Shai led the way across the field, and it seemed to Aramir that she was following a specific path rather than simply crossing the training fields. She skirted past the archery field, then paused and asked a question of the archery instructor, another Itir. Aramir could have listened, but he was too busy taking in everything around him. Shai nodded at the Itir and left the field, motioning for Aramir again. She led him down the invisible path towards the ring. Once there, she motioned for Aramir to be silent, not that he hadn’t been, and opened the door. They strode down the short hall to the main ring, where the fighting took place.
Aramir stared around in awe. The ring was a long, wide area covered in dirt. Around the edge was a wall about waist high, an isle, and then rows of ascending seats. Apparently, thought Aramir, the ring was used for competitions and entertainment as well. In the centre of the ring was a pair of trainees, swords drawn, listening as their instructor gave them directions. Shai leaned over, told Aramir to wait where he was, then nimbly leapt the small wall and made her way towards the Itir in the centre of the ring. Aramir watched her go, then leaned up against the wall to wait. He didn’t have to wait long. The male Itir said something to the students, then followed Shai over to where Aramir stood. As they approached, the young man got a good look at the Itir with Shai. He was tall and muscular, though not overly so, with long brown hair that was tied in a loose ponytail at his neck, but otherwise clean-shaven. He looked about Shai’s age, but Aramir noted his sharply pointed ears and fair complexion and guessed that he was half-Elf. An easy smile rested on his face as he conversed with Shai.
They stopped right in front of Aramir, who straightened up in respect.
“Aramir,” Shai began, “this is Lee Merin, the Captain of the Itir. Lee, this is Aramir Nárëgond, who wishes to become a Itir.”
Lee chuckled and smiled his friendly smile at Aramir. “Doesn’t everyone?” he asked.
Aramir blushed. “I suppose,” he said.
“And yet you have shown enough skill to request to be tested to train, is that right?”
Aramir opened his mouth in protest. “Shai-” he began, but she cut him off.
“-must go and see to her horse. I’ll be back when I am done. Don’t worry Aramir, he doesn’t bite… often.” She chuckled and bowed slightly to Lee in a salute Aramir did not recognize.
Great, he thought, staring after her.
“Don’t listen to her,” Lee said, rolling his brown eyes.
“Oh, so you bite more than often?” Aramir asked, unable to stop himself.
Lee stared at him a moment, then laughed. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “Yes I do.” With sudden, amazing speed, Lee whipped a small dagger out of its sheath and lunged at Aramir. The young man yanked one of his own daggers out and held it up to block the Captain’s blow. The weapons held for a moment, then Lee let up, sheathing his knife, a satisfied look upon his face. Aramir sheathed his own, rolling his black eyes. Did all of the Itir attack people at random, or just Lee and Shai?
Lee saw the look upon his face and chuckled. “You’re very quick, young man,” he praised.
“Thank you, sir,” Aramir answered, feeling embarrassed yet again.
Lee paused thoughtfully, then spoke. “Tell me about yourself, Aramir.”
“What do you want to know, sir?”
“Please, call me Lee. I want to know whatever you want to tell me. About yourself, your family, your training, anything.”
Aramir paused, then answered his questions as honestly as was possible. He told Lee about himself, his father’s death, about his mother and sister, about his teaching himself to fight, and anything else that came to his mind while he spoke. He wondered the entire time what the purpose of this was, but said nothing. Lee made no comments while he spoke, only nodded here and there. When he was finished the Captain turned away and watched the two new combatants in the middle of the ring. Aramir looked as well, realizing they were two Itir. This could be interesting.
“You say you taught yourself to wield a sword, a dagger, and a bow?”
“Yes sir, er, Lee. For the most part.” Aramir ran his hand nervously through his hair.
Lee nodded, eyes still on the two Itir in the middle of the ring. They had begun their dance, striking at each other with such speed that it made Aramir dizzy to watch. But he watched anyway, eyes filled with awe.
“Think you could do that?” Lee wondered.
Aramir’s first impulse was to say no, but as his sharp eyes followed the two Itir across the ring, he realized that he recognized many of the attacks and parries that they used. They were only moving faster and more intricately than he did. “Yes,” he answered finally. “Yes. After a lot of practice.”
To his surprise, Lee did not laugh. “And what makes you think that?” he asked.
Aramir paused, more than a little intimidated, then explained his reasoning to the Captain.
Lee turned away from the Itir and looked slightly down at the young man. “You know, Aramir, I’ve asked many young men and women that question over the years, and you are one of very few to answer me that way.”
Aramir blushed and stared uncomfortably at his feet. “I didn’t mean to sound arrogant,” he apologized, but Lee held up his hand.
“Not at all, young man. You are quite correct. Many think that in becoming an Itir, one is endowed by some special powers that allow them to fight the way we do. It is quite the opposite. Only through practice, as you said, can one become an Itir. I expect you here at noon tomorrow to take your tests.” He nodded his head, then turned from Aramir again and made his way across the ring. Aramir thought to follow him, then stopped, thinking on what Captain Lee had said.
“I like him,” Aramir declared to the ensuing silence.
“So do most of the other trainees,” a voice said from behind him.
Aramir whirled around to see Shai smiling slyly at him. He stared down at the ground, embarrassed to be caught thinking out loud, then started. “Other trainees?”
Shai laughed. “Not yet Aramir; you heard him. Come with me.” She led him back out of the ring and through the fields, glancing up at the setting sun as she went. This time, Aramir noticed a group of about a dozen figures gathered in the sword-fighting field. They were gathered around a black-garbed figure, obviously the Itir instructor. “This is the class of those training for the Itir.”
Aramir eyed them with renewed interest as he and Shai approached. They made their way to the fence surrounding the field, but instead of going in, Shai leaned against the fence and watched. Aramir studied the class. There were thirteen students, most of them young men like himself. Two were a bit older, and there was one woman, also older. Aramir’s eyes scanned the group, then came to rest on a tall blonde figure at the front of the group. He held his sword loosely in one hand while he listened to the instructor, and even from the distance, Aramir could see his eyes were a startling blue, a blue that matched the shirt he wore, Aramir noted with raised eyebrows. His golden hair fell slightly past his shoulders and was perfectly straight, and when he reached up and brushed a strand of it behind his ear, Aramir’s suspicions were confirmed. He was an Elf. As much as he did not like to admit it, Aramir had never actually met an Elf. Yes, he had seen many of them; Lord Arnin constantly had Elven nobles visiting his home, and Elves often traveled past his home on the way to the city. But none had ever stopped, and even as a child, Aramir had never been courageous enough to approach one of the Children of Ilúvatar. He spoke the language fluently in both forms, owing to his own Elven heritage, but his knowledge of the language had never come to use. He wondered if he would ever get to know this Elf.
As if on cue, the group dissipated, and the students made their way out of the ring towards Shai and Aramir. They paid Aramir little heed, although a few gave him curious looks, but many greeted Shai. She answered their greetings with smiles and waves. Aramir watched them all go, excitement welling inside of him at the prospect that these people might be his new friends and training partners.
They were almost all through the gate when Shai hailed one of them. “Kellian! Would you come here a moment please.”
To Aramir’s surprise, the Elf detached himself from the group and trotted lightly over to Shai. “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” he announced.
Aramir snorted, for the answer was just like something he himself would have said.
Shai rolled her bright green eyes. “And I’m sure you did do it, Elf,” she retorted, then turned to Aramir. “Aramir, this is Kellian Cúelen of Rivendell. Kell, this is Aramir Nárëgond. Aramir is taking his test to train as an Itir tomorrow, and I have received permission from Lee to let him spend the night with the students. I’m not entirely sure this is wise, but I’d like him to share a room with you, seeings as you are alone right now.”
Kellian listened attentively, but his blue eyes strayed from Shai to Aramir, sweeping over the young man with interest. He nodded agreeably when she was finished and smiled mischievously at Aramir. If the smile had intended to intimidate him, it failed. Aramir returned the smile and raised an eyebrow at the Elf.
Shai nodded, not bothering to comment. “Now, if you will excuse me, King Arodan is having council tonight and I must be there.” She saluted Kellian, using that odd salute that Aramir had decided must be for the Itir, and left.
“Namárië!” Kellian called. “I didn’t do it!! It was him!” He pointed at Aramir.
“Was not!” Aramir yelled.
“I’m already regretting this!” Shai called back.
Kellian laughed, then motioned for Aramir to follow him.
“So what did you- oh excuse me, what didn’t you do?” Aramir asked as they walked back to…wherever they were going.
Kellian raised his eyebrows and stared at Aramir. “You’ll never know,” he said mysteriously.
“Right,” Aramir said, pretending to be satisfied with the answer. He ran his hand through his hair and absently twirled a dagger in his fingers. “So that huge pile of broken swords and arrows I saw in the ring had nothing to do with it?”
The Elf shook his head. “Nope.” He walked a few paces more, then stopped and turned to Aramir. “What huge pile of swords and arrows?”
“The one in the ring. It had ‘Kellian did this’ written all over it.”
Kellian stared at him a moment longer, then burst into laughter. “I like you Aramir,” he declared when he had finished laughing.
Aramir grinned at him. He liked Kellian as well, and told him as much. Together the two made their way to the lodgings for the Itir hopefuls. They were more like small houses, each house just big enough to room two people. Aramir wondered what had prompted this design for lodging, but decided he didn’t really care. By the time he flopped down on ‘his’ bed to sleep that night, he was certain that he had found a new, and hopefully not temporary, friend in Kellian. The Elf was light, easy-going, hyper– it was the only word for his constant energy, and had an extremely odd sense of humour, which Aramir shared. If all Elves were like this, Aramir thought, then he should have met some Elves. He shared this thought with Kellian, who laughed so loudly that Aramir thought he might wake up everyone in Minas Tirith.
“If all Elves were like me! Ohh! If all Elves were like me, Middle-earth would be in serious trouble! When I was asked to come to Gondor to train, they were overjoyed. They practically threw me out.” He chuckled and rolled over to stare at Aramir in the bed across the room. “And if all- what are you?”
“Half-Elf, half human,” Aramir answered automatically, feeling bad for lying to his new friend. Then again, what would an Elf think of someone who was part Orc?
“And if all half-Elves were like you, I suspect the world would have the same problem, no?”
Aramir rolled his eyes. “Most likely,” he muttered. “Can’t you come up with your own insult? Or compliment? Or, oh whatever.”
“Sure,” Kellian said, but by the time he thought of one, Aramir was fast asleep.