They spent almost the entire morning working on the parry. Aramir not only fought Kellian, but several other students, all of whom seemed impressed by his skill, though none said it outright. Fortunately, he did not have to fight the dark-haired young man, although Aramir was not quite certain why he didn’t like him. By the time the class was over, Aramir was thoroughly exhausted and not entirely certain he would have enough energy to take his tests. A nervous, fluttery feeling began to grow in his stomach as he imagined what they would be like. He asked Kellian, but the Elf was forbidden from saying anything, an admission that only made Aramir more nervous.
Kellian saw the look on his face and smiled. “Don’t worry Aramir,” he assured him. “They don’t ask you to do anything impossible. Its just basics, well, advanced basics. I’m just not allowed to say anything.”
When Lee announced that class was over, the students filed eagerly out of the field and back to their lodgings. According to Kellian, they had the better half of the afternoon off, thanks to Aramir, who was preoccupying the Itir. The Elf told Aramir that he would have stayed and watched, but this was forbidden as well. Aramir said nothing, keeping his mind on the upcoming trials. He waved farewell to the Elf and made his way to the ring alone. Judging by the position of the sun, he had about fifteen minutes until noon.
He entered the ring and pulled out his bow, checking the weapon over to make sure it was in good condition. His string was fairly new, and the dark wood was well-cared for. He smiled in satisfaction as he ran his hands over the smooth wood and little runes.
“Tis an impressive weapon,” a voice said from behind him.
Aramir whirled around in surprise. Another of the Itir stood before him, one he did not recognize. He was tall and muscular like Lee, but had dark hair and a small beard and mustache. His grey eyes surveyed Aramir with interest, and a small smile played at his lips. “I am Pilindar. You must be young Aramir Nárëgond.” At Aramir’s small nod, he smiled. “I’ve heard many good things about you.”
Aramir blushed, for the one-hundredth time today, he thought to himself. Before he could think of an appropriate response, Pilindar held out his hand.
“May I see your bow?” he asked. “It is my preferred weapon; I instruct the class in archery.”
Aramir nodded and held out his bow cautiously. He watched as Pilindar turned it over in his hands, studying it with an expert’s eye. He inspected the grain of the wood, noting the small runes carved into it, then gently pulled the string back and held it for a moment before easing up. He nodded. “Indeed, this is a very impressive bow. May I ask where you acquired it, for the runes are of a maker I do not recognize.”
Aramir bit his lip, not wanting to sound as though he was bragging. “I, well, I made it, sir.”
Pilindar’s eyebrows shot up. “You made it?”
Aramir nodded. “My father taught me the skill, before he died.”
The Itir’s eyes softened. “I’m sorry to hear that, young man. Your father taught you well. As part of training, you shall learn to make your own weapons. You and the Elf will certainly not need further instruction from me.”
Aramir said nothing, noting the way Pilindar referred to him as a trainee already. ‘The Elf’, he decided, must be Kellian. Aramir made a mental note to inquire about his friend’s weapon. “It took me about ten tries before I got it right,” he told the archery master.
Pilindar chuckled and handed Aramir his bow back, then looked up and smiled. “Ahh, I see everyone has arrived.”
Aramir’s eyes followed the archery instructor’s and he saw seven figures standing at the wall. All were garbed in the same black uniform, and Aramir noticed that all carried the same style sword. They spoke in low tones, conversing easily with each other. Even simply standing there, the Itir were impressive. Aramir frowned slightly. There were twelve Itir, weren’t there? Seven were there, plus Pilindar and Lee, who had just joined the group. That only came to nine. Nerin and Kaelith, Lee had said, were with the king. Eleven. Then it hit him. The entire reason he was there to train was because there were only eleven Itir, and they needed a twelfth. He rolled his eyes at himself and swallowed nervously.
Lee leapt over the wall and trotted over to where they stood. “Good afternoon Pilindar, Aramir.” He smiled down at the young man. “Are you ready?”
Aramir shrugged. “I guess so,” he said nervously.
“You’ll be fine, young man,” Pilindar said, patting Aramir’s shoulder, then turned and walked across the ring to where the other Itir stood.
Aramir watched him go, then turned to Lee and waited in expectation. The Captain cleared his throat. “Alright Aramir, here is what is going to happen. The entire Itir will watch, all that can be here, that is. They will be spread out along the ring, watching from different positions. All of your tests will be taken in here, first dagger, then archery, and then sword. Shai and Chatol will test you in dagger, Pilindar in archery, and I in sword. You will be asked to perform several different attacks, blocks, throws, shots, whatever it is that pertains to the specific weapon. You will be required to both throw and fight with your daggers, and part of the archery test involves riding. Don’t worry, we have a horse for you to use.” He took a breath. “Any questions?”
Aramir thought for moment, then shook his head. “No.”
“Then we will begin. Good luck.” He turned and beckoned for the Itir.
They leapt over the wall almost as one and made their way to Lee and Aramir. The young man caught Shai’s eye and she winked, but her wink did nothing to stop the fluttery feeling inside of Aramir’s stomach. He glanced around apprehensively, blown away by the realization that he was surrounded by nine of the most dangerous, skilled fighters in Gondor.
“Itir,” Lee said, “this is Aramir Nárëgond. Aramir, the Itir of Gondor.” Aramir nodded his head respectfully. “Shai, Chatol, you may begin.”
With that, Lee and the other Itir turned and spread out across the ring. Most stood along the wall, although a few climbed into the seats to watch from above. Aramir was left in the centre of the ring with Shai and Chatol, an exquisitely beautiful Elf with dark blue eyes and nearly black hair. She was tall-about the same height as Aramir- and thin, and every move she made spoke of grace. She nodded slightly at him but did not smile, although her eyes sparkled in a friendly manner. Had it been under different circumstances, Aramir would have felt quite odd between these two deadly women. Now, however, he only felt nervous.
“Your weapons, please,” Chatol asked in a soft, musical voice.
Aramir complied immediately, removing the brace of knives from his waist and handing it to her. While she inspected them, he removed the knives from his tunic and boots and handed those to Shai. The two women spent several minutes inspecting his daggers, then handed then back to him, apparently satisfied. Chatol drew a long, slender knife and asked Aramir to draw a counter- whatever he though would be most effective against her knife. He pulled out one of his Elven knives and twirled it between his fingers. Shai stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest, watching Aramir like a hawk. He only had a brief moment to glance at her before Chatol raised her knife in challenge. Aramir raised his own, watching Chatol’s every move. He saw her shift her weight to one side, then the other, and then she struck. He was ready. He brought his dagger up to block hers, then swung down and out, forcing her knife away from his chest. She used the force of his block and swung her knife around and down, but Aramir had been expecting that and dodged to one side, bringing his dagger in from the left. They fought on across the ring, switching advantages often. Aramir knew that Chatol could easily have defeated him had she wanted to, but the way she fought him allowed him to display many different parries and attacks and his skill in using them. He danced with the swift grace of an Elf, forgetting for a moment the other parts of his bloodline.
All of the sudden, Shai leapt into the battle, two short, heavy knives in her hands. Chatol danced away and left Aramir to Shai. Aramir drew a second knife, knowing that his slender knife would have a disadvantage to Shai’s short, stout knives. He tossed his Elven knife to the side and drew out a second knife, short and strong like Shai’s. The battle continued, each combatant wielding two knives. Aramir had a distinct advantage over Shai, being several inches taller than she, but the woman was strong and lithe, and though she lacked the grace of the Elves, she made up for it with quick, powerful strikes.
Aramir was panting hard when Shai suddenly backed off and lowered her knives. When Chatol did not come forward, he knew that the battle was over. He sheathed his knives, wiping the sweat from his forehead, then picked his knife up off of the ground. Shai nodded, satisfied. She glanced in Lee’s direction, passed a look to him, made a slight motion with her hand, and then turned back to Aramir.
“Good,” she said. “Now your throwing knives.”
Aramir nodded and pulled out the knife Rin had given him. He twirled it around his fingers nervously while Chatol finished setting up a target on the other side of the ring. He dearly hoped he wouldn’t have to throw that far.
Shai saw his nervous look but neither smiled nor said a word. Aramir supposed that this must be part of the code for his test, for the stiff, silent, emotionless woman who stood next to him seemed very unlike Shai. She watched Chatol set up the target, then motioned for Aramir to follow her down the ring. He did so silently, not daring to look around at the other Itir who watched. He eyed the target that Chatol had set up. It was quite large and had twelve small circles painted on it in different areas, each a different colour. There was no pattern to the circles, they were just there. Chatol returned to her spot next to Aramir, and Shai made her way swiftly to the side of the target, where she stood silently.
“Are you ready?” she asked quietly.
Aramir nodded. “Yes.” He fingered his throwing knife, nervous all over again.
“Good. The black circle then, please.”
Aramir nodded, understanding. He raised his throwing knife, brought it back, and sent it flying into the circle. It landed right where he wanted it, and he couldn’t help but smile slightly to himself.
Before he could pull out a second knife, Shai drew his black dagger out of the target and whipped it at Chatol. The beautiful Elf reached out and snatched the dagger out of the air as it sailed past her. Aramir stared at her in awe.
For the first time since he had met her, Chatol smiled. “Perhaps you also will learn this skill,” she said quietly, handing him his knife. “The red one.”
The test continued in this manner, Chatol naming a colour and Aramir hitting it. Throwing daggers was Aramir’s weakest area, and he would have been the first to admit it, but to his great surprise, he managed to hit all of the circles. His last one went slightly off course but still struck the coloured spot. Chatol nodded, and Aramir knew better than to ask whether or not he had passed.
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/11720.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/11781.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/11868.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/11947.html