“Aramir!” Kellian’s voice said from somewhere in the darkness.
Aramir opened his eyes and focused on the tall, fair Elf that stood over him. He tried to sit up, then moaned and wished he hadn’t. “Go ahead without me,” he muttered, lying back down. “I’ll never move again.” Every muscle in his body ached as a result of all of the fighting he had done the previous day. True, he practiced often, but never had he fought like he had yesterday.
Kellian just laughed and turned away, satisfied that his friend was awake. “I know how you feel,” he consoled, pulling on a tunic. “Don’t worry, it gets easier, just like getting up so early.” He grinned wickedly and tossed a tunic to Aramir. “Wear this, they’ll put insignia on your other clothes while you practice today.”
Aramir didn’t bother to ask who ‘they’ was. He sat up slowly, groaned again, then rose from his bed. He pulled the tunic over his head and fingered the insignia sewn on it. It was like that of the Itir, but with only one arrow instead of two. A feeling of excitement surged through him. He was training to become an Itir! He pulled on his weapons, slipped his little bottle into his shirt, and followed Kellian out the door.
They trotted across the field, or bounced, in Kellian’s case. The Elf seemed incapable of being calm, Aramir thought, although when he tried to picture Kellian as a silent, serious Itir, he found he could, in fact, see it.
“We eat before we practice,” Kellian informed him, veering off towards another, smaller building that Aramir had not noticed before. “And don’t ask why we didn’t eat yesterday. I felt sorry for you so I let you sleep in.”
“You skipped breakfast for me?” Aramir asked. “I feel so special.”
Kellian grinned. “You should. Do you know how hard it is to fight on an empty stomach?”
“Oh, poor Kellian,” Aramir mourned.
They made their way to the small building, which turned out to be a dining hall of sorts, as there were several large tables set up around the room. Aramir saw two Itir sitting at one table, speaking in low tones while they ate, but otherwise the table was empty. Kellian led him over to a second table where the students were sitting, talking animatedly as they ate. Most of them greeted the Elf as he sat down, and a few even said hello to Aramir. He returned their greetings, eager to get to know the rest of the students. They introduced themselves while they ate, although Aramir was disappointed to note that the dark-haired young man that he had noticed yesterday was not there. They ate quickly, then leapt up and headed towards the ring. According to Kellian, the students were given about fifteen minutes to head back to their rooms to get their weapons, if they chose not the bring them to breakfast, and then were to report to the ring. Aramir and Kellian, who were already armed, went directly to the ring, along with two others, Lukar and Vrain. Both were very interested in Aramir’s previous training, although he was a bit embarrassed to tell them about it. Then again, he found that any time he was around Kellian, it was impossible to be quiet, so he told Lukar and Vrain about himself and his training.
Paying little attention to where he was walking, he was cut off in mid-sentence when he smacked into another student. Both collapsed to the ground with surprised cries. Aramir picked himself up off the ground, then turned to help the other. It was the dark-haired young man he had noticed the previous day, and he looked quite irked. He ignored Aramir’s hand, picking himself up and making a show of dusting off his tunic. He reached down and picked his sword out of the dust, then glared at Aramir.
“Sorry,” Aramir apologized with as much sincerity as he could manage.
“You should be,” the other grumbled. “Then again, since you’re new, perhaps you don’t know to watch where you are going.”
“Oh, shut up Janst,” Kellian retorted.
“Yes,” Vrain added. “You should watch where you’re twirling that sword. Aramir’s lucky you didn’t stab him.”
Janst snorted but said nothing, only turned away.
“Pleasant, isn’t he?” Aramir mused.
His three companions rolled their eyes in response and followed Janst into the ring. They stood along the edge, talking easily while the rest of the class filtered in. Aramir kept one eye on Janst, for he did not particularly want to get in his way again. Kellian saw him looking and was about to say something when Pilindar entered the ring, carrying his longbow. The students gathered around him in the middle of the ring.
“Good morning class!” he greeted cheerfully.
They returned the greeting eagerly and waited to see what he had to say.
“First off, I would like to extend an official welcome to Aramir Nárëgond, our newest student.” He gestured to Aramir, and the class added their welcomes to Pilindar’s. The archery master smiled, then continued. “Now, as most of you know, Nerin and Kaelith are accompanying King Arodan and Queen Ilren in Rivendell. They left this morning and will be gone at least a week. Lee is busy with other matters here in Gondor. However, you will still have sword class, though less frequently. Lee has asked Tahar to instruct you.” He held up his hands in response to the ensuing groans. “Now don’t even start that,” Pilindar scolded, but Aramir saw a spark of amusement in his eyes. “You can worry about Tahar later. You will all need your horses for today’s class, so meet me in the field in fifteen minutes.”
The group moved off towards the stable. “Who is Tahar?” Aramir asked Kellian as they walked.
“He’s one of the Royal Guard. He used to be an assassin before he joined the Guard. Most say that’s how he lost his eye.”
Aramir raised his eyebrows. “And?”
“And he’s tough. He notices every little thing you do wrong, and he never gives you a break. You think you couldn’t move this morning? Wait until you’ve had class with him.”
“I feel so reassured,” Aramir told the Elf sarcastically.
“Don’t you then?” Kellian shot back. “Oh, and if he tells you to watch your back, please don’t turn around.”
Aramir thought for a moment, then grinned, understanding what the Elf was saying. “Got it.”
The students retrieved their horses from the stable and led them towards the ring. Most of them rode with tack, and all were leading black horses. Several were from Rohan, Aramir noted, although a few appeared more Elven. Aramir patted Narmo, who walked obediently next to him, noticing several stares he and his horse were getting from the students. He caught Janst staring openly at him, but he saw Aramir watching and looked away.
“He’s jealous of you,” Lukar hissed in Aramir’s ear. “I saw Janst try to ride Narmocarca. You would have enjoyed the show.” The young man grinned mischievously.
Aramir bit his lip to keep himself from bursting into laughter, as did Lukar. Kellian was less successful and to clap his hand over his mouth after laughing so loudly that Lord Arodan must have been able to hear it in Rivendell. A few students gave him odd looks, and Janst glared at him angrily, but most seemed used to the Elf.
They entered the ring in silence, and Aramir’s eyes fixed on a man standing in the field, speaking with Pilindar. He was tall and fair, not of an Elven fairness, but that of men. One glance told Aramir that he was Rohanian.
“That’s Alaith. He is the most amazing rider I have ever seen,” Kellian told Aramir. “Every now and then we have riding class with him. He is the only other person I have ever seen ride Narmo. Ride him and stay on, I mean.”
Narmo tossed his head and butted Kellian playfully, seeming to realize that he was being talked about. Kellian laughed. “He’s never been like this before.”
Aramir smirked. “I told him to be nice to you.”
The Elf nodded and grinned. “Thanks.”
Their conversation was cut off by Pilindar’s deep voice. “Alright everyone. Alaith is here today to watch and instruct, as you can see. We are going to have a very interesting class today, one that will test both your archery and your riding skills.”
It certainly looked like it. A set of odd obstacles was set up about the ring, as well as a few jumps and, of course, a series of targets. Pilindar and Alaith both smiled. “Mount up!”
An excited buzz went through the students as they mounted and adjusted their quivers and bows on their backs. Narmo danced eagerly, sensing Aramir’s excitement, and the young man patted his neck with a smile. The group rode around the large field several times, warming up their horses as well as themselves. Finally, Alaith called them into the centre of the ring.
“Well,” he said in a warm, friendly voice, “I haven’t seen you trainees in a while, and I see a new face, but I am glad to see you all still remember how to ride.” He waited for the laughter to subside, then continued. “I’m very pleased that Pilindar asked me to joint teach this class today; as he said, it will be quite interesting. As you can see, we’ve set up a course for you to ride through, and over as well. In the several spots along the course, you will be required to shoot a target as well. Has anyone ever shot an arrow while going over a jump?”
Aramir had, once, and had nearly fallen off, but he sensed that Alaith’s question was rhetorical and didn’t answer.
“I will ride the course twice to show you the pattern, and then you shall ride it, one at a time. Now, as you know, I am not Itir, and am not much of a shot with a bow, however, I will do the best I can.” He smiled and mounted his horse, a tall, beautiful dark chestnut, obviously also Rohanian. He patted his horse, adjusted himself in his saddle, then turned and cantered into the course. He rode around, through, and over the obstacles, shooting at the targets from various angles and places along the way, and although he wasn’t the best shot, he didn’t fall off either, Aramir noted with a grin. When he had gone through it twice, he rode back to the students.
“There you have it. I realize you who ride without tack may have a bit more trouble, but that is no excuse. Any volunteers to go first?”
A student Aramir did not know volunteered to go, and the rest of the group waited at the end of the field and watched. Alaith rode next to Aramir, who was watching the rider go through the course.
“You do not look familiar to me, young man,” Alaith said.
Aramir jumped slightly and turned to face Alaith. “No, I just arrived yesterday. I’m-“
“Aramir Nárëgond. Pilindar told me your name. He also told me that you rode Narmocarca for your tests yesterday. You are aware, are you not, that none of the other students could ride him?”
Aramir nodded, flushing in embarrassment. “Kellian said that you ride him.”
“Aye, but I am not a student. And yes, I do sometimes. Or I did. I’m glad to see he has found a rider. Pilindar might have told you I said this, but he has immense potential as an Itir’s horse. Anything you want to know about him, I should be glad to tell you.”
From Alaith, Aramir learned that Narmo was only three years old, and had had little training beyond the basics because of his stubborn, playful disposition. Alaith rode him every now and then to give the horse exercise, but for the most part, Narmo had remained unridden. According to Alaith, Narmo was a pure Elven horse, and therefore should have the immortal life of his breeders. His father, however, had been wild, a horse that even the Elves swore was mad. No one had wanted the colt, but since he was black, he had been sent to the Itir. The entire time they talked, Narmo flicked his ears around and tossed his head, and Aramir was certain the horse knew he was being discussed yet again.
Alaith noted his behavior and laughed. “He is certainly a smart one, if nothing else. Some of the students swear he stands in his stall and thinks of new ways to unseat unsuspecting riders. I don’t know what he saw in you that he saw in none of the others, but I’m very glad you came along.”
Aramir blushed slightly and patted Narmo. He wondered the same thing as Alaith-what had prompted Narmo to accept him? The only possibility he could think of was that both had ‘questionable’ ancestors, and that was rather unlikely. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps Narmo sensed something in Aramir, something of the wild, untamed, unwanted heritage that marked them both. Aramir shrugged to himself. He’d think about it later.
The second student finished the course, and Pilindar called out, “Alright, who is next?”