The next two days passed uneventfully, and then one evening they heard wolves. Amaril was tired and already laid out for sleep, having elected to take the second watch. Apparently her tea was losing its waking effects. She was gradually weakening as Elrond had predicted, and Aragorn could see in her eyes that a fever was coming on. Nonethless, she was alert the instant the wind blew the haunting cries their way, on her feet and ready to ride while Aragorn stared out in to the night. “They’re close but not coming our way,” he commented after listening closely.
“No, they’re attacking someone else,” she agreed and then they locked eyes. “Halbarad?”
“Maybe.” Aragorn whistled for the horses and they mounted, charging off into the night to bring aid where it was needed.
They dropped over a rise to see a pack of large gray wolves attacking a pair of dark-haired Rangers on gray horses. Neither horse wore a saddle or bridle, and there was a light in the faces of their riders as they fought the onslaught of fell predators, but if Amaril noted anything strange in what they saw she made no comment to Aragorn as they charged in to the fray.
The wolves were soon dismayed, for the Rangers had already been putting up a ferocious fight and the arrival of two more sent them running into the hills, though this time the leader was not slain. Once the wolves had gone the two Rangers dismounted to greet their unexpected benefactors, pounding Aragorn on the back like a brother and chattering in rapid Sindarin. “I thought you were still mucking in the muddy Eastern shadows but here you come riding from the west! What wizardry has Gandalf been teaching you?” one cried.
“Didn’t you know brother? From the West hope springs eternal,” the other Elf answered before Aragorn could respond, laughing in Elvish exuberance. “When you’d come in?”
“March. I found what I was looking for and came back,” Aragorn said, smiling broadly at their good humor. “And now I am on another journey.”
“Obviously. Who’s your skulking friend?” the tall Elf jerked his head towards Amaril, who stood to one side holding the reins of both Sadhros and Roheryn. Aragorn laughed and beckoned her forward.
“I’d hardly call her skulking. She’s as fast on the draw as you or I. Elladan, Elrohir, meet Amaril Anorwen of the Harachin. Amaril, this is Elladan and this is Elrohir, the sons of Elrond.” He spoke Westron so all could understand.
“Undomiel mentioned she had brothers the roamed the Wild,” Amaril said with what passed for a polite curtsy when both hands were full of horse, “but she did not tell me that you were twins.”
“More’s the pity,” Elladan grinned. “Perhaps she wishes to forget.”
“Hmm, yes, we pulled some marvelous tricks on her,” Elrohir agreed, a mischeivious light in his eyes.
“You do look a lot alike,” Amaril said, looking from face to face. “How did your mother tell you apart?”
“She didn’t,” Aragorn dead-panned, ducking a playful swipe from Elladan just as Elrohir pulled one of his ears to show that his were oh-so-subtly more pointed than his brother’s. Amaril laughed. Obviously the three were dear friends. “Amaril is also a twin,” Aragorn added, and the brothers looked at her expectantly. Amaril looked down, slightly embarrassed at this sharing of information, even though the brothers smiled still broader at this news.
“Estel, you’re surrounded,” Elladan chuckled, casting his eyes around. “So where is she?” he finally, playfully demanded, as if he expected another Amaril to pop up out of the grass.
“He is home in Rhûn,” Amaril replied with a laugh. The buoyant mood of the Elves was infectious.
“That is a long way,” Elrohir commented, no judgement or awe coloring his voice. “You must miss him.” Aragorn suppressed a relieved smile. He’d been a little worried as to how other Elves would take to Amaril, but he should have known better. Elves easily spot their friends, and the name Anorwen would open the heart of any Elf to Amaril.
“I do indeed, Lord Elladan,” she replied.
“No, I’m Elrohir.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I should have seen that,” she stammered, face coloring, and the Elf laughed, putting her at ease.
“No worries young lady, we take no offense. Aragorn, are you camped near by? Your friend here looks about done in.” Aragorn gave Amaril a careful glance. Elrohir was right. Her blush had faded into a shade not unlike the Moon.
“We’re just over that hillock there. You’re welcome to our fire,” he added, hoping for a chance to talk with the brothers. It was not unusual for the scattered and wild Rangers to go for months or even years without seeing old friends, and chance meetings such as these were often milked for all their worth. Aragorn and the sons of Elrond had heard many tales of each other, but hadn’t actually met for nihg on three years now. All three had a god deal of catchng up to do, and Elladan and Elrohir were eager to accept the invitation, vaulting to the bare backs of their horses.
“Lead the way,” Elladan said and Aragorn needed no second urging.
Amaril all but collapsed when they returned to their camp but Aragorn found no signs of a rising fever. He sat back a moment, wondering how forthright he should be in answering Elladan’s now pressing questions concerning her and their business in general. It was not that he didn’t trust his foster brothers. His concern was who and what else might be listening. Finally he decided that he might as well lay it all down for them, for they would reach Sarn Ford the next day and if he had to leave Amaril it would be nice to know she was in the company of such good friends. “I see we missed much at home,” Elrohir commented when Aragorn finished a hasty version of the tale. “Father was not happy with her choice, was he?”
“Of course not,” the Ranger answered, “but he gave it to her. Though I think I would have done the same, had I been in her shoes.”
“Sometimes I wonder if it is not a better thing, to be able to choose when and how you may leave this world,” Elladan reflected. “Think, you and Amaril will never see all that you love fade and wither with time.”
“True, but there is much that Amaril and I have seen that we will never have a chance to see again, especially Amaril. I do not think she understood the full weight of her farewells when she left her mountain home.”
“Maybe she did and that’s why she made that foolish vow. If she’d not done that she could be safe in Imladris right now, not fighting wolves with a fever coming on.”
“Even if she’d made no vow I do not think she’d be content to wait out her months or year in Imladris. Her approach has always been to ride out and meet the danger, whatever it might be. She is not one to wait for her time to come, or trust to hope when action will bring an end faster.”
“Like so many Men. Your kind is short on patience, Aragorn.”
“Present company excepted, of course,” Elladan broke in, sensing Aragorn’s rising ire. Whatever his flaws, the Heir of Isildur was not impatient. “Speaking of which, if time is pressing for your companion here why are you taking the long way to Mithlond?”
“I’m due to meet Gandalf on the morrow at the Sarn Ford.”
“Ah yes, Gildor told us he passed through. Is it in keeping with this mysterious business you two are keeping so close about?”
“Yes, it does. Where’d you happen on Gildor Inglorian?”
“Out east a bit enjoying the spring sun. What happens after you meet with Gandalf? Are you two going off again?”
“I don’t know. If all is well with him I’ll be free for a little while, I think, and if all is not well we’ll take our counsels and make decisions from there.”
“What about Amaril?” Elrohir asked. “If she’s only going to get sicker you can’t just leave her in the Wild.”
“Halbarad’s meeting me tomorrow.”
“Halbarad met up with Boron to give battle to a couple Trolls out east a ways. He’ll be late.”
“We were aware of that possibility,” Aragorn grunted, not liking this news. “Why aren’t you with him?”
“Who says we weren’t. We won, by the way, though Boron got hurt, so Halbarad decided to stay with him and sent us out this way.”
“So you’re offering to help me if I need it?”
“Wondering when you would catch on,” Elladan commented, grinning. “Getting a bit slow there Atani. Must be age catching up with you.”
“Very funny. I thank you though, for the offer.”
“Not at all. Who says we’re doing this for you anyways?”
“Well you barely know Amaril…”
“True, but we do know Arwen, and she’d never forgive us if we left either of you alone in dire straits.” The look of terror on the brothers’ faces was so drawn out and comical Aragorn had to laugh. For Elves never was a long, long time.
Amaril was a bit out of sorts when she found that Elrohir had taken her watch, but Aragorn knew she’d get over it. He was right; by mid-morning all thoughts of dereliction in duty were driven out of her mind by a sudden, raging fever. Though he’d somehow known it would not be long in coming the rapidness of the onset horrified him. One moment she was chatting with the sons of Elrond, doggedly practicing her Sindarin and the next she was slumped over in her saddle, shivering. They found a comfortable stand of trees and Aragorn pulled her from the horse and sat her in the shade.
The twin Elves had both been trained in lore by Elrond himself, and after a cursory examination they held a hasty conference and Elrohir rode off into the open country, looking for herbs. Aragorn quickly made up a fire and started brewing up the medicine Elrond had instructed him to make should such an event occur. As the water heated he glanced off west, to where the ford lay. Elladan followed his gaze, his keen Elf eyes seeing farther than Aragorn could. “Mithrandir is not there yet,” he said, “nor can I see him on the road.” The human nodded curtly, turning his attention back to Amaril. They’d bundled her in blankets and washed her face with cold water. She was in considerable pain and begged them to let her sleep, but Aragorn was afraid that she’d withdraw if they let her. Elrohir was off to find some plant that he said would help prevent that from happening, but for now all they could do was try and keep her comfortable. How, Aragorn was not sure, because she complained of burning from the inside. The medicinal tea eased her a little bit, though not much. Finally Elrohir rode up, clasping one large flowering plant and several fresh leaves of athelas in his right hand and his horse’s mane in his left.
“Here, have her chew the buds,” he ordered, yanking the small green flowers-to-be from the herb and shoving them to Aragorn, who persuaded Amaril to try one. “They’re tender enough.”
“They’re sweet,” Amaril commented, after swallowing one.
“Yes, and they’ll send you right to sleep. Here, have another,” Elrohir said, passing her another bud while Elladan bruised the athelas leaves and wiped her face with them. A cool scent went up in the air and she relaxed visibly. Within moments she was deeply asleep. Aragorn took one of her hands and studied her face intently. It was a quiet, peaceful sleep, with neither dreams nor pain.
“Thank you, my friends,” he murmured.
“Oh she’s not out of danger yet,” Elladan remarked, cradling her head in his lap. “Not by a long shot. As you say, that poison is eating her from the inside, but she’s fighting hard. Very hard.” He shook his head, grieved at the suffering he could feel in her young body. “Look, she’ll be sleeping for a while. You go on, make your meeting with Gandalf. You can’t throw everything you two have been fighting for over one child’s fever, not with the Darkness rising. We’ll stay with her.” Aragorn saw the brutal sense in the Elf’s counsel. Amaril was but a side event in the great war that was already brewing.
“Watch her well. This is the fifth time she’d fevered thus that we know of, and it gets worse every time. Thank you.” He mounted Roheryn and galloped to the Ford. The Sun was approaching its mid-day height; about the time he’d agreed to meet Gandalf.
The Wizard was already there, standing on the Shire side of the Brandwine, staff in hand. Aragorn led Roheryn across the water and then let the horse wander while he spoke to the Wizard. “You look grim, my friend,” the old one said. “Does she fever?” He nodded.
“The sons of Elrond are with her. They gave her something to help her sleep. Hopefully she will not withdraw this time.”
“It would be hard to call her back out here if she did.” Aragorn nodded. This he already knew, and dreaded.
“How fares your business?”
“It fares well. Young Frodo took the news sensibly, reluctantly of course, but sensibly. There is great strength in Hobbits, you know. He understands what must be done and is making plans to leave the Shire.”
“Good, good. And no one else seems to suspect?”
“Oh his gardener knows all about it, but Sam’s a sturdy fellow. I rather expect he’ll have a great part to play in the whole affair. How was the road?”
“Busy. The wolves are getting more aggressive, and as the Shadows South and East lengthen more and more less than desirable types have come up the Greenway. There’s a spy in Bree, a Southerner who deals in leaf. He’s looking for a way into the Shire. Amaril and I heard him meeting his contacts on the road a few nights ago. We killed two, injured one, and a fourth escaped. I’m not sure who’s who amog the pair that got away, but neither of the dead are the spy, and the injured one isn’t getting far with the arrow I gave him.”
“So in the best case no word will reach their master until both Frodo and I are long gone from here and in the worst I’ll be gone but Frodo won’t be. This is grim, but not too terribly so. I’ve never made much secret of my interest in the Shire, and there are few who have made any estimate of the worth of the Hobbits. Nay, Aragorn, I would not fret over this development. I think we can safely proceed as planned. Watch the roads out of the Shire and through Bree at the end of September. Frodo Baggins is the name, though he might also be traveling under the name of Underhill. Perky chap, dark hair, blue eyes, bit fairer than your typical Hobbit. No doubt I will be with him, though if I am not please see to it that he reaches Imladris safely. After that I am sure new counsels will be taken, but no matter. The dangers will be removed from the Shire at any road.”
“What of my Rangers? Shall I put them on alert?”
“By all means. The Enemy grows more powerful every day. He will begin seeking his prize soon. That Nazgûl Amaril unhorsed in High Pass will ride again, and he will bring his Captain and brothers with him. Your time draws near, Elessar Elfstone.”
“Near, but not so near. If you have no need of me until autumn I shall continue my journey to the Havens with Amaril.”
“Good. Do you need my help?”
“The sons of Elrond are with her. I will not pull you away from your engagements here.”
“Very well. In autumn we shall meet again.” The Wizard smiled, and left with a bow.