“Torture,” Kellian said for the millionth time that morning. “Torture torture torture!”
“Shut up, Elf,” Janst spat.
Kellian didn’t ‘shut up’, instead, he stood up and began to dance around the dining hall, crying ‘torture’ as he went.
Aramir rolled his eyes and grinned as he watched his friend. The students had been in the dining hall for the better part of the morning, waiting for their turn to take the tests. They were not permitted to wait in the ring and watch, neither were they allowed to practice any more. Tahar stood at the entrance to the hall, looking on in boredom and slight annoyance, this last emotion most likely attributed to Kellian’s constant energy. The rest of the students were less expressive of their emotions than their Elven classmate, but it was obvious that they all felt the same way.
Kellian danced past Aramir and the young man reached out and seized his tunic, dragging him into a sitting position at one of the tables. “Kellian,” he muttered. “Calm down.”
“What’s calm?” the Elf asked with a grin.
“Its right up there with peace, tranquility, uh, and saneness.”
Kellian and most of the others within hearing range laughed. “None of which applies to me, as you know,” Kellian retorted.
“Aye, I know,” Aramir told him, shoving him off of the bench. He fell to the ground with a startled cry, then reached up and dragged Aramir down next to him. Aramir seized Lukar’s tunic to keep himself from falling and ended up dragging him down as well. He yelped in surprise and leapt on top of Aramir, pinning him to the ground. As Kellian tried to pull Lukar off of Aramir, Vrain grabbed his tunic and pulled him away, locking onto the Elf as they rolled across the ground.
In the midst of the scuffle, the door to the hall opened and one of the Itir stepped in. The combatants pulled away from each other and rose quickly to their feet, self-consciously brushing themselves off.
The Itir nodded slightly to Tahar, then turned to the group. “Aramir Nárëgond,” he said simply.
The flutters, which had momentarily dissipated, returned with a fury that left Aramir suddenly feeling as though he would pass out. He shook his head slightly to clear the dizzy feeling, then stepped forward. Kellian caught his arm as he started to go and swung him around, embracing him tightly.
“Good luck Ar,” he whispered.
Aramir smiled brightly. “Thanks Kell.”
Tahar opened his mouth, no doubt to scold Aramir for holding up the process, but the young man turned away from Kellian and walked easily to the door where the Itir stood. He took his weapons back from Tahar, who had been watching the trainees’ weapons, then silently followed the Itir to the ring. He passed no one on the short trip from the dining hall to the ring, and was surprised at the lack of activity that seemed to be plaguing the centre today.
Upon entering the ring, he immediately realized why. Not only were all of the Itir gathered there, spread out about the ring, but also a good number of the Royal Guard. Aramir swallowed nervously and followed the Itir- who’s name, out of nervousness, he could not recall- to the centre of the ring. Lee stood waiting, a serious, un-Lee-like expression on his face. Upon seeing Aramir he merely nodded, but his eyes sparkled brightly.
“Aramir,” he said softly, eyeing the young man as though he had never seen him before. After a moment he nodded and saluted.
“Captain,” Aramir returned respectfully, returning the salute.
“These tests will be much like those that you took at the beginning of your training, and will cover all that you have learned in the time that you have been here. You will be asked to ride- we have Narmo ready for you- as well as perform in sword, dagger, and archery. Pilindar will begin your tests. Please comply quickly to his and all of our requests, and if you have any questions, please ask.” He nodded, then nodded at Pilindar and glided silently out of the ring.
Aramir watched him go like a child who was watching his father go off to war, feeling lost for a moment. With a start he realized that Pilindar was approaching and promptly pulled his longbow off of his back. He smiled slightly at the archery master. He was ready.
As Aramir recalled later, the tests were exactly like those he had taken to train- only with new patterns, new attacks, new parries, new techniques, and a new level of difficulty. So, as he and Kellian later concluded, they were nothing like the original tests. The only similarity Aramir recalled was the expression upon the Itir’s faces-or rather, the lack of expression. Their faces were carved in stone as he fought and rode through the tests. For some odd reason, however, this did not bother him at all. He kept his own face carefully neutral as he first shot, then rode and shot, then threw and fought with his daggers. Narmo behaved as well as he always did for Aramir as he rode down the ring shooting at the targets from left and right, front and back. He was asked to shoot from an unreal distance, and yet, to his surprise, he was able to do it without trouble. The coloured dots were only specks to his Elven eyes as he shot, but a speck was enough. Dagger was the same, although Aramir found this to be slightly more difficult. Knife fighting was next, again with Chatol and Shai, and ten times more difficult than before. As he waited for Shai to attack, Aramir dug into his memory, pulling up everything he had learned in the time he had been training. It was enough, he thought, although neither Shai nor Chatol made any indication of this.
Last was the sword, without a doubt the most challenging part of the tests. He fought first with Lee, and then Kaelith, and then both of them at the same time. Fighting against two adversaries was something that they had done in class only a few times, but Aramir had felt that he was able to do it well enough. When they told him he was going to have to do it for his tests, however, he wasn’t so sure, and when it was over, he still wasn’t sure, although he was still alive, so that was a start. They battled across the ring for so long that Aramir lost track of all time. All he knew was the sword sitting in his hand, swinging back and forth to block the blows of his adversaries. Lee and Kaelith both fought aggressively, only occasionally letting up, and when they did, Aramir was convinced that it was more for their benefit than his own. Instead of allowing him to show off his skills as Lee had done for his other tests, they simply attacked, and Aramir was forced to do whatever he could to stay unharmed. This was a true test of skill- how well he performed under a real life situation. True, it was Lee and Kaelith, but Aramir seemed to forget that as he fought. They were his enemies, they would strike him if they could, and his job was to prevent that.
When Lee and Kaelith finally lowered their swords and backed away, Aramir was soaked through with sweat, panting as though he had run for days, and filled with exhilaration. His black eyes danced with happiness, and he decided then that even if he did not become an Itir, he would regret absolutely nothing about his experience.
Lee took a few deep breaths, and Aramir realized that he had been doing this all morning. He shook his head at the thought of having to fight fourteen students with that much ferocity. How he wished he could be like that. Lee smiled at what must have been amazement on his face. “I have not fought everyone Aramir,” he said quietly. “I certainly don’t have that much endurance.” He winked. “Thank you very much. If you will head back to your room, I am sure you want to change and rest. You know that you are not permitted to watch or to go back to the hall, but if you wish to go into town or somewhere else, feel free. You are allowed to talk to those who also have completed their tests. You will hear from me or one of the others tonight.”
Aramir nodded and saluted him. “Thank you,” he replied.
Lee smiled slightly as Aramir turned to go. The young man crossed the ring silently and leapt nimbly over the small wall. He turned once, glanced imploringly at Lee, then headed out the door.
Once outside, he threw his head back and sighed, feeling the breeze blow through his hair and cool his sweating body. He had no idea how he had done, or what they were judging him on, or anything. All that was left for him to do was head back to his room and cool off. He pulled off his tunic as he walked across the field, feeling the breeze on his chest.
“Eww, Aramir, please. We don’t need to see you all sweaty,” a teasing voice said from his left.
He rolled his eyes and grinned. “Thank you Fia,” he shot back. “We don’t need to see you all sweaty either. How did it go?”
Fia laughed as she fell in stride with Aramir. “You ought to know. It was probably the same as yours.”
“Yes, I know that,” Aramir informed her with a mock exasperated sigh. “How do you think you did?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. They never say anything, but I’ll wager you did better than I did. Fighting Kaelith and Nerin together was awful.” She sighed, looking slightly disappointed.
“Yes, well I had to fight Lee,” Aramir retorted, fiddling with his hair. “It wasn’t that bad.”
Fia punched him on the shoulder. “Maybe for you. You’re practically guaranteed acceptance.” At Aramir’s protesting, she shook her head. “Seriously, Ar. Everyone says so. You’re amazing.”
Aramir blushed, but could not think of anything to say to refute Fia’s compliment. He bid her farewell as he reached his door and pushed it open, stepping into the sunlight room. He crossed the room lazily and tossed his tunic on the end of his bed, snatching up another from a small drawer at one end of the room. He pulled it on, ran his hand through his hair, and turned to leave. He wasn’t the least bit tired, and Lee’s suggestion about going into town seemed worth taking, even if Kellian could not come along.
Several minutes and one short walk later he was inside the Golden Eye, of which he had become a regular patron since that first time he had gone with Kellian. He glanced around, trying to decided where to sit, and was hailed suddenly by a soft, friendly voice.
“Aramir,” it called, and he spun around to view the speaker. He was a middle-aged man with shoulder-length hair that matched Shai’s and deep brown eyes that watched the young man with easy interest. He wore the uniform of a Royal Guard, but his easy manner and kind smile belied his otherwise stern appearance. A quick glance told Aramir that he had never met this man before.
“How do you know my name?” he asked curiously, crossing the room at the beckoning of the man and standing by the small booth in which he sat.
The man chuckled. “Aramir Nárëgond,” he mused. “You ask how I know the name of one of the most talented young men I have ever seen.”
Aramir blushed. Would these embarrassing compliments never end?
The Guard saw him blush and laughed, then invited him to sit with a wave of his half-gloved hand. “I am Karan. I just came from watching the Itir trainees take their tests-actually, I left right after you finished. You’re something, let me tell you. I thoroughly- yes two please.” He directed his last question to the server girl, then turned back to Aramir. “I thoroughly enjoyed watching you, or what I could see of you. You must tire of hearing it, but you possess amazing speed.”
Aramir brushed off his praise unsuccessfully. “How come you left the ring?” he asked, trying to change the subject, at least in part.
“I knew there was no point in watching anyone else after you,” Karan said, winking. At Aramir’s exasperated expression, he laughed. “Truthfully, I did some damage to my sword a few days ago and took it in to be repaired. I am supposed to meet the swordsmith here to pick it up.”
Aramir nodded, glad that he had been kidding about watching the rest of the tests. Or at least he hoped he had been kidding. The server girl brought them their drinks, which Karan insisted on paying for, and the two settled back to talking. Karan was friendly and talkative- he seemed to be related to Kellian, though Aramir. They were in the middle of an animated discussion about Narmo when Karan looked up and smiled.
“Ah, here he is,” he said.
Aramir turned to see whom Karan was referring to and jumped in surprise. “Rin!”
“Aramir?” the young man asked, clearly surprised.
Aramir leapt out of the booth and bounded over to Rin. He slung an arm over his old friend’s shoulders and dragged him over to the booth where Karan sat. “What are you doing here?” he asked as they went.
“I have to deliver this sword for my father,” Rin said, sounding embarrassed as he gestured to the sword he was carrying.
“And I believe that would be my sword,” Karan said with a smile. “I see you two know each other.”
Aramir grinned. “Yes, although I haven’t seen him in months. I was beginning to think you died or something Rin,” he scolded, shoving Rin into the booth, then sitting next to him so he could not get out.
The young man blushed furiously, muttering something about having to get back to his father’s shop, but Aramir ignored him. He pulled the sword out of his hands and inspected it with interest before holding it out to Karan. The Guard took it with an amused look and fastened it to his belt.
“Thank you Rin,” he said to the young man, making Rin blush even more deeply, then rose. “I must get back to the ring to observe. Lee particularly wants me to see a certain Elf- a friend of yours, Aramir, so I’m told.” He smiled. “I look forward to seeing you again. Good day.”
He nodded to Aramir and Rin with a smile, then turned and left the tavern.
“So where have you been?” Aramir demanded of Rin before Karan had even walked out the door. “Kellian and I have been waiting forever for you to come and visit.”
Rin smiled shyly. “I think you would have been too busy to accept a visit from me.”
Aramir snorted. “Would not,” he retorted. “We would have loved for you to come. You probably could have even joined in the classes.”
Rin shuddered. “Then I’m glad I did not come,” he said sheepishly. “I would have made a fool of myself.”
Aramir shook his head. “You’re too hard on yourself,” he declared. He finished his drink quickly, then suddenly his eyes brightened. “Why don’t you come visit for the rest of the day?” he offered. “You would not have to fight, and I already took my test, so I have nothing else to do today.”
Rin bit his lip slightly as though debating the matter, but it was clear that he was pleased by the offer. “I’d love to Ar, but I really have to get back to the shop. I promised my father I would help him out today.”
Aramir’s face fell visibly. “Alright. But if I become an Itir, you have to swear to come visit me. Swear?”
Rin nodded. “Swear. I have to check on that Elf anyway. He told me he’d watch out for you.”
Aramir laughed loudly. “Watch out for me…hah. He’d better watch out for me.” He winked and Rin laughed.
“I’d better go,” Rin said finally, rising.
Aramir rose with him and escorted him to the door. “Remember!” he called as the young man walked away. “You promised!”
Rin nodded and waved before disappearing into the crowd.
Aramir flopped ungracefully down upon his bed with a contented sigh. He had nothing to do now but wait for Kellian to come back, and he was beginning to feel tired, so a short sleep might be nice right about now. He rolled over on his stomach and stared out the window for a moment.
You’re amazing… …one of the most talented young men I have ever seen.
Aramir sighed. Was he really as skilled as they all said, or were they just being nice? When he really thought about it, he realized that his chances of acceptance seemed small. He had been in training the shortest period of time; some of the students had been there months before him. Did he really have a chance? His head came to a rest on the soft pillow as he drifted off into nervous sleep.
Kellian froze in the door where he had been standing and stared at Aramir. “Stop?” he asked with grin.
Aramir blushed. “Sorry Kell.”
“Had that dream again?” Kellian asked.
Aramir froze halfway through rising from his bed. “What did you say?” he demanded.
“I’ve heard you shout in the middle of the night before,” his Elven friend told him, pulling his tunic off. “The first time, I thought about asking you about it, but I guess I just forgot. And then it happened again, so I decided it must be some recurring nightmare. Am I right?”
Aramir nodded. How stupid he had been to think he could hide it from Kellian.
Kellian shrugged. “I decided that if you weren’t going to tell me about it, then I had no business knowing.” He flopped down on his own bed, clearly tired.
“Thanks Kell,” Aramir said, sinking back onto his own bed. He paused, then asked, “So? How was it?”
“Mm, not too bad,” Kellian said after a moment’s thought. “Fun. I had a great time with the archery.”
Aramir laughed. “You would. I don’t think you could miss if you tried.”
Kellian smiled and shrugged. “Well, it is my favorite. I’m sure you had a fun time with the sword fighting.”
Aramir grinned. “Guilty.”
Kellian lay on the bed for a few minutes in silence, then declared, “I’m exhausted. Exhausted and hungry.” He grinned.
“Tell you what: if you get accepted, I’ll buy you dinner,” Aramir offered.
“Same to you,” Kellian replied. “What if we both do?”
“Then I’ll buy your dinner, and you buy mine, and we might as well have just bought our own in the first place,” Aramir quipped.
Kellian yawned. “I think I’ll sleep for a while. If Lee or one of the others comes, wake me up.”
Aramir grinned wickedly. “I’ll think about it.”
Kellian rolled his eyes. “Hey Ar, what if you slept on your stomach? Then I wouldn’t hear you yell.”
“Hmph,” Aramir muttered. He knew that Kellian was kidding, but he could not help but feel a bit disgruntled. You’d yell too if you saw what I did, he thought. He sat on his bed for a while, listening to the silence, albeit Kellian’s soft breathing, then stood up and left the house. Once outside, he glanced around, then smiled to himself. He turned back around and glanced up, sighting the distance to the roof. After a moment he backed up, took a few running steps, and leapt for the roof. His hand just reached it and hung from the edge for a few moments before slowly pulling himself up. He scooted back slightly, then lay down on his back, hands behind his head. The day was beautiful, clear and sunny. A soft breeze blew through his hair as he stared into the blue sky. There was only one thing that could make this day better, and his patience was wearing thin waiting for it.
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/12309.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/12463.html
Chapter 11: https://www.theonering.com/docs/12536.html
Chapter 12: https://www.theonering.com/docs/12615.html