Author's note: The title of this chapter is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I started this story about six years ago. Readers who emailed asking "who dunnit?" will probably be a little dismayed that this chapter has been finished for quite some time; I have finally gathered my resolve. I would especially like to thank Lamiel and Daw-the-Minstrel, who beta-ed large portions of the story in 2004 and 2005.
"Laegyrn," Glorfindel began when he and Elrond had come to the Mirkwood Elf's rooms, "We must ask you –"
"How does my
brother fare?" interrupted Laegyrn. "Is he well? Has he
"He has wakened," Elrond assured. "And I believe he will be very well with more rest, as long as he does not exert himself unduly."
Laegyrn heaved a sigh
of relief and sat on a chair in the small room. "I am grateful for
Elrond felt a pang of guilt that he had not conveyed that news earlier.
"I am glad to give it to you. But I have need of some information from you. I would like you to tell me how you and Ilothuir met. And if you would be as accurate as possible, it would help me, I think, to find out what happened to your brother – and perhaps your father, as well."
"How can that help
Elrond studied the Elf. "The remains of an Elf were found by the river. She had already joined Arda, but her clothes were, for the most part, intact. It is possible that her death could hold a clue to the perpetrator of the crimes in question."
"I do not see how that might be. Regardless, I will hold nothing back from you for the sake of my brother."
"That would be most helpful," Glorfindel said dryly. "Though had the same courtesy been shown to the Lord Elrond earlier, Legolas might not be in danger now."
"I did as it seemed wisest at the time," Laegyrn said stiffly. "I could not know what pieces of the story it would be safe to tell you."
Elrond frowned. "It is past. Please, tell us all you recall."
"I was a day's ride and more over the Misty Mountains, and I met Ilothuir -"
"You said you met Ilothuir in Lorien!"
"What difference would that make?" Laegyrn demanded. "I followed her trail and found her a day and a half later and we made our way here."
"But you said Galadriel had sent you both!" exclaimed Glorfindel.
"No, but – that is, she did. Galadriel told me that she had sent Ilothuir already in this direction, but that I was a day or so behind. She said that she had sent another healer to serve as apprentice to you, and she felt that my path was intertwined with hers. So I found her."
Glorfindel and Elrond exchanged glances.
"If she kept Galadriel's letter…" murmured Glorfindel.
pressed Elrond, "you are sure it was the same
trail? The Misty Mountains would surely be a difficult place to find
a lone traveler."
"I was not, of course, looking at every stone in the road, but I could certainly see the tracks were from the same horse." Laegyrn could see that something was amiss. "What? What do you believe happened?"
"Perhaps it was someone else's horse. Someone that had ridden from Lorien, for example. Perhaps the Ilothuir we met was not truly sent by Galadriel."
Laegyrn seemed both irritated and perplexed. "What? What do you mean?"
"We have found the remains of an Elf near the river," began Glorfindel. "Her clothes seem not her own, and she had been shot, perhaps by an Elven arrow. Perhaps she had been set upon by someone on the road who killed her, and then switched clothes to disguise herself. Perhaps that person took Galadriel's letter. And perhaps this was even the same someone who poisoned your brother."
It took a few moments for Laegyrn to follow Glorfindel's implication. "Ilothuir would never do such a thing! She is a gentle soul… and as soon as I looked in her eyes, I knew that fate had brought us together. I will believe nothing unpleasant of her; I feel a part of her is bound up in me."
Elrond and Glorfindel exchanged another look.
"We have reason to believe that your brother ate spider-poisoned Lembas," Glorfindel began.
"But that is blasphemy! And if it were so, why do you not accuse Nordheth? Why do you accuse Ilothuir?"
"We do not accuse her," Elrond said. "But you understand that we must look at all the possibilities."
"I will believe nothing ill of her!" Laegyrn repeated stubbornly.
Elrond looked away. "Will you come and talk to Ilothuir with us? Innocent or not, perhaps she has some answers."
Laegyrn nodded. "I will come. But I am convinced that you will find she knows nothing."
Glorfindel knocked on Ilothuir's door, but opened it without waiting for an answer.
Ilothuir, beautiful and strange, stood quickly from the bed and moved in front of it. Her long, gold hair was gone – or rather, it lay upon the bed like some strange white-gold silk. Her own hair, cut unevenly near to her skull, was as dark as a spider's eye. Her arms were folded into her long white sleeves.
"Ilothuir?" Laegyrn said uncertainly.
Glorfindel had decided only that morning that he better wear a sword for the time being, and now he put his hand upon the pommel of it.
"Stand aside," he said. "Let the Lord Elrond see what you are hiding behind you."
Ilothuir's eyes were wide. "Hiding? My Lord, what have I to hide from you?"
Glorfindel snorted impolitely, and Elrond frowned. "You ask what you have need to hide from me, but you do not say you are not hiding something. I see that you are not who you claim to be, and I am done with half-truths. Let me see, if you will, what it is that is behind you."
"My Lord!" Ilothuir protested, "With all respect, I do not -"
To Elrond's surprise, it was Laegyrn that strode forward to see what objects Ilothuir hid, and so it was Laegyrn who went pale, and Laegyrn who, in staring at the bed, missed the sudden look of rage on Ilothuir's face.
"Medlin said there were tracks in the mud that led to my chambers. They found my own arrow. A vial of spider venom."Laegyrn took a shaky breath. "Your hair is dark like that of my people, so you might have lived in my father's kingdom but…you did not do those things, did you Ilothuir? You did not do those things…you did nothing…" He paused, and almost choked on his words as he whispered, "Ilothuir, why have you one of Nordheth's arrows? My Love, what…what is in those bottles?"
Hearing this, Glorfindel drew his sword and began to approach, but Ilothuir was too quick. She reached behind her, snatching two vials from the bed and undoing the stoppers. Elrond saw the glint of something shining near her other hand too, though it was too hidden between her fist and sleeve to see exactly what it was.
"Let me go," she said evenly, raising the vials. "If I throw this in your eyes you might never recover your sight. Perhaps you are quicker than I, but what if you are not?"
Laegyrn took a careful step forward. "You trust me Ilothuir. You know I love you. Come to me. I will take -"
"Stay! Not another step!" Ilothuir shouted, taking aim. "I will never let the darkness overcome my home! The shadow must be vanquished, and if Thranduil and his sons will not do it, I must!"
"I thought you loved me!" Laegyrn cried out, turning his head from her as if he could not stand to look into her eyes any longer.
"I did! I do," answered Ilothuir with what seemed like genuine regret. "But I love my home still more! Please understand, I only did what I had to, and you would have been safe enough imprisoned for a while."
Elrond was filled with horror. "You killed some poor soul you found on the way to us. You took a letter of introduction from Galadriel. You slew a fellow Elf and took her clothes and tied a stone to her and left her in the river!" His stomach roiled as he looked at Ilothuir's dark, shorn head. "Where did you come upon the hair for your wig, Ilothuir?" He swallowed the bile that had quickly risen in his throat. "I do not even know your true name. For the sake of the Valar, I beg you to tell me: what is it that you have done?"
The Elf called Ilothuir raised her chin. "I never did it for me! I did it for my people! King Thranduil let the shadow come to our Greenwood! Thranduil allowed the shadow to overcome his kingdom and now my brothers and father are dead. Thranduil must not be allowed to rule, for the sake of my people – the people who die year after year like so many leaves on an autumn tree."
"Your people?" Elrond said in disbelief. "You do your people a great disservice. Do you really think lying and kinslaying are the way to stop the shadow? You poor child, you still have a little talent – you truly might have been a great healer if you had come to me honestly, and perhaps then you could have saved some of your people. But one cannot deal death with one hand and life with the other. The great healing gift you had once must have diminished after you attempted to take the king's life. Is that not so? And how much more after you took the life of the Elf in the river? And now -"
"It matters not. I was never meant to be a healer."
"Whoever you were meant to be, you are a kin-slayer now!" So saying, Glorfindel strode forth and made as if to knock the small bottles from her hand, but Ilothuir threw her vials wildly, causing Glorfindel to jump aside and Laegyrn to duck his head.
Now that the venom was gone Elrond made a grab for Ilothuir's arm. To his dismay he saw that the shining thing she had been hiding in her opposite sleeve was a knife that was now sliding into her hand, and he had to step back at the last moment to avoid her thrust at him.
"You know nothing!" she shouted as she ran into the hall. Glorfindel, Elrond, and Laegyrn followed close behind
She's running opposite the way out, thought Elrond. She'll never be able to reach the door. He went cold as he saw her running towards the library and suddenly saw what she meant to do. No, he thought no, no, no!
But to his dismay Ilothuir turned into the library and ran straight for Estel, who, just as she must have guessed, was stretched out on the window seat reading a book as usual. He gave a cry as Ilothuir snatched him up from his perch.
"Now," said Ilothuir without emotion, setting her knife by the child's ear, "you will let me go."
Estel screamed, and time seemed to freeze.
"Ilothuir," Elrond said carefully, reasonably, trying not to look at the frightened boy, "this is not the way. I think that you, yourself, may have been under shadow too long. I think you may be ill of it. Can you not see? You need to heal from the shadow that has crept into your soul. If you could but rest a while… Let go of my son, and we will talk."
"There is nothing to speak of!" Ilothuir began to back away, dragging Estel to the main door. "I lost my brothers to the shadow! I have lost my father. No one else shall lose their loved ones!"
Estel shrieked again. "Papa! Don't let her take me."
Ilothuir only pressed her cold knife harder into the little boy's skin. "Quiet! You will come with me without struggle, do you hear me? I will take you all the way through the mountains with me, if I must, and I had better have no noise from you."
"Ilothuir," Laegyrn tried again.
"I am sorry Laegyrn," Ilothuir said. "I truly am. But," she looked at the three adults before her, "you must not follow me. You know I will do what I need to do." She gave Estel a little shake and Estel, doing his best to be quiet, smothered a sob through closed lips. Tears were running down his face and his eyes silently asked for help.
Ilothuir backed out of the room slowly, and for a horrible moment Elrond was sure that Estel was lost.
Then, in unexpected reprieve, Ilothuir's eyes rolled up and she crumpled to the floor.
Gilraen stood above her, a frown on her face and a poker from the fireplace in her hand. "That," she said in careful Elvish, "is for trying to harm my son."
Estel extracted himself and ran to Elrond and held his Papa tightly, crying. "What was she doing, Papa? Why did she do that?" He sobbed and Elrond stroked his son's head. He did not know what to say.
As Glorfindel and Laegyrn came to take charge of the kin-slayer, Gilraen came forward and knelt be Estel, who turned to from his foster father and put his arms around his mother's neck. "Mama!" the little boy cried. "Mama! I was so scared. I was scared. Why did she do that? Elves do not do such things. Not elves."
Elrond watched Estel, and his heart was filled with pain. "Forgive me, son of Arathorn," he whispered. "I only meant to keep you safe."
"Shh," Gilraen whispered to her son. "I'm here, darling. I'm here."
Estel watched from Imladris' lowest porch as the Mirkwood folk readied to leave with their prisoner bound between them. Papa had said that they would take Ilothuir back to the Forest King, Legolas' father.
"What will he do with her, Papa?" Estel asked. He had never heard of a punishment for such a crime among the Elves.
Elrond, who had, swallowed, and took a few moments to answer. "He will do whatever the laws of Mirkwood require. Ilothuir tried to murder their king and one of his sons, and to blame the other son for her crimes. Those are very serious matters, and such things have not happened for a very long time. I cannot think that Thranduil has a precedent; he will have to use his best judgment. No doubt he knows that the shadow causes many folk to become ill in a way they otherwise would not. I trust him to show what mercy he is able."
Estel nodded and, as he noticed Legolas mounting his horse, ran down the steps to the riders to say one last good-bye.
Legolas saw Estel approach, and in a flash Legolas understood his dreams. His eyes flicked to Elrond. Elrond must know who it was he sheltered, and who the boy was destined to become. Did they boy know, himself? Well, if Elrond had his secrets, he would have reasons for them as well. Legolas would keep his own council about his knowledge.
"Good-bye, Legolas." Estel was peering up past the horse's nose and rocking back and forth on his toes as if he was just stopping himself from swinging onto the horse behind his friend. "I will miss you very much."
"And I you," Legolas returned. "Though I admit I will be happy to go back to the calm of fighting giant spiders in my father's forests."
Estel took this at face value, and nodded solemnly. "Will you come and visit? Mostly, we are very calm in Imladris, too. Usually we do not like quite so many adventures here," he added pointedly, with a look at the other riders. "At least, not till I am grown," he corrected thoughtfully. "Perhaps I will want to have more adventures then."
Legolas smiled, but his eyes were serious. "Indeed I will visit, young one. And when you are grown, I would not miss your adventures for the world." For I know you, little King. And I will surely be watching to see what you become.
"Fare thee well, Legolas!"
"Fare thee well, Estel!" said Legolas. He turned his horse to leave Imladris, noting as he did so that the cherry trees were finally bare of blossoms and were full of green leaves instead.