The Tale of Amaril Anorwen - Part 1: Rhovanion
Amaril and Amlach were born on the first day of winter. Amlach came first; his sister five minutes behind. They had their father's square chin, and their mother's blunt nose. That was where the similarities ended. Amlach, like his parents and the rest of his people, had dark hair and storm-grey eyes. He was quiet in nature, slow to rouse to either laughter or anger, but when his temper did flare it was if a force of nature had been unleashed. Anyone who saw him would know him as his father's son, so alike were they in appearance and temperament, but blue-eyed Amaril was the Sun-child, so called for her shining laugh, brilliant humor, and luminously long, straight golden hair. It was a rare color among her people, and though none would question the fidelity the Chieftain's wife none knew how such a bright child could grow out of such dark parents. The old ones whispered that such beauty was not granted without a price, and a great doom must be on the girl, but others thought it a special blessing, a sign that perhaps their people would finally know the peace and freedom they had sought.
When Amaril was a child her mother or grandmother used to comb her long hair every morning and night until it shone like spun gold and then bind it in braids so the rambunctious child didn't make a mess of it. Getting Amaril to hold still long enough to make the process worthwhile was a challenge that both mother and grandmother met by telling the little girl stories, stories of the past, stories of good and evil, Elves and wars. At first she thought that her people were now safe from all the horrors and evils of those tales, safe in the mountains where war could no longer find them, but then one day she saw her mother kill a man.
He was a warrior of Rhûn. The men were away hunting. Winter was coming and they needed the meat. They were not suspecting an attack, for the Easterlings had made no contact with the people in recent years, and therefore few guards had been left behind, and thus the attack itself came as a surprise. Not even the dogs gave warning - they would later find that the Rhûnic warriors had killed them all. Though the older men and younger boys who had been posted as guards made a valiant effort, they could not stop the raid. Amaril had been playing outside and at the shouts of her grandmother run inside with Amlach and younger brother Harach. They huddled in the back of their house, encircled in the old woman's protecting arms while the defenders shrieked outside. She had no idea where her mother was. Her grandmother would later say that of the three it had been she, the girl, who had shown the least fear in that dreadful hour, but Amaril remembered her heart pounding so loudly she could hear little else. Outside they could hear screaming, but inside the house all was still, though the air was heavy with the smell of death and fear. Then the man came in.
He was tall, and wore a bronze helm that covered his face. Etched into the helm were wild designs. He wore mail and a tunic of black and gold. He did not look human and laughed in delight at finding a defenseless grandmother and three little children. He raised his sword to make his kill - in dreams Amaril always saw the sword swinging towards them, only to be stopped at the last second by another heavy blade. From the shadows her mother leapt with a cry, and parried the enemy's death blow. Then, with another single swipe she beheaded him, and all in the room were spattered in Easterling blood. Amaril later asked her mother where she had learned to use a sword, for she had long known that it was the duty of the men to fight. Her mother replied that being female did not spare one the taste of cold hard steel. Amaril then asked if she might also learn the ways of war. "You have to," her mother replied, "for you are the Chieftain's daughter and it is your duty to be a leader among your people."
"When shall I learn?" she asked.
"When you are strong enough to swing a blade." Before that year was out, the people had moved deeper into the mountains, hiding once again from evil, and Amaril and Amlach both had begun training in warcraft. They were all of six years old.
It soon came to pass that the only even match they had was each other, and they shared an uncommon closeness. They were of like mind about everything, or at least everything important and though their views did not always coincide with their father's he loved and trusted them both. It also came to pass that the watchful peace her people had enjoyed in the mountains was over, and as shadows gathered over Rhûn the Rhûnings pressed them further into the mountains by the Inland Sea. Soon they were left with almost nowhere else to go, save the East, where they would be forceed to join the Easterling armies and embrace the evil shadows which they had shunned for all the long ages, or the West, which they had forsaken long ago and to which they could not easily return. It was then, desperate and without recourse, that Hador, chieftain of the Harachin, listened to the counsels of his children and decided that the dangers in seeking the West and its wars were less than the dangers of staying in Rhûn, and being finally subjugated by the evil men. It was Amaril that was chosen to go, for Harach had died of a poisoned wound, leaving Amlach as Hador's only heir. Amlach was sorely grieved by this, and the parting between brother and sister was bitter indeed, but Amaril swore that she would not fail. "We are the people of the Sun, and they tell me I am the Sun's own daughter," she said, "By the Sun herself I make this promise. Look for me in the sunsets of the summer, for from my mother's arms I shall return, and bring the grace of the Western Shores with me."
Life in the shadow of the Easterlings had left Amaril with an ingrained wariness of other men, so though it would have been easier and perhaps safer for her to follow the River Running north and west she chose instead to cut across the less populous but more perilous plains of Rhovanion, where Easterlings, orcs and other evil things still roamed. She had no fear of death, nor any real fear of evil, for she trusted her skills with both the world and the wilderness and, like the rest of her people, she rejected evil and shunned the Dark. What frightened her the most was what might happen if she were recognized for what she was, for she was aware that the blood that ran in her veins was not loved in the West and she feared for the safety of her people should she be found by Men and Elves. Nevertheless, she knew that it was from other Men that her hopes sprung, that it was only through the grace of the Men of the Edain that her people could be redeemed. She knew that she would find these Men across the Mountains of Mist, for that was what the legends told, and in the distance she saw them looming, and from these her bright blue eyes did not stray.
Aragorn stared stolidly head, holding his relentless pace and leaving the slimy prisoner ahead of him no choice but to go forward. The sentinels of Mirkwood paced along beside him, saying nothing, ready to spring at any false move by the prisoner. Though his face was grim his heart was light. Soon he'd be in the halls of Thranduil, where he could have a bath and a good long talk with the elves. He could use the rest. Of all his journeys and labors Aragorn counted this as the most odious. It was not so much the perils involved in searching the bounds of Mordor that bothered him for those who chose to walk in the shadows of the Blacklands had little right to complain of the perils the invited upon themselves. It was Gollum's wretched company that had made the journey so terrible.
The creature had once been a hobbit - that much he could tell, but he'd lived far longer than any hobbit ought, and the long years had been less than kind. He was thin and pale beneath the green filth that had covered him since Aragorn had found him and his years beneath the Misty Mountains had left him with eyes that were far too big. He also smelled of death, decay, and other rotten things, and an attempt by Aragorn to clean the thing up had resulted in a bite that by the grace of the Valar alone was healing cleanly. Since then he'd gotten no words from the wretch, though he proved himself capable of human speech by constantly talking to himself. Just as well, Aragorn thought. There was nothing he particularly wanted to say to Gollum beyond questions of the Ring of Power and those questions were perhaps best left in the safety of the Elven King's halls. Of course, after the weeks it had taken to make the passage from the Dead Marshes where Gollum was found to the edges of Mirkwood Aragorn had had some time to reconsider talking to Gollum at all. Gandalf had gone to Minas Tirith to search the library for his answers. Perhaps he could just leave Gollum in the promised security of Thranduil's caves and go back to the Wild west of the Misty Mountains and forget about the foul creature.
Thoughts of the Wild turned Aragorn's mind to a riddle he had come across two weeks before. Lying in the grass he had found a dead Easterling with a knife wound in its head. Beside him was another, with his head cleaved off and yet a third, stabbed through the chest. A short distance off was the fourth, stabbed in the back, caught while running. Human tracks from this body led back to the other three, and then off to the west. A vicious fight had happened, and a short way from the group of three he found several arrows, one of which was broken, though its broken half was nowhere to be found. There was also the cold remains of a camp, and more of the same tracks that led off west. Since these footprints were not out of his way he decided to follow them, thinking at first that an Easterling patrol party had quarreled, but then thinking that maybe they'd ambushed a traveler. He knew from the ground that there could only be one, that it was a human, and the person's feet were not large, meaning they belonged to someone small, half-grown, or female. Once he realized this he felt a great swell of pity and concern for this wounded person, and this concern doubled when he found the second cold campsite. Like the first, one person had slept there and then traveled westward. The earth also yielded up something halfway expected - the other half of the arrow - and something he would never have thought to find. There in the green grass of a cold spring were several long locks of straight sun-gold hair. He ran it through his fingers. It was human, but he had no idea if it belonged to a woman or man. Probably a woman to judge by the length of it, but why she should show enough sense to cut her hair and disguise herself and then be careless enough to leave some behind was beyond him. He then turned his attention to the arrow. The blood on the hair was dried, and there were further dried spatters and puddles of blood on the ground, even on the hair once he took a closer look. If she'd been wounded and bleeding that would explain the carelessness.
Aragorn stared off into the west, as if he could see this long departed slayer of Easterlings. The tracks went due west, and that would take their maker through Mirkwood by ways of Dol Guldur. The horrors of this bastion of evil were enough that not even the Elves went there. It was a terrible thing for a lone man to face, but if he was correct in his guess that this traveler was a woman she was in even greater danger. A haircut would not save her from the horrors that orcs had in store for females. Even worse, there was no knowing what sort of pestilence that Easterling arrow carried, and if she were weakened by fever it would be all the worse for her. The road she took was not one any save Gandalf should take alone. Had it not been for Gollum (and here was another reason to resent that foul creature), he would've tracked the wounded traveler, and on catching up to her aided her as he could, but as it was the fate of this one bold woman paled next to what would happen if he let Gollum go. He therefore turned away from her faint and lonely tracks, cutting north to the friendly bounds of Greenwood the Great and King Thranduil's home. He did, however, collect the pieces of arrow and locks of hair, hiding them from any unfriendly eyes that might be behind him and since then his thoughts had often turned to this woman, whoever she was, wandering the wilds of Rhovanion, wounded, unaided, and alone. He wondered who she was, who her people were, and what had become of her. Perhaps the elves would know.
As the road brought them nearer to Thranduil's halls the heavy air and darkness of Mirkwood lifted, and he could hear the voices of the Silvan Elves singing. Absently he began to hum along, such a pleasure it was to hear their fair voices after the long trek in Gollum's "company." For his part, Gollum began to squeal and only silenced when Aragorn tweaked his line. Galdor, the elf Captain who was leading the party gave him a sympathetic glance. They'd barely had to deal with the creature for a day and their patience was already tried. Night was falling when they came to the bridge over the Forest River. "Welcome Aragorn of the Dunedain to the Halls of King Thranduil!" Galdor announced as they came to the gate and of their own accord the great stone doors swung open. Galdor ushered Aragorn and the shrinking, whimpering Gollum inside. Gollum squealed again, something about bright elven eyes, but Aragorn paid him little heed for there, in the entry way, standing beside the King was none other than Gandalf himself. For the first time in his memory Aragorn saw a look of surprise on the old wizard's face as Galdor delivered his report to Thranduil. He choked back a slight laugh when Galdor reported that the sentries had smelled their approach long before they heard or saw it.
"Well met, Aragorn," The king greeted him. "Mithrandir preceded you by a mere two hours and informed me of his success. I see you have enjoyed a similar fate." Aragorn bowed. Gollum hissed. Thranduil looked down at the groveling, writhing beast and raised an eyebrow. "So this is Gollum?"
"Yes my lord," Aragorn answered. "I found him in the Dead Marshes, and as we agreed I now deliver him into your keeping."
"Very well. Follow me." The king led him down into his dungeons with Gandalf and a few other curious elves following. It was then that Aragorn noticed the pearl and silver necklace the king was wearing. "Yes, this was indeed Bilbo's gift to me," the king chuckled, guessing the Ranger's thoughts. "Much came of that little hobbit's doing. I wonder to what other ends his adventures will come ere the end of this age. Here, this will do for a while." He opened a door and Aragorn thrust Gollum through.
"It hurts us, it hurts us," the creature squealed, thrashing as the Ranger removed the rope halter and backed through the door, letting Thranduil slam it after him.
"Were you followed?" the king asked as they made their way back up into the lighter caverns the king and his court dwelled in.
"I did not see any signs, but I would be surprised if we weren't. It would be wise to double your watch."
"How did you find him?" Gandalf asked, very interested. For well on nine years they'd made repeated searches of Ithilien and the bounds of Mordor but to no avail. Gandalf had given up the search even, and gone on to Minas Tirith to find the scroll Isildur had made describing the Ring in hopes that it might yield up the information they so desperately needed. Just as well. Aragorn did not think the old wizard would have had the patience to travel with Gollum.
"I found tracks in the mud, pointing away from Mordor," he replied lightly, though all who listened understood the full horror of his words. "I do not speculate as to what he was doing there or whether or not he was captured and set free. I could get nothing from his mouth but a bite." The Wizard and King both frowned. It was not news either wished to hear. If Gollum had told the Enemy what had become of the One Ring then their alliance with time was over.
"I should speak with him," he said at length. Aragorn was about to make a reply when something in another cell caught his eye.
You've another prisoner?" he asked, pausing to peer through the bars at the figure crouched in the corner. They were covered in a great dark and hooded cloak.
"Yes, that is my son's gangrel out of the East," Thranduil answered lightly, "though I think he found its company easier than the wretch you brought in."
"What and who is it?" Aragorn could hardly tell what race the prisoner belonged too, though he'd a feeling it might be human.
"A boy, of your kind, bearing markings we do not know. Sun-child my son and his troops call him, for he has very bright gold hair and bears a badge in the shape of the Sun on his cloak and arms. More we can not say, for he will not speak to us."
"And he's down here for safe-keeping?" Thranduil was usually more hospitable.
"The circumstances were suspicious. Easterlings and evil things are not welcome here." Aragorn stared through the bars a moment longer. The prisoner seemed to be aware of them and lifted his head, looking straight back at them. The face was young, though dirty and etched with fear, sorrow, and pain. It was a thin face, with distinctly feminine lines and though the prisoner kept her hood up Aragorn still caughtt the glimmer of torchlight off of straight yellow hairlight and the glint of bright blue eyes. It was the hair that grabbed his attention and he tried to decide if the color matched the hair he'd found in the grass. The King noticed his interest. "You may try your luck with him later, after you've bathed and eaten perhaps. My son will be coming in shortly. You could try talking to him as well."
"Yes, I would like that," Aragorn murmured, turning to go. Standing next to the graceful Elf he was becoming more and more aware of how wild and smelly he must be. But as he left he was aware of the girl still staring after him and her gaze was pleading.