Amaril was sleeping when Aragorn returned from the Sarn Ford the early evening. A light rain was beginning to fall and the Elves had raised a bower of tree branches over her. She lay quietly, but when Aragorn bent to check the fever Elladan held out a staying hand. “Let her be a while,” dark-haired Elf said. “She’s in great pain. Any movement hurts her.” Aragorn nodded and sat back, listening to the rain trickle over them. The shelter the twins had erected was a cunning one, and inside a small fire burned unmolested by the spring rain that was gathering strength outside. Elrohir handed him a mug of rabbit stew; apparently one of them had found time to hunt.
“She rarely sleeps so quietly,” Aragorn commented uneasily, frowning as he sipped the broth.
“She’ll be alright this time,” Elrohir shrugged.
“She hasn’t tried to withdraw?”
“No. She was in a lot of pain when she woke up, like you said, but we’ve kept her with us. She knows, by the way, what happened last time. She kept muttering about how she didn’t want you to come out after her again.”
“So how’d you get her to sleep?”
“We gave her more of that tea, and then I went hunting. When I came back she was resting very quietly while Elladan here sang. She loves to hear Sindarin, it seems. I joined in and she nodded right off. She said something about driving the dark away.”
“She’s putting up a pretty good fight,” Elladan added. “I’ve never seen any mortal endure that much agony and still live.”
“Yet you may again,” Aragorn commented. “You may again.”
“How is Mithrandir? You met him?”
“Yes, I met him. He’s stayting in the Shire a bit longer, taking a rest, I expect. His business goes well, though I’d suggest you and all the other Rangers keep a careful eye on these borders. He and a Hobbit or two will be leaving in September, going to Rivendell, and I will either meet them there or come along. I suggest you do the same.”
“We can do that,” Elrohir said thoughtfully. “When do you think this secret and its keepers will arrive in Rivendell?”
“If they leave in September I imagine they should reach your father’s house in early October.”
“Fair enough. We’ll be there. What about Amaril?”
“When she wishes we will continue to the Havens, and if she has the strength I will bring her back to Imladris.” As if she heard her name, the girl stirred but did not speak or wake. Elladan looked on her sadly, and shook his head.
“She may yet bear her pain to Mithlond, but unless Lord Círdan has an art of healing unknown to even my father her journey will end at his misty quays, on the shores of the Western Sea.”
“She will not find that end so bitter,” Aragorn replied, though he shared the Elf’s sorrow. No amount of practice would make watching the death of a friend easier. In Amaril he had found something that he had been missing for a long while: the joy of traveling with a comrade-in-arms. He was also relearning why he’d so often chosen to travel alone.
They’d grown close in the months they’d known each other. He’d pulled her out of the darkness and she’d taught him some lessons in courage he’d not forget easily. They’d fought back-to-back in the High Pass, and charged the wolves together just the previous night, and now he was once again facing the bitter truth about Amaril. Warriors spend their lives dodging and facing their own destruction, but at 18 years she was young, even by the count of the lesser races of Men, and it was her youth that made her coming end all the worse. He was still a fosterling in Rivendell at that age, but she, she had grown up hard in the hidden vales of Rhûn and then made a long trek across Middle Earth, leaving her family and her engaged groom behind. She’d made her passage into adulthood early, but even so her youth had betrayed her on the plains of Rhovanion, when she made the fatal mistake of dropping her guard, and now the long years she could have had were gone. How many other friends had he made and lost in a similar fashion? Or lost to old age, for the blood of Númenor did not run so strongly in the veins of the Rohirrim or Gondorians? One would think he would have gone numb to it by now, like the grizzled old Rangers he’d looked up to as a child, but he hadn’t. He suspected that they hadn’t either, that these grizzled old men who seemed to pay death and loss no heed quietly wept the same salty tears he did every time one of their own left the circles of the world, and crossed into the place not even the Elves could name.
She was in Rivendell, walking in its beautiful flowering gardens with Arwen, listening to the Elf name the plants in her beautiful Elven tongue. The sun shined, the birds sang, and they came around a bend to see Aragorn and Imlach standing. Arwen cried out with joy and ran to her lover, and Amaril raced to Imlach, closing her eyes and throwing her arms around him in a fierce embrace. He hugged her back, crushing her against him, saying “I knew I would find you here, Sun’s daughter. Tell me where you’ve been,” and before she could answer giving her a kiss. Then she opened her eyes, and though she was still in Imlach’s arms there was darkness behind them. She cried out, wrenching away from Imlach so they could face the danger, and suddenly Imlach disappeared, and she was standing alone as the darkness congealed into the form of the Nazgûl, riding his black steed, and when the Ringwraith shrieked in its joy at seeing her totally at its mercy she was taken by a wave of searing, burning pain that held her in place. She could not fight, she could not run. All she could do was stand in agony while the horror bore down on her, while behind her the birds of Rivendell sang on. Her courage broke. She screamed and screamed and screamed.
Her eyes opened in the flickering shadows of firelight. Above her were the leafy boughs the Elves had made her a hut of, about her was a warm blanket, and she was still burning from within and still screaming to wake the dead. She was awake now, awake in the Wild, and this senseless screaming was going to get her and Aragorn in a lot of trouble. So she stopped, though the terror of the nightmare and agony of the fever did not abate with her waking, and tears came streaming from her eyes and her breathing came in ragged gasps.
Gradually she became aware of arms about her, rocking her gently, and smelled Aragorn’s musky scent. One of the Elf twins held a cup of cool water to her mouth, and she drank it, only then realizing how parched the fever had left her. She drained that cup, and then another, and finally began to hear Aragorn telling her that it was only a dream, that she was safe, that he and the Elves were watching over her, and she need not fear the dark. The rain and wind outside were buffeting the small shelter, and the screeching of the wind sounded so much like the cries of the Ringwraith and the pain within her was so hot that she could not believe him, and continued to shake and cry. Then Elladan took her hand, and sat beside them, bidding her to look into his face. There is a light in Elves, and it shines through them. It is easier to see in some; the older elves shine brighter as their bodies gradually wear away, and the Elf-lords that have been to the Blessed Realm shine with the light of that land. Elladan was neither ancient nor an Elf-lord, yet he was of a noble line, and so this elf-light was bright in his eyes. Amaril latched onto that light, looking straight at him, for there is no darkness in the soul of an Elf. He held her gaze and gently began to sing, the beautiful dripping syllables of Sindarin breaking her fear and pain, soothing away the nightmare until she came back to reason. Then Elladan released her hand and eyes, but did not leave her side.
“Do you want to tell us what happened?” Aragorn asked softly. She shook her head, still feeling shaky, still hurting from the inside out. There was little to tell, really. On sober reflection she’d had such nightmares before – it was her retreat from them that had made Elrond send Aragorn after her that day in Rivendell. It was from this experience that Aragorn knew more or less what haunted her in the night. “Was the Wraith there again?” he asked, still soft, slowly relaxing his own grip on her. She nodded, but was too afraid to say much more. He did not pry but let her lie down again, down on the soft pallet the Elves had made her.
Glancing at Elladan, she saw a profound expression of pity on his fair face, and, as she drifted back into her fevered sleep, she heard him make her a promise. “I will keep the dark away from you, Anorwen.”
“The darkness is inside me,” she heard herself answer. “Only I can fight it.” Then other, less evil dreams swept her up.
She had other moments of waking, and always Aragorn or one of the Elves was there. She never stayed awake long, but she did notice that she wasn’t always beneath the cut boughs of trees. Then, one night, she woke shaking, drenched in sweat, and the burning pain that had fired through her was gone. She knew then that the fever had finally broken, and being terribly thirsty tried to sit up and grope for water.
She could barely lift her head. It had been so with the Rivendell fever as well. The poison was indeed doing its filthy work. Maybe if she was lucky she’d regain the strength to ride and wouldn’t have to pretend. It was vital that she make it to the Havens. She’d come too far to give up now. It was also vital that she have some water, so she again tried to sit up, and made as little progress as she had previously. She thought of rolling over, so she could crawl, and just as she was about to try she heard Elrohir (his voice was slightly deeper than his brother’s) say her name. “Amaril?” She stopped, surprised. She hadn’t realized anyone else was awake, but it made sense. They were still out in the Wild, where wolves and Trolls and other things hunted. Somone had to keep watch. But why were the Elves still there? Surely they had their own patrols. “You awake?” In shadows she saw him reach over, touch her, and pull his hand away. “You’re soaked.”
“The fever’s broken,” she made her parched mouth say. “I need water.”
“Of course.” He grabbed a waterskin, helped her sit up and then held it for her to drink. “You put up a brave fight, Anorwen,” he said as she drank. “We thought you’d reached your end last night.”
“How long did it last?” she asked, thirst finally slaked.
“Four days. Shorter than the last ones, Aragorn says, but that may be because we treated you faster.”
“Where is Aragorn?” she asked, not seeing his familiar crouching form in the dim firelight.
“Sleeping,” the Elf replied. “You mortals have such short lives already. It seems unfair that you must also sleep through half of them.” Amaril decided that he was joking and smiled. “Do you hurt?” he asked, returning the smile. She did, but it was nothing worth speaking of, not after the anguish of the fevers, so she shook her head.
“You stayed with us for four days?”
“You were deathly ill in the Wild. We would have been faithless friends indeed to have left you and Aragorn in such dire straits, especially since you two rode down those wolves for us.”
“But what about your patrols?”
“Rangers do more than just guard these lands. We are sometimes also called upon to aid the people in them.” She nodded, understanding, and yawned. Elrohir laid her back down and threw his cloak over her so her drying sweat didn’t chill her. A gentle breeze blew in, and on it was the scent of growing things, of farmland and farm animals.
“The air smells different here,” she stated, feeling suddenly awake and alert, sniffing again. Different, but she could feel no Shadow here. It was if she were in Rivendell again, but Rivendell did not have farms, or if it did she had not seen them.
“It should. We are in the Shire now,” the Elf replied. “We brought you over the Sarn Ford the day after you took ill, and after we’d gotten you some leagues over the Shire border made camp. It is safer here.”
“I feel no darkness here,” she agreed.
“No, Aragorn’s people have shed a good deal of their own blood to keep this land clean. Rest now. We would have carried you further, but Aragorn decided that your pride had taken enough of a blow.”
“He is a true friend then,” Amaril replied, “for I deem this quest of mine is enough of a burden to him already without me as baggage.”
“Nay, your quest is no burden to him, lady, or to us, but it may be so to you. Do not add pride to the other loads you yourself already carry.” Then he began to softly sing an Elvish lullaby, and for the first time in four days she found her sleep restful, and unbothered by dreams.