“I can’t really tell you what I’m gonna do,
There are so many thoughts in my head,
There are two roads to walk down and one road to choose,
So I’m thinking over the things that you said.”
There was only one thought in Araviel’s head as he walked numbly back down to his room. Why didn’t you kiss her? The question ran through his mind over and over again. He tried to make excuses by telling himself he barely knew her, or that respectable young elves didn’t start mouth to mouth just because they happened to run into each other. But deep within himself, he knew why he hadn’t done it. What if she didn’t really feel anything for him? What if she pulled away or ran off, leaving his arms cold and empty? But above all, what if he didn’t know how to kiss? He had never done it before. His cheeks, despite the pounding rain, reddened at the thought. He had fancied himself a man, now he felt more like a nervous boy.
He wished he had a friend his age to speak to about such matters, to tell him he did the right thing, or to laugh at him good naturedly and ask why he didn’t seize the opportunity, but the only persons close to being his friends were Estel, who was gone, and Elrond, who was like a father to Elian and wouldn’t be too pleased to hear that Araviel’s feelings were more than just of friendship and would think the whole endeavor too unadvised and sudden anyway.
He knew he would not be able to sleep, and instead went to the Hall of Fire, where he could think. The rain was still falling harshly outside, but within the vast chamber, the hearth was warm and the many chairs inviting. Araviel was soaked through, and shivered even in front of the huge, merrily crackling fireplace. He watched the flames dance and glow different colors, changing from orange to red to yellow and back again, mixing with hues of blue close to the large log in the center.
He relived those fleeting moments with Elian alone in the woods several times. She had walked up behind him, wept on his shoulder and they had embraced. He had actually touched her face, her golden hair and her delicate ear. They had been close, close enough to kiss, staring straight into each other’s eyes, and he just stood there and let the moments slip past until he reluctantly let her pull away. She put a hand on his cheek, said goodnight and then left him, standing stock still in the clearing, trying to murmur a reply and failing miserably.
He moaned and laid his head in his hands.
“Why did they have to capture me? If I was a better fighter, I never would have been taken and we never would have met, and none of this would have happened. I could have been on a ship to Valinor right now,” he told the dancing flames. His eyebrows furrowed in thought and he lifted his head. “But I’m glad I met her, I’m not quite so lonely now. Even if it’s agonizing, a full heart is better than an empty one.” He looked deep into the fire, watching it smoothly continue to move and shiver in the rain, oblivious to his predicament. “Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?” he moaned. “No one knows my troubles and I fear I can’t handle this one alone.”
Araviel’s eyes widened in shock and fear as of all people, Elrond walked into the room. He fairly jumped to his feet and then fell into a clumsy bow, terrified that the Elrond knew he had just been outside alone with Elian.
“My lord,” he stammered.
“Araviel I have known you most of your life, and have never seen you bow to anyone,” Elrond said as he placed a hand under the younger elf’s chin and raised his head up. Araviel tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace.
“What is troubling you?” Elrond continued in a smooth voice. Araviel tried to look confused.
“Nothing my lord,” he said in a soft voice.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lie either,” Elrond said with raised brows. Araviel looked down.
“Which is good,” the elf lord chuckled. “You’re horrible at it.” Araviel managed a small laugh, but was really too nervous to even fake mirth. How much of his speech had Elrond heard?
“I am no fool,” Elrond said as he sat down lightly in one of the chairs and beckoned for Araviel to do the same.
“I know that,” Araviel said as he dropped into a chair close by.
“Not many wars have swayed your course as quickly as the young maiden Elian,” Elrond said. Araviel’s cheeks reddened visibly and he looked once more into the fire, not trusting himself to speak. There was an oppressive silence that he was wholly unable to break.
“Look at me Araviel,” Elrond said. Araviel raised his eyes slowly and met Elrond’s grey ones fearfully; there was a fire in his bright eyes that seemed to have only increased with the many years etched in them. Araviel, already tired, grew exhausted under his stare.
“Do you love her?” Elrond asked in a calm, smooth voice.
Araviel couldn’t remember ever sharing his feelings and emotions with another person, much less such a mighty elf as Elrond. It was a strange concept that Elrond wanted to hear him, to listen to his petty woes. It took him almost a minute to build up the courage to slowly nod his head; his eyes still fixed on Elrond’s.
“Yes,” he gulped. He waited for the reprimand to fall; it’s too soon, you’re too young, you barely know her, but instead, Elrond chuckled softly.
“You look as scared as Aragorn did the day he told me about his love for Arwen,” he said. In spite of himself, Araviel gasped, but said nothing. Elrond gave him a long, sad look, and began to chant in a low voice.
“The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock – umbles tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.
There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven – river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.”
“The beauty of a maiden has ensnared many a strong lad, and it is the most wonderful trap you could hope to fall into,” Elrond said slowly.
“Aye my lord, but Luthien loved Beren back,” Araviel said hopelessly. “And with good reason, he was a man mighty and noble and strong. But what am I?”
“You know what you are, and so do I, but what you are is not who you are.”
“But what if she doesn’t love me at all? It is a fool’s hope, I’m just a wanderer and a Ranger, such titles mean nothing to the elves,” Araviel moaned. He was surprised at his own openness, but couldn’t stop now that he had begun pouring out his emotions.
Elrond smiled gently into Araviel’s agonized eyes. “You know in your heart that you are more than that, and it is only your stubborn pride that prevents you from becoming what you once were,” The smile faded from his face and he looked on Araviel as if he was his son. “You have had much sorrow in your life. Eru is kind and loves you as one of his children, I do not believe you are destined for yet more grief.”
“Then what am I destined for? You are foresighted, are you not?” Araviel asked. Elrond gave him a long slow, reflective stare.
“Why did you come here Araviel?” he asked softly. Araviel didn’t meet his eyes. “Besides of course, your lady,” he said with a small laugh. Araviel continued to stare adamantly into the fire, his cheeks now reddening once more.
“It’s not of any importance,” he said quietly.
“Nonsense, there is more on your mind than just a maiden.”
“I wanted to ask you about those men,” Araviel said in a small voice.
“What is it?” Elrond’s voice was smooth and even. Araviel scratched his head nervously.
“Why did they capture me?”
“Vengeance most likely, you know that. What is really troubling you my boy?” His face was kind, but Araviel looked down at the floor.
“When they argued over me, the leader looked at something on my neck, and said I was vitally important. During the journey, the men kept looking at the back of my neck and laughing,” he said. Elrond nodded as if this were the most normal thing in the world.
“It was probably just one of their `games.'” His voice had a little edge to it.
“I’m not concerned about the pain, I just don’t know what they were looking at.”
“Would you like me to see?” Elrond asked. Araviel
didn’t answer, but stood and pulled his pale hair up off his shoulders. Elrond got to his feet and silently examined his neck.
“How in Middle Earth did you get this?” he asked in a breathless, confused voice.
“What is it?” Araviel asked anxiously over his shoulder.
“It’s a tattoo of, of Sauron,” he said quietly. Araviel
gasped, dropped his hair and turned to face Elrond.
“Sauron! How did Sauron get to my neck? And what’s a tattoo?” Araviel spat out the foul sounding word.
“Has anyone ever put a needle in your neck?” the elf lord asked, doubtfully.
“No…” Araviel began, appalled at the question. But Elrond’s sharp gaze saw his eyes darken in anger at some bad memory that was clearly still tormenting him.
“What happened?” Elrond asked. He knew how Araviel bottled up painful memories and tried to forget about them. He could tell it had been a long time since he had allowed himself to think about whatever had occurred; Araviel’s eyes were narrowed, an unearthly anger shining in them. “Tell me exactly what happened, I know it’s not easy.”
Araviel let out a ragged breath, closed his eyes, and began. “It was ten years ago, I was fifteen and my brother was…older, a lot older than me. He was teaching me how to hunt, so we were off, alone in the woods. We were so concentrated on the task that we didn’t notice the orcs until they were all around us. They seized us and took us to one of their caves. I was in a shocked daze and could barely move for fear, but my brother struggled madly against them; cursing and yelling and fighting. They put him in a solitary cell, but I was left alone with the horde of orcs. They decided to- to play with me for awhile.” His voice was wrought with bitter humility. Elrond put his hand on Araviel’s shoulder.
“You were only a boy,” he said sympathetically. Araviel sighed deeply and continued.
“They tied me down and stuck something in my neck several times. I yelled and struggled madly, I pleaded and I cried, but it only egged them on. They shoved needles in my neck for perhaps half an hour. There was blood everywhere and that scared me even more. I yelled for my brother, my father, anyone to make the pain stop.” He rubbed his neck, grimacing.
“When it was over I just laid there in a shocked, aching stupor and they laughed all around me, cackling like the very fires of hell. It was like being in the clutches of Morgoth himself. Luckily, before they could abuse me further, elves from my home ambushed them and rescued us. I wiped away the blood, ashamed, and never told anyone what happened, ever,” he finished halfheartedly. Elrond nodded.
“Well, if you want to know the truth,” he began.
“I do,” Araviel interrupted fiercely.
“Those needles probably had ink in them. If this is so, that ink is now imbedded in your skin. You are lucky it is not in a more obvious place. It is a red eye; the symbol of Sauron,” Elrond said quietly. Araviel didn’t reply.
“Do you want to see it?” Elrond offered as he put a slim hand on the younger elf’s shoulder.
“No!” Araviel said savagely, he pushed the hand away and staggered to the window. He looked out below and saw the still falling rain. Only moments before he had been concerned only with a small, trivial meeting that had taken place out in that shower; his lovesick woes seemed minimal now. How quickly the warmth of the night had faded into the black storm outside. His face was hot and he was blinking back angry tears; without fail, every time anything good happened to him, it was always stripped away.
“How do I get it off?” he asked meekly, not even
turning around to look at Elrond, who was watching him quietly.
“You can’t, it is pierced into your skin, forever.”
Even if he had wanted to, Araviel couldn’t reply; his teeth were clenched tightly shut in rage. His whole body was quivering, hatred boiled up inside him; an all consuming, blinding hatred of the one who had so violated him. He turned around, raised his head and looked squarely at Elrond, his eyes flashing a vibrant, electric green.
“I swear on all that is holy, Sauron will pay.” There was a steely edge to his voice that had not been there before. Elrond’s grey eyes locked with his and he nodded, accepting the young elf’s oath.
Araviel rubbed the back of his neck roughly, as if the pain of ten years before was fresh once more on his marred skin.
“Sauron will pay.”