Aramir’s eyes darted first left, then right. So far, so good. He was past the city gates, in the heart of the city. Getting into the city had not been a problem, just as he knew it would not be. Years and years before, he and Kellian had searched out every secret entrance there was to the city, and even made one of their own. He had met no resistance so far. Nearly everyone in Minas Tirith with any sense whatsoever was in their home, most likely asleep, listening to the pattering rain and the rolling thunder. Only a madman would be out tonight, thought Aramir. Like me. He crept forward, darting from shadow to shadow, pausing occasionally to make sure he was not being followed. The palace loomed ahead, a dark, terrible, foreboding presence. Its tall towers shone white in the brightness of the lightening, giant soldiers looking down upon the city and it’s people. Larger and larger it grew as the young Exile made his way to one of the secret entrances. He smiled briefly, remembering the day he and Kellian had found the secret entrance into the palace after weeks of searching. Now it would finally come in handy.
Minutes later he found himself inside of the palace, and for the first time since he had broken his exile, he felt a real sense of regret at his decision. Why in the name of Ulmo am I doing this? he asked himself. Then an image of Isilmë flashed before his eyes, causing him to push his fears away. That was why he was doing it. Just thinking of the girl made him miss her terribly. He rubbed his newest wound gingerly, remembering for a moment. Isilmë had fought beside him, aiding him, all the while knowing his secret. He was doing the right thing.
He made his way through the corridors of the palace, not really sure where he was going. He was sure, however, that he would know when he got there, and so he kept moving. Often lightening would flash, lighting up the dark halls. On one particularly bright flash, he was able to see far down the hall, and for a fleeting moment he thought he saw something moving. Hurriedly he moved into a dark corner, hiding, but after nearly ten minutes of motionless waiting, he deemed it safe to move again.
He worked his way down the long hall, suddenly having an idea. Perhaps if he went to see the King, to talk to him and ask for a chance to explain. He could go to Lee, but to do that he would have to go into the hallway where the Itir were roomed and risk catching one of them awake. Aramir knew from experience that one of them was always awake, for whatever reason. Or he could go to Isilmë, but her room would most likely be guarded after what had happened just a week ago. That left King Arodan. Of course, there was the chance that he was asleep, and that Aramir would have to hide out all day tomorrow and wait. But there was also the chance that the King was awake and in his study, so that was where Aramir headed. It pleased and yet saddened him that he remembered the palace so well, and his mind strayed once again to his trial of long ago. Lightening flashed, illuminating the hall, and was followed by a crack of thunder that almost made the Exile put his hands to his ears. But he did not, because suddenly his pointed ears caught another sound. It was unmistakable; it was the rustling of a cloak, and it was coming from right across the hall. Cursing himself for letting his mind stray, Aramir ducked to the opposite side of the hall, hoping desperately that whoever it was had not noticed him.
He immediately knew he had been expected when a pair of iron hands clapped themselves about his arms from behind, pinning them behind his back. Then he felt himself falling forward as whoever it was shoved him forcefully. He hit the ground with a crash, pain searing through his side as the pommel of his sword pressed into his wound. Before he even had a chance to get to his feet, his antagonist seized his arm and yanked him upward. He caught a glance of a man’s face before he was hit hard across the cheek. Something sharp glazed across his face, tearing into the corner of his mouth. He immediately tasted blood. He had the sudden urge to fight back, but before he could even react to his feelings, he was jabbed hard in the stomach. The figure grabbed him and prepared to throw him against the wall, but he was suddenly stopped.
“That is enough,” a soft voice said. “I said I wanted him alive, Captain.”
“I would have left him alive, my Lord,” Janst’s unmistakable voice declared smugly. Then, under his breath so that only Aramir could hear him, he muttered, “Barely.”
“Captain,” the voice said again, and Aramir felt his arms pulled behind his back and tied tightly with a cord. He flinched in pain but made no other comment, knowing that Janst would use whatever he could against him. Aramir made a sudden, silent vow to himself. Whatever happened, he would not fight back. He would be the calm, civil one. Let Janst act like the Orc. He took a deep breath, realizing that any plans he had had before had just gone down the river.
“Well, Captain Janst, I don’t know how you knew he would be here, but I must be honest, I did not really think he would come.” The dark cloaked figure drew back his hood, and Aramir’s worst fears were confirmed. King Arodan stood before him, tall and foreboding, a dagger out threateningly. He pressed it to Aramir’s throat, but the Exile made no protest.
“My Lord,” Aramir murmured, bowing is head as much as the dagger would allow.
“Your Lord,” the King scoffed, turning away from the Aramir. “You serve no Lord, Exile.”
“Perhaps not now, but once I served a great and just King,” Aramir said softly.
“How dare you!” Janst cried, spinning Aramir around and hitting him hard across the face with the back of his hand. “Insolent-“
“Captain,” the King’s even voice cut the Captain of the Guard off before he could finish the insult.
Janst bowed slightly in apology, turning Aramir back around to face the King.
Lord Arodan narrowed his eyes and glared at the young man in front of him. “Why have you come back?” he growled.
For all of his obvious anger, the King was controlling it well, Aramir thought. “I have come back to seek justice for what was done to me long ago,” he answered evenly.
“Justice. And what would one like you know about that?”
Aramir bit back a ready retort. “Enough to know that I was treated unfairly,” he said quietly.
“You would dare to say that I have been unjust!? You dare to challenge my rule?” The King looked as though he were going to strangle Aramir.
“Forgive me, Lord.” Aramir apologized, out of practice at being tactful. “I am used to speaking out when someone has wronged me unjustly. I realize it is different with the King.” He knew that this was the wrong thing to say, but it was the most respectful insult he could think of. Behind him, Janst’s hands held him tightly, fingernails digging into his arms.
“I see you are used to being blatantly disrespectful to authority as well,” the King retorted. “You are keeping something from me, Exile. I asked you a question; I expect an honest answer. Why have you come back?”
Aramir felt Janst’s hands grip him even more tightly in warning, but he ignored it. Arodan wanted the truth, fine. “I have come for the reason I have said before, but also I have come to see your daughter.”
From the look on his face, that was the last thing the King had expected to hear. “And why in Mandos’ name,” he began, trying to suppress his rage, “would you want to see Isilmë?”
“Because I rescued her,” Aramir said bluntly. Janst’s fingers dug so hard into Aramir’s skin that he was sure he had to be bleeding.
“He lies,” the Captain of the Guard hissed.
“And he will pay for such a terrible blasphemy if he does not take it back,” the King declared, pressing his dagger against Aramir’s neck again. But even in his anger, Aramir saw a tiny moment of thoughtfulness pass over the King’s face.
“I would take it back if I could,” Aramir answered bravely. “But I have told you no lies. I have no reason to deceive you,” he added, using Kern’s words.
“Like you had no reason to deceive me before! You deceived the entire Kingdom!”
“That is true,” Aramir conceded, lowering his head, thinking it best to agree with the irate King.
“And yet you had the audacity to come back and wreak havoc upon this city again.”
“My Lord, I only wished-“
“Silence! You know the penalty for breaking exile. I reserve judgement for the time. Captain, take him to the dungeon. Be sure that his cell is guarded.”
“My Lord, please!” Aramir called desperately as Janst dragged him roughly down the hall. The King only turned and walked silently down the dark hallway, the thunder echoing after him.
Janst was only too pleased to drag Aramir down to the dungeons, making sure every step was as painful as he could make it. He took great pleasure in opening one of the heavy prison doors and literally throwing Aramir into the cell, but only after stripping him of his weapons. The Exile only just managed to keep his balance after being tossed into the cell, and he turned to see Janst standing next to him, a horrible smirk on his narrow face.
Janst pulled out a small throwing knife and twirled it absently between his fingers. “Nice try, Exile,” he sneered. “She is mine. And when I am King, the first thing I shall do is get rid of you.” He stuck his face right in Aramir’s, unaware that the Exile had already managed to free his hands from the leather cords. “I shall have you executed, with the lady standing by, watching, begging for your life.”
“Which is more than I can ever hope to say for you,” Aramir spat. “When you die, I dearly hope she shall be holding the blade that struck you down.”
Janst’s face twisted in anger as he clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to prevent himself from striking Aramir, or throwing the knife at him. “If not for the fact that the King has ordered you unharmed, you would be dead.”
“Would I?” Aramir asked, staring calmly at Janst.
“Yes. Your hands are tied, your weapons gone; you are defenseless.”
“Am I?” Aramir held up his untied hands and waved them in Janst’s face.
The Captain gave an angry cry and leapt for Aramir, who easily sidestepped the attack.
“May you rot in here the rest of your life,” Janst spat. With that he turned and marched out of the cell, slamming the door, and then down the hall in search of a guard for Aramir’s cell.
Aramir watched him go, a small amount of satisfaction creeping into him at being able to make Janst so angry. His satisfaction was fleeting, though, and about then the hopelessness of his situation overtook him. He flopped down on the cold floor of the cell, bringing his knees up to his chest. The small cell was made entirely of stone and was freezing cold, and Aramir’s soaking wet clothes and cloak provided no warmth to him. He shivered in the cold and hugged his knees closer to his chest, trying in vain to stay warm. As well as warmth, he rather missed his weapons. All that remained was his boot knife, the one at the sole of his boot. He wiggled his toes a bit, feeling the comforting presence of the knife. Not that it would help him now. A guard was stationed at his door, completely ignoring the prisoner he was supposed to be watching. That was good, Aramir thought. He didn’t want anyone to see him.
He sat in the same spot for nearly four hours, back to the cold stone wall, knees drawn to his chest, biting his lip. He didn’t even notice when the first guard left and another took his place. I have failed, he thought. I shall never see her again. They will keep me here, or kill me, and she will never know. And Janst will take her hand in marriage, and she will be miserable, and… A feeling of total helplessness came over him, a feeling he had never experienced before. And he hated it. Picking up a small rock from the floor he threw it towards the small, bared ‘window’ in the door. It sailed through and there was a sudden startled cry as the rock landed on his guard’s head. Aramir snorted.
An Elven face peered in the window, obviously annoyed. “Watch were you’re throwing those……Aramir?”
Aramir’s head snapped up at the sound of his name. But more than that was the voice that had said it. He knew that voice. But, no, it could not be.
There was a slight sound of metal clanking as the guard hastily pulled his set of keys off of his belt and fumbled through them until he found the right one. He stuck it in the lock and threw open the door. Aramir, who had climbed shakily to his feet, stared at the young man in the door. He was tall and slender, with perfectly straight golden hair that fell slightly past his shoulders, framing his attractive Elven face, and was held back by a piece of black fabric tied around his head. He wore all black in the typical garment of the Itir. Only two things made his outfit look any different from Aramir’s. The first was the black sash that ran over his left shoulder and tied at his right side, and the second was the white Itir insignia on his tunic-a seven pointed star with two arrows crossed through the center. His bright blue eyes were wide with amazement as he stared at Aramir.
“Aramir!” he cried, at the same time Aramir cried “Kellian!”
Kellian ran forward and tightly embraced his friend.
“Kellian, I can’t…ow ow!” Aramir winced in pain.
“What is it?” the Elf asked, stepping back and looking concerned.
“Nothing,” Aramir assured him, grinning wildly despite his pain. “You sword was up against my wound. I’m ok.”
Kellian unbuckled his sword belt and the weapon fell to the ground with a crash. Then he rushed forward and re-embraced his friend. “Better?”
“Much. Kell, I can’t believe its you!!” Aramir was so happy he was crying. Tears ran down his dirt-covered face as he clung to his best friend. From the sound of it, Kellian was crying as well.
After nearly a full minute, the two young men pulled apart. The stood at arms length, staring at one another in joy and disbelief.
“My goodness,” Kell whispered. “Aramir, I don’t believe it. I thought I’d never see you again. I mean…”
“I know,” Aramir laughed, still overcome with joy.
He began to laugh loudly, and Kell joined in seconds later. They stood in the middle of Aramir’s cell, laughing like they were mad. They laughed so loudly that the prisoner in the next cell to them to knock it off, which only made them laugh harder. They rolled on the floor of the cell, laughing until their sides hurt. When they finally managed to stop, they found themselves lying on the floor, grinning at one another.
“By Ulmo,” Kellian panted. “I haven’t laughed that hard since…since before you were-” He stopped suddenly, realizing what he was about to say.
“Exiled,” Aramir finished softly.
“Yes,” Kellian said sadly, suddenly serious. “I still can’t believe they did that to you. I never even got to say goodbye.”
“Forget it,” Aramir cut him off. “It is past.”
“So, what are you doing here, in prison of all places? I mean, I always thought it would be fun to lock you in a cell, but…” he trailed off, grinning mischievously.
Aramir swatted at him, pulling himself into a sitting position. “Its a long story,” he told the Elf.
“Its a long night,” Kellian countered. “And what better way to spend it than by talking to me?” He grinned again.
“Good point. Ok, I’ll tell you everything that’s happened to me, but you have to do the same. Deal?”
Kell nodded, and Aramir launched into his story, leaving out no details. He told Kellian anything and everything that had happened to him during all of his years in Exile, ending with his most recent adventure with Princess Isilmë. Kellian commented in all the right places, crying out in amusement, anger, annoyance, and sympathy for his friend. His eyes were wide with amazement as Aramir told about Janst blackmailing Isilmë, and he would have gone storming out of the cell to tell King Arodan if Aramir hadn’t stopped him. When Aramir had told him everything worth telling, he stopped and took a deep breath.
Before his friend could say anything, Kellian muttered, “Well that certainly makes some sense now.”
“What makes sense?” Aramir asked, confused.
The Elf paused, then slowly told Aramir about his experience with Isilmë that afternoon. “She kept giving me the oddest looks, and when we got to her room, she threw her arms around me and buried her face in my shirt and just cried. And I had no idea why. She had never done anything like that, and then all of the sudden… But that wasn’t all of it. I just had this, this feeling that she wasn’t really embracing me, that she was holding someone else vicariously through me. It was so odd. Now I understand.”
Aramir nodded slowly, thinking of Isilmë. Then he grinned at his friend. “Well? Its still your turn.”
“Still my turn?” Kellian asked in disbelief. “I have nothing else to tell that could compare to what you told me.”
“Oh, come on Kell. I don’t care if it’s interesting or not. Besides, there has to be something about Janst worth telling.”
Kellian’s blue eyes lit up with amusement. “Oh yes!” That was all that was needed to get him going. He told Aramir anything he could think of about Janst, mostly embarrassing things he had done or tricks that Kell had played on him. By the time he was finished Aramir was howling with laughter again. He would have gone on laughing if Kell hadn’t muttered, “And every time something happened, I would think ‘Wow, Aramir has to hear about this.’ And then I would remember that you were gone, and I’d miss you all over again. Just tonight, after I escorted Isilmë to her room, I thought, ‘Where is Aramir? I have to tell him about his.’ There wasn’t one day when I didn’t miss you, Ar.”
Aramir stopped laughing abruptly and he suddenly remembered his thoughts from only days before, while he had been lying on the rooftop. His black eyes began to mist over as he replayed his friend’s words in his mind. Kellian saw this and gently teased, “You aren’t supposed to be the emotional one.”
Aramir grinned at the Elf. “I know,” he said, wiping his eyes with his tunic sleeve. “But you aren’t supposed to be the sentimental one, either.”
“True. So…Aramir. Is that story about Isilmë really true?”
“Of course!” Aramir snapped a bit more angrily than he meant.
“Sorry, sorry,” Kellian held up his hands in a sign of truce. “I was just wondering, well, what was it like to…umm…”
“Kell, are you jealous of me?!” Aramir cried out in amusement.
“No! Well, maybe a little. Yes, I am,” Kellian admitted good-naturedly. “You can’t blame me.”
“Now why on earth would you be jealous of me?” Aramir asked, a grin on his face. “I get sent into exile, have no friends, I have to-“
“That’s not what I meant!” the other cried out in exasperation.
Aramir laughed at his friend for a moment, then fell silent. “What was it like? It was like, like I’d never be sad again. When I was with her, everything was perfect, just she and I and no one else. I’d never have to worry about anything again.” He sighed. “I love her Kell. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I love her more than anything I’ve ever known.”
“You loved her enough to come back,” Kellian whispered.
Aramir nodded. Suddenly Kellian leapt silently to his feet. Aramir looked up as he hurriedly unlocked the door and went running out. He followed his friend out of the door and watched him run down the hall of the dungeon.
“Be right back!” the Elf called over his shoulder.
Aramir raised his eyebrows. Typical Kellian. He realized then that he was standing in the door of his open cell, and that if anyone saw him, not only would he get in serious trouble, but so would Kell. Hastily he retreated back into the cell, closing the door behind him and hearing the lock click.
“Now that has to be the stupidest thing I have ever seen someone do,” a rough, incredulous voice said from the cell next to Aramir’s. “And I’ve seen a lot of stupid things.”
“Really,” Aramir muttered nonchalantly. Kellian’s sword sat on the floor of the cell where he had left it in his haste. Aramir picked it up and unsheathed it. It was an Itir sword, just like his own. He twirled it around in his hands, beginning a dance with an invisible adversary.
“Yes,” the voice continued. “I thought Exiles had to be smart to survive.”
“Skilled in fighting, yes. Swift, yes. Cunning, yes. But not necessarily intelligent,” Aramir answered flippantly as he continued to fight the invisible enemy in his cell.
“And sarcastic, it seems. What on Earth did you shut that door for?!” the voice asked.
“I didn’t want Kell to get in trouble for leaving it open,” Aramir muttered, twirling the sword in the air and catching it deftly.
“Well, not only is that the most honorable thing I’ve witnessed in quite a while, but it’s the STUPIDEST!! You could have shut it after you were out, for Mandos’ sake! I’ve been waiting for years for something like that to happen, and when it finally does, you have to go and listen to your conscience! Idiot. I would have thought someone with Orc blood in him would be more ruthless. You deserve to rot in here like the Captain said.”
“Thank you,” was all Aramir said, which seemed to make the prisoner even more irate. Fortunately, Aramir was saved from further abuse when the sound of Kellian’s hurried footsteps echoed down the hall.
“Aramir!” Kellian called out. He bolted to the door and peered in, fumbling with his keys. “You dummy, why’d you close the door?” he muttered, to the delight of the other prisoner.
“Hmph,” Aramir returned as Kellian flung the door open. He dragged Aramir into the hall, looking frantic.
“Kell, what is it?” Aramir asked, worried for the first time.
“This!” The Elf stuck a piece of parchment in Aramir’s face. He seized it and began to read. He didn’t have to read very far.
“She’s gone looking for you,” Kellian panted. “I ran all the way back down here, and let me tell you, her room is about as far away from here as it can get. Her door was guarded, and the guard didn’t even know, so she must have gone out the window. I didn’t tell him, the guard I mean. No point in risking it, Janst might find out.” He said the entire thing as one long sentence, in one huge breath.
Aramir just stared at the parchment in shock and horror. Isilmë was out there, in the wild thunderstorm, looking for him! How could he have been so stupid?
“Kell, we have to go find her!” he cried in desperation.
“My thoughts exactly,” Kellian declared. “No, you keep it,” he added when Aramir offered him his sword. “I’ve got other weapons.”
With that, the two friends tore down the prison isle and up the stairs to the main hall.
The dark figure in the corner waited only a few seconds before detaching himself from the shadows and following swiftly after them…