“There is no curse in elvish, entish or the tongues of men for this treachery.” – Treebeard
Araviel, straight backed and completely still, uneasy within the room of black metal and stone, traded a sideways glance with Elian as the wizard poured wine into four identical golden glasses. She gave him a slim smile which he returned slowly, no twinkle in his bright eyes; he was still nervous and alert, watching Saruman’s placid face carefully. With a small, unobtrusive gesture, he told her to not say anything, that he would speak first. She gave the slightest of nods.
“Tell me,” Saruman said in a low, melodic voice, “What brings three elflings and a man to Isengard in the dead of winter?” His voice was friendly enough, Araviel’s lips curled upward in a small smile of welcome relief, glad to hear the amiable tone of the kind old man.
“We come seeking your wisdom and knowledge, Master Istari,” he said before any of the others could speak. Saruman turned to him and asked, “What would you have me tell you?”
Before Araviel could respond, Will broke in, “My sister and I were raised by different households in separate corners of this world and thought ourselves orphans. Just recently have we discovered our relation to each other. You of all who walk this earth would know who our sires are.”
“And who are you, lad?” Saruman turned to Araviel.
“I am their guide, though I have a few questions of my own as well.” Araviel was at ease, but not enough to give his real name to the wizard, who knew his father well.
“And you?” Saruman asked, indicating Padric.
“I raised him,” Padric replied.
“You have the look of Gondor, are you akin to Estel of the North?” Saruman asked in a friendly voice. Araviel doubted Padric even knew who Estel was, but was surprised when he said, “I know not my lineage.”
“Where is your homeland, your father?” Saruman seemed mildly interested, and eager to help, but Padric looked stubbornly at the ground and said, “I will not speak of it.”
Araviel’s eyebrows knit together in concern and he gave a quick glance to Will, who indicated with his eyes that this was typical.
“Very well,” Saruman said, turning his attention once more on the elves, he asked Will, “Do you have any knowledge of your parents?”
“They left him with me, saying only that they had to flee and would not be able to care for him,” Padric said, “They both had the look of Lorien.”
“I was left at Rivendell, in the care of Elrond,” Elian said.
“And how did you two find each other?”
All four travelers faltered and looked at one another. With a silent thought that passed from face to face, they decided to let Araviel speak.
“Myself and Elian were captured by men of Sauron. Will and Padric, who were at the time on an errand to Imladris, saw us amidst the filth and rescued us from them.”
“Will and Elian? Are those your names?” Araviel nodded, eager
to give the Istari as much information as he could, Saruman seemed almost overly concerned. “Well that is bizarre, what would the Dark Lord want with two elflings?” he asked, perplexed.
“That was my question,” Araviel replied.
“Tell me, was this the only encounter you had with such men? Speak,” Saruman’s voice was eager, Araviel thought, so eager to help and care for even strangers. He continued, “No. I was first captured by another group, though I do not know whom they served. When the two met, the others had Elian. Fighting broke out between the two groups, over me and Elian. Sauron’s men prevailed and we were en route to Mordor when Will and Padric saved us.”
“And we had been captured by giant, man-sized orcs before that, which is why we were going to Elrond’s house,” Will added.
“But what would Sauron want with three such unobtrusive, young elves and a quiet, traveling man of no country?” Saruman asked, looking politely puzzled.
“That is one of our questions, but not one we would expect you to answer,” Araviel said with a small smile, “Only those in league with the Dark Lord know his full purpose.”
Saruman returned Araviel’s innocent smile with a slim smirk as he said, “Indeed.”
The grin on Araviel’s face faltered.
“Let me fill in the holes of your story,” Saruman said with a mocking grin. All four travelers visibly stiffened, the spell cast over them by his voice broken. His tone had changed to a curt, almost laughing one and Araviel was suddenly very aware of how powerful the Istari was, much more powerful than three mere elves and a man.
“Your parents knew something that was not wise for them to know, and they fled into hiding, but wished their children to escape a life of pursuit. Naturally, evil would be following you two, those that serve Sauron would want to know where your parents are. You,” he indicated Padric, “Would also know of their parents, having met them before their flight. And if my guesses are correct, for I see more of your minds than you might wish me to, you,” he turned his dark eyes on Araviel, “Have done much damage to Sauron’s hordes and would naturally be wanted out of the way.”
“How do you know this?” Araviel burst forth, “Is power given to you to know the minds of Sauron and his slaves?”
“Yes,” Saruman said with a malicious grin, “And their parents knew it, which is why I sent men and Uruk Hai to bring them to me. I was dismayed when I heard of your escape, and wondered if I could ensnare such elusive wanderers, and now here you are, all three of you, walked willingly to my very doorstep.”
Before Araviel had time to digest this information, several things happened at once.
Araviel took a step away from Saruman and towards Elian as the glass she was holding slipped from her hand and shattered upon the ground. Without waiting to hear more, both Padric and Will made to draw their swords but, with lightning precision, huge, burly men stepped out of the shadows of the room, hidden by the darkness of the walls, and laid hold of their arms. Araviel, for the moment untouched, lunged forward at Saruman and grabbed a hold of the wizard’s throat. A blast of white light shot through the room and Araviel was thrown backwards against the far wall. Saruman pointed his long, white staff squarely at Araviel’s chest, holding him immobile on the floor as his friends were despoiled and disarmed. He heard Padric struggling and a hard hit to the chest, which resulted in a whoosh! of air, leaving his friend gasping and heaving.
“You three will stay here until I gain the information I captured you for,” Saruman said in a disgusted voice, “But you, young guide, son of a hated father,” he leered and smirked at Araviel, who snarled angrily and pushed all his strength into jerking against the pressure radiating invisibly from the staff. He tried to open his mouth and speak, but the power of the White Wizard kept his throat closed and allowed no words to escape the writhing prisoner. No evidence of the battle raging between wizard and failing elf was seen except a small trickle of sweat that dripped down Araviel’s brow. Saruman took no notice and said simply, “To you, I offer a choice.”
Araviel stopped, Elian was still. The only sound in the room was the ragged breathing of Padric, who was bent over in pain and the muffled gasp of Will as he tried to speak and was silenced.
“Join with us,” Saruman said, his deceptive voice once more tantalizingly smooth. Araviel wished he could cover his ears so as not to hear the mind-bending tone of his evil words, but he was pinned, immobile, he wouldn’t have been able to lift a finger. He closed his eyes and tried to block out all sound as Saruman continued, “Your father will be brought to justice for the wrongs he has committed against us. Would you not also like to punish him for his crimes?”
Araviel stiffened visibly, but his eyes remained shut. Don’t give in he told himself in a stern voice, but the melodic one floating over his head told him all would be well if he just listened and heeded what the white wizard told him. No! his inner heart screamed. Yield! the voice was strong now, and powerful, terribly, horribly powerful.
“Imagine the power you could have if you were allied with such strong ones. The light is weak, do not let it torment you with lies of love and loyalty and joy, there is none of that for you. There is one word that defines you, Araviel, and it is hate. It consumes you, it begins at your core and radiates into your very flesh; not love, not happiness, there is no joy in your path, only hatred, ill will and malcontent. There is one who made you this way, who stripped you of all honor and dignity, who made you an exile and banished you from your home. Imagine what you could do to him, were you on our side.”
Saruman’s staff could keep Araviel from moving, but it didn’t stop the hot tears that began, involuntarily to pour down his cheeks. What had his life, once so full of promise, become but a search for vengeance and a flight from his past? He had one motivation and it was spurred by hate and fueled by an anger so deep it penetrated the very core of his immortal soul and made him question who he was, what he was, what he had become, and what he would continue to be.
“Leave him alone!”
Elian…Araviel tried to form the word on his sealed lips.
“Get away girl!”
“Araviel!” her voice was dim, as if coming from far away, but it
was hers, and it was so beautiful in the world of dark surrounding him. So loving and gentle, yet firm beneath the frail, pretty outer shell. And she stood next to Will, whose look of defiance would be firmly imprinted on his face, and Padric, whom Araviel knew did not feel an ounce of fear. His friends stood watching him, pitying him and trying to help him as best they could. They cared not that his past was riddled with sorrow, that his family was torn, that he was as good as an exile and his hate had become the only influence in his life. They loved him all the same, and he loved them fiercely, as a brother, a son, a companion and a guide. And he loved them back.
There was no choice; Araviel felt a slight release of the pressure on his chest, enough for him to open his mouth and choke out a word. “No!”
He tried to yell, but his voice was cut off as soon as the syllable was out.
“We are who we choose to be,” Saruman sneered, “Even if it be a slave to a cause as frail and brittle as the one you have decided to fight for.”
“He’s not a slave!” It was Padric’s voice this time, and it rang out loudly in the stone room. Araviel couldn’t turn his head to see the look on his friend’s face, but he heard the anger, bitterness and resentment in his voice.
“What would you know of it, mortal?” Saruman asked
scathingly, obviously angered by the defiance in his prisoner’s tone.
“He’s not a slave,” Padric repeated, lower and softer, but harder this time.
Araviel heard the blow, Padric’s cry, and then a horrible silence fell.