If anything could have brought the two Itir closer together, it was that, and indeed it did. Neither Aramir nor Kellian could state exactly what had happened, but ‘best friends’ now seemed quite a weak title for the two. It was nothing on the outside, and nothing in the way they acted, it was simply a feeling, as though by sharing in something so deep as Aramir’s secret, each had become a part of the other.
Now, a week later, Aramir set off for Rivendell with a light heart, excited to be going to the Elven city for the first time in his life. He and Kellian talked animatedly as they rode out of the city with Kaelith, Arodan, and Ilren. They tried to talk, at least, for the king and queen rode in their carriage, with Kaelith in front, Aramir on the right, and Kellian on the left. It was rather difficult to speak without yelling over the top of the carriage, and they certainly did not want to do that. Aramir patted Narmo’s neck enthusiastically, and the horse trotted along the path with eagerness, tossing his dark mane in the cold winter breeze.
They could not have chosen a better day to set off. Due to the terrible weather of the previous week, the ground was covered with snow that measured to their horses’ knees, but it was light and fluffy and did not hinder them as they strode down the road. The sky overhead was clear and bright, and the sun tried to warm them as best it could. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky, and just a slight breeze in the trees that threatened every so often to drop snow onto their heads.
Aramir wrapped his heavy black cloak tightly about him, smiling. Not even a snowstorm could bother him now.
They rode for the better part of the day, stopping occasionally to scout ahead, and switching positions so that both Aramir and Kellian had a chance to be leader of the group. When he was not leading, Aramir found Arodan and Ilren to both be surprisingly talkative and quite easy to converse with. Neither, he discovered, were without a sense of humour, and between he and Kellian and occasionally Kaelith, they were able to come up with a good variety of jokes and stories to amuse Arodan.
The sun set behind the hills at an early hour, forcing the group to halt when, during the summer season, they would have been able to ride for another three hours. The three Itir made camp at a spot that Kaelith informed them was a usual stop for the visits to Rivendell. Sure enough, in a cave system set in the rocky terrain they found a well-kept supply of food, the remains of an old fire, and even some extra blankets. After ascertaining that it was safe, they filed into the caves and prepared for the night.
It was immediately apparent to Aramir that something was bothering Kellian. The Elf was on edge the entire time they prepared the fire and then dinner. His blue eyes darted about uneasily, and every little thing made him jump in surprise. Aramir, confused and concerned about what was wrong, was ready to ask him when the answer struck him like a hand across the face.
Kellian was an Elf.
He almost laughed out loud as he watched his friend sit down by the fire and stare into it, avoiding looking around at all costs. No wonder he was uneasy, considering his people’s dislike of caves and areas such as this.
Aramir crossed the rock floor, his boots barely making a sound, and sat down next to Kellian. He accepted the food that Kaelith offered him and listened with mild interest to the conversation that the Itir was having with Arodan about trade, or something of the sort.
His true thoughts, however, were on the Elf that sat next to him. Kellian had not even acknowledged him when he had sat down, and Aramir had a stong suspicion that the Elf did not even know he was there. He grinned to himself. He was not at all uneasy, even being half-Elf. Rather, he felt oddly at home, closing his eyes and letting the warmth of the fire sink into is face, warming it and driving away the chills he had accumulated throughout the day.
“It is nice in here, isn’t it Kell?” he asked innocently, taking a drink of ale from a flask that Kaelith had given him. It wasn’t half-bad, considering it had been locked up in this cave for who knew how long.
“Wonderful,” Kellian answered shortly. He never took his eyes off of the fire.
“I’ve never been in such a large cave, have you?” This was a lie; Aramir had been in plenty of caves. He and Sicil had never tired of exploring the land outside of the city, searching the old rock formations for openings and passages, always hoping to discover some lost secret.
“No,” Kellian snapped. “And after this, I don’t ever want to be in one again.”
“Why not?” Aramir asked, even more innocently than before.
The Elf turned squarely to Aramir. “I hate caves,” he grumbled.
Aramir nodded gravely, then began to laugh. “I can tell!” he snorted, trying to suppress his growing laughter. “Oh Kellian, you should see your face! You look as though you are in a tomb and scared of the dead.” He shook his head, laughing still.
The Elf’s eyes narrowed and he turned away. “You think it’s funny, do you?” he muttered. “You wouldn’t if you were full Elf.”
Aramir chuckled and draped an arm over Kellian’s shoulders. “Sorry Kell. It is just rather amusing, you know. You’re an Itir and a warrior and here you are, uneasy in a cave. Of all the things to be scared of.”
“I’m not scared,” Kellian insisted. “I’m just, as you said, uneasy.” He raised his head defiantly and stared into the dark recesses of the cavern.
“Shall I ask Kaelith if you may sleep outside in the snow tonight?” Aramir quipped.
“Leave me alone,” Kellian snapped. Without another word, he rose and made his way to where his bedroll had been set up. Not bothering to glance at Aramir, he sat and then lay down, and did not move.
Aramir watched him in surprise, taken aback and feeling guilty. He had not meant to make the Elf mad-Kellian would have teased him just the same, no doubt. With a small shake of his head, Aramir helped Kaelith clean up after dinner, saying that his Elven friend was feeling a bit off and hoping that his fellow Itir believed him. Kaelith did, fortunately, and did not bother to question Kellian at all.
When the area was clean and everyone else set in their beds, save Kaelith, who had volunteered to take first watch, Aramir let himself sit down upon his bed next to Kellian.
“Kell?” he whispered, sure that the Elf was still awake.
“What?” He didn’t sound angry anymore, Aramir noted.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry. I was only teasing.”
Kellian rolled over and raised his eyes to Aramir’s. “I know. I’m sorry I got angry at you.” He thought a moment, then added, “And if you would not mind, I’d really like to sleep now. The sooner we leave this place, the better, in my opinion.”
Aramir nodded, containing a grin. “Alright. Goodnight Kell.”
Kaelith woke Aramir in the dead of the night, informing him that it was his turn to take watch. Aramir sat up and climbed out of his bed without complaint and went to sit by the dying fire. Within minutes, the only sounds were those of his companions breathing. He stirred the fire absently with a stick and let the warmth of the embers come and rest upon his face. The dim firelight reflected in his black eyes, giving him a dark and rather frightening appearance that no one was awake to see.
He had been awake for nearly an hour, amusing himself by thinking of Kellian, when the subject of his thoughts suddenly sat up with a loud, frightened cry. Aramir leapt to his feet, startled.
“Kell!” he hissed, hoping that no one had been awakened by the Elf’s cry.
Kellian’s blue eyes lost their frightened look as he glanced around and realized where he was. Even in the dim light, Aramir could see his face flush with humiliation.
“Now who is having nightmares, Kell?” Aramir teased gently as the Elf stood up and shook his head.
“Hmph,” was the disgruntled reply. “I hate caves.”
Aramir chuckled. “So I’ve heard. You’re lucky that you didn’t wake Arodan up.” He began to laugh.
The look on Kellian’s face said that he had not thought of that. “Heh,” he muttered. “Oops.”
“What were you dreaming about?” Aramir wondered.
Kellian sat back down. “Caves,” was all he would say, and Aramir did not bother to pry. Instead, he only shook his head, still laughing softly at his Elven friend.
Wanting to get all of the sleep he could before the journey of the next day, Kellian rolled over in his bed and was silent, which suited Aramir fine. A wide grin rested upon his handsome face, thinking of Kellian and his fear of caves.
The rest of the journey to Rivendell was uneventful, especially considering that they spent the night in several more cave systems, much to Kellian’s annoyance. Luckily he had no more dreams, and he refused to tell Aramir what his only dream had been about.
They arrived in the Elven city at dusk. The sky overhead was filled with dark, ominous clouds that promised snow for the night and probably the next day. They were greeted warmly and respectfully by the Elves and taken to where they would be staying.
The entire time, Aramir stared around in awe, taking in the beautiful craftsmanship of the Elves and the peacefulness of their home. Kellian pointed out things and places of interest as they passed them, and Aramir made the Elf promise to take him on a full tour the moment they had a chance.
The chance came sooner than they expected-after dinner, which was excellent, Arodan informed his Itir that he would simply be resting tonight and that they were free to go about the city. As Aramir and Kellian were departing, the king reminded Kellian that he wanted to meet his parents, causing both Itir to walk away fighting bouts of laughter.
The left the confines of the buildings and walked out into the open air of the beautiful Elven city. The clouds were darker than ever, as though they would fall from the sky at any moment. The soft wind intensified as Kellian led them through the city, giving Aramir the tour he had promised. He showed his friend the homes of people he knew and introduced Aramir to a few who happened to see the two Itir pass.
Kellian’s home was not far from the accommodations of the Itir, but by the time they had reached the small building, they were feeling the soft snow flakes in their hair and upon their shoulders. Kellian threatened to leave Aramir outside in the cold again, but before he could follow through on his threat, the door opened and two tall Elves appeared in the door.
“Kellian!” the woman cried, rushing forward. Her long dark hair fell down her back and contrasted to the soft blue gown that she wore. Her eyes sparkled with delight at the sight of the two Itir upon the door. She threw her arms around Kellian with a joyful exclamation. “Oh, my son, how I have missed you!”
Kellian laughed and returned his mother’s hug. “You needn’t pretend, mother,” he teased. “Aramir knows how you really feel about me.”
The Elven man upon the doorstep laughed and let his deep blue eyes sweep over Aramir. “Then you have heard all about his adventures?” he asked the other Itir, and Aramir nodded, grinning.
“I did think it rather rude, however, that you held a celebration for his going away and did not invite him.”
Kellian’s mother, now detached from her son, laughed softly. Her laugh was like music to Aramir. “We did invite him. He was off terrorizing someone, I am sure.”
Aramir and Kellian laughed as the two Elves ushered them inside. Aramir liked Kellian’s parents, although seeing his friend’s father made him think of his own. The house was warm and comforting, lit by several elegant lanterns scattered throughout the house. A bright fire blazed in the fireplace across the room. Everything was just as Aramir had imagined-beautiful and filled with Elven grace. For the time he forgot his unwanted heritage and thought only of his Elven side.
“We were so proud of you when we found out,” Kellian’s father was saying, smiling down upon his son with a look that not even his words could express. He caught Aramir watching him and his smile brightened even further. “And you must be Aramir Nárëgond. Kellian has written us so much of you.”
Aramir cast a glance at Kellian, who grinned wickedly.
“All good things, of course,” the Elf assured him.
“I’m sure,” Aramir shot back.
Kellian smirked and gestured to his parents. “Aramir, these are my parents. My mother Evesaire, and my father, Koralon.” He left his father and went to stand next to Aramir, throwing an arm over his friend’s shoulders. “And yes-the best friend I could ever hope for. This is Aramir.”
Aramir blushed but did not have time to dwell on his embarrassment. Evesaire, concerned that perhaps that they had not received enough to eat, offered them a second dinner that looked and smelled too wonderful to turn down. They sat at a beautifully crafted table, telling the two Elves everything that there was to tell about being Itir. Kellian, true to his word, said absolutely nothing about Aramir’s secret, and the young Itir was not once concerned that he would. He participated in the conversation eagerly, teasing Kellian whenever the opportunity arose.
When the meal was finished and both Itir were too full to speak, Aramir and Kellian staggered over next to the fire and sat near to it in contented silence. Aramir leaned back in the comfortable chair he had been given and stared up at the ceiling. Even the low, simple ceiling had been carved with intricate Elven designs and symbols. He found himself absorbed in reading the lays and verses that were inscribed all about the wood. He was concentrating so hard, in fact, that he completely forgot Kellian until the Elf nearly shoved him out of the chair. He steadied himself with a startled cry and swatted at his friend.
Laughing at anything and everything, the two Itir walked languidly back towards their dwellings. They were walking up the stairs when a sudden cry brought them to a halt.
Through the snow, they could see a fair, dark-haired Elf running towards them. Whereas even the most graceful human would have slipped on the icy steps, the Elf had perfect balance and poise, and he brought himself to a graceful halt in front of Kellian and Aramir.
“Kellian, it is you!” the dark-hair Elf exclaimed in the Elven tongue, and threw his arms around Kellian.
The Elven Itir laughed and returned the embrace. “Aiken! How are you? Keeping out of trouble?”
“Of course,” Aiken said with a serious smile and a
wink. “With you gone, I’ve been doing the work of two.”
Aramir laughed, as did Kellian. The laughter of the former caused the Elf Aiken to turn his eyes upon Aramir, and they suddenly became alight with recognition.
“You must be Aramir!” he said, sounding excited. “Kellian has written all about you. I’m glad he has someone to watch out for him.” He grinned, and then paused. “You are Sicil Nárëgond’s sister, aren’t you?”
For a moment, Aramir’s blood turned as cold as the winter night. Suppose Sicil had given something away? What if this Aiken knew something, or suspected something?”
Kellian, seeing Aramir’s discomfort, answered for him. “He is, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. He doesn’t want everyone to find out that he has a sister who can fight better than he can.”
This brought Aramir out of his trance. “She can not!” he protested, reaching down and scooping up a handful of snow. “You had better watch it, Elf.”
“Oh, throwing that in my face, are you? You forget where you are, Aramir. Calling me an Elf will do you no good here in Rivendell.” He smirked and gathered some snow in his own hands, then turned to Aiken. “Half-elves,” he hissed
quietly. “They think they know everything.”
Aramir made to throw the snowball and found his hand clutched in a fist of iron. The half-elf and two elves turned to see Kaelith standing behind Aramir, a somewhat amused, somewhat exasperated expression on his face.
The Itir arched an eyebrow at Aramir. “I sure he deserved it,” he confided, tossing his head in Kellian’s direction. His short, dark hair fell into his eyes and he brushed it away before continuing. “However, the rest of this city is trying to sleep. Perhaps you ought to do the same.”
Disappointed, Aramir lowered his numb, snowball-throwing hand and shrugged. “Alright,” he agreed. “But he did deserve it.”
“Did not,” Kellian muttered, stepping past Aramir to follow Kaelith.
“Yes, he did,” Aiken muttered to Aramir behind the Elf’s back. Aramir grinned and followed his fellow Itir into the house.