All of Erestor’s artistic impressions of the war were sent through a series of carriers to the British War Propaganda Bureau in England, who censored all the photographs, paintings, drawings and writings reporting on the war. They fed the British public as little negative information as possible to maintain morale, and for the most part it worked. However, this was not their only use. The writings reported the situation at the front, whilst the photographs, paintings and drawings gave a visual description. Using these materials, as well as those from other sources, future tactical plans were devised that would hopefully bring a speedier victory. Erestor often thought that if those in ultimate command of running the war actually got up off their arses and visited the trenches, then they might not be so willing to throw so many young lives away in disastrous actions that glaringly exposed their ignorance of the fields of action. Perhaps that was the reason they stayed at home, he reasoned, for who could look into the eyes of a young man knowing that he was expendable.
All the paintings and drawings were rolled up and sealed. There was only a small bundle this time and so Erestor took them up to the carrying station further up the line. It was only a short walk and meant crossing a patch of open ground, pockmarked with shell holes, but in the distance he could see a tree that still had leaves on it. Small things make the heart sing.
He remembered nothing.
Waking up in a field hospital, burnt skin covered in bandages, deaf from the noise of the shell, blind in one eye from the heat flash, and in terrible pain, was an experience that was never one to be forgotten. Erestor panicked and tried to call out, but his voice remained silent. The only familiarity for him was his shaking hands that refused to remain still. A nurse tried to talk to him but it was as though she was far away, and it slowly dawned on him that he would not be able to make his needs known. How could he tell her of his pain and how could he ask what had happened to him; he did not know and the realisation made his fëa cry out to the Valar, damning them for not letting him die.
Elves heal quickly, but some scars will always remain. When the bandages were changed, it was noted that Erestor was healing inordinately fast, which was a source of wonder to those treating him. Perhaps it was lucky that he had other injuries. He was not of any use now that he was mute and unable to hear anything but the loudest of sounds and with sight in only one eye. Neurasthenia was mentioned in quiet voices; they knew not that Erestor was adept at lip reading or that he could read intention. Relief flooded through his being as he realised that he would be going back home, although he felt guilty for having the chance when others had to remain, others who, in his mind, would surely die before long.
After a few weeks, there was no indication that Erestor had suffered burns at all. This was assigned to the supposition that his method of treatment and the absence of infection had enabled his burnt skin to return to its former smooth state. His eye was less cloudy now and his hearing was improving. Speech still eluded him and his hands shook with familiar regularity. He wondered if he could ever remember a time when they did not. In a way, Erestor was glad that he was unable to communicate effectively as he felt irritable all the time and the headaches drove him to desperation. If only the high-pitched buzzing noise in his ears would cease so that he could sleep other than when completely exhausted. All he could do was watch the comings and goings along the line of beds in the long room. Nurses wearing long white dresses, constantly changing their soiled aprons for cleaner ones, looked weary and older than their years. They worked long shifts and gave more of themselves than most could ever do. Like the other soldiers, Erestor tried not to bother them; they were busy enough as it was. He was sure that his needs were not as urgent as those of the other more injured soldiers and so he bore his pain, closing his eyes so that his mind could transport to happier days.
“I do not want to go to Valinor,” Glorfindel said as he and his friend Erestor watched Celebrian sail. “At least not until the time comes for me to be called to do so.”
“My heart is breaking for Elrond,” Erestor said. “Look at him. I hope the Valar can make everything all right.”
Glorfindel noticed Erestor’s usual evasiveness about their future; it was something they rarely discussed and neither found it easy to be forthcoming. “I will go to Valinor if you wish to go.” One toe in the water and it seemed that the rest should follow. “I love you.” It was said. It was done. The simple declaration that took many years to say, was said.
“Not here; not while Elrond is grieving so much.” Erestor touched Glorfindel’s arm. “When we get back to Imladris…”
A look of complicit understanding and the moment was past, only to remain in their memories as their first declaration of wanting more than they already had.
“Do you feel like a walk this morning?” Glorfindel asked. The morning sun shone through the white muslin curtains, which swayed gently in the warm breeze from the open window.
“Not into the village,” Erestor said with some alarm and held onto his lover as if he would fall forever.
“We could take the car and you could sit in the back?” Glorfindel suggested. “Then we could go down to the beach and have a picnic?”
“Please do not make me do this,” Erestor asked, leaving his lover’s arms and burying his face into his bent knees. He could not help the tears welling up in his eyes and certainly did not want his elven warrior to think of him as weak.
“I am not going to force you, but we need to move on,” the blond elf said gently and stroked Erestor’s shoulder. “I love you too much to let you hide away forever.” He pulled the dark elf into his arms. “Supposing we start by going to the beach this afternoon and find a deserted spot. Would that be a start?”
“Why are you doing this to me?” was the pained, barely audible reply.
“You know why.”
The village of St. Michael’s Leap basked in the early morning warmth. Everything seemed slow in the heat as shoppers wove their way in and out of the various stores in the High Street, buying their goods and passing the time of day in pleasant gossip. Major and Mrs Bellstone-Gibbons emerged from Hargreaves Haberdashery where they had bought lengths of ribbon to make into rosettes for the summer fete. They saw Fin and made their way towards him.
“Good morning, Mr Fin,” Rosemary Bellstone-Gibbons smiled with an almost crocodilian air. “Such a pleasant morning. Are you buying your sweet little comestibles? Perhaps a nutritious lobster for our war hero? Such a wonderful cousin you are to the dear man.” Glorfindel supposed that she could not help talking concise statements instead of engaging in real conversation.
Fin took off his straw boater and gave a small bow. “Indeed it is a pleasant morning, dear lady.” He looked at the Major who smiled and remarked that the weather was good for golfing.
“How is poor Mr. Erestor?” Rosemary asked with a false concern in her face, hoping that her almost pathological need to be the first with gossip was not too evident. “Is he any better? Oh, I do hope so because he is so brave. We read in The Times this morning that he is to mount an exhibition of art at the Tate Gallery.”
“It is being mounted for him, dear lady, as he remains a recluse still. I am afraid that no amount of coaxing can persuade him to visit our dear village, let alone the big city,” Glorfindel replied with an easy smile. “We must give him time.”
“I think I talk for everyone in St. Michael’s Leap when I say that we are so proud of him. He is such a brave man. Wouldn’t you say so, Henry dear?” Rosemary looked up at her much taller husband.
Erestor’s arrival had quite taken the shine off the Major’s constant retelling of his war exploits in the Boer war and even though he was too polite to say so, he resented the enigmatic war hero and hoped that he never surfaced in the village. He supposed that the ladies would become bored after a while and turn back to him as the purveyor of tales of derring-do, along with the required devotion and adoration that accompanied such entertainment. “Yes, indeed. Remarkably brave. Still, in his own time, what? Don’t want the poor man to feel as though we are crowding him.”
“Good morning, dear friends.” Mrs Bedlow-Squires called in greeting as she crossed over from the other side of the road to be with the small group. “And how are you all?” she asked in the unintentionally condescending way that she always affected.
Miss Hawkinghurst emerged from the fruit and vegetable shop behind them with her basket laden with strawberries. “Hullo everyone,” she trilled. “I am making some jam for the fete this afternoon.”
“How lovely, Daisy dear,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires beamed at her friend. “I must be sure to buy one of your sweet little pots. What was it last year?”
“Apple jelly,” Daisy Hawkinghurst replied.
“Ah yes! I think the windfalls added a certain rustic note to the flavour,” Mrs Bedlow-Squires smiled benignly.
“An apple on the ground is just as good as one on the tree. Might as well use up what you have got, I say,” Daisy spat back, defending herself.
“Too true,” Glorfindel interjected and then wished them all farewell. “I must go and buy some fruit cake for tea,” he said and crossed the road to the cake shop.
“I wonder what he did in the war?” Major Bellstone-Gibbons pondered.
“He was exploring, the whole thing passed him by,” his wife told him. “Apparently he was working for the British Government.”
“Probably have a house full of spears and tiger skins then,” the Major joked, not very successfully.
“Yes,” Daisy Hawkinghurst smiled wistfully. “I can just imagine him fighting a tiger with his bare hands.”
Glorfindel came out of the cake shop unaware that three ladies were now looking at his form and visualising him fighting a tiger. They sighed as he disappeared down the hill and then turned away to finish their shopping.
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