The next day they crossed the Anduin at the Great Bridge. She was somewhat relieved to see it, for it meant that even in her terrified panicked bolt for the northwest she’d still been heading in the right direction, even if she’d been captured by Elves. “You have an uncanny sense of direction, it seems,” Aragorn commented as she expressed her relief.
“No, actually I really had no choice. There was evil behind me. I could go no other way.”
“I speak for myself, Gandalf and Thranduil’s realm when I say none can believe you crossed Mirkwood by the way you did.”
“I’m not sure I believe it either, when I think on it. It is not a place I wish to return to. Those who think Rhûn is evil have yet to see Dol Guldur. I can’t imagine anything fouler.”
“There is Mordor,” Aragorn replied after a moment of thought, “and though I have never been inside the Black Gate I have been on the bounds of that country. There is evil and danger enough there for several lifetimes and that evil grows in power every day. Soon it will break the leaguer of the Ephel Duath and there will be war that none can flee.”
“That is why I made my choice,” Amaril replied, “for the Darkness you see behind you has long since fallen on Rhûn, and no longer can the mountains protect us from it.” They were quiet awhile, walking off the bridge and onto the rough Forest Road.
“This will take us through the Misty Mountains?” she asked, dubious.
“Oh yes, and into Rivendell as well,” Gandalf answered this time. “It has fallen into disrepair in this age, but perhaps when the King returns it will be repaired.” His voice was bland enough but Aragorn gave him a sharp look. She glanced at both, confused. Aragorn had already told her of the Lost King. Did he travel so much because he hoped to find him?
Gandalf began to speak again, as if remembering something, and after a moment she realized that it was a piece of history he was telling her, and though his tone seemed light the matter itself was important. “In the dawn of this world there was a Dark Lord, Morgoth Bauglir the Elves call him, Master of Terror and Lies. He sought power greater than himself, and in doing so fell into evil. Many other evil things flocked to him, and others, such as the dragons, were his creations. He was the one who extinguished the Light of the Two Trees; he was and, in some ways, still is the master of all that is evil in the world. He made himself a fortress in the North, the iron hells of Angband. The Elves made war on him – it was this war your people fled – and though they gave him a mighty battle Morgoth might well have proved himself a formidable foe had it not been for the grace of the Powers that lie in the West. It was in the destruction of Morgoth that the land itself was broken and beautiful Beleriand fell into the sea. Morgoth himself was chained and thrust behind the Doors of Night, never to return, but much that he had done could not be undone.
“The Orcs were Morgoth’s creations in mockery of Elves. The Trolls and Wargs he bred as well. Men he corrupted and the land itself he changed. Sauron, the Enemy, is also a remnant of Morgoth’s reign, for Sauron was the Dark Lord’s Lieutenant, and when Morgoth fell he pretended to repent for a while, but only for as long as it took for him to recover his strength and bring corruptio again to Elves and Men. There are other foul things that remained even after the War of Wrath as the Elves call it, and they lurk the dark and deep places of the world. These mountains that we will cross are full of them, for Morgoth raised them in his defense in the deeps of time. We will cross with caution but I will warn you now Amaril, since you seem very sensitive to all that is evil, that there is Darkness there, and you must not succumb to fear or grief, or else you will be lost and none will be able to find you in the mazes of this range. I myself was captured by goblins in the very pass we will cross many years ago, before your father was even born.”
“I will be cautious,” she said, surprised. Gandalf was not merry in his nature, but she’d never heard him speak so grimly.
“Good. This Vale and the Mountains themselves have many ears, few of which are friendly. Watch what you say and how you say it. I will ask that you call Aragorn Strider from now until we reach Rivendell. You should pick another name for yourself, for it will be all the worse for you if you’re captured and they find that you’re a woman.”
“Imlach,” she answered without a moment’s thought. “I will be Imlach.”
“Clever choice,” Aragorn, no Strider, snorted.
“Well he wanted to come along.” Gandalf looked at them both and then laughed slightly, as if understanding.
“Alright. Imlach it is.”
“How did you get the name Strider?” she asked Aragorn. It was an ill-sounding name for someone of Aragorn’s stature.
“A man in a town called Bree gave it to me and it stuck. I walk a bit too fast for his taste it seems.” He sounded amused. “Still, there is safety in it. Now hush. Even the birds are listening.” He jerked his had to the sky where a raven was flying.
Two days later they were climbing the High Pass in the Misty Mountains. Amaril’s heart sang to be in the high country again, even though it was hard going in the snow and Darkness lay heavy in the ravines and caves in the mountainsides. The path was indeed a twisted one, and she was glad Aragorn and Gandalf knew it so well, for she was not sure she could have navigated it alone. On watch that night she remembered Gandalf’s words and stayed alert. It was a black night, for the clouds obscured the stars and moon. Standing in the dark, listening, she could feel a storm rising and secretly hoped it would be powerful enough to defend them from the evil things she knew were lurking.
The wind began to howl and whip up snow and that was when the goblins attacked. She felt rather than heard the arrow whistling past her ear and in a flash her sword was out of its sheath. “Gandalf! Strider! We’re being attacked!” she yelled as the first Orc, a small nasty thing with a large jagged blade leaped at her. She killed it quickly and in a moment Aragorn and Gandalf both had risen with their swords drawn.
The battle lasted long, for the goblins were determined and they had with them a Troll. It was Aragorn who discovered that this Troll was unlike any others he’d fought, for it moved quickly and was a cunning warrior. The snow whipped up into their faces, blinding them more effectively than the night ever could. Amaril heard him shout something in Elvish, and it sounded like he was in trouble. She listened hard and squinted harder, locating the combatants and scrambling up onto a rocky outcropping. She was behind the Troll, and Aragorn, though he was doing a valiant job of defending himself, was not going to last. The Troll knocked him to his knees, and raised its blade to finish him, but the blow never fell, for Amaril braced her feet and plunged her sword into the base of the creature’s skull. Black blood sprayed, and the malice in it seemed to burn her as she pulled her weapon free. “May your bones burn in the Sun!” she cried and the creature fell screaming. Aragorn had just enough time to leap aside before it hit the ground in a shower of freshly fallen snow and he gave her a grateful salute with his sword as she leaped from the rocks.
The death of the Troll however, did not dampen the enthusiasm of the Orcs, and the trio quickly abandoned their camp, taking only what could not be spared and making a hasty, dangerous descent down the pass. “This storm will end before dawn,” Amaril panted as she jogged and slid down the steep paths beside Aragorn. “I can feel it.”
“I hope your mountain sense is right,” Aragorn replied, “for this could be the end of us.” Then the hollers of a new wave of goblins came upon them, and they had to turn and battle the downcoming rush. Amaril fought them expertly – she’d fallen into her fighting rhythm and though the wind whipped the breath from her lips she knew she was singing as she cut Orcs down. She was not afraid of them and their evil – she rejected it utterly. She felt a darkness rise but ignored it. She was a creature of the Light, a Child of the Sun. She rejected the night. She could face down the evil of the Orcs. She could defeat them, give them to their graves without turning a hair. She was not afraid, she would never be afraid of the darkness behind her, the darkness following her, the darkness bearing down upon her… and then suddenly ice gripped her by the insides and she realized that she was afraid. Very afraid, as afraid as she had been when she met the creature Aragorn called a Nazgûl. Fighting desperately, back to back with Aragorn, she looked for a retreat. THere was a familiar evil approaching, and she could not hope to meet it in combat, not for a second time.
“There’s something coming,” she gasped, holding her panic in her throat, “worse than any Troll. We can not fight it with blades!”
“I feel it too,” Aragorn replied, voice raised over the clash of weapons, “but we have no fire to light. This is a black night.”
“We have to run!” she cried, the panic breaking through, “we can not hold this ground!”
“We can’t run, they’ve cut us off,” the Ranger barked and then, on the winds of storm, Terror rode. His voice screamed above the winds and he waved an ancient sword, a sword that she recognized as Rhûnic in design. Amaril saw the Eastern blade go up, saw him wheel to face her and her eyes met the emptiness under the cloak. Once again, as she had in Dol Guldur, she felt the chill of an eyeless stare penetrate her and in terror she cried out. This thing knew her, knew who she was, what she was, and who her people were. Just as in Dol Guldur, she saw images flash through her mind of her people screaming, dying, running for the hills with riders after them, chased by and fleeing the evil they refused to fight. Except they weren’t the people she knew…they were her ancestors. This creature had hunted them, and now it hunted her. But she was going West now, and she would not let this deathless wraith have her before she’d seen the Sea. So she did not run as her instincts prompted, but instead held her ground.
The wraith screamed again. In slow motion its sword came up, its tormented horse charged, she raised her blade to meet it and suddenly time sped up again and in a rush that was blurred by the nightmare visions in her head she sprang aside and drew the blade across the animal’s neck as it thundered past. “You shall not have me, creature of the forgotten night!” she screamed as the mortally wounded horse fell, taking its rider with it. Shrieking the wraith got up and lunged at her, and their swords met. Amaril fought bravely, but she was tired, terrified, and quickly over-powered. The wraith soon had her on the ground, and was poised to strike when Aragorn lept before her.
“Get out of here!” he yelled, clashing swords with the creature. “She is not for you. Go!” But the wraith had no desire to fight the Ranger and quickly evaded him, advancing again on Amaril, who’d regained her feet.
Just then they both heard a loud and terrible voice and suddenly there was Gandalf, with a great light shining at the head of his staff. Gandalf chanted something again and blue flame burst from the light. With a cry he launched it at the wraith, and it began to burn, screaming and shrieking horribly as it scurried away, back in the direction from which it came.
Many of the Orcs retreated with him, but a few decided to continue the attack. Battle and panic had left Amaril exhausted – she could not hold out in another protracted fight. She had no choice but to run, and run she did, down the pass for the safety of the lower lands in the West, though she knew it was a goodly distance before they’d reach the valley of Rivendell. Gandalf and Aragorn apparently thought her idea a good one, for they followed, and so did the Orcs.
The storm was dying now, and with the calming winds came the early rays of morning, and the angered goblins shrieked in agony as Light graced the land. Amaril did not claim to know much of Orcs and the other evil things of the night but this much she did recall: evil things withered under the light of the sun. So she greeted the rays of daylight with a joyous cry, and using the weakness of evil to her advantage put on a extra burst of speed, carefully choosing her ground as she flew over the snow with a grace born of generations of living in the mountains of Rhûn. She was aware of her increasing weakness in each stride – any lingering virtues of Indis’s broth had left her body long ago, and now she made do on her will alone. Slipping, sliding, bounding she led the trio through trees and rocks, at times letting her instincts alone guide her, heedless of Gandalf’s warning about the mazes of this range. She was not lost yet; her orientation would be the last thing to go for no matter what, Amaril always knew where she was.
For their part the men remained silent, following her expert lead. Aragorn wondered more than once how she could possibly know where she was going for he knew she’d never been through the High Pass, though she led them as expertly as he or Gandalf could, perhaps even more so, for she ran at a blinding speed on the treacherous ground. He and Gandalf both struggled to keep up for they were less sure of their feet in the fresh snow. She kept the pace until they were off the snow and then slowed, but only slightly, just enough to keep from breaking her legs on the exposed and rocky ground.