Despite her uneasiness, Isilmë slept soundly the rest of the night and awoke to find the forest empty. She sat up and looked around for Aramir. Immediately, she wished she hadn’t. Every muscle in her body screamed out in pain as a result of her sleeping on the ground. After leaning over to rub her sore back, she straightened up, looked around, and screamed.
“Ouch!” Aramir leapt back from her, hands covering his ears.
“You scared me,” she accused, panting.
“Sorry,” he apologized, not looking sorry at all. She grimaced as she rose, and he asked, “Sore?”
“No, I-I’m fine.” She smiled, trying to look like she really felt fine and failing miserably. “Here’s your cloak, thank you. It was very warm.”
He took it back from her and briefly swung it over his shoulders before changing his mind and pulling it off. Yes, she noticed, it was his cloak- it had been made for him. And if it was an Itir cloak, then that meant-
“Breakfast?” his voice cut into her thoughts.
She pushed the thoughts aside and accepted a strange fruit he offered her, eating it slowly while he cleaned up the camp and readied Narmo. When she was finished she mounted behind him and they set off.
The day wasted no time in warming to an almost unnatural temperature for the season. They rode through the heat for most of the morning, then stopped in a small field of tall grass for lunch. They dismounted and Aramir pulled some food out of his pack-something he had caught that morning, he explained. They sat on the edge of the clearing, talking as they ate. Isilmë kept her gaze carefully averted from his face, an odd feeling of shyness coming over her. If Aramir noticed, he said nothing. Besides, she thought, he was friendly enough for both of them. A soft breeze blew through the grass, brushing Isilmë’s hair away from her face. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the fresh air, smiling.
“The air here is so different,” she murmured.
“Different?” Aramir asked.
“Well, different from the city, I mean, and my home. It is not like this at all.”
Aramir leaned back on his hands, watching her with a slight smile, his black eyes twinkling in some hidden amusement, and then wondered, “So, what handsome, charming young man is heartbroken right now because his lady is missing?”
Isilmë shook her head. “None,” she replied, almost sadly.
Aramir’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “None? Oh come now, you cannot tell me that a beautiful woman like you does not have young men constantly flirting with her. There has to be someone…?”
Isilmë blushed, then shook her head. “No. Oh, you are right, men are always flirting with me,” she said with a sigh. She debated saying more, then grinned instead. “Take you, for example.”
Aramir put a hand to his heart in mock surprise. “Me?” he asked. “Me, flirt? I never do that.” He scooted over next to her and wrapped his arms around her waist, leaning into her and giving her his most charming smile. “Never,” he said again, then softly kissed her cheek.
Isilmë giggled and pushed him away, although she was unable to push away the strange feeling inside of her. Aramir lay back in the grass, then reemerged a moment later with a beautiful white flower in his hand, which he presented to Isilmë with a slight bow.
“For you, my Lady,” he said with a smile.
She took it, unable to keep herself from blushing despite his teasing intent. “Thank you,” she murmured, staring down at it. After a moment she reached up and gently tucked it behind her ear.
Aramir opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it and smiled instead. He leaned back as though studying her, then nodded. “I like it,” he declared. “It goes with your dress.”
Isilmë giggled at the tone of his voice-like that of the woman who sewed her dresses, and the woman who helped her dress for special occasions. The thought of the light, friendly young man who lived in the wilderness assuming such a role made her chuckle in amusement.
Aramir crossed his arms over his chest, looking pouty. “If you don’t like my opinions, just tell me. You don’t have to laugh.”
Isilmë only laughed harder, not really certain what she found so funny. Aramir arched an eyebrow as he watched her, then began to laugh himself.
When the laughter had died down and the food was eaten, they remounted and rode on. Sometimes they were silent, but mostly they kept up a steady stream of conversation. Isilmë had never been able to talk to anyone like she did to Aramir, and she found herself telling him things she had never told another. The more they talked, the more Isilmë found she liked him, and, though she did not know it, he felt the same way about her. He was more than happy to tell her about Narmo when she asked, and the horse seemed to realize he was being talked about, for he flicked his ears and tossed his head, prancing slightly as though to remind them that he was the one in question.
“He’s saved my life more times than I can count,” Aramir told her, patting the dancing black creature on the neck.
Isilmë patted him as well. A life worth saving, she thought, but said nothing.
They rode until sunset and Aramir found a campsite that he liked, set in another small clearing. After dinner, which Isilmë cooked, they sat by the fire, talking again. Several times, Isilmë thought about asking Aramir about the Itir cloak, but each time she lost her nerve. Aramir sat a few feet from her, staring into the fire as he described the Elven forest of Mirkwood to her, for she had never been there. The firelight cast odd shadows across his face and reflected in his bright eyes. She stared at him, unable to avert her gaze from his face. It was not his appearance, though by all means it could have been, but simply him. He was unlike anyone she had every met before. Even her friends in Gondor, nobles like herself, had an aloof, unreachable feel that prevented her from being truly close to them. Aramir had no such feeling. He was down to earth and easy-going; a ready smile always seemed to rest upon his face. It seemed to Isilmë that he could not have been truly serious, even had he wanted to.
He looked up from his description of the forest and met her gaze. “You’re staring at me again,” he declared with a smile.
She quickly stared down at her hands. “No I’m not,” she lied, blushing.
Aramir rolled his eyes and scooted closer, so he was practically touching her. “I had no idea I was that interesting,” he mused with a grin.
Isilmë glanced up again, starting in surprise that he was so close. She blushed even deeper, praying that he would think it only the firelight.
“And now you’re blushing,” he murmured, taking her hand. “I have such odd effects on people.” He laughed, sounding rather pleased with himself.
She smiled shyly, feeling that same odd feeling arise inside of her at the touch of his hand. “You are though,” she told him finally. “Interesting, I mean.”
“Good interesting, or bad interesting?” he wondered, smiling.
She looked up and opened her mouth to answer him, then froze when she realized that his face was but inches from her own. He could easily have kissed her, had he decided he wanted to. The feeling inside intensified.
“Good,” she whispered, recovering from her temporary shock.
He gave her a crooked half-smile. “Thanks,” he murmured. “So are you.”
She pulled back slowly, turning and gazing into the fire. Aramir stared at her a moment longer, then released her hand. He pulled his cloak off of his shoulders and settled it upon hers.
Isilmë smiled in thanks and drew the cloak about her. She lay herself down on the ground by the fire, resting her head on her hands. She soon fell asleep, leaving Aramir awake by the fire.
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9047.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9079.html
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9131.html