Windows of the Soul
Erestor lay in his bed, but sleep would not come. His mind would not rest after the discoveries Elrond had revealed. Nightshade. The purple residue in the bottom of the teacups was nightshade. The herb was toxic. When ingested, it would cause one to develop weakness, difficulty breathing, or paralysis. Symptoms could include a loss of voice, along with continuous movements of the fingers and hands. Most commonly the herb was infused with a tonic or strong liquor.
But *why* was the question Erestor had no answer for. Why would these ellith drink the tea? Elrond had explained that Nightshade had a distinct odor and taste. Even diluted or masked by the infusion of liquor, would have given the tea a strange flavor, which surely would have been noticed by the victims drinking it. And why was there only one cup? If they were offered a spirit, why drink alone? How did the killer convince them to drink? Erestor had no answers, just more questions.
Elrond had also explained that this bit of herb-lore was specialized knowledge. Oh, everyone knew Nightshade was toxic, poisonous even, but those specific symptoms fit the killer's MO. How else could the killer have incapacitated his victims enough to undress and re-dress them, then strangle them to death? Also, it would explain why they did not struggle, and why no cries for help were heard.
But the one question that tormented Erestor the most was, how Glorfindel, a warrior, could have knowledge if that particular herb.
Erestor rose with the dawn. He wandered through the gardens, his thoughts still troubled. Lindon was quiet; for most, the day had not yet begun. The gardens grew wilder and more untamed the further Erestor walked, and before long, he was in the woods, following a winding path. Here amongst the trees, the light was dimmer, the morning not yet taken hold this deep under the canopy created by the leaves and branches. The trees grew closer together as he drew near a secluded glade, known about by but a few. It was peaceful, and quiet, just what Erestor needed.
But a sound did disturb him as he moved deeper into the wood. It was a swishing noise, a bit like a fast-moving bird diving in for a kill, though it sounded like no bird Erestor had ever heard before. He stepped around a tree and that was when he saw him. Glorfindel...
Erestor quickly stepped back and concealed himself behind a tree. What was Glorfindel doing in the woods, alone and unguarded? I will have Dórion's head on a platter for this, Erestor fumed, while he decided on the best course of action. Was it better to confront the Elda out here in the forest, or to remain hidden and follow Glorfindel and hope he returned to Lindon, where Erestor could call for assistance if a confrontation became unpleasant?
Safely out of sight behind the tree, Erestor scanned the woods, assessing the situation. As he looked around, a motion in the treetops caught his eye. At first, he thought it was just a bird, but then gave a small, quiet sigh of relief. Nestled comfortably up in the fork of a tree, almost directly across the glade, bow clasped loosely in one hand, was Glorfindel's guard. Erestor recognized Pedhrin, one of Dórion's officers. His fury gave way to grudging respect for the disagreeable Captain for taking the threat of Glorfindel's escape seriously after his dressing-down the previous night. Pedhrin was a highly skilled warrior, one of the High King's top ranking officers, second only to Captain Dórion himself.
The Elda stood in the center of the glade. His flaxen hair was unbound, unbraided, and hung down to dance at the small of his back. Glorfindel was shirtless. His broad upper form glistened in the dawn's light, and Erestor could not take his eyes from the golden vision. The mighty sword swung through the air, and Glorfindel's shoulders and arms moved powerfully with the weapon. Muscles stood out starkly as he panted with the effort of his practice. Glorfindel's legs were braced apart, each thigh highlighted by the sweat-dampened leggings that clung like a second skin.
Erestor's eyes followed a drop of moisture as it fell from Glorfindel's chin down onto his chest. It trickled past one pale pink nipple, over a flat stomach and disappeared into the waistband of his low hung leggings. The warrior was a magnificent sight as he spun in a circle, back bowed, buttocks flexing as he thrust and avoided an imaginary opponent. The blond's hair swung about, catching the light and the eye. His strong hands grasped the sword firmly; his fingers gripped the handle as he swung his weapon in an arc, whirling around and finally coming to rest, facing Erestor once more.
Erestor's gaze rose to the Elda's face. The blue eyes were burning fiercely, concentration heavy on that noble brow. And Erestor suddenly had doubts whether this legendary warrior who had sacrificed himself in Gondolin could have taken the lives of those ellith. Despite the evidence, Erestor could not believe he was looking at his killer.
As heat pooled and built in Erestor's groin, he stumbled back away from Glorfindel. He no longer trusted himself. Erestor turned and fled.
A frown was heavy on his own brow as he headed back to his lab. Erestor did not know if he could trust his own judgment any longer. Did he believe in Glorfindel's innocence because he truly *believed* the blond was innocent and that it was simply a series of coincidences that indicated Glorfindel's guilt?
Or was it because Erestor wanted him? Was he seeing what he wanted in the Elda, because he was attracted to Glorfindel? The uncomfortable throbbing in his loins made Erestor terribly afraid the answer to that question was yes.
Eyes followed the dark-haired Elf's path back to the palace, but they were not Glorfindel's eyes.
There he goes, the oh-so-so smart Erestor. I watched him, followed him, only to find him gazing like a lovesick elleth upon that Balrog slayer. How pathetic they are, so stupid- all of them. Did they actually think the blond smart enough to have done what he had done?
He remembered the Elda. Oh yes, from the crossing, the Kinslayings... Across the fires of burning ships their eyes had met. Panic had seized him when the blond stopped him in the halls, but the expression on Glorfindel's face had been one of confusion, not recognition.
He had stood among the trees, watching. They were not close, did not see the pieces, the answers right in front of them. But what if the blond remembered? Had he seen?
No one followed him back to his quarters, he made sure of that. No, the only eyes that could still see him were lying in his palm, staring up at him with their dead gazes. So harmless they looked, devoid of the veins and tendons that connected them to a mind that remembered and recorded his deeds. But no longer. Now they were small, already losing their blue color, fading to a milky paleness, until they finally would see no more.
*Her* eyes had remembered him, accused him. He had seen the horror and blame and damnation shining from their depths. Everyone had always said he had his Nana's eyes. How many times had he seen those eyes reflecting indifference, when he had wanted to see love and interest. But it was not until the end, when their light had almost been extinguished, that they had seen him, known him. Those betraying eyes!
His fingers tightened on the orbs in his hand, squeezing until his fingers and palms were coated with tissue and jelly, until the blue of their eyes was crushed beyond recognition. Those eyes would see no more.
His Nana had been so beautiful, right up until the moment he had killed her...
The knock on the door sent a flash of panic through him before he calmed himself and wiped his hands clean and quickly tossed the gore-covered towel out of view. The sight of his Lord Elrond had him blinking in surprise, but he quickly recovered.
"Híren, how may I help you?" Garafon's voice showed his surprise at finding Lord Elrond at his door, but he bowed respectfully to the King's herald.
Elrond smiled at the earnest healer. Now matter how many times they worked together, the formal Elf always maintained the respectful distance Elrond's position demanded. Garafon was an excellent healer, but a very reserved individual.
"Garafon, I am sorry to disturb you on your time off, but I need a sleeping potion made for Lord Glorfindel." At the mention of the name, Garafon twitched with what Elrond assumed to be surprise over being asked to assist in the treatment of the legendary Balrog slayer. "He has suffered nightmares and insomnia since his re-birth, and now with the influx of returning memories, he is deeply in need of our assistance."
Garafon bowed once more and accepted the parchment Lord Elrond held out to him. "Of course, Híren. I will gather this together immediately," he replied, looking down at the list of ingredients Lord Elrond specified.
Elrond once more thanked Garafon, and Garafon closed the door behind him, still staring thoughtfully down at the written instructions. So the Elda's memories were returning? Would he recall a glimpse across raging fire of an elleth dying?
Garafon smiled. Without him knowing it, Lord Elrond had just handed him the perfect solution to the problem. The blond was getting too close...
Saelbeth knocked on the heavy door and wrung his hands nervously. His stomach was in knots and he felt slightly foolish. He was a grown Elf, a number of years past his majority, but he really needed to talk to someone.
Gildor blinked when he opened the door and saw his visitor's identity. Saelbeth had never been to his rooms before. Taking in the young Elf's pale face, he quickly grasped his hands and pulled him into the room. "Saelbeth? Are you all right?" he asked with concern, guiding Saelbeth to a chair and pushing him down in it. "What is the matter?"
"I am sorry to bother you..." Saelbeth said hesitantly. He sat stiffly on the seat, looking small and frightened despite his years.
"Pfft," Gildor waved away the apology with the toss of a hand. "Nonsense, it is not a bother at all. Can I offer you a glass of wine?" he asked, not waiting for an answer before moving toward the sideboard where an impressive selection of bottles and fine glassware was displayed. "You look in need of something a bit stronger than tea."
"That would be most appreciated, my Lord," Saelbeth responded with a small smile.
"Saelbeth... if I have told you once, I have told you a hundred times. My name is Gildor, not ‘my Lord'," the dark-haired Elf chided playfully as he pressed a glass into the other's hand.
Saelbeth accepted the glass gratefully and took a hearty swallow. A bit of color came back to his face and he sighed as the wine began to set him at ease. "Thank you, my— Gildor. I needed that."
Gildor chuckled. "Aye, you did. Now what brings you here, Saelbeth?"
The younger Elf closed his eyes and grimaced, as if to shut out an unpleasant memory. "Those ellith – today I – how – " Saelbeth broke off and shook his head as though to clear it. He set the wine glass down on the table. Gildor sat patiently, waiting for him to continue, and finally the Sinda collected his thoughts and spoke again. "Does it get any easier? Seeing we saw today?"
Gildor sighed heavily and rubbed his weary eyes. "I wish I could tell you otherwise, my friend, but the truth is that no, it does not."
"How can you bear it? How does Lord Erestor do it without going mad?" Saelbeth stood suddenly and paced about the room, running his hands through his long blond hair. "Try as I might, I cannot rid my mind of the memories, of seeing those poor ellith. Visions of their ruined faces haunt my thoughts."
Gildor stood and walked across the room. He reached out and grasped Saelbeth's arm, forcing him to halt his restless pacing. Gently, he turned Saelbeth toward him and enfolded the trembling Sinda in his arms. "The horror does not end, Saelbeth... not if you are sane. Sometimes I even envision myself walking away, just leaving Lindon behind. Removing myself from death, wandering in the wilds with only my wit to sustain me, getting far away from the horrors that one being can do to another." He stroked the silky blond hair tenderly, and slowly Saelbeth's trembling subsided under the soothing touch.
Hesitantly, Saelbeth's arms came up to encircle the broad back. His voice was muffled against Gildor's shoulder. "How do you do it?"
"I will not tell you it is easy, but it is necessary." Gildor removed his arms from around Saelbeth's slender shoulders and lifted the blond head from its hiding place against his chest, forcing Saelbeth to meet his eyes. "We are all the victim's have now. Their voices were silenced, so if we do not stand for them, who will?" He kissed Saelbeth's brow gently and pulled back to meet Saelbeth's gaze again. "Can you understand that?"
Saelbeth nodded cautiously. "Thank you, Gildor," he said, and a tiny smile curved his lips. "And please do not leave Lindon just yet, the King would not be pleased. Nor would I," he said softly.
He will be all right, Gildor thought, relieved at hearing Saelbeth's mildly teasing words. "I will not, my friend," he said, dropping his hands to the young Sinda's shoulders. He gave Saelbeth a brief hug and impulsively leaned over to give the younger Elf a chaste kiss on the cheek.
In a move that startled even himself at its intimacy, Saelbeth turned his head at that moment and met Gildor's lips with his own. Saelbeth's clear blue eyes met surprised grey ones. Neither moved; they stood motionless, their lips barely touching.
Finally, Saelbeth pulled back and muttered an apology, breaking their gaze. His face was crimson in embarrassment. "I am sorry, Gildor, I do not know what possessed me to do that."
Gildor cupped the young Elf's smooth cheek in his hand and gently turned his head. Quietly, he said, "Do not be sorry." He searched Saelbeth's eyes, haunted yet so clear and wholesome, and uttered a silent prayer to the Valar that the young Elf would never lose that innocence. Leaning forward, he captured Saelbeth's lips again in a sweet kiss.
The tension melted from Saelbeth's body, and he relaxed into Gildor's strong, protective embrace. Gildor's lips were moist and warm, and wonderfully soft against his. Moaning softly, he parted his lips and allowed the Noldo to explore his mouth with a slick, strong tongue.
At last, the kiss ended and they broke apart reluctantly. Gildor stroked the young Sinda's chin with the back of a finger, his voice quiet and serious as he spoke. "Will you stay, my friend? I would offer you the comfort of my bed and my body tonight."
Saelbeth's response was equally serious when he answered, "I will stay, Gildor."
To be continued...