“Ah, Aragorn, how is the Lady?” Thranduil asked as they approached. Aragorn delivered a quick report of all that Amaril had told him. The Elf and Wizard exchanged glances.
“We shall discuss this later,” the Wizard said. “May I have a look at her?”
“She is sleeping now, but if you can get past Indis go right ahead.”
It was in the same back hallway that he and Amaril had rested that Gandalf the Wizard found him that evening. They had a long talk concerning many things, Amaril and Gollum included. Gandalf had learned little of use from the creature, but enough so that he wanted hurry back to the Shire. “Your time is well at hand, Heir of Isildur,” the Wizard said. “Be on your guard.”
“When have I ever been careless?” Aragorn demanded.
“Never, but do not become so now. Come, we must find Thranduil and discuss the fate of young Amaril.”
“I would be willing to go with her, at least part of the way.”
“Good, I thought you might. The question is, where should she go? To Lorien? Rivendell? She seeks the West – should we take her to the Havens?”
“That’s not a bad plan. She has expressed a wish to see the Western Sea, and I think she should see what’s left of Beleriand.”
“I made that comment in passing. I am not sure how welcoming Círdan will be of her race.”
“I understand that but I’m not sure how welcoming Galadriel or Elrond would be either. I have a feeling the only reason Thranduil endures her presence in his halls is because I have taken her under my protection.”
“Oh, you’ve formalized it?”
“Do I need to? Legolas hovers over her out of contrition, and she tolerates him, but in truth she trusts none but me.”
“I see. So she is aware of the situation?”
“Very much so.”
“Then let us ask Thranduil what he thinks the best course will be, though I can tell you now it has been long since he has spoken to any Elf outside his realm and he may not be willing to even guess their views.”
Thranduil, after much consideration, gave much the same counsel as Aragorn – to take Amaril to the Havens, where she could see the sea that had once been Beleriand, but to take the Forest Road over the Mountains into Imladris. “Master Elrond will be interested in her,” the King declared, “and I believe that is the fastest road.”
“We are all interested in her, King Thranduil,” Gandalf replied. “So it is settled then. Aragorn and I will escort the Lady Amaril to Rivendell and then Aragorn will go with her to the Havens unless Elrond has a better idea.” Gandalf was still leery of letting Amaril meet Círdan. “Unless Aragorn, you would rather not come west with me?”
“I think that going west with you is a far safer plan than any other I can come up, especially if Amaril is to come along.”
“Very well. After she has gone to the Havens or wherever else she is to go you, Aragorn, may do as you see fit, but I counsel you, Heir of Isildur, to go no further east than the Hithaeglir after this. Now more than ever you are needed in the North and West. But I do not think Elrond will let her return to her home unguided.”
“I suppose if he can get her an escort over the mountains I can arrange her passage back into Rhûn,” Thranduil said thoughtfully, “though I daresay that if she could come here by ways of Dol Guldur she can make her own way home unscathed.”
Two days later Amaril of the Harachin was ruled healthy enough to travel and in the morning she, Gandalf the Grey, and Aragorn of the Dúnedain set out from Thranduil’s halls in Mirkwood. It was late winter, and the world was as wet as it was grey. The Elves returned to Amaril her sword and knife as well as her clothing, cleaned and mended. Indis the healer handed Amaril a small pouch of medicinal herbs to continue taking for a few more days, for though her strength seemed to have returned the wound was not fully healed. They also provided a store of provisions and Indis discreetly informed Aragorn of what to watch out for in Amaril. “She heals well,” the healer cautioned, “but I do not like the look of that arrow. The fever may return, and it will be worse than it was before.” Then, with fair words and good wishes the Wizard and two Mortals departed the realm of the Elves. Legolas went too, but only as far as the leaguer of Greenwood.
Amaril knew she was dying. It was coming slowly, yes, but her life was closing in on her with each passing day. She’d felt the poison burn into her when the arrow struck, and had fought off the resulting fevers at least twice before she’d been finally captured. It was a vicious, wicked venom that the Easterlings used, burning her from the inside. The fire would fade and return, fade and return, always spreading from the wound until she was entirely consumed. The ache would never leave, and when the fevers spiked she felt its flames spread further each time. She’d tried to bleed it from her veins after killing the Easterlings, but she felt the blood burn as it streamed from her, and that was when she knew it was already too late. Her doom was sealed and the only question left was how much time she had, and the answer to that was not much. It was only by the power of the Elves that the poison had now slowed, and so long as she drank the bitter tea Indis prepared for her she might make it to the Western Sea, but she’d not reuturn to Rhûn. No matter. She’d a job to do, a promise to keep, and she’d go as far as she could before she left the world and joined her mother and younger brother in the Beyond.
She might very well have died down in her cell in the King’s halls, for that was where the third fever began, triggered perhaps by that ailment Aragorn called the Black Breath. None of them seemed to suspect the true nature of her wound, and she decided to keep it that way as long as possible, for Aragorn, Gandalf, and the Elves were easily moved to pity, and they might decide to hold her here, in this dark forest, until they cure that did not exist could be found.
Aragorn no doubt thought her weak enough already, after she collapsed all over him like that in the dungeon. He’d been watching her like a hawk ever since, as had the wizard Gandalf, who would’ve made her think of a grandfather but for the undercurrent of power in his voice and bearing. Though it saddened her to admit it, they were right to do so. She had never been weak before, and no longer knew her limits. Her experience in the halls of Mirkwood had proven this. They did know that the wound was posioned, Aragorn himself commented about pestilence on evil weapons, and as he had guessed so many things about her so far, he very nearly hit the mark about the true nature her wound when he asked Indis about Easterling poisons. The healer, however, did not know enough to give a good answer, and neither Aragorn nor Gandalf seemd to have enough knowledge between them to understand this venom that had haunted the history of Amaril’s people since they came to those mountaints by the Inland Sea. Strange in a way. Gandalf had not been that far East, but surely Aragorn, who’d been to Rhûn, would have encountered it at least in passing.
Rhûn. She tried not to think of it, for miserable as it was it was her home, and after more than a hundred days of relentless travel she’d begun to think of the place with longing. It was home after all, where her family was, and Imlach her lover was waiting. They’d never been parted for so long, and she hoped he still remembered her even. He too had been adamantly against her going, and would have gone along, the silly boy. She wondered if she should tell him about Aragorn, should she return or have the chance to pass a message on. He was silly enough to get jealous, as if she couldn’t tell that the heart of this elf-friend was not already given to another.
Getting out of Mirkwood went uneventfully. She wasn’t surprised. Between Gandalf, Aragorn and the Elvish Prince traveling with them nothing dared approach. The Prince left them at the bounds of his Forest where her arms were returned to her, and then they set out into the Vale of the Anduin between Moutains and Forest. Both stayed on their guard, for, though they were in the land of a people Aragorn called the Beornings, Wargs were still known to patrol the area. They spoke little, hoping that a quiet passage might attract them little attention. Still she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was tracking them, and when they made camp that night she mentioned it to the Man and the Wizard. “It is the Beornings,” Aragorn replied, stretching his legs out by the fire and lighting up a pipe, and Gandalf, blew a smoke ring, nodding in agreement. Amaril noted for not the first time waht an odd habit smoking was, though they both seemed to enjoy it. “They watch their part of this Vale very carefully and suffer no strangers to pass. We’ve had no trouble only because they know me, and so as long as neither of us does anything foolish we’re safe,” he explained.
“What exactly are Beornings?” she asked. “You do not speak of them as if they are ordinary men.”
“They aren’t. They are the descendants of a man named Beorn, who could take the form of a bear at will. They have retained that ability, and make formidable foes to whoever crosses these lands without their leave.” Amaril sipped at the tea Indis instructed her to take, staring out into the night. It was a bit on the bitter side, but by far and away more pleasant than the concoction her grandmother could come up with. Still, according to Aragorn tonight was the last of it, and she could not say she was sorry. In the darkness she caught a glimmer of something that was not sparks from Aragorn’s pipe. She stared hard. Eyes. Definitely eyes. She took a discreet sniff of the air and caught the musky scent of bear.
“So the bear behind you might actually be human?” she asked off-handedly and Aragorn nearly dropped his pipe as he spun around. Gandalf only chuckled, and blew another smoke ring.
“She got you there, Ranger,” he commented as Aragorn collected himself.
“What – ah, Barad, so nice of you to join us,” the Ranger said into the night and out of the darkness stepped a very large man dressed in a simple brown tunic and pair of boots.
“The little lady’s woodcraft rivals your own, Ranger of the North,” the man growled as he settled by the fire, “and her love of jest is second only to yours, Master Gandalf.” The Wizard only smiled.
“Indeed it does,” Aragorn easily replied, relaxing again and giving Amaril a smile. “She’d hardly need our help but for the fact her errand West is urgent.” She blushed at the praise. In truth she might not have made it out of Mirkwood without him. There was malice in even the friendlier parts of that Forest. She’d seen the webs of giant spiders, and seen the nests of crows. “Please, sit. Warm yourself. It’s a cold night.” The Beorning needed no second urging.
“Thank ye. Even bears feel this chill. What’s the rush?”
“I have a message to take to Lord Elrond,” she answered carefully, not fully trusting this man-beast. He nodded and did not pry, turning instead to Gandalf.
“You’re planning to go over High Pass?”
“It is the most direct way to Rivendell.”
“Then it is well for you lady that you have him and Strider here as guides. Goblins have returned to that pass, though in nowhere near the number they used to be, and the trolls never left.”
“Darkness rises all over,” Aragorn answered. “How are the Wargs?”
“Wargs? I cannot speak for the Mountains, but here in the Vale we taught them to fear long ago.” The man bared his teeth and laughed at the confusion on Amaril’s face.
“Watch her, Ranger. She’s mighty in the ways of the wild, but not in the ways of the world.” With that he rose and left, bending and transforming before their very eyes.
“And that, Amaril, was a Beorning,” Gandalf commented as they watched him go. “Useful information, that. It eases me some to know that he is watching.”
“Me too,” Aragorn yawned. “There is peril enough in this country.”
“I’ll take first watch,” she offered, seeing them both stretched out and relaxed.
“You’ll have to fight Aragorn for that,” Gandalf said. “I’ll have the third.” With that he wrapped his blanket about himself and fell to snoring
“You sure you want this?” Aragorn asked. “You need the rest as much as any of us. There’s a long road ahead.”
“That draught you and Indis make me take keeps me up,” she shrugged.
“How’s the arm?”
“About as itchy as it was this morning. I’ll be fine. Sweet dreams Strider.”
“I knew you’d catch that,” he grunted as he too rolled over. For a moment she thought she might have offended him, but he fell asleep so fast her apologies would have to wait until they traded watches.
It was a quiet night, though cold. In the moonlight she caught the shapes of other bears roaming. Aragorn was right – she felt significantly safer knowing they were out there. She looked up at the stars, and though her ears were open she found herself thinking of her last night with Imlach.
It had been a cold winter night, and the stars had been twinkling much the same as they were now. Strange, how should could be so far from home and yet the sky was the same. There was the archer, there was the plow, above it was the North Star…and over there the bright star her people called the Lover’s Star. For what reason she never bothered to learn, but there it hung. It was the brightest in the sky, and a kiss when the star was at its peak in the night sky was supposed to bring a pair good luck, and that night she and Imlach had shared a long one.
Behind her she heard Aragorn stirring and she glanced back at him. He was sitting up, looking at her. Her turn on watch was ending, but it was not over yet so she turned back to the night. He came over and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Who is it?” he asked quietly. “Who do you think of in the night?”
She answered just as quietly, “His name is Imlach.” Though she thought of him a least a dozen times over the course of a day for some reason it hurt to speak his name. “We were to be married a month from now.”
“But you left.” He sounded sympathetic, like he understood. Well perhaps he did. Remote, even noble as he sometimes seemed, he was still a man that roamed the wild. It was likely that he too had left someone behind.
“My people come first,” she shrugged. “He would have come with me, but he’s a mighty bowman and my father needs him.” Aragorn was silent a moment.
“Go get some sleep,” he finally said. She made to go, and then hesitated.
“Aragorn,” she started, about to ask who he thought of in the night, but something in his face when he turned to her made her decide against it.
“I’m sorry I called you Strider.”
“Oh.” He laughed a little. “Don’t be. I was going to tell you to start calling me that. Get some rest. You’re going to need it.” As she drifted off she thought she heard Aragorn singing. This was not the first time she’d heard him sing, but this time she paid attention. It was Elvish and so she could not understand the words, but she understood the sad longing in the tune. It was the sort of song sung by lovers parted and he sang it with such feeling that Amaril did not doubt her guess was correct. He too had left someone behind.