By Sad Waters We Sat Down and Wept
"Neither he nor Frodo knew anything of the great slave-worked fields away south in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Núrnen; nor of the great roads that ran away east and south to tributary lands, from which the soldiers of the Tower brought long waggon-trains of goods and booty and fresh slaves."
The Return of the King, 'The Land of Shadow'.
"[A]nd the slaves of Mordor he released and gave to them all the lands about Lake Núrnen to be their own."
The Return of the King, 'The Steward and the King'.
Minas Tirith, early in the Fourth Age
No, sirs, I have not seen your city before, nor its like – or, rather, I would say, I have not seen one at once so grand and so sombre. On the long road, we stopped many times, gathering fresh bodies at each place. Small towns, in the main; a few houses squatting behind a wooden fence, a dusty market where a few more would be added to our line. And at last, near the end of that road, I saw a great town made of naught but tents – Ah! But I see from your face that you, sir, at least, have seen that city! There was a market there too, but this was a great bustling place, a centre of commerce. Half us of were taken north, to the mines; and I went with the rest south, sirs, to the fields by the great dark water.
But I have met your folk before, sirs – tarks, the drivers called them. You must forgive me if that name is unpleasing: I know no other. Some of us called them the grey folk, because of the speed with which they would fade. No, sirs, I fear they did not do well. Captured men do not, whilst those who are bred to this life are hardier. I would say that this is because a captive remembers freedom too well; his heart longs for it, and he cannot bend himself easily to his new circumstance. Men like that – they do not learn to limit their horizons. They cannot be glad only with rest or food or sleep, and always they are longing to be free men again. They waste their strength on futile escape. But that was an endless kingdom, sirs. And when at last they learned that, it weighed heavily upon them, and so they broke.
My own country, sirs? What do you mean by that? The country of my birth? The country where I laboured as a youth? Or the country whose hopes I speak for now? Of the first I remember little – a grey-green valley and a brown stream rippling over stones. Of the second – wide fields, to be crossed again and again, back and forth, back and forth. I wonder now (I have time to wonder now) if they differ much, the lands where men and women sweat beneath the lash. I have not felt much difference in my flesh. Toil is toil, sirs; pain is pain. Such countries are the same, I think, for those in our position, wherever we find ourselves. And as for the last… Ah! Let us say that you have granted to us an exhausted land, sirs. For some amongst us it is the final, cruellest joke.
Who are we, sirs? We are not all the same, that is the first thing that you must understand, and I would say perhaps the most important. The will of that Dark Power pulled us from many lands. We do not even have a tongue in common – although the children have made one to share between them. I might trust the man who works beside me to shield me from the driver when I stumble; yet at the same time I must watch him even as I falter because he will steal the water from my hand if thirst drives him hard enough. It has not been the kind of land to produce fellowship, sirs, nor love for one's country and one's countrymen. But perhaps the seeds may be sown. For I am here to speak to you now, am I not – and that was a decision that we made together. Speak for us, they asked me. In truth, I cannot speak for other men, but perhaps I may speak for something we have in common.
So I have come to say to you – that I and those who think like me will need time, sirs. Treat a man like an animal, and he will learn to be like an animal. It is a hard road back from that. You cannot force men to be free.
And I would say to you also, great lords of these western lands, that you should not expect gratitude. Nor should you expect to be called master. Whatever this new age brings, that word will not come from my lips again.
And last, sirs, I would say this – that when I dream, I dream of nothing more than good earth and clean water. Not all those I speak for think the same. But I believe, in time, enough of us may. For I shall not forget that morning when I woke, and the darkness departed, and the dawn came, a gold light upon the horizon, and our great fields and our sad waters gleamed for a moment, as if one day between us we might make from them a peaceable country.
Altariel, 23rd May 2011