44. The Seer
Khamul didn't encounter a single soldier on her journey. In fact, she encountered very few people at all. The citizens of Gondor avoided Mordor like the plague (which they thought had originated in the Black Land), but Khamul couldn't have been happier to skulk in its shadows.
The Poros Road wound through Ithilien into Harad, but it was a favorite haunt of soldiers eager to catch Haradrim or Easterlings sneaking into Gondor. Calimehtar had truly emptied the land of soldiers though, for although Khamul jumped at shadows, she never encountered anything more substantial than a few chipmunks.
The day was bright and cloudless, flowers were blooming, and the whole land smelled wonderful. Khamul was enjoying the feeling of the sun on her back when she noticed movement up ahead. And this time it wasn't a chipmunk.
It was too late to pull the cowl over head and pretend that she was a traveler, so Khamul gripped her sword and prepared to cut someone's head off.
Fortunately, it wasn't a soldier, only an old man. He wandered along, muttering to himself, and didn't even seem to notice Khamul. He was coming from Harad, but he certainly wasn't a Haradrim. He looked like a man of Gondor, although he might've had some Easterling blood in him.
Khamul was just going to ignore him and pass by, but as she approached the old man stopped his walk and looked up.
"Ah, the Black Easterling," he said.
Khamul jerked the reins. "What did you say?" she snapped.
"That is what they're calling you. The Black Easterling. On account of the unusual color of your skin for an Easterling."
"And why do you think I'm an Easterling?" Khamul asked, putting aside the more obvious question of 'how do you know who I am?' for now.
"You led an army of Easterlings," the old man said. "That seems like a very good reason."
"And how do you know who I am?"
The old man shrugged. "I see things," he said.
"Oh, one of those. Tell me, what else do you 'see'?" Khamul snapped.
The old man looked at her curiously. "You're from the south," he said.
"Oh, well done!"
"But also from the north. You are split between two lands."
Khamul rolled her eyes. Her clothing was atypical for the south kingdom. It didn't take a mystic to guess she was from the colder Arnor.
"I see that you are planning to return to the north," the old man said. "You do not know it yet, but you will take a companion with you. A noble, wise, man, old in years, but young in heart."
The old man grinned. "Yes," he said. "That's right. See? The prophecy's coming true already."
Khamul scowled at him. "If you want to go to Arthedain, get yourself a boat," she snapped. "You aren't coming with me. Besides, I'm not going to the north."
The old man sighed. "I don't have any money," he said.
"I'll get killed by goblins."
"I could be useful to you," the old man said. "I can predict the future!"
"I foresaw our meeting! And I knew you were the Black Easterling."
"You didn't 'foresee' our meeting," Khamul growled. "And I must be the only Haradrim on this roads for years. If you'd heard about the battle, then it wouldn't take a genius to guess who I am."
"A lesser woman might've believed me," the old man said.
"So you admit you're a fraud?"
"I've been known to make the occasional accurate prophecy or two."
"Sure you have. Go away, all right? I don't like killing people I've talked to."
"Can I come with you?" the old man asked.
"I'm very useful. I can convince your enemies to leave you alone or else they will be stricken with plague."
"I can heal people," the old man said as he hurried after Khamul who had started down the road again. "Well, most ailments. I can set bones, too! I'm incredibly useful!"
"I said go away!"
"I have no money! I'll be killed by bandits! I'll starve in the streets of Minas Anor!"
"I heard from a passing traveler that Calimehtar's building a victory monument in the capital. He'll need workers, which could include you," Khamul said.
"I'm too old," the old man said. "Besides, I see that this monument is cursed."
"I don't believe you and I never will. So be quiet!"
"I see eyes in the white tower! Eyes! Looking forth across the land, hoping to do good, but seeing naught but ill and going mad! Mad!"
"How do you know it's a white tower he's building?" Khamul asked.
The old man tapped his head. "I see things."
"You see with your head?"
"I see with the inner eye."
"You just said you were a fraud!"
"Not always," the old man muttered. "Not always."
"Do you know anything about the Haradrim?" Khamul asked.
"I lived with them for a while. Very good food."
"Can you speak the language?"
"Good. All right then, you can come with me, but no more prophecies."
"Of course," the old man said.
"And you have to keep up with me."
"No problem." The old man whistled and a pony trotted out of the forest. "An old man walking discourages bandits who might otherwise try to take the horse," he explained.
Khamul scowled. "What's your name anyway?" she snapped.
The old man smiled. "Malbeth. Malbeth the Seer."