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Astor Bay, CE 1979.
“A bit of this and a touch of that.”
They were sitting in the kitchen of Hal and Erestor’s small, rented
house, with the back door open to the sunset and the scent of
newly-wet grass and soil. The front room was for watching
television, the kitchen was where they entertained, except for the
times when Hal needed the couch and a little privacy.
From the front the property was unprepossessing, as could be
expected from an all male household – a low wall enclosed a straggle
of lawn and two overgrown red hibiscus bushes, there was a
frangipani tree and a row of fading petunias. The back, by contrast,
was the preserve of the elves, a riot of scents and colours
bordering velvet green grass. There was no planning, nothing was
organized. Occasionally one or other of them brought home a cutting
or a small, carefully uprooted plant that had caught the eye, and it
was planted in the first likely-looking space. A handful of
compost, a few whispered words of encouragement, and every addition
to their garden grew, including plants that had no business looking
strong and healthy so close to the sea.
The kitchen was functional; a stove and fridge, an ancient twin-tub
washer, cabinets with doors painted a strange shade of pumpkin that
had looked rather better in the can than on the wood, and a round
table with four chairs. Erestor sipped cheap white wine and studied
Elrond out of the corner of his eye while they talked. Some things
were the same, some clearly different. He wore his fine, dark hair
short and neat, his toned body exuded confidence as did the neat and
tastefully expensive clothing.
Surreptitiously Erestor glanced down at himself, noting the contrast
presented by his cream button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled
back, light denim jeans, and bare feet now that he was at home. He
wondered briefly if Elrond had a single item in denim in his
wardrobe before returning to his scrutiny.
The grey eyes were almost as he remembered, a little tired, but
still gravely intelligent, perhaps a trace more watchful. Elrond had
always treated the world with a healthy dose of suspicion. And the
rare smile – that hadn’t changed.
“This and that?” Erestor asked lightly. “Sounds familiar. I say
import, export when we’re between work – people get sidetracked with
James Bond-type jokes. Though that’s not often these days. We make a
good team, and there’s always place for a good garage manager and a
skilled mechanic. We keep busy.”
Elrond nodded. “If that kind of thing appeals to you, yes, of course
it would work. I travel. Never in the same place long enough for
questions to be asked. I stay a while, I move on. I’ve seen the
world this way.”
“Several times over by now, I imagine,” Erestor agreed politely.
“As have we all. But – that must get wearying, Elrond? Surely? I
find it hard enough to uproot after ten or fifteen years, let alone
keep on the move indefinitely. It must get lonely too - it even does
for me, and I seldom travel alone.”
Elrond flicked him a glance, his eyes inscrutable. “I seldom find
any incentive to stay in one place for long,” he replied briefly, a
warning implicit in his tone. “Leaving doesn’t bother me. Except the
boat, of course. I’d miss that. I’m fond of the boat.”
“Boat?” Haldir had been watering the garden and came in now,
stamping his feet briefly on the mat to dry them, his cut-off jeans
showing splotches of wetness. He headed straight for the fridge and
a cold Carling, his plain t-shirt setting off the ripple of muscle
moving under clear, tanned skin. He found the opener, flipped the
top off the bottle of beer and drank deeply, leaning against the
fridge. “You have a boat?” he asked, wiping his hand briefly across
his mouth on a satisfied sigh.
Elrond gave him a look that suggested cut-off jeans and cheap
t-shirts had no place in his world. Nor, probably, did beer direct
from the bottle. Erestor bit back a smile and settled down to watch.
“Ketch. Forty foot, sleeps five – four comfortably. Won her playing
baccarat with a millionaire in Monaco. Since then I’ve been all over
“You have a boat big enough to transport a car?” Haldir looked
impressed, Elrond less so.
“At forty foot? Hardly. I sent the Jag out on a container ship well
before I left London. Then I picked up crew and sailed down here. We
arrived at more or less the same time as the car.”
Hal grunted. “So – you’re settling here then?”
Elrond looked pained. “And leave London?” The word ‘civilisation’
was implied. “No, I thought a year, possibly eighteen months. Just
for a change. Enjoy the sunshine. I have the Adagio berthed at the
Yacht Club, and I’ve been sight seeing while she goes through the
usual overhaul after a long trip. Afterwards I have plans to sail up
the coast. This, according to the guide book, was supposed to be a
short, pleasant drive, a little early in the year for whale viewing
but perfect for a day trip.”
He glanced around as though the town itself was somehow responsible
for his mechanical problems. Hal looked suitably unsympathetic. “Day
trip, yes. Two hours from town,” he agreed, hooking a chair away
from the table and turning it so that he could straddle it, resting
his folded arms on the back. He took another deep swig from the
bottle. “So. What happened to the car then?”
“I have no idea,” Elrond told him. “It kept – cutting off. I managed
to flag someone down, and he arranged for a tow. I saw a larger
garage on the outskirts of town – I’m sure someone there…”
“No, no, Kobus likes heavy duty vehicles, that kind of thing,” Hal
said confidently. Not a lie so much as a huge exaggeration.
“Transmission, probably. Should be a two day job, and that doesn’t
include waiting for the part from town.”
“And you would know this, because…?” Elrond looked sceptical.
“I would know this because it is my job to know this,” Haldir
informed him, speaking slowly as though to a not very bright child.
“I had a good look this afternoon and that’s what the problem is.
Don’t worry – you’ll get a full inventory. We’re not in business to
rip people off.”
“Two days? I have no intention of sitting around here for the next
two days.” Elrond held out his glass wordlessly for Erestor to give
him a refill before continuing, “I’m also quite sure it needs the
attention of a specialist mechanic, not a self-taught…”
Haldir sat up straight, bristling. “Elrond, it would be a major
undertaking to have your car towed back to the city,” Erestor cut in
hastily. “Think of the way the road winds down the pass. And it
would be expensive and draw attention to you, and I’m sure, like us,
you try to avoid that. And if Haldir says he can fix it, he can fix
He and Hal supported one another, sometimes flying in the face of
common sense. It was one of the cornerstones of their friendship.
“If you like, I can take you back tomorrow morning, and one of us
can bring the car through when Hal’s finished with it. Two days plus
however long for spares delivery, right?” he added, glancing in
Hal’s general direction, although being careful not to make eye
contact. The Mighty alone knew if Hal had any idea what he was doing
and now wasn’t the time to ask.
“I had no plans to stay over, Erestor. Where…?”
“Plenty of hotels,” Erestor told him quickly before Hal could do the
predictable thing and extend an invitation for Elrond to spend the
night with them. He could somehow not picture Elrond sleeping on the
couch where Haldir had recently seduced Marta who worked in the
novelty shop on Main Street. “It’s end of summer so there should be
plenty of space. I’ll give the Riviera a call, organize
accommodation. You’ll like it - lovely rooms, and it’s right above
“What a wanker.”
Erestor sighed and went on brushing his hair, watching fine strands
leap away from his head then slide back into place. He was wearing
blue cotton pants, a white shirt shot through with a pattern of blue
wavy lines, and a thin navy tie. He had even debated tying back his
hair, but he had no need to impress Elrond at this point in their
lives. With that in mind, he decided against a jacket.
Haldir displayed no sense of occasion. His good jeans were topped
by a paisley shirt, the predominant colour of which seemed to be
green, and his shoes could best be described as comfortable.
“You’ll have to wear a tie with that,” Erestor pointed out mildly.
“The Riviera won’t let you in their dining room without one. And he
is not a wanker - just moves in different circles to us. And that
is a matter of choice. I’m sure I could afford a yacht if I wanted
one, and to berth it at the Yacht Club, too. Which I don’t.”
“Can see Blondie’s face when he wanders in from do-gooding and finds
you living the life of the idle rich, yes,” Hal said cheerfully
while he scratched through Erestor’s open wardrobe. “Not too
attached to worldly goods, him. This one all right?”
‘This one’ was a purple tie with a geometrical design, a gift from a
former employee. Deciding that any tie was better than no tie at
all, Erestor restrained a shudder and nodded. At least it matched
the purple in the shirt.
“You can take it off soon as dinner’s over,” he suggested, giving
his hair a last stroke and then shaking it back.
“Why would I put it on just to take it off again? You want me to
wear a tie, I’ll wear a tie.”
“It’s not me wanting you to – it’s the hotel and its dress code,
“Why are we doing this again anyway?”
Erestor gritted his teeth. “Because Elrond invited us for drinks and
dinner so that we could catch up, and someone,” he gave Haldir a
pointed look, “thought it would be fun to say yes?”
“He said it like we wouldn’t know which knife and fork to use,”
Haldir grumbled, struggling with the tie. Erestor resisted the urge
to knock his hands down and do it himself. “So I said yes. Show him
we’re civilized and all the rest.”
“He knows <i>I’m</i> civilized,” Erestor said dryly,
putting his wallet into his back pocket and looking around for the
car keys. “About you, he’ll just have to take his chances. Come on,
get finished. We’re late again, we’re always late. You have no time
“Why couldn’t he have stayed somewhere normal like the Astoria? You
don’t need a tie in there.”
“Because he’s Elrond? I don’t think he’d recognise a pie and chips
eaten at the bar as dinner.”
The hotel was less than half full this late in the season, and
Elrond had managed to organise a window table. Erestor could see the
moon-bathed sea and a portion of the small beach behind the
reflection of lights and movement. It was a different world out
there, still familiar and welcoming, thousands of years away from
the brightly-lit dining room, the clink of cutlery, the steady drone
of voices occasionally punctuated by laughter.
“But are you making any money out of it?”
They had just finished dessert, chocolate mousse for Erestor, fruit
salad and ice cream for Elrond, who had left a portion uneaten, and
a concoction of ice cream, banana, nuts and cherries for Haldir.
Biscuits and cheese had just been served, Irish coffee for Haldir
and Erestor, a liqueur for Elrond. Haldir had been put out to
discover Don Pedros – a popular ice cream and Kahlua drink – were
not served at the Riviera.
“Well, yes, but it’s more about keeping busy,” Erestor explained.
“That and – I don’t know. Being useful? Helpful? We try and keep our
prices reasonable and do reliable work.”
“And much they thank you for it, am I right?”
Erestor arched an eyebrow, surprised. “Well, we get business by word
of mouth, and there’s a steady flow of customers, so I guess people
are happy with the service we offer? And yes, of course we get
thanked. How not?”
“My experience of mortals,” Elrond said quietly, “is that they are
more likely to take advantage of good intentions than respect them.
They might go through the motions, but survival of the fittest is
There it was again - the bitterness, the dark, inward look, the
barely contained disdain whenever either Erestor or Haldir referred
with any enthusiasm to their work, their customers, their lives over
the past few decades. Erestor rested his elbows on the table and
sipped the whisky-laced coffee. “You don’t like them very much, do
you?” he asked, hints giving way to blunt inquiry.
Elrond looked almost blank for a moment. “Liking hardly seems
relevant. I try to avoid getting involved, if that’s what you mean?
No more than necessary for basic comfort and convenience. The couple
I told you about who crewed for me are a good example. Part of the
agreement was that they would go their own way as soon as we made
“But… then what is the point of being here?” Erestor asked,
genuinely puzzled. " Nothing forces us to sail, but there’s nothing
to make us stay either. So why? There’ve been other ships since the
so-called Last Ship. At least one a year, in fact - well, so
Thranduil says anyhow. Círdan’s still here. We do not fade unless we
choose that road, but part of staying involves accepting the world
belongs to the Second-born. If you don’t like being around them, why
Annoyance crossed Elrond’s face, vanished. “I will sail if and when
I feel the urge, Erestor,” he said evenly. “Until then, I have money
enough to live in comfort and an urge still to seek out new places
and hopefully have the occasional new experience.”
“And have as little as possible to do with the ones who inherited
Endor from us, yes, I see. Well, as long as you’re enjoying
“I suppose we all have our reasons,” Haldir said, reversing the
natural order of things by kicking Erestor under the table while
making a show of lighting a cigarette. “There’s more reasons for
being here than spending time with people and helping where we can.
I mean – I was born here. No wish to see the Other Place. Maybe one
Haldir the diplomat. Who’d have thought. Erestor sipped his drink
and hid a smile. Hal liked everyone to think he was laid back and
unsentimental, but he had a good heart and more common sense than he
was normally given credit for. Still, something was wrong. Elrond
might look the same, but something was out of place here. The
warmth, the interest in others, the compassion - they might not be
gone, he refused to believe that, but they were currently very
well-hidden from view.
Taking his lead from Haldir, Erestor reached over and helped himself
to crackers from the platter. “So you’re busy sight-seeing? Have you
been to any of the vineyards yet? Robertson’s pretty this time of
If Haldir could do it, so could he. Once upon a time, a very long
while ago, diplomacy had been Erestor’s job.
Beta: Red Lasbelin