It wasn’t until late that night that Aramir realized that he must have left his dagger- the one from Rin- in Lee’s room. As soon as he had realized that it was missing, he had searched through all of his things, and then through Kellian’s. Then he remembered setting it on Lee’s bed while changing. Relieved that he at least knew where it was, he pulled his dark cloak over his shoulders and slipped out of the house and towards the palace, leaving Kellian asleep. He knew that he could just wait until tomorrow, but that would be the logical thing to do, and Aramir had found that being illogical was often much more fun.
He moved silently across the fields and to the palace, slipping into and out of the shadows like he was one of them. He doubted that he would be in trouble if he were caught, but he did not want to chance it.
When he appeared out of the shadows in front of the doors of the palace, both door guards started in surprise.
“Halt!” one of them commanded, and Aramir did so obediently. “Who approaches?” the guard continued.
“I am Aramir Nárëgond of the Itirnessa,” Aramir replied. “I wish to see Captain Merin.”
The guards glanced at each other, then at Aramir, and then nodded. “Enter,” one of them requested, holding the door for him.
He thanked them and entered the palace, surprised that he had not been challenged further. Once inside the door he paused, reaching into his memory and extracting the directions to Lee’s room. Once he remembered he set off down the hall, silent once more. He knew that the Itir were silent wraiths in the night, and he and Kellian constantly played at trying to be as quiet as possible.
A sudden sound to his left brought him out of his game with himself, and he swung to his left and seized the hand that had been reaching for him. One swift motion sent his stalker crashing to the ground. He stepped over the figure and gasped.
“Shai!” he cried, flushing red with embarrassment.
“Aramir,” the woman returned, sounding amused as she climbed to her feet. “That was impressive,” she muttered, rubbing her shoulder where she had obviously landed on the hard floor.
Aramir wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic or not. “Shai, I’m really sorry,” he began, but the Itir cut him off with a wave of her hand and a chuckle.
“It’s alright, Aramir. No harm done, I hope.” She winked. “Really, that was very good. So what brings you here so late at night, hmm?”
“I need to see Lee,” Aramir told her honestly, running a hand through his hair, clearly still embarrassed after attacking Shai.
He expected the woman to question him further, but she only nodded. “And where is your partner in crime?” she wondered with a smile.
“Sleeping,” Aramir muttered, crossing his arms over his chest and giving Shai a mock annoyed look. “Crime indeed.”
Shai laughed. “Well, I’m on patrol, so I must get going. You do know where his room is, right? Good. Well then, I shall see you later. Oh, Aramir, if you hear anything else, don’t attack it. For all you know, it may be Queen Ilren.”
Aramir blushed even further, remembering someone once telling him that the queen liked to walk about sometimes at night. He imagined himself doing the same thing he had done to Shai to the queen and shook his head. Boy, would he have been in trouble.
Shaking his head at himself once more, he set off down the hall, silent once more despite his encounter with Shai. When he reached Lee’s room he knocked softly and waited for the captain to answer.
“Who is it?” a voice floated from inside the room.
“Lee? Its Aramir. I-“
The door swung open and Lee appeared in the opening, holding Aramir’s dagger. “-left this in my room.” He smiled. His chestnut-brown hair was tied in a loose ponytail at his neck, matching his sparkling brown eyes. He always seemed to be smiling, Aramir thought, even when he was serious. It was just another reason he liked Lee Merin.
Aramir gave the captain a half-smile. “Yes. Thank you.” He took it timidly and fastened it to his belt. “I’m sorry to bother you.”
“You’re not bothering me at all,” Lee assured him. “I was just polishing my sword. Why don’t you come in?”
“Oh, I don’t want to interrupt,” Aramir began shyly.
Lee shook his head again. “Oh, come on in. I could use an interruption.” He smiled and opened the door further, and Aramir apprehensively entered the room. At Lee’s invitation he sat on the bed and glanced around as the captain picked his sword back up and continued cleaning it.
“So what did you think?” Lee questioned after several uncomfortable moments of silence, at least on Aramir’s part.
“Well, it wasn’t as much fun as sword fighting, but then I suppose you don’t get to do that too often anyway,” Aramir mused.
Lee smiled. “You are quite right. Not too often is a bit of an understatement- you’d be surprised at what we’ve run into when escorting the king and queen. But its true, we do much less fighting than simply guarding, standing in at council, and so on. Do you still want to be an Itir as much as you did that first day?”
Aramir shook his head. “I want it more,” he confessed sheepishly.
Lee chuckled. “I’m glad to hear that. Many students get, well, disappointed, after they find out what being an Itir truly is. You and the others will have many other opportunities to be honorary Itir like you were today.” He paused, then continued. “This is the first time we have had an actual class of Itirnessa. Typically it is several men or women who show amazing skill early on and are then accepted when spots become available. You might be surprised how often spots do open. Well, that is my view, being immortal. Time seems slower when you are part Elf.”
Aramir nodded in agreement, fingering the Itirnessa insignia on his tunic. “And it seems to drag when you are waiting for something,” he added.
Lee laughed. “It will come sooner than you think. Be patient.”
“Patience is not my strong point,” Aramir told the captain, drawing his dagger and borrowing a cloth from Lee.
“And I suspect you picked that up from Kellian, no?” Lee laughed.
Aramir grinned. “Might as well blame him,” he said with a teasing smirk.
“You two are very close, aren’t you?” Lee mused, not so much asking as simply confirming that he knew.
Aramir’s nod answered his unasked question. He swiped a small speck of mud off of his knife. “We have to be close to counter Janst,” he muttered, then saw Lee’s slightly disapproving look. “I’m sorry. I should not have said that.”
The captain smiled slightly. “You will always have to deal with people with whom you do not get along. I do not wish to say anything negative about Janst- he is a very skilled fighter, very talented. His father, however, was much to me as he is to you.”
“His father?” Aramir wondered, surprised.
Lee nodded, inspecting his spotless sword. “Yes. He was of the Itir once, many years ago. He was mortal, although he lived longer than most.”
Aramir nodded slowly, then started. “Wait. His father…was an Itir…?”
Lee smiled at Aramir’s confused expression. By practice, Itir did not marry, but dedicated their lives to serving the Royal Family. This practice had been made a law several years before Aramir had been born. “He was one of very few who married, before the law was put into action. An excellent fighter, very skilled with a sword, although his bow skills left something to be desired.” Lee grimaced as he rose to put his sword away. “Shouldn’t have said that. I never said that, Aramir.”
“Thanks. Anyway, he was an accomplished fighter, but he wasn’t happy being second to me. He made my life a constant challenge, let me tell you. I suppose Janst feels that he has to live up to his father’s reputation.”
Aramir nodded slowly. He often felt the same way, although his father had been neither an Itir nor of the Guard- simply a warrior, but a good one.
“So, when are the tests?” he asked eagerly, changing the subject.
Lee laughed again. “The others and I have been discussing it. They will
be sooner than you think, Aramir.”
‘Sooner than you think’ did not come nearly soon enough for Aramir, but it came nevertheless. From the moment Lee announced when they would be and then on, Aramir’s stomach was filled with a fluttery feeling that would not go away. Nothing he did, or ate, or didn’t eat would make it go away, so finally he just learned to ignored it. The others seemed to be experiencing a similar phenomenon, and Aramir observed a noticeable increase in effort from all of the students during class.
The morning of the tests, the fluttery feeling returned more intensely than ever before. Both Aramir and Kellian rose well before their usual waking time. They dressed quickly, neither speaking as they tried to contain their nervousness. They pulled on their weapons- spotlessly clean from a night of intensive polishing. Aramir checked his bow over as he strung it, carefully inspecting his sting for any visible flaws. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kellian doing the same thing.
When he was finished, he let out a sigh and glanced over at the Elf. “Ready?”
Kellian shrugged, seeming more subdued than usual. “I suppose so.”
“Are you alright Kell?” Aramir asked, concerned. The last thing Kellian needed was to feel sick, today of all days. “You’re rather…well, calm.”
Kellian laughed. “I’m fine. I was just thinking.”
Aramir cut him off. “Thinking!! He is sick! Stay here, I’ll go get Lee!”
The Elf laughed harder. “Thanks a lot,” he retorted with a grin. They laughed loudly for a few moments, until Aramir thought for sure that Janst was going to come barging in, yelling about them being loud.
Finally, when they calmed down again, Kellian sat down heavily on the bed, and Aramir followed. “I was thinking that, well, after today, one of us, or both of us, or neither of us will be Itir. And, well, regardless of what happens, we won’t be roommates any more. And, and I’d really miss you if I didn’t get to see you any more.”
Aramir nodded. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Now who’s not thinking?” Kellian snickered.
Aramir grinned. “You’re right though,” he muttered, loosing his smile. “Come on, let’s hope for the best. Forget roommates, we’ll be next door neighbors in the palace.”
Kellian smiled. “I hope so,” he said wistfully.
“Whatever happens, I’ll still be your best friend,” Aramir told the Elf.
“Definitely.” Kellian stuck out his hand and Aramir clasped it. They stared at each other a moment, then embraced tightly and rose as one.
As if they had never been serious at all, they trotted across the fields, pushing and shoving each other as they went. When he had a brief calm moment, Aramir glanced around and smiled almost sadly. This had come to be his new home. He hoped he would never have to leave it.
The sun had still not crested the hills of Gondor when the two friends reached the ring. The morning had a slight chill to it, but not so much that it caused either trainee to bother to bring his cloak along. Nor had it prevented the other three trainees from reaching the ring that early in the morning. Fia, Adinar, and Lacar waved cheerfully to Aramir and Kellian as they entered the ring, but there was a distinct suspiciousness with which each of them regarded the others this day. The exceptions were Aramir and Kellian, who joked and laughed as they always did, seemingly oblivious to the tenseness around them. What was going to happen was going to happen, and there was no point in acting any different. They sparred with each other, then pulled out their bows and shot a few rounds, concentrating on precision and speed. They worked all morning as more and more students filtered in. The tests were to begin exactly an hour after sunrise and continue most of the day. According to Lee and the other Itir out of which information could be pried, the Itir tests were just about the same as those for the Itirnessa, only at a higher level. They would say no more, preferring to leave the students guessing.
“They just want to torture us,” Kellian had muttered.
The last two students arrived from the sword field just minutes before the Itir began to arrive. Shai, Chatol, and Pilindar immediately set to work setting up a series of targets at one end of the ring. Aramir and the others eyed the targets inconspicuously, noticing the size of the coloured dots they were expected to hit. Aramir knew that Kellian would have no trouble at all- the Elf’s aim was perfect, as were his bow skills. He was fairly confident that he would be able to hit them as well- at least he hoped.
Janst worked his way over to where Aramir and Kellian were standing with the others, watching.
“Nervous?” Kellian asked Aramir with a small smile.
Aramir grinned sheepishly. “Yes, very.”
Janst laughed. “Nervous,” he spat with disdain. “Only the weak get nervous.”
“That is not always so,” Lee’s voice said from behind them, causing them to whirl around. “Anyone can lie and say they are brave. It takes true strength to admit to fear.”
Janst’s eyes narrowed as the captain breezed by and made his way to the centre of the ring. He turned and glared at Aramir. “Well, I cannot say it was nice knowing you, since that would be lying. It shall be a pleasure defeating you.”
Aramir shrugged and fingered the tip of his longbow. “I’ll miss you too,” was all he said.
“Gee, I don’t want to know what he is going to do if you beat him,” Kellian hissed.
“I’ll let you know after he does it,” Aramir replied, feigning confidence.
“Alright everyone, gather around!” Pilindar’s deep voice echoed through the ring.