Hidden Blade - Chapter Two

It took Aramir nearly five minutes to recover from shock. He sank to the ground and watched the woman canter away, dimly aware that everyone else on the field was now gathered around him.

"What did she say?"

"Who was she?"

The questions flew at Aramir, but he said nothing. Had that woman- that Itir- really just told him that he was talented? Had she really said she hoped to see him again? Had he really blocked that blow? Slowly he rose to his feet and brushed himself off. The questions started over again, if indeed they had ever stopped. He held up his hands and pushed his way through the crowd. "I have to leave," he muttered. All he wanted right now was to run home and run that through his mind over and over until he was certain it had been real.

"Oh, I see," Galdaron muttered loudly. "Now that you've spoken with an Itir, you're too good for us, hmm Aramir?"

Aramir spun around. "No Galdaron," he said. "Just you."

The noble's mouth fell open in shock as the group began to laugh. Before Galdaron could say anything, Aramir turned and trotted away from the group. "Bye Rin!" he called over his shoulder. "Goodbye everyone!"

Rin and a few others returned the farewell, but Aramir barely heard. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, and then faster. He leapt over the fences surrounding Lord Arnin's land, praying to Eru that the Lord wouldn't catch him. The last thing he needed was another scolding for trespassing. He ran through the outskirts of the marketplace, ignoring all greetings addressed towards him, only waving slightly. Finally he arrived at his home. He careened up the path, then stopped dead and nearly fell over. His mother stood in the small yard, speaking to a woman dressed all in black. A tall black horse grazed lazily nearby, and on seeing Aramir, he raised his head and walked lazily over to the shocked young man. He thrust his muzzle into Aramir's hands, but Aramir barely noticed. He was staring at the woman, the same woman he had spoken to less than fifteen minutes ago!

"Ahh, Aramir, you're back!" his mother called, beckoning him over with a wave of her hand. He walked forward cautiously, eyeing the woman, anxiety causing him to become unnaturally shy. "Aramir," his mother continued, gesturing to the woman, "this is Shai Rûn of the Itir. Shai, I believe you said you have already met my son."

The woman nodded, her bright green eyes sweeping over Aramir, giving him the impression that he was being given some unknown test. "Yes, I have," Shai said with a smile. "I told you I wished to see you again, young man."

Aramir blushed and stared down at the ground, scuffing the soil with his boot. He was at a complete loss of what to say to the woman of the Itir. Fortunately, she did not seem to expect an answer.

"Aramir," Shai continued, "your mother tells me you taught yourself to fight. Is this true?"

"Yes," Aramir answered, a bit defensively as though he'd been insulted. "My father taught me basic things, how to hold a sword, basic parries and such, but, well, he was killed before he could teach me any more."

Shai nodded. "I'm sorry to hear about your father." She paused, then continued. "You fight remarkably well for having taught yourself these skills. I have seen young nobles with tutors who do not fight half as well as you do. Your mother tells me you practice continuously with the others. May I ask why?"

Aramir was taken aback. Why? "Because I want to become a warrior, a guard of Gondor."

Shai smiled. "Have you ever thought of becoming an Itir?"

The young man's eyes widened. "Only every other moment of my life," he confessed with a sheepish grin.

Shai laughed and placed a hand on Aramir's shoulder. "I confess I have been a bit secretive about my purpose here. Aramir, I have been watching you fight of late, not only today, and, as I have said, you are extremely talented. I have come to inquire as to whether you would be interested in training as an Itir." She saw the look forming on Aramir's face and held up a hand. "Now, before you say anything, I must tell you that in order to even become an Itirnessa- that is, a trainee-, you must pass several skills tests. These tests are given by various Itir, and are mainly centered on archery, knife and dagger, and sword. Now, I have not spoken to Lee- that is, the Captain of the Itir- of having you train, and you would have to meet him to get permission to take the tests, but I believe you could do it. What do you say?"

What did he say? He couldn't say anything. His mouth seemed to be clamped shut by some invisible force that willed him not to answer Shai. He merely stared at her in complete shock.

Shai saw the look and mistook it for uncertainty. "Now, I realize it is a big decision, and one that few are offered. If you wish to think about it-"

"No!" Aramir cut her off. "I mean yes! Yes I'd love to! You have no idea, I mean," he trailed off, a wild grin crossing his face.

Shai and his mother laughed. "I thought as much," Shai said. "So long as it is alright with your mother," she trailed off and glanced at Ryal.

The woman seemed deep in thought. "I don't know Aramir," she began. "It seems so dangerous and-" she saw the horrified look upon her son's face and burst into laughter. "Of course you may, Ar!"

Aramir crossed his arms over his chest. "That was not funny," he muttered, trying in vain to hide a grin.

Shai suppressed a chuckle and nodded. "Then it is settled. Now, you can come with me now and look around the grounds, then spend the night with the trainees, or come first thing in the morning and look around then. Seeings as you do not have a horse, I'd recommend you come now, but tis up to you."

Aramir's mother raised an eyebrow. "Do you really think I want to spend a night with him like this?" she asked Shai.

Aramir was too excited to protest his mother's teasing. He turned to Shai eagerly. "What do I need to bring?"

"Yourself, your weapons, and a change of clothing," Shai said, ticking off the small list on her fingers.

Aramir dashed past the two women and into the house. He flew into his room and seized a small leather bag, into which he stuffed a spare set of clothes, then turned and ran back out. "Ready!" he announced.

Shai chuckled. "Indeed," she said. "Hyth!" The black horse raised his head and trotted over to his mistress. He whickered softly and butted Shai playfully with his head. She patted him again, then swung into his saddle. "Hop on," she invited, patting the spot behind her.

Aramir came forward tentatively, the prospect of riding with an Itir suddenly making him nervous all over again. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and spun around, only to be tightly embraced by his mother. "Good luck Aramir," she whispered.

"Thanks," he whispered back, then turned and swung on behind Shai before his anxiety could get the better of him. The last thing he saw as they cantered away was his mother standing in the yard, waving goodbye to her son.

*********************

The ride into the city only took about fifteen minutes, but it made Aramir exceptionally glad he didn't have to find his way through the market the next day. He rarely visited the marketplace, despite how close he lived to it, and when he did, it was to the weapons shop to have his sword fixed, or to buy a new dagger or such. He knew exactly where the store was, and that was all that mattered. Riding through the busy marketplace with Shai was both exciting and intimidating, for he had never realized exactly how busy the place was. No one stood in their way, on the contrary, people went out of their ways to make room for Shai and Hyth. She smiled and greeted many villagers, calling out friendly greetings and receiving many in turn. If the Itir noticed the look upon Aramir's face, she said nothing.

Once they were out of the main marketplace everything seemed to calm down, at least to Aramir. They rode through a small gate, only after stopping and giving a password, and then they were inside the training centre. Aramir looked around in awe. A huge green field spread before him, split into sections by ropes and fences. One section was for archery, clearly marked by targets at one end. Several figures stood in the field, bows up, arrows notched, practicing. Another, larger field was clearly for sword and dagger fighting. The middle of the area was worn from constant trampling by the trainees. There was also a ring for riding. Further on was a large building, and even without asking, Aramir knew it was the 'ring', the area where Itir trainees tested to become Itir, and where he would test to become a trainee. He knew also that not only Itir, but also Guard trainees practiced and trained here, although training was much less rigorous and there was much less prerequisite. He took a deep breath and sighed.

"Excited?" Shai asked.

Aramir nodded, then realized she could not see him and answered. Shai chuckled and trotted Hyth towards the furthest building-clearly the stable. Once there, both riders dismounted and Shai called for a stable hand.

"If you could untack Hyth for me, I'll be back to cool him in just a moment."

The man nodded and took the horse, and Shai beckoned for Aramir to follow.

"Where are we going?" he asked, unable to keep his curiosity in check.

She gave him a sidelong glance. "To see Captain Merin."

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