After the evening meal Aragorn found Legolas and questioned him about the prisoner. The Prince was more than willing to discuss the matter, for he found the affair as mystifying as his father did. “You’ve been from one end of these lands to the other, perhaps you can tell us something,” the Elf began. “He ran out of the south with orcs and a wounded troll out of Dol Guldur in pursuit. We were patrolling the Road and he led them straight onto our bows so to speak. He did not seem to be wounded, though he had a good case of the Black Breath. We gave him a dose of athelas, which was not an easy task for he seemed to fear us as much as the orcs. I suppose we should be grateful he wounded that troll for us at least, for it was a fell and difficult thing to kill. He will not speak, but from his dress and arms we know he is not Woodman, Lakeman, Daleman, Ranger, or of any other people we know of. I had no idea what else to do with him, and nor does my father really, but we suspect he is out of the East, so we decided to assume the worst and put him in the dungeon until he’s ready to talk to us. Some thought we should slay him, but that seemed cruel, especially since he surrendered without a fight.”
“May I see his arms?”
“Certainly.” Legolas led him to a storeroom and pulled from a shelf a sword, a dagger, and a small utility knife. He also pulled out the prisoner’s pack. Aragorn dug through this before inspecting the weapons. It was provisioned well enough, contained dried meat and a variety of nuts, and a few mushrooms some of which he knew had grown in Mirkwood. Nothing that he himself hadn’t eaten. In fact the mushrooms were downright tasty and he had to restrain himself from nibbling on them. There wasn’t much else, other than a few pebbles, a sling pouch, and a tin cup. “Primitive sort of weapon,” Legolas commented when Aragorn studied the sling pouch. There was no marking on it whatsoever. “Though I’m sure deadly enough to an enemy.”
“Nay Legolas, a weapon for enemies would be kept accessible, and I’m sure your prisoner knows that throwing rocks at helmed orcs and Easterlings does little more than irritate them. No my friend, these are for killing game. Was this all?”
“We let him keep his blanket and waterskin,” the Elf said, “for he seemed wary of anything we had to offer.”
“Maybe you should have let him have the food as well. It’s all safe for Men and Elves to eat, even if you turn your nose at it,” he commented, handing the bag back. Legolas shrugged unapologetically. Aragorn then turned his attention to the weapons and studied each carefully. In the pommel of the sword was a yellow gem, cut in a way that suggested the Sun, and in the pale lights of Thranduil’s caves it gleamed with the fire of the Daystar. The knife and dagger had similar sun designs on their handles. Certainly not the heraldry of any Easterling or Southron nation, but it was not a symbol borne by any other people he’d met so far. Gently he handed the sword and dagger back but kept the smaller knife. “I think I have an answer to your riddle, Legolas, but before I venture my guess I should like to see this prisoner one more time,” he said. Eager, Legolas wasted no time in leading him back down into the dungeons. Thranduil and Gandalf also came.
The girl was still there, slumped over but otherwise unmoved, though a tray of food had been brought. “He doesn’t eat either,” Legolas sighed as they gazed through the bars.
“Of course not. Would you eat the food of those you do not trust?” Gandalf remarked. Aragorn ignored them both and squinted, trying to get another peek at the hair. The prisoner obliged by looking up and a shaft of light glinted gold from under the hood. Aragorn smiled to himself as he reached into his belt pouch and pulled out on of the locks. The color was indeed the same.
“Prince, you have found neither an Easterling nor a boy,” he declared, “and if I am not mistaken she is no danger to you either. You should probably let her go.”
“He, she, whatever they are, came out of the east with no explanation,” Legolas said with a shrug, “and that was cause enough for suspicion.”
“I came out of the east and you greeted me openly,” Aragorn commented drily. “Anyways, I’d assume that one who is suffering the Black Breath and under the pursuit of orcs is not in league with them.”
“We were expecting you,” the prince replied, “and with the evil things you can never tell what alliances and oaths are honored.”
“Don’t you at least know a girl when you see one, if not an ally?” Aragorn shot back. He was tired and his temper had yet to recover from those long days with Gollum. To see a friend behaving so unreasonably towards someone in clear need of help made him downright peevish. Legolas was about to snap a reply when his father raised a hand.
“You seem to recognize her as a friend, or at least not a foe. Since she refuses to speak for herself can you tell us any more of her?” Thranduil interrupted the bickering.
“Nay,” Aragorn shook his head, “not for certain. But I found these in the grass in Rhovanion, and tracks pointing west, and I now believe them to be hers.” He spoke this last in Westron as he showed them first the hair and then the arrow. For a moment he enjoyed the fleeting pleasure of seeing both an Elven King and a Wizard look surprised.
“This is a tale worth hearing,” Gandalf murmured, studying the broken arrow. “This blood, it is hers?” Aragorn nodded. “Yet you say you found no wound on her,” he raised an eyebrow at Legolas. “Did you look?”
“As much as she would let us. There was a tear in her shirt, but there was no active bleeding and we weren’t about to strip search her.”
“Hmm, yes. And she was armed?”
“Knife, dagger, and sword,” Aragorn and Legolas said together. “Not of Easterling origin,” Aragorn added, “though not of any other people I have met either.”
“Interesting.” Gandalf handed the shaft back to Aragorn. “This is a riddle that bears solving,” he said, looking into his friend’s eyes. Aragorn nodded at once and made eye contact with the girl. She made no move, but stared steadily back at him. Her eyes told him that she understood who he was and what he had said, that she was not afraid, that she might be willing to talk to him.
“She suffers,” Legolas muttered in his ear, sounding both surprised and contrite.
“May I?” Aragorn pointed at the door. The guard was already unlocking it. He held up a staying hand as both Legolas, eager to make amends, and an intensely interested Gandalf tried to follow him into the cell. “It would be better if I go alone. She is unarmed, and I won’t be long.” The wizard grunted and the elf stepped back. The cell door clanged shut behind him and Aragorn slowly approached the girl sitting in the straw.
She shrank away at first, and Aragorn realized that, though he was armed with only a small knife and was considerably cleaned up he still looked quite the rascal. Moreover, since most of the previous conversation had been in Sindarin she had no way to know he meant no harm. So he moved slowly and holding his hands out where she could see they were open. Up close she was filthy and far too pale. “You are looking for something lady?” he asked softly. She said nothing. He squatted down before her, so they were eye to eye. “Listen,” he said, “I know you can understand Westron. Talk to me. The Elves are calling you Sun-child.” She drew back, startled when he said that. “You look surprised. Is that your name?” She shook her head, withdrawing further. Aragorn extended a hand to her. “My name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. I am a Ranger of the North, and I mean you no harm.”
“You are of the Edain.” Statement, not a question, and though her accent was strange her Westron was clear and understandable.
“Yes, I am. Who are you?” She opened her mouth as if to seak, then closed it, shaking her head. “Lady, if you will not tell me openly, I will make some guesses, and then you can at least tell me if I guess truly,” he said, reaching for the artifacts in his keeping. “The Elves have asked me to find out who you are, and whether or not you’re a threat. If you truly mean no harm, then they will let you go with their blessings, but if you are an agent of the Enemy, you will not last another night. So you need to be as forthright as you can.” She nodded. “Alright. Then I guess that you are of the east, coming out of Rhûn, though you are not an Easterling. You travel alone. I saw your pack. You forage for food, and hunt with a sling when there is game to be had. The Elves tell me you have a tear in your sleeve, and I know you were wounded with an arrow, but the man who wounded you now rots in the grasses of Rhovanion. I think you are seeking the West, but for what reason I can make no good guess, other than perhaps the Sun is ready to come out from under the Shadow.”
“You guess truly, Aragorn of the Edain, for I did kill a man in the grasslands and I do seek the West” she said, not relaxing at all and eyeing him warily, as if she’d finally found what she sought but in finding it wasn’t sure she wanted it anymore. “But if all you have seem is my pack how did you know all of this?” Aragron smiled slightly as he pulled out the arrow pieces and the hair.
“I found these, as well as the bodies of four Easterling soldiers twice your size, and several more arrows lying in the grass on Rhovanion plain. I also found this in the Elves’ keeping.” He handed her the knife. She uncurled herself to snatch it hastily and he caught a glimpse of a golden, sun shaped clasp on her heavy brown cloak. She stowed the knife at her belt. Aragorn wasn’t too worried about her bearing the blade. She couldn’t kill him, and being even so lightly armed made her relax a little bit, though she seemed uneasy in his presence. “Your sword and dagger are safe in the King’s armouries, though he will not permit you the use of them within his realm. The one who shot you with the arrow you killed by throwing that knife into his skull,” he continued, laying everything he knew about her out on the ground for her to see. “Then you charged the others with your sword. My guess is you stabbed one through the chest before beheading the other. The fourth lit off like a deer but you caught up with him, pounced on him and stabbed him in the back with your dagger. Then you came back, recovered you other knife and went off into the west where you made your new camp and drew forth the arrow. Then you cut your hair to disguise yourself as a man. Am I right?”
“I beheaded the one before I stabbed the other, but yes, you are right,” she said, watching him as if he too were a potential enemy. “You can see much in the ground, Aragorn of the Edain.”
“I have been a hunter since before you were born.”
“If you could tell so much from the tracks I left can you not convince these Elves to let me go? I know they hate my kind but I mean them no harm.”
“The Elves hold you out of caution, not hate. None of us know who you are, who your people are. I myself have been to Rhûn, and nowhere have I seen a badge like the one you bear.” He pointed at her cloak. She was silent a moment, thinking. “Sun-child, I can tell much from the ground and what Legolas and his elves found on you, but I cannot tell your name or your true origin, or why you chose that hard road that brought you into King Thranduil’s keeping. If you tell me who you are and why you’re here, and why you went to Dol Guldur, maybe I can get you out of here.” She looked down at the floor. Clearly anonymity was not something she was going to give up easily.
“Sun-child is the name my grandmother gave me when I was small. Perhaps by some power the Elves divined it from me. Ask them what my real name is.”
“They do not know. They named you Sun-child for your hair, and the badge you wear, and because to an immortal Elf you are but an infant really. But if that was also your name in childhood then they made a lucky stab in the dark, for in truth that is the only correct guess they’ve made so far, for they also told me you were an Easterling boy. Now please lady, tell me truly, who are you?” She was trapped. He saw her eyes flick past him to the Wizard and Elves standing patiently behind him. There was no escape for her really. She’d put up a brave struggle, but she was losing.
“I am Amaril, daughter of Hador, Chief of the Harachin,” she finally replied, trembling slightly. “This sun is the badge of my house.” Behind them he heard a sharp intake of breath and the girl’s trembling turned to outright shaking as she continued. “I come from the mountains on the shore of the sea of Rhûn. I know little of theses lands, and it was ignorance that brought me to that dread tower, and terror that drove me north to the captivity of the Elves. I come not as a spy or thrall, but to seek the Western Sea.” She met Aragorn’s eyes then. Her gaze was bright, burning with the intensity of her spirit, and shadowed by her fear and pain. Gandalf and Thranduil started chattering in fast Sindarin, and she suddenly cowered back, as if to hide from them.
“Easy, easy, no one’s going to hurt you,” Aragorn said, taking one of her hands in his. He’d never heard of the Harachin. “Why do you seek the Western Sea?”
“To find passage for my people. We left the West long ago, so the Elves could fight their wars and leave us in peace, but the lands we live in now are evil, and the Shadows thicken every day. We dare no longer stay.”
“How old are you?”
“How long have you been here?”
“I’ve lost the days. It was late winter when I was captured.”
“And it is still winter now, though the thaw is not far off. Listen, Amaril. The lands across the mountains have been the home of my ancestors and myself for many generations. I can and will help you in this quest, but I am but a guest here and before I do anything else I must ask your leave for a moment to speak with the King.” He glanced over his shoulder to show her who he spoke of and caught the Elvenking’s eye. Thranduil gave him a nod and beckoned for him to bring her to him. “Come with me, Lady Amaril,” he helped her to her feet. “The King of Greenwood wishes to meet you.” She was tall, and though she had short hair, wore men’s clothes and was quite thin Aragorn was not entirely sure how Legolas could have mistaken her for a boy. To some Elves all Men, male or female, looked alike but Legolas was not of that breed. Amaril stood for a moment, taking a deep breath. “None will harm you,” he added, still holding her hands and sensing her rising fear. Behind him he heard the cell door open again, providing additional encouragement. She nodded, stepped forward and then gasped.
“I’m spinning,” she cried, “I can’t see!” and no sooner had she spoken the words than her legs suddenly buckled and she fell forward in a faint. Aragorn caught her and biting back a curse lowered her to the ground. He thought her hands had felt a bit warm, and suspecting the worst now lightly touched her forehead. His fears were confirmed. The brightness in her eyes was not merely spirit – a fever had taken hold of her, and burned her from the inside out. Aragorn knew that Thranduil’s dungeons were not plague-holes. This problem came from a different source, and he recalled Legolas’s comment about her suffering. Heart beating in his ears he pulled back her cloak, looking for the torn sleeve where the arrow wound would be. It was on the left shoulder, and when he touched it lightly she moaned and twitched but did not wake. Then he saw the blood on the edges of the tear. It was fresh. He called for more light and tore at the sleeve to get a better look. Legolas came in and crouched beside him.
“What is it?” the Elf asked, aware that he had done this girl a greater wrong than he’d first thought and feeling all the worse for it.
“That Easterling arrow I showed you,” Aragorn said, for this was the final test. “She was hit in this arm with that same arrow about one fortnight ago and the wound troubles her still. See, it is open and bleeding.” It was also a lot bigger than he would have suspected. She’d probably torn it further open when she took out the arrow. Treating oneself was a brutal business sometimes.
“She seemed well enough when we caught her,” Legolas replied, eyes wide, “or about as well as one can expect for someone who’s been through Dol Guldur.”.
“She’s very strong,” Aragorn replied, scooping her into his arms, “but she is dying now. Summon a physician. Perhaps it is not too late.” Legolas ran off lightly and Aragorn followed, the King and Wizard not far behind. Amaril lay limp in his arms, hardly breathing even as they laid her in a soft bed in a guest room. The healer met them there. Aragorn helped strip her of her filthy, travel-worn garments and froze when he saw the mark on the girl’s left arm. In the bright lights of the room he could see that though it less in length than his littlest finger it seemed to pulse with malice.
“There was poison on this dart,” the healer said softly, probing the wound with long fingers. Again, Amaril twisted away with a soft cry. “It was a bad wound enough to start with but whoever pulled it forth made a bigger mess of it.”
“She did it herself,” Aragorn replied and brought the pieces out from under his cloak. The healer took them, and inspected the arrow head, shaking her head.
“I will see what I can do, but you Atani do poorly with fell wounds such as these.” She turned her attention to the girl then, and Aragorn stood back, watching until the king tapped his shoulder.
“Come, Dúnadan,” Thranduil said. “She is in capable hands.” Slowly, staring, Aragorn left the room. “I heard correctly when she said she was of the Harachin?” the Elf whispered as they left the room.
“Yes. Who are they?”
“A people I had thought passed from songs and memory long ago,” he answered cryptically and Aragorn was suddenly reminded again of how ancient the Elves were. “What does it mean?” the king asked, turning to Gandalf.
“I do not know,” the Wizard answered, “and I should like to know a good deal more before I guess. But that will have to wait, I fear, for Gollum and the coming Darkness press me more.” The king nodded.
“You wish to speak with this creature then?”
“Indeed I do, and with Aragorn as well.”
“Yes, what was on the scroll you sought in Gondor?” the Ranger asked, eager for news.
“Much that I desired to know, and much that I had already guessed, but before we talk of that I shall go see to what you found in the Marshes. Time presses now.” Then the wizard bent close and whispered in Aragorn’s ear, “See to the girl, Strider, for my heart tells me she comes on the wings of doom.”
Gandalf talked long with Gollum that day, if such intercourse could be called conversation, and so it was Thranduil who gave Aragorn a quick lesson in lore over dinner. “Master Elrond would be of more use to you,” he said, “for he keeps a great library of our lore in his house in Imladris, but I will tell you what I know.
“The House of Marach was the second to come into Beleriand. Some of them went to Hithlum to serve King Fingolfin and of these came the mighty House of Hador. Others stayed at Estolad and mingled with other houses of Edain. Then Morgoth sent his orcs against the Edain, and those that survived were left with a choice. Many chose to join with us, the Elves, in our war, but one of the House of Bëor, a man named Bereg, instead argued that it was a war Men had best stay out of. The Atani came into Beleriand fleeing Morgoth’s darkness, and in Beleriand they found it again, and some felt betrayed. Then one who appeared in every way as Amlach, son of Imlach son of Marach, stood and argued that this whole war was indeed the fault of the Elves and went on to declare that the Light in the West was a fiction designed to ensnare Men in a hopeless and unjust war. The people would have hearkened too, had the real Amlach not appeared later that same day and denied everything. It was then Men saw and understood the power of Morgoth and his treacheries, and many, Amlach included, agreed to ally themselves with various Elf-lords. Some however, still wished to forsake friendship with the Elves and leave Beleriand to its fate. Of the House of Bëor Bereg led one thousand south, never to be heard from again, and of the House of Marach those who had no wish for alliance with Elves chose a new leader, for until that time Amlach had been the chief dissenter, and they went back east to Eriador, the land from whence they came. The leader that they chose was called Harach and of them that is all I know. The fate of those that remained in Beleriand is etched in your blood Aragorn. To be honest I thought that these others had died out or mingled with lesser Men and fallen into evil long ago, before the land was broken. Amaril’s coming is tidings indeed, for it would seem that with the return of the Ring other parts of history are awakening as well.”