Thanks to all reviewers for giving their opinions, and, ah - So so so sorry! Been crazycrazy busy, but I wasn't expecting to be so long. It's rare I even recall this piece... But I really don't have excuses. *Hides*
"I was not aware Meduseld had dungeons," Feldir said lightly.
Neorvik sent him a dark look.
"Did no one recognize the make of the arrow?" Glorfindel asked briskly, even as he peered about the dank walls of their small room. They were underground, the walls simple dirt, but the only door was firm iron. There would be no way out lest they be soon released. "'Twas not mine own; and Erestor carries none."
"It looked of my make," Legolas said, quirking an eyebrow.
Glorfindel looked at him.
"I hope you do not truly think I should do such a thing," Legolas protested, surprised.
"I do not," Glorfindel admitted. "Neorvik - "
"My arrows are of different make," Neorvik said, casting him a cold glare at the implication. "As are those of Feldir and Narid."
"A set up, then," Glorfindel concluded wearily.
"Not so," Neorvik told him. "There is another possibility, one which seems to me most likely; but it is my belief you shall not take so kindly to the idea."
"All options should be considered," Glorfindel denied. "What, then, if not a Man's ruse, could have caused the guard's death?"
"Have we not a moment ago denied the possibility? Unless you would suggest your master capable of treachery, or having been possessed."
"I am capable of both," Legolas interjected wryly, uncomfortable with the tension, "but I shan't be accused of either, I think, by any with a whit of wisdom."
"I do not accuse my leige, no," Neorvik said. "What of the magic-user?"
"Mithrandir?" Glorfindel was baffled.
"No. The other - the advisor."
Eyes turned to Erestor.
"Nay," Glorfindel refused immediately. "Not Erestor."
"And why not he?"
"He would scarcely be capable - and for what reasons should he kill the guard?"
"For what reasons would any of we here assembled? None plain or obvious; unless one is in secret a pawn of Sauron."
Glorfindel leapt to his feet, enraged; Legolas rose swiftly, holding out a hand. "Calm yourself," he commanded. Glorfindel bristled, but did not move, heeding the order of the young prince. "Neorvik, that was ill done." He turned severe eyes upon his companion. "There is no place for such unfounded accusations."
"Unfounded? Can you think of another reason?" He swept his hand in a broad gesture toward Glorfindel. "Even this one, it is said, who now rises in defence of the advisor was known in the past to accuse him of dark workings - "
"And I have seen that I was wrong," Glorfindel snapped. Erestor rather thought that Glorfindel was still just guilty for nearly killing the elf, but held his tongue, curious as to Neorvik's reasons. How did he manage so unwittingly to convince others of his evil nature? He shook his head.
"He has been very evasive about his magic," Neorvik said - and Erestor nearly banged his head against the wall at a sudden realization.
"Magic," he said suddenly. The others turned to look at him. "Nearly I had forgotten - " He took out his wand. "I can take us from here, should all agree."
"I do not," Neorvik persisted. "By what devilry do you draw your strength? Not Mithrandir himself could take us from here so simply."
Erestor grew weary of discussion of magic. "Aye, perhaps not. His is a different discipline then that which I was taught. It is of little importance at the moment - "
"I disagree - "
" - so I ask, shall we flee or attempt to persuade the king of our innocence?"
"I fear the likelihood of the latter is not in our favour," Narid said, darting glances between the Imladris and Mirkwood elves with unease. "Yet the former shall defeat our purpose here, and surely leave us unwelcome in Rohan either way; and I fear our chances of finding welcome in their ally of Gondor shall not be well."
Neorvik pointed at Erestor. "I say it is he who is the cause of this! He is a spy!"
Glorfindel took a step toward the other, agitated. "Cease this foolishness! He is no more a spy than I. This is nonsense; we were all selected as the trusted of our sovereign's to act in their stead. No one here now is capable of that which you accuse."
The irony was not lost on Erestor.
My staunchest supporter is Glorfindel, he thought. Valar save me.
"Calm," Legolas ordered. He turned to Erestor. "What is this of an escape?"
"I can take us from here easily enough with magic," he said. He wished apparation worked in Middle-Earth but of course that was too convenient. He suspected that magic-users of old had put up something similar to wards to block modes of travel such as his in war-time, and they had never faded. The magic of this world was remarkably enduring, he had found. "It will not be so difficult, and there should be no loss of life; further it will be no great burden to retrieve our supplies. We could be from this place in but an hour."
Glorfindel shook his head, dragging his glare from Neorvik. "No. If absolutely necessary, it may yet come to such a thing; yet as it stands we will, surely, be granted the right to a full inspection on the matter by the king. Our standings, alone, would ensure his full caution in this matter; he would hardly incite war by holding hostage esteemed representatives of the three great elf-realms," he reasoned.
"Perhaps," said Erestor. "But man can be hasty as are their lives. And if he cares most for justice, he may see us dealt with disregarding circumstances, whatever the retributions. In any case I do not think it would take much provocation for war with these humans; they are welcoming, but already wary. They are already hostile, yet they do not know our hidden people's numbers, and in haste and anger may presume us of no threat, and do as they will."
"He would not risk war," Glorfindel protested. "Whatever his beliefs of our numbers, not for this."
"He is young. The young are idealistic, quick to anger, to mete out punishment; whatever his blood I can not think he would be any different."
"He has a responsibility to his people, and the council - "
"The council will be disregarded with the arrogance of youth; and the people will, at least at first, demand blood for that of their own. He needs no proof of our guilt; he is king. His word is law."
Glorfindel clearly found this matter troubling, and fell silent in thought. Neorvik spoke then, his anger no lesser; "Will we truly listen to this one? See, even now he scorns the words of one of the Wise; he would have us flee, spoil our tenuous relations with Rohan - and why not? For what reasons would he have to seek otherwise? Indeed, who is to say that was not his purpose from the beginning?"
Erestor narrowed his eyes. "You accuse me so blatantly of subterfuge, Neorvik? Can you not pause to listen to wisdom? Your anger clouds your logic; you know - "
"I know only that there is much of you we do not know," Neorvik bit out sharply. "The recluse diplomat, suddenly taking a queer interest in a mission outside his territories, which immediately goes astray - "
"That is not - "
"The recluse diplomat, who shows skill with a blade and possession of a hitherto unseen skill in fell magics - "
"Fell? Would you dare - "
"What reason have we to trust you?" Neorvik said. "This whole business seems very queer to me; am I alone in this? Surely you think the same, my prince? Narid, Feldir?"
Erestor, too, looked at the rest automatically; but he was dismayed to see doubt in their eyes. "Erestor, it must be conceded that this is a very strange occurrence," Narid said, carefully. Feldir was silent and watchful as ever. "Dear advisor, humour us, please, would you not consent the answering of a few short questions - "
"I can scarcely believe my ears! Surely - "
"Erestor," Legolas said quietly, "perhaps you do have some matters to explain."
Erestor was outraged and indignant; before he could speak, however, Glorfindel came from his brooding silence to interrupt. "End this fool's hunt. You will find no ill will in Erestor, nor the capacity for such evil. He is not the one who has killed the human. Can we not agree on this much? He is the trusted of Lord Elrond, and there is no basis to your accusations, Neorvik, but paranoia and petty dislike."
"And the corpse of a dead man."
"Slain by whom we know not; but I can say that it was not Erestor."
"He - "
"Erestor," Glorfindel interrupted with venom, "is the trusted advisor of Lord Elrond; surely you do not accuse him of pandering to the Dark Lord?"There was a tense pause.
Erestor found he was beginning very much to dislike all the different dark lords. If ever he was brought before the Valar again he would ask to enter a world without them, thank you.
"His involvement in no way reflects on Lord Elrond," Neorvik said after a laden pause. "You are deflecting, Lord Glorfindel; are you not curious as to the past of this mysterious advisor?"
"Curious, yes; but not so as to accuse him of serving the Lord of Mordor," Glorfindel hissed. "This insult will not go ignored."
"Insults! I care not for insults; he is a servant of the Deceiver!"
"Enough of this! I will not - "
The others quieted immediately a the low words. Erestor looked about at the others, who watched him, four accusing, weary, apologetic and suspicious in differing degrees, one laughably protective. He took a pregnant pause, mulling over in his head what to say.
"I am no servant of Sauron, Neorvik of the Dark Wood," he said finally. "I am servant to none but myself now, though I respect the word and being of Elrond; but I would never lower myself to work for such as Sauron. I would surely forsake my life before meeting such an existence."
"Words mean little to me. What proof have you?"
The air was heavy, grim. "What proof would you have?"
"Anything to know that you speak truly. An explanation of that which you can not justify; why. Why are you here, on this mission?"
"The same reason as you."
"I am here to protect my prince, and represent my people. You are not the same as I, Advisor."
"I seek purpose; to play a part in this war."
"On which side?"
Erestor met his gaze, face flushed red but eyes even. "My own."
There was a pause.
"Explain." The words, surprisingly, came not from Neorvik. "There is more to you then there at first seems. Who are you, Erestor of Rivendell, to use such skills?"
Erestor knew without clarification what was being referred to; what had made him such a likely suspect was, after all, the immediate fear of the unknown - of magic. Magic, again magic. It always came back to magic.
If it had been Neorvik who had made the request, he would have been denied, without hesitation; Legolas and perhaps even Narid would also be met with no answer. Somehow, however, the prompting by Feldir, so silent, thoughtful, seemed - appropriate. He was not so hasty as the rest, but he, too, required knowledge; and perhaps, maybe, Erestor owed them some portion of knowledge, to feel secure in their trust of him.
He was silent for a long moment. It was difficult to begin.
"I will not bore you with long details," he said, slowly. "The beginning of my story is of great excitement in its own way, but for the moment, let it be sufficient to say that I faced great perils even in youth; but not of the usual sort. From birth I was in danger; a prophecy of great magic foretold that it should be I who might kill the dark lord - unless he should kill me first."
The room stiffened. "Nay, not the dark lord you might think of. Another. He knew of this prophecy, and killed my parents through dark magics; but striking at me, his powers failed him, and he was gone, but not yet dead; and I lived yet. His spirit pursued me, and eventually his body, as he gained new strength; like Sauron, he possessed that power to come back from the boundary of Death and Life through his evil workings.
"I was at the centre of a great war, though it was kept secret and silent from others, and you will not have known of it. But it occurred, and killed many - young and old." And he remembered scarred faces and blood and promises and oaths, made and broken, remembered screams and pleads for mercy and sobbing masses asking why won't you stop this, why won't you beat him - "He was after me, and those by me; and I was protected, for only I could defeat him, but those around me were not. And they fell, one by one, and that was worse than any death."
An image of his closest friend's jawless, bloodied face, of a graceful but still body, so beautiful and horrible, face trapped still and silent in an endless, endless scream -
"He murdered them, brutalized them - and by the end I was captured, as well, but not by he; his minions, who thought to torture me themselves; and they did so, at length, til all the world was darkness and pain and I knew not who I was, or who were they, but only that I welcomed death; but it did not come. I was rescued, after months; and still recovering I was brought before the enemy, in a surprise battle; and I faced him who had done so much evil, and after great trial I through lucky chance killed him." He shook his head bitterly. "That is why I am a 'recluse', you fool elf; that is why I am a diplomat, not a soldier; that is why I am an introvert, and any else you may accuse me of."
The group seemed largely shocked to silence; all but one, unrelenting. "What of magic?"
"What of magic?" He shook his head bitterly. "What was not of magic? We were all magic, the thousands of us in that war. He was magic and I was magic and all my allies and friends, and all his followers; they all possessed those skills that I have, many in greater abundance. Magic was no great thing in that place."
"Daro," Legolas snapped. "Hold your tongue, Neorvik."
"What place?" He insisted.
"A place beyond the Sea," Erestor said. "A place unknown to you. Are you not yet satisfied, serpent-tongue?"
"Neorvik - " Legolas began angrily.
"My prince, what proof have we that he speaks truly? It seems more like that he was waiting for a chance to move against our plans on Sauron's bidding - "
"Proof?" Erestor asked, his odd detachment giving way to a sudden fury. "You seek proof? Here!"
And from those memories he tried so hard to leave behind came a word, loud and powerful, that made the elves leap back; and from the wand thrust at Neorvik came a burst of misty blue light that encased the implacable creature. He fell to the ground as a stone, silent.
Legolas let out a shocked cry, falling beside his companion; even Glorfindel watched Erestor with apprehension, the rest with fear.
"He is unharmed," Erestor said icily. "Wait."
Neorvik let out a great, terrible moan, eyes clenched shut. A sudden cry wretched from his lips, his body jerking, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.
"Stop this!" Legolas cried. Erestor said nothing.
Neorvik writhed, great, strangled chokes coming from his throat, and it was clear he wanted to scream but could not. His body spasmed hard against the floor, sobs coming from his throat soundlessly.
Glorfindel looked at Erestor, eyes fierce. "Erestor - stop this."
Neorvik went still.
He gasped in shaky, tremulous breaths. Erestor met Glorfindel's eyes, then looked away, unable to understand why it should matter what this one, of all people, asked of him. He felt little pity in his heart for Neorvik, though he did shift as he heard his horror-laden voice.
"Gods - their eyes - my prince - so much blood - not again - "
"Calm, Neorvik," Legolas ordered, voice worried. "You are quite safe, I assure you."
"So much blood - "
Neorvik was clearly to shaken to resist. Legolas looked up at Erestor, eyes hard. "What have you done to him?"
"I gave him proof."
"This?" He swept a hand at the curled up form.
"He wished to know that which I was." Erestor looked at the crumpled form. "I showed him."
"Will he recover?" Glorfindel asked quietly.
Erestor looked at him. "The memories were mine. He will remember the sensations, but even an elf, I think, will not suffer overly from the memory of this. It will be distant quickly with the memories returned to me. The spell is not meant to torture."
Glorfindel, after a beat, simply inclined his head; the others seemed only more tense, and Erestor, due to his own hasty actions, knew their trust would be hard-bought now. He could not recall the last he had been so furious.
He had always had an issue with his temper.
Suddenly, distant, rhythmic noises were heard; a moment later Erestor recognized them as heavy footsteps, a man. No, several men. The elves turned as the door opened.
"Our king will see you now."
Theoden's face was cold as the elves were brought to him, now with considerable less welcome and considerable more accompaniment. A somewhat anxious Mithrandir hovered in the background; one or two guards eyed him, but Theoden would not dare think to accuse him.
The elves, however, were a different story. His gaze swept over them, then again; he scowled. "Five. Six there were, not a full day ago; where is he?"
"In the cell yet, my lord," a guard told him stiffly. "He has clearly taken ill."
"Elves do not take ill," Mithrandir said, straightening. "Has he been poisoned?" This directed at the elves, who shook their heads mutely. Theoden's dark mood deepened. "Bring him as well."
"Really, now - " Mithrandir tried, but fell silent at a quelling gaze; even he, Erestor noted bleakly, was afraid to raise the wrath of the hosts who surrounded them.
They waited in silence until Neorvik was brought - dragged by two guards by the arms, groaning. They came to a rest next to the assembled Firstborn and dropped him; he fell on the floor and lay without trying to rise. Legolas knelt anxiously, helplessly, and Theoden's eyes narrowed.
"What has happened to this one?"
"That was not a request for information." The king's face was flushed with anger. "Answer!"
"Magic, my lord." Feldir said smoothly.
"Magic?" Theoden repeated. Mithrandir's eyes flickered between the groups rapidly. "Of what sort?"
"His." And quiet Feldir pointed unerringly at Erestor. "Lord Erestor, he who betrayed us all and killed the guard early this morning."