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13
The Warning

14. Armenelos: religion—freedom, heresy, or rites
Aragorn, one of the Faithful in Umbar


~~~

The Warning


He’d taken the name Peredrion when he decided to explore Umbar and Harad as a trader. He’d been given a letter of introduction to one of the Faithful within Umbar who could serve as a guide and assist him to gather the documents he would need to enter Harad and form a caravan. He found he quite liked Zimrakil, a man some years older than himself, whose quiet, somewhat wary appearance masked a wit like a dagger’s edge. But it was the man’s quiet fury at what Sauron had done to his land and people that impressed him most.

There was one part of the city that Zimrakil had avoided showing to his guest, however, always seeming to have an excuse to take a different route or look at another site. One day Aragorn’s curiosity got the better of him, and he rose particularly early and slipped out of his lodgings so as to investigate on his own.

Zimrakil found him near noon, not far from the Temple that had proved the most notable building in the area. Aragorn was leaning on a low wall in a noisome alley, still vomiting, when his guide came upon him. Without a word the Umbari pulled his hair back and supported him until at last the retching ended.

“So, Peredrion, you would not be deterred from exploring this area on your own?” he murmured as he examined his charge. “Not wise—not wise at all. Quite dangerous, even.” He led Aragorn to the shadow of a building, and began carefully checking to make certain they were not being observed before he indicated they should quit the precincts. “You will note the Temple of the All-seeing One,” he said aloud as he guided the visitor to his city through a crowded square. “The architecture is remarkable….” And such talk he continued to give until they were back in more pleasant—and safer—regions.

He took his charge into a public inn and ordered drinks, and directed Aragorn to a table in the corner. Only after they’d given the boy serving them a few coppers for the tray that held the stoneware jar of palm liquor, plate of local flat bread, and bowl of olive oil he’d brought them, did Zimrakil finally address his companion in a low, intense voice. “I did not take you to that part of the city, Peredrion, because I did not wish you to see—that. It is to this that the Enemy has brought Umbar—to offering up lives for his purposes. Mostly they are slaves or criminals who end up there, but more than one man intent on earning the approval of the Eye has presented a younger son or daughter upon his altar. Usually it is a son who would question his father’s authority, or a daughter who would wish to refuse a marriage that would be likely to prove—unhappy.”

“But why?” Aragorn could not bring himself to say more.

“Who can say? But it appears to be a continuation of what he began in the great temple he had built in Armenelos on the foundered isle. Somehow he is apparently able to add to his own personal power by each death offered to him. And he grows in strength and evil intent day by day. And this is not the only temple built to his worship in Umbar.” He leaned closer and whispered, “In Harad they call him the Death Eater.” He sat back and cautioned, “You must be very careful not to draw the attention of his priests—they are very—enthusiastic—in their devotion to him, and grow increasingly inventive in their public harangues intended to drive the populace to increase their offerings. And recently they have begun snatching victims off the streets. It is not wise to wander the city alone. Had one of them found you in that alley before I did….”

His pale, almost grey visage and set expression said it all.

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