Tyelkormo was awoken by the shrill chirping of birds. The mingled light of the Trees crept through the windows, and a dull blade of pain sliced behind his eyes. His mind felt shrivelled like a fig left out in the heat. How long had he managed to sleep? It could only have been a few hours. He rolled over to the cooler side of the bed, away from the lightening sky, and pressed his cheek into the pillow.
After a while he dozed again, a murky half-sleep settling over his consciousness like a layer of river mud. He drifted through a confused dream about a hunting trip gone awry – he had lost his cousins and developed a sudden terror of deer, so the only game he dared to hunt were mice, and he had to crawl through the grass oh-so-slowly and quietly in case they heard him coming. Huan was with him, except his beautiful hound had turned into a hideous reptile and was pawing at his side, jaws slavering, eyes yellow and hungry...and he couldn't get away, his limbs were so heavy...
He flung his arm up as the lizard-dog pounced. The back of his hand cracked into skin, not scales, and a familiar voice swore loudly.
“Aulë's balls, Tyelko...”
Suddenly and sickeningly, the world righted itself, and he was back in his room at his grandfather's summer house. “Findaráto?”
“Who else?” The musical tones sounded unusually irate. “Hells, cousin, that hurt!”
Tyelkormo rubbed his grainy eyes and shuffled into a sitting position. The muzz of sleep began to clear, although the pounding in his head intensified. His stomach churned in protest.
“I will have a pretty bruise tomorrow.” Findaráto felt his cheekbone gingerly, and winced.
Tyelkormo realised that his knuckles were aching too – it must have been a hard blow. Guilt wormed through his sluggish body. “I was dreaming...”
“I will not ask what of.” Findaráto sighed and settled himself at the foot of the bed, and Tyelkormo passed him a pillow to lean against. “How much did you drink last night?”
“I forget.” As though to prompt his memory, his head gave a dizzying throb, and he groaned and slid back under the blankets. “Why did you wake me?” he added ungenerously.
Findaráto did not answer; he was examining his face in the gilt-framed mirror above the bed. “I shall have to hide from Amarië for a few days. She will think me an uncouth wastrel.”
Tyelkormo laughed in spite of himself. “No such thing.” A beam from the window limned the sensitive lines of his cousin's face with soft white-gold light. A red mark stood livid against the pale skin. “Ai, tyenya - forgive me?”
“Hmm.” Findaráto feigned indecision for a moment, then flashed him a brilliant smile. “I would forgive you almost anything, Tyelko. You know that.”
They sat in companionable silence for a while. Findaráto pulled a book from his pocket, and Tyelkormo closed his eyes against the stabbing thuds in his head. A warm morning breeze drifted through the window, and harp music mingled with the birdsong – Makalaurë, at least, was also awake.
After a time a door further down the corridor creaked, and there was the soft tread of bare feet on the boards. The steps paused outside his room.
“Tyelko? Fin? Are you in there?”
Írissë – and company, Tyelkormo realised, hearing the happy burbles of little Arakáno.
“Yes, we are.” Findaráto closed his book. “Come in.”
“Would one of you open the door? My hands are full.”
Findaráto obliged, and Tyelkormo propped himself up on one elbow and did his best to smile at his cousin. In one hand Írissë carried a mug of something hot and floral-smelling; with her other she held her brother balanced on her hip. She raised an eyebrow at the sight of Tyelkormo, and even though she was not yet a woman grown, he felt himself shrink. “You've looked better.”
“And felt better,” he admitted.
Her glare softened into a mischievous grin. “Luckily for you, I paid a visit to the kitchens. Sit up properly.” Tyelkormo hid the smile that rose at her commanding tone, and complied. She passed him the mug. “Elderflower tisane. A miracle cure, or very nearly.”
“And how would you know that?”
“I know more than you think.” She deposited Arakáno onto the bed; at the sight of Findaráto he gave a delighted shriek and launched himself at his older cousin.
“Easy, little one!” Findaráto caught the child and settled him on his lap, then looked over his head at Írissë, who was wriggling under the covers next to Tyelkormo. “Did you not bring a hot tisane for me?”
“You have more sense than to need one,” she retorted.
Tyelkormo laid a hand on his breast and widened his eyes in a wounded expression. She was right, though, he admitted as he blew over the hot liquid and breathed in its sweet, heady smell. He had needed it. Even the vapours cleansed his mind and eased the aches and nausea like cool water over an angry bruise. He stole another guilty look at Findaráto. His cousin was tickling Arakáno, who shrieked again – and then there was a succession of thuds from the rooms above, and the sound of running footsteps. He sipped his tisane. “How many, do you think?”
“Three, at least.” Írissë tilted her head, listening. “No – four.”
Another door creaked as the footsteps tumbled and scampered down the stairs, accompanied by much shushing and giggling. “Five,” amended Findaráto.
A crash and an uncertain wail told them that one of their would-be visitors had tripped. The older cousins glanced at one another, silently trying to decide which of them should get out of bed to soothe the sore knees and wounded pride, when another door opened and a warm, gentle voice simultaneously comforted the injured party and reprimanded the children for running on the stairs.
Írissë laughed. “Ah, sweet Laurëfindë.” She nudged Tyelkormo in the ribs. “Move, cousin – we will need more room.”
“This is my bed,” he protested. “Why should I move?” But the tisane had gone a long way towards restoring him, and the grumbling was only for show. He shuffled obligingly towards the edge of the mattress, tugging back the blankets that Írissë had stolen.
More hissing and scuffling from the corridor, and then the sound of a fat fist knocking. It was rapidly joined by a second. A pair of high-pitched voices chorused, “GoodmorningTyelkomaywepleasecomein?”
Shrieks of laughter echoed outside, followed by a long-suffering sigh of, “What did I say about being quiet?”
“Yes, you may come in,” Tyelkormo called back. Írissë had buried her face in a pillow and Findaráto was folding his lips inwards in an attempt not to laugh – probably for the best, Tyelkormo thought as the Ambarussa darted into the room and leapt onto the bed. Their wild energy needed no encouragement. They were swiftly joined by all four of his Aunt Írimë's golden-haired children – little Ingalaurë, not much older than Arakáno and still unsteady on his legs; pretty, sweet-natured Ríniel; Laurëfindë, coltish and wearing an apologetic smile; and, carried in his arms, quiet Olorissë, her face streaked with tears.
“Ai, little dreamer.” Findaráto released his grip on Arakáno and reached up to stroke her cheek. “Did you fall on the stairs?”
“Pityo pushed me,” she mumbled.
Tyelkormo folded his arms and glared at his little brother, who had the good grace to look ashamed. “And what do you say to your cousin?”
“Sorry,” he muttered to the bedsheets, cheeks flaming as red as his hair. “Was an accident.”
“No harm done.” Laurëfindë passed Olorissë to Findaráto, who had Ríniel nestled against his other side, and surveyed the now-crowded bed.
“Here, cousin.” Írissë patted the space to her left. A delicate blush crept across Laurëfindë's cheeks, but he climbed in beside her, his long limbs folding with a grace that belied his gangling appearance.
Tyelkormo relaxed into the easy rhythm of the morning, enjoying the ritual the cousins had shared so many times since he was a babe no older than Arakáno. Their family had grown somewhat in the intervening years, he thought with a wry smile. His eyes travelled over the children. Olorissë was smiling again, and Ríniel was braiding her hair. Arakáno had returned to his sister and seemed to be settling back down into sleep. The Ambarussa had clambered down from the bed and were squirming their way underneath it, no doubt planning to get up to mischief. Ingalaurë was close behind them. Tyelkormo tuned half an ear to their whispered conversation, ready to intervene if the twins' games grew too rough for their younger cousin.
The light pouring through the windows warmed to a rich honey-gold, and the air smelled of herbs and cool water. Angaráto and Aikanáro joined them next, claiming space on the bed beside their brother. Nelyo and Findekáno soon followed, Nelyo letting out a low whistle at the sight of Findaráto's face.
“What happened to you?”
“Ask Tyelko,” Findaráto replied. “Apparently he does not know the difference between dreams and reality.”
“Well, he wouldn't, after the amount of wine he drank,” grinned Findekáno – and ducked as Tyelkormo flung a cushion in his direction.
Nelyo laughed and sprawled on the couch. Findekáno sat on the floor beside him, and Nelyo trailed his fingers absently through the silky black hair. For a brief moment Tyelkormo's eyes met Findaráto's and they shared an exasperated smile, the same question at the surface of both their minds.
Will they not just admit it to themselves?
Then there was another knock on the door and they were distracted by the arrival of Artanis and Makalaurë, laughing and smelling of fresh air, instruments tucked under their arms. Evidently they had been up and practising for some time. Carnistir and Curufinwë were next, then Winyáriel and Vórëon, Aunt Findis's twin children who had come of age the day before, and in whose honour they had held the feast. They looked utterly unaffected by the revels, Tyelkormo thought jealously, watching them curl up together in the same chair. Their elder brother Aranwë followed, yawning and pale faced.
“There, Tyelko,” said Írissë with a sweet smile. “You aren't the only one suffering the effects of Grandfather's finest vintage.”
Aranwë made an obscene gesture in her direction.
“Cousin!” She blinked innocently. “Think of the children!”
He ignored her and settled himself on a rug next to Makalaurë.
Turukáno, unusually, was the last of all to join them. Tyelkormo frowned, trying to kick his still-lumbering mind into recognising what looked odd about his cousin – aside from the dreamy grin on the usually pensive, serious face.
“Brother!” Findekáno's eyebrows almost disappeared into his shining hair. “Have you even been to bed?”
That was it, Tyelkormo realised belatedly. Turukáno was fully dressed – still, in fact, wearing the same clothes he had worn at the feast. Now that he came to think of it, he hadn't seen him anywhere after dinner at all – he had disappeared into the trees with Elenwë before the dancing had even begun.
A shy, sheepish look stole over Turukáno's features. “Well...no.”
Cries of delight and disbelief rose across the room, causing Ingalaurë and the Ambarussa to peep out curiously from under the bed. Turukáno, still grinning, sat down cross-legged beside Curufinwë.
“And where is Elenwë now?”
“She went to bed.” His tender expression softened further at the mention of her name.
“So you've worn her out?” Carnistir grinned, earning himself a shove from Artanis, who was nearest.
“Don't tease,” she reprimanded.
For once, though, Turukáno didn't seem to mind. “Nothing like that. We spent the night walking out in the woods.”
Ríniel sighed, apparently carried away by the romance of it all. The Ambarussa giggled.
“Just walking?” asked Nelyo with a gentle smile.
“Not exactly.” Turukáno looked around them all, a slightly dazed look in his eyes. “I asked her to marry me.”
Írissë and Ríniel squealed in perfect harmony. Nelyo sat up. Winyáriel and Vórëon uncurled themselves and leaned forward.
“And?” asked Tyelkormo eventually, though he was fairly certain of the answer. “What did she say?”
“Yes, of course!” Írissë answered. “What else?”
Turukáno said nothing, lowering his eyes and fiddling with the corner of a rug.
“She did, didn't she?” Írissë's voice wavered.
For a moment Tyelkormo was horribly afraid that he had misread the whole situation – it wouldn't be the first time – then Turukáno looked up with an exultant smile that was all the answer they needed. “Yes, she did.”
Írissë shrieked and leapt from the bed into her brother's arms, and a grin as unstoppable as Laurelin's unfurling leaves spread across Tyelkormo's face. Findekáno embraced first Nelyo, then his brother; Ríniel and Olorissë squealed and bounced up and down on the mattress; Arakáno moaned as the sudden chaos woke him from sleep, but settled happily into blowing bubbles when he realised where he was and whom he was with; Artanis and Írissë broke into a wild jig, which Makalaurë obligingly accompanied on his flute; Curufinwë joined in but crashed into Findaráto, who had got up to congratulate his cousin; Turukáno steadied them both, and for the first time caught sight of the red mark across his cousin's cheek.
“Hells, Fin, your face!” He brushed his fingers along the edges of the developing bruise. “What in all of Arda...?”
The story of Tyelkormo's inauspicious start to the morning was recounted again, to much laughter and teasing – then the Ambarussa decided to re-enact it, and were overly enthusiastic in their attempts. As Pityafinwë dodged his brother's flying fist, he knocked over a sculpted vase, which crashed to the floor and shattered.
“Pityo!” Curufinwë scolded. “That was one of Mother's!”
The boy flushed with guilt for the second time that morning, and his lower lip trembled.
“I'll fetch a broom,” said Laurëfindë, starting towards the door – but it swung inward before he could reach it.
Indis stood on the threshold, right hand on her hip, left eyebrow arched. Tyelkormo suddenly understood why he had instinctively shrunk from Írissë's look of disapproval earlier; it was clearly inherited from her grandmother. Even Nelyo flinched. Indis's hair seemed to crackle as her sharp eyes assessed the scene, travelling first over the broken vase, then Findaráto's bruised face, Turukáno's formal evening dress, and finally the collection of cousins nestled on furniture, in blankets, and in tangled heaps on the floor.
Her lips curled in amusement. “Are you not all getting rather old for this?”
Tyelkormo released a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. He summoned his best winning smile. “You are as old as you feel and no more, Grandmother,” he said – for so he had always called her and felt towards her, whatever his father might wish.
“Then I will not tell you how old that word makes me feel,” she said drily. “Whatever have you been doing in here?”
“Turukáno had some good news to share,” Laurëfindë replied, swiftly clapping a hand over Ríniel's mouth before she spoiled things in her excitement.
Joy and hope lit Indis's eyes. “Elenwë?”
Turukáno nodded, grinning.
“Oh, my dear.” Indis crossed the room and embraced her grandson, winding her fingers into his hair. “I am so very, very happy for you.”
“Thank you, Grandmother.”
She kissed his cheek and released him, then looked around at the rest of them, tutting in mock-disapproval at the state of Tyelkormo and Aranwë. “Come now – stir yourselves. The day is half-gone, and there is much to do.”
Written for the B2MeM 2018 March 4th daily prompt. Of the many options on the card, I used "Aubade", which is a song accompanying or evoking daybreak - or, more strictly, a song about lovers parting at dawn. This fic has a little of both elements. Most of it was written while listening to the Claire Jones albums Girl with the Golden Harp, Screen Serenade and This Love. Contains very mild language and innuendo, but I don't think it's enough to warrant a Teen rating, so I'm sticking with Gen.
Shamelessly feel-good Finwëion fluff, because that's what I needed to write this week.
Shamelessly feel-good Finwëion fluff, because that's what I needed to write this week.
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