When Aramir awoke, all he could remember was pain. Pain in his side, in his arm, in his heart. Just pain.
He sat up, rubbing his head, which was throbbing like the rest of his body, and glanced around. Where on earth was he? It was dark and cold and reeked of despair. Odd, Aramir thought, how distinct was the scent of shattered dreams. He took a long, steadying breath and climbed to his feet. The sounds echoed in the stone room and the silence that followed shattered his eardrums.
He didn’t know how long he had been here and he didn’t know what would happen next. But he knew where he was. And he knew why. It all came back to him at once, overwhelming him so that he was forced to steady himself against the prison wall. He sucked in a sharp gasp of breath and remembered his pain; it seared through his side once again and he clutched at it in vain. Nothing made sense. Everything was wrong.
This isn’t how it was supposed to end. This isn’t right. Let me explain, please… Kellian, where are you? Mother? Sicil? Someone, please, let me out. I can’t…this can’t be right. I didn’t do anything…
Kellian, where are you? Mother? Sicil? Someone, please, let me out. I can’t…this can’t be right. I didn’t do anything…
A single tear rolled down his cheek and fell to the stone floor, alone. I didn’t have to do anything, he realized. I just…am.
Why bother standing? He sank to his knees and buried his head in his hands, trying to suppress a sob. How could everything have gone so wrong? One battle, and now this. His life would never be the same, and he knew it, deep in his heart. He was part Orc, and they all knew. They hated him, feared him, wanted him dead, no doubt. He was alone in prison, desperately alone. He had never been so vulnerable in his life.
He was terrified.
Aramir had never felt a feeling so strong. It made the panic he had felt earlier seem like a breeze. But this, this was a storm, a veritable tornado of horror that nearly sent him crashing to the ground in despair. A million questions ran through his mind, screaming out in order to be heard above the rest. Each one came and went without an answer. He didn’t know anything. Not what would happen, not when, not how.
And what of the others? Of his friends, of the Itir? Did they hate him too? Were they fighting for him, or against him? Was Kellian supporting his friend alone?
Just more questions to fill the empty room.
It was dark, lit by a single torch and by the light which was streaming in from the small, barred window, his only passage to the world in which he was nothing more than another enemy. The stone floor was uneven; slabs of rock jutted out from the dirt below like uneven teeth. He traced an aimless design in the black dirt between the rocks and saw instead a trail of blood following his finger through the soil. Aramir shuddered. Everything made him think of Orcs now. He stared down at his hands, calloused from so many years of combat, and was ashamed to see them trembling. Just like the rest of his body, he realized.
He crawled to the corner of the cell and sat, wrapping his arms around his knees, hugging them to his chest. A pile of torn black fabric sat next to him; it was his cloak, in sore need of repair that it would surely never receive. He reached out timidly and pulled it over his shoulders, glad for its warmth. At his side, still strapped to his belt, were his daggers and his sword. Underneath the fabric of the cloak, he fingered the hilt of his sword, remembering the day it had been presented to him.
“Do you swear to serve Gondor, its royal family, and its people for as long as you may live?” “Do you swear to serve the good of Middle-earth, and never its evil?” “And do you swear to remain loyal to this good, and to do all that is within your power to protect it?”
“Do you swear to serve the good of Middle-earth, and never its evil?”
“And do you swear to remain loyal to this good, and to do all that is within your power to protect it?”
The words echoed in his mind, tuned to Arodan’s deep tenor voice. They floated around the cell, screaming one moment, whispering the next, a constant antagonist pressing down upon the trembling figure huddled in the corner. Do you, do you, do you? Do you swear?
“Yes, yes!” Aramir shouted to the silence. “I swore it long ago! I swore it and I meant it! I wouldn’t…couldn’t…” He shook his head. “You heard me… you heard me swear that oath. How can you think… I…I didn’t…” He buried his fists in his eyes, forcing the tears to remain welled up inside.
“Please,” he whispered. “Please let me go.”
Exhausted in both mind and body, he closed his eyes and rested his chin on his knees. Perhaps sleep would come, though he doubted it.
The next thing he heard was voices. Loud, angry voices. He shook the sleep from his head and listened with as much interest as he could muster to the confrontation that was taking place outside of his cell; he realized with a start that it was about him.
“Bu-but sir, Captain Janst has ordered-“
“For all I care, Janst can burn in the fires of Mr. Doom! I am his superior and yours as well. Now open this door or-“
“But King Arodan also…” The voice trailed off, waiting for a retort.
There was silence. Aramir waited. The angry voice was Lee’s. Fear gripped his heart. What would Lee say to him? How would he react? Aramir wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“For once in my life, I could not care any less about Lord Arodan’s wishes. I will speak with Aramir, and no one, not even the king, will stop me.” His voice was calm, quiet, and dripping with unspoken threats.
The guard sighed heavily. “Very well, Captain Merin.”
The turning of a key and creaking of the hinges later, and Lee stood in the door of the cell. Aramir raised his head slightly and eyed Lee cautiously. He hadn’t changed his clothing since the battle, and from the looks of him, he hadn’t allowed anyone to tend to his wounds, either. Covered in dirt, sweat, and blood, he knelt next to Aramir, who looked away hurriedly.
The young Itir kept his face decidedly averted from the captain’s piercing stare. I won’t look at him, he thought. How can I?
“Aramir, look at me.”
No, no! Don’t make me look at you. He bit his lip. How could he bear to see Lee’s face, his expression? What would he find in his captain’s eyes? Anger? Disappointment? Sorrow? Fear?
He shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “Please, Captain.”
“Captain?” Aramir could hear the smile on Lee’s face. “Since when do you call me Captain?” He cleared his throat, and when he spoke, his tone was gentle but stern. “Aramir Nárëgond, I order you to look at me.” He reached out and put his hand on Aramir’s shoulder; Aramir glanced down at the hand and shied away from it. Finally, however, he raised his head and his black eyes met Lee’s.
They were smiling. Smiling with gentle, sorrowful understanding.
Afraid he would erupt into tears, Aramir turned away again. “Lee,” he murmured. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I should never have pretended to be something I am not. Why did I ever become an Itir? I don’t belong here…”
“Aramir, stop it.”
Aramir jumped at the anger in Lee’s voice and he glanced into his friend’s face again.
Lee shook his head vehemently. “What are you saying? Listen to yourself, Aramir! Pretended to be something you’re not? Pretended to be loyal, honest, kind? That’s not something you pretend to be, that is something you are. Something you are.”
“You know what I meant, Lee,” Aramir snapped.
“Of course I know.” The Itir captain shook his head. “The world is full of monsters, Aramir, but I can assure you, you are not one of them.” He settled himself next to Aramir and draped an arm around the young Itir’s shoulders. Aramir shuddered but couldn’t pull away. He wanted more than anything to believe that this was happening. He wanted to bury his face into Lee’s shoulders and tell the man how afraid he was. Lee, he thought. You’re still here, by my side.
“I spoke with Kellian. He told me everything, in brief at least.”
“And you are not afraid?”
Lee smiled. “No. I’ll admit I was surprised. Surprised, and more than a little hurt. You could have told me, you know. When I said you were like a son to me… I really meant that, Aramir.” His smile became sad and wistful.
Guilt washed over Aramir and then receded as quickly as it had come. The experience left him covered in a blanket of regret, wishing he could escape from its suffocating presence.
“I wanted to tell you. I was just…so afraid. You always said that I could tell you anything, but I thought…” he shook his head. “I thought you might tell Arodan. Your first duty is–“
“–to the king, ah, yes I see. You thought I might place Arodan’s trust over your own.”
Aramir shrugged. “I wouldn’t have blamed you.”
“Mm, I suppose not. We are the eyes and ears of the king, as well as his protectors. Anything suspicious, any danger is reported to Arodan. You know that, of course. But Aramir,” he added, tightening his hold on Aramir’s shoulders, “you are not a danger to the king. You never were. Being part Orc doesn’t make you dangerous, just as being part Elf doesn’t make you wise. I might have told Arodan one day, but it wouldn’t have been like this.” He sighed quietly. “It wouldn’t have been a warning.”
Lee’s eyes narrowed and then returned to their accustomed calm. “I like to think that I am not so quick to judge as some.” He paused, and then added, “But I didn’t come here to make you feel guilty. I’m sorry.”
Aramir forced his face into a smile and found it surprisingly easy. “I know. And…what you said about…about me being like your son. I’m glad. I never thought I’d find another father, but…I did.” Aramir sighed, a deep, heavy, relieved sigh. No matter what happened, at least he would always know that his two closest friends had been loyal to him all along, even in the face of the truth.
The thought jogged a memory in his mind, and the image of Deigh and Lucen watching in horror flashed before his eyes. The relief of a moment past vanished.
“Lee? The other Itir? The Guard, for that matter? How…what is happening out there?” Out there. It sounded strange to his ears.
The proud smile Lee had displayed was washed away by disappointment. “Deigh claims that you’re ‘too nice to be an Orc’ and that even if you are, you’re still Aramir to her.” Aramir chuckled. And here he had been annoyed with her just weeks.. days.. had it really only been hours ago?
“But,” Lee continued, “I’m afraid that I cannot say the same for the rest of the Itir.” He shook his head, and his voice was filled with disgust. “Janst has done his work marvelously, I must say that. I would wager that there is not a person in all of Minas Tirith, and probably all of Gondor, who doesn’t know what occurred this afternoon. If that were all, I might not be concerned, but…” Lee frowned.
“I’m afraid Janst has started some vicious rumours about you, Aramir.”
“Let me guess,” Aramir growled. “I’m somehow related to the Dark Lord as well?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised, all things considered.”
Aramir sighed heavily. “I…I wish…” he shook his head. “I don’t even know anymore. I just want this to end.” Biting his lip, he whispered, “I’m so afraid.”
“So am I.” They were the last words Aramir had expected to hear, uttered so softly, so full of uncertainty. Hearing Lee speak in this way made Aramir realize just how dire his situation was. The Captain of the Itir once again tightened his hold on Aramir’s shoulders, then let it slack and rose to his feet.
“I must go and speak with Arodan again. We will see an end to this, I promise you that.” The difference in his voice was shocking; now he sounded certain, determined, and angry. He reached down and pulled Aramir to his feet.
“There’s something I want you to know, Aramir, before I go.”
Before I go. How final those words sounded. Might this be the last time I speak with Lee? Please, no… Aramir swallowed a sob and nodded. “Yes?”
“At a certain time of his life, the Captain of the Itir is required to choose a successor, should anything unexpected happen to him. He writes out his wishes in the presence of the king and signs them, as does the king. They are sealed away with other decrees and laws and only retrieved if necessary. I…” he raised his eyes to meet Aramir’s. “I chose you, Aramir.” He smiled sadly, but the smile was full of pride.
Aramir’s eyes widened. “Me?” he breathed.
“Yes. And even now I would not, will not, change my decision.” He pulled Aramir into a fierce embrace. “I love you, Aramir. You will always be a son to me.”
“Lee.” Aramir didn’t bother to hide the tears that were streaming down his face. He clung to Lee, his friend, his father, for as long as he could, and then the man stepped away, out the door, and was gone.