáro at a stonecutter’s stall, haggling merrily over the price of some rose quartz cabochons with stunning asterism, and some prettily cut pink chalcedony rounds.

He finds the stall tucked into a less well-trafficked corner. He's immediately delighted. This is clearly a person in the dying trade solely for the craft. Their wares are an absolute rainbow of colors, and Carnistir checks his purse subtly, wondering how much he can purchase. Time to check the quality. He steps into the stall and strays purposefully towards the currently popular colors. He tests the feel of the fabric, and tries to determine how colorfast it's likely to be. Carnistir's not a dyer himself, so he really won't know until he washes it, but often if dye comes off on the fingers it's not colorfast. The proprietor of the stall glances up and smiles automatically.

“Let me know if you need any assistance,” she says, and returns her attention to the book she's reading. Carnistir deeply appreciates her sense of priorities. He'd much rather read a book than deal with people too. And this means he can take his leisure shopping her supply, without her constantly badgering him to make a sale.

Carnistir feels confident enough to start shopping through the less popular colors. They're conveniently arranged in a rainbow array, and he indulges himself briefly, looking through the reds, spotting some lovely inky blacks with red undertones. He migrates next to the pinks, ruling out a bright peach and an interesting salmon, before finding the right color- a smooth, pearlescent fabric, silky and just heavy enough to drape beautifully. The color is indeed the shade of the inside of a seashell, one of the more delicate, rosy ones, instead of the peach toned ones. He picks it up and takes it to the elf manning the booth, in addition to a beautiful bright red cloth, and the beautiful red-toned black.

She looks up, setting her book down with a faint sigh. Carnistir finds himself making an apologetic, sympathetic face.

“How much will you be wanting of each?” She asks, and quotes prices for each color by length. Carnistir replies with the lengths he'll need, and counters her price. She smirks, and they settle in to haggle. The final price they settle on is higher than Carnistir had been hoping for, but the quality of the fabric is worth it, so he doesn't complain, merely complimenting the craftsmanship of the fabric.

“Do you sell thread as well?” He questions lightly, as she wraps the lengths of cloth in waxed paper bundles to protect against any sudden showers.

“No, but my sister next door does,” the proprietress replies, calling over her shoulder through the fabric walls of her tent. A flap shifts and another elf peers through.

“What is it, sister?” The newcomer asks, and Carnistir nods politely.

“He needs thread to match these three, go ahead and set some aside,” the first elf requests, and her sister brightens, withdrawing to, presumably, do just that.

“Thank you, that makes things easier.” Carnistir says, voice a touch warmer than it usually is for strangers. He appreciates efficiency. “Does your sister sell embroidery thread as well?”

“Aye. Good luck with your project,” she bids him farewell, taking the money and giving him his parcels. He nods, and sees her pick her book back up. Truly an elf after his own heart. Why couldn't he have ended up with a simple, sweet romance like that- meeting eyes in an otherwise deserted stall, with a like-minded person…

No use dwelling, though. He puts it regretfully out of his mind. Besides, it's creepy to fantasize about someone whose name he doesn't even know.

Carnistir pauses to orient himself, and then enters the sister’s stall. She sells all manner of tools for weaving and embroidering, as well as thread, both in bulk for weaving and for smaller projects like his own. She smiles warmly at him, clearly more outgoing than her sister. Carnistir controls his impulse to balk and flee, and gives her a polite, small smile.

“How much thread did you need?” She asks brightly, and he considers his idea, before asking for two of the standard small sizes of spools in each color.

“And I need to browse embroidery thread,” he tells her as she selects the correct sizes for him. She points out the correct rack for him, setting the thread aside for later. She seems to be able to tell he just wants to browse her colors, because she doesn't bother him further.

He debates colors of embroidery thread for a long while, before settling on two; a darker rose pink, and a stark white. He'll choose an embroidery design later, and with luck one of them will fit. Carnistir returns to the counter with his spools, and the proprietress smiles.

“Will this be all?” she asks politely, and quotes him a price after his soft confirmation. She's a bit shrewder than her sister in the haggling front, and Carnistir doesn't get the thread at much of a discount. He's unbothered by it, because the sisters’ work is lovely. She puts the thread into a third waxed-paper bundle, and he goes to find his father and ensure he hasn't gotten into some kind of fight.

Fëanáro hasn't, and is instead exchanging some tips for some forge time at a jeweler’s stall.

Carnistir shows him the color he's picked, and Fëanáro praises his choice, marveling at the dye in the same way Carnistir had. Carnistir flushes with pleasure at his father's effusion, and heads back to the palace, as much as he doesn't want to.

He considers his options. He could send a message to Eärwen, asking the child's sizes, running the risk she might tell her husband. He could use his own intuitive judge of sizes, and potentially risk being wrong. Or he could send a message to the child himself, asking for a moment to measure him, and spoil the surprise a small amount.

Carnistir picks the least of the evils, and writes a quick message to Artaresto himself. A messenger is quickly located and tipped generously, and Carnistir hides his fabric and thread, drawing up a quick measurement chart with a stick of charcoal.

Presently, there's a knock at the door, and he sets aside his embroidery- a pastoral scene on embroiderers’ canvas, for use decorating one's home. He goes to the door and opens it, eyes angled down, expecting a child's height. While he does see Artaresto, he's also… accompanied. Carnistir quietly, virulently curses himself for not realizing this would happen, and straightens, feeling the faint smile drop from his lips, as steel infuses his spine into painfully correct posture. He's regrettably aware that he's wearing the oldest clothes he'd been allowed to pack, a soft green tunic with bare golden embellishment at the collar that had once belonged to Maitimo, and black leggings without shoes or stockings- instead a set of soft woolen socks that Maitimo had knitted him, and a matching shawl.

Findaráto is dressed in his court attire still, though he's shucked his overrobe in favor of a fluttery, layered, hooded capelet. Carnistir meets his mismatched eyes evenly.

“You asked my brother here alone. Did you never think that was… inappropriate?” Findaráto says coldly.

“As I am merely carrying out the wishes of my eldest brother, no, I had not.” Carnistir says, equally cold and distant, inventing a cover story on the fly. “Maitimo was considering begetting-day gifts recently. I only thought to spare him the trouble of having to write your mother for sizes.” He lifts his chin slightly, and says, though he barely hears himself, “now that you are also here, I might measure you as well.” It's issued like a challenge, and Carnistir only sees the hesitation because he was looking for it. Maitimo is known for his gentle, forgiving nature, though those are stereotypes he suffers under. Now that he has met and cemented his bond, and no longer lives under Fëanáro's roof, it's not out of the question that he might give begetting-day gifts to those people he would not have previously. Carnistir silently apologizes to his brother for using him this way. Carnistir steps aside, motioning them in.

“If it is for your brother’s sake I suppose it's not wholly inappropriate.” Findaráto says stiffly, and steps inside, Artaresto still clinging to his hand, eye wide from the tension between them.

“Thank you so much for your consideration ,” Carnistir murmurs, sarcasm dripping from his words. Findaráto flinches slightly, before his back straightens. Carnistir can almost see the tension in his jaw as Findaráto passes him into the room. Maybe the pretty-boy is growing a spine after all.

Athyamelda looks up from her place on the couch where he'd been sitting by the fire with his embroidery, and yawns mightily. Artaresto coos, dropping his brother's hand to climb up beside her and pet her back gently. Carnistir is glad that someone has taught the child how to act around cats. Athyamelda can be extremely… opinionated, when people approach her poorly. Athyamelda purrs, and Findaráto makes a strange noise.

“That's the largest cat I've ever seen. Are you certain she's not some kind of wildcat?” Findaráto asks, and his bewilderment makes Carnistir suppress a genuine laugh. “For that matter- did you bring a cat with you, or is that just not a cat I've met before?”

“She snuck along,” Carnistir defends himself. “I didn't realize she was there until too late to turn back. And I wouldn't be surprised if she were part wildcat, she was a gift from Turco.” He shrugs, before taking up his charcoal and scribbling a second size chart. “Since Artaresto is undertaking a very important task, it looks like you'll be going first.” Carnistir says, tone challenging, taking up his marked cord. Findaráto stiffly removes his capelet and drapes it over the back of the couch. “Please stand over there,” Carnistir says, a touch stiffly, perhaps slightly belatedly realizing he's going to have to touch Findaráto to get this done.

Touching his soulmate. A strange concept, for him. Soulmates touch all the time, at least in his experience. The books about bonding and soulmate health say that touch is imperative for a healthy bond. Carnistir doesn't think he's ever so much as shaken Findaráto's hand. Still, Carnistir is resolved to do this. There's no backing out now.

Findaráto is very stiff and very still when Carnistir starts his measuring, avoiding touching his skin as much as possible. Carnistir doesn't care- this is uncomfortable for both of them, even if it had started as some admittedly petty revenge. It gets even worse when Carnistir has to kneel to measure Findaráto's lower half. He's almost tempted to force Findaráto to hold the higher end of the cord when it comes time for his inseam, the last measurement, but Carnistir's own pettiness gets in his way.

It's amusing, how much stiffer Findaráto somehow finds it in himself to become as Carnistir holds one end of the cord high against his inner thigh, the back of his hand very nearly brushing his intimate parts, but as soon as he's begun, Carnistir is done. Long practice has made Carnistir very efficient at this. Carnistir notes down this last measurement on his chart and arches an eyebrow at Findaráto, having had a moment to collect himself.

“What's your problem? You're acting as though you've never been measured before,” he says arching an eyebrow, and is rewarded by a faint blush high across Findaráto's cheeks. Before Findaráto can reply, Carnistir turns to Artaresto. “It's your turn, Artaresto.” He says, and the boy slides off the couch and obediently trots over.

“Why don't you and Ingo like each other?” He inquires as Carnistir kneels to begin measuring him. It takes Carnistir a second to realize that Ingo is Findaráto, from his mother-name, Ingoldo. After that he genuinely doesn't know what to say.

The awkward silence is excruciating.

“Sometimes people just don't like each other.” Findaráto says finally, after an extremely long time. Carnistir's already half done measuring Artaresto. It's a very diplomatic answer, one that definitely annoys Carnistir for ill-defined reasons.

“I think that's silly.” Artaresto says, with a child's innocence. Carnistir sets his teeth against speaking spitefully to a child- he's not that petty or cruel.

“Yes well, adults can be quite silly,” Findaráto murmurs weakly. Carnistir bites the inside of his lip bloody holding his tongue.

“All done,” he pronounces presently, and Artaresto blinks at him with wide, sea-green eyes.

“Thank you,” he says obediently. “I'll beat you up if you hurt my brother, though.” Carnistir is startled into a laugh, standing up and escorting the two of them to the door.

“Perhaps when you're older,” Carnistir tells Artaresto, and sees them off down the hall. He sighs heavily, shaking himself off like a dog, something he's fairly certain he got from Tyelcormo. In any case, it eases his tension, and he brings out his drafting paper and begins to make himself a pattern. The measurement charts will go to Maitimo in due time, for Carnistir does not wish to make a liar of himself.

Soon enough Carnistir settles in for some relaxing stitching, and lets the conversations slip away from his mind.