Hidden Blade: Chr. 21

Despite the short distance to Aramir's home, both the horses and riders arrived out of breath and gasping for air. For the first time in his life, Aramir was unconcerned about Narmo, and he vaulted from the stallion's back, leaving him in the yard. He flew past his sister and flung the door to the house open.

"Mother!" he called, coming to a dead halt just inside the door.

Several women turned to stare at him, and one raised a finger to her lips to quiet him. Just as quickly she lowered her hand, seeing whom it was that was standing in the door. Sicil came up behind her brother and pushed him forward impatiently. The women in the house moved to the side as Aramir passed, lowering their heads in grief for Ryal and respect for her son. He hardly noticed them as he pushed his way into his mother's bedroom.

Ryal was lying quietly upon her bed, staring up at the ceiling with an impassive look upon her face. She didn't look to be in any pain, but Aramir was no less concerned. He sank to his knees by her side, biting his lip to prevent the tears that threatened to fall.

"Mother," he whispered, taking her hand.

The elderly woman turned her head and smiled when she saw her two children at her side. "Aramir," she murmured hoarsely. "Sicil." She raised her free hand and caressed
Sicil's face gently. The young woman, less successful than Aramir in hiding her feelings, was sobbing softly. "I knew you would come, Aramir," Ryal continued, smiling gently at him. "I had to see you, once again, before..." She trailed off and sighed softly.

Aramir shook his head vehemently. "No. No, mother, you don't mean that."

Ryal took a deep, steadying breath and nodded imperceptibly. "Aye, Aramir, I do."

Sicil let out a desperate cry and turned away, her tears falling freely.

"Oh my children," Ryal breathed. "You must understand. I am old, and not even the long life with which I have been blessed can hold out forever. My time has come; you always knew it would."

"But it cannot be now!" Aramir exclaimed. "This is my fault, my fault... If I hadn't become an Itir, none of this would have happened!"

She reached up and wiped a tear from her son's eye. "Aramir, my son. Look at me, Aramir." Her frail voice held in it a touch of authority, and his black eyes, shining with tears, turned to her face. "This is not your fault, Aramir. None of this is your fault. You were meant to be an Itir, to protect Gondor and those you love. I could not be more proud of you were you the king of Gondor himself." Seeing that he was not comforted, she smiled. "Come now, what would Captain Lee say to see you cry?"

Aramir didn't answer, only wiped another tear from his face.

"I am going to be with your father again," his mother whispered. "I have waited so long to see him." Aramir looked upon his mother again and saw her smiling. Her face was alight with joy, and suddenly she looked like a young woman again, as young as Sicil, and filled with hope. She had missed him so much, Aramir realized. She was going to be with the man she had loved so dearly in life.

Aramir had only to wait until late that evening to find out what Lee had to say about his tears. He had moved only once from the side of the bed, though against his wishes, and otherwise remained motionless at his mother's side. She slept peacefully for most of the day, waking occasionally.
Despite Aramir's deep concern, she assured him that she felt fine, only tired, "as though I had not slept for years." Aramir and Sicil stayed by her side nonetheless, speaking in low tones when they felt the need.

It was nearly twilight when a soft knock at the door aroused the young Itir, who had been ready to sleep himself. He ignored it at first, and then remembered that the women who had been caring for Ryal had gone for the night, leaving the woman in the care of her children. So, his eyes red and swollen with tears, Aramir rose and went to the door.

When he opened it he was both embarrassed and relieved to see both Kellian and Lee standing there, looking concerned and somber. He tried to smile at them, but failed and only managed to murmur a polite 'hello'. Kellian didn't even bother to return the greeting; instead he stepped forward and tightly embraced his friend. The action was meant to comfort Aramir, but instead it brought fresh tears to the young man's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Aramir," Kellian whispered, his blue Elven eyes clouded with sadness.

"Thanks, Kell." Aramir offered his best friend a weak smile.

When Kellian backed away, Lee stepped forward and regarded Aramir seriously with his deep brown eyes, two swirling pools of sorrow. He was silent for a moment, then embraced Aramir, just as the Elven Itir had. Surprised at this, Aramir hugged Lee back without hesitation. The embrace reminded Aramir of his father, and he thought again of what his mother had said.

"When you did not return, we knew it must be something serious," Lee said after a moment. He backed up a step and placed his hands upon Aramir's shoulders as though to hold the young man up and prevent him from falling over.

"I'm sorry I didn't send word, but I-"

"You need not be sorry, Aramir. Not about such a trivial thing. I understand what you are going through."

How could he, Aramir wondered, and then realized with a small start that Lee must know. The Itir Captain's mother had been mortal, just as Aramir's mother was.

"Thank you," he whispered, glancing first at Lee and then Kellian. "Will you come in?"

They both nodded and followed him inside. Sicil, who had followed Aramir to the door to see who had called, was now frantically but silently trying to make the house look presentable.

"We have little to eat, but I'm sure I can find something," she muttered, but Lee held out his hand when she crossed his path to open the pantry.

"Please don't trouble yourself, Sicil," he said, shaking his head. "Kellian and I are fine." Behind him, the unusually somber Kellian nodded his head in agreement.

Sicil made a heartless attempt to change Lee's mind, but it was clear that she was glad he had refused her hospitality.

The small group paraded into Ryal's bedroom and sat in silence; Kellian draped an arm around his friend's shoulders, but did not speak. Silence engulfed the room and surrounded Aramir like a soft, comforting blanket.

He opened his eyes a moment later, only to come to the realization that he had fallen asleep upon Kellian's shoulder.

He sat up abruptly and shook his head, angry with himself.
"How long have I been asleep?" he demanded, and then his eyes fell on his mother and he bit his lip, ashamed at being so loud.

"Only a few hours," Kellian said at his side. "My arm was a bit numb, as it was." He rubbed the affected arm in an attempt to be humourous, but Aramir wasn't cheered.

"Has she been awake at all?" Aramir asked, and Sicil shook her head.

"She stirred once, but did not wake."

Aramir rubbed the sleep from his eyes and saw Lee sitting across the room on a long bench. His posture was that of an Elf-tall, upright, and collected. He should have been terribly uncomfortable, yet he looked perfectly fine to Aramir.

"You didn't have to stay so long," the young Itir said by way of an apology. "I know you have other things to do."

Lee shook his head. "I'm fine, really, Aramir. I'll understand if you want to be alone, however."

Kellian nodded in agreement.

"No, no, don't go. I...I mean, if you want to stay... Thank you for being here," he stammered finally, and Lee nodded kindly.

Silence fell again, but it was broken suddenly by a gasping breath from Ryal, who opened her eyes to see all four of them looking down upon her. She smiled softly.

"Captain Lee," she said, nodding to him. "And Kellian. Why, it is the middle of the night. Have you two left your sleep simply to see me?"

"We wanted to see how you were faring."

She took a deep breath and sighed. "I am fine, but my time upon this earth is drawing to a close."

Aramir, who had sworn to himself that he would not cry in front of his friends, fell to his knees and burst into quiet tears. Sicil did the same.

Behind Aramir and his sister, Lee nodded solemnly.

"Watch over my son," Ryal whispered. "You too, Kellian."

The Elf was biting back tears of his own. "I will," he whispered, swallowing a sob as Lee repeated the Itir's words. Kellian stood in the room a moment longer, then turned slowly and left the room. The Captain of the Itir followed, leaving Aramir and Sicil alone with their mother.

On the bed, Ryal was watching her children with misty eyes. "We will see each other again, my children," she whispered. "I am sure of it. Some day, we will all be together again. This is not forever; it is only for a time."

"Mother," Aramir whispered, unable to think of anything else to say.

"Don't go," Sicil sobbed.

"I must," Ryal murmured. "Goodbye, my children. I love you."

"No, mother!"

"I love you."

Tears falling freely from his black eyes, Aramir leaned forward and embraced his mother's body. He let himself cry, knowing that only the night would hear his lament.

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