Gil-galad is furious. Elrond is speechless. Rated T for violence and really bad people. Themes border on M.
A/N: I'm pretty sure you can't really just pour oil on something and then expect that it'll turn into an inferno the second a match glances in its direction, but I know in the movies the warning beacons of Gondor are lit by spilling oil on the wood and lighting it on fire, and also that Denethor intended on making a flambé of himself and his son by pouring oil on the two of them and lighting up. So, scientifically accurate or not, just pretend that oil is super duper flammable.
"My king," said the judge Handë, softly, and the echo of his voice was tremulous and timid against the sharp masonry of the court, and against the eyes of Gil-galad. "To ask us not to sentence the perpetrator seems… counterintuitive."
"Let it be known," Gil-galad intoned, voice flat, "by all those concerned and affected, that the criminal has been brought to justice, and is no longer a threat."
Perhaps beyond justice, Elrond thought to himself. He sat at Gil-galad's side as an advisor now, but as he'd been part of said justice, he thought it was far from his place to stand up and argue – though none of it had been his idea. Also he did not quite feel up to standing. He had several days of healing ahead of him.
"My lord, the law you yourself sanctioned at the founding of the Grey Havens would have him tried for his atrocities," countered Handë.
"That is the law of the books," sighed Gil-galad. "In this instance the law of true justice asks us to pass the books and listen to the case. Understand the consequences of following such pedantic acts."
"My lord – "
"Oh, do drop it, Handë. I see no conviction in your eyes. You're arguing because it's your duty and I find that quite admirable, but an elf who follows the letter of one book will let many unjust things slip past their gates."
Handë bowed his head to consider the dark, marbled floor for a moment. Elrond and the three other advisors watched him closely, grateful the decision was not in their own hands. The judge had been given little hard evidence upon which to base his decision. Gil-galad's stony glare was riveted to the far window, where morning light was streaking through stained glass and reminding them that people would be knocking on their doors very soon, desperate to know if the culprit had been secured, what their fate had been.
Gil-galad had charged Elrond with being the crier on this particular occasion, because Elrond had been the only other one there when it had happened. He would have to lie through his teeth to all of the citizens of the Grey Havens, and lie well. If any hint of doubt made it through to the people, their suspicion would take root and along with it their fear, and of all the counterintuitive things that had happened in the past handful of hours, that would have been the worst, the most irreversible, the most shameful of them all.
- ) O ( - Previous night, after sunset - ) O ( -
Elrond's nerves nearly split themselves in surprise. He'd told Gil-galad he was going to meditate. He wasn't entirely shocked that the king would choose precisely the moment Elrond had begun to slip into a comfortable, timeless daze while gazing upon the newly-lit beam staring from the ancient lighthouse out on the cape to summon him so loudly, but still, the irritation was –
"Elrond, for mercy's sake, come!" Something in the king's tone dismissed Elrond's annoyances, and before the half-elf had managed to get his own legs back under himself the king had lunged forward, grabbed up the back of his jerkin, brought him to his feet, and was dragging him out to the hallway like they were late for a meeting with Manwë himself. Elrond found his footing and disattached himself to mark the king's rapid pace, but hardly had he opened his mouth in question when Gil-galad answered.
"The merchant docks," the king said tersely. "All of them. All the ships, with all the families."
Anger clawed its way out from somewhere within Elrond and seated itself savagely atop his heart before he was able to fully process Gil-galad's words. He understood within the second, though, and made no attempt to dislodge his own rage as they wheeled around the corner of the hallway and headed towards the stairs.
"Círdan is unharmed," the king continued. "He is leading rescue and damage control. The fires blaze as I speak but he and the others will take care of it." Elrond almost had to jog to keep up with Gil-galad, and now, despite having to see through his own sudden red emotion, he could tell that Gil-galad was as angry as Elrond had ever seen him, a smoldering heat bearing him forward and driving his very movements and words. "You and I," Gil-galad said, as they started down the staircase, "are going to find this man tonight. This was his last act."
"How will we know where to start looking? He could be anywhere in the Havens by now. He could have left the Havens. He has proven himself elusive. Last time he struck, half your legion came up with not a hair from his head."
"He lit the beacon of the Merchant Guild's flagship before setting the fleet on fire. The significance of such a gesture has been mostly lost in time, but Círdan has enlightened me."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Elrond, barely keeping his breath. Now they plunged out into the open of the night and under a brilliant map of stars, and Elrond caught a whiff of smoke coming in on the western breeze.
"The flagship only lights their own beacon when they wish for the lighthouse beacon to respond."
"But our lighthouse's beacon is always burning."
"Yes, the new one out at the mouth of the bay. Somebody has lit the old brick lighthouse, the one built on the last remnants of Beleriand. The one that hasn't signaled in over two hundred years."
With a start, Elrond realized that he'd been meditating upon the sight of the old lighthouse's beacon without having realized that it wasn't supposed to be lit in the first place.
"You think he has lit the old lighthouse?" he asked, casting his gaze out across the shallow bay towards the ancient structure that now stared dimly, unblinking. "You think we will find him there?"
"I know we will."
"This night, of all the nights he has acted, he leaves such a sign… I assume you have the lighthouse surrounded, have you also sent a host – "
"I have told nobody of our criminal's location."
Elrond could not think of what to say in response to this, and instead threw his king an incredulous look. Gil-galad steered them towards the reserve stables and heaved a great sigh.
"This night he has taken the lives of merchants, both your brother's people and my own. Innocent lives. Many of them. Mothers, fathers, children. Círdan came to me weeping, holding the blackened body of a young lad. The man left a sign because he wants to be found. We don't need an entire legion to accost one individual."
"Why do you bring me, then, if you are confident you can find him? I feel compelled to go to the docks, they must need medical aid – "
"No, you come with me tonight, Elrond," Gil-galad muttered, as they wheeled around the edge of the stables and entered into the musky shadows. "When I find him, I need someone around to make sure I don't kill him on the spot. It would be better if he were judged before the court. Do you understand me?" he asked, riveting Elrond through with his gaze. Though Elrond was taken aback by the sudden request, he nodded and brushed his hand over his heart for sincerity's sake.
They swung up onto the first two beasts that came forward in their stalls to meet them. Gil-galad did not pause to gear the horses with leather shoes; the noise upon the cobbles as they took off down the sleeping streets was harsh as hail.
Gil-galad was very wise; of this Elrond was sure, as had been evidenced by the time he'd spent so far under the Noldor's rule. A bit of paranoia told Elrond that the lighthouse might be a trap, or that it was merely a distraction so that the man could once again make his escape, but the king and his steed flew faster under a swift confidence, and Elrond's trust bade him follow without further question. They rode west along the Lhûn and Elrond saw that a bank of roiling clouds was coming in with the wind, blotting out the stars.
His hair tangled behind him and his robes whipped and snapped; he was not dressed for a high-speed ride. He didn't even have a weapon, as he'd removed his hunting dagger before sitting down to meditate. They'd never been able to catch a glimpse of the man behind the recent arsons and Elrond didn't know how worried he should be about needing to defend himself, but from the way it sounded, Gil-galad thought he himself would be able to handle the situation. At least the king had his sword. A dagger was also buckled to Gil-galad's belt.
The ancient lighthouse crouched far out on a slowly collapsing cape down the firth of Lhûn. The wind was westerly and the fetch was long coming up the firth; as they came to the end of the promontory, the quiet thunder of young waves pounded out the battery clatter of hooves upon stone and they were sprayed with a fine, brackish mist. Elrond had figured that upon dismounting they might have had a brief discussion about their next actions but hardly had Gil-galad's feet hit the ground before he'd turned and stormed up over desiccated barnacles onto the ruined foundation, and put his hand out for the entry door.
"Gil-galad," Elrond hissed loudly, over the pounding of waves. He swung from his horse and hastened to the king's side. "If our man is in this lighthouse," Elrond said, forcing more calm into his voice, "I'm sure he saw us coming. He may be waiting just inside this door with an axe." Elrond gestured up at the unblinking beam shining from the lantern room far above their heads, vaulted against the low, knurling clouds. Gil-galad's eyes flashed at Elrond, though there was not a spark of light to catch from where he stood.
"This man," said Gil-galad, "may have a deeper shadow following him than can be found in a stale goblin tunnel, but he is not completely daft. No doubt he has seen our approach. He knows that you would cleave his skull if he were to attack me, and I do not believe it is his wish to die this night." Gil-galad turned and made as if to enter the door now, but Elrond clamped a hand over his shoulder.
"It seems to me, my lord," Elrond said through his teeth, "that we are dealing with a madman. I know you have your bouts of mild insanity but you cannot pretend to be able to guess, using logic, the motives of one such as he."
"For mercy's sake, Elrond, what would you have us do? Knock?"
"I would have us hope that you are right about him, but let me go in first."
"You have no blade."
"Give me your knife, then."
"No. Step aside," Gil-galad said, and tried to shoulder past Elrond. Elrond's nerves shuddered to disobey the orders of an incited king but his foresight shrieked its warning, and he shoved Gil-galad back and put his own hand on the door.
"Pardon me, my lord, but I'm having a moment. Give me your knife or I'm going in unarmed."
Gil-galad squinted wrathfully at his advisor, but he had been the benefactor of Elrond's foresight many times before, and could not ignore the hint. To Elrond's surprise he drew his own sword and handed the hilt to Elrond, leaving himself armed only with the knife. Elrond, hefting the heavy blade, did not question but turned and pushed finally though the door. It was very dark, and he paused at the threshold, listening.
"Oi," Gil-galad called, and Elrond flinched. "Come out. We know you want to be found, you scum-bucket. No more games, you'll only make it worse for yourself."
They were answered by the creaking boards over a blown-out window, straining from wind pressure. Gil-galad huffed and lunged past Elrond into the gloom.
"Gil-galad!" Elrond hissed again.
"He's up in the lantern room. We're wasting time, come on."
"Please remember," sighed Elrond, and tried to keep abreast of Gil-galad as they headed towards the stairs, "it will be upon my head in court if I allow you to get killed by a madman."
"I am not about to be killed," retorted Gil-galad, and his voice was further away than Elrond had thought he'd be. "The stairs are over here. Don't you remember from last time?"
"Last time? Before the breaking of Beleriand?" Elrond asked, and followed Gil-galad's voice. What little light shone from the obscured night sky outside was hardly reaching into this murk. "There is a fair bit to remember about the War of Wrath and I'm afraid the location of this particular staircase did not make it as a permanent fixture of my memory…"
They fell into a tense silence as they took the tight coil of steps straight up. The walls pressed in around them as they gained height and Elrond would have had the distinct impression that they were far underground, winding through the passageways of an evil labyrinth instead of ascending a tower, were it not for the periodic window – small round things with crumbling sides, several of which had collapsed and left only pinpricks for air to pass through, or whistle through, as was the case this night.
The coils became even closer; they were only a few turns away from reaching the watchroom, which Elrond knew was just below the lantern room. Gil-galad's pace only quickened the closer they drew to the platform; if the arsonist was indeed in the lighthouse, surely he would have heard their approach, even over the chorus of the wind. Elrond was just about to remark of the absurdity of his being behind Gil-galad yet carrying the king's own sword when a series of thumps sounded above them, from the watchroom. Less than one round of stairs away from reaching the platform, Elrond heard a peculiar and unnerving liquid sound, and in front of him Gil-galad suddenly paused, looked up, and shielded his eyes.
Water fell from the cracks in the ceiling. Elrond hadn't even heard it start to rain but the floor above them was already leaking. The king hardly gave the detail a thought, and made to take the last half-round of steps at a leap, but Elrond's eyes swept across a half-collapsed window and saw east up the firth of Lhûn, clear through to the fire-lit windows of the House of Gil-galad, to the very room he had been settled in not long before.
"It's not raining," he said tersely.
Gil-galad swiped his hand across his head, were his hair had become wet, and rubbed his fingers together.
"It's oil, isn't it?" said Elrond.
Gil-galad's heavy silence was response enough. It was indeed oil. It seeped from the ceiling and through the cracks and fell to slicken the stone steps. Gil-galad had been standing under a particularly wide crack, and now backed down two steps to stand next to Elrond.
"I told you to let me go first," Elrond said. "Now that you have been effectively marinated, I trust you will let me go ahead, as our arsonist likely has a torch."
Gil-galad's face caught the thin light coming in from the Havens and he looked rather crazed with imperial wrath, so Elrond turned quickly and, gripping tight to the long blade, came up the last few steps and entered the watchroom.
The watchroom was really more of a watchporch, as there were no real walls here. It was a round platform wrapped in a low railing, and from its center rose the most tightly wound staircase Elrond had ever seen, and it led a short distance up into the lantern room itself. There was enough of a glow from the flame in the lantern room and from the reflection of the city against the belly of the clouds to show them what was before them, and there was probably even enough light for the thing that was before them to see them as well.
The man crouching at the base of the lantern room stairs was slight, smaller than Elrond had been expecting, but he was wearing a robe and hood that obscured his face, and Elrond found this extremely unsettling. What was more off-putting was the fact that the man held a flint in one hand, a steel in the other, and all about them lay empty oil jugs, tipped on their sides, strewn across the now-shining floor.
"I thought you said he wouldn't kill us," muttered Elrond over his shoulder to Gil-galad.
"If you lay a spark with that," Gil-galad called to the figure, stepping up next to Elrond, "you will burn with us."
The figure merely huffed a quiet laugh.
"Did you beckon us all the way up here to have a face-off?" the king demanded. "What is it you want, wretch? I am eager to see you before the Court of Lindon; speak!"
Elrond eyed the slackness in the man's posture, the lazy hang of his hands. The wind coming through the watchroom ruffled the man's robes and for a moment Elrond wondered if he'd died, if perhaps he'd quaffed one of the jugs of lantern oil, but that wouldn't have caused death, and Elrond saw no motive. Then again, he had not yet seen the motive behind any of the arsonist's actions.
"Oh for mercy's sake – " Gil-galad started, and suddenly lunged forward, knife at the ready, towards the figure.
The man's hands snapped up and poised themselves to strike a spark. Gil-galad froze but could not stifle an exasperated sigh.
"Maybe he doesn't speak Westron," Elrond said.
"Of course he speaks Westron, everybody speaks Westron. He's just being difficult, the damned scum. Look, you, the outlook is already bleak, don't make it worse for yourself. And take that bloody hood off and face us like a man."
The figure huffed again, then tossed his head back to flip off the hood without taking away the threat of creating a spark with his two hands, and Elrond's mind flip-flopped. He did his best to keep the surprise out of his glare, but by the mirth in the woman's eyes he could see that he'd failed.
"Perhaps I should not have called you a wretch," Gil-galad said then, seeing the face of their arsonist. "Perhaps wench would have been more fitting."
"Wench," the woman repeated wistfully, and her voice betrayed her age. Her face was eerily smooth for her years. "damned scum. Wretch. Scum-bucket. Such words from a High King, I venture, but I'll take them all, and more."
"Aye," said Gil-galad through his teeth, "and you'll hear worse once we bring you in."
"Ha! And you're going to simply snatch me away, aren't you, Ereinion Gil-galad? And young Elrond Peredhil, I presume. I suppose you thought that I led you here because I wanted to be caught."
Gil-galad did not respond, and Elrond's heart did a two-step. If this woman was indeed the criminal they had spent so much time worrying over, then her past and present actions pointed to the suggestion that she'd gone mad, or perhaps had never been sane. To die on an ancient lighthouse pyre, aflame alongside the High King himself, would seem a fitting end to one who had achieved such infamy.
"I see that," she said, and Elrond brought himself back. "I see you thinking there, Elrond Peredhil. You're wondering if I mean to strike a spark."
"We and the floor are covered in oil and you hold a flint and steel. An astute observation you make."
"Such lip is unbecoming in a prisoner. My intent is to go with you without struggle… but not just yet. First you must hear me out. And know that I have little hesitation ending it all right here in flame."
"Do continue," sighed Gil-galad, and Elrond had to admire the king for his forced patience. The woman merely smiled at that, and fixed them both with sunken, red eyes. Her long stare was a pleased, feline contempt, ruthless and unblinking. Focused as she was on boring into her captives, Elrond did not believe she was any match for a staring contest with Gil-galad, and was not surprised when she finally shot to her feet and looked away.
"Oh, I'm so happy I could just burst!" she exclaimed, and Elrond's heart sunk a bit to realize she hadn't, after all, gotten up to escape the harsh gaze of the king. "Finally, finally! I have the High King himself squirming under my thumb! I'll be a mollusk if I ever thought this day would come. I just...I just wanted people to listen, and I couldn't ask for a better audience. I really couldn't," she said, shaking her head and smiling with a surprisingly convincing shadow of sincerity. "Thank you," she added, looking from one to the other. "Thank you for coming."
Elrond shoved savagely against the urge to allow his eyebrows to crawl up his forehead. It wouldn't do to react.
"After you put me away for arson and murder and everything," she said, and began to pace, "you'll remember me as the only woman who ever really had you squirming. And your people, yes! My name will be almost as popular as yours, Ereinion! I will be known as the woman who thwarted the High King!"
"Yes, and you've been very elusive. Why stop now?" asked Elrond. "Why turn yourself in?"
"I can hardly spend all my time plotting. Finding materials. Smuggling the right tools. Stalking around the wharves and markets to find the weak spots. Do you know how delicate these things are? The timing must be perfect. I could not afford any slipshod jobs, you see, not when my reputation was at stake. Exhausting, completely exhausting. I think I'm ready to retire, now, put my feet up behind the bars and listen to the people as they walk past outside my cell. They'll whisper my name. Everyone will know the power of one rampant individual. They'll say my name – I can hear it now! – they'll say my name to the children before tucking them in. Good night, little ones! Now you be good, or she'll get you!"
"Excepting, of course," growled Gil-galad, "those parents who have lost their children to your fires. Do you think often of them?"
"I think especially of them." With that statement, the muscles in Elrond's forearm twitched and the sword in his hand was as a war horse, pawing to lunge forward. Black rage threatened to cloud his judgment, but then he heard Gil-galad's voice.
"Elrond, remember your promise to me. I know it's difficult." Elrond closed his eyes and forced his arm to relax. He wished to retort that he'd only promised not to let Gil-galad kill the criminal, not that he would hold back from killing them himself.
"What promise?" she asked. "What are you talking about?"
"I made him promise to keep me from killing you," Gil-galad said flatly. She narrowed her eyes, but Gil-galad continued before she could say anything. "My advisor keeps his promises. You should be very grateful."
"I have no reason to be grateful. Life has given me nothing. What you don't realize about – "
"Life does not give anybody anything!" Gil-galad shouted, and the woman betrayed a slight flinch, which morphed quickly into a smirk. "Do not regale me with your story. Nobody has any sympathy for a madwoman, a murderer! Once you are locked away, that will be the end of it. Your name will die with your body."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I'm getting a few ideas," Gil-galad growled.
"People gossip, my dear king, it is in their nature. Even elves gossip."
Elrond spared a glance towards Gil-galad, trying to read his stormy face. Speaking to a king as this woman was now speaking was reason enough for immediate execution, though he'd known that she was doomed for execution without that additional charge. The only reason Gil-galad was letting her believe that she'd end up behind bars in the morning and not in the Halls of Mandos was to keep her from lighting them all on fire. He wished to ask Gil-galad why he was so insistent that she be brought before court to be sentenced when the charge would certainly be execution, but now was hardly the time.
"How long must we tarry here?" Gil-galad snarled, clearly at the end of his rope. "Surely you are eager to have your name written into the city's ledger list of dangerous villains."
"Yes, thrilling as that may be, I find this to be rather more so. Why, I haven't been this happy since… I suppose since my flaming armada earlier. I watched the last bits of it from up here, you know. It was beautiful."
"I dearly hope you have no family," Gil-galad sighed.
"I had one of those," the woman mused, and Elrond noted the past tense. "My first husband, Rogard, perished off the coast years ago, the lucky bastard. Rolled to sleep by the waves. But then there was Dryden, for a while… and Farley after him. And then Braxton. Ugh, he was awful."
"No surprise that they left you," Gil-galad muttered. The woman let out a shriek of mirth and clicked the flint and steel together as if clapping. Elrond's nerves twitched.
"Left me? Surely you don't believe I would have let them just walk away intact!... Oh, I suppose you're right, they did leave. In a sense. Left me and all those maggots. Let's see… First there was Daisy. Rogard picked that name. Rather pathetic. Dryden gave me Devon and Linsey. Farley wasn't around to name the twins, and they were gone by the time I met Braxton…"
Elrond's heart felt as if it were being drained of life, suffocated. The madwoman's words were nauseating. Perhaps it was all a figment of her own imagination. Perhaps this past family of hers had never existed.
"… Braxton let me name the last three, so I picked Míriel, Fingolfin, and Lúthien, but I never told anybody. They took their names to the grave. I thought that was a nice gesture." Elrond shut out his rage with a long, hard blink. "Oh, pardon me," said the woman then. "You don't even know my name! After all our talk, how rude of me, how very rude. Sometimes I forget my manners. My name is – "
Elrond missed completely Gil-galad's sudden movement, but he easily caught the sharp sound of a flying blade and did not miss the sight of the woman's hand jerking back from the impact of Gil-galad's knife, did not miss the sound of the flint in her hand dropping into the oil on the boards below, did not miss the bloom of crimson, and did not miss Gil-galad's leap forward.
Elrond found himself springing into action before he knew what his own intentions were. The woman made a mad grab for the flint on the ground but slipped in the oil and could not catch her balance. Gil-galad was upon her in a heartbeat, wrenching his blade from her hand as Elrond reached his side and threw an arm across the king's chest.
"You said – "
Gil-galad shoved him away, and Elrond stumbled backwards with the savage force, barely keeping his own balance.
"I will not kill her," the king snarled, though Elrond could see no other possible future, from the wrath in Gil-galad's eyes. The woman had struggled to her knees in the oil and was lashing out with her bare hands but Gil-galad did not seem to notice; he pushed her back into the stairs and the wind danced wildly around them, spiraling up to the lantern room, throwing Elrond's hair in front of his eyes and muffling his ears, but he heard Gil-galad say something softly, to the woman, something completely devoid of the hatred that so occupied his gaze. Immediately following, Elrond heard a sickening crack, crack, pop, and a screech ripped the air, followed by breathless, animal wailing.
Elrond found his feet and lunged forward – to help the king or the woman, he knew not – but the woman had slipped out of the king's grasp, fumbling around the other side of the lighthouse stairs with twisted hands. Gil-galad caught her up easily again and they disappeared behind the coil of stairs with a flash of Gil-galad's knife, and then came the sound of a mouth forced open and the disarticulated longing of a wailing newborn, or the deranged, or the moribund. Elrond's strides would not carry him fast enough; she screamed, and then she gagged, and then she continued to scream, and when he'd come finally around the curve of the stairs a crimson sheet fell from the woman's mouth and her face was black with blood and shadow. Her severed tongue lay miserably in the oil and blood across the deck. She clawed around her mouth with her hands but her fingers were twisted and broken horribly.
Gil-galad sheathed his knife, exhaled, and backed away. The healer in Elrond was aching, but the advisor in him froze his body, and in looking upon his king his heart flinched in dread. It was fleeting but he'd now been witness to a side of Gil-galad he hadn't previously been able to believe existed. The king spoke then, and his voice was no longer angry, nor did it mock.
"It appears you have killed all who have known your name," he said, through the woman's moans, "and now you will never again make a coherent noise. I have ruined your hands; you will henceforth be able to put no quill to parchment. Your name has effectively died."
The woman finally silenced and stared wildly up at Gil-galad, comprehending what he had done. She breathed loudly, still gagging on blood.
"Yet you will live. You will see the word go on as if you had never existed, and they will never know your story. We will announce your capture to the masses, and you, the arsonist, will be a mystery eagerly forgotten. Your years will pass in observed anonymity."
The woman's eyes rolled in her head, the whites crescent moons set over a red land. She fell to her hands and knees and felt desperately through the pools with her warped fingers, crying out in her sudden misery and pain but persisting until finally she'd found the two dropped objects, her flint and steel. She managed to get her fingers around the chunk of flint but the crook of the steel was too much for the crooked bones and she could not strike it.
"You will never lay another spark," Gil-galad called to her, over the wind, and his voice was still clear of the contempt he'd previously shown.
The woman tried again, and kept trying for several chilling moments, trying to get a grip on the steel, trying to aim the strike correctly so as to scorch her new and only life out of existence, but she could not do it. The flint and the steel tumbled from her compromised grasp and she hung her head and wept, and could not cover her tears.
Elrond turned his eyes away from the sight and found himself staring at Gil-galad, as if for the first time. The king's face was not derisive, or pleased, or doubtful. There may have been a trace of sorrow, but mostly the expression was unfathomable, and Elrond did not want to stare. Instead he gave in and stepped to help the woman to her feet so they could begin the journey back to the Havens.
The woman, seeing his approach, struggled to her feet.
"Look, let me – " Elrond began to implore her, and then she took three jerky, rapid steps toward the eastern railing, and tipped herself neatly over the edge.
Should have seen that coming, Elrond thought, and found himself diving over the edge after her.
Later he would wonder what undercurrent thoughts had gone to making that decision. He had known that the east foundation of the lighthouse was flush with the waves, and that there was little danger of being dashed against the rocks, but he hadn't thought it, not really. He would wonder if he'd jumped because he'd felt pity for the woman and had found it in himself to care, or if he'd jumped in order to keep her from escaping the harsh mercy of an anonymous life.
It was dark and he was falling fast and he couldn't see the waves very well but he could hear them crashing and frothing, and then the seas caught him. He surfaced and breathed against the shock of briny water and felt the reaching hands of underwater forces pulling him into a cleaving heave towards the lighthouse foundation, and he wondered if he would end up like Rogard, rolled to sleep by the sea. Something grabbed at his arm and he turned in time to see Gil-galad before being slammed up against the rough stone, and then dragged down with the rip current.
He tried to remember what he was doing down here. The woman. Find the woman. It was hard for him to remember why it was so important to find her when he couldn't put a name to the face.
"There," said Gil-galad, and out on the next wave Elrond could see a lump breaking the surface and thrashing weakly. After two more intimate encounters with foundation and stone, they drew up next to her and between them managed to drag her body out of the fray and up onto the time-smoothed rocks. She was conscious and breathing and seemed to have lost all conviction to live. Blood still poured freely from her mouth, and she waved her broken hands uselessly in front of her, trying to fend off Elrond as he crouched above her. He easily thwarted her attempts and, using pressure points, was able to put her into a temporarily lapsed mental state. The stump of her tongue would need to be cauterized, and she would have to be made dry and warm soon to ward off potentially fatal shock. He stood to tell this to Gil-galad but found he had no words upon facing the king. A stinging pain began to wrap around his left shin, and he glanced down to see torn skin and fabric.
"I dropped your blade in the water," Elrond said, finally. "My apologies."
"No matter. This is my chance to pick up the spear. I've never been fond of swords."
The boulders between where they stood and where the horses were waiting were slick and steep; together they hefted the woman halfway up the distance, but Elrond began to realize that his leg hadn't merely been grazed. Gil-galad took the woman over his shoulder and carried her the rest of the way, and Elrond grit his teeth and hauled himself over the last few boulders.
"She will have to be seen before she is brought before the court," Elrond said, and mounted painfully up onto his horse. Gil-galad hefted the woman up to Elrond and he held her limp form.
"She is no longer bound for the court," Gil-galad said, and swung up onto his own horse. They kicked forward and started their ride back up the heathered path towards the city. The wind made Elrond's damp skin crawl, and he shivered. "The judges will have to accept that we have taken care of everything. You will announce to the city that our arsonist has been tried and found guilty, and executed by the blade of the king."
"You would have me lie?"
"There is still the possibility of truth. Time will give her the opportunity to start anew."
Time will give her the opportunity to abandon the last strings of sanity, Elrond thought, but did not say it. Gil-galad was right; they would know with time.
"If not to the judges, then, where is she bound?"
"To the merchant docks. To Círdan."
Elrond nodded, and the woman in front of him lolled to the side and coughed weekly. He steadied her against his chest and saw her in the sun on the wharves, staring silent from an alcove behind Círdan's current project, watching the ships come billowing in on the west wind, furling the sails for the newly-laid docks. The merchant families all debarking their flag-marked crafts and parading up in their exotic clothes that whipped in the breeze. The elders with their hewn canes and the young lads with energy strung up like a bow and the bare-foot children would pass the cripple in her alcove, and they would stare with their pity and luck and admiration and she would begin to see things.
"What did you tell her?" Elrond asked, as they skirted around the outbuildings of the city and took the less-trodden path along the quiet fish docks.
"Before ruining her hands."
Gil-galad did not answer right away. They were approaching the back entrance of a medical bay, but the bay would most likely be full of burn victims. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air here, and they rode by the door. Voices echoed from within the building, and nobody was out of doors to see them pass. Gil-galad was leading them directly to Círdan's home.
"That such physical pain must be the long prelude to her punishment… and her revival, with luck… is a vast misfortune. And for that I felt remorse."
Elrond agreed, and knew it would be a long time – perhaps years – before he would be able to completely fathom Gil-galad's thoughts and actions this night. In a way they were more puzzling than those of the woman herself. The wind had pushed the clouds inland and above them the dark skies were being relit with tiny lanterns, sharp in the pre-dawn hours, and Elrond was furtively grateful that he and Gil-galad hadn't committed justice under the watch of stars.
A/N: Would early Second-Age elven port cities have a judicial system for really awful villains? I think it's more likely that said villains would be killed on the spot, or at least on 'a' spot. Maybe this chapter was AU, but alignment with canon Legendarium was second priority. This story was firstly a (somewhat hypocritical) response to a recent and real-life tragedy.