Hope you are ready for the next chapter!
WMaldonado89 – How's this? :D Thanks for your support!
AHealingRenaissance – Thanks. I'm feeling much better, and wanted to get in some writing while I could. I hope to speed up the writing process a bit. Hope you like the next chapter! Thanks for reading!
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It had taken a few moment to convince the spectators that Enzi, Éowyn nor the disguised Rohirrim were not bounty hunters as the refugees had feared. It took a bit longer to convince the boy to allow himself to be treated by Éowyn. She had grown fond of learning healing practices and was, by now, quite skilled. However, it was only when the boy was assured that the village's closest thing to a healer, the midwife, would stay in the room with him, did he allow her to treat his wounds.
In the now deserted tavern Enzi sat with the people she'd been so desperate to find. The old man sat, quietly thinking while a younger woman sat beside him, holding the babe she'd discovered who now slumbered in her arms. Enzi imagined that she used to be quite beautiful, with her dark mocha skin, full lips, and almond eyes. But time had hardened her features. She looked tired, not just from the day's activities, but some unknown evil she'd endured. She said nothing to Enzi, choosing to hum a lullaby to the babe. But what she couldn't speak with her mouth her eyes clearly announced. Despite Enzi's words, she was afraid of her.
"What is his name?" Enzi asked the woman quietly, trying to appear as harmless as possible. The woman looked to the elder, confused, even as she continued to rock the sleeping baby.
"Msichana anauliza jina la mtoto wako (The girl asks the name of your baby)," the elder spoke in whispers to the woman, revealing that she knew little of the Common Tongue.
"I apologize, elder," she said to the man. "I thought all of you understood the Common language."
He nodded forgiveness, not speaking. The woman also offered no answer to Enzi's question. The room grew quiet again with only the crackle of the fire to comfort them. "Samahani kwa sasa (Excuse me for a moment)," she said with a start and rushed up the stairs to the room she and Éowyn shared. She felt the eyes of the two as she walked, still worried that she would somehow harm their charge. She intentionally heavied her steps as she followed the hall opposite the hall to the boy's room where Éowyn treated him. She returned quickly with the glaive she'd received in Aldburg and, using both hands, offered it to the man. "Hii ni wewe, mzee (This belongs to you, elder)" She doubted he was the royal that had truly owned the weapon, but she offered it anyway, hoping it would bring trust.
The old man eyed it suspiciously, his gaze flickering from the object to her eyes. He sighed, wearily but made no move to claim it.
The woman whispered to the man, "Nilidhani wewe kumtaka kujikwamua yake (I thought you asked him to get rid of it)," she questioned suspiciously.
Enzi spoke quickly. "Naye akafanya hivyo, mama. Ni nilipewa kama zawadi (He did, mother. It was given to me as a gift)." She hesitated a bit. "Nilidhani nilikuwa Harad tu katika kaskazini (I thought I was the only Harad in the north)."
The man shared a gaze with the woman before eyeing Enzi again. "Sisi sote hivyo, mtoto. Sisi sote alivyofanya (We all did, child. We all did)."
And it was quiet again, just the four of them in the room with the crackling fire. She was a bit confused as to how to best get the two to talk but supposed she would be no better had their positions been reversed. She would be nervous and guarded, just as they clearly were, just as all of the tribes were taught to be. A thought struck her and, before she could change her mind, she lifted up her left sleeve. She didn't lift it very high, only showing the beginning tendrils of the intricate writing but still nervous about showing her family's name.
The two recognized it instantly, the woman leaning in, fear changed to curiosity and the man gingerly touching her skin as if he expected it to fade to nothingness. "Engoli…." the man noted, searching the woman's eyes and later Enzi's. She nodded confirming his thoughts but the man seemed even more confused. "But your tribe was reaped early. How did you manage to travel so far?"
Enzi took a moment to cover up her arm again. "We both have interesting stories to tell, elder. Perhaps, a sharing of information is required." She placed her hands on her neck, subconsciously feeling the need to cover her identity even as she prepared to share it. "My name …is Enzi."
The man watched her a long while, his gaze incomprehensible. It was Éowyn that broke the silence. "Enzi," she called from the stairs. Enzi and the old man and woman followed Enzi to the foot of the stairway. "He is sleeping now," Éowyn said to her friend as the old man translated her words to the woman. "He's still very weak. He seems to have injured his ribs some time ago and the scuffle you two had did not help matters. The midwife and I gave him something to help him sleep and relieve the pain for a while but he must be allowed to recover." She turned her attention to the old man, smiling brightly. "In time, he will be fine, sir," she said quietly.
"My gratitude," he said to Éowyn, taking her hand and placing it on his heart shakily. Strange. Enzi had never heard of a Variag offering thanks. "I would see him now?"
Éowyn removed herself quickly. "Yes! Yes, of course." The old man wearily began to travel up the stairs, the woman in toe with the still sleeping baby.
Éowyn shared a glance with Enzi as she began to quietly follow the two, but Enzi stayed back a bit, bowing her head as she spoke. "May I travel with you, elder?" she asked. With a start, as she remembered the woman's lack of knowledge of the Common Tongue, she corrected herself. "Naomba kusafiri na-"
"It is alright, Enzi," the old man said, nodding. "You may come with us."
The five of them entered the room, the door still under guard by one of the Rohirrim and the young Mfalme still under guard by the midwife. The boy lay, bandaged and sleeping soundly in the dimly lit room. He was truly young, hair closely shaved and his skin smooth. He bore small scars that proved that the journey had, indeed, been harsh for him. Enzi respectfully kneeled to the sleeping figure, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the group. "Nasikitika matendo yangu juu ya mfalme yako (I regret my actions upon your king)," she said quietly, head still bowed.
Éowyn, still understanding only Enzi's behavior, bowed similarly to the ground, pulling the old midwife with her. The old man studied the woman for a long while again, drinking in her features and trying to discern her intentions. "Bakari haipaswi kuwa kushambuliwa wewe (Bakari should not have attacked you), he said quietly. So that was the boy's true name, not his royal one. "Na hata mzee unaweza kuona kwamba kuwepo nguvu yenu juu yake muda mrefu, Enzi (And even an old man can see that you withheld your strength against him a long time, Enzi)."
It had been the first time the man had called her by name and she closed her eyes at it, a slight smile of relief washing over her features. "Asante kwa msamaha wako, mzee (Thank you for your forgiveness, elder)."
The old man chuckled a bit. "Nani angedhani kwamba kiburi Engoli bila kutoa heshima kama kwa mzee? Hakuna haja ya kiburi, Enzi. Jina langu ni Udayl (Who would have thought that a proud Engoli would give such honor to an old man? No need for titles, Enzi. My name is Udayl)."
As the days of Bakari's recovery came and went, Enzi spent a lot of time with Udayl, and later Idyssa and her child, Gyasi. She decided against pushing them for information, but allowing them to speak as she had been allowed, sharing bits of themselves as she had with Éowyn. It was awkward, wanting to know so much but forcing oneself to wait, yet she did not want to scare them away for force further suspicion. So, as they shared with her, she would share with them.
"My Mfalme, Al Tufayl, protected the homelands for as long as he could," Udayl said to her one day, when he'd finally decided to share more with her. "It was only when he feared the capital would be taken that he ordered I take his son away, so that his house would not be lost. Most of the houses knew little of his true face, and so long as we did not call him by his royal name, we hoped to keep him safe."
Enzi thought on the glaive and the name that had been etched there. "Merkonnen," she said smiling. "A proud and honorable name for a future Mfalme." She imagined that this allowed their traveling in secret much easier. "I never imagined that the Great Variag Mfalme would need to ever fear the loss of his house, Udayl," she spoke honestly as they sat.
"Neither had we, child," Udayl said sorrowfully. "But nevertheless….."
"But what about your allies? Surely the Corsairs and the Rhûn-"
He looked at her incredulously . "The Corsairs and the Rhûn? Surely you did leave the homeland before the wars started. "Who do you think we fought against?"
Enzi shook her head, confused. "I don't understand."
Udayl took a long drink of his ale and then took a long breath. "You don't understand. After the fall of Sauron, the Inajulikana Falme (Known Kingdoms) were in chaos. The great sickness claimed so many of our peoples. Fathers died trying to return home from the war. Children died trying to nurse their mothers back to health. And the old? Only those were too stubborn to die survived," he added this pointing to himself and chuckling a bit. "And after months of suffering, when the sickness was finally over, hundreds, thousands had fallen. We had believed on the strength of the Dark Bwana to protect us, trusted him even as we gave our sons and daughters to his cause, and in the end, we were left alone to fend for ourselves. Rhûn and the Corsairs attacked shortly after that."
The old man shook his head. "Medicines. Provisions. Righteous destiny. The answer changed every time. One thing we were certain of was that we were the might of the Harad and had to be defeated first. We held unchallenged rule of our lands and prevented wars with our influence."
"You were bullies," Enzi said, "who conquered and brutalized all who you saw as a threat." She looked down quickly, realizing that she had spoken aloud instead of keeping her thoughts in her head.
Udayl nodded softly. "I suppose all conquerors are seen as such, though I will admit to you our Mfalme used a stronger hand than I would have liked. But I ask you this, what would the kingdoms have been like without us? Do you think the War Truce would have survived?
She repressed the need to argue. "I did not mean to offend you, elder."
"And you have not. I expected no softer sentiment from an Engoli, but am honored that you show the brashness to say it in my presence. Perhaps we only reaped our reward…In a matter of months, the Rhûn annihilated our kingdom, then turned on the Corsairs, making them a small part of their larger society. And then they began their expansion."
Enzi stood up, pacing in front of the fireplace. "But I was always told Rhûn held little military might, only the wealth of the Elves and Dwarves."
"Yes. I'd always believed so. But they seemed stronger, somehow, after the sickness. Their young recovered much better than ours. Stronger than they had ever been."
"And no one but the Variag challenged them? The Milima Askari? The Usil? The Bretii?"
Udayl shook his head. "The loss of so many, soldiers and citizens alike, devastated many of the Houses. They fought. I'm sure some continue to. But they will not survive long. Since long before my birth, the twelve houses ruled the Harad lands. Now there are only four." He looked at her, smiling a bit dryly. "I suppose it is fortunate the Engoli built their wall when they had."
Enzi turned to the old man at this. "Engoli has no wall."
He smiled again. "Perhaps when last you saw it. After the death of the Msalti Mfalme (Traitor King) Ghasaan, we thought your kingdom would fall under the Kidogo Moto (Little Flame). Ironic that such wisdom could lie within someone so young. Your Mfalme ordered the construction of a wall shortly after your tribe was reaped, protected most of your territory and the much of the Harnen River. And when the civil war started, they remained behind their walls, protected from the chaos surrounding them."
" And the Kubwa Mwana (Great Son)?"
Udayl shrugged his shoulders. "The Engoli claim that he patrols the lower wilderness on behalf of their people, but no one has seen him to my knowledge since the reaping." Enzi felt her heart sink but recovered quickly as the old man continued. "To my knowledge only the Engoli, the Yakubi, and the Usiki Manane stand unconquered. I regret not having better news."
Enzi shook her head at the man, avoiding his eyes as she continued to compose herself. Sam and Frodo were certain that Dingane would make it home, and if Asana could keep the kingdom together, surely he could have made it back to their territory.
Udayl took a breath, staring into the fire quietly. Looking at him, frail yet as wise as Amyr had been, she found it hard to believe she was speaking to a Variag, and that he was concerned about her feelings. She felt that many of her conceptions of the Variag were changed in this moment. This was hardly the treacherous enemy she'd been taught to fight against. "How you must hate us."
Enzi looked up at the old man, surprised at his words. Another challenge to her prejudices. "No," she said finally. "If you would have spoken this to me as a child, I would have, but I have no room for hate now. Only pity. Pity for all of us. We were merely weapons. Weapons Sauron used against all of the world and then each other, keeping us ununited and weakened." It was her true feelings. All of the fighting, the alliances and the secret missions had been for a being that had only used against a people he wished to conquer and make just as weak as he had made them. "Sauron used the past sins of the men of the North to make us loyal to him only. And we helped him by fighting among ourselves."
Udayl nodded. "You have an old heart, child. Too old. You have seen much, haven't you?"
As they spoke, Bakari, the final lion of Al Tufayl, entered, guided carefully by Idyssa and the midwife. Strangely, Éowyn had been given little Gyasi and kissed the child as he babbled to himself, softly clutching her dress and hair. Udayl attempted to slide his aging body to the floor but a weak wave of Bakari's hand stopped him. "Mimi lipigwe na wewe, Udayl. Kwa ajili ya kuhifadhi kwangu salama kwa muda mrefu (I should bow to you, Udayl. For keeping me safe for so long)." He turned his attention to Enzi who bowed respectfully before returning to her seat. "Jinsi ya ajabu lazima hili kuonekana (How strange this must seem)!" he laughed weakly holding his sides. "Bora kuacha sasa kabla ya sisi zaidi kuwatenganisha yao na kuweka urithi siri yangu (Better stop now before we further alienate the others and keep my secret heritage)." Though the group was closed off in one of the rooms, Enzi and Udayl nodded agreement with the young mfalme. He then turned his attention to Éowyn, clumsily forcing out his words. "M-Many thanks," he said to the princess slowly, to which she smiled as the Gyasi continued to coo in her arms.
Éowyn smiled and nodded at the young king while Udayl spoke. "And what of you, Enzi? How did a child of Engoli travel as far as Bree when her people were the only tribe to be reaped early?"
Éowyn looked at her friend, wondering exactly how much she would say. There was no way to insure that whatever Udayl told her had been correct and it was more likely that some or all information had been fabricated. As she pondered this, Enzi began, pausing every so often to give Udayl a chance to translate her message to the woman. The young king just looked on. "I was reaped when the rest of my tribe was, but escaped before we headed to Mordor."
"Kwa nini? (Why)," Idyssa asked quietly.
"Because, my Mfalme, Ghasaan, ordered me to go to Rivendell, to discover if tales of Sauron's treachery were true." She paused allowing the words to sink into the other Harad.
"And what did you learn?" Udayl asked after a while.
"What you've confirmed today. That the eye has truly done nothing but use our people. He sent legions of orc to decimate these people, the same orc he allows to ransack our lands. He sent our sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers to war, a war whose only purpose is to gain a ring so that he can control all mankind. The great sickness caused, by your words, thousands to die. Do you know what it was? It was his attempt to stay here, to keep his presence here, at the cost of our lives. And all of this, he hid from us, using our might and keeping us in the dark. That is why there were no rings amongst the Harad. Because we would see him as he truly was."
"And with this knowledge?"
Enzi wasted no time. "I did what I could to free us from that domination." No one needed further confirmation as to what she meant. The room grew quiet.
"Na baadaye alikuwa msaliti kwa watu wetu (And became traitor to our people)," Bakari said venomously.
"May I speak?" Éowyn said to which no one seemed to object. She handed the baby to his mother and sat down beside Enzi as she spoke. "I do not know how kin are honored among the Harad. I do not know what it means to betray a group of tribes that constantly fight amongst themselves. I don't even know what it means to betray one whom is worshipped as a god. What I do know, is that this woman has become a sister to me." Éowyn's voice began to waver but she continued. She risked her life and the lives of her family in a quest to save my family, my people and to free hers from what seems to be glorified oppression." Enzi could hear the weeping in her voice and turned to the woman, grasping her hand to quiet her. But Éowyn continued. "She's the most noble woman I know. And if this is not good enough for you-"
Enzi had enough and spoke over the woman. "Eowyn-Eowyn… it's alright." She offered Éowyn a grateful smile, which she returned. She then turned her attention to Udayl and the remaining Variag. "The truth is we are all exiles, and honestly, I owe you no explanation. I did what I did to serve our people, and I have no regrets." No one spoke for a long while. "What happens now? We know each other's secrets."
Udayl, again, spoke on behalf of his people. "It has been a long day for all us. Let us all retire consider each other's words."
After that day, the Variag spoke very little to Enzi. They spoke often with Éowyn as Bakari progressed but Enzi became nothing more than a silent observer, allowed to see what occurred but hindered from conversing about it. Éowyn noted how proud she was of the woman, for confessing what she'd viewed as her greatest sin confidently to her enemy no less. She'd explained her side to the only Harad available and they chilled at the revelation. Simply, it had cost Enzi their trust and, despite her isolation, she decided that this was acceptable.
They were preparing the horses when Idyssa walked towards them, tentatively. "Mfalme anauliza kuona kabla ya kuondoka, Engoli (The Mfalme asks to see you before you leave, Engoli)," she said quietly.
Enzi and Éowyn glanced at each other, surprised. "Continue preparing the horses," Éowyn ordered the Rohirrim. "We will be only a moment." She grasped Enzi's arm hurriedly and soon they found themselves back in the tavern of the inn, where everything had started. Udayl held the babe on the right side of the table as Bakari waited for them at the head. Idyssa found her place to Bakari's left and Éowyn and Enzi sat at the opposite end, choosing to sit side-by side.
For a few beats, the table was, at it tended to be, quiet. Enzi could tell that they had not expected Éowyn to be present. They apparently had words only for Harad ears. When they discovered that the woman would not leave, Bakari started to speak. "M-any thanks to you, great lady," he stated, bowing bit to Éowyn.
She smiled as he spoke, trying to convey her thanks that he honored her work. "You are more than welcome, Mfalme," she said quietly.
The man then turned his attention to Enzi. He seemed to struggle with his words, opening his mouth, then closing it hesitantly. Finally, he looked at Udayl, who nodded and spoke. "We have thought on your words. I do not know if you have made things truly better or worse for our peoples but it must have taken great courage to choose to follow the orders of your Mfalme, even knowing what it would mean, with the intent to save us. Such courage must be honored." He bowed his head to her, followed by Idyssa and even Bakari. Enzi smiled, a bit shocked at this, and Udayl continued. "They say that Kifalme Mwanamke (Royal Lady) of the Engoli, Ghadelyna Njeri, died before the Reaping."
Enzi smirked a bit, feeling silly that she'd tried so desperately to keep her final secret to herself. She slid her sleeve up to the upper arm this time, confirming the man's suspicions. Idyssa smiled and Bakari bowed his head, respectfully at the revelation. Udayl just smiled, knowingly. "She is, and for the sake of her people, she must remain."
Udayl looked at Bakari a moment, then continued speaking. "Mfalme wishes to know where we stand. As you said, we both know the other's secret, now clearer than before."
Of course that's why they wanted to speak. "Respectfully, Udayl, we've been through this before. I have no desire or ability to expose you to anyone, just like you." She gestured to Bakari. "Your Mfalme is more than safe."
"Yes he is," Éowyn spoke up quietly, "But, with respect, Bakari is not Mfalme."
The table grew quiet. Idyssa looked from the princess to Udayl who glared at the woman as if she'd told him the sky was under his feet. Even Enzi seemed surprised, looking from Éowyn to Udayl with child-like bewilderment. Éowyn continued. "Enzi told me that only the court or the royal line learns the Common Tongue. Is this not so, sir?" Udayl said nothing but continued to glare, leaving Éowyn to continue. "It is obvious to me that you were someone of great importance to your Mfalme, but as I treated Bakari, he spoke very little, if at all, and understood few of my questions. I thought that perhaps this was his lack of trust in me or my abilities, but I found that, in his native tongue, he speaks often and quiet well, even in his sleep. But if Bakari was not your king's son, who was the heir? Who had to be protected? She looked at the baby. "He's such a beautiful boy; the only one Enzi saw originally. That was your worry."
Enzi looked at the baby again, then the old man, finally realizing why they'd kept her away from both the child and Bakari. "Gyasi is Merkonnen?" she stated rather than asked. "Gyasi is the Mfalme of the Variag?" Udayl looked at the baby he held then to Bakari. "Then who is Bakari?"
Udayl signed and cradled the babe as he touched Bakari's shoulder. "Bakari is my brave grandson, who left his country to help an old man complete his final mission for his Mfalme. Idyssa is the babe's wet-nurse." The women listened intently as he continued. "Even I cannot remain this stubborn forever. One day I will be gone. Someone had to protect the child until he came of age and I knew I could not."
"Then, it seems, both Merkonnen and Ghadelyna are dead to the world, for everyone's sake." Enzi and Udayl shared a small genuine smile confirming their silent agreement. They would never speak of this to anyone again. Gyasi would forever be protected, and so would she.
"You could return with us to my country," Éowyn said. "To Rohan."
"You could stay here," Udayl said to both of them but focusing on Enzi. "We are not Engoli, but we are Harad. You could finally be a part of a family."
She studied his features, taking a moment to play with Gyasi's cheeks. "No thank you," Enzi said, smiling as she shook her head. "Bree will be a perfect place for all of you to live out your days, free from the wars, unknown and forgotten. In time, it will be home." She smiled at Éowyn. "But I already have a second family and I am eager to return to my home."
As promised, no cliffhangers this time! So, what do you think will happen next? Will the Variag stay in Bree, and how do you believe the Haradric Civil War is affecting Asana and the Engoli? And what about Dingane? Is he still alive or just protecting the border as Asana previously claimed. Reviews are not only welcomed but appreciated!