"As I have already told you, my lady, I wasn't born in Rhûn. My true home is further east, beyond the mountains – or beyond any trees for that matter. For in the world I am coming from there is no green to bring joy to the land. Everything is covered by rock and sand, whereas the water is scarce. If you are unfamiliar with the territory, you have sealed your fate once you set foot on it; doom is the only thing that awaits you. A scorching sun burns your skin and a freezing night makes your blood run cold in your veins; sandstorms can whip your flesh off your very bone or block your lungs and choke you to death, making you feast for the birds of carrion. That, however, is not the worst thing you can encounter in this sea of dunes: were-worms so long that it seems to the human eyes that they can touch the sky - if they put their mind into it - are lurking beneath the ground to swallow you and anything else around to fill their ever-empty stomachs.
"You may think little of the region by the way I'm speaking of it, my lady. Nevertheless people can live there, if only when they are always on the move and skirmishing amongst themselves for the little fertile ground and water they come across. For as the grains of sand shift hither and thither at the wind's whim, we too shifted places constantly in order to survive.
"My tribe was more fortunate than others, that much can be said. We were living at the western outskirts of the Desert, where there was more green and water in comparison to the other territories. Moreover, jagged rocks protected us from the east from any intruders who could have tried to gain our land as their own. Thus it was that we were able to stay there permanently without fear.
"Yet there came a time that our relatively peaceful life was disrupted. I was no more than seven years of age, but I can still recall the hordes that came riding from Rhûn and attacked us with many a war-cry. Though the men tried to fight them back in an attempt to offer the women and children the chance to flee, the raiders proved too fierce and the battle too short. Soon the clash of swords was replaced by another, far more terrible sound: screams of anguish. Everyone was mourning either for the people who died by the Rhûnish blade or for the far worse fate that awaited them, the living."
Aglarâd tensed involuntarily, as images of the destruction pierced her mind. It wasn't so painful to talk about the fate of her tribe and her family; but to replay in her mind's eye all the indescribable mayhem and carnage that she was forced to see at such a tender age made her ill.
Light fingers touching her own made Aglarâd look up. Arwen was gazing her with a calm look, a ghost of a smile brightening slightly her features. It was strange, but this small gesture of encouragement and support was enough to make the girl to get new strength of heart and pick up the thread of her tale once more.
"Whoever survived was taken back to Rhûn to be sold as a slave. I was sold as a servant girl, thus getting separated from my mother and brother forever. Indeed I have not seen them or heard of them again since I was taken away.
"I was soon to discover that the man whom I had to call master made a living out of organising fights on which anyone who had gold coins to spare could place his bets. I was expected to offer food and drink to the spectators and, later on, to entertain them as a dancer between fights."
Arwen barely managed to stop herself from gasping.
"Did he use you as…?" But she didn't finish her sentence, unable to utter something so horrible in her mind.
Aglarâd shook her head, smiling a bit.
"No. My master was a shrewd businessman and he was aware that whatever money he would gain in using me in such a way would be lost once more if something happened and I would be forced not to work for nine months. As a matter of fact, he didn't allow anyone to attempt anything against my person, something that I welcomed with relief.
"Thus the years passed without much trouble. My master favoured me for my obedience and often rewarded me with such finery and jewellery as it would be fit for a dancer so popular with the spectators and the customers. For my name was indeed whispered with admiration among the men… and with jealousy among the women," added Aglarâd with a rare mischievous grin. That, however, quickly changed again to bitterness. "Yet there was an emptiness inside me which couldn't be filled."
"Then the War broke out and my master had to leave to fight. He left behind his son in charge, for a birth defect forbade the boy a military life. Still, his bad leg didn't prevent him from doing as he pleased at his father's absence, earning everyone's resentment within the household. If our master and his guards, men just as cruel and corrupted as the son, hadn't earned our fear, then we would have found the opportunity to escape long ago.
"The tidings from the War weren't good for Rhûn. And soon the soldiers that were returning ashamed and crestfallen confirmed their defeat to the men from the West. But the master had returned with the air of someone managing a small victory of his own, for he had returned with a prize.
"I never had the chance to find out Daurir's real name to tell it to you, my lady, but his dark mood certainly justified the name that my master had given him. The wrath that was reflected in his eyes was enough to make us all nervous close to him, more so when our master warned everyone in the household not to be fooled by his fair appearance – several of the guards that kept him in chains had already paid the price for making that mistake. Everyone got to be so afraid of Daurir, in fact, that in the long run the task of providing him with food and water was handed to me. I can't even recall how many times he frightened me with his abrupt movements and his piercing gaze before finally a grudging tolerance and then a wavering friendship started forming between us. And with Torion's help, he even taught me how to read and write, thus strengthening our connection."
"Who was Torion?" asked Arwen, eager to hear more now that her curiosity was getting quenched.
"Daurir's friend, who was taken captive and brought to Rhûn too. He was the only one Daurir would turn to with love, the only one he trusted before he had also come to terms with my own presence in the cell. Yet that name wasn't real either. It was merely a nickname that Daurir used to call him, clearly in some arrangement between them; after all, Torion never called Daurir by his true name either. If anyone ever heard their names, it was only the walls of their cell."
Arwen nodded slightly, another thought crossing her mind: that Torion meant something more to Daurir, being an Elf. After all, the word torion meant "brother's son" in the Elven-tongue; which could only mean that Daurir was taken captive with his nephew, not merely his friend like Aglarâd was led to believe.
The young Easterling then carried on with her narrative, not noticing Arwen lost in thought.
"Though they were both in chains, Daurir and Torion's pride was not something that could be easily hidden; for indeed they didn't resemble slaves at all. They knew how to strengthen each other's heart and protect themselves against any kind of challenge our master forced them to fight, making themselves in this way unbeatable. The first day that they were placed into the arena they had won a spectacular victory and the audience loved them instantly, thus making our master even richer than he already was. Daurir and Torion, however, hated this situation. They even tried to escape on a number of occasions, but all attempts proved fruitless. They could not hide forever in a region they didn't know and where no one was willing to help them."
"But I believed that there were Elves in Rhûn!" exclaimed Arwen, shocked. "They would help them, surely?"
"Why would they do that, my lady?" asked Aglarâd bitterly. "In Rhûn everyone is taking care of himself alone in order to stay alive. Besides, almost two months after their captivity they couldn't escape even if they wanted to."
"Why? What happened?"
Aglarâd wrung her hands nervously before she answered that question. It was with immense difficulty that she spoke now.
"As I said, Daurir and Torion made a good team and they always won in the matches that our master set for them. One day, however, a man challenged our master and thus the prizefighters had to face some great striped beasts from the depths of the East, a place where the forests are so thick that it seems they can smother you alive. At that fight, everything went awry: one of the beasts managed to throw down Torion and tear off his arm. At the smell of the blood, all the animals went mad with frenzy and they charged against the fallen warrior. Daurir, however, proved a far better match for the beasts and slew them all before any further harm came to his friend. And before anyone could stop him, he rushed to Torion's aid and looked after his injury. It took many days and all of Daurir's efforts, but in the end he managed to save his friend's life.
"Yet it was to no avail. Our master wasn't willing to let Torion live now that he was useless to him, for it was Torion's right hand that was torn off so savagely. In fact, before Torion even had the time to recover fully, he arrived with guards to execute him. Thus I came to witness a sight I never believed I would see: Daurir falling on his knees and begging for Torion's life.
"For all Daurir's pleading though, our master wouldn't have it. After all, it would cost him far less to dispose of Torion rather than have him alive at his expense. And he would have truly killed Torion hadn't Daurir's next words stopped him.
'"I will do anything you wish, only let him live!'
"Our master's eyes glinted malevolently, seeing the chance that was presented before him.
'"Anything? Do you swear it?' he asked, facing his prisoner.
'"Anything as long as you let him live,' repeated Daurir steadfastly, though it was clear to him, as to all of us present, what the master would ask of him.
"With a sneer that made everyone feel nervous, our master approached the still-kneeling Daurir and towered over him.
'"Bow to me.'
"Daurir complied, inclining his head and locking his gaze on the ground.
'"Lower,' crooned our master, taking pleasure in seeing the immortal being submitting to him.
"Daurir obeyed again, until finally he was flat on the ground. He saw for a moment Torion, who was shaking his head "no" the entire time; then he felt the Man placing his foot on his neck, forcing him in this way to remain down. Daurir's eyes sparked with anger and his hands clenched into fists; yet he knew that he was in no position to react.
'"Do you swear on your gods that I am your lord and master, to offer me whatever services I am to ask of you without so much as an objection from your lips? That you will not try to escape the fate that is bestowed on you by any means your kindred knows?'
'"No! Don't do it!' shouted Torion as much as his lungs permitted him in his weakened state, earning a slap from one of the guards.
"Daurir remained silent for many long moments, swallowing hard as if trying to drown down his pride and finally say softly: 'I swear.'
'"You swear what?' snarled our master, triumph written in all his features.
'"I swear… my lord and master,' added Daurir in a hardly audible voice, his eyes shutting in shame.
"Only then did our master remove his foot from Daurir's neck.
'"Good,' he said simply. And with that he walked away, not paying any more heed to his prizefighter, who had remained where he lay with hardly a muscle moving.
"Torion then found the opportunity to sit up and, using my hand as support, walk with what strength there was in him to his friend.
'"Why did you do it, you fool?' he said; yet there was nothing but sadness ringing in his words. 'Do you realise that you have just condemned yourself?'
"Daurir never answered though. He simply arose and sat quietly in his corner waiting patiently for the guards to chain him up. He never said a word that day, nor the day after. He merely let himself willingly tolerate every whim of our master, for he had accepted that he was defeated.
"If Daurir and Torion's life had been a misery before, after that incident it became a torment. The guards had always been afraid of Daurir, but now that they knew that he wouldn't fight them back, they took all their loathing out on him. Indeed, every guard hurt Daurir and his companion in every possible way, spitting and cursing their race at the command of their chief, a man by the name of Lôkhî and of abhorring ways.
"Three months later, ill news came to our city: a treaty was signed between the Men of the West and the Men of the East, in which all forms of slavery were forbidden. Our master had no intentions whatsoever to comply to the new laws, of course; thus in the end he kept us all under his service with threats and had to organise his fights illegally and with utmost secrecy. Still he wasn't able to make the money he used to, something that filled him with resentment – to everyone's misfortune. For in his foul mood he punished everyone most severely even for the smallest of mistakes.
"This led to the very day that changed Daurir's life forever.
"The particular day had started ill from the start. Our master's son had been involved in some kind of illegal business and the authorities were looking for him. That meant that our master not only had to protect his son, but also to make certain that his own illegal business wasn't discovered as well. He sent his son to some caves outside the city and put the household in the underground cells where Daurir and Torion already were, so their shouts wouldn't be heard if the law-enforcers arrived to search the house. I was to remain free and treat our guests, presenting myself as the son's wife.
"A couple of hours passed, but there was no sign of the law-enforcers. Then Lôkhî arrived and informed the master that there was trouble at Daurir's cell: the Elf, he said, dared to oppose them again when they tried to silence Torion.
"I don't think I need to tell you, my lady, in what violent ways they tried to do that, thus causing Daurir's just exasperation. Our master, however, only huffed impatiently, his mind already troubled by other matters.
'"Well, make sure the Elf stays silent too. Do not disturb me again,' he said and waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. Had he been facing Lôkhî like I did, he would have noticed a strange glint in the guard's eyes and a peculiar smile forming on his lips. Yet it was no use talking to the master about it – not that time anyway. The law-enforcers had just arrived and I was expected to be in my best behaviour.
"Some more hours passed, and the law-enforcers finally left empty-handed and our master seemed able to breathe once again, so relieved was he to see them gone. But, as we were opening the cells to let the rest of the household out, he noticed one of the youngest of the guards kneeling by the wall, pale as a sheet and the contents of his stomach spilled on the floor.
"What is the meaning of this?' asked the master, angered by such behaviour. His answer, however, came in the form of shouting mingled with malicious laughter. As though stung, our master quickly rushed to Daurir's cell, for it was from there that those disturbing noises were heard.
"Once the door opened and the master entered the room, everything had grown uneasily quiet and I didn't dare go any further. Suddenly the silence was broken by the master's roar of wrath, which was instantly followed by Lôkhî thrown out of the cell with such words that I dare not utter most of them again.
'"Pervert! Disgusting pervert!' the master shouted again and again. 'Is that what I ordered you to do? Get out of my sight and this house, you filth!'
"Lôkhî left, seeming pleased with himself though he was sacked; and my master directed his curses to the rest of the guards. Was that what he was paying them for? That prizefighter had brought in that house the money with which he paid the miserable curs, making him more worthwhile than they ever were. And he didn't intend to show them any mercy if Daurir died because of them.
"At those words and not taking it anymore, I hurried inside to see what happened to Daurir. I screamed as my eyes locked on the floor, now covered with his blood; but somebody swiftly - and probably in shame for what happened - placed a cloak onto Daurir's form before I got a good look at it.
'"Take her out of here, this is not a sight for her to see!' the master ordered his men when he saw me. 'And make yourselves useful and fetch me a healer – now!'
"Two of the guards quickly rushed outside and another prodded me out as well. I fought hard against him, but it was no use, his grip was too tight. All I could do was turn to Torion in my wish that he, at least, could tell me what happened. Yet, at that very moment, I saw him struggling against his own chains; and he shouted at the top of his lungs amid his tears: 'Fiends! Monsters! The only wrong he did was that he tried to protect me! A curse on you! A curse on you all!'
"And that was all I managed to see or hear. The healer arrived and was hurriedly shown into Daurir's cell, but I could get no news from him except that Daurir's life hanged from a thread. He remained by Daurir's side for many days, receiving a handsome fee from the master, who wasn't willing to lose this prizefighter.
"Two weeks had passed when I heard that Daurir was finally out of danger and all that he needed was rest to recover fully. I returned back to my task of handing the two prisoners their share of food and water; but Torion, now freed within the cell so he could watch over Daurir, kept his friend hidden from me in the shadows, allowing him thus to sleep constantly and regain his strength.
"Finally, when several more days had gone by, Daurir opened his eyes and, thanks to his Elven-blood, he was soon healed – yet only in body. For in truth Daurir was now only a mere ghost of who he used to be. The fire of life that was reflected in his eyes had utterly died out and his face betrayed nothing but cold apathy, as if his soul had departed and left its shell behind. And as Torion and I found out later, his soul wasn't the only thing that had left Daurir, because no word came out of his lips ever again.
"Yet when Daurir was set to fight again, everyone else in the arena witnessed another person, whose eyes seemed ablaze with fury and hatred whenever someone was set against him; who killed any of his unfortunate adversaries in the most savage of ways and kept striking him even after he had slain him; who still thrashed wildly against the chains the guards used to drag him away from the arena to the point of bleeding himself. They would see Daurir, the murderer. The irony was that that excited them even more, and even now I wonder who was truly the animal.
"More than a year passed this way and it seemed that Daurir hardly acknowledged anyone or anything anymore; because, whenever he was in the cell, he resembled a dead man, lying on the floor and looking at nothing but empty space. He didn't seem to notice neither my attempts to make him swallow some food or drink, nor indeed Torion's sorrow-filled words addressed to him. For Torion talked to him always, hoping against hope that in this way he was reaching in his friend's heart. Sometimes he told Daurir of stories of old, sometimes he spoke of stories that he clearly remembered with nostalgia and he wished to believe that Daurir did too, and sometimes he would implore his friend not to let the darkness that grew within him consume him whole.
"Yet it proved useless. Daurir became alive only whenever he was dragged out to the arena and found the opportunity to unleash his rage.
"That, however, was about to change. After much arguing and fighting between master and son over matters of money, they drew their knives and killed each other. With no master in the house anymore, the slaves were finally free to go where they would. I grabbed the keys and, since there were no more guards to stop me, I opened the cell where Torion and Daurir resided.
"Each one's reactions to seeing the sun as a free man once more was so different than the other's! Though almost blinded after having been outside for the first time after almost two years, Torion smiled warmly, smelling the air that was deprived from him for so long. Daurir's face, on the other hand, betrayed no emotion. He merely looked at Torion and me briefly as though pondering on something. Then, after making up his mind, went to the weaponry where he picked a knife for himself, for he had become his own master again and he was willing to defend that right. After all, the master was no more and no oath could hold his hand anymore.
"As soon as he came out, he beckoned Torion to follow him. And although I didn't expect it, I was allowed to accompany them as well. I suppose Daurir sensed that I had no home to return to and he took up the responsibility to look after me as well. What I know is that, when I looked into his eyes, I thought I saw reflected there, for the first time in a long time, a flicker of compassion.
"Thus it was that all of us three walked to the direction of the setting sun. I wish I could say that that was the end of our troubles, but that would be a lie.
"We always walked towards the realms of the Western Peoples, but the journey was long and arduous. We trudged on through rocky plains, our feet sometimes bleeding and our sides aching from weariness because of the many miles of walking. At nights and whenever the elements of nature proved for Torion or me too much to handle, we all huddled close to keep ourselves warm. And though Daurir did everything he could to help us by finding food and water, many were the days that we had to go without either.
"I had lost count of the days passing long before we had finally reached the ruined gates of the land of Zigûrun, the Wizard.* Then, as we left the mountains behind us, we turned south until we reached the ruins of an ancient city. At that moment, we all knew that we had finally passed the borders and we could be counted among the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. And indeed, the very calmness of nature and the gentle swaying of the tree seemed to welcome us under the West's protection.
"It was among those ruins that Torion, overcome by exhaustion, hardship and the wound caused from his missing arm, which was never fully healed, passed away. He simply asked to rest his body against an old stone, and his farewell flowed out with his last breath."
Arwen sighed sadly at this and, at that moment, she felt for Daurir. It seemed so unfair that the Elf had given up so much to safeguard his nephew, only to lose him at their journey's end.
"I will never forget Daurir's face when he watched Torion die," continued Aglarâd. "It was like he was torn between acceptance of his companion's death and disbelief. He kept looking at me, seeing me unable to control my own grief, and biting himself to drown any sob that risked rushing out of his lips; while he was shaking Torion gently, as though prodding him to wake up."
"The sun was setting once more when Daurir finally arose, his eyes now fixed in a dead gaze. Lifting me up as well, he signalled to me that we should make all arrangements necessary for Torion's departure. It took several hours but, by the time the moon had risen, Torion was in the earth's embrace. And over his grave I placed in writing my farewell to a good person now gone.
"Then Daurir wrote his own blessing, which he wrote in a language that I'm not familiar with. Yet it still had the power to undo Daurir, for it was only after he had written it that he allowed his tears to flow down his face. He didn't let spasms of grief wash through his body nor his features distort in sorrow; nor indeed did he beat his chest, as many do in their distress. He simply remained kneeling by Torion's grave, his tears trickling down his cheeks and spilling on the ground endlessly – mourning in the same, silent way that he had taken every blow of fate for the last two years.
"It was with that image of Daurir, resembling a weeping statue under the moonlight, that sleep finally claimed me; though it was a troubled one. Upon waking up, I noticed in my wonder that Daurir was nowhere to be seen. When I found him, he was kneeling at the shore of a nearby river, the knife still in his hands and by his legs his black strands, cut. Already several of the locks had fallen into the water and were carried away by the current, yet Daurir's look clearly said everything that needed to be said: that he cared for nothing anymore."
Arwen felt like her heart missed a beat, for she finally realised what was the meaning of her vision. She wondered momentarily at the un-elven way that Daurir chose to express his pain at his loss, but she quickly reasoned that the Elf was in so much grief that he had acted on impulse. She bowed her head, wishing to hide the tears that had started welling up in her eyes.
Aglarâd, however, didn't notice, overcome by the grief of her memories. And though her voice kept faltering now, she bravely carried on with her narrative.
"From that day on, Daurir became even more withdrawn to himself. He never stopped looking after me, but at nights his mind and gaze always drifted elsewhere as he would lose himself for hours on end in thought.
"This continued on, until finally we came across this house. Daurir had been watching the old couple that still lives here for many days and he decided that I would finally have a decent life. I wouldn't have it at first, at least not without Daurir living in the house as well; for I didn't wish to do what it felt like abandoning him alone, with only his memories." At this, Aglarâd drowned down a sob.
Not quickly enough though. Arwen lifted her head and, looking at the girl carefully, she realised that there was another reason that the Easterling didn't wish to leave Daurir.
"You also came to love him."
Aglarâd nodded solemnly. "And, I think, he came to care deeply for me too. But, when I confessed my affection to him, he merely claimed that that kind of love came out of our understanding each other's pain of slavery; however, in truth, neither of us needed someone to understand our pain, but to heal us from it."
"Wise words," noted the Elven-woman.
"And able to cut through my heart more deeply than his knife ever would," completed Aglarâd bitterly. "Thus in the end I accepted his suggestion, though it was with a heavy heart that I did. Now I found my place in this world and I console myself somehow with that. But Daurir still wonders in the woods, living in the shadows and only coming here on occasion to see how I'm faring. Upon each visit though, my heart bleeds to see his face paler and more sunken, while his body becomes thinner and lacks more and more strength.
"Even those visits had become scarce, until a month had passed before he appeared through that door again, carrying you in his arms. And when he comes to take you to your own people, it will be the last time I will ever see him again."
"What are you saying?" asked Arwen in surprise; though a horrifying suspicion had already crept with her mind, for Aglarâd's encounter with Daurir finally made sense as well.
"What he said to me only too clearly last night," answered the girl. "Once he returns you to your home and no other responsibility drags on his existence, he will allow himself to wither away, succumbing to his sorrow."
Footnotes:*Zigûrun: Sauron in Adûnaic
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.