A bright light shone in Isilmë’s eyes. What was it? She fully opened them and realized that it was the sun, shining in from her bedroom window. No, not her bedroom; where was she? Then everything came flooding back in a rush of memories, and she sat up and looked around for Aramir. She didn’t see him, and she silently admonished herself for falling asleep as she climbed out of the bed. She crossed the dusty room to the window and pulled it open, letting the cool breeze blow her hair back. Then she saw Aramir, lying on the roof, hands behind his head, staring into the sky. Not sure if he was awake or not, Isilmë stood at the window and stared at him.
“Good morning, my Lady,” he greeted without even turning around.
“And you, my Lord,” she returned, climbing on to the roof. If Aramir had any thoughts about being called a lord, he didn’t voice them. “Don’t tell me you slept out here all night,” Isilmë scolded.
He grinned up at her. “Alright. I won’t tell you.”
She shook her head, rolling her icy-blue eyes at him. “How in the world did you ever get to sleep?”
“It was easy. Besides, Exil- I’m used to sleeping on the ground. The roof was a nice change.”
What had he said? Exiles?
“Well, let us eat, and then we can get going.” He leapt up and climbed back into the room.
They ate a quick breakfast, then set off. Isilmë rode behind Aramir, much more at ease than she had been the day before. The bright sun shone down upon them, warming them. Isilmë noticed that, in contrast to her own pale skin, Aramir’s was deep brown, a sign that he spent most of his time outside. She kept her hands at her sides, stroking his horse’s gleaming flanks. She asked frequent questions as they rode, avoiding areas she was certain would cause trouble, and he was glad to answer them, asking his own questions in turn. She answered them honestly, and she only avoided mentioning that she was the Princess of Gondor. Instead, she passed herself off as a noble woman of Gondor. Aramir, have no reason not to, believed her. She, in turn, believed his tale to be true, but she sensed something, though she did not know what, that suggested that he was hiding something. He spoke of his life in the wild, but there was a distant bitterness in his voice that he could not hide, though he tried.
The day passed uneventfully, and before the girl knew it, Aramir had dismounted, announcing that they would be spending the night here. ‘Here’ was a dense forest filled with tall pines, and Aramir chose a small clearing to camp in. He began to gather wood, then to make a fire. Isilmë, feeling rather useless, offered to cook dinner, something she never did, but Aramir didn’t need to know that. The young man accepted gladly and slipped off into the woods with his bow. He was back in less than ten minutes with two small rabbits. Isilmë managed to cook them without embarrassing herself, and they ate by the fire, talking softly, as though afraid to disturb the silence of the forest.
When they had finished, Aramir offered apologetically, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything comfortable to sleep on. I’m not used to traveling with someone. I don’t even have any blankets.” He looked embarrassed.
“I’m fine,” Isilmë assured him, but even as she said it, she shivered in the cold.
Aramir pulled off his black cloak and placed it on her shoulders. “Here,” he said gently, then sat down with his back to a tree and closed his eyes.
“Aramir, I can’t let you-” she began, but he cut her off.
“I’m trying to sleep, be quiet.”
Shaking her head and smiling, Isilmë wrapped herself in the cloak. It was very warm, and very well made. In fact…she turned the fabric over in her hands, inspecting it. In fact, it looked like the cloaks worn by the Itir, the elite group of guards of Gondor, special protectors of the Royal Family. Men had to train extensively to even be considered, and, as the number of members was never more than a dozen, admittance was rare. Members had to be skilled in all aspects of fighting-hand, archery, sword, and dagger. They had to be swift, silent, and skilled, able to get into and out of anything. The Itir were held in high regard all throughout Gondor, and wherever the Royal Family went, one could be sure that a few of the Itir were there as well. All in all, the Itir were very extraordinary.
And Aramir had an Itir cloak.
Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps it only looked like one. Besides, where would he have gotten one? The Itir didn’t simply hand out cloaks to people. But the more she inspected it, the more certain she became that this cloak had once belonged to an Itir. There was the possibility that Aramir had killed one of them, but he didn’t seem the type, and none of the Itir had simply disappeared lately. She would have known. The pieces of the puzzle were accumulating, but Isilmë was afraid to put them together. She sat back against a tree, watching Aramir for a while, before falling into an uneasy sleep.
She awoke abruptly in the middle of the night. Sitting up, she glanced around and was startled to see Aramir sitting against the tree, eyes open and staring right back at her.
“Surely you haven’t been up all night?” she asked.
He smiled. “Surely I have, milady.”
Isilmë stared at him. “But, aren’t you going to sleep?”
He shook his head. “I’m keeping watch,” he informed her matter-of-factly.
“So you’re telling me you do this every night?”
He laughed softly. “Oh no, not at all. I sleep when it is just I. I do not usually travel with noblewomen.”
Isilmë blushed, then shook her head. “But you will be exhausted.”
Aramir opened his mouth to answer, but his response was cut off by a chilling howl far off in the distance. The young man raised an eyebrow. “Want me to sleep now?”
“I guess not,” Isilmë muttered.
“Go back to sleep. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Yes, but will I?” she asked, only half joking, as she lay back down.
“Of course,” he assured her, smiling though she could not see it. “Do not fear. Go back to sleep.”
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/8940.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/8986.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9047.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9079.html