The figure waited a good half of an hour before he even moved from his place in the tree. Then he silently dropped from the tall branches, barely making a sound as he landed in the soft undergrowth. He made his way slowly over to where the crumpled from of the young man lay- Lady Isilmë had called him Aramir, hadn’t she? The figure had seen the entire thing, and it only confirmed what he already suspected. He glanced around uneasily. Janst wasn’t the kind to forget details, the figure knew that well. But he had good senses, and they told him that there was no one around. He crouched next to the young man’s body and pulled out his water canteen. He gently poured some water on the man’s face, hoping to wake him. It worked. Aramir sat up slowly and looked around, shaking his head in obvious pain. Seeing the figure at his side, he glared at him angrily.
“Are you alright?” the figure asked. His quick eyes swept over Aramir, then locked onto his black eyes.
“Oh yes, I’m fine,” the young man answered sarcastically. “Janst just took Isilmë, and now I’ll never see her again. And you knocked me out. Of course I’m not alright!” he yelled.
The figure held up his hand. “Calm down,” he muttered. “I didn’t knock you out. That was Dirik, I believe.”
“One of your friends, I’m sure,” the Exile said.
“Will you just listen,” the figure muttered in exasperation. “I came to help you. I believe I have some information you might be interested in, seeing your…umm, ‘interest’, shall we say, in the Princess.”
“I seriously doubt that you have anything to say that would interest me,” the young man retorted.
The other stared at him a moment, then offered his hand. “I’m Kern, of the Itir.”
“Aramir. Now what have you to say?” Aramir demanded, trying to sound disinterested. Truthfully, though, he was quite interested, especially if this man really was of the Itir.
“Only this.” Kern sat himself down across from Aramir, staring at him intently. “About a week ago, the Princess Isilmë was kidnapped. The Kidnapper left a note, which said only that he had taken her, and if we wanted her back, he was ready to do battle with whoever was ready to fight for her. The note was found in a remote room of the palace, a room no one goes into. Janst found the note and the King immediately asked him to take a search party out to bring her back, offering a great reward for the man who rescued her. He put Janst in charge of the entire thing. The Captain picked about a dozen of his men, all of them his close friends and allies. What surprised us most, however, was that he took only the Guard. No Itir, who are skilled in tracking and following, even the most hidden trails. I became a bit suspicious then, so I decided to follow them. They rode for several days, almost non-stop, before coming to a small, hidden cave. They all grouped about the cave and Janst went in. He came out almost immediately, looking…well, surprised. And confused. He said something about them not being there, and that they were heading back. Well, then I became even more suspicious. All that riding, just to this one place, and then back to report failure? But no, they didn’t go all the way back. They rode into a clearing a ways from here and set up camp. They have been there for almost four days now. Janst went out every day, but not very far. It was almost as though he were waiting for someone. And then you showed up with the Princess. Janst seemed pleased, but surprised. You didn’t interfere with his plan at all, he said. Well, maybe you did.” Kern raised his eyebrows at Aramir as he said this.
Aramir looked at him questioningly. “Go on.”
“After you were knocked out, he took her back to the camp. But before they got there, he stopped in the woods and pinned her up against a tree and put a dagger at her throat. He told her in no uncertain terms that if she did not tell his rescue story, not only would he kill her, but you as well. Then he told her this story that he had obviously made up about how he had rescued her. He made her repeat the story, then repeated his threat to her, and then took her back to the camp. And I waited here for you.”
Aramir stared intently at Kern for a long time, and then asked slowly, “Why are you telling me this? Do you know who I am?”
“Of course,” Kern answered. “You are Aramir, the Exile, and once of the Itir.”
“Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Kern shrugged. “Should it?
Aramir stared at him, but did not give an answer right away. When he finally did answer the man, his voice was bitter. “It should mean that you are committing treason by aiding a traitor.” He spat out the last word in distaste.
Kern shrugged again. “So be it.”
Aramir gapped at him for a moment before responding. “And what exactly do you want me to do now?”
“That is your decision. I just thought you should know, about Janst. There is a good chance the king will give Isilmë’s hand to him. I, for one, do not want Janst on the throne.”
“And you’d rather have me?” Aramir scoffed. “A part-Orc…Exile as your king?”
“Yes,” Kern declared. “I’ve heard about, Aramir. You should hear Lee go on about you. Aramir this and Aramir that. ‘Why can’t you all fight like he could? I wish Aramir were here, he could do this.’ You should hear him,” he said again, staring into Aramir’s disbelieving eyes.
“You’re just making that up,” Aramir declared, but he flushed with pride all the same at what Lee, the Captain of the Itir, had supposedly said. If Kern noticed, he said nothing.
“I have no reason to deceive you,” Kern told Aramir, and then he abruptly rose. He whistled softly and a dark horse came trotting up. Kern mounted silently, patting his horse. He turned back to Aramir. “Well, good luck. I hope to see you again.” With that, he rode slowly away, leaving Aramir alone again.
The young man stared after him, suspicion and surprise inside of him. Then he looked down at his hands and saw the little bag from Isilmë still clenched in his hand. Aramir slowly pulled the leather ties that held it shut, knowing somewhere deep inside of him what it was. He opened the little bag and dumped its contents onto his hand. A single ring fell out of the bag and sat, shining in the light. Aramir gasped. The Ring of Barahir sat in his palm. He leapt to his feet and nearly fell over. His head swam as a result of the blow, but he managed to shake away the pain. He ran to the edge of the forest, calling Kern’s name. When he reached the boundary he stopped, seeing the young man riding back towards him.
“Yes?” Kern asked upon reaching the Exile.
Aramir held out the ring to him. “Can you please give this back to Is- I mean, the Princess.”
Kern took the ring, examined it, and then handed it back to a surprised Aramir. “I think she meant for you to have it,” he said softly. “But if you truly want it returned to her, do it yourself.” With that he turned and cantered away.
Aramir stared after him in shock. There was no doubt in his mind that Kern had just dared him to come back to Gondor, as a challenge to Aramir. A challenge to defeat Janst and to prove to the King he was more than simply a dangerous man with Orc blood in his veins. The young Exile had to chuckle, for that was something he himself would have done. His amusement, however, vanished almost instantly.
“He shall be disappointed,” Aramir muttered to himself. He had no intention whatsoever of crossing that line.
He walked back into the forest and sat under a tree for the remainder of the day into the night, sulking. He wouldn’t have admitted that he was, though. He turned the ring over in his hands, examining it, staring at it as though he could make it disappear with all of his other problems. The Princess! Of all of the people in Gondor, it had to have been her, he thought. He supposed that he had a good reason for not knowing- there had been no heir to the throne when he had been living in Gondor, only the King and Queen. Still, he argued, but could think of no argument for himself. He had fallen in love with the Princess of Gondor, and there was nothing he could do about it now. The sky became cloudy, and a chill wind began to blow, even through the trees, causing Aramir to pull on his tunic and then his black cloak. He looked at the cloak in disgust, remembering again. It seemed that everything reminded him of his past now. Even Narmo, who had come up and lay down beside his master, offered the Exile no comfort from his feelings. After a while, though, Aramir moved over to the horse and leaned up against him, stroking the horse’s sleek black back. Narmo nickered in pleasure, then turned his head east, to where Minas Tirith sat. He whinnied softly, almost sadly.
“Do you miss her also?” Aramir asked his horse. The response was another neigh, and Narmo rose to his feet. He stretched his head to the city, crying out. Aramir sighed in exasperation. First Kern, now Narmo! His horse, for Ulmo’s sake!
“Narmo, I don’t think you understand what will happen if we go to see her,” he told the horse, standing slowly. His head still swam, and he had to lean on the animal to steady himself. “They might throw me in prison, or even kill me. And then you’d never see me again.” Aramir spoke to the horse, but he knew inside that he was really talking to himself. Somewhere deep inside of himself, he knew that he had already convinced himself that he was going back.
“No!” he cried out as he realized it. Narmo jumped and trotted forward several feet. “I can’t go back!! I…I can’t. Oh Narmo, what am I going to do?” His voice became very quiet and was lost in the now roaring wind. He stood on the edge of the forest, feeling the chilling wind blow through his hair.
The answer to his question came not from the horse, but perhaps from Eru himself. The sky suddenly opened and a chill rain began to fall form the heavens. Aramir hurriedly pulled his hood to his head, moving over to his horse.
“Well, Narmo, we’re going to get wet tonight,” he muttered. Then suddenly he froze as those words rang in his ears. Those words…that was the exact thing he had told his horse the night he had come upon Isilmë in the woods. Aramir looked up into the sky. Was this his answer?
Yes. It was. He knew beyond any doubt now what he had to do. He would go back, not only for Isilmë, but also for himself. Taking a deep breath, he walked forward, out of the forest, out onto the field, out into Gondor, out of exile…
“Isilmë!” King Arodan had flown out of his study and down the hall of the palace the minute that Aril had informed him that his daughter was back. “Isilmë!”
At the end of the corridor, Isilmë, eyes red from crying countless tears, turned to face her father. Despite all that had happened, all of her sadness, she was still elated to see her father again. “Father!” she cried, flying into his arms. They held each other tightly, both crying fresh tears and whispering the name of the other.
Finally Arodan pulled away. “Oh Isilmë, I was so worried. What happened? Are you alright?”
Isilmë’s eyes filled with tears again, and she bit her lip, knowing she could say nothing of Aramir. Her father saw her tears and mistook their intent. “Oh, my daughter, it is alright. Don’t cry. You are safe now.”
Isilmë nodded and embraced her father again. “I know,” she murmured. “I think I need to rest,” she continued.
Her father nodded. “Of course. Why don’t you go to your room and change and rest, and if you feel up to it, you may tell me. I’m just so relieved you are safe, daughter! Kellian!” His last call was spoken to the Elven Itir who stood off in the corner, watching silently. At the king’s word he stepped forward and nodded.
“Escort my daughter to her room, please.”
The Elf nodded. “Of course my Lord,” he said, smiling slightly- a smile that was meant to share in the king’s happiness.
Arodan smiled back, then turned to Janst, who had also been watching to the entire thing. “I should like to hear your account, Captain,” he said, and the two men turned and walked down the hall.
The princess and Itir turned the other way and walked silently down the hall. As they walked, Isilmë glanced continuously at her escort. Kellian had been, still was, Aramir’s best friend. If there was anyone she could tell, it would be this Elf. But no, Janst had made it terribly clear what would happen if she told anyone. Tears welled in her eyes, but she continued to watch Kellian. Occasionally he would glance back at her, looking rather confused at the odd looks he was receiving, but he said nothing.
When they reached her room, the Elf opened the door and stood to the side to allow her to enter. Isilmë looked at him a moment, then rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him. She buried her face in his tunic and cried silently. If anyone knew how much she missed Aramir, it was Kellian. The Itir stared down at her in complete shock. He knew Isilmë only slightly, for they had spoken only a few times, and he had no idea why she was holding onto him in this way. It was almost as if…his thoughts were interrupted when she pulled away and brushed her tears out of her eyes. She gave the Elf a last look before entering her room and closing the door firmly behind her. Kellian stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned and proceeded back down the hallway, startled and confused. Now where was Aramir, he ought to hear about his… abruptly the Itir stopped and gritted his teeth. He’s gone Kell! he yelled at himself, fighting back tears. Gone and not coming back!
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9198.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9233.html
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9273.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9304.html or https://www.theonering.com/docs/9333.html