Nearly twenty-five years later, Aramir’s chance to meet Kellian’s family had still not arrived, and though usually it was one of the furthest things from his mind during his busy days as an Itir, today it was first and foremost.
The years had done little to him, just as they had had little effect upon Kellian, Lee, and the other immortal Itir. The only thing that had changed was his skill- but whether he had gotten better or worse depended upon who was asked, he thought with a chuckle. Lee would have defended the former, no doubt, and even Kellian, had he been in a non-teasing mood.
The young Itir smiled to himself and fingered the hilt of his sword as he pushed the doors of the palace open and stepped out into the chilling air. He wrapped his cloak more tightly about him to counter to cold winter wind. The raging snowstorm that had been plaguing Gondor for several days did not grace the Itir by letting up in his passing, but instead dropped giant white snowflakes upon Aramir’s dark form. He swatted at them to no avail and trotted quickly through the streets to his destination- the Guardhouse.
The softly glowing lights of the Guardhouse welcomed him far more than did the figure that answered at his knock.
“Janst!” Aramir exclaimed, unable to completely mask his surprise and amusement.
Janst held the same look that he did every time that he had seen Aramir passing by, although this was the first time that they had come face-to-face since their training as potential Itir. Aramir knew that Janst was one of the Royal Guard, and high in favor with the Captain of the Guard, but what happened to Janst was of little concern to the Itir.
“Aramir,” Janst returned curtly. He stood in the door of the Guardhouse, reveling in the power of being able to keep Aramir out in the cold storm.
The Itir raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?” he quipped.
“Why would I do that?” Janst retorted.
Aramir’s first instinct was to say ‘because I am your superior’, which, despite the fact that it was true, would have made Janst extremely irate. He shook his head and chose something more civil. “I have a message for Captain Aron.”
The other shrugged. “Give it to me. I will see it delivered.”
As much as Aramir would have liked to do just that, and then go back inside where it was warm, he could not, and told Janst as much. “The message must go directly to Aron.”
Janst smirked. “Captain Aron isn’t here at the moment,” he declared smugly. He was about to shut the door in Aramir’s face when a voice from behind the Itir stopped him.
“Aye, he is here now, Janst.”
Aramir turned around and smiled at Aron, bowing his head slightly out of respect. A revered fighter, Aron had been the Captain of the Guard for nearly thirty years, and was very much respected. He and Lee were close friends, and Aramir had decided that this was because both men were simply nice to everyone. Everyone that deserved it, anyway. Aramir could not fathom why Aron liked Janst.
“Ah, Aramir Nárëgond,” the captain greeted, returning Aramir’s bow. “Come in out of the cold.” He ushered Aramir inside past Janst, who glared openly at the young Itir.
Aramir pulled the hood off of his head and removed his dark gloves, letting the warmth of the Guardhouse’s fire penetrate his chilled skin.
Aron in turn removed his cloak and turned to smile at Aramir, who waited patiently by a small table next to the fire. “What can I do for you, young man?” he asked.
Aramir, who was now more than a century old, chuckled softly and extracted the parchment that Lee had given him earlier that morning. He held it out to Aron. “I have a message for you concerning The Lord Arodan’s trip to Rivendell. Lee will, of course, be sending several of the Itir, but he wishes to know if you desire to accompany the king as well.” Aron had family in Rivendell, although he was human, so Aramir felt that it was natural that Aron should be asked to come along. “The parchment is the dates that King Arodan will be in Rivendell. Lee didn’t seem to think I could remember them, so he wrote them down.”
“I wonder why.” Janst muttered under his breath.
Aramir chose to ignore him and stood waiting. “Lee would have come himself, but he is rather busy now.”
Aron nodded and read the message silently, muttering to himself all the while, and then shook his head. “I am afraid I cannot go. Are you to escort him, Aramir?”
The Itir shrugged slightly. “I do not know. Lee has not asked any of us yet.”
Aron nodded. “I see. Well, If you are chosen to go, I would very much appreciate if you could send my love to my sister and her husband there.”
As Aramir turned to go, Aron added. “I did wonder why he asked you to bring me a message in such weather as this when he could have come himself.”
Aramir laughed. “We drew lots,” he joked. “I lost.”
Aron joined the laughter; Janst simply looked on, eyes narrowed. Bidding them both farewell, Aramir pulled his hood over his head, wrapped his cloak about him, and hurried back to the palace.
He pushed the door open with relief and shook his head of the snow that had managed to find its way inside of his hood.
“Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it, Aramir?” Kellian’s voice asked from behind him.
Aramir stood stock still a moment, as though he had not even heard the Elf. Then suddenly he swung around and seized Kellian’s tunic. The Elf, expecting this, leapt away, but Aramir’s fingers caught the edge of his tunic and dragged him outside. A moment later, the Elven Itir was laying facedown in the snow outside the palace doors.
Aramir laughed hysterically. Kellian leapt up from the snow bank, brushing himself off with the up-most precision, as though he desired to get each and every snowflake off of him. Then he darted forward, collided with Aramir, and sent the two of them crashing to the snow-covered ground.
At that moment, Chatol rounded the corner and trotted hurriedly up the stairs towards the palace. She stopped a safe distance from the two other Itir and eyed them with amusement and a look that clearly said ‘you two are crazy’.
“Hello Chatol!” Kellian greeted from his prostrate position in the snow.
“Hello,” Chatol returned with raised eyebrows.
“Join us in the lovely snow!” Aramir invited, flinging a snowball at the Elven woman.
She leapt away, dodging the snowball, but could not avoid Kellian when he suddenly thrust his foot into her lower leg, causing her to crash unceremoniously to the ground.
“Augh!” she exclaimed. “Kellian!” She reached over and seized Kellian’s tunic, then thrust a huge fist full of snow into his grinning face.
Aramir burst into fits of laughter as he watched his friend and his fellow Itir struggle with each other upon the ground. Chatol had pinned Kellian to the ground and was covering him with snow, but, as Aramir watched, Kellian suddenly managed to free himself from his fellow Elf’s grip. He rose to his knees, gathered a huge ball of snow, and flung it, not at Chatol, but at Aramir. The young half-Elf toppled over into the snow with a cry, then leapt back up and crashed into Kellian with a strangled war-cry.
After several minutes of non-stop snow fighting, the three Itir found themselves unable to stand the freezing cold that was penetrating them to their bones, and made their way back inside. Even Chatol, who was usually more reserved and serious, was laughing loudly, and she shot several threats back at her fellow Itir as she made her way off down the hall.
“Ha,” Kellian spat in mock disdain at her retreating back. “We could beat her any day.”
“Which is why you were lying facedown in the snow only minutes ago, right?” Aramir retorted with a wide grin.
“Do you care to repeat that?” the Elf asked with a wicked smile as he attempted to back Aramir out into the snow again.
The other dodged to the side and finished brushing the snow from his tunic. “No, I don’t think I do. I’ve been abused quite enough for one day.” He smirked involuntarily, thinking of Janst.
They hurried to their rooms, where warm fires, prepared by the palace’s servants, awaited them. Aramir quickly changed his clothes and stood a moment by the fire, letting it warm him. A knock on the door interrupted his calm.
“Come in,” he invited, and the door opened to reveal Lee, followed by Kellian. The first walked into Aramir’s room calmly and with a friendly greeting; Kellian bounded in after Lee and leapt onto the bed. Aramir’s first thought was that perhaps snow-fights on the steps of the palace were not allowed, but Lee didn’t look disapproving.
“I delivered your message, Lee,” he said instead. “Aron regrets that he cannot come, but wishes that whomever does go would sends his greetings to his sister and her husband.”
Lee nodded, joining Aramir by the fire. His deep brown eyes danced in the firelight as he turned to the young Itir. “Then perhaps you would be gracious enough to pass along those wishes, Aramir. I would like you-” he turned to the Elf sprawled out on the bed- “and Kellian, as well as Kaelith, to go to Rivendell with Lord Arodan and Lady Ilren.”
Aramir’s face broke into an excited smile. “Really?”
The captain nodded. “Aye. What do you say?”
“I would be honoured. I-I’d love to.”
Lee smiled. “I thought you would say so. Very well then, you shall depart one week from tomorrow at dawn with the Lord and Lady. Kaelith has been to Rivendell before, and knows the procedure, but I will certainly go over with you anything you may need to know before then. I’m sure Kellian knows the formalities.”
From across the bed, a laugh floated to the ears of the two standing by the fire. “Me? I was forbidden to go anywhere near the royal chambers when I was still a child.”
Lee and Aramir laughed. “You were that bad, eh?” Lee said in a scolding voice. “Doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
A few more details taken care of, and both Lee and Kellian were gone again- both were needed elsewhere. Aramir, who had nothing to do until that night, lay down upon his bed and closed his eyes. His mind drifted across the land to Rivendell, and he saw in his mind the beautiful buildings and land that Kellian had so vividly described to him many times. He saw tall, graceful Elves drifting about, and he could nearly hear their soft, musical voices. It was perfect, even when he had never seen it.
The word brought to mind something, someone, who was not so perfect. Someone who would certainly not be welcome in the Elven city, should they know what he truly was.
Aramir sat up in his bed, suddenly full of fear and doubt. Suppose they should find out what he was. Few Elves had a gift such as that which had been given by the three rings, but there were a few nevertheless. What if…
He could not finish the thought. The idea of what might happen to him, of what they might say, or do, was something he did not want to think about. What would the Elves think of him, if they knew? What would anyone think, for that matter? And perhaps they had heard something of his great-grandmother’s story…and of him.
‘Wait,’ a tiny voice of reason said from the back of his near-frantic mind. ‘Sicil has been to Rivendell many times, and nothing has come of such visits. What makes you think you should be any different?’
‘But I shall be with the lords of Rivendell, he argued with himself. They, of all in Rivendell, would be the ones to realize what I am.’
He lay back down on his bed and closed his eyes with a deep sigh. How he hated what he was. How often he had wished he had never been born, rather than born with such a secret. His head swam and began to ache, and he squeezed his dark eyes shut even tighter than before, as though he could will away the Orc in his blood.
But it would not go. He was the descendant of an Orc. He had kept the secret for so long, it seemed, able to tell no one. No one knew what it was like for him to hold it in like he did. More often than not, he simply forgot his bloodline, and thought only on whom he had become-an Itir in the palace. But then there were times when he was forced to hide his blood, to bite his tongue to keep from muttering something in the Black Speech when he was annoyed-then he would remember. The flood of remorse and self-pity was almost overwhelming at times, and then he would wander the halls of the palace, alone, until the feeling passed. He wanted to tell someone, to share his secret with just one other. That would make it easier to bear, he knew-to be able to share his feelings with a friend, to tell them exactly how he felt.
‘But you have that friend,’ the voice said. ‘You have that friend.’
“Aramir? Ar, are you in there?”
Aramir sat up slowly and shook his head. Outside of his window, night was falling fast. He must have fallen asleep. “Kell? Come on in.”
The door opened to admit the Elf, who trotted in looking slightly calmer than he had that afternoon. “You’re lucky, you got to sleep,” Kellian complained, sinking onto the end of the bed.
“You’re lucky, you get to sleep tonight,” Aramir retorted. “I have night watch, remember?”
He must have sounded a bit more cross than he had intended, because Kellian held up a hand in apology. “I’m sorry; I was just teasing. Are you alright, Ar?”
He opened his mouth to say yes, then changed his mind and rose. The truth was, he was not all right. He felt worse than usual-the sinking feeling in his stomach was growing steadily more intense.
He pushed the doors of the balcony open and watched as the sun finished sinking behind the hills. A blast of cold winter air hit him, but he only took a deep breath and ignored his chills.
“No. No, Kellian, I’m not alright.”
He heard the Elf’s footsteps as he hurried over to where Aramir was standing. A moment later, Kellian’s blue eyes were staring into his. “Ar?” Kellian’s voice was filled with concern. “What’s wrong? Are you sick? No, that’s silly, you can’t be sick. Are you hurt?”
Aramir leaned heavily upon the railing. He wanted so badly to tell Kellian. Kellian was his best friend; he would understand. Wouldn’t he?
“Kell, I…I need to tell you something. Something I’ve never told anyone else in my life.” He raised his eyes to meet his friend’s, the black orbs filled with regret and fear.
Kellian regarded him silently for several long minutes, as though trying to ascertain that Aramir was really unhurt, physically.
Aramir continued. “And I want you to swear that you’ll never tell another. Never.”
The Elf placed his hands upon Aramir’s shoulders and held him at arm’s distance. He nodded seriously. “Very well-I swear it. I swear I shall never tell another soul as long as I live.” His eyes softened slightly. “I’m your best friend, Aramir. You can tell me anything. I won’t ever betray you.”
His voice was so full of sincerity, so kind and caring, that for a moment, all of Aramir’s fears were washed away. He stepped forward and tightly embraced the Elf, and whispered, “Thanks Kell.”
Kellian smiled encouragingly at his friend and waited for him to speak.
Aramir turned back towards the balcony, then changed his mind and made his way slowly to his bed. He sank down upon it heavily, barely aware that Kellian had followed him. He drew his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms about them, huddling in a ball in the corner of the room. He wished the darkness of the corner would swallow him up and take him away forever, but no matter how long he waited, he still sat upon his bed, trying not to look at the Elf on the other side. He knew that he could not back out now, not when he had come this far. And while he wanted with all his heart to tell Kellian and get it over with, something in him was screaming out in warning.
‘You swore you would never tell another!’ the voice cried. ‘And now who do you choose to tell? An Elf!’
Aramir shook his head, trying desperately to clear the sound from his mind.
“Kellian… I…well, I mean…what I want to tell you… I…” He trailed off helplessly and buried his face in his arms.
“Aramir, it’s alright, really,” Kellian insisted. “It cannot be that bad, can it? What, was your father an Orc?” He smiled slightly at what he no doubt thought was funny.
Aramir’s sudden start and then silence caused the Elf’s laughter to die away. “You are very close,” Aramir whispered.
Kellian’s eyes widened and he stared at his friend.
“Go back two more generations,” Aramir finished.
A pause followed, and then, “Your great-grandfather?”
“Was an Orc?”
“Yes.” Aramir sighed heavily.
“What?” He lifted his head and stared at Kellian.
“I want to hear you say it. I want you to tell me your secret, just like you said you would.”
Aramir gaped at him. His eyes narrowed slightly, but Kellian did not back down. “Fine,” he sighed in defeat. “My great-grandfather was an Orc. Are you happy?”
“No,” Kellian whispered. “Not for you. Aramir, I am so sorry.” He crossed the bed to where Aramir sat and settled himself next to him, draping an arm around the other’s shoulders. His eyes were filled with sorrow, regret, and understanding.
Every nerve in Aramir’s body, so tense from all of his nervousness, slowly began to loosen. As they did, Aramir realized that Kellian was still in his room, siting next to him, with his arm around his shoulders. The Elf had not run; he had not been frightened. He had barely even reacted.
With this realization came a torrent of words and memories-everything that Aramir had been holding in. He told Kellian about his great-grandmother, and of the dreams in which he saw her. He spoke of his ability to speak and to understand the Black Tongue, and of his blood, black like that of the Orcs. He asked Kellian to poke his hand with his dagger, and when the Elf refused, Aramir did it himself. Kellian did not recoil at the sight of the inky blood that flowed from Aramir’s hand. Instead he only watched with interest and sympathy as Aramir showed him the bottle that Sicil had given him, and then demonstrated how it worked.
When he had said all that he could think to say, he sighed deeply and looked away from Kellian, ashamed. “Well?” he whispered. “Aren’t you going to leave?”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. To tell Lee, or Arodan. Or to get away from me.”
“I swore I would not tell anyone, Aramir. And you are my best friend. Why should I want to get away from you?”
Aramir stared at him in wonder. “Haven’t you been listening?” he burst out.
“Yes,” Kellian said simply. “Aramir, have you changed any in the last fifteen minutes? I mean, your personality and such.”
“What? No.” Aramir raised his eyebrows, confused.
“Then why should I hate you? Why should I leave?”
“Because I’m part Orc.”
“And you were not part Orc before now?”
“Of course I was. The only thing that has changed is that you know.”
“Exactly! And what I know should not change who you are.” He offered Aramir a smile. “Should it?”
Aramir was beginning to understand, but was unable to believe it. How could he have been blessed with such a wonderful friend?
Kellian saw this and nodded. “Think about it. You have been part Orc your entire life, and you have never given me any reason to fear you. Well, seriously fear you, anyway,” he teased. “So now you choose to tell me your secret. I certainly don’t expect you to start acting like an Orc, just to prove that you are descended of one. I’ve no reason to hate you, Ar. I’m sorry you have had to bear such a secret for so long. I swear to you, you have nothing to fear from telling me. No one shall ever hear any of this.”
On the brink of tears, it was all Aramir could do to smile at his friend. “Oh Kell,” he murmured, leaning forward to embrace the Elf again. Kellian smiled brightly and hugged him back. “Thank you,” Aramir whispered. “Thank you so much. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this happy.”
“Not even when you were accepted as an Itir?”
Aramir shook his head, feeling tears beginning to fall from his black eyes. “No, not even then. Kellian, you’re the best friend anyone could ever hope to have.”
“My, I feel appreciated,” Kellian said with a laugh.
“You are. More than you know. You have no idea how I feel right now.”
The Elf grinned. “No, but I’m glad I could make you feel that way. I’ll bet you did not know I could be so insightful, huh?”
Aramir began to laugh, first at Kellian, and then at the entire situation. Words could not describe how he felt then, sitting with his best friend, now with absolutely nothing kept from him. He felt lighter than the clouds, not rising for fear that he might float away into the sky. He still had his best friend, his friend who cared for him no matter what he was.
He grinned at Kellian, tears of joy streaming down his face. Why had he ever been afraid?