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B2MEM Day 1. Beauty: "I love not the sword for..."
TTT, book 4: The Window on the West, p. 289 Nook edition
A Queen amongst Equals
An’Sohrabi, Farozi of Harad, looked at the captain of those soldiers just returned from the defeats that Mordor’s armies had suffered at the hands of the Army of the West. The reports had come that a small troop of Gondorian soldiers had escorted these back from the battle before the Black Gate, while a second force had returned only shortly before from the battle fought before Minas Tirith itself. None of the Mûmakil that had accompanied the armies sent to the service of the Death Eater had survived to come back, and most of the fiercer commanders had been lost.
“And what demands do the Lords of Gondor put upon Harad and its peoples?” he asked.
“None!” came the surprising reply. “Only we were made to take oath not to seek to cross the Poros again in arms against Gondor, its lands or peoples. We were told that Gondor does not wish to rule Harad or any other land but its own. One has now come who has claimed the Kingship of that land, and he told us that he claims rule there and further north in their ancient northern realm as well for he is descended from the ancient Kings of both those lands. But he has no claims upon Harad, Far Harad, Umbar, Khand, Rhûn, Rohan, Dunland, or any other realm not their own. He does not wish to rule us, but instead to see our lands stand beside his as allies and equals, each showing forth its own special gifts and beauties. And his Steward has added that Gondor should be a Queen amongst her equals, not ruler and oppressor of all others. They merely rejoice to see that Mordor no longer can rule any of us!”
An’Sohrabi felt a keen elation within his breast. Too long had they lain under Mordor’s shadow. To stand again in the sunlight alongside other lands, even alongside Gondor, free to rule themselves at long last, sending no Men to other lords’ wars, was a dream for his land and people he’d never dared breathe aloud!
B2MEM Day 2:
“Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” Aragorn to Eomer, TTT, Book 3, p. 37 Nook edition.
The Sacrifice Turned
“You must prove your faithfulness to the Lord of Darkness by slaying a Man in his honor upon the altar in the Red Temple,” the emissary from the Dark Ones told An’Sohrabi when he followed his late brother onto the Throne of Harad.
It was not the new Farozi’s wish to do such a thing, for in his heart he followed the very old ways, and he did not believe that the Death Eater was indeed the same as Osiri, finding him more closely aligned with Seti, Lord of Evil and Betrayal.
But Mordor had ruled Harad for far too many years, and any Farozi who did not appear to worship its Dark Lord tended to fall to—accidents. An’Sohrabi had seen his father led into depravity by Mordor’s emissaries, and was certain that his brother had been assassinated on their order. He had no wish to see his son and grandsons dragged into the evil ways that the Death Eater preferred, wishing to spare them the degradation that Mordor encouraged. So, he would pretend to play their game.
He chose his victim for the altar—one who had been caught in the act of raping a woman, and who had tools with him indicating that once he had forced his will upon her he intended to do much more, reducing her to a bloody mockery of the vibrant being she had been before her luck had betrayed her into his power. A search of the Man’s dwelling place indicated that she was far from his first victim—there was evidence that he had killed at least seventeen before her, three of which he admitted to. When questioned about the rest he had merely leered.
The Man was not yet of middle age, his body still fair to look upon. He came from a wealthy family and certainly had not needed to slink about the city to find unwary women and girls returning from the local wells to their homes as this one did. Few looking upon him would realize just how depraved his soul was. An’Sohrabi had no wish to worship the one named Sauron by those in the northern lands, but he knew that it was his duty to execute those who posed such danger to his people as this. So, he had the Man’s tongue removed that he not betray himself as the foul thing he was, and gave him into the hands of the Death Eater’s priests for preparation. And in his heart he did not offer him to Sauron, but begged that the Man’s blood should wash away the fear he had raised in the populace of Thetos. He doubted that in the end this one’s death would work much to the benefit of the Death Eater, and rejoiced that this should be so.
B2MEM Day 4:
“Down the swift dark stream you go
Back to lands you once did know!”
TH, Barrels out of Bond, p. 143 Nook edition
As the second (legitimate) son of his father the Farozi, Sohrabi was charged with removing whatever wild beasts might enter the region around Thetos that might prey on human beings or their creatures. On occasion a lion might somehow have found its way across the desert into the fertile lands along the course of the Risenmouthe, but the most common predator was the crocodile. The delta region where the life-giving river met the Great Sea drew them, and they fed on fish, the many sea birds that teemed in the rushes, smaller predators, sometimes the small oxen that powered the wheels that lifted water into the ditches watering the fields in the dry months, and all too often those individuals who entered the twisting waterways in search of papyrus or ducks or fish.
They had caught three crocodiles today, Sohrabi and his fellow wardens, and had been forced to kill a fourth. Crocodiles were sacred to Seti. Seti might be the Lord of dark and evil tendencies, but still there was a place in the world for his influence. Sohrabi did not hate his beasts, however. No, he actually admired them for their beauty, their combination of patience, cunning, and swiftness when they hunted, and their place in keeping the populations of fish and water beasts in balance. He was grateful that these three were going back up the river to their proper place, however. A child had died in the jaws of one of these, and he did not wish to see any more children die betimes. His land would need its children once the Death Eater no longer held sway over it.
B2MEM Day 5: “But when Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence….” RotK, Book 6, The Steward and the King, p. 254 Nook edition.
The King at First Sight
As he awaited the arrival of his guests, An’Sohrabi wondered just what he would see. The one that he had known so long ago as Horubi’ninarin was now, from what he could tell, the King of Gondor and Arnor, the twin realms founded over an age past by the returning Sea Kings. He had been tall then, much taller than Sohrabi himself, slender as the sword he bore, quick of thought and eye. A decisive Man, and most honorable.
Sohrabi himself had been young, barely into his third decade. He had been forced to hide his own honor, for honorable Men had a habit of dying young in Harad. For most of the intervening years Sohrabi had pretended to be jaded and sardonic, and if he was not quick to join in the often depraved activities favored by those who courted the attentions of the Death Eater’s people it was put down to laziness rather than being recognized as being due to disgust.
Would the Man he’d known be thickened with age as he was himself? Would his hair be white, and his posture perhaps stooped? No—it was said that he had led the fighting both upon the Pelennor and before the Black Gate with more skill and as much vigor as any young Man in his army. Harad’s returning officers—those who had been wise enough to lay down their weapons and surrender themselves—spoke of one most tall and slender, his eye keen, impossible to lie to.
The word came that the barge carrying the King An’Elessar had arrived, and he went to the chamber at the top of the Water Stair to see for himself.
“He has not changed at all!” he whispered. Except that the Northerner had changed, but in subtle ways. There was contentment to be seen in his eyes, and a degree of happiness that yet rested upon him alongside an equal degree of loss. His hair was much the same, but was now threaded with silver. He wore a beard now, and it bore more silver hairs than did those upon his head. The authority that the younger Sohrabi had discerned in his northern guest was now confirmed. Nor was the regal nature he’d borne even then now hidden. His attention was on all about him, including the small person who preceded him and the woman of unearthly beauty who followed behind him with their son in her arms.
In his face could be seen so many things—humor and healing grief, joy and competence, awareness and that ineffable expression that speaks of one who is at peace with himself, love and the level of isolation that is the mark of one who rules.
An’Sohrabi felt envious for the apparent youth that his returned guest appeared to enjoy, but the next instant he realized that that relative youth came at a cost of loss of companionship that the Haradri was not certain he would wish to experience. Soon enough the Farozi would follow his ancestors into the West, and he would know few regrets, knowing that in his time his land at last had been set free of the destructive rule of Mordor. This one, on the other hand, would most likely linger many decades yet, and in the end it was likely that the wife who followed him would be the only one who remained of all he’d known in the days of his first manhood.
As he stepped forward to greet his guests he realized that he had reason to feel sorry for this Aragorn An’Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar. At least Sohrabi of Harad would not outlive his time.
B2MEM Day 6
"It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
TH: Riddles in the Dark, p. 244 Nook Edition
The Heart of Darkness
“Who was he, the Death Eater?” asked An’Sohrabi of his royal guest from Gondor. “Was he truly one of the gods?”
An’Elessar was shaking his head. “He was a lesser Power, intended from the first to be a servant of the Valar. He was no Vala himself, but a Maia. It is said that at first he served the one we have ever called Aulë, the Smith of the Valar, but that he betrayed his first lord and turned to follow after Morgoth instead. Morgoth, whom I have heard most often equated with Seti, was intended to be co-regent of Arda with his brother Manwë, whom we know as the Lord of the Winds. But it is said that Morgoth could not bear to be seen as anything but the greatest and most important of all beings within the Circles of Arda, and he betrayed all, and turned from cooperation to competition and then open warfare. Those of the Maiar who turned to follow after him were mostly twisted into evil shapes by his influence, but Sauron, who could take on a number of different shapes, did not remain in any one of them long enough to lose his true nature or to be caught forever in just one of them.
“You have heard that he spent time as a captive on the Star Isle from which my ancestors returned to Middle Earth where they founded Gondor and Arnor?”
The Farozi indicated he had indeed heard this.
The King of Gondor gave a single nod, continuing, “When he abased himself before Ar-Pharazôn, Sauron took upon himself a shape he favored, that of a being that resembled both Men and Elves and was fair to look upon, and that shape he appears to have maintained for the entire time he was upon the Isle of Númenor until the isle was destroyed at the Breaking of the World. That shape was destroyed, but his spirit, his ka, did not flee beyond the Bounds of Arda, but instead returned to Middle Earth. But he could no longer take unto himself a shape that was pleasing to the eyes of the Children of Ilúvatar. Precisely why he was most often described after that as the Lidless Eye we are not certain, except it is thought by some that he now was restricted mostly to the form of a shadow, and must have light behind for the shadow that was now the shape of his being to be seen at all. This would give him the appearance of being an eye with a slitted pupil similar to that of a cat or a goat.
“We know that the Nazgûl lost their physical integrity and became creatures of shadow, and must wrap themselves with clothing in order to present a shape discernible to living beings. That this was true also of their dread Master for most of this last Age of the Sun seems likely.”
“He wished for all of us to become corrupted,” An’Sohrabi noted, lifting his goblet so as to take a drink of wine.
Again the northerner nodded his agreement, holding his own goblet between his hands. “What his Ring sought to cause me to do would have destroyed my appreciation for my own integrity, and the others in our Fellowship have said the same.”
“At least you and I were not drawn there completely, not into the heart of darkness,” Sohrabi sighed, setting the goblet down on the wooden arm rest for his chair.
“I will admit that I was sometimes greatly challenged and tempted,” his guest said, looking down into the dark wine that remained in his cup, perhaps seeing a far darker place. “I have seen one of those whose nature was almost totally lost due to the Ring’s influence, and I have seen what It did to both Bilbo and to Frodo. Of course, being awake during that last year, It ravished Frodo’s spirit many times before It was at last destroyed. To call Frodo back—it was perhaps the most difficult of all such tasks I have ever entered into. He had to return through that darkness, and the taint of it was still upon him when he left us to return to his own place. I grieve that he must go to the Undying Lands in order to be cleansed of that darkness as he deserves—if it is possible even there.”
So saying, he sighed and drained his cup, placing it on the arm of his own chair. “I do not envy Frodo what It did to him, for he is one of the only two I have known who have looked with open eyes into the heart of Darkness in that manner. Sméagol was lost to it and became the creature Gollum, one that few could ever recognize as beginning as a Hobbit as were Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. That Frodo survived at all was solely by the will of the Powers, but it cost him far too much for any individual to have suffered.”
“Then,” suggested the Farozi gently, “we shall pray that he has indeed passed through the darkness into the Light beyond. For darkness is perhaps needed for us to appreciate just how beautiful and precious Light is, do you not agree?”
An’Elessar’s smile seemed to reflect that very Light of which An’Sohrabi had been speaking into the center of the Farozi’s own heart.
B2MEM 7: “Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.” The Sil, Chapter 2, p. 61 Nook edition.
The Unexpected Lesson
Within the Valley of the Sun was an ancient temple, very small and its door uncharacteristically framed in wood rather than stone as was more customary. The strange northerner that Sohrabi, the Farozi’s younger son, knew as Horubi’ninarin examined the friezes that decorated its walls with interest, for he’d not seen their like anywhere throughout Harad. “Can you tell me the story behind this scene?” he asked his young host, pointing to a particular line of figures that depicted a number of Men facing what appeared to be a tall creature that resembled nothing so much as a fir tree. But how on earth could the people of this region know fir trees, much less a fir tree that pointed to the more normal cypress and palm trees native to the region, among whom other trees that to his eyes appeared to be common to the northern lands were interspersed?
The Haradri smiled. “It is an ancient story, that one day those who owned a grove of date palms and cypresses awoke to find that in the night other trees had appeared in the midst of their grove, strange trees of a like that none had ever seen before. And it is said that the greatest of these trees spoke to them, asking whether or not others of its kind had come their way, perhaps teaching them how to grow their date palms and cypresses. The next day the strange trees were gone, and none ever saw them again. But it is said that the Lady of all Trees guided them back to where they grew properly. So this temple was raised to her, framed in cypress wood in honor of the grove where the strange trees that looked through eyes that were said to be golden brown wells of wisdom were once seen.”
As Aragorn entered the Circle of Orthanc, he remembered that long-ago day when he apparently first learned of Ents from a Haradri princeling. Certainly the eyes of the Ents who served as Gandalf’s guide to wherever it was that Treebeard awaited the Wizard were just as Sohrabi had described them!
B2MEM 8: “Not the man who used to make such particularly excellent fireworks!” TH, ch.1, p. 15 Nook edition
A Night’s Display
On the night of the Farozi’s birthday, once the feasting was over, all braved the insects that awoke with the evening and went out into the gardens, for the Dwarf Gimli indicated he had a special display he would present for the Farozi and his guests. “One of our distant kindred studied at the feet of Gandalf for years, and he gave me a number of fireworks he thought I might present for the amusement of Aragorn here and his people. But somehow I never got around to setting them off there in Minas Tirith. When we chose to come here for your birthday celebration I decided to bring them with me. We are most fortunate—two appear to have been created by Gandalf himself, and I look forward to seeing what they portray. I remember seeing a display he presented years ago when he visited the Blue Mountains just after the Dragon died and Erebor was returned to us. He was quite the artist with fires and smokes!”
He had spent much of the afternoon down by the river setting up tubes of various sorts, and he’d paid an urchin to watch over their safety during the feast. Now he left the palace compound and went down to the banks of the Risen; and while the Farozi’s guests watched from the walls and the populace of the city from their own homes and rooftops, he set off the fireworks in sequence. There were cries first of fear and then of delight as the sky bloomed with circles and spirals and vortexes and fountains of colored light. But there was a bit of a wait before he set off the first of the final two. There was a tremendous boom of sound followed by what appeared to be a shining white crane lifting high into the sky, then spreading out its wings in a dazzling display; it dissolved into stars that circled and whirled wider and wider across the sky, with at last a golden hawk rising straight upward with a great cry of joy!
Then he set off the final firework, and above their heads they saw a great ship form.
“Amon’s bark!” declared the Haradrim.
“Vigilot!” whispered the Gondorians. “The ship of Eärendil!”
He who was depicted as piloting the craft wore a shining jewel upon his brow, as both Amon and Eärendil were customarily shown, and about the ship wheeled a gull of silver and white, whose breast shone as spectacularly as the gem worn by the pilot. In the wake of the gull blue flowers formed and fell over the watching populace, and the scent was that of the blue lotus blossoms so beloved by the people of Harad.
The ship rose into the air and seemed to circle the city, and all watched with awe and delight. Then from it rushed outwards flights of white doves of fire, calling in delight before all broke into a final storm of silver and golden sparks following the last of the blue flowers toward the bounds of the city. Only a circle of seven stars was left that gently faded into the darkness of the Haradri night sky.
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