When class was over, Aramir clapped his hands nodded in approval. “Well done, everyone!” he said, motioning for the four to gather around him. They did so with considerably less trepidation than before. “Now I have a good idea of what everyone needs to work on. Starting tomorrow, I’ll teach instead of just watching.” He grinned.
Aramir walked them to the building where they would eat their morning meal, now that the sun had finally risen and it was actually morning, by Aramir’s standards. Wishing them good luck with the next class, he left and trotted back to his own room. Going back to sleep sounded appealing…
He nearly ran into Kellian, who was coming around the corner, a longbow over his back and a bright light in his eyes.
“Guess what?” he began excitedly.
“You’re teaching archery to the trainees,” Aramir finished with a grin.
Kellian’s face fell. “Who told you? And why are you even awake? I thought you weren’t on duty until this afternoon.”
“I was on teaching duty,” Aramir said slyly.
The Elf laughed at himself. “Should have known! How was it?”
Now Aramir laughed, and turned followed Kellian back down to the ring. “It was like reliving an old experience,” he confided. “Although I don’t remember us being so shy and quiet.”
Kellian rolled his eyes. “Shy!” he scoffed. “Of course not. We were loud and disobedient.”
“They’ll come around, I think,” Aramir said. “They’re all capable swordsmen, I can tell you that at least.”
“Good,” Kellian said with teasing sarcasm. “That’ll ensure that I won’t have to worry at all about being shot this morning. Where are they?”
“In the dining hall, eating.”
“Good, I’m starving!”
Aramir tossed his head back and laughed. “Might as well!”
When they entered the hall and sat down next to the students, Aramir saw some of the nervousness return to their faces and he laughed inwardly.
“We heard there were four amazing fighters here and just had to come down to meet them,” Aramir said, looking each of the four in the eye.
Tai stared right back at him. “I only see two,” she said turning her eyes to Kellian and then back to Aramir, and the Itir laughed.
“I guess that makes six then,” Kellian said, winking.
“Five,” Aramir countered, shoving the Elf with such force that he nearly fell out of his seat.
“No need to be bitter about it, Ar!” Kellian shot back, and even though Aramir was expecting it, he still ended up on the floor, staring up at Kellian, who was laughing madly.
Aramir reached up to pull his friend down on the floor, missed, and ended up dragging Cerith onto the ground instead. The boy yelped in surprise while the other students tried to bite back laughter, but when Kellian’s laughter only persisted, they gave in as well.
Aramir, who was still lying on the ground, turned his head and arched an eyebrow at Cerith. “This is what happens when you become an Itir,” he whispered. “Your supposed best friend attacks you at breakfast.” He pointed at Kellian. “Watch out for him. And if he says anything about me, tell him I’m going to send Sëlune after him.”
Cerith grinned. “Alright, I will.”
Aramir and Kellian finally calmed down long enough to eat, and the Kellian took the students back to the ring. Their anxiety had finally vanished for good, and they were laughing at whatever Kellian was telling them. Aramir turned and headed back to his room once again, but he had forgotten all about sleep by now.
After a week, classes became more rigorous, just as Lee had promised, and Aramir found himself teaching every day. The students were already making progress, Aramir was happy to see. Once, he had seen Lee in the shadows of the ring, watching quietly, but to Aramir’s surprise, the Itir Captain’s presence didn’t make him the least bit nervous. He went on teaching, laughing and joking at the same time, which seemed to work best for the four. Aramir had wondered more than once what these student’s lives had been like before now. To be so young, and already be so good… They had called him young, he remembered, but he was immortal and hadn’t been as young as he had looked. Had the four students had any time for fun and enjoyment? It didn’t seem that way to him.
And so he had taken it upon himself–and he saw that Kellian was doing the same–to make their training as fun as possible, and yet still difficult. So far, it seemed to be working.
He was surprised, then, to see Jac walking alone by himself one night through the snow, looking lost and upset. The boy was so caught up in whatever it was that was bothering him that he didn’t even notice Aramir until the Itir was right on top of him, and then he jumped with surprise.
“Aren’t you out a bit late?” Aramir asked, falling in step with Jac.
The boy nodded hastily. “Yes, uh, I was just heading back to the house.”
Aramir nodded seriously. “Which is why you’re going this way when the lodgings are that way.” He pointed in the opposite direction.
Even in the moonlight, Aramir could see the boy blush. “What’s wrong, Jac?” he asked after a moment.
Jac shook his head and bit his lip. “Nothing’s wrong, really. I’m just not tired.”
“You will be tomorrow morning,” Aramir mused with a smile. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what’s wrong? You can’t fool me, Jac. I have enough wrong with myself to know when something is wrong with someone else.”
Jac started and glanced up at Aramir. “Enough wrong with yourself?!” he burst out with surprising force. “There is nothing wrong with you, Aramir. You’re perfect. Both you and Kellian.”
Aramir began to laugh, but when he saw the hurt in Jac’s eyes, he bit his tongue. “I certainly am not perfect, and neither is Kellian. No one is, you know.”
“You are,” Jac argued. “You’re an amazing fighter, you’re funny, everyone likes you, Eyne and Tai talk constantly about how handsome you are…” He trailed off, giving Aramir adequate time to blush and then gather his thoughts.
Aramir took a deep breath. “Alright, let me address the easiest one first. If you think everyone likes me, let me introduce you to a member of the Royal Guard named Janst. I assure you, he doesn’t like me. ‘Dislike’ is putting it mildly.” Aramir rolled his eyes. “And perhaps I’m funny, but that’s not something I try to be. I just am. Some people are like that, others aren’t, and it certainly doesn’t make me perfect.
“Jac, I may be an amazing fighter–Ulmo knows I’ve been told that plenty of times–but it’s only because I’ve been practicing for years. I’m half-Elf, I’m immortal, I’ve had plenty of time to work out the problems. Anyone can be good when they have forever to practice.”
“Maybe, but Lee says you’re still so young, even for being half-Elven. He said-“
“It doesn’t matter what Lee said,” Aramir interjected, more to stop himself from getting embarrassed than anything. “It doesn’t matter what anyone said, or says. All that matters is what you’re saying to yourself, Jac.” They walked on in silence, and after Aramir had given Jac time to think about what he had said, he continued. “What was the last one…oh, right. Handsome. Even if I am, and Kell will tell you otherwise, it’s never helped me at all. While I’m introducing you to unpleasant people, you can meet Sëlune as well.” He put a hand on Jac’s shoulder. “That’s what’s bothering you, then? You don’t think you’re good enough to be here?”
Jac sighed loudly. “I’m not. I’m the worst in the class at everything! I’m too young. Maybe I’ll get better, but right now I just feel like everyone is watching me, and pointing out everything I do wrong.”
Aramir permitted himself a small chuckle. “We are, Jac, and I hate to tell you this, but that’s the only way you’ll get better. And you aren’t the worst in the class, either. You’re excellent with a dagger.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” Jac mumbled, but he looked pleased just the same.
Aramir shook his head. “No, I’m not. You aren’t a bad fighter, you’re just the most apprehensive. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself during class–you won’t ever get better if you don’t try. And maybe, even after you do, you’ll find that being an Itir isn’t for you. And there is nothing wrong with that, but you won’t find that out either unless you give it a chance.” He began to laugh softly. “Listen to me! I sound like a mentor.” He let his voice take on a deep, superior quality in a mocking impression of a scholar. “Just try, Jac! Take chances, make mistakes…”
A grin spread over Jac’s face, and then he laughed softly. He wrapped his arms about himself and shivered with the cold. “Maybe I will go get some sleep,” he said. “I wonder if Cerith knows I’m gone.”
“Better go find out,” Aramir advised, smiling. “Goodnight, Jac.”
The boy grinned sheepishly. “Goodnight,” he said, turning back in the direction of the lodgings. “And thanks.”