"What if the Cauldron was wrong?"
Or, why I believe the Cauldron gifted Elain and Lucien to each other at Hybern, so they could BOTH have a second chance at a Mate.
Please do not screenshot this post without permission.
Disclaimer: all opinions are my own, and make no claims of being canon. This post is not anti any character, but it aims to discuss the underlying dynamics of the following relationships.
Many readers of the ACOTAR series have noticed not only the natural chemistry between Elain Archeron and Azriel, ever since they met in the human realm, way back in ACOMAF when Elain was still a human, but also the distinct lack of chemistry between Elain and her Cauldron-gifted mate, Lucien Vanserra; Azriel and Elain also appear to display much stronger examples of SJM-style “mate behaviour” than do Elain and Lucien, which has, understandably, led to some confusion within the fandom.
Given Lucien didn't react as a mate would on seeing Elain restrained and threatened at Hybern - as Cassian did with Nesta, and as Rhys did Under the Mountain with Feyre - until Elain was released by the Cauldron, I think it is safe to assume that his bond with Elain did not predate her being turned fae.
Why would the Cauldron choose Elain for Lucien, when she is so different to his first love, Jesminda? Jesminda, whom he thought was his mate, and with whom he was just waiting for the bond to snap…
Why not choose Azriel, when Feyre herself said how well matched he and Elain would be?
What sequence of events happened at Hybern that led the Cauldron to so royally screw up?
This post is pro “all the involved characters,” as well as being pro Elriel, and pro Vucien, but anti El*cien - please don’t read any further, if you aren’t open to a twist on the multiple mates theory.
TW: for mention of canon violence, kidnapping, murder and other mature themes and events.
Jesminda and Lucien Vanserra
Jesminda was Lucien’s first love, their story ending in tragedy thanks to his abhorrent father. Back in ACOTAR, Tamlin told Feyre about Lucien’s past, and included the fact that Lucien had actually suspected that Jesminda was his mate, though no bond had ever snapped into place for them. While this appears to shut down any chance of them having been mates, a closer read of the text demonstrates that it may have actually been the case that they were.
“Lucien fell in love with a faerie whom his father considered to be grossly inappropriate for someone of his bloodline. Lucien said he didn’t care that she wasn’t one of the High Fae, that he was certain the mating bond would snap into place soon and that he was going to marry her and leave his father’s court to his scheming brothers.” A tight sigh. “His father had her put down. Executed, in front of Lucien, as his two eldest brothers held him and made him watch.” - Tamlin, ACOTAR, chapter 18
Then, early on in ACOMAF, Lucien relayed his own story to Feyre in a misguided - at best - attempt to explain Tamlin’s actions to her (Lucien’s role in Feyre's trauma is a complex subject that involves his own trauma, and would deserve a whole post on its own by someone able to expertly discuss the topic - I am not a mental health professional, so I won't elaborate). As we have come to expect from SJM's mated couples, there are often parallels in stories, behaviours and phrases used that become obvious during a re-read; the following passage informs us that Lucien heard Jesminda's heart stop beating, and that he heard Feyre's neck snap when Amarantha killed her Under the Mountain - but there is no mention of him hearing Feyre's heart ceasing to beat. We know that it did, because Rhys felt her die.
“I was forced to watch as my father butchered the female I loved. My brothers forced me to watch.” My heart tightened for him—for the pain that haunted him. “There was no magic spell, no miracle to bring her back. There were no gathered High Lords to resurrect her. I watched, and she died, and I will never forget that moment when I heard her heart stop beating.” My eyes burned. “Tamlin got what I didn’t,” Lucien said softly, his breathing ragged. “We all heard your neck break. But you got to come back." - Lucien, ACOMAF, chapter 3
Firstly, how strong must Lucien be, to have gone on after losing Jesminda, whom he loved like a mate, even if she wasn't one? Although, as I mentioned, I suspect that she was. Feyre and Rhys found the experience so terrible that they made a pact to go out together, rather than experience it again - and they only felt the loss for a fraction of the time that Lucien has known without Jesminda. Secondly, why then, if Lucien could hear Jesminda's heart beating, was he unable to hear Elain's heartbeat, his supposed Cauldron-gifted mate, as she sat next to him in the polarising scene in chapter 24 of ACOWAR (that I will discuss later)? Contrast this to Rhys' experience of the events Under the Mountain, when Feyre, his then-human mate, was killed by Amarantha. Like everyone present, Rhys heard Feyre's neck snap, however, he also felt her die.
"If you were going to die, I was going to die with you. I couldn’t stop thinking it over and over as you screamed, as I tried to kill her: you were my mate, my mate, my mate." “But then she snapped your neck.” Tears rolled down his face. “And I felt you die,” he whispered. Tears were sliding down my own cheeks. “And this beautiful, wonderful thing that had come into my life, this gift from the Cauldron… It was gone." - Rhys, ACOMAF, chapter 54
The wording isn't identical, possibly because it would make the link too obvious, and SJM wants to keep us guessing, but it can't be a coincidence that Rhys and Lucien, whose stories with Feyre and Elain have such strong parallels (Rhys' bond with Feyre snapped when she was already in love with Tamlin, as did Lucien's bond with Elain when she was engaged to Graysen etc.), each mention that they felt or heard the moment that Feyre and Jesminda died.
There are also small analogues between Elain and Azriel, who many suspect were intended mates, until the unfortunate series of events that occurred at Hybern, and Jesminda and Lucien. Elain has, to date, not uttered Azriel's name once that we've heard, in the entire ACOTAR series - and here we have Feyre mentioning that Lucien hadn't "spoken her name" before, when he was telling her about Jesminda… and this was only after the Cauldron (we assume) mated him to Elain. Both males have also said that they "didn't care" that there were reasons why they shouldn't pursue a relationship with their respective partners.
“After Jesminda, they would.” Jesminda. He’d never spoken her name. Lucien slid between the swaying, bobbing stalks. “She was one of them.” The words were barely audible over the sighing barley. “And when I didn’t protect her … It was a betrayal of their trust, too. I ran to some of their houses while fleeing my brothers. They turned me out for what I let happen to her.” Waves of gold and ivory rolled around us, the sky a crisp, unmarred blue. “I can’t blame them for it,” he said. - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 11
One theme that seems to reoccur among ACOTAR's males is that, after meeting their mates, and realising that they're mated, they tend to stop seeking out partners for sex, and find it hard to "stay away" from their respective mates - we saw both Rhys and Cassian go through this with Feyre and Nesta, Lucien was unable to stay away from Jesminda, despite the wishes of his father, and Azriel is in the middle of this struggle now (assuming, of course, that he and Elain are "true" mates). The point is, that mated males tend to be loyal to their mates, even before the bond has been accepted, and Lucien demonstrates this devotion to Jesminda yet again when decades - maybe even centuries - after her death, he still feels like his bond with Elain is a "betrayal." On the other hand, Lucien does seem to be able to stay away from Elain, with Feyre noting that he doesn't seem to be interested in "bridging" the gap between them (ACOFAS).
He just wanted a walk—and a few books. It had been an age since he’d even had free time to read, let alone do so for pleasure. But there she was. His mate. She was nothing like Jesminda. Jesminda had been all laughter and mischief, too wild and free to be contained by the country life that she’d been born into. She had teased him, taunted him—seduced him so thoroughly that he hadn’t wanted anything but her. She’d seen him not as a High Lord’s seventh son, but as a male. Had loved him without question, without hesitation. She had chosen him. Elain had been … thrown at him.
She was the most beautiful female he’d ever seen. Betrayal, queasy and oily, slid through his veins. He’d said the same to Jesminda once. But even as shame washed through him, the words, the sense chanted, Mine. You are mine, and I am yours. Mate. - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 24
In addition to Lucien being able to sense Jesminda's heart as it stopped beating, the loyalty he still holds for her - and everything else that I have mentioned - the events that occurred as he fled to the Spring Court after Jesminda's murder also hold some parallels to the actions of Rhys' father after his mother and sister were murdered. Rhys' father - and Rhys - killed Tamlin’s father and two brothers, who were responsible for the deaths of his mother and sister, though Rhys' father also murdered Tamlin’s mother, despite her innocence (as Rhys said later, he could be cruel). While Lucien is obviously not to blame for the circumstances, as he was defending himself, the end result was that he - and Tamlin - killed two of his own brothers, who were there when Jesminda was murdered. This makes me wonder if Lucien will play a role in the death of Beron, whom he assumes is his father - perhaps in partnership with Eris, the only brother who seems to care for him?
So, it could be a big stretch, but given the textual evidence, I don't think it's completely implausible to consider that Lucien and Jesminda may actually have been "true," or "original" mates, just as Elain and Azriel were intended to be (theoretically, at this point), before Beron had her killed. As to why this hypothetical mate bond didn't snap between Lucien and Jesminda: we know that two fae can know each other for years and not even realise they were mates until they slept together, even if they were in love - such as Kallias and Viviane. We also know that two mates can have a lot of sex and, even if both suspect they are mates, the bond wouldn't fully snap into place until they were emotionally ready - such as Nesta and Cassian. Given the stress Lucien and Jesminda must have felt, with regards to Beron's approval of their relationship, I don't think it's too out there to assume that their bond might not have snapped into place because either (or both) of them were not in the right place to allow it to do so.
This is why the Cauldron deemed him an acceptable choice for Elain. Not only is Lucien a decent male at heart, with strong powers to rival her own - from both his mother, and Helion's suspected Day Court magic - but he no longer had a mate of his own in existence. Lucien was a safe choice for the Cauldron to make for Elain, as Elain was for him, as Azriel had been struck with a faebane coated ash arrow, and the Cauldron thought him dead, when it gifted Elain with both her powers and a new mate.
Elain Archeron and Azriel
Many people have outlined the individual instances in which Azriel and Elain display the typical attraction, trust and defensiveness of successfully mated couples from both the ACOTAR and TOG series; there are many, so I’ll be as brief as possible (Reader, I'm sorry; I truly tried, but this is not short), but the running joke - that Azriel and Elain have consistently behaved in a more “mate-like” manner towards each other than any canonically mated pair in ACOTAR - exists for a reason.
From their very first meeting, when Elain's dress matched the blue of Azriel's cobalt siphons, Feyre noticed that Azriel closely observed Elain; she saw that he noted the anxiety that Elain couldn't quite hide, the tight grip on her fork giving her away. This behaviour was then mirrored in the way Cassian watched Nesta as she ate; it's subtle, but both couples were demonstrably drawn to each other from the start.
A faint smile bloomed upon Azriel’s mouth as he noticed Elain’s fingers white-knuckled on that fork, but he kept silent, focusing instead, as Cassian was subtly trying to do, on adjusting his wings around a human chair. - ACOMAF, chapter 24
Elain, in turn, was able to read Azriel, and she trusted what she saw. When it looked as if the discussion about sleeping arrangements might be heading south, Elain looked to Azriel to gauge the situation, and relaxed when she saw that he wasn’t too stressed.
Rhys chuckled, Cassian’s wrath slipping enough that he grinned, and Elain, noticing Azriel’s ease as proof that things weren’t indeed about to go badly, offered one of her own as well. - ACOMAF, chapter 24
Azriel then showed a huge amount of trust in Elain when they shared tea in the townhouse garden, early on in ACOWAR, where he was both relaxed and comfortable enough around her to sun his wings in her presence. I have discussed this scene before but, for an Illyrian, who would have been taught from childhood to protect his wings at all costs, making himself - his wings - so vulnerable demonstrated the inherent trust that Azriel has for Elain, and mirrored the same trust that Rhys had for Feyre, when he allowed her to see his wings - and told her of his love of flying - towards the end of ACOTAR. Aside from the vulnerability, this wing-display could also be classified as peacocking, though Azriel, unsurprisingly, was much more discreet than Cassian, who not-so-subtly showed off his wings to Nesta, in chapter 29 of ACOWAR.
Elain sat silently at one of the wrought-iron tables, a cup of tea before her. Azriel was sprawled on the chaise longue across the gray stones, sunning his wings and reading what looked to be a stack of reports… - ACOWAR, chapter 24
One of the underlying themes that SJM uses between her mated characters is that they inherently tend to seek each other out. As Rhys said to Feyre in chapter 54 of ACOMAF, and Cassian said about Nesta in chapter 17 of ACOWAR - the only two examples of this phrase being used in the first three books and novella - they couldn't "stay away." We then have Azriel, in his bonus chapter of ACOSF, thinking that he had been right to "stay away." While this may initially sound like Azriel admitting to being able to keep away from Elain, unlike Rhys and Cassian ultimately being unable to avoid Feyre and Nesta, we know that Azriel is struggling with it, and it mirrors both Rhys and Cassian living through periods of separation from their mates, before they eventually came back together.
Additionally, before the events of solstice in ACOSF, Elain and Azriel did seek each other out; the time they spent together was most likely where the small touches and glances that Azriel mentioned in his bonus chapter occurred. Of course, for the rest, we only have the snapshots that we saw narrated through Feyre, Nesta and Cassian's eyes, but there were mentions of Azriel choosing to spend time with Elain from ACOWAR onwards, culminating first in their lengthy late night chat at solstice in ACOFAS, then in their rendezvous after everyone else was asleep at the next winter solstice, in ACOSF.
Azriel and Elain remained in the sitting room, my sister showing him the plans she’d sketched to expand the garden in the back of the town house, using the seeds and tools my family had given her tonight. Whether he cared about such things, I had no idea, but I sent him a silent prayer of thanks for his kindness before Rhys and I slipped upstairs. - Feyre, ACOFAS, chapter 22
Azriel might not care about gardening - or he may, we have no idea - but what is certain is that he does care about Elain, and I think we might find out that winter solstice in ACOFAS was when he started to fall for Elain as more than a friend; it may have even been when their touches and glances began.
Touch is another theme that ACOTAR's mates have in common, and it's something that Azriel often seeks from Elain, perhaps without even knowing he's doing it in the beginning. For a list of all the times Azriel sought Elain's touch in ACOWAR, look no further than this heartwarming post, but perhaps the most iconic example is when Azriel carried Elain, bridal style, in through the front door of the townhouse; this has led many to suggest that Elain and Azriel will eventually live in the townhouse, given Nesta - and Cassian - were gifted the House of Wind.
Azriel arrived first, no shadows to be seen, my sister a pale, golden mass in his arms. He, too, wore his Illyrian armor, Elain’s golden- brown hair snagging in some of the black scales across his chest and shoulders. He set her down gently on the foyer carpet, having carried her in through the front door. - ACOWAR, chapter 24
In addition to mates seeking "touch" from each other, terms such as wanting to “taste” and “smell” them are also common. Cassian's bonus chapter in ACOMAF, Wings and Embers, held strong parallels to Azriel’s bonus chapter from ACOSF, in that both Cassian (and Nesta) and Azriel (and Elain) began with the woman/female initiating contact, followed by the male wanting to beg on his knees to touch, smell or taste her.
... there was taunt enough in it that she placed a brazen hand on his chest. - Nesta, W&E
Slowly, Elain pivoted into his touch. Until his palm lay flat against her neck. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
Every instinct in his body came roaring to the surface, so violent he had to choke them with a brutal grip or else he’d find himself on his knees, begging her for a touch, for anything. - Cassian, W&E
He’d beg on his knees for a chance to taste it, but Azriel just stroked her neck again. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
Cassian breathed in the smell of her into his lungs, stirring his c*ck as it latched onto some intrinsic part of him and sank its talons deep. - Cassian, W&E
Her arousal drifted up to him, and his eyes nearly rolled back in his head at the sweet scent. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
A low laugh broke from those lips, which he’d been fully prepared to taste, to devour— - Cassian, W&E
Just this taste (kissing Elain) in the dead of the longest night of the year, where only the Mother might witness them. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
The brief Lucien POV from ACOWAR demonstrated that he also ran through these instincts, upon seeing Elain for the first time since Hybern and, finally, we saw that Rhys also touched, smelt and tasted Feyre when they were acting as Keir's distractions at the Hewn City, when Azriel was stealing the Veritas in chapter 42 of ACOMAF, though the instances are too spread out to quote concisely.
Touch her, smell her, taste her— The instincts were a running river. He fisted his hands at his sides. - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 24
In addition to the instincts I just mentioned, mates also act to protect and defend each other. Feyre rescued Rhys from Hybern's soldiers in chapter 49 of ACOMAF, not long after Rhys had vowed to tear the world apart to rescue Feyre if Lucien had taken her against her will, in chapter 48.
I sipped from my wine. “And if he had grabbed me?” There was nothing but uncompromising will in his eyes. “Then I would have torn apart the world to get you back.” - ACOMAF, chapter 48
These words are then repeated, in a fashion, by Azriel in ACOWAR, after he realised that the Cauldron had captured Elain. At this point, they had only been friends for a few months, and both were still dealing with their past loves (Mor and Graysen). This always struck me as too strong of a reaction to Elain’s kidnapping, when her own sisters were not nearly as enraged; concerned, upset, angry - yes, but not enraged… nor did their eyes glow golden.
And what Hybern would do to Elain, might already be doing— From the shadows near the entrance to the tent, Azriel said, as if in answer to some unspoken debate, “I’m getting her back.” Nesta slid her gaze to the shadowsinger. Azriel’s hazel eyes glowed golden in the shadows. Nesta said, “Then you will die.” Azriel only repeated, rage glazing that stare, “I’m getting her back.” - ACOWAR, chapter 64
Elain also acted to defend Azriel in turn, when, in the middle of their escape, as Hybern’s hounds were attacking Azriel as he attempted to fly them to safety - as well as coaching Feyre to fly! - she used her bare feet to kick them off Azriel’s back and wings. This demonstrates that the instincts to protect and defend go both ways between Azriel and Elain.
Azriel’s roar echoed off the rocks as the hound slammed into him, dragging those shredding talons down his spine, his wings— The girl screamed, but Elain moved. As Azriel battled to keep them airborne, keep his grip on them, my sister sent a fierce kick into the beast’s face. Its eye. Another. Another. It bellowed, and Elain slammed her bare, muddy foot into its face again. The blow struck home. - ACOWAR, chapter 65
Many people have analysed the following scene, but it is so quintessentially Elriel, that here it is again. Azriel gave his knife, Truth-Teller, that he never let anyone else handle, to Elain; then Feyre the Prophet used mate-like language to describe it acting as a “bridge” between the two of them. If this was just Azriel being generous, why not give Elain any other knife? This scene also parallels the moment that Rhys armed Feyre, in chapter 19 of ACOMAF, before they visited the Weaver’s Cottage. It seems that mates instinctively protect their partners, but also arm them as well, as a contingency plan.
Azriel, still limping, merely nudged aside Cassian and extended another option. “This is Truth-Teller,” he told her softly. “I won’t be using it today—so I want you to.” …
Elain’s eyes widened at the obsidian-hilted blade in Azriel’s scarred hand. The runes on the dark scabbard. “It has never failed me once,” the shadowsinger said, the midday sun devoured by the dark blade. “Some people say it is magic and will always strike true.” He gently took her hand and pressed the hilt of the legendary blade into it. “It will serve you well.” “I—I don’t know how to use it—” “I’ll make sure you don’t have to,” I said, grass crunching as I stepped closer. Elain weighed my words … and slowly closed her fingers around the blade. …
I saw the painting in my mind: the lovely fawn, blooming spring vibrant behind her. Standing before Death, shadows and terrors lurking over his shoulder. Light and dark, the space between their bodies a blend of the two. The only bridge of connection … that knife. - ACOWAR, chapter 69
As Nesta said in chapter 1 of ACOSF, “Most males bought their wives or mates jewelry for an outrageous Winter Solstice present,” and what do we have Elain receiving from both Lucien and Azriel? Jewellery. From Lucien, a pair of pearl earrings - the meaning of which was discussed in this post - that don’t bode well, and from whom she shrank away… and from Azriel, a personalised necklace, which she asked him to put on her, and then leant into his touch. Let me make it clear that I don’t think Lucien is “bad” for getting Elain a gift; I think he is stuck in this bond as much as she is, and that is what pains him, but I will elaborate further down. What I do find interesting is that Elain seems to lose her identity around Lucien; Lucien rarely refers to her by name, and even Cassian labels her as Lucien’s mate.
He and Lucien did not exchange gifts, though the male had brought a gift for Feyre and one for his mate, who barely thanked him after opening the pearl earrings. - Cassian, ACOSF, chapter 58
But tonight, here in the dark and quiet, with no one to see.. . He pulled the small velvet box from the shadows around him. Opened it for her. ... "It's beautiful," she whispered, lifting it from the box. The golden faelight shone through the little glass facets, setting the charm glowing with hues of red and pink and white. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
The ability to communicate without spoken words is something else that we have seen SJM’s mates have in common; Rhys and Feyre were doing this well before Feyre knew that they were mates, a prime example being at Feyre’s intended wedding to Tamlin, when she panicked and sent it down their bond, “help me, help me, help me,” unintentionally calling Rhys to her “through whatever magic was between” them (ACOMAF, chapters 4 and 5). Azriel and Elain, apparently, are no different; in his bonus chapter, Azriel let us know that he doesn’t need his shadows to “read” Elain, and Elain, in turn, instinctively knew the reasons behind Azriel choosing to avoid her.
Elain's large brown eyes flickered, well aware of all that. Just as he knew she was well aware of why Azriel so rarely came to family dinners these days. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
Azriel’s apparent ability to both see and smell the mating bond between Lucien and Elain should not, as far as we know, exist - mating bonds that haven’t been accepted should not be detectable by anyone other than the pair of mates in question - and I discussed this further in an earlier post. The fact that Azriel can sense it, and it’s enough to make him so uncomfortable that he had to stay by the door, is a massive hint that something more is going on, and we will have to wait for their book to find out.
Are Elain and Azriel carranam? Mates? Both? Something else entirely?
Because her mate had been in the family room and Azriel had needed to stay by the door the whole time because he couldn't stand the sight of it, the scent of their mating bond, and needed to have the option of leaving if it became too much. - ACOSF, Azriel’s bonus chapter
And finally we get to my favourite of Az’s lines in ACOSF, when Cassian was - understandably - at risk of spiralling down into his worry about Nesta, and Azriel reassured him that even though Nesta was at risk in the Blood Rite, she was still alive.
He tapped his brother’s chest with a scarred hand. "Right here - you'd know, Cass." - Azriel, ACOSF, chapter 68
This line, when first read, was a beautiful example of Azriel comforting his brother through his concern about Nesta (and Emerie and Gwyn). Azriel rarely opens up emotionally - according to Rhys, he typically only does so once Mor has pestered him past the limits of his patience - so it is significant that he'd talk about so vulnerable a thing around Cassian, to help ease his mind. However, once the emotional dust from the final few chapters had settled, it stuck in my mind, as I know it did for many others.
What does it mean, as far as mating bonds go? How did Azriel, who has had no mate of his own mentioned throughout the entire series, know what it would feel like when a mating bond goes silent? We know from Feyre’s perspective, in chapter 77 of ACOWAR, after Rhys - temporarily - sacrificed himself to repair the Cauldron, that she felt an emptiness in her chest and soul, “at the lack of that bond, that life.”
I believe that Azriel may have felt the same thing when Elain was captured by the Cauldron, then “contained” by the steel chains that glowed violet, even if he could not identify what he was experiencing at the time. I would love to know the point at which he realised what that feeling, or lack thereof, truly meant.
It was Azriel who asked softly, “What about Elain?” and let her sisters know that she wasn’t accounted for; it was Azriel who vowed, with rage in his stare, that he was “getting her back;” it was Azriel who could, I suspect, no longer feel what Elain was feeling, so rage rippled off his invisible form when he couldn't tell whether or not the screams from the tortured humans were Elain, why he asked her if she was hurt; it was Azriel who did not put Elain down as they walked back into the camp, even though he was bleeding out - I assume he needed the physical comfort of her presence; and, finally, it was Azriel who made sure everyone knew that removing the spelled chains that Elain still wore was a priority, before he finally let himself be taken to a healer, only once Elain was back in the arms of her sisters (ACOWAR, chapters 63 to 65).
I suspect that the faebane coated ash arrow that Azriel took to his chest in chapter 63 of ACOMAF, when everything at Hybern went south, along with the containment spells that the King of Hybern had in place at the time, spells that blocked Feyre from sensing Rhys through their own bond, led the Cauldron to assume that Azriel - despite the fact that he shouted, back arching, when Elain was selected to go first into the Cauldron (chapter 65) - was either dead, or close enough to being so, that it no longer considered him a viable option for a mate, and he was replaced by Lucien.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Elain Archeron and Lucien Vanserra
From the moment they met, which we can safely assume to be one of the worst of Elain's life - and not high up on Lucien’s list, either - Elain and Lucien were thrown at each other. Neither expected it, or even appeared to want each other very much (despite Lucien’s cultural investment in the bond, he has never been very emotionally enthusiastic about Elain herself), and the situation between them hasn't got any better since.
Lucien told Elain that she was his mate in a moment that Elain will (probably) forever associate with her trauma. Lucien was not to blame for the bond snapping into place, or for inadvertently blurting out that Elain was his mate - I'm sure he was as shocked as she was - but we cannot blame Elain for not moving past this association. Contrast this with when Rhys and Feyre's bond snapped, once they were free of Amarantha - he managed to leave before he said anything.
“I almost told you then, but … You were so sad. And tired. And for once, you looked at me like … like I was worth something.
I couldn’t force the bond on you. I couldn’t try to seduce you into accepting the bond, either. Even if it gave Tamlin license to wage war on me. You had been through so much already. I didn’t want you to think that everything I did was to win you, just to keep my lands safe. But I couldn’t … I couldn’t stop being around you, and loving you, and wanting you. I still can’t stay away.” - ACOMAF, chapter 54
Despite Lucien’s claim that Elain was his mate, he didn't react as a mate typically would upon first seeing her restrained, when Hybern's soldiers brought Elain and Nesta out in chains. Cassian, though battered and bleeding out from his shredded wings, reacted whenever Nesta was threatened so, if Lucien’s bond with Elain existed before she was Made, he should technically have done the same.
Before Elain went into the Cauldron, after an unconscious, magically isolated Azriel still managed to give a shout as the king of Hybern selected her to go in first, Lucien and Tamlin both responded in a similar fashion to each other - with Tamlin actually reacting first each time - and were then bound by the King of Hybern's spells for their troubles. Lucien wasn't even fully focused on Elain here, as he kept glancing at Tamlin. This is reflective of the relationship that existed between Lucien and Tamlin until this point; Lucien took his cues from Tamlin, no matter his own opinion - and I am not faulting Lucien for this, as his friendship with Tamlin was inherently imbalanced.
Tamlin said, “Stop.” The king did no such thing. Lucien, beside Tamlin, again put a hand on his sword. “Stop this.” …
Tamlin spat at the king, “This is not part of our deal. Stop this now.” “I don’t care,” the king said simply. Tamlin launched himself at the throne, as if he’d rip him to shreds. That white-hot magic slammed into him, shoving him to the ground. Leashing him. …
“That is enough.” Lucien surged for Elain, for the Cauldron. And the king’s power leashed him, too. On the ground beside Tamlin, his single eye wide, Lucien had the good sense to look horrified as he glanced between Elain and the High Lord. - ACOMAF, chapter 65
Lucien, in fact, did not solely respond to Elain's distress until after she came out of the Cauldron, at which point a secondary mating bond could have been superimposed over her theorised "true" or "original" bond with Azriel. The following scene, though, in which Lucien breaks free of the king's spells, is just as much a hint that he is Helion Spell-Cleaver's son, as it is that he is now Elain's mate, and reacting to her situation.
Elain was still shivering on the wet stones, her nightgown shoved up to her thighs, her small breasts fully visible beneath the soaked fabric. Guards snickered. Lucien snarled at the king over the bite of the magic at his throat, “Don’t just leave her on the damned floor—” There was a flare of light, and a scrape, and then Lucien was stalking toward Elain, freed of his restraints. - ACOMAF, chapter 65
Now Lucien, who grew up respecting the mating bond, as all fae did, and who we know felt its pull once it did exist - evidenced by him snarling first at the King of Hybern, going to Elain's side, claiming she was his mate when the bond snapped, then snarling at Tamlin to "get her back" after Rhys and Mor had winnowed Azriel, Cassian, Elain and Nesta out of Hybern (ACOMAF, chapters 65 to 67) - still didn’t feel drawn enough to Elain to go after her, even once he, Tamlin and Feyre were back and settled at the Spring Court. He was clever enough to realise that Elain was in no immediate danger, as Feyre wasn't panicked about her safety but, as he said to Feyre:
“I want to see her. Just once. Just—to know.” “To know what?” He hitched my damp cloak higher around us. “If she is worth fighting for.” - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 12
None of this sounds like Rhys, or Azriel, who in similar situations vowed that they would get back their respective Archeron sister. Lucien actually snarled at Tamlin to get Elain back, not that he would do so himself, and this was before he realised that she would be safe in the Night Court. While Lucien did take Feyre leaving the Spring Court as motivation to travel with her to Velaris, to Elain, his thoughts strayed to Jesminda along the way and, once he was situated at the House of Wind, his internal monologue when he unexpectedly ran into Elain showed that he'd just wanted a walk, and wasn't necessarily thinking about her, even though she was now living under the same roof.
He just wanted a walk—and a few books. It had been an age since he’d even had free time to read, let alone do so for pleasure. But there she was. His mate. She was nothing like Jesminda. - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 24
I absolutely understand that Lucien was being respectful of Elain's space here, and leaving her be, as Feyre had asked; however, in saying that, I would imagine Rhys' thoughts upon seeing Feyre in a similar situation would have been much more focused on Feyre, and having wanted to see her before then. Sadly, I do read this as indicative of Lucien's future actions, where he appears happier away from Elain, with Vassa and Jurian, his Band of Exiles, than when he is near her.
He shook off my grip and headed for the door. “I can’t stand to be in the same room as her for more than two minutes. I can’t stand to be in this court and have your mate pay for the very clothes on my back.” - Lucien, ACOFAS, chapter 18
This sentiment is repeated in ACOSF, when Lucien told Cassian that he wasn't always in Velaris for Elain - the words "my mate" literally demonstrating his discomfort with her and, I assume, their bond.
“Why are you here?” Cassian asked, unable to help the sharpness. “Where’s Elain?” “I am not always in this city to see my mate.” The last two words dripped with discomfort. “And I came up here because Feyre said I should. I need to kill a few hours before I’m to meet with her and Rhys. She thought I might enjoy seeing Nesta at work.” - ACOSF, chapter 40
Other people have considered this scene between Cassian and Lucien, and some have suggested that, after Mor said, much earlier in ACOSF, that Lucien could no longer be fully trusted - a sign, perhaps, that his allegiance is changing to the Band of Exiles, instead of Elain - Feyre had sent Lucien to see Nesta train, to witness her power, and remind him of the strength of the Night Court, for whom he is supposed to be working.
Mor took another bite from her pastry. “Lucien can’t be entirely trusted anymore.” Cassian started. “What?” “Even with Elain here, he’s become close with Jurian and Vassa. He’s voluntarily living with them these days, and not just as an emissary. As their friend.” - ACOSF, chapter 4
The following scene is often touted as an indication of romance, or romantic potential, between Elain and Lucien, but the fact that we are told that she looked away, then angled her head as if searching for an answer among the city view, led many to believe that Elain was never talking to Lucien, and even if she was, he could not hear hers in return.
She looked away—toward the windows. “I can hear your heart,” she said quietly. He wasn’t sure how to respond, so he said nothing, and drained his tea, even as it burned his mouth. “When I sleep,” she murmured, “I can hear your heart beating through the stone.” She angled her head, as if the city view held some answer. “Can you hear mine?” He wasn’t sure if she truly meant to address him, but he said, “No, lady. I cannot.” - Elain and Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 24
Lucien could, however, hear Jesminda's heart beating, which I discuss in full in the Jesminda and Lucien Vanserra section of this post. Not only that, but he remains emotionally loyal to Jesminda, to the point that he felt acknowledging Elains beauty is a betrayal of her memory - this is one of the (many) points that made me think that Jesminda may have been his mate, as well as his true love.
She was the most beautiful female he’d ever seen. Betrayal, queasy and oily, slid through his veins. He’d said the same to Jesminda once. But even as shame washed through him, the words, the sense chanted, Mine. You are mine, and I am yours. Mate. - Lucien, ACOWAR, chapter 24
Poor Lucien; he thought he'd lost his chance at a mate for decades at least, maybe even centuries, and when Elain did come along, his mating bond wasn't all it was supposed to be.
What is interesting, however, is that although Lucien feels "queasy" with betrayal for Jesminda around Elain, he appears to be drawn to Vassa, comfortable with her, well before it became completely obvious that Elain was less than interested in him, and despite the fact that she still lives. The following scenes hint at Lucien’s enthusiasm towards Vassa as early as ACOWAR, and Vassa's own comfort with Lucien. This is in direct contrast to Lucien’s unease and discomfort around Elain, which I mentioned above.
“The human queens are still out there,” I said. Maybe I’d hunt them down. “Not for long—not if Vassa has anything to do with it.” “You sound like an acolyte.” Lucien blushed, glancing at Elain. - ACOWAR, chapter 78
Jurian leaned against the opposite door frame. “Queen Vassa offered me a place within her court.” Indeed, Vassa still remained inside, chatting with Lucien animatedly. I supposed that if she only had until dawn before turning back into that firebird, she wanted to make every minute count. Lucien, surprisingly, was chuckling, his shoulders loose and his head angled while he listened. - ACOWAR, chapter 80
“He’s keeping everything running. I think he’d have been crowned king by now if it wasn’t for Vassa.” A twitch of the lips, a spark in that russet eye. “She’s doing well enough. Savoring every second of her temporary freedom.” - ACOFAS, chapter 18
Both Jurian and Lucien stared at her, the former’s face utterly unreadable, and the latter’s pained. - ACOSF, chapter 7
Despite Lucien's apparent interest in Vassa - he gushed about her, blushed when Feyre called him on it, and his body language when chatting with her was described for a reason - he has continued to make a token effort towards Elain. Some readers believe that this is because he wants Elain herself (and that is a perfectly valid interpretation) especially as Cassian mentioned the pain and longing he saw in Lucien’s face at solstice in ACOSF, but I suspect that Lucien is anxious about the bond itself, rather than Elain specifically.
He and Lucien did not exchange gifts, though the male had brought a gift for Feyre and one for his mate, who barely thanked him after opening the pearl earrings. Cassian’s heart strained at the pain etching deep into Lucien’s face as he tried to hide his disappointment and longing. - Cassian, ACOSF, chapter 58
Given that the fae regard mating bonds with such reverence, I imagine that there would almost certainly be some level of shame involved with being a rejected mate, especially for the males, given they are still a patriarchal society. Lucien is, I assume, making this effort because it is what is expected of him, and is likely confused at his possibly-developing feelings for Vassa… just as Azriel is probably confused at his feelings for Elain, and his mate-like instinct towards her, given she is technically mated to another.
Again, please do not read this post as anti Lucien, it absolutely is not; he's a complex character who has experienced a variety of different traumas, none of which he deserved - to be clear, no one, not even a villain, ever does. What Lucien does deserve, though, is to be chosen by someone who loves him unconditionally, who matches his personality. Unfortunately, I doubt that this person is Elain.
What will happen in the future books is currently a hotly debated topic, and we will have to wait for SJM to release the information - or the book itself - to know for sure, so this is purely conjecture, but I personally think that Elain (and probably Lucien, too) will ultimately want to reject their mating bond. Unhappy mated couples, and the fact that the bond can be rejected, have been mentioned since the beginning of the series - I suspect that we are about to see one play out in real time.
Will we find out if there was a deeper reason behind the Cauldron-gifted bond between and Lucien? Was the King of Hybern working with Koschei, and did he have orders to shoot Azriel specifically with the poisoned ash arrow, in order to prevent the three brothers from falling for the equally matched Archeron sisters? Why would Koschei want Azriel to remain unmated? Is it because he wants Azriel, and maybe Elain, too, so isolated that they are easy pickings when he is ready for them? Did the Cauldron give Lucien to Elain to counteract the interference with fate, so that Lucien would leave the Spring Court for Velaris, then finally be sent on his way to get Vassa and the human army? Is the bond between Elain and Lucien even real?!
I suspect that, while there is some sort of bond - mating or otherwise - between Elain and Lucien, we may find out that the bond itself is made up of different components. If the mating bond consists of both thread/s and a bridge, then one of the threads between Elain and Lucien is there - the "thread" that Lucien referred to in chapter 29 of ACOWAR, but the "bridge" is not, because the bridge from Elain's soul/heart already went to Azriel; perhaps the other threads did, too. The idea of mating bonds and bridges is discussed further in this fantastic post.
My feeling is that when Azriel didn't die at Hybern, after the Cauldron gifted Elain and Lucien to each other assuming that he had (or would), but Lucien beat Azriel, who was unconscious at the time, to helping Elain, the new bond between Elain and Lucien snapped in a moment of heightened stress, but it couldn't snap fully, because the path to Elain's soul was not free. This is why Elain acts with suspiciously mate-like behaviour towards Azriel; it's why Azriel can sight and scent the bond between Elain and Lucien, and why he knows what the lack of a bond feels like; and it's why Lucien still felt loyal to Jesminda's memory - if the theory that she was actually his mate holds true - despite his new bond with Elain.
When it comes to bond rejection, I believe that Elain, or perhaps Nesta, will Unmake the single bond thread between Elain and Lucien, and that one of them will Make a new bond between Lucien and Vassa a bit further down the line, if that's what they choose… we only have small hints at their feelings so far, and while I think they're both attracted to each other, there's a long way to go between new love and accepting a lifelong mating bond. That being said, the little we know of Vassa makes her sound much closer to Jesminda, in terms of personality, so on paper she appears to be a better match for Lucien, mating bond or no. I also suspect that Vassa, the firebird, may either end up being Made herself, or could have phoenix-like rebirth/renewal properties, so that she is able to live a long, long life with Lucien.
As for the bond between Azriel and Elain, will it snap fully the moment that her bond between Lucien is Unmade, or will Elain (or Nesta) need to re-Make the parts that the Cauldron gave to Lucien in ACOMAF? While I'm keeping my hopes low for a full and complete detailing of mate-bond lore - SJM does have a plot to deal with, after all - I would love to find out the intricacies of which parts exist from both parties being of age, and which parts require the perfect storm of meeting and emotional availability to snap.
Could a faerie have a fully realised mating bond with a human, but because Elain was in love with Graysen at the time, and Azriel perhaps still in love with Mor, their bridge formed when they met, but the threads didn't snap? Or, could the threads not snap fully until Elain was Made?
Either way, both Elriel and Vucien serve poetry:
The lovely fawn, blooming spring vibrant behind her. Standing before Death, shadows and terrors lurking over his shoulder.
A bird of flame... and a lord of fire. I wondered if they'd found each other yet.
Reader, they have.
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