“I’m falling even more in love with you,
I’m letting go of all I held onto,
I’m standing here until you make me move,
I’m hanging by a moment here with you.
I’m living for the only thing I know,
I’m running and I’m not sure where to go,
And I don’t know what I’m diving into,
Just hanging by a moment here with you.” – Lifehouse
The hours passed in the dreary darkness of the cell, with nothing but Will’s occasional bad jokes to breach the river of boredom that had descended upon the three prisoners.
“Okay, this one`s really good. How long does it take a dwarf to go the bathroom?”
“I don’t know,” Elian said wearily.
Elian stared at him, a look of murderous annoyance upon her face. But Will collapsed into a fit of laughter, his bright eyes twinkling merrily, his broken body heaving with sobs of laughter. He had a gash across his left cheek that had been healing over; the grin across his face cracked it open and blood came trickling out and down his face, giving him the look of some evil, cackling imp.
“Do you get it?” he asked between chuckles, his voice breathless. “It takes nine months to have a baby!” Elian wondered if it was her father or mother that had given him his sense of humor…or lack thereof.
“Still not funny,” she replied in a flat voice.
“Come on!” Will drawled. “Saruman hasn’t killed us yet. Now, an elf, a man and a dwarf walked into a tavern-“
All things considered, Elian was quite relieved when the door opened, if only for the reason that it brought an abrupt end to Will’s comedic routine. In came six or so of the huge, burly orcs Saruman called “Uruk Hai”, murderous looks on their faces. Will, suddenly not quite so jovial, took an instinctive step back, badly-concealed fear in his eyes. He had braved the first interrogation, but clearly wasn’t ready to face another. Elian was quite suddenly wishing for as many bad jokes as her brother could come up with, if it meant he was spared another questioning.
But that wasn’t what the Uruks had in mind. Instead, they made a solid wall between the prisoners and the door, keeping the three curious captives from nearing another, smaller orc, who walked in with a limp and bloody form slung over his mottled shoulder.
The face was concealed behind the orc’s grotesque back, the clothes unrecognizable, covered in blood as they were, but Elian knew at once the locks of flaxen, straight hair that tumbled down the back of the figure, though they too were matted with blood.
“Araviel?” she screeched in disbelief.
One of the Uruks shot her a venomous look, and Elian shifted her feet so that her face was carefully concealed behind Will’s shoulder. His hand found hers and he squeezed it tightly, his action saying Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe. Slightly relieved, she closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his shoulder blade.
The sound of a hard kick followed by a low moan echoed around the small cell, jarring her to action. Elian tried to take a step forward, but Will held on tightly, pushing her back.
“Don’t,” he hissed in a whisper. Elian released a ragged, anxious breath, but remained still.
There was a loud ringing and plink plink of chains, followed by another kick.
“Wake up!” one of the guards ordered.
“Get off me!”
Elian’s lips curled upward in a small smile of relief to hear Araviel’s angry, brave voice once more.
“He’ll live,” one of the men said nonchalantly. Will was
holding so tightly to Elian’s wrist that she winced in pain and, horrified, Will let go. He gave his sister an apologetic look and she reached up to wipe away the blood staining his cheek, her gesture telling him she was not angered. He flinched as her hand brushed raw skin and she pulled back, wishing there was more she could do for her brother.
“Come on then,” the leader of the Uruks said. “He’ll wake soon enough.”
“Can’t we play with the wench?” the smaller orc said as he directed a disgusting, leering smile at Elian. Her heart beat sped up considerably and she scooted further behind Will, who raised his arms protectively over her. Padric took a step forward and was on the point of retorting when the lead Uruk said, “You heard the orders. It’s Lugburz for these wretches. They’re supposed to heal before He has his way with them.”
The little orc smiled again and looked straight at Will, who was now fully concealing Elian. “And you won’t be able to defend your little girlie there, boy.”
“And who’s going to defend you?” Padric growled as he took another angry step toward the orc; he was not much of a threat, unarmed and with a head wound, but the Uruks had gone on. The orc fearfully slammed the door of the cell shut, but peered in through the bars.
“You might have kept your silence this time, elf-whelp, but you’ll crack soon enough,” he growled to Will, who bristled in anger.
“Remember your words well, orc,” he spat, his jaw taut with contempt. “You will rue them one day.”
“You’ll beg for death before the end.” And the orc was retreating down the hall, his slumped shoulders causing his whole body to walk with a limping, loping, very grotesque gait.
But Elian was barely watching. As soon as the orc was out of the way she fled to the opposite corner of the cell and to her knees, dropping down next to the figure sprawled out on the floor.
She hastily concealed a gasp of fear and shock, for, laying before her on the cold stone of the cell, was barely a shell of what had once been the fiery and fierce Araviel. He was covered, literally covered, in blood; it soaked through his torn clothing, ran freely down his bruised skin and was matted in his tangled, disheveled hair. It seemed as if his entire body had been blackened from blows, he was covered in whip slashes and his hands, attached to the wall by thick manacles, were clutching at his chest, his face locked in a grimace of pain.
Will and Padric stood stock still, their surprise poorly concealed, their worry even less so. But Elian, undaunted, tore toward Araviel and dropped to her knees next to him. Without speaking, she took his bloody hands in her own, and he clutched at them feebly, lifting his vibrant eyes to gaze into her own.
“Are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Saruman didn’t hurt you, did he?”
`No,” Elian began, flooded with love for his unselfish, brave heart. “But-“
He smiled. In spite of what must have been horrible agony throbbing through his entire body, he managed a both sincere and loving smile for her. He lifted a shaking hand and rested his fingers nervously on her face; his thumb sought a stray tear that had pushed its way out of her eyes and he carefully brushed it away.
But that seemed to have been it for Araviel’s spent strength. His smile, so sweet and innocent, faded from his face. It felt as if the sun had left the world, leaving Elian in the darkness of a lonely night. She watched quietly, her tears still falling freely, as he slipped once more into a black oblivion.
With shaking hands, she carefully brushed a stray lock of hair out of his blackened eyes.
“Rest well, beloved,” she whispered. “And wake up soon.” Her voice was low, almost pleading, and choked with tears. “Please.”
Araviel’s descent back into reality was slow, painful, and dark. He couldn’t remember who he was, what he was, where he was going or why, why in the world he had dared to defy the Dark Lord. All he could remember were the blinding shoots of agony rendering his body as weak and limp as a wet rag. All he could see was the darkness, the void, and the blood flowing all around as fiery chasms attempted to engulf him. All he could feel was the wrath of Sauron surrounding him, encompassing him, forcing him to yield, making it so that resistance was not only futile, but foolish, meaningless, and, in the end, worthless.
Why? Why did he try to do the impossible? What was one elf to do against such reckless and all-consuming power? How could anyone, even Elrond, stand up to such might? Surely the power of Melkor himself had been re-manifested within this Sauron; how could any of them, save the Valar alone, hope to stop him? And Araviel was a silvan elf, whose people forsook the call long ago; he had never witnessed the sight of Illuvatar, or the light of the Valar, excepting the voice of Elbereth.
Elbereth. The word appeared as the softest of caresses as it fell gently from his lips. The fairest of the Valar, the Starqueen, with the light of the diamond jewels of the night in her shimmering curtain of hair, with the voice of the first summer lark, the wild melodies of the ocean, and the sweet whisper of the wind all mixed into her song.
What was it, that she had sung to him in that other world, in Imladris, on a sunny day, when it was safe to hope, and safe to dream, and safe to live, in a world where evil would be defeated?
Go with the wind at your back and the sun on your face,
With a song in your heart, and the promise of grace,
Go with peace, and in truth and let love lead the way…
It was faint, like the tiniest flickering spark that shines for a brief moment, then dims before the force of the wind. But as the light of truth will show in the darkest of nights, in the deepest forest, or the depths of even Sauron’s void, it took shape, and the tiny flame of hope could not be ignored.
Rest now, my child. The voice was the same, as delicate as a newborn dove, and yet as strong as a tall, gnarled and old oak tree, it spoke of renewed life, of overcoming the shadow, and somehow, some way, of hope; hope to redeem the past, to overcome the present, and to restore the future.
Rest now, thou hast still a long task ahead of thee.
“Araviel?” The voice was dim, not quite as strong, or as melodic, but all the more beautiful for the familiarity it carried. The hand on his fevered brow was cool; it wiped away the tiny beads of perspiration forming there, and then moved slowly to lightly caress his bruised, swollen cheek.
“Araviel, wake up.”
It took a moment for the words to register, and for Araviel to discover that the voice was not one of the demons of his nightmares, or the haughty, booming, wrath of Sauron’s, nor did it carry the sickly sweet melodies of Saruman. It was youthful and strong like his own, but light, high and feminine. It was the most beautiful song he had ever heard. It was Elian.
No longer content to rest feverishly in the shadows, he slowly cracked his eyelids open, just a sliver, just enough to see her face, to behold the ocean eyes and the pale skin, the light tinge of rose on her cheeks, and the smile that slowly curled her full lips upward, and traced a healing path all the way to her sparkling, tear-filled eyes.
“Elian-” he breathed, his words no louder than the faintest whispering breeze.
The light was dim, the frigid air had set them both shivering, and his numb hands told him he was chained to the wall. His whole body ached, he was trembling with fever and blood was flowing freely from his many wounds, creating small, scarlet streams on the cold, stone floor. But she was so beautiful, so radiant even amidst the dim light of the dungeon cell, that none of it seemed to matter anymore. All that Araviel was concerned about was the hand on his cheek, and the other resting within his own, all he saw were her eyes, blue-grey like the sea. And nothing, not Sauron, or Saruman, not his father, or what was to become of them, nothing mattered anymore. Nothing except the bond they had forged between them, an oath taken only in words, but stronger than the sinews of the earth, that would stand firm before the breaking of the world, that would last beyond anything a meddling wizard could hope to conjure.
Her hand moved slowly, unlacing itself from his fingers, and floating along his shoulder, down, to rest on his chest, where Sauron’s hand had cut a gash that was bleeding through the torn fabric of his tunic, and onto her white fingers.
“What happened?” she asked, her voice a mere whisper, her hand still light as ever.
“Doesn’t matter,” Araviel said in a low voice, as he shifted his own hands. He couldn’t hold himself back any longer, not when she was looking at him like that, not when such a light was in her eyes, and such a promise filling the air. He moved his hand, dancing up her neck to slowly, firmly, rest along her thin cheek. His thumb was tracing a small circle on her smooth skin, feeling the warmth and softness of it beneath his fingertips.
And slowly, like a gentle spring rain cleansing the muddy, torn, lands below, her tears began to fall, to glide smoothly down her face, unchecked, unmarked, and Araviel traced them with his fingertips, feeling the warm, moist water beneath his calloused hands. His mind had no knowledge of it; his heart had taken control.
“You’re crying,” he said, his voice a mere whisper as he felt droplets escaping the prison of his eyes.
He knew not what he wept for, he knew only that it healed something deep inside him to finally let go, to unloosen the chains he had put around his own heart as he at last let someone enter the chambers within.
Elian moved closer. Araviel felt his muscles grow taut; his back was straight against the wall, and yet she moved a step, and then another, until she was resting within his arms, her small, delicate form a light weight against his chest. Her head rested calmly against the top of his shoulder, her golden crown of hair just barely touching his chin. His arms slid around her, the chains just barely long enough for him to surround her in his embrace. It was as if their forms had been forged for the purpose of one day holding each other like this, fitting perfectly together; two halves of one whole.
“I love you,” he whispered, relishing the feeling of those words on his lips.
Through her tears, in the darkness of the dungeon, surrounded by his bleeding, chained arms, Elian smiled, the sweetest gift she could ever have given him, and her mouth opened in a small, merry laugh. Sauron himself could not have held them back now. Araviel’s moist lips were on her laughing ones before his thoughts caught up with his emotions, and when she did not resist, he pulled her closer, lacing his fingers through her soft, silken hair as her own wrapped around his neck. Her mouth was soft, warm, and yielded bravely to his own, a whisper, a breath, as delicate as the slight wisp of a spring breeze, scented with blooms and flowing joyfully through him, a promise of renewed life to come.
The battle could not be over yet. Araviel had two oaths to fulfill now, one to his honor, and the second, more important one, to the maiden whose sweet eyes were looking trustingly into his own now. Both were as strong and binding as the roar of the ocean, both as enduring as Feanor’s flame, and he accepted them with a smile, and a grateful prayer to the Valar above, who had been found generous enough to give him the greatest gift of all.
“Do you think Elian remembers that we’re standing right here?” Will asked Padric quietly, as a wry smile slipped across his face. He stood next to his foster-father, leaning on his left leg, the other bent in front of him, arms crossed disapprovingly over his chest. His eyes, always attentive and interested, were watching his sister and his friend, both of whom were sitting in a rather scandalous position on the floor, heads buried together beneath a mass of interlinked flaxen and honey-colored hair. Will hadn’t seen either one’s faces in a good five minutes.
“Let them have their fun,” Padric replied. “We’ve had precious little of it, these past few days.”
Will cocked his head to one side, still looking interestedly at Elian and Araviel, who were now whispering quietly, little laughs escaping them, light like the stars themselves in their dancing eyes. “Some people get all the luck,” he mumbled.
“How so?” Padric asked.
Will took a moment before replying. “I get tortured and wake up to you two, he gets tortured and wakes up to a kiss from the love of his life. Something seem somewhat unfair to you?”
Padric’s crooked grin was full of unspoken laughter, but he said nothing.
“Well, not that many women would have me now,” Will mused, a falsely pensive expression on his face. “I’m all covered in scars.” He ran a finger along the line of his cheek, where a gash still wept blood.
“Araviel has his fair share of those as well,” Padric said, “And scars always make for a gallant story.”
“There are stories and there are stories,” Will replied, “Would you have me wooing the maidens with true ones, or not-so-true ones?”
“Depends,” Padric replied.
“On how good you are at lying.”
“And I’m supposed to believe that you, a man of honor and with no wife, know a great deal more about this than the likes of me?” Will balked.
“Aye,” Padric said with a grin. “Just ask all the maidens in Rohan. They’ll tell you all about that Balrog I slayed, and the Princess I saved, and the King I supped with. Oh, and the Dragon I-“
Will rolled his eyes, and slipped to the floor, as far away from Araviel and Elian as possible. “Well I personally thought the dwarf jokes were more entertaining,” he mumbled to no one in particular.
A small smile slipped across his face. “Nine months,” he said quietly, and began to laugh.