Frail and sick as she appeared, Amaril had strength in her, and within two days the fever broke “as much of its own accord as anything I could do,” the healer reported. “You may see her now, Aragorn, but be gentle. There was something fell on that dart, and though she complains not I deem it pains her still.” Then the healer let him into the sickroom and Aragorn got his first long look at Amaril daughter of Hador.
She was pretty, and perhaps she’d once been beautiful, for their was an ethereal nature to her thin face, as if the beauty that had now faded was still there, beneath the surface, waiting to bloom again. Clearly her road had not been kind; her too-pale young face was thin and bore lines of care that would never fade. She lay dozing, covered with a blanket and her arm bandaged. Someone had thought to trim her hair – it was not as ragged as it had been in the dungeon, but they had been forced to cut it even shorter and now she had a much more decidedly boyish air. Perhaps he could forgive Legolas’s mistake after all.
Aragorn settled himself on a stool at the bedside and watched, wondering what her reaction would be on waking. When they first met he had been only slightly better than his very worst, but now he’d had two days without Gollum to rest, bathe some more, shave and get his hair trimmed. Legolas had teased him that no matter what he did he would never be as handsome as an Elf, to which Aragorn had replied that at least he knew a woman when he saw one. He was not about to let his friend live down the mistake of believing Amaril to be a boy. For his part Legolas bore it with his usual even-temper. Legolas was not a particularly cruel or even stern Elf and it was only partially out of contrition that he came with Aragorn to pay that first visit on Amaril. Aragorn noted that the Elf remembered Amaril’s mistrust of his kind and remained out of her line of sight. Neither of them was sure what was to become of her. Aragorn had half a mind to take her home with him, but he wanted Gandalf’s counsel in the matter and the Gray Wizard refused to make any decisions before she woke up and explained herself.
He watched her sleep for a few moments, took her hand and called her name. She woke and addressed him as she would a king, once again naming him as one of the Edain. She seemed shocked to discover that she was in the caverns of Mirkwood still and shied away from much discussion of the Elves. “We left them and they will not speak with us,” she said. “That is what our elders say.” Aragorn didn’t look at Legolas. He didn’t need to see the Elf’s reaction to this all too true statement.
“Tell me of your people,” he replied instead, “for I have been to Rhûn and I have never so much as heard of the Harachin.”
“You would not have,” Amaril replied, “for we hide in our mountains, where there is no war or other evil things.”
“Evil things are rising from all over, even from where we least expect them. Soon a storm will break that none can hide from.”
“So we have been told before, by others who would have us make alliances, but whom do we trust, Aragorn of the Edain? Evil deceives with familiar faces, and even friendships prove deadly.” She gave the ring on Aragorn’s finger a significant glance.
“You know this symbol?” He held up his hand so she could take a closer look. She nodded after the briefest of glances. He’d thought she’d known him by some other means.
“It was worn by an Elven-King who came among us in the earliest days,” she replied and related to him the same history Thranduil had. Aragorn listened in astonishment, for she looked too young to be a master of lore. “We wandered far, always evading the forces of the Dark Lord. We had no wish for war, and so we forsook the light, but we shun the dark as well. We heard that Beleriand drowned, we heard that the Edain went away into the West, and then came back. All that time we have been here, in Eriador and then Rhovanion and Rhûn, hiding in mountains and valleys, leaving when it became too dangerous to stay. Rhûn is but the most recent, and among the Men there it is as you said: evil is rising. They have found us more than once since I have been alive, always demanding tribute and men to fight. Always we refuse and always they attack us. We have no place left to run to now, and they will come again for us, and when they do they will either force their Darkness on us or destroy us. So we are in a corner – we must either beg for help or stand and fight. That is why my brother Amlach and I persuaded our father to let us seek the West. We know that the Elves have no love left for us but Amlach and I thought that perhaps we could win a way across the Mountains of Mist. If we have to fight we will do so, for I can see the Shadow spreading. We would have our peace, a lasting peace, under the light of the Western skies, but that is for the good Men. It is redemption that we seek, for while we shun evil I deem we are not wholly good.” This, Aragorn privately thought, was a fair assessment.
“Did your brother travel with you?” he asked and she shook her head, explaining that Amlach was her father’s only heir. Aragorn could tell that though she went with the blessings of her people and her father there had been sadness at that parting. “He told me that he trusted little to hope, but he would do what it took to save our people,” was all she would say of the matter.
“These are heavy tidings,” Legolas said when Indis kicked them out.
“Yes,” Aragorn replied. “I shall be very interested to hear how she got across Rhovanion. I almost got killed the first time I crossed that land, and I was many years more experienced than she at traveling the Wild.”
“I wish to know how she got past Dol Guldur. Not even my father dares that road, especially since the wraiths returned.”
The next day she rose and wished to walk about Thranduil’s caves. Aragorn kept her company on this walk for she was still wary of the Elves. For their part, many of Thranduil’s people regarded her with unwarranted suspicion. The Elves of Mirkwood had lived long under the threats of Dol Guldur and the orcs that still lurked in the Misty Mountains and they were a skittish folk.
Someone had given her a dress but Amaril did not have an Elvish figure and the garment fit poorly. Between the baggy dress and shortned hair she was almost comical, and, in an odd way, endearing. She was well aware of her disheveled appearance and, being proud, this put her ill at ease, so Aragorn sought hallways that saw little use. In doing so they both became lost, for he had spent little time in Thranduil’s halls. They talked mainly of Eriador, Gondor, Rohan, and Rhovanion, for she thirsted for knowledge of these lands and Aragorn taught her as much lore as she was willing to hear in one day. It was in a deep corridor that Amaril at last became weary and sat on a welcoming bench. Aragorn decided to ask her some questions. “I wonder how you learned Westron, when in Rhûn they speak something else,” he commented as they sat.
“Their’s is a foul language, and we will not learn it,” she answered with surprising heat. “We learned Westron in Eriador, and before we spoke Sindarin. But then we became estranged from even the Silvan Elves, and so abandoned their tongue. There are some, the ones who wish to learn lore, who know a little of the Elvish tongue.”
“Your people spoke Sindarin? How did you learn, if you left Beleriand?”
“I do not know,” she replied. “Perhaps we learned before we left.”
“Your people have a long memory,” Aragorn marveled. “You claim not to be a master of lore and yet you speak of Beleriand as if it fell yesterday.”
“Our elders tell tales of old to pass time. We children listen. It is important, they say, that we know that we are different from the evil men who live in the lower lands. That we still have that freedom of choice, between the Day and the Night. The rest of Rhûn gave that up long ago.”
“And you and your brother choose the Light?”
“My people have denied both Light and Darkness, and so we live in the Twilight. But the Twilight is followed by Night or Daycan not last, and either Day will chase the Night or Night will conquer the Day. We hate and fear the Night, and we have nowhere left to run. Further East we can not go, for the Darkness has already fallen there. Here, there is either a dawn or a sunset, and it is the dawn that I hope for. Legends tell of Light in the West, so that is where we will go. Legends also tell of wars, wars the Elves started and got Men involved in, and that’s why my people have for so long denied themselves the Light. We have no wish to fight where we have no part, but if we must then so be it. If we must fight to have the Light then I say so be it. It is better than fighting to keep our Twilight, I think. Our elders made the wrong choice, when they refused the Elves. We can’t deny both Dark and Light forever, and it no longer matters who started this war, what matters is who finishes it. Many of us, my father included, have come to share this view, and so I chose to go, and seek the West, and see if by our blood and swords we might obtain the grace to come into the Light.” Her voice took a hard determined edge and Aragorn could see that wounded or no, she would not give up easily.
“Tell me of your journey,” he asked, finally posing the question he had been so eager to ask.
“There is little to tell. There are many fell and wicked things in Rhovanion now. I could have followed the River Running north but rivers have towns along them and I had no desire to come so close to other Men. They say that there is Shadow in all lands east of the Misty Mountains, and where there is Shadow there are Men who live under it, and do so willingly. But I also found that there is Darkness in the southern reaches of this forest, and out of that Darkness Terror itself rides.” She was silent a moment, and he saw that she was wrestling unforgotten fear. Aragorn almost asked exactly how close she had come to Dol Guldur, but decided to let it go. He’d walked too often in the shadows of Mordor not to have some understanding of what horrors she must have faced and he knew better than to pry. It was a tale she would tell when she was ready.
“If you’re curious about this,” she touched her arm, “I met those men about nine days before I reached the edges of Mirkwood. Silly me, I guess. I should’ve known I might be tracked. I’d just made a camp, and was about to make some supper when the arrows started flying. One hit me. I hit the dirt, broke off the shaft, and then spotted the shooter. I threw my knife then, drew my sword and charged. I was furious that these evil men were following me, and afraid that they’d report back to their commander, so I killed all four. The one who ran died just as you guessed – I leaped on him, knocked him to the ground, and stabbed him with my dagger. Then I retrieved my knife and left. I was afraid I would be tracked, but apparently not. Still, it made me even more wary of the night. The forest was even worse – the shadows were thick and a mind-numbing fear was on me almost as soon as I crossed under the boughs of those dark trees. It was dark, almost night dark in there, and I did never stopped long to rest. Still, I encountered nothing more than crows and black squirrels until I was near the old fortress, and then the…thing came and I all but panicked. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it approaching, and it made my blood freeze. It was as if terror itself was bearing down on me, and the thing reeked of evil. I admit that I drew on it – I had no other choice.”
Aragorn stared. He remembered the first time he’d faced such a horror. He’d been too busy quellling his own panic to consider drawing his sword and offering battle, not that it would do much good. Clearly Amaril did not know what she was facing. Perhaps that ignorance was the source of her courage. He was a bit torn about whether or not to tell her the true nature of the terror she’d faced, for if she understood she might not be so brave the next time she met it. In fact, he knew she wouldn’t be, but then again it was better for her to learn the danger now, in the safety of Thranduil’s caves, than find out for herself the hard way.
“What you met was one of the Nine,” he said at length, fighting off his own memories of the wraiths as he spoke. “I was hoping Thranduil had made a mistake, but I should have known he would not be wrong in this,” he added with a sigh. The Shadow was indeed rising in Mirkwood again.
“The Nine?” she asked, hearing the grim tone to his voice. “What are the Nine?”
“The Nine are the Ringwraiths or Nazgûl as some call them. Once they were kings among Men, but now they are shades, neither living nor dead, kept whole by the power of the Enemy and they ride at his command. They have no visible form, and often go cloaked in black. It is when they are uncovered that they are at their most dangerous, for as you yourself noticed, terror is their weapon of choice. You are lucky to be alive, for the only weapons of any use against such things are fire and water. They are reluctant to cross water. A blade of steel, even as fine a one as you have, would shatter against its flesh. Drawing your sword was as brave as it was useless.”
“I know that now, for it seemed to laugh at me, though it had no true voice, and it said that if a fight was what I wanted a fight is what I would have, and set orcs and a troll upon me. I slew a few, and wounded the troll before I ran on, north and slightly west. I made good distance, but little daylight gets into the deeps of the trees, and though I was weakend by wound and some sort of fever they did not flag. They were almost upon me when I ran into the Elves. They killed the orcs, and then they forced some sort of potion on me and led me here in bonds, for I was afraid to speak to them and they were not kind. But I suppose that is to be expected, since nothing but trouble has ever come to them from the South.”
“This is true. Living beside Shadow and Malice has made them wary and suspicious, and not only did you come out of the South but you wore clothes and bore arms strange to them, which made them take you for an Easterling. Had you spoken to them they would have been easier with you, for they are not cruel, and they are sorry for how they treated you. But I think you are also wary and suspicious, for even once you realized I was one of whom you looked for you were still afraid to speak with me.”
“I have lived long under the Shadows in Rhûn. We treat with no Men there save our own, and the Rhûnings hunt us like animals. It was old habits, and the fact that enemies will sometimes wear even a friendly face, that made me cautious. Forgive me. But if you and the Elves treat all their enemies as they treated me I could have done worse.”
“Yes, you could have. Had you been taken by the wraith you’d be wishing yourself dead by now, and the same would be true of the wrong sort of Men I suppose. The Elves are a different sort. Even Gollum they seem to treat with compassion.”
“Gollum – that’s the creature you brought in, that slimy stinking thing? You should have killed him. He is rotten with evil.”
“Yes, that would be him, but he is utterly wretched, and to kill him in coldblood would also be an act of evil. Perhaps the foulest task I have yet performed was bringing him across Rhovanion. I found your campsites by the way, the ones you made both before after killing the Easterlings. I would have tracked you from there, but I had Gollum to tend.”
“I remember you speaking of that with the Elves. You would have tracked me? Why?”
“Rhovanion is not a place to travel alone and bleeding, and the direction you were headed was even worse.”
“The bleeding stopped,” she shrugged, “and I had little choice but to carry on. I took an oath, when I left, to not turn back until I had seen the sea. Had I known where that oath would take me I would have cut north, but by the time I realized my mistake that was no longer an option. I had no choice but to press forward.”
“That was not the smartest oath to take. There are times and places where retreat is the best choice.”
“I suppose this is true, but a vow will often stay a faltering heart, they say. Still, it matters not. The Elves broke my oath for me by bringing me here. Even so, I thank them for their care, and I thank you though, for bringing me out of the prison.”
“So what will you do now?”
“When Indis releases me I shall continue West.” Aragorn was about to point out that that the large territory beyond the Misty Mountains was patrolled by his fellow Rangers and they weren’t going to be too friendly unless she had a solid plan, but Legolas came trotting down the hall, interrupting them before he could start.
“There you are!” the Prince cried. “I was looking for you, Aragorn, and then Indis sent me for both of you.”
“Excellent,” Aragorn replied, “then you can show us the way back. I do not know your father’s halls as well as I should like.”
“Obviously,” the Prince said, a small smile playing at his lips. “If you and the Lady will follow me then.” He turned and led them down the hall, with Amaril behind him and Aragorn bringing up the rear.
Amaril collapsed well before they reached the healer and was returned to Indis in the arms of Legolas. Aragorn received the healer’s tongue-lashing stoically. He deserved it. Amaril recovered enough to try and take some of the blame, but Indis merely ordered her to go to sleep and shoved Aragorn outside the room to finish her scolding. He bore it until Legolas commented “I think I hear my father and Mithrandir coming,” at which point Indis let them go.
“My thanks, friend,” Aragorn said with a relieved sigh as they rounded the corner out of the healer’s hearing.
“I wasn’t lying,” Legolas replied. “Here they come now.” And so it was that up the corridor came the Wizard, gray robes billowing, and the tall blond Elven-King.