Second Star to the Right - Chapter Four: Your Master and Commander

Disclaimer - >Sigh< I think we all know what comes here...

A/N - Ok, well firstly apologies because this is a monster chapter. Its huge compared to the others, so bear with me! Secondly... Actually, I don't think there is a secondly... Ah well, what the cheese - thank you soooo much to all my reviewers - spesh Elflet! - and I hope you enjoy this chapter!!!

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Chapter Four - Your Master and Commander

Elrond couldn't even begin to fathom how long he had been in the saddle. Everything ached; his back from the forced upright riding position; his eyes stung with the cold, an staring at the same rugged, barren landscape for hours beyond reckoning; his hands from the bitter frozen air as the icy wind raced around him, though the small blood flow allowed through his bonds helped to numb that. His unusually faithful, if rather unkempt and rough black steed had not faltered one step, nor had he tired; indeed, none of the horses seemed to be worn out, and though their breathing was deep and heavy all around him, not a single one had broken a sweat.

In an attempt to trace the amount of time they had been riding, Elrond thought back to when they had first started off again. It must have been four hours at least that they had continued to skirt the forest eaves. Eerie though its shadowy realm had been, Elrond found himself wistfully missing it now; it had served as a shield to their right flank from the shilling winds. For just as the sun had at last surrendered to the inevitable night, Káno, who still led them fiercely on, had veered at a sudden right angle away from the sheltered canopy , making for a range of low rocky hills in the distance. As they had done so, Elrond had caught one last snatched glimpse of the sun as they ash grey clouds parted and the fiery, flaming sphere had seemed to dive into the now far away sea. It was as if a battle, a final desperate battle as being waged; the ocean glittered with a million sparkling diamonds littered with rubies of the richest red. The sky had been a spectacular display of orange and magenta and purple, lighting the clouds with a bright glow, and Elrond fancied, rather than truly saw that amid the whirl of colour specks of white and silver grey soared through the air, calling and screeching for him to come home; the gulls that he had known all his life, the friends of the mariners, who would lull him softly to sleep with their ethereal songs. All Middle-earth had been cast into a radiant crimson shadow, so that the distant snow-caped peaks were tinted and stained with the souls of that fruitless fight, and the swaying grasses appeared to be on fire around them; yet it lasted only a moment. After a second or two, the sun was swallowed by the gaping, now unseen waters, its blinding, hope kindling fires all but extinguished.

And hope had fluttered from his heart then. Within him he knew that he had been given nothing to truly fear - yet. But there was something about Káno, something he couldn't quite explain, something that made him quail at the very thought. He had thought a lot about what Nesial had told him during the ride, but had realised that there was no real reason to trust her either. If she was a captive of these men, why did she walk freely around the camp, and ride with her hands unbound?

No, he concluded; out here, there was nothing to say he could trust anyone.

And so night had descended swiftly upon the realms of Beleriand, bringing with its thick inky skirts a sharp and biting wind. It pierced his eyes like a thousand spears as it flew at them from the north-east, and numbed his already half senseless hands to the point that they felt more like lumps of metal on the stumps of his arms.

The wind had, however, done one thing to raise Elrond's spirits; it had deftly swept away all of the towering, pillar like clouds in the sky, leaving the stars to twinkling freely from their high and ancient resting places. It seemed to be much to the dislike to the troll like men around him, for they mumbled and mumbled and complained incoherently under their breaths, casting occasional scowls towards the sky. For Elrond though, it was the best thing that could have happened - well, obviously not the best thing. That would have been a successful escape; but then this tale would have come to an end before it had really begun. But the story is side-tracking... Yet the stars did kindle in him a new spark of hope, and he searched each of them out, all familiar shining faces, as he often did with his father on calm nights on the beach. They each and every one of them sang their own, enchanting melodies; yet together did all those melodies fit, and the harmony that floated down to the earth was as clear and bright and mystical as the stars themselves.

On, on they had ridden across this waste land, where the plains went on for miles and miles on either side, and the mountains loomed ahead of them as always. But as is often the way when heading for a mountain range, they never appeared any larger, or any closer... Not that Elrond had a particular desire to go their, towards their deadly and treacherous paths and glaciers, and sudden, thousand foot ravines that it was impossible to see until it was too late; but that was well. For This tale would not take him by that road.

Yet although the mountains drew no nearer, by about midnight the range of uneven hills they had aimed for were all among them, and before Elrond knew it they were riding through the bottom of a gentle sloping valley of two hills, which seemed to mark the entrance to the array. In the pale starlight (for the moon was new, and so hidden from them), Elrond saw the grasses, tall and silver, and bent as if in mid-sway in the same direction, but they were utterly unmoving. Completely and totally unnaturally still. Elrond shuddered involuntarily and with a jolt realised that there was no longer a wind but a pure, unbroken silence and stillness in the air. This place was full of magic, and not white magic either, it was practically screaming at him... A deeper, ancient sort of place, of spells and ghosts and forgotten myths and rituals.

Looking up at the hilltops, Elrond noticed how the grasses, long and lush unlike those of the plains, covered all of the hills; but at the crown they stopped. At the brow of each hill was a wide circle of burnt and scorched ground, where nothing grew or moved. This unsettled Elrond enough; but what was more disturbing was the statues in them. Elrond could not be sure, for the light was faint and dim, and they still rode at a gallop, but the stones seemed to be hewn in the likeness of men, and perhaps of elves. But he could not be sure.

Still they galloped on, weaving on a well worn path between the hills, heading always slightly west of north towards the heart of the hills. Elrond felt sure that should he ever escape his captivity, he would probably remain lost forever in this labyrinth. With an unpleasant jolt, he suddenly realised that it was more than likely that that was Káno's intention.

It seemed obvious now that they were heading for the centre of the hills, and as they rounded one last small, silver-green mound, Elrond's theory was justified. Spread out before them, surrounded by five gently sloping hills was what appeared to be a large settlement of kinds. Row upon row of rough, badly built wooden thatched huts radiated out from a central space in the middle, and some even spread out onto the shallows of the hills. Crude lanterns hung above the doorways, so that across the valley were hundreds of flickering orange spots, showing the path of the huts. As Elrond drew nearer he saw the entire village was encased by a 10 foot high spiked fence, and guards armed with rudimentary but deadly spears were placed ever twenty yards or so around the perimeter.

At the head of the company, Káno held his hand up in the air, and as the riders passed through the gates they slowed to a jolty canter and then a short sharp trot, coming to an abrupt halt in the clearing. Here, a little to Elrond's left, a raging bonfire burned and cackled loudly, fed by a constant supply of logs. Before him was stood what he supposed could only be a sort of hall; it was built in the likeness of the huts, yet far, far larger, at least 10 times bigger, and torches hung from the walls every few paces around the circumference.

All around him, the troll like men began gracelessly dismounting their horses, who were then being led away by some of the congregation that had formed around them. The men, Elrond noticed all resembled those he had ridden with; tall and stocky and thick boned with broad shoulders, and an idiotic looking face, topped with a mop of matted hair.

At his side, one such man was now stood with a curved, wicked looking knife in his hand. He grinned maliciously at Elrond, revealing a set of crooked and rotten blackened teeth, several of which were missing, and his beetle like eyes glinted in the firelight.

"Enjoy yer ride, did ye, Elffie?" he mocked. Elrond did not reply, but levelled him with a cold, hard stare, his pale eyes like ice blue flames. The man's crooked seemed to falter a little and he growled, but with one swift movement cut clean through the ropes around Elrond's wrists. The young man could not hide the sharp his of pain that escaped his lips as the blood flow resumed once more to his fingers, rushing like fire. The man cackled triumphantly, and with a great shove his pushed his captive sideways out of the saddle to land stiffly on the floor. As his horse was taken away he rose to his knees, and felt two pairs of rough hands grab him on the shoulder and under the arm, and he was hauled to his feet.

"Come one now, Elffie," leered the first man, "Káno says you must be taken inside."

Elrond struggled futilely against their grip, but they just laughed at him.

"I'd get yer strength back if I were ye - he'll be seein' ye before long," sneered the second. Again Elrond did not reply, but shot such venomous and loathing glances between them that for a moment they almost seemed to quail.

"Watch it, Elffie," snarled the first, and punched Elrond hard across the face. Knocked back slightly by the force, Elrond slumped against the other man, who pushed him back again. Roaring, harsh laughter ensued as Elrond felt blood trickle down from his torn lip and cheek.

"Now, now men," said a silky, dangerous voice, "We wouldn't want to wear him out now, would we?"


Elrond knew that voice; he's known it only two days and already it sent chills down his spine. Lifting his gaze from the floor, he stood face to face with Káno. His white blonde hair almost shone with a radiance of its own, and his serpent like eyes glittered and now more than ever, Elrond could see how he was much more like to a Lord than these vagabonds. Yet not a good Lord, of fair lands and courteous people; an evil, merciless King of barren wastes, cracking the whip behind the thousands of toil worn, half-dead slaves.

Káno surveyed Elrond for a moment, a slight frown upon his darkly handsome brow. He reached forward a leather gloved hand, and made to touch Elrond's face; but in a sudden bout of unreasonable and indubitable fear, Elrond pulled backwards sharply, away from the terror. Káno hesitated for a split-second, as the men gripped Elrond tighter, their vice like arms cutting into his arms and allowing him no freedom of movement, and then took Elrond's bleeding cheek in his hand. He half turned his prisoner's head, taking in the nasty purple swelling and bruise that was already forming on his usually flawless skin. Káno let a small smile come to his lips, and Elrond squirmed uselessly at his touch.

"Feisty aren't we?" he observed almost lazily, "No matter; we can break that down soon enough... You," he turned suddenly to the men holding the captive more precious than he knew, "Take him inside and see he is...provided for. I have some business to attend to." With a last, curling sneer, Káno swept away in a swirl of black cloak and strode purposefully off out of Elrond's vision. For rather obvious reasons, none of the men dared to ask exactly what the business was... And if it concerned Káno, Elrond was entirely sure that he actually wanted to know.

The young man let out the deep breath he wasn't even aware he had been holding, and the two thugs dragged him up towards the hall, throwing him over the threshold.

"You!" demanded the first man gruffly, speaking to someone Elrond couldn't see from the floor, "Káno says ye `ave ter set him up fer later. Do it quick, I dunno how long he'll be."

With that, they slammed the door heavily behind them, and a heavy bolt was locked.

For a second, Elrond remained sprawled where he was, his eyes tightly shut, wishing beyond all hope that it was all some terrible nightmare; but then he felt ashamed to be so afraid, and opened his eyes to find the same, bitter reality surrounding him.

The inside of the small hall was lit by a strong, orangey glow, due to four large roaring fireplaces positioned at four points around the one room like a compass, though two were hidden from view behind large hanging materials, that served as barriers to different areas of the room. The floor was covered completely in many animal skins, so that it was soft and warm, and by the side of the furthest fire the floor was littered with elaborately decorated cushions. Next to the cushions was a low set wooden bed, laden with pillows and blankets, and beside that was a small table, upon which was placed a silver goblet and a glass phial of livid green liquid. Down the walls were thrown more animal skins, mostly earthy brown bear, or silver grey wolf, and occasionally their was a thick and detailed tapestry, depicting a battle or a royal court of some kind.

As Elrond looked around in something close to wonder, he heard light-shoed feet come up beside him, though their sound was muffled slightly by the soft floor. He spun over onto his side in apprehension of who could be stood there, fearing a kick to the stomach; but it did not come. In fact, the one who stood before him was a mere boy, no more than 13 or 14. He wore a brown velvet long sleeved shirt and woollen black hose, and his mousy hair was half tied back. His skin was clean but tanned, as though he'd spent a long time in the sun, and he wore supple material shoes. Yet his hands were chained; thick bronze bolts around his wrists were connected together by means of a heavy linked bronze chain in a length wide enough for him to carry a tray and pour wine without difficulty, but restraining him from freedom.

But it was the lad's eyes that shocked Elrond the most; the amber orbs seemed dull and shallow, lifeless, and devoid of any thought or emotion. He looked down at Elrond as if he was not really seeing him, and when he spoke Elrond almost winced for the lack of feeling and the toneless sound of his voice.

"My Master says you are to rest. Clothes are prepared for you. Food and drink is prepared for you. You must follow me." Even as he spoke, his face showed no sign of care or of anything come to that, and his eyes were like the dank, unblinking windows of an abandoned and haunted house. Empty of anything... Of a soul. Elrond suppressed a shudder, but climbed a little shakily to his knees.

"Hello," he smiled weakly, "I'm Elrond. What is your name?"

The boy blinked at him but did not reply, and his face remained plain. Elrond frowned, but tried again.

"Do you speak the common tongue lad?"

Again, the boy stared at him indifferently, and Elrond searched his eyes for a sign of... well, of anything. Yet there was nothing; it was like looking into them and seeing the back of his head - there was simply nothing there.

"You must come with me," the boy repeated and bending down, he took Elrond's arm in a surprisingly strong grip and pulled him to his feet. Elrond stared at him incredulously, but the boy made no sign that he acknowledged the gesture. He merely turned and walked lightly over the cushioned floor to one of the heavy separating hangings and drew it back, waiting for Elrond to step inside.

Cautiously, and with much confusion at the boy's state, Elrond stepped over to him, and peered into the little partitioned area. Here there were two bed like strips of cushions, which weren't as nice as the ones outside, laid with blankets between which stood a stout wooden table bearing a platter of bread and cheese and a pitcher of water. On a crooked three-legged stool near the entrance were neatly folded fresh clothes.

"You must go inside," the lad repeated again and with a sharp push that caught Elrond off his guard he sent him tumbling inside. With a swish he closed the curtain, and Elrond was all alone.

HERE FOR CBBC

Luckily, the floor being so well padded, the fact that Elrond landed quiet heavily made absolutely no difference. He rolled over onto his back and proper himself up on his elbows, trying to take it all in. He couldn't help but to think it strange that Káno would treat a prisoner so well... perhaps because he was his precious elf prize? But that wouldn't make any difference - by all rights he was mortal, lest the Almighty deem it otherwise. And what were the chances of that?

Elrond didn't know - and although he knew in the back of his mind that he shouldn't trust any of the niceties Káno offered him, his tired, aching body protested adamantly. The elven in him could live on stars and moon and air alone; but the frailer, mortal could not. Surely just changing clothes wouldn't hurt anyone? After all, the ones he was wearing now were stiff and dirty from the past two days, and if he was honest with himself they probably didn't smell all that great either. Finally, his stubborn body prevailed, and Elrond scuttled towards the clothes on the stool and laid them out on the floor. There was a long sleeved shirt of emerald green, with a wide neck and cuffs all trimmed with gold. There were trousers, not unlike those the boy had been wearing, save that they were velvet and not as loose fitting, also edged with gold. A pair of soft leather shoes was placed beneath the stool.

Elrond faltered for a minute. He knew something was wrong; anyone could tell that these garments were well made and probably not cheap; so why was Káno giving them to him?

Maybe it was the overwhelming weariness that had finally caught up with Elrond; maybe it was the slightly sickly sweet smelling perfumes that he had just noticed floating around the air; he didn't know. All he knew was that he was unbuttoning his tunic and pulling his shirt over his head to be replaced with the emerald green one. Then he was unlacing his boots and before long he was wearing the entire outfit, his old clothes discarded by the curtain.

He had to admit it, even the suspicious part; he felt a hell of a lot better in these warm, soft clothes, and suddenly realised he was parched and famished. Turning eagerly towards the food, he eyed the relatively fresh bread with a new desire, and quickly grabbed a piece, biting a chunk off of it happily, almost choking on it a moment later when he remembered he throat felt like the desert. He hastily poured himself water form the pitcher and set the wooden goblet to his lips, letting the soothing liquid tumble down his throat thirstily. He had actually drained the entire cup when it dawned don him that the water was actually flavoured with something; a sweet, luscious tasting fruit he'd never experienced before, and greedily poured himself more. When this cup too had been emptied, he replaced it on the table, distantly wondering why there were two if there was only one of him, and sat back on the cushions. As he sank into them, he felt a light headedness come over him; a blissful, weary free feeling that freed his tense muscles and relaxed his mind. Maybe this situation wasn't so bad after all...

... All at once, a bright, flaring warning erupted like a volcano in his mind. What was he thinking? What was happening to him? Horrified, he glanced at the drink pitcher, and drew back. He should have known... And the sickly sweet smell of burning herbs and spices was growing stronger now, clouding his senses and showering his fears in a thick, hazy fog. He struggled against the feeling, desperate to make himself remember who he really was, why he was here, who the faces of the people flashing across his mind were... But gradually, his internal struggles became less and less, as he succumbed to the power of the drugs.

The curtains swung open to reveal a figure that to Elrond's blurry vision was shady and dark, like a shadow in the warmly lit room. He squinted at it, trying to perceive who it was; but as he did so, he found himself wondering where the point was in doing it anyway. Whoever it was seemed to be speaking to him...

"Hello? Elf-boy?" Nesial kneeled in front of Elrond, waving her hands in front of his face. His eyes searched her, as if trying to truly see her, and she noted the dilated pupils and the half empty water pitcher. Comprehension dawned, and she sighed. It was a shame, she had almost grown to like him - and she'd almost hoped he'd be strong enough to throw it off... Almost. But what had to be done, had to be done.

With far more care and gentleness than she would have used ordinarily, she took Elrond's hands in her own and placed them on her own lap.

"Elrond?" she called softly, as though he were a small child in a nightmare. "Come on, Elf-boy, wake up... Come this way, Elrond..."

Gradually, the sense of confusion and helplessness in the half-elf's face seemed to fade, and as his eyes were clearing, Elrond could see Nesial properly. She was gazing at him almost in sadness, and there was a kind, motherly smile on her lips.

"Welcome back, Boyo," she said in hushed tones, a laid a hand on his forehead.

Elrond gazed at her for a minute, thinking that he knew her face...

"Nesial?" he croaked, "Wha-... What's happening?"

Nesial stroked his head, and placed a finger upon his lips.

"Shh," she soothed, gently but firmly pushing him back down onto the bed of pillows. "Rest now. You must rest... You will need you're strength."

"Wha-... What for?" Elrond protested feebly, but remained lying down, his eyelids fluttering.

"You will know," Nesial whispered, laying a hand over his eyes, closing them. Within seconds, Elrond's chest was rising and falling steadily as he lost himself in a deep, dreamless slumber. Nesial sighed, sitting back on her ankles. Yes... He would know.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It seemed to Elrond that when he woke only an hour or two later, that he'd been asleep for almost eternity. His head was still spinning a little, but it was nowhere as near as bad as it had been before. All he knew was that he felt warm and completely rested, and could sense someone to his right. He stirred a little, but was reluctant to open his eyes. The dark place he was in felt safe and secure, and he didn't know what lay past its blackened barriers.

"You awake Elf-boy?" a familiar voice asked chattily. Elrond frowned, but still didn't rise.

"Come on you lazy slob, let's be up with you," Nesial shoved him.

Mumbling and grumbling, Elrond opened his eyes blearily and propped himself up on one elbow.

"How long have I been asleep?" he asked, stifling a yawn.

"Couple of hours, give or take," dismissed Nesial carelessly, as she took another bite out of a bread chunk.

Elrond stared at her for a moment, as his eyes cleared of sleepy mist. She paused mid-chew to stare back.

"What?"

"You've changed." stated Elrond randomly.

"Oh - well, you've you," replied Nesial, returning to her food.

It was true, she had; the old, travel worn cloak was gone, replaced by an almost fitted, emerald velvet dress with a wide collar and low neck line, trimmed with gold. The sleeves were long and although slightly flared they were not like the elaborate dresses Elrond had seen his mother wear; they ended in a diamond point, so that a small loop of material was hoped over Nesial's middle finger like a ring to keep it on place. Her copper locks hung freely about her face, though slender braids ran through her curly hair.

Elrond glanced at himself a little self-consciously.

"Yes...well," he fiddled uncomfortably with his fingers.

"Oh don't be such a goose," she teased lightly, taking a draught from her goblet, "Besides; he wouldn't have seen you in those old clothes." Her eyes flickered with disdain to the pile.

"'He'?" questioned Elrond. "Do you mean Káno?"

Nesial nodded, but did not reply.

"He told me he wanted to speak to me tonight," he told her, dread filling his stomach like lead," Though I suppose it won't be night for much longer... But he said he had some other business to finish first -"

"- Yes well, he's a busy man you know, you can't deny that," Nesial interrupted purposefully, deliberately not meeting Elrond's eye. Right now, he was too preoccupied to care.

"What does want with me?" he asked quietly, swinging his legs around so he faced her, "Nesial?"

"I don't know; why would he tell me?" muttered Nesial distractedly.

Elrond frowned again, but didn't pester her. Stubborn, evasive, secretive woman...

For the second time that evening, the curtain swung open and Elrond recognised the lad he's met earlier standing on the threshold.

"My Master will see you now," he said tonelessly, staring at Elrond with unseeing eyes.

"What if I don't want to see him?"

The boy blinked.

"You must come," he said just blandly. It was as if he couldn't comprehend Elrond's answer.

"Best not to make a scene, Elf-boy," advised Nesial wisely, concreting hard on picking another piece of bread.

Grudgingly, Elrond rose to his feet, a slight fear now apparent in his previously numbed mind. Yet considering it was Káno he was being taken to see, he couldn't help but to wonder why he wasn't half as terrified as he had been earlier. With a last glance at Nesial, he stepped beneath the curtain's hanging and was shut off from the sheltered space behind him.

In the more open space of the hall, the orange glow was much brighter, though still subtle, and the air was far warmer, filed with the strong smell of unfamiliar spices and herbs. The smell hit him full in the face, almost making him fall back, and he had to blink a few times to stop it stinging his eyes. After a few moments he could follow the boy again, but he could feel the same sense of utter blissfulness weaving enticingly around his mind, and he gulped, wanting to dread what it could mean but finding he couldn't.

The boy was leading him to the bed he had seen earlier when he'd first entered the low roofed hall. A cloaked figure with white blonde hair was sat on it, turned to watch the fireplace, a goblet of blood red wine in hand. The phial of toxic green liquid was still on the table. The lad come up beside the men and bowed, keeping his eyes on the floor.

"That will be all, Adreg," said the icy cold voice.

Once again the boy bowed and backed off into another separated space, leaving Elrond and Káno alone.

For a few seconds, Káno did not stir or speak; indeed, Elrond began to wistfully wonder if he knew he was stood there at all.

"How are you feeling?" he enquired suddenly.

Elrond did not start; the herbs had long ago sent his senses past the point of usefulness, but he did not answer either.

Káno swivelled on the bed to face Elrond directly, twirling the silver goblet in his fingers. Beneath the black cloak, Elrond saw that he too wore a shirt of emerald green, and wanted to wonder about it, though it was clearly made of expensive and fine silk, woven with gold strands that caught the light and glistened.

"Answer me," he demanded.

"Tired," said Elrond simply, trying to avoid Káno's eyes.

"I told you to rest," sneered Káno, a malicious glint in his bright green eyes. "Come here," he ordered.

Impulsively it seemed, Elrond moved forwards until he stood straight in front of Káno, where he knelt down on the floor. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice half protested, but it was easily overridden.

The aroma of the herbs grew stronger.

"Good, good," laughed Káno quietly to himself, placing his goblet on the table and putting the other hand on Elrond's chin, tilting it up slightly to get a clear view of his eyes. Inwardly, a part of Elrond wanted to flinch away from him; but his body could not, or would not obey, and he remained perfectly still.

"You will feel a little light-headed, no doubt?" asked Káno, pulling his hand away to lean back and look at Elrond as a whole. He surveyed him rather like a meat sales man at a market, picking up on the best and useful features of an animal.

"Yes," replied Elrond, just as simply as he had done before.

"That will be the Kerathanol," grinned Káno, "A wonderful substance; as innocent and sweet as water; yet more deadly than Orc poison when over dosed - and there's no know cure... But do not trouble yourself," he laughed out suddenly, "You have had a diluted solution - just enough to make you manageable, I deem."

Something somewhere inside Elrond clicked - the water... Again, the small persistent part of his mind struggled to pull him back to his senses; but it was not use; it couldn't prevail.

"Oh its pointless fighting it," Káno told him delightedly, as though reading his mind, "As I said before, there's no known antidote and the effects last for hours. Oh yes, a wonderful substance..." Once more, his face lit up with a wicked grin as he pulled a large, crystalline glass from somewhere in the folds of the blanket.

"The thing about it is," he continued, pulling the stopped from the phial of livid green liquid, "Is that to completely subdue a mind, the amount administered to do so would kill them; which it where this comes in." He poured the substance, which seemed to glow slightly with a light of its own into the glass. It was thin and fast flowing, so that it hit the crystal and filled the cup with a supposedly sweet tinkling sound.

Káno held the glass up to the subtle orange light.

"This," he smiled triumphantly, a gleam of pure malice in his eyes, "This is a creation of my own; Darquaril. Tried and tested to perfection," he added with malevolence, and glanced in the direction that the boy servant had disappeared.

And at once Elrond understood.

"Now my pretty," breath Káno in dangerously low tones, and turning his attention back to Elrond he lifted the glass to the young man's lips. He laid his other hand on the back of Elrond's head, entwining his fingers in the long auburn hair, and smoothly tugging his head back a little.

"Drink up," he chuckled insanely and to his own horror, Elrond opened his mouth and began drinking the evil concoction. As soon as it hit his tongue he almost choked; the taste was foul and bitter, and it made the tender lignin of his mouth come on fire. Still, Káno pulled back his head further and further, tipping the cup up, pouring down the potion. He tried to cough and splutter, he tried to move his head or knock the glass; he tried everything to stop the man - but he could not do it...

"That's it, that's it," leered Káno, tipping the cup still further.

In a matter of seconds, the entire thing was drained, and Káno released his grip on Elrond's hair as he left the cup on the side. Elrond slumped forward, coughing and catching his breath, attempting to steady his breath. So far, although the potion had scorched his throat, Elrond couldn't feel any side effects; but he dreaded what would come.

And it did.

A sudden flash of light lurched across Elrond's mind, blinding him with a searing, unbearable pain, through every single fibre of his body. Caught off guard, he fell to the floor and writhed in pain, crying and screaming in agony, though he knew not what he said. It seemed as though the pain went on for eternity, as though white hot ten inch pokers were thrust deep into every bit of skin; Elrond felt sure that death was the only thing that would had released him from this endless torment, and gladly he would have greeted it.

Just when he knew he could take no more, with another jolt, the pain suddenly and unexpectedly abated; leaving Elrond gasping for breath on the floor, his chest rattling as he drew oxygen into his starved lungs. His face was wet and hot from tears - tears he hadn't even known he was crying.

He remained still on the floor, screwed into the smallest possible shape, blocking out everything... It only brought pain. He felt a presence kneel down beside him and strong, firm hands pulled him back up on his knees. Bloodshot eyes focused on Káno as he sobbed, his shoulders shaking violently, while he grasped Elrond's face with both hands and forced him to look the white haired man directly in the eye.

"I am Káno," he drilled in a deep, icy voice, as though trying to brand him with icy words, "I am your Master now. I am your commander. You shall obey every word, whim and thought of mine, and no others. You have no meaning in life; no existence worth anything; no life other than that which I give you; no purpose other than to serve me. You are worthless. But you are mine. I own you. You will never escape. If you disobey me, I will punish you in ways more terrible than words so that you will beg for death. You will refer to me as your Lord, your Master... I am your Master and Commander now."

As Elrond was forced to gaze into those deep, emerald eyes, it seemed to him that they began spinning... Spinning, growing larger all the time - whirls of green and gold - flashing and enveloping him - the light! The light, piercing, tearing, shredding, it was all around him!

"Who am I?" a strong, powerful voice demanded. It installed fear into every inch of Elrond's being and he quailed at it.

"My Lord, my Mater, my Commander," he whimpered quietly but quickly.

"Who am I?!" repeated the voice, deep and booming.

"My - my - My Lord! My Master! My Commander!" Elrond cried out, raising his voice as loud as he could, declaring to the world his binding oath. A harsh cackling filled everything in him, but he could not shudder, and the green light faded into the subtle, innocent orange once more.

Elrond was slumped against the force of Káno's hands, the only thing keeping him upright and off the floor.

"That's better," he whispered venomously, but allowed Elrond to fall forwards onto his chest, stroking his hair. Elrond was too weak, too spent to care - and all that mattered any more was that he pleased his Master. And he found he didn't want to care - not anymore.

"That's much better..."

Breathing in the scent of Káno's clothes, Elrond felt unconsciousness speeding up to great him, a great black oblivion rushing to take his waking mind.

"My Lord..." he mumbled. Yet even as he did so, his strength was finally gone, and the great darkness took him, and he knew no more.


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