“And as the captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.”
Those who watched knew in their hearts that Sauron was gone forever, never again to exist in the lands of Middle-earth, his power vanquished, and his spirit scattered by Lord Manwë's winds to the four corners of the earth. Their hearts gladdened to the certainty that he could never reform. They had won the war and peace would be everlasting. But they were wrong.
Of their number, only one elf was not so easily fooled, for he knew the enemy better than anyone.
Hope was all he had left, but even that was in short supply.
"The overwhelming remembrance I have of my father is the moment he betrayed me.
For many a year I was a loyal son and fully supported his seemingly never ending quest for dominion over Middle-earth; I knew no better. Father wanted it all, complete and total subjugation of all people and races, instead of choosing to be happy with what he had and living in peace with those who chose not to follow him but did not dare to cross his path with designs of their own. I even fought in some of the skirmishes and smaller battles. However, Father was always reluctant to let me go for fear I would be killed or captured by the enemy, the Men of Gondor especially whom he hated with a passion. I suspect he feared them as well.
It was inevitable that a certain amount of distrust would form as I grew stronger and able to form my own opinions. I did not see it at the time, or I chose to ignore it. Our bond was too close for me to take any such threat seriously. Had I not laid my victories, minor as they were, solely at his feet? None of the glory was claimed for myself, even I was not that blind or foolish, plus I idolised him. He was of my blood; so why wouldn't I?
One day, Father spent a happy hour questioning a human caught by one of his orc patrols. According to him, the captive revealed during his ordeal that a small representation of elves were travelling to the Gondorian court to draw up plans for trading in vellum, upon which they could write their legal statutes. They would march along the route of the Anduin, to be met by a party of Gondorians near to Minas Tirith. After imparting such information, and obviously not knowing any more than that, there was nothing left to do with him so he was killed. Father stuck a dagger in his chest, the blade just nicking his heart, so the blood would fill the chest cavity and make death come slower. As he lay dying, the captive was whipped to teach him a lesson about betraying secrets to the enemy.
'A party of elves dealing in vellum will be easy to overcome. Of course, they will be guarded by warriors, but they will hardly be a fighting force. Another easy victory for the cause.' Father sighed happily as he placed his arm around my shoulders to draw me near.
'Father, may I lead the party to overcome them?'
'Who would you choose to accompany you?' The bloodied whip dropped to the floor as he smiled indulgently. I remember the sound of the end spikes as they hit the stone flags. He ordered a nearby orc to clean the floor and feed the dead human to the wargs before taking my hand. 'Although his death bores me already, I must mention how I think you would have enjoyed seeing him suffer. Such exquisite torment, and the surprise in his eyes when I lectured him on not betraying secrets to the enemy. It fair did my heart good. But still, you came in at the end and missed most of it. That will teach you not to be so tardy.'
'I wish you had waited for me,' I said eagerly, even though my heart was anything but willing to witness the death of another. 'I was hammering a blade. You should see it; the edge is sharp and keen. I took your advice and added a wider fuller. It's less decorative but much more effective at guttering the blood away.'
'Well who wants blood on their hands? Makes the handle slippery and harder to control.'
'It promises to be a really good sword, so I would like to use it in action to see just how good it is.' I had no qualms at all about killing humans in battle because it was a fair fight, but captives were unable to retaliate on an equal basis, therefore the thrill and reason were lost.
'You know I would rather you stay here in the stronghold with me. You are my son, and I would be beside myself with sorrow if anything happened to you.' He stopped and hugged me to his chest. 'Do you realise how precious you are to me?'
'You always say that. I am sure I will be all right against a few vellum merchants and a couple of warriors.'
Father sighed. 'Well, all right. But I do not do this willingly.'
'I promise, I will be all right.' I remember laughing and taking his arm. 'Come, let us enjoy lighter things. I came to get you because some of the orcs are putting on a re-enactment of the elves crossing the Helcaraxë. It promises to be most amusing, indeed they won't start until you arrive.'
Father stared for a flicker of a moment. I should have taken more notice of it, but it never occurred to me that I should. He smiled and readily agreed, but all the way through the play I wondered what the look meant. One cannot ponder on such things forever, so in the end I dismissed it from my mind."
My captor, an elf who I had been taught to fear above all others, waited patiently as I cleared my throat. Not a drop of water had passed my lips since the previous day and my mouth felt uncomfortably dry. He took a sip of his tea while I waited for his permission to resume talking.
"I appreciate you not using your father's name in my realm. As I said when you first arrived, names have power. Would you like a drink before continuing?" Elrond carefully placed a bone china teacup back on its saucer. He looked up at a guard who stepped forward and held a cup of tea to my lips so I could drink.
"Thank you." I drank down to the bottom of the cup.
Elrond walked over to the window as I watched. He looked out and waved to someone before turning away with a grin on his face. Looking at one of the guards behind me, he said that his elfling was playing in the sandpit and had stamped on the sandcastle her mother was building for her. Looking up at the guard I could see him grinning at the antics of his child.
I had been brought up to fear Lord Elrond, but he seemed a good elf, and was consistently so during his questioning of me. Father had always impressed upon me how terrible and cruel he was, and how he filled his captives with terror and the utmost dread before killing them slowly and revelling in their agony. Yet another lie from his devious lips.
I sat in a metal chair, my wrists secured with thick metal bands to integrated armrests and my ankles fastened to metal fixings below. There was no pain, and I had not been tortured. In all, I had been treated very well. Whilst being very aware that I had a special status, I was sure that other prisoners would be treated justly as well.
"You were allowed to go." Elrond turned to face me, his expression unreadable. He would not say Father's name, and sometimes it made my narrative harder because I was not allowed to either.
"I travelled with a smallish group of Easterlings and Orcs, and our aim was to waylay the travelling party of elves. For nearly a week we travelled, passing through Morgul Vale and past Minas Morgul, which I am told was once fair, although it is hard to see now. We navigated our way through the orc made tunnels to avoid the daughter of Ungoliant and emerged at the far end of the Cirith Ungol pass, whereupon we took up position in the overlooking high rocks in the northern section of the Ephel Dúath range.
Ufûrz, an orc with a red face painted with black lines to increase the effect of his fearsome appearance, crouched beside me. To my left was Anghâsh known for crushing the bones of his victims between his teeth, preferably as they watched.
Behind us a group of orcs and an equal number of Easterlings laid low. We knew no one could see us. All we had to do was wait. In the meantime, they whispered tales of battles and boasted of their kills. Then their bravado slipped into maudlin remembrance of their dead, as it always does when warriors have time on their hands.
At the early dawn an army of Gondorians emerged from Minas Tirith. They marched towards the Anduin Bridge, no doubt to welcome the party of elves. 'They are of a large number, so this complicates things a little,' I said to the others. 'There are not enough of us to defeat them if they do meet up with the elves. Looking at their size I would venture that they are waiting for more than just a few merchants.'
'We need back up,' Anghâsh murmured, unable to see as far as me. 'I doubt we are going to get any though.' He looked towards the fortress at the head of the pass and shook his head. 'We should move upriver and take the elves there.'
'Can you see the elves yet?' Ufûrz crouched lower, as if he thought the Gondorian troops might spot our party.
'No, not yet. We have some time.' I stared at the thick silver line of the Anduin, pondering how fast we could get there and where they might be. 'The Gondorians cannot see us, their eyes are not as good as mine, so we could possibly catch the elves as they make their way down.'
We ran through the North Ithilien countryside, taking cover in the trees and hardly stopping for breaks as we made our way to the Anduin.
'Stop. Quiet.' We watched from a high ridge as a large army of elves passed on the other side of the river, using the trees as cover. 'Vellum merchants, my arse!'
'We cannot take them but we can die trying.' Ufûrz did not seem too enthusiastic. The Easterlings were already muttering about being sent as fodder.
'It is our duty to kill as many as we can,' Anghâsh said quickly. His words belied the unwilling look on his face.
'It is our duty to make our way back as fast as we can and report what we have seen. This is a force sent for war. We will live to fight another day.' The Easterlings seemed relieved and the orcs, even though they laughed at them, did not object to leaving. I thought I was demonstrating decisive leadership, plus I had reasons of my own for retreating. Over the past year I had entered into a forbidden friendship and eventually a liaison with the elfwoman who cleaned my quarters. Her name was Cothiel, and I adored her. Even though love in a place like that will always be doomed, I really hoped that one day my father would accept her. I never told him because even I knew our situation was hopeless."
"How sad," Lord Elrond said as he sat down in his chair again. If anything he looked cynical.
"It took just over a week for us to return.
'I am so pleased to see you back, and with no casualties.' Father idly toyed with a glowing stone ball before laying it on the table and covering it with a heavy, black silk cloth. He handed a glass of wine to me but took none for himself.
'They were not vellum merchants, Father. The Gondorians are gathering for battle and a huge company of elves have joined them. We got back as quickly as we could to warn you.'
'Warn me? Warn me about a situation I already know about?' He took the cloth away from the stone ball. 'This is a Palantír. It tells me all I want to know. Look and tell me what you see.'
I was confused, but held myself as I stared. The brilliant light cleared. 'I can see the elves and Gondorians meeting up.' I looked up at him, my heart filled with apprehension. 'I do not understand. If you knew, why did you allow me to take a party to intercept them?'
'Look again at the ball.' Father glared at me.
'We are making our way to the Anduin and now we are turning back.'
The ball showed a new vision. I lay in bed with Cothiel. We were laughing.
'How can I trust you?'
'I have never deceived you. It was sex, that was all.' My heart filled with the utmost dread as I feared for her. I had hoped to ensure her safety by keeping our affair secret. I knew escape was impossible, but I had always hoped that we could find some happiness together and I could protect her from harm.
'Of course, I have killed her, and she will never have her unborn baby.'
'What?' The floor was dropping away and the room spun. The wineglass shattered on the floor. My words came out thickly, 'I had no idea.'"
"It is unlikely that Cothiel was pregnant." Lord Elrond shook his head. "You would have both known at the point of conception."
"You are certain?" I grasped at his words, hoping with all my heart that he was right.
Lord Elrond nodded and I sighed with relief. Cothiel was surely dead and I felt an immense amount of guilt that I could not have helped more, but the death of a vulnerable innocent who had no idea of what was to come had been especially hard to bear.
"When I awoke, I was suspended by the wrists with not a stitch of clothing on my body. I was in the torture cell. Surely not? Surely Father would not do this to me. Had my loyalty counted for nothing? Perhaps it was a vision, but no, it was real. I looked up. The blackness above was so murky and far reaching that I could not see where the chains were fixed. To the side stood a brazier with a knife heating in the red coals; I recognised it as one I had made for him as a present. On the blade was a graven message saying First Among Princes. Below my feet the stone floor gleamed black, as if newly polished. The whole place smelt of death, and of urine and faeces from when prisoners lost control of their bodies. I was one of them now. My life counted for nothing.
His soft voice came from behind. 'As you know Erestor, I do not take disloyalty lightly.'
'I was never disloyal!' I shouted for all I was worth, pulling wildly at the chains, hoping to escape. It was all I had left.
'You loved someone other than me, and yet I tried so hard to bring you up properly and not let anything here touch you.'
'Do not call me 'Father'. You are not my son anymore.'
'Yes I am. You love me. You always say you love me.' The cold chill of fear shot through me as sweat beaded on my skin. He took the knife from the brazier as I looked around wildly for help. Then the pain came and I could hear myself screaming from somewhere outside of myself as agony and blackness ripped through my very being.
He held two pieces of bloodless skin and gristle up to my face. 'These are the tips of your ears. Until they grow back your powers will be non-existent. Not that they will have a chance to ever reform after I have finished with you. Still, it's the thought that counts.'
'What powers?' I screamed, the fight having not yet left me, even though my face was wet with tears. It took a few moments to realise the warmth on my neck came from the blood dripping down from my ears. 'I never had any powers.'
'You know so little.' Father smiled as if remembering a happier time. 'When you were born, the ball showed your betrayal, and yet I hoped things would be different. I could never let you use the powers that came from being my son. You might have tried to usurp me, and that would never do. For years I held your powers at bay, but when you chose to love another you turned your back on me. Hate is as powerful, perhaps more so, than love and I will not
risk you turning my own power upon me through that hate. I concentrated that
power in the tips of your ears while you were drugged, and now they are removed.'
'I do not hate you.' Emotion would take away the clarity of my situation and I desperately needed to concentrate.
'Well you should.' He seemed surprised. 'I would if I were you.'
'I will waste no emotion on you.'
'Really? That is equivalent to hate.' Father put the pieces of skin, the tips of my ears, into his mouth and ate them. 'Delicious.'"
"How repulsive." Lord Elrond shook his head as he stood up. I felt his fingers touching my left ear. "They are healed, but there is no sign of the tips growing back. Please continue." He sat back down.
"'You knew the vellum merchants story was a lie, didn't you Father?' I do not even know why I said it to him. Of course he did.
'Yes indeed. I made it up myself. The man told me nothing at all. He was braver than you.'
'You willingly allowed your son to face his death? How disappointed you must have been when I came back.' The streams of blood from my ears continued to run down my neck, flowing like a lazy river down my chest, making soft noises as the drips hit the floor. The exposed tips felt cold and raw, stinging with pain. My time was nearly over, so now I could say what I liked. There was nothing to lose.
'The Palantír showed me the army of elves and men, so I used it to my advantage. I knew you would want to attack, the bait was there and you greedily took it. Well, I had hoped to mourn your death and use it as a validation for attacking Gondor again, but you have spoilt that.' He gave an exaggerated sigh and delicately stepped away from the spots of blood dripping close to his feet. After shrugging and giving me a huge smile, he announced that he would do it anyway.
'What happens now?' I asked, fearing the answer. Cothiel once told me that elves go to the Halls of Awaiting when they die; perhaps such a place would be willing to take me too. I was only half an elf, but maybe that would be enough.
'Before I go, would you like to see my true appearance? I have used glamour to stop you from seeing who I really am, but I can indulge you if you want.' Father didn't wait for a reply. 'Why am I giving a mere prisoner choices? Here, look at me.'
My eyes gazed upon a vision of the utmost dread and horror. I admit to howling my terror as my limbs tried to break through their bonds so I could escape the monster in the room. The sharp taste of fear as my tongue dried made my voice coarse as I screamed for him not to touch me. 'Change back. Change back!' It mattered not that the skin on my wrists tore as I struggled against the cruel metal cuffs, kicking wildly and hoping with all my might it didn't come nearer. But even worse was the sharp feeling of revulsion and disgust that I had once loved the thing before me. And I still feel that; even now the memory causes me to shudder because I cannot separate Father from who he really is. His lips kissed me goodnight as an elfling and he comforted me when nightmares disturbed my sleep. He had embraced me as a father does to a son on many occasions, but underneath the facade it was the monster who held me, whose vile mouth spoke the words that made me love the deception. In my imaginings I wonder if I am also a monster underneath because he is my parent. I also wonder if that was how he appeared to Cothiel in her final moments? I still hope with all my heart I was wrong, but I doubt it.
Father laughed at me as he assumed his mantel of glamour. 'Feed him to the wargs.' Anghâsh the orc nodded subserviently and I felt betrayed. Had I not saved him from being killed only days before? 'You can kill him first if you like,' he added as an afterthought before leaving.
'Being eaten by wargs is better than being in the same room as you,' I shouted, knowing the situation to be hopeless. 'I hope the enemy thrash your arse and you die horribly. There is a reason you never go into battle - you are a coward, you always skulk behind the lines while everyone else dies for you!' In the distance, I heard his laughter. That was when I knew I truly hated him, and would do so until the end of time and even whilst dead.
'Quiet,' Anghâsh said softly. 'We have a plan. You saved our lives, so we will save yours. In spite of what your father thinks, our lives are important to us, just as yours is to you. Play along. I do not know who I can trust and I will not die for you.'
I was astonished but ready to fall in with anything he suggested to me. 'Thank you,' I whispered. He stared at me and put his fingers to his lips, so I said nothing more.
Anghâsh went over to a cell on the far side of the dungeon and threw open the door. The prisoner inside pleaded not to be killed and then an animalistic scream rang through the air, accompanied by the unmistakeable, almost sucking sound of a blade being pulled from flesh. If the dread creature, who had once called me his son was listening he would have assumed they were my final moments. A dead human with black hair, who was about the same size as myself, was carried out of the cell and flung down a trapdoor to the howling warg pack below. I hoped he would not look into the Palantír, not that he had time to get back to his room, because then he might see the deception before we could escape."
"You were fortunate." Lord Elrond looked at me, suspicion in his eyes. Who could blame him? No elf ever escaped Mordor.
"Anghâsh was of the opinion that I would be safe, after all, hadn't the monster heard my final moments, or what he thought to be them? Anyway, it was unlikely he would give me further thought, he had a battle to plan."
"You call him a monster. How did he change from loved to monster so swiftly?" Elrond raised an eyebrow, showing his disbelief. "Not even an abused child learns to hate so quickly."
"I didn't hate him until he showed me his true appearance; it was that of a monster, one that lurks in the deepest, darkest imaginings, the sort where the mind rapidly abandons sleep to escape the terror and dares not go back again, even though it really doesn't exist except as an image. I am still his son, and it revolts me to think that I might become like that too."
"He was made that way by the Valar so that all might recognise him for who he is. He didn't always look that way; apparently, he was one of the fairest of beings when he was young. It is of interest that he has found a way to overcome it."
"When I asked Anghâsh about it he said he had always seen him as a terrifying monster and wondered how I could hug one so repulsive. It's quite something when an orc is disgusted by someone's appearance."
Elrond smiled. "Indeed. Continue."
"I was smuggled out through the blood sluice. It's called that even though it is for all the prisoners bodily fluids and waste, and even some body parts. My heart thumped as the fear of being caught consumed me. At the start of the sluice the smell was bearable but as we descended under the stronghold and had to wade through the bubbling filth the stench became intolerable. The sweet, rotting smell of decomposing flesh, shit and vomit caught in my throat. Anghâsh chuckled when I emptied my stomach. As we waded along I gagged so hard and continually that I could hardly carry on. Throughout the walk, I could feel the filth seeping into where he had sliced open my skin and the stinging was intense, but I overcame the pain because escape was more important than succumbing. In the end, we reached the sluice gate opening onto a brick lined canal that fed into an underground stream, but did not go through. We were met by Gizik, one of the Easterlings; Anghâsh would be missed if he stayed any longer. Gizik and I waited for night to come before going through the gate. I hoped I could trust him, but I had no choice really. All I knew about him was that he was one of the party I took to meet the vellum merchants, so I hoped that would be enough for him not to alert my escape to the one who was once my father."
"He still is your father," Elrond said quickly. "For that reason alone you are secured to this chair."
"Lord Elrond, I am well aware that I have swapped one prison for another." I hoped not to offend him but I was probably more cognizant than any of the elves in that room about how perilous my situation was. "Anyway, as we passed through the sluice gate and climbed out of the canal I could smell fresh air, or what passes for it in Mordor. Compared to the sluice it was the sweetest air I had ever breathed.
We walked to the nearby encampment; the Easterling warriors have their barracks just outside the fortress. Beyond, in the distance, are the farms; the volcanic soil and warmth from underground enables crops to grow year round. I was to make my way to the nearest farm house. There I would meet a man called Yaban."
A light knock on the door stopped Erestor's flow. A serving girl entered the room and placed a tray in front of Lord Elrond. He thanked her as she left. Then he poured tea into a white china cup painted with a rim of delicate purple flowers. A silver tray contained many sandwiches with several different types of fillings. I looked away, knowing that I would not be able to have one because I was a prisoner and not worthy of the finer things that Imladris had to offer. It was wryly amusing that I should think of a sandwich in that way, when I was used to luxury in my former life.
"Continue," Elrond mumbled, after finishing an egg sandwich. "Happily, gory descriptions are unlikely to put me off my food."
"I made my way to the nearest farm and met Yaban. He was a fearsome looking man, large and hale, yet I had the impression he had once been much larger.
'Get this on,' he said gruffly, handing me the garb of a farm girl, "and put this salve over your cuts so they don't get infected. You were in that slurry for quite a while." I stood covered in a thick ointment with a towel wrapped around my chest; apparently his wife had instructed that I wash the filth of the sluice from my body before entering the house. "If the Lord finds out you are still alive he will be looking for a boy, not a girl." He was not an unkind man, just nervous about being caught. I could empathise with how he felt, in light of my recent experience.
A woman came into the room bearing a covered tray of food and I started with fear. 'There is no need to be frightened of us,' she said softly. 'I am Kuzu. You made sure my son lived to fight another day. He is eighteen and our only child.'
"We owe you for that.' Yaban took an empty pack from the corner and started filling it with black bread, pickles and cold meat. "This will keep you going until you get further up the river. I will see you through Cirith Ungol and then you are on your own. Our debt will be discharged."
'You do not owe me for making sure your son stayed safe.' I meant it as well.
'Then I won't take you.' Yaban looked at me before grinning. 'Ha! You should see your face.'
'He will take you.' Kuzu chuckled before telling her husband that not everyone understood his sense of humour. 'The horses are ready.'
We made our way to Cirith Ungol during the night, galloping as fast as our horses could take us.
'You are putting yourselves in danger. What if we are spied upon?'
Yaban shrugged. 'I do not fear dying. Anyway, if my son had been killed my wife would have no one. '
'She has you.'
'My life is coming to an end; I have the sickness from working in the Lord's mines. Two years ago I was twice the size I am now. When I die, my son, Borlad, will be allowed leave from the army and can work the farm. I hope.' Yaban looked me in the eyes. 'Retreat may be dishonourable, but you did the right thing, and I will always be eternally grateful. Your father has never cared for any of our lives.'
What could I say? He was right.
The horses were left to graze on the scrub near the pass as we made our way through the mountain using the orc dug tunnels to bypass Shelob's lethal, web filled chambers, but they were not always safe; she was perfectly able to knock through walls or make her way down the less narrow tunnels. We carried our swords and communicated using hand signals until we saw light on the other side. The Valar must have been smiling upon us both because she did not seem aware of our presence, although we did hear movement that seemed perilously close at times.
'You are on your own now,' Yaban whispered as we emerged from the pass. He had to go back the way we came and did not want to alert the dread spider. 'Keep heading in that direction. Follow the river and do not stray into Gondor, chances are they already know your face there. You are the spitting image of your father, after all.' He gave me a map and we looked at it together. 'Go North and stay on this side of the river; remember you are travelling against the current. It will take you many days to find the elven strongholds, but keep going past them. There is a witch in the guise of a beautiful lady who rules the forest on the right. To the left is Mirkwood, but don't go there either. Both places are highly dangerous.'
'I did used to live in Dol Guldur.' I grinned and Yaban said rather me than him.
"Keep going until you reach the Old Forest Road. Where it reaches the river it's known as Old Ford. Cross the river and turn left. There is a pass through the mountains. I am not sure about what lies on the other side, probably just scrubland like here, but you might meet some elves who would be willing to take you with them. You are a strong lad, I am sure you could find work in one of the settlements, if there are any.'
'I will tell them that not all Easterlings are bad, my friend.'
'You will do no such thing, unless you want a spear through your guts. You are an elf and you will be expected to live as one and have certain views. You will show no sympathy for the enemy. Is that clear?'
'Good lad. You are changing sides because you have no choice. Don't get sentimental about any of the people you have left behind, because they won't be about you. Now go on your way and good luck. Keep your head low and don't broadcast who you are. If your father finds out you are alive he will come after us like a scorching wind and none of us will survive.' He gripped my shoulder, his eyes earnest. 'Don't let any of us down.'
'I won't. I promise.' I walked away. After a few yards I looked back to wave but he was already gone."
"So you look exactly like your father?" Elrond cocked an eyebrow.
"In the mirror there is little difference between us, but I would venture that is where our similarities end."
"What exactly did Yaban mean when he said not to let him down? Is there another purpose to your escape?" Elrond held a finger sandwich in his hand; he didn't eat it, nor did he put it back on the plate.
"I assume he meant that I wasn't to put myself in a position where the Lord of Mordor might become aware of my existence."
"He has a way of seeing what happens in his realm. Yaban would not know about it but you do. I fear your brave friends are probably dead or imprisoned simply because they helped you, or the whole set up was an elaborate ruse and he will welcome you home with open arms when you have achieved your purpose here.'
"But he cut my ear tips off!" How could Elrond think that, and yet, on reflection, why wouldn't he? "I knew my helpers would be in danger; living in Mordor is precarious to every being there, but surely he wouldn't need to look at the Palantír if he thought I was already dead?"
"Ah, naivety is obviously your strong point. A Palantír can only show what the person on the other end is doing; he is using another way of spying on his own people and chose to tell you that was it, even though the stone would have looked exactly like one. He had a reason for telling you it was a palantír, and I doubt he would have bothered if you really were going to be killed in his dungeon. In any case, the instructions Yaban gave you were too specific, and for all we know you might have agreed to your ear tips being removed. Anything for the cause, eh? He directed you here. Your father probably showed him the exact point on the map he gave you. He has been trying to find my realm for some time." Elrond ate the sandwich while I watched, hoping with all my heart that his thinking was in error.
"So he will know that I am alive and here?"
"He will know you are alive, but he knows nothing of this place. Indeed, he probably cannot see far beyond the borders of his realm. From what you have told me his vision might only extend a small way beyond the pass and upwards to the Falls of Rauros, certainly not as far as Isengard anyway."
"This realm is not on any of his maps. In fact, I did not know this realm existed until the elves on this side of the pass took me here. However, I knew of you."
"I have no doubt you knew of me." Lord Elrond smiled. "Your father probably taught you to fear me."
"From what I now know, I think he was probably describing himself."
Lord Elrond ordered a guard to release one of my hands. He took it and studied the palm and fingers, then held my hand as a friend would. The grip was gentle, but firm enough to deter me from trying to pull away. On his finger a blue stoned ring glowed dully. "Have you ever killed an elf?"
"No." The ring shone brightly before dimming.
"Have you ever tortured an elf?"
"No, but occasionally I was made to watch. There were very few elves in Mordor. Cothiel was given to me because I objected to orcs cleaning my room; they tend to throw things around instead of putting them away properly, and they can be quite clumsy as well."
"Are you part of a grand deception?"
"Are you a spy?"
"No." Each time I answered the ring sparkled with light.
"Do you hate your father?"
"I hate what he did and who he showed himself to be. I also hate how he abused and tortured me. I still do not understand how he could turn his back on his child and part of me longs for what we once had. You have to understand, my father was wonderful up until that point. He was everything any son could ever hope for, simply because I knew no better. I wonder why he bothered with the facade knowing that one day I would be expendable." My heart ached and I had to pause to stop myself from being overcome before continuing. Elrond waited, still holding onto my hand. I gave a half smile. "When I was small, he used to sit me on his knee and tell me stories, most of them involving the wicked Lord Elrond, who was the trickiest elf alive. We would both have a cup of hot chocolate. When the story finished I had to drink what was left, and then he would sing to me until I fell asleep." I shrugged as a new memory came to mind. "As I grew, the stories about you became more sinister, and he made me swear that I would never let myself be captured by you. He detailed a whole list of tortures that I would endure if captured, and yet none of that has happened so far. I realise now that he must fear you above all elves."
As I spoke the ring lit up the room, so bright that the guards shielded their eyes. I had no such luxury as it burnt into my vision, even with my eyes shut.
"This ring says you are telling the truth. Congratulations, Lord Nàmo will not be collecting you today. Now eat." He let go of my hand and looked up at the guards. "Release his other hand then leave us."
I ate the sandwiches, trying not to appear greedy. Lord Elrond remarked that I must be very hungry. He poured a cup of tea and asked if I trusted him as he did so.
I looked up. "I would like to."
"You are your father's son, yet your powers are almost non-existent."
"I don't have any at all."
"You really do not believe you have any. Do you?"
"I know I do not. They were taken from me. I saw him eat the tips of my ears, and he swallowed them."
"You have told me much and you didn't even try to bargain so you could keep your life. Why is that?"
I shrugged. "You do not look like the type of elf who would be susceptible to bargaining. But, you also do not look like the type of elf who would kill just for the sake of doing so."
Elrond raised an eyebrow and gave me an enquiring smile.
"You saved my life. Surely you would not have done so if you meant to kill me? In any case you would have interrogated me while I was recovering, not waited until now."
"I would save the life of any elf who had been attacked by a party of orcs. Did you recognise any of them?"
"No." I sighed, eyebrows furrowed. "I should have known them, but I didn't."
"Did they recognise you?"
"No, not at all. They attacked me because I am an elf. That's when your party appeared and cut them down."
"Yes. You were poisoned by an orc blade and we nearly lost you. That's when you let go of all your secrets. Everything you told me I knew already, but I needed to see how honest you are."
"That makes sense."
Elrond appeared to be coming to a decision within himself; after a few moments of studying my face he took a sandwich from the plate before us and ate half of it before speaking. All the while I wondered what he would say. "I want you to advise us on the enemy. You have lived with the dread one, so you know him, and you know how he thinks. Of course, you will be watched at all times, but I am hoping any advice or insights you can give us will be sound. Vilya will be a second check on your information. If you refrain from falsehood you will find this rather a pleasant place to live."
"I will do anything I can to help. Perhaps if I had not seen the vile monster he really is I might have a shred of reluctance, but I did see him and he is still in my head."
Vilya glowed brightly again. "I need to find out if he really is in your head or if you have a memory that has etched itself into your mind."
"That is something I desire to know myself."
"Could you father have eaten your ear tips so he had a part of you within him and thus a connection?"
Panic seized my being. Speech eluded me, instead I emitted a strange cross between a scream and a thin, high pitched wail. The monster inside my head watched, unmoving. Gripping my mutilated ears, I pulled at my head, as if trying to flush away the dreadfulness, shaking hard until I felt Elrond's hands upon mine.
I heard him gasp, before regaining his legendary control. "It's an illusion, Erestor. The monster isn't there."
"It is there. Get it out. I can see it!"
Elrond moved behind me. Both hands pressed on my scalp and he murmured quietly. My hands suddenly drained of energy, falling to my sides as if paralysis had taken over. Gradually the vision of the monster faded and I allowed myself to breathe. Elrond had saved me from the dark insanity that must surely accompany constantly seeing such an image.
"You were given the vision as a parting gift, to torture your mind and drive you insane, just in case you were able to escape, even though in the circumstances it was highly unlikely. That much I can divine, so it seems he really did expect you to die. I saw the monster. I saw what was in your head."
"Perhaps he meant you to see it?"
"I doubt it. What would he gain by showing me his true appearance? If anything appears in your head again you must say so immediately, so I can remove it. Maybe that is the first of several visions, or maybe not."
"It could happen again? No, no, that cannot be!" I looked around wildly. The walls pointed inwards and the floor spun around before everything went black. The darkness gripped my very being and I couldn't fight as I was dragged down into insensibility. Somewhere in my fading consciousness I heard Elrond telling someone that I had been overcome with shock. Just before being completely overwhelmed I felt his hands upon my head again, so I fought no more. I trusted him.