“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee- and then on my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
Than then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
– Sonnet 29, William Shakespeare
Araviel had been a wanderer for most of his life, living sparsely, from the wilds, always on the move. He and Liera used to race with the wind, and he would sleep underneath only his cloak, pillowed up against her bulk, with only the stars as a roof, and only the whispering breeze as company. The Rangers lived in anonymity, protecting the small, fighting the strong, defending what they knew to be good and right. Araviel had followed their code, as best he could, though he had never truly been one of them. Estel is probably on the run right now, or perhaps fighting, sword in hand, or else wooing some princess, he thought with an annoyed frown.
He, on the other hand, was laying against the wall, his head pillowed against hard stone, his roof of the same material, able to move no farther than the foot-long reach of his chains. It was true, he had Elian, and that was better than the sweetest breeze or greatest adventure, but she was asleep, her head resting on his shoulder, and his extremities were growing numb.
I won’t move, he told himself. If I do, she’ll wake, and there’s no reason for her to. He looked around the dim room, and wished rest would come as easily to him.
His right foot tapped restlessly against the dirt floor, making no noise. It was unshod; he’d lost his boot somewhere along the way from the grounds of Orthanc to the dungeons beneath it, though he couldn’t remember when now. His toes were not a pretty sight; the nail was ripped clean off two of them, his big one had been smashed somehow, and his ankle was a throbbing, swollen, purplish
Some sight I’m like to make, he thought bitterly. Father would be so proud.
Well, at least he hadn’t buckled under the pressure of pain, and no matter how many things had gone wrong, he still counted himself among the most blessed beings for the heart he now possessed.
The reach of his arm was just enough to move his hand and gently, almost timidly, stroke her golden hair. She mumbled something inaudible in her sleep and shifted her light weight, so that her head rested now against his chest. Araviel welcomed the movement and shifted accordingly, so that his numb back and legs could slowly regain feeling.
“Still awake, Araviel?”
Araviel’s fists clenched involuntarily, and his arms tightened protectively around Elian, who sighed in her sleep and nestled closer. There was no mistaking that voice.
Saruman wasn’t in the cell, but he was just a turn of the key away; his black eyes gazed menacingly through the bars. He was alone, but Araviel knew he had guards hidden somewhere nearby.
“Don’t worry; I haven’t come to harm your pathetic wench,” Saruman said with a sneer.
Be stronger than your rage. It was old advice, an adage his brother had taught him when once they’d been in trouble together, and facing the wrath of their father. Araviel looked stolidly at Saruman and said quietly, his voice carefully emotionless, “Then what did you come for, Saruman?”
“Sauron wants you for something.” It was more than a comment. “Tell me.” It was more than a request.
“Call her a maiden,” he said in a low voice, “Call her a creature of the stars. Name her Elian daughter of Paladin. Call her beautiful and strong and gentle and smart, and I’ll thank you for your truth. Call her pathetic once more, and death itself will not quench my wrath, and nothing you or Sauron contrives will be enough to stem the flow of blood that will reek from Mordor and Isengard alike.”
Saruman’s face was calm, quite as if Araviel had politely inquired about the weather, but a stiffening in his eyes told all that he would not say. He smiled, more like unto a grimace than a gesture of courtesy, and said smoothly, “Her time will come, and you will be subject to my mercies. If it is the Dark Lord who gets the pleasure, you’ll be subject to his wrath, for mercy is as foreign a word to him as Valinor.”
“I won’t be seeing you there,” Araviel said, his voice a threat.
“Because you will never go there, not if Sauron has his way, and he will. Now tell me, for the girl’s benefit as much as your own; what does he want with you?” His long, bony fingers were clenching tightly to the bars separating them now, but Araviel thought the wizard showed no wish to enter the cell; whether that was for fear or no he could not have said.
Araviel resigned himself to the truth, not really knowing what Saruman’s intent was. “I think you know my father quite well. Revenge seems to be the Dark Lord’s intent.”
“That’s why he intended to capture you, boy. Do you think me a fool? You did something, something in the void, to arouse his wrath.”
“I think he’s aroused my wrath, not the other way around.”
“A foul painting on your neck is nothing, boy. You haven’t experienced true pain.”
“Clearly you’ve never been tortured by the Lord of the Rings,” Araviel said, his voice light despite the anger beneath his words.
“I laughed when I heard tell of it, but I didn’t
believe it was true until now; you really have the Dark Lor’ds Eye imprinted upon your skin.” Saruman favored him with a mocking smile. “Will you favor me with a show of this art, boy?”
“You think it a joke,” Araviel spat. “I think it an attempt to shame me. If that was Sauron’s purpose, he has failed utterly. It is my banner, my proof, and my reminder than men like you must be stopped, and will be, if I have anything to do with it.” Inwardly, he was wondering where Saruman had `heard tell’ of the blemish on his neck, but he made no show of it.
“I can see why Sauron was angered so easily. With a tongue like that, I’m surprised it hasn’t been cut off.”
“I have a knack for escaping in-tact.”
“You can put it to the test tomorrow then, for all I care. You’ll be on your way to Mordor, and my concern no more.”
And with that sour word, he left.
Araviel sighed, wishing there was something he could hit, or that he held a sword to swing around in anger. He sighed and tapped his foot restlessly; he could do nothing but stay still, and make sure that Elian was still peacefully asleep. He turned his head slightly, and saw the dim forms of Will and Padric, breathing heavily in the dank cell. He was glad none of them had heard Saruman’s words; best of friends though they were, they had no reason to know of the foul eye tattooed on the back of his neck.
Carefully, he lifted one hand, pulled it underneath his mop of hair, and massaged the place where the red eye had been drawn. It was throbbing as it had the day the needles had penetrated the soft flesh there, reminding him of the innocent, frightened boy he had been, and the bitter, vengeful youth he had become.
“My banner,” he said with a sarcastic grimace.
He closed his eyes, wishing that images of his fair home would flood his mind, or pictures of Rivendell in Spring. He wanted to hear the call of the wild gulls, and feel the salt wind on his face, to remember the fairness that lay somewhere beyond Isengard’s walls, and reassure himself they were worth fighting, and maybe dying for.
But when his lids shut tight, all he could see was a flaming red eye, all he could hear was a lone voice shouting, I stand here as an open enemy of you, your works and all those who serve you! And all he could feel was the heat of the flames, and the agony of the Dark Lord’s wrath.
Mordor, he thought with a shudder. Araviel opened his eyes to look at the dungeon walls instead. He didn’t need to dream about the black land, he would see it soon enough.