A horrified silence descended to engulf the study. Four sets of jaundiced eyes came to rest in dawning dread upon the sigil grasped tightly in the Balrog slayer's hand. The blade glinted innocently in the candlelight. Elladan reached a shaking hand forward to reverently touch the ivory handle.
"Legolas…but Ada, you said they were not in danger! Legolas would never misplace this knife. It was a gift from his mother on his coming of age. He rarely sets it down, and never leaves it far from his reach. He must be hurt, and Aragorn with him!"
"Where did you find this Glorfindel?" The Elvenlord's voice was barely more than a whisper.
"Just south of the ford. There was no sign of a struggle, and I found no evidence of any tracks. I am sorry, my Lords. I will take a contingent of warriors out in search of them immediately."
Elrond considered his captain's words. This did not feel right. There was no sign of a struggle, yet Legolas must have sensed danger for he had drawn his blade. It must be the Lorerauko. Yet it did not make any sense. Why would the demons take a single elf and a man captive? One elf was of no use to them. The two lesser demons had already fed, and would be sustained for years unknown to Elrond before they needed to feed again. The other had his sights relentlessly set upon Elrohir. And of what use was Aragorn? Humans were so low to the demons as to be little more than the dirt beneath their feet. What was so important about Estel to rouse their interests…
"Estel. Of course, why did I not see it before."
"Adar? What to you mean?" Elrohir had left the glow of the window to approach his father. He shivered as he stood next to his twin.
"Do not send any warriors yet Glorfindel, I do not believe they are in any immediate danger."
"Not in any danger?" bellowed Elladan. "Adar, those demons are roaming the lands surrounding Rivendell, all manner of evil beasts have been drawn here by their wickedness. Aragorn and Legolas have been gone weeks…"
"Precisely." Elladan's incredulous tirade was halted by his fathers firm voice. "They have been gone weeks, and yet they only made it as far as the ford. So they were either killed or taken prisoner. If Estel had been spirit had left this world, I would have felt it. And make no mistake that if Legolas had come to any harm while in Imladris Thranduil would sensed his pain. In which case he would have travelled here swifter than the eagles baying for my blood. It stands to reason then that they have been captive quite some time. It is my belief that the demon has seen Aragorn and Legolas in Elrohir's mind. He did not anticipate our ability to prevent him from entering Elrohir's dreams. I would imagine he has become quite impatient and hopes to draw Elrohir out by holding them captive. Or at least that their prolonged absence would cause him enough distress that he let down his guard."
"Then what do you suggest? We leave them in the clutches of those devils?" Elladan continued to glare at his father.
"I suggest we listen to what Glorfindel has to tell us. Then we will be able to mount a proper rescue mission, and end this ordeal once and for all." Elrond looked at Elrohir as he spoke. This latest blow, knowing that his brother and one of his oldest friends were being held against their will on his account, had dimmed the light that had returned to his eyes upon hearing of Glorfindel's return.
Glorfindel bowed to his lord before taking a deep breath. He did not know where to begin. The tale went back so far in history that even he, despite having returned from Mandos' Halls to a second life, felt young.
"The Lady Galadriel has told me much about these demons. As you told me, my Lord, the Lorerauko were Melkor's first creations. He would undoubtedly have created more had he not turned his attention to the Balrogs…"
The captain's narrative halted momentarily as he remembered the beast which had sent him to the Halls of Waiting. He turned his gaze to Elrohir, saw how the child's light had diminished, and felt once more flames against his skin. He would not allow another of Melkor's creations to take Elrohir.
"The Lorerauko's methods of killing were apparently too subtle for Melkor as his appetite for darkness and destruction increased. As it stands the three Lorerauko which were created can go for decades without feeding. The Elven fëa they consume are immortal; eternal. As such it will sustain them for a great deal of time. Melkor would have had to create countless numbers of them to wipe out the Elves. A Balrog, however, could lay waste to an entire city in mere moments."
The three Peredhil looked on at the golden-haired warrior in silent sympathy. They saw the shadows haunting the twice-lived elf lord he recalled the terror of the sack of Gondolin.
"It is this ability to live for such long periods without feeding that has allowed the demons to survive so long. Had they killed often, we would have been alerted to their presence. As it is they have been able to feed on unsuspecting travellers, messengers, even Elves in battle have fallen prey to the demons, their comrades assuming they were killed in combat. Yet now the Eldar have begun to leave these shores. The demons have had to travel closer to the Elven realms, but have contented themselves so far to feed on the souls of Elves injured in skirmishes on the outskirts of Mirkwood. Yet for reasons unknown to the Lady of the Wood, they travelled to Imladris, and temptation has led them to reveal themselves."
"Temptation? Of what temptation do you speak Glorfindel?" Elrohir looked to his mentor in confusion. What could possibly have led these demons to reveal themselves after millennia of undetected transgression?
"I speak of you, Elrohir. For countless centuries they have scavenged for weakened or dying souls, hidden in the dark in order to trap lone travellers. This was not what they were created for. Melkor created them with the intention of breeding pure terror in the hearts of Illúvatar's Children. It would appear that the leader could not resist the opportunity to torment and consume a spirit of such strength and light as yours, my Lord."
"Mine? But why? Do not misunderstand me, I would not wish this curse on another, but I am an elf like any other in Rivendell. If they came to Imladris, they would have their choice of many Elves greater than I. You Glorfindel, you are from a house of princes, you slew a Balrog and have been reborn. Now you lead the host of Imladris. And what of you, Adar? You are the mightiest chieftain of the Elves, and the greatest healer in Middle Earth. What am I? Even Elladan would have been a better choice, for he is a far greater warrior than I."
"Do not belittle your own strength, my Lord. You are the last son of the High-elven Kings. In your veins runs the purest blood of Eldar, Edain and even Maiar. But it is yourself that so attracted the demon. Your strength is quiet, unassuming. But when you are moved you can be more terrible and fearsome in battle than any I have seen, and you love your family more deeply than any other I have ever known. Even now you survive, when others would have despaired. Galadriel told me it was only your bond with Elladan which has saved you."
"Aye, his strength has been my anchor. I would have been lost long afore this if not for his steadfast spirit." Elrohir clasped his twin's hand tightly.
"Nay Elrohir, again you belittle your fortitude. It is not the strength you draw from your bond which has saved you, but your own steadfast resolve to protect your brother. You know that if you were to die, your brother would soon find himself in Mandos' Halls. And then what would become of the rest of your family? And what of Aragorn, surely he would falter on his path without the guidance of his beloved brothers. It is your own desire to protect your family that has sustained you thus far. The demon despises this selflessness, and seeks to smother it in shadow."
Elrohir looked away from the piercing gaze of his mentor, father and brother. The proud regard in their eyes brought a blush to his previously sunken cheeks. Elrond smiled at his middle son's modesty in adoration before turning his attention to his captain once more.
"How do we destroy them?"
"A single Elven soul can sustain one of the demons for decades, so it would stand to reason that a light purer than an elven soul would be too much for the demons to absorb, and would therefore destroy it. Have you not wondered why you have endlessly sought the light of Ithil or Anor since you were afflicted with this curse, Elrohir? You constantly wish to be bathed in their glow. It is the light of the Two Trees retained in the sun and moon, you feel it driving back the shadow. It is this light which will destroy the Lorerauko."
A satisfied smile graced Glorfindel's countenance. However he was met with decidedly distraught expressions from his lords.
"The Two Trees? But they were destroyed! Melkor himself saw to that when he poisoned them! Aye, some of their light remains in Ithil and Anor, but we cannot harness that!" Elladan almost wept in his despair. They had been so close to learning how to save Elrohir, how to save Aragorn and Legolas, only to learn that there was no hope.
"Elladan, you misunderstand me. The light of Telperion and Laurelin survived - in the Silmarils. Which were lost, I know," Glorfindel said, before Elladan could once again state the obvious. "But one was saved by Beren and Lúthien. The same Silmaril that your grandmother Elwing bore to guide Eärendil safely to the shores of Eldamar."
Glorfindel then reached into his robe and drew for the an object wrapped delicately in rich velvet. The captain graced his audience with an awe filled smile before he began to gently unwrap his precious package. The three dark-haired Elves gasped and had to shield their eyes as the room was suddenly filled with a heavenly light.
Aragorn attempted for what felt like the thousandth time that day to reach the itch between his shoulder blades which so deviously eluded him. That is not to be wondered at, he thought bitterly, when one only has the tree against which he is tied with which to relieve the irritation. Such had his life been reduced to. He had lost count of how many days or weeks he and Legolas had been captive. Initially his priorities had been to awaken Legolas from the enchantment he had fallen victim to, and to escape the clutches of the Lorerauko. Now however, he had been reduced to expending all his energy on alleviating what would usually be a momentary nuisance!
Not for the first time that day the ranger growled in infuriated frustration. He glanced over to where Legolas lay sleeping. As he watched his friend he felt the heat of his ire cool to a tolerable level. The elf's chest rose and fell gently. One good thing at least had come from their lengthy captivity. Whatever spell Legolas had fallen victim to had ceased to be effective. Despite suffering from a weariness unnatural to one of the Eldar, his strength was returning every day. Legolas seemed to have suffered no ill effects from his involuntary slumber.
The human's brow crumpled slightly in discomfort. Legolas rested with his eyes closed. Although Aragorn knew this was only temporary until Legolas regained his full strength, it left him agitated and unsettled. When he looked at the woodland prince, he could not help but think of the day he had returned home to find Elrohir trapped within his own nightmares. Nor could he fail to remember all the nights since when his father had drugged Elrohir into a senseless stupor in a desperate attempt to save him from the very creatures he was now prisoner of.
Such thoughts unsurprisingly led to images of Elladan, watching Elrohir sleep so intently that he completely forgot his own need to rest until he virtually collapsed with exhaustion. He saw the grief so evident on his oldest brother's face, and the thinly veiled paralysing terror barely hidden behind his father's features. And Elrohir. His radiant features drained of all light and hope.
Where was Glorfindel now? Had he returned from Lórien? Did the Lady Galadriel even know what these demons were, let alone how to break their hold on Elrohir? Aragorn grimaced as he considered his own selfishness. He knew that he did not care whether they killed the Lorerauko or not, just so long as they abandoned this obsession with the younger twin. He found he did not care whether or not the demons went on to consume other souls. Just as long as they spared his brother.
The ranger looked up from his musing to see Legolas' azure gaze settled on him in concern. Some echo of his thoughts must have reflected in his face. He smiled sadly at his companion.
"I was thinking of home. Of Elrohir."
"I know, mellon nín. Do not fear for him. Your father is there. And Elladan would never let anything happen to him."
"How can you know that, Legolas? They have no control over this. If he…" Aragon choked on a sob as he tried to comprehend the events that had led him to this point, to saying these words. "If he dies, I will never forgive myself. We should have listened to Erestor. We never should have left. I know there is nothing I can do, but I need to be there. If only to hold him, to tell him how much I love him. Because that's all we have Legolas, in the end. All we have that really means anything is love. I need to tell him."
"He knows, Estel. He has always known." Legolas felt the prickle of tears behind his eyes and desperately forced them down. He needed to be strong for his friend. "Sleep now, little one. Maybe you'll dream of home. I will keep watch over you."
Aragorn nodded listlessly and shifted into as comfortable a position as he could, bound as he was against the tree. He did not even have the energy to protest that there was no way he could sleep at a time like this. But his heart was too weary to hold onto its grief any longer, and he slipped into a fitful sleep.
Legolas listened to his friend's breathing slow and deepen before furiously beginning to twist in his bonds. Blind fury engulfed his senses. He had to get Aragorn home, or his friend would wallow in guilt and anguish for the rest of his days. He did not know how long he struggled, only that when he finally gave up he was panting and sweating heavily in exertion, and his skin was slippery from the blood seeping from his raw wrists. Hot tears tracked down his face as he screwed his eyes shut in frustration and buried his head behind his drawn up knees. He did not understand this weakness! Where was his strength, his inherent elven endurance? Whatever curse had kept him comatose in those first days had drained him more than he would care to admit.
"Given up, princeling?"
Legolas' head snapped back up. How could he have let his guard down so easily? He scanned the glade in which they were camped for any sign of who had spoken. He heard a wintry chuckle before a lithe form dropped from a low hanging branch directly in front of him. The demon perused the elf's vulnerable form, an malevolent smirk twisting the cold beauty of his face. Legolas' eyes were drawn to the elegant tip of the creatures ear. He shuddered in revulsion.
"Grown tired have we, my pretty," crooned the demon. He ran a slender hand down the side of Legolas' face. The Mirkwood prince jerked away in revulsion.
He immediately regretted his actions as the Lorerauko's hand shot forward to grab a fistful of his flaxen hair. Legolas grit his teeth as his scalp burned under the pressure of the demon's unyielding grip. He warily watched as the other hand slowly brought a dagger up to rest against his neck. The cold bite of the steel pressed bitingly against his smooth skin. He felt a trickle of blood run down from the wound and soak into his tunic. He dared not breathe lest he deepen the cut further.
"I would behave if I were you, my lovely. I grow annoyed with your friend's stubborn refusal to die. And you have proven less that useless at drawing him out of his hiding place. We thought at least that Isildur's heir would prove enough of an incentive, even if a misbegotten Sindarin prince was not enough," the demon laughed at the almost imperceptible widening of Legolas' eyes. "Oh yes, we perceived his identity. The Peredhil's mind is laid bare to us. There is not one thought we cannot read, no happy memory we cannot twist into a hellish torment. It seems he is quite fond of the man, even more so than the others of Elendil's line Imladris has fostered over the years. He will be the key to the Peredhil's undoing."
Legolas could not remember feeling such an intense hatred before. He felt his blood rushing in his ears as he stared into eyes which he had looked into countless times. The gaze laced with silver and twilight was once merry and gentle. Beautiful. Now they were empty. The prince took a deep gasping breath as the knife was mercifully removed from him throat and his hair was released from the demon's vice like grasp. His head swam with the intensity of his rage at the creature before him.
"Do not fear, ernil neth. This will all be over soon. I am sure I will find some other use for you."
Legolas watched the Lorerauko's retreating form with dawning dread. And for the first time feared for a life other than Elrohir's.
"'Roh wait! Please, think about what you are doing! You are too weak for this!" Elladan watched in disbelief as Elrohir filled his quiver with arrows.
"I refuse to go on like this, Elladan!" Elrohir raged. "I will not be a victim any longer! Do you not see? I have nothing left, those abominations have stripped me of my pride, my strength, my dignity. They have reduced me to a meek, simpering child! I refuse to let this continue! Now I am going to find our brother, and woe to any who stand in my way. I mean it Elladan," Elrohir's tone softened as he regarded his brothers pained expression. "We have never feared our enemy before."
Elladan considered his twin's words, saw the confusion and raw emotion in his brother's gaze. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He would regret this.
"No, my brother, we have not. And we will not falter now. We will face this evil together, as we always have."