Hidden Blade: Chr. 25

One month and hours of rigorous training later, it was announced gravely and rather suddenly that Captain Aron of the Guard had been killed in an Orc ambush coming back from a visit to Rivendell. Aramir discovered then just how well-liked the Captain had been; the young Itir could not find one person who was not sorry to see Aron gone. He found himself mourning with the others, but it was with a sense of relief that he realized that Captain Aron's death did not deal the same blow that his mother's death had. Still, it was a blow all the same, and the Itir were collectively less talkative than usual for a week following the Captain's burial. Even Kellian was subdued, for Kellian.

Classes were canceled for several days, but when they returned, the students found that even sorrow did not put a damper on their teachers' severity.

"They're even more adamant when they're upset!" Aramir heard Tai tell Cerith one day in a hushed voice that no doubt she thought he couldn't hear. He had only laughed softly to himself.

Almost too soon, Aramir and Kellian found themselves in mourning for another reason, one they didn't bother to share with the other Itir, although Lee certainly had some idea of their sentiments. Due to the death of Aron, another Captain had to be chosen, and, in accordance with the late Captain's wishes, Janst was named Captain of the Guard.

"How could they?" Kellian moaned, banging his head against his bedroom wall.

"They're mad," Aramir agreed. "Give it a month and they'll see they've made a mistake, after he murders one of us."

"We should wear black," Kellian suggested.

Aramir shot him a withering glance. "We already are."

"Good point. White, then."

Aramir threw a pillow at the Elf and rolled his eyes.

As if the appointment wasn't cause enough, Aramir found another reason to groan when, several weeks later, he saw Janst strutting down the corridor toward him one evening. He bit his lip and thought about darting into one of the rooms to his side, but then realized where he was and decided that Arodan most likely wouldn't appreciate one of his Itir bursting into his room in the late evening. Sighing, Aramir walked on, hoping that Janst would just walk on past him without saying anything.

Eru, however, seemed to think it funny to torment Aramir, and instead of walking past the Itir, Janst turned and fell in step with him, looking both smug and hateful at the same time.

"Good evening, Captain," Aramir said, and he had to bite back an urge to gag upon his own words.

Janst's eyes became little slits, and Aramir briefly wondered how he managed to see with the limited light. "Well, if it isn't Aramir Nárëgond," he said in a mockingly slow tone. "Out causing more trouble than you already are?"

Aramir rolled his eyes. "I was just about to ask you the same thing," he muttered, and then added, unable to believe he was saying it, "Congratulations on your new position."

"Congratulations!" Janst scoffed. "I can hear your real intentions under your `congratulations', Aramir." He glared at the young man next to him, and Aramir saw bitterness in his eyes.

The Itir frowned, somewhat taken aback. "And what do you mean by that, pray tell?"

"Just another one of your futile attempts to make me jealous of you!" the Captain of the Guard said loudly, and Aramir winced, sure that at any moment, a door would open and someone would yell at them to be quiet.

"I'm not trying-"

"Deny it all you want, Itir," Janst cut him off. "You may be one of them, but I am the Captain of the Guard, and I lead the entire Royal Guard!"

Aramir arched an eyebrow. "Right. Good evening, Janst." Biting back something derogatory, Aramir turned and hurried off in the opposite direction before he, or Janst for that matter, did something they would regret.

He rounded the corner and paused to lean against the wall, biting back laughter. Janst could say what he wanted, and glare nonstop, but he couldn't hide his jealousy from Aramir. Being the Captain of the Guard clearly didn't matter to him, because he still hated Aramir for what he was, and for bettering him in the Itir trials. The Itir snickered, not feeling the least bit guilty, and then trotted off down the hall.

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

Several weeks later, the trainees--whose number still remained at four, the Itir not having found any other prospects--began learning to make their own weapons. After two weeks of crafting, it was with a giant smile upon his face that Jac came running up to Aramir and Lee, who were walking across the ring; the boy held a long, thin dagger proudly in his hands. He skidded to a halt next to the Itir and thrust the dagger into Aramir's hands.

"What do you think?" he asked anxiously.

Aramir arched an eyebrow in surprise and lowered his eyes to inspect Jac's dagger, holding it out for Lee to see as well. As he examined the weapon, Jac shifted from foot to foot nervously, but when Aramir glanced at him, he saw a spark of happiness in the boy's eyes.

"This is very well made," Aramir answered truthfully. The dagger was slender and light, well-balanced, and very sharp. It was clearly functional, and yet there was a grace to it that seemed to call to the bearer to simply put it on display, to look at and never to use. "How many have you done?"

"That's my first," Jac said. "I just finished it this morning."

Lee's eyebrows shot up. "Your first?" He took the dagger from Aramir and turned the weapon over in his hands; it looked as though it had been made by a seasoned sword smith.

Aramir glanced at the boy out of the corner of his eyes. "Honestly?"

"Yes, honestly!" Jac said in earnest. "I wanted to show it to you. Do you really think it's...good?"

Aramir and Lee nodded. "Jac, you could quit being an Itir right now and make weapons," Aramir said. Almost immediately he regretted what he had just said. Despite the talk Aramir and Jac had had that night a month ago, the Itir still noticed an apprehension in the young man that he couldn't hide and couldn't overcome. As much as he had wanted to, Aramir couldn't make himself be any nicer to Jac than any of the other students, and so he found himself constantly thinking about the boy during practice. He shot a glance at Lee, the only other who knew about the young trainee's anxiety. The Captain of the Itir only nodded slightly.

An embarrassed expression crossed Jac's face. "Well," he said, glancing away from Aramir. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I mean, you said we could talk to you, right?"

Lee nodded encouragingly. "Of course. What is it, Jac?"

Taking a breath, Jac continued. "I've been really enjoying making weapons, and Kaelith says I'm really talented, and you just said you thought the dagger was alright-"

"It's better than alright," Aramir corrected. He handed the weapon back to its maker. "You want to stop training then, is that it?"

Jac shifted from side to side again, and Aramir could tell that he didn't want to confirm what the Itir had just guessed.

"That's nothing to be ashamed about, Jac," Lee said, smiling.

"I feel like I'm quitting, like I'm just giving up on myself, but I really like making weapons. I've made a sword a part of a longbow, too. I just feel like that is what I'm supposed to do."

Aramir placed his hands upon Jac's shoulders and turned the young man squarely to face him. "You're afraid of what the others will say, aren't you?"

Jac sighed heavily. "Yes. I can convince myself that I'm not quitting, but I'm afraid of what they will think about me."

"It doesn't matter, you know," Lee said softly. "All that matters are your reasons for wanting to stop, and what you think of yourself if you do end your training. If they think you are quitting, then let them think that. And someday, when they break their swords fighting in the Great Hall and need them repaired, they'll understand, and be glad you did decide to leave."

Jac looked both encouraged and amused. "Fighting in the Great Hall?"

Aramir and Lee doubled over with laughter, and then suddenly Aramir's eyes brightened. "Let me tell you something, Jac. I know a sword smith, the man who makes the Itir swords and fixes our weapons. I know; we teach you to make your own weapons and then have someone else do it after all." He shrugged and grinned. "Why don't we pay him a visit and see if he needs an apprentice? I'll tell you the Great Hall story on the way."

A wide grin had taken the place of Jac's embarrassment. "Really?" he said, and Aramir nodded. "Alright." He smiled shyly at the two Itir. "Thank you both."

**********

Rin was older than Aramir remembered, but of course it had been nearly ten years since the two had actually had a visit beyond a stop into the store, which now belonged to Rin, who had taken over for his father. He was a tall, lanky man of nearly forty, but his dark hair had yet to show signs of age. His eyes lit up eagerly when Aramir entered the store and he dropped what he was doing to greet his old friend with an embrace. Aramir grinned. He was the same Rin that Aramir remembered, and as the Itir had predicted, was enthusiastic about taking Jac on as an apprentice, especially after Aramir showed him the dagger that the young man had made. He turned it over and over in his hands, mumbling to himself about design and craftsmanship and other things that Aramir either couldn't understand, or didn't. Jac, meanwhile, was gazing about the store in awe, his eyes shining as they took in the sight of the few weapons hung here and there--examples of Rin's work for patrons to see. The young man crossed the room and stood in front of a short, heavy dagger that rested safely upon a rack.

"Excellent hilt design; it will certainly--don't be shy, boy. Pick it up!" The sword smith smiled at Jac and nodded before returning to the weapon.

Finally he raised his eyes to Aramir.

"Let me guess," Aramir said with a grin before Rin could continue his exclamation of the dagger's attributes. "It's wonderful, you couldn't have done better when you were his age, and he has great promise."

Rin laughed. "You either know me too well, or I'm too predictable."

"Both. So what do you say?"

At that, Jac hurriedly set the dagger back on the rack. Aramir could tell he was trying not to look anxious, but he was failing horribly.

Instead of answering Aramir, Rin turned to Jac. "What do you say, lad? It's not an easy life--you might have to work long hours, there is always a danger of being burned, or worse; you get horridly annoying customers like those Itir--just kidding, Aramir."

Aramir folded his arms over his chest. "Right."

Rin continued. "You'd be living in the room above this place, and I'd be counting on you to get the store and forge ready in the mornings. And I won't go easy on you once I know you can hold your own back there." He gestured towards the forge. "Do you think you can handle the responsibilities?"

Jac's head bobbed up and down so quickly that it was dizzying just to watch. "Of course! Do you really- I mean, would you really take me as an apprentice?"

A warm smile spread over Rin's face. "I certainly would. When can you start?"

"Right now!" Jac exclaimed, and then blushed.

Aramir and Rin laughed. "What about tomorrow?" Aramir suggested. "You can gather up your things tonight and come over in the morning."

Jac and Rin agreed, and the boy and Itir left the shop, the former dancing up the street in a manner that reminded Aramir almost frighteningly of Kellian.

By the next afternoon, Jac had left the training grounds and had moved all of his belongings into the attic of Rin's shop--a move that had taken one trip, considering the limited amount of things the young man owned. He had also stopped by his parent's house to tell them the news, and Aramir was relieved to learn that they were proud of their son; the Itir had been nervous about what they would think of their son giving up on becoming one of the elite. As Aramir left the shop, he heard Rin's pleasant tenor voice explaining the equipment in the forge, and the Itir chuckled to himself. From the sound of it, being a blacksmith wasn't any easier than being an Itir.

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