Beyond the Sea

Part Six: Routines

It was late afternoon and Erestor was at the end of the garden putting down crumbs for the birds. He did this every day now that he was learning to estimate the time better, the first of a series of little routines he was trying to build for himself to replace those that were forever gone. He knew Rainano thought he was a little strange, but then everyone recently arrived from over the sea was looked at that way. The unspoken question behind the stares was why anyone would have chosen to live through such dangerous times when there were boats at the Havens and fair sailing onto the Straight Road?

The birds, unused to being fed, had been confused to begin with, but were taking to their daily feast with the kind of single mindedness most birds brought to food. Erestor sat with them to see off the gulls who would dispossess anyone, and because they made him smile with their raucous feuds and jockeying for position.

Very little else made him smile right now.

He had not seen Galadriel since the silent ferry ride back from the mainland. She and Elrond had stood at the rail, each busy with their own thoughts, while Erestor left them alone and mulled over the Weaver’s words, especially the part about making a new home. He had no idea how he was meant to go about that, because home was a place filled with people who mattered and objects one liked, gathered over time. He had books and a few precious things he had been unable to leave behind, but now he was here he had no idea what he would do with them.

The inn felt positively welcoming after Tirion. Rainano had a string of questions about Tirion upon Túna, most of which Erestor had no answer to, though he tried to recall as best he could the hairstyles that had caught his eye and remember if there had seemed a predominant colour for clothing. He described the little lava bites he had eaten hopefully but they were new to Rainano as well.

“Some things take a while to reach us here from the mainland, Master Erestor,” he admitted, his normally cheerful expression almost downcast for a change. Unlike the average host back in Middle-earth, Rainano genuinely seemed to hate disappointing a guest. “But I’ll be sure and watch for them. I can ask one of the ferrymen if he knows anything about where I might find them.”

It was Erestor’s first real introduction to the huge gulf that existed between Tol Eressëa, formerly the home of simple Telerin fishermen and now the haven for returning Noldor without good family connections – like himself – and unsure Sindar, who had been coming across in small groups since the beginning of the Second Age. Despite being not much further from the mainland than Balar had been back in the old days, in spirit it was more like the difference between Third Age Edoras and Minas Tirith.

He was not in quite the same situation as other Noldor without good family, of course. He had Elrond, although after the visit to Tirion he daily expected both Elrond and Galadriel to move over the bay to be closer to their extended family. So far nothing of the sort had happened. They were still here, Elrond at the lodgings that had been arranged temporarily for him, with the harbour view and excellent service, while Galadriel had the use of someone’s house – Elrond was not clear whose.

“She was disinclined to share that piece of information,” he said when Erestor finally thought to ask. “And as right now she isn’t talking to anyone, and I’m not about to gossip about her with the staff at my lodgings, finding out would be difficult.”

Galadriel had returned from Tirion and shut herself off from the world. Visitors were turned away without explanation, although her maid admitted to Elrond that she had orders to take names: the Lady must want to keep track of who had made the effort. Erestor would have laughed, but he respected the pain that seeing Celebrían had brought, and the strength she had called up to make sure young Brethil was not alarmed by the meeting. Apparently the reunion with Finarfin had not gone well either, which must have been the final blow at the end of a fraught day.

Elrond had dealt better with seeing the girl who had once been Celebrían, but then he was no stranger to personal loss and hads his way of dealing with it, including the right public face. There was no public face required with Erestor, they had known one another too long for such things, but even when they were alone it seemed a matter more of regret and wistfulness for what might have been than actual pain. He had been forced to come to terms with losing her centuries before, mourning her with a sharp, inconsolable grief that had taken a long time to run its course.

Erestor grieved for the Celebrían of memory, but did so quietly. The only person he could talk to about her was Elrond, and he could hardly do so without implying their loss was equal. Once again he missed Glorfindel. He would have understood and they could have tried to make sense of it together.

He was no closer to finding a place to live than he had been on the day of his arrival. The inn was the nearest thing to it, but the inn was only a pause on the road and he knew it. Elrond talked about them remaining together, keeping the friendship forged through centuries strong and current, but Elrond was almost as clueless as Erestor when it came to deciding where next. The only difference really was that he had the family connections to be able to pick and choose. Erestor for his part was ambivalent about following him, trying to decide if that made Elrond still his lord – and if he did in fact still have a lord – or if it just made him look dependant.

“I see you’ve made some new friends? Can’t say much for their table manners.”

Erestor stopped looking back over the past week or however long they had been there and grinned at Elrond, who was watching him from a small distance, trying not to alarm the birds. The few that were still feeding swooped up anyhow into the safety of the open air, alarmed when Erestor got to his feet, brushing loose grass from his pants. “You just wrecked their dinner. That’s another new robe, isn’t it?”

Elrond looked down at himself, shrugged. “That’s my grandmother’s doing. She keeps sending clothes, as though I landed here destitute. But it’s a kind thought and now I don’t look too exotic when the family comes calling. As they are tonight. Galadriel’s come out of her mourning and invited everyone to dine. At least half the crowd who were here to greet the White Ship are on their way over – there’s quite a little fleet of boats on the horizon. I came to invite you. May as well get used to them.”

“If I’m to stay with you, you mean?” Erestor smiled and shook his head. “Elrond, I’m in no mood for a party.”

Elrond gave him a level look. “Do you think I am?”

Erestor had reached him now. He sighed, took Elrond’s arm and started up to the courtyard. “No, of course not, but unlike you I can decline and no one will care much.”

“There are people who know you and don’t understand why you’re keeping so much to yourself. You’re not the only one who hasn’t found somewhere to live yet, you know.”

“When it’s more about those people, I’ll come with pleasure,” Erestor promised him. “The closest I have to family right now are the ones who crossed the sea with us. But not your extended kin and their friends, please. I had a look at them when we arrived and it would be like being back at court in Mithlond.”

“You were always damn good at that,” Elrond pointed out. “They used to ask me how you and Gildor were related.”

“There’s a warning about picking your friends with care,” Erestor said dryly and they both laughed. “Especially when the friend is disreputable royalty. Where did he vanish off to, do you know? He must have gone over to the mainland the day we arrived.”

“He took some of his people off to get them settled. I didn’t have time for details. Afterwards I was sorry I never asked more. He’ll be back soon to see where we are. It’s his way – curious as a cat.”

They reached the courtyard and Erestor continued over to one of the benches. There was a glass of wine waiting on a small table beside it. Elrond raised an eyebrow. “Yours?”

Erestor gave him a half smile. “It’s my new evening routine. Before dinner, I feed the birds, have a glass of wine and watch the light change. Yes it’s boring. But the things I miss most are the things I used to chafe against the most – boring routine.”

Elrond hesitated. “Please come to dinner, Erestor. You’re making me nervous. An elderly elf having his glass of wine every night before dinner?”

“Well, I’m not exactly young, am I?” Erestor refused to be baited. “And there are worse habits – I just can’t seem to pin them down to cultivate yet. Go to your party. Get to know a few more people. Ask me again when there’s less of a crowd and more familiar faces. Meanwhile I’ll just stay here and be elderly.”

Elrond left, shaking his head, and Erestor settled down to enjoy his wine. Dinner later was a vegetable casserole and some quite good bread. There were fewer guests than when he had arrived, so he could spend a while chatting with the tea girl, whose name he now knew was Líssië. She was young, locally born, and, he discovered, worried.

“I don’t know what I’ll do after this,” she confided to him. “It’s the work I always wanted – to meet new people, make them comfortable, hear stories about life on the far shore. I don’t have any great gifts, so service was always the best road for me, but soon the ships will stop sailing in from the East, and then – I don’t know what will become of the inn.”

There had been no reason for Erestor to think of this till now, but of course she was right. And Rainano was young enough for this to be his first venture, so he must be trying to imagine a future without it as well. “Couldn’t it remain a hostelry for visitors from the mainland?” he hazarded. “Somewhere to stay the night, with a bit of rustic charm and ambience.”

Líssië stared at him blankly; he had evidently suggested a new concept. The idea gave him a perverse satisfaction after all the new things he had been forced to assimilate in the past few days. “I – don’t know there’d be much call for that,” she said carefully. “There’ve been more visitors from the mainland since your ship docked than we’d normally see in a yén. Tonight as well, so many. Some even came up from the harbour in carriages – they must be important.”

Erestor hid a smile. “Some of them probably are,” he agreed. “They’re visiting a royal princess, after all. And there’ll be more ships still, and she doesn’t seem in a hurry to join her father’s household in Tirion, so nothing will change right away. Don’t worry – perhaps Rainano already has plans. If not, I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

He had no idea when it had become his problem, but solving things for people was what he had done for a large part of his life. There were worse habits than that, too.

Later, after Líssië had gone to get on with her work, he rounded the evening off with a walk down to the harbour to look at the ships bobbing at anchor and breathe in the familiar smells of tar and salt and fish. She was right, soon there would be no more ships coming out of the east and the final thread linking him to home would fray and split. No more old friends to exclaim over, no more news, no little delicacies everyone else had forgotten to pack. No more whispers of home.

After a time he headed back to the inn and bed. It took an effort of will not to take another glass of wine up to his room, but that was one habit that, if started, might prove harder than most to stop.


Part Seven