By the time Aramir finally received a good opportunity to sit down and examine his new life, he had been an Itir for nearly a month. His days and nights were filled with the routine of an Itir- with training, with royal affairs, and with a variety of other activities that he had become accustomed to. In just this short time, he, and Kellian as well, had truly ‘become’ the Itir that they professed to be. The first week had been the most difficult and embarrassing, including several mishaps that neither Aramir nor Kellian cared to think about. The other Itir had been supportive of their two new fellow Itir, aside from several teasing comments, which Aramir and Kellian were happy to return with comments of their own. They learned more about the other Itir in those first two weeks than they had the entire time they had been trainees. Kellian bonded almost immediately with Pilindar, mostly because of their shared love of archery, and the two practiced together as often as they could.
The Itir that Aramir looked to the most, on the other hand, was Lee, although it seemed that all of the Itir looked to him. Having lost his father at a very young age, even for Men, Aramir looked at Lee almost as an adoptive father, a man he could share everything with, could train with, could look up to. Lee was all of this and more to the young man, and Aramir often said that he was more of a friend than a superior. And although he tried to hide it as best he could, it was obvious that Lee, in turn, was very fond of Aramir
No bond with any of the other Itir, however, could replace the friendship between Aramir and Kellian. They were together whenever they could be, and Lee had informed them that as long as they ‘behaved’, he would put them on duty together as often as he could. During the first month, then, they had worked hard to prove that they could and would behave, and Lee had rewarded them for it. When they were not on duty, they trained together, working hard to prove that they deserved the honour that they had been given. If it had not been already, it became accepted that wherever Aramir was, Kellian was also, and even the King Arodan knew this.
And so now, nearly a half a year later, Aramir found himself staring across the hallway of the palace at Kellian. Or at least, where he knew that the Elf was standing, for even his sharp eyes could not pick the thin form of his friend out of the shadowed darkness. Aramir leaned absently against a tall pillar, blending into the shadows just as his Elven friend was. He was a good twenty feet above the ground, standing on a small ledge high above the hall, eyes watching intensely. These small, dark spots, he thought, had been made for the Itir…well, perhaps not, but it seemed that way. They were small areas in between the tall pillars that formed the elaborate decoration of the halls, pillars that reached up to the high ceiling. Lee had received permission from Arodan long ago to position Itir in these places, in a manner of a watch for special circumstances.
Now was one of these times. Aramir and Kellian, the two youngest- in body, but not age- of the Itir, had been ordered to stand watch in these dark corners. They were there only for precaution, but precaution was always necessary, they knew. Both had their dark longbows out, arrows notched and ready. Aramir held his bow loosely at his side, seeing no reason for precaution just yet. Arodan, Ilren, and Lee had passed down the hallway several minutes ago to meet the ambassadors, and Aramir did not expect them to return for a good quarter of an hour. He thought again, as he leaned against the pillar, on what Lee told him earlier. The two ambassadors were Easterlings, technically, although they were not the same as the men of long ago. Until recently, there had been no organized government for that land, but lately there had been talk of one forming, of a kingdom of those people. Arodan, naturally, had been concerned, but then surprised when their leader had sent word that he wished for peace and alignment between the two kingdoms. The King of Gondor had decided to accept his ambassadors, who were due to arrive right about now. None knew what to expect from this situation, and Lee and Arodan had agreed that extra precaution was necessary.
Which was why Aramir and Kellian were standing where they were, waiting. They were truly only extra precaution, since Lee was going to be right there with the king and queen, but it was better to be safe than sorry. That seemed to be one of the many unspoken mottoes of the Itir, Aramir had discovered.
The sound of voices, far off, caught Aramir’s sharp ears and caused him to turn his head in the direction from which it had come. He and Kellian were in approximately the middle of the hall, so that they could, if necessary, shoot down the hall in either direction. The young Itir’s dark eyes watched in interest as the king, queen, Lee, and four other figures strode down the corridor. Arodan’s voice could be heard, vaguely, speaking to one of the Easterling men. Lee flanked the king and queen, hand resting loosely upon his sword. Two men walked to the Itir captain’s right- they seemed to be the Guard of the ambassadors, based upon their simple, dark dress and assortment of weapons. Their faces were covered all save their eyes, so Aramir could make out no features, nor expressions. The ambassadors walked next to Arodan and Ilren, speaking in low tones. Aramir eyed them with curiosity and wariness, his bow ready.
As they neared the place where Aramir and Kellian had taken up post, the young man eyed the guards with interest. His eyebrows raised momentarily upon seeing that one of them was clearly a woman- it was obvious by her form, as well as her movements. This struck Aramir as odd, for some reason, although it should have seemed perfectly natural, he reasoned when he thought on it later. Both guards held no weapons, but their belts held numerous daggers and knives, and long, thin swords hung at their sides.
His eyes drifted to Lee just in time to see the captain’s hand trail from his sword and absently up to his insignia, and then back to his sword. Aramir knew a signal when he saw one. Adjusting his bow in one hand, he crouched over and leapt from the dark corner, falling to the ground with no more than a soft thud. He remained crouched a moment more, then rose, and after placing his bow over his back, moved swiftly over to fall in step with the small group. It occurred to the young Itir as he nodded respectfully at Lee the reason for the captain’s revealing of his position. Lee wanted them to know that the king was well guarded, and that any attempt on his life would surely be thwarted. By bringing Aramir out of the shadows, Lee was saying ‘and there’s more where he came from.’ Aramir tried to hide a smirk on Lee’s behalf.
He proceeded down the hall next to Lee without a backwards glance at his Elven friend’s hiding place, not wanting to reveal Kellian. As they walked, Aramir eyed the guards with interest, noting their dress and weapons, as well as their silent, stiff manner. They rather reminded him of the Itir during council, when they had to be formal. It had never ceased to amuse and please him that the Itir were so informal with each other, and even with Arodan, to a lesser degree. He wondered if these guards were ever informal, but watching them now, he doubted it.
They halted outside of a room that had been prepared for one of the ambassadors and Arodan bowed respectfully. “Perhaps you would like to rest before we settle into business?” he suggested.
The taller of the two ambassadors nodded, a small, grateful smile playing across his face. “That is very kind of my lord. We are grateful for your generosity.”
Arodan nodded. “Then here is your room, Ambassador Mordal. And yours, Ambassador Harnn.” He turned to the smaller of the two, and then gestured to the room down the hall. “A door connects your rooms, should you wish to converse or otherwise.” He turned to the two guards and nodded. “We have prepared rooms for your guards as well, should you wish that they stay apart from you. Otherwise, we have second beds that they may use in your rooms.”
The ambassadors seemed to consider this offer, not even bothering to glance at the guards in question. The taller of the two turned his eyes upon them for a moment, and then back to Arodan. “They shall stay with us,” he announced.
Arodan nodded again, seeming unsurprised. “Very good then. If you should need anything, do not hesitate to ask.”
The men nodded, bowed, and thanked Arodan again.
“We shall dine in several hours. Of course, you shall be our guests. I shall someone to take you to the Hall at the appropriate time. And of course, I shall have a servant bring your things to your rooms.”
“Thank you, milord,” the shorter ambassador intoned in a rough, chalky voice. With a final bow, they turned and entered their rooms.
Aramir and Lee waited until they had closed the doors, then followed Arodan down the hall. The king smiled. “We are safe for now, Lee,” the king said.
The captain chuckled. “Aye, we are.”
“We shall see how the council goes tonight. Lee, I know you have else to do this night. Aramir, would you and Kellian do me the honour of being there?”
Aramir flushed with pride and bowed deferentially. “Of course, my lord. We would be honoured.”
Arodan nodded with a small smile. “Perhaps you should go tell Kellian he can get down now,” the king teased.
Aramir grinned. “Why, milord?” he asked.
The king laughed, and Aramir bowed and trotted off down the hall, back in the direction he had come. He was nearing the ambassadors’ rooms, when suddenly one of the doors opened and the woman guard stepped out. She glanced down the hall and saw Aramir, who came to a halt several feet from her.
She bowed respectfully, to Aramir’s surprise, then straightened up. “You are one of King Arodan’s Itir, are you not?” she asked, eyes scanning him with interest.
Aramir nodded, eyeing her right back. She was nearly as tall as he, with dark, almond-shaped eyes that darted about the corridor curiously. Other than her eyes, Aramir could see nothing of her features. “Aye,” he replied. “I’m Aramir. Aramir Nárëgond.” He held out his hand, for even her stiff, formal manner could not prevent him from being naturally friendly.
She eyed his hand a moment, then extended her own and clasped his hand in hers. “I am Killen Refyn. I wondered, if you could spare a moment, if you could direct me to the stables.”
Aramir smiled. “Of course.” He moved over next to her and pointed down the hallway. “Go down this hall, turn left…” he trailed off and shook his head, remembering how far the stables were from here. “Never mind. I’ll take you. Come on.” He beckoned for her to follow and started off down the corridor.
“Oh, I do not wish to trouble you, sir,” Killen argued, following him nevertheless.
Aramir chuckled to himself and shook his head. “It is no trouble, I assure you,” he told her. “I have naught else to do, and even if I did, I would still take you. And you don’t have to call me ‘sir’,” he added.
“Very well then. Thank you… Aramir.” She fell in step beside him and followed him silently to the stables. She was not very friendly, Aramir noticed, for she answered each of his questions politely and then said no more. He shrugged to himself and walked on.
They reached the stables quickly. Killen thanked him and went to her horse’s stall without a glance back at Aramir, who turned his attention to Narmo. Having nothing else to do at the moment, he grabbed a brush from a bucket by the horse’s stall and began to absently rub it across Narmo’s already sparkling coat. The horse nodded his head and whickered in pleasure, butting Aramir with his head. The Itir laughed softly and patted his horse, glad for a moment of quiet with Narmo. He brushed the horse for what he guessed to be about ten minutes, then, satisfied with his quick brushing job, he apologized to Narmo for departing so quickly and left the stall.
After accompanying Killen back to the palace, Aramir located Kellian, who was muttering in mock irritation about his best friend abandoning him. The half-elf only laughed at his friend and dragged him down the hall, having no destination in mind. They had the next few hours free, until dinner and then council. The two young Itir were thrilled that Arodan had asked them to be present at the council- even after nearly six months, the honour never seemed to diminish. They walked unhurriedly down the corridor and found themselves in the Great Hall, as though drawn by some invisible force. Aramir pushed the doors open and walked in quietly, glancing around to confirm that there was no one there. Satisfied, he and Kellian stepped inside. The Hall never ceased to send shivers of awe down Aramir’s spine, and he doubted that he would ever get over the feeling he felt every time he entered the hall. He and Kellian made their way through the great, open space, their boots hardly making a sound upon the highly polished floor. They walked up the steps of the dais at the far end of the hall, turning and staring out as thought they were young princes, addressing the people. Kellian glanced down at the black marble with wide eyes, as though seeing something or someone that Aramir could not see.
“What are you doing, Kellian?” he asked with a grin. “Checking your hair? Goodness knows how vain you Elves are.”
Kellian’s head snapped up. “Excuse me?” he said in mock offense. “Excuse me? And what would a half-breed know about that, hmm?”
“A half-breed!? Are you calling me a half-breed? Take that back, Elf!” Aramir demanded with an eager grin, drawing his sword. “Draw your sword or face certain death!”
Kellian chose the first option, tearing his sword from its sheath with a swishing sound. He raised it in challenge and back away several steps.
“Yes, you had better back up,” Aramir scoffed
“Oh pfft,” the Elf retorted, dancing left and right.
Aramir eyed him a moment, then leapt at his left, an uncommon attack because of the awkward position the attacker had to take. Nevertheless, he executed the attack perfectly, just as Lee had taught him several weeks back. Kellian raised his own sword and leapt to one side, then brought his weapon down and around upon Aramir’s. The two friends danced across the dais as though they were mortal enemies, never taking their eyes off of each other, each looking for an opening in the other’s defense. When they did attack, it was with the skill, speed, and ferocity that the Itir were known and feared for. The clangs of their swords echoed through the Hall and into the corridors beyond, mixed in with their cries of glee and mock anger.
Aramir swung around suddenly in an attack so fast that not even Kellian could follow it. He struck left and right, up and down, back and forth in a constantly changing pattern. He spun around once more and yelped in surprise when his sword went sailing out of his hand. Seconds later, Kellian’s did the same. Both young Itir turned in surprise to see Lee standing beside them, frowning sternly.
Aramir flinched as his sword crashed to the ground in the middle of the hall. From the sound of it, the weapon was going to need some repair.
“Captain,” he said with a slight bow and an embarrassed blush towards Lee. Kellian added his apologetic greeting to Aramir’s.
Lee raised an eyebrow. “And just what were you two doing?” he asked in a quiet, irked voice. “We have guests in the palace, an important council to take place tonight, and here are two of the Itir fighting like madmen in the middle of the Great Hall! Aramir, Kellian, I would not have expected this from you.”
Aramir hung his head and stared down at the ground. “Lee, I’m…we’re really sorry. Honest. We didn’t come here to fight…it just sort of started, and…” he trailed off, clearly ashamed.
“And we’re really sorry. Please don’t kick us out,” Kellian implored.
“Kick you out?” Lee asked with surprise and amusement. “Not at all. You may have acted inappropriately, but you did a masterful job of it.” He winked. “I’m not angry at you, just a bit disappointed. I simply did not want our guests to walk in and see you fighting like that, however well you happened to be fighting. In the future, please remember that the Great Hall is not for practicing in.”
Aramir and Kellian nodded animatedly, both ashamed and relieved. They proceeded down the dais steps and retrieved their swords. As Aramir had feared, his sword had landed wrong and was in serious need of repair to the hilt. “Good excuse to go and see Rin,” he consoled himself.
“Next time, be more careful,” Lee advised.
“He started it,” Kellian muttered as the group left the Hall.
Lee said nothing, only shook his head. “Now, as you know, I have else to do tonight, and Arodan has asked you both to be present at the council. So far, the situation seems safe, but one can never tell. Be on your guard, both of you.”
They both promised that they would, more determined now than ever to make sure that nothing went wrong.
Aramir could still feel his cheeks burning with shame as he trotted down the hall after dinner. Lee had said nothing more, and he knew that he was forgiven, but that didn’t take away his embarrassment. Next time, he thought, I’ll make sure the Hall is locked before I do that. He grinned to himself, but the expression was washed away when his sharp ears caught the sound of voices around the corner.
“You are certain this will not fail?” a harsh, low voice snapped, a voice that Aramir did not recognize.
“Yes, you imbecile, how many times do I have to tell you! It is foolproof! They don’t suspect a thing, not even those Itir. Think they know everything, they do. So loyal to their king. Wait till he’s dead!” Another voice laughed softly, and this one Aramir recognized- it was Killen.
“You know your jobs, both of you. Now get to the council!”
Aramir’s eyes widened as he heard the sound of advancing footsteps. His eyes darted about frantically and he yanked open the door to the room at his left, disappearing inside as the ‘ambassadors’ passed by. Ambassadors, Aramir spat into the darkness. He jumped as he remembered the words. ‘Get to the council!’ He needed to get there, and fast! Praying to Eru that they were gone, he threw the door open and dashed down the hall.
He reached the doors to the council room at the same time as King Arodan.
“My lord!” he cried quietly, glancing apprehensively about for the Easterlings. “King Arodan, I must speak with you.”
Arodan glanced at him with surprise. “Can it not wait until after the council, Aramir?” he queried. “It is time to begin.” He turned away to greet the ambassadors, and Aramir gritted his teeth against a retort.
I need to speak with you now! he thought. King or no king, Aramir was going to have to make Arodan listen to him. The king’s life depended on it. He turned back to Arodan, but the man had pushed open the doors to the council room and was leading the way in. Perfect, Aramir thought. My sword is broken and I can’t use it, Arodan is going to be assassinated, and I can’t tell anyone! He could not even inform Kellian, who was positioned in a dark corner, waiting readily. Aramir sighed. He was on his own.
Had he not been expecting anything to happen, Aramir would not have been the least bit worried during the council. Everything went exactly as a normal council between lands was supposed to go. The king and ambassadors discussed treaties and trade routes and the like, and none made any move against Arodan. Neither did either of the guards, who stood close by, silent black wraiths in the shadows of the room. Aramir kept a close watch upon them the entire time, watching for even the slightest motion of hand to sword or dagger, but he saw none.
The young Itir was ready to burst by the time the council was over. Something was supposed to have happened, and it hadn’t. What had gone wrong? Had he been imagining things in the hallway earlier that night, or had he missed some crucial information in their conversation? He snapped back into the real world as the council was dismissed, seemingly on a good note. Arodan and ambassadors rose and shook hands, and Aramir stared in disbelief as the king chuckled at Ambassador Mordal’s joke. Kellian made his way out of the shadows and approached his friend.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Aramir saw the slightest movement from across the room. He knew, somehow, what was going to happen before it had even begun. He leapt past an astonished-looking Kellian and towards the king.
“Arodan!” he cried, jumping in front of the king just as the sound of a dagger being thrown echoed in his ears.
It was as though the knife was moving in suspended time, and his eyes followed it as it swam slowly through the ocean of air towards him. He reached out frantically with one hand, grasping for the dagger. It twirled around and around, and then struck his hand, sending searing pain through it. With the knife lodged in his hand, he fell to the ground.
A sharp curse burst from the lips of the guard who had thrown the dagger- it was Killen. Aramir leapt to his feet as the other guard drew a knife, but his Elven friend was upon the man before he could even move. Aramir yanked the dagger from his blood-soaked hand, clenched it shut, hoping to hide his blood, and dashed after the woman, who was headed for the door. The ‘ambassadors’ stood in the middle of the room, looking enraged and fearful, but fortunately helpless. Neither made any move to run.
Aramir caught Killen as she reached for the door handle and dragged her back into the room, throwing her to the ground and drawing his own knife with his good hand. He crouched over her and placed it threateningly at her throat.
“Care to try that again?” he asked maliciously.
She swallowed nervously and stared up at him, her expression mirroring those of the startled ambassadors. “A-Aramir,” she said suddenly, in a tone that suggested that his name was somehow going to save her.
He glared down at her. “That is ‘Aramir sir’ to you,” he spat.