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 sculptor 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 their unsociable neighbour. 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 there 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 Marguerite?”
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 in the garden painting, 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.
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Story notes: Warnings for whole series: AU, Angst, Humour.
Disclaimer: I do not own the elves or their surroundings. I make no profit and have no intention of making any. Although the characters belong to Tolkien and/or New Line, this story is my own idea and my own representation of them, therefore any archiving without permission will not be tolerated.