Chapter 1: Painting a Golden Light
The hazy summer afternoon saw Erestor taking his easel, paints and canvas out into the cottage garden. It will be a challenge to paint such a golden light, he mused to himself whilst looking at the light of the sun reflecting off the hollyhocks, foxgloves, poppies and daisies. In the distance, near the rose arbour, the heat haze shimmered, blurring the vision of the statue of Aphrodite, which stood beyond. Over the other side of the garden lay an ornamental fishpond with a cloud of midges suspended over the surface of the water, buzzing about yet keeping to their distinctive cloud formation.
Behind where the elf sat, the cottage stood picturesque and resplendent. The new thatched roof, golden and sculptured, elevated it beyond the ordinary and made it a very desirable residence. Erestor started to sketch the flowers, the sun beating down on the battered straw hat he always wore when painting. The exercise relaxed him and he enjoyed the solitude. In his earlier life, he had been a well known artist and many of the great houses in the southern counties had commissioned his work. Then the war came and like all young men of his age, he joined up. His work as a war artist was unflinchingly honest, showing the devastation of no man’s land and the brutal reality of life in the trenches. One of his masterpieces, which was hurriedly censored by the British government from appearing in the press, was of a soldier who was in the throes of dying an agonising death from mustard gas in a British field hospital. His skin was covered in yellow sores and his eyes stuck together with exudates from the disintegrating membranes surrounding them. Constantly choking and fighting for breath, vomiting and coughing up blood, death would take four to five weeks to arrive, as if the grim personification from the human imagination was dragging his feet, overwhelmed by the amount of young men dying their ‘glorious deaths’.
Surrounding himself with the constant beauty of nature and the tranquillity of his garden was the only way that Erestor could cope with the horrifying imagery of his recent past. He painted to exorcise his memories, his demons, if he believed in such a thing. Not in any of his past existences had he seen so much callous disregard for the well-being of those who would fight for their country. Their suffering still haunted him and he counted himself lucky that he was an elf and had the gift of remaining unnoticed. The snipers never saw him, because he did not desire that they did so. However, the order came that the war artists sketch the soldiers going over the top to glorious victory; to do that they had to sit above the trenches and draw what they saw. Erestor was one of the few to survive but by then his mind was totally broken and he was unable to stop shaking. All the soldiers that he had made friendships with were dead and he had seen the most secret parts of them blown to bits or shot dead in the hails of bullets that flew at them. The moans of the ones not fortunate enough to be killed outright still stayed in his memory, although it was much easier to bear now that he was back home.
It was fortunate that Erestor had served as an officer; they tended to be sent home to recuperate, as it was believed that only a complete rest from the fighting could cure them of the shell shock that the doctors believed he suffered from. It was not a sudden process. Tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration and headaches were suffered before one final event or action snapped the mind and made the soldier useless in action. He knew well that had he been an ordinary soldier he would not have been afforded the same consideration, they tended to be shot for cowardice or endure other harsh punishments. Erestor smiled grimly at that; if I were an ordinary soldier then I would make damn sure I was never seen; he reflected and held his brush up to measure the size of Aphrodite behind the heat haze so that he could transfer it onto the canvas.
The cottage sat at the end of a private road off the main village of St Michael’s Leap. Visitors were discouraged and gossip abounded among the well-to-do, at various dinner and bridge parties, about the occupant's reluctance to take part in the village society. All they knew was that he was a young officer, an artist, suffering from shell shock who had been decorated for bravery in action. It was known that he was one of the few survivors who went into no man’s land and pulled the injured who were still alive, back to the trenches and supposedly to safety. The Times newspaper, from where the information hungry villagers gleaned their gossip, never mentioned that every single soldier rescued had died of infections or uncontrolled bleeding afterwards. All villages are proud of their heroes and St. Michael’s Leap was no exception. Erestor’s presence, although enigmatic and intensely annoying in its evasiveness, lent a certain cachet to the desirability of living in the village and an increase in its perceived importance. He would come around in his own time, the villagers were sure of that.
It was known that Erestor lived with his second cousin, a rather dashing young explorer, who had identified several new species of insect and a previously unidentified subspecies of orchid. Successful explorers were just as useful in promoting the importance of the village so the genteel society holding sway over the affairs of the hamlet considered themselves doubly fortunate. Perhaps the presence of two such famous people could raise the profile of St. Michael’s Leap for an extension of the nearby railway to be built into the village. The line ran to the nearest town but bypassed them completely. It was most tiresome travelling to London when the first part of the journey had to be made by motorcar to the station.
Every day Erestor’s cousin went to the village to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and meat or fish. He would often stop at the art shop to buy paints and linseed oil and at the bookshop to order obscure botanical volumes that he would use as references in his writings about his travels. It was inevitable that the idle and curious gentility would waylay him and ask about his availability for the various social events planned for the summer.
“Dear Mr. Fin,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires gushed, “We have the summer fete next month and it would be simply darling if you could bless us uninformed ones with your presence and perhaps a little teensy weensy botanical talk perhaps?” She half turned to her dear friend Miss Hawkinghurst, “It would be absolutely delightful. What say you Daisy?”
The lady beside her nodded and gave a wide smile showing every single one of her teeth. “Perhaps you could judge the most amusing vegetable category? It would be terribly jolly if you could.” She linked Fin’s arm, an action that was not lost on Mrs Bedlow-Squires whose nose was put out of joint so far that she dragged her friend away by the arm and announced shrilly with the most pleasant of airs, that they both had an appointment at the dressmakers.
“Till next time,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires smiled and blew a kiss from her fingertips. Miss Hawkinghurst merely smiled. They paced up the street and Fin heard the older woman berating the younger for the suggestion that he judge the most amusing vegetable. “What must he think of us?” she asked in an irritated and shrill voice. “Amusing vegetable indeed! He must think we are bumpkins.”
“Well at least I do not look like one,” Miss Hawkinghurst tartly observed. “That straw hat is so last spring.”
To Fin’s amusement they continued to argue all the way up the street until they reached the post office where Major and Mrs Bellstone-Gibbons stood like waiting crocodiles, grinning with wide smiles in greeting. They would like to think they were the leaders of the small social group that held sway in the village but Mrs Bedlow Squires knew different; they were too nouveau-riche for a start and she suspected that the Major’s wife did not belong to any of the very well connected families of the counties at all. There was gossip that she had once been a supporting role dancer with the Ballet Russes and indeed, it was possible given the slight unidentifiable lilt to her voice, but they need not think that would get them anywhere, the redoubtable lady decided.
I must get back, Fin thought. He had left Erestor painting in the garden, something that he could lose himself in for hours. He suspected that his absence would hardly be noticed and when he sat behind Erestor and kissed the back of his neck, the dark elf jumped.
“I am sorry,” Fin said as he put his arms around his mate. “I have made lunch.” He looked at the wet painting of the statue behind a heat haze, with the edge of the pond included for effect on one side and the riotous colours of the flowerbed on the other. “Is it finished?”
“That is all I feel like doing for today,” Erestor said and looked around at Fin. “What have we got?”
“Oh just boring old river trout with new Jersey potatoes and asparagus,” Fin teased. “Plus a side salad and strawberries.”
“Sounds good,” Erestor replied with a happy smile. “Lead the way my big elven warrior.”
Fin laughed, “Those days are long gone, sweet one. Now I do battle with vicious-tongued, middle aged ladies.” Erestor giggled. “Do not laugh; they are worse than orcs. They were particularly dreadful today.”
“Well you can tell me all about it after we have eaten,” Erestor said and made his way over to the table and sat down.
Glorfindel faced the only elf he would ever love. “Wine, Melethen?”
A happy nod and all was right in their small corner of the world and for that, both elves were grateful. For all they cared it could last forever. But both knew that nothing does and they would move on as they always had until the time came to sail.
Chapter 2: No Man’s Land
Mrs Bedlow-Squires decided that she would go for a walk after her lunch. She told herself that she needed the exercise and if her walk took her past the private road leading to the cousins’ cottage then she might as well pay them a visit and leave her calling card. The private road was more of a track but at no time did the redoubtable lady consider that she should turn back. Nearing the house, she could hear voices and peeped through the garden hedge where she could just make out the two cousins sitting in the garden sharing a bottle of wine and reading books. A small cat brushed past her ankle, causing her to yelp in surprise. Looking again, she was sure that the occupants of the garden had not noticed and she stealthily crept away and carried on up the path.
The sturdy oak door rattled in the frame when Mrs Bedlow-Squires used the doorknocker. There was no reply. She knocked again and wondered if they could hear her. Etiquette demanded that she did not knock a third time and so she slipped her card through the letterbox after writing a short note on the back that she had called as she was in the area. Walking back down the track she peeped again through the hedge and saw that both cousins had fallen asleep. She was not convinced, and her face betrayed the fact, but there was nothing she could do.
“Harrumph…” she muttered to herself and stormed off back home. Her shoes were scuffed and covered in mud. The cousins really should get the track re-laid and she decided to mention it to Mr. Fin when she saw him again.
“Has she gone?” Erestor asked.
“I think so,” Fin said as he crossed the garden and peered through the small hole in the hedge.
That afternoon, Mrs Bedlow-Squires decided to call on her old friend Mrs Hawkinghurst. “Daisy darling, far be it from me to suggest that anything is amiss but have you noticed Mr. Fin’s ears?”
“Yes, they have little points on them,” Daisy Hawkinghurst observed.
“Well, I should not really tell you this as every one else, apart from you, dear heart, will be rather envious, but today I went to see them both and noticed that his cousin Mr. Erestor has pointed ears too.” Mrs Bedlow-Squires took a sip of her tea out of the rose decorated bone china cup that Daisy brought out for non-special occasions. “Do you suppose they might have foreign parents?”
Daisy was never one to fall for implication. “Did they actually invite you in, dearest?” she asked ingenuously.
Mrs Bedlow-Squires shifted uncomfortably but brazened it out. “Sweet one, I made it quite clear to them both that I was not able to stop and left my card instead.”
“Did they even answer the door?” Daisy Hawkinghurst asked and then took a small bite of her almond biscuit.
“Really Daisy, sweet one, how can you think such a thing?” Mrs Bedlow-Squires said and drank the last of her tea. “I really do not know what goes on in that suspicious head of yours sometimes.” The lady made much of looking at her new wristwatch and announced that she had to go as she had an appointment at the hairdressers.
“Shouldn’t think there is much they can do with your mop,” Daisy Hawkinghurst tartly observed and said goodbye to her friend as she hurriedly left.
That night Erestor lay with Glorfindel holding him, as he always did. He could not sleep. Nighttime was the worst time for him and he dare not sleep because of the nightmares he suffered. In the end, sleep would come and he would wake yelling out and panicking whilst Fin tried to calm him. It was always the same.
Nearly two years before, Erestor had witnessed many thousands of soldiers die or become seriously injured when going over the top of the trenches into No Man’s Land in the Battle of the Somme. He had witnessed death many times before, but it was the wholesale slaughter which shocked him and had ultimately broken his spirit. What disturbed him even more were the troops moved from other areas, who were also to go over the top in a second wave. He wondered when the madness would end as he looked dispassionately at one of the war artists hurriedly sketching the carnage beyond.
Over in the distance, hidden by a tree he saw a slight movement. Erestor lunged forward and pulled the soldier down from his perch as the bullet thudded against the sandbag. “Do the rest from memory,” Erestor told him and noticed that his hands were violently shaking.
The cries of the injured continued well into the evening and Erestor was one of the volunteers who made their way out into No Man’s Land to collect them. As the soldiers picked up the young men, they too, were picked off by sniper bullets. Erestor had the elven gift of passing unnoticed when he did not wish to be seen and so he was never a target. He stood in the middle of the field of death, hearing the cries of the injured, and tears rolled down his cheeks. It was too much.
“Lord Manwë,” he roared towards the sky. “They are not yours but please help them.”
Only one soldier marvelled with wonder at the longhaired warrior in his blindingly bright mithril and leather armour holding his flashing sword to the sky and looking upwards. That is how Erestor appeared to him, but the other soldiers, on both sides, saw no change at all. All they saw was the crazy war artist shouting up to the sky.
“We are already here,” a quiet voice said by his side. Námo stood with two elves who looked lost and uncertain.
“Melpomaen?” Erestor said as he recognised the first elf. He looked at Námo questioningly who nodded.
“This is Annárë, my soul mate,” Melpomaen said. “We thought that staying on Middle-earth would be a jolly adventure.”
“For the most part it was,” Annárë said and then took his beloved’s hand.
Námo and the elves faded from sight, and as they did so, they rose away from the ground and into the sky as Erestor watched them.
“I will help you, Erestor,” Manwë said as he materialised beside the grieving warrior.
“I do not want to be here anymore; I have had enough,” Erestor said, his voice breaking. “I cannot do this anymore.”
A hand on his shoulder filled his being with warmth and a familiar, long-missed voice told him that she would give him the strength to continue. Nienna filled his being with light and gave him a new sense of purpose. Erestor walked in between the injured and felt the burden of choosing who was to be rescued and who was too far gone. Sometimes a dying hand would grasp at his ankle, only to be released as the soldier expired. He picked the most vocal amongst the injured as he considered that they had the best chance of survival. It was as though they weighed nothing. He balanced two men in his arms and delivered them to the trench, to the awe of those receiving them. They were not weightless to the soldiers who took them from Erestor’s arms, and those who saw it talked about his legendary strength for many years after. He knew he could not save everyone and picked those most likely to live, until Manwë put his hand on his shoulder and told him that it was time to stop.
Erestor felt defeated but knew that he could not carry on forever. The hail of bullets continued although none of them would ever reach their mark; Manwë made sure of that.
“Go now and rest,” Nienna told him.
“How can I?” Erestor asked. “How can I ever sleep again after all this?”
“Glorfindel will help you,” Nienna said as she kissed his forehead. “Go now, I give you a good sleep this night and that is all I can do until we meet again.” The Vala disappeared from sight and the battlefield was now filled with a transient peace that would last until the morning when all the quietness would be gone.
Erestor jumped back into the trench and his appearance to the one soldier who saw him in his true form was as it was before, a shorthaired soldier with a gun instead of a sword.
“What was that? What happened out there,” one of the other soldiers said in an awestruck voice.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Erestor said with an easy smile.
“You didn’t see the angels?” the soldier looked into Erestor’s seemingly confused face. “Never mind, I know what I saw.” He shrugged and walked away.
The bed was damp, as it always was, but Erestor needed the sleep; he felt irritable and had a blinding headache. His hands shook and it was difficult to focus properly. A good sleep should sort that out.
“Excuse me,” the voice of a fresh-faced young soldier asked as he peered into the room cut into the side of the trench. “I know you are resting but I have something to show you.”
The soldier walked in with a piece of paper on which he had sketched the warrior he saw in No Man’s Land. “Look, I saw you change into this man here. I drew it very quickly and wondered if you could explain the beautiful beings who stood beside you.” The young soldier hesitated for a moment. “Were they angels?”
“They were the Valar,” Erestor smiled. “They are the gods of the elves and two elves died fighting today.”
“Elves don’t exist,” the young soldier said with concern. “Are you all right?”
“You are talking to one,” Erestor said with a tired, wan smile. “Look at my ears.”
“I have seen your ears before but thought that you just had pointed ears.” The young soldier thought that it was not right that Erestor should make fun of him but said nothing as, for all he knew, Erestor might be suffering the effects of shock.
“Do you disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes?” Erestor asked, and pointed to the slip of paper.
“It is hard to understand,” the young soldier admitted, furrowing his brow and wishing to remain polite. “I wish it was easier.”
“Perhaps one day you can write about what you saw to keep it in your memory.” Erestor smiled at the young soldier who replied that he would not know where to start. “What is your name, young one?”
“My name is Tolkien, John Tolkien. I am a communications officer here. Nice to meet you.” The young soldier grinned and shook Erestor’s hand. The smile was replaced by awe as his head filled with the images and chronicles of the elves and their existence and subsequent departure from Middle-earth. “You really are an elf,” he exclaimed in wonder and understanding as Erestor released his grip.
“Go write what you have seen, young one,” Erestor smiled. “May the Valar guide your hand and may Elbereth’s starry veil light your way.”
“Are you still awake?” Glorfindel asked as he felt Erestor shift in his arms.
“I am nearly asleep,” Erestor said as he snuggled nearer to his mate.
“Well nearly asleep is not good enough.” Glorfindel grinned as he gently stroked his lover’s face.
They kissed and in a short while, Erestor closed his eyes to welcome the sleep that for the first time was peace-filled and deep.
Glorfindel looked upon his mate’s beauty, smiled, and closed his eyes.
Chapter 3: The Fear of Normality
All of Erestor’s artistic impressions of the war were sent through a series of carriers to the British War Propaganda Bureau in England, who censored all the photographs, paintings, drawings and writings reporting on the war. They fed the British public as little negative information as possible to maintain morale, and for the most part it worked. However, this was not their only use. The writings reported the situation at the front, whilst the photographs, paintings and drawings gave a visual description. Using these materials, as well as those from other sources, future tactical plans were devised that would hopefully bring a speedier victory. Erestor often thought that if those in ultimate command of running the war actually got up off their arses and visited the trenches, then they might not be so willing to throw so many young lives away in disastrous actions that glaringly exposed their ignorance of the fields of action. Perhaps that was the reason they stayed at home, he reasoned, for who could look into the eyes of a young man knowing that he was expendable.
All the paintings and drawings were rolled up and sealed. There was only a small bundle this time and so Erestor took them up to the carrying station further up the line. It was only a short walk and meant crossing a patch of open ground, pockmarked with shell holes, but in the distance he could see a tree that still had leaves on it. Small things make the heart sing.
He remembered nothing.
Waking up in a field hospital, burnt skin covered in bandages, deaf from the noise of the shell, blind in one eye from the heat flash, and in terrible pain, was an experience that was never one to be forgotten. Erestor panicked and tried to call out, but his voice remained silent. The only familiarity for him was his shaking hands that refused to remain still. A nurse tried to talk to him but it was as though she was far away, and it slowly dawned on him that he would not be able to make his needs known. How could he tell her of his pain and how could he ask what had happened to him; he did not know and the realisation made his fëa cry out to the Valar, damning them for not letting him die.
Elves heal quickly, but some scars will always remain. When the bandages were changed, it was noted that Erestor was healing inordinately fast, which was a source of wonder to those treating him. Perhaps it was lucky that he had other injuries. He was not of any use now that he was mute and unable to hear anything but the loudest of sounds and with sight in only one eye. Neurasthenia was mentioned in quiet voices; they knew not that Erestor was adept at lip reading or that he could read intention. Relief flooded through his being as he realised that he would be going back home, although he felt guilty for having the chance when others had to remain, others who, in his mind, would surely die before long.
After a few weeks, there was no indication that Erestor had suffered burns at all. This was assigned to the supposition that his method of treatment and the absence of infection had enabled his burnt skin to return to its former smooth state. His eye was less cloudy now and his hearing was improving. Speech still eluded him and his hands shook with familiar regularity. He wondered if he could ever remember a time when they did not. In a way, Erestor was glad that he was unable to communicate effectively as he felt irritable all the time and the headaches drove him to desperation. If only the high-pitched buzzing noise in his ears would cease so that he could sleep other than when completely exhausted. All he could do was watch the comings and goings along the line of beds in the long room. Nurses wearing long white dresses, constantly changing their soiled aprons for cleaner ones, looked weary and older than their years. They worked long shifts and gave more of themselves than most could ever do. Like the other soldiers, Erestor tried not to bother them; they were busy enough as it was. He was sure that his needs were not as urgent as those of the other more injured soldiers and so he bore his pain, closing his eyes so that his mind could transport to happier days.
“I do not want to go to Valinor,” Glorfindel said as he and his friend Erestor watched Celebrian sail. “At least not until the time comes for me to be called to do so.”
“My heart is breaking for Elrond,” Erestor said. “Look at him. I hope the Valar can make everything all right.”
Glorfindel noticed Erestor’s usual evasiveness about their future; it was something they rarely discussed and neither found it easy to be forthcoming. “I will go to Valinor if you wish to go.” One toe in the water and it seemed that the rest should follow. “I love you.” It was said. It was done. The simple declaration that took many years to say, was said.
“Not here; not while Elrond is grieving so much.” Erestor touched Glorfindel’s arm. “When we get back to Imladris…”
A look of complicit understanding and the moment was past, only to remain in their memories as their first declaration of wanting more than they already had.
“Do you feel like a walk this morning?” Glorfindel asked. The morning sun shone through the white muslin curtains, which swayed gently in the warm breeze from the open window.
“Not into the village,” Erestor said with some alarm and held onto his lover as if he would fall forever.
“We could take the car and you could sit in the back?” Glorfindel suggested. “Then we could go down to the beach and have a picnic?”
“Please do not make me do this,” Erestor asked, leaving his lover’s arms and burying his face into his bent knees. He could not help the tears welling up in his eyes and certainly did not want his elven warrior to think of him as weak.
“I am not going to force you, but we need to move on,” the blond elf said gently and stroked Erestor’s shoulder. “I love you too much to let you hide away forever.” He pulled the dark elf into his arms. “Supposing we start by going to the beach this afternoon and find a deserted spot. Would that be a start?”
“Why are you doing this to me?” was the pained, barely audible reply.
“You know why.”
The village of St. Michael’s Leap basked in the early morning warmth. Everything seemed slow in the heat as shoppers wove their way in and out of the various stores in the High Street, buying their goods and passing the time of day in pleasant gossip. Major and Mrs Bellstone-Gibbons emerged from Hargreaves Haberdashery where they had bought lengths of ribbon to make into rosettes for the summer fete. They saw Fin and made their way towards him.
“Good morning, Mr Fin,” Rosemary Bellstone-Gibbons smiled with an almost crocodilian air. “Such a pleasant morning. Are you buying your sweet little comestibles? Perhaps a nutritious lobster for our war hero? Such a wonderful cousin you are to the dear man.” Glorfindel supposed that she could not help talking concise statements instead of engaging in real conversation.
Fin took off his straw boater and gave a small bow. “Indeed it is a pleasant morning, dear lady.” He looked at the Major who smiled and remarked that the weather was good for golfing.
“How is poor Mr. Erestor?” Rosemary asked with a false concern in her face, hoping that her almost pathological need to be the first with gossip was not too evident. “Is he any better? Oh, I do hope so because he is so brave. We read in The Times this morning that he is to mount an exhibition of art at the Tate Gallery.”
“It is being mounted for him, dear lady, as he remains a recluse still. I am afraid that no amount of coaxing can persuade him to visit our dear village, let alone the big city,” Glorfindel replied with an easy smile. “We must give him time.”
“I think I talk for everyone in St. Michael’s Leap when I say that we are so proud of him. He is such a brave man. Wouldn’t you say so, Henry dear?” Rosemary looked up at her much taller husband.
Erestor’s arrival had quite taken the shine off the Major’s constant retelling of his war exploits in the Boer war and even though he was too polite to say so, he resented the enigmatic war hero and hoped that he never surfaced in the village. He supposed that the ladies would become bored after a while and turn back to him as the purveyor of tales of derring-do, along with the required devotion and adoration that accompanied such entertainment. “Yes, indeed. Remarkably brave. Still, in his own time, what? Don’t want the poor man to feel as though we are crowding him.”
“Good morning, dear friends.” Mrs Bedlow-Squires called in greeting as she crossed over from the other side of the road to be with the small group. “And how are you all?” she asked in the unintentionally condescending way that she always affected.
Miss Hawkinghurst emerged from the fruit and vegetable shop behind them with her basket laden with strawberries. “Hullo everyone,” she trilled. “I am making some jam for the fete this afternoon.”
“How lovely, Daisy dear,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires beamed at her friend. “I must be sure to buy one of your sweet little pots. What was it last year?”
“Apple jelly,” Daisy Hawkinghurst replied.
“Ah yes! I think the windfalls added a certain rustic note to the flavour,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires smiled benignly.
“An apple on the ground is just as good as one on the tree. Might as well use up what you have got, I say,” Daisy spat back, defending herself.
“Too true,” Glorfindel interjected and then wished them all farewell. “I must go and buy some fruit cake for tea,” he said and crossed the road to the cake shop.
“I wonder what he did in the war?” Major Bellstone-Gibbons pondered.
“He was exploring, the whole thing passed him by,” his wife told him. “Apparently he was working for the British Government.”
“Probably have a house full of spears and tiger skins then,” the Major joked, not very successfully.
“Yes,” Daisy Hawkinghurst smiled wistfully. “I can just imagine him fighting a tiger with his bare hands.”
Glorfindel came out of the cake shop unaware that three ladies were now looking at his form and visualising him fighting a tiger. They sighed as he disappeared down the hill and then turned away to finish their shopping.
Chapter 4: Craiglockart
Glorfindel knew that Erestor was one of the lucky ones. He constantly thanked the Valar for his return and yet he wondered at the psychological damage that he had endured. All the physical injuries were healed, but the effects on the dark elf’s mind were far more overwhelming. He was formulating a plan to entice or even force Erestor to go outside the house and hoped that he would not be forever mistrusted or even hated because of it. His soul mate had to move forward, and he was not managing to do so on his own.
When the burns started healing, Erestor was moved away from the field hospital to a rest camp. Because he had been injured in the blast, it was suspected that his inability to speak or hear and his blinded eye might be because of physical injury rather than any nervous disorder, although the latter diagnosis was not completely discounted because of his shaking hands and continual headaches. This meant that he would not be sent back to the front, and so he was dispatched to Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh in Scotland.
His doctor practised a primitive form of cognitive psychotherapy rather than the behavioural therapy so beloved of the majority of those practitioners who sought to cure shell shock. The standard treatment of electricshocks, shouted commands, isolation, humiliation, shaming, physical re-education and restricted diet were deemed inappropriate where Erestor was concerned as he was wounded in action as opposed to suffering from a nervous complaint. He was treated with a more humane therapy, acknowledging the events that caused the trauma and how they influenced the worldview, assumptions and beliefs of the one who had lived through them.
Erestor visited his doctor for an hour a day, to explore and relive his experiences. Together they attempted to work out how living through the war, and the subsequent experience of being injured, affected his pre-war expectations and his assumptions about his future. He was also persuaded that his experiences could never happen to him again, and that any flashbacks or memories that tried to surface were merely a fear of history repeating itself. The rest of the day was spent filling his time up with various activities, including working in the vegetable gardens, writing, taking walks and participating in sporting activities. The nighttime was when the screams could be heard throughout the building, as men woke from their slumbers in the grip of murderous dreams awash with blood. Erestor did not dare sleep; he saw the battlefields of the Somme and the decaying corpses littering the ground in No Man’s Land. Somehow, the dreams were mixed in with the epic battles of the elves many millennia before and so, when a gas bloated and blackened corpse turned its eyes to look at him and asked why he was not dead too, he saw the face of Oropher, or of Ereinion, before it changed back to one with a more contemporary identity.
It was all very tiresome but it was not to last forever. Glorfindel the explorer had come back home after three years exploring and was feted for his discovery of several new species of insect and a previously unidentified subspecies of orchid. The Royal Botanical Society featured their young explorer in their latest publications, but that had not been the real reason for his time abroad. He was employed by the British Government to make contact with native dwellers to identify quick acting and painless poisons that left no trace, and to seek out an alternative source of opiates as the stocks of morphine, once plentiful, were drying up as the supply lines were disrupted through enemy action. He had not disappointed them, and Glorfindel persuaded the reluctant officials to give him a year off to regain his strength after apparently suffering a debilitating tropical disease caught whilst travelling through the darkest parts of the rainforest. It was a simple matter to fake illness with the tree extract that the village dwellers in one of the forest settlements had given him. He simply took some and looked extremely ill whenever he had to meet with officials.
“My illness comes and goes and is of the undulating type,” he told them, when government officials suggested that he now join the army and serve at the front as an inspiration to all those fighting there. Happily, no doctor knew enough about tropical disease to make a firm diagnosis. Fin the brave explorer had always loved his country, there was no doubt about that, but to send him to the front whilst recovering from what must have been a near-death illness, seemed foolhardy indeed. His accompanying team also displayed the same symptoms, reinforcing the lie. After the desperate and dangerous privations of the jungle, where they endured considerable mental and physical discomfort, none were prepared to go into action as soon as they reached home.
The year started off with Glorfindel visiting Erestor in Scotland. He knew that he was being observed as to whether he really was ill or not and so he secreted some of the extract in his cup of tea, which he drank down to the bottom leaving none for any possible analysis. After an hour of sitting in the library with the dark elf, he started to sweat, dark circles appeared under his eyes and his skin turned yellow.
“What is the matter with you,” Erestor asked with concern on his face although he already knew that Glorfindel suspected he was being observed and his methods to counteract it. They had walked outside in the gardens before tea and the secret of sudden illness had been whispered to him.
“I will be all right,” Glorfindel said with a smile only for the dark elf. The pain racked through his being and his teeth chattered with the extract-induced fever.
Erestor did not see the soldier looking his way, studying the famous explorer, but Glorfindel did. He had followed him all the way from London. A doctor was called for and the blond elf was examined. “He is obviously in the throes of an undulating type of tropical fever,” the doctor barked at the soldier, who had pulled him to one side and, after introducing himself, asked if the illness was genuine, because it was suspected that the supposed victim was a malingerer. “I have never heard a postulation so stupid in all my years; of course it is not fake,” the doctor boomed with no small measure of contempt. “Now do you have any business here or are you simply making a nuisance of yourself?”
“Well sometimes he looks very healthy indeed,” the soldier remonstrated.
“Well that is why we call it an undulating type of fever,” the doctor said with sarcastic slowness. “That is what it does, it comes and goes and this is classic.”
“How long does it last?” the soldier asked in almost a whisper as the glares of Erestor and the doctor ate into him.
“It might never go,” the doctor replied. “Now get out.”
Glorfindel was helped to the doctor’s office where he examined him. “I am confused by this. You seem perfectly healthy but you are obviously not. Care to elucidate?” He waited for an answer from the shocked elf.
“Our party explored the jungle and we were all subject to tropical diseases,” Glorfindel said, picking his words carefully. He had been subject but had not suffered from any of them; he was not going to say anything about that though. “We were shown a tree extract that could make one feel very good and appear healthy. I wanted to give Erestor heart so that he would not worry, but the extract wore off and now I am back to normal. I only had a small amount left and it seems that it was not enough.”
“You should be in the infirmary,” the doctor said. “I will make the arrangements.”
Glorfindel unwittingly ended up in the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh where they kept him until they decided he was better. He found it most embarrassing; however, it reinforced the idea that he was not well enough to go to the front and when he arrived at his rooms in one of London’s more salubrious districts, a letter was waiting for him informing him of the decision to give him a year to recover and that he would be re-evaluated then.
The first thing to do was move to an out of the way, peaceful village so that he could collect Erestor, who looked as though he would be permanently invalided out of the war as his progress was not as well as could be expected. The house agent sent the details of several properties, but the one that caught his eye was a large thatched cottage in an acre of unoverlooked grounds. It would be perfect. He travelled up to see Erestor and asked the board of directors and his doctor if his cousin could come to stay with him. There was some consternation, especially as he had been so visibly ill on the last visit. Glorfindel showed a picture of the cottage and explained that it was on the outskirts of a peaceful village and that he felt much better; they relented slightly, but not enough to agree. He then told them that he was also an anthropologist and the doctor on the last exploratory mission into the jungle; at which they raised their eyebrows and asked why he had not told them of his medical training before.
“You did not ask,” Glorfindel replied, “and it never occurred to me that I should say anything about it.” He thought it imprudent to tell them that most of his surgical training had been under the tuition of Galen in the second century, or that the last time he had practised medicine was in the seventeenth century at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Still, they never asked and he did not tell them. In truth they were glad to be able to move Erestor, whom they suspected might never be able to live on his own.
Erestor got into the back of the motorcar ready for the long journey. He shook with fear and tears ran down his cheeks. “I want to leave but the outside world scares me,” he said by way of explanation. “Supposing we have an accident or supposing bad things happen to us because it is night time?”
“We will be all right,” Glorfindel said with a jolly air and urged Erestor to wave goodbye to everyone.
They drove out of the grounds of the hospital and made their way along the country roads. After an hour when he was sure that they were completely alone, Glorfindel stopped the car and looked in the back seat, Erestor lay curled up in a ball, fists clenched, eyes tightly shut and counting compulsively. He shook the dark elf’s shoulder and said his name. There was no response except for a slightly louder and more determined counting of numbers.
Craiglockart War Hospital.
Chapter 5: Looking out to Sea
Glorfindel arrived back from the village and joined Erestor as he finished his painting.
“You paint superbly,” Glorfindel breathed into his mate’s ear, causing the dark elf to smile. “How about some lunch and then we could go to the beach…”
Without warning, Erestor sprang to his feet screaming, and began to attack the painting. He slashed at it with the palette knife and destroyed it, so that it lay on the lawn damaged and fit only to be thrown away. Then he attacked the solid wood pergola, the skin on his knuckles ripping as they punched against the edges of the unfinished wood.
Glorfindel left him and went into the house where he pulled a large brown bottle out of a locked cupboard. He put a few drops on a cotton pad and walked back out into the garden. Erestor was still screaming at the top of his voice, hitting and kicking the wood in front of him. Glorfindel held the fluid-soaked material against his mate’s nose and mouth whilst he struggled before passing out. It was not the first time Erestor had done this and he doubted it would be the last; however, Glorfindel determined that it was the ideal time to carry out the next part of his plan.
A quick wash saw Erestor looking clean and his hands were washed and bandaged. Glorfindel packed a hasty picnic, carried his lover out to the motorcar, and drove away from the house. If Erestor could not leave the grounds voluntarily, then he would have to be forced; he saw now that he had been too soft and indulgent towards him.
The section of beach that he chose would be deserted. It was a way from the towns and villages and so Erestor would not have to talk to anyone. Small steps first, Glorfindel thought, and then considered that this was the most major step he had taken for the past few weeks.
Erestor stirred and his eyes shot open when he saw where he was. Glorfindel held onto him and clamped his hand over his mouth as he attempted to scream.
“I swear,” Glorfindel said with an angry face. “I will keep knocking you out with chloroform until you learn to stop screaming. You cannot hide forever and I am not going to let you.” Erestor held onto his mate and buried his head in his chest, shaking violently as he did so. “Sweet one, you are all right, I won’t let anything harm you.” Fingers stroked the dark hair in a regular and soothing motion. “There is no one around and we are all alone.”
“I am scared,” Erestor said, his voice muffled as he spoke against Glorfindel’s chest.
“I will not let anything hurt you, meleth,” Glorfindel said in the same soothing voice. “I love you.”
“It doesn’t feel like it.”
“If I did not love you then I would let you hide from the world forever and you would never get better,” Glorfindel soothed. “How can we sail if you cannot leave the house, my only one?”
Erestor seemed to calm a bit and even looked at the sea after much persuading from Glorfindel.
They sat looking out to sea, Erestor tightly clutching onto Glorfindel who attempted to lay out the picnic.
“We have crabmeat and lettuce sandwiches with anchovy mayonnaise, Victoria sponge cake and ginger beer,” Glorfindel smiled and gave the dark elf a kiss on the head. “We will be coming here every afternoon until you become used to being here,” Erestor started but was held firm. “I am losing patience meleth; I am quite prepared to put you in an asylum if you keep this behaviour up.”
“I cannot help it,” Erestor retorted. “How would you like it if…?”
“You either help me to help you or else I take you there and leave you. I will sail west and you will not see me again.” Glorfindel was firm and handed a sandwich to the dark elf. “Now eat.”
“How can you be so cruel?” Erestor asked in a soft and low voice.
“Because I am at my wits end and I cannot take anymore,” Glorfindel said angrily. “I love you too much to let you keep hurting yourself. Maybe putting you in a secure unit would be the best solution; at least you will not be able to hurt yourself.”
“Please do not put me away,” Erestor cried. “I will try my hardest but you will have to bear with me.”
“I will bear with you so long as you do try your hardest. I cannot do this ‘for’ you.” Glorfindel felt emotionally drained and unhappy. He was upset that he had to do this to the one he loved, just to get him to cooperate, and hoped there would be no repeat. Of that, he was not hopeful, but he had to try.
They sat for a while eating their sandwiches and Erestor’s grip relaxed slightly. “Glorfindel, I do not want people asking me about what happened to me.”
“I know, sweet one.” Glorfindel kissed his lover’s cheek. “So far the villagers have only enquired about your forthcoming exhibition at the Tate. They are very excited about it.”
“I do not want them asking me what happened,” Erestor’s earnest eyes touched Glorfindel’s heart and he pulled him close. “I do not want to go blind and deaf or not be able to speak again. I do not want my hands to start shaking again either.”
“They will not,” Glorfindel soothed. “We will go forward but not so fast that you become too scared to do anything. All right?”
“When I was at Craiglockhart, some of the doctors called the patients malingerers and cowards. Then they would point to me and say, “You see him? Well he was wounded in action; he has more right to be here than you. At least he is not here under false pretences.”
“How awful,” Glorfindel said and waited for the rest.
“I was made to wear a wound stripe to mark me out as one of the ‘honourable wounded’. Luckily most of the soldiers knew that I felt just as uncomfortable about it as they did, but there were some who tried to make my life hell because of it.” Erestor hesitated. “I was working near the front gates, clipping one of the hedges, and a woman in a long white dress and a parasol called to me through the gates. I ignored her at first and carried on clipping but she called again.” He took a deep breath. “I walked over and was perfectly polite to her. She said that there was a special place in Hell for cowards like me.”
“What did you say to her?” Glorfindel asked softly.
“I replied that Hell had a special place for whores as well.”
Glorfindel laughed loudly, “I would say she deserved that one.”
“She angrily told me that she was not a whore but a Lady and I told her that I was not a coward and looked at her to make sure my meaning was clear. I tell you, my love, I so wanted to hurt her. It was lucky a pair of heavy, locked iron gates were between us because I think I would have done.”
“Maybe you should have shown her your wound stripe.”
“Why should I? Why should I have to prove anything to someone who has no idea of what they are talking about?”
“Is that why you cannot face the people in the village?” Glorfindel asked.
“It happened several times to the soldiers in there. Only once did it happen to me but I saw it happening to others.” Erestor looked down and increased his grip on Glorfindel’s hand. “You do not think me a coward do you?”
“No, of course not! Why would you think such a thing?” The shock on Glorfindel’s face momentarily scared Erestor when he looked up at him.
“I am sorry; it is hard to know what to think anymore. You might not think that, but everyone else will, even in your wonderful village. I can tell you now they will think I am a coward.”
“They call you a war hero and they saw in the papers that you were invalided home.” Glorfindel kissed Erestor’s cheek as they both looked out to sea.
“Then they will still ask me questions of a different nature and I will still be unable to cope with them. I want to forget everything. I want the nightmares to stop and I want to be able to control my anger.” Erestor turned to face his lover. “I want everything to be as it was.”
Chapter 6: The Ladies and the Dead
Glorfindel took Erestor to the beach every day for the next week. Before they went, he would go to the village in the morning and buy their provisions whilst engaging in lighthearted banter with the local gentility on an assortment of subjects, mainly rising taxes, the current crop of apples on one of Mrs Bedlow-Squires' apple trees and the summer fete.
"Dear Mr. Fin," Mrs Bedlow-Squires gushed one morning, whilst looking up at him with simpering eyes. "How simply darling it is to meet you here this morning." She leant forward a tiny bit. "I was just saying to dear Daisy, what would we do without our dear Mr. Fin to entertain us on our morning constitutionals."
"How very kind of you," Glorfindel smiled pleasantly at her plump face. "I have just bought some redcurrants from the greengrocer. They are very good quality. Perfect with a syllabub, I should say."
"Oh how complimented I am, dear Mr. Fin, that you should appreciate the contents of my sweet little garden." The gushing was such that Fin felt quite in awe of her abilities to do so.
"They came from your garden?" he asked.
"There were far too many for my table this year," the seemingly pleasant gushing continued. "I am so happy that I was able to share them with my dear friends."
"If you truly meant to share them, then you would have given them away," was the tart observation from Daisy Hawkinghurst, who had walked up and stood alongside Mrs Bedlow-Squires.
"Dear Daisy," Mrs Bedlow-Squires said in her most condescending manner. "I cannot show favouritism, no matter how much certain friends desire free fruit."
"Well I shall not feel guilty about selling my whole pear tree crop to Mr Longbottom then. I am sure my fruit is as good as yours is, when it comes to being sold." Daisy Hawkinghurst looked at her friend triumphantly.
"Ladies," Glorfindel interjected. "I wonder which one of you could advise me on a day out for my cousin. He is feeling slightly better after his terrible injuries but still not well enough to walk very far."
"Ah! Dear Mr. Fin," Mrs Bedlow-Squires beamed. "That reminds me. I was passing your sweet little cottage and did not like to impose so I just left my card."
Daisy Hawkinghurst looked at her old friend with a smug grin. She was right; they had not answered the door at all. She decided to go back to the day out for Mr. Erestor. "Perhaps you could take Mr. Erestor to Arundel?" She then reconsidered. "Or do you suppose the cobbled streets might be too much for him? Arundel Castle is an excellent subject for painting. Major Bellstone-Gibbons did a watercolour of it last year and it won first prize in the art exhibition here."
"Capital idea," the ever gushing Mrs Bedlow-Squires declared. "Perhaps Mr. Erestor would like to submit a work of art to stand alongside our little unpractised daubs. I must say, it is our good fortune to have one so talented within our midst."
"I will ask him," Glorfindel smiled. "Although at the moment he is working on a particularly difficult painting that requires most of his time and energy." Then as an aside, he said in an almost throwaway comment, "You know how precious and temperamental these artists are."
"Well, according to dear Rosemary, there was no living with the Major after his painting won first place," Daisy said in agreement, and added darkly that he had even taking to wearing a beret, until a particularly fierce gust of wind had lifted it off his head and deposited it atop the church spire.
"Chichester Cathedral is also a good painting subject and there is a sweet little park with a lake that has some of the most beautiful swans on it." Mrs Bedlow-Squires looked at her friend Daisy. "That is, if Mr. Erestor wants to paint. Maybe he requires a break from it."
"Dear ladies, I think both must be excellent places to visit. How kind you both are." He smiled at them both. "Now, how about continuing this delightfulness in the tea shop? The pleasure will be all mine." Both ladies took an arm each and Glorfindel felt their fingers surreptitiously feeling his solidly muscled arms. "I am informed that their special is redcurrant tartlets. From your garden I believe, Mrs. Bedlow-Squires?"
Erestor sat in the house. Glorfindel would be back soon, and perhaps he would not want to take him to the beach as the clouds were gathering and it looked as if it would rain. The coolness was welcome after the heat of the morning and so he left the French doors open and watched as the first drops fell. Gradually the clean earth smell wafted gently around the room whilst the rain intensified. Erestor smiled and walked into the kitchen. He peeled potatoes and put them on to boil. Next he sautéed some leeks and onion. After mashing the potatoes, the contents of both pans were combined and then some milk and cream added to make a thick soup. The door opened and he could hear Glorfindel stamping his feet.
"I have made some lunch," Erestor called out as he snipped some chives over both bowls of soup with a pair of scissors.
"I have bought some fresh bread and some fruit," Glorfindel grinned. "Mmm, looks lovely." He carried both bowls into the dining room and shut the French doors. The downpour was so hard when he dashed from the car to the front door that most of his head was soaking wet.
Erestor said nothing. He took a clean towel from the pile of dried washing, which was waiting from the previous day to be put away, and dried his lover's hair.
"I will be all right," Glorfindel said as he looked fondly at him. "Sit down, Meleth and eat your soup."
Glorfindel's heart sang. How he loved Erestor; he really was trying to get back to normal. They ate their fruit, cleared away the dishes, and washed up. "Still raining," Erestor said looking out of the window. The rain pelted off the apple trees in the distance, making the fruit wobble on the branches. "Lucky the raspberry canes are sheltered."
"Come here," Glorfindel said in the tone his lover knew only too well. "Sit on my lap."
Erestor sat on Glorfindel facing him, and kissed his mouth. His hand moved under the blond's linen shirt whilst the other one held the back of his neck.
"I am so proud of you," Glorfindel said. "You cooked lunch without me being there."
"The fire on the stove can be controlled and so I will not get hurt," Erestor replied. "I see that now, but I could not go near a bonfire still."
"How did you light it?" Glorfindel asked. Erestor had been frightened of the loud bang the new gas cooker made when being lit; he had nearly jumped out of his skin, terrified and clinging on desperately to him when he first encountered it.
"I used one of the long tapers for lighting candles, which I lit using the lighter you bought from the hardware store." Erestor looked pleased. "It is easier to use than the ones the army issues."
"Small steps," Glorfindel said, looking into his lover's face. "We are getting there. It is nearly time for our afternoon jaunt."
"But it is raining," Erestor said with a worried frown. "Surely you are not suggesting we sit on a beach in the pouring rain?"
"I thought today we could go for a drive along the coast and maybe stop for some tea somewhere?"
"No," Erestor said, tensing his muscles. "I do not want people looking at me. Please do not make me go. Didn't you say I was coming on all right? Why do I have to do two steps in one day?" He looked ready to cry.
"No one will know who you are, and I promise we will not stop anywhere until we reach some far out of the way place." Glorfindel looked determined; he was not going to let Erestor go backwards, no matter what action it took.
Erestor lost his temper and began yelling at his lover as he tried to get off his lap. "You don't know what it is like," he yelled at the top of his voice. "You do not care about me. You do not love me anymore. Why are you torturing me? Why don't you just leave me alone?" His fists clenched and Glorfindel knew Erestor would have struck him if he had not held his arms down.
"Perhaps we should not do this," Glorfindel said in a sad, calm voice when his lover had calmed down. "Perhaps it would be better for you if I took you back to Craiglockhart. I see now that I was deluded in thinking that I could help you. I am so sorry that I have failed you, but I had the best of intentions."
"Please do not take me back," a small voice pleaded. "I can only do so much." A huge sob. "I want to be with you."
Glorfindel gave a heavy sigh. "I am trying to help you Erestor, but I really do not think that I am able to do this anymore. I am not skilled enough and I do not want to upset you further. I fear breaking you."
"I do not want to go back," Erestor said with his face against Glorfindel's chest. "I want to be with you. I love you."
"When we bound we promised each other that we would walk where the other led. You are leading me into your world of uncertainty, insecurity and irrational fear, and I am trying to lead you into happiness, stability and peace. Why fight it?"Glorfindel stroked his lover's shaking body.
"I keep seeing visions of dead soldiers and when I look properly, they disappear. Sometimes I see the flash of light from the shell that exploded beside me. I smell the damp of the rooms built into the trenches and hear the screams of the injured nearly every day. I do not think that I want to go somewhere nice and see that, because nothing will be happy anymore." Erestor looked up at Glorfindel. "The dead soldiers keep looking at me and asking why I am not dead."
"Meleth, why did you not tell me this before?" Glorfindel soothed. "Do you see the bodies when we go to the beach?" Erestor nodded that he did. "Then you must tell them that you are not dead because you did not die." He stroked the short dark hair on the head nestled against his neck. "This is your mind doing this to stop you from going into danger again. You have to show it that you are strong and can enjoy freedom and all the nice things in life so that you can win and be happy again."
"I feel so guilty that I survived. The dead bodies I left behind in No Man's Land make me feel guilty when they ask why I did not save them."
"I would rather you sat on my lap and felt guilty than be dead and buried under the ground in a wooden box," Glorfindel said and kissed the top of Erestor's head. "I will not take you back to Craiglockhart; however, you must trust me in what we are going to do to make you better. Always know that I have your best interests at heart and I love you. You do not need the threat of being sent away hanging over you when you have so many other problems."
"Thank you," Erestor said, and seemed to relax for the first time.
"We have to focus on the future, meleth," Glorfindel continued. "I feel that our time here is ending and we have to work on being able to make the journey over the sea. The only way to go west is to travel on a liner, and that involves being around many people. Let this be our goal and not worry about the people here in the village. Nothing they might say to you matters, neither do the questions of the dead. Nothing here matters anymore except that we are able to sail, and that is what we must work towards."
"We will not be of this world anymore and I am glad of that," Erestor said quietly.
"We made the mistake of becoming embroiled in the problems of humans. They will always have their wars and their disagreements and I tire of them never learning from their own history. It is time to say goodbye with a light heart and leave them behind. We are not of their race and it is time to go home." Glorfindel kissed his lover. "And we won't have to make out we are cousins anymore. We can shag to our hearts content in Valinor and no one will raise an eyebrow."
Erestor grinned. "Except Elrond. He raises his eyebrow at everything. It is the only expression he knows."
They sat together for a while longer, and then when the rain stopped they made their way out to the car. Glorfindel drove along the newly built coast road, and even though the dead lined the sides and pointed at Erestor, loudly shouting that he should have died, he ignored them as Glorfindel had told him to.
Erestor was not one of them anymore; he had a new future ahead. He was an elf and so everything was different.
Chapter 7: The Light in the Darkness
The motor car drove off the coast road and into the village of Ewebridge.
The dead soldiers pointing their accusing fingers in Erestor’s direction maintained their chant. “Why are you not dead? You should have died.” It seemed never ending and relentless.
Erestor felt hemmed in. They seemed to be closing in on the motor car, and whereas before they had kept to the pavement, now they seemed to be in the road. “Fin,” he whispered, his strangled and panicked voice sounding small and ineffective against the loud chanting. “They are coming closer.”
“They are not real, meleth,” Fin smiled and squeezed his lover’s arm reassuringly. How he wished he could do more; however, he was always very aware that he lived in a time where any expression of male closeness was frowned upon and even punished. It would not be forever though; soon they would leave this land for all time and bask in the light of the never-dying land of Valinor. The mechanics of getting there were proving to be problematic, but Erestor would come round in time; of that, he was sure.
The car stopped in the high street, just outside Betty’s Tea Rooms. “They are always called Betty’s aren’t they?” Erestor said with a contrived breeziness. Glorfindel noticed that he sat closer to him than before.
“What is the matter, meleth?” Glorfindel asked as Erestor gave him a look of worried uncertainty.
“The soldiers are right up to the door,” he whispered as though they might hear him.
Glorfindel looked around. The street was deserted and the tearooms had one customer whose back was to the window looking onto the street. It could not hurt, he decided, and would never be believed anyway. Reaching within himself, he sought the part of his psyche that allowed him to exist in the twilight of the dead and he began to glow intensely like a beacon of light flushing the evil that would attack his lover so readily. That which was ordinarily invisible, became revealed, unable to hide from the one who had stepped from the sunlight into the shadows of their existence. The soldiers stayed in position and maintained their chant, but some slipped away and the warrior saw them depart into the blackness of the one who was pure evil, who stood at the back like some sentinel guiding their actions, as he had always done throughout history and time.
“Kill me, why don’t you?” the darkness taunted him. “Draw your sword, Glorfindel.”
The warrior stood before the Lord of all Darkness and smiled. “If I kill you, then good shall die as well, for one cannot exist without the other.”
The Dark Lord, seductive in his beauty and wicked in his temptation, smiled, “Why would one as good as you are, shining hero of Gondolin, not kill the evil that stands before him? Then surely, all would be good? Wars and wicked cruelties cannot be maintained where virtue and nobility exist.”
Glorfindel laughed. “You make it seem so attractive and some would indeed be tempted by your honeyed deceit, but I know you as the master of lies and all that is corrupt. Why would I hasten to kill you if you asked it of me? After all, good without the existence of evil ceases to be good anymore. It becomes meaningless.”
“You sentence mankind to war, pestilence, death, famine and relentless attack if you do not kill me,” the Lord of all Darkness said with a cruel, sardonic smile playing as a hint upon his lips.
“It is Eru’s song that says what will happen; all you do is fulfil it. Do not think that you have remained unrecognised through every incarnation throughout history.” Glorfindel gave a victorious smile. “I have always fought you, and you have always lost. You will stay here. Valinor shall not be yours, not now or ever. If I kill you, I will become you. It will not happen.”
“You do not know to what evil you sentence mankind,“ the Lord of all Darkness hissed and licked his lips. “I will see that they destroy themselves. The next hundred years will see an escalation of evil on a scale never before imagined.”
“So be it,” Glorfindel replied.
“You do not care?” The Lord of all that was dark and evil was astonished.
“For every evil human, there are a thousand good ones. They will do what they believe is right, and they will risk everything for that which they consider just, in the hope that future generations will know peace. How can either of us compete for their hearts when they give up their lives so freely? You will never share in the love they have for one another, and to them you will always be an outsider living in your ever increasingly splendid isolation. You will cease to exist in their thoughts except as a fairy story to tell their naughty children.” Glorfindel paused and then smiled benignly. “You see, Sauron, humans will blame themselves for their own evil and you will cease to be a part of their lives or their thoughts and beliefs. You will diminish and become as nothing.”
The Lord of all Darkness roared; thunder crashed and lightning hurled bolts of electricity throughout the streets of the small village. Tiles flew off rooves, windows smashed, chimneys crumbled away from their perches and the ground heaved upwards, dismounting the paving blocks and displacing the kerbs at the sides of the road. Erestor sat in the car terrified, with eyes tightly shut, praying to the Valar for protection and knowing that they would not listen because he had chosen to stay away from his homeland for so long. Out in the middle of the English Channel, a maelstrom whirled to an incredible height, sucking ships under and spreading outward, towards the land.
Glorfindel stood in the middle of the road, looking down the high street towards the furious sea and raised his hand. “Calm,” he said, and all was still. His glow diminished as the danger faded, the Lord of all Darkness beaten once again.
The occasional tile fell and as the dust settled, the villagers nervously came to their doors.
“Are you all right?” the owner of Betty’s tearooms asked. “Look, come in and have a cup of tea and something to eat. You poor things,” she said as she opened the car door to let Erestor out. “You have both been very lucky. How awful to be caught in the middle of an earthquake. Never seen an earthquake in England before.” She reflected for a second, “We don’t get them.”
Erestor was in a state of rigid terror. Glorfindel and one of the villagers helped him into the tearooms and sat him on a chair. The waitress, a plump, middle-aged woman with just the suggestion of a moustache at the corners of her mouth, dusted the table off and put a tray of tea and cakes down.
“Put plenty of sugar in his, Sir,” she said motioning to Erestor; her fingers trembling slightly. “He has had a bit of a shock, hasn’t he?”
“Thank you,” Glorfindel said. “It is very kind of you, especially as you must be shaken yourself.”
She beamed and walked away, happy that the man at the table had smiled at her. It made her feel good that one so shaken and, dare she say it, handsome, would be so thoughtful, caring and polite when you considered what he and his friend had just been through.
Outside the villagers collected together, milling around and making sure that they were all safe and accounted for. Sauron had vastly underestimated their willingness and ability to care for each other, Glorfindel reflected. The Lord of all Darkness in his many names might heavily impact upon their lives but he would never own them. Mankind did not need the elves, and had probably never needed them. With that thought, Glorfindel felt happy to leave them, even though the presence of Sauron weighed so heavily upon their lives.
Several times during their tea, various villagers came into the rooms to ask if they were all right. When they were satisfied that the two were able to travel, one of the villagers brought a block and tackle pulley system and the car was pulled out of a fracture in the surface of the road and pushed up the street to where the ground was unbroken. All this was done without discussion with the two elves who sat watching.
“They are truly marvellous,” Erestor said. “Humans never cease to inspire me.”
“Well,” Glorfindel replied in a soft voice. “When you see them like this, it is not hard to know why they went to war. They will always fight for what is right.”
“And they will always die for it, as well.” Erestor gave a rueful smile as he reflected upon those he had left behind.
“Then they are like the elves and just as noble,” Glorfindel said and gave the one he loved the fondest of smiles.
They returned to St. Michael’s Leap by the back roads because Glorfindel suspected the coast road would be impassable. The soldiers were not in attendance; they had gone to the rest where dead warriors throughout the ages had always gone. An overwhelming peace descended like the rays of a new sun blessing the day and the heaviness lifted from Erestor’s heart.
“Fin,” Erestor said as they drove past Piddler’s Hill. “I am not worried anymore. I feel so light.”
Glorfindel looked lovingly at him. “I am so relieved, Melethen,” he replied and smiled as joy filled his heart.
Erestor gave his cheeky and characteristic pre-war grin and winked at his lover. “I think everything is going to be all right.”
Chapter 8: The Questionable Safety of Normality.
Only four people in St. Michael’s Leap owned a motor car, and Glorfindel was one of them. Driving back through the alternative route from the village of Ewebridge rather than using the impassable coast road meant that they would not be able to reach their cottage by the usual road, which bypassed the village.
“Erestor, we have to go down the high street and your presence will likely cause some curiosity,” Glorfindel said.
“I know,” Erestor replied. “I will be all right so long as no one asks why I am not back at the front.”
“You are a recovering war hero, meleth,” Glorfindel smiled. “No one expects you to go back just yet; anyway, they say the war will be over in the next few weeks.”
“Some of the soldiers in the trenches were sent back as soon as their wounds started to heal. They still had dressings on them,” Erestor replied. “There are those who say that there is no such thing as shell shock and that it is the manifestation of a weak mind. They say the cure is to return them back to the front straightaway and so that is what they did.”
“I have heard that,” Glorfindel said and gave his lover a reassuring smile. “Do not worry. I will not stand for any slight upon you. I expect that no one will say anything,” he smiled at the dark elf. “I have not been asked for the past couple of weeks why I am still not serving abroad and so I think that everyone must know that our boys will be coming home soon.”
Erestor knew that Glorfindel had been asked several times why he was not away fighting with the rest of the men from the village. He always told them that government work required that he stay in England. One soldier, a recruiting sergeant who lived in the labourers’ cottages by the river, and who seemed to Glorfindel to have a massive chip on his shoulder, had publically challenged him several times, asking why he was not at the front and calling him little less than a liar and a coward when he was told why.
If he had worn a uniform, then Glorfindel would have had less intrusion by those who would try to shame him into action. He bore it patiently but there was one who thought his treatment very unfair indeed.
Major Bellstone-Gibbons had been apprised of the situation by his wife, who had observed the blond being challenged for the third time. His sense of outrage grew to incandescent proportions when he was told that the recruiting sergeant was the one who was challenging him. “Damn swine. Who does he think he is? He has been warned several times for sending under aged boys to the front.” He drummed his fingertips hard upon the side table. “He has never fought in action, and now he is challenging a British Hero. He needs a damned hard flogging and if I see him at it, I will give him one myself.” He drew a sheet of paper from his desk. “Well I can do something about this,” he said to his adoring wife. “That is what happens when you give the lower classes a little bit of power. Goes to their heads; they don’t know how to handle it, my dear.”
“Of course not, Henry. I knew that you would have the answer,” Rosemary Bellstone-Gibbons simpered, and, in a rare display of outward affection, placed her hand on his shoulder as he wrote.
People will make of a situation what they will. Imaginations worked overtime; especially as the word went around that a senior member of the army had visited the local base and required that Glorfindel not be harassed in any way. No reason was given. However, nothing can be allowed to remain unexplained and so by the principle of Ockham’s razor, continuing its influence down the centuries, the simplest solution was expounded as being the most likely. Glorfindel was obviously a spy, laying low until he was required. He was not really an explorer for the government, and had obviously not been anywhere near a jungle. No, Glorfindel had already served behind enemy lines and his presence would be a liability if he were to go back. Yes, that was what had happened, people agreed, and even though it was a knowing web of fabrication, it was held as gospel truth.
“I am willing to try and meet the outside world, ‘Fin. I am not trying to make any excuses.” Erestor seemed anxious and so Glorfindel laid a reassuring hand upon his arm for a fleeting instant, always mindful that they might be observed.
“I know,” Glorfindel replied. “How about stopping the car outside the fishmonger’s and buying a couple of crabs for dinner and then buying some salad vegetables from Longbottom’s next door?”
Erestor smiled. “All right then.”
They drew up outside the fishmongers and bought two crabs, which seemed a bit on the small side and so Glorfindel added two lobsters to the order.
“Would you like then dressed, Sir?” The fishmonger stood beaming as he held the brown-shelled crabs up.
“Yes please,” Glorfindel grinned.
“Lovely crabs these,” the fishmonger said as he pulled away the dead men’s fingers. “Caught fresh this morning. Smaller, but have a fuller flavour. Now let’s do the lobsters.”
Erestor looked around. The shop was empty apart from a container full of water holding live eels from the nearby river, and another holding four live lobsters that were covered with wire netting. He supposed that they sold their catch early in the morning, and by the afternoon all that would be left were goods that were not likely to perish. Near the ceiling was a metal rack with hooks strung with bunches of bright green samphire gathered from the local marshes, a traditional accompaniment to fish; he was vaguely aware that Glorfindel was ordering some.
“Come on, Erestor,” Glorfindel said as he walked out of the shop with the crustaceans wrapped in old newspaper and the samphire hanging by a loop from his index finger.
Erestor turned and said goodbye to the fishmonger and followed Glorfindel into the sunlight. Once outside they walked next door to Longbottom’s and bought some potatoes and salad vegetables.
Mrs Bedlow-Squires had decided to take an afternoon constitutional to walk off the rather heavy lunch she had eaten an hour before. In the distance, she thought that she had seen Mr Fin and a slim young man in a soldier’s uniform going into Longbottom’s. She speeded up her walk so that they could not suddenly come out of the shop and get into Mr. Fin’s motor car without seeing her.
“Hello, Mr. Fin,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires called out as she propelled herself up the gentle climb of the high street. “It is so good to see you again - and who have we here?” She leaned forward and made a girlish gasp of delight. “Mr. Erestor?”
“The pleasure is all mine, dear lady,” Erestor said as he took her hand and shook it.
“How wonderful to meet our very own war hero at long last,” she gushed, and gave a smile that showed every single tooth in her mouth. “I am so very happy to meet you. I trust that you are enjoying your stay in our dear little village.”
“Indeed, I am,” Erestor smiled politely.
Here was a chance for Mrs Bedlow-Squires to reinforce her position as the social leader of St. Michael’s Leap, and it would be one in the eye for the Bellstone-Gibbons, her dearest friends and most tenacious rivals. “I am holding afternoon tea tomorrow for a few close friends and would be so delighted if you could both come.”
“Dear lady, we would be honoured,” Glorfindel said and gave her a big smile. “Although I am afraid that we will only be able to stay for an hour, as Mr. Erestor has an appointment to keep.”
Once again, Mrs Bedlow-Squires felt the need to show them all her teeth as she gave a huge smile. “Until then!” she trilled and walked off, almost skipping, in the direction of the haberdashers.
Erestor and Glorfindel climbed into the motor car.
“I am so proud of you, meleth,” Glorfindel said. “If you can survive an encounter with her, then the rest will be a piece of cake, as they say.”
“I wish you had not agreed to afternoon tea,” Erestor said with a mild look of unease. “You know how I hate being the centre of attraction.”
“You never used to,” Glorfindel smiled. “They are very polite and will not put you under any pressure. I am sure of that. Although I cannot promise that they will not flirt outrageously with you, like they do me.”
They arrived back at the cottage and had their meal of lobster and crab salad with samphire and buttered potatoes whilst sitting in the garden. The warm breeze cooled and Glorfindel felt the first spots of rain from the clouds overhead. “Looks like rain,” he mused.
They took the plates into the house and washed them. By this time the rain was pelting down and there was a chill in the air, but not enough to light a fire, which Glorfindel would have done if the air had become any colder. Erestor shut the French doors and locked them. He locked the kitchen door and the front door also, and Glorfindel asked what he was doing. After all, it was rare for anyone in St. Michael’s Leap to lock their doors; the villagers were always too proper to enter without knocking and waiting for an answer before entering.
“I thought that we could celebrate my progress,” Erestor grinned. “When I have shut the upstairs windows I expect to find you waiting in our bed.”
“You are very cheeky.” Glorfindel moved across the room. “I think the old Erestor is coming back in leaps and bounds.”
They went upstairs at different times, because even though they were in an isolated cottage on the very fringe of the village, both were careful not to draw attention to the fact that they were lovers. So far, they had avoided the scandals that had plagued their friends, but one never knew who was watching, and so they had to be very careful. When they sailed, the pretence would not have to be maintained and they could love one another openly. It helped that they had the acquaintance of two young ladies whenever they went up to London, whom they attended engagements with, official and otherwise, and who fully understood their need to maintain a respectable public exterior. Similarly, they needed two men to gad about town with, so that they could maintain their private lifestyle without too much curiosity. It was widely speculated before the war that Erestor might even tie the knot with the lady who always accompanied him about town, although all hope had died in Glorfindel’s direction because of the nature of his job. What young thing could tame him when even the wilds of the jungle could not?
Erestor closed the last window and turned to face the elf who loved him with all his heart. “Come to bed, meleth,” Glorfindel said in a low voice. The rain pelted against the window and the lane was deserted. Thunder and lightning lit up the sky.
“We should be safe, no one will spy on us in this weather,” Erestor grinned as he pulled the Chinese screen in front of the window; it always paid to be safe. He sunk down into his lover’s arms and sighed with pleasure.
Glorfindel growled and threaded his fingers through the dark hair. “Let us make love as though it is our last time, meleth,” he said, and closed his eyes as the warm, pink lips closed over his own.
Chapter 9: Social intrigue and Enigma.
“Dear Captain Erestor,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires smiled gushingly. “How absolutely darling that you decided to come to my sweet little house and take tea with us.”
“The pleasure is all mine, dear lady,” Erestor said as he took her hand and kissed the back of it. He reflected how often one had to lie so that social harmony could be maintained. “Please call me Erestor.”
Glorfindel stood beside him and Erestor drew a quiet strength from his tacit support. He trusted that his lover would smoothly manoeuvre the conversation if anything accidental or untoward were mentioned, which made the invitation to tea a more bearable prospect.
They followed their host through the large hall, to the double doors situated just past the ornate and rather large wooden staircase. Beyond the doors was a large room capable of hosting a dinner party for at least thirty guests. To one side of the room stood a grand piano, covered with a tasselled, hand-painted silk shawl. In the centre, there was a round table with eight place settings.
“Tea is a rather formal affair by the looks of it,” Glorfindel whispered in Erestor’s ear as they walked forward to meet the other guests, who were all congregated at the end of the room discussing Mrs Bedlow-Squires’ latest art acquisition.
“Here is our guest of honour, dear ones,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires boomed to the puzzled guests who were trying to work out the meaning of the painting. “Dear Captain Erestor, who has entreated me to call him Erestor. Such a dear friend, he is.”
“Damn, that is one of my paintings,” Erestor said, somewhat alarmed and wondering when he had become such a dear friend of a woman who looked as if she would eat him alive if he put a foot wrong.
Glorfindel smiled inscrutably. "Might just work in our favour," he said as he regarded the three-foot square painting of Galadriel gazing into her watery mirror. She was viewed from behind, and over her shoulder could be seen a vision...of the one ring, distorted in shape and clarity by the wind rippling off the water. Enough of her face could be seen for her to appear very beautiful indeed.
“Major and Mrs Bellstone-Gibbons. Good to meet you, old chap,” Major Bellstone-Gibbons boomed as he heartily shook Erestor’s hand.
Erestor smiled at Mrs Bellstone-Gibbons and kissed the back of her hand. “The pleasure is all mine,” he said to her, as she simpered with joy at meeting someone so famous. After all, Captain Erestor was the toast of London society at the moment because of his new and outrageously successful exhibition at the Tate Gallery. The fact that he achieved as much whilst preferring to stay in St. Michael’s Leap only added to his mystique and desirability. It was a fact lost on no one that Mrs Bedlow-Squires had pulled off the social coup of the year at least. The guests were too polite to plan any revenge or possible counter coup, if there could be one, until they were back at home. However, it would not hurt to watch and listen closely, to ascertain whether there was a possibility of tarnishing some of Mrs. Bedlow-Squires’ glory in the coming days.
“This painting, is she a relative of yours?” the Major asked, before Erestor could be introduced to the other guests.
“She was my fiancé, before the war,” Erestor lied. Through their connection, he could hear Glorfindel laughing.
“Nice one,” Glorfindel’s voice rang in is mind. “I bet they ask about the ears.”
“I wondered because, not to put too fine a point on it, old chap, she has your ears,” the Major chuckled.
“Artistic license,” Erestor smiled and swiftly turned his attention to the next guest.
“Dear Daisy Hawkinghurst,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires smiled as she introduced her dearest and most dangerous friend.
“How very nice to meet you,” Erestor said as he kissed her proffered hand.
“I am most pleased to meet you as well, Captain Erestor,” she said, wondering if he would be such a dear friend to her and exhort her to call him Erestor also.
“Please call me Erestor,” the dark elf smiled and gazed into her eyes.
“Then you must call me Daisy,” she smiled back, knowing for certain that her dear friend Mrs Bedlow-Squires was not such a good friend of Erestor’s at all, merely an acquaintance who had politely asked her to drop his title when addressing him. How handy this information would be when there was occasion to use it, but for now she would play the game as she always did.
“A beautiful flower and a beautiful name,” Erestor said, implying that Daisy might be good-looking too.
“Thank you,” Daisy replied. “I hope you enjoy living in our little village, and may I say that your painting is wonderful; I like it very much.”
“How nice of you to say so,” Erestor smiled. “I am in the middle of painting my garden at the moment; there is a quality of light like I have never seen before. It should be my best piece when it is completed, especially if I can capture the golden afternoon light.”
“How delightful,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires said as she pulled Erestor away, privately rueing giving Daisy an invite. How rude she had been to monopolise her guest.
At the end of the line of guests stood the Reverend of the local church and his wife Dorothy.
“We have not seen you at church, Captain Erestor,” the Reverend said and shook the elf’s hand. “However, I hear that you have not been very well.”
“Our sweet little church is the centre of our social community, dear one,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires said to Erestor. “When you are completely better, perhaps?”
Erestor smiled and turned his attention to Dorothy who stood looking at him through her thick, horn-rimmed glasses. He noticed that she was not smiling, and for a moment he was uncertain about meeting her. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said pleasantly as he kissed her hand.
“I love your painting,” she said softly, almost wistfully. “There is magic and a certain sadness to it; to me, it speaks of loss.”
“You are very perceptive,” Erestor said, and smiled before his new dear friend, Mrs Bedlow-Squires, pulled him away so that she could show him the painting of her house in winter.
“The Major painted it,” she beamed. “My sweet little house has a painting all to itself.”
“How pleased you must have been when you saw it,” Erestor said, wondering at her affectation of calling her mansion a sweet little house.
“Mere daubs,” the Major interjected. “Not a patch on yours, what?” he said to Erestor.
“It is a charming painting,” Erestor smiled. “If I were the dear lady, I would have been very pleased with it.”
The Major was very happy and later boasted to his wife that the famous artist had complimented him on his artistic talent, knowing that she had heard nothing of the conversation after being waylaid by Daisy who wanted to tell her about a redcurrant jam recipe she had seen in the local newspaper.
The tea went successfully. However, after a couple of hours it was time to leave. After many goodbyes and after accepting an invitation to dinner from the Bellstone-Gibbons, they made their way to their motor car and climbed inside.
“You did very well,” Glorfindel said happily, as they drove out of the village.
“I wonder when the Bedlow-Squires woman bought the painting. Surely she did not spend all that money just to impress me?” Erestor asked.
“They are like Rottweilers in this village,” Glorfindel laughed. “They have the money and the means to impress and so they do. It is as simple as that. It is a game, that is all, and one we shall be expected to play our part in now that we are accepted as one of their social circle.”
“When the war is finally over, let’s go on a cruise,” Erestor suggested. “This village is like a fishbowl.”
“A cruise would be a good idea. We need a holiday.” Glorfindel turned the motor car into the road leading up to the cottage. “Any idea where you would like to go?”
“I would like to go to New York and see the really tall buildings. I hear they are works of art,” Erestor grinned. “I could show my paintings there.”
“Then that is what we will do,” Glorfindel smiled. “As soon as they decommission the first liner from the war we will be off to New York.”
The nights drew in as summer ended and autumn took hold. The leaves fell from the trees and the garden fell into sleep. The air was crisp and cold and the wind howled around the cottage. Much time was spent sitting in front of the fire and socialising with their new friends, who were all very careful never to mention the war. Glorfindel had muttered darkly that they should never do so and, wary of the unmentioned consequences, they all agreed that this subject was off limits.
Erestor found himself enjoying the relaxed life of the village and kept a diary of events. In it, he tried to work out the machinations the villagers indulged in. Even he and Glorfindel were guilty of working their friends occasionally. They had scored a great success, and driven their new friends into an absolute furious envy, when the Prince of Wales had stopped at the village of St. Michael’s Leap on his way to the Isle of Wight to present Erestor with the Victoria Cross for exceptional bravery during the battle of the Somme. The Prince also announced that Glorfindel was to be made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the British Government.
Mrs Bedlow-Squires and Major Bellstone-Gibbons particularly, had made much of how proud the village was of them both, and how honoured they were that they had two such illustrious people within their midst. The rather formal civic reception lasted less than an hour, during which Erestor and Glorfindel made sure that their new social circle were all acknowledged by the Prince.
Dorothy, the Reverend’s wife, seemed less thrilled than the others. She was a serious and thoughtful woman, and quietly told Erestor that she thought the Prince, ‘frivolous and without direction’. “Not that I am indifferent to his presence,” she smiled. “He is rather handsome.”
“He is only twenty six,” Erestor replied. “I think it is quite exciting to meet our future king.”
“Destiny is the master of us all,” Dorothy smiled and squeezed Erestor’s hand. “Thank you for inviting me and it was good to see you again after such a long time.”
Erestor was nonplussed. He had only seen the lady a few days before and he wondered if she was suffering from memory problems. If so, he would have to be patient with her, as she had said some very odd things before that had made him feel uneasy. He was sure that she had not meant to be anything but sociable; however, in her own way she seemed inept at saying the right thing. Perhaps she was too thoughtful or maybe she held the games their friends played with one another in contempt. It would not be hard to do, Erestor reflected.
Glorfindel had no answers to the unsettling things that Dorothy said and told Erestor to dismiss his thoughts. “She is rather odd but she has a good heart and does no one any harm,” he reasoned. “I think her glasses make her appear odder than she really is. They are so thick that it is hard to see her eyes at all.”
“She gives the impression of knowing more than she should, like she can read minds.” Erestor remained perturbed and it was not the first time they had this conversation.
“She is human, the impression will always be no more than that,” Glorfindel said. “Now, let us go upstairs and you can sit on my lap.”
Erestor smiled. “One day we will not have to go upstairs.”
Glorfindel stroked the dark elf’s face. “One day we will go home. There is a new beginning now that the war is over, and we are not part of it.”
“I do not feel the call, do you?” Erestor asked.
“No, meleth,” Glorfindel nodded sadly. “It will come one day. Of that I am sure.”
In the months that followed, during the harsh winter darkness, they sat in front of the fire and dreamed of times long in the past when they were younger and had their future before them.
What was their future now, they both wondered.
Too many questions and no firm answers; it was best not to think too long about it, and so Glorfindel and Erestor spent most evenings in front of the fire, listening to the wind howling around the cottage and the ever constant rain pelting against the window. At least they still had one another and for now that was all that mattered.
Chapter 10: RMS Mauretania.
6th March 1920 – Southampton docks.
The two elves stood on the dockside as their luggage and Erestor’s paintings were taken by the porter to be loaded into the hold of the superliner, RMS Mauretania. The war had ended in November 1918, and they had spent the past sixteen months living quietly in the village of St. Michael’s Leap. Their friends had become so fond of them that they had held a small party to wish them goodbye. Both Glorfindel and Erestor protested that it would only be for six months, but to the villagers it seemed as though they would be away forever.
“She is a beautiful ship,” Erestor said, as he shaded his eyes from the strong, late winter sun. The weather was almost warm and there was not a cloud in the sky. Spring would be in a few weeks, and the dark-haired elf had visions of walking in New York with the daffodils in bloom.
“She is the fastest ship in the world,” Glorfindel said. “Let us hope that nothing happens while we are on board.”
“Why should anything happen?” Erestor asked, looking at his lover.
“Her sister, the Lusitania, was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat,” Glorfindel grinned.
“Hardly likely that any U-boats are hanging around in the Atlantic any more, is it?” Erestor gave a derisory snort and looked once again at the huge ship before them.
“If anything does happen, I am here to rescue you,” Glorfindel grinned and when Erestor raised an eyebrow in contempt, he poked his tongue out at him.
They made their way on to the ship. “We have one of the Regal Suites,” Glorfindel said, and a porter led them to their rooms on the port side of the ship. Erestor’s eyes opened wide when he saw the opulence of the rooms. The drawing room connected to the dining room by a sliding door and both rooms were lined with Indian satinwood panelling with inset pale green and white striped silk panels surrounded by woodcarvings. The two bedrooms were finished in a Georgian style, with moulded carvings in the style of Adam and the walls lined with white silk; the woodwork was a contrasting mahogany.
“This is the bathroom, Sirs,” the porter said as he opened the door for them to view inside, and then he moved swiftly on. “Here is your private corridor, so that you do not have to use the main first class one.”
The porter moved over to the dining room and opened the double doors. “This is your own private deck, Sirs. It is quite the sun trap on the journey across, or so I am told by some of the crew who remember the ship from before the war.”
“Thank you,” Glorfindel said as he tipped the porter a five-pound note.
“Thank you sir,” the porter grinned and held the large white note up in front of his eyes. “My missus will think I have robbed a bank. You need anything, Sirs, just let me know.” The young porter had been told by the crew that the richest passengers tended to be the worst tippers and he knew this must be true because he had been told so many times. He doubted that he would tell them about the five pounds he had been given; it was worth at least three weeks wages and he did not want to find it suddenly missing.
“This is wonderful,” Erestor beamed. “Are we terribly broke now?”
“Not at all, sweet one,” Glorfindel laughed. “This suite was nine-thousand, two hundred dollars; we can afford it easily.”
“What is that in pounds?” Erestor’s eyes widened.
“It works out to two-thousand, four-hundred and fifteen pounds,” Glorfindel grinned, “And we are worth it.”
“That is an incredible amount of money,” Erestor said with a stunned look on his face. “It seems such a waste. You could buy a small mansion with that.”
“Meleth, perhaps you have forgotten how to enjoy luxury? I know that after all my privations in the jungle and your experiences during the war, that if anyone deserves the best suite on the ship it is us.” Glorfindel sat beside his lover on the bed and smiled as they heard the last call to board. “It is too late now, anyway. Shall we go onto our private sun deck and wave goodbye to dear old Blighty?”
Erestor laughed and took Glorfindel’s hand as they stood up. They walked through the double doors, out into the fresh air. Looking over the side, they could see crowds of people waving their loved ones off. After a while, the whistle sounded and the noise from the engines increased.
“We are moving,” Erestor said excitedly.
Glorfindel said nothing in reply. He reached down, took his lover’s hand and squeezed it. The moment was too awesome for him to say anything trivial and so he smiled with the same joy and excitement as the dark elf beside him.
“I say, isn’t that the Reverend?” Erestor pointed in the direction of the dock.
“It certainly looks like him,” Glorfindel replied. “Perhaps he is waving a friend off.”
“Do you suppose Dorothy has left him because he isn’t strange enough?” Erestor asked with a playful malice.
Glorfindel howled with laughter. “Well he isn’t blowing any kisses so it probably is not her who he is waving to. Anyway, I always thought of them as being very happy together.”
“I am being naughty, that is all,” Erestor replied. “It is probably a friend or one of his parishioners. If it was Dorothy he would have said, wouldn’t he?”
“Not if she was travelling third class,” Glorfindel grinned. “You know what a crashing snob he is.”
“Like all of them really,” Erestor smiled ruefully. “The war is over and now we can go back to being awful to each other.”
“So long as you are never awful to me, I do not give a fig,” Glorfindel said cheerfully. “In return, I promise never to be awful to you.”
From Southampton, the liner made good speed to Cherbourg and then it was onward towards the great Atlantic Ocean.
Erestor and Glorfindel mixed easily with the other guests and held two dinner parties in their private rooms. They were delighted to find that they knew quite a few of the first class passengers and socialised to an excessive degree. Nearly every night was the same and after a week of very little sleep, Glorfindel was worn out.
“I need to have an early night,” Glorfindel said as he speared his fork into his turbot with lemon sauce at dinner.
“Yes, we have been overdoing it somewhat.” Erestor winked and tucked into his fillet steak with horseradish cream.
“It surprises me that you have so much stamina,” Glorfindel mused as he dipped a boiled new potato in melted butter.
“I am back to my old self,” Erestor replied and took a sip of his Lafitte. “Mmm…nice. What is yours like?”
“It is very nice; Rothschild normally is acceptable,” Glorfindel took a sip and smiled. “Yum yum, just right. I am not giving you any.”
“I don’t want any,” Erestor grinned.
They both had the lemon mousse with syllabub, and then departed for their suite.
On the way, they had to fend off several good-natured invites to go dancing or to play cards. When nearly at the entrance to their private corridor, they were asked to go on an impromptu scavenger hunt, organised by a group of bright young things who had a list of items that one had to purloin from different parts of the ship; the person collecting the most by a certain time would be the winner. No one had worked out what the prize should be, nor that taking the Captain’s hat would be looked upon with a certain amount of disapproval.
The elves carefully extricated themselves from the requests by suggesting that Glorfindel might be feeling a bit under the weather. “Why do I have to be the one who is feeling ill?” the blond elf whined as they entered their drawing room. “I look the very picture of health.”
“Shut up and take your clothes off,” Erestor grinned. “Get into bed like the sick elf you are so that I can tend to your needs.”
“All right, then, you strip off too and then we can make believe we are Bacchus’ nymphs who have had too much to drink and have lost their inhibitions,” Glorfindel said as he approached his lover and threaded his fingers through his hair. “Mmm…this was such a good idea, getting the most private rooms on the ship.”
They kissed, whilst deftly puling the clothing away from each other’s bodies, and then they stopped.
“Do you feel that?” Glorfindel asked, his face furrowed with surprise.
“The call of the sea,” Erestor laughed and kissed Glorfindel hard on the mouth. “How will it happen? This ship will not be able to travel to Valinor.”
“I really do not know,” Glorfindel replied. “I hope we can find a way.”
“The ships engines have stopped.”
Glorfindel walked out onto the private deck to see if he could peer down to the main deck below and find out from a passing member of staff why they were not moving anymore. The ship was in darkness except for his suite and a couple of other cabins dotted along the side of the great vessel. Ahead, in the near distance, floated a wide shimmering band of crystal rising in an elegant, curving arch from the lapping waves up into the sky, to a point where his keen elven sight failed him.
Glorfindel looked over the side and saw a lifeboat being lowered.
The person down below looked up at them. “Hurry up; I do not know how long it will remain. This may be our last chance.”
Erestor and Glorfindel raced into the drawing room and opened the safe, taking out the jewels that they had brought just in case something like this did indeed happen and took the jewels out of the safe that they had brought, just in case something like this did indeed happen. They did not want to go to Valinor empty handed. They ran down to the lowest open deck and climbed down the rope ladder to the waiting lifeboat below. Three elves sat there already.
“There is one more to come,” they were told by the elf who was holding the oars. They sat for a while, but nothing happened. “Perhaps she has changed her mind. How sad.”
“Can we wait a little longer?” Erestor asked.
"I am afraid not," the elf said and pushed off with his oar. "It was debatable whether she would hear the call, and it seems the Valar have decided that she will not.“
They cast off and listened to the oars dipping into the still water. All seemed calm and silent as if a hush had descended over the whole of the ocean. The time of the elves was over, and the acquiescent sea would be their final memory.
The RMS Mauretania.
Chapter 11: Farewell to the Beautiful Earth. Final
The elves rowed to the crystal bridge unaware that another person swam in the freezing cold water, trying to catch them up. She called out but the elves could not see her, and so they continued. They reached the bridge and watched as the elf with the oars stood up and waved his torch in the air.
“Wait for me,” a voice cried, and this time the elves heard her. The swimmer caught up and Glorfindel pulled her aboard and gasped. “Dorothy?”
“Thank goodness, I nearly missed you all. I could not get my jewels out of the safe as it stuck. In the end a bit of brute force did the trick.” Dorothy grinned and before anyone could ask her anything, she pointed up into the sky. “Look, there is a shooting star.”
All was forgotten as the elves stared upwards at the sky. Into view came a ship, whiter than the purest cloud and with billowing sails of gold. Along the side was painted the legend, ‘Vingilot’. Over the side, a rope ladder tumbled down and the who had guided the lifeboat to this point urged them all to quickly climb aboard.
Eärendil the Mariner stood smiling, with the Silmaril fixed to his brow and his long dark hair flowing in the gentle breeze. “Welcome dear friends,” he said, his face full of joy. “You are the very last elves left on Middle-earth, and now it is time for us all to go home. When we cross the crystal bridge, the link with Earth will be severed and I will not have to patrol the skies ever again.” He moved forward abruptly, as Dorothy climbed on board. “I did not know if you would hear the call,” he said as he gazed upon her face for the very first time.
“Well I did, but I had a bit of trouble getting my jewels out of the safe and when I called out, those idiots did not hear me. “ She gestured towards the elves who were all standing on board. “They just kept rowing. I am freezing cold, soaking wet and I am not very happy.”
“Then we must get you warm again,” Eärendil said. “What are those ugly things on your face, my dear?”
“They are glasses, meant for poor vision, but these are plain glass. I do not really need them but I wanted to keep up the disguise.” She took them off and threw them over the side and then she let her hair loose so that her normally covered ears were revealed.
“Arwen?” Erestor said, his face betraying his shock at seeing her again. “We were told that you died. Indeed the chronicles record that you went to Lothlórien, sat under a tree and passed away.”
“Well I did not.” She seemed shocked. “Who told you that?”
“Your brothers,” Erestor answered.
“They are so naughty, aren’t they,” she grinned in delight. “It is just the sort of thing they would say.”
“I said it was the Reverend who we saw on the dock,” Erestor said and looked to Glorfindel for confirmation.
“He thought that I was going to visit my sister in America and waved me off. I felt the call as soon as I saw you both in the village. I knew then that it would be time to plan my departure. I feel a bit bad leaving him in the lurch like that, but that is how I have had to leave everyone when I have failed to follow them into old age.”
“You could have told us who you were,” Glorfindel said.
“I was torn between doing so and having two confederates in my plans, and not risking the secret being exposed because I had failed to maintain my silence. So, I chose to say nothing.” Arwen explained. “I cannot wait to see my parents and my brothers again. I hope they remember me.”
Eärendil wrapped a blanket around Arwen’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. He looked around at the other elves. “Is everyone ready?”
The ship slowly glided along the crystal bridge, upwards into the firmament until it reached a fine silver filament, hanging as if from nowhere and trailing a slender path down to the Earth. The elves looked over the side at the blue planet.
“It is beautiful,” Erestor said, his voice choking. “I do hope they will be all right.”
“We are not of them anymore,” Glorfindel soothed. “Turn away before your heart breaks forever.”
Erestor looked to the side and saw a tear trail silently down Glorfindel’s cheek. “I looked forward to this moment so much and now it is unbearable. It is as though we have died.”
None of the elves were left unmoved, and they held onto one another in their grief. Eärendil paced across to the edge of the ship and drew his sword. In a great swinging arc, the heavy blade cut through the thin silvery strand. “There is no going back and never will the crystal bridge appear on the earth again.”
The elves watched silently as the earth seemed to grow rapidly smaller. “Are we moving or are they?” Erestor pointed to the rapidly shrinking blue planet.
“We will never know,” Glorfindel said and held onto his husband in public for the first time in thousands of years.
Erestor looked at Glorfindel and smiled, “We have to say goodbye in our hearts and then we can move on.”
Glorfindel furrowed his brow. “You are right. We have much to look forward to, and yet still I grieve.”
They held each other as the ship travelled into the dawn of Anor during the start of its daily axis. Ahead was a land green and fertile with a ridge of mountains in the background.
They had arrived.
They were in Valinor.
They were home.
Official statement issued by the Cunard Line. 14th March 1920
Captain Oakes of the RMS Octavia reported during the evening of the 13th March 1920, that his ship passed the RMS Mauretania in the Atlantic Ocean en route from Southampton to New York. The vessel was in complete darkness except for the lights in four cabins, and was silent due to the engines not running. During the next hour, the RMS Mauretania did not respond to telegraphed enquires as to her state. As the Octavia neared, the engines and lights of the RMS Mauretania came back on. No member of the crew could give an explanation as to why the engines and electrics had been off and seemed unaware that this had been the case.
Upon investigation, it was reported that six passengers and the purser were missing, along with one of the lifeboats. The assumption was that the two events were connected. No electrical or engine fault has been found that can explain the loss of power to the RMS Mauretania.
Several hours later, the lifeboat was found floating with the oars still in place. The passengers and the purser have not been retrieved from the sea and their whereabouts remain a mystery. There is no evidence of foul play.
A special service was held before continuing the journey for those lost at sea.
Lord Amras Meneldur
Captain Lord Rowan Erestor VC
Lord Finwë Glorfindel CBE
Mr Galdor Helyanwë
Mrs Dorothy Nerwen
Missing member of crew.
Purser – Albert Saelbeth
Royal Observatory, Greenwich. 14th March 1920.
Advisory note to the government.
“The star Vingilot just right to, but not part of, the constellation of Orion, has disappeared from the night sky. The reason is unknown and any conjecture would be fruitless until the proper calculations have been made. Any implications are not thought to have any proper or serious bearing on the Earth, due to the distance in millions of light years previously between the two bodies. Whilst we searched the Orion constellation for Vingilot, a comet was observed to enter the Earth’s atmosphere. There is no connection between the two events.”
The Times Newspaper - Monday 15th March 1920
Captain Lord Rowan Erestor VC and Lord Finwë Glorfindel CBE
Lord Glorfindel and Captain Lord Erestor were cousins who remained close even in death. Therefore, it is appropriate that two young men, so very close, should also share our remembrances of them.
On the 22nd March 1880, the two grandsons of the reclusive Earl Finwë of Seeland made the voyage to Australia to take over the running of a two-thousand acre sheep station the Earl had won whilst playing cards. They were successful in the undertaking and it was rumoured that their grandfather travelled out to meet them shortly after. It is reported that none of the parties are still alive.
In the summer of 1904, two young men, aged eighteen, came to these shores with letters of introduction from their fathers. Both young men went up to Oxford to study and were quickly accepted into the upper strata of local society.
Lord Glorfindel showed early promise as an explorer and joined a party to Samarkand in his third year of study, where he excelled. On subsequent explorations in India, Upper Sudan, Tanganyika and Venezuela he found several rare plants with medicinal value, one of these being the herb Athelas, now used for drawing out poison and relieving swelling. Several species of beetle and lizard were also discovered by him, as were the rare Ungoliant Spider and the seldom seen Elwing Albatross.
During his travels, Lord Glorfindel was able to send a once weekly diary report of his journeys to The Times in London, which was a major sponsor of his Sudanese and Venezuelan expeditions. He proved to be a fluent and engaging writer and, and upon his return from his travels in Tanganyika, he published two books about his explorations. In the year prior to the war, he was sent on a secret government exploration of which there are few details. Upon his return he was given a year’s leave before joining the army so that he could recover from the terrible hardships and privations that he and his party had endured. It is known that he was successful in his mission, and after the war was made a Commander of the British Empire for his service to the Crown.
In between expeditions, Lord Glorfindel spent much time enjoying the social scene, both in London and at various large country estates. He fitted in easily with the friends of his cousin, Lord Erestor, but unlike him, he did not court controversy. Lord Glorfindel embodied many of the traits of long-forgotten heroes and especially appealed to the British love of history and Empire.
Lord Erestor studied architecture, art and form. He announced that his quest was ‘to paint the perfect golden light’, and he showed much early promise. Precociously blending dada-esque elements with fauvist expression in his earlier works, he was pronounced too avant-garde for the critics who attended his first major exhibition in The Bond Street Gallery in London. Undeterred, and buoyed by the support of his fellow artists who violently rejected old perceptions in favour of a new originality and futurism in art and architecture, he found an ally in Marinetti who introduced him to Boccioni during a visit to Italy. On his return, he exhibited a shocking but brilliant painting titled, “Elf loving a watermelon.” The daring use of imagery, meaning and form meant that he could no longer be dismissed as a mere painter of daubs. He was now considered one of the darlings of the contemporary art scene in both London and Paris, where he unveiled probably his most symbolic painting. The Tears of Despair portrays a man looking into a pool. He stands with arms outstretched, watching the reflection of a melting cross; he cries because all that he held dear is now lost, causing him to question the reason for his existence and the ultimately hopeless outcome of personal sacrifice. Lord Erestor always denied that the painting had any religious meaning.
Picasso invited Lord Erestor to spend the summer with him and his family in Spain. After dabbling briefly with Cubism, he exhibited his most famous painting, “The Woman with a Cat’s face”, at once innocuous and yet dark in hidden meaning and mysticism. Because the character in the painting wore a crucifix and the cat’s face when viewed upside down was that of the devil, the more virulent critics of his work considered bringing blasphemy charges against him. Never one to stay with a particular method for too long, he developed his own style of painting, which took expressionist elements and subjected them to the overwhelming light of Impressionism and the ethereal mysticism of post-romanticism. His next exhibition was lauded by the critics for his daring use of light and colour, juxtaposed with dark elements of form and meaning.
Lord Erestor maintained a busy social life and was often seen in the company of Lady Victoria Buccleugh and her cousin, Lady Alicia Ridgeway. His cousin, Lord Glorfindel was also seen with the two ladies whenever he was in town, leading to much speculation, all of which proved unrewarding in the end. It was posed that perhaps marriage was not for those with so itinerant a lifestyle.
At the crest of his personal success, Lord Erestor was called up in 1915 to serve as an officer in the war. He was placed with a detachment of war artists and displayed considerable skill as a technically exact painter and draughtsman of the conditions at the front. He exhibited astonishing bravery and was mentioned in dispatches three times for his daring in sketching enemy encampments at close hand. His crowning achievement was to walk into no man’s land during the Battle of the Somme and rescue the wounded. He saved sixty men from dying in the filthy mud of that wasteland and all who saw it said that the hand of God shielded him from the sniper’s rifles. For this one single act, he was awarded the Victoria Cross after the war.
A shell burst next to Lord Erestor as he was delivering a fresh set of illustrations to the carrier to take to the War Office in England. Terribly injured, he maintained a quiet dignity in spite of the pain. He was sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland to recover.
Lord Glorfindel, upon hearing of his cousin’s distress, bought a cottage in the small village of St. Michael’s Leap on the South coast and took him there to convalesce. They fitted in well with the local gentility and Captain Lord Erestor recovered enough to mount an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. He was too weak to attend the exhibition, but the paintings were of a style not previously encountered. One critic said that the paintings were of pure light. Some had no form, only expression, whereas others were technically perfect and showed a brilliant understanding and empathy. His painting of a beautiful woman peering into a watery pool and looking at a ring covered in strange runic writing was hailed as a major success. Captain Lord Erestor was now hailed as one of the greatest contemporary painters in England.
The next major exhibition was planned for New York, and the cousins booked passage on the RMS Mauretania. It is not known what happened next. Their rooms were deserted, as were those of three other passengers, two male and one female. The safes in their rooms were empty, and they were not on the ship. One crew member could also not be accounted for. Conjecture as to why they all abandoned ship takes on an even greater air of mystery when, after an extensive search, their bodies could not be found. There was no other ship in the area and the night was cold. It has been assumed by the British Government that Captain Lord Erestor and Lord Glorfindel are missing, presumed dead. They leave no issue and the line is now extinct.
The British Empire has lost two of its leading lights. Their fire shone fiercely and like all such flames it was extinguished too early.
There will be a memorial service 15th April 1920, for Lord Glorfindel and Captain Lord Erestor in St. Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London.
St. Michael’s Leap 1955
Mrs Bedlow-Squires sat in the chair by the window, watching the world go by. She did not recognise most of the villagers now, and neither did she want to. She thought back to events thirty-five years before when three members of the village had presumably been washed overboard at sea on the RMS Mauritania. The loss still made her sad. Captain Erestor and Mr. Fin had been such charming young men, so brave and full of life. Poor Dorothy had also been on the ship and had not survived. The Reverend had died of a broken heart six months later.
Major Bellstone-Gibbons and his wife Rosemary had died the year previous and the only one left was dear Daisy Hawkinghurst, who had bought her the book she now held in her hands. It seemed a fanciful book, but Daisy had loved it and wanted her to read it so that they could discuss something that she felt was very pertinent about the story. Without thinking she looked over the room at the painting of Captain Erestor’s fiancé looking at the underwater ring with the strange runic writing on the outer side. Because of his death, the painting was now priceless. She could sell it, but something within herself made her loathe to ever part with it.
She turned her attention to the book on her lap.
Three weeks later Mrs Bedlow-Squires stopped reading and examined the painting by Captain Erestor again. It struck her that the ring and the lady portrayed in it were exactly as described in the book. This warranted further investigation and so she rose from her chair, took hold of her walking stick and made her way over to her writing desk. Removing a sheet of headed paper, she started to write.
“Dear Mr. Tolkien…”