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3
Part 3

More about Harad and the beliefs of Andrahar’s people can be found in my other story, “Face of the Enemy”. However, I must point out that these are not canon facts but have been made up by me.


~~~

PART 3

They made their way back to Gildor’s home. It took them quite some time, as they were often stopped by the town folk who wanted a word with their Lord, to greet him upon his return or to speak their farewells. He was obviously beloved and respected among his subjects, and the rumours that he would be leaving soon (soon as Elves counted time) saddened the people greatly.

He took the time to talk to each and every one of them, speaking in their own, strange tongue that not even Imrahil could understand, so different it was from the noble and elegant Sindarin he had been taught to speak – and to love. Yet Gildor spoke it as fluently as he spoke Westron, and he even laughed and jested with the simple folk, to Andrahar’s surprise. He had only seen the Elf-Lord being aloof and haughty and even downright rude at times, particularly to him. This was a Gildor he never thought he would see.

But eventually they reached Gildor’s house nevertheless, and found it as full of excitement as it had been quiet upon their arrival. News about their Lord’s arrival had already reached the Elves of the house, and preparations for a copious evening meal were running at high speed.

Having just recently returned from Calenbel with his Lord, Istimor, the seneschal of Gildor’s house, was overseeing the preparations personally. As Gildor usually spent years upon years on the road, the number of house servants was rather small. Thus the members of the Wandering Company, who stayed in the house anyway, readily helped decorating the Dining Hall and laying the tables.

Most of them were rather young, at least in Elven terms, especially two lovely, dark-haired maids whose names were apparently Almáriel and Irilde. The braiding of their hair revealed that they were still under age, though they seemed grown enough for the mortal eye. Little Nenmír was there, too, zigzagging delightedly among the adults, carrying high piles of plates with great skill without dropping any of them. The Elfling carried out his task with the adorable concentration of every child given something important to do, but he still found the time to give Andrahar a shy grin and a quick wink, in a manner that reminded the Armsmaster very much of a little mortal boy called Faramir…

However, it was Istimor, the seneschal, also called “the wise” among the household (according to Imrahil), who caught Andrahar’s interest most. He was a tall, willowy Noldo, raven-haired and grey-eyed, much like the pure-blooded Dúnedain in Dor-en-Ernil but in his eyes the memories of many thousand years were mirrored. The same ageless wisdom shone in the eyes of his wife, Dinithel, with whom he shared the duties in and around the house.

“I think they are the only Elves in Edhellond who are older than even Gildor,” murmured Imrahil, “if we leave some truly ancient Nandor from the Wandering Company out of consideration. ‘Tis said that Istimor, though born in Middle-earth already, worked for the seneschal of the kings Finrod Felagund and Orodreth of Nargothrond as a young aide. And Dinithel was born in Nargothrond, before its fall. Though how they managed to escape from there, I have never been told.”

Andrahar frowned. “That would make them at least seven thousand years old!”

Imrahil nodded. “At the very least, aye. Mayhap even older.”

Andrahar looked at the smooth, ageless faces of the two Elves – and shook his head. “They did not look a day older than thirty. Say what you want, Imri – ‘tis not natural.”

Imrahil laughed and walked across the Hall to great the Elven minstrels who were tuning their instruments in a corner, opposite the main entrance. Andrahar fell back a little – not even Imrahil could make him partake in a discussion about Elven music – and watched the eager activity with one eye and Imrahil with the other.

After a while, however, he felt that he was being watched himself. He looked around to find the source of the unsettling feeling, and his gaze met with that of a dark and slender Elf with the rich auburn hair of the Silvan folk, clad in the rough green and brown garb of a woodsman. The Elf looked a little more… rustic than most people Andrahar had seen so far in Gildor’s household, and had the same chestnut-like eyes as little Nenmír.

“Forgive me for staring at you,” the Elf said with an implied bow, “I meant not to be rude. But these are beautiful knives you are carrying. The pattern on the handles is unknown for me; it must be Haradric work, I deem.”

“It is,” replied Andrahar curtly. “And you would be…?”

Ai,” the Elf actually seemed embarrassed, “forgive me my manners, or more so the lack thereof. We are so used to know each other here… I am Terendul, a hunter and tracker by trade.”

“One of those who travel with Gildor’s company all across Middle-earth?” asked Andrahar. The Elf shrugged.

“Sometimes. But most of the time, I take care of the woods around the town. Look after the beasts and the birds and the trees.”

“You must have lost your way, then,” said Andrahar. Terendul laughed.

“Nay, I have not. I came to see my betrothed. And to ask Lord Gildor to perform our wedding ceremony ere he leaves.”

“So, you do not go with him?” Andrahar was surprised. Somehow he had expected Gildor’s whole household to follow their Lord. Terendul shook his head.

“We of the Silvan folk rarely feel the call of the Sea, and I for my part am grateful for that. I would hate to have to choose between the Sea and my trees; and I am certain that Legolas of Ithilien hates it, too. Alas that the longing has been awakened in his heart! He is a great Lord of his people, and he would become a strong and wise king, I deem, just like his father. But he is of Sindarin blood, and the Sea-longing has always been the greatest peril for the Sindars’ hearts.”

Hearing that, a thought occurred to Andrahar – one that he had never pondered over before.

“Who will rule Edhellond, once Gildor has left?” he asked with genuine interest.

“The Town Council, just like before, I deem,” said Terendul with a shrug. “Lord Gildor never meddled in the day-to-day affairs. He was on the road too long and too often for that. The only decisions he has ever kept for himself were the ones concerning warfare.”

This surprised Andrahar again, for he had thought Gildor to be some sort of tyrant who ruled his small realm with an iron fist. Seeing his surprise, Terendul laughed.

“We of the Silvan folk have never had kings or princes of our own,” he said. “And though our brethren in the Greenwood and in Lórien accepted the Sindarin princes of Doriath as their leaders, we usually prefer to live free, on our own merry ways. The Town Council is made up of the heads of every gild that is represented in Edhellond; they are all equals, which leads to quarrels at times, but we like it that way and Lord Gildor does not mind.”

“How many…?” Andrahar trailed off, unsure how he could phrase the question politely.

“Seventeen, not counting Ainimor, the head of the Council,” answered the Elf readily enough; it seemed not a big secret. “You will meet them tonight, as this will be a big feast: the beginning of the Harvest festivities.”

“So, that is why Imrahil chose this very time to pay Edhellond his last visit,” murmured Andrahar, understanding finally dawning on him. Telendur smiled.

“He has celebrated many a Harvest with us – I am not surprised that he wanted to witness the last one our Lord would attend to. Even if he would be always welcome among us. He and his family have been Elf-friends from the beginning of their House.”

Andrahar nodded absently – that was nothing new for him – and watched Imrahil for a while again. The Prince was talking to the Elven minstrels eagerly, not only with words but with gestures as well, something Andrahar had not seen since their youth. In fact, Imrahil looked twenty years younger than during the war.

“Is this truly the very last time?” the Armsmaster asked, feeling suddenly the profound loss of his friend. Terendul sighed.

“Oh, Harvest will be celebrated as long as there is a single Elf in Edhellond left. But when Gildor Inglorion leaves these shores, an era of our town – our entire little realm – will be over, forever. Gildor has been our Lord for the whole Third Age… and for most of the Second Age as well. Life here, though safer it might be after the defeat of Sauron, will never be the same without him.”

Their conversation was unexpectedly interrupted by the Lord of Edhellond himself, who entered the Dining Hall to greet his household, followed by the ever-present Enedrion. He remained standing in the doorframe for several heartbeats’ time, watching his people with an oddly fond expression on his pale, usually cold face. ‘Twas little Nenmír who finally spotted him of all people. The elfling put down the pile of plates he was carrying rather ungently on the nearest table and darted to their Lord with a delighted shriek.

“Uncle Gildor!”

To Andrahar’s utter amazement, Gildor actually laughed and swept up the boy in his arms. Unlike with Imrahil, this time Nenmír would not even think of protesting, just beamed at the Elf-Lord and grinned widely.

Mae govannen, little one,” said Gildor and switched to the Silvan dialect, asking something from the elfling in a teasing manner. Nenmír became beet red, but his eyes shone with pride. Gildor laughed again, swung the elfling up onto his shoulders and grabbed the thin little legs dangling before his chest to keep Nenmír from falling off. Then he came into the Hall, mingling with the members of his household, talking and laughing with them.

Terendul watched Andrahar’s astonishment with a smile. In fact, he seemed a rather merry Elf who smiled and laughed a lot.

“He is very different when in his own, our Lord is,” he said. “I presume, you have only seen his cold and haughty side so far. He can be that way; even downright cruel, if he chooses. But here, on this side of the Sea, we are the only true family he has.”

“What of the other side…?”

“He has parents, I am told. And grandparents, of course. And a sister, too, assuming she has been released from the Halls already. And a niece, the Lady Aquiel, who waits for him in Mithlond. But this has been his home for a very long time. We shall miss him very much once he is gone.”

Andrahar shook his head, watching Gildor and his devoted aide strolling around the Hall and making pleasant conversation with the Elves of the house. He could hardly believe he was seeing the same arrogant, infuriating Elf-Lord who had been the bane of his existence, ever since he had set foot in Dol Amroth. Gildor caught his look, and some of the usual coldness glittered in those icy, blue-grey eyes of his for a moment… then it vanished again. Then, unexpectedly, the Lord of Edhellond walked across the Hall and held right before him.

“Master Andrahar,” he said in a manner that was almost friendly, “can you spare a moment? I have an elfling here who is most eager to hear about the Great Dragon of Harad. I deem you would be better suited to tell the tale than I am.”

The amused glint in his eyes revealed that he knew all too well that the horrid tales of Harad, told about the cold cruelty of the pairiki, as the Haradrim called the Elves, named him after that very same mythical dragon – and that he even found the comparison flattering. Once again, Andrahar felt he almost irresistible urge to throttle him. But the famous discipline of the Swan Knights won again.

“I would be delighted to do so,” the Armsmaster replied, his dark eyes burning dangerously, “but I fear there is too much noise here to tell any story properly.”

“You could go to the orchard,” Gildor offered, barely hiding his amusement. “Or to the library, if you dare to face Mistress Vorondis again. As long as you remember to join us here at the ringing of the evening bells…”

“I shall see to that,” Terendul intervened smoothly, ere the two old adversaries could launch into full fighting mode again. “The Great Dragon of Harad is a story I would love to hear myself… by your leave, my Lord. I wonder if it is any different from the tales about Smaug the Golden.”

“Why, certainly, go ahead,” replied Gildor, putting little Nenmír down again. “I shall speak to you in the early morn, then. Tonight I will be occupied with other things. Go with Terendul, little one. I shall tell Master Istimor that I gave your leave.”

“Let us go to the orchard,” Terendul suggested, after Gildor had left them alone. “’Tis beautiful in this season, and I know just the right place, where we shall be undisturbed.”

But Andrahar shook his head. “I cannot. Not ere Liahan and Esteven come back. I most not leave the Prince alone.”

Telendur gave him an amused look. “You truly believe he would be in peril among us?”

“What I believe or not matters little,” said Andrahar stubbornly. “I am his shadow. I cannot leave him unprotected.”

“He will not be alone,” spoke Faramir, stepping up to them. “I shall remain here with him, as Mistress Vorondis threw me out of the library to close it for the night. Go on, Uncle Andra, visit the orchard – it is a marvel – and tell your tale.”

Andrahar hesitated a little, but finally the wide, begging eyes of the elfling made him give in. Thus Telendur led him to the walled orchard of Gildor’s house, and they sat down on one of the stone benches that were still warm from the autumn sun. Lying in a particularly well-protected corner of the coastal region, Edhellond's climate was surprisingly mild, thus the most intriguingly exotic fruits grew with little tending in Gildor's orchard. Fruits that could not be found even in the warmest spots of Gondor: grapes as long and thick as a man's thumb; peaches of the size of a fist; pomegranates; figs that were red in the inside like a strong Haradric wine and as sweet as a kiss; and even oranges – something Andrahar had never seen growing outside his old home.

There were, of course, more common sorts of fruit as well: golden apples, ruddy pears, red plums and many others. Looking around with more than a little envy, Andrahar had a hard time understanding why Gildor would ever feel the need to leave this wondrous place.

The elfling tugged on his sleeve again, demanding, “Tell me about the dragon!”

Andrahar smiled. The southern flair of the orchard brought back early childhood memories – from a time when those memories had still been pleasant. From the distance of half a century (and more) the face of his mother had become blurred, but her gentle voice was still alive in his heart – with the tales she had told him as a young boy at bedtime.

“Very well,” he said, falling back into the tone he had used with Imrahil’s children when they had still been little. “You must know, little one, that Harad is not one land, but a loose alliance of small and larger kingdoms, all of which usually contain a big city and several smaller settlements around it.”

“Like Edhellond?” asked the elfling innocently.

“In a way,” nodded Andrahar, though nothing could be more different from Edhellond’s serene peace than the loud and harsh life he had known as a child. “Only much, much bigger. Now, the realm where I used to live is called Bakshir, and its chief city’s name is Bashidra. Bashidra is hot and humid most over the year, as it lies near a big lake, but most of the realm is wide, open savannah, and its people are warriors, horse-breeders or merchants. Only around the great lake Bolotin are fields where we can grow food.”

“You must be very poor, then,” said Nenmír, focusing on his words intently. Andrahar shook his head.

“Nay, for the savannahs can feed the herds of horses and sheep, and our merchants are quite skilled,” he decided to leave out the part where the dshigits of Bakshir routinely fell over other realms for food and other sorts of prey. “But on the eastern border of Bakshir, there lies a chain of steep, naked mountains of golden-hued stone: the Dahhák. Very tall these mountains are, and their cliffs are ragged like the scales of a dragon, and they can nearly touch the skies. Thus some people say, the Dahhák is not a mountain at all, but a huge, golden dragon.”

“Does it breathe fire, like Mount Doom?” asked the elfling, his eyes wide with fear and excitement. Andrahar hid his smile.

“Nay; but sometimes, when the summer season is very hot, it breathes arid smoke; and they say that the Dahhák eats the rainclouds above its head. And when it does so, the next rainy season will not come. The savannahs cannot live without rain; the heat scorches the grass, and the animals die, for there is nothing to eat and no water for them. And when the antelopes, horses and sheep die, people die, too.” Andrahar paused, remembering the despair and bitter poverty of his people, every time when the rain had not come.

“Thus people hate and fear the Dahhák,” he continued, remembering the grim old tales. “And sometimes, when they are truly desperate, they make pilgrimages to it and lay offerings before its feet, so that it would not eat the rainclouds and would not hold back the rain. For without the rain, nothing can live in our realms.”

He was careful enough not to mention that sometimes these offerings included a firstborn son or a pure maiden, as-yet untouched by a lover. These were not the things he wanted others to know about his people.

“Does that help?” the elfling asked with a frown. Andrahar shook his head sadly.

“Nay, little one. You see, the Dahhák is not truly a dragon. Just a mountain, with a heart of stone.”

“Oh,” the elfling looked decidedly disappointed. He must have expected a different story: a merrier one, perhaps, with heroes and great deeds in it. “’Tis a shame that it is no true dragon. If it were a dragon, you could slay it, as Eärendil has slain Ancalagon the Black, and your people could have the rain they need in every loa.”

Andrahar nodded, familiar with the Elven name of the seasonal year. Imrahil’s family often spoke Sindarin at home, after all.

“I wish it were so, little one,” he said quietly. “I wish it were so. But some dragons cannot be slain, even by the greatest heroes, I fear.”

TBC

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