Windows of the Soul
Chapter Five

Erestor and Gildor followed the King's guardsman. They left the palace, passed the training grounds and barracks to a small side street that consisted of rows of small, single-family cottages. Those cottages housed the servants and tradesmen who preferred -- and could afford -- to live outside the palace.

Once more, the activity outside the scene signaled which cottage housed their crime. Unlike the first time, however, the palace guards had done their job. The area around the small home was blocked by a row of guards, and Erestor could see that no one had been allowed inside the scene.

As Erestor approached, the guardsmen moved aside and made an opening for him and his assistant to enter. "Where is Saelbeth?" he asked Gildor as they walked toward the cottage.

"He is bringing the equipment," Gildor replied as they paused outside the open door, the stench of death drifting out to meet them.

Erestor nodded as his gaze moved over the assembled crowd. He recognized many of the servants of the palace as well as a few guests. Unconsciously, he looked for one blond head among the crowd, but did not see it. Finally, Saelbeth pushed his way through the crowds to join them, carrying the heavy black bags. Erestor pulled on the gloves Gildor automatically handed him, too well used to the routine to wait to be asked.

"Saelbeth, please start your sketching on the exterior of the cottage. Do you recall what we discussed about outdoor scenes?" Erestor asked.

Saelbeth nodded and pulled his pad of parchment and charcoal from his bag, along with a roll of thin, white material. The cloth had regular, one-inch markings much like Erestor's wooden ruler, only this could cover much greater distances and move over and under objects. Erestor had shown the young assistant the details and measurements needed to reproduce an outdoor scene and explained their purposes. The drawing would first require a scale, every inch equaling so many feet, and then the cottage would be drawn to scale on the paper. Next, every entrance and exit point to and from the cottage would be drawn and their distance from the cottage marked, as well as the distance to the road and the cottage next door. Even the distance between the windows, and landmarks, as well as their distance to the dwelling, would be added. No detail was too small to be left out.

Saelbeth looked at the large crowd uneasily; he would need to begin his measurements from somewhere in the middle of that crowd, and he was not sure how this could be accomplished. He need not have worried, however, for Erestor's instructions to Gildor took care of that.

"Gildor, please ask the guards to move these people across the street and keep the area around the cottage clear for our young Saelbeth." Gildor nodded and awaited Erestor's next instructions. "Also, have a look about the grounds surrounding the cottage; you know what to look for. We cannot rule out another point of entry."

Gildor doubted they would find anything, but he did know what to look for. Due to the recent rain, the ground was soft and would make any footprints near the cottage easy to find. If any prints were found, he would have Saelbeth sketch the impressions, measure them exactly, and indicate the distance from the prints to the cottage. Erestor waited until the pair moved away before entering the scene. The cottage was simple, what one would expect from an elleth living alone. It consisted of two rooms; a large common room that doubled as living and sleeping quarters with a large fireplace in one corner, and a small kitchen area with a tiny one-seat table. At first glance, it would seem the room was empty, if one could ignore the smell. There was no mistaking the smell of rotting flesh. Erestor's eyes followed the path of the wall until his eyes lowered to the victim. She was seated on the floor in a corner near her small bed, propped against the wall. Her legs were crossed at the ankles, hands demurely folded in her lap, head tilted to one side, and dressed in a long gray robe that covered her from neck to toe.

Erestor forced his eyes to move away, across the room, taking in the details that could not be duplicated on paper. The fire had burned out; only cold ash remained in the grate. The room was cold and dim. The small bed was made, and the room had a sense of bareness, as if it was still waiting for its owner to come home and leave her mark.

Erestor moved to the small kitchen area. There a little more wear could be seen. A plate and cup sat in the washbowl awaiting cleaning, but what struck Erestor the most was the lone teacup that sat upon the small dining table.

Gildor stepped in the open door, his shadow briefly blocking out what light had been present. "No prints or marking on the exterior, and the windows are all secure," he told Erestor as he moved to the older Elf's side.

Erestor nodded. "Then the entry point was the front door." Erestor finally forced himself to move to the victim's body. "Do we know her name yet?" he asked somberly, as he knelt down next to the corpse.

"Cuileth, a neighbor said. The next-door neighbor is the one who found the body. She is waiting outside for you to question her," Gildor replied, as he shifted slightly to allow more light for Erestor to see by.

"Good." Erestor carefully lifted the cloth away from the victim's neck, peering at the bruises found there. No surprise showed on his face at what he saw. "Check the door carefully, Gildor," he ordered.

Gildor moved to the door to the cottage and checked both the interior and exterior of the door, ensuring to touch it as little as possible. "No signs of force, Erestor. The lock and handle are intact. It looks like the same killer," he said before kneeling next to his bag and removing the death sheet.

Erestor only murmured, and then straightening reminding Gildor in a calm voice, "Do not assume, Gildor. It is much too soon to be making that statement. Let us get her back to the lab and see what we find there. Trying to predict the actions of an individual from the evidence of his deeds is tricky business."

"Saelbeth will be busy for some time yet, so ask for one of the guard's help in transporting the body. Post a guard at the laboratory, and return to assist me with the questioning." Erestor's voice was brisk, and Gildor mentally flinched, knowing that the older Elf's mood would only become darker the longer they kept being called to attend dead ellith.

Gildor was almost through the door when Erestor's next words stopped him. "Also bag the teacup in the kitchen." Gildor swallowed, and a chill crept up his spine. The similarities to their first scene were startling; if it was not the same killer, then they had a very smart copycat on their hands.

Erestor knelt again next to the body as Gildor and the young guardsmen entered and approached the dead elleth. He observed carefully as they moved the body to the sheet, but the body was stiff, frozen in its upright position and Erestor halted them. "Rigor mortis," he told Gildor. "Hold for a moment, Gildor," Erestor ordered, as he attempted to move each limb and test its flexibility. He saw out of the corner of his eye the guard's horror-filled face and Erestor spoke calmly, teaching as he moved limbs and worked out the stiffness of death.

"Rigor mortis begins to take effect as the internal chemistry of the body changes from its normal acid state to an alkaline one, usually about two hours after life has become extinct. This causes muscles that were relaxed at the time of death to begin to tense and stiffen." Erestor moved the head from its angle tilted to the right to a frontal position. He glanced up, meeting the young guard's eyes. "The process begins with the eyelids and progresses to the muscles of the face and jaw, then to the arms, the trunk, and finally the legs. Rigor mortis is a progressive condition and is usually fully established about twelve hours after death. Our body here is as unbending as a piece of wood; therefore, it is safe to estimate that she has been dead at least twelve hours. Would you not agree, Gildor?"

Gildor nodded, watching while Erestor worked the rigid limbs and finally manipulated the body into a prone position. Then he and the guardsman covered the elleth before lifting their burden and leaving the cottage. Erestor awaited Gildor's return outside, his sharp gaze trained on the crowd that still hung about the scene. Many met his gaze, curiosity bright in their eyes, but some did not. Perhaps their reasons were nefarious, and perhaps it was just a touch of shame and the gossip and carnival nature of the crowd. Among those gathered, Erestor recognized the head cook, a healer, and several of the King's councilors. The latter were the ones who did not meet Erestor's eyes.

Gildor came to stand next to the older Elf, his gaze also scanning the crowd. He said nothing, however, until Erestor turned and headed next door to speak to the neighbor. "Do you think the killer was in the crowd?" he asked.

"It is possible. Serial killers often return to the scene of their crimes. They get a perverse thrill by watching the action and reliving their crimes as they laugh at the authorities," Erestor said as he stepped inside the cottage.

Captain Dórion rose to greet Erestor from a small couch where he was seated next to an elleth, who had obviously been crying. "Lord Erestor," the Captain said in a formal tone. "This is Lenniel," he said indicating the distraught female. Her hands shook as she set aside her teacup, then she rose and curtsied, her face pale and lips tightly clenched. "Lord Erestor," she said.

"Please be seated, Lenniel," Erestor said, his voice kind and soft, seeking to put the nervous female at ease. Erestor waited until the elleth seated herself once more before taking a chair across from her. He introduced Gildor and asked Lenniel if she minded if Gildor took notes of their conversation. Lenniel nodded in agreement.

Erestor would have preferred Dórion not to be present, but he did not want a battle for territory in front of their skittish witness. "Lenniel, can you tell us about your neighbor, Cuileth?" Erestor asked.

Lenniel sniffled and folded her hands tightly in her lap. "Cuileth is--" Lenniel's eyes filled with tears once more as her voice broke. She struggled to gather herself.

"It is all right," Erestor said soothingly. "Take your time."

The elleth nodded shakily. "Cuileth was a seamstress. She worked on all the King's guardsmen's uniforms, and on the side, she would take in extra work. Every penny she earned was saved. I think she wanted to take a ship back to the Undying Lands; she had kin there still." Lenniel took a deep breath. "I went over this morning to check on her. She had not been sleeping well, and I was worried. The d-door was open," Lenniel covered her mouth with a hand, tightly closing her eyes, as trying to banish the image of finding her friend.

Lenniel shuddered. "The smell. I stopped before going in. That smell -- it was horrid. Her door was open. I knew something was not right," Lenniel looked to Erestor almost desperately. "I just knew," she whispered.

Erestor sat silently while Lenniel cried. He looked up at Gildor and nodded towards the kitchen. Gildor reached for the elleth's teacup and refilled it from the teapot, then sat the refreshed drink back in front of Lenniel. Erestor waited while she took a sip and returned the cup to the table before speaking.

"You said Cuileth had kin in Valinor?" he asked. "None here?"

"No," Lenniel replied. "Her parents sailed West and her mate died years ago."

"Do you know what race she was? I ask because she was lighter in hair and eye coloring than us Noldor," Erestor smiled at the elleth, gesturing his head to include all those in the room in his remark.

Lenniel laughed a bit, the sound helping her relieve a little of the tension. "She was of Telerin origin."

Erestor smiled again at the elleth. "You were close to Cuileth?" he inquired.

Lenniel's expression clouded and her eyes teared up once more. "Yes, we have been neighbors for a number of years. My mate, Galudirithon, is a member of the outskirts patrol. His rotation takes him from home for a fortnight a month. When he is gone, Cuileth and I look – looked – out for one another." Lenniel's voice trailed off.

"And your mate? Where is he today?" Erestor asked, making sure his tone displayed a curiosity that was not threatening.

Lenniel responded, "He is on patrol, and is not due back for another week."

"Ah," Erestor nodded. He leaned forward, closer to Lenniel, his dark eyes suddenly capturing hers, impressing the seriousness of Erestor's next question. "Did you see anything yesterday? Think hard before you answer. Anything unusual, out of place?"

Lenniel frowned in thought. She shook her head slowly, but Erestor reminded her again. "Think hard, Lenniel. Did you see anything or hear anything? Even the smallest detail may be important," he stressed.

The silence in the room built, as did the tension. Erestor raised a hand sharply as Dórion opened his mouth to speak, and he frowned fiercely at the Captain to silence him.

Lenniel looked at Erestor, her face crumbling. "Nothing, my Lord. I am sorry but I cannot recall anything unusual about yesterday."

Erestor smiled, even though he felt like screaming in frustration. "It is all right, Lenniel. If you do recall any information, please inform the Captain and he will summon me immediately." Erestor rose and took the elleth's hand. "Do you have someone who can come and stay with you until your mate's return?"

Lenniel squeezed Erestor's hand in gratitude. "Yes, my sister is coming to stay. Thank you, my Lord," she whispered.

Erestor and Gildor, with Captain Dórion following, made their way to the door. Erestor had just reached for the door handle when Lenniel's cry stopped them.

"Wait, my Lord! There was someone," she said, rushing to Erestor's side.

"Someone?" he asked, with a raised brow.

"Yes," Lenniel replied, her voice excited as a memory came back to her. "A stranger, one I had never seen in this area of Lindon before."

"Can you describe them, Lenniel?" Erestor asked, nodding to Gildor to write down this new information.

Lenniel's face fell and Erestor struggled to keep his disappointment off his face. "Just tell us what you can recall, Lenniel?" he urged.

"It was dusk, just a bit of light left. It was an ellon; he was walking away from me, so all I saw was his back. But I do remember that he was dressed casually, though I could tell that the cloth and cut were rich." Lenniel paused, struggling to recall a detail. Suddenly her face lit up and she said excitedly," And he had long hair of a golden color, the like, I have never seen before!"

Erestor nodded and exchanged a look with Gildor. He thanked Lenniel and promised he would keep her informed of their progress. Now it was time to perform the autopsy, but Erestor knew already what they would find.

This victim was killed by the same person.

To be continued...