Time's Passages

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'Time's Passages'

 

Prologue
 

Fourth Age, Year 4.

It took time for the morning light to penetrate the brush near the ford across the Bruinen, and the small structure half-hidden amongst the trees still lay drowsing in shadow. When the door swung open without warning, the man huddled under the skins and coverlets on the pallet bed woke instantly, his hand moving instinctively to the dagger beneath the pillow. Recognising the tall, warmly-cloaked figure, he relaxed perceptibly and waited.

A window was opened and the shutter fastened back, letting in thin light and clean, cold air, after which the newcomer put down the burden he carried and went over to the fire. He added a log, two, then made some business of stoking the tiny tongues of flame before approaching the bed.

"How are you feeling?" A hand, warm despite the cold both outside and within the cabin, felt the man's forehead. Golden hair dressed in intricate braids and twists fell forward, sparkling where the light caught it. 

The man, who was indeed no man but rather Elrond Half-elven, former lord of Imladris, sighed and pushed himself up onto an elbow. "Cold," he replied, his voice hoarse and low. "Cold and I ache all over. Not in the least how I imagined fading."

"Ah well, you're the healer. If that's the case, you might not be fading after all." The visitor’s voice, light but with a bell-like richness, shimmered with amusement. "If you ate more it would help. You had a long journey with the Ring of Air, it will take time for your body to recover from the demands your fa made upon it."

"Damn you, Glorfindel, I thought you just said I was the healer."

Soft, warm laughter. "Oh yes, but you are far too ready to write off this patient. When you left the White Ship just before she sailed, preferring the quayside to your assigned berth, you knew this would not be an easy time. Rest, warmth, nourishment, peace. Those are what you need." He sat back, making full use of the small space left for him beside the recumbent form. "I still think you would do better in Imladris itself. The ring may have crossed the sea with my cousin Galadriel, but some vestiges of its power yet remain..."

"Exactly why I need to be here," Elrond grumbled. "If I am to survive without it, I need a chance to grow free of it. And besides... my sons have work enough without trying to explain my presence to the curious."

Glorfindel nodded slowly. "That is what Erestor says," he conceded. "That if you were there, it would undermine not only their new authority but also the reasons our people have been given for leaving."

"To undermine my sons is the last thing I would wish," the half-elf said seriously. "They also have choices to make and need this time without me looking over their shoulders. I will stay here and rest. It will be years before their work is done and we can think of leaving. If I was not ready, how much more so them?" 

Glorfindel sat quiet beside him, keeping his thoughts on the twins’ final decision to himself. He waited, maintaining a companionable silence while Elrond lay listening to the wind whistling around the eaves. "What did you bring me?" the half-elf asked finally, rousing.

"More blankets, clothing, the wherewithal to make soup. Books - Erestor ambushed me on my way out with a box of books..."

"Ah." Elrond brightened. "Books are good. He always knows exactly what’s needed."

Glorfindel’s smile lit the gloom. "Yes, one of his many gifts," he agreed, pleasure tinging his voice. He got to his feet, looked around. "After I tidy up a little, I can start some soup. I’ll stack the books next to the bed, shall I? Close at hand."

Elrond Half-elven nodded, smiling slightly. "Close at hand would be good," he agreed. "Right now I find it a chore to leave here to answer nature's call or to fetch the food you so kindly leave for me. But reading is more than a necessity, reading is a joy. Erestor is wise... books will feed my soul, and it is my soul that most needs to heal."

 


 

Chapter One

Astor Bay, CE 1979.

Astor Bay was small enough to be comfortable, but not so small that a newcomer’s every move would be scrutinized and discussed. And it was on the coast, which was deeply satisfying to them both. Erestor was Noldor and a stranger to the sea-longing while Hal seemed somehow immune, but the ocean gave them both a sense of continuity, of still being part of the great forces that had moved and shaped the world. 

Halley’s Motors was on Bay Road, which passed the golf course on its way out of town en route to the beaches and the holiday homes of the rich. The forecourt faced the town square, an open expanse beyond which lay the war memorial and the sea, preserve of whales and the rain-bearing wind. Its near neighbours were the local movie house, a handful of small shops, a realtor, and Astor Bay's cheapest hotel. 

The garage was small: four pumps selling BP, a workshop, a lamentable carwash in which something was always breaking, and a shop carrying polishes, spare windscreen wipers, oil, and novelties like Astor Bay key rings and lucky mascots. A machine vended cans of sometimes-cold soft drinks. Hal thought they should stock pies and sausage rolls too, but the bakery was a five minute drive away and there seemed little point. He raised the idea regularly; eventually Erestor would smile and shake his head and let him have his way. 

Thursdays were market day, and the district’s farmers were out in force, offering fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, honey and flowers. Today an informal fish market had sprung up on the butchery side of the square, forcing Hadjma and her daughters to move their herbs and spices over to the corner near the bus stop. If he craned his neck to look through the glass that separated the office from the customer area, Erestor had a good view of proceedings.

In the office, filing cabinet drawers gaped and papers heaped the desk. After an hour's search he had finally unearthed his prize, a folder that had fallen victim to Hal’s imaginative approach to filing. While he glanced through it, he sipped a fresh cup of scalding hot tea, idly enjoying the familiar sounds drifting into the office: passing cars, voices from the market, seagulls, a sudden burst of hammering from the workshop – that would be Fransman, Hal’s assistant and general help. Behind it all, unobtrusive but ever present, he could hear the ocean’s voice, sounding much the same as it had thousands of years ago on Balar.

He sorted papers while he finished his tea, pausing at one point to make notes on a job sheet. When he was done he leaned back carefully, heedful of the warning squeak from the battered chair. His smile was ironic. Once he had helped run the elven stronghold of Imladris, and his deliberations had been vital to many. So far, the day’s most pressing concern had been whether to tell old Mrs. Fletcher that the cost of repairs to her Morris would be more than the book value of the vehicle, or to just go ahead, charge her for a service, and discreetly fix it as best he – well, Hal - could. 

Life was strange, Erestor thought. Of the many things he had done and been down the long centuries – scribe, teacher, soldier, healer, merchant – running a small-town service station and garage had been one of the less likely choices. Yet here he was, still useful in a toned-down kind of way and surprisingly close to content.

 
~*~*~*~*~

The sun shone, a crisp breeze came off the sea, it was perfect weather for a walk. Under the washed-out, end of summer sky, a broad-shouldered figure wearing jeans and a well-worn jacket made his way along Astor Bay’s Main Street, sunlight gilding his pale hair to silver. He glanced into shop windows as he passed, although he knew you made the two hour trip to the city if you wanted anything really up to the moment or fashionable. He walked with the easy, purposeful gait of someone used to travelling fair distances. Quite how far was something no one on the street could have begun to imagine. 

The row of shops gave way to an open field with the high school on the far side. He crossed at the bakery, then followed the informal trail that led over open ground to the commercial harbour on the edge of town. A plume of smoke rising from the processing plant on the slope above the harbour caught his eye, inspiring him to start humming the first few lines of Smoke on the Water over and over again. He had very little on his mind; it was a nice day, if he was lucky he would buy something tasty for dinner, and if the university girls he had met on Tuesday were still in town, he stood a good chance of getting laid again. 

A snake slithered over the trail and into the long grass, and he reached out almost without thinking to touch it with his mind. All was well in its world; he sensed warmth, food and earthness, then it was gone. His only other company was the ubiquitous gulls that shrieked overhead. Erestor was fond of them, Hal could have done with quieter birds. 

There was activity down on the quayside where two fishing boats were docking. He watched them as he waited in line to be served, but had no urge to linger once his purchase had been made. He and Erestor far preferred the Old harbour across the square from Halley’s Motors, with its ancient boathouses and tiny jetty, the preserve of rock anglers and wooden rowboats since the New harbour had been built. 

On the return trip he carried a package wrapped in white paper, and he walked a bit faster than on the outward journey. Haldir’s sense of time was erratic, but instinct said his errand had taken longer than planned. Res would be fed up, but he seldom stayed mad with Hal for long. Too old for sustained irritation, he always said, light brown eyes sparkling in a face that looked not a day past twenty-five. 


Hal stopped off at home, left his paper-wrapped purchase in the refrigerator and hurried the two blocks to work, his pace just this side of a jog. He would have run, in fact he quite liked to sprint short distances, but Res might see him and think his time-keeping lectures had finally paid off. 

Going straight to the private room off the deserted office, Hal hung up his jacket and got into his overalls. Tugging his hair back into a short, thick ponytail, he headed for the workshop, wondering as he did so where Res had got to. 

He did not have to look far. 

“What the fuck…?”

“Hennie towed it in while you were on your tea break – or whatever you call where you’ve been for the last hour.”

“Went down to buy fish fresh off the boat for dinner – you’ll thank me later. Shit, it’s a bloody E-type.”

“And you are not touching it, Haldir! You’ll break something. When the owner gets here we’ll arrange a tow back to town…”

The car, creamy white with city plates, all sensual, flowing lines and curves, sat in the workshop and positively glowed at them. Ignoring Erestor, Haldir first peered in through the driver’s window then, inspired, moved round to the front and popped the bonnet. Stepping back to look down at the engine, he whistled through his teeth softly. “Hey now, this is beautiful…”

Erestor pulled himself up to his full height, which was still rather less than Haldir’s, and tried to look in control of the situation. “I said no. You don’t know the first thing about working on a V-12 engine.” 

The wind off the sea whipped in through the open workshop doors, teasing strands of black hair across his face and wrecking his attempt to look firm and authoritative. This was the close of the 70s and across the sea hair was being worn shorter, but the new fashion had not yet moved this far south. When he thought of it he was grateful for the respite – short hair made him feel half dressed. Frowning, he pushed offending locks back behind his ears and made to close the bonnet. He stopped on an indrawn breath, hand raised, fascinated. 

“Oh yesss, that’s - quite something,” he acknowledged, leaning in for a closer look. “Never seen one of these before…”

“They had the engine specs in Car Talk last month,” Hal said helpfully. He had an instinct for cars, a strange, otherly sense for what might be wrong with them, rather as he had for horses. Erestor suspected he thought of them in much the same way. Haldir was busily touching things, just because he could. “What’s supposed to be wrong with it anyway? Shame to have it towed. Bad advertising - for Jaguar and for us.”

“Hennie wasn’t sure. The owner said it was shuddering and kept cutting out. Should probably have gone to White’s, but Hennie’s not talking to the old man at the moment, so…”

“So he brought it here for spite?” Hal grinned. “Never get on the bad side of the only tow truck driver in town. Anyhow, Kobus talks big, but he probably knows less about Jags than I do.”

“You mean he hasn’t read last month’s Car Talk yet?”

Hal pushed him and grinned, green eyes laughing. “We all have to learn somewhere.”

Erestor shoved him back without rancour, then pointed. “What’s this? Over here, next to the fuel pump?”

“Thought you said not to touch?”

“Not touching, just looking with my fingers.” Amber eyes levelled a cool look at him. “We’ll not get another chance any time soon. Get the magazine – let’s play name the part.”

The fish had not only taken his bait, Haldir observed with satisfaction, but had swallowed it hook and all. He straightened up with a grin, tugging absently at his overall crotch. Medium was too small, large was too loose – he needed to get one of those two piece suits… He turned, and found himself looking directly into a pair of expressionless grey eyes. He stared, stared again, then looked back at the intriguing and not unpleasant view of denim pulled tight to define Erestor’s exceptionally decent backside. 

“Um, Res?” he said carefully, prodding a jean-clad calf with the toe of his boot. “I think someone wants a word with you.”

His voice half muffled, Erestor pushed hair back out of his face again and said, “Moment… Just want to…”

“You might want to leave that for later,” Hal went on in his most casual tone. “The way you always told it, Elrond doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

 

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 2

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Beta: Red Lasbelin