“I’ll be the rock that will be strong for you,
The one that will hold onto you,
When you feel that rain falling down,
And there’s nobody else around,
“This just keeps getting better and better,” Will said sarcastically as raindrops began to fall from the choked sky.
“I just have to find the path again,” Elian replied; but she too was looking around hopelessly at the tangled, winding forest they had been wandering through since noon.
“You should be able to see it, you’re an elf,” Padric said.
“Oh, well that makes everything fine then does it?” Elian replied shortly. Padric raised his eyebrows.
“Sorry my Lady, I just thought-“
“People overestimate the skills of the elves sometimes,” Araviel said lightly; he didn’t want them to start fighting.
“You think he would have learned were not all powerful, since he raised one, but men have this undying respect for our kind, I don’t get it,” Will said as he jumped down from his horse, `accidentally’ slipped in the mud and fell flat on his face. He looked up at Padric.
“See, clumsy me,” he said with a grin.
“You did it on purpose boy,” Padric replied, but he too was smiling.
“How often are three elves lost not a league from Rivendell? Were not exactly normal,” Araviel said.
“I would hope you two would know the way to your own home,” Will said with a slight smirk.
“I’ve only been out of Rivendell once or twice,” Elian said. “Mithrandir always kept a close watch on me.”
“Imladris is not my home,” Araviel said shortly.
“Have you been there before?” Padric asked.
“I’ve come twice; the first time by another road, and the second I was unconscious,” Araviel said.
“Then where is your home?” Elian asked.
“The wilderness,” Araviel replied shortly.
“But where do you hail from? What is your father’s country?” Araviel shifted his feet uneasily; it seemed harder to keep the truth from her than it had been with others in the past.
“I popped out of the ground,” he said. Will and
Padric laughed as he grinned sheepishly, but Elian remained unmoved.
“Who were your parents?” she asked. Araviel was suddenly very sullen faced.
“What does it matter? I am not my father,” he said; there was an edge to his voice that indicated the conversation was over. Elian commenced searching for the path, Will leaned against his horse and looked up at the thick trees above him.
“I thought Rivendell was a valley; I can’t see the mountains,” he said.
“The mountains are hidden by the trees right now, but you can see them from within the valley,” Araviel said.
“Is it all they say it is?” Will asked. Araviel smiled.
“All that and more,” he said.
“Maybe my parents lived there,” Will said; his tone was light, but he gave an almost longing look to Padric, who sighed.
“Maybe Will,” he said, but he didn’t seem to believe himself.
“Where are your parents?” Araviel asked. Will shrugged.
“They gave me to Padric as a baby. My father said if they hadn’t returned in a month then-,” he sighed deeply. “They never returned.”
“I’m sorry,” Araviel said.
“It’s in the past. Padric’s my father now,” Will said with a final sigh. Araviel noticed Padric was looking at the ground. No one said anything; Elian was looking curiously at Will, who was staring decidedly at a tree. Araviel shifted his feet.
“Maybe we should get moving,” he said, he didn’t think he could bear the melancholy silence anymore. The other three looked relieved to have something to do.
“Where to now?” Will asked; Araviel was pleased to see his grin return.
“Anywhere, I’m tired of standing here,” Padric said.
“Straight sound good?” Elian asked. Will waved his hand in a forward motion. “Move out,” he said.
They mounted their horses and trudged forward at a slow walk; making their way timidly through the unknown forest. The light drizzle grew in fury as the day went on, but none of the travelers wanted to stop. Araviel was glad to have something to do; he didn’t think he could stand guessing answers to all the questions spinning around in his head.
Elian, tired out from the solid night and day of riding, slept lightly with her head nuzzled against his shoulder. Her dark golden hair was soft against his skin, and her lithe form trembled in the frigid air. Araviel cautiously unbound his cloak and wrapped it over her narrow shoulders; she sighed contently and nestled closer to him; sleeping against his chest. He shivered, and didn’t think it had anything to do with the cold.
The sun was sinking into the shadows by the time they arrived in Imladris. Several elves welcomed them with beaming smiles. Reluctantly, Araviel woke Elian and let two maidens lead her away. Will and Padric were shown to a guest room and Araviel was left alone in the courtyard. Far too used to this to care, Araviel led Liera away to the stables; glad that he could at last take proper care of his horse.
After brushing her shining coat down and overflowing her feed box with food, Araviel gave Liera a last carrot and left the barn. He was not a frequent visitor, but after his first arrival in Imladris, Elrond had generously given him his own room and it felt more like home than the wilds on a rainy night.
When he entered the familiar little chamber, it didn’t look as if it had been unoccupied for several years. His bed was lined with fine, fresh sheets and a silky blanket, there was a fire crackling merrily in the small hearth, a set of clothes had been laid on the small table, and a beautiful flower shimmered in the ornate vase. His face grew very red when he moved to unclasp his cloak and found it wasn’t there. As the thought of Elian wearing it crossed his mind, his face broke into a boyish grin that he couldn’t erase. He was very glad no one else could see him.
He pulled off his green jerkin and laid it carefully aside; it was ripped, bloody and wet, but the elves could mend it easily, and he had no wish to part with it. His long sleeved, blue tunic was unmarred and he left it on, glad that at least something of his had not been ruined by the two weeks with the men of Mordor. He looked to the little pile of clothing and was glad that there was a pair of green, loose fitting pants that replaced his torn brown ones very well. He pulled off his calfskin boots and laid them carefully beside his bed. He would go barefoot for a few days; no shoes fit him the way his own did and they were not harmed, just wet.
The breeze blowing in from the curtained window told him it was cold outside and, already shivering in only a tunic, he turned once more to the pile of clothing. He grinned when he saw a dark green, finely made jerkin folded neatly at the bottom of the small pile. He pulled it on quickly and fastened the three buttons running down the front; the material was light, comfortable and fitted him perfectly, stopping just below his knees.
He had never given much thought to his own appearance; he doubted whether he would have been treated differently even if he was handsome, but he decided, just this once, to look at himself in the mirror hanging over the table. The elf that stared back at him held, in his opinion, very little of the fairness of his race. His hair was less than well kempt, his frame looked starved and one of his eyes was surrounded by a blackened bruise.
“What were you expecting; prince charming?” he asked aloud as he turned angrily away from the mirror. He wondered at himself; since when had he cared about his looks? He tried to push down the thought, because it made his stomach tie in nervous knots, but Elian’s face kept swimming to the top of his mind, surely she would want a strong, handsome elf as the keeper of her heart, not a scrawny, wounded wanderer.
A last look at his starved, thin form convinced him he needed to build his strength up, and quickly. He turned and saw that a finely made, dark brown bow had been laid across his bed along with a quiver of handsome arrows. He smiled; Lord Elrond’s generosity was unending.
He picked the bow up carefully and gingerly tried pulling the string; it twanged loudly and snapped right back into place. He smiled, strapped the quiver to his back, admiring how well if fit him, and lighted quickly from the little room.
The rain was still falling when he reached his clearing, but it was gentle and steady, the howling wind and angry downpour had ended with the sunset. Araviel called the place his clearing, even though it truly belonged to no one. It was just a small open space in the woods behind the hall of fire where someone had set up a target long ago. He fingered the new bow excitedly; it was large and well made, bigger than his last bow, which was somewhere in the wilds south of the Shire now. The loss of his weapons had been quite a blow to him, and he was very glad to hold a bow once more. The knife Will had given him was tucked carefully into his belt. He missed his sword, but was glad that he was at least somewhat armed, even if there was no danger in Rivendell.
He pulled out a slim arrow, fitted it carefully to the string, and aimed. His keen eyes were focused straight ahead, at the small target. He let loose the string, there was a loud twang followed by a thump as the arrow sailed cleanly into the target. Araviel grinned; bull’s eye.
“You are skilled with a bow,” a clear voice said
behind him. Araviel whirled around sharply and he found himself staring, dumbfounded, at Elian. He felt a flush rising in his cheeks; she looked, if possible, more radiant than before. She had dressed in a shimmering, rose colored gown with a silver, leaf patterned belt about her slim waist. Her hair cascaded gracefully down her back and tumbled off her shoulders; framing her gentle face. Her blue eyes shined out brightly, putting the stars to shame.
“My lady, I did not see you,” he stammered.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said. He tried frantically to think of something to say, but couldn’t seem to find his voice.
“If you wanted to be alone-” she began.
“No!” he said loudly. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I just- you look beautiful Elian,” he said. She smiled warmly, and became ten times more lovely than she had been seconds before; Araviel suddenly felt at ease, nothing could be wrong when she smiled like that.
“Why were you out here alone?” she asked. The dark night thankfully hid the flush that rose in his cheeks; he didn’t want her to know he was trying to get strong again to impress her.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said.
“Me either,” she said wistfully while looking up at the trees overhead, shimmering in the pitter pattering rain.
“What troubles you?” he asked. She brought her gaze down from the heavens and rested it on his emerald eyes.
“You’ll think me a fool,” she said with a quiet laugh. He furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head.
“No, I couldn’t never think ill of you,” he said. She forced a small smile before continuing.
“I found out the date.” Araviel, confused at how the date could trouble someone, remained silent. “December twenty first. I know it sounds foolish,” she said apologetically as a few tiny droplets fell from her sapphire eyes, and weaved their way in among the raindrops. “It was twenty years ago today.”
“What happened twenty years ago today?” Araviel asked slowly. That date triggered something in his own memory, but he pushed the thought down; determined not to dwell on it.
“My parents left me here, and never returned,” she said as a few more tears fell.
“Who were your parents?” Araviel asked. Her sweet face rested on his own, and he felt flutterings of both sympathy and excitement.
“I don’t know. That’s what troubles me Araviel,” she whispered. He didn’t ever remember deciding to embrace her, but suddenly there she was, clinging to him, and his arms were wrapped around her. He laced his fingers through her hair and stroked it gently as she wept, her face buried in his chest.
“I just wish I had known them,” she said.
“I know what it is like without a parent,” he whispered, thinking of his own childhood for the first time in years uncounted. Reluctantly, as her weeping stopped, he loosened his hold on her and she slid away.
“You must think me most improper. I only just met you,” she said as she delicately brushed the last of her tears out of her eyes.
“No,” he said. “I feel as if I have known you a long
time,” he finished without thinking. To his immense relief, she smiled, and he felt a thrill as she laced her fingers into his own.
“So do I,” she replied.
His heart must have been acting for him, because he normally would not have had the nerve to do it, but before he could think his hands went round her waist; he stared straight into her sapphire eyes and felt that he was looking at Elbereth herself. Lost in her warmth, he didn’t feel the howling wind pick up, blowing icy cold rain all around them, pelting their faces and bodies with wet, frigid droplets. All he could think about was her, all he knew was that he wanted that moment, and their innocent, child like affection, to last forever.
“Are you afraid?” she asked him softly; her gaze never leaving his eyes. He wiped a loose lock of her golden hair away from her face and tucked it behind her delicate, peaked ear.
“Terrified,” he said. She smiled and he grinned boyishly back. Her hands, which she had kept by her side, moved; one grasped his hand and the other gently cupped his chin; her slim fingers tracing the line of his jaw.
“Don’t be,” she whispered.