THE FACE OF THE ENEMY
For disclaimer, rating, dedication, etc. see Part 1.
The aftermath of battle. Andrahar has to make peace with his past. The opening paragraph is quoted from "The Return of the King", with subtle alterations.
Beta read by Isabeau of Greenlea, my sincerest thanks.
25 Esfand in the year 3019 of the Third Age
The Pelennor Fields – early morning
The morning dawned brightly after the day of the great battle; it was fair with light clouds and the wind turning westward. From the Tower of Ecthelion, the banner of Dol Amroth, a white ship like a swan upon blue water, floated in the breeze. Because of Denethor's death and Faramir's incapacity in the Houses of Healing, Imrahil was the highest-ranking member of Gondorian nobility, and thus he had command of the White City.
The Prince had early been called to the war council that took place in Aragorn's tent, with Éomer of Rohan and Gandalf and the sons of Elrond; and Liahan stood before the tent with some guards, protecting him. Thus Andrahar could afford to use the short break in the fighting that would, no doubt, continue soon enough, and took his time to look around in the abandoned camp of his people.
The jurts of the Hiung-nu, that had stood in tight circles southwards from the road that led straight to the Gate, were in battered ruins. In the middle of the camp a seven-levelled, great wain lay upon its side, broken into countless pieces, the small golden house on the top bent and soiled with blood and gore, the black slab of stone sullied, the cauldron of the Hallowed Fire burnt out, cold and empty.
He saw the broken bodies of white-robed mages, lying scattered among slithered wooden planks and shards of pottery. He saw the sacred dishes of the sanctum smirched with blood and gore. 'Twas as if part of his childhood – the only part of which he sometimes did remember with a certain amount of melancholy – had been shattered beyond repair.
"One of the mûmakil must have thrown the wain over, driven by battle madness or panic," a soft voice said behind him, and as he turned, his weary gaze fell upon Mánion, the chief healer of the Swan Knights. His long-time friend and sometimes more than that, off and on, as their interests kept changing.
Due to his unique status as Imrahil's sworn brother, Andrahar had very few friends in the court. He had taught and trained practically every Swan Knight, and they all respected him greatly; mayhap even feared him, for he was considered one of the best bladesmen in Gondor, and that was with both sword and knife. But at the same time, thy came from old, respected noble families of Dúnedain Blood, as being a Swan Knight was a privilege granted to the best and brightest only, and thus were thought to stand high above a barbarian from Harad.
Mánion, although some fourteen years his junior, had much in common with Andrahar, at least as far as their status at court was concerned. Brín, his mother, was a handmaid of Princess Olwen and came with her from Fortir – they both belonged to the ancient peoples of Dor-en-Ernil, a nobility older than even that of the Princes, though of little influence in these days. When Imrahil had brought Andrahar home from one of his adventurous journeys to Umbar, Mánion had barely been born. No-one had ever discovered who his father was (well, no-one save Lady Olwen and mayhap Prince Adrahil) but his sharp features indicated that an errant son of some noble Dúnadan family must have sired him. Only his dark brown eyes had he inherited from his mother.
Being fatherless and legally not even a Dúnadan, the way of a Swan Knight was closed before Mánion, but that bothered him little. He never felt the wish to wield a weapon or to go to war – on the contrary. Nor had he much interest in lore or wanted to become a scribe on Master Melpomaen's side in the vast library of Dol Amroth Castle. Thus he had become a healer – such a good one, that after a while Imrahil had selected him to serve with the Swan Knights in this capacity. The recently fought battle was just one of many where he had served his Lord.
Andrahar acknowledged his presence with a short nod.
"Have you found any survivors here?" he asked.
"Just a woman," replied Mánion with a shrug, "but it is very unlikely she will survive. She has been trampled over by the horses; every bone in her body is broken, and she is bleeding within badly. That she struggled against treatment with what little strength she still possessed did not help, of course."
Andrahar's head jerked up. "She would not allow you to touch her?"
Mánion nodded, clearly confused. "She was frantic; alas, she speaks no Westron, and we do not understand her tongue."
Andrahar's eyes darkened, the old taboos hammered into his heart in early childhood reawakening with a vengeance. "Bring me to her."
"You cannot do aught for her, Andra!" Mánion tried to persuade him. "'Tis no use."
"Aye, I can. Bring me to her and be grateful that you are my friend, or I would slay you for violating her."
"Violating her?" Mánion stared at him in shock. "Are you insane? All I did was try to help her."
Andrahar clenched his fist. "What do you know about the customs of my people? About our beliefs? Naught, it seems, despite all that I have told you. Now, bring me to her!"
Mánion shook his head in exasperation but did as he was told. The young woman lay in one of the healing tents, her once-white robe drenched in her own blood, her slim body horribly disfigured and clearly beyond all help. But even in this damaged state she kept her dignity, hiding her face under the last shreds of her bloodied veil.
"Have you not seen the veil? The robe?" asked Andrahar angrily. "She is a seer, in the service of the sanctum. Have I not told you about this? She is sacrosanct. Any man who would dare to touch her, or even to look at her unveiled face, would be put to death at once."
"I cannot keep all of your barbaric customs in my mind," replied Mánion, a little irritated. "Besides, she needed help."
"That matters not. For a Seer, death is preferable to desecration. But you never truly think about what may or may not be proper for one of us, do you? We are just a horde of savage barbarians in your eyes. You Dúnedain do not even think of us as people!"
"Would that include the Prince, too?" asked Mánion quietly, neglecting to mention the fact that he was not considered a Dúnadan, either. Andrahar sighed.
"You of all people should know what is between me and Imrahil. I have sworn fealty to him and according to the customs of my own people I belong to him, blood, body and soul. He is also my friend, for which I am grateful. But not even he will ever truly understand who I am, even though he honestly tries. For my heart and my soul have been shaped in Harad, and my roots shall be there always, even should I never return to the land of my birth."
"If that is so," said Mánion, "to whom do you owe your true allegiance?"
"For my people, the oath of featly is stronger than anything, even blood," answered Andrahar. "I shall fight with Imrahil, protect him, even die for him if I have to… for he is all I have. Never would I turn my back on him. But naught can ever change what I truly am either. For what I am makes me useful to him in the first place."
He knelt down next to the mortally wounded woman and spoke to her in his mother tongue, which he had not used for countless years.
"Greetings, maiden of the Fire. I regret to find you in such sorry shape. Is there aught I can do for you?"
Her face, half-hidden under the torn veil, was pale but beautiful and oddly calm. She opened her large, dark eyes – they were clear and awake, though shadowed by pain, and recognition glimmered in them.
"Give me… to the Fire…" she answered in a weak but surprisingly steady voice.
Andrahar nodded in understanding. She was the Seer of his father's House; and though he was no legitimate son, he still was of Isfhandijar's blood. He alone was allowed to lay hand on her broken shell and reunite it with the Fire she had served all her life. He alone had the right and the duty to free her soul so that it could soar up to the seventh sky to the Fire God.
"I shall do as you wish, Haôma."
He needed no-one to tell him her name. 'Twas a sacral name, worn by all Seers of their House. She smiled weakly, seeing that he still knew his roots and laid a slim but now swollen and misshapen hand, the bones of which had been shattered under the hooves, upon his forearm.
"The Fire… is quenched…" she breathed, barely audible. "Your House… gone. You are… the last… The kha-kan… has no… brothers… no living sons… left. My death… will set you… free…"
Her hand slid from his arm. Her eyes became vacant, the light in them broken. With a barely breathed sigh, her soul left its battered shell.
Andrahar took a deep breath. With the death of the Seer of his House, with the quenching of the Fire that she had kept, his roots to Bakshir had been severed. His heart would not pull him into opposite directions any longer. When he had given her body to the Fire, his last obligation towards his own people, a debt he had carried with him all those years, will be paid.
Isfhandijar had not had the opportunity to give him the status of a son. He could never raise his House again, not even if he had sons of his own. Once the Seer was reunited with the Fire, he would belong to Dol Amroth alone.
In spite of his grief over the Seer's passing, he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his heart. Neither hatred, nor tortured love for his own blood would burden him any longer. The years that still remained to him, he would spend in peace.
The hand of Mánion touched his shoulder in a light gesture of comfort and friendship.
"What should we do with her body?" the healer asked.
"We shall give her to the Fire," said Andrahar, "and scatter her ashes into the wind. Mayhap they will carry her home."
Mánion nodded, his soft, brown eyes still on Andrahar's face. "What about you? How do you feel?"
Andrahar looked up to him and smiled. 'Twas a rare sight that lit up his grim features and made him look younger than he truly was. Much younger.
"Free," he answered slowly. "I feel free."
~ Here endeth this tale ~
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To Lady Olwen (Imrahil's mother) and Master Melpomaen see "Pawns and Symbols", posted under The Dúnadan Project (link on my bio page).
Mánion is an original character and belongs to me. His name has no actual meaning – I just wanted it to sound differently than regular Tolkien names.
Copyright: Soledad Cartwright, 2004-02-12