Windows of the Soul
Chapter Ten

Erestor drifted slowly into wakefulness. His limbs felt heavy, and warmth surrounded him. Erestor's hand moved lazily to rub along the golden-skinned arm that was wrapped so securely about him. Never before could he recall feeling this safe, this peaceful. His subconscious knew that it was not Gildor's arms around him, but it took several moments before the events of the past eve came back to him. Glorfindel, he remembered. Erestor's thoughts returned again and again to the memory of the Elda touching him, making love to him. After the first rough coupling, they had made love slowly, taking their time to learn each other's bodies, what brought the deepest pleasure, the neediest moans.

Taking care not to wake his lover, Erestor rolled over to face Glorfindel, wincing slightly at the dull ache in his backside. The blond's face was peaceful, his breathing deep and even. What was he to do now? The evidence was still stacked against the Elda, and with no other suspects, Erestor did not know how to clear Glorfindel's name. No one who saw the warrior's face relaxed and peaceful in sleep could ever think that he was capable of harming another soul. The innocence and golden beauty shone brightly in his repose. The full pink lips, swollen from last night's love play, were slightly parted, the blue eyes vacant but as bright as summer skies. Glorfindel's noble features were framed by his legendary golden mane, tossed wildly about, and disarranged by Erestor's own hungry hands.

Erestor wanted nothing more than to cover those lips with his own once more, but the sun was rising and he had responsibilities to attend to, and needed time to sort out his feelings before facing the Elda. Cautiously, Erestor slipped free of Glorfindel's hold and quietly gathered his clothes. Once dressed, he placed a tender kiss on the sleeping Elda's brow and crept from the room.

Entering the hall outside Glorfindel's room, Erestor came face to face with Pedhrin. Erestor felt his face heat, and for the first time in a long while, he blushed. But the guard said nothing, only coming to attention as Erestor approached. There was one thing Erestor could do – something that would show Glorfindel that Erestor had spoken truly in his assurances of Glorfindel's innocence.

"Pedhrin, I am removing the watch placed on Lord Glorfindel. Please inform Captain Dórion that I will accept full responsibility for the Elda's actions from here on." Erestor saw the indecision on Pedhrin's face, but he was determined to show Glorfindel that he trusted him now, that his words had not been spoken in idle bed-play promises. "Pedhrin, I ordered the guard, now I dismissing it. If Dórion has any concerns, he can address them to me directly. Thank you for your service," Erestor said firmly.

Pedhrin bowed and bent to gather his clock and the book he had brought to read while on guard. "Yes, my Lord Erestor," he said simply, before striding away. This was a matter for his Captain and Lord Erestor to work out; he knew better than to get involved in what was sure to be a heated battle between the two temperamental Elves.

Erestor took a deep breath to calm his nervous stomach. He knew Dórion would demand answers – answers he did not have. Erestor doubted Dórion would want to hear his reasoning that there was no way the Elda could have killed anyone, not and make love to Erestor so needfully and tenderly. No, Dórion would not want to hear that at all.

Erestor shook himself and sternly ordered his mind and body to get moving. That was all he needed, to be caught in his sleeping trousers, wandering the halls. Especially halls so far from his own chambers. Being fuel for the gossip mills was not something Erestor had ever aspired to.

Once back his own quarters, Erestor poured some water into the washing bowl. He wet a cloth and added a little soap, but paused before the cloth could touch his skin. Glorfindel's scent clung to his body as if the Elda was still wrapped about him, and Erestor was loath to lose that lingering reminder of his golden lover. Finally, shaking his head at his own foolishness, Erestor washed. Clean garments followed, before he turned his attention to his raven mane, tangled and wild; it took several jaw-clenching strokes of the brush to bring some order to his tresses.

He was just selecting a robe from the wardrobe when his door burst open and a harried Gildor rushed in. "Where in Arda have you been?" Gildor demanded.

Erestor raised a brow at the younger Elf's state. He did not reply to Gildor's question, only asked one of his own. "What is wrong, Gildor?" Erestor said, knowing his former lover well enough to recognize that whatever Gildor was upset about, it did not involve them directly. Something dire must have occurred.

Gildor growled, frustrated. It was clear from Erestor's response that no further explanation was to come. He ran a hand through his hair. "There has been another murder, Erestor. The King is awaiting you at the crime scene," Gildor stated.

Erestor felt his heart clench in dread and his body trembled, but his voice was steady as he asked, "Any idea as to the time of death?"

Gildor looked at him strangely, but made no comment on the oddity of the question. "Not as of yet, but it appears to have been recent," he responded, not noticing the breath Erestor released in relief.  It could not have been Glorfindel, this proves it...

Erestor finished dressing in silence, aware of Gildor's looks of suspicion on him. He felt a momentary flash of guilty panic at the relief he felt when Gildor spoke of the recent time of death. Had he needed this proof of Glorfindel's innocence? Had he *truly* believed the Elda before now? Erestor did not know. But his heart felt lighter, as though it had needed one last bit of confirmation before convincing itself that Glorfindel had been true in his words and his actions.

"Let us go," Erestor said to Gildor, following the younger Elf from the room.

*********

Senses sluggish and body still heavy with sleep, Glorfindel slowly swam awake. His hand moved across the cold sheet next to him, unconsciously searching for the warmth that had comforted him during the night. Dismayed, he realized Erestor was no longer next to him. Glorfindel rolled to his back, eyes clearing and focusing on the ceiling of his room. Since his rebirth, Glorfindel had not slept a complete night undisturbed. With the dark-haired Erestor by his side, not only had he slept peacefully, but also this morn, he felt refreshed and ready to tackle whatever the day threw his way.

Glorfindel sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He rose and stretched, then groaned as muscles protested their workout of the night before. But the smile that grew across the Elda's face was at odds with the sore muscles. Glorfindel drew his sleeping pants over his nakedness, eyes sweeping the room, hoping for some leftover sign of the black-haired beauty who had brought him back to the living. But it was obvious Erestor had left some time ago.

Glorfindel went to the door, frowning briefly at the idea the guard outside his room might have heard their passion of the night before. Glorfindel knew Erestor would not have liked that. But when he opened the door, it was to be greeted by an empty hallway. No guard was posted outside his door.

Puzzled, Glorfindel stood in the doorway for several moments, his mind churning. What did this mean? But then a breathtaking smile spread across his face. Erestor believed him! Erestor had removed the guard because he trusted Glorfindel. That was the only answer that made sense.

Nothing could spoil Glorfindel's jubilant mood as he went about dressing, eager for the first time since his rebirth to greet the day.

*********

Gildor led Erestor towards the guest wing of the palace rather than the servants' quarters, and Erestor could figure out why the High King himself was waiting. The latest victim must be a royal guest.

There were not as many onlookers outside this victim's room as the first; the royal guards had learned their lesson well. Erestor stepped through the open door. Saelbeth, sketchbook in hand, was already diligently drawing the details of the room. Gil-Galad and Elrond stood off to the side, conversing in a heated whisper. Both dark heads swung in Erestor's direction as he entered the room, and Elrond beckoned the investigator over. Gil-galad pinned Erestor with his dark-blue gaze. In those eyes, Erestor could see a great deal of anger, and he mentally steeled himself for the King's ire. Gil-galad was generally poised, and a good and fair ruler, but when roused, his Noldorin temper was a fearsome thing to behold.

Erestor bowed but said nothing, waiting for his King to address him first. "Lord Erestor," Gil-galad said sharply. "The victim's name is – was – Arvellas. She was in Lindon on an extended visit, and a close friend of King Amdir of Lórien. How am I to tell him that she was murdered?"

Gil-galad flinched when Elrond laid a calming hand upon his arm. The High King's gaze burned into Erestor's. "Find this fiend and stop this madness. Now, Erestor," Gil-galad ordered harshly, before he shook off Elrond's hold and left the room. Elrond gave Erestor's shoulder an encouraging squeeze and a sympathetic look before following after his angry King.

Erestor sighed and ran a hand over his eyes. He shook his negatively as Gildor came to his side with a question upon his face. Erestor took several deep breaths, clearing his mind, so he could focus on this victim and what needed to be done for her.

Gildor knelt down next to the black tool bag and hunted through it for his and Erestor's gloves. As the younger Elf turned his head to the side to better see into the bag, Erestor's eyes fell upon Gildor's neck. The younger Elf's tunic slipped off his shoulder a bit. There, bright against the Elf's pale flesh, was a large purple bruise. Since Erestor's own body bore similar markings, Erestor knew what it was. Erestor smirked, remembering the sounds coming from Gildor's room the night before.

Erestor reached over and brushed a finger across the mark. Gildor's head snapped up and his eyes locked on Erestor's. He flushed brightly, conscious of what the older Elf saw.

"Who was the lucky Elf?" Erestor asked, his tone teasing.

Gildor's glance flew guiltily across the room, briefly landing on Saelbeth before they flashed back up to meet Erestor's. He said nothing, but Erestor had seen that fleeting look. His smile broadened. "I am happy for you, Gildor," Erestor said sincerely, faintly surprised to realize that he truly meant it.

Gildor searched Erestor's eyes, but he saw only genuine happiness for him there. For an instant, his heart ached when he recognized that Erestor would never be his. But as his eyes once more traveled to the blond Elf across the room, Saelbeth looked up and their eyes met. The young Sinda gave him a shy smile before turning back to his sketching. Gildor's heart lightened, and he turned to Erestor and nodded his thanks. He understood the unspoken approval and happiness in Erestor's eyes that Gildor had moved on.

Teasing and light-heartedness left the pair as their attention turned to the latest victim. The scene was an eerie mirror of the two before. They could have been looking at the Brennil or Cuileth crime scenes. Saelbeth handed Erestor the finished drawings before moving to begin his inventory of the room. Gildor and Erestor moved to the body. Erestor pushed aside the collar of the formal robe to show Gildor and to confirm to himself the purple and red bruising was present.

"If Glorfindel was able to escape his guard once, there is no reason not to think he could not have escaped again last night," Gildor said eagerly.

Erestor's head snapped around to stare at Gildor. "Glorfindel?" he stammered, his head reeling at hearing his lover's name.

Gildor went on, excited now that they were closing in on the Elda. "Yes," he stated, gesturing about the room. "We should bring him in for questioning right away. He escaped his guard once; he must have again given Dórion's guardsmen the slip last eve. The victims are all Telerin, Erestor. The Kinslayings are the commonality that binds them all together. Glorfindel was present at the Kinslayings; he probably took part in them. He has no alibi for the times of death, and his behavior has been erratic and unpredictable. I think that is enough to go to the High King and request an arrest warrant," Gildor continued excitedly, ignoring Erestor's shocked and stunned eyes.

Erestor grew more aghast the longer Gildor went on, though he tried to control his horror. The younger Elf had Glorfindel already tried and convicted! Finally, Erestor broke. "It was not Glorfindel!" he shouted out, his voice freezing Gildor and Saelbeth and carrying to the onlookers in the halls.

Gildor and Saelbeth stared in amazement at their usually stoic Lord. Never had Erestor had an outburst like this before, and they watched in further alarm as the dark-haired Elf rose to pace furiously around the room.

Gildor rose to confront Erestor. "How do you know? He could have easily escaped and killed this elleth. I know it is him, Erestor," Gildor declared vehemently.

Erestor spun around to face Gildor, his face twisted with fury. "It was not him!"

Gildor stared back, undaunted. "How can you say that with such certainty?"

"I know this because I was with him the entire night!" Erestor bellowed.

Silence fell heavily in the room and the hall. Gildor and Saelbeth stared open-mouthed at Erestor. Saelbeth quickly flushed and looked away, but Gildor could not keep the hurt and disappointment from showing. Erestor locked eyes with Gildor and shook his head, forcing himself to calm. "He is not the killer, Gildor. Glorfindel is innocent," Erestor said softly.

In the hall, outside the victim's room, one pair of eyes narrowed. So, the Elda has a champion. Their eyes will look elsewhere now, he worried. The blond must be taken care of, and soon.

Gildor said nothing else to Erestor about the Elda; he did not know what to say. That Erestor had obviously slept with their suspect deeply worried him, and he could not help but think that his Lord's judgment might be faulty. But he did not question Erestor; they grimly went about their duties to the victim, the air rife with tension.

*********

 Erestor sat at his desk, the reports from all three autopsies spread out before him. He went through them again, studying interviews, inventories, drawings, over and over, until his eyes burned and his stomach rolled. There had to be something! He was missing something. That herb – Nightshade – why would the victims drink it? The latest crime scene has born the telltale teacup with its purplish stain and strong, bitter odor. That had to be the missing piece, Erestor knew. To drink something like that from someone had required a great deal of trust, their killer had to be someone who could inspire this in their victims. Knowledge of that particular herb and its side effects was not something commonplace, but a learned knowledge.

Elrond had that knowledge. All healers did.

Then there was the victim's race. Why only ellith of Telerin descent? Erestor could understand a Noldo harboring bitterness, or if the victims had been Noldorin and the killer sought justice for the Telerin, but the Telerin were the *victims* of the Kinslayings. Could the killer be Telerin and have some deep-seated hatred for his own kind? But why?

Erestor realized that he had no idea of the killer's motives, and he suspected that he might never. Whatever the killer saw when he looked into their eyes as he strangled them was something only the killer could tell them.

Erestor's head slumped down, and he closed his eyes tightly, fighting the waves of despair that gripped him. Head in hands, he allowed himself a few moments of self-indulgent introspection. Finally, Erestor sighed and rose, turning out the oil-lamps before closing and locking the door behind him. He looked down the vacant halls. The hour was late, and he could hear the distant sounds of thunder as another storm approached – the second in less than a week.

Erestor stood indecisively in the deserted corridor. He did not want to return to his cold, lonely room. Thoughts of the golden Elf who had held him so tightly and made him feel so safe floated through his mind, and his feet carried him toward Glorfindel.

For a moment, the empty hall outside Glorfindel's room confused him, before he remembered that he had dismissed the guard early that morning. The hall was dim, too quiet, and Erestor felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. Erestor moved to Glorfindel's door. He raised a hand to knock, but for a reason he would never come to understand even later, he paused. A muffled sound came from the blond's room and Erestor frowned, wondering why the Elda had company this late in the evening.

Erestor started to knock, but the next muffled cry reached him, and every nerve in his body tingled in alarm. Erestor grasped the door handle and shoved the door open. His eyes desperately swept the dark room, too dark for even keen Elven eyesight. He cautiously stepped inside, eyes frantically trying to adjust to the blackness.

The storm hit with a fury, and a sudden flash of lightning brightened the room. Erestor's disbelieving eyes saw one form standing over another, one clad in dark clothing, his hands wrapped around the throat of the other, who struggled weakly. Erestor cried out and flung himself at the closely locked bodies as the room was again plunged into darkness. He crashed into both forms, and the momentum sent all three sprawling to the floor. Erestor heard an enraged cry from the attacker. Hands clawed at him, reaching for his throat. Erestor fought wildly to free himself from the strong grip, stumbling backwards and kicking out blindly at the dark figure. He heard a grunt as one of his feet connected, and Erestor scrambled to his feet, his back against the window.

Another flash lit the room, and Erestor saw the face of the attacker. The healer. Erestor's mind struggled to recall a name. "Garafon," he shouted out, but the killer only paused briefly before charging Erestor again, leaving Glorfindel crumpled and motionless on the floor.

Erestor scanned the room frantically for some weapon, anything at all to help him. His eyes flew back to the killer just as Garafon reached for him. Erestor ducked and spun away, shoving the killer off balance with his shoulder, hitting his assailant squarely in the chest. Erestor fell to the floor as the sound of shattering glass filled the room. He threw his arms across his face for protection as falling glass pelted his back. Garafon screamed as he plunged through the broken window. His enraged shriek drifted away as he fell to the hard courtyard below.

Rain and wind poured through the broken window, soaking Erestor as he crawled through the broken glass toward Glorfindel's still form. Lightning flashed outside, and the loud thunder drowned out the whimpers that left Erestor's lips as he pulled the blond into his arms. "Glorfindel!" Erestor shouted over the storm's fury, his own words barely audible over the crashing of the thunder. Erestor clutched the blond tighter against him as his hands flew over the Elda's body, searching out injuries, mindless of the blood dripping from his own lacerated palms.

Erestor cried out as the door flew open and light and noise filled the room. He blinked as he and Glorfindel were thrown in sharp outline by the torches and lamps that the intruders carried. Erestor could only blink up owlishly at the sight of Gil-galad, Elrond, Dórion, and Gildor rushing toward him. They stood over the pair, their mouths moving, but Erestor could not process what was being said. He could only growl as hands reached down to take Glorfindel from his arms, could only struggle as hands reached for him also.

Elrond knelt down and cupped Erestor's face, drawing the panic-filled eyes of the investigator to his own concerned gray orbs. He spoke slowly and carefully, repeating himself over and over until comprehension filled Erestor's dark eyes. Only then did Erestor allow Elrond to lift Glorfindel's form from his arms, and only then did he allow himself to be picked up and stood on shaky legs. Brushing aside the concerned hands and eyes, Erestor moved dazedly to the broken window. The curtains whipped about him and the wild wind blew his dark tresses into his face and eyes. Erestor pushed his hair back, his eyes traveling down to the dark pavement below, where Garafon's broken form could barely be made out in the blackness of the night.

To be continued...