10. The Swordsmith
I stiffen as the hissed insult reaches my ears. I am tempted to turn around and spit out an even viler comment in my native tongue, but reason asserts itself when I realize I cannot be certain who aimed the slur at me. Instead, I busy myself with rearranging some of the swords lying in front of my tent on a blanket, wishing that my dark skin and dangling earrings did not so clearly mark me as an outlander. I hear my father’s voice in distant memory as I do so.
“Never flinch at any slander, and never lose your pride in who and what you are, no matter that you find yourself in Gondor.”
Ah, Father! If not for his pride and my mother’s beauty, I would be living on the shimmering sands of Near Harad, under the hot sun in all her glory. But fate decreed otherwise some sixty years ago, when their path crossed that of a great corsair of Umbar to whom Father’s clan pledged allegiance. The corsair had traveled to our clan’s oasis campsite to attend a feast in his honour, and Mother, the loveliest and most graceful dancer in the whole clan, performed for him at the request of the clan chief. Woe that she ever did so, for the corsair was utterly beguiled by her and became determined to claim her and make her part of his harem.
A woman wanders by as I recall the past, her little son holding her hand. He tugs at her when he sees my bright blades, but she shakes her head and pulls him back. But she gives me a hesitant smile as she does so, and I feel better. She is very pretty, with raven hair and dark grey eyes, and reminds me faintly of my mother, though she does not hold a candle to Mother’s beauty. It is her voice I hear now, gasping on her deathbed, “Your father loved me so much . . .”
Most men of Harad would have yielded up a wife or concubine to their leader without a second thought, willing to curry favor with the powerful and certain they could quickly find another woman to share their bed. But Father was not of such mind; he loved his wife dearly and would not give her up, no matter what inducement the corsair offered him. The corsair grew enraged and threatened our chief with the slaughter of the whole clan if he did not aid the corsair in his quest. The chief, having no choice, plotted to kill Father and make Mother a widow. By some miracle, Father’s cousin learned of the plot and warned him to flee.
He gathered as many of his blood kin as he could since they might pay the price for his defiance, and they all fled northward in the night on their camels in search of refuge. After much argument, the decision was finally taken to go to Gondor despite being our old enemy, for only there would my family be safe from assassins’ daggers. After a long and dangerous journey skirting around Umbar and crossing the River Anduin, they arrived in Gondor. Much of the family stayed in the south, but Father chose to press on to Minas Tirith, hopeful his art as a swordsmith would be profitable there. It was a very rare skill for a Haradrim to possess, since we had to trade for metal. Father was eager to work in a place where ore was easily had, and he was equally certain those of Gondor would accept him.
Two men pause at my tent now, looking over some daggers carefully. Their fair colouring and tall height brand them as riders from the North. No surprise then that they are willing to buy my wares. Neither speaks the Common Tongue well, but with the help of rough and ready sign language, we make ourselves understood. They both depart with a dagger tucked into a belt. I count the coins and sigh; not a bad amount, but hardly much. I can only pray that the new King and Steward bring back more enlightened thinking soon. Then perhaps I will enjoy the kind of prosperity Father gained when he first came here.
The Steward in those days, the second Ecthelion, was a man of great wisdom who had allowed some of our fellow Haradrim to establish a neighborhood in the city, within the second circle. Refugees from blood feud, crimes, or other evils, they welcomed my mother and father, who quickly settled among them. I was born several years later, and I became his apprentice in his craft. He taught me both the skills of the forge and the secrets of the earth magic my clan had always used to make our blades. There was less hatred of our people then, and we could keep to our ways and language amongst ourselves without fear or punishment.
But things turned sour under the rule of Denethor and the growing shadow from Mordor. We Haradrim began to feel the sting of persecution, and it was harder and harder to earn a living in Minas Tirith, in spite of the high quality of my swords. I soon had no choice but to take to the road regularly, wandering from fair to fair selling blades and sharpening knives, eking out monies to eat and travel, but not much more.
Even that trickled away as folk grew more afraid and hostile to any who did not look like them. I took a chance again and returned to Minas Tirith and my old home two months ago, determined to help in the city’s defense if war should finally come and thereby prove my loyalty once and for all. I was able to mend many swords and forge a fair number of new ones. But even that has not been enough to end all the dislike. I tell people openly that I hated the Dark Lord as much as any man of Gondor, for I knew far better than most what his victory would have done to us all. A few thoughtful souls listen to my words, but others are stubborn as oxen and continue to hate that which is different, fools that they are.
Being equally stubborn, I decided to set up my tent here at the spring fair in the hope that some of the soldiers from other places would buy my wares. But except for the two daggers, I have sold little today. I am afraid I picked a bad spot, for it is on a higher circle than the rest of the fair and partially hidden by the shade from the houses nearby; but there were few good spots left farther down. I shake my head sadly and go back into my tent to fetch the trunks for my swords, for there is no need to linger here—I doubt I sell anything else.
“Look! A swordsmith—I did not think any were here!”
The excited shout makes my head snap up, for it is a woman’s voice that speaks the words. I hurry out to see what manner of lady could possible want one of my blades.
She stands there before them with shining eyes and radiant face, her long fair hair and simple white gown fluttering a bit in the light breeze. She looks at my swords with the longing hunger of a lover gazing at her beloved. I know then she is an outlander like myself, for no woman of Gondor would lust after a weapon with such open ardor.
One sword in particular seems to draw her strongly. It has a large ruby embedded in the hilt, surrounded by swirling wirework, and a prayer is engraved on the blade asking the elements for protection. She picks it up and I can see her deep joy as she feels its precise balance and heft. The man and boy who accompany her stand back to give her room as she prepares to test it. She closes her eyes briefly as she takes a deep breath and runs her hand down the blade, caressing it with reverence. Then with a sharp cry, she begins to practice.
As she makes her passes, they become more and more intricate, forming a weaving, flashing net around her. Her moves are flawless, with nothing wasted, and my blade seems to be an extension of her arm, obeying every command she gives it. A lump rises in my throat as I watch her, for she is utterly beautiful, as perfect a warrior as I have ever seen. Her skillfulness is the equal of the best sword dancers I have seen, and I am awestricken at her mingled grace and power. The sword sings sweetly as she swings it, humming of its happiness in her hands, and for a moment I imagine that her soul is merging with the sword, becoming a larger whole. She finally stops, her whole posture full of the purest kind of ecstasy as she turns to me. I can feel the grin stretching my mouth as I struggle to find my thoughts.
“My very finest sword, my lady. You have a keen eye and a good arm—never have I seen any woman with such artful skill at swordplay. With the way you handle it, I might have made it for you.” My words sound foolish to me, but they seem to please her, for her face lights up even more.
The man takes the sword from her, and his eyes gleam as he perceives its quality. Dressed in a Ranger’s green, he too must be a fighter, and a good one, since only Gondor’s best soldiers can become one of Ithilien’s guardians. “It is unquestionably a prize, more akin to elven craft than anything else,” he says. “Forgive me, though, but it appears a trifle too long for you.”
The woman shakes her head vigorously. “I do not want it for myself, I want it for Eomer. I shall gift him with it at his crowning when I pledge my service to him.”
I start at the name; that is surely the new King of Rohan she speaks of, only recently come into his crown upon the death of the old king at the Pelennor. I realize who this woman is, and my awe increases tenfold. The deeds of the Lady Eowyn are already the stuff of songs, her courage a model to us all. I look at her companions again. The man I guess to be the Lord Steward, her fellow patient in the Houses, for no other Ranger is likely to be walking about with her. And the supposed boy must surely be her halfling squire, the one who is said to have helped her kill her opponent in the battle. “Are you the White Lady of Rohan, she who cut down a Nazgul in battle?” I ask, not bothering to keep the surprise from my voice.
“Yes,” she answers simply, but with clear pride.
I know then I can name no price for her, for she is a magnificent fighter, and one of the people who has set us all free from the dark terror. I care no longer about my lack of money, but only think to pay homage to greatness. My voice trembles a little as I speak. “Then take it, White Lady. You helped free Gondor from the Shadow. May my blade aid you in your labors while defending your land, for you are a great captain and deserve anything I can give you.”
“No!” she exclaims passionately. She fumbles with her purse and pulls out ten large gold coins, pressing them into my hand. “I am flattered, but I cannot let you do this. Such workmanship must be honoured.”
The sincerity in her eyes moves me; it has been far too long since anyone recognized my skill in swordmaking. I can see Lady Eowyn is as anxious as I am to offer tribute to someone whose talent she respects, and the only way she can do so is to proffer me payment. Part of me still wants to refuse her money, but I do not wish to give her an implied insult by rejecting her generosity again. Acquiescing to the inevitable, I incline my head and decide to do something else for her. “Very well. Will you allow me to keep it for an hour so that I may engrave the names of you and your brother upon it? It will then become a fitting heirloom for the kings of Rohan.”
Her transparent joy shines out as she says, “Of course—you are most kind. I shall return here when you are done.”
“No need, my lady. I shall deliver it to you at the Houses of Healing with mine own hands, with my best sheath and belt accompanying it.”
The Lord Steward speaks up suddenly, his words making my heart soar. “Bring your other swords with you, and come seek me out. I wish to examine them in privacy, and we shall also speak of a place for you in my household or that of the King. Such high ability should not be subjected to a wandering and uncertain life on the road.”
I look at Lord Faramir in disbelief; I have always dreamed of gaining a place in some noble household, and now it appears such a position shall be granted to me at the very highest level. He unquestionably shares his grandfather’s wisdom, to be able to see beyond my appearance and recognize my ability. I give him my very deepest bow. “As you command, my Lord Steward. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
He returns the bow with a cheerful smile, and then the three of them leave me. I hear the halfling chattering happily about the splendour of King Eomer’s gift and how pleased he will be at his sister’s thoughtfulness. I pick up my engraving tools and bend over the sword as I begin chanting a prayer to the earth under my breath. Everything will be as perfect as I can manage, for such a chance comes but once a lifetime. I will not let it slip through my fingers, not when an end to my need hovers before me. I bless the gods who prompted me to come here today, and set about my task with a will as I continue to chant in celebration of the gift I have received.
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.