(Post co-written by Sil and Luthy)
Three taverns, two angry fathers, and several dozen leagues later found Aramir in about the same place he'd been before--dust-covered and a bit hungry--but at a different point on the map, and this time with a companion.
"I mean, all I did was tell her she had lovely eyes. Is that really such a crime?"
Narmocarca snorted and butted Aramir squarely in the back with his long nose, sending him tumbling to the ground with a startled yelp. A bag of provisions rolled in one direction, and three daggers flew out of their sheathes and formed a triangular pattern on the ground around him as though sentinels guarding a rather dirty prisoner. Aramir rolled onto his back, moaning as the hilt of his sword dug into his side--and the side with a fresh wound, at that--and frowned up at his horse through the mess of his hair. "Why do you never believe me? You're just like all the obnoxious, over-protective parents who go berserk every time I compliment their daughters. Here I am, trying to be a gentleman, and my horse assaults me."
Narmo whickered and trotted off into the thicket at the side of the road, leaving Aramir to collect himself and his things like a child assembling his scattered toys. He was just wiping the last of his daggers on his pants--little good it would do, seeings as they were covered in dust as well--when the horse returned, plowing through the bushes, a small leather sac clamped between his teeth.
And then something else crashed into the road.
"Give me back my bag, you stupid horse!" shouted a female voice, although it was a minute before the blur of angry girl resolved itself enough for Ar to tell who she was or what was going on. Even after he managed to focus on her, he almost didn't duck in time to avoid being hit by a very thick, very long braid of dark hair when the girl whirled on him and started screaming something about "your horse" and "my bag" and "stupid idiot".
Startled, he crawled to his feet while trying to take in all the insults she was throwing his way, and when he was sufficiently picked up, he held out his hands, more to keep her at bay than to actually indicate that he'd like to speak. "Whoa, whoa, calm down. I'm very sorry, my lady." He spun around to Narmo, yanked the bag out of the horse's teeth, and handed the slightly grass-green-saliva-soaked sac to the irate girl. "He doesn't usually do things like that. ... I don't think." He shot another scathing glance at Narmo, and in response, the horse took a few steps forward and planted one heavy hoof directly on top of Ar's foot.
"Oww!!" He would have jumped, but being anchored to the ground by his horse was sort of preventing that. "Get off me, Narmo!"
Narmo just whinnied, turning to the girl now. She glared at him. "Well, you big monster? What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Hey, he isn't a monster!" Ar protested. "Just... hungry, apparently. And rather greedy. And heavy." He gave the horse a shove. Nothing.
Her eyes slid to him, and a whole layer of emotion dropped off her face. Or maybe she threw another layer on, hard to tell. The new face was friendly and definitely, definitely not shy.
"I'm sorry about that," she said, "I was..." she seemed to be searching for a word... "confused. I was asleep, and your horse woke me up, and I hope I didn't hit you or anything?" The last with a bright smile. Ar wasn't sure whether he was eased or worried by that smile. Best go with worried, just in case she knew something she wasn't letting on. It had been years since he'd been recognized as that Aramir, but you could never been too careful, right?
"No, you didn't. Your hair almost did, though." He grinned, pretending to be at ease. "Almost a weapon, that. Besides..." He put all his weight into his shoulder and forced the black gelding to lift his hoof, then quickly took a few steps away, rolling his eyes at the animal. "...I think Narmo did more damage than you could have." Oops, wrong thing to say. Hoping she hadn't heard the last part, he decided to go another way. "Anyhow, I do hope you're all right." He smiled apologetically. "He's really a softie as long as you aren't me, and I'm sure he was just playing around. I'd hate to think my horse actually tried to rob such a beautiful young woman." He smiled charmingly and pointed to the sac. "Is everything there?"
Suspicion flitted across her face, just for a moment, and then she opened the bag and rifled through it. Relief replaced it. "Yes, it's all here. Thank you so much, sir." When she didn't try too hard, her smile almost reached her eyes. "Well, this is quite awkward. I'm so sorry for all the trouble. And I apologize to, um, your not-a-monster. Where are you heading?"
"Narmo," Ar offered, gently punching the horse's neck, half in jest, half as a warning lest he find another hoof grinding into his foot. He wondered if Narmo had considered that Ar would now be riding because he couldn't feel his left foot. He doubted his horse had that kind of insight. "And, to be honest, I'm not sure where I'm headed. No destination at this time, as it happens. And yourself?" He watched her stash the sac carefully in the folds of her clothing, wondering what was in there but not curious enough to ask. "You said before you were confused. Are you lost, my lady? In need of assistance, perhaps?"
She looked at him silently for a moment, an odd expression on her face. "Very much in need of assistance, actually," she said. She seemed to hesitate. "I -- I left my home, and I have just been wandering around since then. My lord, if it's not too much to ask, perhaps I could travel with you for a while? Sometimes these woods don't seem so safe for a maiden alone." She shrugged. Something didn't seem quite right, but Aramir couldn't quite place it, so he figured he would simply go along with it for now. Besides, there wasn't an angry father in sight, so this situation was already a step up from the usual.
He smiled brightly, took her hand, bowed over it, and kissed it gently. "Far be it from me to deny the wishes of so lovely a maiden," he said, winking boldly in a way that he hoped wouldn't actually scare her away from traveling with him. He knew where to draw the line with the flirting, whether or not his horse--or anyone for that matter--believed him. "Especially one my horse has just attempted to rob. Perhaps to make up for it, he could offer you a ride?"
She smiled. "I'd love that," she said, and -- was that a return wink? "But I'm afraid I don't know your name yet, and my mother told me once never to take horse rides from strange men unless you know their names. And also never to charge an angry horse, but I suppose I've already broken that one today."
"Aramir," he said with a grin. "And you, my lady?" he asked, taking her hand again. She didn't draw it back.
"Ilarieth," she said. "And I'm afraid I grew up in the city; I'm not much of a horsewoman. Help me mount?" She smiled, and it didn't look so genuine as it had before, but it certainly looked flirty. Ar could always recognize flirty.
He helped her up, and before he mounted took the opportunity to dust some nonexistent dust off her knee. "I haven't asked, Ilarieth, but where are you planning to go?"
She shrugged, and he swung himself up. "Anywhere."
"Well, I can't head back on this road," he said. "Angry innkeepers, you know." She giggled. "Onward, then?"
"Onward," she said. Ar had to calm Narmo, who did not seem very excited about having to carry two people, but as soon as they were going steadily and Ilarieth seemed relaxed, he slipped his arm around her waist. "Can't have you falling off," he said seriously. Certainly not...