1. Giving Gifts
In this story, "Harad" is "Hradar" to those who live there.
"Annatar" is "the Lord of Gifts" and was the name taken by Sauron in fair form.
So we begin: somewhere in Harad, there are lessons to be learned...
Right over middle, left over right, middle over left... one, two, three. Outside, someone is singing—the old woman wailing to the growing shadows: "Gone long to dust, gone long to dust—down, down, down in Dûrthang, gone down to dust!" And the young women who are not wed keen above her as they move through the town, lamenting. Nharadh bites his lip and concentrates. Right over middle, left over right... I am not a girl. I do not cry! His sister, Behi, is with the mourners today, wearing that lock of hair she cut from her own head for her betrothed. And she had said she would weep, though Nharadh had wondered how, until she had showed him. Holding out her hands beneath his nose, she had said, "Do you smell it? Soap left on your hands, and I've more in my purse. You wipe your eyes to bring the tears."
Soap to bring tears. His father's hair smells of soap, falls thick and soft through his fingers—fingers which plait the strands into taut braids, turn silk into bonds: braids beaded black, red, gold for a warrior strong. Black for night, and for all beginnings, untried valor, and hands undistinguished by deeds. Then comes red for blood, and for the sands of Hradar, which drink it and devour the body as well, when life is ended. Last and most precious, gold for glory, for temperance in the furnace of war. Nharadh ought to be proud, that his father could wear the gold, for like any boy in Hradar, he too would wear his hair in braids, would be a warrior. And he is proud, most days. But for today, he feels sick, and wonders what magic can quell his fears.
His father is leaving, for there is war in the north. Sauron wills it, and so they go, and Nharadh will miss combing out his father's hair, helping make the braids. He will miss their tales, miss his father's voice reading to him from the Precepts, the Saratin Annataru that all boys learn from their fathers. Sometimes, if he is quick in his chore, which is not really a chore, he leans on his father's shoulders, so that he, too, can read, and please his father with his progress; and ask all the questions that he has and sometimes confess his lapses. His father always listens, and always has an answer. Sometimes, the answer hurts, but Nharadh never complains of it, for a warrior must never complain of pain.
But some pains are less welcome, and Nharadh does not know how to kill the terror that makes him feel sick, for it shall be a very great battle, they say. All for the One, the Giver of Gifts, the Giver of All Things: so it says in the Precepts, that the One, the Lord of Gifts, takes back all things unto himself, and gives life where he wills it, takes it as it pleases him. Nharadh does not want his father to be among those from whom the One withdraws the gift, but such is the way of the warrior. Of the faithful warrior, and Nharadh would be faithful. His father will be faithful, and does not tremble as he sits in his armor and reads as he always does while Nharadh takes the final strand:
"Come to me through the Void. For there lies nothing, and nothing shall separate you from me. Come to me through the Void. For have I not withdrawn, that you might be? So must you face the gift that I give, that you might touch me. Come to me through the Void. Life is gift, to be returned. All who die in my name shall pass through the Void, away from the merciless fire of Day, and those who heed me shall find their way unto me. The path of loyalty is lifelong, and endures beyond death. Seek me through the Void, and ye shall not fail to find me." Nharadh's lips move silently with his father's over words long familiar to him. The Void and honor—these two endure, the one from the One, the other from the hearts of men who cannot surrender it. "Does that not mean we do not give all back?" Nharadh asks.
"Nay, my son," his father replies. "It means that we give back a worthy soul, for one without honor is no gift." The braiding is done, the beads in place, and his father rises, reaches out a hand to stroke his son's hair. "Your day will come, Nharadh. Do you give me your blessing, little one?"
His father has never asked this before, and Nharadh does not know what to say. And it frightens him, for it seems to him that his father asks for leave to go... to go and not return, and how can Nharadh grant him that? Come to me through the Void. All gifts must be returned. Even grief belongs to the Lord of Gifts, as the women sing their offering without. "Go with honor, Father." He can say no more, but it pleases, and his father hands him the book. Leather and hide, heavy as guilt; Nharadh clutches it to his chest as his father leans down to kiss his cheek. And he whispers in his ear:
"Be thou upright, my son. Live well, so as to die better; give well, and thou shalt be a warrior indeed." And then he is gone. For the last time, gone. And when the confused and terrible tale comes later that year, of the horror of Pelennor and the slaughter fields there, and of those who would not run, Nharadh needs no soap to make the tears come. But he smiles a little, too, for the gift was worthy in the end, and a boy who would be a warrior worth his braids can ask no more, who would be his father's son.
Who would give his gifts well.
Hard fighting and long labor they had still; for the Southrons were bold men and grim, and fierce in despair.... And so in this place and that, by burned homestead or barn, upon hillock or mound, under wall or on field, still they gathered and rallied and fought until the day wore away.... Few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor; and to the land of the Haradrim came only a tale from far off: a rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor.--RoTK, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," 136.
Between "Dynasty" (whence Nharadh comes) and "Where the Stars Are Strange" (whence The Precepts come), you have the background for this story, if you are curious.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.