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But Aredhel said: 'I am your sister and not your servant, and beyond your bounds I will go as seems good to me. And if you begrudge me an escort, then I will go alone.'

Then Turgon answered: 'I grudge you nothing that I have …."

~oOo~

The histories remember it as a polite parlay. Pengolodh was good to us in making it so in his writings about Gondolin's final years. A petition denied; pressure applied and eventually producing the wanted result. A tired trope: the youthful, beautiful sister and her overprotective older brother. A streak of defiance; a battering of the songbird against the bars of her cage. And all knew that Aredhel was not one for convention. So off she went with three of my guards, and she was scarcely past my gates before she disobeyed my wishes and turned south to the Fëanorians; it was almost like she was flaunting it. I knew she was; I knew she imagined the way my hands would shake (they did, they did) upon the carven arms of my high, useless seat when I was told. Pengolodh was good not to have said much beyond her intended destination, although everyone knew.

~oOo~

I suppose I can extend them the charitable assumption that, in our youth in Valinor, they did try to hide it. At first anyway.

The Fëanárian twins were recently born, and Nerdanel often took them away to the home of her parents while Fëanáro wandered here and there and spent most of his time in Formenos, stirring up the radicals there against the Valar. We did not then know it, but we were witnessing the first fractures of their coming estrangement. Maitimo served in Finwë's court, seeming to leave Tirion only to hunt with my brother when Finwë was on procession, and Macalaurë was as often as not with his wife's people in Alqualondë. The sprawling Fëanorian home outside of Tirion, therefore, was left in the care of Fëanáro's middle three sons, who were at that point all men grown but young still and unmarried, full of lusty tumult and the subject of wild rumor in the city. On warm evenings, in Telperion's gloaming, I would sit upon the walls of Tirion and watch the carriages turn from the gates of the city toward the blush of light that edged over the trees to the northwest of the city and the home of Fëanáro. If the air was still, the laughter--anticipating debaucheries I could barely dream--carried to me. Ever an early riser, I could never stay awake long enough to note their return.

My sister was barely past her girlhood, or so she seemed to me. She was tall and leggy like my brother, and indeed she often as not eschewed the dresses my mother had made for her for Findekáno's hand-me-downs: tunics and breeches, threadbare and stained, and even his old riding boots scuffed at the toes. Her heavy black hair she tied back in a single braid or with a strip of rawhide. She was easily mistaken for a boy; indeed, Findekáno--who had taken a later-in-life liking for dress robes, elaborate hairstyles, and court life--was by far the prettier of the two. She disappeared for days at a time in the forests surrounding the city and returned with animals--gutted and skinned--for our table, slopped across her saddle.

I suppose it would be fair to acknowledge my parents' absence in our house as well as a factor in my sister's eventual disgrace, although the tensions among the Noldor were escalating to where my father was justly occupied at court most of the time and my mother was doing constant work on the early legal statutes of the Eldar, seeking any way to contain Fëanáro, should he continue to escalate in his rhetoric or bring his radicalism out of the north and to Tirion. The law libraries were to the south of Tirion or in Taniquetil; she had apartments in both places.

And Findekáno was at court with our father and Maitimo, and I was deep in my studies, and I suppose none of us thought much of Irissë, or believed we had cause to.

~oOo~

I found the white dress because I had been absentminded with a note. Earlier in the day, I'd had a fortuitous encounter with a Master of Tongues while waiting at the bread shop for my lunch, and he'd provided a lead on a rare book I'd been unable to track down. I jotted the note on a piece of the wrapping for my bread and put it in my trouser's pocket and then the next day let a servant take my laundry--trousers, note, and all--and I had to hasten to the laundry to rummage and find it, and that is when I found the white dress.

It was silk and crumpled and like something my mother would commission for Irissë but nothing of the sort that Irissë would actually wear. Note still crumpled in my hand, I had lifted the dress pinched between the fingers of both hands, seeking to unravel the mystery, when I noticed the coin-sized spot of blood on the skirt, upon the place where a lady might sit.

I dropped the dress. There were mysteries of the womanly body that I'd never wished to fully understand, and I felt as though I'd looked in upon some nameless lady's shame. Thereafter, I stayed clear of the laundry after and became more conscientious with the contents of my pockets. The fate of the dress and its eventual destination to an armoire within our house I scrubbed from my mind.

For, as I said, I was busy in those days with my pursuit of knowledge: purposeless knowledge concerning metaphor and idiom in literature recorded in the ancient tongues. There was no need to account for such matters but my mind worried at it with the same satisfied insistence as a dog working a bone long stripped of meat. Our family had produced its share of scholars, but all worked on subjects with practical application. I was the first in my family to rebel against the Noldorin idea that knowledge should have use--namely improving the lives of one's people--and selected my subject as much for its tedium and frivolity as anything else. Even as people flocked to my mother and Maitimo and Findaráto, eager to discuss their work, I was left alone.

It happened that my work--intended to insulate me--was what led me into an entanglement too odious even for the most scandalizing hanger-on at court. The piece of paper rescued from my pocket, when I inquired after the library it named, turned out to be one of the private libraries on the Fëanárian estate. I dithered for the better part of a week over it before, in a fit of courage brought on by the tragic gaps in my data, writing to my uncle in Formenos for permission to visit his holdings. The response was swifter than I expected, if brusque: "In my libraries, I have gathered the neglected lore of the Eldarin people for use by any who would read it. Brother-son, you are as welcome as any." A ripple of smudged ink was his name.

And so I rode northwest, along the road upon which I had watched many carriages embark upon the same destination, although I humored myself with the belief that my reason for following it into the forest and out of sight of the city was worthier than their debauched cause. My research, I must confess, became elevated in my mind the moment I set out from the city gates and toward the perceived peril of the House of Fëanor, and I was eager to look somber and stately enough upon the road that no passerby would see me as anything but a scholar. I imagined their minds turning upon the speculation of what esoterica awaited me in the sprawling house at the end of the road. I brought more books than I needed to look meaningful in my journey.

The last I had been to the House of Fëanáro, I was still a small boy. I remembered it as a rambling structure, almost haphazard in its appearance as Fëanáro added rooms and wings to accommodate his burgeoning family. But there was a certain logic, a certain beauty to it all the same, akin to the way that frost will straggle at seeming random across a windowpane and yet, when one steps back, there is a beauty and intentionality seemingly just out of reach of the eyes, spreading across the glass. The house had not changed much in shape--there was a squat little tower near the back that was not there before--but it had an air of disuse. Ivy reached the roofline in places and grass grew in the gaps between the stones in the path and there was a dustiness to it now that I didn't remember, like its edges were eroding. I knocked on the door with no answer, and after walking around, met and was told by a farmer raiding the overgrown gardens for unused vegetables that Carnistir and Curufinwë went to the forges to work each day, and Tyelkormo was training a new hound in the woods, but all were welcome to the library.

The library faced Ezellohar with high glass windows turned to the Light. The ceilings soared to the height of two--maybe three--tall rooms; like many things left behind in Valinor, my memory has perhaps stirred in a heady dose of grandeur into what was really there. The hour was Laurelin's zenith, and the room was honeyed with golden Light danced through with dust. The books were stacked so high in the shelves as to require ladders and precarious-looking catwalks to access them all--that is no lie. The only space unfilled with shelves was left for a pair of low tables surrounded by mismatched, comfortable chairs. My cousins' books and notes and drawings scattered the table, some thick with dust, their subjects betraying that they belonged to Maitimo and Macalaurë, perhaps even Fëanáro himself. The deluge of Light before my face and the sense of the hulking shelves at my back made me feel strangely anxious, as though I was being herded toward some end I could not yet perceive.

I ducked amid the shelves and quickly found my book; someone with very tidy handwriting had devised and implemented a meticulous taxonomic system that made it easy to locate the specific text. I sat down right on the floor between the shelves, which were set close enough together that my body fit perfectly curled between them, my back against one shelf and knees against the other.

How many hours passed, I did not perceive. When next I looked up, the Light had begun to dim toward the Mingling, and I realized that my legs were numb. But for rubbing the blood back into them, I might have proceeded out of the stacks, and what came to pass never would have happened. But I lingered, and when I heard my cousin's voice as he entered the library, I hesitated, silenced by sudden awkwardness that I had spent the day in his home without him knowing I was here, hoping he'd leave quickly. "Empty, just like I said. Like Tyelkormo is going to come here, and Carnistir went down to the stream to bathe." I might have come forth then--my legs were pins and needles, but I could have limped and called out--but a second voice shocked me into silence.

"Just as long as you're certain. I want to be alone for now."

My sister.

Curufinwë was partially in view, but tucked away as I was in the shadows, he could not see me. He had inherited all of Fëanáro's looks except for his imposing height; he was slight in build, although I assumed he had wiry strength enough for forge work. He was wearing a white tunic and plain brown trousers. He was barefoot and looked like he was recently emerged from the bath himself.

"Well, sit down and tell me about your day." My sister glided into view and I almost didn't recognize her. She'd put on one of the elegant white dresses my mother had procured for her, wore silken slippers, and had even tinted her lips. Her long black hair was twined into a crown of braids. She slipped her arm around Curufinwë's waist and pressed the length of her body to his--one foot trailed behind, the toe pointed, like she knew someone watched and was posing--and they kissed: not the quick, compulsory kiss of cousins but something tender and lingering. His arm had risen to hold her too. "Come, come!" She ushered him out of sight and toward the tables.

For a long while, I sat in silence, my heart pounding so loudly that they might have heard it if it wasn't muffled by the stacks of books. I could hear their voices, but their words didn't quite carry back to me; every now and then, my sister let out a pearlescent laugh and Curufinwë would answer her with a low, humorless chuckle. Curufinwë and my sister were the same age, born only months apart, but I'd never thought she'd be interested in him, maybe Tyelkormo--

Without seeming to realize what I was doing, I'd begun to creep down the narrow aisle between the shelves. Yes. I had remembered correctly: a large decorative mirror hung on the opposite wall, and if I situated myself just right, I could see them. Curufinwë sat in one of the armchairs, and Irissë sat in his lap with his arms loosely around her waist. He was leaned back in the chair, his feet planted wide apart, with the same relaxed authority as my father when he was just home from the court. I smile teased my lips as I realized: They were playing house.

Curufinwë was telling her about a commission he'd completed that day and was complaining idly about the poor quality of messenger service available out here these days, while she stroked his hair and made the appropriate noises to show she was listening. She'd poured them both a glass of wine from a dusty bottle that I wondered if my Uncle Fëanáro knew they'd uncorked. On and on Curufinwë droned, now about the quality of the materials out of the north. She dipped her lips into the wine every half-minute or so and watched him with eyes overlarge with feigned interest. He was complaining of impurities in the iron when she plunked down her glass and interrupted, "Now what's going on down there?"

I watched, too stunned and terrified to move, to even close my eyes, as she swung her legs so that she was straddling him and facing him. There was that low, humorless laugh again. He was pawing at the front of her dress, trying to get it down.

They no longer would have noticed if I'd run past them and out of the library all together, but I stayed where I was and I didn't blink. I didn't blink as he began to kiss her neck; I didn't blink when a white slip of fabric--her underpants--slipped down her leg and to the floor. I didn't blink as they began to move against each other, making the chair creak rhythmically. I didn't blink when her back arched, pulling her away from him, and her breasts were bared to me. I didn't blink when he made her get up and bend over one of the tables so that he could finish from behind.

They dressed themselves and left quickly after, and I burst from my stack, from the library, from the house as fast as I could, fetching my horse from the stable and tacking her so quickly that I had to stop within the first league to tighten the cinch before the saddle spilled me into the dirt. I was halfway home before I realized I'd never put my book back on the shelf.

~oOo~

I had learned of sexual congress from my father after my brother Findekáno put him under some measure of duress where my instruction in such matters was concerned. We'd been eating dinner, the three of us--Irissë was away at the home of a friend--and I made some revealingly naïve remark to a joke of my brother's, and Findekáno had looked at me for a beat too long, the laughter frozen upon his lips, before his gaze slid to our father. "You haven't told him yet?"

Our father became suddenly busied in his wine. "He is not yet of age, Findekáno."

Findekáno was always overly bold. I did not know why our father tolerated it and could only assume my brother learned it during his many summers with the Fëanárions (although I also doubted that they talked to their imposing father with the brashness with which Findekáno addressed ours). The laughter rekindled upon his face and he leaned his forearms upon the table: "Atar, you need to tell him. In fact. If you do not tell him, I will."

"Findekáno."

"He is nearly a man grown! He should know!" He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs so that one knee jabbed above the tabletop. It was a most improper way to sit at any table, much less the table of a high prince. "I'll give you a week. If I come back next week, and he doesn't know … I will not give him the scriptural version." He lifted his eyebrows in challenge, but our father said nothing and changed the subject to a dispute scheduled before our grandfather the next morning, and I assumed the subject closed.

Our father, however, called me to his study the very next day and spread books open one by one upon his desk to explain the process of bonding and all of the rules that surrounded it: only after marriage, only with the intention of accepting children, never with kin, never with one of the same sex as oneself. For purpose, not pleasure (although there would be pleasure and that was fine, as long as the purpose was there, he explained). He struggled to explain the act itself. He called on examples from animal husbandry, but I did not hunt or go much abroad, I kept no pets, and we lived in the city with no need for livestock. He rummaged the stack of books on his desk and extracted one and showed me a drawing of a stallion mounted upon a mare.

I had sometimes had dreams--chaotic, kaleidoscopic, faceless dreams involving hands--but saw little connection between the desire and pleasure (and shame) I'd experienced during those and this mechanical, awkward, rule-bound act. It reminded me of the complicated courtly dances, and I'd never had taste or skill for those.

I know now that there were books with drawings of people, but I expect that my father did not want to expose his youngest son to pornography.

I stared long at the horses and transpose that act upon young women I found attractive with myself in the role of the stallion and felt nary a stirring. I closed the book. "I do not think I shall marry," I said.

~oOo~

I dithered for the better part of a week over what to do about Irissë. As usual, I turned to books for an answer. The legal and scriptural texts of our people were not my specialty, but I had read many of them as part of a well-rounded education in early Eldarin literature, and I went to the library and requested a page to fetch the texts to my room before Laurelin's zenith.

The librarian included--along with a crooning, sycophantic note--a number of indices that made searching the scriptures and legal codices easier. As annoyed as I was by the note, the indices were helpful. They reduced my labor considerably in tracing the development of the taboo against sexual congress between kin. It did not exist in the earliest laws of the Quendi, of course: Limited numbers of Quendi had been Awakened, and some intermarriage among kin was mathematically probable. In fact, it seems there was an early preference for marriage within one's tribal group. At the time that Rúmil was developing writing and the record was moving from an oral one to written, it seems the realization was beginning to occur that broader allegiance was valuable, especially given the (then infrequent) appearance of the Dark Rider. It became tradition--there was not yet a such thing as "law"--for the Teleri to avoid kin-marriage. Hence, they are the most diverse of the Eldarin groups. Ironically, it was the Vanyar who resisted the longest.

When Oromë came to Cuiviénen, he provided a number of decrees regarding sexual congress and marriage (which became synonymous at this point save for among the Avari, many of whom chose to stay because they did not like the Valar so sharply curbing their promiscuous traditions). One of the most important decrees was the law against marriage between kinfolk. Eru Ilúvatar, he told us, had made our hröar so that children were most healthy when they were the product of parents who shared little common blood. The Vanyar--who had only recently developed a proscription against kin-marriage--even dissolved several marriages of close kin. A few of those couples remained behind rather than part.

For journeying to Aman (when the time came for that) was contingent upon accepting these laws, of course. Many who remained behind were of illicit proclivities.

As was often the case, my investigation into the legal and scriptural basis of this particular law reinforced my initial sense of the situation: that my sister and cousin had unequivocally transgressed and must be stopped before they did further damage to themselves and our families. I would speak to my sister as soon as possible and press her by threatening to take my case to our father if needed. As armor protects the fighter and gives him the confidence to enter the fray, so scholarship served me: It fortified my inclinations by girding my instincts with evidence that made my initial assessment of impropriety--even peril--conclusive. Over the next several days, I built my case with the same meticulous care as a mason laying brickwork. I rehearsed what I would say to her; I learned the necessary passages by rote and prepared myself to switch into an emotional appeal if she disdained the scripture and the law: the shame upon our family; the irrevocable damage in the fragile peace between our family and the Fëanárians (and all that Findekáno had worked to accomplish, for I knew she favored him); the dread of an unintended pregnancy.

But the day before I hoped to speak with her, my efforts were abruptly hindered by the arrival of a gilded card by messenger, sealed with the crimson seal of Tyelkormo Fëanárion.

The card (which I did not believe Tyelkormo wrote; the hand seemed more to belong to Curufinwë) was impeccably courteous, begging as the present head of the household the pleasure of my company at a dinner at their home outside the city. "Your sister Irissë will be in attendance," the note concluded, "which makes it only proper that [I] should attend as well." There was, I knew, no easy way to evade such ironclad etiquette, and with a stomach growing sour with anxiety, I sent the messenger back with a reluctant but favorable reply.

My Fëanárion cousins had never showed much interest in me. Any interest. Maitimo and Macalaurë were too much older and regarded me with the doting affection lavished upon an inferior, and of course, the twins were far too young. But the middle three--Tyelkormo, Carnistir, and Curufinwë, all of whom were close enough in age to me to be potential companions--seemed not to know I existed. At feasts, they might pass an entire evening without speaking to me once, unless my parents and their mother managed to herd us together, at which point they barely sustained polite disinterest. I was barely out of earreach before I'd hear a whisper under someone's breath, laughter, a shifting of their bodies that seemed to shout with unspoken meaning. Nor was it a disdain for my family, for with the addition of Findekáno to their ranks, the volume doubled to where one of our parents often had to prevail upon them to lower their voices or take their mirth outside. And Irissë--

The careful arguments and evidence I'd constructed shivered and fell as definitively as a stone wall razed by a tremor in the earth.

~oOo~

The day of the assignation arrived, and I anguished long before my closet. My plain, scholar's clothes suddenly seemed inadequate; the Fëanárions did not dress with particular opulence but nonetheless simmered with a virile confidence that made an unadorned tunic and pendant upon a grunged leather cord look as resplendent as the garb of the Eldarin king. I knew I'd look clunky and awkward beside them, no matter what I chose. At last, I settled on a dark blue tunic trimmed in silver thread--a not unsubtle allusion to my father's house--and black trousers more close-fitting (in truth, slightly too small since I'd gained a little extra weight in the last year) than was usually comfortable for me and knee-high riding boots that felt ridiculous but always looked dashing on everyone else.

I anguished over appropriate gifts for my cousins. I found a set of perilously sharp arrowheads of supposed Avarin style for Tyelkormo and a knife with garnets inlaid in the handle for Carnistir. I wandered the shops of the upper and even the middle circles of Tirion, but a gift for Curufinwë eluded me. It is nearly impossible to select something for one with the skill to make almost anything with his own hand. And I could not rid my mind of the memory of him with my sister: the finality with which he'd pulled back from her kisses and caresses as she straddled his lap, the purposeful way he turned her by her shoulders to face the table, the way he gathered her skirt upon around her waist, pressed her forward to stare at the wood grain of the tabletop while he--

At last, I selected a book of new translations of Quendian myths that was certainly already amid the towering shelves of the Light-suffused library, but I could think of nothing else for him.

The ride out of the city was uneventful, and unlike last time, when I knocked at the door, a housekeeper answered who hastened me into the house's inner reaches. My uncle's dining room, like his library, had been built to admit the Light of Ezellohar; I remembered that room from my childhood, but we did not go there now. Instead, she led me down a hallway into the lightless center of the house and opened the door upon a windowless room lit entirely by candelight.

The furnishings of the room were reddish in color with gold ornaments that seemed to capture and reflect back the candlelight threefold so that the room appeared to be aflame. A long wooden table surrounded by high-backed chairs with plump, crimson cushions formed the centerpiece of the room. Candles of all sizes were piled along the midline of the table; wall sconces held tall tapers, and wherever there was an alcove or a shelf, more candles crowded. The room shimmered as might an underground cavern with a lake of fire. Born in the Light, it was an effect I'd never seen before, for our people rarely have cause to rely on the inferior light of fire, and I paused long in the doorway after the housekeeper had left me to stare around me in unabashed awe.

"Please do not tell my father." The voice from the corner of the room startled me. I had not seen him there: a shadow folded into an armchair, Fëanáro's dark son Carnistir. One leg was tossed over the arm of the chair; the other trailed on the floor. He had been reading. "Do not tell him about the housekeeper. He expects us to keep this monstrous place ourselves--he finds servants an injustice, a squandering of someone's talents in a menial task--but it is simply too much for … well just me, really. Tyelkormo and Curufinwë are too busy with their own passions to care. The upkeep would fall to me. The place would be lost amid the dust if she did not come out once a week."

He stood, leaving the book on the chair. Carnistir was tall like his father and with the same hair onyx-dark, the candlelight seemingly caught amidst its strands like the fire-threaded rock at the heart of the earth. He wore a plain white tunic and black breeches (and tall boots, I noticed, that looked very well on him; I could only hope the same of mine) and a simple pendant at his throat in the shape of the star of his father's house. He came forward and embraced me; I don't think I'd ever touched Carnistir, much less been embraced by him, and the feeling was as a blast of scorched air from a furnace. I almost recoiled. My nose barely cleared his shoulder.

I did not know what to do with my hands, so I embraced him back. His back was firmly muscled. I dropped my hands quickly.

"Let me get you a glass of--wine? whiskey?" He went to a bar in the corner and turned to me imploringly.

I realized that I had said nothing yet, and my voice sounded squeaky when I finally managed, "Wine. Please."

He brought down a glass. "Do you prefer dry or--never mind! Let me guess." He looked me up and down. His eyes were very dark gray and unsettling and seemed to see inside my clothes, my skin, to the very marrow of myself. He turned back and selected from one of the bottles of red, and poured a generous measure into a glass.

I deliberately kept my fingers from touching his when he passed it to me. I tasted the wine to be polite. It was sweet and complex: an explosion of apples and raspberries upon the tongue. I immediately dipped back in for a second sip, and one side of his lip curled into what might have been a smile or might have been a sneer. "I knew it. Those driest and dustiest from the library always like it sweet." To soften what might have been heard as a critique, he added, "My brother Nelyo is the same way."

"It is very good," I said and suddenly, desperately realized that the greeting and the wine service dispensed with, I had no idea of what to say to him. I knew almost nothing about him except that he took on the rote, unskilled work of his father's forge, leaving Fëanáro and Curufinwë to the tasks requiring artistry and expertise. There were sometimes wry comments made in Tirion about Fëanáro's belief against the use of servants, reasoning that he'd fathered a servant in his fourth-born son and so could afford to be idealistic. I was about to make an awkward overture about the weather or court politics when I was saved by the door opening. Curufinwë stepped inside.

"Ah, Turukáno, you are here!" And there before me stood the lover of my sister. The brave words I'd intended for her on the road back to Tirion tonight withered to dust before him. He was the only of Fëanáro's grown sons to inherit nothing of their father's height, but he was otherwise a perfect, diminished replica of his father: Atarinkë indeed. He had the same fine-boned, handsome face; silken black hair; and clear, gray eyes, only where my uncle smoldered with barely restrained passion, Curufinwë felt as brittle and cold as spent charcoal. He wore a red tunic trimmed in black and gold and a matching pendant to his brother. He came forward and did not embrace me as Carnistir had but proffered his hand, and when I clasped it, he gripped it with a finger-crushing strength of which he seemed unaware; he was already looking over my shoulder at the bar, apparently having lost interest in my presence already. I wondered what he thought of, and if my sister factored into it. I tried to muster anger, even something as mild as dismay but in his presence, found I could not. I might, I realized, if placed in my sister's position, like to try to kindle the renowned passion of the father in the son as well. "I came to have this wretch help me carry in the serving dishes," he said. There was no humor in his voice, and Carnistir did not smile. "Dinner is ready. Our brother and your sister are just back from their hunt and bathing. Sit somewhere. We'll return shortly."

I did not know where to sit, so I settled on a chair near the middle of the table and prepared myself to be corrected and relocated when they returned. But when they did--their arms laden with pans and platters--they said nothing and arranged the food amidst the candles. "We'll start without them," Carnistir pronounced, but at that moment, we heard a peal of a woman's laughter, and a moment later, the door admitted Irissë and Tyelkormo, still damp from their baths.

She was laughing and chattering some nonsense with him. She came around the table and paused long enough to kiss my forehead and say, "Turukáno," her hands on my shoulders as light as two songbirds, before finishing some story about falling out of a bush that coaxed laughter from Tyelkormo and smirks from Curufinwë and Carnistir. She wore a white silk dress arranged off of her shoulders, and her damp hair hung loose down her back.

Tyelkormo strode to the head of the table. If Carnistir imparted a mysterious eroticism and Curufinwë appeared every inch Eldarin perfection, then Tyelkormo still overshadowed them both. He was the next tallest son after Maitimo but broad in the shoulders also where Maitimo and Fëanáro were whip-thin. He was as grand as Tulkas and smelled of wind and trees like Oromë. His golden hair had been hastily restored to its braids after his bath, giving him a wild and slightly careless look. He was barefoot, his tunic unlaced. His eyes were brilliant blue, and when they met mine, I felt myself look quickly away. "Turukáno," he said in a deep, musical voice, raising a glass of whiskey that Carnistir had poured for him, "welcome to our table. We are glad you have come." He did not offer anything further in greeting before taking a long draft from his drink and pulling out his chair at the head of the table, where Fëanáro would presumably sit when present. Irissë had drifted to the other end and said, "As the only lady present, I think it only fair that I get your mother's seat," but none of the sons acknowledged her unasked question with an objection, so she took the seat without further word.

I recalled my first impression when I'd seen her with Curufinwë that they'd been playing house: They were both barely of age, and this had seemed a normal thing for them at their ages (though not what followed of it), but Tyelkormo was opposite her now, and he was well past the point where he should have been amused by domestic feints. And Curufinwë was her lover, and he sat opposite me, beside Carnistir, leaving me marooned on a long side of the table by myself.

As though sensing my thoughts, Tyelkormo gestured with his knife and said, "Carnistir, join our guest so he's not alone over there," and Carnistir began to stand, but remembering the furnace feel of being near to him, I hastily assured him, "You need not; I prefer the space to myself, to be honest."

Tyelkormo cut the meat, and Carnistir and I passed the dishes while Curufinwë let us fill his plate and Irissë accepted the best portions of everything we passed down to her. Curufinwë's face was tipped ever in her direction, his sharp gray eyes rarely leaving her face, and yet she had eyes only for Tyelkormo, sawing at the beast they'd slain together with his hunting knife.

The evening wore into night; the platters emptied and the candles sagged into their wax. I lifted my wine to my lips at one point--Carnistir kept our glasses full--and a strange new taste stung my lips. "We are out of wine." In the darkness of his eyes, the guttering candles simmered. "I will go to the cellars if--" but I shook my head and drank of the intoxicating new taste perhaps too deeply, for the world tilted and spun when I resurfaced, and I could not tell if there was delight or cruelty in his smile.

Emboldened by drink, I distributed my gifts. Tyelkormo tested an arrowhead upon the bare flesh of Carnistir's arm, raising a thin line of blood that Carnistir licked away as he returned for the bottle to refill our glasses. He delighted in the knife I gave him and thankfully did not try it on flesh, his own or anyone else's. Curufinwë sat with his hands flat upon his book and said nothing.

"What of me, brother?" asked Irissë. She drank whiskey with the same zeal and fortitude as our cousins, swirling the glass and watching it catch the candlelight, reclined back in her chair with one bared foot upon the seat. She kept raking her hand back through her unbraided hair, and it made a tumult around her thin pale face, ruddied by candlelight and drink. "You brought no gift for me?"

"They are host gifts," I explained. My tongue felt heavy in my mouth, and my words lacked their usual crispness. "It is proper."

The Fëanárions found my response hilarious.

"She might as well live here," Curufinwë remarked.

"I will think of something to give you," I promised her. "I will think of it tonight."

She had a finger of whiskey left in her glass, and she swilled it back in a single swallow and rose from her chair. "Indeed you will."

I had never realized my sister's beauty: her midnight-dark hair, wild as an Avari; her squared, strong features, much like our father's; her lithe and muscled body. The candlelight caressed arms strong enough to wield bow and blade against beasts in the forest; shadow pooled beneath her collarbones, the hollow at her throat, a hint of the valley between her breasts. She walked with deliberate intentness toward Tyelkormo, who was watching her with a ghost of a smile on his lips. Curufinwë, too, stared intently. Curufinwë: her lover. I knew that. So when she stopped beside Tyelkormo's chair and lowered her face to his for a kiss, I watched for several long seconds before realizing that they shared not the sweet affection of cousins but the long kiss of lovers.

My eyes flew to Curufinwë's face. I watched the shadow of the apple in his throat fall and rise again as he looked upon them, unblinking and unflinching.

She opened her mouth and trailed his lips with her tongue, until he opened his mouth to hers, and the kiss deepened, and in the congealing darkness of the room, their bodies--their white clothing, their limbs wrapping each other--seemed to melt together. Her fingers worked at the braids in his hair; his hand rested on the swell of her buttocks.

Carnistir laughed low and came to refill my glass, which had emptied itself sometime between when she stood and the moment when Tyelkormo lifted his hand to her breast. He stood beside me, watching them, watching me watching them, twirling the knife I'd given him between his fingers. "We could …" he said, trailing the blunt side of the blade lightly against my arm.

Curufinwë rose abruptly. The chair he was sitting in almost fell.

Carnistir twined his fingers with mine. The palm of his hand burned, as though with fever. He ran the blade of the knife along the cut Tyelkormo had made, hissed as it welled with blood anew.

Curufinwë hovered at Tyelkormo's shoulder, as though affronted but unsure how to announce it. Tyelkormo was much bigger and older and better with weapons than he, and I realized that whatever existed between Curufinwë and my sister was not what brought her here. It was Tyelkormo: the godlike son, Laurelin-bright and so unlike his father. She had slipped her hand inside his tunic and was working it up from his shoulders. Tyelkormo broke their kiss to move his mouth down her throat and her collarbone, and she extracted her hand from his tunic and extended it to caress Curufinwë's face. He stepped into her touch, his belly to Tyelkormo's back.

Tyelkormo realized then that his brother stood beside him. He tilted back his head to look at Curufinwë, and a chuckle rumbled in his throat. "Oh, Atarinkë," he said. "Poor neglected Atarinkë! Forgive me, my sweet," he said to Irissë, kissing the backs of her fingers, a gesture of sexless courtesy bestowed during court dances. "For I loved my brother before I loved you. You know that."

And to my surprise, she backed away. And to my surprise, Tyelkormo rose and kissed Curufinwë hard on the mouth, pulled his tunic roughly over his head, turned him to press his back against the table and swept aside the plates and glasses with a careless arm. Curufinwë scrambled eagerly onto the tabletop and locked his legs around his brother's waist.

My sister watched, two fingers pressing her lips, her eyes bright with lust. A hand slipped from her throat to caress her own breast, belly, thigh.

Carnistir tugged harder at my hand. "Come with me," he said. "We don't have to just watch."

My sister somehow insinuated herself between the brothers. The candles had dimmed to minute sparks of light. I could no longer discern which dark hair belonged to which eager face kissing Tyelkormo's mouth reddened by wine and passion; I lost track of the hands on the bodies, caressing, unfastening clothing; the piles of cloth that slipped soundlessly to the floor.

I shook my head. I meant to lower my face in shame but could not.

Carnistir squeezed my hand before he let it go. "I understand. I usually just watch too." The shadows shifted to admit his passage through the room, to the armchair in the corner, where he retrieved his book. One of the candles flared bright before dying to leave the room all but darkened, my sister and my cousins a single throbbing shape at the table's end, and in the candle's dying light, I glimpsed his eyes like pools of shadow watching them over the cover of the book I'd left upon the floor of the library.

~oOo~

Rúmil was good to us too. He lied. "To none was her heart's love given." He lied, he lied.