True to his word Aragorn presented Amaril with her options the next morning. It was a bright, clear morning, with the birds singing and flowers blooming. The scent of life was heavy on the air while Amaril pondered her decision. It did not take her long. “The war coming from the East will take my people first if I can find no help for them,” she said. “I will continue, and heed not the whispers of ghosts in the night.”
“Very well,” Aragorn said, both relieved and pleased with her decision. He was not sure what he would have done had she chosen suicide. “We can spend no more than a day here, and then we must push on.”
“I will gather my strength then,” she replied calmly.
“Do not push yourself too hard. Any one of us here is willing to share a horse with you, brave one.”
“But it is my journey, and I wish to go as far as I can on my own power.” She spent the rest of the day and following night resting beneath the tree. The following morning Aragorn awoke to see her leaning against the tree. He jumped to his feet as she made a tottering step forward, but Elladan was at her side, ready to catch her should she stumble. She did not, but Aragorn could see the sweat forming on her brow. She also insisted on saddling and bridling Sadhros herself, though the effort cost her dear. She leaned agains the tree, panting, but brushed off any suggestion that she sit. “If I sit down I will not get up again,” she said, regaining her breath.
“You aren’t strong enough for this, Amaril,” Aragorn said. “If you push yourself this hard this fast you’ll only fever faster.”
“Then so be it. You told me yourself we’re three days away, at the slowest.” Any further argument would be futile, so Aragorn let her mount up. She was barely able to manage even that, but he knew that once she was in the saddle Sadhros would not let her leave it until she herself wished to.
They took a gentle pace. He had no idea what reserves of strength Amaril could possibly have left, but evidently she had found one, for she showed no sign of tiring once they were on the road again. She even showed some sign of her old spirit as she studied the rolling countryside and chatted with the Elf twins. Only when they passed Hobbiton did any sign of shadow pass over her. “There is something evil here,” she said as they rode past the little town.
“What kind?” Aragorn asked, wondering if it was the One Ring she was feeling. If so the Ring’s power had either grown more perilous than ever, or Amaril was more sensitive than anyone could have guessed.
“A sort of stored-up malice,” she said after a moment’s thought. “Like Shadow in a bottle, if that makes sense. It’s not moving though,” she added.
“Have you felt this before?” Elladan asked, intrigued by the description.
“Twice,” she answered with calm certainty, “and not so deeply. I felt it in that Gollum creature Aragorn brought to Mirkwood, and a sort of thin echo of it in the Hobbit Bilbo in Rivendell.” Aragorn gave her a hard stare. Amaril had said many interesting things in the months they’d known each other, but that was without a doubt the most intriguing comment she’d made so far.
“You never spoke of this before,” he said, and his tone was almost accusatory. She was a bundle of secrets, this girl.
“I saw no need to. All mortals have a darkness in them, be they Hobbit or Man. And Bilbo is such a kindly person I thought it was just my imagination. That Gollum thing reeked of evil and foul things, but you already knew that.” She sounded very apologetic, and he smiled to let her know he wasn’t as angry as he sounded.
“Do not feel bad, Amaril, there is no way you could have known what’s been happening in the Shire of late. Your sense for evil never fails to amaze me.”.
“Should we take a look?” Elrohir asked in quiet Sindarin, but Aragorn shook his head.
“Nay, it is already being taken care of.”
“Does it relate to your, ah, business with Gandalf?” Aragorn nodded once, and that was all the answer the Elf needed.
They made camp in the Westmarch that evening. Amaril would have pushed on, but Aragorn put his foot down. They’d already come much farther than he had expected and he could see in her eyes that Amaril had reached the end of her strength. He called a halt in a small hallow, and caught Amaril as she dismounted only to have her legs give out from under her. He got her away from Sadhros’s hooves and let her sit in the sweet spring grass. She was a ghastly shade of white, and sweat was pouring down her face. He handed her a skin of water, but her hands were shaking too much to hold it. “You rode too hard, Sun-child,” he said softly, helping her with the water.
“We needed to leave the Shire,” she said. “You said so yourself.”
“Not at the cost of your life we didn’t,” he answered.
“There’s no fever,” she pulled her head away from his exploring hand. “Anyway, the sooner you see me to the Havens the sooner you can help Gandalf deal with whatever evil lurks in the Shire.”
“How did you know that it what Gandalf is there for?”
“Gandalf told me once he is an enemy of all that is evil. Though how darkness could come to this fair land confuses and frightens me.”
“It was not by any dark intent that evil came to this country,” Aragorn answered slowly, wondering how much to tell her. Who knew who or what else might be listening. “Nor has the evil that you find here been put to use.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are many powers that drive this world Amaril. The power of light, the power of dark, the power of fate, the power of choice, the power of good, and the power of evil. Even love and hate turn the events and lives of those that live. But for power to affect the world it must be used. You felt the peaceful goodness in the Shire because that is what the Hobbits are and how they live. Their goodness guards their land from evil as much as the efforts of us Rangers. The goodness of your own people has guarded them for generations in the shadowed land of Rhûn. But you also felt the evil lurking in Hobbiton because there is a very evil power lurking there, a power that could destroy the world. The Hobbits themselves do not fully understand this power, and though they would never seek to use it if they did, they do not seek to block or destroy it. The evil sleeps for now.”
“And if it wakes?”
“If the evil in the Shire should wake none but the Valar themselves could save this world.”
“You speak like a Wizard,” she said in awe after a long moment, thinking it over.
“I speak of what the Wise have taught me,” he answered quietly and then to his surprise Amaril bent over. Her shoulders began to shake and he realized she was weeping. “What is wrong?” he asked. There were many things that could be troubling her. He could not even begin to guess which.
“It seems so wrong. All these wonderful little people, and this beautiful land they have, that your own people have died protecting, and I’ve all but killed myself to find, and now I find it, and the Darkness beat me to it. All this good, all this peace, and it all stands to be destroyed by some sort of accident.” She choked on the last words. The Elves who’d been making camp came rushing over, anxious. Aragorn held up a hand, warning them off. He could deal with this himself. Of the three of them, he was the one she trusted the most.
“Do not speak so,” he said, putting an arm around her. “The Shadow has not won yet, and no matter what happens this evil will leave the Shire ere the next year. It may yet be possible to save the Hobbits, and the rest of the free world. Now is not the time to despair. The Darkness cannot conquer forever.”
She slowly got control of herself, and he let her lie down to sleep. She could use some food as well, and her medication, but they could wake her for that. Elladan looked her over and put a blanket over her.
“She over-extended today,” he said.
“Did you have the hearrt to stop her?” Aragorn asked, “I know I did not.”
“Nor did we. But I think all four of us placed our hearts ahead of our senses today.” He sat back on his heels and after a moment looked straight at Aragorn. Switching into Sindarin he began reciting an ancient verse.
“Three for the Elven Kings in their thrones on high
Seven for the Dwarf Lords in their halls of stone
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.“
He gave Aragorn an expectant look when he finished, a look echoed by Elrohir. “You hit your mark in the gold, son of Elrond,” the Man replied. “Now lay the matter at peace, for with some thought I am sure you both can answer own questions, and let not into the open air what should be kept hidden. Already we have been much too careless.”
Though she was still very white and shaky Amaril still insisted on riding the next morning. This time Aragorn insisted on helping her with Sadhros’s tack, and she needed help mounting the animal as well. She looked very gaunt and frail on the glossy horse’s back, and Aragorn saw that this journey was turning to madness, but he’d made a promise to honor her choice, and he had a strange feeling that only be reaching the Sea would she find her desired grace. Thus they rode on and shortly after mid day reached the White Towers.
From the top of the tallest the keen of eye could see the Sea, and this Tower was also open to those who wished to enter. “These were built by Gil-galad Ereinion, the last High King of the Elves,” Aragorn told Amaril as they approached, “and then gifted to King Elendil when he came from Númenor. Though his kingdom no longer exists, they still stand as reminders of the glory that once was and could be again.”
“None live there now?”
“Nay, except for a few wild things, and sometimes Rangers and Elves will camp here. We are roughly a day from the Havens now, if we continue at this pace. We shall stop here and rest a bit.” Actually he intended to go no further, and no further the next day, for Amaril was failing and he did not wish to push her any harder than necessary. The Towers would be a safe refuge for as long as they cared to stay really, and at present he was in no great hurry. Elladan and Elrohir might soon be eager to return to the eastern parts of the Wild where there were plenty Orcs, Trolls, wolves and highway men to deal with, but they were under no bond greater than friendship and concern to stay. They’d already told him that they would not continue past the Towers, for they had no desire to seek the Havens or the Sea, and did not wish to suffer the temptation that claimed so many of their kindred.
She fell out of her saddle. Fortunately Elrohir was handy to catch her and set her back on her feet. She managed to stagger through the open door into the entry hall of the tallest of the towers, and then she leaned against the wall and slid down, too exhausted to move. None of them was surprised to find she’d fallen straight to sleep. They were, however, surprised when she woke scarcely an hour later and asked if they would be continuing soon. “No,” Aragorn said flatly. “We have gone as far as we will for the day.”
“But we are so close,” she begged, but he shook his head.
“You need your strength to meet with Círdan. You can not go before him and ask for his grace if you can barely stand upright.” This was not necessarily the truth, but the bluff worked. In fact, it worked too well. She crumpled, head in hands.
“I am in a double bind then,” she declared in a small, weak voice, “for I have so little time left. Every day, more of me is burned away. I can feel it Aragorn. The next fever will be the last, and I wish to see the Sea, to touch its waters, before I pass beyond.”
“I know,” he said gently. “Your death is written in your eyes, and your pain in your face. You have shown more courage than I thought possible in anyone, Man, Dwarf, Elf, or Hobbit even. But Amaril, it would be madness to drive yourself harder than you already have. Your time draws short but if you take some care you might make it last long enough to attain what you desire, but riding to the bitter end will not extend your days. It will only shorten them.” She nodded, understanding.
“Then how long shall we be here?”
“As long as it takes you to heal enough to make that final push. I will tell you now that Elladan and Elrohir will go with us no further, for it is not yet their time to visit Mithlond and see Círdan’s ships sail the Straight Road. But they will stay until you are ready, I think.” Amaril nodded again, and closed her eyes. When she was deeply asleep Aragorn picked her up and carried her to the main hall where they could lay a fire and generally be more comfortable. She seemed to weigh nothing in his arms and he could feel her bones through the fabric of her clothing. She’d been thin enough when they met in Mirkwood, but she was little more than a shadow now.
That night she cried out once, but only once, and rather than try and rouse her out of the nightmare he let Elrohir sing to her, for his brother was on top of the tower keeping watch. She stilled almost immediately, and made no sound for the rest of the night.