Bittersweet Melodies - The Forgotten Saga of Araviel - Chapter 11

"Stars of summer night!
Far in yon azure deeps,
Hide, hide your golden light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Moon of the summer night!
Far down yon western steeps,
Sink, sink in silver light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Wind of the summer night!
Where yonder woodbine creeps,
Fold, fold thy pinions light!
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!

Dreams of the summer night!
Tell her, her love keeps,
Watch! while in slumbers light,
She sleeps!
My lady sleeps!
Sleeps!" ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

**********

It was amazing how fast Araviel, Elian, Will and Padric became friends. Araviel often had to remind himself that he had only known them for a month, their companionship seemed lifetimes long. Will, with his lighthearted, young soul and merry demeanor became as a brother to the rather melancholy Araviel. Padric, although of a different race, was the father Araviel had always wished for. And Elian...Araviel smiled at the mere mention of her name, for her gentle face, sweet smile and kind heart were the center of his beloved new world.

They never went to sleep until well past dusk: between Araviel's stories, Will's jokes, Elian's cheerfulness and Padric's rustic, but hilarious sense of bizarre humor, they found rest rather uneventful and overrated and spent hours instead laughing, talking and getting to know each other better. They became a family and a fellowship within themselves, with no need for outsiders to penetrate the close bond that had been forged between them.

The night after their sojourn to Lothlorien they found themselves camped not too far from the Golden Wood, but with enough distance between the inhospitable elves that Araviel had forgotten his previously bitter mood. Will had set them all laughing by relating the story of the ent's rescue to Elian who, in spite of her pity at their predicament, couldn't help laughing at Will's description of the event. If Padric had seen it somewhat differently, he hadn't yet seen fit to intervene with the true facts: Will's additions made the tale highly amusing.

"I'd never seen the likes of him before, and I asked him, I said, 'What in Middle Earth do you think you are?' and all he said back was, 'I think I'm an ent, though I could be mistaken. I'm rather disoriented, it's not usual that I find an elf that can't ward off a few orcs!' Of course, I retorted indignantly, telling him that it wasn't my fault, it was the mortal's (You can't blame me, I was highly affronted). Now the ent didn't know Padric was still lying down there, and he jumped clean out of his bark when he heard Padric squeal at the sound of his name and then, if you'll believe it-"

"Fairies appeared out of nowhere and flew us all into the star studded twilit sky, where we met Lady Elbereth and danced with her!" Padric said sarcastically. Will grinned sheepishly as Elian and Araviel doubled over in laughter, "All right," Will conceded, "I might have gone a little overboard."

"A little!" Padric ejaculated, "From my point of view, you were the one doing most of the squealing, which is why the ent spotted you and picked you up. I had enough sense to stay quiet, and escaped a ride in the tree's hand."

"An elf squealing in fear of an ent!" Araviel said with a grin, "That's something I've not heard of."

"And the mortal outscoring the elf as well," Elian laughed.

"Yes, we mortals have a very raw deal," Padric replied, "We're the best at swords, bows, knives, building, war, singing, dancing and just about every other skill, except for you elves, who surpass everyone in everything."

Will grinned and said, "Padric's the exception, he's better than me at most everything. His swordsmanship rivals Elendil and he's quick as any Galadrhim with a bow."

"Where did you learn to fight so well?" Araviel asked, naturally interested.

There was a small pause in which Will looked imploringly at Padric, as if he had asked this question before, and not been granted an answer. Padric, suddenly sullen, looked into the fire and said, "I'll leave it up to your imagination."

"That's what he's been saying for nigh on twenty years," Will said with a malicious grin, "Come on Padric, give us the tale!"

"As soon as Araviel tells me why he's been exiled," he retorted. Will and Elian turned and gazed imploringly at Araviel, who naturally objected to the compromise.

"I haven't been-" he began hotly, but then stopped, grinned and said, "I'll leave it up to your imagination."

**********

It was well past midnight when the group finally settled down to rest. Araviel offered to take the first watch, knowing his companions were far more fatigued than he was. He had been on many journeys far longer and faster and in fouler weather than this one, and did not begrudge the others a chance to sleep. He was getting rest enough just singing quietly to himself and watching Elian's clear blue eyes stray down the paths of her peaceful dreams. Even if he did not hold her heart, Araviel would keep Elian safe.

He stood, one hand loosely grasping his bow by slim fingertips, the other holding his green cloak closed. It was well made and on this rather cold and blustery night, Araviel was glad of its extra warmth. He pulled the hood up over his pale hair and slunk back a little further into the shadows surrounding their camp, not wanting to be seen from afar by unfriendly eyes, and focused his attention on the sleeping form before him. Elian had braided her deep golden tresses into one long, thick mass of shimmering locks that tumbled playfully down her back and framed her fair, exquisite face. Even though she was dressed in clothes not unlike his own, her radiant, feminine beauty stood out among the wild trees and sleeping men. It was not possible for a creature to be more resplendent that she was at every moment, resting or awake. Araviel did not dare close his eyes for fear that something or someone might disturb the peaceful dreams of his love.

"Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of valor, the country of worth!
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer,
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high-covered with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below,
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-purring floods!

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer,
A-chasing the wild deer and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go."

He sang softly, in a wavering voice, to the peaceful maiden he was watching over, the tune that many a wanderer had upon his lips, words that had been penned long ago and had, in time, become a sort of ballad for the Rangers. As for Araviel, he loved the simple tune and hearty words, giving him new strength for yet another journey. In his heart, Araviel always had been and always would be a wanderer, and he felt at home on the narrow, grass covered trails of the unexplored wilderness. He smiled as he looked around the friendly darkness, watching a wisp of idle cloud float lazily over the grinning moon. Yes, he thought to himself, this was his home.

He pulled from beneath his brown jerkin a thin, glowing silver chain and the small green amulet upon it. It was an emerald, leaf-shaped jewel wrought upon a circlet of mithril and interlaced with a thin vein of gold. He pulled the strong chain over his head and fingered the precious trinket fondly, admiring the way the mithril and green caught the soft light of the stars and glimmered innocently in his pale palm. The necklace was the one object linking him to his old home. He should have thrown it away as quickly as he had cast off his old life, but something had always kept him from doing so, although he was not sure what.

"Quit being nostalgic," he reprimanded himself softly as his strong fingers closed about the jewel. He made as if to toss it into the surrounding grass, but instead lifted the chain and settled it back around his neck. He picked up the glistening jewel that was now lying upon his chest and pushed it underneath his tunic and jerkin so that the cold mithril rested against his bare skin. He hadn't given his old home a thought in a few days, but Haldir had reminded him sharply of who he was, what he was and where he came from.

Crackle.

Quicker than all but elves could have seen, Araviel jerked upright with a start, and lifted his bow. With a swift movement, he had an arrow out of his quiver, which was still upon his back, and was fingering the feather shaft absently while holding the weapon at the ready, looking vigilantly around the silent camp. Who had made that noise? It couldn't have been too far away, but it was unmistakably the cracking of the contents of the forest floor, as if the previously silent carpet of grass and twigs had been stepped on.

Araviel spun around at the noise of a few crackling leaves behind him and pointed his arrow directly where the noise had come from.

A small gasp, then a trickling sigh of relief escaped him; his arrow was pointed stolidly at Padric, who had over in his sleep and cracked a few leaves and twigs scattered beneath him. Araviel smiled and lowered his bow.

For a moment, he had been so sure that...but it was nothing. In the stillness of the dark night, not a breath of wind stirred and no sound came from the ominous wilderness surrounding them.

Araviel inwardly laughed at his foolishness and turned once more to face the country surrounding their camp. But he quit his singing, kept an arrow ready and did not lower his bow.

If anything wants to harm them he thought as he looked back at the peacefully dreaming forms of his new found friends, they'll have to reckon with me first.

**********

They rode through the stone gates into Isengard two days later. As fun as the journey had been, Araviel was glad that tonight he would sleep in a real bed after eating a full meal. The hospitality of Saruman was legendary, and the wizard's friendship with Araviel's family ensured that he and his companions would be well taken care of.

He looked around him with a satisfied expression on his face. The green, well tended gardens that surrounded Orthanc tower were enough to quench the longing of any elf. It was inbred in him to take joy in such beauty, it reminded him somewhat of the quaint halfling country, the Shire, where the green woods and little hills gave way to peaceful farms and good, tilled earth. Isengard was a place of elven beauty, peace like unto the Shire, the wisdom of the Istari and the ancient strength of Númenor. He turned to look at Elian, who was staring wide eyed at the trees.

"Araviel," she whispered, "It's beautiful."

Padric was looking at the tower with a longing expression on his face, Araviel smiled, knowing how mortals reveled in the legendary strength of the men of Westernesse. The Rangers had spoken often of the lost prowess of their ancient, but downfallen race, and the remnants of the glory of Gondor moved them more than even the elven trees and woods they sometimes walked.

"Araviel, it's Him," Will, who had been staring fixedly at the long staircase extending down to the path they had halted upon, said. Araviel turned to look at the stair and saw at the top an old, wizened figure clad in pure white robes, a long well made staff in his right hand.

"Hail Saruman!" Araviel called in a high, happy voice.

"Well met, elf lad," the wizard replied as he neared the travelers. Araviel pulled back his hood, not sure if Saruman would remember him by countenance alone and the wizard's face broke into a smile that did not reach unto his cold, dark eyes.

"Ah," was all Saruman said.

A small, cold tendril of ice dropped into the warm happiness that had been welling within Araviel as Saruman returned the elf's innocent smile. As he watched the pale, pointed face of the wizard welcoming him, something told Araviel to turn and run from the powerful man before him, but he ignored the primal urge and dismounted from Liera, who was pawing restlessly at the earth, as if nervous. Araviel inclined his head in respect; he would give his old acquaintance the benefit of the doubt, knowing great ones such as Elrond, Mithrandir and Galadriel trusted the White Wizard.

"Ah," Saruman repeated with the same cold, unnerving grin as he lighted down the stone stairs, "I've been expecting you."

Disclaimer - The lyrics to the Ranger song were written by the poet Robert Burns, I claim no ownership.

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