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.
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