The Farozi’s Hospitality
They arrived in Thetos some time after sunset. All were tired with inactivity, it appeared, but bore the ride with good humor. As the evening cooled with the sinking of Amon’s disk into the West the other Hobbit Isumbard began to recover, finally eating more and drinking deeply of the water offered him.
The children had begun to talk, and Ma’osiri and Amon’osiri approached Rustovrid’s younger daughters and the King’s daughter and began to ask them questions about the voyage and what their homes were like, eventually beginning to describe their own home and quarters. The Princess Melian knew some Haradri, and with Rustovrid’s daughters translating for her she appeared to be not only following the conversation but adding to it at times.
At one point when the Lady Éowyn was attempting to lull her son into taking a nap when the child, who was about a year in age from what Ankhrabi could tell, became fussy, at last the King had intervened, speaking in a mock commanding voice at first that put a halt to the whining and evoked a giggle; then he looked at his Steward and suggested something in a different tongue, at which Prince Faramir had nodded, smiling. Together they began to sing a song which was apparently a lullaby, and the Elf joined in the song, his high, clear voice blending with the lower tones of the two Men. The little boy smiled with delight, calmed, and eventually closed his eyes, turned slightly on his side, and drifted off to sleep, as did the son of the King and Queen of Rohan as well.
When at last the barge reached the Farozi’s dock below the royal compound all stretched with relief, and again took up their personal bags over their shoulders, the three mothers lifting their sons into their arms, and all began to disembark.
The King had the Hobbit Isumbard by him as they left the barge, his hand again on the small one’s shoulder, while the Elf walked behind the bearded dwarfling. They climbed the stone stairway up to the water gate in the compound’s wall, and were allowed entrance by the guard. Servants carrying torches greeted them and led them across a court to the door into the house of the Farozi, where they were met by his steward. This was a tall man for a Haradri, and although now elderly was clearly alert and capable. He saw the party admitted into a larger antechamber and turned to address them; then, as his gaze fell on the King of Gondor and Arnor he stopped, his intended speech of welcome and lecture on protocol forgotten.
The Lord Elessar broke the stunned silence. “My Lord Amonrabi? It is long and long since I last saw you.”
“Then----” Amonrabi’s mouth appeared to have gone completely dry. “You were called Horubi’ninarin,” he finally managed.
“Yes, long ago that is what I asked your brother to call me. It was a rough translation of the name I bore in Gondor and Arnor--Thorongil, which means the Eagle of the Star.”
“But you appear to have barely aged!”
“I assure you I have, but in keeping with the aging of my own people. Indeed I am older than you, but am but in middle years for my own kindred. Obviously your brother did not warn you any more than he did Sa’Amonri.”
“I doubt they would have believed me, An'Horubi’ninarin,” said a new voice from the far door. There stood a shorter figure, not as slender as he’d once been, perhaps, but still straight of body, his dark eyes still clear as were those of his half brother, his face far sterner than it had been when he who was now King of Gondor and Arnor had seen him last. He stood straight, his head lifted proudly as he examined the form of the Man who years before had saved him from Maruset’s blade. His face was heavily lined, and he looked to be austere. Finally he smiled. “My brother is correct--you have barely changed. To be of the blood of your lineage must at times be difficult as those who were of an age with you begin to fail while you must continue on.”
“It is a mixed blessing. It will serve to the good for my peoples, but is not always comfortable. Unless I am slain betimes, most of my closest friends will precede me, as so many I have known over the years have already done.” The Lord Elessar bowed deeply, and all of his party followed his lead. “I greet you, An’Sohrabi. You have done well in ordering your realm and in keeping the peace since the fall of Sauron.”
“My brother An’Ma’osiri and I worked with Bherevrid and later Rustovrid to prepare for the day the Death Eater no longer held power over our land. And the messages which slipped past the watchers from Mordor aided us to keep up our hope that the day of freedom would at last come. You must tell us in full how it was done.”
“So we shall do indeed, but we do ask to be allowed to do it tomorrow at the earliest. It is a long tale, and most of my party are worn with travel and with having to remain still during the journey on the River Risen.”
An’Sohrabi nodded his understanding. He turned to his brother. “Let you show them to their quarters and then bring them back in a full mark to meet the rest of the company and for a light meal ere they go to their rest. Do not worry about proper protocol for the time. The Lord An'Elessar I know to be courteous enough, and I trust those with him will be the same.”
They were led to guest quarters in the south wing of the place, and soon were assigned rooms for sleeping. Here they shed their satchels and bags, freshened themselves as they could, received the trunks and chests brought in from the barge, and in some cases changed completely before assembling to return to the Farozi’s presence. Three small boys and one small girl were fed and put to bed under the eye of the Lady Avrieth, who kissed her husband Berevrion gently and with no envy as he went to meet with the notables of Harad assembled that evening. Hardorn indicated he’d keep watch on the rooms given to their use, and the King smiled his thanks at his cousin.
The room they were brought to was large. It was not the throne room, apparently, but appeared to be intended for formal gatherings and celebrations. Low tables surrounded by lower couches stood around its edges; more couches, benches, and cushions stood at strategic points in the inner areas of the room as well. Ranks of green plants stood here and there, many of them about small square stone tanks of water in which colorful fish swam and green water plants grew. A number of nobles, both male and female, and their attendants awaited them, mostly standing or seated on the far side of the room where they might see the visitors to their realm as they entered. Amonrabi entered and announced Lord Rustovrid and his family, then allowed Rustovrid to introduce the guests from the north. Rustovrid kept to much the same order he’d used before, and as each was introduced he or she would bow deeply to the company and move aside for the next.
Lord Amonrabi then did similarly for those within the room. “Sa’Bhatrabi, high priest for Bhat. Sea’Neryeni, priestess of Neryet from the temple in West Thetos. Lord Afraim, leader of the warriors of the herding tribes of the southwest. Kafra Antipatha of the Bhatsi clan, who as a child was treated for the sand sickness by a northern trader who was also a healer. The Lady Nefiramonrani, wife of Lord Ankhrabi and mother of his children. Her daughter Nefirnerini. The Lady Ankhsarani, sister to the Lady Nefiramonrani, and her husband the Lord Sherfiramun of upper Ghant. Sa’Re’amonosiri, priest of Osiri from his temple in West Thetos. Kafra Ba’alrabi, chief of the guild of merchants. Lord Ghants’pa’amon, whose lands hold the greater part of our fields of cotton and corn.” The introductions continued through about ten more individuals.
Most of those in attendance on the Farozi that night were stiffly courteous to the visitors from the North. It was obvious from the way they stood away from the presence of Kafra Antipatha that he was not a regular courtier, and his rather rigid posture indicated he was aware of the avoidance and was himself uncertain why he’d been invited to attend. He was an individual with broad shoulders and chest, and wore a dark beard reminiscent in the eyes of those from Gondor of the nomadic tribes of Rhun. Once it was indicated the introductions were over and the Farozi indicated a late dinner would be served shortly but that they should mingle and greet one another, the Lord Elessar approached the Man, and bowed courteously. “Do your people still breed the finest camels in all of Harad?” he asked in Haradri.
Kafra Antipatha was slightly taken aback. “Yes, my Lord,” he said with a deep bow. “I am surprised that you know of my family and that we have camel herds.”
“I had the honor of receiving one of your people’s finest females at one time. She was admired by all who saw her.”
“You received one of our camels in the Northlands?”
“No, I received it here in Harad. I am sorry to say I could not take her back to my home, and in the end gifted her to one I knew would respect her lineage and your people’s skill in breeding fine beasts.”
“But how did you come by her?”
“Did you notice how you were introduced?”
“Yes, although I do not understand why the fact I recovered from the sand sickness when a child would be of any interest to those here.”
“It is of no interest to the rest, but it is to me, as I was the trader and healer who visited your father’s tents when you were ill. An’Sohrabi and his father were both advised of my visit and your recovery from such a dread disease; and I am certain you were asked here for my sake. It is heartening to see you have become a fine Man of your people and have followed your father in leadership to your kindred.”
“But----” The Man searched the face of the King of Gondor, shaking his head, then looked deep into the grey eyes and stilled, then began to smile in recognition. “Yes, your eyes; even then they were full of long memories.”
“And now they must be even more full of such.”
Northern King and herder chieftain found themselves clasping one another’s shoulders, sharing whole-hearted smiles. “Do you still sing songs of frogs wishing to wed mice, great Lord?” Antipatha asked.
“Ah, yes, I do. Ask Lord Rustovrid.”
Rustovrid, who stood nearby, laughed. “He sang it to me, also, when I was but a boy; and the day I carried the Farozi’s invitation to him he was singing it to his own daughter and the children who were with her that day.”
The interest of the great Northern Lord in Antipatha raised his status in the eyes of the other guests, and when at last the King turned to speak to others the desert Kafra found others questioning him politely and with growing interest about the doings of his clan and the wealth of its herds.
Isumbard, Pippin, and Ruvemir were all given a good deal of attention, and with Lord Rustovrid’s oldest daughter standing by to serve as translator they found themselves answering many questions about where they came from, their position in the court of the Lord An'Elessar, their place among their own people, and so on. Lady Ghansaret stood in the company of the lords and ladies of Rohan, Ithilien, and Arnor, translating for them as they described the rule of their lands, their locations within Middle Earth, the sources of wealth for each, their relationships to the Lord Elessar and how they stood within the ranks of power in the Northern lands.
Lord Hildigor stood by the King while Mablung did the same for the Lady Arwen. Haleth did the same for his lord and lady, as did Damrod for Prince Faramir and the Lady Éowyn. Owain stood by his master as he spoke with the priest of Osiri about the new figures being raised in front of his temple; the Lady Arwen spoke now with Lady Nefiramonrani and her sister and the priestess of Neryet, discussing motherhood, comparing the births of their children, comparing serving as hostesses at formal gatherings and dinners, dealing with overseeing the running of their homes, their service outside the palace, the proper forms for honoring the Lady of the Stars. Finally the meal was served and all were shown to their places at the low tables.
Reclining for the meal was obviously new for almost all of the Northerners, who nevertheless were gracious about the situation. The Farozi saw to it the meal was cut relatively short, and indicated to the servers that they ought not to offer the guests from Gondor, Arnor and Rohan cones of perfumed fat to wear in their hair, (although two offered them anyway, which caused the two Hobbits to look alarmed). After a time of talk afterwards, the court was dismissed and the King’s party were shown to their rooms where all happily looked forward to rest.
The King was returning from the privy when he heard his name from the room assigned to Pippin and Isumbard. A woman servant stood there, obviously confused as Pippin looked out for someone to translate. “Aragorn? Could you help us, please? How do we ask for pillows?”
Isumbard was looking at the wooden head rest provided with even more uncertainty than he’d shown at the offer made him earlier of the cone of perfumed fat for his hair. He looked up at the King with a level of frustration. “I know that in other lands things are done differently than they are in the Shire, my Lord, but I had never dreamed of the possibility of being asked to sleep with my head on wood!”
Aragorn laughed. “In the larger of the chests I brought are pillows of various sizes and thicknesses. I, too, found Haradri headrests both unusual and uncomfortable, although I will tell you that they do keep one cooler than pillows do. I ended up having a cushion made and carried it with me much of the time and used it as a pillow, although I left it behind when I left my caravan to return to Risenmouthe. I finally emptied my personal satchel of all but my headcloths and filled it with one of my trader’s robes, and used it as a pillow while I stayed in Lord Sohrabi’s house.”
Soon the scandalized maid found herself removing the wooden headrests, and all were coming to the King’s chamber to obtain pillows. These might not be as wide as they were accustomed to in their own homes, but all were grateful for them, and to the King for foreseeing the need for them. With insect netting pulled around their beds and their pillows hugged to them, Peregrin and Isumbard Took finally gave themselves to sleep.
“Those of the North do not use headrests--I told you that when I ordered the rooms made ready,” explained An’Sohrabi to his son’s wife and the head of the maids who prepared the bedchambers. “To allow yourself to be offended is foolish. And, yes, they each carried their own eating utensils with them as well, as Lord Rustovrid indicated they would. Again you must not take offense--they are not accustomed to our ways and have done their best to be polite to us and yet not to appear incompetent at using our utensils and eating in a manner so foreign to that to which they are accustomed. I am told that when the Lord Elessar hosts a feast he makes certain utensils common to the usage of each guest’s people are provided. Having traveled as widely as he has, he has more full knowledge of such things than we do.”
“But why should anyone wish to sleep with their heads on cushions?” asked the maid. “To sit on it and then lie on it....”
“They only lay their heads on them ordinarily,” explained the Farozi. “It is much cooler in their lands than it is here, and so they do not need for passage of air under their heads. An’Horubi’ninarin explained it to me when he stayed in my house when he was here in Harad before.”
“They are very--unusual,” his son's wife commented.
“But of course. They are from other lands. But do not allow yourself to think of them as barbarians, for I assure you they are not. Their ways are not ours, but are yet are highly cultured.”
“Why did they stand facing the West together before the meal?”
“I do not know, but know that when he was with us before An’Horubi’ninarin did so. Ask him if you wish to know.”
“Most do not even speak a language we can understand.”
“Do you think ours is the only one? Never have most been south of Umbar before. That so many have tried to learn enough of our tongue to greet us respectfully and indicate they are grateful for our hospitality is more than I expected.”
“Yet the Lord An'Elessar speaks our tongue, as does his wife.”
An’Sohrabi sighed. “Of course he does--he has visited our lands before, after all. And his wife and the Prince Legolas are of the Elvenkind, who are gifted in tongues. The Lady Lothiriel and Prince Faramir also are able to understand us and speak sufficient of our language to make themselves understood in return.”
“Daughter, I think that in the coming year my son and you need to go North for a time. Harad and its ways are not all that there is in this world.”
Shocked at the idea of leaving her homeland, Nefiramonrani bowed her farewells and retired to her chamber.
Ankhrabi watched the leaving of maid and wife with a sigh of his own. “They are different than we are, most assuredly; but there is no question they are indeed cultured, my father, and most courteous and patient. What you told me of the King being a healer is certain. When Sa’Amroni recognized him I thought he might faint. The Lord Elessar immediately caught him, saw to his condition and his comfort, gave him to drink. And on the barge he saw to the easing of the small one called Isumbard, who finds the heat oppressive, although he was watching all for signs they might be overborne by our climate. He appears to be very mild in nature.”
His father sniffed. “Do not let his mild manner fool you--he is one of the greatest of warriors you will ever meet. And when he is faced by one he wishes to remove from a position of endangering others, he can be absolutely ruthless. I will have him describe to you his taking of Virubat.”
His son raised an eyebrow, then looked toward the way to the set of chambers he shared with his wife when they stayed in his father’s house. “I will see if I can make her see that we cannot expect all to be as we are, my father.”
“Do so, my son,” the Farozi said. “I think I will walk out in the gardens. Will you join me?”