TALES OF A DARK CONTINENT
TALES OF A DARK CONTINENT
A Speculative Novel on the Far East of Middle-Earth
Based on the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a not-for-profit endeavor
PROLOGUE: An Eye to the East
I have a tale to tell, If you would care to hear it. Much of it may seem strangely familiar: a fireside yarn that once lulled you to youthful sleep, yet lingered on in drowsing snatches to mingle with the very stuff of dreams; or of half-read passages, long faded to forgetful obscurity that come suddenly to mind with the stark clarity of a memory vividly recalled (the unexpected guest who arrives unbidden but welcome at the oddest hour). Perhaps you are merely seeing a reflection, mirrored as through a glass darkly, perceiving the obverse truth of what you have long taken as fact. In any case, and if you are so inclined, I shall recount the hidden truths of the rise and fall of realms to the very east of East and to the uttermost South, far from the haunted eaves of Rhovanion, and further still from the reunited Dunedain kingdoms that first rose in ancient times along the silent shores of the Sundering Sea.
Let us journey hence, a thousand leagues eastward or more, to where the names of Numenor and its scion, Gondor, were once fables told by wild rovers lusting for the riches of ages, or by madmen intent on the acquisition of ultimate power. We shall pass over the Orocarni Mountains, the red ramparts of the East, to kingdoms both great and small, where few men of the west have ever trod; then south to the great continent of Mu, where the stars are strange and lost civilizations thrive in forest impenetrable. It is for these realms, unknown or forgotten in the chronicles of Gondor, yet rich in history and portent, that I offer my frail voice and humble talent.
It seems the Men of the West have told our tale as if through a funnel or leaky sieve, clogged with the mire of ages. They do not behold the subtle shades and vibrant hues of an intricately woven tapestry of time. Wearing prideful blinders, the Loremasters of Gondor have seen no more than that which touches them directly; therefore, they have only recorded the barbarous names of those -- like the vile Balchoth or the Wainriders -- who dared assail the adamantine ramparts of the West. Thus, in Gondor the word 'Easterling' is a curse spat out like spoilt milk. The witless fools! Learning is lost on the educated! The history of the West is written with a dead hand, for those who conserve the lore have never traveled hence to seek a better understanding of the lore.
Certainly, the story of the East was ever tainted by the black stain of evil, but then cannot the same be said for the lands of the West? In every age, one Dark Lord, then the next, has vied for utter domination. These Dark Lords -- wily and conspiratorial and utterly corrupt -- found easy marks in the many tribes of warlike nomads eking out a meager existence along the marches of greater eastern realms. The Lords of Deceit came among the ignorant folk in forms best suited to win the minds, then steal the souls of their adherents: wise counselors and benevolent ring-givers they seemed; at other times they appeared as dark sorceror-priests or bloody gods of war; whichever guise fit the temperament of those to be subjugated, so did the Dark Lords appear.
But corruption on such a vast scale was an insidious process, wrought with cunning patience by an immortal Evil. To meet their ambitious ends, the Dark Lords first relied more on whispers than war: better to serve up a great lie as something pleasing to the palate in candlelit ambience, rather than with a blade to the belly in the clear light of day. With the hidden hands of malign puppet-masters, the Dark Lords drove their minions to madness, and consigned peaceful kingdoms in the East to the flames; yet ever was their true purpose the utter domination of the West, an ancient desire and consuming passion that often blinded them to all else. And so, the Dark Lords instilled this great lust and hatred within deluded warrior-kings, leaving them with a hunger for power unsated in the East. With the dogs of war thus held in thrall, the Dark Lords sent wave upon wave of these rabid legions westward to an ignominious and bloody end.
Yet for every kingdom that succumbed to corruption and chaos, and every avaricious king who followed his consuming lusts down dark paths to eventual wraithdom, there were those who strove mightily against Evil. It is a misconception in the West that only evil arises in the East. It can be said with justification that the East is the birthplace of all the races, whether good, ill or indifferent. But Good and Evil are subjective terms whose meanings change over time and are dependent on the attitudes of those who write the stories; therefore, freedom is a better gauge to measure the worth of a people. For it is in the seeking of freedom, the desire to live one's life without the willful domination of another, that has spurred every great enterprise ever conducted by Man or Elf (whether good or evil). It is an error in judgment to conclude then that goodness and freedom are much alike, for they are twin sons of different mothers: they may travel down the same road, but often in different directions.
I say then, look to the East! To the great and small alike who sought such freedom against the corruption and domination of the one true Evil: whether in the incarnation of Morgoth, or of Sauron, or of his sorceress understudy, Urzahil, once called the Mouth of Sauron (who even now amasses an invasion force along the Straits of Enegaer). Although these voices of freedom have been silenced, buried beneath the few shovelfuls of dirt that cover their far-flung graves, I shall strive to give utterance to their words, and speak for those whose stories lie entombed beneath the strata of Time. I wish to amend and make straight the tales from their very source.
I am Greagoir, court-scribe and envoy of Ship-lord Attar Kiryatin, Peer of the Syndic Council of Marannan-astair. It has been my life's work and my folly to join together all the great epics and histories of the East and the South into one vast compendium. It is a folly, I say, because I return home now blind and near lame after three-score years and ten of slavish dedication to a ceaseless task. Like a shadow-hunter stalking an ephemeral prey, I have scaled the Great Red Range, staggered through the Desert of Roaring Waste, and wandered aimlessly across the trackless plains of Rhun and Hildorien. I have spent dull days prattling in palatial palaces with boorish bards, and wondrous weeks enchanted by tales told by hermits in hovels. Yet as I lay here exhausted now from my travels, I feel I am no nearer my objective than when I first started!
For alas! My work is nowhere near complete! There are rambling narratives, half-finished chronicles, and ballads hastily scribbled on scraps of faded parchment (not to mention the unwritten tales rambling in the cobwebbed recesses of my mind!). And to make matters worse, I have no one but a simple slowcoach -- a witless boy -- to aid me in the completion of my work! Due to the exorbitant costs that qualified scribes charge these days, I have been forced to employ as an apprentice a scribeling barely weaned from his mother's teat! I am at the mercy of marketplace mediocrity, I tell you!
Ah, but I digress! My apprentice is not the insufferable dolt I make him out to be; in fact, he has shown great patience with this blind and bitter old fool. I cannot see his expression now as I recite, but if he smirks impertinently at my long-winded tirades, it is but small reward for the endless hours of narration he must endure. My only wish is that we, together, might finish the journey I began some seventy-odd years ago; and if I fail, I only pray that I have instilled in him the will to finish that which I could not. But where there is life, there is hope, I suppose. For good or ill, we are home at last!
Now, where was I? Ah, yes! Where is home you might ask? East of the dark Sea of Rhun, there are the Orocarni Mountains, the greatest range in all Middle-earth. The megalithic spine of the Orocarnis begins far to the frozen north and stabs hundreds upon hundreds of leagues southward, till it finally ends, spiking the very heart of the great Plains of Hildorien. Off the southeastern shores of Hildorien, there lies the Straits of Enegaer, where the restless waters of the Eastern Ocean flow into Enegaer proper, that is, the Inner Sea. South of the Strait is the vast land mass of Mu, called Southerland or The Dark Continent in common speech. Off the northwest tip of Mu lies an island called Marannan-astair, the Star of the Sea. I find it humorous that this great port-isle, with a forest of sea-spars bristling from a thousand ships, is where I call home; for, truth to tell, sea voyages make me wretch.
But I shall not bore you further with geography, or with my tedious life-story for that matter; save for that small slice of personal history that proved to be the impetus of my life's work.
CHAPTER I: In the Court of the Gondorion King
In my youth, I was sold as an indentured servant to a master-scribe named Gibiris (and it took me years to remove that yoke!). After learning the fundamentals of the scrivener's art and being formally guilded as an apprentice-scribe, I was obliged to follow Master Gibiris westward as part of the first trade mission from the Ship-lords of Marannan-astair to the fabled land of Gondor. Near a year's travel it took for us to reach Minas Tirith's legendary gates of mithril and steel, but in retrospect, it was worth every blister and callus on my aching feet!
Of course, as part of trade negotiations I had to endure endless hours of diplomatic intricacies (which are naught but earnest lies told with a practiced smile), and I aided the master-scribe in preparing a great, meandering document of legal gibberish (which was his specialty) full of clauses, terms, enjoinders, rejoinders, wherefores, whereases, heretofores, and parties-of-the-first-and/or-second-parts, until my eyes swam with articles and addenda. At last a deal was struck to all and sundry's satisfaction, and we were allowed an audience with the king (As an aside, it is with glee I note that the glorious trade agreement proved unworkable, and nothing ever came of it. But what amounted to no more than an extended sightseeing excursion of Minas Tirith proved far more valuable to me).
The King, Eldarion Telcontar, was ancient beyond count of years the one and only time I saw him (the Gondorions claimed his advanced age was supposedly due to his mother being Elvish!); yet he was still tall as a sea-king and wore his years with unbowed nobility. He had an aura of austere strength and spoke with wisdom and conviction, as befits a great lord who ruled such a vast realm of fiefs, princedoms, protectorates and dominions: from the bleak moors of Fornost in the north, to the scorching sands of Far-Harad in the south, and east to the very shores of the Sea of Rhun. This was a king one would gladly walk through fire for, and thank him afterwards for the scorching!
King Eldarion was beneficent as well as gracious. In addition to signing the untenable treaty, he bestowed upon us gifts from the four corners of his kingdom: from Dol Amroth, huge pearls and conch shells; from Near Harad, silk damasque and kaffe beans (which when ground, then brewed, make a delightful beverage); from the Dwarves of Aglarond, beautifully designed knives of peerless steel with hafts of lebethron inlaid with gold and precious stones; from Rhovanion, bee-nectar of the Beornings; and from a place simply called the 'Shire', casks of an aromatic herb called 'Longbottom Leaf' (which one smokes from a pipe -- a nasty vice that still holds me in thrall, cursed weed!).
And there below the royal throne I humbly stood, an addled apprentice at the heel of my dotardly master, who in turn followed the more important merchant-diplomats of our mission; but I swear that for an instant the king's bright eye locked on mine and he smiled and nodded slightly. Never shall I forget that moment for as long as I live! Little did I know at the time, but in that same year Eldarion would surrender up his life spirit of his own free will, just as his father, Elessar the Great, had done before him. Like unto kings of ancient Numenor they were, choosing to leave this mortal plane with full faculty and grace when they felt the presage of death weigh upon them; rather than falling into mean dotage -- bereft of dignity and nobility -- desperately gasping a few, last rattling breaths.
It is sad to hear so many years hence that Eldarion's son, King Elrondel, sits shakily upon a throne wracked with sorrow. News has reached the East that Elrondel's only son, a man who had reached his prime in stature, strength and maturity, and was full ready to be crowned king, now lays entombed in Rath Dinen -- a victim of a hunting accident (or murder, one never knows with court intrigues). To add further poignancy to his loss, Elrondel was accounted old, even for one of Numenorean descent, when he at last ascended the throne of his long-lived father. With the premature death of his adult son, Elrondel has been forced to outlive the natural span of years attributed to those of his race, and forego the singular grace bestowed upon the kings of his line. For Elrondel is left with only a granddaughter, Princess Silmarien, as a direct descendant of the House Telcontar, and therein lies a further tragedy: the long-held custom of Gondorion succession excludes women from inheriting the throne; therefore, Silmarien cannot rightfully be crowned Queen according to common law..
Thus, the King desperately clings to his throne, fretting away his waning years with the fervent wish that Silmarien should rule after him, in spite of a law to the contrary and fierce opposition in his court. But of all possible heirs to the throne -- the nephews and cousins within the royal House Telcontar -- Elrondel deems none higher than Silmarien, seeing in her the noble qualities of his father and grandfather before him, and the wisdom that he, as king, felt he lacked. With this in mind, Elrondel publicly announced that Silmarien would succeed him to the throne, citing as precedent ancient Numenorean law, which recognized the right of a woman of the royal line to be crowned queen. But the king's edict has thrown the courts of Gondor's many principalities into turmoil, splitting his vassals into two camps: those lords faithful to House Telcontar, who openly support the King and Princess Silmarien; and the opposing faction, consisting of reactionary lords who denounce the king's decision on the grounds that Gondorion law forbids women rulers, and those with more sinister motives, who see the schism as a means of furthering their own shadowy ambitions.
Elsewhere, the ancient enemies of Gondor, long seeking such ruinous dissension, have taken full advantage of the divisive situation. Like wolfish predators with the scent of blood, they raven along the unprotected marches of Gondor. In conjunction with these attacks --and no mere coincidence, to be sure -- the worship of Morgoth has risen anew, drawing strength among the ignorant folk as well as the ambitious, just as that heinous cult has done here in the East. There are even reports of uprisings in Gondor's southern provinces, where the lords are said to be sympathetic with the rebels, and may well be funding the revolt themselves. But this is to be expected, I suppose. Great realms such as Gondor are political animals: a healthy body of state with loyal constituents can withstand almost any external siege; however, if a state is infected from within, then it becomes easy prey to attacks from without. In the end, all empires falter in like manner.
But such is the current state of woe in Minas Tirith; that was not the case in the days of my youth, when Gondor was still a kingdom of magnificence unhindered with turmoil and sadness. Yet it is a sobering thought that in a mere three-hundred years since the defeat of Sauron and the return of the King, Gondor has fallen so quickly into shadow. I fear the days have come when Middle-earth shall no longer see the likes of such enduring realms as Gondor, whose rule is counted in ages rather than years. The pace of life has quickened in these Younger Days; time and events speed beyond Man's futile efforts to control them. The slow currents of History have become a raging torrent, and not even the Great and Wise can stem the tide. And as Time accelerates, wonder diminishes. There are no longer enough minutes in a day to stop and see the magic in the mundane, or the many splendors of a single sunset. But as I stated, that is the situation nowadays; seventy years ago Eldarion was the sage and mighty Lord in Minas Tirith, Gondor the Eternal had reached the zenith of its power, and I was a naive apprentice far from home.
When our audience with Eldarion had concluded, the King graciously bade us stay awhile in the White City, 'ere we make our long trek home. As luck would have it, the Loremasters of the Great Archives of Minas Tirith invited my master to visit their renowned library and discuss the finer points of the scrivener's art (and as apprentice to the Master-scribe, I got to tag along as well!). No words can express the awe -- the simple-minded delight -- which filled me as I entered the Great Archives. It was a massive domed structure with vaulted windows cunningly placed so that natural light streamed in from the entire radius of the high cupola. In the streaming sunlight I beheld row upon row of shelves near twice my height, so that they seemed to be the endless corridors of a maze, and upon these shelves, scattered in bewildering profusion, were countless chronicles, manuscripts, scrolls and tomes: the collected history and literature of the Men of the West. If there is an after-life for virtuous scribes, pray then it should be like this.
Leaving my master to prattle in high-minded vagaries with the keepers of this golden hoard, I wandered aimlessly through the archives for hours like a bee flitting through a field of clover, alighting here and there upon flowers of surpassing wonder and wisdom. Much of what I encountered was unreadable, written in the language of the Elves or other foreign speech, but I was entranced with the form of the words and how they rolled melodiously off my tongue, and the great antiquity and beauty of the manuscripts themselves, written by masters of the art of calligraphy. Yet nothing was to compare with my greatest find, the turning-point in my young life.
In the center of the vault, set apart from all the other shelves of books and parchment, there was a short, round dais of red marble, and atop it stood a stout oaken lectern intricately carved to mimic the bole of a tree. Upon the lectern shone a single beam of sunlight cast from some aperture high above in the dome. Drawn as if by fate to the stand, I saw illumined there a book with a red leather binding and gilt-edged pages. Entranced, I breathlessly opened the book, and was surprised and delighted to see that it was written in Westron, a common speech of trade and diplomacy known to the people of my island.
I poured voraciously over each page of the book, titled aptly, The Redbook of Westmarch, and learned that it was written by Hobbits, or Halflings, a race unknown to the Eastern World, save for tales of the Pigmis, a fabled tribe said to inhabit the southernmost depths of the forests of Mu. The Redbook gives the Hobbits' account of the great and terrible Third Age of the West, an era that culminated in the destruction of the One Ring and the Fall of Sauron. As I sat enthralled reading of the great panoply and epic nature of history in the West, it came to my mind that such volumes regarding the East were scant, if they existed at all. I gazed around at the Great Archives and realized that there was no such repository for the accumulated knowledge of the East. It was then and there I realized I had the makings of a quest: to gather the scattered histories of the East and South into one great encyclopaedia! This avocation or calling would require neither intense soul-searching, nor would it require great valor -- perhaps in the grand scheme of things it mattered not at all -- but it was to be my mission, and I accepted the challenge.
I ran excitedly to find my master, and with him the Loremasters of the Archives. When I spoke to them of my new-found mission, I knew what little to expect from my master, Gibiris, a man of limited vision, who used words in the same manner that one would count copper pennies; but I expected much more from the Grandmasters of Minas Tirith, who lived and breathed legends and lore. Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken. I soon discovered these 'scholars' were no more than bureaucrats -- conservators and not interpreters -- who maintained the library, but did nothing to enhance it. An illiterate servant with a broom and feather-duster could accomplish as much.
Whereas I, a mere scribeling, would seek to explore every leather-bound volume or scroll of vellum as if I were diving for pearls of wisdom, these petty bookkeepers cared more for the bindings than the written masterpieces housed inside. These were not jewels lying before them, they were merely so many pebbles strewn across a dried-up riverbed. They were simply objects that were nice to use as borderly hedges for their literary gardens -- ready to trot out in their nice, neat rows when visitors came to tea -- but as useful as doorstops for the rest of the week. These Loremasters were in truth Wordwraiths, caged parrots consigned to the hell of rote memorization, regurgitating their lofty bits of drivel on state occasions for the amusement of their Lords. From thenceforward I equated the term 'loremaster' with 'dolt'. And there you have it: there are those who seek the lore, and there are those who sit on it. I consider myself a seeker.