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The Pink Flamingo

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Denesion lived with his brother in the crowded, newer part of the village, but there was no way to make a home visit seem casual. Glorfindel supposed he could find some pretext for dropping by to see the brother, but they had little in common besides a military past in Gondolin where Denesion’s brother had been wounded in the attack but managed to escape with his life. He walked with a marked limp and his nerves had never quite recovered, or at least this was the story as it had come to Glorfindel. They had never met in their shared past and even in Imladris their paths barely crossed.

Instead he decided to look in on Denesion at work. He had a small shop near the market, one of an eclectic row of outlets for middling artisans. It was not where the true artists and creators were found, they generally had small studios up near the main house itself. This, rather, was where you could pick up a nice broach, a decent knife, or household crockery for daily use. Glorfindel walked along slowly, looking at the merchandise displayed on tables near doorways, greeting a few craftspeople, even stopping briefly to look at a carving of a cat. He thought he might come back for it; his suite was tastefully decorated but still felt exactly what it was – nice rooms set aside for a favoured guest.

Like most gold and jewel smiths, Denesion had his wares displayed inside on tables and a corner stand, while his workbench was on view at the back of the shop under a high window that let in the light. There were no customers when Glorfindel entered, in fact the entire row was quiet. He wondered if this was to do with the time of day and if it was usual. He took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light and went over to look at the items for sale.

“Why Glorfindel, how good to see you.” Denesion, who had entered silently through a side door near the back, stood beside his work bench, a dark figure with the sunlight behind him, rubbing his hands on the leather apron he wore over his clothes. The heavy gloves tucked under one arm suggested he had just come back from the communal forge a street away.

Glorfindel stepped away from the table and nodded. “Sorry, just looking around. I assumed you’d be back soon. You and your brother are well?”

“We’re both fine thank you, as always.” Denesion put the gloves down on his work bench and came forward. “Did you stop by to say hello, or is there something I can help you with?” The smile on the smith’s habitually serious face looked forced and over eager. Glorfindel wondered why he hadn’t brought someone in to do the selling as many artisans did – smiths in particular weren’t known for their customer relations skills.

“I need a broach or something along those lines,” Glorfindel explained, still looking around. “It’s a begetting day gift for one of my subordinates, a young lady. I want something nice but nothing that might suggest ulterior motives.”

Denesion nodded. “Simple but elegant then? Is there a style, a colour, we’re looking for?”

“This is the kind of thing I had in mind, though not quite as ornate,” Glorfindel said, pointing out a bird-shaped broach set with little pieces of turquoise. “Is the turquoise from around here? I’ve not seen much of it.”

“We buy it from Tharbad, though it’s mined further south,” Denesion said. “Expensive, of course, and nothing near the quality we had at home from below Fortress Peak.”

“That was good, yes, although we had better quality from the dry river bed further down,” Glorfindel said, his attention on the broach. “There was less mining on the mountain after a while, the eagles weren’t fond of it.”

“Are you certain, Glorfindel? My father never mentioned a secondary source for turquoise and he often worked with it.”

Glorfindel’s eyebrow lifted minutely of its own accord. He knew he should bite his tongue but Erestor had a point, there was something about Denesion that made him twitch. And the pride of his House was involved here. “The river site fell within territory overseen by my House and the quality was good - we sold the tumbled stones at the Fountain Market. The Fortress Mine must have been more productive than I realised.”

As he said it he realised how it must sound. The Fountain Market was – had been - expensive, not first choice for an average smith. And Denesion would have been little more than a child at the time, too. “Of course that was just one of several outlets for gemstones,” he added hastily. “No reason your father should have looked beyond his preferred supplier.” He could have kicked himself: any rudeness had been unintended, but it was too late to call back the words. And anyhow, it was the truth.

Denesion’s face darkened momentarily but he seemed to recall he had a sale to make and inclined his head. “Perhaps that was the case, yes. We were just ordinary people after all, not competing with the King’s own craftsmen. Would this be more suitable, a bracelet?”

He held the bracelet up and Glorfindel took it, turning it around, frowning a little. “Not sure I can picture it on her, she’s a very practical young woman. Not one for floaty robes or dainty jewellery. Though these....” He touched the final drop of an earring, silver-gilt with small turquoise beads dangling from delicate silver threads. “... these might suit.”

Denesion unhooked them in silence and handed them to him. Glorfindel turned them over, examining them carefully, aware of the smith’s eyes following his every move: Denesion seemed to be taking his scrutiny as a form of criticism. Glorfindel sighed inwardly. “I think these will do very well. Do you have a box or something to wrap them in?”

“They sell gift boxes down the road, just before the turn into the market,” Denesion said. “I can put them in a bag if you wish.”

Glorfindel suspected he was being punished for his earlier lack of diplomacy. “A bag will be fine,” he said. “I’ll see to the rest of the packaging later.”

Denesion made a fuss of finding the right sized cotton bag for the earrings, which Glorfindel guessed he would be expected to pay for. He also supposed he should buy something for himself too, though nothing leapt out as an item he might wear. All that caught his eye was an interesting multi-strand necklace of green and yellow glass and occasional gold beads that he instantly pictured on Erestor. He reminded himself they were hardly close enough for gift-buying to be appropriate - it might even look like he was soliciting a favour. However, his eye kept coming back to it and he decided he might as well buy it. Perhaps when he came to his senses he could find a decorative use for it instead.

He put the necklace down on the cashier’s table and fumbled for coin. “I think I’ll take this as well – there’s another begetting day coming up soon. It’s quiet this afternoon. Business going well for you down here? Lord Elrond likes to know these things.”

Denesion looked dour. “It could be better; we’ve lost some passing trade while they clean up after the fire. Couple of the market stall holders are still not back.”

This was one of the issues that had not been immediately obvious about the last fire. Many stall holders left their stock shut in one of three small storerooms at night, and one of these, at the end of the row of houses, had been gutted.

“Yes, it’s been rough for some of them,” Glorfindel agreed. “Worse for Randir, of course. He not only lost almost all his stock but his house was badly damaged. Do you know him? I suppose everyone knows everyone around here though.”

“Know who he is, yes,” Denesion said, in tones that suggested this was not a good thing. “I see him around, though I’m here and he’s there. If I’m honest, he got what was coming to him – arrogant git.”

The gloating expression was only there for a moment, but while it lasted it was ugly. Glorfindel had a strong need to look away and if possible change the topic before Denesion could say more. “I’ll have one of those little filigree – things – too, I think.” He went over and picked up something that looked like an undersized openwork tea pot. Looking inside he saw a small candle and realised it was meant to serve as a lamp, the kind of object usually bought in pairs. The visit was becoming expensive. “You didn’t see anyone unusual around the time of the fire did you? No strangers coming in or passing the shop that day or the days before or after?”

“None that I recall,” Denesion said after a pause. “No talk that I’ve heard either. You think it was done by an outsider then?” His voice was almost eager, although his expression didn’t change.

“I don’t know,” Glorfindel said frankly. “I’m working completely in the dark. My people have been questioning everyone but I still like to hear it with my own ears sometimes. So no strangers, nothing out the ordinary? Do any of the stall holders have an enemy? Any that you know of, that is.”

The other items disappeared into a larger bag, along with the already-packed earrings. It was starting to look quite full. Denesion shrugged. “Those that are stuck up and think well of themselves will always find enemies,” he said, making Glorfindel want to shake him and ask how he expected anyone to react well to him when he was so unremittingly negative. “I’ve not heard of any one in particular though.”

“I see.” He watched Denesion sorting through coins. Ordinarily he would say ‘keep the change, please’ and be happy to add a little extra to the pot, but this time, sensing he would be suspected of charity and that it would not be welcome, he caught his mouth before it could run away with him again. He picked up his purchases and came at last to the real point of the visit. “Thank you, I think that will be all. Just one other thing. Alassëa from the Pink Flamingo - you know who I’m talking about, yes? She shared a story with one of my people that came to my attention. I think it’d be as well for you to stay away from her till you’ve learned some self-control. There’s to be no repeat. Am I clear?”

Denesion stared at him, his lips compressed, his eyes blank. Glorfindel fully expected him to disclaim all knowledge of Alassëa, but in the end he said flatly, “I have no idea what she said but the girl exaggerates, as you’d expect from someone in her line of trade.”

Glorfindel shrugged. “Words can exaggerate, bruises seldom do. Just don’t let me hear more stories and we’ll be fine. As for the other matter, if anything comes to mind, please let the Patrol know. The sooner we catch the person responsible for that fire, the better.”

“As you say. Will there be anything else, my lord?” His lip didn’t quite twist on the title, but it was close. He had finally picked up that Glorfindel did not see him as a long lost friend and compatriot.

Glorfindel gave him the kind of look he normally used to quell back-speaking juniors. “That will be up to you, Denesion. Hopefully not.”

-----o

It was early evening and Glorfindel was in the Patrol’s outer office going through the last month’s reports and thinking how best to put together a statistical summary for Elrond who liked things neatly and clearly laid out, in point form if possible. He had Elen, who was the senior officer on duty, looking things up for him. It was a horrible way for anyone to spend the evening of their begetting day but she had not complained beyond making sure she would be off in time for dinner with her family.

Glorfindel’s actual job was to keep Elen from leaving the office while her family and fellow officers organised a surprise party for her, first suggested by Urúvion who was generally believed to have a bit of a crush on the Lieutenant. They had the use of the staff dining room up at the main house on condition they waited until after the evening meal before setting up. The staff ate early, before the meal in the general dining hall, but they still wouldn’t be ready by the end of the shift, which was why Glorfindel had to keep her occupied: Elen was famous for sniffing out secrets. So far as he could tell, she hadn’t a clue.

“There’s these as well, sir,” she said, coming over with a box which she put down next to his elbow. “Funny things that never got resolved and that get filed in here for want of a better place. I suppose we shouldn’t do that...?”

Glorfindel flipped through the papers and shook his head. “No, probably not. We need a better filing system; it’d make life easier. Do you know anyone who would be any good at setting that up?”

Elen frowned. “Well, I could probably do it, sir.”

Glorfindel shook his head again. “I like you out on regular patrol, Elen, not stuck behind a desk. Someone else. Unless it’s something you’d really like to do?”

She hesitated. “I like things to be orderly, sir. Having everything where you can find it makes life so much easier. I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at it? I could still do my patrol duties and such, I wouldn’t let it get in the way.”

Glorfindel put down the paper he was trying to focus on. It had all seemed a good idea when he started but was now getting to the point where he was regretting his ambition. He tried to understand someone actually wanting to sort out files. “Well, if you’d like to. We need more cross referencing. I can give you an idea of what I’m looking for...”

A shadow appeared in the doorway bringing with it the scent of expensive perfume – musk roses and cinnamon and other, unidentifiable hints - and then Erestor walked in, dressed in cream stitched with pearls and trimmed discreetly in rose. His hair was up and woven with strands of seed pearls. He looked as though he might be going to a party. For one breath-stopping moment Glorfindel wondered if he had invited himself to Elen’s.

“Oh, you’re easier to find than I’d expected,” Erestor said, catching sight of him. “Good evening, Lieutenant. Lovely night. Congratulations on your special day.”

Elen and Glorfindel both blinked. Erestor smiled brightly. “People tell me things.”

Elen straightened up. “Thank you Master Erestor. Are you done with this pile of folders, sir? Can I file them away?”

Glorfindel put together the ones he’d finished with and passed them to her. “Thanks, you can start with these,” he said. “Put them where you can find them. There’s a lot in there about petty theft.”

He got up and gestured Erestor towards his office, ignoring the curious stares of Elen and the officer waiting to relieve her. “Evening, Erestor. If it’s the matter I raised with you before, we can talk in here.”

In his small office Erestor looked around before sitting unbidden in the visitor’s chair. “Not very big, is it?” he said. “But at least you have a window.”

*Yes, I do,” Glorfindel agreed, taking the seat across the desk from him. “It’s not big but how much space do you need for paperwork?”

“Not a lot, no,” Erestor said placidly. “However I make sure I have something prettier to look at than an old tree.”

Glorfindel was fond of the tree outside his window and frowned but knew better than to try and justify its presence. “Is this about the dates I gave you?”

“What, no foreplay? You wound me, or my pride at least."

“No, no foreplay,” Glorfindel said briskly, not rising to the bait. Erestor, he was learning, liked to tease

Erestor pouted then laughed and produced a neatly folded sheet of paper. "Yes, it's about your dates. This is the full list, yes? Nothing missing?"

Glorfindel took the page and glanced down it. The information he had given Erestor was all there, noted in a meticulous hand. “Nothing missing, no. And?”

Erestor shook his head. “We looked at all the clients on the dates of the fires, we looked at their patterns of appearance too, how often they visited, if that night seemed unusual. There was nothing that stood out, nothing at all.”

The open door caught Glorfindel’s eye and he got up to close it. Sinking back into the chair, he sighed. “Well, it was a long shot at best. I’m sorry to put you to trouble over it.”

Erestor gestured dismissively. “No trouble at all, Medlin was quite taken with the idea of single-handedly catching an arsonist. He’s looking at the patrons with new interest, Yavanna help us all.” He paused. “Did you ever think about the whole business of swearing by the Valar? In the east they have really interesting gods, I would have been able to invoke a god of sensual pleasure and debauchery there instead of poor, staid Yavanna. Or goddess. It’s probably a goddess.”

Glorfindel wasn’t sure whether to be shocked or amused. “I know nothing about eastern gods, Erestor. I’ll have to take your word on it. Did you look for unexpected absences too? Though that might be more subjective.”

“We have some regulars who like a particular day or time of month but there was nothing there either that I could see. I’m sorry, we would have liked to help.”

He looked and sounded sincere, much like the companion from the night in the Hall of Fire. Glorfindel shook himself: he needed to stop thinking about that. “It’s all right, we’re coming up blank everywhere. If anything occurs to you, I’d be more than pleased to hear about it. Lord Elrond wants this sorted out before His Majesty arrives.”

“Oh gods, I thought that was just a rumour. Yes, I imagine Elrond would want it out the way before that.” Erestor looked wickedly amused at the thought. “Well, if there’s anything else we can do...?”

Glorfindel shook his head even as he searched for some reason to keep Erestor there longer. “I’ll let you know, of course. Oh, I had a talk with Denesion. Didn’t mention your name, he thinks one of my men ran into Alassëa. Hopefully it won’t happen again. That’s not a happy man.”

“No, he’s not,” Erestor said quietly. “I’m not sure I want him back as a client.”

He rose, and Glorfindel grabbed at the first thing he could think of. “How did you know it was Elen’s begetting day?”

Erestor stood still, hand on the back of the chair and looked down at him, full lips twitching as though trying to decide if they should smile. “I could be mysterious but it was quite simple. I had business up near the house and there is a tremendous effort going on to decorate the small dining room. Everyone’s going to look. It’s a little rough and ready,” he added, “but I’m sure she’ll appreciate the thought. Don’t let her out yet though, half the valley knows.”

Glorfindel rose as well. “For a wild moment I thought you were joining us. You’re dressed for a party.”

Amber eyes widened and then Erestor laughed, all honey and smoke. “I’d be tempted now, just for the look on the lieutenant’s face. But no, no, I have a dinner engagement, that’s all, and I thought I’d get the pearls out. It’s not often there’s a chance to dress up in Imladris.”

It was a struggle but Glorfindel managed not to ask who it was he found worth dressing up for.

-----o

“And there’s also the new roster to be posted, sir. I suppose I could do that too if you have it ready.”

Glorfindel put down his pencil and looked at Elen. His head was starting to twinge a little but he was almost done with the notes he needed to put into an outline for Elrond and if he stopped now he might never get the momentum back again. It was another half mark before Elen’s party, which gave him a firm deadline. It would be hard to reach if the guest of honour kept interrupting him though. “Lieutenant, is there something specific bothering you or are you really just thinking of all these issues one at a time. This is the fourth now, isn’t it?”

Elen looked past him, towards the main office’s shuttered window. “They all seemed relevant to me, sir,” she said stiffly.

Glorfindel sighed. “Yes, they are, but you’d not normally come and ask me. You’d either get on with them, find someone else to get on with them or, in the case of the roster, you’d remind me. As you do every ten days.”

She blushed slightly. “No intention of being a nuisance, sir.”

“Damn it, Elen, you’re not a nuisance. I need reminding. I’ve told you that before. Now what’s bothering you, let’s get to it. You still want to finish in time for dinner with your family, don’t you?”

That did the trick. She straightened and he could see her mentally prepare herself. “Sir, it’s Master Erestor.”

Of all Elen’s likely problems, that one would never have occurred to him. “What about Master Erestor?”

“Well sir, I heard a little of what you and he said before you closed the door– the walls are thin in here, it wasn’t a matter of eavesdropping. And… sir, he is hardly a fit person to be helping us with our inquiries, is he?” Before Glorfindel could gather his thoughts she added in a rush of words, “And how could he know it’s my begetting day, sir? That’s – that’s unsettling. He has no reason to know any of our personal business.”

He managed not to laugh but it took an effort. “Lieutenant, I imagine someone mentioned it last year or the year before and he makes it his business to remember things like that? The right word or smile at the right time never hurt. Not that I noticed it working tonight. As for the other – he deals with a cross section of the valley’s residents, it struck me as possible that someone might show up every time a fire’s been lit or just before. It appears not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I don’t think that qualifies as working with him, though he was happy to help. No one knows where the arsonist will hit next, after all. The uncertainty’s probably bad for business and Master Erestor has told me he takes business very seriously.”

Elen looked even more dismayed. He had an urge to pat her hand but resisted it and pulled up a clean sheet of paper instead. “Come on then, if you’re so worried about the roster. Get the last one and write the headings on here while I finish what I’m busy with. You’re not the only one who wants to escape before moonrise.”

-----o

The party was a big success. Elen had no inkling of what was going on until Glorfindel walked her to the door of the staff dining room on the pretext that a cake had been organised for her to pick up and take home. A lot of greenery had been brought indoors as well as wildflowers in makeshift vases, while the room was hung with paper lanterns and strings of stars that he suspected were normally brought out for the winter celebration. It was all very festive, if a bit garish. He only stayed a short while, long enough to see the gifts unwrapped, drink a cup of wine and have a slice of cake, but not long enough to be a damper on the evening. No one wanted their commanding officer around when there was free wine to be had.

Elen was pink with delight over his present. “Sir, they’re beautiful,” she exclaimed after opening the little bag, stroking an earring with a careful finger before putting them on. “People always give me such practical gifts; I’ve never had something this pretty or delicate. I’ll really treasure them, sir.”

It made the uneasy visit to Denesion’s shop quite worth the while.

There would be no gift for Erestor. Glorfindel toyed seriously with the idea of giving him the necklace, possibly later in the year for Midwinter, but when he thought about it, he had no idea what to say. Instead he put the pretty beads away in their bag until such time as he found a spot to hang them, somewhere they would catch the light.

-----0

Gil-galad was due within the week and Elrond had all his senior personnel in a stir to make sure Imladris showed the king her very best face. Glorfindel’s main focus was to give the garrison the appearance of an effective fighting force regardless of his personal qualms. At Elrond’s request the war games were to take place a few days after the king’s arrival, which had Glorfindel daily rechecking details up at the command room which was housed along with the barracks on a shelf partway up the cliff.

He and Sidhiel, his second in charge, were pouring over a map of the surrounding countryside when one of her clerks came in, nodding to her before coming to a halt in front of Glorfindel. “Begging your pardon, sir, but there’s a couple of young – persons – outside who say they have to see you.”

“Young persons?” Glorfindel had originally been born in Aman and despite missing a good part of the Second Age still found himself older than most in the valley.

The clerk nodded dubiously. “Yes sir. They say it’s urgent. The young man said you would know him? His name is Alfrinor.”

Glorfindel was blank for a moment longer and then placed the name with a sweet young face and a lot of pale fluffy hair. “Good grief,” he said before he could stop himself, then shrugged. “He was meant to come and find me if he had further information about a certain Patrol matter. I’d better see him. Where are they?”

They were waiting outside in the administrative office, sitting on the bench against the wall, and jumped up at the sight of him. It took him a minute to identify Alfrinor’s companion as Raina, heroine of the battle outside the Pink Flamingo. The gold robe was gone, in favour of more sensible street attire, and her memorable hair was braided and fastened around her head. She still looked angry though.

He glanced at the two clerks, who were pretending to work but covertly watching, and gestured to the door. “I think we should talk out here,” he said. “Leave people to work in peace.”

They followed him outside and that was as long as Raina was prepared to stay quiet. “Alfrinor, tell him what happened. We’re wasting time.”

Glorfindel looked down at Alfrinor expectantly. Blue eyes blinked nervously a few times but Raina gave him a sharp nudge and he said, “It’s Alassëa, my lord. She’s one of Master Erestor’s girls, she works with us...”

“I know who she is, Alfrinor,” Glorfindel said. “I’d heard she had a problem with a client recently. Has something happened?”

“It’s more than attitude from a client this time, m’lord,” Raina interrupted, losing patience and taking over. “We think she might be in real trouble. She’s disappeared.”