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Can be seen as a sequel to 'Lord Ulmo's Gift.' Following the overthrow of the principal ruler of Harad, a change of regime takes place and tentative diplomatic relations are established. As the nephew of the new ruler, Azarafti is sent to Gondor to discuss a peace treaty.
Year 7, Fourth Age
Azarafti, lord of Harad and leader of a diplomatic delegation to Gondor, looked around the house they had been given on the Fifth Level of Minas Tirith. They had been escorted from the Harlond by the Lord Steward Faramir, entering by the great mithril gates and making their way up through the various levels. Later he would go to the Citadel to present his credentials to the King, but for now he was free to rest, bathe, sleep or explore. Two guards stood outside the house, although the people he had seen on his way up here did not seem angry or aggressive. Some of them had nodded or waved, which surprised him greatly. It was also clear to him that the Lord Faramir was loved dearly by the people. He had been startled to see groups of Elves and Dwarves in the city, busily working on flower beds, walls and buildings, and working together. He understood there was animosity between the two races but saw no evidence of that in the White City.
A housekeeper, a Gondorian woman, tall and dark haired, had been appointed to look after them, but he was surprised to be introduced to the cook, whose dark skin and black moustache betrayed his origins.
"You are from Harad? I did not know there were any Haradri people in the city."
"Oh yes, my lord. There are several, and in most cases their story is much like my own." He spoke Westron well but reverted to Haradri easily enough. "I was a cook in the forces fighting for ............ Him - the Dark One. I regret it now, of course, but at the time I was pressed into the army I was a hot-headed youth with no family alive and looking for adventure." He laughed bitterly. "I found it too! I was a cook - what did I know of fighting and killing? But at the Black Gate they put a spear in my hand and told me to fight. I was still trying to work out how to kill a man who was looking me in the eyes when there was a great rumbling and the Dark Tower came down, shattering as though it were made of glass. The gates and towers flew into the air, tumbling over and over, the ground quaked and pits opened everywhere. Those with some sense surrendered to the great King, for he seemed the sort of man who would give us a quick death if nothing else."
"The Lord Elessar accepted the surrender?"
"He accepted it. We were taken away from the field of battle and when he found out I was a cook I was put to work, making meals, helping the healers - anything which was needed really. I watched as myths and legends became real and walked around me - old Incanus himself flying down on a great Eagle, carrying what I first thought was a child; horse-lords from the North; Elves and a Dwarf........... And a King, walking from tent to tent, healing the wounded and watching over the two they called the Ringbearers. I could hardly believe what I was seeing."
"Did you not wish to return to Harad after the battle?"
"The King would have allowed it, but we knew what the penalty would be for surrendering to Gondor. We would have been put to death immediately. Some went elsewhere, to Khand or Rhun, but I chose to come back to the city and try my luck. I helped re-build parts of it, working alongside those very same Elves and Dwarves, and I did whatever was necessary. Then I met the woman who would become my wife." He gestured towards the door and Azarafti realised that he was referring to the housekeeper. "The King has always taken an interest in us and when he was making the arrangements for your stay he asked us to look after you."
"The King takes an interest in ........ordinary people?" Azarafti felt slightly disorientated.
"Our Lord King takes an interest in everyone. That is what endears him to us."
"You ........admire him?" Rulers in Harad had always been feared, not loved.
"I would die for him. He came down to the Houses of Healing in the middle of the night and saved my son's life when he had been despaired of. This is no autocratic ruler, my lord, but a father to his people."
"I see we have much to learn from this King." Azarafti felt he had to say something and his mind was racing. Reality had been turned on its head and he needed to think about all the things he had been told.
"I will leave you to rest, my lord. If you need anything just ring the bell."
Having bathed and changed his clothes, Azarafti returned to the sitting room. A little later the housekeeper brought coffee, which surprised him, and honeycakes. She also brought a letter for him, which had been delivered while he bathed. Curious, he looked at the black and silver seal and the brisk but finely written script, and opened it.
The King of Gondor and Arnor sends greetings to the Lord Azarafti.
The Lord Prince Faramir tells me that you arrived safely and I hope you are rested and refreshed.
I look forward to our meeting this afternoon, when I hope you will also take tea with us once the formalities are over. Meanwhile, if you are feeling energetic, there is a shop on the Third Level which may interest you. The owner is a Haradri and I believe you may have some mutual interests.
Until the third hour past midday.
Strolling through the streets, the man from Harad had time to notice the bustle around him. No cities in Harad were as mighty as this, or as populous. Everywhere he looked there were people talking, trading, calling. Signs of prosperity and peace were evident in the buildings and the faces of the people. Tall, handsome women gossiping as they shopped, excited children playing in the squares and gardens. A cat drowsed on a wall in the sun and guards greeted people in the manner of friends. His own guard followed at a discreet distance but no-one molested him.
This sort of prosperity was what he wanted for his own people, worn out by too many years of war. The more he saw of the King's City the more he felt anger towards past rulers of Harad for their short-sightedness and stupidity and their blind allegiance to the Eater of Souls.
He remembered his eldest brother, who had disappeared into the Dark Tower in the so-called 'Tribute of the First-Born' when Azarafti was only nine years old. Three years later his mother gave birth to a surprise addition to the family, his little brother Shefir. He remembered reading stories to the child in the cool gardens of their house, revelling in the young child's adoration. A deep shuddering breath vibrated his frame and he paused in his walking to calm himself. The memory was so painful he had avoided it for years. He had been down in Far Harad on business for his father when they came for Shefir, then a beardless boy of seventeen. He returned to find his father locked in his study and his mother in her bedroom, both out of their minds with grief. No-one could bear to think of Shefir, the gentle, sensitive scholar of the family, in the dungeons of the Dark Tower. Ironically the Tower fell less than a month later and the family was torn between relief that the foul spirit which had destroyed so many lives was no more and regret that the downfall had come too late for their youngest member.
Azarafti found himself in a beautiful park on the Third Level. It was full of overflowing hanging baskets and tubs, all spilling their jewel colours in abundance. Trees rustled gently in the warm breeze and there were surprisingly comfortable wooden seats in shady corners. He sat down and closed his eyes, struggling to let go of all the painful memories which assailed him. To his astonishment he found his mind becoming calm and full of pleasant thoughts. Sweet scents filled the air and the drowsy hum of bees was restful.
He beckoned to his guard, who stood at a respectful distance. "This is a very beautiful place. I did not expect to find such in a city."
"The Elves have done much to fill the city with living things, my lord, but this garden was designed by the Pherianath, particularly Lord Perhael. It is full of the plants native to their land."
"Pherianath? I am not familiar with the term. Do they live in Gondor?"
"Nay, my lord. They are Halflings from the North, from a land called the Shire. It was the Lords Iorhael and Perhael who brought down the Dark Lord, and Captain Meriadoc helped to defeat the Lord of Minas Morgul, and Captain Peregrin saved our Lord Faramir's life. They are full of courage."
"They must be mighty warriors then!"
The Man smiled. "On the contrary. They are small, barely four feet in height, and Lord Iorhael is a scholar who loves books and stories. Lord Perhael is a gardener who accompanied his Master out of love. They did what the great ones could not do and carried the Enemy's Ring of Power into the Mountain of Fire."
"How could these small beings go where the Lord King did not?" Azarafti was now feeling distinctly confused.
"They were so small as to go mostly unseen, my lord. Their Elven cloaks gave them protection and the Dark Lord was not expecting his greatest danger to come from hobbits!" He chuckled. "That is what the Pherianath call themselves, my lord. Sauron in his arrogance assumed he would be challenged by our King or by Mithrandir. He never considered hobbits."
"And the other two you mentioned? Did they also enter Mordor?"
"Nay. Captain Meriadoc came with the Rohirrim and helped the Lady Eowyn to kill the dread Lord of the Nazgul. Captain Peregrin was brought to Minas Tirith by Mithrandir and swore allegiance to the Lord Steward Denethor. He joined the Citadel Guard and saved Prince Faramir's life when his father tried to burn him alive. Then he went with the King's forces to the Black Gate and fought well, killing a troll which threatened the life of Captain Beregond. They are a valiant people when they have to be, but normally they are farmers who love peace and stability, family trees, riddles and songs, growing things, drinking ale, smoking pipeweed and eating at least six meals a day. Our King loves them dearly."
Azarafti sat in the shade of the rustling birch trees and absorbed this information. It still seemed unbelieveable that the Eater of Souls could be brought down by such a people. Hopefully he would learn more in time.
"Do any now dwell in the city?"
"Not usually, my lord, although the Captains visit sometimes. Captain Peregrin is still a Guard of the Citadel and takes up his duties as guard to our King whenever he is here. Meriadoc is a Knight of the Mark and attends upon King Eomer. The Ringbearers have never visited because the Lord Iorhael has been very ill since his rescue from Mordor. He suffered many wounds and the grievous damage done to his soul has troubled him since. He was offered the chance to go to Elvenhome but could not bring himself to leave his cousins and the brothers of his heart.Last year he almost died but we have heard that by some miracle he is recovering. The Lord Perhael tends him devotedly."
"I see there is much to understand about the downfall of the Dark One. Now, where is the shop the King spoke of?"
The shop was easily found, in a small court off the Street of Artists and Weavers. Several fine rugs hung outside, some fluffy and made from goats' hair and others woven into exotic patterns. Inside there were elegant hand-painted ceramics and exquisite silks. It took a few moments to accustom himself to the dim light after the brilliant sunshine outside and he did not at first notice the young Haradri who moved smoothly towards him.
"Can I help you, my lord? You are the lord from Harad who comes to discuss peace with our Lord King?"
"You are the second Haradri this morning who has referred to the Lord Elessar in such affectionate tones as 'Our King'. He must be an exceptional person to inspire such feeling."
The shopkeeper nodded. "He is a reminder of the kings of old, those who ruled the Star Isle. He is descended from the first king of the Star Isle. I always loved to hear stories about that land and the Sea-Kings. My brother used to read them to me every night because I refused to go to sleep until I'd heard at least one." He laughed at the memory.
Azarafti smiled wistfully. "I used to read those tales to my little brother. He loved to hear about the ships and the voyages. Our father found a copy of the stories on one of his journeys, I remember."
"My brother always tried not to read the tale of the Downfall because he thought it would upset me. It was sad but I think it was my favourite." He looked at the older man, who was staring at him with disturbing intensity. "My lord, is something wrong?"
"Come to the light, I beg you," he said thickly. He almost pulled the man towards the doorway and scanned his face. The young man had high cheekbones and eyes so dark they were almost black, but these were not what caused the diplomat to gasp and almost collapse. It was the V-shaped scar above the left eyebrow. "It cannot be! My brother............fell in our garden when only an infant. He gashed his brow and a scar remained ever after. Tell me your name."
"Shefir I was called........." He peered more closely. "Azarafti? Is it really you?"
They fell upon each other, weeping. Both were shaking so hard they could barely stand. Time slowed and it was as though both were in a dream.
"How is such a thing possible? We thought you dead - you went to the Dark Tower..............."
"We never reached it. So much was happening in Ithilien that we were delayed - people in shackles can only walk so fast. We were overtaken by the King and the forces of Gondor and Rohan and we had to hide. Those Men who could not face a confrontation with Sauron the King permitted to go and fight less terrifying foes elsewhere in Ithilien. A group of them killed our guards and we thought they would kill us too but the King forbade the slaughter of prisoners and we were cared for......" He broke off as a beautiful Haradri girl emerged from a back room, a dark-haired child of about two years balanced on her hip. "Nerina! Come and meet your brother-in-law, my love. I thought never to see him again. Look brother, you have a nephew!"
The girl placed her hands together and bowed. "My lord, Shefir speaks of you every day. We both dearly wished to see our families again but feared we would be killed for cheating death."
Azarafti raised and embraced the girl, then stroked the cheek of the little boy. "Our priests are now beginning to come round to the notion that cheating death may sometimes be the will of the gods rather than flouting their wishes. It will be safe to write to your families." He turned to his brother. "Mother and Father will be overjoyed to know you are alive! And I still do not understand how you are."
"We are alive due to the courage of the Halflings, the wisdom of Mithrandir and the mercy of our beloved Lord Elessar. Nerina was taken also and we fell in love in Ithilien in the aftermath of the War. How the Lord Frodo rejoiced to see it, wise one that he is."
"Sometimes he is called by his Elvish name - Iorhael, as Samwise was Perhael - and you will hear them referred to as the Ringbearers or Cormacolindor."
Nerina spoke. "There is coffee in the back room. Go and talk together. Go! I will look after the shop and little Benzar can play with his toys until he falls asleep." She shooed the two men through the curtain into a comfortable room with couches and a low table. Shefir fetched cups and bustled around, more practical than his brother remembered him. Over strong black coffee and sweetmeats Azarafti heard his Shefir's incredible tale.
"We had seen the great army of Minas Morgul go forth towards Minas Tirith. It seemed to go on, the tramp of feet and the thump of drums. The stench of orcs in large numbers cannot be described, brother! We knew there was a great battle going on although we could see little. We heard the horns when the forces of Rohan arrived though! The hair on my neck stood on end! Later there was an uncanny desolate shrieking, and the heavy clouds seemed to lift at the edges, as though the outside world was fighting back. But it was the army which shocked me the most, and dismayed our guards. I saw the green banners with a white horse, the banners of Rohan, and the blue banners with the swan which I now know belonged to Dol Amroth. But it was the mighty banner at the front which took my breath away - black, with a white tree and seven stars and a winged crown! Then the horns blew and the heralds cried a challenge. The King Elessar is come! Let all leave these lands or yield them up! King! We could not believe it. Our guards allowed the procession to pass without emerging, and then they realised that it would be difficult to overtake it. Perhaps they were reluctant to risk a confrontation, although the confrontation came to them in the end."
"What of these Halflings I have heard about? Did they truly bring down the Dark Tower, and how was such a thing possible?"
"Yes, the Lords Frodo and Samwise brought down the Tower. They carried the Enemy's Ring of Power into Mordor and it went into the fire, the only place where it could be destroyed. He put so much of his own power into that Ring that when it finally dissolved there was not enough to sustain him."
"I've just thought - did the King know you are my brother? Is that why he suggested I come here?"
Shefir laughed. "There is little he does not know, and the Lady Queen has the foresight of her people. I may have mentioned your name - every time he called in if Nerina is to be believed!"
"He calls in? To a shop?"
"He is not an arrogant ruler who refuses to meet ordinary people. His guards despair sometimes as he dives into various shops, goes drinking at some of the inns and wanders about unnoticed, dressed in the greens of the Northern Rangers. No-one looks at him twice when he is thus disguised."
Azarafti heard the bells strike the second hour and stood. "How I hate to leave when the tale is not fully told but I have an appointment to see the King. There is so much more I want to know - not to mention all the news I have for you. You have many nieces and nephews now. Yashimi and I have a girl and two boys and your sisters all have at least two each. They will be clamouring to meet you."
The two brothers embraced once more and the lord of Harad stepped out into the sunshine in a city which had suddenly become dear to him.
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