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The bank opened at nine, which meant Erestor wasn’t finished the
morning’s business and ready to leave until shortly after ten. He
arrived to find Elrond waiting in the Birkenhead’s plushly carpeted
lobby. Erestor almost asked where his bags were before remembering
just in time that there weren't any. Unexpectedly relieved to avoid
looking stupid, he put on a bright smile and said, "Morning. Ready
to go? You look tired, did you sleep all right? I'm never good first
night in a new place."
Probably not much better than asking about non-existent baggage, he
told himself, watching Elrond's eyebrows arch. Last night’s
conversation over dinner still had him off-balance and it was
showing. He sounded as bright and chirpy as a game show host.
"I slept well enough, thanks," Elrond replied mildly, going past him
and through the revolving door. "You're probably seeing the effects
of the rather stolid breakfast I’ve just eaten."
The car was parked almost directly outside in a no parking zone.
Erestor got in and leaned across to open the passenger door. "I'm
not much of a breakfast person," he admitted, "but I quite like
hotel style as a treat. Did they have kippers? I haven't eaten them
This led to a general discussion about breakfast menus they had
known, which tapered off even before they reached the outskirts of
town. After this, Erestor gave his attention to the road while
Elrond stared out the window for the most part, apparently lost in
thought. He did not smoke in the car.
The coast road offered breathtaking views of the sea, but it was
narrow and winding and took at least half an hour longer. Long
before the turnoff, Erestor had decided instead on the quicker route
through farmlands and over Sir Lowry’s pass. He doubted Elrond would
mind either way. The approach to the pass ran between walls of raw
rock, leaving grazing lands and apple orchards behind. Erestor, who
loved the way the gash in the mountainside laid bare the different
colours of the various rock strata, pointed it out to Elrond and
received a glance and a polite murmur in reply.
Undeterred, Erestor turned off into the shallow viewing lay-by at
the summit of the pass and brought Hal’s elderly Beetle to a halt.
The car made clicking, settling sounds and the wind gusted lightly
against it, otherwise the sudden quiet was almost startling. Below
them farms and occasional clusters of houses stretched out like a
checkerboard to meet the still-distant industrial area. To their
left, the sea merged with the horizon in an apparently motionless
line of blue, seeming almost to fade into the mountains on the far
side of the bay. Elrond considered this picturesque vista then
turned to Erestor, frowning.
“Is there a problem?” he asked. “Why have we stopped?”
Erestor wondered if he was being awkward on purpose. After last
night, nothing would have surprised him. “You said you were
exploring the tourist routes, so I thought you’d like to see one of
the best views along the coast. I don’t know – do you have a camera?
It makes a good photograph.”
Elrond looked at him with an expression that suggested Erestor was
the one being difficult. “If I wanted a postcard, Erestor, I would
buy one,” he said at last. “Though – it is pretty, yes. Thank you
for stopping. You were always thoughtful.”
The smile was almost his old one, there and then gone. Erestor
paused then plunged in, made bold by familiarity and the enclosing
intimacy of the car. “Elrond, what? You’ve barely said a word in the
past hour – and when you have you’re short, you’re distant. I would
always listen if you needed to talk, you must know that.”
A shuttered look greeted this. “I… nothing’s wrong, Erestor. It’s
just been a long month, and the car breaking down was the last
straw, that’s all. You’re quite sure he knows what he’s doing, are
you? I seem to recall he was well known for having a high opinion of
“Haldir?” From experience Erestor knew when a question was being
passed off unanswered; he was a master of the art himself. Ditching
the idea of begging a cigarette, he started the car and pulled back
onto the road, which made a sharp turn before spiralling steeply
down, rock on one side, an open drop on the other. “Hal’s brilliant
with cars. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Even if Erestor had to stand over him with the manual open so they
could work on it together. He assumed there was such a thing as an
E-type manual, even though general mechanics probably didn’t have
much call for information on sports cars. Before he left town, he
decided he would stop off at one of the bigger bookshops and see if
he could find one. Just in case.
While his yacht was being overhauled, Elrond was renting a holiday
flat up on the hill in the older, more expensive part of Sea Point.
The block had security but precious little off-street parking, so it
took Erestor a few minutes to find somewhere to leave the Beetle –
Hal was right, you could park it anywhere. The flat was on the fifth
floor, and they rode up in the lift in silence.
The living room was large and airy, with a view over the rooftops to
the sea. Looking around, the first thing that struck Erestor was the
lack of personal touches. The furnishings were tasteful but
anonymous, and there were no photographs, no little ornaments, no
plants. It looked as barren as a hotel room. He opened his mouth to
say as much, then snapped it shut again. Elrond had made it quite
clear invasive comments were unwelcome.
“If you’d like, I can make us coffee?”
He turned and smiled at Elrond, who looked almost tentative for a
change. “Coffee would be good. Mind if I go out onto the balcony?
You have quite a view from here.”
Elrond shrugged and produced a key. “It’s all right, yes. Go ahead.
The weather’s good, we may as well enjoy it.”
The view was indeed ‘all right’. The balcony had a waist high wall
with a double row of metal tubing above to act as a safety break.
The Atlantic seaboard was spread out before him, stretching in a
criss-cross of streets down to Beach Road with its shops and
restaurants, and on further to the promenade along the beachfront
and the sea itself, blue and still. Out in the bay he counted three
ships waiting to berth in the harbour and in the distance lay the
island, a smoky purple mass on the horizon. Beyond that the ocean
stretched on into an endless distance, all the way to Antarctica.
Elrond almost startled him, coming up beside him and holding out a
ceramic mug filled with expensive-smelling coffee. Erestor took it
with a half smile. Even after all this time, he still found espresso
an acquired taste, but he said nothing, merely sipped briefly. Like
Fin, Elrond was apparently a believer in minimal sugar. Erestor had
learned to drink coffee in the Middle East and still judged each new
experience against the thick sweetness he had grown to love in
“It’s an amazing view,” he ventured instead.
Elrond shrugged. “They make you pay for it,” he said dryly. “But
it’s a good address. Less questions if you live somewhere like
“Yes, I know. Money in Europe, here to look around?”
“Ah. You’ve done it before.” The grey eyes softened, warmed briefly.
They had been good friends once, back in Imladris when Erestor had
worked beside him. In those days, he had been more often on the
receiving end of that look of animated interest. Memories of those
times had been behind his earlier attempt to reach out in the car.
Well, time passed, Erestor supposed. It had been quite a while even
by elven standards since their paths had last crossed.
“More than a few times, yes,” Erestor agreed before the pause grew
too obvious. “Different situations, but it’s a good line, it adapts
to any number of circumstances. By now we’ve done just about
everything you can think of. Some things better than others,” he
added, unable to suppress a smile.
Elrond nodded, ran a finger around the rim of his coffee mug, his
eyes on it, pensive. He slanted Erestor a sidelong glance. “You and
Haldir – how long have you been together now? I hardly liked to ask,
but… I was – surprised. I never imagined you and Glorfindel would
separate. He sailed then?”
Erestor blinked, following his thought. “Oh, no, no.” He tried not
to laugh; it would be an insult to Haldir who was his closest friend
in all the world. “No, nothing like that. Friends, we’re friends.”
The waiting expression Elrond turned on him was identical to the one
he had faced long ago during debriefings of a very different nature.
“We met up in Genoa a few centuries back. Fin and I are still
together. This just means we don’t have to be in each other’s faces
year in, year out. Sometimes we’re in the same place, sometimes,
like now, we’re a world away. Fin’s – more self-sufficient than I
am, I guess. I like company and Hal and I get on well.” He thought
back, smiled slightly. “Being apart’s easier than it used to be,
too. Telephones, reliable mail…”
“Ah. Neither of you mentioned him, and I didn’t like to ask. Where
is he then? What’s he doing?” Just a hint of – hope?
Erestor drank coffee and watched a cloud of seagulls flocking above
a building that backed onto one of the side streets. Restaurant, he
decided. They always knew where there was a chance of food. He loved
the gulls. Looking back he had no idea how it was that Glorfindel’s
name hadn’t come up yesterday, but this at least explained why
Elrond had seemed only nominally curious about him and Hal. There’d
probably just been no right moment. “He’s in the Middle East with
the Red Cross: earthquakes, famine, wars, and general disaster. This
time it’s some refugee camp in Lebanon.”
“Why?” Puzzlement traced Elrond’s fine features. “Why would he be
involved with something like that?”
Erestor was not someone to placidly accept a situation. He had asked
this same question centuries ago, and kept asking until he had
properly understood the answer. He could even remember where and
when acceptance had come; night, a small house near the river in
Athens back in the time of classical greatness, lying in bed in a
darkness far deeper than any city on earth could now offer,
listening to the insects while the quiet, hesitant voice beside him
talked about responsibility, about a mentorship laid down too
“He likes to go where people need help.”
Elrond frowned. “There is no point,” he said. “They live, they die.
It’s the way of it. And should they even begin to guess who and what
he is, do you think they would thank him for his help?”
“It’s nothing to do with thanks,” Erestor responded, choosing his
words carefully. He was speaking for Fin after all, not for himself.
“He does it because it’s important to him, they’re important to him.
Still our younger siblings, he says. Still our responsibility
anywhere we can make a difference.”
“Glorfindel always was a dreamer,” Elrond said tartly. “Not you
though. I’d have thought you’d have sailed long since.”
Erestor had some more coffee then turned fully to face his former
lord. Keeping his tone casual, he asked, “What about you? You hardly
seem impressed by their brave new world. Why are you still here? It
must surely get lonely at times? That’s the main reason Hal and I
teamed up.” Some instinct stopped him from asking what had happened
to the girl.
Elrond was eyeing him coolly. “There is… even less waiting there for
me than I have here,” he stated, his tone clipped and emphatic.
“Therefore, I remain until someone gives me a good enough reason to
leave. Now – not that I wish to impose, but would you be able to
give me a lift to a few places before you go back? I have errands to
run and an obvious lack of transport.”
‘A few places’ turned out to be an understatement. A call at
Elrond’s bank and a stop to pick up his dry cleaning were followed
by a brief visit to the yacht basin where Erestor sat in the car
while Elrond ran in to some office to check if his application for a
different berth had been successful. Erestor suspected he was
praying no one associated him with the rather dusty WV Beetle that
looked uncomfortably out of its element parked amongst its flashier
Elrond got back into the car, closing the door twice, at first
lightly then the second time, remembering earlier advice, slamming
it firmly. “Right, that’s fixed,” he said. “Now, I don’t suppose you
could take me through to Hazeldene? I need to pick up my riding
boots. Just had them re-heeled. They’re good boots, I could hardly
take them just anywhere,” he added in answer to Erestor’s eloquent
Hazeldene was on the other side of the city, nearly half an hour
through traffic. Boots collected, Elrond suddenly turned all
gracious host and insisted on buying them a late lunch at a small,
Greek establishment he had apparently visited before. Erestor tried
not to make too much of looking at the time and instead ordered a
salad and hoped for light traffic on his way home.
“Do you come to town often?” Elrond asked him. “If so, we should get
together next time you’re here. I never expected to run into anyone
from the past this far south.”
“Nor I,” Erestor agreed, carefully sampling some anonymous item of
‘seafood’ in amongst the lettuce. “We try and keep up with everyone
we know, and it’s happened quite often that we’ll run into elves
eventually if we stay somewhere for long enough, but not here till
now. The chances of having met you are…”
“Yes, Valar-inspired,” Elrond said blandly. “Though what their point
might be, I could hardly begin to guess. You’re sure Haldir will
only be two days fixing the car?”
Erestor nodded. “That’s what he said. From when he gets the part he
ordered, anyway. Then he’ll bring it through for you.”
“He’s going to drive my car?” Elrond put down his fork and contrived
to look horrified.
Erestor traded him a level look. “Yes, he’s going to fix your car
and then he’s going to drive it. Hal has almost an… empathy for his
work, and he drives a damn sight better than I do. He was the one
who taught me, if that’ll set your mind at rest. You got here in one
piece, after all.”
Elrond let it pass. “So, as I understood it last night, he does the
repairs and you see to the business side of things?”
“I can do a basic service.” Erestor was quite inordinately proud of
this fact. “So if we’re really busy, I pitch in. Otherwise, yes, I
run the office and look after our finances and he does what he calls
the real work.”
General topics followed, careful topics, nothing that could turn in
on itself or lead round to more talk about the past or about why
Elrond was still here. Erestor finally cut to the heart of it,
asking the question that had been sitting near the front of his mind
since last night’s dinner.
“What about Celebrķan? Surely she’d want to know about her children?
Were you able to send her word?”
The air around them tingled, the sounds of the few other patrons
talking and laughing and the quiet cacophony of the kitchen all
seemed to fade. Elrond looked at him, and his grey eyes seemed to go
almost black. Erestor remembered that look and had to forcibly
remind himself that this was not Imladris, and he was no longer
answerable to the half-elf’s authority. But he and Celebrķan had
been friends, good friends. He had a right, almost an obligation, to
“Celebrķan is not your concern, the rest of my family even less so,”
Elrond breathed softly. “I will thank you to take your famous
curiosity and put it on a leash, Erestor. This is none of your
Beta: Red Lasbelin