Without another word to him, the two women slipped out of the arena and Pilindar entered. Aramir drew his bow off of his back and adjusted his quiver. Although the archery master had already seen his bow, he handed it to him anyway, and Pilindar nodded. He looked the bow over again, then asked to see an arrow, which Aramir gave him. This too he inspected, then gave it back to Aramir. He gestured to the end of the arena, where two targets had been set up. Expectantly, Aramir notched an arrow and stood awaiting his instructions. The archery targets were much like the dagger one, with little coloured circles. These circles, however, were much smaller. Surprisingly, Aramir felt his nervousness fading as he gripped his bow.
He was assigned a spot to stand and was given strict instructions not to move from that spot. Pilindar then asked him to hit several different coloured circles, some on the left target, some on the right. Aramir did so easily with the skill of an Elven archer. When that was finished, Pilindar asked him to shoot four arrows in quick succession, and then two at a time. Finally, the archery master pointed to a small black spot on the far side of the ring. It was a far shot, and quite a small target. Aramir raised his eyebrows and took careful aim. He held the arrow back on his bow for what seemed like forever before he finally let the arrow fly. It sailed across the ring and into the circle. Aramir bit back an ecstatic cry; Pilindar merely nodded. He asked Aramir to shoot two more circles similar to the black one on different sides of the ring. When Aramir had finished, Pilindar turned to one side of the ring and made a slight motion with his hand, but seemed quite surprised when a young boy entered the ring. He crossed the ring to Pilindar and bowed.
“Where is Lithaca?” Pilindar asked, sounding as surprised as he looked.
“I’m sorry Sir,” the boy said. “I went to his stall to get him, and he was lame. I don’t know what happened. Honest.” He fidgeted nervously under Pilindar’s deep frown.
“And have we no other horses?” Pilindar asked irritably.
“Only Narmocarca,” the boy said apologetically, sounding frightened by the mere mention of the horse.
Pilindar paused thoughtfully and glanced at Aramir, then back at the boy, and then at Aramir again. “You’re half-Elf, are you not?” he asked Aramir.
Aramir nodded. “Yes sir.”
“Do you ride without tack like an Elf?”
“Yes, I do.”
Pilindar nodded and turned to the stable boy. “Bring Narmocarca out. We’ll see how he and Aramir get along.”
The boy nodded, looking doubtful, then turned and fled out of the ring. Pilindar sighed and turned back to Aramir. “Narmocarca is a bit of a handful. I only ask that you try riding him. If it does not work, you may ride my horse.”
“Are you sure this is wise, Pilindar?” one of the Itir asked.
Aramir raised his eyebrows but said nothing, and Pilindar simply nodded.
They waited several minutes for the stable boy to return. When he did, he was leading the most impressive horse Aramir had ever seen. He was a stallion, and jet black, all save a fang-shaped mark on his forehead that was a bright white, for which he must have been named. Aramir estimated him to be at least seventeen hands high. He tossed his head proudly, dancing at the end of the rope that held him, and he nearly dragged the poor stable boy into the centre of the ring. The boy just managed to bring the horse to a halt next to Aramir, and even then Narmocarca would not stand still. Aramir smiled.
“This is Narmocarca,” Pilindar said. “Currently he has no rider, seeings as he is rather a handful. Each of the students is assigned a horse, but no one wanted to deal with him. Alaith, the horsemaster, thinks he has great potential, but all of the Itir already had their own horses, and none of the students cared to chance it. I realize I am asking a bit much for you to try him, but I think you two may get along. Give me your bow and mount up and see if you can get him to do anything.”
Aramir arched an eyebrow at the doubtful tone in Pilindar’s voice. Clearly the archery master didn’t think he would get very far, and neither did any of the other Itir, by the sound of it.
He shrugged his shoulders, briefly wondering if this was some hidden part of his test. Turning to the horse, he reached out and patted his nose. “Hello Narmocarca,” he said evenly, letting his nervousness fade away. “May I call you Narmo?” The horse made no response, but suffered to let Aramir pat his nose. “Narmo it is then,” Aramir said with a grin. He ran his hands over the horse’s back, then vaulted on. Narmo immediately began to dance around, but Aramir sat calmly on his back, a wry smile upon his face. He patted the horse’s neck. “Steady Narmo. Calm down silly boy.” To the surprise of the entire Itir, Narmo stopped his dancing and stood calmly, ears twitching. Aramir nodded. “Good boy,” he murmured, then signaled the horse for a walk. Narmo lunged forward, skipping the walk and trot entirely and going into a canter. Aramir chuckled and sat back, dropping his weight and willing the horse to walk. Narmo cantered on, then slowed to a jerky trot, and then a walk. Aramir asked him to halt, which he did, and even from a walk it was a sudden, startling halt. Aramir rolled his eyes. “Now walk” he commanded, signaling the horse again, but the result was the same. Narmo lunged forward, then came to a screeching halt and bucked. Aramir only laughed, patted him, and asked him to walk again. He rather enjoyed this horse. Riding his father’s horse had always been so boring. To everyone’s surprise, Narmo did as he was asked. They walked around the ring once, Aramir concentrating on Narmo’s every move, using his seat and hands to determine what the horse would do next. Narmo’s ears flicked back and forth, listening to Aramir’s commands. It seemed to the young man that the horse was glad to have a rider who actually enjoyed his antics. When their round was completed, Aramir asked Narmo for a trot, using only his voice to command the horse. Narmo did as he was asked, bobbing his head up and down in a delicate prance. Aramir patted his neck, and a slight movement of his legs lengthened the horse’s stride. Narmo had a wonderfully smooth trot when he decided he wanted to use it. They trotted around the arena, then in a figure eight, and then Aramir asked for a canter. Narmo bucked again, but when Aramir did nothing but smile, he settled into a rocking canter. Aramir held his hands loosely at his sides, steering the horse with his legs they way his father had taught him. He signaled for his mount to walk, and Namro did so reluctantly. Aramir halted him in front of a surprised Pilindar.
“I like him,” he declared.
Pilindar raised his eyebrows. “You can have him,” he declared. “Are you sure you are comfortable? You needn’t prove anything, this is not part of your test.”
Aramir nodded. “I’m fine,” he assured the Itir.
Pilindar nodded and handed him his bow. Narmo danced away nervously, but a sharp word from his rider brought him back to a halt. Aramir took the bow and glanced down, awaiting instruction.
“Same as before,” Pilindar said, pointing to the target. “Ride down at a canter and hit the black circle. Oh, and if the horse tries anything, I will not fault you.”
Aramir nodded. No wonder Narmo was such a handful- everyone expected him to misbehave. He patted his mount, notched an arrow, signaled for a canter, and rode for the target. He drew his string back as he rode, took careful aim, and shot the circle, then swung around and cantered back. Pilindar, who had regained his stern countenance, merely nodded and asked him to shoot the green circle, this time approaching from the left. The test went on as such, and the angles at which he shot often forced Aramir to shoot left-handed, or across Narmo’s neck, or one of several odd shots. Once, Pilindar asked him to ride past the target, then turn around and shoot back at it.
When the archery was finished, Lee entered the ring and glanced up at Aramir, who still sat upon Narmo, patting him. “You may dismount now,” he said, trying not to smile.
Aramir slid off of Narmo’s back and patted him again. The horse stood calmly, then butted Aramir with his head. The young man chuckled and patted his nose. The stable boy stepped forward nervously, staring at Aramir in wonder and what seemed to be fear. He slipped a halter over the horse’s head and tugged at the lead rope, obviously ready to be dragged away. Narmo did exactly that, prancing across the arena and tossing his head left and right. Lee sighed and called for the boy to hold to the horse at the end of the ring. “You can put him away,” he told Aramir with a roll of his eyes. “Now lets see your sword.”
Aramir held it out to him and stood patiently while the Captain inspected it. Lee turned it over in his hands, twirled it, then tossed it high into the air and caught it deftly. He handed it back to Aramir with a nod, then drew out his own sword. He stepped back a few paces and raised his sword in a salute. Aramir saluted back, excitement building within him. Seeing Lee perform the parry had been enough, but now he was really going to fight. Aramir smiled and waited for Lee to strike.
The captain circled slowly around Aramir, waiting and watching for a breach in his defense. Eagerness was painted across his youthful face and his soft brown eyes were filled with anticipation and eagerness as a smile pulled at his lips. Clearly he was looking forward to this. So am I, thought Aramir, if he would just strike. As if Lee had heard his thoughts, the captain leapt at Aramir, sword raised and ready to strike. Aramir brought his own sword up in a block, and the fight began. They sparred back and forth across the ring, left and right, each striking at amazing speeds. Filled with exhilaration, Aramir found himself in a fight at a level he had never fought at before. Of course, he had never had an opponent like Lee. The captain was an amazing fighter, moving with grace and speed to counter Aramir’s own. He blocked using complicated parries that Aramir could only dream about using. Nevertheless, the young man found himself using the set of intricate parries, blocks and strikes that he had taught himself. Lee fought in the same manner that Chatol had, allowing Aramir to show off his skill with his sword.
The battle went on, switching advantages between combatants. Aramir panted hard as he fought the captain, but grinned and fought on anyway. He was enjoying this immensely. This was what he wanted to do, to train to be and fight like Lee. His concentration snapped back when he realized that Lee was using the same parry he had shown the students earlier. Aramir raised his sword and swung it around, preventing Lee from knocking his sword from his hand. The captain leapt forward suddenly, sword pointed directly at Aramir. The young man dodged to the side and rolled away, then leapt to his feet. He raised his sword, then realized that Lee had backed off and lowered his sword. Aramir sheathed his sword, panting hard. He grinned at Lee.
“What did you think?” Lee asked, unable to hide his smile.
“I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” Aramir declared.
The captain laughed. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “Please excuse me.” He
turned and walked briskly over to where the Itir were now gathered, near the entrance to the ring. Aramir waited in expectation. The Itir conversed briefly, then Lee detached himself from the group and walked back towards Aramir. The rest of the Itir left the ring, going back to whatever they had been doing before the test. Aramir watched them go, then turned back to Lee, not daring to breathe.