Yes, this is early. :D Well. I am going to be packing for the rest of the week (I am going to Boulder Colorado for a little family reunion/vacation) , Tinlaure is just getting back from Texas and so I am crunched for time (this probably means I won't post for the rest of this week and next. My deepest apologies). But I was dying to post this first chapter and get that off my chest so to speak. Anyway...I am sure you don't mind an early post. LOL

By now you probably know that we LOVE reviews, so if you could drop one in for us to read, that would be great:P Your opinions DO matter:D Thanks!

Dementia

by

Celebdil-Galad and Tinlaure

Summary: Elves are disappearing. With no one else to turn to, Legolas looks to Aragorn for help, unintentionally leading the human into the darkest peril either of them has ever encountered. A secret and powerful evil broods in Esgaroth, an evil that won't rest without blood, gold, power and ultimate victory –or death. How much will Legolas and Aragorn be forced to give? How much will those closest to their hearts?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good men to do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

Rated: P-13 -for now...though it could possibly shift to R in the near future. If it does progress into being rated R we expect you to be responsible for the content that you read.

Disclaimer: We own nothing from "Lord of the Rings" or any other works of works of J.R.R. Tolkien. We also are not getting paid.

Additional notes: We love our character, Rothinzil, who has appeared in all of our stories. Please don't steal him, as sweet and endearing as he is! ;) Since we are new posting in this rating zone, if you don't know about him we will try to explain who he is as we go. There is a pic of him on our website. Hopefully you will have no trouble getting attached to him.

Also, other stories in this series include (Chronological order of time period):

The Bittersweet; Reflection; All That's Left of Yesterday; The Folly of Men; Ripples; Masquerade; I Will Always Return

This one takes place somewhere between Ripples and Masquerade.

Review! We love reviews:D

:0Ї0:

Dementia

Chapter One

The Remnants of the Balchoth

Matthew: It's a conspiracy.

Jack Bellicec: What's a conspiracy?

Matthew: Everything.

W.D. Richter, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978)

:0Ї0:

Dwarves… they were stout, annoying, ugly, bad-tempered…

"We can assure you, Prince Legolas, that we know absolutely nothing about any missing Elves," King Dáin stressed politely, levelling Legolas with a dark and irritated look. They had been repeating this conversation for a few hours now, even though it was possible that he could have miscalculated and a century had passed.

Rothinzil saw Legolas return the look. He makes the look even more impressing, Roth thought idly as he sat quietly by his prince, cross-legged on the ground. He didn't exactly approve of Legolas' actions but he would never openly question his lord, especially in such circumstances. They definitely did not contain favourable elements, he mused inwardly, with dwarves and caves. The dwarves didn't bother him at all (as Legolas often told him was one of his flaws), but he knew just how much they irked Legolas.

Aragorn tugged gently at Roth's elbow, drawing the drowsy Elf out of his reveries. Motioning for the Elf to lean towards him, Aragorn waited for the warrior to comply before whispering, "They are going to be at this for quite a while, I think. Would you want to go and explore a bit?"

Roth looked reluctant to leave his prince's side, and he looked from Aragorn to the prince and then took a deep interest in the dirt floor. "Strider, I don't think-"

"Exactly! Don't think! Just come with me! I am chafing here!" the human begged in a whisper, pulling on Roth's elbow some more.

Roth pulled his elbow free and glowered at the human. "No! I can't!" He pressed his lips into a thin line, clearly torn between stretching his muscles and protecting his lord.

Aragorn sighed inaudibly. "What is the worst that could happen in a few hours?" Dáin seemed far from becoming angry. On the contrary, the dwarven king looked amused, especially when it seemed obvious that Legolas was refraining from sputtering in frustration.

Roth frowned disapprovingly at the ranger. "That was a tasteless joke."

Aragorn had to think for a few seconds to concede Roth's point and he nodded. Yes, it was rather tasteless. Saying something like that usually boded nothing but trouble later. He looked suspiciously up at the ceiling above their heads and the pillars holding them up, as though they could spontaneously collapse. He had asked for it after all. "You are right, mellon nîn."

Roth was about to comment further when he heard Legolas use the tone, the one that would frighten any sane person out of their mind if they had any idea what it meant. Roth shook his head inwardly. He knew what it meant and he knew that it would only be a matter of time before Legolas was looking for victims. Smiling conspiratorially to hide a shudder, he asked brightly, "Where do you want to go first?"

These were the Halls of the King under the Mountain after all. There were many interesting places, or at least if there weren't, there should be.

Aragorn returned the smile, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "Shhh…follow me."

Roth started to follow the ranger, who was more or less slinking out of the room. Strangely, he didn't feel the least bit guilty. He hoped that it was easy to get lost in this place because if Legolas found him later he knew that it would be better if he entombed himself. Dwarves were not exactly endeared to Legolas. Catching up to Aragorn at a slight jog, he eased up when he was at the ranger's side.

"You are as bad as a child"! Aragorn chided with a broad grin, looking sideways at the tall, slender Elf. He poked the warrior in the arm with his finger accusingly. "And you know it, don't you?"

Roth looked scandalized and shook his dark head. "I am sure that I have no idea what you are talking about." However serious his expression was his voice was very belying and Aragorn chuckled quietly as two dwarf-sentinels obligingly pulled the doors open, allowing them to exit King Dáin's spacious hall.

"I am sure that you don't," he said sarcastically.

Once the doors had shut and the two were loose in the Dwarven realm, the Elf inclined his head and stared accusingly at the human, arching a brow in a way that clearly said he was trying to appear appalled. "And what was that supposed to mean?"

"It means," Aragorn explained with a cheeky grin, "that you are still wet behind the ears."

Roth scowled darkly, hastily trying to hide his amusement. "I will make you eat those words, pen-neth. That's pretty big talk for one who only reached maturity a couple of years ago."

Aragorn snorted in a failed attempt not to laugh and behave somberly. "Is it now? And when did you come to maturity then, Elfling?"

Roth grinned amiably, not minding being the victim of the banter, and gave Aragorn a playful shove backward. All of the energy that had pent up during the negotiations was coming out and more than one dwarf gave them a questioning look as they hastened past. Aragorn was right and Roth knew it. He was as undignified and as immature as a child, and a human child at that. "At least two thousand years ago."

Aragorn, of course, already knew this. Rothinzil was at least five-hundred years younger than Legolas. He whistled in mock surprise. "And married with your wife expecting already?" Aragorn watched amusedly as Rothinzil's grin broadened proudly at the mention of Helluin. The warrior flushed slightly at the attention. "Congratulations, mellon nîn," Aragorn congratulated his friend, slapping Roth warmly on the back. "You'll make a great father."

The Elf smiled down at the human and his Elven glow expanded, giving the cheerful warrior a bright aura that caused a few dwarves to scowl in annoyance as they passed by. Apparently, Roth thought with mild bewilderment, there were more beings other than orcs that could find pleasure in the dark itself. Dwarves were sensible creatures, were they not? Well, Roth thought so anyway, so he simply could not understand why they chose to live in the dark like this.

Well, maybe they were actually scowling at the sight of an Elf in their levels, the dark-haired Elf amended hopefully.

The warrior suddenly found Aragorn's arm hooking his and the ranger attempted to coerce him along down the broad corridor that the dwarves referred to as a 'road'. Looking at the human blankly, Roth didn't move and queried uncertainly, "Um, Strider, what are we doing? Or should I say, what are you doing?"

Aragorn looked puzzled for a moment and gave Roth a quizzical look. "We are going to have fun. We have been sitting for hours and if we don't do something soon my eye will start twitching."

Rothinzil raised a brow, looking completely incredulous and snickered slightly at the mental image of Aragorn with a twitching eye. "Very well," he complied with a nod, hooking Aragorn's arm in return. "Shall we?" He smiled brightly, causing a few more dwarves to scowl disapprovingly.

Since when were happy Elves allowed down here? Or more importantly, when did they start allowing Elves into here at all?

"Oh yes, let's!" Aragorn said enthusiastically.

It did not take the joyous pair long to find a place that served malt-beverages and had expedient as well as courteous service. Rothinzil sighed with relief. Legolas would never even consider coming in here, so for now he was safe. A few of these dwarves Rothinzil knew from when they would venture into Lake Town and before the ranger could protest he dragged Aragorn towards the paltry crowd of friendly faces.

"Well if it isn't that young pup, Rothinzil!" One of the grey-bearded dwarves bellowed out his welcome, slapping his thigh with amusement. Despite the dwarf's aged leathery face and his scraggly, grey beard it was ironic that he called Roth a 'young pup.' Aragorn snickered under his breath. Oh, if Legolas could see this…

"Hello there Farin," Roth said genially, seating himself on the proffered stool to the dwarf's right. Aragorn hauled up a chair that was idly sitting nearby doing nothing better than collecting dust –something that there was an abundance of throughout the dwarven realm.

The dwarf flashed a toothy grin, pleasantly surprised that the Elf had remembered his name. Aragorn just shook his head, wondering how long it would take for Legolas to hunt Roth down and shoot him full of arrows. It probably wouldn't take very long, Aragorn mused drolly, because although Rothinzil was very intelligent as far as Elves went he wasn't overly clever or nimble on his feet. It was another one of those things about Roth that Helluin so kindly referred to as "adorable".

Before they were too deeply engrossed in conversation, Roth leaned towards Aragorn and whispered, "I suppose we had best not mention anything about why Legolas and we are here."

Aragorn nodded imperceptivity. "Probably not," he agreed, talking so only Roth could hear.

A round of the house-brew was ordered for everyone, all generously at Farin's expense.

:0Ї0:

Legolas eyed the pillars that lined the 'road' darkly; having left King Dáin's Halls about half an hour ago. He couldn't believe when they had first come here that Aragorn had dared to comment on them resembling the Halls of his father. These were built only from stone, the designs were hideous and didn't flow together, Legolas assured himself mentally, and that was the difference. Elves simply made far better craftsmen these days. There was no denying that Menegroth had been gorgeous and bested Thranduil's Halls without question but those talents were all but gone within the dwarven race.

He would have to discuss it further when he found the ranger, which wouldn't take very long.

It wasn't too hard to find information on a solitary ranger and an Elf in these parts, and the inhabitants were so nice about informing you too, Legolas added sarcastically. His upper lip curled slightly in contempt.

He knew that Rothinzil was going to insist that this search was all Aragorn's fault, though Legolas didn't know why because Roth knew he wouldn't fall for that. The warrior was many things, including a bumbling nuisance, but he wasn't stupid and as a matter of fact, he was perfectly capable of being devious on his own. Aragorn might have encouraged or even instigated it, but blaming it entirely on the ranger simply wouldn't be fair.

He found the tavern where he knew the two 'refugees' to be hiding, which made him feel a little better because there were many taverns and the dwarves' directions were anything but clear -or friendly. Glaring at the door of the place as though he was trying to burn holes through it with his eyes, the prince finally ventured to open it and enter.

Instantly he came to the conclusion that he had not ever regretted something so fast in his entire life. A fog of smoke, steam and many different sweet and sour smells clouded his senses and created a strange floating sensation. Gagging silently, the prince worked on wading through the swarms of dwarves, which couldn't have looked more irked at the sight of the blonde Elf, and towards the back where he was sure he would find his quarry. It was a just a feeling he had.

There was one thing he had learnt over the years in all the travel he had done: Rothinzil's voice was unmistakable. It wasn't abnormally high or low or even heavily accented, but once you've heard it, you knew that it was Rothinzil. Legolas had been hearing it for a little over two thousand years.

"Yes, stubborn ranger!"

Oh yes, Legolas thought. Even without the "stubborn ranger" added on the end he knew without a doubt that Roth was just ahead of him. When he got his hands on that Elf's skinny skulking neck he was going to…

"No! You foolish Wood-Elf!" he heard Aragorn's voice protest.

Sighing as he drew closer, careful not to provoke his prey, mind you, Legolas decided that he didn't even want to know what had caused such a heated debate between the two of them. Of course, once they were dead it wouldn't matter. A conspiratorial grin split his face, one that had been known to send Roth running for the nearest tree with climbable branches.

"Yes!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"No!"

"Maybe!" a deadpanned voice interjected.

"Ye…" Roth's voice trailed off and he slowly turned and looked over his shoulder, with an expression that said he expected nothing less than to see a big, green, voracious, and rather mythical monster behind him. Swallowing audibly he faced what he knew he must. "An interesting way to, ah, make an entrance, my Lord."

He was using the smile, and Roth groaned inwardly. Aragorn merely snickered, much to the warrior's annoyance. Flushing slightly, Roth stammered, "I…ah…you know how devious rangers are. Well, he…"

If the dark-haired Elf didn't slide off his stool and under the table Aragorn would be impressed. And somewhere, deep in his heart he had the diabolical notion that he really wanted the warrior to slide under the table, or at least that was what he thought the hiding chorus of laughter inside of him meant.

"Oh, of course, Roth," Legolas said reassuringly, putting his hand on his friend's shoulder in a restraining way that made Roth more nervous than it helped. "I understand."

Roth tried to put a bright face on things and grinned with relief. "Oh, good then!" he said cheerily.

"I understand that you left me alone with King Dáin and those other insufferable…… insufferable cave walls," Legolas amended, in order not to offend the numerous dwarves nearby.

Roth's stomach clenched. Aragorn just gave him the how-stupid-do-you-think-your-prince-is look, which caused the warrior to shoot him a scathing glare. "You never commanded me to stay," Rothinzil reminded promptly, still forcing his grin as well as trying his secret weapon…

He was using those irresistible puppy-eyes! Legolas noted mentally, glowering over the cheap trick. Roth's round hazel eyes made him look about ten times as young and innocent as he actually was and Legolas knew that he should have never put such a low move beneath the other Elf.

"True enough, but I would have expected my two closest friends to stay with me."

Roth's eyes dropped to the floor guiltily so Aragorn dutifully took up the argument. "I forced him to. He did want to stay with you Legolas, but you know how insufferable I can be." Rothinzil cast Aragorn a grateful smile, which Legolas thankfully didn't notice. "And you know how impressionable Roth is."

Roth glowered darkly at the ranger. With friends like Aragorn who needed enemies? He asked himself silently, shooting the human a threatening look.

"Yes," Legolas grinned wickedly, squeezing Roth's shoulder tightly enough to cause him minor discomfort, "yes, I do."

This was too much and Roth pulled his shoulder free, twisting his head around to glower at the fair-haired menace standing behind him. Legolas stepped back a pace, grinning broadly, obviously very amused. "Sometimes I think that you are all against me," Roth hissed, finally irritated.

"You know, Roth," Legolas contemplated openly, "I was going to kill you for this, but that look on your face is priceless." Rothinzil looked even more flustered, if that were possible. He needed to stop trying to appreciate or understand Legolas' sense of humour, he told himself, because it was impossible. There was nothing to understand.

"Have you ever been told that you are mean, my Lord?" he growled, turning his back demonstratively on the other Elf, scarlet to the tips of his ears.

Legolas smiled amiably at his friend's back, admitting brightly, "Yes, all the time."

Taking a seat by Roth since the dwarves had long ago decided that they didn't want to be around when Legolas murdered the warrior and ranger, the prince asked casually, "So what was the 'yes-no' business about?"

Aragorn and Roth exchanged contemptuous glares with one another. "Not that you need start it up again," Legolas added quickly.

"Oh no, that is alright. It was just that we were arguing over whether or not a passer-by was a dwarf-woman or not. I insist that she was, but Strider here has other opinions," Rothinzil confessed shamelessly, casting Aragorn an I-am-right-you-are-wrong look that was childish in its implementation.

"Never mind, I don't want to know." Legolas shook his head before rubbing his hands down his face wearily. He didn't get tired often, but he was tired now.

Troubled, Aragorn dared to venture the question. "So, you found nothing out?"

Legolas looked at the human from between his fingers, which were covering his face. "Nothing. They can tell me 'absolutely nothing' about the disappearance of Elves."

There was a dead silence that thickened the air between the three friends.

"Maybe they really did drown when the barrels were smashed," Roth said calmly, his eyes looking distant as he recalled events from previous days.

Legolas shook his head. It simply wasn't possible. The barrels that he and Roth had found had been broken into splintered bits upon some sharp rocks jutting out of the river. However, they had been unable to locate any of the Elven rafts-men who were taking them back to the Lake Men. It had been an unfortunate event indeed and the river and Lake itself had been searched thoroughly for bodies. None were found. At least with no bodies found there was still hope that the Elves were alive, but Legolas didn't understand why they didn't simply come home.

"Do you think that they are hiding anything?" Roth asked eagerly, inclining his head to the side and staring intently at Legolas. He was literally sitting on the edge of his chair with barely contained excitement.

Legolas just stared blankly at Roth, trying to figure out what the younger Elf could possibly be so enthusiastic about, but he was unable to reach any conclusions. Unless…no, surely Roth knew better than to be hopeful for adventure? Sincerely hoping so, the prince forced a level-headed expression, and replied honestly, "No. Not likely."

Roth wrinkled his normally smooth forehead, clearly confused, and quirked a brow, looking searchingly at his friend and liege. "Then what has happened, my lord?"

Legolas didn't answer, namely because he was too disturbed by the fact that he had no idea. Nothing was adding up and if it had been disquieting before it was gradually becoming frightening now. It was like trying to find a way to prove that three plus one equalled five. "I don't know Roth."

Roth just shifted uncomfortably and found an interest in his hands which were resting uselessly in his lap.

Aragorn sighed over exuberantly, causing Roth to raise his head. "Well, this trip has been very helpful." His voice contained more sarcasm than Legolas possessed the patience to consciously ignore.

"Let us be honest: it was a waste, a total waste!" Legolas said exasperatedly. This confession didn't make him feel any better. In fact it only made him angrier and more frustrated to think that he had put up with the most obnoxious dwarves ever placed on Arda –and all by himself he might add- for no purpose whatsoever.

"It wasn't a total waste," Roth offered optimistically, looking with evident distress at his lord and friend. His hazel eyes were dimmed with sympathy. "Now we know who didn't do it. It shortens the list."

Legolas' glare became more intense and he inadvertently aimed it at the warrior. "Yes, well, let me think, who and what have we ruled out so far? The orcs, the Dwarves, the trees, the Lake itself, the Taurduin…"

Roth just seemed to shrink, looking remarkably like a puppy that had just been reprimanded by a beloved master. "I didn't mean it that way, Legolas. I was simply trying to be hopeful." His voice was soft and apologetic.

Shaking his head as though to clear it of the morbid thoughts and dark shadows, the prince studied Aragorn and Rothinzil sorrowfully "I am sorry, both of you. I am just frustrated." Legolas was a bit surprised at his own sudden irritability, as the pain in Roth's voice had snapped him out of his frustrated mood.

Aragorn understood his friend's exasperation without Legolas even trying to explain himself. He had been there when they had received the news about the missing Elves whereas Roth had not. Thranduil had meant well by telling Legolas to be careful and do his best to find out what had happened, but without meaning to he had laid quite a burden upon his son. For Legolas, failure was not an option and since they were bordering dangerously close to it already, it was understandable that the prince's patience was going to run short. "It is quite all right, mellon nîn," Aragorn assured with a thin smile.

Rothinzil nodded supportively, and he added, "Of course it is, my Lord."

Legolas smiled genuinely at the endearing look on his friends' faces and shook his head slowly. No, it wasn't all right. Nothing here was, but it was more than refreshing (as well as reassuring) that he had friends that were so understanding and accepting. Sighing dejectedly, he gave the cave walls and the stone ceiling boxing them in a scathing glare. They had been surrounded by stone all day and Legolas was longing to feel the sun warming his face. His mouth seemed to taste the dust of the dirty atmosphere, and the stale air was really beginning to stick in his throat. "Maybe some fresh air would help. We must at least have a few hours until dark."

His suggestion was warmly received and Roth all but vaulted to his feet. However, a loud clap of thunder that was powerful enough to be heard under the soil caused him to jolt and bang against Legolas, startled. It must have been storming for some time, he noted dully, for he had heard little rumblings from time to time and thought they were dwarves mining or something along those lines. Apparently, the storm had only recently become forceful enough to be heard down in these depths. "Perfect," he muttered, slouching back down onto his seat between his friends, a very disappointed look clouding his face.

Legolas' brows came together in a frown. It was mid-summer and evening thunderstorms were inevitable because the lake's water evaporated and condensed thoughout the heat of day, forming large ominous clouds. The thought of being stuck down here in caves and the company of dwarves was enough to cause a tingle of dread to travel down his spine and he shuddered slightly.

Aragorn just studied both of the Elves, raising an eyebrow ever so slightly.

Rothinzil didn't look very upset at all, at least not about staying with dwarves, but the warrior was eyeing the walls distrustfully. So far, they remained stationary, but no matter how much the realistic portion of his mind pleaded with him, the more imaginative side promised that they would close in. Legolas was glaring at everything as though this was all some vast conspiracy that involved even the minutest crumbs on the floor.

Out of nowhere boisterous laughter erupted from the young human.

Both of the Elves looked at him as though he had finally lost his mind beyond hope of recovery. Their wide-eyed confused expressions only caused him to laugh even harder, so that his breathing hitched.

The dwarves were staring at the Elves and ranger as though they carried the plague and did their best to avoid coming within a ten foot radius of the table. Even the heavily intoxicated dwarves were managing this, Legolas noticed amusedly.

"Strider, what, if you don't mind my asking, is so funny?" The prince was wondering if he had missed something at some point during their conversation. While Aragorn was slowing his breathing enough to come up with an answer he skimmed through all that he remembered saying. Nothing should have caused such a reaction from a sensible, relatively normal person.

Roth was starting to look nervous. He was sitting between them, after all, which was something that was about as dangerous as trying to navigate in no-man's land.

"You both are!" Aragorn finally managed between snickers and the spasms of his diaphragm. Was it possible to die from suffocation caused by laughter?

Legolas' threatening glower only ignited Aragorn's laughter anew. Roth smiled uncertainly. "And what, my friend, is so amusing about us?"

"I am sure that I have seen one or both of you looking happier in a prison cell," the human declared somewhat cheekily, only realizing seconds later how unusual it was that he was even able to make such a comparison based on personal experience. Or rather, he corrected, it should be unusual.

Legolas' expression didn't change and his voice became unnervingly calm while retaining its sarcasm. "Is that so? How amusing."

Well, Aragorn thought dejectedly, one couldn't please everyone, least of all stubborn Wood-Elves. He had thought it was funny anyway. Becoming more serious, he cleared his throat and said, "Well, we have more time to talk now anyway. And the fire glowing in the corner is rather cosy."

Neither Legolas nor Rothinzil looked anything along the lines of being appeased or amused.

"Who needs a fire in summer anyway?" Legolas asked a bit stiffly, garnering a glare from a dwarf who had just added a few more logs to the flames. The fire sputtered hungrily and small sparks of red danced in the air. And what on earth had made the human think that they were staying here?

Aragorn shrugged dismissively. "It probably gets draughty underground."

The questionable expressions of the Elves' darkened to menacing degrees.

"I can't believe you two," Aragorn said disbelievingly, shaking his head. "You would rather go outside in a storm than stay in here?"

Rothinzil looked ready to voice his objections but when he saw Legolas nod in a slow, deliberate way he swallowed down whatever reservations he had. Although he would never inform Legolas in public, the affirmative reply of the prince had just bolstered his suspicions that Legolas was a bit insane. But no more than a bit. There were worse people he could serve, after all and to be honest the warrior was perfectly happy with the present arrangement.

"Strider, these places are nothing more than intricate, over-exalted caves!" Legolas proclaimed degradingly, knowing full well what he was saying and where he was saying it.

Now more than ever Rothinzil wished he was invisible and he inconspicuously sipped the amber liquid in the pint-sized wooden mug by his hand. Legolas glared at him as though to say, "Don't get too comfortable here." At this the warrior swallowed what was in his mouth and didn't venture to drink any more. He wished Legolas would stop glowering at him that way.

However, another powerful bolt of lightning struck something above, causing the entire cave system to shake. He watched as Legolas tried to make up his mind on whether to stay or go, grinning with satisfaction when the prince shook his head in defeat. Roth smiled inwardly, realizing that he wasn't the least bit upset about staying. Trying to lighten the mood, Rothinzil cheerfully offered some of his ale to Legolas. "Want some, my Lord?"

Legolas' glare deepened and Roth's smile dropped. Aragorn silently watched the two, grinning to himself.

:0Ї0:

Aüla didn't look happy, the chestnut-haired man concluded anxiously as he stood just outside of her study. There were signs that only her husband recognized. Unfortunately he was that man, and he knew them well enough. The way her head inclined sharply to the side and and the way she was constantly (as well as aggressively) brushing her golden hair back behind her ears were the most prominent signs but there were many others. Her nails clicked with an indistinguishable rhythm against her furnished desk –that is, if there was a rhythm at all.

But he couldn't see her face. Her head was bent, staring at a piece of stained parchment that was unfurled on her desk. It obviously had seen some bad weather on its journey here.

It was then that Sador realized the truth in the saying that no news was good news. Before she had received this letter she had been happy –as had he. Swallowing, he walked cautiously up to her desk.

She had an extensive and meticulously organized study and library that reflected her social status very well. He was the new Master of Lake Town and she was his wife. Unlike most women of her era, she had made it her business to be fully educated and she was exceptionally smart. She looked down upon others of her sex who could be yet were not, and pitied those who never would have the chance.

"What does your brother say, dearest?" Sador ventured, carefully choosing his words.

Aüla raised her head, revealing her pale, sharp, but beautiful face which was clouded with a critical scowl. "They died," was all she said and continued reading, moving her lips silently as she came to terms with the disclosed information. Her hand swatted her hair back behind her ears again in irritation.

Sador paled slightly, but she didn't notice or she didn't care. "All of them, my dear?"

She held up a slender finger, silencing him as effectively as any gag could have. Finishing her reading she looked at him unblinkingly and then confirmed sharply, "Yes. Yes, they all did." Scowling, she could have sworn by the gods that she saw some small trails of empathy cross his face. "They couldn't cope and they died. Foolish, weak Elves." Her last phrase was marked with the utmost contempt.

Sador wasn't surprised. He imagined that it would be hard to cope with being tortured every single day of one's life for two weeks. And he knew his wife's brother well enough to safely presume that the torment the Elves had been put through and had seen ahead of them was nothing short of making their lives a living hell. He never understood why Aüla had seen it fit to capture those Elves. They were not warriors at all; in fact, a lot of them were far too young to know much of anything. All the same, they had admirably died and kept their secrets. Well, no, he amended, they weren't admirable at all. They were cowards and had let themselves die. "You are thinking," he said observantly as he watched her stony face.

"They didn't tell my brother or his… staff, anything, which means that so far our plan is failing," she pointed out, reminding herself that grinding one's teeth was a horrible habit.

"You aren't thinking of capturing more, are you?" he asked coyly.

She stared at him as though he might very well be stupid. "Not me; I can get a few …'friends' of mine to do that."

"There will be no raft-men coming here for the next few days, at least," he said, shaking his head.

She snorted derisively. "I think we saw how useful they are."

Sador inclined his head to the side, moving closer to her. "Then what are you going to do?" he asked persistently. He longed to reach out and touch her but he knew that she would recoil and possibly retaliate.

"Capture someone who is worth it," she snapped briskly, starting to read the letter for what had to be the third or fourth time. She shoved more hair from her face and glowered at the parchment. "Like some warriors who would undoubtedly be knowledgeable on Mirkwood's military tactics and armoury."

Sador paled so rapidly that for a second she feared that he would faint on the floor. Not that she cared about the danger it would pose to himself but she rather disliked the idea of a body on her floor. What if he hit his head hard enough to get bright red blood on her cream-coloured rug? "Do you know what problems that could cause?" he prompted, clearly upset. "Elven warriors…they aren't that easy to subdue, much less break in interrogation. And a missing captain or other officer would raise suspicion." He wasn't a military man by any definition of the name, but this much he knew. It was common sense.

She glared bitterly at his words and set the letter aside. Suddenly throwing herself into a mask of calm, she folded her delicate white hands on her desk in a manner that Sador found very unnerving. "Sador, my dear, warriors are not cowards. They will not surrender their souls to their gods so easily, which will buy us more time. Besides, I was stupid," she admitted, shaking her dark head of long, wavy hair. "I should have known young raft-men would know absolutely nothing. And suspicion is nothing of consequence anymore."

She looked terrible and yet beautiful when she was in a calm fury, he noticed with a suppressed shudder. "You aren't telling me everything," he stated darkly.

She raised a gorgeously sculpted, dark brow and widened her blue eyes innocently. Obviously she had underestimated his intelligence. Well, she conceded, he was elected to be the successor of the Master of Lake Town after the former one had… died wandering in the wild. "What am I hiding?"

"You already have some warriors in mind," he said slowly, staring her straight in the eyes, something that he immediately came to regret. They were such lethal eyes and he blinked, forcing himself not to look away. "Or someone, anyway. And what is more someone already knows, or suspects."

Well there was no denying that, and he wasn't someone that she had to hide it from. He wasn't going to give her trouble for two very simple reasons: he loved her and he knew that she had no qualms about eliminating those who got in her way. Nodding in confirmation she said, "Close enough."

"Why did you hide it from me?" he asked a bit heatedly.

She stared at him for a moment, obviously choosing an answer. "You did not need to know."

'I didn't need to know?' he asked himself disbelievingly. Outwardly he seemed understanding but inside he was deeply annoyed. "I see."

She didn't appear impressed and shrugged carelessly. "It was only a matter of time, I guess."

Her husband raised a brow, giving her a questioning look before sighing nervously. "And who is it that has grown suspicious of your –our plot," he corrected as her eyes narrowed impatiently.

Her face became obscured but she still managed a bone-chilling grin that entailed anything but amusement. As a matter of fact, it looked downright sinister and an almost visible black aura of evil seemed to cloud her. "Take a guess, Sador. Just take a guess."

Well, being the Master of Lake Town he knew something of the inhabitants and their comings and goings, as well as those of travellers. It was no secret that Prince Legolas had been sighted that morning with Rothinzil and a young ranger. Most people didn't know of the disappearance of the raft-men, but he imagined that it also was in the open now since he doubted that Legolas had come to observe the fine scenery. "Prince Legolas and his friends know about the missing Elves." His answer was a statement, not a guess and most certainly not a question.

"Yes, he does, and what else he could discover worries me. However, he is not the only one in a position to be discovering things," she said with an undertone of triumph and satisfaction –and contempt, Sador added. Yes, there was a lot of contempt. Her nails began to drum rhythmically on the polished surface of her desk, a sign that her frighteningly agitated state was coming to an end. "I think that surely the prince of Mirkwood and his little pets would know everything that we want. And while they are with us, they will get the answers that they desire, except it will be pointless for them."

Sador's heart leaped up into his throat, and he visibly worked to swallow the suffocating mass back down. She was mad, he told himself, because there was no other explanation for her designs or intentions. If the prince went missing, Thranduil would come –with an army, that is, and raze Lake Town and possibly Dale to the ground. "Aüla, I don't think that is a wise course of action considering his position. King Thranduil will not sit idle while his son and his son's companions are missing."

Aüla looked positively murderous and the rhythm of her nails' clicking became uneven and unpredictable, matching her mood. "It is because of his position that we must capture him, him and those closest to him. By the time Thranduil has any idea what is going on it will be too late. Ulfang and his allies will be on them, and then we can have Dale without Elven interference, not just this pile of floating wood on a Lake filled with rotting Dragon bones and debris."

Sighing, Sador asked quietly, "What do you have against the Elves? I highly doubt that they would interfere as long as the trade is not disrupted." His expression became dejected and he sighed heavily once more, knowing well what the answer to the question would be. He had asked it many times and still couldn't understand why he continuously found her attractive after he got his answer.

She looked at him as second longer and then threw her head back and laughed. But the laughter was cold and heartless. No, he amended, it definitely had heart. It had a black heart behind it, a cold black heart. "I was born and raised in Rhûn along with my brother, who is now their crownless king!" Her lips snarled, revealing her teeth as she hissed. "We are the remainder of the Balchoths! The rest of us died in Rhovanion, my great-great grandfather escaped the battle unscathed and took with him who he could…. We have our heritage to reclaim! Those Elves are not going to interfere!"

Sador winced inwardly. He found nothing amusing about this. Nothing at all. He never had anything against Elves and from the way she talked it sounded like her family had a history of a power-hungry mental disorder. Yet the very sight of her still made him love-sick.

"How is taking over Dale going to accomplish anything?" He still couldn't see it. She was much more the visionary… "Why the Elves…?"

She cackled slightly, not realizing how unladylike her behaviour had become during the past few minutes. "Dale will be an example, my dear, just a portent of the power we shall eventually hold. You said they would leave us alone if I ignored trade…I don't plan to ignore trade. Everything will be under our jurisdiction."

"Who is 'our'?" He had a sinking suspicion that it excluded him and actually meant her and her alter-ego…If he wanted to turn a blind eye to everything he could say her and her brother, but in all actually it he knew that it was her and her…

A knock that sounded almost like an impatient pounding sounded on her door. However, she didn't look displeased, Sador noted with a twinge of jealousy burning through his heart. If he had done that she would have been irritated or at the least mildly annoyed. If anything in her expression had changed it was that her mouth had something lurking in its corners that looked suspiciously like a smile.

The man who entered at her request was, in Sador's opinion, no one special and he glared scathingly at the other. The dark-haired man on the other side of the door came in and made a sweeping bow to Aüla in reverence before righting himself. Sador's face was darkened enviously as he took in the other's muscular frame and tanned skin. "Captain Ulrad," Aüla's husband acknowledged brusquely, tensing as though for a fight.

Ulrad smiled broadly at Sador, but it was equally tense. "Lord Sador," he gave a curt bow. Then turning his attention to Aüla, he informed politely, "We await your orders, milady."

She smiled, but this time its sinister quality was not so pronounced and her body seemed to relax against the large chair she sat in. Looking at Sador she suggested calmly, "Don't you have a town to run, my dear?"

Sador gave Ulrad one last look, like a cornered dog sizing up an opponent. Aüla's inward smile broadened. If he didn't bare his teeth she would be impressed. Oh, he would do everything to please her now, hoping she wouldn't stab their relationship in the back and to continue to try and earn her love. He wasn't so much a fool, she reasoned, but more a coward.

Her husband feigned disinterest, apparently unnerved by the size of Captain Ulrad and looked at her. Smiling as though he knew nothing at all about anything, he nodded. "Of course." Looking at Ulrad in a way that could only be considered a threat he said stiffly, "Good evening and good night to you, Captain Ulrad."

There were some things that he would rather not see or think about anyway, he told himself consolingly as he stepped past the threshold. To his everlasting anger and shame, Captain Ulrad closed the door within seconds after his departure. There were precious few clean reasons for that. She had friends all right; he contemplated darkly as he continued walking down the lengthy corridor –friends with some very desirable benefits.

He was being used, as was his position, and he knew it.

TBC...Hey! At least there isn't really a cliffy on the first chapter this time! Although...poor Elves. :D

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