“That’s the third fire this month,” Glorfindel said with a frown. He had been woken with the news in the small hours of the morning and had come down to take a look for himself. The fire hadn’t been large, affecting only a storeroom and a small cabbage patch in the back of Nendir the Weaver’s combined home and shop and had been put out with water carried from the river via a well-practised bucket team. Still, somewhere in the back of his mind a sense of ‘pattern’ was forming.
Beridhren, the more senior of the night shift manning the office that week, nodded his head, also frowning. “Elen says it’s just plain carelessness, sir, but I’ve never seen so many fires in one ten-day myself.”
“And once again no one’s seen anything, right?”
“Not a thing sir, no. Suiadan’s going door to door and asking, but most people were inside long since. It’s not warm tonight, no one was sitting outside enjoying the starlight.”
“What they could see of it with all that cloud, you mean. Well the fire’s out, that’s the main thing. Who was it gave the alarm?”
“That would be Aearion next door, sir. He was on his way home when he smelt smoke.”
“Out a bit late, wasn’t he?” Glorfindel tried but couldn’t recall anything special happening at the Hall of Fire or anywhere else in the vicinity. Most of the villagers were up early, taking advantage of daylight to ply their various trades.
Beridhren stared past him at the little apple tree in the corner, all but shuffling his feet. Glorfindel put an interested expression on his face and waited. Finally, after scratching his head and giving it some thought, Beridhren said, “He’d been down the Pink Flamingo, sir. That’s what he said and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Just got paid for a commission – he’s a bit of an artist sir, sculpts quite decent animals and such...”
“I think you lost me on ‘just got paid’, Lieutenant. The Pink Flamingo?”
“Um, Master Erestor’s – place of business, sir? Right down the end of the village near the river?”
Glorfindel was starting to settle in to his new home, but even so there were almost daily reminders that he was still a newcomer. He shook his head. “Erestor - I don’t think we’ve met...?”
Beridhren started to say something but had a coughing fit instead. When he’d wiped his eyes and caught his breath he said, “I don’t suppose you have, sir. Master Erestor runs a – a business establishment? Employing young people as –" The word seemed to escape him. “As companions, sir? In a manner of speaking. Place that people visit at night and prefer not to speak of in daylight?”
Glorfindel had a memory flash of the seamier, more interesting side of Vinyamar, the part Turgon had so strenuously disapproved of. “Ahh,” he said. “That kind of establishment. Back in Nevrast we would call that a brothel.”
His introduction to the Pink Flamingo wasn’t long in coming. The fight was nearly over by the time he arrived, although the evidence of it was scattered across the lane. Two members of his Valley Patrol were trying to separate a knot of yelling, punching elves, two of whom were members of the garrison and his concern. Urúvion, who was new to the Patrol, stood helplessly and watched as a person clad in shimmering gold straddled a howling man and began smashing him about the head. Elen, normally calm and rather staid, had a terrified civilian backed up against the wall and was shouting in his face.
A small crowd had spilled out the open doorway onto the stoop. They were in various stages of undress, several wrapped in cloaks but with suspiciously bare arms and legs, and were all pointing and chattering, shouting occasional advice to ‘Raina‘, who he guessed must be the person in gold. Heads peeked through curtains and round doorways of the adjacent houses, and an entire family had gathered in one of the gardens to watch, for all the world as though they had front row seats to a play.
The comparison gave Glorfindel a moment’s nostalgia for theatre, something that had been popular in Gondolin and thrived in the great port city of Mithlond, although he had been given very little time to enjoy it. With that memory came another, of Gil-galad smiling at him over a cup of excellent wine after a pleasant evening’s performance, all good-looking charm and Finwëan ruthlessness.
“You’ll find it a bit rough, I know. It hasn’t been settled long and it’s still expanding from a temporary garrison, but it’d be a good way for you to find your feet now you’re back with us – all praise to the Shining Ones, of course.” This was said in a perfunctory kind of way as Gil-galad was not known for his piety. “You can get your Sindarin up to speed, catch up on your history. Get a good look at current fighting methods too and help tighten them up – army of volunteers up there, mainly recruited during the War.”
He had paused to refill Glorfindel’s cup. “It can be a bit wild I hear. Elrond and I exchanged messages and he’s very happy to have you introduce a bit more structure while he gets on with expanding his settlement, or whatever it is he’s doing up there.”
Which was how he came to be in Imladris, the hidden valley in the north, with its large garrison of semi-experienced warriors and an adventurous civilian population – half were survivors of the war with Sauron, the rest had come inland from the coast, drawn by the promise of adventure this new frontier offered. Gil-galad had been right about several things, one of which was it could get rough; Glorfindel was still learning which areas were more likely to attract trouble than others.
Shaking off the memory he stepped over the splintered remains of a chair, made his way across to Elen and tapped her on the shoulder. She spun round, a fist clenched and drawn back, which she hastily dropped when she saw who it was.
“Sir, sorry sir. Thought you were one of them coming up behind me.”
“Good reflexes, Lieutenant Elen,” he told her with a nod, keeping the smile to himself. “I almost ducked. What’s this then?”
“This – this is Beinion, my brother’s friend, sir. I was asking him what in the – what he was doing down here in the first place.”
“Ah. I should have thought that was obvious.” Glorfindel allowed the smile this time. Elen had been quite passionate on the subject of the Pink Flamingo when he asked her; she had also been bright pink by the end of her monologue, either in outrage that such a place should exist in ‘her’ valley, or embarrassed that she should know anything about it. Telling her there had been similar places back in Vinyamar and it was just a part of life hardly seemed to help.
He turned his attention to the civilian, who was surreptitiously trying to get his clothing straightened out. “It’s not our business to spread gossip about citizens caught in awkward situations, sir, and as long as you weren’t breaking any laws, I’d suggest you get yourself off home to bed now. It’s late. He wasn’t breaking any laws, was he, Lieutenant?” he added, turning to her. Hopefully there was nothing about Assaulting an Official or any of that nonsense.
Elen shrugged almost sullenly. “Just to be in such a place, sir,” she began, but Glorfindel frowned at her and she said in a modified tone, “No laws broken, sir. Got hit over the head, but that wasn’t his doing. As long as Lord Elrond doesn’t go on and have it shut down, I suppose he’s done nothing but be in the wrong place on the wrong night.”
Glorfindel gestured up the road. ”Home, Beinion. Now. There’s more than enough people here as it is.”
He looked about, deciding where to intervene next. The two warriors had backed out of the fray but were still trading insults with one of the participants. “You two! Company of the Owl!” he snapped, raising his voice just a little. If you pitched it right, you could make yourself heard on a battlefield without really shouting. They shot to attention at once. “Get back up to barracks and wait for assignment. I will not have any of my men engaged in public brawling.”
“Sir, it wasn’t like that,” one of them tried. “I mean, we were here minding our own...”
Glorfindel turned right round to stare at him until he shut up. “I did not ask how it happened,” he said. “I just told you to get back to barracks. Was something not clear about that?”
“Good. You had me worried about my Sindarin. Go.”
He turned his back on them as he said it. One of the rules of command was never to imply an order might not be followed through. Rather than watch them leave, he crossed his arms and stared at the smaller, but more vocal scuffle, which had been joined by a third party while his attention was elsewhere. The young person with the loose gold gown and all that billowing hair – it was hard to tell gender in this light, but the name had been female - had her victim by the hair now and was banging his head on the ground. Someone, a friend perhaps, had come to his defence and was trying to drag her off. The young officer was still watching, fascinated and in no mind to interfere. Glorfindel couldn’t say he blamed him: she looked dangerous.
Heavy tread sounded on the steps and then the Avari ambled over and stood glowering down at the mêlée. Everyone apparently knew about Master Erestor’s Avari, even Glorfindel now. Elen had described him in awed detail: big and scarred, unshakeably loyal to Master Erestor, he was to be found just inside the Pink Flamingo’s doorway during business hours, collecting the coin. He made sure order was kept inside and that fights were taken out onto the street. Which was probably how the situation had evolved tonight, Glorfindel thought.
“Ye’d best get back in there,” the Avari told Raina without much urgency. “Master be agitated, says what be that fool girl doing out there.”
He could have saved his breath for all the heed she paid. Glorfindel was about to go and enforce some peace himself when the watchers in the doorway parted hurriedly to let a figure dressed in black pass between them. He came down the short flight of steps two at a time, strode up to the girl and bent to hook a hand under her armpit. Almost casually he shoved the second man out of the way. “In the house with you, my girl. I’ll not have any of you scrapping out here like common street trollops. This isn’t Ost-in-Edhil.”
The girl hesitated for the space of about two heartbeats, then stumbled off and up from the object of her anger. “He is an absolute pig!” she declared, breathing heavily. “He beat up poor Istuion so badly he’s run for home. I wasn’t standing for that. Truly, a pig.”
“All right then, we have ways of dealing with pigs. Back inside now and get yourself tidied up.“ He had a foot resting casually on the recumbent victim’s chest while he spoke. “Raina? Now, thank you.”
She hesitated, trying to stare him down, then spun on her heel, the golden robe sparkling in the torchlight. Catching sight of the party who had tried to pull her off her quarry, she spat eloquently before tossing back her hair and heading off into the house to a round of applause from the audience on the stoop.
The elf in black turned to watch this, shaking his head. To the Avari he said, “Make a note of their faces, would you? I don’t want them back for a full moon. Istuion too.” Prodding the customer groaning under his foot he said, “Is that clear?”
The answering grunt seemed to satisfy him because he stepped back and was about to go inside when he finally noticed Glorfindel. He stopped and sketched a small bow. “Good evening, my lord. I apologise for the disturbance. It’s most regrettable.”
He had a smoky kind of voice, mellow as brandy with just the right amount of husk to be interesting without sounding put on, and a veritable cloak of black hair. Shadowed eyes considered Glorfindel, who suspected but would have been unable to prove he was being laughed at.
“Well, no one seems to be badly damaged,” he conceded, trying to match the easy tone, “but there’s still a chance someone might want to lay a complaint.” He ignored the former combatants who were watching in interest while they waited to be dismissed. The only one likely to take things further was the man on the ground who was finally sitting up, one hand gingerly exploring his head.
Elen had come up to stand just behind him. The black-clad elf, who could only be the infamous Master Erestor, keeper of this house of ill repute known as the Pink Flamingo, looked past Glorfindel and smiled at her wickedly. Glorfindel could feel Elen cringe. “You need to get this mess cleaned up,” he said quickly, before anything happened to discomfort her further, “and decide if you want to claim for damages too. If there’s anything further, send word and I’ll come by in the morning.”
Erestor favoured him with a winsome smile: in torchlight his eyes looked unnervingly amber, like a wolf’s. “We’re ready at any time to offer a warm welcome to Lord Elrond’s second in charge, my lord. I’m usually here in the afternoons. Please feel free.”
Glorfindel caught himself staring after Erestor as he went up the stairs and into the house, dark hair swinging just above the jut of his pertly rounded backside. He couldn’t be sure, but the provocative walk looked deliberate. He was about to say as much but caught sight of Elen’s trapped rabbit expression and thought better of it. She liked to be accepted as one of the boys, but there were times when she really wasn’t.
“All right then,” he said to no one in particular. “We’re done here, yes? Everyone not working, get along home. Everyone working – let’s go. The night’s young, the Hall of Fire will start emptying out soon. Let’s see if we can get there ahead of the rush.”
Imladris was bigger than Glorfindel had been led to expect, not just a large house with some farmland down in the valley, but a vast sprawl of a housing complex in varying stages of completion plus a fair sized village and little clusters of homes dotted across the valley to serve the different types of produce being farmed in the settlement’s bid for full sustainability. Elrond told him that these days they had to import very little from the coast, adding with some satisfaction that this was as well considering the cost and the immoral taxes Gil-galad’s administrators levied on them.
The military contingent that justified the valley’s status as a garrison was based in comfortable barracks half way up the cliff with housing in the villages for families. Glorfindel soon found overseeing the assigned warriors only formed part of his duties, he was also responsible for the Valley Patrol, who sorted out problems like fights, the ‘accidental’ borrowing of horses and livestock, and saw to the removal of small crops of a weed-like substance which mysteriously sprang up on the borders of worked fields and produced a stringy leaf that could be dried, set alight in a pipe and smoked.
Elen, who took what she called ‘public order’ very seriously indeed, had been happy to explain such things in detail to her new commander.
“You light it in the bowl of a pipe, like the one you have there, sir. It has a mild narcotic effect, rather like a cup more wine than’s good for you. Or so they tell me. I wouldn’t know myself, of course.”
“And it’s bad because....?” Glorfindel had overdone it with the wine himself on a fair number of occasions. Also with the vodka, once they got settled in Gondolin. Turgon had tried to shut down all the illegal stills, wanting to keep control of the production and distribution, but he never succeeded. Nor did he ever realise Ecthelion had a still set up in his basement, which had greatly contributed to the House of the Fountain’s reputation for memorable parties.
“Lord Elrond says it’s bad for you. And it makes people act stupid and giggly and do daft things and then we have to rescue them out of trees or stop them from trying to swim the Bruinen in the middle of the night or – whatever.”
“All right, a forbidden substance. I’ll remember that.”
There was a lot to remember and new things to learn every day, like the whereabouts of the valley’s only known brothel. Imladris didn’t have anywhere near as many rules as Gondolin though, and the punishments were far less severe – no one seemed to die, at least. In what he had grown to think of as the old days, Glorfindel had done no more enforcing than was absolutely necessary for the head of one of the Great Houses; Turgon’s meticulous compulsion to order had made his teeth itch. The rules in Imladris at least made sense, being mainly about stopping people from hurting themselves, each other, or putting the valley’s security at risk.
Or setting it alight.
So far he had focused on streamlining things, which included expanding the scope of the Valley Patrol. Their office continued to be manned at all times, as it had always been, but now he sent groups of three out with orders to be visible, the first people to be approached when there was a cat up a tree, a missing youngster, a jammed door. The idea came from Gondolin, though the intent was more public-spirited than back then, when it had mainly involved spying on people for the illegal use of lamp oil.
They were learning to ignore jokes about being the Cat Patrol. Glorfindel told them cats were special, mysterious creatures and they should accept the title as a compliment. His attempt at humour was only partially successful though on the whole the changes worked well. Elrond was satisfied, and everyone seemed to like his approach or at the least find it comfortable. Even allowing for the odd brawl outside the Hall of Fire, life ran smoothly. Glorfindel had been trying to ignore the little voice that said ‘too smoothly’. After the third fire he began to suspect the voice was right.