Windows of the Soul
Chapter Six

"Telerin, Erestor!" Gildor exclaimed excitedly.

Gildor struggled to keep up with Erestor's rapid pace as they strode back to the palace. "Erestor, it cannot be a coincidence," Gildor said as he ran the last few steps up to Erestor's side.

Erestor glanced behind him, making sure Dórion was not following them back to the lab. "Hush, Gildor. We will discuss this inside," he warned, his tone low and irritated.

Once inside the lab, Erestor washed his hands and face in the small water closet and removed his heavy black robe, leaving him in undershirt and leggings. He turned and frowned at Gildor. "You know that we do not discuss details of a crime out in the open where any ears could hear. What were you thinking, Gildor?"

Gildor held out his hands, confused. "But it was just Dórion," he replied defensively.

Frustrated, Erestor threw down the hand towel he used to dry his face and hands. "Just Dórion, you say! You have decided that he could not possibly be our killer, and therefore it is safe to reveal details of the crime in front of him? Is that it, Gildor? You have it all figured out!" By the time Erestor finished, he was shouting.

Gildor stared in shock at the older Elf. In all the time he had worked with, and slept beside the other Elf, Erestor had never raised his voice to him. Indeed, he had never heard Erestor raise his voice to anyone. "Nay, Erestor. No, that is not it at all. I am sorry," he whispered, ashamed at his lack of judgment.

Erestor sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He moved to his desk, where he perched on a corner and closed his eyes for a moment. He opened his eyes finally with regret heavy in his dark gaze. "It is I who should apologize, Gildor. It is no excuse, I know. But I am tired, and these killings weigh heavily on my faer."

Gildor quickly crossed to Erestor's side and took hold of the dark Elf's hands, squeezing them in comfort. "It is all right, Erestor. I understand," Gildor leaned down and brushed a gentle kiss on Erestor's lips. "You take too much upon yourself, Erestor. You could not prevent these murders, and I know you will exhaust yourself bringing the killer to justice. That is the best you can do for them now."

A small smile crept across Erestor's lips and he frowned mockingly at Gildor. "When did you become so wise?" he asked with amusement.

"Not only am I wise, I am beautiful," Gildor grinned, relieved at being forgiven, and pulled Erestor to his feet.

Erestor rolled his eyes, chuckling. "And frightfully modest, it seems."

Their laughter faded, however, as both Elves turned toward the newest sheet-draped body awaiting inspection. Cuileth needed their respect and dedication now. Erestor and Gildor drew on the white lab coats. Fresh gloves were placed on the equipment table, along with clean instruments, parchment, and quills. Each took a deep breath before pulling back the sheet.

"Normally, I would wait for the effects of rigor mortis to subside before performing the autopsy. The body can remain in this condition for anything between twelve and forty-eight hours, until further chemical changes return the body to an acid state. At that point, the muscles begin to relax again," Erestor moved about the table as he spoke, inspecting the body from every angle.

Gildor frowned briefly, trying to recall what Erestor had taught him about rigor mortis. "This process then affects the muscles in the reverse order in which rigor mortis originally stiffened them – the eyelids first, then the facial muscles, and finally the legs?"

"Very good, Gildor. You are correct." Erestor moved back up to the victim's head. "Are you ready?"

"Yes," Gildor answered, parchment and quill in hand.

"The victim, named Cuileth, is a healthy female, race has been confirmed by neighbor as Telerin. Trauma is confined to the victim's upper torso, mainly the head and face. Due to the presence of rigor mortis, estimated time of death is between twelve and forty-eight hours ago," Erestor stopped speaking and met Gildor's eyes briefly.

Gildor hastily finished his writing, then laid aside his writing implements and assisted Erestor with the lower torso examination. Gildor went back to his scribing as Erestor dictated. "No sign of sexual assault, confirmed by examination." It was now an official part of the report, and an eerie similarity with the first case.

Erestor began a close inspection of the victim's eye socket. His words continued to combine this victim's fate with the others, binding them in one commonality: the same killer murdered them both. "The victim's eyes have been removed with extremely skilled precision by a sharp instrument," Erestor continued speaking as he moved down to the victim's neck.

"The neck area shows clear indication of force applied by hands." Erestor held the wooden ruler to the marks. "The markings are curved, and half an inch in diameter. The skin is broken, consistent with nail markings." Erestor used his fingers to feel about the bruised area. He frowned and explored down the throat to the base of the neck. "There are fractures of the cartilage, and of the windpipe and larynx."

Erestor stepped back from the table. From a cabinet he withdrew a blunt, almost flat metal blade. Returning to the victim, he placed the tool against the victim's lips and pried the mouth open. Peering inside, he said, "Bruising of the tissue of the mouth, bite marks on the tongue, added to the fractures, and the cause of death is undoubtedly manual strangulation."

Erestor looked up, meeting Gildor's serious gaze. "Again, it appears as if the eyes were taken postmortem," he said.

"Let us have a look at that teacup," Erestor said, moving away from the body.

The cup had the same purplish residue in its bottom, and again Gildor crinkled his nose at its strong alcohol smell.

Neither Elf said a word as Gildor re-draped the victim and the two removed their white coats. They stood side by side at the sink and scrubbed their hands, both their minds heavy with their discoveries. Tea was brewed, and seats taken, but the silence built. Gildor knew Erestor was waiting for Saelbeth, so he kept his questions to himself for now. The very thought of what they were up against made him nauseous.

A serial killer was targeting ellith in Lindon.

Saelbeth arrived while Erestor and Gildor were on their second cup of tea. He sat heavily in the only other chair in the lab and gratefully accepted the hot cup Gildor handed him. Erestor said nothing, allowing the young Elf a chance at catching his breath and partaking of some refreshment. But when Saelbeth finally set aside his cup, Erestor spoke.

"Were there any other witnesses?" he asked.

Saelbeth snorted in disgust. "No, my Lord. No one heard or saw anything, or at least that is their story."

Erestor smiled faintly at the young investigator's expression. "Saelbeth, you had best become accustomed to that answer. Most do not wish to become involved, still others are *afraid* to become involved, and then there are those who simply do not care."

Saelbeth's face saddened at the very thought that there could be some who held life in such little regard, but he continued. "Here are the inventories. I went over them thoroughly with Lenniel. She says that Cuileth's sewing basket is missing, but that was the only item. Also, the robe -- "

Erestor stopped him. "Let me guess. It did not belong to our victim."

Saelbeth nodded. "Lenniel said that she had never seen Cuileth wear something that formal, or in that color."

Erestor leaned back and folded his hands across his stomach. He eyed his assistants for a moment before speaking quietly. "This is what we know. We have two ellith, manually strangled by what we think to be the same suspect. Their eyes were removed. There were no signs of sexual assault, and no signs of forced entry to their homes. Both victims were dressed in very elaborate, formal robes, which did not belong to them. Both victims have items missing from their rooms. The pose of both was similar also," Erestor paused and received nods from the other two. "And they both are of Telerin blood."

By the time Erestor paused once more, both his assistants were perched on the edges of their chairs, eyes rapt on their Lord's face.

"Now, let us speculate," Erestor said, his gaze becoming unfocused as his mind traveled back to each scene and he mentally ticked off what was known about the crimes. "The victims knew their killer. They let him or her in their homes. This would require some level of trust, or a feeling of servitude on their parts. They were both given something in their tea. Let us assume it was a drug. This would make sense, in that no screams were heard and no defense wounds were found on either victim. So they were passive as he strangled them, dead when he removed their eyes. The first victim was found by a passer-by, and the second by a neighbor," Erestor stopped and took a deep breath. "What do we know of the Teleri?" he abruptly asked.

"The Kinslayings," Saelbeth promptly answered.

Gildor leaned forward. "Lord Glorfindel was present at Alqualondë," he stated, eyes locked with Erestor's.

"So were a great many Noldor, Gildor, but you are correct. We should ask Lord Glorfindel about that then, should we not?" Erestor's voice was deceptively mild, hiding his annoyance with Gildor's assumption. It did not matter how many times he cautioned the other Elf, Gildor persisted in jumping to conclusions.

Erestor sat at his ease, enjoying his tea as he waited for Glorfindel to answer the summons to Elrond's study. Gildor and Saelbeth had been sent despite their protest to arrange for funeral services for the victims. Gildor had petitioned vehemently to be present during the questioning, but Erestor had denied him, saying only that Lord Glorfindel might be more forthcoming if only he and Elrond were present.

Erestor did not rise as Glorfindel entered. He did wonder at the Elda's surprise at seeing him waiting; obviously, Elrond had not told the blond what this meeting was regarding. Erestor watched as Elrond almost fussed over the Balrog slayer, serving him a drink before seating himself back at his desk with Glorfindel and Erestor across from him.

Elrond addressed the blond, his tone gentle. "Glorfindel, there has been another murder, and Lord Erestor has a few more questions for you."

Glorfindel's eyes opened wide at the news of another killing, then he frowned at Erestor. "What does a murder have to do with me?" he asked.

"To begin with, Lord Glorfindel, can you tell me of your activities for the last forty-eight hours?" Erestor asked, his voice curious, almost childlike; he could not help the dramatic widening of the eyes he presented to the blond, even though he knew Glorfindel did not buy his innocent act for one moment.

Glorfindel looked confused and he glanced at Elrond, but the Peredhel only stared back at him calmly. "My activities?" he asked.

"Yes," Erestor said. "For example, can you tell me if you were in the general area of the servant's cottages early yesterday evening, let us say, before meal time?"

Glorfindel appeared deep in thought. He was silent for several minutes. "I might have walked past them," he finally said, but added no more.

"Walked past them?" Erestor asked and raised a brow.

Glorfindel frowned at the other Elf. His tone was defensive and aggressive as he answered. "Yes, walked past them. I was on the training grounds observing. I am to take command of the King's forces soon, and I wanted to judge their skill. I decided to walk a bit before meal time."

"Why did you walk in that direction, Lord Glorfindel? The training grounds are a long way from the servants' cottages," Erestor asked, leaning forward, deliberately invading the Elda's space.

Glorfindel took a deep breath, almost as if he was drawing Erestor's scent into his lungs. But then the blond leaned as far back as his chair would allow and regarded the dark-haired Elf suspiciously. "No reason other than it was a new direction."

Now Erestor frowned. "A new direction?" he asked.

Glorfindel smirked. "A new direction to walk in," he retorted.

Erestor rose in a swirl of black robe and sat on the edge of Elrond's desk in front of Glorfindel, shielding the blond from the half-Elf's view. He wanted Glorfindel alone and disarmed, without Elrond's cautious gaze on them, but this was the best he could do, for now. He stared down into Glorfindel's mocking blue eyes, his own burning with anger. "What if I told you, Lord Glorfindel, that we have a witness who saw you walking past the cottage where an elleth had just been murdered?" Erestor watched as the blond's face paled and he swayed in his seat.

Glorfindel stared at Erestor in horror. "You think I killed her?" he asked incredulously.

Erestor titled his head to one side, his dark hair shifting to fall over one shoulder as he leaned closer to the Elda. "Did you?" he asked in a whisper.

Glorfindel rose furiously from his chair and it crashed to the floor. He sprang away from Erestor as if he were on fire. "No!" he cried.

Erestor stood and turned his back on the blond. He looked down into Elrond's distraught eyes. "I want him confined to his room and a guard placed on the door," he ordered.

Elrond nodded sadly, despite Glorfindel's cry of outrage. "It will be done," he replied sharply.

Erestor turned back to face the Balrog slayer. The Elda regarded him angrily, his eyes snapping blue flame. "You are wrong, you know," he said. "I did not kill those ellith." Glorfindel shook his head at Elrond as the half-Elf made to rise and restrain him. "I will go to my quarters and place myself under your guard, Lord Erestor. But when you discover that you have made a mistake, do not send anyone else. I want *you* to come and tell me that you know it was not I who did these horrible things. I want to hear the words from your lips – no one else's." Before Erestor could make a move to stop him, Glorfindel turned and opened the door. Looking back once more, he met Erestor's eyes, and then stormed out.

"Let him go," Elrond said. "He is honorable, Erestor. He will return to his quarters and remain there."

Erestor snorted. "Honorable? He is a murder suspect, Elrond. His honor is questionable." He walked to the door and stepped out, watching the blond walk away.

He was just about to turn back to Elrond when he saw the Elda pause and speak to someone. Erestor recognized the Elf as one of Elrond's healers, but he could not recall the Elf's name. He saw Glorfindel ask the Elf something. The healer smiled and shook his head negatively before walking away. Glorfindel had turned to watch the Elf leave, a puzzled look on his face.

As though sensing the other's eyes on him, Glorfindel turned around, seeing Erestor watching from the doorway. Their gazes stayed locked for several moments, blue blazing into black, before Glorfindel bowed smartly and turned away.

To be continued...