Rating: For the 14 and beyond, at the very least, for this chapter, because of highly disturbing topics. Not for the faint-hearted, this one.
The Heir of Dol Amroth still was in a petulant mood, yet the appearance of his friend shook him out of it in no time.
"What is the meaning of this, Andra?" he asked with a frown. “Have you gone mad?"
"This?" Andrahar touched the notorious braids softly. "Oh, 'tis only what you are making me, my prince. Care not for it. You can be content: for I shall get my leave from Master Melpomaen, thus we can go to Gate Town during the Autumn Festival, just as you wanted. All I have to do for it is share his bed."
Imrahil shook his head, in stunned disbelief.
"I cannot believe that Master Melpomaen would demand such thing from you," he said.
Andrahar shrugged. "He did not. I offered."
If possible, Imrahil became even more stunned from this casual remark. Certainly, he already noticed that Andrahar showed little interest for the fair maidens of Dol Amroth – still, he had not thought that it meant that he would...
"Why ever would you do so?" he voiced his bewilderment. Andrahar gave him a sour look.
"You wanted to go to your whores. You would go without me – I cannot allow that. You are a prince, the only heir of Dol Amroth, you need to be protected wherever you go. I needed a favour, and I had naught else to offer in exchange."
At this point Imrahil was completely unable to give any answer at all, staring at his friend in open-mouthed shock. Andrahar laughed – 'twas a bitter, unpleasant sound.
"You think that this is the first time that I have paid for a favour this way? How, do you believe, I survived in the bazaars 'til I grew strong enough to wield a sword?"
"You were..." Imrahil opened and closed his month twice ere ha was able to utter the words. Andrahar finished for him.
"A street whore, aye, that I was. And before that, I was the bed slave of a rich merchant – 'til I could flee."
"You never told me about that," murmured Imrahil. Andrahar shrugged again. All of a sudden, he felt incredibly tired.
"I did not want you to know. You have had a sheltered life, Imri, you grew up loved and protected – I feared that you would turn your back on me if you learnt what sort of life I had to lead ere we met. Though I hoped to have left it behind me for good."
"You have," Imrahil assured, slowly recovering from his shock. "I would never ask you to do aught like that for my sake."
Andrahar sighed and shook his head. How was he supposed to explain his beloved friend, the spoiled young prince of a strong, well-protected realm how things worked in the Haradric clans?
"You do not understand, Imri," he began patiently. "You saved my life... according to Haradric customs that means that you own it, until I have the chance to repay you in the same manner. If you want something, 'tis my duty to see that you get it, regardless of the cost."
"But you are my friend, not my slave!" Imrahil protested. Andrahar rolled his eyes heavenwards but controlled his temper. 'Twas not Imrahil's fault that he could not think as one of the Haradrim.
"Listen, Imri... 'Tis called a blood debt, and 'tis binding as long as it is not paid properly. I was sired by the head of one of the noblest families in Harad, and though I was born in the wrong bed, honour was hammered into me at a very young age. I cannot turn my back on my upbringing, nor on my blood. 'Tis simply not something we do."
"How did you end up on the street when you are so high-born, then?" Imrahil asked.
"He from whose loins I was born and whose name I am not allowed to speak was of high birth, indeed," Andrahar replied slowly. "He was what your people call a Black Númenórean – the people of Harad call them tarkil. As you know, Harad is not a united realm but the sum of several dozen small city-states, ruled by men of great wealth of power. These cities, though they do ally themselves with the Black Land at times, also often war among themselves, and members of the powerful families on the loser side are sold into slavery afterwards. So it happened to my mother, and she was bought by an older man from the winner side – a most powerful and proud man, whose wife died many years earlier and who often took young female slaves to his bed to warm it."
"Your father?" Imrahil asked, but Andrahar shook his head.
"I have no father, not by Haradric law. My mother was of noble birth herself, well-bred and well-taught, and her master grew to like her very much. So much, that when I was born, he ordered me to be taught and raised as a son – much to the dismay of his legitimate sons who were grown men at that time already, with families of their own. Thus I was taught everything a Haradric nobleman had to learn, customs and lore and weapons' skills, for he intended to raise me into the status of a true son as soon as I reached First Maturity."
"Which would be at the age of...?" Imrahil trailed off. Andrahar smiled grimly.
"Twelve. Unfortunately for me, he died less than a year earlier. My mother was accused of having poisoned him, strangled publicly before the house and thrown out into the town fosse as a meal for the stray dogs, and I was sold to a Khandian tribe chieftain who had a residence in that town."
Imrahil shivered. "Was he the one, who..." Andrahar nodded.
"Aye. Khandian tribes are usually lead by the richest merchant among them, who is also their lead sorcerer at the same time. 'Tis their custom to have not only female bed slaves but also young boys to satisfy their needs. And I was considered particularly desirable by their standards."
"Why?" asked Imrahil; then he hurriedly added. "I mean, you are handsome, and I am certain that you were a pretty child, but what was it that attracted them so much?"
Andrahar reached out and took his friend's pale, slender hand into his own broader, darker one.
"Among your people, I am seen as swarthy," he answered with a wry smile, "but among the Haradrim, my skin counts as very fair. And the people of Khand, who are even darker than the Haradrim, almost black in fact, fair-skinned women and boys are highly desired. Thus I was taken into my new master's parda and kept there as his most valued huri for nearly seven seasons."
Knowing that Haradric climate had only two seasons, the dry one and the rainy one, Imrahil quickly came to the realization that his friend must have been a bed slave for three and a half years. Andrahar paused for a moment, his dark eyes looking far away, in an other time and an other place.
"He was not a cruel master," he finally continued, "even though he liked to share me with his friends and with the guests he needed a favour from. Had he known that I was good with weapons, he would have guarded me more closely, and I might never have found the chance to flee."
"What would have become of you then?" Imrahil almost feared to ask. Andrahar shrugged with the customary fatalism of his ancestors.
"They usually keep hurim 'til they reach Second Maturity," to Imrahil's questioning look, he explained. "The age I am right now. After reaching that particular age, the hurim are castrated and become common house slaves. This way they are worthless for anything else and not being able to lead a life as others do, they seldom flee from their master's household."
Imrahil stared at his friend in horror. He had heard hair-raising tales about the Southron realms earlier, but he had never imagined the truth would be this much worse.
"This is not a common practice in all Harad," Andrahar added. "Only the Khandians do so openly... well, and some truly rich and rotten Haradrim chieftains. The sons of my... sire knew this, of course – this way they hoped to set an end to the bastard line and make a huge bounty at the same time. My master paid a small fortune for me – after all, I was not only fair-skinned and pretty but well-bred, too."
"How did you then escape?" asked Imrahil. Andrahar laughed again, and again, it was a harsh, cheerless sound.
"Almost by accident, to tell the truth. My master allowed one of his clients to... borrow me for a few days. This client was a man known of his... unusual tastes. I was used to certain things by then, but when I saw the tools he had prepared for his pleasure, I knew that I might not leave his house again. Unfortunately for him, at that time I could already use almost every thing to defend myself. I killed him with a tong that lay at the fire already, then under the guise of the feast that was going on in his house, I slipped out with his purse full of golden coins and vanished in the bazaar."
Imrahil swallowed hard. Imagining his friend, still hardly more than a child, escaping torture only by killing someone with a red-hot iron tong was almost too much for him to bear. Andra had been right – his life had been sheltered, and he was nothing but a spoiled brat. He only hoped that Andra would forgive him his selfish actions.
"Of course, the purse was stolen on the first night I spent hiding in a merchant's back tent," Andrahar added with another cheerless grin, "and I had no other choice than to sell myself for food and clothes and a dirty, bug-infested mattress to sleep on for the next year. There was a perfume merchant who had at least a dozen boys like myself to work for him as pleasure slaves. For we were his slaves, even though he did not own us legally. He sold us to rich clients, collected our price and gave us hardly enough to survive."
"Did you kill him, too?" Imrahil asked. He certainly would have understood had the answer been positive. But Andrahar shook his head.
"Nay... he had friends all over the bazaar, even in the bazaars of other towns. They would have hunted me down and killed me, regardless of where I fled. Nay, I chose to rob the house of a rich client and left the town with a caravan that needed a horse boy. In the end, I came to Umbar, and the caravan leader, who noticed how good I was with weapons, sent me to one of his business friends. A merchant who also owned several pirate ships."
"You were a pirate, too?" Imrahil asked, stunned. His friend suddenly grinned again, but this time, his grin was open and honest.
"I have trouble with heights, as you know. Nay, he wanted to turn me into an assassin. But I wished not to kill people for no personal reason, so I left him and went to the bazaar again. This time, I already had a certain... reputation, other than just my pretty face, so things became a little easier for me... as soon as my hair had grown out again."
"Your hair?" Imrahil shook his head in amazement. Andrahar sighed, a little impatiently.
"Slaves are shorn bald, Imri – this way you can see right away whom you are dealing with. For a Haradric noble, 'tis the greatest humiliation possible. The sons of noble houses consider their hair as a symbol of their rank – not a single hair is cut from their heads in their whole life. I had been shorn bald for eight seasons," he added softly, the pain in his dark eyes clearly visible. "Had my sire lived 'til my First Maturity, I'd be wearing warrior's braids by now, not those of a street whore."
"Then why are you not wearing them now?" Imrahil asked.
"Because I am no warrior," Andrahar replied simply. "Your father the Prince does not trust me enough to let me become one of his men, and mayhap he is right. For in the end, I am still little more than those whores you are so eager to visit in Gate Town."
"Nay, you are not," Imrahil said quietly, thoroughly ashamed. "You are my friend, and I regret deeply how I treated you. I shall not allow you to sacrifice your pride just so that I can have my fun. Get rid of these awful braids, I beg you."
"I cannot do so," said Andrahar flatly. "You still do not understand, do you? I offered, and Master Melpomaen accepted. I have to keep up my side of the bargain, or I shall lose what little honour I still possess."
"That is a foolish and barbaric way of thinking!" the prince cried in dismay. Andrahar shrugged, his eyes hard and dark like pieces of obsidian.
"I come from a foolish and barbaric people. This is our code of honour, and we would rather die than break it. You can prepare to leave on the morrow. I shall pay the appointed price tonight. For I gave a promise, and my word means something to me."
"I shall not go," Imrahil said stubbornly. "I would rather not see Gate Town ever again than let you do this."
"'Tis your choice," replied Andrahar, "though it will change nothing."
With that, he bowed and left Imrahil's chambers, returning to his own, small room. There he took a knife with a very thin, slightly bowed blade out of a small, wooden casket and began to cut off those cursed braids, one after another.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
parda is the Hindi word for harem
huris are originally ever-young, eternally virgin females Mohammed promised his faithful followers in Paradise if they died for their beliefs
I realize that the expressions do not exactly match the situation described in this part, but these were the closest ones I could think of.