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3
Fly away on the wings of the wind

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra.

Fly away on the wings of wind
To the homeland, my dear song,
To the land where we can sing you freely,
Where it was so carefree for you and me. - Borodin - Polovetsian Dances – Prince Igor.


~~~

Faramir ran all the way to the Harad Ambassador’s residence, which was in the sixth circle. Somewhat surprisingly, he had formed a good friendship with Tahir, while Éowyn had befriended his wife, Adiva. Adiva was a horsewoman second only to the White Lady of Rohan. She often went riding with Éowyn. Like Faramir, Tahir had lost a brother in the war, and like Faramir too, he was essentially a man of peace, devoted to learning. He was an excellent chess player. Ambassador and Steward often enjoyed a game together when their duties permitted. The recent border skirmish had not damaged the friendship between them. Faramir knew there were different factions in Harad, not all of which followed Khan Janab’s wish for peace with Gondor.

A servant showed Faramir into the colourfully tiled hallway of Tahir’s home, offering the Steward the traditional guest mantle and slippers to don.

“Welcome to my humble abode, Lord Faramir, most exalted one!” intoned Tahir in perfect Westron, coming to greet him with a bow. “Permit me to offer you some refreshment?”

Despite the urgent need for haste, Faramir was forced to partake of the traditional rituals of hospitality. To refuse refreshment, or even hurry through the greetings,would be taken as an insult of the very worst kind.

“I have heard grave tidings of the esteemed Lord Elessar today,” said Tahir when together with the ambassador’s wife, they were seated on vast cushions drinking mint tea and eating dates. “Is it true that he lies close to death? The loss of such a great lord would diminish all the peoples of the world, not only Gondor.”

“Alas, it is indeed true,” said Faramir. “He was stabbed with a poisoned dagger by a woman we believe may be one of your people. She said she desired to avenge her husband.”

“A woman of so little honour would not be of my tribe,” said Tahir. ”I would wager that she came from the Eastern border region. Their women have a custom of following their husbands in death.”

“Fools!” snorted Adiva who sat at her husband’s feet.Although she followed the traditional customs of greeting, she tended to companion her husband rather than remain in the women's quarters. And unlike most of the women of Harad, of whom Faramir had learned, Adiva freely voiced her opinions. ”Much as I love my lord, I should do no such thing. My children need me too much, as do my horses!”

“I came to ask your help, my friends,” said Faramir. ”The poison this woman used on her dagger is unknown to our healers. I gained some knowledge of your venoms during the war and believe that their victims are not always beyond mortal aid.”

“To every poison there is an antidote,” said Tahir. “Or so I have heard it said. I know nothing specific about poisons, though.”

“Usage of poisons is a woman’s art,” added Adiva. “You need to consult with a darwisa.”

Despite being fairly fluent in the language of Harad, Faramir was puzzled by this term.

“I think you would call her a shaman or a healer in your tongue,” Adiva explained. “A darwisa is both revered and feared, as such women both harm and heal. They never marry, as they give their lives to their arts and are set apart from others of our people.”

“Where might I find such a woman?” Faramir asked. “Do you know of a skilled one who might be able to help my lord?”

Adiva looked troubled. ”A darwisa is hard to find,” she explained. ”They fear authority and move from place to place. Should I require one, I would discreetly let it be known. A few days later, one would either visit me or I would receive a message telling me where I might find her.”

“I do not have a few days!” Faramir cried. “My lord will die within hours if I cannot find a means of curing him!”

Tahir stroked his beard thoughtfully. ”I think I know where you might find one,” he said. “Those of our people who now dwell in Minas Tirith, frequent an inn in the first circle called ‘The Coiled Serpent’. I have heard it said that a darwisa might be found there. Understand that our women do not frequent taverns, but as my wife ventured to explain, the darwisa places herself outside the bounds of usual custom. My head groom's cousin sought help there from a woman called Zafirah when his wife failed to bear him a son, or so I heard.”

Faramir leapt to his feet. “I will summon my men and go there to find this Zafirah at once!” he cried.

“That is not the way, my friend,” said Tahir, gripping Faramir’s arm to restrain him. ”She would have vanished ere you entered the tavern. A darwisa would flee from a man of Gondor.”

“Then how shall I find the woman?” Faramir demanded desperately.

“Disguise yourself as a man of Harad,” said the ambassador. ”I will lend you some clothing. Then you can approach Zafirah by stealth.”

“Your skin could be darkened with henna,” Adiva added. “I will ask my maid to prepare some to darken your hands and face.”

Tahir clapped his hands and a servant appeared. The ambassador issued rapid instructions in his own tongue. He then turned to Faramir. “I hope you will forgive me, esteemed Prince, for clothing you as a servant, but my robes would be too noticeable in a common tavern. Aban here will help you to dress in suitable garb."

The servant led Faramir to a bedchamber, which contained a low divan and a clothes chest. From the chest, Aban took out two robes, one that reminded Faramir of a woman’s plain gown, a seamless garment with long sleeves and a piece of clothing that resembled a bathing robe, which was open at the front and wrapped round the wearer.

The servant started to undo Faramir’s clothing. The Steward shook his head. He pulled off his outer tunic, and then pulled the seamless robe over his head. He was unfamiliar with the material and could only assume it was what the Haradrim called ‘cotton’. The outer robe was of a striped, thicker material. Faramir permitted Aban to tie a sash around his waist, but shook his head at the sandals he was offered. It would take too long to colour his feet. He rolled up the legs of his breeches so that they would not show beneath the robes, which were a little short for his tall frame.

A knock came at the door and a maidservant entered, carrying a small bowl of dark liquid. “My illustrious mistress bade me colour your skin,” she said in heavily accented Westron. “If the great and noble Prince would deign to sit while I apply the tincture?”

Faramir sat on the divan, trying not to ponder the strangeness of having his face painted. Only women usually did such a thing, but whatever it took to save Aragorn, he would do, and gladly. The mixture smelt slightly of vinegar.

“My esteemed lady bade me tell you that we usually use a paste, but the liquid darkens the skin much faster,” said the woman. “Come, I will apply some to your hands now.”

She worked swiftly, though to Faramir the procedure seemed to take hours. When she was finished, she handed the Steward a mirror. He gazed in amazement at his reflection and wondered if even Éowyn would recognise him now.

The manservant escorted Faramir back to the audience chamber. Tahir was waiting for him. ”You will need a man of our people to escort you to the tavern,” the ambassador said. ”Please allow my man Aban to be your guide.” Tahir reached inside his elaborate robes and produced a piece of parchment. “Take this with you,” he said. “Should the darwisa refuse to help you, this is my order as leader of our tribe, that she must give you aid. And here a letter to tell any of my people you encounter that your mission has my approval. I will lend you one of my horses. May the Higher Powers smile on your mission!”

“Thank you, my friend, may you be showered with many blessings!” said Faramir, taking his leave. He mounted the waiting horse and with Aban riding beside him, set off at a gallop for the first circle.

When Faramir was a boy, the first circle had always seemed a somewhat menacing place, and he had often been warned against going there. Even now, it was an area that few lords would visit unless they had no other choice. Since the war, Aragorn had ordered extensive rebuilding and repairs. Even so, away from the main street, half derelict buildings remained. Most of the dwellings were shabby and crammed together. The older houses were small and built of crumbling stonework, while refugees and foreigners mostly occupied newer houses. During the day, the lower circles of the City bustled and thrived. Citizens scurried hither and thither while small shops and taverns plied their wares. The bright robes of Southrons, flaxen locks of Rohirrim, Dwarves with elaborately braided beards and fair Elves combined to create a colourful air to the streets of Minas Tirith.

It was late when Faramir and his escort set out, and dusk fell by the time they reached their destination. The first circle seemed almost deserted. Mist from the distant river shrouded the darkened streets, turning the White City into a grey and somewhat sinister place. Aban led the way through a maze of winding streets until they came to an old inn brightly lit by lamps. The sign outside proclaimed the establishment to be ”The Coiled Serpent”.

Aban hesitated at the threshold. “May I be excused from meeting the darwisa, esteemed Prince?” he asked.

“Why?” asked Faramir brusquely. The stakes were too high for hesitation.

“It is said her very gaze can render a man unable to please his wife!” Aban said whispered with a shudder.

“If I can brave her gaze, so can you!” said Faramir. ”Come, there is no time to lose!”

To Faramir’s surprise, the inn was crowded with men. Most of them were gazing at a woman who danced between the tables with sensuous, swaying steps. She wore only a filmy garment and an assortment of veils that made her appear almost to be floating. The room smelt of spices and something else, which reminded Faramir of Aragorn’s medicinal potions, though here, they seemed less wholesome.

A man dressed in garishly striped robes approached and bowed low. ”Greetings, esteemed masters!” he said. ”Be welcome to my humble inn. How may we serve you? Tonight we have mutton roasted in olive leaves for our guests.”

Faramir bowed in return. “Thank you, most gracious host. We come not to eat, but to see the darwisa, Zafirah. Can she be found here tonight?”

“Indeed, esteemed master, many have come to seek her advice. Would you care to partake of refreshment while you wait?”

“I fear my errand cannot wait,” said Faramir. “Ambassador Tahir has sent me to fetch her on a mission of great importance!” He reached inside his robes and brought forth the Ambassador’s letter. The mere sight of the seal wiped the ingratiating smile from the innkeeper’s face. ”Come this way,” he said hastily.

Faramir, trailed by the reluctant Aban, was led through the main hall. On the way, he almost collided with the dancing woman; there was so little room between the tables. Faramir could hear a feminine but deep voice coming from a room at the back, command: “Take this on the night of the full moon and your wife will love you again and bear you many sons!” A moment later, a somewhat embarrassed looking man scurried from the room, clutching what looked like a small bag of herbs. The Steward groaned inwardly. Was the woman nothing better than a purveyor of so-called love potions?

TBC.

~~~

A/N

A darwisa is a female shaman from North Africa

http://www.suppressedhistories.net/articles/womanshaman.html

You can see and hear a video on my LJ to create some Eastern flavour

http://lindahoyland.livejournal.com/100502.html


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