It was another four days before Elrond broke the fever and another nine days before she was allowed to rise. In that time Gandalf departed to Hobbiton “to see a dear friend” as he put it to her, and, once it was certain that Amaril would be able to bear the company of Elves, Aragorn the Ranger went on a short patrol. However, she remembered his promise to her, and soon found that he had indeed spoken truly – there was no darkness in the House of Elrond.
Elrond and Arwen spent much of that time teaching Amaril the lore of Men and Elves, for she thirsted for knowledge, and she drank deeply of the tales of Beren and Luthien, of the House of Hador, her kin from a far, and the whole sad history of the Dúnedain, from the gift of Númenor to the decay of Arnor and failure of the Kings in Gondor. They in turn learned all she knew of the Harachin. Though she continuously professed not to be a master of history Elrond found her breadth of knowledge as impressive as Gandalf had, and spent many hours questioning her on the history of her people. Saeros and Ormal were both frequent visitors, and it was from them she also began to learn Sindarin, for once she got over her initial fear of the Elves she found their language pleasing to the ear. She kept the lessons a secret for a day or two, and then one morning greeted Master Elrond with a cheerful greeting in Elvish. Her reward was another glimpse at a surprised Elf-lord, and Saeros and Ormal loved her all the more for it when she told them. They, and as word spread the rest of the Elves in Imladris as well, also loved her for the deeds Aragorn and Gandalf spoke of, and she loved them in return for their cheer and singing. They named her an Elf-Friend, and began to call her Anorwen, “Sun-maiden” in their tongue and, though she did not know it, they looked forward to the day when Elrond would permit her to join them in the joyous spring of Imladris.
The day Elrond gave her permission to walk about in the Sun Arwen gave her a couple old gowns of hers, altered to fit her. Amaril balked at this, for fine clothing did not come cheaply, but Arwen insisted. “We are almost the same height,” the Elf persuaded, “and I haven’t worn these in many a long year. I daresay they’ll suit you better than me.”
Reluctantly Amaril picked up on of the dresses and the fine silver seemed to snag on her rough hands. “Go ahead, try it on,” Arwen prodded. “I want to see if my seamstress is a as good as she says she is.” Amaril nodded, removed the sleeping robe she’d been wearing for the past week and pulled the gown over her head. Arwen helped her lace it. “Perfect,” she exclaimed with a smile. “But don’t grow any thinner. Else we’ll have to take the seams in again.”
“I don’t plan on it,” Amaril commented, holding out her hands. Never had her fingers seemed so bony.
“Good. Here, comb your hair, put this on and take a look in the mirror.” Arwen handed her a comb and a silver necklace with a blue stone on it. Amaril was astonished at how much her hair had managed to grow. In less than a fortnight it’d gone from just above her shoulders to the middle of her back – almost its original length!
Arwen smiled at her confusion. “My mother had a vain streak where I was concerned,” the she-elf explained. “She set a virtue on this comb, that all hair it touched would grow long, full, and beautiful, and then she gave it to me. Estel showed us the locks of hair he found on the plain. I decided that here your identity as a woman is not so dangerous, so I’ve been combing your hair with it since you arrived. It works quite well on humans. I also thought about taking it to Estel, but I’m not sure he would react too kindly.”
“Our word for hope. It was Aragorn’s name, growing up.”
“Yes, Elrond told me he was fostered here, in Rivendell. Do the Elves often take in human children?”
“Nay, only from his family. In the ages past perhaps, but, as you yourself are all too aware, Elves and Men are estranged now. Here, I’ll help with that necklace. Now, take a look.” Taking Amaril by the shoulders she turned her to face the mirror hanging on the wall.
Amaril gasped at what she saw. The woman looking back at her seemed to have stepped out of a song, well almost. Her face seemed a little too gaunt for beauty, but the rest was right. Her hair shone brilliantly, reflecting the sun itself, and the dress had a silvery moon-like sheen that glistened when she moved. Between the sun and moon was the blue stone, nestling where her collarbones met, matching her eyes and shining with the shade of twilight against her too pale skin. Amaril could hardly believe her eyes. She looked the part of a princess, not a ragged traveler come to beg help for a ravaged tribe. Behind her she saw the Elf smiling, and she turned to face her, still stunned by the vision in the mirror. “Do you like it?” Arwen asked, eyes twinkling.
“Oh yes,” she breathed, scarcely able to tear her eyes from her own reflection. “It seems too fine for me though. I am just a traveler.”
“You saved the life of my love,” Arwen said simply, “and anyway the dress is old, older than you, older than Aragorn, maybe even older than those silly boys who met your party on the road.”
“Is it an heirloom then?” Arwen laughed at this.
“Heirloom? This dress? Nay, it was made for me to celebrate the Spring, many years ago. Come. Let us take a walk in the garden, and greet this year’s Spring.” Arwen extended a hand but Amaril could only stand and stare, suddenly realizing that the young-looking woman before her was in reality quite ancient.
“The Eldar neither age nor die,” she recalled her grandmother telling her, “and many who fought the earliest wars are still fighting now. They do forget, and they do not forgive.” Arwen could be thousands of years old and there was no way to know. So how old was Aragorn then?
“I have upset you,” Arwen said, seeing Amaril’s sudden consternation. “How so?”
“How old are you milady?” she asked, “if I may ask, for I have heard your people are without age, and yet you seem so young.”
“By the count of my people I am young, but I have walked for two-thousand-seven-hundred-seventy-seven years under this sun.”
“He is eighty-seven. Now come along, the spring blooms never last long enough.”
“I would have taken him for a man of forty,” Amaril said in disbelief, following the Elf out into the corridor. What virtues beyond Light and freedom did the Westlands hold?
“The Men of his race have long lives, if violence does not kill them first. And Aragorn has a mighty destiny on him,” Arwen answered smoothly as they walked down the sunlit hallway to the spring gardens.
“He is your love, isn’t he? You’re the one he left behind?”
“Yes,” she answered carefully, looking a bit surprised at the question. “Here, there’s still a bit of bite in the air.” She handed Amaril a long gray cloak hanging by the door and took one for herself. “He spoke of me?”
“Not really, but I heard him singing in the night, and you know, you can tell, when a man is missing his woman, can’t you?”
“Yes, I suppose you can,” Arwen answered thoughtfully, fastening the cloak with a jeweled clasp, and her smile was both amused and relieved. They went out into the garden, and it was indeed beautiful, with blossoming trees and blooming shrubs. As they walked they continued to talk, for Amaril realized that in Arwen lay the answer to many of her more trivial questions.
“How long have you known each other?” she asked.
“Since he was twenty, but we were not lovers until he’d grown up a bit more,” and the twinkle in her eye was back. “The silly boy thought he’d stumbled on a dream.”
“So did Imlach,” Amaril heard herself laugh, “but I think he thought it more of a nightmare.” On a bet with her brother Imlach had snuck into her uncle’s home to steal a bridle. What neither boy counted on was Amaril having trouble sleeping in a strange place, and so she was awake late in the night when the boy snuck in, and thinking him a raider she attacked. She was about to cut his throat when her brother called her off, and Amlach had had to physically pull her off of him before she really believed what was going on.
“Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Arwen laughed when Amaril told the story.
“It was,” she replied, “but when I accepted his offer of marriage it took my father a while to come around and accept it.”
“Fathers are like that,” Arwen said with a knowing smile. “Mine was less than pleased when I chose my Estel. As bride price he is required to claim the thrones of both Gondor and Arnor.” Amaril felt her eyes widen.
“Can he do it?”
“He is the last legitimate heir of the line of Isildur, if that is what you ask. Yes, he will do it, when the day comes. He has prepared all his life, and now he only awaits his chance. Soon, Narsil shall be reforged and the Elessar will return to Gondor. Hopefully, this Age will end in a coronation instead of Nightfall.”
“The broken sword…why was it never reforged before?”
“None before have had the power to wield it. The blood and splendor of the Westernesse runs strong in Aragorn, stronger than any before him save Isildur himself they say. Still, it took Aragorn himself many long years to come to terms with the destiny within him. Men do not accept their fates easily.”
“No, I suppose we do not. My own people have spent generations running from theirs.” Then Amaril asked a question that was suddenly burning in her. “Lady Arwen, I know it is not my place but I must ask. Where is Narsil kept? Might I see it?” Arwen laughed.
“You are bold, young Anorwen. To see Narsil you will have to be very polite to Aragorn, for he carries that blade at his side, as his forefathers since the beginning of this Age.”
“But his sword was whole in the High Pass!”
“He took another East with him. He will not go marching under the Enemy’s Eye bearing the token of the one who struck him down so long ago. He left Narsil in Rivendell, and took it up again when he returned. Perhaps, when he comes back from his patrol, he will show you.”
“When will that be?”
“He’s due back today or tomorrow, depending on what he meets on the road.” Arwen looked out into the distance for a moment. “He will not be more than two days late in coming, unless he dies.”
“How do you know?”
“That is the rule with Rangers. Scattered though they may be, they do not break tryst. But fear not my friend, for he is well and I have no doubt he will be here ere night falls.” Amaril nodded thoughtfully, absorbing this piece of information. The Harachin gave each other one full day, and then searches were sent out and the lost one’s village prepared to move. Capture and interrogation were the biggest collective fear her people had, for the Rhûnic soldiers had grown sickeningly adept at breaking their captive’s to their will.
It had been such with Imlach’s brother Mador. They’d gone to rescue him of course, but they’d been too late, and when they found him he was a sobbing, broken wreck. He’d urged them to kill him and surrender themselves to the power of Rhûn. It was horrible, evil in its own way, for Mador had been a great swordsman before they took him alive. There was little they could do, for if they took him back there was too much risk that Mador would flee back to the Rhûnings he was now loyal to, and yet neither she, Imlach, nor Amlach could bear to leave him to his suffering. So they did the only thing they could. Imlach took his brother by the hand while Amaril and Amlach cast lots. Amaril lost, and it was Amlach who covered Imlach’s eyes so he did not bear witness to a kin-slaying.
The next morning when the troops came to check their prisoner they found only a puddle of blood on the ground. By then the would-be rescuers were safely away, and though Imlach and Mador’s home village was now deserted they arrayed him as they would any warrior, and raised a mound over him, for he had died at the point of a sword as a warrior ought. Amaril had never killed in cold blood before, and she had certainly never killed a Man who was not evil before that day. The memory of it had haunted her ever since, and though Imlach was grateful for the noble death she’d given his brother Amaril’s sunny laugh never came so easily again.
“Amaril?” Arwen’s gentle voice broke her dark thoughts. She turned. “Are you alright?” The Elf looked concerned.
“Just some old memories,” she shrugged, shaking off visions of the sickening grind of her sword driving through her friend’s ribs while he smiled, smiled at the life that was pouring out of him, freeing his broken soul. Aragorn had said she would find no darkness in Rivendell, but what about the darkness in her? Would she ever be able to lose these horrors that she kept locked in her heart, only to have then creep out into the daylight when her guard went down? “What you said, about Rangers, brought something back.”
“I am sorry. Let whatever it is return to the dark where it belongs, and think of happier times while you are here. What was your bride price, if I might ask?” Arwen clearly understood what it meant to have nightmares by day as well as night, and her change of subject was so abrupt and obvious that they both grinned.
“The head of a Rhûnic Captain,” Amaril answered, her smile taking a slightly bitter twist. It was not a test Imlach was supposed to survive. “And not just any Captain. It had to be the Captain of the regiment that was plaguing us at the time.”
“That would be hard. I know little of warfare, but I do know that officers are kept well guarded. Was he able to do it?”
“Yes, but in order to do it without inviting retaliation he had to go down to the fortress where the regiment was, far from our hidden valleys, and murder him there.”
“You helped him didn’t you?” There was a twinkle in her eyes as she said it and Amaril smiled a bit sheepishly.
“As much as I could, but I was not allowed out of the Mountains. So after we made plans I lent him the use of my brother. This was in breaking of our customs, for the brother of the bride is not supposed to help the groom secure a bride price, but in my heart I knew that Imlach would not return to me if Amlach did not go with him. It was a great day when they returned.” A truly great day, for this was the Captain who had captured Mador, and not only had Imlach brought back his head, but he also returned his brother’s sword. She smiled at the memory, for the occasion had been greeted with much dancing, singing, feasting, and crying.
“So are you married then?”
“No. We were to be married this season, but I was chosen to go West, and this time he was the one left behind. And now I fear that he will prove the more faithful, for my heart forebodes that I will not cross the Misty Mountains again.”
“Do not speak so yet; there is still hope,” Arwen replied. Amaril shook her head and would have replied otherwise but they suddenly came upon a very small, very old man sitting on a bench. He was reading a book larger than his own head, and he had a huge pair of wooly feet. When he heard them approach he sprang to his feet and bowed graciously.
“My greetings, Miladies. It brings me joy to see you walking under the sun, Lady Amaril Anorwen.”
“I beg pardon?” Amaril stammered, not sure how to respond. Arwen laughed.
“And good day to you too, Bilbo Baggins. How is your book coming?”
” `Tis nearly finished Lady. I have only to write the chapters in which I come home again.”
“I shall look forward to reading it,” Arwen replied. “Now why don’t you introduce yourself to my young friend here. She’s never seen one of your kind before.”
“Ah, yes, I suppose that would be the case. My apologies, my fair and valiant lady,” he said with another bow to Amaril. “My friend the Dúnadan told me about some of your deeds before he left. I would have written a song but he told me to wait until I met you.”
“Yes, and we have now met,” Amaril stammered, “but please sir, what are you? You are too small to be a Man or Elf, yet you have not the look of a Dwarf and you are certainly not an Orc or other fell thing.”
“Certainly not!” the little man snorted. “I, good lady, am a hobbit. We live in a land west of here, across the Brandywine, in a land we call the Shire. For the most part we prefer to make our homes under the ground, and leave the Wide World to its troubles. Few of us have ever gone to war or ventured much beyond the bounds of our country. We live a peaceful life, farming, fishing, talking…”
“Smoking and eating,” Arwen finished. “If you took your meals as often as Bilbo I would not have been so hard-pressed to find a dress that fit you, Amaril.”
“A full stomach is a happy one,” Bilbo replied. “What of your people? Aragorn told me he met you coming from the East, but he left the rest for you to tell.”
“My people live hidden in the mountains across Rhovanion, in the country of Rhûn, but we share a common enemy, for the Easterlings hate us as much as they hate the West.”
“Then why stay?”
“We have nowhere else to go. We forsook the West long ago, and I was sent to seek the grace we require to return.”
“Then your journey has but begun,” Bilbo said cheerfully. “Well, the song can wait then. No sense in telling the tale before it’s over.” Amaril nodded, grateful for the little hobbit’s understanding. “Do you miss your home?”
“Very much so,” she replied. “But I will not turn from the West until I have obtained a yes or no from the powers here.”
“You’ve come to the right place then. Please, sit. You have been ill, and I wish to know of Rhûn.”
“Aragorn has been there,” Amaril said as she sank gratefully onto the bench with Arwen at her side, “what has he told you?”
“That it has been long under Shadow, but it would be a fair country if the Men could be made clean again.”
“Perhaps, but I see no hope for the Easterlings. I see little enough hope for my own people, but enough to fight for, I think.” And she told them both of the mountains she grew up in, and of her journey across Rhovanion. She’d gotten quite good at reciting the story since she’d told it to Aragorn. Arwen had already heard it, having been present both when Aragorn and Gandalf told their parts and when Elrond questioned her, but she listened politely as Amaril satisfied the hobbit’s curiosity.
“You’ve an epic there,” he said when she was done. “You ought to write it down, lest you forget.”
“I do not think I can.”
“Nonsense, child. If you live long enough you can forget anything.”
“I do not think I will be favored with a long life. What is it that you’re writing down?” she asked, turning the conversation. Bilbo was halfway through the tale when a shadow fell over them.
Arwen sprang to her feet with a delighted cry and Amaril looked up. It was Aragorn, home out of the Wild. He caught Arwen in a firm embrace, and keeping an arm about her asked Amaril if Bilbo had talked her ears off yet. “No, not yet,” she replied, trying not to laugh at Bilbo’s indignant rejection of such a proposal. Arwen and Aragorn did not show such restraint and all but doubled over as Bilbo sputtered on.
“I was merely curious. You told me so little of her I merely wanted to fill in the details…” and then he started laughing too, and it was so infectious Amaril joined in. It had been a long time since she’d laughed so freely. She forgot how good it felt.
“You smell. Did you just come in?” Arwen asked Aragorn when control had been regained.
“Yes, well, a few moments ago. I came in and Elrond promptly sent me to find you. Amaril is in need of her tea, I believe.” Amaril grimaced.
“Oh, don’t make such a face,” Arwen said, taking the young human by the hand. “We’ve changed the ingredients. It’ll do you more good than ever.”
When Elrond saw Amaril he sent her straight to bed. “You pushed too hard, child,” he snapped when Amaril protested.
“We met Bilbo,” Arwen explained. Elrond laughed shortly at this. “Well, perhaps I can excuse you then. Drink that down, and sleep,” he instructed Amaril. “There’s poison in your blood still, and it will sicken you again if you tax yourself too soon.” Amaril grimaced as she took the cup and, visibly bracing herself, took a swallow.
“It’s not so bitter anymore!” she exclaimed, taking another sip of the steaming medicine. Elrond smiled as he gently forced her to sit back among the pillows.
“We changed it,” he explained. “Indis had the right idea on how to treat you, but she made two mistakes: you are not an Elf and the poison she treated you for is not the poison you were given. Even so, you might’ve made a fuller recovery if you hadn’t decided to travel so soon.”
“I wanted to see the West. I am not used to being sick.”
“No, you aren’t, and that is good because it shows that you are strong. Now sleep so you’ll stay that way.” And he began to sing the same soft lullaby he’d sung for his children and fosterlings.