Actions

Work Header

The Silmarillion Non-Fanon Challenge

Chapter Text

The records were implausibly bad.

If Macalaure had himself been responsible for keeping them, that would be unsurprising: he had their father’s genius and their father’s particular flavor of perfectionism, which extended not at all to tasks that seemed tedious.

But Carnistir had done the records, and Carnistir was precise and careful and meticulous, and it was implausible that Carnistir would have neglected three seasons of crop yields or a transcription of the letters from the crews mining in the south.

“You held some back,” he said when his brother entered the room; they did not look at each other.

“You’ll have to shout at the secretary,” Macalaure answered, “I did not choose what to give you. I have been busy. A lot of people are going to be hungry this winter. You sent their food to your boyfriend.”
He would have used a different word if it had really been intended as an insult. Maitimo matched his restraint. “I would know how many, if you gave me accurate records.”

“You would not need them if you were not determined to scrape every ounce of surplus from our supplies and throw it to the dogs.”

“You watch yourself, Cáno.”

“I intended no insult. Although, I suppose, if he’s a dog that makes you-“

Once he would have sprung to his feet and knocked his brother across the room, thrown him to the floor, stood back with a slight smile to let him climb to his feet. They would have glared at each other for a moment, breathing hard; then they would remember it was not worth it, and Macalaure would leave without speaking.

Now if he stood it would be shakily, and if they fought Macalaure would win, and that frightened both of them and so they would have to find some other way to negotiate that boundary and it couldn’t possibly be this…

“The real question, of course, is what it makes you. Since, you know, Findekáno rescued me.”

Their eyes met by accident. It had been far too long, he had seen far too much in the interim, to trust the impression, but still it was there. Macalaure looked exactly like their father. The reasons he would regret this flew right out of his head. “Burning the ships was cowardice. I thought it at the time, you know. Everything since…if you were a fraction of the man Findekáno is you would have rescued me, but if you were a fraction of the man Findekáno is it would not have been necessary.”

That worked about as well as throwing him across the room. “Get the rest of the records,” Maitimo Nelyafinwe called after his brother, “unless Morgoth asks you not to bother trying.”

Chapter Text

The scent of the burning torches was inescapable. It clung to their clothing; it eased its way past closed windows; it left a dim haze in the air in their living room.

Or perhaps that was just her imagination.

“There is nothing left for us here,” she said to the ceiling, experimentally. It did not feel false.

They had elbowed their way home through a frightened crowd who smelled of sweat and smoke and rubbed metal. Her father had bruised her bones in his grip and not released her hand, or her mother’s, until the heavy wooden door had slammed shut behind them.

They probably did not know themselves what they would choose. But she knew her parents, and she knew they would emerge in a few hours from the other room. Her mother would be calm and serene and determined. The only sign of her father’s anger at his uncle for his recklessness, for his blasphemous oath, for turning this into a rebellion instead of merely an emigration, would be a slight tension in his shoulders.

He would walk over to her and grip her hand too tightly again.

“I will understand if you choose to stay,” he would say.

And she would answer…

“Are you that determined to avoid carrying my luggage?” she asked the ceiling, and the air was smoky and heavy and choking but not because she felt any doubt.

Chapter Text

Once he found the sound of the ocean soothing. In the darkness, like so many other things, it is utterly transformed, and it roars against the shore like an approaching predator.

Is it possible that Olwe does not hear it?

They put on the armor in darkness and quiet; they will take the ships under cover of night. Simple. It will not be, of course - if it was there would be no need of armor - but the ships are the only way out of Aman and Aman is a living nightmare and they are slowly being crushed against the sea and so, in some respects, it is simple.

He says none of this, because his father has not spoken and his father probably does not see it precisely that way.

They made the armor together, in Formenos, for purposes that no one was quite willing to speak of. All of that seems a little surreal. The lights are too bright, in his memories; he is certain they were not so… beautiful. Soothing. Calming. When they retrieve the Silmarils he will look at them and be mystified at how greatly the light was distorted in his memories.

HIs father checks the fastening on the armor four times. Odd, as it is his own craftsmanship.

________________________________________

Salt and blood have settled in the joints of the armor and it is an ordeal to get it off.

He does not ask for help.

History is written frantically, even before the waves calm, warped into a eulogy for their dead and a lesson for their children. The Teleri attacked them and started killing them to stop them from departing from the prison of the Valar. It would have been a kinslaying, if the remaining host of the Noldor had not come to their aid in time. An attempted kinslaying. A failed attempt.

The Teleri were not wearing armor. It did not stop them from being deadly, it did not stop them from slaughtering his people, and certainly if they had been wearing armor the battle would have been all the more desperate…

…and yet he finds himself wishing they had been. So that he would not have needed to see his sword open guts and crush bones. So that they would not have died at all, even, except that they had been trying to kill his family, and he is not virtuous enough to wish his family dead in their stead.

Is that virtue?

The gauntlets clatter to the floor.

Chapter Text

The first time was eight years after his departure, and she did not even think of it as a betrayal - not really.

He was, after all, the one who had left.

Eight Years was a long time. New lights had risen in the sky and healing had begun in Alqualonde, in Findarato’s birthplace, in the place where the host her lover marched with had drawn blades on their own kin. (She had not visited. Her sympathies would be meaningless. She was angered, in fact, by those among her people who memorialized the tragedy in song. As if there was, for a sufficiently creative mind, beauty in that story. The glorious contrast, white ships and bloody sands… the terrible irony, starlight glinting off strewn gemstones… if you saw those things you were missing all the things that were important.)

Eight Years was a long time. She no longer heard his laughter echo in empty corridors; her heart no longer leapt at the strumming of a harp. She had sketched him, carefully, so that his face would not become distorted in her memories. But she looked at the sketches less and less.

The first time was not at a festival; she was not drunk; it was not an accident. She was at a poetry convention, a quiet, staid affair in which everyone dressed well and ate undernourishing delicate snacks and took turns reading aloud, their voices swooping through contrived emotion and yet somehow muffled still.

"Well, aren’t you cynical," a voice said behind her when they took a break for tea.

He was dreadfully bad with a harp; he had never left Valmar, or desired to. About Alqualonde he felt vehemently that anyone willing to follow the host that had committed such crimes had declared themselves complacent in them: an opinion he concealed behind careful courtesy for her sake, until she admitted that she shared it. About the Valar his admiration was unshakable.

They were utterly incompatible, in the long run. And yet…

"I am not looking for love," she told him.

In truth, she was not sure she believed in it.

The first time was on the third anniversary of the arrival of Arafinwe on her doorstep to deliver back their betrothal rings and his son’s last message. “For me there will be no other," he had promised, but so many promises lay shattered in the dust of that departure that the words were hollow in the air. Arafinwe himself did not look like he believed them.

She told him that afterwards, when they lay in the harsh light of the new Sun together and watched its beams catch dust motes in the air.

"If he returns," he asked absently, “will you go back to him?"

"I don’t know," she said. And then… “I should not have told you… you are terribly tolerant of me."

He was silent for a moment but then said, “Do let me know when you figure it out."

_______________________________

The second time was three years later. They were in no hurry - there was none of the urgency lent by the Noldor and their intrigues, or by parents demanding grandchildren, or by the whirlwind of true love.

This time she told him. “I think love is a lie we tell children."

"It would be in good company," he said, and she was wrong to do this, not because it was a betrayal - betrayal of who? - but because her reasons were utterly selfish.

_________________________________

After that she stopped counting because the numbers did not exactly assign their meetings any additional significance. "Don’t you want someone who loves you?" she asked him once.

"Yes," he said, “and I also want you. And we can’t have everything, is that right?"

"Even knowing that love is a lie, you want it?"

"You don’t?"

"I don’t love you," she repeated firmly, well-aware she was answering a different question.

___________________________________________

He returned.

His valor had earned him special pardon - he alone returned early in the dawning Age, a reward from the Valar, living proof that time in the Halls of Mandos was not merely for healing, as claimed - because, of course, if the Halls were healing then spending the rightamount of time there would have been its own reward.

It took him a long time to come and find her. If he had rushed into her arms and let his hands flutter across her hair and whispered that the thought of her had sustained him on the Outer Shore, she would have told him the truth and departed at once. But instead he knocked on the door early in the morning dressed as the heir to the King of the Noldor, requested her company, and waited alone in the foyer while she boiled some water for tea.

"You left," she said when she returned. “After everything…"

"Yes, I did."

"Do you regret it?"

"No."

"I think I might hate you."

More emotions flickered across his face in that second than she had seen on it in all the years they’d had together back before. “I think I understand."

"You think so?"

"There are a few people I have been trying to resolve whether I hate. But you don’t want that story - or maybe you do. Amarie," he said carefully, accepting the tea with a shaking hand that sloshed boiling water onto his fingers, “would you like to hear about the Outer Lands?"

"Yes," she said, and then, to avoid leading him on, “I do not love you."

"That’s all right," he said, “if you were still in love with the man who left you’d be sorely disappointed by the one who returned. But - if you want to hear it - Amarie, the things I saw!"

He spoke until his voice was hoarse and the tea was cold.

"I do love you," he said, departing, and she was briefly furious with him for being so damnably sure.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, of course, they should never have strayed from the group. Or perhaps it would have made no difference. But the plains had been wide and clear, the sun bright, and they had never dreamed…

The Elves rode up almost as soon as Marad and Hador were beyond the reach of human sight. Perhaps the rumors were true, then, that they possessed magic for spying at great distances. Hador would afterwards neither confirm nor deny any rumors about the Elves.

They were dressed for war, and his first thought was that there were orcs in the area - the fierce, frightening and yet somehow invisible enemy that was frequently used to scare their people back into their fortified towns, the enemy none of them had ever seen.

But they circled, instead, the heir to the house of Marach and his distant cousin. “My lord Marad," said their leader, smiling, but Elven smiles had glinting white teeth and sharp eyes behind them. “Have you reconsidered your reluctance to declare yourselves as liege lord to Fingolfin our King?"
"No," said Marad, “but wait one moment, and I might."

Hador did not move a muscle.The Elves, of course, had been pressing Men to move to the front lines since they had first crossed into Beleriand, but they had permitted a large part of their House to retreat east again. If they had been pressuring Marad to move north, surely he would have said…

"Why should we?" he burst out angrily, and in eerie unison they stepped forward, fingers finding the pommel of their swords…

"I have reconsidered," said his cousin.

The Elves were unnaturally tall, unnaturally quick, and sometimes he imagined they could read each others’ minds - at once their hands slacked on their weapons and they stepped back into a posture that was somehow just as threatening.

Marad stepped forward and raised his chin to meet the Elf-lord’s eyes. “We will never fight alongside you. This is not our war. We will go east again. This is my final decision."

The Elf drew his sword and struck his head from his body in one clean, swift stroke.

"I do not think," he said, turning to Hador, “that conviction serves the interests of your people."

He did not crumple to his knees and vomit, because that would be lending the enemy a victory, but it took all the steel in his heart to remain standing. “You -"

"You, my lord Hador, would be wise to consider your words carefully," he said. One of his attendants kneeled to rip Marad’s shirt from his body. The bottom section was not bloodied, and he reached out as if to polish his lord’s sword. The lord waved him off. “Our King is eager to have the alliance of the people of the House of Marach. He grows impatient. And surely the death of Marach’s heir by the hands of orcs will only heighten the determination of your people to face our common foe -"

"If you imagine I will lie to them -"

"If you persist in this folly, the orcs will have far more victims."

"Go to hell."

He half expected the man to lift the sword again. That would have been the easy end, a courageous end, and surely his people would meet the challenge the same way, surely…

…surely die to the last child. His stomach twisted.

The Elf drew no sword. Instead he pulled a small knife from his belt, and two of his warriors forced Hador to the ground. “I suppose it would be implausible for you to have escaped the orcs unscathed," he said thoughtfully, and laid the tip against Hador’s eyelid. “We share a common enemy, you know. How many innocents will you condemn to die rather than unite our people?"

The knife had slipped; he could feel blood running down his face. “We will never kneel to your King," he hissed.

"You already are."

_____________________________________

She was the only one he ever told; it was, after all, in the best interests of their people not to know, lest they be tempted to strike back in some foolish and futile fit of bravery.

"Do you think I should have -"

"Returned from your ‘years’ distinguished service with Fingolfin the King’ and told us to flee for our lives? What would that have achieved?"

"If you had known -"

"I had guessed," she confessed to him, and held up his hand to examine the grooves in his bones, the joints that had been split and healed by a practiced hand. “Orcs - wouldn’t be so meticulous." She looked up at him with curious intensity burning in her eyes. “They say the King’s nephew lost a hand - and surrendered the crown."

Chapter Text

Carnistir disliked exactly five people, which was not very many, considering he had met thousands. Most people, if they thought about it, probably disliked far more than five people.

The problem was that he happened to be related to all five of them. So while most people could just avoid everyone they found annoying, he was regularly seated next to them at formal events and required to smile at them and get along.

For this reason he had a reputation for being unlikable which was totally unjustified by the actual number of people who found him unlikable (for all five of those relations were definitely mutual).

“See,” said Alafurin, letting his feet swing lazily off the edge of the rooftop, “that is the sort of problem you only have in the first place if you are royalty.”

“Having horrid cousins? I don’t think so.”

“Hmm? No, no, lots of people have horrid cousins. Having a reputation for being unlikable is the sort of problem you only have if you are royalty. Normal people don’t have reputations for anything at all.”
“That’s not true,” said Carnistir, “you have a reputation for having horridly unbraidable hair and nicking toffee from Hísilinyo down the road.”

“Always pay him back.”

“Course you do. Maranwe is known for always talking you out of trouble ‘n for being really good at jumpsticks. Sérenar has a reputation for bringing the best snacks…” but it was true, he realized, that it was not exactly the same thing.

In the lower part of the city, where not all the vendors’ stalls complied with building regulations, it was possible to sneak up onto the rooftops and play gemstones. Carnistir had a lot of friends and the best gemstones, and so when he managed to find a place to play it filled up quickly. Right now there were eight of them and the scaffolding of the vegetable shop was creaking slightly and starting to cave in.

It was obviously time to stop the philosophizing and get to playing.

Gemstones was played with thirty or forty necklaces, the sort with the nice long silver clasps that all functioned the same way. None of them were Carnistir’s, since his father made unique clasps and not the generic sort. All the clasps had to be interchangeable, because Sérenar was currently taking clasps and attaching them at random to other necklaces. Once there was a thorough mess, they would stretch them out across the circle so the chains formed a spiderweb in the center, and then take turns, one by one, switching two clasps.

On your turn you could choose instead to tug on a gemstone at the edge of the circle. If it came free you won it and any that came with it; if it didn’t, you lost.

If you planned things just right, you could tug one and watch them all disentangle, and straighten holding a perfect circle of interlocked chains. Tyelkormo had showed him how to do this, but it required cleverness and concentration and a good deal of luck and Tyelkormo rarely had the patience to pull it off.

Carnistir could do it every time, if he wanted to, but then no one would play with him, so he only did it once in a while. Sometimes winning was missing the point of the game.

And if everyone got tired of gemstones they would play shells instead, and shells was all about keeping your count concealed, and Carnistir’s face always betrayed him. “You are a terrible liar,” Tanovor told him once, which was a good trouble to have because it meant that everyone trusted you.

But it didn’t help with getting along with your cousins.

“He’s a very pretty baby,” he had said about Aikanáro, which was false, and his tone betrayed his resentment at having to lie.

“You’ve grown up so much,” he told Angaráto, which was a lie, “if you continue growing at that pace by the end of the Age you shall be taller than Taniquetil and fatter than a sperm whale,” which was true.

“That’s impressive,” he had said about Findaráto’s boat-racing title, which was false, unless impressive was taken in the archaic sense of leaving an impression. (By that definition Carnistir’s one attempt at boating was even more impressive, since it left a sizable impression in the grand wooden dock of Uncle Arafinwë’s.) His father had caught his etymological evasion and smiled, but everyone else had scowled and said he was being disagreeable.

Carnistir was not disagreeable; if he was, he wouldn’t have seven friends squeezed onto the roof of the vegetable stand with him, hands sticky with toffee, triumphantly seizing jewels from their silvery entangled chains.

He just happened to have horribly disagreeable cousins.

Chapter Text

The stonework is done in haste and darkness, and yet it is still the work of the Noldor once of Valinor; that is unmistakable. The lettering is even and elegant.

Anerdon, it reads, beloved father and husband.

Farther ahead there are more.

Mélanossë joins her sons in a place of healing. Tanewen, treasured sister and daughter.

Arafinwë guesses at once that they are burying the bodies – sensible, since otherwise they will attract animals, here in the wild beyond the confines of Valinor. (The animals must be starving and desperate, with their food gone. He is not sure why that thought – of all the events since the Darkening – claws at his chest so.)

Yes, burying the dead is sensible. He wonders who thought of it.

He assumes they are the dead of Alqualondë, the wounded whose wounds festered. No one has the slightest idea how to treat these injuries. He has walked past seven dozen tombstones before (why is he still reading them?) his eyes flicker across one that gives him pause.

Hillámië, light of our lives, who saw only two years of Light – may she find healing.

Not wounded at Alqualondë, then.

Once he would have charged ahead to Nolofinwë’s camp and demanded to know what was going on. But that was a long time ago and the path is treacherous and Nolofinwë’s host edgy and armed. If he is truthful with himself, those are only a fraction of the reasons he can no longer bear the thought of rushing to his brother’s side.

It is equally unfair to ask it of Findaráto, but luckily he does not need to – he merely nudges him in the direction of the tombstone and Findaráto’s eyebrows shoot up and when they pause to sleep he walks ahead toward the camp of his cousins. He returns an hour later, and even by the meager starlight Arafinwë can see that he is very, very pale.

______________________________

The first to die was a woman whose husband and two sons were slaughtered on the beaches of Alqualondë. She had sobbed hysterically since the moment she found their bodies, but of course there was no time to grieve, they had to move on, and her parents had carried her and comforted her until grief turned into something else, until she began to struggle to breathe, until she clawed at her face so her skin bled. They had to strap her down so she wouldn’t tear out her own eyes. The light that infused the skin of our people had departed from her, her eyes had gone dull and empty, and still she drew frantic shallow breaths for four days and four nights. Then there was silence.

The soul departing an Elven hroa is an ugly thing to witness.

“All those stones – they died of grief?” asked Arafinwë dully.

“Yes. Mostly Fëanáro’s host, but Turukáno said some of theirs as well…”

“And some of those the Noldor murdered, doubtless.”

Findaráto flinched as though the accusation had been aimed at him. “Turukáno said it’s difficult to predict. Some survived the loss of their whole family. Some lost only a husband or a wife or a child – only a husband or a wife or a child – father, what has this world become?”

He should tell his people something different. He should tell them that the tombstones are of Fëanáro’s host for the most part – they will find that reassuring, in the dull way that news less awful than expected is a balm. He should tell that that the worst is behind - that must be true. He should not tell them that there is a pain so great it can wring the soul from the body - but he has no trouble believing it, not anymore. And he is tired of lies.

Chapter Text

My mother worked in the royal palace libraries of Armenelos for two hundred and thirteen years. She had a gift for languages and an elegant hand, though she had never been professionally trained, and during those two hundred and thirteen years she copied for our personal libraries every single book in the palace records regarding the history of the Elves before the rising of the Sun.

With one exception.

I noticed the exception, as it happened, only a few days before her death, and it is well that I did, for in those last days I learned more about her than in all the years we shared before then.
The books were her pride and joy. She married late, in her fifties, and told her husband she had no intention of stopping her work for distractions like children. She spent every spare penny on parchment and ink; we went about in clothes well beneath our station. “Knowledge,” she told us, “is worth more than gold. Clothes will fray. Jewelry grows tarnished. Styles change – but history never does. If you ever have to choose –”

“Choose the books,” my father and I chorused dutifully (I was an only child.)

And so it was that, when word came my mother was on her deathbed, I went through the shelves, marking everything that would require rebinding, pulling aside one or two that would require recopying, building a proper index of a lifetime’s work.

Perhaps that should be the goal of more people, perhaps that is the genuine sign of a life well lived: do so much that you children will not weep at your sickbed, being too busy indexing your achievements.

There was one book in the palace registries absent from ours. It was called “Quendi and Eldar”, an account of the Awakening at Cuivienen and the Great Journey of the Elves to Aman. I had read it in school; most noble children did.

I did not really think it was worth interrupting my mother over, but she was awake and after I made the futile enquiry, “How are you feeling?”, there did not seem to be much left to say.

“We are missing Quendi and Eldar,” I said instead. “I’ll get it copied.”

She laughed. My mother once had the most beautiful laugh in the world, like bells singing from the towers of Armenelos, like the foghorns on the Elven-ships of Tol Eressea. Now her laugh was like a weak cough that kept on going. “Don’t bother.”

“It’s the only one that’s missing. It really is amazing, you know, what you achieved, and I promise I will treasure them, and…”

“Do not get it copied,” she said, and raised herself onto her elbows. “I do not want that book in my home. It is not, you know, true.”

Very few historical books are true in the naïve sense that most people suppose. For instance, Fëanor probably did not blow away as ash on the wind, and it is certainly debatable whether Fingolfin wounded Morgoth seven times (or, were I inclined to terrible heresy, whether he faced him at all). I suspect, sometimes, that the descriptions of Aman as a glittering paradise are colored by nostalgia.

Histories, it is said, tell more about the time they were written than the time they describe.

“That’s no reason not to copy it,” I protested.

And she trained the terrifying eyes of a librarian on me and repeated herself (which my mother has always hated doing.) “Do not get it copied. It is a sexist, disingenuous, nonsensical bit of tripe. It was told as an example of an Elven children’s tale, and has as much basis in truth as any fairy tale, and then it was embraced and embellished and altered by people with an entirely different agenda. The first thing Elven-women saw was their husbands, and they have always loved them more than all things in Arda – what patent nonsense!”

I had to agree. “But still-”

“But still, it is a book! And I have raised you to think books are sacred! And perhaps I have done so too well, because your instinct is to salvage them, to ask what we can learn from the fact that they were written. You are a scholar, and you are surely above believing them – but what I did not realize until I was older than you are now is that you need not believe them to accept them. To assume that they are, if not true, reflecting truth. Women built to look upon their men. Men built to look upon the stars. There are some attitudes we need not preserve in state upon our shelves, not even for the sake of history.”

I would like to say that I saw the wisdom of her words, agreed with her, and spent the rest of my life fighting for gender equality. Instead, we argued bitterly almost until the moment when she died, and my spiteful thought when she took her last breath was that of course she would choose to get the final word like that.

A few years later I was put in charge of a major reorganization of the library. Only three copies of Quendi and Eldar existed, and I suppose I could have made a mistake in the reorganization, removed that line from the historical curriculum, lost those copies away somehow. I could not bring myself to do it. They were books, they were history. If half the majesty of ages past was a lie, was it our obligation to strip away the varnish and tear half the paint away with it, and then stare upon the remainder and call it the ugly truth?

I suppose the Queen might have hated men a little less if that book had been absent from lessons and palace libraries. I suppose a lot of things might have changed if that had. But I was, after all, a mere librarian, of a minor family, and in the end all I worked up the nerve to do was add a footnote.

(Disputed).

My mother’s legacy, in my best imitation of her swift and certain hand.

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Irissë said, “my mother will chop me up into pieces and cook me with carrots for dinner.”

“So she’s finally getting creative with her threats?” asked Tyelkormo, who did not look nearly concerned enough for someone whose best friend was about to be murdered. “Amil started that on the fourth, too, now that I think of it. Before Carnistir it was ‘I will be very disappointed in you,’ after him it was ‘I will encase you with stone and have you planted in Ingwe’s front gardens for a hundred years.’”

“Turko! I’m panicking here!”

“I was panicked too! Ingwe! I think I’d prefer being thrown into the ocean to drown…”
She punched him. Once he had laughed when she did that, and gently batted her arm away if she did it again; that had annoyed her, so she’d practiced with a punching bag and Findekáno’s advice and now when she punched him it took all his concentration to pretend it hadn’t hurt. “How much are we going to have to bribe Curufinwë to fix it for us?”

“My brother or my father? My brother’ll probably accept thirty full-weight silver pieces, Atar’ll want a list of everyone your father’s talked to in the last year…”

“Turko, take this seriously or I will break your nose, and you will have as much difficulty explaining that to everyone as I will have explaining how this fantastically valuable necklace is now completely destroyed. I don’t have thirty silver pieces and I don’t have a list of everyone my father’s talked to, though I suppose we could make one up…”

“That’s a brilliant idea,” said Tyelkormo, “let’s save it for sometime we’re actually in trouble. I can fix this.”

“You can – what?”

“This isn’t that bad,” he said, scooping up the pieces, “I can reset the jewels easily and then… well, this part is pretty awful, we may need to recast it, but we can use the little forge for that and no one will ever question me, I use it all the time-”

“You use the forge all the time?”

“Little one, don’t like working with Atar looking over my shoulder, and it’s better for quick projects.” He mumbled those last words, holding the necklace up to the light. Tyelkormo had an irritating habit of trailing off at the end of his sentence as if something more interesting had caught his attention halfway through and he’d just forgotten that he was saying words out loud for someone else’s sake instead of his own.

She resisted the urge to slap him again. If she did it while he was being helpful that would condition him the wrong way. “Your father told my father you were hopeless in the forge.

“My father has rather high standards. Even Curufinwë doesn’t meet them, usually. I sure never did. But all of us would be considered brilliant if we took up an apprenticeship in Tirion – even Macalaurë, who hums while he works. And hammers to the tune of whatever he’s singing, even if that’s completely wrong for the metal – well, everyone but Macalaurë would be considered brilliant, and he’d still be hella better than average. But Feanorians don’t go for ‘better than average’.”

“Neither do Nolofinweans,” she said. “And you know perfectly well that if it came to it - Actually, you know what? Fix my necklace, and I won’t even give you shit about being an arrogant ass.”

“Now, you were prepared to pay Curufinwë all the silver you had and all you’ll give me is a promise to stop the empty boasts?”

“You’re the one who broke it.”

“No, that was very much a mutual effort. And Huan gets the blame for how it ended up outright mangled…”

Huan whined softly, and Tyelkormo’s hand dipped down to rub his fur. “No, no, boy, it’s all right, I can fix it. Just don’t do that in polite company, okay?”

She wore it to the next festival in the King’s Square, and despite the fact that it would cause wrongheaded gossip she found her cousin for the first dance. “Don’t you owe me a favor?”

“Irissë, we owe each other so many favors I stopped counting years ago. Will I give up a night’s adventure with a pretty Tirion girl for a gossip-causing dance or two with my cousin?”

“Sure you will.”

“Well, maybe I will. You’re looking beautiful, Irissë. That necklace is damn gorgeous.”

She didn’t answer for a minute, because even knowing he was an incorrigible flirt and said things like that to everyone there was part of her that got a little flustered. But when the music had started and they’d stepped on each other’s toes a few times she rested her head against his shoulder and whispered, “You did a good job with it.”

His hand found the clasp and made the nape of her neck tingle. “Of course I did,” he said, and she stomped on his toes, this time on purpose.