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Alizarin

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The great tapestry in Finwë’s receiving-room – Míriel the Broideress’ work – took up most of one wall, a lovingly detailed portrayal of the Noldor arriving in Valinor, the sky shading from deep indigo to the Treelight’s gold.

Finwë himself sat under his own picture. The tapestry, for all its rich colour, noticeably clashed with the rather striking magenta of his robes, set off by the topaz worn in his hair.

“It’s called mauveine,” he was saying, cheerfully. “I rather like the effect, don’t you? One of our young Aulendili came up with it – Fëanáro can tell you all about it, much better than I can, of course – “

Fëanor himself, sitting to one side, brightened, with the air of a person who would like nothing more than to deliver a lecture on the development of chemical dyes at a moment’s notice. The Telerin ambassador, noting this, hastened to agree.

“We would be delighted,” she added, smoothing down the tastefully plain silks she herself wore, “to carry these products in our markets.”

Excellent.”

“Suitably identified, of course – “

“What did you have in mind?”

The Telerin ambassador suppressed a mental sigh. “Only to say that, of course, these – these synthetics should be clearly distinguished, in order to prevent confusion among purchasers used to the richness of natural products – “

Really,” Fëanor said, with obvious interest. “As far as I can tell, there’s no chemical difference – are you implying, what, something that arises during processing – “

The ambassador gave Fëanor a slight smile.

***

“No, you can’t keep them all in the kitchen, we have guests who will expect foodFather – “

Chewing absently on the end of her chisel as she thought, Nerdanel picked her way through the hall, half-noticing a) the distinct smell of brine, presumably resulting from b) the half-dozen large tubs of molluscs forcing her to take at least six extra paces to reach the kitchen door, and then turn sideways to slide between them, although this was complicated by c) Celegorm, salt-stained and out of breath, shoving another tub across the threshold. Nerdanel stepped around him, patting him on the shoulder in passing.

“It’s only for a few days until I build a cooler in the workshop,” Fëanor was saying, placatingly.

“A few days in which we will need to eat – “

“You could always take your friends out on a hunting-trip,” Fëanor suggested. “Picnics. If you happened to notice any dye-bearing plants while you were out, I could make a list of specimens – “ At his eldest son’s look of incipient outrage, he backtracked, hastily, and added, with an air of noble concession – “I hear young Findekáno enjoys that sort of thing, I’m sure he’d appreciate it, aren’t you?”

“Sweetheart,” Nerdanel asked, slightly muffled, “have you seen the apricot jam?”

Her husband’s head snapped round to notice her balancing awkwardly on a crate – labelled, cryptically, “SAMPLES” – in order to rummage through the cupboards, a loaf of bread in one hand, chisel gripped between her teeth.

“Beloved! It’s in the music room, I moved the preserves to make room for more sea-snails. Are you hungry? Are you working on something, can I come and see?”

Nerdanel, most of her attention taken up by the complex three-dimensional structure still taking form inside her head, made a vague noise of assent.

Maedhros sagged.

“Father,” he asked, with the air of someone who can see the avalanche coming but not avoid it, “why is our kitchen full of sea-snails?”

Briefly distracted by the presence of his wife, Fëanor’s attention instantly snapped back. He beamed.

I am so glad you asked that question, Maitimo. Did you know, there’s a sort of dye called murine, terribly expensive, Father wears it sometimes, and the Telerin ambassador was telling me no artificial process could possibly replicate it – “

Sea-snails, Father.”

“Yes, they secrete it when distressed. I’m not entirely certain how one distresses a sea-snail, but I expect we can manage to contrive something. There was a little awkwardness harvesting them, of course – “

Father.” Maedhros ran a hand through his hair, slightly disarranging the subtle care with which it had been styled.

“Yes?”

“Did you just steal a protected native species from Alqualondë in order to undermine the production of Telerin specialty products?”

For the first time, Fëanor looked a little uncertain.

“Well,” he suggested, “if it can be reproduced, then someone should find out, don’t you think?”

In the background, Nerdanel gave up on condiments, and bit into the loaf. Meanwhile, Celegorm, shoving yet another tub through the doorway, paused, and reached down to pick out a sea-snail for examination. Holding it up to his face, he gave it a cautious prod.

***

“What do you think?”

Aredhel swirled out the skirts of her new riding-habit, a vivid and striking green, with obvious pleasure.

“Grasslike. You look positively sickly. Have you decided you need camouflage to give you an advantage?”

Celegorm himself, lounging under a tree, was still faintly but distinctly purple. Against the silver of his hair, the overall effect was – striking.

“Hah, you wish. No,” Aredhel grinned, flopping down beside him, “can’t you guess? I thought your father had come over all interested in this sort of thing lately.”

Celegorm gave her a sceptical look, a sniff, and then – with an odd expression – leaned over to give her a slightly longer sniff, which she bore with tolerance.

“Írissë,” he said, sitting back, “are you poisonous?”

Aredhel’s grin widened.

Arsenic green,” she said, rapturously. “Don’t worry, I’m fine as long as I don’t wear it more than once a week. Were you worried?” She hit him on the shoulder, affectionate; Celegorm winced a little. “You were worried. That’s sweet.”

“And – “ He sniffed at her again. “You’re not going to tell me those are poisonous, too?”

“Of course not. They’re not real pearls, anyway, no-one wears those these days. These are so much shinier, and I have more to spend on weapons. Have you seen my new spring-loaded hunting crossbow, isn’t it great – ”

***

In the Telerin court, the Noldor stood out brightly, like mandarin ducks in the midst of swans. Fëanor’s pallor, beneath the glitter of his armour, was unfortunately heightened by the alizarin red and methyl violet of his clothing.

There was a faint air of shabbiness. Alqualondë’s export market had been somewhat depressed, as of late.

“So,” Fëanor was saying, “if you could, all things considered, let us use your ships for transport, that would be helpful – “

Olwë propped his sceptre across his knees and raised a hand to examine his nails.

“Why don’t you just invent a new, artificial sort of boat,” he suggested, coldly. “Surely you don’t need the benefits of our centuries of traditional craftsmanship.”

“Of course not,” Fëanor agreed, “but we’re a little short on time, Moringotto being on his way to Middle-earth as we speak, so if you could just lend me the ships and I’ll invent some new ones for you later – “

Olwë gave him a flat look.

“It’s not that the prospect of getting rid of you doesn’t appeal,” he began.