He bends to the pressure of my hands, submissive and compliant, though I feel the tension throb within him. His fingers reach out and splay across the rough bark of the tree trunk and he braces himself, waiting. His hair falls down either side of his face like a curtain; it is time.
My own fingers hesitate just for a moment, as if I might change my mind. But I am lost now; I cannot stop this. Deliberately and decisively, I take hold of his clothing and draw it down, laying him bare. He trembles slightly at the touch of my hand against his pale, flawless skin.
He utters not a sound as I start exacting my price upon his flesh. From the outset he is hurting, his breath comes short, rasping through his teeth or rushing from his panting mouth. I dare not look at his face; I keep my eyes fixed on the flesh before me as my strokes hit home, again and again.
He will not resist or flee, nor turn and fight me, for he submits willingly, for my sake. I marvel at his strength and detest my own weakness.
Too long have I sought the solitary life of a Ranger, and as I try to lead this quest Boromir tests me daily. He challenges my decisions, trying to steer me away from the road I know we must follow. Now Gimli too has started to argue, and the others hear only gainsay and dissent.
I struggle to keep control; not least on my temper, for on this fragile illusion all power depends. To this end I cannot allow anyone to break rank. So when the elf spoke unguardedly, throwing down the gauntlet to Boromir, I had to act. Discipline, control and order must be preserved here, whatever the personal cost.
The others heard me call him away; they watched him meekly follow me from the camp, and they knew he was to pay a penalty for his unruly tongue. They know him as a warrior, a prince of elves; they understand that if I can demand and receive respect and obedience from him, then it must be my due from them also.
Something which I too often need to remind myself. The elf knows this, even though he does not speak of it. And so he follows me to this shady glade, to this dark place in my heart, to whatever end.
I want this to be over quickly; I yearn to bestow that small mercy. I increase the rate of my strokes and I tilt his body downwards. He grunts and sobs in pain. Now we are both breathing hard and sweat stings my eyes. Only a man can think brutality is a path to mercy.
Only a man. My thoughts mock me.
At last it is over; I am spent. He leans against me, gasping in relief and I crush him to my chest, holding him tightly as my blood cools. He is completely undone by what he has endured at my hands. Tears of remorse course down his face as I comfort him. He calms slowly and then sighs as I hold him close, stroking his hair, swallowing my own bitter tears.
Ai Elbereth! How can I do this to one so fair, so gentle and good?
Eventually he stirs, speaks reverently the words of atonement, and asks for my forgiveness. I tell him he has done nothing for me to pardon. Guilt overwhelms me, and tears well up in me once more.
It is I that should seek his forgiveness. And yet I know although unspoken, he gives it freely. I hug him again and this time he comforts me.
He knows that I needed to do this, and somehow that makes it right; makes this act both sacred and profane. He knows me so well, this elf, this warrior, this friend. It makes me ashamed; I am humbled by what he bears for my sake.
He knows the true nature of sacrifice.
He walks a lonely road, to assuage the fears and weakness of a driven mortal. A being of light, bound to a heart of darkness, imprisoned from the daylight's gold.
In my mind's eye I saw all too clearly the bliss of dappled woods and sunlit ways he has forsaken; for us, for this Fellowship, and for me.
And I wept for him.